MESSAGE FOR JANUARY 6, 2001

(Twelfth in a series on Christ’s church)

 

            This week I was reading a study based on the findings of the Barna Research Group.  They made a study of how our nation’s attitudes have changed since September 11.  One of the most startling findings of the study was the percentage of Americans who believe in absolute moral truth.  That is, how many Americans believe there is an absolute standard of right and wrong, good and evil—absolute moral principles that never change.  In a study completed 20 months before 9/11, 38% of Americans believed such a standard of absolute truth existed.  That’s depressing enough but after the terrorist attack, only 22% of Americans believe in such a standard.  Among those Americans who claimed to be born again Christians, only 32% believe there is an absolute moral truth after 9/11.  Our text for this morning exposes the horrible distortion of this satanic, cultural fog.  In First Timothy 3:14-15 Paul says,  “Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, 15if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.”  The biblical designation for the church we will examine this morning is the church as the pillar and foundation of the truth.

            The fact that the church is the pillar and foundation of the truth assumes the existence of absolute, unchanging moral truth.  Not only IS there such a thing, but the church has a huge and utterly unique role to play in this world in relationship to the truth.  The words translated “pillar” and “foundation” carry with them the idea of “support” and “to uphold.”  The church is in the world, in part, to uphold and support the truth—to provide a base of operations whereby the truth can be put on display.  These terms also imply the church is placed on earth to defend the truth—we are the custodians of the truth.  The church alone is called to do this because only the church understands this absolute truth is contained in the word of God.  God has graciously gifted the church with his precious, invaluable word—his eternal truth.  Everything about which it speaks is true.

            I don’t want to labor the negative here, but you can see how sick the church is when, on the one hand, God has charged her to be the “pillar and foundation of truth” and on the other, only 32% who claim to be born again even believe absolute truth exists!!  Its no wonder the church is doing such a woeful job of carrying out our God-placed responsibility to be the supporter, the upholder and defender of truth in this world and in our culture.  How can you support and defend that which you don’t believe exists?!  Because there is clearly so much confusion on this issue, we want to spend a bit of time looking at the Scriptures which clearly teach that truth and passionately seeking after it should be the priority in the church above all others.  Some may respond, I thought God was to be the top priority in the church and that too would be correct.  So on the one hand, truth should be the top priority in the church and on the other, God should be.  How does that work? 

            We’ll look at some supporting scriptures in a minute but to set our course, John Piper has an insightful and biblical analysis of the relationship between God and truth.  He says, “Our concern with truth is an inevitable expression of our concern with God.  If God exists, then he is the measure of all things, and what he thinks about all things is the measure of what we should think.  Not to care about truth is not to care about God.  To love God passionately is to love truth passionately.  Being God-centered in life means being truth-driven in ministry.  What is not true is not of God.  What is false is anti-God.  Indifference to the truth is indifference to the mind of God…Our concern with truth is simply an echo of our concern with God…” Because God is truth, then seeking after truth is the church’s top priority.  Those are weighty statements to a church that clearly doesn’t equate loving truth with loving God and which is shamefully shaky on even the existence of truth.

            Our first point is we must understand and own the priority of truth.  We know that truth is God’s priority for us because of texts like John 14:6 where Jesus announces, “I am the way, the truth and the life…” Jesus calls himself the truth.  In the Upper Room discourse in John 14-16 where Jesus teaches most explicitly on the Holy Spirit, three times He refers to the Holy Spirit as “the Spirit of Truth.”  One of the Spirit’s main tasks according to John 16:13 is to “guide you [the church] into all truth.” When Jesus is praying to his Father in John 17, he says in verse 17, “your word is truth.”  God’s word, the expression of his very character, is defined by Jesus as truth.  In First Timothy 2:4 Paul equates being saved with coming “to the knowledge of the truth.” Being saved is knowing God and Paul expresses knowing God as “the knowledge of the truth.”  In Second Thessalonians 2:10 Paul speaks of the wicked who perish apart from Christ and says the reason is because, “they did not receive the love of the truth so as to be saved.”  Again, you hear the unbreakable connection between loving God and loving the truth.  If being saved means that you have received a love of the truth but only 32% of those claiming to be born-again even acknowledge the existence of absolute, moral truth, what does that say about the health of the church?

