The Ephesians were warned not to be “tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming (4:14).”
Notice that the danger described here is not one of people who are dedicated to following God, but have accidentally missed something. It is a description of people who are intentionally using trickery and manipulation to turn people away from God’s will. Is there anything more angering or frustrating than knowing that there are people out there who are “scheming” about how to lead Christians astray?
What is an appropriate response in a situation like that? The answer is given in the next verse “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.”
This passage that we so often quote in reference to “speaking the truth in love” is indeed situated in a context of remaining firm despite “cunning,” “crafty,” and “deceitful” cultural or religious movements.
Consider another passage.
In 1st Peter 3:15, we read, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
We tend to imagine this passage playing out in a very non-confrontational way, perhaps when an acquaintance asks us out of nowhere why we believe in Jesus and then waits patiently for our response. But once again, this is not what the context primarily indicates.
The entire chapter of 1st Peter 3 is about suffering at the hands of our fellow humans simply because we choose to do right. Our verse about “giving a reason for the hope that is within us, yet with gentleness and respect” is sandwiched between verse 14 which speaks of suffering for what is right, and verse 16, which speaks of our being slandered maliciously because of our good behavior.
Speak the truth in love when a brother makes an honest mistake, and speak the truth with just as much love when its enemies work tirelessly to tear it down.
Be ready to give and answer with gentleness and respect when an honest seeker asks you an honest question, and be ready to give a gentles answer also when you are ridiculed or persecuted for your faith.
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” (1 Peter 2:21-23)