Ephesians 4:14, 15: “That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive, But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.”
The voices of the reformers whom God used in the sixteenth-century Reformation of the church call down the centuries to Reformed churches today to speak the truth of God’s Word with love and boldness. First among these voices is the thunder of the man whom God used to begin the Reformation on October 31, 1517: Martin Luther. The truth of God’s Word that Luther recovered for the church is summarized in what we as Reformed people know and call the “five solas of the Reformation” or of the Reformed (biblical) faith: salvation from sin is by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone as revealed in Holy Scripture alone to the glory of God alone. In his 95 Theses, Martin Luther asserted that this truth is “the true treasure of the church… the most holy gospel of the glory and grace of God” (Thesis 62).
The heart of the gospel truth that the Reformation calls the church today to proclaim in love and with boldness is the truth of justification by faith alone in Jesus Christ. Martin Luther, the first among the reformers whom God used to restore this precious, God-glorifying, Christ-exalting, Spirit-inspired, soul- comforting doctrine to his church, called this doctrine of justification by faith alone “the article of the standing or falling church.” Luther loved this truth with his whole heart, putting all the tremendous gifts God gave him in the service of this truth, exerted himself to exhaustion to teach this truth to the church, and relentlessly resisted the attacks of the pope, the Anabaptists, the devil, and the world who were against this truth. Luther proclaimed the gospel truth of justification with love and boldness!
But what does it mean to speak the truth in love and with boldness? What is love? What is boldness? Can they go together? In other words: Is it possible to proclaim the truth in love and with boldness? And if so, how do we do it?
The text in Ephesians 4:14, 15 is often quoted to caution or even to rebuke the man in the church who speaks the truth with boldness—what others judge in their worldly wisdom to be excessive boldness. The text in Ephesians 4:14, 15 is quoted for that purpose by those in the church herself who are uncomfortable with another member of the church, boldly setting forth the truth of the Word of God and defending that truth from her enemies of the old, but especially of the new day.
Such a use of this text belies a grave misunderstanding of this Word of God. The grave misunderstanding is that speaking the truth in love and speaking the truth with boldness are mutually exclusive activities and attitudes. Where the truth is spoken in love, boldness is to be excluded. When the truth is spoken with boldness, love is not there. Such a misunderstanding of this text is held by many, many even who claim to be children of the Reformation and will have conferences this year celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. Whatever many today understand by “love,” it does not include or have room for “boldness.” At the same time, whatever they may understand by “boldness,” it does not include “love.” But this is wrong.
Speaking the truth in love and with boldness was really summed up by Luther when he said: “A good preacher [we could add, “a good Christian”, JL] must be committed to this, that nothing is dearer to him than Christ and the life to come.”
Speaking the Truth in Love
Love in the text in Ephesians 4:15 is first of all love for the truth itself. This is clear from the verse itself. “In love” modifies “speaking the truth.” In order to speak the truth in love, you must first of all love the truth that you speak. If you do not love the truth, you will not speak the truth. Or, you will try to camouflage or color or shade the truth or try to rub the sharp edges off or blunt the force of the truth. All of this amounts to not speaking the truth in love. To love the truth means that you hold to the truth with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength, make a conscious choice to speak the truth wherever God gives you opportunity, and a conscious choice to reject the lie.
To love the truth is to love the true God and the God who is the truth, as Deut. 32:4 teaches: “He is the Rock, his word is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he.” Love for God is possible because God first loved us, when he chose us in eternity as His elect people in Jesus Christ. We love Him because He first loved us, and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. We know this because God has revealed Himself and His love to us in His Holy and Divine Word. To love the truth is to love the Word of God which is the divinely inspired (God- breathed, II Tim. 3:16) and infallibly written Scriptures. To love the truth of the Word of God means, as Reformed people, that we also embrace the summary of the Word of God in the Reformed creeds: the Three Forms of Unity and the Westminster Standards.
From all of this it is evident therefore, that speaking the truth in love is purely a gift of God’s grace. By nature we are liars, love the lie, cleave to the lie in our hearts, speak the lie, and live the lie. The lie always boils down to what Satan told Eve in the Garden: “Ye shall not die, but ye shall be as gods [really, “as God”], knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:4, 5). What this means practically is that we abandon God’s revealed way of salvation in Christ Jesus alone, and seek to save ourselves by our works, and mount up to heaven by our own merits. The result of this foolishness is uncertainty, doubt, and despair.
The apostle Paul uses two vivid figures in Ephesians 4:14 to illustrate what happens to those who do not love the truth. The first is of a ship tossed to and fro on the waves of the sea. The second is of a leaf or a straw blown by the wind. The southern United States was recently struck by two massive hurricanes, Harvey and Irma. These hurricanes caused great waves to form on the waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. Hurricane winds were registered at speeds as high as 140 miles per hour! Photographs of the aftermath showed sailboats tossed by the waves onto beaches and reefs, their sails in tatters, and widespread devastation on account of the screeching winds. One who does not love the truth is like a sailboat without a sail, rudder, or captain on hurricane-force waves, or like a leaf or palm branch tossed on hurricane-gales. Moreover, one who does not love the truth, and thus cling to the truth with all their heart, is an easy target for the “sleight of men” that is, liars and deceivers—heretics—who in their cunning craftiness lie in wait to deceive them.