            Notice the priority of truth over love.  This is so important to a church that so often reverses it and places so-called love ahead of the truth.  Jesus doesn’t say, “Your word is love” he says, “Your word is truth.”  He does not say that those who are lost are in that condition because they did not receive the love of love, but the love of the truth.  Some may say, “Yes, but the Bible also says, `God is love.’”  Let me ask you, how do you define love?  Any valid understanding of love must draw on truth because only truth can accurately define and limit biblical love. You have no clue what love is unless you have an authoritative, truthful understanding of love.  Truth has to come before love or love becomes meaningless—it is reduced to a feeling which can be nothing more than a glandular response to stimuli.  Truth is logically prior to love, but truth should never be separated from love.  In the love chapter, First Corinthians 13, Paul says in verse 2 Paul says, “If I can fathom all mysteries and [have] all knowledge, [assumedly there’s a lot of truth there], but have not love, I am nothing.”  Truth without love is useless in God’s kingdom.  Verse six of the love chapter says, “love rejoices with the truth.” If we have biblical, agape love in our hearts, we will rejoice with the truth.  In Ephesians 4:15 we are told, “but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ.”  The truth in love spoken is essential for us to grow to Christ-likeness as individuals and as a church.

            In fact, there is no Christ-like love apart from truth.  We can’t love someone in a Christ-like manner without truth.  If a person is committing a sin that is destroying them (and all sin is self-destructive) then NOT to tell them the truth is not to express love to them.  The reason for this is because you have placed their opinion of you or the safety of your relationship ahead of their well-being and that is NOT Christ-like love.  A full-orbed, Christ-like love tells people the truth not IN SPITE of the fact that you love them, but BECAUSE you love them.  True, Christ-like “love rejoices with the truth.”  For example, if you are not telling someone you claim to love the love-rejoicing truth about a self-destructive sin, then you are showing contempt, not love for them.

            Someone has described the relationship between truth and love as being similar to the relationship between flesh and bones.  The truth is the skeleton that gives structure and order and strength while love is the flesh that carries the life.  The skeleton gives direction and strength and integrity to the flesh just as truth does for love. Sometimes telling people the truth gets you in trouble, but truth should, when communicated in love, never take a back seat to our desire for peace.  Just as we would never sacrifice truth on the altar of a shallow, emotional love, we must never place our desire for peace and tranquility above the truth. Luther said, “Truth at all costs, peace if possible.”  Today, we often reverse that, “Peace at all costs, truth, if possible.”  That’s wicked and evil.  That’s a denial of God who is the truth because as Piper reminds us, “to love God passionately is to love truth passionately.”

            A second point related to this designation for the church as the pillar and foundation of truth is; because the church is the pillar and foundation of truth that implies that we as Christ’s church must know and love and live out the truth.   It has never been easier for people to know the truth of the bible.  There are more theological resources in book form, on computer programs and on the Internet than ever before.  We have an unprecedented number of good, accessible bible translations and countless commentaries and Bible dictionaries and other very useful study helps.  We have been given so much and the sobering truth is “to whom much has been given, much will be required.” We in this current generation of the church should be, hands down, the most theologically astute, biblically educated generation in the history of God’s people.  We have access to great writers of the past as well as the comparatively strong bible and theology scholars of our own day and for very little cost.  Yet, with all that information available for us to access, the church is biblically illiterate today. 

            The Barna group has found that 60 percent of those who claim to be born again in America claim that the Holy Spirit is a symbol of God’s presence or power, but not a real entity while 47% of that group claim the devil or Satan, is not living being but is a symbol of evil.  Now, not all those who claim to be born again are evangelical, but we can’t hide from this statistic.  That is, those Christians who read the bible (Assumedly that means many evangelicals) spend on average of one hour during the week in bible reading.  That is less than those same people spend watching TV in an average day.  One hour a week.  How do we reconcile reading the Bible one hour a week with the word of God which says, “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that proceeds from the mouth of God?”  The word of God is more important than meat and potatoes, but evidently not more important than missing out on “ER” or “The West Wing” or Rush Limbaugh.  With a Lake Superior-sized supply of spiritual food and water, the church today is starving and dehydrating.  How can we with integrity act as the pillar and foundation of support, upholding, displaying and defending the truth if we do not regularly read the bible?  Many Christians spend far more time reading the often shallow, pabulum-like Christian fiction books than they do the Bible or theological books.  (There are some good, truly enriching Christian fiction books out there, but there is far more chaff)  It’s no wonder we are shallow and mostly silent about the truth issues of our day.

            What are some practical implications for us as the church being the pillar and foundation of truth?  First, as believers, we should each be capable of sharing the truth of the gospel to others in a way that is faithful to Scripture and understandable to our audience.  We need to be able to understand and speak of our need for Christ, of how He meets that need and of what our part is in being saved.  That is the truth the world needs more than anything.  We should memorize scripture; at the very least we should memorize those Scriptures that help explain the gospel.  The word of the gospel pierces people’s hearts and we need to be able to know those texts by heart so God could use us to bring people to himself.  Texts like, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  “The wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.”  “To as many as received Him, to them he gave the right to become children of God.”  “It is appointed for man to die once, then comes the judgment.” “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No man comes to the Father except through me.”  We need to commit those texts and others to memory so that we can be armed with the sin-exposing, heart-humbling, God-magnifying truth of the gospel.  That’s at the very least our obligation as the pillar and foundation of truth. 

