Truth, Love, And The Church – Ephesians 4:15-16

Truth, Love, and the Church

Nick Esch, 8/25/2019 Cornerstone Baptist Church


David Livingstone lived from 1813 to 1874; though he was from England he dedicated most of his life to journeying through and exploring Africa for the sake of creating access for the gospel. He went as a trailblazer for missionaries to come and speak the truth in love. He went as one who loved and treasured Christ supremely because He knew how glorious and amazing Jesus is, and he knew how much God loved him in Christ. That love, God’s love for him and his love for Jesus compelled him to leave all the comforts of home and to go into the unknown for the glory of God and the good of His people… Once when he addressed the students of Cambridge University in England about leaving comfort behind for the cause of Christ, he said,

“For my own part, I have never ceased to rejoice that God has appointed me to such an office. People talk of the sacrifice I have made in spending so much of my life in Africa. . . . Is that a sacrifice which brings its own blest reward in healthful activity, the consciousness of doing good, peace of mind, and a bright hope of a glorious destiny hereafter? Away with the world in such a view, and with such a thought! It is emphatically no sacrifice. Say rather it is a privilege. Anxiety, sickness, suffering, or danger, now and then, with a foregoing of the common conveniences and charities of this life, may make us pause, and cause the spirit to waver, and the soul to sink; but let this only be for a moment. All these are nothing when compared with the glory which shall be revealed in and for us. I never made a sacrifice” (Perspectives on the World Christian Movement, 1981, 259).


Last week we saw that God has given His church Bible-saturated, gospel-centered leaders who preach and teach God’s Word in order to equip the saints, the church for their own work of ministry, which is to use their time, talent, and treasure to make much of Jesus by being disciples who make disciples. No matter if we are missionaries or an average Christian/church member, we all have a mission… we all have this mission: to be a disciple of Jesus who makes much of Jesus and makes disciples of Jesus… The church, shepherded by godly leaders with God’s Word, are to so apply God’s Word that they then use every aspect of their lives—everything they have and everything they are—to know, love, and follow Jesus and help others do the same. We, as the church, are to give ourselves to helping one another grow in Christ; we are to help each other grow in knowledge, unity, and maturity in Christ, until we all reach mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. And as we do this: as we love, serve, and care for one another, and help each other grow in our knowledge of and obedience to God’s Word, we will help protect one another from the dangerous and deceitful ways of the world. And that brings us to our text today…

Ephesians 4:15-16

In verse 15 we read, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” So, instead of being tossed to and fro by the deceitful ways of the world (as verse 14 says), we are to speak the truth to one another in love. This is a part of the work of ministry that every Christian—every church member is to be about; it’s a part of our mission… But before we can really understand what it looks like to speak the truth in love, and how we go about this, we first need to understand what the truth is.

Here there is a contrast between the deceitful ways of the world and the truth. And the overall context of Ephesians and the Bible as a whole gives us insight into what is meant by the truth. In Ephesians 1:13, the truth is referred to as the word of truth, the gospel of our salvation. So it’s directly tied to the Word of God and the gospel of God that it lays out. Jesus says this same type of thing in His High Priestly prayer, when He asks God the Father to sanctify His people in the truth; and then He says, “your word is truth” (John 17:17). Jesus says the Word of truth is in fact God’s Word. It is absolute truth from beginning to end. But that Word has one overarching message, the message of the gospel. And this goes right along with the way the truth is reference elsewhere in Ephesians…

In Ephesians 4:21 it says that the truth is in Jesus… And as you know, the gospel is the good news about the person and work of Jesus—how He magnifies the glory of God by saving sinners in and through His life, death, and resurrection. Jesus is the gospel, He is what God’s Word of truth is all about; in fact He is the truth… Jesus Himself said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). So the truth in Ephesians 4:15 is the word of truth, it’s God’s Word—the Bible that unfolds for us the gospel: the good news about the person and work of Jesus Christ. The truth is directly tied to Jesus…

So here in verse 15 we are called to minister to one another by speaking the truth to one another, the truth of God’s Word, especially the gospel truths contained in God’s Word that open our eyes to the beauty of the glory of God in Christ. But, notice how we are to speak it; we are to speak the truth in love… But, what does that mean? I’m concerned that when some of you read these verses you think that speaking the truth in love merely means speaking what is true nicely, or that because what you are speaking is true it therefore must be loving, or perhaps you think speaking the truth in love is where you say, “No offense,” before you tell someone the truth about how you feel. But that’s not what this text is saying at all.

Again in verse 15 it says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Notice he doesn’t just say to speak the truth in a loving manner, or with love, but he says in love. This language is used throughout the New Testament, but just looking at the book of Ephesians alone we are called to be rooted and grounded in love, we are called to bear with one another in love, to speak the truth in love, to build up one another in love, and then Paul ties it all together when he tells us to, “walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2).

Just as Paul speaks of truth in relation to Christ, so too when he speaks of love he does so in relation to the love of Jesus. As Paul says in Ephesians 5:25, “Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” We are all broken sinners who have sinned against a holy God. But Jesus came and lived the life that we have failed to live, and died the death that we deserve to die. He stood in our place condemned and took the wrath due our sin upon Himself. And this was all an act of great love.

