A Call for Courage in the Cause of Truth
William Still Memorial Lecture
The 5th Scottish Ministry Assembly
(This manuscript comes from the chapel message by the same title.)
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
My desire this morning is that God would use my words to inspire you with courage in the cause of truth. My prayer is that he will grant you to overcome all fear of speaking the truth of Scripture, and that you will have the boldness to speak it openly and clearly when it is unpopular or even dangerous.
Why You Can Be Courageous
There are at least two reasons I feel this burden this morning. One is that Paul had this burden for his younger apprentice, Timothy. Paul said in 1 Timothy 4:3, "The time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own likings, and will turn away from listening to the truth." In other words, "Timothy, it is likely that you are going to have to say some unpopular things that do not scratch where people itch. I want you to know this in advance so that you are not shaken when the truth you preach is rejected. It will take courage to press on in the face of that opposition, Timothy. So be courageous and take your share of suffering for the truth (1:8; 2:3; 3:13-14)."
The other reason I feel this burden this morning is because subjectivism and relativism permeate our culture and threaten to destroy churches and schools and denominations and movements. By RELATIVISM I mean the assumption that there is no such thing as absolutes. What is true or right or good or beautiful for you may not be for me. It's all relative. By SUBJECTIVISM I mean the assumption that in this relativistic atmosphere I, the subject, have the right to determine what is good and bad, right and wrong, true and false, beautiful and ugly for me without submitting my judgment to any objective reality or any objective authority outside myself. This is the air we breath in America today.
Which means that it is extremely unpopular today to take a strong stand on anything except tolerance. The claim that you know a truth that everybody should believe or that you know a behavior that everyone should avoid—that claim is enough to earn for you the name, Ayatollah or Facist or Ceaucescu.
If you commend a truth with confidence, and make a case for it on the basis of objective evidences, and call on people with urgency to change their minds and believe it, you will be viewed by the average American as arrogant and even dangerous. But if you avoid talking about truth or give the impression that truth is unattainable, and if you avoid words like "should" and "ought" and "must," then you will signal to people that there is no objective truth and there are no moral absolutes. And then people will see you as humble.
Confidence that you know some things that all people ought to believe is seen as the essence of arrogance today. On the other hand, a sense of uncertainty about what is true and about how one ought to live, accompanied by a kind of open-ended ethic and an absence of judgment on controversial issues is seen as the essence of humility. This is one of the primary ways today that people with itching ears gather for themselves teachers to suit their own liking. It is not easy to be called arrogant and dangerous, and it feels very good to be liked as humble and open and inoffensive. And therefore the temptation to lose your theological and moral nerve is tremendous and the need for courage is immense.
Christ Commends Courage
The text for my exhortation is Matthew 10:24-31. The aim of Jesus in these verses is to give us the courage to speak the truth of God's word with clarity and openness no matter what the cost.
A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master; it is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household. So have no fear of them; for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, utter in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore, you are of more value than many sparrows.
The main point of this text is plain from the three repetitions of the command not to fear. Verse 26, "So have no fear of them." Verse 28, "Do not fear those who kill the body." Verse 31: "Fear not therefore; you are of much more value than many sparrows." So Jesus' aim here is to overcome fear and instill courage.
But courage to do what? Can we make the point of this passage sharper? We can. The point is made very sharp in verse 27. Jesus has something very specific in mind that is threatened by fear and advanced by courage. He says in verse 27: "What I tell you in the dark, speak in the light; and what you hear whispered, proclaim upon the housetops. And do not fear . . ." In other words the real danger of fear in this passage is the fear to speak clearly (in the light) and openly (on the housetops) when that speaking might get you in trouble.
So here's the point of the passage: Don't be afraid to speak clearly and openly what Christ has taught you even if it costs you your church, your friends, and your life. Or to put the point positively, Be courageous to speak the truth of Scripture clearly and openly for all to hear even if it is unpopular and dangerous.
How Jesus Fuels Courage
The rest of this text is motivation: five reasons are given for why you and I should have courage to speak all that Jesus taught—the popular parts and the unpopular parts—no matter what. Here they are (far too quickly, I regret):
1. First, notice the "so" or "therefore" at the beginning of verse 26: "So (therefore) have no fear of them." In other words, fearlessness flows from what Jesus just said, namely, "If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more (will they malign) those of his household." Therefore have no fear of them. Does that help make you fearless?
It should. I think the sense is this: Jesus is saying, "Your mistreatment for speaking the truth clearly and openly is not some unexpected, accidental, random, meaningless experience; it's just the way the way they treated me, and so it's a sign that you belong to me—you are part of my household (cf. Heb. 13:8). So don't be afraid of the names they call you when you speak out plainly, those very names bind you and me together."
2. Second, notice the word "for" in the middle of verse 26 (the NIV often drops these important words): "So have no fear of them; FOR (here comes the second reason not to be afraid) nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known." How does that help us overcome fear and be courageous in the cause of truth?
It helps us by assuring us that the truth we are speaking will triumph. It will be vindicated in the end. People may reject it now. They may call it the word of Beelzebul. They may cast it out. They may try to bury it and hide it from the world and pretend that it does not exist. But Jesus says, "Take heart in the cause of truth, because in the end all truth with be revealed, all reality will be uncovered. And those who spoke it with clarity and openness will be vindicated. Do not fear.
3. Third, Jesus says, Fear not, you can only be killed! Verse 28: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul." In other words, the worst thing your opponents can do to you when you speak the truth is to kill your body. And that leaves the soul untouched and happy in God for ever and ever.
But if you keep silent, if you forsake the path of truth and fall in love with the praise of men you could lose your very soul. And that you ought to fear. But don't fear what man can do to you. All he can do is dispatch your soul to paradise. Fear not.
4. Fourth, don't fear to speak the truth, but be courageous and speak clearly and openly because God is giving close and intimate attention to all you do. Verse 30 means at least that much. Jesus says, "Even the hairs of your head are all numbered." In other words, the suffering you may undergo in speaking the truth is NOT because God is disinterested in you or unfamiliar with your plight. He is close enough to separate one hair from another and give each one a number. Fear not; he is close; he is interested; he cares. Be of good courage and speak the truth come what may.
5. Finally, fear not because your Father will not let anything happen to you apart from his gracious will. The logic of Jesus is plain and precious. Verse 31: "You are of more value than many sparrows." Verse 29: "Not one of them will fall to the ground without your Father's will." The courage-giving conclusion: No harm will befall you but what God mercifully wills. As the young missionary Henry Martyn said, "If [God] has work for me to do, I cannot die."
So I appeal to you, don't yield to the spirit of the age. Love the truth. What you learn of Christ in the closet speak in the light. What you hear in the Scriptures proclaim from the housetops. And do not fear the face of any man. Amen.