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Being truthful with the truth

With the conventions and election right around the corner, the political season is upon us. Many, but not all, of the candidates will be debating, spinning, equivocating, and spewing statistics faster than we can assimilate them. At times, it will be difficult to sort the wheat from the chaff.  The sheer volume of information we’re confronted with is part of the challenge. Determining the truthfulness of the claims that are made is another test. But an even greater challenge is determining if a truth is being presented truthfully.

For example, it’s one thing to quote a statistic showing that Airline A has the almost twice as many complaints against it as any of the other carriers. To state this is to speak the truth (assuming it is factual). However, it’s another thing to conclude from this that they are therefore, the worst airline in terms of customer service. After all, what if Airline A does ten times the business of any of its competitors? To make this claim would be to use the truth untruthfully.

We’re all in favor of truth but not everyone uses the truth truthfully. In fact, the temptation to use the truth in a less-than-truthful way is something that affects all of us. Here are some examples of the truth being used in less than truthful ways.

The half-truth. Remember Abraham’s half-truths about Sarah (Genesis 12, 20)? She’s just my sister, mister. What Abraham told was the truth (she was his half-sister), but his intent was not truthfulit was to deceive. He was like the person doing genealogical research who discovered that a great, great grandfather had been executed in the electric chair. Trying not to sully the family tree, they wrote that he occupied a chair of applied electronics at an important government institution, was attached to his position by the strongest of ties, and his death came as a great shock. Remember, a half-truth is a whole lie.   


The truth out of context. Psalm 91 speaks of God’s protection (v. 1-2). Verse 11-12 say:

For he will command his angels concerning you
       to guard you in all your ways;

they will lift you up in their hands,
       so that you will not strike your foot against a stone
.

Sounds good, doesn't it? Good enough that you would go to the top of the temple and throw yourself off, trusting God to keep you from getting hurt? That's what Satan asked Jesus to do and he quoted this text! (I'm one of those who find it quite disconcerting that Satan not only knows Scripture, he knows how to use it untruthfully). Jesus knew the Scripture well enough to know the psalmist was not sanctioning presumptuous behavior and He told him so (Do not put the Lord your God to the testDeuteronomy 6:16). Satan used the truth (Psalm 91), but he used it untruthfully by putting it in a very different context. For those of us who are teachers of the word, we must be very careful that we use God's word correctly. It's so easy to spout off a few verses to prove our point. I think James 3:1 has us in mind!

The truth not spoken in love. Paul reminds us speaking the truth in love is part of growing up in the Lord (Ephesians 4:15). The purpose of truth is not to win arguments, it's to help people. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up is the way Paul put it (1 Corinthians 8:1). If we're using truth to promote our agenda (whatever that might be), we're not using it truthfully. If we're using it to prove ourselves right, we're wrong. Truth that is used for good is used for God and is used truthfully.

Truth was important to Jesus. He spoke of Himself as truth (John 14:6). It should be important to us.


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