“Truth without love is brutality, and love without truth is hypocrisy.” Those words from Warren Wiersbe are profound & perpetually relevant.
Think about it for a moment.
If I relate to you only on the basis of truth, then our relationship is going to be hard and harsh—even brutal. All the information you get from me will be reliable because it is accurate, but it may do you no good because it will be delivered to you without any regard for how it lands on you.
Imagine your best friend were to relate to you only on the basis of truth. She would be very insightful in accurately assessing your strengths and weaknesses, but her assessments will probably not actually help you. Why? Because she won’t care how her words of truth land on you. She will be satisfied simply to drop them like bombs & if they hurt you, oh well, that’s your problem!
“Truth without love is brutality” and it often is not helpful because it is hard to receive.
But love without truth doesn’t help either. Imagine if your best friend decided he should relate to you only on the basis of love. He would probably make you feel good about yourself because he would always be affirming and encouraging you. He would overlook your flaws and shortcomings because he wouldn’t want to hurt your feelings and would simply leave many true things unsaid because he doesn’t want to make you feel bad. You would probably enjoy being around this friend, but he isn’t going to help you grow and develop very much. Why? Because truth means so little to him that he will leave you thinking & acting wrongly because he knows it will hurt you, so he will not say and do what sometimes should be said and done for your welfare. He is motivated by love, but at the expense of truth.
“Love without truth is hypocrisy” and it is often not helpful because it will not tell you what you sometimes need to hear.
Most of us tend toward one or the other of these types of extremes. Some people are very loving. Their words are always positive, affirming and encouraging, but often not as forthcoming and truthful as they should be.
Other people seem to have no problem speaking truth, but they do it in unloving and unkind ways. It’s like they don’t really care if you receive the truth, they just care about getting it right. They regard launching truth bombs—even if it results in a scorched earth in their hearers—as edifying speech.
Those who are God’s children cannot be satisfied to be merely loving or truthful. We must seek to grow more and more like Him so that we come to be both loving and truthful.
Scripture repeatedly calls us to keep these two virtues closely connected in the way that we live our lives. In Ephesians 4 Paul tells us that doing so is integral to spiritual maturity, which he describes as the opposite of being like children who are “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (14). Immediately after characterizing spiritual immaturity this way, he writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (15).
“Speaking the truth is love” is contrasted to spiritual immaturity. In other words, both being loving without being truthful and being truthful without being loving are evidence of spiritual childishness.
Christians are to grow into Christlikeness. That is the good goal toward which God is working all things together in our live (Romans 8:28-29). It would be helpful for us to consider, then, what Jesus Christ is like, especially in the way that He displays the virtues of truth and love.
A shorthand way to summarize what the New Testament teaches us about this is to say that Jesus is both truth personified and love personified. He blatantly claimed the former—“I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14:6)—while incontrovertibly demonstrating the latter—“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). God is love. As the God-man, Jesus was love walking.
We see Him deal with people in truth and love throughout His earthly ministry. His encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well exemplifies this. The fact that He talked to her at all, crossing cultural and social boundaries demonstrated unusual love. He also, however, truthfully addressed her multiple adulterous relationships. He didn’t let her pretend simply to be a single, unwed lady. Rather He lovingly and truthfully spoke to her in order to help her see her need for new life and forgiveness which are found in Him alone (John 4:1-30).
The way for Christians to grow in both truth and love is to grow in Christ. To know Him more intimately. To trust Him more readily. To love Him more supremely. To grow in His grace and knowledge by having our minds renewed daily as the Spirit teaches us His Word (2 Peter 3:18; Romans 12:2; John 14:26; 1 John 2:27).
A good way to measure your growth in Christ is to take inventory of how both truth and grace are exemplified in your life. Ask a friend, with full assurance that you want an honest and candid answer.
Here is the twofold reality that we all need to acknowledge and keep in mind as we strive to grow in truth and love.
- 1) You cannot honor truth without also being loving. In 1 Corinthians 13:2 Paul writes, “If I… understand all mysteries and all knowledge [that’s truth]… but have not love, I am nothing.” This is a devasting truth bomb. If you are satisfied to be full of truth while lacking in love, know this—the truth of God’s Word that you think you are so full of and that you honor, says you are nothing.
- 2) In the same way, it is impossible genuinely to love without honoring truth. Why? Because genuine love “rejoices in truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6) and seeks the welfare of the one being loved. People can only be helped by knowing the truth. If you think you are being loving while downplaying truth, you really aren’t. You are sinning against love.
As followers of Christ, we must never be satisfied to be merely loving or truthful. Rather, we should keep John’s admonition always before us: “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18).