I’m a bit of a student of language.
I always find it interesting when a certain phrase becomes commonplace. This one is on the way out, but remember, “I know, right?” Whenever you were talking with someone, and they agreed with what you’re saying, they often would say, “I know, right?”
When I lived in the South, this was a good one. “Bless his heart.” “Bless her heart.” It was license to then say whatever you want. Like this, “Bless his heart, but he’s as dumb as a rock.”
Now, it’s “I’m just saying.” This usually follows a stinging criticism. As in, “You’re a narcissist, egomaniac, and a control freak. I’m just saying.” (Some of you might recognize this as a description of a certain someone of a popular reality TV show. Don’t judge.) While “I’m just saying” wasn’t said there, it could have been. It’s a curious phrase. We tack it on, like it lessens the harshness of the words?
Don’t judge again, but I have a bit of a sarcastic streak in me. So when I hear someone say, “I”m just saying,” I kind of want to say: “Oh, I thought you were just being harsh and judgmental….but you’re saying that you’re just saying.” What does that even mean?
We have a Christian equivalent. When we want to harshly say something to someone, we can tack on, “Hey, I’m just speaking the truth in love.” It comes from a portion of a verse in Ephesians 4. It is totally taken out of context. But if we’re honest, we like to do that with the Bible—take things out of context to suit our purposes.
The whole context of the passage where Paul writes these words is much different than an interpersonal conflict. Paul is writing to a group of believers in a city called Ephesus, modern day Turkey. The believers in Jesus there are surrounded by all kinds of influences, including the city dedicated to the worship of the goddess Artemis. In a fascinating story, you can read more about that in Acts 19–how Paul wanted to speak in front of a frenzied crowd chanting the name of Artemis!
But Paul’s letter to the believers in Ephesus was meant to encourage them—to help them remember they indeed are adopted sons and daughters of God. To encourage them to remain steadfast, growing in their knowledge and love of Jesus. Paul wants to remind them of what they once were, so that they might not judge others. And how the grace of God has made them new. In the 4th chapter of the letter, Paul calls to the Ephesians to live out their identity, forgiving one another, growing together in maturity. Each one, Paul says, is to use the gifts given to them for the greater community.
Then, Paul decides to talk about babies, boats, and gamblers.
In a mixture of metaphors, Paul writes, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teachings and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming.” First he talks about infants, or babies. When a group of people commit themselves to using their God-given gifts for the greater good, bringing about unity and maturity, we will no longer be babies. That metaphor didn’t seem to be enough, because Paul then talks about boats. Boats in a storm are those tossed back and forth in a storm. I reached out to a sailor in our congregation, and he told me that a boat without a direction is in trouble. He wrote,
When a ship is not holding to a specific course it is simply at the mercy of the sea just like a piece of driftwood.
Finally, Paul talks about the cunning and craftiness of people. The word Paul chooses for “cunning” is an interesting one. It is the Greek word, “kubeia,” which literally means “dice-playing.” The connotation here is a cheating gambler that loads the dice to deceive those playing.
Paul, having spent time with believers in Ephesus, must have known the challenges they faced. Being new to the faith, being without a course or direction, and perhaps being surrounded by those wanting to deceive them. How do you stand in the face of all that?
Well, it is out of all that that Paul writes, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is Christ.” The implications are many, and it’s pretty hard to justify using “speaking the truth in love” as a Christian version of “I’m just saying.” Paul says we speak the truth in love—and in so doing, we will grow up to become a community that reflects Christ to the world. Sure, we might speak the truth in love to someone else in our community, but the foundation is love, and the goal is maturity and growth.
Let’s be honest. Sometimes those that call on Christ are known way more for “just saying” things that aren’t done out of love at all. In reading this passage again—perhaps Paul had in mind both an internal and external audience. We speak the truth in love—to each other, and to the world. I think that Paul is saying that when a group of people, growing and maturing together, becoming more like Jesus, using their gifts together—when that community speaks out of love, people will listen. And maybe we will be known not only for our words, but the love of Jesus in us as we speak truth.
Questions for individuals: Have you ever had someone confront you in something, but did it in a way that was unloving? How did you take that? On the other hand, did you ever have someone that you knew loved you, confront you, and it moved you to do something about it? How might that change the way you speak to others?
Questions for children and families: Paul speaks of us “being tossed back and forth, blown by the wind.” As my sailor friend said, a boat gets tossed and could get damaged when it isn’t heading on a certain course. Have a conversation as a family: where are we heading as a family? What is our goal? (As fall is approaching, with schedules filling up, how might that goal shape how you spend your time?)
Questions for the workplace: Look at Paul’s phrase again: “Speaking the truth…in love.” What kind of culture exists in your workplace? Is it one in which criticisms and “feedback” are given without regard for one’s feelings, in unloving ways? Or, is it one in which you feel appreciated, even loved, for who you are? Is it unrealistic to recognize “the whole person” in the workplace—their needs, dreams, emotions, struggles, and the rest?