Christianity 101: Moral Living? Says Who!?

To explore this topic in more detail, you can read another of my posts.

In Western culture, we are living with two equally held beliefs, which completely contradict each other. We are told that following certain laws, and respecting certain rights, will lead to a happy society. We are also told that everything is relative and subjective, and we can only make our own happiness.

In other words, the former argues we should live good, moral lives, and this leads to happiness. The latter questions the grounds on which we can actually know what is morally right. Historically, people have looked to the state or the “majority” to decide these things: this has tended to end in disaster. And you cannot have a structured society where everyone lives be their own rules: that’s called anarchy.

Many people conveniently forget that our “free” and “equal” society is actually founded on the moral beliefs of Christianity. This is important because it can be argued that God is truly the only means of knowing what is objectively and morally right.

If God really is outside of time, all knowing, created us, has revealed to us the best way to live in Scripture, then we can know truly objective moral truth, and try to live by it. Anything else is simply subjective, open to question, and cannot really be the foundation of a cohesive society.

Moral living! Says who!? Well…God, actually!

Practising Ministry 2: The Trouble With Truth

When you were young, you might have been told that it’s important to tell the truth. We are encouraged to believe that something is either true, or not true. That’s certainly what the definition would imply: truth is “that which is in accordance with fact or reality”. 

Truth is therefore something which is objective and can be acknowledge as correct. Two things which are completely opposite cannot simultaneously be true: only one can be the truthSeems simple. Unfortunately, not.

Your Truth, or Mine?
Western culture is steeped in the belief that truth is subjective. We cannot know something as objectively true because we are limited beings: we can only see things from our own perspective and this limits our ability to know truth beyond ourselves.

What is true for me, then, may not be true for someone else. And all claims of truth must be valued as equal, because we are not in a position to know which claim is better than the other.

While this sounds very fair, in practice it doesn’t work. We are seeing this already: there are plenty of examples of conflicts between competing viewpoints. Two contradictory “truths” cannot exist simultaneously: logically, one must gain dominance.

We cannot even rely on a majority view as a basis for defining truth. There are plenty of historical examples which show the dark places human beings can reach when we define truth by the views of the majority.

Can We Know The Truth?
In the second chapter of The Gospel As Center, the author addresses this very question. We know humans cannot know truth objectively, because we are
 limited by our perspective and experiences. In order to really know objective truth, we would need access to a much broader perspective, one which spans all of time and space. Thankfully: we do!

God. God is able to provide us with an objective view of truth, because God exists both within and outside of time (since He created it!). He knows the end from the beginning (Isaiah 46:10). He also knows us individually and better than we know ourselves (Romans 8: 26-27).

These things, in addition to the fact that God is omniscient (all-knowing) mean He knows truth objectively, and is able to communicate that to us, so that we know the best way to live for ourselves, for others, and for our world.

Ministry of Truth
God communicates His objective truth to all of us through the Bible. This gives my ministry a solid foundation, because knowing God’s truth grounds what I believe and what I do.

From this comes the responsibility to share my experience of God’s truth with others, demonstrate God’s truth in my life, and let God’s truth shape my actions and thoughts. I need to listen to others who also believe God’s truth, so that together we can work out how it applies to us today. I  respect the fact that others can claim their own truth, but I still try and show them why God’s truth is better for them and our world.

For this reason, I hope my life and ministry is always founded on God’s truth, because, as Jesus Himself says:

“If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8: 31-32)

1st Timothy 1: The Truth, The whole Truth, and nothing but The Truth

1st Timothy 1
1st Timothy is one of my favourite books of the Bible. In it, we read a letter from Paul, an older pastor, to his young friend, Timothy, who has recently begun ministering in a church. I imagine that, if Paul was to write me a letter as I begin my ministry, he might write these kings of things to me.

