Stewardship 2: Truth

Watch the video or read the lesson text … or both.

Lesson Text

Scripture readings:

Psalm 86:11
Acts 1:8
Colossians 1:28-29
John 14:6, 18:37
Proverbs 12:17
1 John 5:6
Exodus 20:16
Exodus 23:1
Proverbs 14:25
Leviticus 19:11
Colossians 3:9-10
Matthew 7:1-5
Deuteronomy 25:15
Proverbs 11:1-7
Isaiah 6:1-7

Discussion:

As we have done, we first look to whether or not we create truth. If truth does not originate with us, then what is our response or responsibility?

Truth comes form God. Psalm 86:11 shows us that it is “Thy truth,” or God’s truth. In Acts 1:8, Jesus Christ identifies us as “My witnesses,” or witnesses to Jesus Christ. In Colossians 1:28-29, we are called to “proclaim Him,” meaning that we proclaim Jesus Christ.

Jesus makes the bold claim in John 14:6 that He is the truth. In John 18:37, Jesus states that He is come to bear witness to the truth, which we know to be of God the Father.

From these verses, we know that God is truth and that truth comes from God. We are to be witnesses of God’s truth, and the truth we have is the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our responsibility with truth is as a mirror. We are to reflect the truth as we find it. In Acts 1, for example, Jesus Christ calls us to be His witnesses. A faithful witness can only tell what has been seen or heard – adding or subtracting nothing. In other words, as witnesses of Jesus Christ, we tell what we find in the gospel – nothing more, nothing less.

Colossians 1:28-29 calls us to proclaim Him, meaning that we are not to add or subtract. “Proclaim” means we must first understand what we are to proclaim. We proclaim Jesus Christ, so we must understand Jesus Christ as we find Him in Scripture.

As witnesses to truth, we reflect God’s image in the world. The world knows who God is through us, so if our witness is unfaithful or we mar God’s image, the world comes to hold a distorted view of God. If an unfaithful witness distorts testimony in a court case, the outcome of the court case will be distorted, unjust and not represent the truth. So it is with our witness in the world. We are called to be faithful to the truth as we have it in Scripture.

“Let God be found true,” says Romans 3:4. That is to say, whatever we represent in the world, let us always represent a true and faithful image of God. Distorting the truth of God in the world is attempting to portray God as untruthful. We are simply not given this liberty.

We speak what is right when we speak truth. Proverbs 12:17 The verse also says that we practice deceit when we bear a false witness. If we are not speaking truth, then we are not right. This is true all the time, but it is especially true when we are representing God.

All this is to show that we are not creators of truth. Our responsibility is to be faithful witnesses.

That said, it is possible for us to create falsehood. One of the ten commandments deals with bearing a false witness. The truth about another person or about God is not created by us, and we have little influence over it. However, it is possible for us to distort the truth, particularly about another person or about God. Bearing a false witness is a sin because it distorts the other’s reputation and image. Exodus 20:16 In Proverbs alone, there are seven references to false witness, all of which indicate a false witness is sin and will be punished.

Further, we are not to join another person in bearing a false witness. Exodus 23:1 We will bear that person’s sin. In other words, it is far better to defend the truth about a person than to join in anything that may have the appearance of creating a false witness. Bearing a false witness is an intentional act and involves conjuring up a story that is not true for the purpose of destroying or negating another person’s image and reputation.

Why is bearing a false witness worthy of so much discussion? In Proverbs 14:25, we see that a false person is treacherous. Treachery is another word for fraud, so when we become treacherous, we are committing fraud in God’s eyes. We come at someone with the appearance of doing what is right, but our intention is to do them wrong. It is a sin most definitely, but when we claim to bear truth and utter falsehoods instead, we are smearing God’s name. God is truth and lays claim to truth. 1 John 1:6

We will deal with this topic more a little later.

Although not one of the ten commandments, we have several instructions not to lie to each other. We find two examples in Leviticus 19:11 and Colossians 3:9-10. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” Therefore, when we are untruthful, we are destroying God’s image, since we are created in His image, and He is truth. Colossians 3 also points out that lying emanates from the “old self,” which must die when we put on Christ. Therefore, if we claim to have Christ and lie to other people, we are retrieving the “old self” that we claim to have put off. It is a practice in sin and frustrating the work of the Holy Spirit in renewing our hearts.

There are a few times when someone has lied to me in a grand way, all to obtain something from me. In their lies, they had hidden and ulterior motives. What I have come to learn from these experiences and boldly suggest here is that a person who lies to me has no respect for me as a person. They do not believe I am worth anything and do not believe I have a right to exist. Some forms of lying attempt to steal my right to choose and decide for myself, and again, it means the person either does not respect me as a person or does not believe I am capable of making a sound decision. Neither reason for lying is good.

We must be truthful, so that we can reflect well upon God who made us and gave us truth. We must also be truthful, so that we ensure respect of other people, just as we want to be respected. It is how we honor the two greatest commandments to love God and to love our neighbor.

