Only the holy spirit can enable Christians to distinguish between scholarly advances with deepened spiritual insights, and unbelief and denial of truth couched in clever terms. There has never been a time when such perception was needed more than now.
Furthermore, only the Holy Spirit can give Christians the grace and wisdom to stand against clever unbelief in a spirit of love and humility.
The cause of Christianity has suffered much at the hands of those who would deny its essential truths. It has also suffered from those who have fought for the faith in a spirit of contentiousness and lovelessness.
The Apostle Paul lays down some simple guidelines for those who find it necessary to witness for truth and against a denial of that truth. Writing to the church of the Thessalonians he says, “If anyone refuses to obey the command given above, mark that man; do not associate with him until he is ashamed of himself. I don’t mean, of course, treat him as an enemy, but reprimand him as a brother” (2 Thess. 3:14, 15, Phillips). Yet how prone we are to regard those with whom we contend as enemies rather than brothers.
Paul speaks clearly to our day in his final letter to Timothy: “Remind your people of things like this, and tell them as before God not to fight wordy battles, which help no one and may undermine the faith of some who hear them” (2 Tim. 2:14). “Wordy battles” continue to this day, often over minor interpretations of the Scripture that have, for some, assumed major importance.
Such battles are not confined to one era. Paul, in the third chapter of this same letter, warns of the last days, dangerous days when men will be “full of big words” and will have a form of godliness but deny its power. “They will no longer listen to the truth, but will wander off after man-made fictions” (2 Tim. 4:4).
A characteristic of our times is the invention of new phrases that are often without meaning, we believe, even to those who coin them. The clear counsel and simple truth of the Gospel is often hidden in a plethora of high-sounding words. All of us need to guard against such foolishness.
Another characteristic of a faithful witness is gentleness and patience. Paul says, “And the Lord’s servant must not be a man of strife: he must be kind to all, ready and able to teach: he must have patience and the ability gently to correct those who oppose his message. He must always bear in mind the possibility that God will give them a different outlook, and that they may come to know the truth. They may come to their senses and be rescued from the snare of the devil by the servant of the Lord and set to work for God’s purposes” (2 Tim. 2:24–26).
We may witness for the truth in sorrow but never in anger, with love but never with bitterness, with deep conviction but always in patience and humility.
Again we would emphasize that only with the help of the Holy Spirit can we sense what is false and affirm what is true. God has given us a norm by which to judge, a means whereby truth and aberrations from truth may be distinguished—and this is the Holy Scriptures.
Those who would be faithful to their Christian witness need to distinguish between the findings of reverent scholarship and the denials based on philosophical presuppositions against the divine revelation. They also need to sense the spiritual implications of truth on the one hand and human deviations on the other. Here again only the Holy Spirit can make clear which interpretations can be a blessing and which are untrue.
Although some are unwilling to accept the Scriptures as determinative, we believe that at this point there can be no compromise. In a game, both contestants must agree to the rules and abide by them. In maintaining Christian truth one must take his stand with the clear affirmations of the Scriptures and against those who would deny them. Let the Word speak for itself while we keep silent.
In this controversy the Christian must be prepared to be misunderstood. Often we create problems and even make enemies by flailing and railing when we should be quiet. Some of us who would most earnestly witness for the truth discredit that truth by showing plainly that the Gospel that we wish to defend has never brought about the fullness of Christian grace within our own hearts.
But on essentials the Christian cannot compromise. Paul says to Timothy, “You must go on steadily in those things that you have learned and which you know are true” (2 Tim. 3:14). But he makes it plain that such an unwillingness to compromise on the basic content of the Christian faith will cost us popularity and position. “Persecution is inevitable for those who are determined to live really Christian lives, while wicked and deceitful men will go from bad to worse, deluding others and deluding themselves” (2 Tim. 3:12, 13).
Then Paul points to the basis of our faith, the source to which we must turn to discern truth from error: “… the holy scriptures, which can open the mind to the salvation which comes through believing in Christ Jesus. All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching the faith and correcting error, for resetting the direction of a man’s life and training him in good living. The scriptures are the comprehensive equipment of the man of God, and fit him fully for all branches of his work” (2 Tim. 3:15–17).
There is never any question about the Christian’s duty, for he lives and witnesses in the sight of his Saviour and Lord: “… preach the Word of God. Never lose your sense of urgency, in season or out of season. Prove, correct, and encourage, using the utmost patience in your teaching. For the time is coming when men will not tolerate wholesome teaching. They will want something to tickle their own fancies, and they will collect teachers who will pander to their own desires. They will no longer listen to the truth, but will wander off after man-made fictions” (2 Tim. 4:2–4).
“Man-made fictions”! How Christians need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to distinguish between that which is of God and the wordy and fictitious doctrines of men!
Paul had fought a glorious fight. He had kept the faith. He was sure of his place for eternity and of the One who had made that place sure. Chained in a Roman prison and knowing that his execution might be very close, he poured out his heart to his spiritual son. In that letter there is a message for each Christian today.
There is so much that is good for us to believe and live by. There is also so much that is false, calculated to destroy faith and our witness for the Lord. This is a time when we must put on the whole armor of God and, having done all, stand. By his Spirit and the Sword of his Spirit—the Word of God—a faithful and consistent witness is possible, and the victory is sure.
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