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Searching for Truth Is A Mark of Nobility

Jim Davis

Acts 17:1-12

We live in an information age where we are bombarded with an overwhelming amount of information. Much of this information challenges our thinking. It is essential that we maintain an attitude conducive to examining this bombardment of information. We must maintain an attitude that would allow us to be flexible enough to accept truth we may not be aware of. But we must be firm enough in our convictions to recognize error when it is taught.

As we are bombarded with information it is essential to realize that nothing but the absolute truth will lead us to freedom. Truth gives us a basis for evaluating what we observe and choose to believe. Knowing spiritual truth is conditional upon us holding to Jesus’ teaching. .

"You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free." Everyone has heard this statement of Jesus quoted more times than they can count, but how shall we know the truth? What is essential for knowing spiritual truth? Jesus prefaces his statement by an essential element required for knowing the truth. "Jesus said, ‘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 NIV)

In Acts 17, we see two approaches in dealing with new information we receive. I want us to look at those two approaches today.

Acts 17:1-12
When they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where there was a Jewish synagogue. As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. Then they made Jason and the others post bond and let them go. As soon as it was night, the brothers sent Paul and Silas away to Berea. On arriving there, they went to the Jewish synagogue. Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. (NIV)

Doubting What We Believe

Doubting Thomas has never been very popular in Christian circles. But Thomas teaches us that there is certainly nothing wrong with questioning what we are asked to believe. If you confront your beliefs and what you are asked to believe relying upon God's truth you have nothing to fear. If either is true both will withstand the investigation. If you are afraid what you believe will not withstand the investigation, then it is essential that you question your beliefs. Paul was unable to preach the gospel in Thessalonica because they were afraid to have what they believed investigated by the truth. They were willing to do anything to keep from looking at the truth.

Acts 17:5-8
But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city. They rushed to Jason's house in search of Paul and Silas in order to bring them out to the crowd. But when they did not find them, they dragged Jason and some other brothers before the city officials, shouting: "These men who have caused trouble all over the world have now come here, and Jason has welcomed them into his house. They are all defying Caesar's decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus." When they heard this, the crowd and the city officials were thrown into turmoil. (NIV)

Those in Berea took a very noble approach to what Paul was saying.

Acts 17:11-13
Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true. Many of the Jews believed, as did also a number of prominent Greek women and many Greek men. When the Jews in Thessalonica learned that Paul was preaching the word of God at Berea, they went there too, agitating the crowds and stirring them up. (NIV)

I saw a sign in an airport somewhere while on vacation, which said, "Your fears will dissolve as the truth is revealed." I had actually made a few notes for this sermon before I went on vacation and for that reason the sign caught my attention. So, I was determined to try and remember it since I didn’t have a pen on me at the time. I forget what the sign was advertising, but I find a real truism in this statement. If you are afraid to examine what you believe, you must realize that your fears will dissolve as you discover the truth. If we get worked up emotionally and refuse to examine what we believe, we may never know the truth.

We must pursue freedom from our fears through truth. A pursuit of the truth God has revealed through Christ is the only thing that can set us free.

Jesus tells us that we will know the truth and it will set us free provided we seek to continue in his teaching. If we seek to hold to Jesus’ teaching we will be able to discern spiritual truth from error. Continuing in God’s word is the only basis for discovering the freedom truth offers. His teaching is absolute.

Importance of Absolutes

Truth is usually stated in absolute terms. To say that 1 + 1 = 2 is absolute. There will never be a time when that equation is false. If we deny the absolute truth that 1 + 1 = 2, we destroy all the mathematical tables we have learned. This includes the subtraction, multiplication and division tables. These tables are built upon the absolute truth that 1 + 1 = 2. Accepting this simple equation as absolute gives us a point of reference from which we can work to solve the most complex mathematical problem.

Absolutes give us fixed points of reference. The pointer on a compass points to absolute north. It doesn’t matter where you are on the planet, you can always know where north is simply by looking at the compass or even at the stars. North is a fixed position on the planet. If you know where north is, you can figure out where east, west and south are. If we know where north is we can figure out where we are. To deny north as an absolute fixed position on the planet would confuse us to where we really were at any given moment. We would lose all sense of direction.

The beauty of absolutes is that no matter how confused we become we can return to the known absolute to regain our sense of direction.

There is a prevalent misconception about absolutes. We are beginning to believe that they are unimportant. Some believe accepting anything as absolute closes the mind to discovery. Some believe that absolutes encumber our lifestyles. However, denying absolutes is what actually closes our minds to discovering what is true.

