Honesty in preaching and in teaching the Bible

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From “Growing in the character of a disciple”: Chapter 10 – How we can develop ‘the love of the truth’ and the character quality , and habit, of truthfulness?

Some might imagine that this point would not even need to be made, because, if a man is sufficiently mature and motivated to preach or teach the Bible then he would surely never lie, exaggerate, dodge issues or be misleading. If only that was true. I have to say that that has not been the case for a large number of the men that I have heard preach.

I have heard countless men treat the Word of God in an extraordinarily careless manner and say things which are plainly not correct. In doing so, some have been fully aware of that, but they did not care. Others have been unaware of their errors, but only because they were not sufficiently motivated, and did not care enough about the truth, to take the trouble to find out. So, for a variety of reasons, they misrepresent God’s Word and give people a false impression of Him.

I would never want to be in that position. Everything I say is what I sincerely believe to be the true meaning of God’s Word, after much study. On many occasions, where I have felt unsure of the meaning I have either explicitly said so, or I have left it alone and spoken or written on some other topic instead. That is the right approach. We must never take a cavalier or reckless attitude towards God’s Word. For a man who stands up to teach, the responsibility is very heavy, and so will be the judgment that comes upon him if he is not sincere and careful. Note what James tells us:

Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, for you know that we who teach shall be judged with greater strictness.

James 3:1 (RSV)

Nevertheless, I have heard a great many men make reckless statements while preaching, for which they have no biblical mandate or authority. They present their own opinions and preferences as if they were God’s, and as if God’s Word supported what they say when it clearly doesn’t. I would classify that as dishonesty, and of the most grievous kind. Indeed, can there be any more serious subject matter about which to lie or exaggerate, or even to risk making errors, than God’s Word?

Perhaps the main reason why so many men behave like that when preaching is because they feel no fear while handling God’s Word. But we should. It is such a heavy and serious matter that it should actually make us tremble, for fear of misrepresenting God and misleading people about Him or His will. No less a person than Isaiah tells us that God wants us to tremble at [His] Word:

All these things my hand has made,
and so all these things are mine,
says the LORD.
But this is the man to whom I will look,
he that is humble and contrite in spirit,
and trembles at my word.

Isaiah 66:2 (RSV)

Likewise, the Psalmist tells us that he trembles at both the prospect of God’s judgment and the responsibility of dealing with His Word:

My flesh trembles for fear of thee,
and I am afraid of thy judgments.

Psalm 119:120 (RSV)

Rulers persecute me without cause,
but my heart trembles at your word.

Psalm 119:161 (NIV)
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