The Nature of Truth
Ephesians 4:15 “…speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
Why is truth so often served within the context of law and justice rather than love?
In almost every instance where truth was used in the Old Testament, it was accompanied by love, kindness, justice, mercy, or another expression of who God is. Often truth was revealed as a sign of God’s blessing or as a reward for good behavior. Truth was a gift, not a concept.
In the New Testament the word truth often is used to support the validity of a claim. Whereas truth is usually limited to the words of God in the Old Testament, it can refer to the words of a man in the New Testament.
In John 8:1-11 the Pharisees tried to use their understanding of truth to discredit Jesus. They had caught a woman in the act of adultery and brought her before Jesus to see if he would condemn this evil behavior. They knew that the woman had violated the law and that Jesus would have to acknowledge this truth, condemning the woman to death. However, Jesus did not understand the concept of truth in the same way as the Pharisees.
Instead of using truth as an acknowledgment of facts, Jesus revealed the deeper nature of truth that let the adulteress woman go free and condemned her accusers. Presuming that this story actually took place and that Jesus did not violate truth, justice or love, one can see that Jesus viewed truth through the context of love. Something about acknowledging the Pharisees claims would have gone against the nature of truth spoken in love. Proverbs 6:16-19 may give some insight into the way that Jesus used truth in this situation to set someone free instead of to destroy her.
“There are six things that the LORD hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, AND one who sows discord among brothers.” Proverbs 6:16-19
It is clear to most people that actions like lying, murder, and the pursuit of evil would not be acceptable to God. In courts of law, people swear that they will not be false witnesses. Yet, almost everyone overlooks the seventh and summarizing thing that the LORD hates. In the process of preventing lying, murder, and evil, those who stand for truth and justice often fall right into the category of sowing discord among brothers. Sadly, this last example is one that summarizes every one that precedes it. The reason the LORD hates lying, murder, evil, and even pride, is that each one of these things destroys relationships between people.
In the New Testament, Jesus said that one who hates his brother is the same as a murderer (Matthew 5:22). His words extended the reach of the 10 Commandments to cover the motive of the heart and not just the outward expression. The point is not the murder, but the destruction of the relationship.
God created all of humanity as one man, Adam. He is in a perfect relationship of love with Himself, and expects His creation to act like Him toward one another. Thus, it makes sense that the writer of Proverbs includes sowing discord, lying, and murder in the same list of things that God hates. All of these things destroys the peaceful relationships between people.
For me, as an intellectual in pursuit of truth, this is an excellent reminder that God hates disunity as much as he hates lying. It is easy for me to damage relationships as I try to prove a point or show how someone else is speaking falsehood. But that is not the purpose of truth. The purpose of truth is to restore.
The objective of my interactions with others in pursuit of the truth must be to restore relationships. If I use truth to sow disunity among brothers, I am no better than the one who speaks lies.
So how can one be sure to always speak the truth in love in a way that is not destructive to relationships? Perhaps Jesus revealed the answer in his response to the adulteress woman from John 8. Jesus began to write on the ground. Some have speculated that he was writing the law before the eyes of the Pharisees so they would see how they measured up to the standard by which they judged the woman. Whether he wrote this or something else, his action caused the Pharisees to walk out one by one beginning with the oldest. When she was left alone, Jesus told the woman to go and leave her life of sin. His application of the truth gave life.
Later in the book of John, Jesus finally revealed the deeper nature of truth in His claim to BE “the Way the Truth, and the Life…” (John 14:6). Truth, it seems, is found in identity. When confronted by the revelation of God through the law, the Pharisees saw who they were. When confronted with the revelation of God through Jesus, the woman saw who she was. Because Jesus is the ultimate revelation of God, His claim to be the truth leads to the following definition of truth: Truth is the pure and accurate expression of the person of God as demonstrated through Jesus.**
Thus, truth is a revelation of God and not a declaration of accuracy. When the apostles declared to speak the truth, they were saying ‘This is my revelation of God.’ Those who have received the revelation of God will often want to share this revelation with others. Doing so is never unloving.
Perhaps instead of asking whether my words are right or wrong (true or untrue), I should ask whether my words reveal the nature and character of God. Because God is love, words that communicate this are always true. Words that communicate the opposite of this sow discord and lead to the destruction of relationships.
For example, a child may ask a parent to comment on their artwork. While the picture itself may be atrocious, the parent will almost always reply with a positive and affirming answer. Why? Because the parent is communicating a deeper truth than simply stating an opinion on the beauty of the creation. The child wants to know that he is loved and accepted, not whether the artwork could be worthy of display in the national gallery.
So it is with every request for truth. The deeper nature of truth goes beyond the accurate assessment of a situation to become an accurate presentation of God (love) to an individual. Jesus’ response to the woman caught in adultery did not misrepresent the situation, but rather redefined the situation in light of the nature and character of God. It revealed the pride of the Pharisees, the sin of the woman, and the forgiveness of Jesus.
Speaking the truth in love, therefore, is a process of revealing the nature of God and the identity of individuals around me. I cannot do one without the other.