Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 06/20/1999
"Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
Today we begin a new section of the Book of Ephesians. Having taught us the Purpose of the Christian life (to glorify Christ), the Source of the Christian life (God and his grace), the Nurture of the Christian life (the spiritual gifts and ministry of the Church), and the Motive of the Christian life (to walk worthily of our calling in gratitude for his grace, our position, and our privilege; to live out of love for Jesus Christ), Paul now begins to teach us the Specifics of the Christian life. And the first of them is the necessity of speaking truth with our neighbors.
Paul had already alluded in v. 21 to the fact that "truth is in Jesus." Indeed, He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. He is the source of anything that can be called the Christian life in general (for it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us; it is Christ in us who is the "hope of glory"), but he is specifically and especially the source of truth. It is because we know Christ that we can claim to know truth. How is this so?
The source of truth is first the Decree of Christ. He is the eternal Logos, the Word of the Father, who was with him in the beginning. He is therefore the Alpha and the Omega, the Lord of Creation. It was he who said "Let there be light," and there was light. It was he who said let there be a firmament in the heavens and it was so. It was he who said of these things that they were GOOD. He therefore defines truth. What he says goes; what he says is. What he decrees is the basis of truth, the ground of truth, yea even the cause of truth. What he decrees is true by definition, and not one jot nor tittle of it can pass away until all is fulfilled.
But in an even deeper sense the source of truth is the Character of Christ. For his decrees are not arbitrary exercises of raw power but rather flow from his very nature. He is faithful; he keeps his covenant; he does only what he sees the Father doing. He is just; he does what is right, even if it leads him to a Cross. He is loving: he is true to his own, even if it leads him to a Cross. It is in this sense that the statement of v. 21, that truth is in Jesus, is the very foundation for any truthful living or speaking that we oursleves may be doing.
"'What is truth?' asked jesting Pilate, and would not stay for an answer." So wrote Francis Bacon. And the whole time the Answer was standing right in front of him. The most basic, root meaning of the biblical words for truth (Heb. EMETH, Grk. ALETHEIA) is "faithfulness." People may be described as "true" if they are faithful to the facts, if they are faithful to their covenants, if they are faithful to their friends, if they are faithful to their mission, if they are faithful to God, if they are faithful to his Word. All these kinds of faithfulness are viewed as flowing from the same spring in the character. So "speaking truth" refers not just to technical accuracy of statement alone, but to the whole life of faithfulness and integrity that makes such truthfulness possible.
In this sense, the opposite of "truth" would be double mindedness; the opposite of the true man would be the double-minded man James describes, who is unstable in all his ways. It is easy to see why this is so. If I am single-minded, I am undivided in my loyalties. There is no ongoing competition for the throne of my heart; it belongs to Christ alone. When that is true, you can depend on it that I mean what I say. Why wouldn't I? But if my loyalties are divided--if I am of two minds--then I must of necessity be unstable in all my ways, and therefore completely untrustworthy. For if I have two minds, then how do you know that the side of me which made a promise will be the one in control when it comes time to keep it? Worse, how do I know? You cannot. And I cannot.
A good synonym of this biblical concept of truth therefore would be "integrity." Think about the resemblance between the word "integrity" and the word "integer." It is not an accident. And what is an integer? It is a whole number. Integrity then is the wholeness--the single-mindedness in devotion to Christ--which makes truthfulness possible. Christ modeled this virtue when he did "only what he saw the Father doing," when his "meat and drink was to do the will of the Father." And if Christ is in your life, he must bring a measure of this quality with him. To be conformed to his image is to be conformed to this. For then and only then can we be trusted; then and only then will we be true.
Biblical truth speaking is never simply truth speaking in the abstract. It is always understood in a social or relational context, involving not only how we relate to the facts but also how we relate them--and ourselves--to God and to each other. This truth telling then is to happen in the context of the Church. We are to do it because "we are members of one another." This is not then just a repetition of the Command not to bear false witness against our neighbor, but an application of it to the more specific and focused community which is the community of faith, the Body of Christ. So, why does such an application need to be made? Why wouldn't we speak truth in the Church? It seems to me that there are at least two peculiar temptations to unfaithful speech that we encounter there.
