John 18:36-37 – Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.”  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”
An Audacious Claim
Truth is a very big deal in the Gospel of John. Jesus, in a good number of verses, begins his teachings with phrases like, “I tell you the truth.” In John 14:6, Jesus claims not only to speak the truth, but to actually be truth itself. In our text above Jesus says he came into the world to testify to the truth. Furthermore, he says, if you are on the side of truth you will listen to him.
It’s an incredibly bold move to say you are truth itself and your purpose for coming into the world is to testify to the truth. In fact, it’s downright arrogant, unless your claim is true. And that’s where the rub is. If it is true that Jesus is the truth, (and that he came to testify to the truth), then it would be prudent to listen to what he has to say. In fact, it would be an imperative.
Just A Good Teacher?
The thrust of our text reminds us, rather loudly, Jesus was not simply an interesting teacher. He claimed to be much more. People who say Jesus was just a good teacher are actually revealing at least two things about themselves.
The first thing is there is a high probability they have never read the gospels for themselves. If they had, they could say they do not believe the things Jesus taught, but it would be intellectually dishonest to say his self-referential claims were not audacious. The “good teacher” response is evidence a person has not likely read what this “good teacher” taught.
The second revelation is they do not want to submit to Jesus’ Lordship nor trust in him as their Savior. Autonomous man still wants to be God. Even postmodern man, with his many “relative truths” – however contradictory they may all be – does not desire the One who claims to be the Truth (capital “T”). The sinful inclination of their hearts suppresses the truth they know (Romans 1:18).
Who Are You Listening To?
The words of verse 37 are powerful: Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.
You don’t have to be an expert in logic to understand the implications here. If you don’t listen to Jesus, then you are not on the side of truth. And if Jesus is the truth and his purpose in coming was to bear witness to the truth, then what Jesus says about every sphere of life matters. It matters a lot.
Of course, “listens to me” means much more than simply hearing what Jesus has to say. It implies “responding in obedience” to him as well. Submission is key here. Jesus is not suggesting he would be happy if you went to Starbucks, sat down with your favorite cup of coffee, and merely listened to someone tell you about Jesus. The person, work, and words of Jesus Christ demand a response. For centuries people recognized this and chose to either submit to him or reject him. But today some folk opt for patting him on the head and then moving on, ignoring him. But as the wise philosopher-theologian Geddy Lee, from the rock group Rush, sang, “If you choose not to decide you still have made a choice.”
Jesus will not be ignored, at least not with impunity. He will not be placed on the backburner of your life, only to be thought about at funerals and on Christmas mornings. He is the truth. He testifies to the truth. In fact, as Jesus put it in verse 37, he is a King.
Does all of that really describe a person you can blow off if you want to, without consequence?
The Right Side of Jesus
It’s popular today to talk about being on the right side of history. Jesus wants us to be on the right side of truth. And to be on the right side of truth is to be on the right side of Jesus. Therefore, let me encourage you to pick up your Bible today and begin listening to Jesus. Start with the Gospel of John. Then move to Matthew, Mark and Luke… then read John again. After that, you should start listening to Jesus as he speaks through his appointed apostles and prophets. God’s ordinary and significant means by which he has ordained his Son to be encountered and heard is through his Word – the Bible. So pick it up and side with him today.
• Reading and studying the Bible on your own is profitable. However, when you talk about it with others who are also reading Scripture, it can be a real blessing. Ask a couple of friends if they’ll start reading the Gospel of John with you so your group can discuss it together.
• Move through John’s Gospel one chapter at a time, recording in a journal the significant teachings of Jesus. Ask yourself why each teaching you highlighted stands out to you. What implication would that teaching have in your life if you started believing it was true and obeying it? What are the implications for not believing and obeying it?
• Give special attention to the claims Jesus makes about himself and the implications those claims have on your life.
• Lastly, what miraculous works in John’s Gospel capture your attention? Why? What do they tell you about Jesus?
