What good is truth? This is the first question which should be addressed in one's quest in understanding the Bible. If we are going to expend all of the effort which is to be required in order to come to an understanding of this very ancient book, we must see what prize might await us at the end of the journey. Why expend all of the effort, what are the rewards, what is the profit in applying oneself to understand the Bible?
We live in a world which is ruled by consequences, a world of cause and effect. For every action there is an equal and corresponding re-action. When we toss a pebble into a pond we notice the water ripple outward. We pitch a rock high into the air only to watch it fall back to earth. We throw a stone into a plate glass window and hear it explode and shatter into a thousand pieces. This is how as children we learned about the principles of life, that all of our actions have consequences.
These consequences are for our learning, to teach us how to survive and to prosper. This should awaken us to the reality that the purpose of life is not pleasure but learning. Life is a class room, a field trip if you will, not a pleasure trip. If life's purpose is simply pleasure then consequences are pointless, for of what purpose or reason is there to struggle through all of our lives, clawing and scratching our way to some comfortable retirement, just to then end up buried in the ground. No my friend, this is a world for learning and so consequences are not only necessary but vital.
Yeshua [Jesus] in His sermons repeatedly taught on the significance of the consequences of one's actions. "Sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto you" (JOHN 5:14), and "Seek ye first the kingdom of GOD and HIS righteousness" and then after that all of life's other requirements will be provided for (MATTHEW 6:33), and "Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment" (MATTHEW 12:36), and "I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart" (ESV MATTHEW 5:28). Everything we do, say or even think has consequences.
Consider what kind of a world it would be if there were no consequences for our actions. What would it be like if I could touch a hot stove and not get burned? Or if I could cross a busy street without being concerned for the traffic? Or if I could say or do whatever I pleased and never experience any consequences? Would we not become lazy and reckless to the point of having no regard for anything? How could we come to understand the importance of caution or fore-thought if there were never any consequences for our actions? How could we learn to love, and forgive, and show compassion if nobody ever suffered for the consequences of their actions? Life would loose all of its highs and lows, it would be just one monotonous never ending drudge. Never again would we be able speak words of encouragement to the disheartened, or soothe the hurting or comfort the lost, or feed the hungry or quench the thirst of the parched. Life might cease to have any meaning or purpose at all, it would loose all of its luster.
This one bit of truth, that life's purpose is for learning and not for pleasure, answers much for us which otherwise is cloaked in riddle and mystery. Why, we might wonder, must a new-born learn to walk, ever falling down and risking injury? Why is there so much sickness and disease and misery in the world? Might we suggest that it is for the express purpose of teaching us the lessons we require, that there are consequences for all of our actions. If we look at life's aggravations, heartaches and tragedies as if the world is just a pleasure palace, then these consequences are indeed cruel and unjust. But if we look at life as one giant and powerful and elaborate classroom which is created and designed for the purpose of teaching us life's lessons, then the fog begins to lift and all becomes clear.
The reality of the matter is, that the very reason GOD gives us the life HE has is for the sole purpose of teaching us truth. HE designed our environments in such a way as to be a proving ground, a classroom of learning, so that we can experience that which HE desires so as to awaken within us the reality of HIS presence. GOD's design for life is such, that HE can take a helpless infant and over the course of a few decades mould him into a giant of a man. This is done by simply exposing this child to countless experiences as HE guides him along the path of life. Each experience prepares him for the next one, ever increasing his capacity for learning.
Is this not what we find Yeshua explaining to the apostle Paul before his conversion, when He asked him, "Why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the goad" (ASV ACTS 26:14). What Yeshua was referring to was how the ancient plowman would cultivate his fields. He would drive his oxen through the field, and as the ox might wonder off course to one side or the other, the plowman would poke it with his goad, which was a stick with a sharp prick attached to its end. Occasionally, the ox might become angry at the goading and then kick back at the man; so he would then hold the stick in such a position that as the ox kicked, it would be kicking against the goad, the prick at the end of the stick. Likewise, Paul himself had been kicking against a goad by stubbornly refusing to heed the Master Plowman's purpose for his life.
