Expressing Truth

Bethlehem College and Seminary

Minneapolis, MN

Bethlehem College and Seminary aims to impart habits of mind that motivate and enable students for the rest of their lives, whether they are dealing with the world God made and governs, or dealing with the word God inspired,

  • to observe accurately,
  • to understand clearly,
  • to evaluate fairly,
  • to feel proportionately,
  • to apply to life wisely,
  • and to express all this effectively.

What I would like to do in these few minutes is talk about our sixth and final habit of the mind, expressing. Speaking, writing, acting, so that others experience what we have seen.

How do you do that?

I’m going to suggest that you do like this: You say it with truth; say it with logic; say it with pictures; and say it with love.

Education in serious joy – which is what we try to do – should never terminate on the student. No one lights a student-lamp to put it under a basket of isolation. The education you have received in this place is for the sake of the world. The sixth habit of mind is “express” for others what you have seen.

No one makes a loaf of delicious, nutritional bread and puts it under a rock for the worms. We have not equipped you to make worm-food; we have equipped you to make man-food. The only way people can ever see the glory you have seen or eat the bread you have baked is if you express it.

So I am calling you to do that — all of you, not just the graduates — to say what you have seen with truth, and with logic, and with pictures, and with love.

First, say it with truth.

When I say this don’t have in mind mainly that you be the opposite of a liar. Oh, do be the opposite of a liar. Never, never lie. Don’t be a liar. Be the opposite. But that is not mainly what I have in mind here. My burden here is that you be the opposite of a hypocrite.

A hypocrite is a peculiar kind of liar. Hypocrisy is a peculiar kind of lying. A hypocrite is a person for whom lying has gone down into the personality. Hypocrites don’t just tell lies, they are lies.

These are the ones that made Jesus more angry than anyone. “Woe to you . . . hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. . . . Woe to you . . . hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:25, 27).

A hypocrite is a horrifying spectacle. Truth has become utterly alien, swept away by deep, deep devotion to self-protection, and self-preservation, and self-exaltation. Facts can no longer be seen as the hard, clear, firm, reliable, glorious things that they are, and have become like a magicians hat out of which you can bring anything — anything that protects you and preserves you and exalts you.

The hypocrite cannot speak truth. Oh, true statements come out of his mouth. But they do not come out because they are true. They are not spoken as true. They are spoken as expedient, advantageous, convenient. J. Gresham Machen described them like this:

“It makes very little difference how much or how little of the creeds [they affirm]. . . . It is not that part is denied and the rest affirmed; but all is denied, because all is affirmed merely as useful or symbolic and not as true.” (J. Gresham Machen, What Is Faith? (1925; repr. Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1991), 34)

Truth is not functional in the hypocrite. It is not a governing category. It is alien. It is gone. And this is terrifying. Don’t let this happen. Jesus is pleading with you, commanding you, “You must not be like the hypocrites” (Matthew 6:5).

The opposite of a hypocrite is not merely a person who tells the truth, but who is true, who lives the truth. Here’s one such person, the apostle Paul: “We have renounced disgraceful, underhanded ways. We refuse to practice cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but by the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God” (2 Corinthians 4:2).

Pastors, do you want your people to trust you? Never, never replace candor with cunning in a business meeting. Never be clever in dodging a question. Tell them the truth. Or tell them you can’t. Rest in Jesus. Believe that God will be your advocate. And let your reputation be, “He oozes honesty.”

How shall you express the reality you have seen: Say it with truth — the truth you know, and the truth you are.

Second, say with logic.

O how closely connected this is with truth. Hypocrites are usually very clever communicators. They are admired for how fluently, how smoothly, their words come. Undiscerning people are impressed with such facile eloquence. They see a fluent tongue. But what do the discerning see? They see a fog spreading over the audience.

Why? Because the hypocrite’s third sentence did not follow logically from his second sentence. And the illogic of it went by so fast few caught it. And now the third sentence seems to stand as a foundation for all the coming folly in his message, when it fact the sentence is floating in midair. It has no connection with reality — like a hot air balloon, untethered, and out of control. It will crash. And the tragedy is how many people think it is a great show.

By logic I mean: what you say hangs together. It is coherent. Your premises are made clear. And your conclusions from those premises really follow from those premises. And you help people see that. You will not intentionally say, “All cows have four legs. Fido has four legs. Therefore, Fido is a cow.” To persuade people intentionally with that kind of reasoning is not only illogical. It is immoral. And to do it accidentally is irresponsible.

