By Morris W. R. Bailey
As we continue our study of attitudes that men have displayed and continue to display toward the truth, I shall point out that there are some who
Withstand The Truth
In his second epistle to Timothy, Paul wrote of grievous times to come when men, holding a form of godliness would deny the power thereof. In further reference to these false teachers, Paul wrote, “And even as Jannes and Jambres withstood Moses, so do these also withstand the truth; men corrupted in mind, reprobate concerning the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8).
We do not know who Jannes and Jambres were. It has been suggested by some commentators that they were Egyptian magicians hired by Pharaoh to duplicate the miracles worked by Moses and thus detract from their effect upon the Egyptians (Ex. 7:11). Whoever they were, and whatever they did, it was an effort to withstand Moses and to hinder him in his attempt to free the children of Israel from bondage. Paul likened them to certain false teachers of his day who withstood the truth that he preached.
So here we have an attitude of open opposition to the truth that culminated in some withstanding it. It is not the indifferent, apathetic attitude of “live and let live” that some who have no conviction assume toward those who preach the truth. Those who withstand the truth are usually not satisfied with their own rejection of the truth, but they stand in the way of others who may be disposed to receive it. Like the scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day, they “shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for they enter not in themselves, and suffer not those who would enter to enter” (Matt. 23:13).
One incident in the life of Paul demonstrated this active opposition to the truth. On his first preaching tour, on the island of Cyprus, he had been given the opportunity to preach to the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, who sought to hear the word of God. But a certain sorcerer named Elymas withstood Paul, seeking to turn away the proconsul from the faith. Rejecting the truth himself, he was determined that others should not receive it. This called forth from Paul the burning denunciation, “O full of all guile and all villainy, thou son of the devil, thou enemy of all righteousness, wilt thou not cease to pervert the right ways of the Lord?” (Acts 13:10). It was strong language but it was Paul’s estimate of them that withstand the truth.
That was only one of many such incidents of opposition to the truth that Paul encountered during his apostolic career. What was even more sad, and must have given him great anguish of heart was that much of the opposition came from his own people, the Jews, among whom were former associates. Time after time, the Jews not only rejected the gospel themselves, but were the ring-leaders in opposition stirred up when he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. (Acts 13:50, 14:19, 17:13).
That opposition to the truth took on an even more serious aspect when the preaching of the gospel began to make its impact on the heathen world where idolatry and superstition were firmly entrenched. Old traditions and customs die hard, and especially where they have been a source of material gain. Thus it was that when Paul cast an evil spirit out of a maiden in Philippi who had brought her masters much gain by the soothsaying, he and Silas, his companion, were cast into prison by the enraged masters (Acts 16:16-24).
Opposition to the truth almost cost Paul his life in the city of Ephesus, which was the site of the great temple of the goddess Diana whom all Asia and the world worshiped. Then, as now, religion was often commercialized, and many were making their living from the manufacture and sale of silver shrines of their goddess. Realizing that Paul’s preaching was turning many away from idolatry, they were able to see that it was a threat to their livelihood as well as to their religion, and so they incited a riot of such violence that Paul despaired of his life (Acts 19:23-31, 2 Cor. 1:8, 9).
Opposition: A Common Occurrence Today
Human nature has not changed since the days of Paul. The spirit of opposition that caused men to withstand the truth preached by Paul has reared its head from time to time and has led men to withstand the truth in various ways today. While it may be a rare occurrence, it is not a thing unheard of for preachers in some foreign countries to be imprisoned and even threatened with death when the preaching of the truth interferes with local customs, or makes inroads on the established religion of that country. This is particularly true in countries where Mohammedanism is the established religion. In a report on a preaching trip to Iran, Brother James P. Needham said concerning the religious situation in that country:
The populace of Iran is almost 100% Mohammedan. To call it a closed society is not far wrong. It is estimated that one in every fifteen citizens is involved in some kind of police work. A secret policeman kept almost daily surveillance of my activities. The Islamatic religion is interwoven in the fabric of Iranian culture, and the culture is a part of the religion. Officially there is almost no tolerance of any other religion . . . . The priests continue to keep local citizens in line religiously, and will intimidate anyone who violates Islamatic tradition, and persecute any who seek to lead them astray. There is a great deal of talk in the country about these priests having murdered such persons, and many feel that they would do it now.
“I have been told that it is illegal for anyone to enter Iran to do religious work among the natives, and that a visa for such a purpose would not be issued. One of the brethren inquired about this at the American consulate and was told that it is not illegal, and that such a visa could probably be obtained, but that such a person would have no standing before the law. If the local priests persecuted him, or even killed him, the government would do nothing . . .” (Gospel Guardian, Vol. 30, 229).
Such is the length to which men will go in some parts of the world, even today, in withstanding the truth.
Here, in our western culture, opposition to the truth is not likely to culminate in violence; but it can be carried on, nevertheless, in various subtle ways. Sometimes it is expressed in a polite refusal to hear the truth when it is preached. They have their mind made up as to what they want to believe, and they think that they can ignore the truth into silence.
Other times the opposition to the truth, while active, does its work in the background. I recall an occasion some years ago when I had the opportunity to conduct some Bible studies with a family. They were nominally members of the United Church of Canada. But they had obviously never taken their religion very seriously, and just as obviously had never been taken very seriously in their church. They were just taken for granted. When I suggested the idea of a Bible study to them, they were quite agreeable. After some nights of study it seemed that we were making progress and they gave evidence of being concerned about their salvation, after we had discussed the subject of baptism. But then they decided that they should talk with their preacher, and that ended our studies. They lost interest, and the husband was later given a prominent position in his church where he had formerly been a nobody. No, it was not violent opposition on the part of that preacher, but it was opposition, nevertheless. I do not know what he told those people. But whatever it was, he was withstanding the truth and, thus, prevented some seemingly honest people from obeying the gospel.
Opposition To The Truth Among Brethren
Since the beginning of the 1950’$ when the current issue of institutionalism and sponsoring churches began to surface, opposition to the truth has come from an unexpected quarter. One of its symptoms was a suggested “yellow tag of quarantine,” and various other ways to silence the opposition of sound brethren, who were set for the defense of the truth, to the wave of liberalism that was sweeping over the church of the Lord, and since that time has swept some formerly sound congregations into apostasy. Some of the religious periodicals published by brethren which had been in the forefront in opposing the previous digression of the 1800’$, under new editors reversed their policy of open discussion of issues and closed their pages to writers who opposed the developing trends.
It has even been the disposition of those who, in opposition to the truth, introduce human innovations with their divisive tendencies, to place the blame for such division on the wrong people – those who oppose their innovations. Old King Ahab labelled the prophet Elijah as “the troubler of Israel,” when in fact it was Ahab and his father’s house who were the real cause of Israel’s misfortune in that they had “forsaken the commandments of Jehovah, and followed after Baalim” (1 Kings 18:17, 18).
In the previous century to this, when the introduction of the missionary society and instrumental music in the worship had divided churches, it was those who opposed the innovations that were blamed for the division when, in fact, the responsibility for the division rested on those who, introduced the divisive factors.
Regardless of how loudly and how long innovators of today may shout the epithets, “troublemaker” and “church-splitter,” it is those who, without scriptural authority, and therefore in opposition to the truth, have introduced the things that divide us, who must bear the blame for a divided brotherhood.
Truth Magazine XXIV: 7, pp. 120-122
February 14, 1980