In contrast to the destruction that threatens those who do not love the truth, those who love the truth and speak the truth in love grow up into Christ their Head in all things. They mature in their knowledge of God’s Word, their understanding of who Christ is and what He has done for them, and what this means for them, namely, that they edify one another in love in thankfulness for the love of God shown to them in Christ. This is the blessing of God that attends those who speak the truth in love.
Speaking the Truth with Boldness
The most common word translated “boldness” in the New Testament means simply to be free and unreserved in speech (2 Cor. 3:12), speaking openly and frankly (John 7:13, 26; 18:20), i.e., without concealment or ambiguity (Mark 8:32; John 11:14). It means to have freedom and confidence in speaking, as Peter preached on Pentecost (Acts 2:29), as Peter and John spoke before the Sanhedrin (Acts 4:29, 31), as Paul spoke during his first imprisonment in Rome (Acts 28:31), and as our Lord Jesus Christ Himself spoke, so that the people were “astonished at his doctrine, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes” (Matt. 7:28, 29). Boldness in speech arises out of a free and fearless confidence in the heart. This confidence has its source in and relies upon God, and in the truth of God’s sovereignty in all things. Such boldness comes from being thoroughly convicted of the truth of the Word of God. The utterly courageous and fearless man, woman, young person, or little child is the one who takes his or her stand absolutely upon the Word of God. The captive little Israelite maid that waited on the wife of Naaman the Syrian was bold when she told her mistress “Would God my lord were with the prophet that is in Samaria! for he would recover him of his leprosy” (II Kings 5:2, 3)—as bold as Elijah who thundered against Ahab: “I have not troubled Israel; but thou [Ahab], and thy father’s house, in that ye have forsaken the commandments of the LORD, and thou hast followed Baalim” (I Kings 18:17, 18).
Martin Luther wrote that boldness means “no matter what happens, you should say: ‘There is God’s Word. This is my rock and anchor. On it I rely, and it remains. Where it remains, I remain too; where it goes, I go too. The Word must stand, for God cannot lie [Heb. 6:18], and heaven and earth must go to ruins before the most insignificant letter or tittle of his Word remains unfulfilled” (What Luther Says, ed. Ewald Plass, p. 68).
Boldness insists on the Bible’s teaching concerning our salvation: that it is by faith alone in Christ alone, without any works or merit of ours at all. Said Luther:
Now if a different way to heaven [than Jesus Christ alone, JL] existed, no doubt He [God] would also have recorded it—but there is no other way. Therefore, let us cling to these words, firmly place and rest our hearts upon them, close our eyes, and say: ‘Although I had the merit of all saints, the holiness and purity of all virgins, and the piety of St. Peter besides, I would still consider my attainment nothing. Rather, I must have a different foundation to build on, namely, these words: God has given His Son so that whosoever believes on Him whom the Father has sent out of His love shall be saved.’ And you must insist confidently [that is, boldly, JL] that you will be preserved; and you must boldly take your stand on his words, which no devil, hell, or death can suppress… “ (What Luther Says, ed. Ewald Plass, p. 67-68).
Boldness, therefore, is love, love of God and His Word set on fire for God’s glory. Boldness is to speak the Word of God in all its fullness out of faith in God. Thus, boldness also is not natural to any of us, anymore than love for God is natural to any of us. It is a work of God’s grace alone. Boldness is given, preserved, and exercised through the power of the Spirit of Christ who unites us to faith to Christ, our bold Savior.
Boldness, Not Pride
Here, then, is how we answer the question: “But, how does boldness differ from pride?” Pride is confidence in ourselves; boldness is confidence in Jesus Christ alone. A proud man, woman, young person, or child relies upon what he has done, is always thrusting his works in God’s face, and trumpeting his own merits; a bold man, woman, young person, or child looks only unto and rejoices in what Christ has accomplished—both in His active obedience to God’s law His whole life, and His atoning death on the cross in our place by which He satisfied God’s justice and merited for us eternal life— and rejoices in the free imputation of what Christ has accomplished to all God’s elect. Pride forsakes the Word of God for the doctrines of men and of devils, man’s philosophies, man’s archeological findings, man’s science, man’s reason, man’s feelings, man’s experiences, or tries to add all of these things to the Word of God. Boldness clings to and takes its stand upon and abides by faith in the Word of God alone and the Word of God as it is summarized in the Reformed confessions.
Boldness, therefore, is humility. Boldness is love: love for God, for Christ and for the gospel that our salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us” (Titus 3:5). Boldness is evidence that that love of God dwells within us, for “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment. He that feareth is not made perfect in love. We love him because he first loved us” (I John 4:18). Loving God, we are bold in God, which is to say, humble before Him and His Word, so that we speak it.