Yeshua was teaching, at least in Paul's case, that situations in life were intended to prod Paul to go a certain way, but as he had stubbornly refused, his disobedience was causing him hurt. Eventually Paul came to his senses and realized and fulfilled GOD's purpose for his life. But if an individual refuses to be taught, if he absolutely refuses to learn from and progress in his learning, of what reason has been his life? Is life's purpose no more then acquiring as many possessions as we can carry, or to just have fun and be entertained? Surely there is more to it than that. Yeshua Himself drove this point home on more than one occasion.
LUKE 12:15 And he said unto them, Take heed, and beware of covetousness: for a man's life consisteth not in the abundance of the things which he possesseth. (see also 12:23 and 16:13)
Life is for learning, not simply for pleasure. There is nothing wrong with possessions, fun and comfort in themselves, but these are not the purpose for which GOD has placed us upon this planet. We are destined, if we will, to learn of and know GOD and HIS ways. HIS intention for our lives is to teach us that which we will require in the next life, with HIM in heaven. That is why HE designed this universe as HE did, to motivate and inspire and encourage us to know HIM. After we die, the only thing which we will be able to carry there, into the next life, is the knowledge and wisdom we have gained here. Our bodies, our possessions and our friends and family all remain behind. Only our understanding, the character which we have developed from the lessons we have learned during this life, will go with us.
And this is the all important reason for us to study and understand the Bible. This is why we are encouraged to spend our precious and limited time applying ourselves to its study, not instead just frittering away our lives in trivial and meaningless pursuits. This is why we are instructed to center our lives around knowing the truth, because that is the very reason for our existence. Perhaps some were designed by GOD to be great inventors or philanthropists, others to be farmers and mechanics, carpenters or congressmen, howbeit GOD's desire for all is that they come to know and understand the truth (1 TIMOTHY 2:4).
During our pursuit of that truth, we must never make the mistake of thinking that we have finally arrived at some lofty summit where we know it all. The only thing worse than not knowing the truth, is to think that we know it when we don't. Whenever a student acknowledges that he might not fully possess the truth, there is still the possibility that he will search for it. Howbeit, if he mistakenly believes that he already fully understands something, his search for truth is all too often abated. Believing that he already understands he is fooled into closing his eyes to any further searching.
With an alacrity of mind, we must always be open to a new and fresh perspective which we might not have otherwise considered. How tiring it is to hear a young child tell us "I know", when we try to instruct them on some particular point. Them thinking that they already know it all, just closes their minds to what we are trying to teach them.
Generally speaking, our problems and heartaches are often the result of disobeying the truth, kicking against the goad; while life's blessings are the result of obeying the truth. Life is principle and if one insists on ignoring or kicking against those principles, then he will no doubt reap the results, the consequences of his actions. But if he awakens to what is right, and re-structures his life according to righteousness, then life's blessings will begin to flow his way.
Yeshua revealed this principle in His words recorded here by John.
JOHN 8:31-34 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free. They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free? Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
We learn from this passage that Yeshua had been teaching those who believed on Him. These in His audience had already arrived at the conclusion that He spoke the words of truth, and so to them He taught that if they would continue in His word, and then be disciplined in that word, then they would arrive at an understanding of the truth.
Others were evidently standing by who did not believe on Him, but instead doubted what He taught. To such as these His words could not reach. His words couldn't penetrate their prejudices, their hard hearts. We might call them rubber heads because truth just bounced off their brains. Instead of thirsting to know the truth, these religious folk made the grave error of thinking that they already knew it. But if an individual is willing consider and ponder truth, un-tethered from Church traditions, and commit himself to the discipline required to know the truth, then he shall be made free from the consequences of a life of sin.
