Saturday, November 21, 2015
November 22, Christ the King, You Can Do This # 9, Loving the Truth
Heidelberg Catechism 112, Lord's Day 43
Revelation 1:4b-8, John 18:33-37
The Ninth Commandment:
“Don’t bear false witness against your neighbor.”
“For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” And listening to the voice of Jesus is Pontius Pilate. But not comprehending. Pilate famously retorts, “What is truth?”
For Pilate, truth is not something you can “belong to”. Truth is a tool. Truth is only accurate information or useful intelligence for purposes of power. And truth can be inconvenient and even dangerous, so you try to control it or avoid it or maybe twist it. You can even take all true words and reconfigure them so they end up as a lie. The most effective lies are mostly all true. What you want is power over the truth, you don’t want the truth to be bigger than yourself, as it would have to be if you were to “belong to” it.
The truth that you can belong to, the truth that is bigger than the world, is the kingdom of God. This kingdom is in the world and for the world but not from the world, because the seat of its authority is heaven. To see the world as under the kingdom of God is to learn the truth about the world. And to follow Jesus is to testify like he did to the truth about the world.
Jesus in on trial here. He is not a Roman citizen, and the governor is both judge and jury, but justice is not the governor’s first concern. He wants accurate information for the sake of political utility. He really does want to know if Jesus is the king of the Judeans, because that will affect how he should deal with him.
Three times Pilate asks him for information. Three times Jesus responds as not accountable to him. Neither is he nasty or defensive. He does testify, but not according to Pilate’s agenda. He testifies to his own identity and message, and he takes one more chance to bear true witness, even to Pilate, of the hope that is within him. He is a “faithful witness,” but Pilate does not get it, because he does not belong to the truth. So he will let him die, and Pilate figures that would be the end of it. He does not comprehend that his politics will allow this “faithful witness” to become “the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.”
Now let me step back for a moment and notice the happy coincidence between the lessons for this Sunday and the resumption of my series on the Ten Commandments. The coinciding of these lessons with the Ninth Commandment has led me to interpretations of both the lessons and the commandment that I would not have come to otherwise. This has happened before. It says something about the complex richness of scripture. But also about the subtlety of the providence of God, that even coincidences are taken into God’s sovereignty. The Ninth Commandment talks about the truth of your witness, and the Gospel shows us the “faithful witness” who testifies to the truth.
What this means for how you keep the Ninth Commandment is that what makes your witness of your neighbor false or true is ultimately not a matter of your own accuracy but whether what you say about your neighbor belongs to the truth that the Lord Jesus has for the world. If you “belong to the truth,” and therefore “listen to the voice” of Jesus, then you imitate his voice when you speak about your neighbor. The truth that you want to tell is not your own truth—a truth that you think you’re in control of—but the truth of God’s kingdom that is larger than you so that you can belong to it.
If your speech about your neighbor is to belong to God’s kingdom, what that means is that your speech must be an act both of mission and of love. That means you have a positive responsibility for your neighbor’s reputation. You are not responsible for your neighbor’s character. That’s up to your neighbor. But you are responsible for your own contribution to your neighbor’s reputation. Yes, your neighbor’s reputation is your sacred trust, but even more, part of your mission in the world is to enhance your neighbor’s reputation as best you can as an act of love.
If there’s anything we humans like to do, it is to talk about each other. We are social animals, and we have the gifts of speech and memory. Our social relations are complex, and we’re always adjusting how we fit in with each other. Can I trust you? Am I safe with you, can I be candid with you, or must I take care with you? And we help each other with scouting reports about each other.
You hear things. Should you pass these things along? The commandment is clear. It doesn’t say, Don’t start false witness, it says, Don’t bear it, don’t even convey it. Not even if it might be true; that isn’t good enough. If you’re not the one who can be responsible for the truth of it, then you must not bear it.
Learning silence is a Christian discipline. Learning to be quiet. This its not because testimony is unimportant. Rather the reverse. "For this you were born, for this you came into the world, to testify to the truth.” Because your testimony is so important, you want to reserve it for when it counts. Reporting on others is not for being funny, or interesting, or smart. Reserve your witness for when it’s the truth that is at stake. Or when you know a truth about a second person that might be dangerous to a third person, and then you have to speak judiciously and faithfully. Good silence is for good speech.
You can do this. Your speech can be true and not false. Not just true as accurate, but true as in tried and true and steady and straight and faithful. What you say about your neighbor you say in faithful relationship to your neighbor, and for your neighbor’s good. Your speech contributes to the healing of the world.
Christian witnessing has a great tradition. The caricature of it is that your job is to tell other people what they need to do in order to be saved. But that’s not witnessing, that’s preaching. Witnessing is about what you yourself have seen and heard. It is to cultivate in yourself the love of the truth, the truth that is larger than yourself and larger than the world, the truth about what the world is for and how to live in it and how to treat your neighbors in the world.
The Bible often presents world history as a great, long trial of which the final verdict still awaits. Will God be vindicated, or is God false? Is Jesus Lord, or is it all made up? There is as yet no final proof for either side, and most of the evidence presented is circumstantial. The case for God most heavily depends on witnesses. That’s us, that’s you. “You shall be my witnesses,” said the Lord Jesus. And as witnesses, your character and reputation affect the value of your testimony.
When it comes to your own small trials, the reputation of your character will have everything to do with how you speak about the other people in your life, and what you say of them: your criticism and your praise, your mixture of complaints and compliments, and the credibility of your gratitude. Whether you convey your inconvenient truths in sacrifice and love. Whether your truth belongs to you, to use it as you need it, or whether you belong to the truth and you love that truth that is larger than yourself. How you express the Ninth Commandment so much affects your credibility as a Christian in this world.
You can do this. You can love the truth. And the truth that you can love is not the information of your intelligence, but the truth of Jesus Christ and his truth about the world and his truth about yourself and his truth about your neighbor. He tells you who your neighbor is: the foreigner, the stranger, the outsider, the outcast, the refugee, your enemy. You can speak about your enemy and your neighbor as a way of bearing witness that the overarching truth about the world is the love that God has for the world, and as a way of testifying that the most important truth about yourself is the love of God for you.
Copyright © 2015, by Daniel James Meeter, all rights reserved.