Love Communicates Truth

LOVE COMMUNICATES TRUTH

 

billy-graham picture

2 TIMOTHY 2:14-26

2 Peter 3:8-13

Listen To Love Communicates Truth

 

A couple drove down a country road for several miles, not saying a word. An earlier discussion had led to an argument and neither of them wanted to concede their position. As they passed a barnyard of mules, goats, and pigs, the husband asked sarcastically,

“Relatives of yours?”

“Yep,” the wife replied, “in laws.”

I found this joke on the internet and I laughed because it expressed a painful truth. And I think we often laugh at painful truths in life. When someone makes light of something that is painful to us we laugh because we are relieved that someone knows what we are going through and can make light of it.  Yet the laughter is only a temporary relief from the painful truth. And the truth is this;

Our lives are full of quarreling and arguments. As Paul tells his apprentice Timothy quarreling about words does no good, in fact it only ruins the hearer. Perhaps you are feeling like that couple in the car today. Perhaps you are feeling that way in your marriage, in your family, in your job. Perhaps you are feeling ruined by hurtful words. And perhaps you don’t know what to do.

But today I have good news. God is Love and Love Communicates Truth. And when Love communicates truth we shall forsake wrongdoing and we shall rejoice in the truth. In the Words of Jesus, “you shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free.” (John 8:32). And I sense a Spirit of freedom in the air today. Freedom from quarreling. Freedom from fear. Freedom in the Truth of the Gospel. For if Christ sets us free we are free indeed.

But how does this work pastor? How does Love Communicate Truth? Love communicates truth in three ways.

  1. By Being Direct
  2. By Being Patient
  3. By being Kind

First, Love communicates truth by being direct. In our passage today we see that Paul is directly addressing a theological controversy that his apprentice Timothy is dealing with.  Scholars are not certain about when 1 and 2 Timothy were written, some even dispute that Paul wrote these letters. But most scholars think that 1 and 2 Timothy were written near the end of the first century, perhaps as late as sixty years after the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ original disciples and the Apostle Paul are either elderly are dead.  The founders of the church are trying to pass on the teachings of the faith to the next generation of leaders, Timothy being one of them. One of the foundational teachings of early Christianity is that Christ’s resurrection was a down payment of sorts.  Christ is the first fruits of the resurrection. Because Christ has been raised from dead, we who have faith in Christ have hope that we too will be raised from the dead (1 Corithians 15).  But there are two teachers named Hymenaeus and Philetus who are telling Timothy’s people that the resurrection has already happened.  The first generation of church leaders were dying out. And Hymenaus and Philetus had lost hope that Christ would return and the dead would be raised. So they turned the resurrection into something that happens inside of us. To them whether the tomb was empty or not, whether Jesus returned or not, didn’t matter. But Paul tells Timothy this is not a direct reading of the scriptures nor is this what Christ’s resurrection meant for the world. Paul’s critique of Hymenaus and Philetus is they are not rightly handling the word of God. They know there teaching is not what the text says. But because they don’t believe the message of the text anymore they are shaping the message around what they wish to believe.

Paul tells Timothy that he needs to rightly handle the word of God. The image he gives is the image of a road that cuts directly from the text into our lives. It is fundamentally trying to determine what the writer of the text was saying at the time, and how the Holy Spirit wants us to apply that message for our time.  The Bible teaches us to be direct with teaching and direct with each other. Matthew 18 teaches us that if we have a problem with our brother we are to go to our brother and not to gossip with empty words to others.  The word for drawing a message out of scripture is exegesis. The Word for projecting our own message onto scripture is eisegesis.

It is really important to know what the original message of the text was so we can know how to apply it to our lives.  A couple of weeks ago after I preached a sermon called Love is Fair a couple of you pointed out to me that what I talked about had little connection with the text from James. And while I feel that was the message the Holy Spirit had for the church at the time you were right in that I didn’t pick the text the Lord wanted me to use.  And I really received that. I thank you for that.  One of my weaknesses as a preacher is sometimes I don’t make clear how the message connects to the text or I choose the wrong text to preach on for the message the Lord has for you. This is a place I need to grow as a preacher. I thank those of you who came to me for teaching me this lesson.