God of truth, I give you praise that you have not left me to grope in the dark, seeking your path on my own. I am grateful that you have provided me with the Way and Truth, indeed, Life itself. And so forgive me Father when I seek to go my own way or when your truth scares me. I confess that I have sometimes been so fearful of obeying the truth you have so clearly given me that I have chosen to ignore it at best and rebel against it at worst. Both are sin and I ask you to please forgive me. Instead, gracious Lord, fill me with your Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and enable me to not only want to follow your truth, wherever it leads me, but to also be able to do so. I pray my faithfulness to your truth will lead others to give you praise in heaven and make a difference for the sake of your Kingdom here and now. In the name of the one who was and is the Truth, I pray. Amen.
This Week’s Prayer Guide
[You can use this prayer guide in your own personal prayer time. However, I encourage you to use it with a group of Christian men. Each week you should spend time praising God for who he is, confessing your sin to him (be specific) as well as expressing gratitude to him for his gracious forgiveness. Also, don’t forget to thank God for the many ways he has poured out his goodness in your life. Then, focus on the following areas of supplication, which will change from week to week.]
Petitions – prayers for yourself
• Lord, help me to faithfully participate in the life of my congregation and for the sake of my community…
By my prayers
By my presence
By my gifts
By my service
By my witness
• Today’s events and interactions with others, planned and unplanned
• Other needs
Intercession – prayers for others
• My family
• For those who serve in government, at the national, state, and local levels
• For those who serve in law-enforcement
• For those who serve in fire and rescue
• For those who serve in our nation’s military
• Other needs
A Fitting Title
A few years ago our church's men’s groups studied 1 Timothy and Titus, using a great study-guide by John Stott. Stott’s commentary on the same two epistles is entitled, Guard the Truth. It’s no mystery why the commentary is named that. Here are a few texts from Paul's two letters that support the choice of that title.
1 Timothy 1:3-4 - As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain men not to teach false doctrines any longer  nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. These promote controversies rather than God’s work–which is by faith.
1 Timothy 3:14-15 - Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that,  if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.
1 Timothy 4:1-2 - The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits and things taught by demons.  Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared as with a hot iron.
1 Timothy 6:3-5 - If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching,  he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions  and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain.
1 Timothy 6:20-21 - Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposing ideas of what is falsely called knowledge,  which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith. Grace be with you.
Titus 1:9 - He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.
These are just a few of the more obvious texts on the need (indeed, the command) for Christians to guard the truth.
Of Majors and Minors
Throughout the study the discussion kept coming around to the oft-cited observation that, like the culture, there doesn’t seem to be a high premium on truth in the Church today. While this may be a given outside the Church, it should not be so within her walls.
This isn’t to say we ought to appoint “thought police” within to start arresting folks who don’t “think like us.” Nor does it mean every issue is worth fighting and dividing over. There are some things, secondary things, that godly people can disagree over and still not reject the authority of God’s Word, the central doctrines of the faith, and the unity God desires for his Church.
I’ve often shared with folks that when I graduated from seminary I wanted to debate every last detail of every last doctrine. As I have gotten older, and hopefully matured some, I have found the list of things I care to debate has become shorter. However, the things I do hold dear are not only worth debating, but worth dying for.
United Methodist Ordination
The ordination service in my denomination declares and asks,
“Remember that you are called to serve rather than to be served, to proclaim the faith of the church and no other, to look after the concerns of God above all.
“Do you believe in the Triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit and confess Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior?
“Are you persuaded that the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments contain all things necessary for salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and are the unique and authoritative standard for the church’s faith and life?
“Will you be loyal to the United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline, defending it against all doctrines contrary to God’s Holy Word, and committing yourself to be accountable with those serving with you, and to the bishop and those who are appointed to supervise your ministry.”
I’m proud to say that, at least on paper, my denomination cares about the truth of God’s Word, so much so, that ordained clergy are tasked with preaching, teaching, defending, and living it.
