Our subject tonight as we start a new series of sermons is TRUTH AND THE BIBLE. But is truth important? There are those who say “No! there is no such thing as ‘truth’ – there are just ‘truths’ and my truth is different to your truth.”
This is postmodernism where people think they can create their own truth and make things up as they go along. This was institutionalised in a significant 1992 verdict of the Supreme Court of the United States of America. Let me give you the key words:
“At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.”
This would have horrified the late Daniel Patrick Moynihan – an American sociologist and US senator who once famously said:
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion, but not their own facts.”
So what has been going on?
Well, in brief, there has been a rejection of the modernism that goes back to the 18th century and the European Enlightenment – hence the term post-modernism. The Enlightenment was a period when, one, there was a general rejection of the God of the Bible; two, a deification of human reason; and three, a denial of the doctrine of sin together with a belief in the perfectibility of man. People said that if God existed he certainly never interfered in human affairs. And any problems with the human race would be sorted out either by education or by evolution. So “modernism”, in practical terms, rejected God but kept reason. But postmodernism saw the failures of modernism in the 20th century. People saw the two World Wars and Marxist and other totalitarian terrors that have occurred since. So some now reject not only God but reason as well. And the result is a new level of irrationality. So what should you do about that? Answer – agree with Daniel Patrick Moynihan; but above all listen to St Paul. In Romans, chapter 12 verse 2 Paul says this:
“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”
God wants your mind to be renewed – not jettisoned. You need to develop a Christian mind. You are to love God with your mind as well as your heart. Yes, there is a battle for the mind going on – a spiritual battle. The Bible says:
“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world … [rather] We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor 10:4-5).
So much by way of introduction. Now - to help with our thinking, I want us to look at our New Testament reading, Paul’s second letter to Timothy chapter 3 and verse 10 and following. And my headings tonight are these, first, WHAT IS THE TRUTH? Secondly, HOW DO YOU COME TO KNOW THE TRUTH? And, thirdly, HOW SHOULD YOU RESPOND TO THE TRUTH?,/b>
First,then WHAT IS THE TRUTH?
Paul is certainly not post-modern. He is pretty convinced that there is truth. Look at 2 Timothy 3 verse 10:
“you [Timothy], however, know all about my teaching;” and verse 14: “but as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of;” and verse 16: “all Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching;” and chapter 4 verse 2: “preach the Word;”and verse 3: “for the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine;” and here you have it - in verse 4: “they will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
So there is teaching that needs to be learnt; a Word that needs to be preached; sound doctrine that needs to be “put up with”; and the truth from which you must not turn aside. These are all synonyms. They are all referring to the same thing – God’s truth. And the source of this truth is the holy Scriptures. Look at verses 15-17:
“from infancy you have known the holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”
For Timothy, of course, “the holy Scriptures” were, what we call the “Old Testament” – the books in the Bible that point forward to Jesus Christ. But chapter 3 verse 10 makes it clear that the teaching Timothy needed was also the teaching he received from Paul himself – “you know all about my teaching,” writes Paul. And there were other Apostles at this time, who had Jesus’ authority and who were also teaching. They had lived with Jesus and, most importantly, witnessed his Resurrection (as had Paul on the Damascus Road). And this convinced them of the truth of Jesus. And their teaching when written down, along with Paul’s, was soon seen by the early Christians as “Scripture” and became the New Testament that helps interpret the Old Testament. So that is why we can apply what is said to Timothy here about the Old Testament to the whole Bible made up of the Old and New Testaments.
What, then, is the truth of the whole Bible? Answer – so much! But its focus, verse 15 says, is “salvation through faith in Jesus Christ.” And how do you understand that? Well, the Bible helps you understand it by giving you a fundamental framework or world view. And in this world view there are four facts.
First, there is the fact of creation - the fact that in the beginning God was responsible for this world and he made it out of nothing. Man did not make God. God made man, and male and female in his own image.