The Bereans accepted God's Word as truth and they used it to measure what Paul was teaching. The Bible has God as its author, freedom from sin as its goal and truth without any mixture of error for its subject and its truths are absolutes.

The church of our Lord is to be the pillar and ground for the truth.

1 Timothy 3:14-16
Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing you these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God's household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. (NIV)

False Absolutes Will Misguide

What we accept as absolute truth must be true. Freedom to discover truth begins with true absolutes. It is possible to accept something as absolutely true, when in reality it is false. When this happens we will be unable to discover truth. Some don’t want to recognize absolutes. They may say that there are no absolutes. In reality what they are saying establishes an absolute, although it is a false absolute. To say that there are no absolutes is a false absolute statement, for it denies the very premise it affirms.

Too often religion leads us to create man made creeds with false absolutes. When these creeds are formulated they are used to measure our world. Too often we will not accept any new information as true if it cannot be harmonized with our creed. These creeds are based upon man’s limited vision, but they are used to decipher all the information we gather.

The fear of the unknown will dissolve as we are enlightened by truth. There was a time when everyone believed the world was flat. Believing the world was flat prevented the discovery of the New World for ages. Everyone believed that if you sailed far enough out to sea you would drop off the edge of the earth. Accepting that false standard closed everyone’s mind to discovery. They were afraid they would drop off the edge of the earth. Their fears dissolved as they discovered the real truth.

The Thessalonians were judging Paul’s teaching by false absolutes. These false absolutes closed their minds to understanding what was true. Those in Berea on the other hand were willing to examine what they believed to be true.

If our teaching promotes false absolutes, we will be plunged into darkness. It would be like exchanging darkness for light. Luke writes, "As his custom was, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that the Christ had to suffer and rise from the dead. "This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ," he said. Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks and not a few prominent women. But the Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city."

Getting mad and jealous because of what is spoken is a sure sign that we need to examine what we believe. Ignorance is the only thing that motivates anger and jealousy. Do you see the darkness, which results from refusing to see the truth? If we fail to have the right attitude toward learning, our ignorance will leave our minds blinded to the truth.

False absolutes will close the doors of opportunity, which God has opened for us. From the opening of Acts 16 through Acts 17 we see God opening doors of opportunity for the apostles. They are where they are because God has led them to the place where they are standing. However we see the Jews refusing to walk through the door of opportunity God has provided.

There must be a willingness to press on to the high calling of God before we recognize the truth. When we become blinded by our own self-chosen ignorance we will be unable to decipher what is true.

Matthew 15:1-14
Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, 'Honor your father and mother' and 'Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, 'Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to 'honor his father' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "'These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.'" Jesus called the crowd to him and said, "Listen and understand. What goes into a man's mouth does not make him 'unclean,' but what comes out of his mouth, that is what makes him 'unclean.'" Then the disciples came to him and asked, "Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?" He replied, "Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be pulled up by the roots. Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit." (NIV)

The Pharisees were not bothered by those passages of Scripture they did not understand, they were bothered by what they did understand. The trouble with God's people is that they tend to become religious. What I mean by this is that we often substitute religion for the real the thing. Religion often leads us to practice a few religious practices, while leaving us unconverted to God's way of thinking. When religion finds scriptures that upset it, it sets out to develop a teaching that gets around what is plainly taught. When this happens we substitute religion for godliness. It happens when religion is made up of man made rules, which deprive God's truth from having its way in our lives.

"Both in history and in life it is a phenomenon by no means rare to meet with comparatively unlettered people who seem to have struck profound spiritual depths, while there are many highly educated people of whom one feels that they are performing clever antics with their minds to cover a gaping hollowness that lies within." (-Herbert Butterfield" quoted in Servant, Jan/Feb 1995)

The Pharisees substituted religion for conversion. When they were uncomfortable with their responsibilities to their fathers and mothers, the synagogue leaders made up religious rules to eliminate their duty to their parents. It was easier to become religious than godly. Too often becoming religiously busy is substituted for the real thing.

Paul met the hollow antics of the Jews in Thessalonica head-on but it did little good.

Mere Religion Can Deflect Truth

There was a certain energetic young preacher who had a thriving country church. He was always prodding his people to do greater things for God. He spent much time in preparation of his sermons. There was a deacon in his congregation who did little and seemed to care less. It caused the young preacher much concern. On several occasions, in his sermons, the preacher would tell him exactly what he thought. The old deacon never caught the point. The old deacon always thought he was referring to someone else. One Sunday, the preacher made it plainer as to whom he was talking. Following the service the deacon said, "Preacher, you sure told them today."

