(this teaching can also be watched by scrolling to the bottom and clicking play)
For your life to have a purpose, meaning and direction, it must be guided by truth. And not just any truth, but God’s truth as found in His Word. Because God epitomizes truth.
Isaiah 65:15 says, “And yet, the days will come when all who invoke a blessing or take an oath shall swear by the God of Truth; for I will put aside my anger and forget the evil that you did.”
If you think about God, think truth. And when you think about that, your life should be anchored in truth. And when your life is anchored in truth, you’ll be able to say like Saint Augustine of old, “Where I found the truth, there found I my God, who is the truth itself.” God is truth. Everything that you think of when you think of truth, absolute truth, will point you to God.
In 2015, there was a study done by the Barna Research Group to understand what Americans think about truth, moral truth to be specific. 35% of Americans say that moral truth is absolute, and 44% say moral truth is relative.
In other words, moral truth is whatever I think is true. There are no particular absolutes or boundaries. And then 21% said I have not even given thought to it.
Imagine the world we’re living in, where such a high percentage of people don’t even believe in absolute truth. They don’t have anchor points in their lives that they adhere to that they consider to be firm and absolute.
Paul writes in Philemon 4-5, “I always thank my God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your love for all his holy people and your faith in the Lord Jesus. I pray that your partnership with us in the faith may be effective in deepening your understanding of every good thing we share for the sake of Christ.” He continues in verses 8-13, “Therefore, although in Christ I could be bold and order you to do what you ought to do, yet I prefer to appeal to you on the basis of love. It is as none other than Paul—an old man, and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus—that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I’m sending him—who is my very heart—back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I’m in chains for the gospel.” And then in verse 17 he says, “So if you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”
I want you to imagine what was going on. Paul was a prisoner in a Roman cell. He is under house arrest but can entertain guests and write letters, but he’s still under arrest. Somehow a young man named Onesimus connects with Paul. He befriends Paul, and Paul befriends him, and Onesimus comes to know Christ as savior. He’s born again. He’s washed from his sins and set free.
As Paul is discipling and helping Onesimus grow and become a solid man of God, Onesimus hits an impasse. The information comes out in conversation that Onesimus was actually a runaway slave from Colossi, a thousand miles away in Turkey, and he finds himself now in Rome, Italy, another country.
Paul got to a place where Onesimus’ past could not be swept under the rug and could not be ignored. Onesimus needed to experience and integrate the truth of the gospel into every nook and cranny of his life. If he was going to become the man of God that God called him to become, he had to deal with the issue of God—of truth. I want to spend our time answering two questions from Scripture.
What is truth?
We can easily say truth is when there’s an agreement and a harmony with the facts and reality—that is truth. But that question is very complex, so I’d instead rephrase it to make it simple and something that we can tackle.
How can I reconcile and recognize truth? How can I recognize fact? And then reconcile truth within my life?
Jesus puts it this way in John 14:6, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus answers the question succinctly. He says, “I am the truth.”
Jesus is saying to us that if you are going to become His follower, you need to align your life internally and externally with His teachings, values, philosophy and worldview. So Jesus says, I am the truth.
When we think about it, truth must be harmonious. That means that every part of your life, every aspect of your worldview and every part of your belief system must be in harmony with the fact of who Jesus is and His values.
Truth must have internal consistency and external consistency. Over time, truth must have the same sense of consistency.
And so what Paul was trying to tell Onesimus was that he had hit a ceiling in his walk with the Lord because of his past, and you’ve never faced your past through the lens of Jesus.
If you hide the past, ignore the past, and you’re silent about your past, something has gone on in your past that you need to come to terms with. Truth requires compatibility, consistency and harmony. If indeed it’s true, you have to be able to deal with it.
Truth is a life that is harmonious and consistent. Paul said to Onesimus, my spiritual son, I led you to Christ, but there’s something in your past that you have to fix. Fixing doesn’t mean that you undo it but you have to reconcile your newfound life with what you’ve done. Because if you don’t reconcile it, you’ll always have a ceiling that you’ll never go beyond in your spiritual growth.
Does truth matter? Answer: Absolutely. Yes. Truth matters.
David tells us in Psalm 25:5, “Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; on You, I wait all the day.” This great psalmist is saying to God in song. You’re the God of truth. Lead me, lead me in truth.
Now, back to the letter that Paul wrote to Philemon. Remember, Onesimus was a slave to Philemon. Onesimus didn’t just run away; he stole from his owner Philemon. So, here’s this letter from Paul. Paul says I can ask and demand you do what would be right, Philemon, but I won’t. I’m going to just present to you this situation with Onesimus. When he came to Rome, a thousand miles away, he got confronted with the truth of the gospel, and he gave his heart to Christ, and I’ve been mentoring and discipling him. I realize that he needs to go and make things right with you. So I’m sending him back to you and here’s a letter.
Imagine being Philemon and receiving this letter from Paul and reading to the end where Paul says, if Onesimus has done you any harm, if he owes you anything, I’ll repay it, charge it to my account. In other words, put it on my tab.
Onesimus needed to have his conscience and his conduct aligned. His behavior and his beliefs needed to align. He had to be able to have his word, and his walk align. If you are going to say to God, “Jesus, you’re the truth, the way and you’re the one,” that means you have to recognize truth does matter.
Onesimus had to work up a lot of courage to get on a boat, go a thousand miles to Colossi, Turkey and then get off that boat and make that trek to Philemon’s estate to make sure that the letter was intact. He didn’t know if he was going to be punished. He didn’t know if he was going to be imprisoned. He didn’t know if he was going to be flogged. He had no idea what the punishment was going to be.
But, something happened in Philemon’s heart. He dropped all of that anger, animosity and sense of vengeance. He dropped it and welcomed Onesimus, not as a slave but as a brother in Christ.
Because of truthfulness, reconciliation occurred.
Not every instance, when you express truth, will reconciliation be the aftermath. You also need to recognize when you deal with truthfulness; there’s timing with it. Sometimes we can say, I just tell them the truth. And if you tell people the truth in ways that are destructive, you’ve missed out on the essence of truth. Truth must be accompanied by grace. Truth must be seasoned with kindness. Truth must embody godliness; truth is not just blunt facts or harsh realities. That’s not truth—that’s just angry words being spewed out and being put in religious terms as if it’s truth. Truth is not destructive. Truth is constructive. Truth doesn’t tear down. Truth builds, even though at times the truth may hurt. Truth is a healing tool of God because when the truth comes into relationships, powerful things occur.
What are you going to do about truth?
The benefits of truth are astounding, not only medical benefits, but here we see Onesimus, his destiny no longer derailed and thwarted or hindered. He could walk in the truth and reconcile his belief in Christ and his behavior as a believer in Christ. And when he reconciled, the Lord raised him, not as a slave, but as a bishop in the church.
God has great things for you when you align your life with truth.