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.
There are at least two reasons I feel this burden this morning. One is that Paul had this burden for his young apprentice, Timothy. Paul said in 2 Timothy 4:3–4, “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 passions, 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” (see also 2 Timothy 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 our churches, and threaten to destroy churches and schools and denominations and movements. By relativism, I mean the assumption that there is no such thing as Truth. 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 breathe 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.
Listen to the words of Jesus in Matthew 10:24–31 as he inspires courage in his disciples — specifically courage to speak the truth even when it is dangerous.
“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, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on 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 apart from your Father. 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 more value than many sparrows.” So, Jesus’s aim here is to overcome fear and instill courage.
But courage to do what? The answer is very clear 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, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on 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 God has taught you, even if it costs you your job or your church or your friends or 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.
To do this, you have to be strong in the truth and not blown around by the winds of opinion — especially opinions on issues like manhood and womanhood that are so explosively emotional.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:13–15 that the goal of the ministry is to bring the body of Christ to “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God [and] that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine . . . Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
Love speaks the truth about issues and builds the church so that we are not gullible and vulnerable when people manipulate politically correct language to slip their viewpoint into our minds without argument. Let me illustrate the kind of alertness I think is especially necessary today when you run into politically correct propaganda.
For example, in the halls of Roosevelt High School where my son is a senior this year, I saw official, school-sponsored posters that were clearly endorsing homosexuality and gender-leveling, but in a most subtle way. One said,
“One in ten people are gay, lesbian, or bisexual. They could be your brother, sister, parent, or friend.”
One of the purposes of your education here at Bryan, and of the Staley Lectures, is to equip you not to be vulnerable to this kind of slippery language. First of all, the 10% figure has been discredited. A University of Chicago study suggests 1%. The National Center for Health Statistics estimates 3%. William Simon with the Kinsey Institute estimates 2–3%. So first, the numbers are inflated to make the students feel overwhelmed — “Every tenth person in the hall is gay!”
Then, with no moral assessment of the behavior, the emotional appeal is made that your parent might be homosexual. What’s the implicit point? The net effect of lodging that thought in a teenager’s mind is not to encourage careful moral reasoning based on durable standards of right and wrong. It simply implies to him that he should process this whole issue with his feelings.
The other poster is even more subtle and forceful. It said,
“Respect sees no color, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability.”
Here again, is your education fitting you to see through this and bring the truth to bear on this slippery piece of high school, politically correct propaganda? There are at least three serious problems with this public morality statement.
1) One is that it puts homosexuality in the same category with gender and race. In doing that, it short-circuits the whole issue of whether homosexual behavior is right or wrong, and it implies that it is right (it doesn’t say it outright). Acting like a male or a female is a matter of indifference; and acting like a black or a white person is a matter of indifference; so acting like a homosexual or a heterosexual is a matter of indifference. The endorsement is implicit and subtle, but very real and very powerful.
2) The second problem with this poster is that it bases respect on what one doesn’t see instead of what one does see. “Respect sees no color, gender, etc.” The result is that the positive foundation of respect is missing, and there is no wonder that students see little reason for it. No reason has been given.
The first ground of respect is that every person has been created in the image of God, no matter what. So, you can even have a kind of respect for a murderer by holding him accountable and punishing him, unlike you would do with a snake. But in everyday life, there are different degrees and different kinds of respect, and these are emphatically based on what we see.
3) The third problem is that it says, “Respect sees not gender or religion” — but this is emphatically destructive to truth and behavior the way God intended it. Gender does matter — there is a courtesy that men ought to show women that is distinct from the way they treat men. For example, men should show women the courtesy of not walking into a woman’s locker room or restroom. [This is not gratuitous. Remember the Lisa Olson story? She was the reporter with the Boston Herald, and on September 17, 1990, she walked into the locker room of the New England Patriots football team to do an interview, insisting that it was sexual discrimination to keep a woman reporter out of the men’s locker room while letting men in.] And when it comes to respect, religion matters too: We should have less respect for a person whose religion is Satanism and engages in satanic ritual abuse than for a Jewish person who tries to keep the ten commandments.
Now, the point of all this is not to make life hard for those who struggle against homosexual temptation. I stand with you in that struggle, not against you. I count you among the most courageous people in our society when you say, “Yes, this is how I feel, and I am against it. That is not my main identity.”
The point rather is simply to call you to be strong and mature and stable. Everywhere you turn, your discernment is being tested: Are you a babe being carried along by politicians who manipulate Scripture? [Both George Bush and Bill Clinton did this during the presidential campaign of 1992. President Bush, in January of 1992, said to National Religious Broadcasters in defense of the Gulf War, “I want to thank you for helping America, as Christ ordained, to be a light unto the world.” And again, Governor Clinton, at the Democratic Convention said, “Scripture says: ‘Our eyes have not seen, nor our ears heard nor our minds imagined what we can build.’”] Are you a babe being shaped by posters and sound bites that subtly endorse an immoral agenda? [For example, here’s a quote from Gregory King, spokesman for the Human Rights Campaign Fund, the nation’s largest homosexual advocacy group, in Christianity Today, Nov. 9, 1992, (36/13) p. 21, “I personally think that most lesbian and gay Americans support traditional family and American values,” which he defined as “tolerance, concern, support, and a sense of community.”] Are you a babe being formed and guided by TV advertisers that plant assumptions and desires in your mind? — or are you growing up with the body of Christ into the maturity and discernment and stability of Christ in the truth?
The world is dying for lack of young men and women who are strong lovers of the Truth — who see it and are courageous to speak it. It will not be easy. It may cost you dearly. But it will be worth it.
Paul said that people will perish “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thessalonians 2:10). Not just knowledge, but love. Unless you love it, you will not pay what will have to be paid today to speak it.
I conclude by saying that I would rather that you love the truth with all your heart and that you seek it and speak it with courage than that you agree with every jot and tittle of my view of manhood and womanhood. This is just one of dozens of issues where your strength and maturity and stability and biblical faithfulness will be tested by the winds of changing fashions.
I have been entrusted with these days by the Thomas Staley Foundation. I count it a tremendous privilege therefore to close by affirming with all my might their aim: “The foundation will offer its resources to support and encourage devout Christian workers who are unashamed in their testimony, who rightly [handle] the word of truth, and who take the Scriptures as their rule of faith and life. . . .” May God give us all the courage to love the truth and seek the truth and live the truth and speak the truth like that, no matter what the cost.