But, secondly, there is the fact of the fall. And the result is that this wonderful world is not as it ought to be. Primevally, the first man and woman decided to go their way and not God’s way. So, as it has been well put, “made by God, like God, and for God, men and women now live without God.” And the result? - all the human dysfunction and meaninglessness that is the story of so much world history.
Thirdly, - and this is the great good news – there is the fact of redemption. God did not abandon his creation and his creatures. He planned to redeem them. The Old Testament teaches how God called Abraham to be the start of a new community, through whom God would bless the world. Next it tells how Moses; the giving of the Law; and then the Prophets shaped and taught that community. But it was not until Jesus, the promised Messiah, that God’s plan reached a fulfillment. For with Christ’s death and resurrection and the giving of the Holy Spirit a new age began. And we are now living in that new age.
And the fourth fact is the fact that one day, we do not know when, there will be a consummation. In a way, beyond our human imagining – Christ will return in great glory – but this time not as the redeemer but as our judge. It will be a wonderful day for those who trust Christ but a fearful day for those who reject him. And all that is fact (as evidenced by Christ’s resurrection), and so not opinion.
Well, if that, and more, is the truth of the Bible, that brings us to …
… my second, heading and HOW DO YOU COME TO KNOW THE TRUTH?
Well, how did Timothy come to know the truth? There are three ways, or factors, in knowing the truth.
First, of all it is through people you know or meet. In Timothy’s case there were his godly mother and grandmother. But, of course, there was also Paul himself – verses 10-11:
“You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings—what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them.”
Timothy had been with Paul on some of his missionary journeys. So he learnt from Paul and indeed knew how he was attacked. If you believe, there will normally have been some person (or some people), who particularly helped you or challenged you.
Francis Collins is a good example. He is one of the world’s great scientists. He headed up that amazing human genome project that revealed all the DNA of the human species – if you like, the hereditary code of life. As an undergraduate at the university he was an agnostic. But he admits now that he was “willfully” blind:
“My assertion of ‘I don’t know’ was really more along the lines of ‘I don’t want to know’. As a young man growing up in a world full of temptations, it was convenient to ignore the need to be answerable to any higher spiritual authority.”
After graduating to atheism and then beginning to wonder what the point of everything was, he switched from physical chemistry to medicine and began at medical school. What challenged him there was the faith of Christian hospital patients in the face of terrible suffering. But there was one elderly woman who particularly influenced him. Having shared her own faith with him, one day she asked Collins what he believed. He blushed and had to say, “I’m not really sure.” She was surprised. But that made him aware of what he had been running away from for nearly 26 years. And that was the fact that he had never seriously considered the evidence for or against the Christian faith.
Then he met a clergyman who told him to read the book Mere Christianity by C.S.Lewis. And after a year or more thinking and wondering, there was one passage in the book that made him realize he had to make a choice. It is a classic passage, so I’ll read it to you. C.S.Lewis writes:
“I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about [Jesus]: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic – on a level with a man who says he is a poached egg – or else he would be the Devil of hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool; you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronizing nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”
So Collins had to make a choice. He did so. On a beautiful day in the Cascade Mountains in the USA, in a beautiful part of God’s creation, he says, I quote:
“I knew the search was over. The next morning, I knelt in the dewy grass as the sun rose and surrendered to Jesus Christ.”
In the providence of God that all followed one elderly lady discussing her faith with a young trainee doctor and asking him simply what he believed. That was a key factor in how Francis Collins, brilliant scientist that he was and is, came to faith. That personal contact was so important. That was how Timothy came to faith – through a personal contact with Paul (and through the good fortune of having a believing mother and grandmother). Is there anyone like that tonight. You’ve met someone. They may simply have brought you along here. But you know you must make a choice. Well, learn from Francis Collins.
The, second, factor (in how we can know God’s truth) is through what theologians call “general revelation” – “general” because it is available to everyone, everywhere. We heard about that it in our Psalm – Psalm 19 and verse 1:
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.” Nature, the Bible says elsewhere, witnesses to God’s “eternal power and divine nature” (Romans 1.20)
And Romans 2.15 also says that
“the requirements of the law [God’s moral law – such as you get in the 10 commandments] are written on [our] hearts.”