            Second, as the pillar and foundation of truth, we are also responsible to communicate ethical and moral truth to a world that is stumbling and fumbling around in moral darkness.  Not everyone is C.S. Lewis or Francis Schaeffer or Chuck Colson.  Those people have unique ministries, but we should be able to tell people why abortion is wrong from the bible.  We should be willing able to tell people in general terms what is wrong with euthanasia, why pornography is evil and premarital sex is wrong.  And we should be able to do it in ways that the world, though they may not accept them, will at least clearly understand our perspective.  We should be able to articulate to our co-workers why it’s wrong to pad our expense accounts and why lying and stealing and verbal abuse of another human being is morally evil.  We may never be called to write an editorial in the News Tribune on those subjects, but when those issues come up in our jobs, our neighborhoods, our coffee clutches, our parent-teacher meetings, we should not sheepishly remain silent, feeling ill-equipped to offer a biblically based perspective.  Some are naturally better at this than others, but we must all be able to offer a defense of the truth of our faith.

            This is not about being smart or eloquent.  If we are soaked with the word of God—if our minds are permeated with truth, then when we hear the lies of this world, we will know they are wrong and will have a pretty good idea why they are wrong.  If our minds have been conditioned to the truth, the lies will stick out and we will be able to address them.  This is wisdom and wisdom is not the property of those with a high I.Q., it is a gift of God and James says he gives it to all who ask.  But there needs to be a basis of biblical truth in our minds so that God can apply that truth in wisdom.  That’s what wisdom is, applying the truth of God’s word to a particular situation or dilemma.  If we have a good knowledge of the truth and are humbling ourselves and praying for wisdom, God has promised we will be equipped to deal with some of the more vexing philosophical and ethical issues of our day. 

            The sad fact is, we often know much more about the characters in our favorite television dramas or sitcoms or Christian fiction books than we do about God’s truth as it relates to the problems of our day.  So many believers don’t see this as their responsibility.  Let Chuck Colson and John Piper and R.C. Sproul and folks who teach in seminaries have that battle, I just want to love Jesus.”  How can you love Jesus if you don’t love the truth?  There are people God has set apart to be public spokespersons on the ethical and moral issues of our day, but the cultural war is not won when Chuck Colson is invited to go on the Oprah show or on the other major media outlets. This war is fought and won over the coffee tables and work desks and back-yard fences when these issues are addressed in real life situations.  The teenage girl who’s pregnant and wants an abortion and you’re her high school teacher or her best friend or her best friend’s mom or dad.  That’s where the battle is fought on a day-to-day basis.  That’s where we have the opportunity and responsibility to be the pillar and foundation of truth in the world.

            But its not just knowing and speaking the truth that will enable us to faithfully fulfill our responsibility as the pillar and foundation of truth.  Thirdly, we must live out the truth.  If you’re a parent of a teenage girl in the context of unbelievers and you refuse to allow her to wear suggestive, skin tight clothing you are fulfilling that role as well because the biblical value of modesty is being held up and put on display in living color.  If you refuse to buy a luxury car so you can give more to the poor when all your fellow corporate vice-presidents are driving their brand new BMW’s, that’s powerfully incarnating a biblical, truth-based value.  If you refuse a promotion you are qualified for because you refuse to work the 70 hour week it would requires because you are committed to spending more time with your family, you are incarnating a biblical truth and its powerful to a watching world.  If you’re a teenager and you refuse to have premarital sex or use profanity or engage in put downs, if you befriend the kid nobody else likes, you are acting as a pillar and foundation of truth in your context because you are living out the truth of the Bible.

            Its as we inundate ourselves with bible truth and are able to speak the truth into a lost world’s heart and live out the truth of God’s values seen in the bible that we are being faithful as the pillar and foundation of truth.  Do we love the truth passionately or do we see Christianity mainly as an experience with God?  There’s nothing wrong with having an experience with God, but without a love for the truth, there is no way to measure the validity and usefulness of our experience.  In light of the inseparable relationship between God and truth, how can we say we love God if we don’t love the truth?  How often do you read the Scriptures?  Is it a joy to study God’s word or is it always a heavy burden?  We must stop believing the lie that we can love God and not love the truth—that we can walk with God closely without studying the truth closely.  Can we articulate the gospel to others without a lot of effort?  What is there about our lives that screams the truth of God into a world that is more and more being influenced by the lies of materialism, pragmatism, emotionalism and dozens of other false “isms?”  May God grant us the grace to take seriously our call to be the pillar and foundation of truth in a lie-darkened world.

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