But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ... (Ephesians 4:15, NRSV)
Truth in love. An incredible thought, incredible in the same way that dynamite is incredible. It has great potential when it is used constructively, but can also be destructive when misplaced or misused.
We want to tell the truth, I understand that. Truth is helpful.
You have spinach in your teeth. Your fly is down. That is helpful truth in social settings.
These are truths that are pointedly, specifically, and typically helpful to the one receiving it.
In our society, truth is seen as the highest goal. Even if it's your truth or what's true for you, the prominence of truth hasn't been downgraded.
And then there's love.
Love is for the weak, the shallow, the ones who want to avoid conflict and make everyone sit around and sing "Kum-bah-yah." Considering that song means "Come by here, O Lord" maybe we shouldn't give that camp tune such bad press, but that's a different story.
In our eyes truth creates answers. Love creates hippies and dreamers and underneath all the social dressing we may do, we still believe truth is power and love is a luxury.
However, we're wrong - Love is harder than truth.
As followers of Jesus, being formed spiritually into the character and activity of Jesus Christ, we're introduced to a different kind of love. Not a weak and cowardly love that hides behind emotion and sentiment because "the truth is too hard to handle."
Jesus' definition of love is reflexive - "love your neighbor AS YOURSELF". (Matt. 22:40)
Jesus' definition of love is also others-focused - "Greater love has no man than this that someone lay down His life for His friends." (John 15:13)
That's hard love. It is easier to stand back and lob statistics, Scripture, and social mockery at a person when we know we'll never have to visit their neighborhood. We'll never have to stand next to them and receive it as they do. We'll never have to see what truth does when it loses it's moorings in love.
We simply fire Ephesians 5:18 and pretend that we're not being unjust and un-Christlike.
To be sure, Paul didn't make a mistake - it is truth in the context of love. Truth is under the umbrella of love, reports to love on the org chart, is swallowed up by - flavored by - driven by that reflexive love that Jesus taught and modeled to those who'd step into His life classroom of discipleship.
What we often see in Christian talking head debates, Facebook discussion threads, and in blog response battle royales is "love in the context of truth." Love is made the servant of truth, and in doing that we don't have to think of the other.
The key question is this: how would we like to be bombed? How would we like to be truth'd? (I realize that isn't a word, but bear with me.)
You know what it feels like to be truth'd, right? We all have been.
It's supposed to be correction centered in love and respect, but it leaves you with the feeling that the person "truth-ing" wouldn't do anything more to help you understand or move into the "truth" being presented.
Jesus addressed this in the scribes and Pharisees:
They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them. (Matt. 23:4, NRSV)
And we do it. All of us. Myself included. Because...
It makes me feel better to sit secure in my rightness and "truth" you from afar, than to actually understand you as imago dei, just like me, and sit with you for a while until the truth comes out.
The incarnation, however shows Jesus in human flesh - in other words, He knows how to love us where we are. He knows us. He knows love and He is truth.
So here's a suggestion: if we are going to do truth in the context of love, then we shouldn't try and "truth" someone that we can't have coffee with. We shouldn't truth someone that we can't talk to about their story, that we can't listen to well and learn where they may be coming from.
Granted, there are times this does not work. However, it works far more often than we're comfortable with.
Which is why love is harder than truth.