What You See May Not Be The Truth

Matthew 7:1-12

by Paul George

A while back, I read the very distressing account of an incident in the life of a young bachelor. He worked in an office where every year the boss gave each employee a turkey as a bonus for the holiday season. Of course, the bachelor could never figure out what to do with his ‘turkey.’ One year the other fellows in the office decided to play a little practical joke on their friend. They exchanged the genuine item for one made of plaster. They could hardly wait to hear his report after the holidays.

On the way home on the bus that evening the young man was contemplating how he could dispose of his turkey. About this time a man in tattered clothing, obviously ‘down in his luck,’ sat in the seat beside him. In the course of their conversation, the young man began to perceive the solution to his problem—he would give this poor fellow his turkey. It would meet a real need for this fellow and his family, and it would solve his problem, too.

In order to avoid humiliating the man he decided that rather than give the turkey to him as charity, he would sell it to him for whatever he could pay. The man gladly produced the last of his money and the exchange was made. Both men parted rejoicing. However, when the bachelor returned to the office, he was horrified to learn of the trick which had been played on him, and the terrible deed unknowingly done to the poor man on the bus. For days, the young attorney and his friends rode that same bus to rectify their error, but no one ever saw the man again.

This story illustrates the principle laid down by Jesus that we are not qualified to pass judgment on the deeds of others. If we were to judge this young bachelor by the act itself, we would conclude that he was a scoundrel. If we were to judge him by his motives, we would have to regard him as a benevolent individual.

Because of our tendency to pass quick and critical judgment on others, our Lord has chosen to address this issue. Chapter 7 verses 1-12 addresses an issue plaguing the religion of Jesus’ day and of ours, that of misdirected effort. Much of what is done in the name of Christianity is unprofitable and detrimental because it is misdirected and misguided. Verses 1-5 warn us of one type of misguided effort, criticism. Verse 6 cautions us not to carry this to the opposite extreme by insisting that we discriminate between receptive listeners and hardened rejecters. Verses 7-11 instruct us to redirect our efforts in the practice of persistent prayer. Verse 12 concludes with a principle that ties together the entire section and guides us in our relationships with our fellow man.

Jesus told the disciples, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1). This is one of the most quoted sayings on Jesus and one of the most misunderstood and misapplied. For this reason, we must begin by dealing with what our Lord did not mean by this warning.

Jesus did not mean that it is wrong to have law enforcement and courts. In his letter to the Christians in Rome the apostle Paul told them, that government is a divinely appointed instrument to mete out punishment (Romans 13:1-7). In his second letter to the first century Christian the apostle Peter wrote, “Submit yourselves to every human institution, whether to a king as the one in authority, or to governors as sent by him for the punishment of evildoers and the praise of those who do right” (1 Peter 2:13-14). Jesus did not dispute Pilate’s authority to execute capital punishment. Indeed, He stated that this authority came from God (John 19:10-11).

There are Christians who would have us believe that godliness is closely similar to gullibility. They claim we should accept every statement of men on its face value, and in no way should we ponder or weigh it as to its truthfulness. That is not the teaching of Scripture. Luke tells us there were “more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica” in Berea, who “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11), they were comparing what they were taught with what was written in the Scriptures. The apostle Paul told the Thessalonians, “examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

So often whenever a Christian takes what might be regarded as a negative position, the response is, “Judge not.” However, the context of Matthew 7:1-12 indicate that we must make decisions and take a stand. Paul took a public stand on the issue of immorality within the Corinthian church (1 Corinthians 5:4-5). Timothy was instructed to take a stand in Ephesus (1 Timothy 1:3-7). We are to refuse to invite false teachers into our homes (2 John 8-11). We are instructed to “contend earnestly for the faith” (Jude 3).

It is not wrong to correct those in error. In Matthew 18:15-18, Jesus said, “If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother.
But if he does not listen to you, (take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed – Deuteronomy 19:15). If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

In Galatians 6:1, the apostle Paul told the Galatians they were to restore a sinning brother. Paul corrected Peter face to face (Galatians 2:11). Even the elders of a church are not above correction (1 Timothy 5:19-20).

What, then, did Jesus intend for us to understand by these words, “Judge not”? Since the Lord Jesus has all along been dealing more with attitudes and motives in the Sermon on the Mount, we are safe in concluding that the problem here has to do primarily with a critical, condemning spirit. The criticism of which Jesus is speaking of is that which seeks to put others down, while elevating ourselves, a smug disdain of those who feel superior to others.
The contempt of the scribes and Pharisees was more than just the smugness of superiority it was based upon legalism. The Jews had a neatly packaged system of rules and regulations that prescribed an external kind of righteousness. Those who judged, condemned the people and did so on the basis that those who were righteous kept their rules, but the rest failed to do so, and indeed, were ignorant of those rules and regulations (John 7:49). These self-appointed judges set themselves up as those who were qualified to pronounce upon a person’s spirituality by the standards of his own system of rules. They supposed that men would conform to these rules by the external pressure of those religious leaders who judged their performance by their man made laws.

