I have also posted myself on the Introduction as well as a combined post on Articles I and II. If you haven’t already done so, I would encourage you to read the statement in full – it is available as a pdf or Google’s HTML version.
This post is part of an ongoing bloggers challenge I have set to encourage us all to work through this statement systematically – thanks to Crossway for donating five copies of God is the Gospel to encourage your participation!
T4G Article III
We affirm that truth ever remains a central issue for the Church, and that the church must resist the allure of pragmatism and postmodern conceptions of truth as substitutes for obedience to the comprehensive truth claims of Scripture.
We deny that truth is merely a product of social construction or that the truth of the Gospel can be expressed or grounded in anything less than total confidence in the veracity of the Bible, the historicity of biblical events, and the ability of language to convey understandable truth in sentence form. We further deny that the church can establish its ministry on a foundation of pragmatism, current marketing techniques, or contemporary cultural fashions.
This phrase is, of course, part of a larger statement. It introduces the positive aspect of the Apostle’s teaching with regard to the function of the ministry in the Christian Church. The object of the ministry is to bring us all to “a perfect man unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. But . . . in order to attain to that obective, we must start where we are: and the first thing we have to do is to realize that we are children and subject to some of the characteristics of children; children that is, in a spiritual sense. So having warned us that we must not henceforth continue as children, the Apostle exhorts us to “speak the truth in love” and to “grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ”.
Firstly, we must seek out the meaning of the word translated “speaking”. While in a sense it is correct it does not convey the full meaning of the word used by the Apostle. The word he used is not normally translated “speaking”. Or, to state the matter from the opposite angle, the words which are generally translated “speaking” are not the word the Apostle used here. The Greek word means “professing”, so we may translate the phrase, “professing the truth in love”. Many have urged that a very literal translation, though it is not a pleasant one, is “truthing” – “but truthing in love”. What the expression conveys is that we are “in the truth” and that we are “walking in the truth”. Perhaps the best translation of all would be “having or holding the truth in love”. That, of course, includes speaking; it covers the whole of our deportment. We are to be true and to walk in the truth and in love. So what the Apostle says is that we must no more be children, tossed to and fro, and so on, but rather, holding the truth in love, we must grow up into Christ in all things.
I am tempted to assert that at the present time there is no single statement in the whole of the Bible which is so much abused and misquoted as this particular statement. This phrase, together with the phrase in the 21st verse of the seventeenth chapter of John’s Gospel, “That they all may be one”, are the two favourite texts of the participants in the ecumenical movement and of those who advocate a great “World Church”. Together they have virtually become a slogan. It is therefore most important that we should examine and consider this phrase very carefully.
It has become the favourite text of so many because it has been wrested out of its context. It is always extremely dangerous to take a phrase out of its context and turn it into a slogan. Every statement in the Scripture should always be taken in its context. It is to violate Scripture to treat it in any other way. We shall see the importance of this principle as we proceed with our exposition. As we do so we must be careful to bear in mind the Apostle’s fundamental concern in this entire section. When he says “speaking the truth in love” he does not mean merely being nice and loving. I am compelled to start with that negative because the text is commonly interpreted today in this fashion. This has become the controlling idea at the present time in discussions concerning church unity. Fellowship is put into the first position. We are told that nothing is as important as fellowship; unity in and of itself is the supreme thing. We are told that the lack of this unity is the main if not the insuperable hindrance to evangelism. We are also told that we have no right to expect revival in the absence of this unity. The explanation of the state of the Church and of the fact that the masses are outside the Church is that there is so much division in the Church. Indeed we are told that nothing today is more important than that we should all be one in one great Church and that at all costs we must put fellowship and unity in the supreme position. To that end, we are told that we must tolerate almost anything and everything; that as long as a man is nice and loving, and shows a friendly spirit and does good works, especially if he makes a sacrifice in order to do so, then what he believes or does not believe is comparatively unimportant. What matters, we are told, is that a man should have “the spirit of Christ” and that he should desire to imitate Christ’s example. That makes him a Christian! Doctrinal correctness, they maintain, has been over-emphasized in the past. A man may be shaky on the very Person of Christ, may not believe in the doctrine of the Atonement, or in the Virgin birth, or in the literal physical resurrection of our Lord, but if he has an open mind, and is tolerant of other opinions, and is kind and friendly and “gracious” and concerned about others, and especially about suffering and need and anxious to right all wrongs, political and social, he is a true Christian. What a man is, and does, we are told, is of much greater importance than his doctrinal views. Moreover, it is argued, nothing but a demonstration of this so-called “Christian spirit” will have any effect upon those outside the Church who have no interest whatsoever in doctrine. Indeed, to hold doctrinal views strongly and to criticize other views is virtually regarded as sinful and is frequently described as being “sub-Christian”. This is how the phrase “speaking the truth in love” is being commonly interpreted.