One of the best parts about attending the ordination service each year at my denomination’s Annual Conference is that God reminds me of my own calling. He reminds me that we in our day, as Jude pointed out in his day, are still heralds and guardians of the faith once delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3).
What’s true of me as an ordained pastor is true of every Christian. May we all faithfully guard and share the truth our Lord has entrusted to our care, not as arrogant fools, but as humble stewards of the God who so loved the world that he sent the Truth himself.
Make a list of the most important Christian beliefs you hold dear and explain why you chose them. What is it about them that qualifies them to make your “to die for” list? How does your list compare to the major historic creeds of the church or of your denomination? Jesus clearly desires the unity of his church. What role does truth play in that unity?
Grace and Truth,
The United Methodist View of Scripture
What is the United Methodist view of Scripture? Is there an official view? I know what the Discipline says, but how much latitude do we allow, one way or the other, before we say a particular view is out-of-bounds? Those are some of the questions we as a denomination have been wrestling with for quite a while now.
Several years ago, at my denomination’s Annual Conference, I heard a phrase (used by two different people) that got my attention. The phrase was, “We take the Bible seriously, but not literally.”
“Seriously, but not literally.” What does that even mean? Does that strike you as a slight of hand? What does it mean to take the Bible literally?
As a former member of the theology team of the Board of Ordained Ministry in my conference, I have been a part of many meaningful conversations about a candidate’s view of Scripture. However, my observation is, in some instances, suggesting a candidate takes the Bible literally is shorthand for saying the candidate takes the Bible a little too seriously.
Taking the Bible Literally
Yet, from everything I’ve read on the subject, taking the Bible literally means, quite simply, reading the Bible according to the literature-style in which it was written. We know there are many kinds of literature in the Bible. There is gospel, epistle, poetry, apocalyptic, wisdom, historical narrative, hymns, etc. They are not all to be read in the very same way. That would be folly. Furthermore, I have yet to read someone who holds a high view of Scripture who believes the Bible should be read in such a way.
Many of the folks I’ve talked to who hold a certain disdain for the notion of biblical inerrancy, for example, have never read a single book by an inerrantist on the subject of inerrancy. Instead, it seems many critics of inerrancy are often reacting to the very worst caricatures that have been built into conference folklore over the years. And frankly, who would want any of those caricatures to come to life and serve a local church in our conference? Not me!
Your Stigma Against My Dogma
I’m not saying concerns about inerrancy (or, at least, folks who hold that view) are completely unjustified. I am saying few people in United Methodist circles have read much on the subject and thus have the worst possible view of it. That doesn’t strike me as very open-minded, something on which we United Methodists pride ourselves.
I would like to see an end to the negative stereotypes of folks who hold a high view of Scripture. I would like to hold a high view of Scripture without being accused of bibliolatry (the view that the Bible, and not God, is being worshiped).
Let me be clear: I’m not defending any and every bad interpretation that has come along in the name of Scriptural authority. Both sides of the debate have clearly misused and even abused the Bible. What I am for is a holy and reasonable discussion, free of character assassinations and straw men (or straw persons, if you prefer).
Let’s Actually Take the Bible Seriously
Let’s roll up our sleeves together and do the hard and responsible work of rightly interpreting the Bible, all the while, maintaining a grateful, joyful, and humble attitude toward the Bible’s inspiration, authority, and sufficiency in our lives. We won’t always agree, but we can still disagree with integrity. Text management (i.e., “I like this verse, so it’s authoritative for me; I don’t like that one, so it’s not.”) is not the reasonable, mature, wise, or godly way to go about it.
Our denomination will not thrive without truly taking the Bible seriously.
What are some ways you as an individual Christian can begin learning how to take the Bible seriously and literally? What are some ways a denomination can agree on the Bible’s authority and still disagree on various interpretations, with integrity? What are some ways a denomination (or individual Christian) should not interpret Scripture?
Grace and Truth,
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