truth

Truth (Freedom Series)

Jesus : 31 If you hear My voice and abide in My word, you are truly My disciples; 32 you will know the truth, and that truth will set you free. Jewish Believers: 33 We are Abraham’s children, and we have never been enslaved to anyone. How can You say to us, “You will be set free”?

Jesus: 34 I tell you the truth: everyone who commits sin surrenders his freedom to sin. He is a slave to sin’s power…. if the Son comes to make you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8, excerpted, from The Voice)

Let’s talk today about three ways in which the truth brings freedom.

FROM SPIRITUAL SLAVERY TO SIN

I am not going to spend a lot of time on this because I think I’ve covered this several times recently. The bottom line: Without Jesus, we were spiritually dead, chained into our sinful habits and compulsions. The death and resurrection of Jesus brought us to life and broke the chains. We call this salvation. In the process we call sanctification God is in some sense constantly at work in us, breaking the chains we keep dragging back on ourselves.

Let’s try an analogy.

We were all enslaved on a spiritual plantation, chained by our lust, pride, greed, envy, self-loathing, etc. Jesus shows up and says, “Would you like to be free?” And we all say, “Absolutely!” So Jesus knocks the chains away and says, “You’re free. Go! Live!”

But we say, “I kind of like this chain here. That lust one actually felt good sometimes.” So we clink it back on. The slave master didn’t do it. We were “drawn away by my own lusts” (James 1:14) But even then, it’s not like Jesus throws up his hands and says, “Well, your on your own.” He waits, and when we say, “I was wrong. I don’t want this one,” he gladly breaks it for us.

So we leave that place of death and pain, but as we are walking down the road we see lots of other places where we could now live. We remember that the reason we ended up there was because we didn’t know how to tell the good places from the bad. But Jesus gave us a guidebook that reveals the truth about the all the options in front of us. We can see now which places will draw us into death and chains, and which places will draw us into life and liberty.

Jesus is the Truth; He cannot help but tell the truth. His word gives the Truth. Freedom from the chains and eternal penalty of sin is the primary meaning we see in this passage about how He sets us free. However, I believe there are other ways in which we can clearly see how truth brings freedom.

God’s design is for our good. God demands that we be people of truth because He loves us, and He knows what is good for us. So with the foundation in place of Jesus as the Truth and His Truth setting us free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:2) let’s talk about some practical implications of being people of truth.

1. WE ARE FREED FROM THE RIPPLE EFFECT OF LIES

First thing to note: Lying makes God mad really mad.

• Proverbs 6:16-19 There are six things that the Lord hates, seven that are an abomination to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that make haste to run to evil, a false witness who breathes out lies, and one who sows discord among brothers. • Proverbs 12:22 Lying lips are an abomination to the Lord… • Revelation 21:8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I can think of at least three very practical reasons that God hates this kind of sin: it hurts us; it ruins relationship/community; it harms God’s reputation.

It Hurts Us

I believe there is a basic human tendency to think others view the world like we do. We project ourselves into them. If we are liars, I suspect we assume others are liars as well. And what happens if we assume that?

• We live in fear of being caught, so we build walls. If no one can get in, no one can see what we are hiding. • We never trust others, because they are like us, right? • We are forced to build a web of lies (“Oh, what a web we weave…”) • We don’t believe promises, compliments, and assurances. Why would we? There’s a good chance none of it is true.

This is not freedom. That is a life of bondage. It’s not just that the truth of God’s Word that sets us free from bondage to sin. It’s the belief that there is truth and that it’s important, and that the commitment to honoring it all the time matters. And the more we honor the very concept of truth, the more we don’t have to hide and cover up. The more we begin to assume the best of others. Our default cynicism turns into default trust. We can accept promises and compliments. We begin to hunger for truth.

It Ruins Relationships/Community

Remember the story of the boy who cried wolf? He lied so often that Eventually no one believed him. There are other stories that get a lot more uncomfortable:

• The spouse who says “Everything’s fine!” when it’s not. • The child who says, “Yes, mom,” but doesn’t do it. • The person who breaks promise after promise. • The friend who tells you that you are doing great; meanwhile, you are ruining your life. • The one who makes up false excuses about why they didn't do something with you - and you find out.

I believe God intends us to live in relational community. There is no way we can do this in deeply meaningful ways if we are not people of truth. This is the kind of scenario that breeds suspicion, distrust, anger and resentment.

It Harms God’s Reputation

When we read in the Bible about being ambassadors, the image is that of being the face of Jesus. If you saw the Lord of the Rings: “I am the Mouth of Sauron” was like saying, if you listen to me, you listen to Sauron. And however you treat me is how you treat Sauron. In The 300, Xerxes sends an ambassador to the Greeks, and this ambassador expects to be treated as if he were Xerxes. When Leonidas killed him, he sent a clear message: he was ready to kill the King. The ambassador, the representative, helps you know what the King is like.

We are ambassadors. Like it or not, we help others know what the King is like: How we speak, act and think sends a message about the King we serve. In other words, when people see me, they see what they assume to be a representation of Jesus. And among many other things, Jesus is Truth. This is why lying is such a big deal.

• The Christian who says, “I love God!” and hates his brother or sister (1 John 4:20). • The person who says “God’s return date is September 23” but it’s not. • The Christian who sits on a Family Values board and gets caught using Ashley Madison to try to line up an affair

Your reputation will take a hit, yes. But because you are an ambassador of Christ, so will He, as will His Word and His Church. No wonder lying makes God angry.

Now, considering this short list, does it sound like lying or truth leads to real freedom?

Option 1: Lie and implode as you hide, harden your heart, and grow increasingly suspicious and cynical of others. Lie, and lose your reputation. Lie, and tarnish the name of God.

Option 2: Tell the truth, build your reputation, position yourself to be able to enter into relational community in a healthy and honest way, and maintain your integrity as an ambassador of Jesus and thus honor His reputation. So you are healthier, your friendships are stronger, and God is glorified in the testimony of your life.

God is for you. His was – His truth – is designed to bring you life. Every time we obey Him, it is for our good and His glory.

2. FREED FOR THE GOSPEL AND THE KINGDOM

I can’t tell people what Jesus has done for me and to me if I am not committed to truth. Do you want to hear a cleaned up version of my testimony? It will bore you death. A guy who looks spiritually good on the outside gets forgiven for some incredibly minor sin that almost doesn’t count as a sin, it’s more like a faux pas, and now my life is sunshine, Reece’s Pieces and Ohio State wins every day!