Here was the problem within Judaism in the days of the Savior. Here is the problem within Christianity today. Men are directing their efforts toward producing righteousness through external acts. Worse yet, they are attempting to force this error on others by pressuring men to be righteous by keeping man made rules and regulations and rituals. These efforts are futile and doomed to failure because they do not change a man’s heart. No man can be made righteous until God radically changes his heart. Religion today is trying to reform men, but only Christ can transform men by giving them a new heart. Religion and reform will never save sinful man; only a renewal of heart can do that (Titus 3:5-7).

Jesus told the disciples why they should not judge others, “so that you will not be judged.” Judging is a divine prerogative. We take too much upon ourselves if we set ourselves over others to judge them. It is not the privilege or the position of a servant to judge other servants. That is the responsibility of their master. We make ourselves masters and not servants when we judge others.

The judging that Jesus condemns is wrong because it is criticism arising from impure motives. It attempts to emphasize one’s own righteousness at the expense of a brother’s reputation. The only criticism or correction that is praiseworthy is that which is prompted by genuine love. Love does not seek a brother’s downfall, but his edification (Romans 14:13, 19). Love is reluctant to believe the worse and hopeful of the best, “Love is patient, love is kind, and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). “Love seeks to conceal unrighteousness, not to expose it” (1 Peter 4:8).

It was the legalistic rules and regulations by which men judged others, rather than by God’s law (James 4:11-12). The tendency to go beyond the requirements of scripture is clearly implied by Jesus when He warned that the standard by which we judge men is the standard by which we will be judged ourselves (Matthew 7:2). If we wish to be overly demanding on others, we must accept this same standard for our own conduct (Romans 2:1-2).

It is easy for Christians to confuse biblical principles and personal preferences, convictions and commandments. We then try to impose these upon others, and we judge men’s spirituality by how well they live up to our preconceived ideas of righteousness.

Personal convictions are to be kept to ourselves, not crammed down the throats of others (Romans 14:22). The entire focus of criticism is upon the lives and conduct of others, but this is none of our business, for each man must give account of himself before God (Romans 14:10). Here we are trying to correct the flaws in others, rather than concentrating upon ourselves. Criticism is minding other people’s business. We listen to a sermon and remark how we wished that Sister Monday were here to hear it. How we deceive ourselves.

The scribes and Pharisees looked upon themselves as the leadership of Judaism. They felt that as such they were obligated to judge those under their authority, and to impose upon their inferiors the full requirements of Jewish traditionalism, which they called “the Law”. Jesus clearly implied in Matthew 7:3-5 that those with the greatest problems were the leaders themselves. How often we project our own failures upon others, while neglecting our own responsibilities.

Judging others is a profitless practice. It fails to edify and build up our brother; it increases our own pride and sets the standard for our own condemnation. Worst of all, it does not produce righteousness in us or in others. However, there is an opposite and equal error. We know from the Scriptures that Jesus Christ virtually divided the nation by His teaching and claims (John 7:40-44; 9:16; 10:19-21). No doubt, one member of a family would tirelessly work to convince the rest of his family that Jesus was the Christ, but often to no avail. Today there are Christians who are saved and yet have spent their lives in apostate churches. They often attempt to stay in the church and to bring about its revival and reform. These words of Jesus have direct bearing on such efforts.

In verse 6, Jesus said, “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine.” If we are not to “give what is holy to dogs”, then we must decide who are dogs. If we are not to throw our pearls before swine, we must decide who swine are.

We are not told what that which is holy is, or what pearls signify, but it is not difficult to figure out. Surely that which is holy pertains to spiritual things, matters which Christians would consider of great value and sacred. We would conclude that foremost in our Lord’s mind is the Gospel of salvation. Other spiritual truths could surely be included. Who are the dogs and swine? Judaism considered both dogs and hogs unclean. Consequently, they were expressions which could be employed with reference to the Gentiles (Matthew 15:27; Mark 7:28). Within Israel, the term dog was an expression of disdain (2 Samuel 9:8; Proverbs 26:11). In Hebrew symbolism, the word “dog” is an epithet for a male prostitute or sodomite (Deuteronomy, 23:18). The apostle Peter wrote of those who were apostates and rejecters of the truth, “But these, like unreasoning animals, born as creatures of instinct to be captured and killed, reviling where they have no knowledge, will in the destruction of those creatures also be destroyed … For it would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them. It has happened to them according to the true proverb, ‘A dog returns to its own vomit,’ and ‘A sow, after washing, returns to wallowing in the mire’” (2 Peter 2:12, 21-22).

