TRUSTWORTY AND TRUE
July 1, 2007
My friend Tony Lalli tells of standing in the sand at the beach with one of his little grandchildren, the waves washing up over their feet. The little one just couldn’t understand why he seemed to be sinking, even though he thought he was standing on the ground. Neither can so many of us understand what is happening to our lives.
I have noticed in reading the later writings of the New Testament a theme that emerges. In the writings of the apostle Paul which we have been studying in 1 and 2 Timothy and Titus, five times he uses the phrase, “the saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance.” 1 Timothy 1:15 is the first of those occasions if you want to pursue the thought. The saying is trustworthy and worthy of full acceptance. And then the apostle John uses in his last writing, the book of Revelation, the statement, “these words are trustworthy and true” (Rev. 22:6), and at least three other times that same thought appears - the idea that these words are faithful, therefore trustworthy, and true, therefore worthy of our acceptance. It is interesting that these statements are made in keeping with the character of the Lord who revealed these words. Jesus is referred to as the faithful and true witness in Rev. 1:5 and in subsequent passages. It is no wonder that his word would be faithful and true, for it breathes of his own heart.
I think there is some significance in the timing of these statements, too. The fact that both Paul and John dwell on this point in what is among their last writings tells us at least a couple of things. One is the fact that we are going to need this conviction in our lives. We are going to need to remain convinced that what the Lord says in his word is trustworthy and true and therefore worthy of our acceptance. Unless we have this conviction, how will any commandment of the Lord be taken seriously enough for us to do it when the pressure is on and when temptation calls? Unless we are convinced that what the Lord says is trustworthy and worthy of our acceptance, how will we hold on to any promise so that it may bless us with hope when times are tough? And unless we are fully convinced that the Lord’s word is trustworthy and true, how will any instruction it provides be turned into a way of life by any of us? Not only do we need this conviction but the timing of the words of both Paul and John suggest that this conviction may need reassuring as times go along. That is common sense. At least it has been my experience that once I have heard a promise and I have gotten used to it, and time goes along and it seems like things that happen challenge trust in that promise, I get to needing to be reassured. Yes, it was true, its right, and you will be doing the right thing if you hang onto it. Maybe you know that feeling also.
If the claim is made that the saying is trustworthy and true, that these words are trustworthy and true, can that reassurance be believed? Do you believe that the Lord is trustworthy and true in what he says? I want to do a kind of “I believe it because” and then “because I believe it” kind of study with you this morning, and I would like to ask you to follow closely as we think through some of the concepts that really are suggested by the last chapter in the Bible.
I Believe It Because …
I believe the Lord’s words are trustworthy and true because of the God these words reveal. If you consider, for example, the picture of God which emerges in the last book of the Bible, you will find him surrounded by glory as he rules from his throne in Rev. 4, being praised because he exists eternally and because he has made by his will all things that are. You will find this God being praised in passages like Revelation 15:3-4 because of his righteousness and his justice, by which he sees to it that what is right ultimately is vindicated. You will find this God being praised for his care of his people and his attention to their prayers. You will find him at work wiping the tears from the eyes of his family. In fact, in Revelation 21:5-7, it says that “he who was seated on the throne said, ‘Behold, I am making all things new.’ Also he said, ‘Write this down for these words are trustworthy and true.’” What he is talking about with “these words” is stated in verse 4. “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain anymore for the former things are passed away.” That is a picture of a God who is good and a God who doesn’t change and a God who pays attention to what his saints are going through.
I believe that the words are trustworthy and true because of the story they tell. The Bible does tell a story. Those things which appear in the first three chapters of the Bible which are lost by man reappear in the last two chapters of the Bible provided for man anew by a God who has been at work on their behalf. The book of Revelation again tells the story of the lion of Judah, the one who is worthy, who turns out to be the Lamb of God, who is willingly and freely offered because of God’s love and devotion to the well-being of mankind, who purchases with his blood as the Lamb of God a people for his possession, according to Revelation 5:9-10. He washes away their sins and sets them free from the bondage to sin and death. He makes them to be his kingdom that he rules over from the right hand of God.
This one becomes the firstborn from the dead, having the keys even of death and Hades, offering to his people the promise of his presence and the promise of life. This one turns out to be the rider on the white horse, who comes with all of the might that is required to deal with enemies who challenge the blessed gospel and who try to destroy God’s kingdom, according to Revelation 19. That story is one that I don’t see how we can do without. How do we make sense of life, how do we have a basis for hope without that story?
I believe these words are faithful and true because of the life they produce. I encourage you to try this little exercise sometime. Think of the kind of way of life which is called for by the scriptures. Think of the passages in the New Testament that tell people who love the Lord how they are supposed to be living. Try, for example, Ephesians 4, 5 and 6. And then think to yourself, “What would this world be like if everybody did this?” What would there be more of in this world if everybody took this to heart and lived this way, and what would there be less of if everybody took this to heart and lived this way? That exercise will impress you. When I read Revelation 2 and 3, I notice that if people are realizing they are living under the gaze of God they begin to love more fervently, they begin to involve themselves in living a morally upright life, they begin to meet their obligations in daily life, they start to care about other people and to engage in good works which they carry all the way through, they rise above carelessness and selfishness and indifference. They begin to really live.
