Speaking the Truth

“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.”
‭Ephesians‬ ‭4:15‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Truth. In John 18, we read that Jesus came before Pilate and the subject of truth came up. We read, “Pilate said, “So you are a king?” Jesus responded, “You say I am a king. Actually, I was born and came into the world to testify to the truth. All who love the truth recognize that what I say is true.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked….”“. Pilate expressed, perhaps cynically, the uncertainty of “truth” from a human perspective. Absolute truth is a quality that eludes us, because we don’t have access to absolutes. For example, a witness in a court case promises to say “the whole truth and nothing but the truth”. But what he says is only his perspective of the truth, based on his observations at the time the crime, was committed. Dictionaries don’t help much either – one definition of “truth” is “the quality or state of being true”. 

In John 14:6, Jesus said He is the truth. We read, “Jesus told him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me.” Only Jesus is the absolute truth. What He said was true. True then and just as true today. And this gives a baseline of truth, against which all other “truths” can be compared.

So what was Paul meaning when he said, “we will speak the truth in love”. The previous verse in Ephesians 4 mentions the danger of lies appearing to be so convincing that they could be interpreted as truth. And the previous verse to that highlights the opportunity we have to grow in our knowledge of Jesus, a theme also in our verse today. The reality is that the closer we get to Jesus, the closer we will get to the truth. Truth becomes accessible to us, and this is a powerful place to be. Paul then cautions us to only speak the truth in a spirit of love. Earlier in chapter 4 of Ephesians, Paul encourages us to always to “be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love“. And from that perspective, with a humble and gentle love that seeks the other person’s highest good, we can deliver difficult truths to help the other person to grow “in every way more and more like Christ”. 

So how does the pilgrim today speak out truths in love? We are all on our journeys through life; all at different stages. And one quality we must have is our love for fellow pilgrims. Then we can meet the criteria to say to someone, who is perhaps further behind on their journey, what they should, or shouldn’t, do. For example, someone who is engaging in some form of sinful activity would perhaps be helped by a fellow Christian lovingly pointing out the error of their ways. And we must also be aware that we too can be corrected in a similar way. But over it all, there must be a bridge of love, a relational bridge, over which we can walk with the other person, walking into truth together. Jesus said He was the Truth. He is the Truth. And as we grow to be more like Him, we too can perhaps get a glimpse of His loving truth as it works through our lives.

Being Humble

“Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other’s faults because of your love.”
Ephesians‬ ‭4:2‬ ‭NLT‬‬

Being humble. If there was ever a life-condition that is truly counter-cultural then this is it. We live in a world where self is king (or queen!). Where we are told it’s all about “me”. Companies run courses in “self-assertiveness”. Children are encouraged to “stickup for themselves” in the classroom and playground. We’re told not to let people “trample all over us”. We score points if we get “one over” someone else. Our politicians look for opportunities to further their own ambitions, if necessary to the detriment of their colleagues. “Ruthlessness” is a quality often revered in others. But Paul says, “Always be humble and gentle” – living life the Jesus-way involves a lifestyle of humility. 

Jesus taught us how to be humble. In John 13 we read how Jesus, the disciples’ Lord and Master, did the most menial of tasks – He washed the dirt and grime from His disciple’s feet. This was almost too much for Peter – he couldn’t understand how Someone he looked up to, who he recognised as the Messiah, who he had placed on a pedestal occupied, in his mind, by the greatest Person who had ever lived, could wash his feet. This amazing Person kneeling before him, taking each foot in turn, washing away all the detritus from his feet and between his toes, wiping over the corns and callouses, and then drying them carefully on a towel. But that is what Jesus did in an eternal act of humility that was just as counter-cultural in those days as it would be today. Throughout His ministry, Jesus confronted those who were proud and arrogant; the door into the Kingdom of Heaven will be closed to such people.

Paul picked up this theme again in Philippians 2. We read, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had“. (Verses 3-5). 

So why is humility so important in the lives of Christians? And what does a humble lifestyle look like? The very essence of the Gospel is looking out for the needs of others instead of our own needs. We have a message of hope, a message that is counter-cultural in a war-torn and unhappy world. But to be delivered effectively it has to be supported by the right attitude. An attitude of love. An attitude of grace. An attitude of acceptance. An attitude of humility. We must always deliver our message gently and respectfully. Not rising to insults and rudeness. 

We all have faults. Don’t believe it if someone says they don’t. But we have a tendency to ignore our own faults and only see those in others. Paul reminded us in the second part of today’s verse that we must overlook the faults we see in our brothers and sisters in the faith, because we love them. Humility and gentleness leads the way in all our relationships, both inside and outside the Church. We pilgrims must remember that we are all “damaged goods”, damaged by sin, damaged by negative influences, damaged through contact with those in the world around us, damaged by our own misguided mistakes and choices. But, thanks be to God, He hasn’t finished yet in rebuilding our lives. We are being reborn and in the process we are becoming more and more like Jesus. And underpinning it all is love. Through our love for our brothers and sisters we must always treat them with humility and respect, mentally washing their feet every time we meet them.