Dogs and swine are not merely unbelievers, but rather are those who have ample information concerning the way of righteousness and who have stubbornly rejected it. They are hardened in their rebellion and unbelief. To persist in witnessing to such people is wasted energy.

The dogs of Jesus’ day were not well-mannered lap dogs, but wild dogs that lived on the streets, eating that which was discarded and unclean. At times, this included dead bodies (1 Kings 14:11; 21:19-24). In offering meat to an unclean dog, one might be bitten in the process. Were one to cast pearls before swine, they might at first think them to be food, and then, not valuing pearls, might trample them under foot and even turn on the one who offered them. Therefore, although one dare not be overly critical of others (verses 1-5), neither is he to be so naive as to not distinguish between those who are open to the truth and those who oppose it.  Jesus followed His own counsel when He ceased speaking openly to those who accused Him of using demonic power (Mark 3:22). When Jesus sent out His disciples to proclaim the kingdom of God He instructed them, “And whoever does not receive you, nor heed your words, as you go out of that house or that city, shake off the dust of your feet” (Matthew 10:14). Likewise, this was the practice of the apostle Paul (Acts 13:44-51; 18:5, 6; 28:17-28).

While we must initially proclaim the gospel universally and indiscriminately, there comes a time when we must mark those who are hardened to the truth and cease our efforts to convert them and press on. This does not necessarily mean that such persons may not be saved in the future. This is why persistent prayer is profitable.

While the first six verses of chapter 7 have informed us of unproductive activities for the Christian, verses 7 through 11 provide us with a creative and profitable alternative, namely prayer. Nothing neutralizes a critical spirit more than prayer. You cannot long be angry with those for whom you are praying, seeking their salvation and best interest. This, no doubt, is why Jesus tells us to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44)

Jesus has told us that we are not to be critical of others, standing over them as their judge and we are to discern between good and evil, truth and falsehood. The question that immediately comes to mind is “How can we distinguish between destructive criticism and discernment?” It is difficult, even impossible we must have divine enablement.

In verses 7-11, we are told to pray for the wisdom and enablement. James tells us, “But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God” (James 1:5). Surely, the instruction of verses 1-6 demands divine wisdom. “Seeking” and “knocking” suggest aggressive and intensive prayer. Seeking implies continually seeking to know to whom we should speak and what we should say in the light of verses 1-6. Knocking implies looking for opportunities to share our faith in such a way as to stimulate one’s interest in spiritual things. Rather than persisting at criticism or fruitless evangelism among the hardened, let us pour our efforts into prayer, for God is always willing to help us search our hearts. He is always ready to give us His best. Just as earthly parents, who are evil by nature, are eager to do what is best for their children.

If men, evil by nature, desire to give good things to their children, are we not to be assured of God’s answer to our prayers? While God’s willingness and goodness are here emphasized, nowhere are we told that God is going to give us all we ask for. Jesus has said that God does not give His children useless or dangerous things in response to their asking. What is stressed is that God will always answer our prayers as a concerned and loving Father. He will never overlook a request, nor will He respond in a way that is harmful to His child. However, just because we ask for a fish, something useful, does not guarantee that we will receive exactly what we request. God will never give us that which is not for our good. In addition, what God does give us is just what we really need.

We should be thankful that our loving heavenly Father reserves the right to substitute something better in place of our request. We should never hesitate to allow God to substitute what He knows to be better for us than that for which we pray. If there were ever motivation for prayer, it is in this fact. God is our Father, if we, by faith, have become His sons through Jesus Christ, His Son and we are the objects of His intimate and infinite care. No request of ours is insignificant to Him or ignored.

Jesus, in these few verses has summarized the Law and the Prophets. Implied by our prayer life is the fact that we love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and we love our neighbor as ourselves.

To love our neighbor as ourselves is a little difficult to translate into everyday life. How do we love our neighbor as ourselves, by treating him, as we would wish him to treat us.

This principle governing human relationships was not new to the ears of Jesus’ listeners. The ancient world had produced numerous parallels to it, yet all with one notable exception: they were expressed in the negative. The essence of these sayings was, “Do not do to others what you do not want done to you.”

How would I want others to treat me in view of my sinfulness and obvious flaws? I would not want to be harshly criticized or condemned.  I would want to be treated with respect, with an evident spirit of love, encouragement, and a desire to build me up rather than to tear me down. I would not want my sins to be overlooked or excused, but lovingly to be confronted and corrected.