That’s not just boring, it’s a lie. To quote an old hymn, “I was in sin’s prison, o so dark and cold.”

• Anger that boiled over onto my friends and my wife. • Lust that kept me in the chains of pornography for 10 years. • Pride. • Selfishness. • Judgment. • Envy. • Jealousy. • Identity based far more on what others thought of me than what Jesus does.

God has been faithful in my life, and as He has been freeing me from these things – I’ll be a work in progress until I die - his power and glory keeps becoming clearer to me. And if I want to tell other about what Jesus can do for them, I have to tell them what He has done for me.

We have to let truth tell the glorious story of God’s saving grace.

You know why I can speak so honestly about my marriage up here? Because Sheila and I have nothing to hide. She’s not going home thinking, “Where did that come from?” We both knew about it already. We both know that God has worked miracles in our relationship, putting together broken pieces that we couldn’t. What else can we do but talk about it? Why would I hide the beauty of what Jesus has done in two very broken people?

This week our small group has an assignment: Let your spouse ask you about your idols. As in, they get to identify what they see as an idol in your life – and ask you why. You don’t get to choose a petty one and gloss it over. It’s ‘throw yourself under the bus’ time!

But why wouldn’t we?

What’s to be gained by avoiding and hiding? How do I benefit by saying ‘it’s all good’ when it’ not? How will I grow if Sheila can’t say to me, “I think this is an idol in your life”?

God knows I don’t want to have that conversation, because I know what I would say if I was her, and I don’t want to face it. But that confrontation will force me to the truth of God’s word. And that’s the truth that will set me free.

Now imagine a church community where everyone practices this. • If you see honesty, maybe you can be free to be honest too. • If you see people reveal their worst and still be loved, maybe you can bare your soul too.

But this relational freedom can’t happen without first experiencing the spiritual freedom Jesus brings. When Jesus forgives us, He frees us from guilt and shame. He frees us from needing to look good. I’ve always liked the trajectory of Paul’s confession of just how bad of a person he was. He starts with “I am the least of the Apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9) and ends with, “I am the worst of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

Paul grew increasingly honest about the depth of his sin while becoming increasingly free to talk about it. I suspect that freedom is part of being one whom the Son has set free. You know Jesus did his work; now you have nothing to hide. You can live in the light.

And that is freedom.

The Quest (1 Timothy 6:11-21)

Paul began his letter to Timothy by stating the goal of the church.

“They [the church] should concern themselves with welcoming in and bringing about the Kingdom of God, which is all about faith. Our teaching about this journey is intended to bring us to a single goal—a place where self-giving love reigns from a pure heart, a clean conscience, and a genuine faith.”

The rest of the book has been talking about those things. When we get to the conclusion, Paul gives a bookend that sounds very similar.

You are a man of God. Your quest is for justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.  Fight the good fight of the faith! [Agonize the good agony.] Cling to the eternal life you were called to when you confessed the good confession before witnesses.  Before God—the life-giving Creator of all things—and Jesus the Anointed, our Liberating King, who made the good confession to Pontius Pilate, I urge you: keep His commandment. Have a spotless, indisputable record until our Lord Jesus the Anointed appears to set this world straight.

In His own perfect time, He will come—blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen.

Here’s what you say to those wealthy in regard to this age: “Don’t become high and mighty or place all your hope on a gamble for riches; instead, fix your hope on God, the One who richly provides everything for our enjoyment.” Tell them to use their wealth for good things; be rich in good works! If they are willing to give generously and share everything, then they will send ahead a great treasure for themselves and build their futures on a solid foundation. As a result, they will surely take hold of eternal life.

O Timothy, protect what was entrusted to you![the gospel]. Walk away from all the godless, empty voices out there, and turn aside from objections and arguments that arise from false knowledge.  (By professing such knowledge, some are missing the mark when it comes to true faith.) May God’s grace be with you.

______________________

I’ll be honest: sometimes, when I read the Bible, I get tired. I know what a good quest looks like.

I grew up reading the stories of King Arthur and His knights (which I even forced on my high school literature classes for a time).  As a kid, I listened to the record of Rankin Bass’s The Hobbit, then read the Lord of the Rings every Christmas break during high school.  I’ve seen Indiana Jones, The Princess Bride and Guardians of the Galaxy; I know about the pursuit of Superbowl rings and NBA championships and NCAA tournament winners. There’s even that little bird in the kid’s stories who just wants to find his mother.

We all know what a quest is – and we all quest.

Sometimes it’s subconscious – we just end up giving our time, energy and emotion to something we have by default decided is important.  It could be people, or relationships, or family, or a job, or leisure. It could be a conscious choice: the environment, healthy living, injustice, poverty, a particular person, our family. When we find a cause we believe is worthy of our time, energy, money and emotion, we will give our life.

When the cause is noble, just, and good, we applaud those who fight no matter the cost. We admire William Wilberforce and Mother Theresa as well as our friends who fight to do life better. It’s the addict who celebrates their first year clean, or the married couple that has gone to counseling faithfully, or the person who has determined to pursue godliness even when those around them do not.  It might cost them time, money, comfort and even friends, but we encourage them because the cost is nothing compared with the value of the quest.

When the cause is lousy, we cringe at what great cost is being spent on such an unworthy goal. Watch an episode of the Bachelor or Jersey Shore or Honey Boo Boo and tell me if you don’t just want to weep for the lives that are being wasted. I see interviews occasionally with sports stars or Hollywood celebrities where they are so desperate to gain the world they lose their soul - and often their health, reputation, and friends. If we are not careful, our quest can destroy us.

But there are good quests too, such as “justice, godliness, faithfulness, love, perseverance, and gentleness.” These are not cheap, and they don’t come easily. If you want a pearl of great price you may have to sell everything. You have to fight for it. If you want to find your life you will have to lose it. If you want to follow Christ, you will have to take up a cross. Jesus bids us to come and die before we can truly live.

Paul says that going on a quest for godliness means you will have to fight the good fight.

“Keep His commandment.” This cannot be more clear. You fight the good fight and cling to eternal life through obedience. That is not what saves you, but it’s the only proper response to your claim of faith, and it’s how you fight the good fight. On the one hand, this is intimidating, because we will never do it perfectly, and we can run into the danger of legalism, judgment and shame. On the other hand, there is comfort here.

