Once a friend of mine was dating a guy who was not a believer. I was in my early 20s and had some Pharisaical tendencies. I told her in no uncertain terms that having a relationship with him defied biblical truths, and she needed to dump him. You can only imagine how that went. Not well. My harsh words lost me credibility with my friend. She continued to date him anyway. I shook my head and wondered how she could live in such disobedience.
Later, God convicted me of my approach. In my Bible reading, I came across Ephesians 4:15a, “speaking the truth in love.” Hmm. I had nailed speaking the truth part, but was shaky on sharing it in love. Fire and brimstone would’ve been better descriptions of how I showered my judgment on her. I tried to justify it to myself by explaining that I have the spiritual gift of exhortation. It is my job to help people do the right thing. However, my words needed to be clothed in humility instead of pride.
A year later, a different friend starting dating a non-Christian man. This time, I was determined to try a gentler approach. I pulled up the specific Bible verses and wrote them down. When we met, I tried to pour out my concerns to her in kindness instead of ire. I told her I cared about her as a friend, but couldn’t support her decision to be with this person, and it grieved me. She still chose to be with him, but I didn’t bear any guilt that I drove her away from truth like I had with the last friend. While I can speak truth to people in love, I can’t make them choose the correct decision.
Do you ever struggle to say the right thing the right way? Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers” (NKJV). This verse reminds me of the test my mom told me to give before I let any words cross my lips. I was supposed to ask three questions:
1. Is it true? – If my words are corrupt because they are born from anger or pride, they will not be truth and will not bless the hearer. Lies are not becoming of a daughter of the King.
2. Is it necessary? – Sometimes, even things that are true aren’t necessary to say because they won’t build up the person in the moment. I can let someone know that they have food between they teeth. That is true and necessary so that they can brush their teeth and feel good.
3. Is it kind? – The point is to impart grace to everyone you interact with. Imagine if your friend bought a new dress that she loves, but you don’t. Telling her you think she looks like a purple hippo isn’t necessary or kind. If she likes the outfit, let her enjoy it.
My second approach in telling truth to my friend definitely fulfills the requirements of all three questions much better than the first approach. I have to trust God will the results of what He asks me to share, but recognize that how I talk makes a difference. I pray that you will speak true, necessary, and kind words that are wrapped in love to those around you this week.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.