If I were one who had heard the gospel and concluded that I wanted no part of it, I would hope that once I had made my disinterest and rejection known my feelings and decisions would be respected. I would desire that the same points not be raised repeatedly, and that I would not have to avoid contact with the Christian or to terminate our friendship in order to avoid arguing the same points repeatedly. I would greatly appreciate having my critics spend their efforts in persistent prayer, reporting my faults to God alone, and asking Him to strengthen and save me. Were I an unbeliever I would prefer the Christian prevail upon God for my conversion rather than to pester me.

There are several things taught in these verses, first, Christians prefer things to be all nicely packaged. That is the great appeal of legalism, a law for every possible circumstance. However, Christian liberty is not that easy. Legalism attempts to avoid thinking and faith by setting a rule for every conceivable circumstance and situation. Compliance is enforced by external pressure through fleshly effort. Liberty lives by principles that apply to a broad diversity of situations. These principles are applied by faith through the power of the Spirit. They are applied individually as matters of personal conviction. Legalism concentrates upon others, seeking to get men to live according to our personal preferences and prejudices. Liberty looks to our own responsibilities, living our life before God in the light of personal convictions and biblical principles.

Second, while prevailing upon men to accept Jesus as their Savior and Lord can be compared to giving what is holy to dogs or casting pearls before swine, the prayer of one of God’s children is always profitable because we have a heavenly Father who answers every prayer. He never fails to hear or to respond, although He may choose to give us a better answer than we thought to ask for. Prayer dissolves a critical spirit and it is instrumental in obtaining wisdom and discernment.

Third, while the world talks about love, it knows little about true love. True love is not blind to the truth. Love sees things as they are and loves in spite of them. True love does not criticize, but neither does it fail to make necessary distinctions between right and wrong, good and evil.

Our prayer is the prayer the apostle wrote to the Philippians, “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment; so that you may approve the things that are excellent, in order to be sincere and blameless until the day of Christ” (Philippians 1:9-10).

A Troubled Land – Part 1

2 Chronicles 29:1-8

by Paul George

Our nation and the Church have some serious problems. Before we can fix the problems, we need to know why they exist, the source or sources of the problems, and why we are not solving the problems. We are not solving the problems in our nation because we are looking to the government, the educational system, and the judicial system for solutions to the problems. These are useful tools when used properly. However, they do not have the final answer. We are not solving the problems in the Church because we are tolerating them hoping they will go away. History has proven this will not happen.

Before we can fix the problems, we need to accept the fact the problems of the twenty-first century are not new. The source of the problems is not new. The solution is not new. The source of the problems is rebellion against God and the rejection of the truth concerning the source of the problems. A second source of the problem is a rejection of the biblical worldview.

Writing to the Roman Christians Paul said, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). The source of the problems in the societies prior to Paul writing this was the suppressing of the truth. The source of the problems when Paul wrote this letter was suppressing the truth. The suppressing of the truth is not an act of ignorance it is a deliberate attempt to destroy the foundation of truth. The same people who were suppressing the truth in the past are the same people who are suppressing the truth today and will suppress the truth in the future. The suppressor of truth is the ungodly and unrighteous men and women who live as if there is no God and no truth.

The suppressor of the truth uses the legislative system, judicial system, the media, the entertainment community, and religion. Through these mediums, millions are deceived and imprisoned in darkness.

Most Christians, and there are professing Christians seeking other sources, use the Bible to define what the truth is and what is morally right or wrong. In the secular community, the biblical definition of truth and morality is not acceptable because it is a contradiction of society’s definition. The biblical definition has been set aside as outdated, a definition that has served its purpose by the suppressers of truth. They claim only the narrow minded and those out of touch with reality would accept such a limited view of reality and the world. This is not some new attitude. The people who were first given the Law turned from the truth and rejected God’s Law.

The problems in our nation and in the Church involve a worldview that is not biblical. . The biblical worldview rests on the belief of a Creator God. The secular worldview rests on the knowledge and wisdom of man. This view sets man as the center of the universe. All events in the world revolve around him. He determines the destiny of humanity and the universe. He is a god unto himself. This view contradicts the biblical worldview and the worldview of paganism and the more recent worldview of the New Age Movement. From the dawn of history, man has believed there is a Supreme Being or force behind all that exists in both the supernatural world and the natural world. These supernatural beings and forces influence the events in the world and humanity’s destiny. The sacrifices of ancient people were to appease them.

It is often difficult for some people to separate the difference in the biblical worldview and the secular worldview. There seems to be a connection between the two. The biblical worldview rests on the existence of a Creator God, the word of this God, and includes spiritual beings that have an important role in the affairs of humanity. According to the Bible, God is a spiritual Being that has no beginning or ending. There are spiritual beings that have a beginning but no ending. There are good and evil spiritual beings. Man is both a physical and spiritual being through his creation in the image and likeness of his Creator.