What if I don’t feel God’s presence? Keep His commandments. What if I am in despair? Keep His commandments. What if my world is crumbling, and life seems hopeless? Keep His commandments. What if I fail? Pick myself up and keep his commandments. That is how we maintain our quest. However, because we will do this imperfectly in spite of our best efforts, we need to....

“Fix your hope on God.” This particular passage stresses that you can’t put your hope in money. You also shouldn’t put it on reputation, power, sex, comfort, health, or good looks. Not on the next job promotion or election. . Not on a happy marriage or children who make you proud or a large retirement account. Certainly not on your ability to keep God’s law. None of those are bad things, but they cannot give you the hope you seek. I used to sing an old hymn: “Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wondrous face. The things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” To stay true to your quest, you must keep your eyes fixed on the hope of God.

“Be rich in good works.” Does God want you to be wealthy? Absolutely. Wealthy in kindness and generosity. Rich in love and gentleness. Money is not a bad thing, but the love of it is the root of all kinds of evil.  If God has given you the kind of gifts and talents that help you make money, make money for the glory of God and the furtherance of His kingdom. Just don’t make it an idol. You can't serve money and serve God. Your quest is not money; your quest is to build up a treasure of good deeds.

“Walk away from all the godless, empty voices.” Of all the topics in this book, Paul is relentless on this particular one. Don’t forget that ideas have consequences. You must cling to truth. There have always been godless voices, but I think we face some unique challenges today. Thanks to technology, we have access to soooo much information, and we can read and process it by ourselves. This is not necessarily a good thing. We need a community of the church to help us do this so that we don’t unintentionally begin to absorb ideas that will shipwreck our faith.

This is Paul’s final plea to Timothy. It’s the last thing to remember. This is a big deal. In the spirit of Paul’s admonition and my having a role similar to Timothy’s, I must offer this.

There is a recent book that has swept through a lot of Christian circles. As your pastor, I feel I must tell you that William Young’s The Shack full of distortions about God, sin, salvation, human nature, and eternity. [i] I understand that parts of the book are profoundly moving to many people, especially as it relates to processing why God allows pain and suffering. Yes, there are parts of The Shack that offer good things (a focus on the goodness of God, forgiveness, etc). But being moved is not the only thing that counts, and the good things are surrounded by bad theology.  Lest you think I am making too much of this, just hear me out.

In the forward to C. Baxter Kruger's book The Shack Revisited, Young wrote, "Please don't misunderstand me; The Shack is theology. But it is theology wrapped in story, the word becoming flesh and living inside the blood and bones of common human experience." It’s not just fiction; Paul Young is trying to change your theology. His recent book Lies We Believe About God makes his theology clear.

  • He denies the classic Christian teaching of human depravity. “Yes, we have crippled eyes, but not a core of un-goodness….blind, not depraved is our condition.”
  • He insists that God is not sovereign, but that he “submits rather than controls and joins us in the resulting mess of relationship…”
  • He believes in universalism. “God does not wait for my choice and then ‘save me.’ God has acted decisively and universally for all humankind. Now our daily choice is to either grow and participate in that reality or continue to live in the blindness of our own independence. Are you suggesting that everyone is saved? That you believe in universal salvation? That is exactly what I am saying!”
  • He thinks the Cross was a mistake. “Who originated the Cross? If God did, then we worship a cosmic abuser, who in Divine Wisdom created a means to torture human beings in the most painful and abhorrent manner. Frankly, it is often this very cruel and monstrous god that the atheist refuses to acknowledge or grant credibility in any sense. And rightly so. Better no god at all, than this one. The alternative is that the Cross originated with us human beings. This deviant device is the iconic manifestation of our blind commitment to darkness. It is our ultimate desecration of the goodness and loving intent of God to create, an intent that is focused on the human creation. It is the ultimate fist raised against God.”
  • He says hell is in the presence of God. He quotes Romans 8:38-39 which says nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God. Therefore, hell cannot be a place where we are separated from God. Rather, Young says, hell is God. It is "the continuous and confrontational presence of fiery Love and Goodness and Freedom that intends to destroy every vestige of evil and darkness that prevents us from being fully free and fully alive."

That’s hard for me to write, because I know that book has been meaningful to many people, and because it has provided a means by which many people who feel like God is disant and uncaring are reminded that God is personal and near. Is it possible that God can draw people to himself through this book? Sure, but it will be in spite of much of its distorted theology, not because of it. There will need to be some corrective teaching so that the trajectory of distorted theology explored in The Shack will not lead to the blatantly false theology of Lies We Believe About God. 

So I have to say something, becaue Timothy’s challenge is my challenge. I cannot walk away from it. If we want to quest like Paul challenged Timothy, we must reject the voices that can potentially shipwreck our faith with bad theology, even if the means by which the message is presented moves us.

So I know what a quest is, and I also know what it costs, and so sometimes, when I read the Bible, it makes me tired. No wonder Paul wrote in Galatians 6, “Don’t grow weary in doing well.”

That’s why I like that, after all the advice in this letter to Timothy, and after telling him that he is going to need to fight for and cling to his faith, Paul reminds him why that quest is so good, so important, and why it is the only one that matters in the end. Why should Timothy do all these things over and over again?  Why should Timothy never give, never grow weary in pursuing godliness? Because the God He is pursuing in his ultimate quest is awesome.

At this point in the letter, it’s almost as if Paul just can’t help himself. In the middle of instructions, he suddenly branches off into extravagant praise:

Blessed is the only Sovereign, the King of kings, and the Lord of lords. He alone possesses immortality; He makes His home in matchless, blinding, brilliant light that no one can approach—no mortal has ever even seen Him, and no human can. So let it be that all honor and eternal power are His. Amen.[ii]

There is no cause other that Christ that deserves our worship. Only Christ gets that ultimate allegiance from us. Only Christ deserves the fullness of our heart, soul, mind and strength. As we close this series, I want to close the same way Paul does, with a time of reflection and worship of the awesome God we serve.

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[i] Here are some recommended resources for The Shack (and Young’s latest, Lies We Believe About God).

JESUS CALLING is another popular book that is worth reconsidering, not so much because of its content but because of the precedent it sets about how God speaks to us.

