Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Love the Truth and Speak It

The ninth Commandment: "Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor."

In the simplest possible terms, this commandment is saying that we are not only to abstain from saying things which are not true, but that we are to be lovers and promoters of the truth.

Truth is an important theme in Scripture.  The word appears 252 times, 163 of which are in the New Testament.  Close to half of these references to "true" or "truth" are by Jesus Himself.  Often when Jesus spoke he would simply precede his statements by saying that he is telling the truth (Luke 4:25; John 16:7).  Sometimes he would refer to a person who "does what is true" (John 3:21).  Other times he would simply affirm that what someone said was true (John 4:18).  Other times, he would affix the word 'true' before a noun and use it as an adjective - for example:
  • "The hour is coming and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in Spirit and in truth…Those who worship him must worship him in spirit and truth" (John 4:23).
  • "If then you have not been faithful to the unrighteous wealth, who will entrust to you the true riches?" (Luke 16:11)
  • "For my flesh is true food, and my blood is true drink" (John 6:55).
Often times, Jesus makes one's truthfulness the test of whether one is aligned with the Devil or with the Lord.  (Read John 8:44).  He even calls himself "the truth" (John 14:6).  He speaks of the world's inability to receive "the Spirit of Truth" (John 14:17).  He speaks of the truth as a means by which God sanctifies and cleanses the church (John 17:17): "Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth."

When Jesus stood before Pilate, he told him, "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice," to which Pilate replies "What is truth?"  That is in effect the question we will discuss as a preliminary.  And so I want to discuss the sanctity and importance of truth.  Why is it that our Lord spoke so much about truth, and what is it about truth that accords with God's will and character?


The beginning point for all of these commands is the character of God.  God Himself is true, and because of this, we have a standard of truth and falsehood.
  • “And now, O Lord GOD, you are God, and your words are true, and you have promised this good thing to your servant.”(2 Samuel 7:28 ESV)
  • “This God—his way is perfect; the word of the LORD proves true.” (2 Samuel 22:31 ESV)
  • "Every word of God proves true." (Prov. 30:5)
  • “I the Lord speak the truth; I declare what is right.”  (Isaiah 45:19 ESV)
Notice, also, the close link between God's truthfulness and his trustworthiness.  Because God cannot deny Himself, then He must keep all of His promises.  This is to be a great practical comfort to Christians when they find themselves in seasons of doubt and discouragement.

Getting to the deeper aspect of what it means for God to be "the truth," Herman Bavinck lists the different philosophical ways in which God is the "truth."
  1. In the metaphysical sense.  God is called the "true God" in distinction to idols.  In this sense, God is the "true, unique, simple, immutable, and eternal being.  God is the supreme being, the supreme truth, and the supreme good.  He is pure being.  He does not possess but IS the truth.
  2. In the ethical sense.  In the case of God, there is a complete correspondence between God's being and his revelation.  It is impossible for God to lie or to deny himself.
  3. In a logical sense.  God is the truth in the sense that he knows things as they really are.  His knowing is correct, unchangeable, and comprehensive.  It is not acquired by research and reflection, but is inherent in his divine being and precedes the existence of things.  God's knowledge is of one piece with his nature and therefore, substantial truth.  God's being composes reality and makes logic and knowledge possible.
Augustine's prayer sums this more philosophical chapter up very nicely: "You I invoke, O God, the truth in, by, and through whom all truths are true." (Soliloquies I.1)

  • “Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”(2 Thessalonians 2:11–12 ESV)  Note that the corollary of this verse is that those who have pleasure in righteousness will believe the truth.
  • "Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice" (John 18:37).
  • “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.” (1 John 2:21 ESV)
  • “By this we shall know that we are of the truth and reassure our heart before him”  (1 John 3:19 ESV)
  • “And you shall say that they did not obey the voice of the Lord their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.”  (Jeremiah 7:28 ESV)
And so we see that it is virtuous to believe the truth.  This means that we not only accept things that comport with reality, but that we are to seek the truth about all of life - but especially about God and ourselves - through solid teaching, through reason, and by seeking to better understand the Scriptures.  Also recall that Romans 1:18 speaks of those who know the truth and yet "suppress the truth in unrighteousness."  Refusal to believe the truth begins in the heart.