The first is GOSSIP. It is no exaggeration to say that this is one of the most deadly weapons Satan has against the Church. I have known nothing that is more damaging to our ability to function as Christ designed us to. What is Gossip? It is sharing information about our neighbor outside of the biblical parameters for the use of such information. And what are those parameters? They are found in Mat. 18:15-18. If your brother sins, go and discuss it with someone else? NO! Go and reprove him in private. If he does not repent, there are further procedures that can be invoked; but most people mess it up and get the whole process off track right from the very start. It is at this point that an understanding of the holistic biblical view of truth becomes essential. For it does not matter that the information shared is accurate! Factual accuracy is a necessary but not a sufficient condition of truthfulness. It is possible for your words to be "truthful" in that limited and sub-biblical sense, but still to be unfaithful, to be "untrue" to your brother. "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
A second peculiar temptation to untruthfulness that we encounter in the Church is in our TESTIMONY. Have you never been tempted to doctor yours just a little to make it more dramatic? To make it fit better with the theologically driven expectations of the congregation you were trying to impress and be accepted by? Or even to make it more "honoring" (!) to Christ? As Bacon reminds us, "Truth is a naked and open daylight that doth not show the masks and mummeries of the world half so stately and daintily as candle-lights. . . . Doth any man doubt that if there were taken out of men's minds vain opinions, flattering hopes, false valuations, imaginations as one would, and the like, but it would leave the minds of a number of men poor shrunken things, full of melancholy and indisposition, and unpleasing to themselves?" We have all heard dramatic claims that, on closer examination, die the death of a thousand qualifications. I once heard a Christian lady loudly proclaim that she was "believing God for a painless childbirth." Well, biblical faith is always in response to God's word, trusting his specific promises. So where does he promise this? It was presumption, not faith. And this was discovered after this lady was delivered--for she had obligated herself to produce a testimony which required, let us say, a certain artistry in its selection of words. No, of course she had no pain--had she not "believed" God for that? There was however a certain amount of--ahem--"discomfort," though. So well meaning--so false. And so we tempt the enemies of God to blaspheme. "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
Do we need to belabor the importance of truthfulness in the Church? For there we are representing the very character of Christ. The Church's ministry, the support we are supposed to find there, all this becomes impossible without trust. And that is impossible without truth. And that is impossible without Christ.
How then can we learn to do better at speaking the truth to one another? Let me suggest three ways.
First, remember that Grace is by its very nature opposed to boasting. Eph. 2:9 has already taught us that salvation is by grace through faith alone, and that not of works "lest any man should boast." Why is this truth relevant here? Because of the following dynamic that leads us to untruthfulness. We are not open and transparent with one another because we are insecure. And we are insecure because, in spite of the doctrine we say we believe, our self worth is still too much rooted in Self, in performance. Only when our self worth is rooted firmly in Christ and his Grace alone can we be able to be as open and transparent as truth requires.
Second: neither a Gossiper not a Listener be. Not only must we be careful not to talk about our neighbors behind their backs, but we must not enable others to do so either. When they do, we should always ask, "Do you have X's permission to be sharing this with me?" It will be an effective reminder of our mutual responsibility not only to speak accurately but to use information in ways that are faithful and true.
Third, learn to trust the Father, and therefore to trust the Facts, which belong to Him. He does not need us to shade or doctor the truth. He does not need us to pretend to be more confident than we are. He does not need us to pretend to be more spiritual, more sanctified, or in any other way better than we are. All these pretences ultimately stem from a lack of faith. How is he--how is the Church--to help us with our real problems if we are not real about them? And we will never be real until we have learned to trust him.
In summary, then, because of the truth that is in Jesus, "therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
Well did Bacon say that "the inquiry of truth, which is the love-making or wooing of it; the knowledge of truth, which is the presence of it; and the belief of truth, which is the enjoying of it, is the sovereign good of human nature." This is so because we were created in the image of Christ who is the Truth, and are being restored, conformed, to that image again in him. And therefore we can conclude with Bacon again, that "It is heaven upon earth to have a man's mind move in charity, rest in providence, and turn upon the poles of truth." "Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another."
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams