For much of my Christian life I have had a one-sided view of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). I assumed that the verse meant only that when hard news or rebuke needed to be brought, it should be done with tenderness and sensitivity. I was wrong. Not totally wrong. I understood correctly the verb and the love: that hard news and rebuke should always be brought with appropriate sobriety, humility, and never with arrogance and harshness. But I neglected to focus on the other part of Paul’s phrase: the noun and “the truth.”
Just two verses prior to that the Apostle Paul clarifies that the goal of building up the body of Christ is to attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. So the “building up” begins with people who are agents of truth. As we work together we need to look for opportunities to speak the truth in love to one another. This is how we serve and protect one another in Christ. This is how we build up one another and build unity and teamwork in our lives and work. This is how God gives grace to others through us. And as Paul summarizes in verse 4:29 this what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.
Good accountability requires feedback. Yet honest feedback is hard to come by. To become more effective and fulfilled – more Christ-like – in our life and work, each of us needs a keen understanding of what other’s think and perceive of us. Direct feedback is the most efficient way for us to gather this information on ourselves and grow from it.
Probably the biggest barrier to personal improvement is our reluctance to speak the true in love to one another. We need to learn to speak the truth in love to one another so as to give each other immediate, critical, feedback. Sometimes people think it will risk the relationship, but ultimately, if there is a lack of long-term truth-speaking between one another, the relationship will fade away anyway. When we establish the trust and responsibility to call out behaviors that are exhibited and are inconsistent with who we say we are, and want to be; we make honest feedback more of the expected routine for everyone. Not that it is comfortable to step into these conversations, but continuing to ignore constructive feedback will not breed a culture of accountability. It hurts the individual and it hurts those around us.
Trust is essential. Wanting input and giving clear signals that negative input is desired is key to growth. Solomon tells us, Don’t bother rebuking mockers; they will only hate you. But the wise, when rebuked, will love you all the more. We need to communicate to those we work with and those we live with a desire for input, both positive and negative. Accountability is a team game. It’s a major part of the Scriptures teachings on the one another’s. Practicing the one another’s means we have each other’s back. We look out for one another, and we desire the best for one another – even if it’s to my own detriment. Solomon also adds, An open rebuke is better than hidden love. That’s a powerful word.
All of us are sinners. All of us struggle with temptation. Yet all of us also claim to have a desire to be like Jesus. Jesus points out in Matthew 7, Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.
Knowing these things, we need to challenge ourselves, we need to ask one another; How desperate am I to be like Jesus? We need to seek out friends who love us enough to tell us when we are out of line. Here are some pointers which may be helpful.
- Give permission to others first. Take the lead in asking for help and insight. Ask your co-workers and teammates to help you by holding you accountable when you happen to let them down, or come across the wrong way, or steamroll their ideas.
- Assume positive intent. Keep your eye on the prize – which is Christ in you. Don’t take feedback personally. Rather take it as a blessing that moves you closer to Jesus.
- Give others the benefit of the doubt. Ask why before you make a judgment call about someone’s behavior. Seek to understand your co-workers’ motives and intentions before deciding that their actions signal a lack of trust.
- Get comfortable being uncomfortable. One of our hardest jobs as sisters and brothers in Christ is to be forthright with one another. Remember, that each of us is part of the body of Christ, and feedback is essential for drawing closer to Him.
- If you say you will do something do it! Let your yes be yes and your no be no. Strive for excellence in all your work because, whatever you do, do it for the glory of God. And in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.
If you and your teammates/co-workers can master speaking the truth in love accountability with each other, you have a game-changer on your hands.