[ii] I find it fascinating how Paul both borrowed from his culture in teh service of preching the gospel. In his address on Mars Hill he quotes several Greek poems and plays; Adam Clarke points out in his commentary that he believes Paul’s language here reflects a knowledge of his cultural contemporaries as well. Like he did on Mars Hill, Paul takes the language others used in praise of false gods and turns it to the True God. 

The Fables That Fail Us (1 Timothy 4:1-10)

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 But even so, the Spirit very clearly tells us that in the last times some will abandon the true faith because of their devotion to spirits sent to deceive and sabotage, and mistakenly they will end up following the doctrine of demons. They will be carried away through the hypocrisy of liars whose consciences have been branded with a red-hot iron, saying, “Don’t marry. Don’t eat such-and-such foods.” But God created all these to be received with gratitude by people who hold fast to the faith and really comprehend the truth. For everything God made is good. That means nothing should be rejected as long as it’s received with a grateful heart, for by God’s word and prayer, it is made holy.[i]

Place these truths before the brothers and sisters. If you do, you will be a good servant of Jesus the Anointed, raised and fed on words of true belief, trained in the good instruction you have so clearly followed.  Reject worldly fables. Refuse old wives’ tales. Instead, train yourself toward godliness. Although training your body has certain payoffs, godliness benefits all things—holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming. This statement is worthy of trust and our full acceptance. This is what we work so hard for! This is why we are constantly struggling: because we have an assured hope fixed upon a living God who is the Savior of all humankind—especially all of us who believe.

 

There were two problems facing Timothy in his church: One was a problem of what people believed, and the other was the problem of what people did. We have to believe things that are true, and then do the hard work of living in that truth.

Paul doesn’t pull any punches here. He says there are doctrines of demons, worldly fables and scandalous tales that sear the conscience of those who hold to them. The language is that of cauterizing a wound or being branded as a slave. The things we believe and then commit to first leave a mark, and they eventually tell others who our master is. [ii] Something will brand us and identify us, and it will be the thing to which we give our hearts and minds.  The Bible says we will all be servants or slaves of something. And it will true, or it will be a fable.

THE CULTURAL FABLES THAT FAIL US

Follow Your Heart. That’s a terrible idea – unless your heart is aligned with the heart of God. Just because your heart tells you something is the right thing doesn’t mean it is. How many times have we thought, “I would love to do this!” or “This just feels right!” and then had it end badly.  The history of pain in the world is built on the people who followed their hearts – unless their heart was aligned with the heart of God.  Jon Bloom writes[1]:

“If we make our hearts gods and ask them to lead us, they will lead us to narcissistic misery and ultimately damnation. They cannot save us, because what’s wrong with our hearts is the heart of our problem. But if our hearts believe in God, as they are designed to, then God saves us (Hebrews 7:25) and leads our hearts to exceeding joy (Psalm 43:4).Therefore, don’t believe in your heart; direct your heart to believe in God. Don’t follow your heart; follow Jesus. Note that Jesus did not say to his disciples, “Let not your hearts be troubled, just believe in your hearts.” He said, “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God; believe also in me” (John 14:1).

Success Is Measured By Money, Sex and Power. I’m not saying these things are bad. God is the author of all of them, and so when used as God intended they are good indeed. But if any of these things are your marker for the good life or a standard by which you gauge your reputation, worth or the significance of your life, you are going to find out what living in the rat race is really like. In the end you will find what Solomon did: it’s all meaningless in terms of ultimate value (see Ecclesiastes). “For me to live is Christ,” said Paul (Philippians 1:21).  Success is “Christ in me, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). I don’t need money, sex or power. I don't need toys or a bigger home or the best vacation. I don’t need to have fame. I don't need to reject them if they come my way, but in the end, you can have all the world – give me Jesus.

Live Without Boundaries/No Rules/ No One Can Tell Me What To Do. Do you remember Outback Steakhouse’s slogan, “No Rules Just Rights”? I didn’t even want that to be true at Outback. I hoped they followed rules of cleanliness when they made my food. (Wash your hands; don’t sneeze in my food; make sure the expiration date is good).  I get it – they were planning to make my food the way I wanted it. But even that is done within rules.

A world without boundaries or rules is chaos. There’s a reason we panic when a dam wall is in danger of bursting, or someone veers onto our side of the road, or a restaurant gives its customers salmonella because they broke rules of good sanitation. Without boundaries, we die. Everything has a design or a purpose, which means there is a formal or informal ‘instruction manual’ that shows us how things are meant to be, and under what circumstances they will flourish. Within boundaries, we live. This is true in the spiritual as well as the natural world. Live within godly boundaries (read Proverbs for starters).

One of the most devastating forms of this lie in our culture is that the unfettered, blatant freedom to choose whatever sexual lifestyle or action we want is empowering and healthy. It’s not – emotionally, mentally, physically.[iii]  Freud was wrong about a lot of things involving sex that have influenced our cultural perspective (just google ‘Freud was wrong’).

You don’t need a Bible that explains God’s design. Just read the sociological and medical literature on this. Contrary to what Scarlet Johansson thinks[2], we are not designed for promiscuity; we are designed for faithfulness. Once again, you don’t need a Bible to find this out. Do you know what group of people report the highest sexual satisfaction? Boundaried people; specifically, married religious people. You won’t see that on your TV, but it’s the reality. This doesn't’ mean marriage automatically guarantees this. It’s more complicated that. But if you just let sociology point you toward the good life sexually, you will find that it points toward the biblical revelation of God’s design: get saved and get married. The Law is a Teacher (Galatians 3); God, your designer, tells you what to do for your good and His glory.

You’re Perfect Just The Way You Are/You’re On The Right Track, Baby, You Were Born That Way. No, you’re not. I’m not either. You have issues. If you don’t know that yet, you will learn soon enough. Your teacher in college will give you a C, and you will have earned it. Your boss will write you up, your girlfriend or boyfriend will be rightly upset with you, and your parents will not like every decision you make, and you are going to make a fool of yourself on social media at some point. No one is perfect but God, and He, too, is well aware of your deficits.  

If anything, I am relieved to know I am not perfect just the way I am, because if I’m perfect, I am deeply disappointed in perfection. That would also meant that there is no way I can improve – and if that were true, I would be full of despair. But as C.S. Lewis noted, God wants to take the shack of your life and turn it into a mansion. That will take some remodeling.