Unlike the pagan religions of the world and the New Age Movement that search for something to base their beliefs on the supernatural and the creator of the physical world the Bible does not offer an explanation for the existence of God. The prophets and the apostles did not try to convince the world God exists. Jesus never tried to convince the world God exists. According to the Bible, “In the beginning God created the heavens and earth.” Since He created the heavens and earth He existed before the heavens and earth. He existed independently of all that He created. He does not depend on what He created. What He created depends on Him for their existence.

It is a good thing we remember what the palmist said, “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” (Psalms 14:1) This does not mean it is wrong when we ask how we can know there is a God who has created the heavens, earth, and all that exists in the universe. There is nothing wrong when someone asks us how they can know there is a God who created the heavens, earth, and all that exists in the universe. If we are honest and have an open heart when we ask the question, we will accept the biblical evidence for the existence of God. If the person who asks us how can know the truth about is honestly and with an open heart seeking the truth he will accept the biblical evidence for the existence of God. God has no problem with us asking Him questions. He has a problem with our doubting Him.

Why should we have a biblical worldview? Biblical evidence for the existence of God is overwhelming. The apostle Paul stated the reason why in his letter to the Christians in Rome. He wrote the following, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:18-20).

The rejection of the biblical evidence of the existence of God is the rejection of the truth. The rejection is a heart condition, the fallen human nature. It is the revolting of the human nature against the divine nature. It is man placing his will above the will of his Creator and following in the footsteps of the enemy of both God and man.

The second point in the biblical evidence of the existence of God is the preeminence of God. The Bible consistently pictures God as preeminent in every way. He is set apart from all other living beings. The preeminence of God is stated in Acts 17:25-25, “The God who made the world and all things in it, since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things.”
In First Timothy 6:13-16), Paul told Timothy “I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which He will bring about at the proper time– He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords; who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light; whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen.”

In Revelation 4:11 it is written “Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created.”

Paul recognized God’s preeminent position as the sovereign ruler of all created thing. Together with the following verses these scriptures reveal God’s preeminence as sovereign ruler. The Bible is consistent in describing God’s preeminence as the only true God.

Today, we are told God takes on many forms or can be known in and through many different paths. This idea is not in harmony with a biblical worldview. In fact it is in direct opposition to the biblical world-view. It is direct opposition to what Jesus prayed; “Father, the hour has come; glorify Your Son, that the Son may glorify You, even as You gave Him authority over all mankind, that to all whom You have given Him, He may give eternal life. And this is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. (John 17:1-3)

The apostles also taught the preeminent nature of God when they referred to Him as “The Only God.” Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:17). Jude wrote the following, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory blameless with great joy, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen”
(Jude 1:24-25)

Finally, God Himself through the prophet Isaiah declares Himself the only true God calling all men to turn to Him for salvation: ) “Turn to Me, and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness And will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance” (Isaiah 45:22-23). “Remember the former things long past, For I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is no one like Me, Declaring the end from the beginning And from ancient times things which have not been done, Saying, ‘My purpose will be established, And I will accomplish all My good pleasure” (Isaiah 46:9-10).

The Bible is always consistent in its declarations of the moral perfection of God. In First John 1:5, it is written, “And this is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all.” Light and darkness are used in the Bible to contrast the difference between good and evil. Light is associated with righteousness, goodness, love, purity and truth along with behavior that is proper. On the other hand, darkness is associated with wickedness, lawlessness, hate, sexual immorality and other destructive and disgraceful behaviors. When considering the perfection of God He is light, and that there is no darkness in Him.

Moses and the psalmist summed up the absolute moral perfection of God when they wrote, “For I proclaim the name of the LORD; Ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock! His work is perfect, for all His ways are just; A God of faithfulness and without injustice, Righteous and upright is He” (Deuteronomy 32:3-4). “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; No evil dwells with You” (Psalms 5:4).

The reason why there are serious problems in the nation and the Church is a lack of a biblical worldview.

Legends, Fairy Tales, Truth or Traditions

Galatians 5:7

By Ron Schwartz

The Word of Truth

Acts 3:1-8 (KJV)

1 Now Peter and John went up together into the temple at the hour of prayer, being the ninth hour.

2 And a certain man lame from his mother’s womb was carried, whom they laid daily at the gate of the temple which is called Beautiful, to ask alms of them that entered into the temple;

3 Who seeing Peter and John about to go into the temple asked an alms.

4 And Peter, fastening his eyes upon him with John, said, Look on us.

5 And he gave heed unto them, expecting to receive something of them.

6 Then Peter said, Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth rise up and walk.

7 And he took him by the right hand, and lifted him up: and immediately his feet and ankle bones received strength.

8 And he leaping up stood, and walked, and entered with them into the temple, walking, and leaping, and praising God.

What do you see in this scripture?

