God’s Priorities for His Churches: Truth (1)
Therefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, in the lusts of their hearts, to dishonor their bodies among themselves, who exchanged the truth of God for the lie, and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. Romans 1.24, 25
Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
Withflattering lips anda double heart they speak. Psalm 12.1, 2
“First the righteous fail, then the truth is diminished. Not only is there no truth among the righteous, there is no holiness among honest people. Now, since the righteous have failed, truth is diminished. Perhaps the poverty of righteous people is the reason why so many heresies have shot up.” Evagrius of Pontus, (345-399 AD) Notes on the Psalms 11.2 (Ancient Christian Commentary Series, InterVarsity Press)
The apostle Paul, picking up on an insight first clearly articulated by David, divided the world into two camps. On the one hand are those who receive God’s revelation of Himself and His will, give thanks and worship Him, and walk in obedience to His ways. On the other hand are those who receive the revelation of God but reject it, turning ungratefully to their own ways and worshiping gods of their own devising.
The world divides into those who abide within divinely-revealed truth and those who, becoming a law unto themselves, conduct their affairs within the framework of the lie.
Paul uses that terminology – the lie – as opposed to merely a lie, because once a person turns away from what God has revealed, he is no longer safe under the cope of the truth that sets us free from all that is contrary to what God has revealed. To refuse to live under God’s truth is to embrace the lie that deprives everything we do of its full meaning and benefit. Those who choose to live and work within the framework of the lie are proud, flatterers of one another, and determined to do whatever they think is best in making their way in life (Ps. 12.3, 4). They may appeal to God and His Word, but never purely; their plans, convictions, and ways are compromised with self-interested, worldly thinking, and they are tossed about and carried about by every wind of doctrine that seems to appeal to the masses.
Since they desire to be free of divine revelation, God obliges them, by gradually “giving them up” to their preferred ways, and all the unhappy consequences thereof (Rom. 1.24-32). Thinking themselves to be free of any fixed or eternal constraints, and set adrift from the moorings of divine revelation, they descend into a downward spiral of spiritual misdirection, rampant self-interest, moral compromise, and social dissolution.
Those who continue to cling to the revelation of God seem poor and needy and out of touch to those who travel the paths of the lie (Ps. 12.5). They present an easy target for various forms of oppression, whether light – criticism, mocking, scorn – or more severe – deprivation of privileges, physical constraint or harm. Those who live the lie, because they will not be bound by fixed truth, are constantly on the prowl for whatever they think will advance their interests – opening doors for vileness and increasing degradation and dissolution in everything they do (Ps. 12.8; Rom. 1.24-32).
The fundamental difference between these two camps is clear: One rejects the revelation of God, and the other shelters in it.
The centrality of truth
Given this situation, it is not surprising that the first criterion the apostles sought to advance in all their churches was that God’s people should be a people of truth, a people rich in divine revelation, and obedient to its every instruction (cf. Rom. 15.8; 1 Cor. 5.8; 2 Cor. 4.2; 6.7; Gal. 2.5; Eph. 4.17-24; 1 Tim. 2.4; Heb. 10.26; Jms. 1.18; 1 Pet. 1.22; 1 Jn. 2.4; etc.).
Only by living in the truth in all matters of faith and life can believers and their churches know freedom from false teaching, misguided leadership, well-meaning but distracting programs, and false notions about God’s priorities for His churches. Calvin insisted that the mark of a true church was truth – truth faithfully proclaimed, rightly heard and understood, and duly obeyed. Where the truth of God is received, submitted to, carried out, taught, proclaimed, and lived, there the inroads of the lie are easily recognized, resisted, and rebuffed.
Where, in all our churches, we should be understanding and submitting to truth as God has revealed it in His Word – all the truth concerning every good work – instead, a hermeneutic of convenience has set in, by which believers and their leaders ignore what God has revealed, or wrest the Word from its intentions, and follow paths of life and ministry more to their own tastes and interests.
The focus of truth
The focus of truth, which must be a hallmark of every sincere believer and every healthy, growing church, is our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus is the measure of discipleship to which every believer must aspire and strive: “But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4.20-24). “Him we preach, warning every man and teaching every man in all wisdom, that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus. To this end I also labor, striving according to His working which works in me mightily” (Col. 1.28, 29). “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 Jn. 3.2, 3). “You therefore, beloved, since you know this beforehand, beware lest you also fall from your own steadfastness, being led away with the error of the wicked; but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 3.17, 18).
Similarly, the measure of a healthy, growing church is the degree to which it realizes the fullness of Jesus Christ, that is, the extent to which it embodies Christ to its community: “…till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ…” (Eph. 4.13-15). “Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually” (1 Cor. 12.27).
God’s highest priority for His people is that they should be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ, and should walk the path He walked (2 Cor. 3.12-18; 1 Jn. 2.1-6). God’s highest priority for His churches is that they should strive to become the living presence of Christ in their community. We are living the lie if we measure the health of our churches by mere numerical growth, and if we devote our energies above all to attaining that, while neglecting to spend and be spent in helping every believer flourish and bear fruit in the truth that is in Jesus, and every church increase in the fullness of the stature of our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 12.15).
God’s first priority for His churches is that they be people of the truth, the truth that is in Jesus Christ.
Pastoral Hope Initiative
Prayer for Revival
“It is Christ himself who teaches us about himself! When we are ‘taught in him,’ we learn who he is, how great we should reckon him to be and what hope is in him. We learn ‘in him’ what sort of people believers ought to be.”
- Ambrosiaster, (fl. 366-384 AD) Epistle to the Ephesians 4.21 (Ancient Christian Commentary Series, InterVarsity Press)
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T. M. Moore
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
The Truth That Is In Jesus
- T.M. Moore
- February 28, 2018
God's first priority is truth.
God’s Priorities for His Churches: Truth (1)
T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in Essex Junction, VT.