Learn to see your frailties and failures with honesty but without shame. Grow. Build your strengths and at least address your weaknesses, but don’t hide the fact that you are imperfect. We all know it already. It’s okay. We aren’t either. And it is in the midst of our weakness that the strength of God is seen most clearly.

It’s My Life (My Actions Don’t Impact Anyone Else). Sure they do. Everything you do forms you, and then you take the constantly formed ‘you’ with you wherever you go.

  • Pornography harms you – and everybody around you, because you are training yourself to think of people and sex in a particular way.
  • What you ingest will catch up with you (food, drink, drugs, etc), and people around you will be effected.
  • What you read, listen to, and watch will form how you view the world, and then, “From the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” (Luke 6:45)  “Where your treasure is your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) People around you are impacted for better or worse.
  • Your sex life has a ripple effect in your partner: You are both learning something about love, commitment, honor, forgiveness, patience – or you aren’t. You are both forming opinions about what men and women are like. That will profoundly influence you and the way you view and interact with other men and women on multiple levels.
  • If you get three hours of sleep every night because you are playing video games, and you are cranky the next day because you are exhausted, your work and your family will pay.

It’s never just your life. It’s always our life. Your actions will inevitably impact everyone around you.

If It Feels Good, Do It. That’s a bad standard for when to act. Sometimes it works – a nice jog feels good (or so I hear), and it turns out you probably should do it. Maybe being generous feels good. Awesome. But to simply say that we will follow our feelings rarely ends well. I would love eat a ton of fried food again. I would love some days to just give people a piece of my mind with no regard for grace. Lust, greed and selfishness beckon us all, I suspect. Should we do it? For the love of God and His Kingdom, no. If it’s right, do it, no matter how it feels.

Believe In Yourself And You Can Do Anything. I appreciate what’s trying to be accomplished here. Be confident; you are probably more capable than you think.  I’m good with that. But you will always let yourself down. You can’t do everything. We are all limited by who we are and the circumstances around us. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a thing. And I’ve got to tell you – I’ve been believing less and less in myself for a while now, and it’s been increasingly freeing. I no longer believe I have the power to be the parent or husband or pastor I should be. I do, however, believe that Jesus has the power, and that with his help I can continually improve. Without that, I am without hope. Believe in Jesus; you can do what He calls you to do.

THE CHURCH FABLES THAT FAIL US

Good Christians Have Health, Wealth, And Physical Blessings. I will just point you to apostles, all of whom were martyred except for John, who was exiled to a prison island. Or the millions of Christians around the world now and throughout history who lives short, brutal lives before giving their life for Christ. Or the martyrs right now in the Middle East who are being burned alive after watching their children killed. Or the sub-Saharan Christians who love Jesus and live in abject poverty.

Let’s look at it another way: How many Christians deserve health and wealth because of how good they are? None. No one is righteous on their own (Romans 3:10). Good Christians are only good because Jesus has given His goodness to them as a miraculous gift of grace. Health, wealth and physical blessings are not bad things if they used for God’s glory, and God may well grant them for the sake of His gospel message to be spread. But these are not biblical markers for knowing whom God likes and whom He doesn’t.

It Doesn’t Matter What You Believe As Long As You Are Sincere (Or As Long As It Helps You). I hope going through 1 Timothy has put this fable to rest. True belief matters. People can be sincerely wrong. Not all roads lead to God. Not everything promoted in Christendom is correct. For example, the ‘heavenly tourism’ books have a lot of flags. All of the popular ones have some really troublesome theological material in them, and some of them have been dismissed by the authors themselves.[3]

“But is has inspired people and pointed them toward the reality of eternity!” Yes indeed; it has done that. But it has pointed toward truth with lies. It has gone beyond the Bible or even contradicted the Bible to point people toward the Bible. Even if it bears some fruit, it’s a dangerous precedent.

If all that matters is that something helps you or inspires you, you don’t necessarily need gospel truth, because there are a lot of smart people who can help you manage your sin and organize your life so that you feel better than you do now. You can just go to the self-help section of the bookstore and spare yourself taking up the Cross of Christ, because that’s really hard. It matters what you believe, and because it’s true, it will help you in a way that is lasting.

God Will Give Me The Desires Of My Heart. It’s in the Bible, but we have to be aware of the context. He won’t give you your sinful desires, though he may give you over to them. He won’t give you your selfish desires, though He may give you over to them. God doesn’t say “how high” when we say, “Jump!” Here’s the whole verse: “Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart. Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him" (Psalm 37:5-7)

God will give you the desires of your heart if they align with the desires of God’s heart, because then it’s part of God’s plan, not yours.

God Wants Me To Be Happy. God is not opposed to happiness. If fact, I think he’s a pretty big fan. But that’s not God’s goal for you. God wants you to be holy. God wants you to be righteous. And if God’s work in you to bring this about requires that you be unhappy, God will have no problem making you unhappy. How many people’s lives in the Bible would you describe as “happy”?  Yet God was at work in them, and their lives were deep, meaningful, purposeful, and profoundly important. I have no doubt happiness was a part of their life, but that’s a byproduct, not a goal. God wants you to be holy – which is the road to joy (Psalm 16:11).

God Uses Extraordinary People. Sure, sometimes, but not because they are extraordinary. We really have to be careful with this idea. God’s not waiting for you to dream big dreams or be wild at heart before He can use you. Usually, God uses very ordinary people. Often he uses sub-ordinary people. When he chose the disciples, he chose the dropouts that no other rabbi wanted. Normally, a student asked a rabbi if he could be a student. A rabbi never sought out students. But that’s what Jesus did. He chose men who either nobody wanted or who didn’t really want to get that involved. You don’t have to be extraordinary – because that part is up to Jesus. God uses people – even you.

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So how do we avoid fables? Good Instruction. Some things are true and some things are not. We have to identify error and lies at times. This commitment leads us away from the bad effects of false believes and moves us toward the blessing that comes with leading godly lives. Paul says Godly living holds promise for life now and the life to come. God made us; he knows how we function best. He knows what we are made to be and do. When we see and understand God’s design for our lives, and we are content to live in that design – that’s the good life. That’s something to build on.

Paul says we will have to train. Disciples are not passive. There is a reason Paul uses sports analogies. You don't finish the race by sitting and watching.   We are called to train spiritually like an athlete trains physically in “good instruction.” We will have to wrestle with false ideas and worldviews at times. There are a lot of voices out there clamoring for your attention. Don’t just accept what they say at face value – and that includes what you hear taught from the pulpit of this church. Read. Study. Pray. Then do all those things with other Christians. 