Jesus said,

When it is evening, you say, “It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.” And in the morning, “It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.” You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:2–3).

Your logic is impeccable when your lives on the sea are at stake. Premise one: If the sky is red in the morning, the weather will be stormy. Premise two: The sky is red this morning. Conclusion: It will be stormy today. Don’t sail. Brilliant. That’s the way God created your minds to work. But when it comes to seeing and savoring and spreading the kingdom of God, you can’t see one syllogism that works. Logic itself, a gift of God, has been bent to fit the crooked heart of your hypocrisy.

Why do people want to listen to one person more than another? Many reasons. But here’s one: “What he says hangs together. It makes sense. I can see how what he said first led to what he said second, and how what he said second led to what he said third, and how what he said third led to the main point. He has honored my mind. And I feel a deep satisfaction that what he said was governed by a logic rooted in God.”

Don’t wear your logic on your sleeve. Don’t even wear your logic as your skin. Logic is not the skin of your message, but the bones. Say it with logic.

The skin is next.

Third, say it with pictures.

What I have in mind here is language that is pervasively concrete rather than abstract. Peach, rather than fruit. Dog, rather than animal. Or better yet, Dusty rather than dog. Rain, rather than weather. Neptune, rather than planet. Basketball, rather than sport. Buttered toast and bacon, rather than breakfast. Brown woolen pullover, rather than clothing. Rusty socket wrench, rather than tool.

When I say, say it with pictures I don’t mainly mean: use illustrations. As if effective expression consisted in abstract explanation, followed by juicy illustration, followed by more abstract explanation followed by another juicy illustration and so on. No. That is not what I am commending. Nothing wrong with illustrations. And by all means, let them be juicy.

What I am saying is: cultivate the habit of finding not just illustrations but words and phrases that turn bland abstractions into bursting images. Mark Twain, as you know said, “The difference between the almost right word and the right words is . . . the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.” (Accessed 5-11-14. http://www.bartleby.com/73/540.html) And, of course, he just did it. The words “lightning bug” and “lightning” in that sentence are lightning.

Don’t get me wrong. Abstraction — generalization — is good and absolutely necessary for life. If you only know how the traffic rules apply to this solitary, concrete, non-abstract, very real, stop light, on this specific corner, and no others, you shouldn’t drive. We survive by abstracting truth from specifics and turning them in to generalizations without which we cannot live. People don’t want to come away from your communication with truth that applies only to the maple tree in your front yard.

But God has given us five senses. We smell the honey suckle. We see the Dogwood blossoms. We hear the cooing of the dove. We taste the number 3 spicy sandwich at Chick-fil-A. And we feel the biting ten-below wind-chill on our face. To be sure, we are rational, abstracting beings. But God made us more immediately sentient beings. We were made to experience things with our senses, and through our senses to know more than created things – to know God.

In your expression of what you have seen and come to know, don’t evade the touchable on the way to the eternal. Don’t skip the picture on the way to the substance. “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (Colossians 4:6). “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver” (Proverbs 25:11).

Finally, say it with love.

The only thing worth talking about, or writing about, is what you love, or what stands in the way of what you love — and how to remove it. When I say, “Say it with love,” I mean, love what you are talking about. You have observed it. You have understood it. You have evaluated it. And you have reckoned it worthy of being spoken of. So love it. Love it according to its worth. And if it is not worthy of your love, it is probably not worthy of their time.

If you are bored with what you are going to talk about, repent quickly while there is time, and cry out for eyes to see and ears to hear and a mind to grasp and heart to feel the wonder of what you are about to say. Love it.

Of course, you will love it because it is true and beautiful, or you will hate it because it is false and ugly, and for the sake of truth and beauty, must be exposed. And you will know where this truth and beauty come from. They come from God. And you will know why you see them and taste them as true and beautiful. Because Christ died and rose and sent his Spirit to make you alive. And you will know that you did not make that happen. It was free. It was grace. And therefore, you will want that same free gift for others.

In other words, your love for what you are saying – for the truth and beauty of it – is the way you love God and love people.

Don’t put the light of what you have seen under a basket. Don’t bake your bread as worm-food and put it under a rock. Open your mouths. Put your fingers to the keyboard. And say what you have seen with truth and logic and pictures and love for the glory of God.

©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Used by Permission.

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Please include the following statement on any distributed copy: By John Piper. ©2014 Desiring God Foundation. Website: desiringGod.org