Martin Luther was humbled by the truth of God’s grace to him, an unworthy sinner, and thus was bold in preaching Christ and His cross as the central message of Scripture and the only way of salvation for all who repent and believe in Him. “We preach always Him, the true God and man who died for our sins, and rose again for our justification. This may seem a limited and monotonous subject, likely to be soon exhausted, but we are never at the end of it.”
Luther also preached to the people in the pew to be bold in Christ and to demand that their minister preach Christ to them. In a sermon on Matt. 11:25-30 that he preached on February 14, 1546, shortly before his death, in his birth-town of Eisleben, Germany, Luther declared: “The hearers must say, ‘We do not believe our pastor, unless he tells us of another Master, one named Christ. To Christ he directs us; what Christ’s lips say we shall heed. And we shall heed our pastor insofar as he directs us to the true Master and Teacher, the Son of God.” Luther was not giving hearers, his or any hearers today, free license to disregard their pastor. He was admonishing them to be like the Bereans: to hear him diligently as he alleged Christ out of the Scriptures, and then to search the Scriptures to see that their pastor indeed preached Christ.
Contending for the Faith
Speaking the truth in love and with boldness means contending for the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 3). This is not only the calling of the minister in his pulpit and the professor in his study and lecture hall, (although it is their calling)! But it is also the calling of the father in the office, the mother in her home, the young person at college or work, and the little child on the playground. Moreover, Luther teaches us that we must contend especially for those truths of the faith under attack at the moment, and that if we do not we are not faithful to the calling of God’s Word in Jude 3 to contend for the faith. He declared:
“If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest expression every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing Christ. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved; and to be steady on all the battlefield besides, is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point.”
Contending boldly for the truth will embroil the minister, professor, and lay believer in controversy. Luther said that the trouble with bold preachers—we could add, also, bold lay believers—”is not that they are often misunderstood. To the contrary, they find themselves embroiled in controversy because they are distinctly clear”.
Nevertheless, the believing minister, professor, or lay person who is convicted of the truth of God’s Word, loves that truth with his whole being, and is committed to speaking that truth is of the conviction also that to abandon the truth of God’s Word is to abandon God Himself. Luther said that he could endure everything, by God’s grace and with the comfort of the Spirit of Christ, but he could never abandon the Holy Scriptures, because they reveal God and testify to God’s salvation in Jesus Christ. This is the conviction of every believer which God gives by faith in Christ and strengthens through the means of earnest prayer.
Especially to ministers Luther charged: “The faithful shepherd is one who not only feeds his flock, but also protects it. This happens when he points out heresies and errors.” To point out heresies and errors involves looking beyond the evil lifestyles of people to the false doctrines that underpin such ungodly living. It is all very well to condemn sins in the lives of God’s people, but they must know also the sinful teaching and doctrine of devils that gives rise to such living. In perhaps some of his most popular and well- known words, his Table Talk, Martin Luther said:
“When I can show that the papists’ doctrine is false, which I have shown, then I can easily prove that their manner of life is evil. For when the word remains pure, the manner of life, though something therein be amiss, will be pure also. The pope has taken away the pure word and doctrine, and brought in another word and doctrine which he has hanged upon the church. I shook all Popedom with this one point, that I teach uprightly, and mix up nothing else. We must press the doctrine onwards, for that breaks the neck of the pope.”
To press the doctrine onward today means that we declare that Jesus alone saves sinners by the blood of His cross and His perfect obedience imputed unto them. This doctrine alone breaks the neck of the pope yet today, and the neck of the Federal Vision, which is leading even those churches which call themselves Reformed and Presbyterian back to the pope in Rome. The Federal Vision teaches that God establishes His covenant in His (common) grace with all the baptized children of believers, elect and reprobate alike. The doctrine of Rome teaches that the covenant depends for its continuance, maintenance, and fulfillment in heavenly perfection upon the good works of the baptized child, especially the good works of faith and the obedient works of faith. If the covenant depends upon the child, then the child’s salvation is partly based on grace in Christ, and partly upon the child’s own good works. In fact, the child’s good works are the main thing. This is the doctrine of Rome. To break the neck of this doctrine in our own churches, we must press and preach the heart of the gospel: justification for sinners by faith alone in Christ Jesus alone. Only this gospel boldly declares the Word of God alone, to the glory of God alone.
The opposition that Luther, and all the Reformers, experienced for the truth’s sake only made Luther proclaim the truth more boldly. He said his enemies forced him to take refuge in the Word, like a bear hiding in a cave, where he eagerly read and studied. Then, he emerged more convinced of the truth than ever, more in love with his God, and more determined to defend the truth and his God against the enemies. In love for God, God’s Christ, God’s Word, and God’s people, Luther boldly contended for the faith once delivered to the saints, with the boldness whose confidence is in God and Christ alone by faith.
For all of us, spiritual children of Martin Luther and the Reformation, to speak the truth of salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, as taught in Holy Scripture alone, to God’s glory alone in love and boldness means to speak the truth whenever and wherever Christ gives us opportunity, and leave the results to our sovereign God, who works all things according to the counsel of His own will (Eph. 1:11). This is the call of the Reformation of the sixteenth-century to us today in A.D. 2017!
Written by: Jonathan Langerak Jr. | Issue 46