Love the Truth
What is truth? That was the question Pilate asked Jesus at His trial. How would you define truth? I once heard a definition I really like. Truth is, “Reality from God’s point of view. The title of our study today is, “Love the Truth,” and our text is Second Thessalonians 2:8 to 17.
I read about a pastor who starts each confirmation class with a jar full of beans. He asks his students to guess how many beans are in the jar and writes down their estimates. Then, alongside those estimates, he helps them make another list: their favorite songs. When the lists are complete, he tells them the actual number of beans in the jar. The whole class looks over their guesses, to see who was closest to being right. The pastor then turns to the list of favorite songs. He asks, “And which one of these is closest to being right?” Immediately, the students protest that there is no “right answer”; a person’s favorite song is purely a matter of taste.
This pastor, who holds a Ph.D. in philosophy from Notre Dame then asks his students, “When you decide what to believe in terms of your faith, is that more like guessing the number of beans, or more like choosing your favorite song?” Always, from old as well as young, he gets the same answer: Choosing one’s faith is more like choosing a favorite song.
So, this pastor was asked, “After they say that do you confirm them?” He smiled and said, “First I try to argue them out of it.”
I don’t support the pastor’s actions, but that illustration helps us understand where most people are today with respect to truth. Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth, but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing has happened.” That’s our culture with regard to truth. Sadly, it has also infected many of those professing Christianity.
According to George Barna’s surveys, only about 20% of those who identify as “born-again” agree that there is such a thing as absolute truth, less than a quarter! So, it’s not surprising that 60% of that same group agree that “Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and others all pray to the same God, even though they use different names for that God.”
Have you ever been in a setting where the Bible is being studied and this question is asked, “What does this passage mean to you?” Is that a good question? Really, what the passage means to ME may be irrelevant, erroneous, or something worse. The real question is, “What does the passage mean?” You and I won’t be judged on the basis of what we think the text means, but on what it actually means! This is a critical distinction if we want to develop a love for the truth.
Second Thessalonians 2:8-17 gives us details of certain end-time events – but that’s not where our focus will be. Our focus will be on learning how to love the truth and how to avoid those things that hinder us from doing that. Because verse 8 speaks of a character who is introduced earlier in the text, I’m taking the liberty to read the entire chapter. So, listen as I read Second Thessalonians 2:1-17.
This text reveals RESPONSES to the truth that affect the degree to which we love the truth.
The First RESPONSE is,
Reject the Truth
I won’t spend much time here because I assume most of you are listening because you want to better understand the truth, not reject it. But it’s important for us to understand how highly intelligent people can be taken in by such outrageous lies. The early part of this chapter speaks of “The Man of Sin,” the Antichrist. He succeeds, through his smooth speech, false miracles, and military power, to make followers of the vast majority on earth. And we wonder, “How can he be so successful?”
Let’s zero in on what I believe is a key phrase in verse 10; “…because they received not the love of the truth…” Now, remember our earlier question? “What does this phrase mean?” The word, receive, as used here, means to receive favorably, to embrace, to make one’s own. Our text says that those who refuse to receive the truth and embrace it will be deceived.
Many of you are aware that there are different Greek words for love. Interestingly, the Holy Spirit inspired Paul to use the word, agape, to refer to this love of truth.
Kenneth Wuest says, “[Agape] speaks of that love which springs from an awakened sense of value in an object which causes one to prize the object loved. It expresses the love of [approval], of esteem, as over against the love of pure delight, which is [phileo]. It [agape] springsfrom a [comprehension] of the preciousness of the object loved. It derives its impulse more from the notion of prizing than liking.”
Paul says those who are perishing do so because of their gullibility, and their gullibility is caused by the fact that they don’t love truth. They don’t understand the value and preciousness of truth. They don’t embrace truth and make it the rule for their life and conduct.
Romans 1:28 speaks of God giving people over to a reprobate mind. The process of reprobation in that chapter begins back in verse 18. “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [or suppress] the truth in unrighteousness…” So, not only do these deceived ones fail to prize the truth, but they also suppress it from being proclaimed. Because of this, God will allow them to be so deluded they will believe “THE LIE.” That is, they will embrace Antichrist.
Because the rejection of truth is so prevalent in our culture, pressure is building on all genuine Christ-followers to keep their biblical convictions to themselves! Let’s beware of those who reject the truth of God’s Word! That rejection affects every decision and action.
The Second RESPONSE is,
Believe the Truth
My mentor, Bro. J. Otis Yoder related a conversation he had with a college student who said to him, “I can’t believe.” To which Bro. Yoder responded, “No, what you’re really saying is ‘I will not believe.”’ No one can truthfully say, “I cannot believe.” Belief is an act of the will!
Now, look at verse 13. In contrast to those who reject the truth, God chooses to save those who BELIEVE the truth! This belief according to Thayer’s Greek Dictionary is, “…conviction or belief respecting man’s relationship to God and divine things. Generally, it includes the idea of trust and holy fervor born of faith and joined with it.”
Belief is not mere mental assent. James spoke of that kind of belief. “You believe there is one God; you do well: the demons also believe and tremble.” The biblical understanding of belief is the acceptance of truth with a corresponding change in life. Pastor Justin Lonas says, “Being a follower of Christ is a much more significant and costly endeavor than simply ‘being saved;’ it is a calling to the abundant life in Him.” It leads us to a deeper understanding of the value of truth and how that value transforms our lives. How is your belief in truth transforming your life?