We can see the work of Exegesis and eisegesis in our daily communication with people we love as well. Are we saying clearly what we actually feel? Or are we talking around our feelings with empty words? Are we exploding that he didn’t do the dishes, or she didn’t do the laundry, when in fact we argue about these surface things because we are afraid to talk about the deeper issues?  And are we listening to hear what people are actually saying? Or are we projecting onto others what we want them to say?  Honesty, sincerity, and directness with our source material is important. May our source material be the Bible, ourselves, or others.  Paul tells us that love communicates truth by teaching us to be honest and direct.

Second, Paul tells us that Love communicates Truth by being Patient. Paul says we are able to endure evil patiently because, “The Lord knows who are his.” Love rejoices in the Truth. And the Lord knows the Truth in the matter. He knows the truth of our hearts. He knows if we have confessed him Lord with our mouths and our hearts or just with our mouths. And if the Lord knows the Truth, if the Holy Spirit is the Spirit of Truth, it is okay to let things go, and let others be wrong, to admit that we ourselves are wrong.  The Lord knows who belong to him and we have to know who we are in Him, who we are in Christ. We have to know what John Townsend calls our defining boundaries, those values that are essential to who we are as individuals. And we can’t be intimidated when others don’t share those values. Townsend says he have to learn to be comfortable and not threatened by the differences between people. We have to be comfortable with the space between people. And the only way we can do that is if we define who we are and what our purpose is. If we don’t know who we are we can’t communicate well with others.  To Quote Townsend,

State your opinion, state your truth, and let it go. Be patient. There is a lot of space between people. No personality test can bridge that space instantaneously. Love suffers long because we are different and navigating those difficulties can be painful. But if we are patient the Holy Spirit can work to change our own hearts or of those we love. Knowing other people is a lot like knowing God. It is a marathon not a sprint. A relationship with God and relationships with others requires patience and endurance.

Finally, Paul tells us that we are to be kind. The word here isn’t the same word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 13 for kindness.  Paul uses the word in 2 Timothy again in 1 Thessalonians 2:7 to say that he was gentle among the Thessalonians like a nursing mother taking care of her own children. Are we as kind and gentle with those we disagree with as a nursing mother taking care of her own children?  We remember from the sermon Love is Kind that Kindness is when someone makes a choice to look out for us. When someone decides that our concerns become their concerns that is kindness. And God is a mother who nurses us, walks along side us, and is kind to us. In fact, Paul tells us in Romans that God’s Kindness and patience are meant to lead us to repentance (Romans 2:4). God’s plan to change our mind is not to argue with us. It is to be patient and kind with us.

This week I was trying to think of an example of someone who displayed these characteristics of being direct, patient, and kind. It just so happened that the famous evangelist Billy Graham died on Wednesday. And as I thought about the idea of Love communicating the Truth I could think of no better real world example than Billy Graham.

I am not of the generation where Billy Graham was at the height of his popularity.  He was not a formerly trained theologian. Billy grew up on a farm in North Carolina. And yet his ministry touched millions. And yet his ministry touched me.

I think I was taking a preaching class and we had to watch videos of several preachers. I don’t remember any of the other preachers I watched I only remember Billy Graham.  Because I am not of Graham’s generation I had never been to a crusade and I had never seen him preach. I was surprised by how simple he was. He didn’t use a lot of entertaining stories. He didn’t say Jesus would make me rich or take away all my problems. He just said that Christ died for me and was raised from the dead and I should repent and believe.  I didn’t really like Billy’s style of preaching. I didn’t agree with some of Billy’s theology. And I already believed in Jesus. But as I watched him preach I found myself wanting to believe him. It wasn’t about the words. It was about the man behind the words that made me want to believe him. It was because he was direct, he was patient, and he was kind.

I have met one person who met Billy Graham. His name was George Paulini. I met him in my first church internship in Richmond, VA after I had graduated from seminary. I remember that George was proud of three things in his life. He had participated in a Billy Graham crusade, he loved his wife dearly (she had died several years before), and he built spy satellites for the U.S Government.  But the reason I remember George was not because I was impressed with his life it is what happened when he died that etched his name into my memory.