Mac Lyon mentioned once that the family circus comic in the newspaper had a little fellow climbing into bed and his dad tucking him in. And the kid was saying, “Tell me a story, and put me in it.” Bro. Lyon said, “I believe one very good reason the Bible is such a vital force in any society where it is preached and read and respected is because it has “me” in it.” (SEARCH, Aug. 30, 1992). The life it calls for is the life I can identify with, and the one that I want to live and ought to live.
And then, I believe these words are trustworthy and true because of the hope they offer. The idea of being invited to partake of the fruit of the tree of life; the thought of being raised up and blessed with the right to the throne of God, to be there with him and have him present, caring for me; the thought of things being made new and there not being the things that destroy and break hearts now – what an encouragement that kind of hope that is. One thing about hope is that it is not really vital Bible hope unless it has a reason, a foundation. Longings which exist without the basis of a firm promise are not hopes. They are wishes. What the Bible offers to us is the promise of God, an invitation to stand on his promises. It offers us hope.
And then I believe these words are trustworthy and true as both Paul and John say because of the strength they give. I have seen people in my time do remarkable things, things that would seem beyond human endurance or achievement, simply because they have taken the Lord at his word. They believe him.
Charles Spurgeon, who was a 19th Century English preacher, wrote about the Book. To appreciate what he is saying, remember what I said awhile ago about the words being what they are because of the character of the one who gave them. Spurgeon said, “Why, the Book has wrestled with me, the Book has smitten me, the Book has comforted me. The Book has smiled on me; the Book has frowned on me. The Book has clasped my hand; the Book has warmed my heart; the Book weeps with me and sings with me. It whispers to me and preaches to me. It maps my way and it holds up my goings. It is the young man’s best companion, and it is still my morning and evening chaplain.” (Erwin Lutzer, Seven Reasons Why You Can Trust The Bible, p. 208). That is a way of saying that its promises and its instructions are so much a part of my life, that it is how the Lord works on me. It is his sword, what he uses to make me different.
Now, I believe it because of the God it reveals, the story it tells, the life it produces, the hope it offers, and the strength it gives. And, because I believe it, there are some things that are different.
Because I Believe It …
Because I believe it, I want so badly to know it. I cannot imagine wanting to claim the promises of the Lord’s word, to be guided by its advice, to think that what it says is trustworthy and true, and then to be completely indifferent about any opportunity to know it. Joseph Cook said years ago, “Do you know a book that you are willing to put under your head for a pillow when you dying? Very well! That’s the book you want to study when you are living. There is only one such book in the world.” That was his way of saying, “Let’s look into it.”
Not long before his death, John Wesley said, “I am a creature of a day, passing through life as an arrow through the air. A few months hence, I am no more seen. I drop into an unchangeable eternity. I want to know one thing – the way to heaven. God himself has condescended to teach the way. He has written it down in a book.” (Lutzer, p. 202-203). And then he said, “Oh, give me that book. At any price give me that book.” If there is something that will tell us the way to heaven, I want to know it.
Elizabeth Barrett led a life as a child which was pretty much that of an invalid before she married Robert Browning in 1846. In her youth, Elizabeth had been watched over by her tyrannical father, a man who was hard to please, constantly critical and completely overbearing. When she and Robert Browning were married, their wedding was held in secret because of her father’s disapproval. And after the wedding, the Brownings sailed for Italy where they lived the rest of their lives. Even though her parents had disowned her, Elizabeth never gave up on the relationship. Almost weekly she wrote them letters. Not once in all the years did they reply. And after ten years had passed, Elizabeth Barrett Browning received a large box in the mail. Inside she found all her letters. Not one of them had ever even been opened. Today, those letters are among the most beautiful writings in English literature. Had her parents only read a few of them, their relationship with Elizabeth might have been restored. (John Farber, “Unread Letters”). You can see easily, can’t you, the parallel between what God offers us. He has extended his heart to us. He wants us to open our hearts to him, to want to know what his will for us is. Because I believe it, I want so badly to know it.
And, because I believe it, I seek to do what it says. I’m not perfect at it. Are you? But where I fail, it is not because of not wanting to do what God wants me to do. It is because of my weakness as a human being. That is understandable. But not trying to do something which one regards as being the true and trustworthy word of God is not understandable. Revelation 22:7 says, “And behold I am coming soon. Blessed is the one who keeps the words of this book.” “Keeping” here does not mean that I will put mine on the shelf and nothing ever bothers it. It means doing it in everyday life, of course. It means seeking to let the Lord’s direction be the manner of my life.
And, because I believe it, I want badly to share it. I would like to see you regard these words as trustworthy and true and worthy of full acceptance. I regard it as my high privilege to stand up before people and to say to them in the words of this same chapter, “The spirit and the bride say come. Let the one who hears say come. Let the one who is thirsty come. Let the one who desires take the water of life freely.” I would like to share it, not to build up the numbers of a group, not to feel like I have won an argument, but I want to see people drink of the water of life and then enjoy the blessings that come.
Paul and John are not the only writers who emphasize this thought of the trustworthiness of God’s will. Peter in 2 Peter 1:9 in his last writing says that this is like a star that you would do well to pay heed to, to pay attention to. And James says in James 1:25 that the one who looks into the perfect law of liberty and then does it is a person who will be blessed in his doing. These words are true, worthy of full acceptance.
Do you believe that or are you standing on sand wondering why the ground is washing out from under your feet? We encourage you this morning. If you need to come and take of the water of life freely, either in being baptized into Christ or returning to your first love and if we can help you with it, won’t you let it be known this morning while we stand and sing together?