The Truth Is Important
Have you ever received a gift that you didn’t like? Maybe it was a really hideous tie. Maybe it was a piece of home decor that went out of style in the 1990’s. Or maybe it was a brush and comb set and you have been bald for 10 years.
I am sure that you have received at least one gift in your life time that you didn’t need or want. I have a friend who takes pride in giving awful gifts. He told me once that he struggles to find the perfect gift, but he has no problem finding the wrong ones. So he made the decision that he would only give awful gifts, gifts that would force the person to act like they appreciated what they were given, or tell the truth. He says he realized over the last 10 years that all of his family and friends are a bunch of liars.
There are times when receiving a gift puts you in a tough spot because the last thing that we want to do is seem like we don’t appreciate the thought. So in an effort to be polite and not be offensive we massage the truth, or at times outright lie. We say oh it’s beautiful, I love it, it’s just what I wanted while trying to think about who you are going to re-gift it to, or throw it away without anyone knowing, or maybe if you accidentally drop and break it.
I have often wondered where I first learned to tell a lie. I know my parents taught me my letters and numbers, they taught me that green was green and blue was blue. I remember my dad teaching me how to tie my shoes and about the birds and bees but I don’t ever remember anyone sitting me down and saying if you are going to lie this is what you need to say and this is how you need to say it. But everyone one of us and everyone you know has become pretty adapt at lying.
Our text this morning is not the only time that Solomon addresses the importance of telling the truth. In Proverbs 6 he writes There are six things the Lord hates— no, seven things he detests: haughty eyes, a lying tongue, hands that kill the innocent, a heart that plots evil, feet that race to do wrong, a false witness who pours out lies, a person who sows discord in a family. (16-19) When Solomon says that there are 7 things that God detests, twice he mentions lying: a lying tongue and a false witness who pours out lies.
We talk a lot about the fact that God is love, so it might shock you to hear that there are things that He hates. God is holy and righteous, therefore it stands to reason He would hate sin. If you were to read through the book of Proverbs you will find there are actually about 15 different sins that God hates. God is so opposed to sin that He even had to turn is face from Jesus as Jesus hung on the cross carrying the weight of our sin. When we choose sin, it makes God sick.
Everyone of us have a certain food item that make us gag on reflex. It might be something normal like squash or eggplant, or it could be the more exotic like Kimchee. Or maybe you can remember the one time you drank curdled milk. We have all tasted things that invoke an immediate gag reflex. Your mouth and your stomach immediately reject whatever you tasted. That reaction is what we are talking about in this text, that is probably the closest you’ve ever come to detesting something. It’s that thing that causes extreme disgust. Solomon says that lying and being dishonest with our words cause God to have a gag reflex, he wants us to understand how significant it is for us to be honest with our words.
But it’s not just Solomon, over and over the Bible addresses the need to be truthful in the way we use our words. Revelation 21:8 even says that all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death. You would think that with all of the the space and ink and warnings used in the Bible about telling the truth, the people who follow the Way, the Truth, and the Life would be known as truth-tellers. But unfortunately the children of God struggle with their ability to tell the truth just as much as those outside the church. Good church folks might not be prone to telling big lies, and using grand deception, but we are pretty comfortable swimming in the waters of little white lies, embellishing the facts, and adjusting the details to make us look better.
Lying has become so ingrained in our culture that we expect certain people to tell us lies. We even joke about dishonest politicians, or some other profession that is made up entirely of liars like it’s no big deal. Which is strange because everyone of us have experienced Solomon’s words from our text and we know that careless words stab like a sword (Proverbs 12:18). Something has definitely gone wrong, because it is not like it is supposed to be. And yet lying has become as American as baseball and apple pie.
One of the great things about the Old Testament is that while Solomon’s proverbs are short and condensed, there are plenty of stories that will flesh out the deeper meaning of the proverb. I want to take a moment this morning to look at my favorite Old Testament story; I believe it will help us understand the deeper meaning of our text. If you want to read along the story is found in 2 Chronicles 18. I know it’s a long passage and I debated reading the whole chapter, but since it’s such an obscure story, and I believe most of you have never heard it before, I want you to hear it. (Read Text)
Ahab was, perhaps, the most notorious king in Israel's history. He was selfish, violent, and he was able to find a wife named Jezebel who was twice as bad. When the prophets of God spoke out against him, Ahab ordered his henchmen to kill them. He introduced widespread idol worship into Israel and if you know much at all about Old Testament history, you know what a rotten guy he was. The question is how did he get that way?
There are several reasons why, but this story gives us one of the clearest reasons. When Jehoshaphat asked if they could hear from a prophet of God, Ahab replied, Well, there is one, but I hate him because he never prophesies anything good about me. Does Ahab sound very grounded? That's like cancelling your doctor’s appointment because the last time she told you that you had high blood pressure and needed to change your diet and exercise. You don’t want to hear the truth.
Ahab and Micaiah apparently had some history and everyone knew it. When the other prophets went to get him they told him everyone is telling the king that he's going to be successful. You know how testy he gets when he hears bad news, so just fall in line with us and everything will be okay. And at first Micaiah says, wow you sound brilliant, just go ahead and attack, I’m sure you’ll do fine.
But the sarcasm in his voice must have been just dripping because Ahab asks, How many times must I make you swear to tell me the truth? So Micaiah says, you want the truth? Okay, if you do this you will are going to lose. And Ahab says, See! What did I tell you? Always doom and gloom.
Some of us are just like Ahab. We're faced with a decision, a decision between right and wrong, we go to someone who we believe is spiritual and ask them for advice. They give us their opinion, but we don’t like it so we find more people we think are spiritual and ask their advice. And we go from person to person until we finally find someone who says, Attack and be victorious, for the Lord will give it into your hands.