Those who genuinely accept the truth cannot promote a “cheap grace” or a gospel of “easy believe-ism.” The truth of the Gospel isn’t difficult to understand. But it is hard to act upon because it calls us to abandon our lives to the control of God. That’s the cost of discipleship.
The Gospel calls upon us to accept by faith things we cannot reason out in our minds. That doesn’t mean the Gospel is illogical, it just means the Gospel transcends human logic and understanding. Belief in God’s Word is not a blind leap of faith into the dark! It is the reasoned assurance that because God has revealed Himself to mankind in a multitude of ways, He is able to arrange the circumstances of my life in a way that glorifies Him. In the process, He brings me to my fullest potential as one made in His image. Belief is synonymous with trust.
The Next RESPONSE is,
Retain the Truth
Our belief in the truth secures for us the glory of Christ. That’s what Paul says in verse 14. This amazing gift is part of our salvation. In verse 15,Paul exhorts us to take active measures to retain the truth. There are numerous Scriptures that warn us about the possibility of our drifting from the truth or letting it slip away.
He says we are to “be constantly standing firm,” to persevere. It is an active process, not an event. This is necessary especially in our day. There’s a constant barrage of rhetoric from all sides that only the bigoted and egotistical claim to know the absolute truth. We have statements like, “Live and let live. God accepts people just the way they are.” That last statement is true with regard to salvation, but not with regard to discipleship. God wants to change all of us into the likeness of Christ!
And then Paul says that we should hold tenaciously to the traditions [ohhh, bad word] we have been taught. I realize traditions can be negative as well as positive. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their traditions that negated God’s commands. But let’s not overreact to the word traditions! In this text, it simply means a recognized body of teaching.
Paul gives expanded teaching on this in II Timothy 1:13. (I have a whole sermon on verses 13 and 14 but let me share just a few things from it.) Let’s do a little word study. Paul tells Timothy to hold fast to the “form of sound words.” This is a very interesting phrase, with practical applications in our day. The Greek word translated into the English word, form, is only used twice in the New Testament, both times by Paul. In First Timothy 1:16 it is translated as pattern.
The word, form, is made up of the Greek prefix, hupo, meaning “under,” and the noun, tupos. Wuest’s Word Studies says that the noun tupos means “a blow”; it was used for the beat of a horse’s hooves; the impression left by a seal, the effect of a blow or pressure, an engraved mark, a pattern. It also speaks of a pattern by which one can maintain the sameness of a thing.
Wuest goes on to say “Paul exhorts Timothy to hold fast the pattern of the sound words committed to him. That is, he is to hold to the doctrinal phraseology [tradition] he received from the great apostle. Particular words are to be retained and used so that the doctrinal statements of the truth may remain accurate and a norm for future teachers and preachers. This is vitally connected with the doctrine of verbal inspiration which holds that the Bible writers wrote down God chosen words, the truth given by revelation.”
If we hope to retain the truth, we can’t ignore the doctrine of verbal, plenary inspiration. This simply means the inspiration extends to the very words themselves (verbal) and that the inspiration extends to all parts of Scripture and all subject matters of Scripture (plenary). It doesn’t mean that God mechanically dictated the words of the Bible, but that the words express the thoughts God intended, and being correctly interpreted, are free from errors of fact, doctrine, or judgment.
Let’s be careful not to “dumb down” the Word of God in our attempts to make it more understandable. We must retain keywords and concepts that show our love for the truth and our desire to guard and keep it.
The Final RESPONSE is,
Rest in the Truth
Look at the final verses of this chapter, “everlasting consolation, good hope through grace, and comfort.” What a glorious rest belongs to you and me if we love the truth! Several years ago, when my wife, Joyce, was diagnosed with cancer, the truth of God’s Word took on new meaning for us. I can tell you in all honesty that we did not have one sleepless night of worry and anxiety. Did we have questions? Sure. Was there uncertainty? Of course. We didn’t know where this journey would take us. But we rested confidently in the multitude of God’s promises.
Some of you listening to me have had very difficult experiences in your lives. Maybe you’re in the middle of one right now. You know exactly how much the love of the truth means to you. You’ve probably said what I’ve sometimes said in response to human suffering. “I don’t see how unbelievers make it through life without the power of God’s presence and His promises.” The love of the truth is an anchor in the storms of life. I identify with the songwriter, “And the cables passed from His heart to mine, can defy the blast through strength Divine.”
The wonderful thing about resting in truth is, if we learn to do it now, we can experience it throughout all eternity! Jesus said “Come to me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and you shall find rest to your souls,” Matthew 11:28 and 29. That soul rest is present and future.
I urge you, don’t reject the truth; it is the only thing that can set you free. Believe the truth. Test it; try it, practice it and you’ll find it trustworthy. Make it your goal to retain truth; to guard it carefully and pass it on to others in the way it’s been passed on to you. And finally, rest in the truth. God’s promises are sure and secure. He will, according to Philippians 1:6, bring to completion that good work He has begun in you.
Learn to love the truth and respond to it in these positive ways. If you do this, you can be confident in the promise of Jesus; “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.”
The 2019 edition of this sermon can be found here. https://heraldsofhope.org/the-voice-of-hope/love-the-truth