Some of you would say ‘faith,’ while others would say ‘boldness.’  Still others might respond ‘the power of God,’ ‘spiritual gifts,’ or ‘confidence.’  I’ve asked this question of many people over the years and I have yet to hear this reply: ‘Me!’

The doctrine that Jesus taught His disciples (including Paul) contained no theory.  It was all about a way of living.  He instructed His followers in discipleship, He counseled them against hypocrisy, and He explained to them the scriptures.  Hence, the disciples went forth practicing this same doctrine and teaching others to do so.  For this reason, the first century Church knew great power, growth, and authority.  They simply believed and obeyed the gospel they received.

When we consider the Church described in the Book of Acts we must ask, “What happened?”  How did the Church go from a vibrant, growing assembly of believers (who preached the same message as Jesus and demonstrated His power) to the stagnant, powerless, divided Church we see today?  What happened?  The answer is simple: sin and compromise.

For example, the military has devised a way to keep missiles from hitting the jets at which they are shot.  It’s known as a countermeasure.  When a jet detects that a missile has it locked on, it begins to release chaff.  Chaff is a reflective material like tin foil that creates a cloud behind the jet. The cloud of chaff becomes larger and larger, causing the missile to home in on the center of the cloud.  The larger the cloud becomes, the further away from the jet the missile will explode.  The missile misses the mark, just as we do when we sin (as we all know that “sin” means “to miss the mark”).  The example demonstrates not just what sin is (missing the mark), but possibly more importantly, how it comes to be so prevalent in the Church.

In the example of the missile, the jet represents the truth.  When we embrace the “Word of Truth,” we hit the mark.  As decades and centuries have passed since Jesus and His apostle preached the gospel, a cloud of doctrines and traditions made by men have grown around the Truth.  Today, it has become almost impossible to find the Truth as men glorify and promote their doctrines and traditions.   However, as in the case of the missile, the jet stayed the same, and so does the Truth.  The gospel we believe and preach should be the same as the gospel preached by the apostles.  It is not dispensational, it is not a respecter of persons (as though it were just for the early apostles), and it never ever changes.  It is timeless!

Where should we worship?

John 4:5-24 (KJV)

5 Then cometh he to a city of Samaria, which is called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph…

20 Our fathers worshipped in this mountain; and ye say, that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.

21 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, believe me, the hour cometh, when ye shall neither in this mountain, nor yet at Jerusalem, worship the Father.

22 Ye worship ye know not what: we know what we worship: for salvation is of the Jews.

23 But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him.

24 God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.

In this story, Jesus comes to a well situated on a mountain that Jacob once owned about 2,000 years before.  There He met a woman who needed an answer to her question, the same question men have been asking since the dawn of time: where should we worship?

She explained the argument to Jesus as she understood it.  Why do the Jews worship in Jerusalem?  There is nothing holy concerning that city.  It’s just a place that your King David decided to use.  Is he greater than Abraham or Jacob?

She was correct in that God was with Abraham and Jacob, and that they did worship God on that mountain.  However, God moved on.  About 500 years after that, we find God on a different mountain giving the law to Moses, and His people worshiped Him there.  But God moved on.  About 500 years after that, we find God coming down to inhabit the Temple in Jerusalem.  Once again, His people worshipped Him there.  But something was about to happen to the Temple.  The Veil was about to be ripped from top to bottom, and God was going to move on once again.  Jesus spoke this to her when He said, “the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth.”

Throughout history, each time God has moved, men have tried to bottle it and define it as a recipe for success.  This is how most denominations have come to be.  Great men of faith have walked before us and we seen, heard and marveled at their works and relationships with God.  Following them, men attempted to imitate their form of worship in a hope of having what they had.   But it is nothing more than an imitation, and God has moved on.  As great as men like Luther and Wesley were, they were just men, and they are now dead, just like Abraham, Jacob, and Moses.   God does not acknowledge you in your affiliations.  If He did, then we should build a church on top of Mount Sinai and worship God there.

Consider this woman’s question.  She had been so distracted by the religious arguments of the day that she never even noticed that the answer to her question now stood before her.  God was in Jesus, and through His son He had returned once again to the mountain where Jacob had served Him in the past.  It is not the well, nor the mountain, no place that is special: it is God.  It is not the church we attend or the doctrines to which we hold that mean anything.  It is all about God.

Like this woman, sometimes believers are so enamored with their buildings and doctrines that they never notice that God is not present in their midst.  Is it possible that we have become so lost in the doctrinal discussions of our time that we completely miss the fact that God is not present with us?

Why do we do what we do?

Acts 17:16-23 (KJV)

16 Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry.

17 Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.

18 Then certain philosophers of the Epicureans, and of the Stoicks, encountered him. And some said, What will this babbler say? other some, He seemeth to be a setter forth of strange gods: because he preached unto them Jesus, and the resurrection.