Humility

“Lord, my heart is not proud; 
my eyes are not haughty. 
I don’t concern myself with matters 
too great or too awesome for me to grasp.”
Psalms‬ ‭131:1‬ ‭NLT‬‬

David is back in the writer’s chair. Scratching away with a quill pen on parchment or something similar – no ancient keyboards available. His thoughts for this Psalm have turned to humility. A quality much respected by God – we read in James 4:6, “And he gives grace generously. As the Scriptures say, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”” In this Psalm, David declares that he is not proud, and neither is he arrogant. These are both qualities that are accepted, if not respected, in our worldly societies today but are anathema to the Kingdom of God. David continues by saying that he doesn’t get involved in matters that don’t concern him, or that he knows nothing about. As we delve down into the substance of this verse, perhaps there are uncomfortable feelings starting to emerge deep within us. When have we been found guilty of being too proud to ask for, or accept, help? Even when we desperately needed it? When have we looked down on others, thinking that we are so much better than them? And in our societies, everyone has an opinion. We pontificate on just about every subject that comes into our minds. 

I can run the country better than our politicians”. 

“The Covid emergency would be nowhere near as bad if the public health authorities listened to me”. 

“The boss doesn’t have a clue about the best way to make widgets”. 

The list of our arrogant declarations knows no bounds. 

David continues in this Psalm by sharing what works for him – he told himself to “calm down”. The analogy with a weaned child is interesting – perhaps a child leaving behind their need for a mother’s milk is like us leaving behind our dependence on others for our spiritual sustenance, instead encouraging us to work out for ourselves our relationship with God and His Word, feeding our souls with the richness of God’s food. And in His Word we will find what God really thinks of pride and arrogance.

Paul wrote these words in his Roman epistle, “Because of the privilege and authority God has given me, I give each of you this warning: Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us.” (Romans 12:3 NLT). Hmmm…

So to our inevitable question – how does this Psalm help the 21st Century Pilgrim? By encouraging us to look to Jesus. Back to Paul again. He wrote to the Philippian church (2:5) – “You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.” If we follow Jesus and His example of how to live, we can’t go wrong. So we pray, “Please help me, Lord!”

Troops and Walls

“To the faithful You show Yourself faithful, 
to the blameless You show Yourself blameless, 
to the pure You show Yourself pure, 
but to the devious You show Yourself shrewd. 
You save the humble but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. 
You, Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light. 
With Your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall.
‭Psalms‬ ‭18:25-29‬ ‭NIVUK‬‬

Verses 25 and 26 of Psalm 18, at first sight, seem a bit difficult to understand. What was the psalmist, David, getting at? He used words such as “faithful”, “blameless”, and “pure”. Was he perhaps implying that the qualities he lists have to be in our characters before we can see them in God, even though they are a part of His nature? Perhaps a faithless person wouldn’t see a faithful God because they wouldn’t understand what being faithful was all about. An impure person wouldn’t understand the purity of our Heavenly Father. But is God “shrewd”? Perhaps that is how He appears to someone with devious qualities, whether He is or not. The Psalmist goes on to explain that the quality of humility leads to salvation, unlike that for the proud, the haughty. A sentiment exemplified by Jesus, in the words of the Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:8, “And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross!” 

David continued with positive statements about the impact God had, and continued to have, on his life. Reading the Psalms written by David, you can see that he had many dark moments but here he is declaring that God had turned around his depression into a condition of lightness. In addition, God had empowered David to take on seemingly impossible tasks, in battle for example. Think about the Goliath episode. David’s logic as explained to King Saul, was breathtakingly simple, as we can read in 1 Samuel 17:36-37, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” Almost as an aside, David didn’t appear before Goliath with a slingshot, never having used one before. As a shepherd, he spent hours perfecting the art of projecting a stone with a sling, and he probably set himself up a target and persevered, aiming and hitting, until he had the confidence in his ability. And when a lion or bear appeared on the scene a well-aimed stone would soon discourage them. So when Goliath stood before him, he forensically looked for a chink in the armour, found it above Goliath’s eyes and clinically proceeded to despatch him with a single small stone. But. A big but. David knew that he could do nothing on his own account. He needed God in his life to lead and guide and help him achieve what he had to do. David slung the stone. God helped it to the target. David built up his faith in God in the sheepfolds, on the open hills, in the pastures, as he protected a flock of sheep from predators. And that faith stood him in good stead as he took on the battles in war-torn Palestine. He knew that with his little ability and God’s limitless resources, he could have the confidence to take on tasks that would frighten most of his peers.

To be able to trust God for whatever life throws at us, equipping us for the battles ahead, takes two steps. Firstly, like David, we must develop the skills needed for our lives. Getting an education, learning a trade, practising playing a guitar, and so on, all the time keeping our eyes on our calling, focusing on our vocation. The Apostle Peter was a fisherman, but Jesus taught him how to use those skills to be a “fisher of men”. Sometimes we will perhaps get discouraged, thinking that our simple skill can’t be of any use to God. But God has a way of turning our little into great things for Him. Secondly, we need to spend time with our Heavenly Father. By being diligent in Bible reading and prayer, communicating and building a relationship with Him, testing our faith as we go, we learn to trust Him more and more. A toddler doesn’t leap out of the cradle one day saying that he is going to walk. There are some interim challenges he faces on the way, through crawling, sitting, and getting knocks and bumps, before the big day when he stands. And then he makes the first wobbly steps. Faith doesn’t appear overnight – it takes diligence and perseverance through the knocks and bumps as we grow. 

So back to today’s verses. He keeps our lamps burning, if we let Him. And that wall in front of us, or that Goliath in the office – they are not as big a problem as the enemy would have us think. That mountain might just turn out to be a molehill. Because God is on our side.