The next sermon was still more pointed than ever. Again the deacon said, "Preacher, you sure told them today."

The next Sunday it rained so hard that no one was at the church except this one deacon. The preacher thought that he would now know about whom he was talking. The sermon went straight to the deacon who was the only one in the congregation. Following the service, the deacon walked up to the preacher and said, "Preacher, you sure told them if they had been here."

The Jews were great at deflecting the truth. That is, they would deflect what was meant for them by refocusing attention elsewhere. Sometimes people try to make us feel guilty when they are the ones guilty. But it is means to deflect attention away from self. When Paul preached the truth in Thessalonica the Jews understood the impact of what was said. The truth hurt them and they became jealousy insane. Instead of examining what was said honestly they deflected what was said by stirring up some bad fellows to bring bogus charges against those who believed. This took the pressure off of them, so they thought.

Satan knows that it is easier to buy into religion than it is to be converted to Jesus Christ. He knows our tendency to take the way of least resistance. When we buy into religion we can spend our time defending religious practices while deflecting truth, which applies to our lives. Often, it is easier to defend a set of doctrines than it is to live by them.

Religion seeks superficial ways to measure our lives, which leaves our lives void of truth. We may want measure ourselves by how we dress when we come to church. We may want to measure our lives by our faithful attendance to each service. We may want to measure our lives by how much work we do around the church building. We may want to measure our lives by how much money we give to the church. If we are not careful we will begin to measure ourselves by ourselves and become blinded to the truth.

Religion may make us think that we should be recognized by others for all we are doing. It may make us think we shouldn’t be questioned about anything we do because of all the work we do around the church.

1 Corinthians 13:1-3
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. (NIV)

Satan seeks to get us to buy into religion. He knows it will blind us to the truth and to the possibilities of any real conversion offers. Substituting religion for conversion will cause us to see everybody's problems but our own. In fact religion has a way of only seeing what is wrong with others, while refusing to take a good look at self. Religion will lead us to believe the only really important thing happening in our lives takes place around the church building. It may even cause us to project our own personal problems on the church. The church may become nothing more than a scapegoat for all our problems.

Religion blinds us to the truth when we expect the church to solve our personal problems without any personal effort on our part. We may want the church to provide a system for forgiveness without having to changing the way we live. We may want redemption without allowing God to sanctify our lives through the truth by salvaging our lives from sinful practices. Religion may cause us to think we come to church to shake our problems off so we can return home and pick up where we left off.

Often our behavior imposes certain consequences upon us that demand we be responsible with those consequences. Religion may convince us that we don't have to face the consequences of our own actions. After all there is abortion, adoption, and many other government provisions to deal with the consequences our actions cause.The church and our society have become weak because both refuse to live up to the responsibility our behavioral consequences impose.

Too often we never develop the spiritual muscle we need to deal with the consequences of our behavior because we are unwilling to face the truth about self. As individuals we often seek to shift those consequential responsibilities our behavior imposes upon society at large and upon the church. We want them to be responsible for the solutions as we seek to deviate from the truth. This leaves us too weak to find any real purpose in living for God.

Religion will leave us seeing no importance of solving our own personal problems while we practice religious traditions. Religious practices will focus us on the unimportant while leaving us unconverted to the truth.

Conclusion:

Mere religion will blind us to the absolute truth of God's word. Today we need individuals with real courage and enthusiasm to face their problems head on through a serious search of God's Word. They must make sure as they search God's Word they do not become blinded by impotent religious substitutes.

It is scary to face the consequences our actions impose upon us. However, only God's truth will alleviate our fears and enable us to live up to our responsibilities. Freedom will only be discovered by seeking to live up to the responsibility truth imposes upon us.

We can become like religious folks who allow their anger to blind them to the truth.

Or, we can be like the Bereans, who enthusiastically discovered freedom as they sought the truth and lived up to their responsibilities.

Freedom is something that only you can discover for yourself. You can only discover it through seeking the truth that makes you free as it teaches you to live up to your responsibilities.

John 14:6-7
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him." (NIV)

The Bereans were nobler because they searched for the truth. It is still a mark of nobility when we confront our problems with the truth.

Remember only Jesus offers absolute freedom. Some of us need to return to what we know to be true so we can reorient our lives to discover the freedom Jesus offers.

 

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