Now that we know God created truth and what our responsibility is, let’s try to define truth. It is also good for us to put a face on how Biblical concepts appear in today’s culture. To guide us, we will look at three topics.

• Is there a double standard
• Is there a hidden motive
• Is there evidence to support a truth claim

Is there a double standard
Our starting point will be Matthew 7:3-5. Here, Jesus is pointing out that two different standards of judgment were used. There is one standard for myself which is far less stringent than the standard of judgment I use for you. How this plays out in real life can be seen in those who are dictators, whether it be in socialism, communism or other forms of government. Those in power lead lavish lifestyles and do not follow any of the rules they set for their subjects who often live in abject poverty.

Creating rules for everyone else and then not following them yourself is what we would call “against public policy.” That is to say, if the government creates a rule, then its leaders must also follow it. The system created becomes one where those in power are taking wealth from others. Where this is most dangerous is when distraction methods are used. Someone campaigns on socialist ideals and promises to address all kinds of maladies, some of which are not really a problem. What we cannot see is that the person is fraudulently taking money or financially benefitting. When there is a rule for you but not for me, truth takes a back seat.

This is a large scale example of double standards. We find double standards in many areas of life, some more personal and closer to us than the government. Parents, for example, sometimes set rules for their children but then do not follow them. This is what we would call a failed parenting technique because, as parents, we are called by God to be role models and examples for our children.

One of the classic places to find a double standard is in church, where we also most commonly hear the word “hypocrite.” Yet, hypocrites are everywhere. In the Greek Lexicon, dissembler is one of the definitions of hypocrite. Dissembler means a person who professes beliefs and opinions that he or she does not hold in order to conceal his or her real feelings or motives.

From this, we can derive other words, such as phony, fraud or fake. A salesperson who will sell a harmful product but not use it personally may fall into this category. If they know it is harmful, then they are concealing important information to make a profit. A person selling a vehicle with known problems but passes it off to be in sound mechanical condition would fit into this category as well.

Matthew 7 we will recognize contains the famous “do not judge” line that has become tired and worn out in our culture. “Do not judge” is often used against Christians to silence them, but it is taken out of context. Jesus actually calls us to make judgments. Shortly after telling us not to judge, He calls us in Matthew 7 to know who are the “dogs and swine” in our midst. We can only practice Jesus’ instruction if we make judgments.

What Jesus teaches against here is the use of a double standard. Hurling “do not judge” at someone is itself a judgment and rises to the level of a double standard. We must make sound judgments to navigate the complexities of life and safeguard our beliefs. Jesus warns us that not effectively judging the character of others can lead to losing our righteousness.

This does not mean we pronounce judgment or vocalize judgment. We are not given permission to go around vocalizing judgments we make in our mind. An example of this may be entering into a business transaction. Based on observation, I may determine a person not to be trustworthy. This is the kind of judgment Jesus calls us to make. We are not called to say to a person or behind their back that he or she is untrustworthy. Might we become a false witness?

Jesus assures us that whatever standard of judgment we use against other people it will be used against us at the final judgment. If we carefully criticize others for the smallest offense but excuse our own offenses, then our hearing before Jesus Christ will take a long time while He reads off every one of the smallest offenses we committed.

Look for a double standard and then demand the truth. We cannot accept double standards anywhere in society, whether it be in the church or in the secular world.

Climate change is a really good example of modern day double standards. Some of the most vocal people against climate change are not practicing the very things they warn against. Some have purchased ocean front property, while telling everyone else sea level rise will eliminate such properties. Should we take such voices seriously? Or do their actions take us closer to the truth?

Find the double standard, and if one is being use, wholesale reject the message because it is false. We have to speak up and insist that double standards be exposed and stopped.

Is there a hidden motive
Let’s pick up the climate change example again. Bill Gates recently put $43 million on an ocean front mansion. All told, he has at least $170 million tied up in direct ocean access property. We would recognize Bill Gates as a vocal promoter of climate change politics. If he does not believe his own message, then what is the real message?

There are at least three reasons he would have $170 million tied up in ocean front or ocean access property. One is that as the second richest person in the world he doesn’t care about the loss of this money when the sea level rises. Once the sea rises, these properties will be worth far less than he has in them. A second reason is that he will take the financial hit when the properties are worthless because living on the ocean is just that good. The third possible reason is that he doesn’t actually believe that climate change is a problem.

How can we know the truth? The answer is that we cannot because we do not know his real motive. His actions do, however, call into question what he really believes. Is there a hidden motive? Is his climate change platform actually making money for him and is this the real reason he is big on climate change?

This is just one example of a hidden motive. Let’s deal with other hidden motives we find in Scripture. Deuteronomy 25:15 and Proverbs 11:1-7 are two instances of using a false balance or false measures. There are many verses in the Bible teaching us to use just weights and measures.

This is not so commonplace anymore, but the purpose behind God’s expectation still rings true today. Basically, these verses say that if we are selling a pound of flour the customer has to actually get a pound of flour. Because there are so many verses on this, people were obviously known for making the scale register a pound, but the customer received less than a pound.

