By Cecil Willis
We often speak of those who are in covenant relationship with God, as contrasted with those who do not sustain such a relationship with God. Those in covenant relationship with God have pledged themselves to do God’s will (Ex. 19:1-8). The difference between those referred to as “the people of God” and those referred to as “no people” (1 Pet. 2:9,10) is in their relationship toward the truth of God.
The importance of truth is seen when one contemplates that it is the power of God unto salvation (Rom. 1:16). Jesus declared that it required a knowledge of, and obedience to, the truth in order to free one from sin (Jno. 8:32). Error cannot be substituted for truth in God’s divine plan of salvation. Error preached, error believed, and error obeyed cannot free one from sin. The truth is required to save.
For some, truth is difficult to define. The philosophers have said that truth is “horizontal self-consistency, and vertically fitting the facts” (Edward J. Carnell). Properly understood, this is a good definition of truth. But the scripture defines truth much more simply. The psalmist said, “The sum of thy word is truth” (Ps. 119:160). The apostle John said, “For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jno.1:17). In His prayer to the Father for His disciples, Jesus said, “Sanctify them in the truth: thy word is truth” (Jno. 17:17).
The nature of truth is a subject much under discussion these days. The philosophers, since the wide acceptance of existentialism, have contended that truth is subjective; that it is relative. Even some of our brethren have been swept up in this relative view of truth. About three years ago at Abilene Christian College, Roy Bowen Ward (former editor of Mission) affirmed that truth is not absolute and that absolute truth is not attainable. Of course, if Brother Ward proved his proposition; he contradicted it. If he could prove absolutely ‘that truth is not absolute, then he denied his proposition. If he could attain to the absolute truth that truth is not attainable, then he contradicted his proposition. Quite a few of our young preachers are absolutely sure that truth is not absolute. It is no wonder that the neo-orthodox theology has been called the “Theology of Irrationalism.”
But let us come now to speak directly concerning what our duties are toward truth.
The first responsibility every accountable being has toward the truth is to procure it. Solomon said, “Buy the truth, and sell it not” (Prow. 23:23). This passage indicates that truth costs. Some have failed to receive the truth because they were not willing to pay the price truth costs. Others who have known and believed the truth have “sold out” because error offered so much of what they desired.
One must be sure that he has a proper appreciation for truth. Peter taught that persons should “long for” the sincere milk of the word (1 Pet. 2:1,2). Jesus taught that men should “hunger and thirst” after the righteousness revealed in His word (Matt. 5:6). The writer of Psalm 42 stated that he longed for the Will of God, “As the hart panteth after the water brooks” (Ps. 42:1). In His parables about the kingdom, Jesus taught the value an honest person should place upon the truth regarding the kingdom of God’s dear Son. Jesus said, “The Kingdom of heaven is like unto a treasure hidden in the field; which a man found, and hid; and in his joy he goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field” (Matt. 13:44). Truth meant more to this man than “all that he hath.” Furthermore, notice that the passage says that “in his joy” he exchanged all that he had for the treasure which had been hidden in the field. An honest person will joyfully exchange any and every erroneous position he may be found to hold for the truth. Anytime one can exchange a false position for a true one, that trade is a bargain, and one should make the exchange gladly.
Of course, there are some who think they want the truth, while in fact they would prefer that someone tickle their ears with a lie. A good illustration of such a person is King Ahab in 1 Kings 22:16-28. Even after commanding Micaiah the prophet to “speak unto me nothing but the truth,” when Micaiah spoke the truth unto Ahab, Zedekiah (the servant of Ahab) stepped forth “and smote Micaiah on the cheek.” Then Ahab, who feigned to want the whole truth, commanded that Micaiah be thrown in jail and fed “with bread of affliction and with water of affliction, until I come in peace.” The prophet had predicted Ahab’s defeat and death. So Micaiah said, “If thou return at all in peace, Jehovah hath not spoken by me.” It is probable that every preacher has been places where the brethren thought they wanted the whole truth until they got it. Twenty years ago I moved to Indianapolis to preach for what was known then as the Irvington church. Soon after my arrival, one of the elders told me, “Brother Willis, we want the truth preached here, even if we only have 100 people left.” Attendance then must have been 400 or so. I thought, “My, that’s a fine attitude.” But when I began to preach the truth on Masonry, church sponsored recreation, on congregational cooperation, and the church support of human institutions, I found that most did not want the truth. They merely thought they wanted it. But one who wants to go to heaven should earnestly desire God’s complete truth on each and every subject, and having procured it, he must cling tenaciously to that truth, and refuse to be bought out, no matter how attractive the offer may be.