19 And they took him, and brought him unto Areopagus, saying, May we know what this new doctrine, whereof thou speakest, is?

20 For thou bringest certain strange things to our ears: we would know therefore what these things mean.

21 (For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or to hear some new thing.)

22 Then Paul stood in the midst of Mars’ hill, and said, Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious.

23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.

Imagine Paul in the marketplace looking to purchase food.  A man passes by with a large basket of dates and figs.

“Kind sir, may I purchase some of those dates and figs?”  Paul asks.

“No,” the man replies briskly, then turns and places the fruit methodically on an altar.  Paul cannot help but notice the inscription on the altar: To The Unknown God.

As the man turns to leave, Paul asks him, “What god do you worship here?”

“I don’t know,” the man responds.

“What’s his name?”

“I don’t know that either.”

“But you do know that he requires dates and figs?”

“No, I don’t know that either.”

Very puzzled, Paul then asks, “Is there anyone in this city who can answer these questions?”

“Well… I think there was at one time an old man who knew something about this god, but he died before I was born.”

By now Paul can hardly contain himself.  “Why then do you bring him figs and dates?  How do you know that is what he wants?”

The man thinks for a moment, then answers, “Well, because my father brought figs and dates and so did his father.”

Paul considers this for a moment. “Just what did your father do for a living?”

“Both he and my grand father raised figs and dates, and so do I.”

Finally, a bewildered Paul makes this observation: “So you worship — you don’t know what — a god — you don’t know who — in a way — you don’t know how.”

Ask yourself these questions:

  • Why do I worship God the way I do?
  • Why do I serve God the way I do?
  • Why do I believe the doctrines I do?

Can you answer these questions?  Then ask yourself this: do you believe and worship the way you do because that is the way your church does?  Have you ever sought out the scriptures to KNOW that you know that the worship, beliefs, and doctrines you hold as sacred are indeed the very gospel Jesus and his disciples taught?

Years ago, when I first became a Christian, I began to see discrepancies between the Bible and the practices of the church I attended.  I remember asking my counselor why things were done as they were.  His reply is something that I continue to hear from believers to this day: “There are over 100,000 people who are a part of this denomination.  If we are wrong, wouldn’t you think that someone would notice it?”

Is not this the same argument that each denomination uses?  Are they all correct in what and how they practice what they believe?  It’s not just denominations who believe numbers equate to truth.  Even small gatherings of believers can find themselves congregating together around an idea or a man and not around the Word of Truth.  We must always come back to this very question: do I hold fast to the doctrine taught by Jesus and his disciples?

The Space Shuttle and ruts in the road 

I want to share with you something that is sometimes taught to engineering students.  When the opportunity rises, examine a picture of the Space Shuttle.  It has a huge tank attached to its underside and two solid fuel rocket boosters (SRBs) attached to the sides of the tank.   The solid fuel rocket boosters have been problematic for NASA.  Everyone either remembers or has heard of the Space Shuttle Challenger.  Challenger exploded minutes after launch because of one of the SRBs.  The engineers who designed the Space Shuttle wanted to make the SRBs shorter rather than long and slender (like a pencil).  So, let’s do the incomprehensible and ask the question: why are the SRBs designed as they are?

As it turns out, the SRBs are manufactured at a factory in Utah.  From the plant in Utah, the SRBs are shipped by train to the launch site. To get to the launch site the train must travel through a tunnel in the mountains.  The SRBs must fit through that tunnel, which itself is only slightly wider than the railroad track.  So, let’s ask the next question: why are railroad tracks the width they are?

Railroads throughout the United States are 4 foot 8.5 inches between the rails.  Well, that seems like such an odd number, so let’s ask the next logical question: why are they 4 foot 8.5 inches?  Because that’s the width they were built in England, and it was English immigrants who built the railroads in the United States.  This goes all the way back to the 1800’s.

Okay, then why did they build the railroads in England to this specification?  It turns out that the first railroads were built by the same people who built the tramways (or trolley cars).  Okay, so now we’re back to the 1700’s.  Before you ask, the tramways used this same specification (4 foot 8.5 inches) because they were built by the same people who built the wagonways and wagons.  Now were back into the 1500’s, still with the same specifications.

Wagonways were nothing more than wagons pulled by horses across a primitive wooden rail system.  The people who built the tramways used the same jigs and tools that they had used to build the wagons and wagonways.  Wagons were used for thousands of years and the standard wheel base (4 feet 8.5 inches) has always been the same.  I know what you’re going to ask next: why were wagons built to this specification?

The first primitive road system in Europe was the ancient Roman road, built primarily for the Roman Legions.  These roads were built out of solid rock, and they were about 6 feet deep.  Because of their design, they tended to last for centuries, and they were found all over Europe.  As it turns out, these roads had grooves that had been worn into them after decades and centuries of use by the wheels of Roman chariots.  Therefore, the people who built wagons had to build them so the wagon wheels fit perfectly in the groves.  If they did not, the wagon would tear itself apart.

