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?
If a person has the love of the truth then, when they realise that they have made a mistake or have got their doctrine or theology wrong, they are pleased to be corrected. They are not proud or stubborn and they don’t resent being told that they are wrong. On the contrary, they appreciate the person who has corrected them.
They then willingly alter their view, so as to abandon the wrong opinion or doctrine and adopt the correct one. That is obviously what any sensible person would do. If you are wrong then, surely, it is a good thing to have that error pointed out, so that you can change your view? How could one possibly argue otherwise?
Although that is undoubtedly the right approach, the fact is that most of us do not see it that way. The average person, even in churches, resents being corrected or challenged, even when the correction is entirely valid. Indeed, they resent the correction all the more because it is valid. They prefer instead to maintain their existing beliefs, regardless of whether they are right or wrong.
In part that is due to pride. However it is also because that person simply does not have the love of the truth. They would prefer to maintain the appearance of having been right rather than change their view so as to actually become right. Anyone who acts in that way is more in love with their own ego and reputation than with the truth.
By contrast, consider two characters in the Bible who were very willing to be corrected. They were also prepared to change their view immediately and without any resentment or stubbornness. The first is the prophet Nathan. King David came to him and said he wanted to build a house (a Temple) for the Lord. Nathan instantly gave his own opinion on this point. He told David to go ahead and that God was with him in that proposed idea:
1Now when David lived in his house, David said to Nathan the prophet, “Behold, I dwell in a house of cedar, but the ark of the covenant of the LORD is under a tent.” 2And Nathan said to David, “Do all that is in your heart, for God is with you.”1 Chronicles 17:1-2 (ESV)
However, later that night God spoke to the prophet Nathan and said that He was not actually in support of this and that He did not want David to build the Temple. Instead, God wanted one of David’s sons to build it:
3But that same night the word of the LORD came to Nathan, 4“Go and tell my servant David, ‘Thus says the LORD: It is not you who will build me a house to dwell in.1 Chronicles 17: 3-4 (ESV)
Instead of sulking, taking offense, or feeling embarrassed at having got it wrong, the prophet Nathan immediately went to David. He told him that in fact God did not want him to build the Temple, but wanted his son to do so instead of him:
11When your days are fulfilled to walk with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, one of your own sons, and I will establish his kingdom. 12He shall build a house for me, and I will establish his throne forever.1 Chronicles 17:11-12 (ESV)
In accordance with all these words, and in accordance with all this vision, Nathan spoke to David1 Chronicles 17:15 (ESV)
Going back to David in this way can’t have been easy for Nathan. He was a famous prophet, probably the most senior prophet in Israel, with direct access to the King. A lesser man than him may have been tempted to keep quiet about what God had said, so as to avoid losing face and appearing foolish.
At the outset he had given his own honest opinion, i.e. that David should build the Temple. He genuinely thought that would be God’s will. Later when he had discovered that he was wrong, all Nathan wanted to do was to go straight to David to tell him the truth and to correct things. His own image did not matter to him, or at least it did not matter in comparison to upholding the truth.
Let’s consider a second example, this time from the New Testament. This concerns a very able lawyer called Apollos. He had become a follower of Jesus, but at this point in the book of Acts he only knew the baptism of John the Baptist, not Christian baptism. He was a very eloquent, persuasive man, with all the gifts of an evangelist and was enthusiastically telling people what he knew. Then one day he met a Christian couple, Priscilla and Aquila. They were mature believers. At any rate, they were more knowledgeable than him. So they corrected Apollos, told him about being baptised in the name of Jesus, and filled in some gaps in his knowledge:
24Now a Jew named Apollos, a native of Alexandria, came to Ephesus. He was an eloquent man, competent in the Scriptures. 25He had been instructed in the way of the Lord. And being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John. 26He began to speak boldly in the synagogue, but when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accuratelyActs 18:24-26 (ESV)
Like Nathan, Apollos did not take offence, or resist the correction. He humbly accepted what he was told. Then that added knowledge enabled him to increase his effectiveness as an evangelist:
27And when he wished to cross to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him. When he arrived, he greatly helped those who through grace had believed, 28for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, showing by the Scriptures that the Christ was Jesus.Acts 18: 27-28 (ESV)
So, Apollos, though probably more educated, and wealthy, than either Priscilla or Aquila, was willing to be corrected by them. He showed no pride or stubbornness. He loved the truth and positively wanted to be put right wherever he was wrong and to have any gaps in his knowledge filled. He was not aiming to impress anybody and therefore he had no fear of being made to appear wrong or to be lacking in any way.
Why should he, or any of us, fear those things? We are all wrong on many occasions and we all have gaps in our knowledge. Therefore we should never be reluctant to have our errors exposed and corrected. But if we are reluctant, then we should just force ourselves to accept correction anyway.
I am also reminded of the eminent Bible teacher, the late Derek Prince. One of the reasons God used him so hugely, in a worldwide ministry, was the very fact that he loved the truth far more than he loved himself or his own reputation. He was a major academic, having won a scholarship to Eton and then to King’s College Cambridge. He was also a Fellow of King’s College, being qualified to lecture in philosophy and also in Greek. Yet, when he was a young believer, only a few weeks after his conversion, he allowed an old, uneducated, working-class couple in Scarborough, England, to correct him and to tell him about the Holy Spirit.
Likewise, many years later, when he had become an internationally renowned Bible teacher, Derek Prince made a mistake by teaching that all Christians should have a shepherd, i.e. a pastor to whom they ‘submit’. This wrong teaching led to what became known as the ‘Shepherding Movement’ which quickly became domineering and oppressive.
However, when he realised that what he had been teaching was wrong and harmful, he publicly renounced it and told all his listeners that he had been wrong to teach it. That was in the 1970s and from that point onwards his ministry multiplied and became even larger. I feel that one of the key reasons for his subsequent success is that God was pleased by Derek Prince’s humility and love of the truth, which had made him so willing to humble himself and to publicly admit he had been wrong.
Accordingly, we must all decide that the truth is what really matters, not how we appear, or what people think of us. Therefore we need to be willing, and even eager, to be corrected whenever our opinions, or understanding of issues are wrong or incomplete.