And it’s worthwhile. As you train in instruction you train in godliness. You mature. You build spiritual muscles and skills. You develop into the disciple God has intended you to be. And you will find that it “benefits all things, holding promise for life here and now and promise for the life that is coming.”[iv]

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[1] http://www.desiringgod.org/articles/don-t-follow-your-heart

[2] http://www.lifenews.com/2017/02/15/pro-abortion-actress-scarlett-johansson-claims-monogamy-is-not-a-natural-thing/

[i] I like the commentary from Jamieson-Fausset-Brown on this verse.

Sanctified—"hallowed"; set apart as holy for the use of believing men: separated from "the creature," which is under the bondage of vanity and corruption (Ro 8:19, &c.). Just as in the Lord's Supper, the thanksgiving prayer sanctifies the elements, separating them from their naturally alien position in relation to the spiritual world, and transferring them to their true relation to the new life. So in every use of the creature, thanksgiving prayer has the same effect, and ought always to be used (1Co 10:30, 31).

[ii] “Having their conscience seared with a hot iron - They bear the marks of their hypocrisy as evidently and as indelibly in their conscience in the sight of God, as those who have been cauterized for their crimes do in their bodies in the sight of men. It was customary in ancient times to mark those with a hot iron who had been guilty of great crimes, such as sacrilege, etc. And the heathens supposed that even in the other world they bear such marks; and by these the infernal judges knew the quantum of their vices, and appointed the degrees of their punishment. There is a saying much like that of the apostle in the invective of Claudian against Rufinus, whom he supposes to be thus addressed by Rhadamanthus, one of the infernal judges: -

"Thou fool, why dost thou deny what is so manifest? Behold the deep-burnt marks deform thy conscience; the appearance of them has grown up with thy vices; neither can the crimes which thou hast committed hide themselves." – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary

[iii] http://www.everydayhealth.com/longevity/can-promiscuity-threaten-longevity.aspx

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/fulfillment-any-age/201304/the-lingering-psychological-effects-multiple-sex-partners

http://www.markgungorshow.com/show/8185

http://www.heritage.org/education/report/harmful-effects-early-sexual-activity-and-multiple-sexual-partners-among-women

http://salvomag.com/new/articles/salvo24/holy-matrimony.php

[iv] “Having promise, of the life that now is - The man that fears, loves, and serves God, has God's blessing all through life. His religion saves him from all those excesses, both in action and passion, which sap the foundations of life, and render existence itself often a burden. The peace and love of God in the heart produces a serenity and calm which cause the lamp of life to burn clear, strong, and permanent. Evil and disorderly passions obscure and stifle the vital spark. Every truly religious man extracts the uttermost good out of life itself, and through the Divine blessing gets the uttermost good that is in life; and, what is better than all, acquires a full preparation here below for an eternal life of glory above. Thus godliness has the promise of, and secures the blessings of, both worlds.” – From Adam Clarke’s Commentary

Walking In War (Ephesians 6:10-20)

"Finally, brothers and sisters, draw your strength and might from God. Put on the full armor of God to protect yourselves from the devil and his evil schemes. We’re not waging war against enemies of flesh and blood. No, this fight is against tyrants, against authorities, against supernatural powers and demon princes that slither in the darkness of this world, and against wicked spiritual armies that lurk about in heavenly places. And this is why you need to be head-to-toe in the full armor of God: so you can resist during these evil days and be fully prepared to hold your ground."

Here we see individual responsibility in the midst of corporate unity. This is not like spiritual gifts or the “Five Fold Office” mentioned earlier in Ephesians where God gave “some” to be apostles, evangelists, etc. This is a clear call to all of us.

"Yes, stand—truth banded around your waist, righteousness as your chest plate, and feet protected so you are steadied by and ready to proclaim the good news of peace with God. Don’t forget to raise the shield of faith above all else, so you will be able to extinguish flaming spears hurled at you from the wicked one. Take also the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. Pray always. Pray in the Spirit. Pray about everything in every way you know how! And keeping all this in mind, pray on behalf of God’s people. Keep on praying feverishly, and be on the lookout until evil has been stayed. And please pray for me. Pray that truth will be with me before I even open my mouth. Ask the Spirit to guide me while I boldly defend the mystery that is the good news— for which I am an ambassador in chains—so pray that I can bravely pronounce the truth, as I should do."

 In Romans 13: 12-14, Paul writes, "Put on the armor of light… clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ." He was expanding on the words of Isaiah:

  • “Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash round his waist.” Isaiah 11:5
  • “For he put on righteousness as a breastplate, and an helmet of salvation upon his head” (Isaiah 59:17).

Paul talked other places about the nature of our fight. “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds. We destroy arguments…and take every thought captive.” (2 Corinthians 10:3- 5).

 Let’s be clear: God makes the armor. We ask for it, and He gives it, not because we are awesome, but because He is. Then we have to put it on.  Paul says, “It’s time to move. Put on that which God offers you for your good and His glory.”

