The Spirit of Truth


            How many of you know that our God is a God of truth?  Throughout scripture, we see God standing up for what is true and we see that truth matters to God.  The Pharisees of Jesus’ day liked to play games with the truth.  They would take oaths, saying things like “I swear on the sanctuary,” but would then go back on their oaths because they clamed that if you swear on the sanctuary, you were not bound by your oath, you were only bound by the oath if you swear on the gold of the sanctuary (see Mt 23:16-22). 

It kind of reminds me of those games that we used to play when we were kids—when someone asked you if you promise to keep their secret and you discreetly stuck your hand into your pocket and crossed your fingers and then said, “I promise.”  Of course, after your friend lets you in on the boy or girl they have a crush on, you pulled your hand out of your pocket and said, “I had my fingers crossed!  I had my fingers crossed!”  Naturally, you then ran off to tell the rest of the class who your friend had a crush on. 

Confession time. 

How many of you have played that game? 

Now, we may think of the Pharisees as childish because they did not leave those games behind when they were children, but our society today plays the same games—only the stakes are much higher.  How many times have we heard about a company getting out of paying a contractor because of some little loophole that they wrote into the contract.  Or how about those times when two people make a verbal agreement and then one of them ignores that agreement down the road because nothing was in writing.  Our society today employs thousands of men and women in writing and reading and re-reading contracts because we like to play games with the truth.  We stretch it.  We bend it.  We break it.  Sometimes those games get a lot more serious than the embarrassment of having the entire class know that you have a crush.

            Jesus had no time for those games.  Listen to how he instructs his disciples to live in the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus said: (Matt 5:33-37):

33 “Again, you have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord.’ 34 But I say to you, Do not swear at all, either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, 35 or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King. 36 And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make one hair white or black. 37 Let your word be ‘Yes, Yes’ or ‘No, No’; anything more than this comes from the evil one.

That is pretty simple, isn’t it.  The truth is too important to play games with.  Scripture goes so far as recording a New Testament story where God strikes two people dead for lying.  Now, God does not do a whole lot of striking people dead in the New Testament, but in Acts 5 when Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell a piece of property and pretend that they are giving everything to the church, the word of God to Ananias through Peter was “How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” and he died on the spot.  A few moments later, Sapphira adds her consent to the lie and Peter declares, “Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.”  And they do. 

            God is a big fan of truth, because truth is transformative.  Listen to how Jesus says it (John 8:31-32): 31 Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”

It turns out that God is very interested in truth.  God is interested in us speaking truth and God is interested in us knowing truth, because truth transforms us.  If you have ever been in a situation where you are having a hard time knowing who is telling the truth, then you know this to be true.  When we know what really happened—the truth—then we can act confidently.  But until we know the truth, our hands are tied. 

            Joy and I used to watch a TV show called NCIS most every week.  Do we have any NCIS fans here?  NCIS Stands for Navel Criminal Investigative Service and the show is all about Jethro Gibbs and his team of investigators, who are called to a crime scene where they take pictures, collect evidence, talk to witnesses and more.  Most of the rest of the show it taken up with the team working to figure out the truth.  Once they know the truth, they can act—rescue the kidnapping victim, arrest the bad guy, or solve the mystery.  But without the truth, they are stuck.  I am reminded of one instance on the show where the murderer and traitor they were searching for was someone they talked with every day, but without knowing the truth, they would walk past this woman, smile, say hi and go about their day.  They needed truth. 

            Most shows end with them discovering the truth and, to be honest, I doubt that NCIS would have been a hit TV series if they did not come to know the truth at the end of each episode, because we have an ingrained desire to know truth.  A TV show that is all questions and no answers has little appeal to most people, and that is because God has wired us to seek truth.

            Now, one of the things that we know about God is that God knows everything.  In theology terms we use the fancy word, “omniscient.”  That puts God in a really good place to help us understand truth.  Any other source we might go to is going to have a limited understanding of truth—whether it is the encyclopedia Britannica or the internet or some expert on TV.  All of those experts are going to be limited, but not our omniscient God.  God knows everything.  God has given us a couple of tools to help us be people of the truth.

            The first of those tools is scripture.  Paul says it well in his second letter to Timothy (3:16-17): “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.”  Knowing scripture is essential if you want to be a person of truth.  My hope for you is that you will take time each day to be in the Bible.  The Transformation Journal (see is a great way to do that.  Joining us at Bible Study is a great way to do that.  There are lots of ways to learn scripture.  I would love to talk with you some more if you want to read more of scripture but are struggling to know where to start or how to proceed.  Having a Bible on the bookshelf or even sleeping with it on the nightstand doesn’t help much if you don’t open it up—trust me, I tried.  So, the first commitment that we need to make if we want to know and live truth is a commitment to reading, studying and learning scripture.  This book will transform you.