We have now arrived at the last question: why were Roman chariots built to this specification?  As it turns out, the Romans built their chariots to be the same width as the two horses that were destined to pull it, that is, 4 feet 8.5 inches.  So the next time you see the Space Shuttle ready for launch take a good look at the SRBs and consider the fact that their diameter was determined thousands of years ago by the width of a couple of horses.

Isn’t it interesting how one tradition led to the next and the next and the next?  One tradition led to a standard. That standard became a rule that eventually became a law.  This law is now so engrained into our transportation system that it will probably never be changed.  Go to some railroad headquarters and them if they can change the width of railroads.  In doing so, trains wouldn’t require as many cars to transport goods, and they would not need to be nearly as long.  Their reply is predictable: the cost of such a change is too great.  Every train and every track across the continent would have to change.  It’s much easier to leave things as they are.

How much is this like believers of today.  I constantly meet believers who struggle with the Word of Truth.  They recognize that their lives are not in alignment with the scriptures, but neither are those of the others in their church.  If no one else is changing, why should they?

The Sheep Market

John 5:2-9 (KJV)

2 Now there is at Jerusalem by the sheep market a pool, which is called in the Hebrew tongue Bethesda, having five porches.

3 In these lay a great multitude of impotent folk, of blind, halt, withered, waiting for the moving of the water.

4 For an angel went down at a certain season into the pool, and troubled the water: whosoever then first after the troubling of the water stepped in was made whole of whatsoever disease he had.

5 And a certain man was there, which had an infirmity thirty and eight years.

6 When Jesus saw him lie, and knew that he had been now a long time in that case, he saith unto him, Wilt thou be made whole?

7 The impotent man answered him, Sir, I have no man, when the water is troubled, to put me into the pool: but while I am coming, another steppeth down before me.

8 Jesus saith unto him, Rise, take up thy bed, and walk.

9 And immediately the man was made whole, and took up his bed, and walked: and on the same day was the sabbath.

Now, the Bible never actually says that anyone was ever healed there.  The man suggests they were when he said, “when the water is troubled… another steppeth down before me (John 5:7).”  Remember the (Catholic) stories of the children and women who have reported to have seen the virgin Mary at a particular place?  What followed each of these encounters is that the spot eventually becomes a shrine, a spot where miracles are alleged to take place for centuries that follow.  Now I ask you, is this God’s way?  Does God tend to select a parcel of ground and then bless it?  If so, maybe we should build a church on Mount Sinai where God first met Moses, where the law was given, and where His covenant was made with man.  Surely, that must be a holy place, no?

Perhaps it goes more like this: a prophet once stood in that very spot and said, “One day a man will come here and trouble the waters of Israel.  He who steps into the water will find rest, but he who waits will know no peace.”  Then followed years, decades, and quite possibly even centuries of the story being told and retold until it eventually came to take on a completely different meaning.  First, it was a “man sent from God.”  Later it became “a messenger from God,” and eventually “an angel of the Lord.”  Finally, the story became that that very spot that was blessed and destined to become a shrine for the Divine (rhyme not intended).  What if that was not what the prophet had intended at all?  What if it was a prophecy about Christ that men had enshrined (they have a habit of doing that)?  Going a step further, what if from time to time, as wind whipped across the water, people claimed to see an angel.  Then through the hysteria of the moment as people pushed, shoved, clawed, and screamed while trying to enter, someone would claim healing.  Have we today ever heard or witnessed anything like that?

Perhaps over the course of time, men became enamored with their traditions and legends, and the original prophecy was completely lost.  Perhaps what they came to accept as truth had no foundation in the truth at all.  Perhaps the original word became so misinterpreted that, when the prophecy was fulfilled, no one there understood.  It is quite possible that Jesus came as the man who troubled the waters of Israel, and we know that there were those who freely accepted Him as Lord and those who drew back.

Try to imagine what it would have been like.  Jesus shows up as that messenger of the Lord and the one who troubles the waters.  He stood there able to heal and deliver each soul but no one noticed Him.  He had the power to give life and healing to all who were present, but no one sees Him.  Why?  Because they were too busy with their shrine.  They were caught up in their legends and habits and didn’t notice that the prophecy was being fulfilled right before their eyes.  Once again, why?  Because that’s how they always did it.  That’s the way their fathers did it, the way their fathers’ fathers did it, and no one dared to challenge the accepted standard.

I believe that we can and should question the standard.  Are our actions and our faith rooted in the Word of the Lord or in generations of legends and fairytales that we have accepted as the truth our whole lives long?