What does the Bible mean when it instructs us to “speak the truth in love”? Does a biblically-based Christian life mean you have all the answers? What should it look like for Christians to love their neighbors deeply and authentically? How is truth lived out in love in practical ways every day? Is what we believe less important than how we believe it?
Bible Gateway interviewed Jared Byas (@jbyas) about his book, Love Matters More: How Fighting to Be Right Keeps Us from Loving Like Jesus (Zondervan, 2020).
What does “love matters more” mean?
Jared Byas: Somehow so many of us Christians have let getting our facts right about God be the most important thing in the Christian life. That was my life and my story. Until slowly, some very patient people kindly pointed me toward a life that revolves around those two great commandments to love God and love our neighbor. It does not mean that truth doesn’t matter. But it does mean that love matters more. Than truth. Than being right. Than making sure our friend on Facebook knows they’re wrong about their political or religious beliefs. Than all of it.
What does the biblical teaching of speaking “truth in love” mean?
Jared Byas: It’s important to look at Paul’s context when he says this phrase in Ephesians 4:15. It’s a great sadness that so many of us have used this phrase, “telling the truth in love” as a way to tell people they’re excluded when Paul’s intention was just the opposite.
The New International Version has as its header for Ephesians 4: “Unity & Maturity in the Body of Christ.” That’s right: unity. In fact, the first time the phrase “in love” shows up in Ephesians 4 it’s Paul saying this: “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” So, whatever “speaking the truth in love” means, it can’t be divorced from humility, gentleness, patience, and bearing with one another.
Unfortunately, that’s not how it’s been used in my experience. It’s often been used as a weapon and an excuse. You don’t like what I’m telling you? That’s your problem. “I’m just telling you the truth in love.” We even convinced ourselves that telling the truth to someone was the most loving thing we could do.
How can we resolve the tension we feel between truth and love?
Jared Byas: If we look at all the ways the Bible uses the word “truth,” we’ll find that it almost never divorces it from a neighborly action.
In the Bible, truth isn’t some abstract belief we have in our head. It’s a relational word: it’s about being a trustworthy person, an honest person, a faithful person, and an authentic person. Those are all elements of what it means to love others well. This tension we feel between truth and love isn’t a biblical one, but one we’ve manufactured because we’ve misunderstand how the Bible presents truth.
You write, “Somehow we’ve duped ourselves into thinking that what we believe is more important than how we believe.” Don’t we have to believe the right things in order to be saved?
Jared Byas: No, I don’t think that’s accurate. I don’t see a lot of evidence for what we believe mattering much in the Bible except in how it impacts how we live our lives. People often get confused because the word believe in English has come to mean something like “think a thought.”
But that word in Greek, from the same root where we get the word faith, means trust. So no, I don’t think we have to think the right things about God to be saved. What I see in the Bible is that we have to trust in the One Who Saves. And I don’t think those are the same thing. I’m haunted by James’ words: “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder” (James 2:19).
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In your book you say Christian culture has an “addiction to ‘truth.’” Please explain.
Jared Byas: In this brief interview, I think I can only give my personal experience. I was addicted to truth because the more I knew about God and the Bible, the more powerful I felt. The more verses I could quote, and the more theology I could make sense of, the more in control I felt. I was “getting a handle on God” but then life reminded me that God cannot be handled.
These traits—power and control—are contrary to the way of Jesus. When two of Jesus’ disciples were arguing over who was going to get more control, he said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:25b-28).
How can our understanding of love affect our interpretation of passages of Scripture? What are some practical ways this can be applied in our lives?
Jared Byas: When we have this tug-of-war view of truth and love, it can be easy to prioritize truth. The goal is to tell the truth but hopefully do it in a nice way.
But if love is the lens through which we see the Bible, then what counts as true is that which motivates us to love. Or as St. Augustine said almost 1700 years ago: “Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.”
So, that changes everything for me about how I read the Bible. I’m no longer going to the Bible wondering what I can walk away with in my head, but what can it stir up in my heart and how can it get expressed in my everyday life. If my reading of the Bible doesn’t lead to concrete loving actions toward my spouse, my friends, my family, and yes, even my political and religious enemies, then it hasn’t been read as it ought.
What are your thoughts about Bible Gateway and the Bible Gateway App and Bible Audio App?
Jared Byas: Bible Gateway has been an invaluable resource to me over the years. It has been a handy guide for hundreds of hours of sermon-writing, not to mention one of the few browser tabs I rarely closed in the writing of this book.
Love Matters More is published by HarperCollins Christian Publishing, Inc., the parent company of Bible Gateway.
Bio: Jared Byas is the author of Love Matters More, and is cohost of the popular podcast, The Bible for Normal People and coauthor of the book Genesis for Normal People. A former teaching pastor and professor of philosophy and biblical studies, Jared lives with his wife, Sarah, outside Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, with their four children, Augustine, Tov, Elletheia, and Exodus. Connect with Jared at jaredbyas.com.
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