  • “Love truth and peace.”  (Zechariah 8:19 ESV)
  • "[The wicked] refused to love the truth and so be saved" (2 Thess. 2:10).  Note in this verse the willfulness involved in not loving the truth.
  • "The Preacher sought to find words of delight, and uprightly he wrote words of truth" (Ecc. 12:10).
  • “Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.  (Psalms 51:6 ESV)
As with all of the other commands here, this imperative that we are to love the truth is rooted first in God's own love of the truth.  God delights in truth. We are being unlike God when we do not likewise do so.  Many Christians today want to relegate truth-seeking to the theology-geeks and the apologists, but if we are to be disciples of Jesus Christ, then we must be lovers of the truth, who take delight in true things.

  • “These are the things that you shall do: Speak the truth to one another; render in your gates judgments that are true and make for peace.”  (Zechariah 8:16 ESV)
  • “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.”  (Ephesians 4:25 ESV)
I like the way that Thomas Boston puts it: "our mouth must agree with our mind."  Let's recall, once again, that God only speaks what is true, and this is to be echoed in our own behavior.  This is primarily what people think the ninth commandment is about, but as you can see, the speaking of truth is only part of what this commandment addresses.  First, the truth is to be first delighted and rejoiced in by the inward man, and then it comes forth from us.  If we do not know the truth, then we cannot delight in it, and if we do not delight in or love the truth, then of course we will not speak of it.  In fact, we may speak against the truth in such cases, and we may even deny the possibility of knowing any truths.  This is the milieu in which we live, unfortunately.  Our day and age is one in which those who speak what they believe to be true are shouted down as arrogant braggards who won't stop tooting their own horns.  Speaking the truth often comes at great cost.

  • “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”  (Ephesians 4:15 ESV)
People today often think that speaking the truth "in love" means a sweet tone of voice, a head tilted slightly while nodding to show concern, and an unwillingness to affirm that what one believes is "true" (for that would offend the conversation partner).  If such people had their way, then the Apostles and even Christ Himself would be the most conceivably unwelcome dinner guests imaginable.  If there is one conviction which the Old and New Testaments commonly testify to, it is perhaps, the virtue of believing, loving, and speaking the truth - even if it is to one's social detriment.

So if the popular notion of "speaking the truth in love" is wrong, then what does it mean to speak the truth in love?  Calvin's comments on this verse are helpful:
If each individual, instead of attending exclusively to his own concerns, shall desire mutual intercourse, there will be agreeable and general progress. Such, the Apostle assures us, must be the nature of this harmony, that men shall not be suffered to forget the claims of truth, or, disregarding them, to frame an agreement according to their own views.
Calvin is saying that our speaking of the truth is not to be for the promotion of our own ends, but for the betterment of those whom we are speaking with.  If making ourselves look better or even winning an argument just to prove that we are great debaters is our end, then we are certainly not speaking the truth in a Biblical manner.  We must still be cautious, because the person whom one is speaking with may not like what you have to say.  This does not mean that, therefore, you are not speaking the truth in love.  It may mean you are doing precisely that and they do not want to hear the truth.
"[W]e must not lose sight of the central and obvious teaching of the ninth commandment--it enjoins truthfulness in all dealings.  Thus the most important question to be asked with respect to Internet communication in relation to the ninth commandment is this: "Is it truthful."  In addition, we are also called as Christians to be "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15).   Here we must also recognize that "love" is not to be equated with "niceness," that the proper relationship of truth and love is often complex, and that discerning the proper balance calls for wisdom and dependence upon the Spirit of God." -William Evans
 All of this does not mean that there should not be caution and thoughtfulness in our speaking of the truth, and we will each have to search our own hearts and ask the Lord to help us to know whether we have crossed lines and whether our speech has been "in love" and for the other's good or not.   The most important thing is that Scripture be our guide in this matter, since everyone we meet has a different idea about what and how we should speak.

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