It is usually the case that our problems are the result of our own actions. We seem to often be our own worst enemies. Whether it is what we eat and drink, where we recreate, or the company we keep, our problems are mostly of our own making, as Yeshua taught in the verse quoted above, "Whoever commits sin is the servant of that sin". But on the other hand, if we are willing to apply ourselves to know the truth, and then obey that truth, we shall be made free from sin. It is quite astounding when we realize just how much of life's blessings and heartaches are the direct result of either seeking and obeying the truth or else rejecting and turning away from it. Paul laid out this principle most succinctly in his epistle to the believers at Rome.
ESV ROMANS 2:6-8 He [GOD] will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.
As with the dumb ox in the illustration about Paul kicking against the goad, we each suffer the consequences of our actions when we continue self seeking; but when we awaken to HIS purpose for our lives and instead pursue that, then GOD's blessings open out before us. It is often no more complicated than this.
While we remain seekers of pleasures and not yet seekers of the truth, not realizing that the difficulties which life has thrown in our path are for our learning, our goading, we are often angry and frustrated and distraught. We may have thought that our life was to be full of pleasure and happiness, but instead it sometimes seems as if everything has gone horribly wrong, somehow. But when we come to understand that life is for our learning and not just for our pleasure, then we can see a new course open out before us. Then we can see and experience our Creator at work within us, to will and to do of HIS good pleasure.
As we shall learn from other verses which will be referred to directly, for those who continue to obey the truth, to those who are willing to pursue HIS purpose for their lives, GOD will shower down upon them HIS goodness. But for those who choose not to know the truth, who stubbornly refuse to obey that truth and instead obey their own devices, their lives too often seem to be engulfed in an endless sea of turmoil.
The pursuit of truth is indeed a course which is set before each of us. It is our individual choice whether or not we choose to follow it. To that way we might all be goaded, but it is not a forced march. We can either kick against the goad and suffer the consequences or we can obey our Master's purpose for our lives and obtain the benefits and blessings. Either way, we each reap that which we sow.
EPHESIANS 4:17-19 This I say therefore, and testify in the Lord, that ye henceforth walk not as other Gentiles walk, in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who being past feeling have given themselves over unto lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.
Paul wrote here that a person's ignorance results in him being alienated from the life of GOD. That is a pretty heavy statement when we consider and ponder it. Only truth can fill up this emptiness, this aimlessness in a person's existence. Only truth can enlighten one's understanding and open the eyes of his heart. Without truth, the individual will succumb to lasciviousness (unbridled lust), uncleanness (wasteful and reckless living) with greediness, and every other ailment which speeds his demise.
Ignorance of the truth indeed alienates us from the life of GOD. The prophet Hosea wrote that GOD's people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (HOSEA 4:6), but it's not a lack of knowledge about language, or mathematics, or science. If GOD's people are being destroyed today, it is simply because they lack a knowledge of GOD's truth.
In this wonderfully instructive chapter of EPHESIANS, Paul continues expounding upon the vital importance of learning the truth
EPHESIANS 4:20-24 But ye have not so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation [lifestyle] the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.
Paul instructed his readers that as new believers they were to quit living as they had before. Now, with a new and different purpose for their lives, they were to turn away from those former deceitful desires and begin to pursue righteousness and holiness. The old man was their old nature when they were deceived by desires which corrupted them, but the new man was now their new nature where they were instructed to seek out the things of GOD.
4:25-32 Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another. Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: neither give place to the devil. Let him that stole steal no more: but rather let him labour, working with his hands the thing which is good, that he may have to give to him that needeth.
Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers. And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: and be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ's sake hath forgiven you.
No doubt recognizing, or at least hoping that his readers had learned the hard lessons of life, that every action has a consequence, Paul encourages them to put away those former ways and turn a new leaf on life. Notice that Paul doesn't say that they should try to quit doing hurtful and harmful things; but rather he instructs them to just quit doing them. Quit the old way and become the new way, the way of kindness, the way of tenderheartedness, and the way of forgiveness. This is the way of righteousness, this is the way of truth.