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  • Put on: The Belt of Truth (aletheia, reality as opposed to illusion).
  • Stand For: The truth that God is real; Jesus was God in the Flesh; his life, death and resurrection bring us salvation, forgiveness and hope. If this is not true, “we are of all people most miserable.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
  • Stand Against: The error that Christianity is wishful thinking (“I want it to be true!”), merely human thoughts (“The Bible just shows us how people thought about God”), or only one way of many equally effective ways.
  • Put on: The Breastplate of Righteousness    (dikaiosune, right standing with God)
  • Stand For: The truth that it is only through Jesus Christ that we are absolved from the penalty of sin, freed from the power of sin, and guarded while in the presence of sin.
  • Stand Against: The error that we are born good (“I’m on the right track, baby, I was born this way”), or that we can become righteous through our works .
  • Put on: The Shoes of Peace (eirene, peace with God; tranquility in salvation)
  • Stand For: The truth there is spiritual peace with God through our commitment to and ongoing life with Jesus Christ. This is not the same as saying that if you are a Christian, there will be peaceful coexistence of others on earth, or that you will always feel interior peace. This is a claim about a truth that is greater than our circumstances or our feelings. Romans 5:1-2: “Therefore, since we have been made right in God's sight by faith, we have peace with God because of what Jesus Christ our Lord has done for us. Because of our faith, Christ has brought us into this place of undeserved privilege where we now stand, and we confidently and joyfully look forward to sharing God's glory.”
  • Stand Against: The error of false saviors (spiritual or material) and fleeting peace, which is usually some form of indulgence or avoidance. If something calms the chaos in our life no matter how little and how temporary, we tend to overindulge. Money? Sex? Being noticed and admired? Food? Vacations? Or if something brings anything unsettling, we avoid. People who annoy us…situations that aren’t just to our liking…a controlled environment (diet, exercise, social groups)
  • Put on: The Shield of Faith (pistis; “Trusting, holding to, and acting on what one has good reason to believe is true in the face of difficulties.” – Tim McGrew)
  • Stand For: The truth that there is wisdom in an ongoing trust in and response to God. A belief that the Bible matches the world.  We often think of faith as just trust in God. I think we have to include trust in God’s revelation. The Bible tells us that we are to be faithful in little things if we expect to be trusted in big things (Luke 16:10). But if the Bible is wrong, then God has not been faithful in little things. If you don’t understand the little things in the Bible, press in to them. Read. Study. Pray. Ask qualified, godly people for advice. Trusting that the biggest things are true in Christianity will trickle down; trusting that the smallest things in Christianity are true will build up.
  • Stand Against: The error that we should trust in Idols (self, hidden knowledge, politicians, the economy, health, pop psychology, etc).
  • Put on: The Helmet of salvation (soterios; saving)
  • Stand For: The truth of God's promises of eternal salvation and ongoing sanctification in Jesus Christ. “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind… “ (Romans 12:2)   “Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:5) “…be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” (Ephesians 4:22-24)
  • Stand Against: The error of gaining salvation from anything other than Christ, or evolving spiritually by thinking positively
  • Put on: The Sword of the Spirit (The Bible) 
  • Stand for: The truth of the power, trustworthiness and sufficiency of God's Word to tell us what we need to know about Christ and His plan for the world.     
  • Stand Against: The error of giving anything else equal weight in your spiritual formation; trusting outside sources or inner revelation over clear Biblical truth.

Note: In Bible times, there was no stainless steel. A sword unused became rusty, dull, and pitted. Swords were kept clean by frequent use or by honing them against a stone (the Rock of Ages) or another soldier’s sword. “Iron sharpeneth iron” (Proverbs 27:17)

  • Put on: Prayer (proseuchomai; literally, to interact with the Lord by switching human wishes (ideas) for His wishes. “They Kingdom come, they will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10)  “Whatsoever you ask in my name…” (John 14:13) Accordingly, praying is closely inter-connected with pístis ("faith") in the NT. – (biblehub.com). In fact ,James 5 talks about the prayer of faith (“
  • Stand For: The truth that prayer is powerful and necessary. We are told to constantly pray (1 Thessalonians 5:16) “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12) “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective.” (James 5:16)
  • Stand Against: the error that prayer manipulates God or that prayer is unnecessary. God is not a machine. He’s not programmed in such a way that we can manipulate Him. God will answer prayer how he chooses to answer prayer. The prayers of the righteous are powerful, but not coercive. On the other hand, prayer is clearly not irrelevant. Part of being faithful is praying faithfully, and in the end praying what Jesus prayed: “Not my will, but yours be done.”

A final thought involving shields: We often read this individually: “You, Anthony! Stand!” But this letter was written to the churches in Ephesus. It’s a group command. Everyone then who saw the Roman army knew how this principle worked (see the cover of your bulletin). Now, in order for the group to stand, individuals need to stand to. It doesn’t absolve us. But it reminds us again of the importance of unifying around Christ, then standing against everything that comes against us – together.

Tools of Truth

"One of the most frustrating things about being a Christian is that we are not allowed to fight the devil with his own tools. We cannot lie and cheat when we're up against liars and cheaters. We're obliged to give the devil his due, and go about the slow and so often apparently fruitless task of undoing the destruction his vandals have done so quickly and so easily: analyzing, explaining, and placing the truth agains lies in appeals to ears that so often are deaf - ears we at first thought wanted the truth, but in the end do not. No shortcuts, quick fixes, or sleights of hand are allowed here, no rhetorical tricks or playing to the gallery. This work requires patience and is a trial of faith, but it has a great temporal reward in the enjoyment of a conscience clear of the accusation that we have become what we hate."

S.M Hutchens, "Tools of Truth," in Touchstone Magazine

Faith, Hope, and Love

You are all children of the light and children of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. .. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” 1 Thessalonians 5:4-10
"…remembering without ceasing your work of faith, your labor of love, and patience of hope in the Lord Jesus Christ.” 1 Thessalonians 1:3 
 “ Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…And we boast in the hope of the glory of God…. we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit...” Romans 5:1-5
“ let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith... Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works…" Hebrews 10:22-24  
”“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.   1 Corinthians 13:13
     If the Apostle Paul thought these three theological virtues were worth discussing together, it's probably worth looking at how God intertwines the three of them in our lives today.
   A Greek mathematician who wrote during Paul's time gave this explanation for Paul's chosen word for faith: “"A demonstration of the certainly of a thing by sure arguments and indubitable reasons." In other words, faith is what we get when God has so convinced us He is right that we reorder our lives to follow him.  Paul writes in Romans 10:17, “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.”
     Faith comes by hearing the word of Christ. Faith is a response to truth that we absorb and embrace. I  hear language about faith as if it is a process in which we bring our emotions together and really focus ourselves so we feel strongly that we believe something.  If we feel strongly enough we will be people of faith. Faith and feelings will intersect, but faith – the foundation of truth that we absorbed and embraced - should inform and steady our feelings, not be driven by our feelings.
    The Bible does not present faith as a feeling.  Faith is obedience in response to God’s persuasion. “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” - Elton Trueblood
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    The Holman Bible Dictionary defines it this way: “the confidence that what God has done for us in the past guarantees our participation in what God will do in the future.”
  • (Romans 15:4)
 - “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”
  • (Colossians 1:5) - 
”For the hope that is laid up for you in heaven, which you have heard in the word of the truth of the gospel.”
  • (Galatians 5:5)
 - For through the Spirit, by faith, we eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness.