The seller made more money fraction by fraction because he had flour left over to sell. At the gas pump, there are often labels that the pump has been checked for accuracy. That is to say, when the pump says you have pumped 15 gallons of gas you have actually received 15 gallons of gas. When filling up your car, how would you actually know if there are 15 gallons or not? So it becomes easy to rig the pump to show a different number than you actually received. Surely no one has ever tried to get away with this, right?

Why is this so bad? First, it’s lying. We are lying to the customer and committing fraud. Second, there is a hidden motive. That motive often leads to personal gain at the expense of others. The antonym here would be transparent. When we can objectively test the weight of the flour, we can know whether the seller is being honest or is a fraud. Selling a car that has a major problem but not telling the buyer is the same fraud.

Hidden motives that lead to personal gain are especially damaging to our society. They purposely hide the truth just to preserve the opportunity to gain.

We can only combat this falsehood by insisting on transparency. More and more, a good question to ask when someone wants us to do something is, “How will you profit from this?” When someone in congress wants to pass a law, ask, “How do you profit from this law?” In Florida, laws were passed requiring sod to be placed around new homes. The lawmakers owned sod farms. We see similar issues in insider trading when buying or selling stocks. Another example is financial planners who are required to disclose in writing how they will profit from advice given. Will the advice actually help me or is it primarily meant to earn a profit for the financial planner?

To get to the truth, insist that all hidden motives be exposed. Where there is a hidden motive behind something, truth cannot exist. When the truth of the matter is that someone stands to gain by an action they want you to take, the truth of the action must be called into question.

Is there evidence to support a truth claim
“Well, that’s just your opinion.” “There is no absolute truth.” “You are being judgmental.” These are buzz phrases people love to throw around. The reality is that there is no evidence to back up these claims to truth.

Truth as a word, especially in the Hebrew Lexicon from the Old Testament, means faithful and reliable. Faithful and reliable mean that we can objectively test the claims being made against a standard. We often use reality as the standard of test. If I say, “The sky is green,” I have made a truth claim, but reality says my claim is neither faithful nor reliable.

Chicken Little is a humorous story which teaches this concept. Just because an acorn fell out of the tree does not mean the sky is falling.

Truth claims must have a basis in reality or what is real. They have to measure up to a standard. We often use evidence to verify the truthfulness of a claim because the evidence proves what is faithful and reliable.

Another way to prove a truth claim is to act on it. Reliable means that we should be able to act on the truth claim and arrive at the same result. Scientific truth claims might fall into this category. So would directions given on how to get from point A to point B.

In a part of town for the first time, GPS showed a street that connected me to where I needed to go. When I approached the street, I found it was just a field. I had to turn around, backtrack and go a different way. Someone later told me that a street had been planned, but those plans were scrapped. GPS made a truth claim, but when I attempted to act on it, the evidence proved the claim to be false.

We verify truth claims by evidence, and sometimes that evidence is by trying to produce the same result.

When someone insists that what you said is just your opinion, ask them for evidence.

Since this is a Bible study, we can talk about our worship of God and the worship we find in our churches. Is there evidence of truth in our worship? When we go to church, is there true worship? John 4:24 teaches that we are to worship in truth. How do we worship in truth?

God desires truth in our innermost being and in the most hidden parts of our souls. Psalm 51:6 That is to say, we must approach God in worship with a truthful attitude and spirit, a spirit that truly desires to be in God’s presence and please Him fully. What pleases God? Psalm 51:16-17 teach us that it is not in sacrifice but in a humble, contrite and broken heart. For God to create the rituals of sacrifice and then to say He takes no pleasure in them sounds bizarre, doesn’t it? This is not a contradiction. God is saying the sacrifice as a ritual is not worship.

We are to come with a spirit of a broken and contrite heart. When we come out of duty and to check the box off a weekly ritual, saying, “Ok, now that’s done, what’s next on the list?” then we have missed the point.

We can fail to worship God with a piano and organ just as much as we can fail to worship God with the most polished rock band. Form and function are not necessarily the key test of truth. Many of the rock bands miss the mark because it’s about them or they are drawing attention to themselves. This is not worship, and they are not leading us in any kind of worship. This is one reason that some churches do not like clapping because it signifies entertainment.

On the other hand, someone can get up and sing next to an organ in such a way that they show off their talents and fall into the same trap. The focus of our worship is to be God. That is, we can objectively test our worship by making sure it is free from selfish motives and truly points to God.
What is true worship? Isaiah 6:1-7 teaches us that true worship is recognizing just how undone we are, how far our sin has separated us from God, allowing God to cleanse our hearts, and only then giving praise to Him. This is followed by becoming a servant in the kingdom of heaven. Anything which does not lead us to repentance and an acknowledgment of how undone we are before God is not worship.

This is a long explanation to testing truth claims. Where we need to end up on this is that when someone makes a truth claim, we must be able to objectively test it against evidence. We must also insist in society that only truth be proclaimed. Double standards and hidden motives must be exposed and denounced. We have a responsibility as stewards of truth to be faithful witnesses of God and to correctly discern the truth.