But this is a suit we must grow into. As children learn to walk and run and dance, so we as GOD's children must learn to walk by faith. We must learn to be righteous, and holy, and godly. This is the purpose for our lives here. This is the reason for life's hard lessons. This is why there are consequences for our actions. This is why we need truth.
1 PETER 2:2 As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:
So we likewise, as newborn Christians must be fed and nourished on the milk of the word if we ever hope to mature into adults. Our choice is to either come and suck at the true breast, or else be fed an artificial formula from the bottle of the Church.
In Paul's first letter to Timothy, the sound words of truth are set in perfect contrast with Church doctrine, which though palmed off as truth, is too often nothing of the sort.
ESV 1 TIMOTHY 6:3-5 If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.
Paul equates here a depraved mind with one deprived of the truth. How could he state anymore forcefully the immense importance of knowing and obeying the truth? Evidently, if our minds are deprived of the truth we are nothing else but depraved.
One of the false assumptions which truth dispels is that gain is godliness. Those who refuse to believe this simple truth bring down upon themselves only anguish and heartache. Paul continues.
ESV 1 TIMOTHY 6:6-11 Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction.
For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness.
Paul sets in stark contrast here the pursuit of pleasure with the pursuit of truth. Recognizing that each man will someday leave this world, Paul reminds Timothy that no one will take with him any of his precious possessions. Paul questions then the wisdom of devoting one's life to their acquisition. We are more wise to be content with what GOD has blessed us with, and pursue instead "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness". Evidently, according to Paul's line of reasoning, these are the things which we will be able to take with us after we die.
Here is another powerful example of the importance of truth, from Paul's second epistle to Timothy.
2 TIMOTHY 2:24-26 And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; and that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
Instructing with the truth those who oppose who? Themselves. Is it not the case that we are opposing ourselves, our true selves, when we refuse to live GOD's purpose for our lives? GOD made and designed us for HIS purpose, and whenever we live contrary to that purpose we are just fighting against ourselves; we are just opposing our selves. No wonder life is such a struggle when we choose to kick against the goad. It is as if we are trying to swim against a strong current. But when we give up the fight and go GOD's way, then all of life seems to flow along smoothly.
JAMES 1:18 Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
Here in James' epistle we have it said as plainly as it can be said. Those born of GOD were born by the word of truth. They were not born of GOD by faithful Church attendance, or self sacrifice, or even by kneeling at the altar. They were born of GOD by the words of truth. This word of truth was the means whereby James' readers were born again of GOD's spirit.
It is indeed the case that truth is bigger than the Bible. Truth is found wherever GOD chooses to place it. Truth can be found in nature, on the lips of a stranger or even in song. What is significant about the Bible though, is that here we are given the parameters of what truth is. The Bible teaches us the true way. The true way of GOD and the true way of man.
As Paul revealed, "All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 TIMOTHY 3:16). If we desire true doctrine, true reproof and correction, so as to become righteous, then we will require scripture. It is only the study and understanding of the Bible which is worthy of our life's pursuit. It is the truth which is our guiding light. Truth is the one rule by which we can trust to measure every thought.
ESV 1 PETER 1:22 Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth....
This says it all, I think. It is obedience to the truth which purifies the souls of GOD's people. Our first responsibility is to learn the truth, then as we learn it, we are then commanded to obey that which we have learned. It is not our goal to just have a cursory knowledge of the Bible; but it is our life's ambition to be enslaved to that truth. We must not be content to just read it, or hear it; we must obey it. We are only lying to ourselves if we think we can live righteously and yet not discipline our lives to be obedient to that truth.
ESV 1 JOHN 2:4-5 Whoever says "I know him" but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But whoso keepeth his word, in him verily is the love of God perfected: hereby know we that we are in him.