    So hopes builds on the firm foundation of faith. Hebrews 6:18-19 says,  “The hope set before us…as the anchor of the soul.”  It is meant to keep us stable through the storms of life. As Billy Graham said, "I've read the last page of the Bible.  It's all going to turn out all right."

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  • Romans 5:5
 “For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.” 
  • Ephesians 5:2
”…and walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us.” 
  • Galatians 5:14
 - "For all the law is fulfilled in one command: "You should love your neighbor as yourself."

     While agapao has multiple meanings, in the plainest sense, it involves choosing, embracing, and doing the will of God.  In other words, it is “doing what the Lord prefers.” Sir Charles Villiers Stanford once noted, "To love as Christ loves is to let our love be a practical thing and not a sentimental thing." The grounding of this kind of love is not the emotion; the grounding of agapao love is commitment and action.
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    If you have trust and obedience in response to God's persuasion, you have faith; if you have true faith, you will have a confident expectation based on your foundation of truth (hope). If you have true faith and hope, you cannot resist doing what God prefers (love). 

Teachers Good and Bad (Part 2)

    In the previous post about false teachers, we noted that Pauls' defense of himself in 1 Thessalonians established a standard concerning how we should present the Gospel.  Clearly, what we say is important, but how we say it important as well.
    There are at least 4 ways people can communicate:  They can be true, false, corrosive, and kind.  Let me define the terms.

  • True - true.  That was easy enough.
  • False - not true.  Amazing insight, no?
  • Corrosive - Language that destroys. This is sarcasm, insults, communicating in a way that drips like acid,  destroying people, relationships, and any future possibilities of sharing the gospel.
  • Kind - Speaking the truth in love. Kind speech is honest, but the offense will never come from the manner or poorly chosen words, but only through the truth

Let's be a little more clear about four ways we communicate.

1)  We can say corrosive things that are false. This is also called slander. It’s not only mean, it’s not true.
When I was coaching, I would get vicious letters.  I finally started giving them to my AD, who read them and let me know if there were legitimate complaints.  As it turned out, these letters were both corrosive and false - not only were their criticism not true, but they dripped like acid on my self-confidence and our relationship.

2) We can say corrosive things that are true.  Simon Cowell used to do this on American Idol all the time. One of his quotes: “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.”  Now that was probably true, but...yikes.  Once when I was in high school, a good friend with no filter said to me on our way to the beach, “You have the skinniest legs I've ever seen.”  True? Perhaps. Corrosive?  Absolutely.  That was 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.

Let’s try some real world examples of corrosive things we can say that relate more directly to our faith.  First, some quotes from those who are not friendly to Christianity (I'm purposefully obscuring the speakers so as not to detract from the broader point.  The quotes are real).

"[John Gibson] is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nut bag terrorists think." – KO
"I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder."  - BM
_So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible….than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon." – RD

If you are like me, you cringe a bit when you read those, and it does not incline you at all to listen to what they have to say.  Those comments are corrosive; they are mean. They are trying to get attention, sell books and documentaries, and look good by making others look bad.

But this shoe can fit on the Christian foot too. Try these quotes (and I am purposefully obscuring the speakers so no one is distracted by the broader point):

"If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being."                          
--  JF 

"Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals -- the two things seem to go together."  
                                                             -- PR 

From a response to an invitation to the atheist's Reason Rally:  ““The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” Ps14:1 Here's lookin' at you…We accept your invitation & will picket your parade of fools.  Love,WBC.”

Did these make you cringe too?  Do we realize that no one is making more or better disciples of Christ with these kinds of statements?

In Ephesians 4:31, Paul wrote: “Let all slander and meanness…be put away from you.” Why? When we speak like that, the goal is not to really change people’s hearts.  The goal is to shame them; to beat them; to make them look like fools; to impress our “followers”; to score points rather than save souls; to profit personally through money or reputation at the expense of others. People who are corrosive will embarrass themselves and embarrass the name of Christ.

There are two more ways we can communicate. 

3) We can say kind things that are false.  This is known as flattery.  This is why so many untalented singers appear on American Idol.  Their friends flattered them when they should have been truthful.  There are kind things we can say as Christians that aren’t true. The doctrine of Universalism (the idea that everyone will end up in heaven) may be "kind" in the sense that we don't want people to be angry or feel bad, but it's not true.  Same with the claim that "All roads lead to God."

4) We can say kind things that are true.  This happens when your doctor gently tells you that your lifestyle needs to change.  One time a friend of mine, after being on the receiving end of one of my very sarcastic jokes, said, “Anthony, your jokes are too sarcastic.”  He said it kindly; it was true; it changed me.

Here is an example of a kind thing that is true, the Christian version. When talking with Nicodeumus, a teacher of the Jewish law, Jesus summarized the Gospel (John 3:16-17): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”

It is a presentation of the Gospel that is uncompromisingly true; it is hopeful; it is compelling; it is life-changing.  In the very next chapter of John, we read of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, another kind and true conversation in a completely different context that not only changed her life but the entire village.

As we follow the  ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts, we see (for example) Paul on Mars Hill with the Greek and Roman philosophers, and all his letters to the church. They are always uncompromisingly true, and never corrosive.

I so often hear comments - especially through social media -  about people or situations that are just not helpful, and the speakers may think it’s nothing, but everything we do has a ripple effect of consequences. People follow spokespeople and imitate them…. And the Kingdom of God is either corroded or built up.

Corrosive and false will get you attention and will get you a reaction, and it will trick you into thinking that is the same as effective.  You will say, “I’m not doing it for other people,” but you are so caught up in doing it for YOU that you trample on other people.  That’s not any better.  You say, “Clearly I’m not doing it for the praise of others, because I’m not making any friends.”…. But you’re not losing friends because you’ve taken a stand for truth.  You’re losing ministry opportunities because you are not likable. Christ died for all people, not just the ones you know and like!

Corrosive and true at least puts you in the service of truth.  But remember: “Be ready always to give answer for the hope that lies within you” is followed up IMMEDIATELY by, “Do this with gentleness and respect.”   Proverbs recommends that our speech be “apples of gold in pitchers of silver.”  Both the content and the presentation matter!

Kind but false comments at least have kindness, but kindness is not enough.  Love is patient and love is kind, but refusing to be truthful is not a kindness.  It is (in many cases) an act of cowardice or compromise.
Cowardice is not kindness.

Kindness and truthfulness is the biblical mandate for communication.

Truth + love = Gospel.