Sometimes in life we have a sense of something bigger than ourselves. Our hair stands on end, we sense a Spirit flowing through a crowd, an electricity in the room. We can’t measure it with instruments but we know in our hearts, our minds, and our bodies, that it is there.  I’ve have heard that at Billy Graham Crusades there was an electricity in the air, a presence that was bigger than Billy’s lanky frame and gentle disposition could produce. In the book of Acts the Apostle Paul is speaking to the people of Athens, people well versed in philosophy, a crowd of ivory tower professors more or less. He quotes their own poets to say to these rational people that in God, “ in him we live and move and have our being.” Sometimes we all have this sense of this presence something greater than ourselves. Paul says our mistake is to think this presence is in created things. In idols, in money, in politics, in romantic love, in stories that reflect our personal experience. God is in these things but God is not these things. They point to something else. Sometimes in a moment that something else descends upon us with power. And we sense that we are not alone.

I felt that at George Paulini’s funeral in a way I have rarely felt in my life. It was as if there was a presence emanating from his casket that filled the room. It was so powerful that I had to step outside at points because I was overwhelmed by this presence. For in Jesus we live and we move and we have our being. He is not far from us. If you are feeling alone today know that you are not alone he is not far from you. If you seek him you shall find him.

I just got a sense as this power emanated from where George’s body lay that the Lord was saying, “Well Done good and faithful servant.” I have buried many saints over the years. True Christians who’s lives were full of love, grace, and truth. But I had never sensed that presence like I did with George. And for years I have always wondered why the Lord did that?

“Well done good and faithful servant.” When news of Billy’s death hit the airways I saw this scripture pop up over and over on my facebook feed. Here is a man of little education, who grew up on a farm in North Carolina, who reached millions for Christ, who counseled Presidents of every political party and persuasion.  In this age where powerful men who have gained the world are dogged with scandal Billy gained the whole world and did not lose his soul.  I will not be at Billy’s funeral but I believe that power and presence I felt at George’s funeral will surround Billy’s casket for he has received the “Well Done good and faithful servant.” And while I believe that all who trust in the name of the Lord will be saved I don’t think we shall all receive the well done good and faithful servant. For that is not what the text says.

The phrase “well done good and faithful servant,” comes from the parable of the Talents in Matthew 25:14-23. In this story there are three servants. One is given five talents, another two, and another one. A talent was a huge sum of money at the time. The servant given five talents invested it and gained five more. The servant who was given two talents invested it and gained two more. But the servant who had one buried it in the ground because he saw his Master as a hard task master who did none of the work and reaped all of the benefits. The first two servants got a well done good and faithful servant. The last servant who buried his talent in the ground because he saw his Master as harsh taskmaster had his talent taken from him and was thrown into the outer darkness where there was weeping and gnashing of teeth.

For centuries this parable has been used during stewardship season to teach people about how to spend and use or money for the Lord. But this parable is not about what we find valuable, what we find desirable, it is what God finds valuable, what God desires. Our call to worship from 2 Peter 3:8-13 tells us what God desires, “ he does not wish that any should perish but that all should come to the knowledge of repentance.” He is not a harsh taskmaster that delights in punishment. But he is just and we will have to stand before him and give an account of every careless word we have said. But he has provided a way in Jesus where justice and mercy meet at the cross and resurrection. He desires that we change our mind about Jesus, that our minds become like Jesus. I believe the servants received a well done because they changed people’s minds about Jesus, for he is not a harsh taskmaster but a loving and just Father who is patient and kind with us like a mother nursing a child. I believe the Lord gave George a well done good and faithful servant because he rejoiced in people coming to know Christ. I believe Billy will receive such a reward from the Lord.  That presence will fill Billy’s funeral and people will give God the glory.

But we don’t believe it is possible. We don’t believe it is possible to change people’s minds. Not about Jesus. Not about the issues that divide us. The issues that we quarrel over that leave us bruised and broken. So we hang out with people who are like us, we keep our opinions to ourselves, and we relegate to the truth to a dark corner for another day. But Billy Graham showed us by being direct, patient, and Kind, that our minds can be renewed and transformed by the Holy Spirit, that love does communicate the truth, and as Jesus said when we know the truth, the truth shall set us free.

In the name of the Father, Son, And Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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