From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 9 – What is ‘the love of the truth’ and why does truth matter so much to God?
Many people read the Bible in a superficial way, not really taking it seriously and not being honest with themselves about what it says. That is why most of us can read the Bible, or hear it read or being preached on, and yet be unmoved by it. It’s as if we assume that when it’s being critical, or speaking about sin, it obviously must be referring to someone else, not us. Or, we just filter it out completely, so that it does not even register.
A dishonest person will make that assumption quite easily. They will not be convicted, even when their own sins or character traits are very clearly what is being spoken about. If we are like that then we are just like the people of Ezekiel’s day. They had the prophet Ezekiel in their midst but found it very easy to ignore, and disobey, what God was saying to them through him.
30“As for you, son of man, your people who talk together about you by the walls and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to his brother, ‘Come, and hear what the word is that comes forth from the LORD.’ 31And they come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear what you say but they will not do it; for with their lips they show much love, but their heart is set on their gain. 32And, lo, you are to them like one who sings love songs with a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument, for they hear what you say, but they will not do it. 33When this comes–and come it will! –then they will know that a prophet has been among them.”Ezekiel 33:30-33 (RSV)
Some of us go to church and even read the Bible, but are not honest enough to really hear what God is saying to us through the Bible. We may like liturgy, or tradition, but not hear what God is saying, because we have a heart that is hard and closed off to Him.
Jesus Himself spoke of this when He referred to some of the Pharisees and Scribes. They tend to have a bad name, but many of us are just like they were. We too can be hypocritical, with no love of the truth, and no willingness to be corrected by God, or to respond to His instruction:
5And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with hands defiled?” 6And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honours me with their lips, but their heart is far from me; 7in vain do they worship me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.’ 8You leave the commandment of God, and hold fast the tradition of men.” 9And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God, in order to keep your tradition!Mark7:5-9 (RSV)
If we want to avoid being hypocrites, as some (not all) of the Pharisees were, then we must develop a rigorous honesty and frankness with ourselves when reading the Bible. We should positively look for God’s correction concerning our attitudes and ways. We must have no wish to defend ourselves from the Bible, or to justify or vindicate ourselves. It is far better to be receptive to whatever God has to say to you, even if He wants to correct or rebuke you.
If that is what He is saying to you, it’s because you need to hear it, as we all do. Thus, we must never be angry or irritated about what the Bible says to us, as many people were when they heard Jesus tell them the truth about themselves:
25But in truth, I tell you, there were many widows in Israel in the days of Elijah, when the heavens were shut up three years and six months, and a great famine came over all the land, 26and Elijah was sent to none of them but only to Zarephath, in the land of Sidon, to a woman who was a widow. 27And there were many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed, but only Naaman the Syrian.” 28When they heard these things, all in the synagogue were filled with wrath. 29And they rose up and drove him out of the town and brought him to the brow of the hill on which their town was built, so that they could throw him down the cliff. 30But passing through their midst, he went away.Luke 4:25-30 (ESV)
A really honest person will want to find out the full truth of what the Bible has to say to him about his various sins and faults. He will positively seek for the Bible’s constructive criticism. By contrast, a superficial person, who does not have the love of the truth, will avoid anyone or anything which confronts him with the truth about himself or his situation. Instead, he will go looking for preachers and teachers who will flatter him and massage his ego rather than those who will tell him the truth. They did this in Isaiah’s day and people still do it today:
9 For they are a rebellious people,Isaiah 30:9-10 (ESV)
children unwilling to hear
the instruction of the LORD;
10 who say to the seers, “Do not see,”
and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;
speak to us smooth things,