Bible Studies for Life
John Hull, lead pastor
Eastside Baptist Church, Marietta
“Country music is three chords and the truth.”
This was a repeated phrase by contributors in the recent PBS eight-part documentary, COUNTRY MUSIC. The compelling series examines the history of country music in America. Filled with biographic profiles of the Carter family, Hank Williams, Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn, Johnny Cash, and a host of others, the big idea of the documentary was that country music became popular because of the unique lyrical stylings which attempts to portray the truth of everyday life for everyday people. Country music, as presented by producer Ken Burns, is a truth-telling art-form which has reflected and influenced American culture for nearly a century.
I applaud and admire gifted songwriters putting one unique word next to another about truth in the natural world. But in the biblical realm when it comes to truth, we have a problem! The Bible tells us we are all born in sin and as a result, we are born “liars.” The Psalmist is blunt: “Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward and speak lies” (Psalm 58:3). In our humanity, absent from God and the Bible, we have no human capacity to understand what spiritual “truth” is.
We witness the absence of truth every day. Truth is getting scarce in some places. People are increasingly suspect. From politicians, to preachers, to plumbers, almost every profession is viewed with some kind of suspicion. In our culture, truth is shaded and sometimes scoffed. People cheat, exaggerate, misrepresent, justify, lie, make excuses, and betray confidences. There are half-truths and white lies. In some circles, lying is celebrated.
However, in some circles, the truth still matters.
A survey was taken by employees as to the traits they most expected in their employers. On the list were vision, competence, and inspiration. At the top of the list was honesty. People want to work for honest people.
And it isn’t just in the workplace where the truth still matters. The legal world significantly frowns upon dishonesty. The law punishes perjury. Lying to law enforcement or falsifying tax documents have serious consequences.
In the days of Jesus’ ministry on earth, the rabbis would say they revered truth, but at times tended to chip away at truth to justify their own purposes. It appears they replaced truth with reason – while never saying they were not embracing truth. They appeared as lovers of the truth, but there were occasions where they weren’t being truthful.
In Matthew 5:33-37, Jesus reminds these religious leaders of what truth is and how to practice it. Our Lord provides three principles related to truth:
Truth originates with God
All truth starts with God. Truth was invented and initiated by God. God is abundant in truth and is called “the God of truth.” In short, God cannot be any more truer than He already is.
In the New Testament, He is referred to as “the only true God,” “true God,” and “He who is true.” A biblical worldview embraces Jesus Christ as absolute truth. When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth?” he was looking at the embodiment of truth.
Pilate died years later after he met Jesus. Jesus and truth live on! His truth endures to all generations!
Truth flows from God
Jesus speaks of oaths in this section of the chapter. There are two things about oaths in our world: they are used only on important occasions, and they are made by, or in, no other name than God.
Jesus illustrates that heaven is God’s and so is the earth. So is your Jerusalem. So is every person’s head. All belong to the Lord. But to make an oath by heaven, earth, or Jerusalem, Jesus says is worthless – it dishonors God.
An oath can only be made to One who is totally true – and truth only flows from God. From our truthful God came Jesus Christ (the way, the truth and the life), the Holy Spirit’s power (the Spirit of truth), the Scriptures (the word of truth) and the gospel’s message (saving truth).
Truth should define God’s people
Jesus says to let our “yes” be “yes” and our “no” be “no.” Our lives should be defined by this axiom: simply speak the truth.
It’s only sensible to understand that God hates lying tongues and lips (Proverbs 6:17). The prophet Jeremiah wept over Jerusalem because lies prevailed in the land. Revelation 21:8 tells us that the destiny of liars is a lake of fire. By contrast, Christ-followers need to love the truth and speak the truth, in love.
A king had gotten separated from his subjects due to layers of bureaucracy, so he decided to get to know his people better. Dressed as a beggar, he went to a pub and ordered a drink.
Two men sitting at a table saw him. One asked, “Who is that?” “I don’t know,” said the other man, “He looks like a peasant, but sounds like a king.”
The sound of country music may have a reputation for “three chords and the truth,” but for the Christian, the sound of truth originates with “Three Persons and the Word”!