Jesus lived and died because of His great love for God and for His people. But He didn’t stay dead; He rose from the grave in power so that all who turn from their sin and trust in Him will be saved from their sin and the wrath it deserves and will live with Him forever in eternal joy. And you see, that’s what is most fundamentally loving about the gospel… It’s not merely that we get to go to heaven, but that we get to be with Jesus, we get to be with God. As 1 Peter 3:18 tells us, Christ suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God… Jesus lived, died, and rose again so that we would be reconciled to God, and so that we could be with God and glorify Him and enjoy Him forever… That’s what makes the gospel so loving… As John Piper has said, “Love is doing whatever you have to do to help people see and treasure the glory of God as their supreme joy.” And that’s exactly what Jesus did in the gospel. God in His grace sent Jesus to live, die, and rise again so that we would be with and enjoy Him supremely… But He and His love didn’t stop there…

God doesn’t leave anything halfway done; He didn’t live, die, and rise again and then leave the rest up to us… In his mercy, because of His love, God opens the eyes of broken sinners like you and me to the beauty of His glory and love in Christ. As Ephesians 2:4-5 says, “God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” As Romans 5:8 says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And in His grace He opens our eyes to see His love and His glory in Christ, so that we would turn from our sin, trust in, follow, and treasure Christ forever… As 2 Corinthians 4:6 says, the God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” shines into our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. So, if you have eyes to see this love this morning, if you have ears to hear the goodness of this gospel, but you have never trusted in Jesus, I beg you, look to Christ and forsake your sin right now. He will have you. He will save you. That’s why He came; Jesus came to save sinners…

Jesus loved us and gave Himself for us, even though we were broken and sinful. He loved us even though we wanted nothing to do with Him. He loved us even though we were His enemies. He loved us so much that He went through the most horrific pain and suffering imaginable. He loved us so much that He poured Himself out to the death. He loved us in such a way that we would love Him and treasure Him supremely… And it is this image of love that is in view in our passage when it tells us to speak the truth in love. As one commentator put it, “Love involves seeking the benefit of the undeserving, even at one’s own expense and is bound up with humility, gentleness, and a willingness to work for unity and peace” (Frank Thielman).

In love means gospel love; it means we are to love like Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, all so that we could be with Him and glorify and enjoy Him forever. So, here we are being called to love one another just like Jesus loved us… And I can’t help but think of the way The Jesus Storybook Bible (the Bible I read Isaiah every night) speaks of the love of Christ; it says that He loves us with, “a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever love…” And that’s the idea here; to speak the truth in love is to speak the Christ-centered gospel-truth of God’s Word to people who know that you love them because you are sacrificially committed to their good, in a never stopping, never giving up, unbreaking, always and forever kind of way… I mean, you’re really in this, and really committed to doing them good. And their ultimate good is seeing and treasuring the glory of God in Christ as their supreme joy, and becoming more and more Christlike.

So, speaking the truth in love means speaking the truth of God’s gospel-centered Christ-focused Word to people that you are sacrificially committed to serving for their good and God’s glory… We are to lay down our lives and minister God’s Word to one another in such a way that we all are growing up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ… So, ministering with the Christ-focused Word of God, loving, serving, and laying down our lives for one another like Christ is what will help us grow in Christ; it’s what nurture us and helps us mature.

Now when our text says that “we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”, the language being used here is pointing to the Lordship of Christ, that Jesus is the head of the church… No matter how much we mature and grow in Christlikeness, there will always be a distinction between us and Jesus; He is the head, the one who leads the church and supplies the church with everything it needs for growth. He gifts the church with under shepherds—pastors—who preach and teach the Word that the church might be equipped and grow, but Jesus is the Chief Shepherd who truly builds His church. We may plant or water, but it is the Lord who causes the growth. And as we grow in and through the means that the Lord supplies, we will grow in our love and delight in Jesus, and will thus more and more joyfully submit to and obey His Word. He will be our head…

In verse 16 we’re told that it is from the sovereign grace and power of our head, of Jesus that the body of Christ—the church—is equipped and enabled to grow and build itself up. It says, “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.” So, just as the brain controls and empowers each individual part of the human body to move and function, so too does Jesus control and empower each individual member of the church to move and function for the glory of God and the good of His people. Just as the body is basically worthless without the brain, so too are we without Jesus; as John 15:5 tells us, without Jesus we can do nothing… But with Jesus, as it says here, the body is joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, and the idea is that the body of Christ is joined and held together by every individual church member who is doing their part to be disciples who make disciples, being committed to the truth and the church—speaking the truth in love to one another. And when this happens the church is functioning properly and we are thus, by God’s grace, building ourselves up in love—becoming more and more like Jesus.

The Bible-saturated, gospel-centered leaders of the church are to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for the work of being disciples who make disciples and make much of Jesus… But, when the church functions properly, it better and better equips itself to be the church and to do the work God has called the church to do. When every member is committed to this—to the work of ministry—and every member is seeking to speak the truth in love, the church is not only led and equipped by her leaders, but the church ministers to and equips one another… This means that every member of the church is a minister that is to give their life to ministry… And this means that the church doesn’t merely have a discipleship program, but that the church is the discipleship program. That when the church functions properly, then disciples are made because the church is giving itself, in love, to the work of ministry, to building up the body, both numerically and spiritually by speaking and ministering the truth to one another… As Jesus said in John 17:17, the Word of God is the truth, and God sanctifies His people in and with the truth. Jesus builds His church through the Spirit empowered, joyful obedience of His church… As John MacArthur has said, “Godly, biblical church growth results from every member of the body fully using their spiritual gifts, in submission to the Holy Spirit and in cooperation with other believers.”

And notice that it says when all of this happens that the church builds itself up in love. As we give ourselves to being disciples who make disciples, as we speak the truth in love—in a radically selfless commitment to another person’s good for the glory of God in Christ—we all grow in Christ and grow in love… We thus grow in our unity, in our holiness, in our obedience, and in our joy, because growing in love means being able to joyfully die to self and live for the glory of God in Christ… And that’s where true joy is found… in Christ… in seeing, savoring, and treasuring the glory of God in Christ forever and ever…