1. The Truth must be Taught (v. 1-7)
The letter begins with a fairly standard greeting from Paul. But he wastes no time in getting into the reasons he is writing. Paul points out that some have abandoned the truth of the Christian faith, and are instead follow their own agendas. We read:

They want to be teachers of the law, but they do not know what they are talking about or what they so confidently affirm. (v. 7)

This has caused a number of followers to also deviate from the central truths of the Christian faith. Paul encourages Timothy to deal with this by standing firm in the Truth of the Gospel, and sharing this with others. 

We can employ the same strategy today. In order to encourage faith, we must be grounded in the Truth and be equipped to share this with others. A good starting point is to read the Bible: Any knowledge of the Truth can be found here. Prayer is good too. Talking to more experienced Christians, or reading good Christians books – also helpful!

The Truth must first be read from the Bible, and then taught to others.

2. The Truth is needs wisdom (v. 8-11)

We know that the law is good is one uses it properly. (v. 8)

The words “law and “Truth” are sometimes used interchangeably. This is because they are both words we use to refer to the Word of God. Therefore, the Word of God is good, when used properly.

There are two common approaches to applying the Bible to everyday life. The first suggests we need to rigidly apply whatever the Bible says at face value. The second suggests we can pick and choose the bits that fit best. Both of these are wrong.

The first is wrong because it neglects the context in which the Bible was written. The Bible is timeless because God reveals Himself to us through it’s pages; but in order to apply it properly, we need to be aware of the context in which it was written.

The second is wrong because it assumes we have authority over Scripture. This leads down all sorts of unhelpful roads; not least, how do we know which bits to leave, and which to chuck? From my experience, people that take this path make decisions about bits of the Bible based on how they “feel”. The trouble is: feelings can be deceiving!

I suggest that, when it comes to applying the Bible today, we need wisdom:

  1. We need to preserve every single part of the Bible, because God has revealed Himself through it. If we ignore any part, then we lose access to a particular aspect of God. For example, we need to retain the Old Testament Laws about sacrifices, because help us understand God’s plans for salvation through history.
  2. Not all passages are still applicable today. The above Old Testament Law is a good example of this: Jesus came as the sacrifice for ALL of our sins, so we no longer need to kill animals, so we don’t apply this directly. But we still retain this in the Bible, because it gives a richer meaning to Jesus’ sacrifice.

All Scripture is useful, relevant, reveals something of the nature of God, but is not necessarily applicable, and we need wisdom from God when trying to apply the Bible to our lives.

3. The Truth is the Gospel (v. 12-17)
This section gives a window into Paul’s experience of Jesus: 

Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners: of whom I am the worst. But, for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience (v. 15-16)

By saving Paul, “God has taken the wildest, most violent of blaspheming persecutors, and has transformed him into not only a believer but also a trusted apostle and evangelist. If God can do that, there is nobody out there, no heart so hard, no anger so bitter, that it remains outside of God’s patient mercy…nobody is beyond [God’s] loving reach.” (N.T. Wright, 2004:12-13) That is the power and truth of the Gospel!

4. Poor Hymenaues and Alexander (v. 18-20)
In these closing verses, we are encouraged to hold firmly to our faith. If we reject God, or somehow try and modify our faith to suit our own agendas, we might end up like poor Hymenaues and Alexander; shipwrecked!

But what’s this about them being handed over to Satan? Well, Paul saw the fellowship of the church as the place above all where the power of God was active. So to forbid someone access to it was like sending them away, where the only spiritual influence might be that of Satan. The aim, of course, is that after a short time in such condition they would realise their mistake and come back (N.T. Wright, 2004:16-17).

Conclusion
The first chapter of Timothy is concerned with Truth. God’s Truth, must be taught, and taught faithfully. Truth requires wisdom, wisdom especially when it comes to applying God’s Word to our world and our lives today. And, something we must never ever forget; God’s Truth is the Gospel, which is that Christ Jesus came to save sinners and because of this, no one is beyond the vast, endless love and forgiveness offered by our God.