The search for truth is not merely an academic pursuit. The only real value that comes from the search for truth is when that truth is put into practice in one’s life. Furthermore, the intention to practice the truth is one of the conditions necessary to learning it. Jesus said, “If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself” (Jno. 7:17). Jesus also said there is no merit in repeating, “Lord, Lord,” unless one is willing to do His will (Matt. 7:21; Lk. 6:46). James emphasized that the blessings of the “perfect law of liberty” come not to the hearer only, but to the doer of God’s will (Jas. 1:22-27). When we learn the truth, we must assimilate it and process it so that it may be seen in our lives.
Jesus taught that the truth is not to be hidden under a basket. It is to be held forth, so that others may see it (Matt. 5:14-16). Disciples of Christ thus are to propagate the truth; we must perpetuate it. Paul commanded, “And the things which thou hast heard among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also” (2 Tim. 2:2). Christians are to be seen’ as lights in a world filled with darkness, “holding forth the word of life” (Phil. 2:14-16). We should labor that “the word of the Lord may run and be glorified” (2 Thess. 3:1). The Thessalonian church was commended by Paul because they had served as a sounding board for the truth. Paul said, “from you hath sounded forth the word of the Lord, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but in every place your faith to God-ward is gone forth” (2 Thess. 1:8). We are to “come and learn” of Christ (Matt. 11:28-30); then we should “go teach all nations” (Matt. 28:19).
The Book of Acts is an account of gospel preaching, and the results of that preaching. The scripture states, “And the word of God increased; and the number of the disciples multiplied in Jerusalem exceedingly; and a great company of the priests were obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7). Thus we read, “and believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women” (Acts 5:14). So ought it to be today. We should multiply our teaching efforts so that God’s children might increase in number and in stature.
The truth that is preached must also be protected and defended. Paul stated that he was “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:16). The Philippian church usually is thought of as the great evangelistic church of the New Testament, and that it was. Paul stated that they had “fellowship” with him “in furtherance of the gospel from the first day until now” (Phil. 1:5). But it also should be noted that it is said of them, “both in my bonds and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel, ye all are partakers with me of grace” (Phil. 1:7).
The apostle John taught that we should “prove the spirits, whether they are of God; because many false prophets are gone out into the world” (1 Jno. 4:1). The Ephesian church is complimented because “thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false” (Rev. 2:2). Jude taught that Christians should “contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered unto the saints” (Jude 3). The Sweet Singer in Israel also could say, “Through thy precepts I get understanding: Therefore I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104).
The truth of God is not some feeble thing that cannot stand to be tested. But evil men can wrest the truth (2 Pet. 3:16). Lest “unsteadfast souls” (2 Pet. 2:14) be deceived, false teachers must be exposed for what they are, “false teachers who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravening wolves@ (Matt. 7:15). A man of courage would be ashamed before men to preach a message he would not defend; a man of reverence would be afraid before God to preach a gospel he will not defend.
While preachers of the gospel must be bold and aggressive in the proclamation and defense of the gospel, yet they should be kind and tender as they plead with men and women to obey it. Paul commanded Timothy to “preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke,” but then he commanded Timothy to “exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2). It may appear at first that there is a disparity between the “reprove (and) rebuke” and the instruction to “exhort, with all longsuffering.” Years ago, on the Western Reserve of Ohio, preachers often went forth Atwo by two.@ One was called the “Evangelist,” and the other the “Exhorter.” I often have thought that it nearly takes two men to be both “Evangelist” and AExhorter,@ but I know that God intended each gospel preacher be both “Evangelist” and “Exhorter.” All of us who preach should strive to improve our ability as evangelists and exhorters.
Paul said, “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest unto God; and I hope that we are made manifest in your consciences” (2 Cor. 5:11). Many of us have seen emotionalism in preaching so abused that we are prone to eliminate persuasion entirely from our preaching. One can err by using too much persuasion, or too little, in his preaching. To persuade one to act before he has been taught sufficiently is tragic; but it is no less tragic to fail to persuade those who have been taught to obey. Many of us who have given much time and attention to learning how effectively to preach the word probably need to give more time to learning how to persuade men to obey it. The same Jesus who could call the Pharisees “hypocrites,” “serpents,” “offspring of vipers,” and “whited sepulchres,” also could plead in the same chapter, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, that killeth the prophets, and stoneth them that are sent unto her! how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” (Matt. 23:25-37).
Let us all be sure that we earnestly desire the truth, understanding what it is, what is its power, and its nature. Then having acquired the truth, let us first put it into practice in our lives, and then to proceed to repeat the saving message unto others. As teachers of error assault the truth, let us be ready and prepared to defend it against every foe, and to plead earnestly with the lost that they “gladly receive” it (Acts 2:41) that they too might know the saving power in God’s divine truth. Indeed, the truth, and the truth only, can make men free from their sins.
Truth Magazine, XVIII:3, p. 3-5
November 15, 1973