Does "speak the truth in love" mean we are to tell the truth even if is hurtful?
This phrase, taken from the fourth chapter of the Book of Ephesians, does not mean for you to smile as you tell your neighbor that her dress is ugly. Many people misunderstand the purpose of this chapter and interpret its meaning incorrectly. This whole chapter is about unity of the body of Christ and spiritual growth. Really, the main point is to instruct us to boldly proclaim the truth of the Gospel with love, not judgment, as our driving force. We are never to apologize for or sugarcoat the truths found in the Bible. But, we are, also, never to be judgmentally pious or spiritually proud.
Ephesians 4:1-2 begs this of the believer: "to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love." So, long before any talk of speaking the truth in love, we are called to humility, which compels us to put others first.
If we continue to read the chapter, we see that the focus shifts to spirituality and sound doctrine. The appeal for believers to speak the truth is referring to standing against false teaching by not being afraid to say what is right. But, there is a fine line between someone standing up for truth out of love for the Word and for the other person, and someone who knows that he is right and just wants to win the argument. The believer's goal for the body of Christ is plainly stated in Ephesians 4:13: "[That] we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ."
"But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear: Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ." (I Peter 3:15-16)
Note that Peter admonishes believers that their replies be in meekness and fear. Some translations say "with gentleness and respect". The thought that is being communicated here is the attitude with which we speak. When we speak the truth, is it done with kindness?