Since Ahab made Micaiah swear to tell the truth, he goes all in. Micaiah reveals that one of the heavenly hosts put a lying spirit in the mouths of the prophets. Which made Ahab angry, because that is not what he wanted to hear. So Ahab throws Micaiah in prison, only giving him a diet of bread and water until he safely returns. Which is pretty tough for Micaiah because Ahab doesn't return.
So what are the lessons here for us? First, if we're going to live spiritually successful lives, we need to surround ourselves with people who are going to love us enough to be honest.
Ahab had 400 prophets who lived by a mission statement that read: Tell the King whatever makes him feel good about himself. It is pretty easy to surround yourself with yes men and women if you want, and we probably won't end up being shot with an arrow, but we will be pierced with many griefs.
But how do you know whether the people around you are telling you the truth you need to hear or just trying to make you feel good? First, if someone is giving you advice that is inconsistent with something God has revealed in His word, they are wrong. Don't listen to them. Walk away from it, actually run away. When you face a situation in which God's word is clear, always go with God.
But not every situation we find ourselves in is so black and white. What do you do if there is no clear book, chapter and verse? One good way to determine if the people around you are telling you the hard truth is whether or not their advice is popular. Don't you think Ahab should have been at least a little suspicious if 400 preachers all agreed on something? If everybody says it's okay, that's the first sign you might need to hesitate a bit.
There were several ways in the Old Testament that true prophets were separated from the false ones. One, of course, was whether or not their predictions came true. If a prophet predicted something and it didn't happen, he was out of a job.
Another way, though, was to compare his counsel to that of the popular culture. If a prophet's advice sounded like what you'd hear on the street, then people questioned his prophecy. True prophets were usually lone voices. So if you are facing a decision and everyone is telling you the same thing, you need to widen the group of people from whom you are seeking guidance. When it comes to matters of your soul, our culture is usually in the dark.
A second way requires you to be ruthlessly honest with your own feelings.
If your friends are telling you what you want to hear, or if it confirms what you've already decided, you need to ask some different people. Chances are pretty good that they know what your decision is and they just want to make you feel good. By the way, the more powerful you are, the more influence you have, the higher your status at school, at home, at work, the harder it is to get honest feedback. Ahab was a king who had a history of killing folks who disagreed with him. So you might imagine that the people were afraid to tell him the truth.
Regardless of your status, you need to surround yourself with people who love you enough to be honest with you. One of the biggest struggles teenagers have is the information they get from their friends verse the information they get from their parents. Friends often tell us what we want to hear, but your parents love you enough to tell you the truth. Unfortunately, we often think that we think. When what we have really done is tried to find someone who agrees with us.
When you friends give you advice, it’s okay to ask them if that’s what they really think or are they just trying go easy on you. Real love is seen in their ability to speak the truth. The more someone loves you, the more willing they're going to be to tell you the hard truth.
One more lesson: Not only do we need to surround ourselves with people who tell the truth, but we need to be truth tellers ourselves. You are surrounded by a hundred people every day that are spiritually in the dark. They may be making lifestyle choices that are the equivalent of walking off a cliff and they need someone to love them enough to yell stop.
The fact is sometimes we're Ahab and we need someone to tell us the truth. Other times we need to be Micaiah and we need to be the truth tellers, which can be difficult because often times people don't want to hear the truth.
I need to to understand that love and truth don’t stand in opposition to one another. In fact, you can’t really have one without the other. To love truth, you have to be committed to love. And to love love, you have to be committed to truth.
The most loving person who ever lived, loved others to the point that He was willing to die a cruel and bloody public death for crimes that they committed. And the most forthright and honest truth teller that the world had ever known was willing to to die a cruel and bloody public death for crimes that they committed. The call to love will never force us to bend the truth, and the biblical call to truth will never ask you to abandon God’s call to love your neighbor.
This is played out in a moment recorded in the 18th chapter of Luke’s gospel. A rich ruler comes to Jesus to ask him about eternal life which is a great question that gets a very hard and honest answer. As you read the conversation between the ruler and Jesus you might not think that Jesus was trying very hard to be evangelistic. In a moment of complete honesty, Jesus doesn’t carefully choose His words in an effort to make the gospel attractive. Rather, He hones in on and exposes the idol that is sitting on the throne of this man’s heart. Jesus tells the truth, which sound’s like bad news, doom and gloom to the man who was trusting in his wealth to find security. But it’s the truth the man needs to hear if he is ever going to be free.
Luke records something very important for us. In the face of Jesus’s honesty, the man walks away, and as he does, Jesus looks at him with sadness. You see, Jesus isn’t being cold and indifferent. He doesn’t lack love. His hard words are motivated by love, and Jesus’s sadness at the end of the conversation exposes the love that motivated the truth He told. There is no mean-spirited condemnation in the words of Christ. Those hard words are words of grace, spoken by the Savior of love, spoken to redeem.
Truth isn’t mean spirited and love isn’t dishonest. They are two sides of the same righteous agenda that longs for the spiritual well being of another weary traveler. Truth that is not spoken in love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by our agendas.
And when love abandons the truth it ceases to be love because it abandons what is best for the person.
This morning God is calling you to love honesty and honestly love others through your words. We want to pray this morning that the same Jesus who was fully committed to both love and truth will give us the power to be fully committed as well. The truth is this morning we are all broken, and struggling in our sinfulness. We live in a community that is broken and needs someone to model love in the model city. This morning the invitation is made for those who need their souls to be mended to come back to Jesus.