So, however much it is ignored, we have that general revelation of God in the glories of nature and in the human conscience. But this does not bring “good” news. Nature points to God’s power but not his love. And the human conscience points to the fact that we so often fail God but offers no solution. Yes, general revelation can point you to the truth but to only part of the truth.
That is why thirdly, God’s “special (not general) revelation” in the Bible is so vital. The Bible teaches you as we have seen (and as nature and the conscience do not) about salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. That is the supreme thing the world needs to know. It teaches how Christ died on the Cross, as we were hearing last week, to bear the guilt we have for those failures our conscience tells us about (and for sins of omission and ignorance). No one is too bad to be forgiven or too good to need forgiveness. And note, 2 Timothy 3 16 says all of the Bible (all of Scripture) is “God-breathed” or inspired by God. While being a human book, it is also a divine book. So it has to be read as a human book with its different styles and emphases and authors. But it must also be read as a divine book. As the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles say, the Bible is “God’s word written.”
In the Coronation Service of Her Majesty the Queen, at one point the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth was given a copy of the Bible with these words:
“We present you with this Book, the most valuable thing that this world affords. Here is wisdom; this is the royal law; these are the lively oracles of God.”
That is why the Bible needs to be read, studied and taught. That is why at this church in our teaching we try to teach the facts of the Bible’s message and not our own opinions. And through that message people come to faith. That is the great way people come to faith and know the truth:
“Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ” (Romans 10.17).
True, the Bible is not an encylopaedia. There are a lot of things it doesn’t teach. But it teaches about the most important things in life. It shows us where we think and do what is wrong. And it helps us to think and do what is right. Paul says 2 Timothy 3 verse 16, it
“is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness.”
So, to recap: how do you know the truth? Practically, through the agency of people; partially, through general revelation – through nature and conscience; but, perfectly (to keep the P’s) through the Bible.
Briefly and finally, our third, heading or question, HOW ARE YOU TO RESPOND TO THE TRUTH
You are to do two things. First, Paul says, you are to “continue” in it – in the truth. Look again at verse 14:
“continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of.”
On the one hand, you will be tempted to drift away from the truth of the Bible because of the opposition you have to face. Verse 12 says:
“everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Thank God, in the West there is growing but still only mild opposition. In some parts of the world, however, some are facing terrible persecution, even tonight. So pray for them, while you stand firm and continue in what you have learned (in a relatively easy situation in the West).
On the other hand, you will be tempted to drift away because of false teaching. Look at verses 3 and 4 of chapter 4:
“For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths.”
So continue in – don’t turn away from - the truth of the Bible. There will be those who say, “don’t bother with the apostolic teaching of the Bible – make up your own truth.” How do you respond to such wrong teaching. In 2 Timothy 2 verse 8 Paul has already told Timothy,
“Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead”.
That empty tomb on the first Easter Day and those resurrection appearances that the Apostles witnessed are the great proof of the truth of the Bible. So when tempted to turn away from God’s truth, remember Christ’s Resurrection. And then remember that these false teachers one day themselves will be judged. Look at chapter 4 verse 1. Paul says:
“Christ Jesus … will judge the living and the dead.”
And that, secondly, is why you and I are to respond to God’s truth not only by continuing in it, but also by sharing with others the good news about Jesus. There is a coming judgment. So chapter 4 verse 2 says:
“Preach the Word [and that is not only done in a pulpit]; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.”
You are to be patient – do not rush in and bully people. In all your witness and evangelism you are never to “impose” the truth about Christ. You are to “propose” it. And be careful as you try to correct anyone. Sometimes you need to be firm with others and gently say, “you really shouldn’t have done that.” But then you must be encouraging as well.
Are you daunted by all of this? I hope you are! That means you know you can’t do it in your own strength. And that is where wisdom begins. But God promises you his Holy Spirit as you obey him and seek to continue in his truth and to share it with others.