Ephesians 4:13, 15-16
“… until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ … speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
The goal of every Christian should be to grow to spiritual maturity, and to help others do the same. Paul describes the standard of maturity with the Greek phrase teleios anthropos, which means “mature manhood.” Paul contrasts it with the immaturity of children. The Lord wants us to behave like spiritual adults, not like self-centered adolescents.
A key element of a teleios life is “speaking the truth in love.” These are two fundamental disciplines for a follower of Christ. Truth is the content of the Christian faith. Love is the motive and method.
Truth is the what of a teleios life. Love is how and why.
Remember that teleios means “integrated.” In the life of the mature Christian, truth and love are integrated. They work together. A teleios Christian withholds neither truth nor love. If we speak the truth without love, we are not being truthful. If we love without speaking the truth, we are not being loving.
We grow by truth and love. To neglect either is to relegate ourselves to perpetual immaturity. What we need is the truth that is spoken and applied in love. It is the powerful combination of the two that distinguishes a teleios—mature—Christian.
“Speaking the truth in love” is not the best rendering of his expression, for the Greek verb makes no reference to our speech. Literally, it means, “truthing in love,” and includes the notions of “maintaining, living, and doing” the truth, as well as speaking it. The verb refers to being true in the widest sense and is hard to translate into English.
The opposite of truth is error, distortion, and deception. We can fall into this trap through laziness, ignorance, rebellion, or through the manipulation of false teachers. This is Paul’s message in Ephesians 4. “Grow to maturity,” he is saying, “and don’t be like an immature adolescent who blindly follows whatever fads and philosophies are most popular.” Evaluate everything against the Truth. Know the truth and follow it. Recognize error and avoid it. Be particularly careful not to fall prey to attractive lies.
The opposite of love is hostility and indifference. Hostility is open opposition; indifference is simply not caring. I think indifference is most pernicious. When people are indifferent, they lack the motivation to serve and care for and do what is in the best interests of others. When you think about it, at the heart of indifference is self-centeredness. Selfishness kills love! Open hostility is certainly unpleasant, but when someone simply doesn’t care about you? That is an even deeper pain.
The message is that we are to seek and speak the truth, and we are to do so with the right motives and with effective methods. Again, truth is the what of our lives; love is the why and the how. This means that we should be exceptionally clear about the what, how, and why of the way we interact with our families, friends, and colleagues, as well as the work we do every day.
Real truth + real love is our guide at work and at home. Not the fake stuff that the world promotes, but the real stuff that Jesus gives. Truth becomes harsh and damaging if it is not tempered by love; love becomes soft and damaging if it is not strengthened by truth. Paul calls us to hold the two together.
This is the pathway of a teleios life lived in faithful response to the decisive call of Jesus.