It would be very easy to give some remarkable and almost astonishing illustrations of what I am saying. For instance, it is quite amusing to notice how a well-known reviewer of religious books, when he comes across any criticism of other views in the book he is reviewing, immediately criticizes the spirit of the author. That seems to be his one test of scholarship! “Scholarship” has come to mean that you find all views very interesting, and that there is something to be said for all points of view. If you want to be regarded as scholarly you must not say that one view is right and the other wrong; you must not criticize, for to criticize is to deny the spirit of Christ, and to be entirely devoid of love. “Speaking the truth in love” has come to mean that you more or less praise everything, but above all, that you never criticize any view strongly, because, after all, there is a certain amount of right and truth in everything.
We must therefore ask the question, Is this a right and a true interpretation of Paul’s statement? Is this what is meant by “speaking the truth in love”? I answer immediately that it cannot be, for the reason that the Apostle does not simply tell us here to speak lovingly. What he says is “speaking the truth” or “holding the truth”. We are not told by the Apostle to cultivate a vague, loving spirit, but to hold “the truth” in love. The very word truth, in and of itself, makes the modern popular exposition of the statement obviously and patently wrong. Furthermore – and this is where the context is so important – if the phrase merely denotes a loving spirit, how is it connected with what the Apostle has said in verse 14? If “speaking the truth in love”, “holding the truth in love”, means that we are to smile upon all views and doctrinal standpoints, and never criticize and condemn and reject any views at all, how do we avoid being – children, tossed to and fro and carried about by every wind of doctrine”? This supposed “loving spirit” makes it impossible to use terms such as “sleight of men” and “cunning craftiness” and “lying in wait to deceive”. The very text itself and especially the context, make that interpretation completely impossible; indeed it is a denial of the Apostle’s statement. We must not hesitate to say so plainly. To put life, or “spirit”, or niceness, or anything else, before truth is to deny essential New Testament teaching; and in addition is to contradict directly the Apostle’s solemn warning in verse 14. It is to set up ourselves, and the modern mind, and 20th-century man, as the authority rather than the ‘called apostle’ Paul and all others whom the Lord has set in the Church to warn us against, and to save us from, this attitude which dislikes discrimination and judgment. Never was it more important to assert that friendliness or niceness or some sentimental notions of brotherliness do not constitute Christianity. You can have all such qualities without and apart from Christianity without “truth”. So that, whatever else it may mean, “holding the truth in love” does not mean a vague, flabby, sentimental notion of niceness and fellowship and brotherhood.
Looking at it positively, note that the Apostle says “but holding the truth”. The fact that he introduces this with the word but tells us that the verse is to be interpreted in a manner that emphasizes the contrast with verse 14. We are not to be “children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine” but the opposite of that. Instead of being like weather-vanes, turning round in every direction and believing everything, we are to “hold to” something particular and definite, even the truth. Instead of believing one thing one day, and then something different another day, we must be stable, and hold on to and walk in the truth as it is made known in the Scriptures. Holding the truth is the antithesis of being carried about by every wind of doctrine. How important it is to observe the context! Many problems and difficulties vanish the moment you allow the Scripture to speak for itself instead of wrestling statements out of their context and using them as slogans.
Emphasis is mine.
The above excerpt is taken from:
D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, An Exposition of Ephesians 4:1-16, Christian Unity, Baker Books, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1980, “Speaking the Truth in Love,” chapter 20, pp. 241-245.