            This book also tells us about another source that we need for wisdom:  The Holy Spirit.  Our readings for today tell us that even if we know scripture inside and out, we are still going to be missing things.  Jesus refers to the Spirit as “The Spirit of Truth” (John 15:26)and goes on to say this (16:12-13): “12 I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. 13 When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

            When we stop and think about it, there is no way that Jesus could have spoken every piece of truth that disciples over the last two thousand years have needed to know.  In fact, as early as the book of Acts, Jesus’ followers are looking to the Spirit for the truth that they needed—and the Spirit led them well.  Jesus didn’t teach about what non-Jewish people needed to do when they became Christ-followers, but the Spirit did (Acts 15).  Jesus didn’t lay out Paul’s missionary routes, but the Spirit guided him (16:6ff).  Jesus didn’t script Peter’s words in front of the Jewish leaders when they were trying to silence him, but Peter was instead filled with the Holy Spirit who spoke through him (4:8).  In fact, Jesus went so far as to tell his disciples that when they were arrested and stood on trial (when mind you, not if!) the one they should look to to teach them what to say is the Holy Spirit (Lk 12:11-12). 

            So, it turns out that the Holy Spirit is also our teacher.  The Holy Spirit is here not just to give us goosebumps when we are worshipping and to empower us for ministry, but the Holy Spirit is also here to guide us and lead us and teach us truth.  So, the question for us is, do we look for the Spirit’s guidance and Godly wisdom?

            The challenge for us is that Godly wisdom does not look much like earthly wisdom.  In fact, Paul tells us that Godly wisdom looks a lot like earthly foolishness (1 Cor 1:23-25).  Time and  time again we see that God’s direction looks like foolishness to the world.  God began with a “foolish” command to Adam and Eve, moved on to a “foolish” call to Moses to build a boat on dry land.  God then gave a “foolish” promise to a barren couple named Abraham and Sarah.  God gave a “foolish” instruction to Moses to flee towards the Red Sea, went from there to a “foolish” command to Joshua to march around a city in order to bring the walls down.  God gave “foolish” commands to Gideon and his army, to the boy David facing a giant by the name of Goliah, to the prophet Elijah, to Queen Esther, to Nehemiah, to Elisha, and God gives “foolish” wisdom to you and to me.  The question is whether we are interested in hearing.

            I often wonder as I read through the stories in scripture, how many stories might have been here, only the men and women who received God’s foolish commands were too hung up on worldy wisdom.  One story always comes to my mind when I think about the “what ifs?” of scripture, and that is the story of Terah.  Does anyone here know the story of Terah?  What about Abraham, has anyone heard of Abraham?  Now, we can’t know for sure, but I wonder if God’s call was not first on Terah, and only passed down to Abraham because his father thought it was too foolish.  Listen to how scripture tells the story (Genesis 11:31-12:1):

31 Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. 32 The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran. Now the Lord said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

Terah was the one headed for the Promised Land, only, something happened.  We don’t kno what, but something happened and he stopped and made a life of herding sheep and cattle rather than a life of following after Godly wisdom.  Today, we read the story of Abraham and we know Abraham as the father of faith.  Terah is an afterthought—my computer’s spell check doesn’t even recognize his name—because he stopped. 

            So, then, how do we do it?  How do we get in touch with this “foolishness” that is God’s wisdom?  We start by listening to what scripture tells us about the difference between earthly and Godly wisdom.  Listen to what James has to say (3:13-18):

13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.

So, we begin by looking for wisdom that is not self-seeking and self-promoting, but wisdom that is interested in sharing the love of Christ with the world around us.  Wisdom that is pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.   With that reminder about what matters to God, we simply ask the Spirit to guide us into the truth, as Jesus has told us the Spirit will.  After we ask, we stop and we listen.  The trick is that we have to want to hear—it has to matter to us enough that we are going to take the time to ask and to listen until God speaks to us in a way that is clear. 

Let me give you an example of how this has worked in my own life:

Many of you know how the system works for pastors in the United Methodist church.  Once we commit to being a pastor, we tell the bishop that we are willing to go wherever she sends us.  We call it “the itinerancy.”  So, when I committed to ministry, the bishop could have sent us anywhere in the Virginia conference:  it could have been the hustle of Northern Virginia, the military world of Norfolk, downtown inner-city Richmond, the Appalachia regions of Western Virginia, or, possibly, Lunenburg County.  Now, I cannot tell you how many people have said to me that this system is foolishness, and, honestly, I wondered myself for quite a while.  In fact, even after I had finished my educational requirements and internships I still had not yet committed myself to being a pastor in the United Methodist church because I feared the itinerancy.

            I didn’t know what to do.  I felt a call to pastoral ministry in our church, but a key part of my commitment was something that we were not sure we could accept.  So, we prayed for wisdom.  We asked God for guidance.  I also read scripture and read about why we have the itinerancy.  Then I listened and I waited.  It took some time—probably about a year actually—but eventually God gave me a deep sense of peace with embracing the itinerancy as well as a conviction that the itinerancy is not only acceptable, but it actually has the potential to be the best way to get the right pastor and the right congregation together.  That year, I prayed for many other things as well, but I always came back to a simple prayer for wisdom, and I listened.  The answer did not come as a lightening bolt, but more as the gradual dawning of the sun—you can’t say exactly when the first light appeared, but there is no doubt that the sun has risen!  So,  after a year, I agreed, and here I am.  Only God knows where I will go from here, but I am ok with that—even if it is a little bit foolish.

1 Corinthians (1:25) tells us that: God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.”  That foolishness is available to us if we are interested in being fools for Christ.  I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Let’s pray.