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Christians are to be Truth-Seekers
F. Earle Fox
St Luke's REC, Santa Ana, CA
Sermons -- Audio Version -- Truth-Seeking
Trinity XVIII - 10/03/10
Prov. 2:1-9; Psalm 110; I Cor. 1:4-8; Mt. 22:34-46
Our Old Testament lesson from Proverbs promotes wisdom.
What is the difference between knowledge and wisdom? We generally think of knowledge as what you get through education. You learn basic facts, basic principles of an area, such a physics, geometry, history, theology, the Bible..., the list is nearly endless. It is so endless now that it is very difficult to be "well educated" in the old sense of knowing a lot about life -- the "well-rounded" man.
Life has become so complicated that there are many things about which we will never know much. And so our education has become compartmentalized, with subjects and areas of concern separated from each other -- politics and religion being a very important case in point. Psalm 110, read for today, disagrees.
Wisdom is a bit harder to define. It means something like: Knowing how to handle all that education, what to do with it, where to go with it. There is a moral content to wisdom, whereas education is usually more about fact and logic, which are morally neutral. Bare facts are not moral, they just are.
Be that as it may, all wisdom must operate on a bedrock of fact and logic. Wisdom cannot deny reality by contradicting fact or logic. That would render wisdom very unwise by undermining its own foundation in reality.
Wisdom takes the world of fact and logic and sees the good or bad in it. Wisdom recommends a direction to take. Go this way, not that.
Anyone can, with a bit of careful observation, see that eating your vegetables will make you healthy. It is therefore "good" and "wise" for you to eat your vegetables. It will improve your health. So a wise child will eat his veggies. But, that does not make eating your veggies an obligation.
However, when mother says, "Johnny, eat your vegetables," then for Johnny, eating his veggies does become an obligation. Someone with authority must give an order, issue a command, for a good to become an obligation. Otherwise, the good remains just a good idea, a wise thing to do, but not obligatory.
Much of wisdom literature is built on this principle that the wise man will follow that which is good, that is, what is life enhancing, life improving.
But there is another kind of wisdom, which is not always clearly distinguished in the Bible. The second kind of wisdom is rooted in the notion that "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." We read today that if you seek wisdom, "then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God." It suggests not only that the Lord is Himself the greatest Good of all, and that obeying Him will lead to the greatest good in our own lives, it also points on to Him who is Sovereign over all things.
Mother can command us to eat our veggies because she has parental authority. But mother gets her parental authority ultimately from the higher authority of God. We can have authority only from someone higher than ourselves who already has it. Only God has authority by nature, so it all comes down from Him, often mediated through other authorities.
So the highest level of wisdom is to point us on to obedience to God, our ultimate authority. That is the highest wisdom where we find that perfect love casts out fear. We learn (as in our Gospel lesson) that the two highest commandments of all are about love, and that God Himself is committed to loving us with that same love. In the two Great Commandments, obligation and love are wedded. Law and grace are wedded.
Life cannot get any better than that. That is the best of all possible worlds -- if we choose it and live it out under God. That is the pinnacle of Wisdom.
The Hebrews grew over time in their understanding of the law of God, including their understanding of wisdom, how societies work, the sorts of things necessary for passing down one's faith to the next generation, the meaning and importance of education, the rise and fall of the Temple system, the rise of the synagogue system -- all these were changing as time went on. And all of them affected how they understood God wanting them to respond to Him, and thus affected the meaning of wisdom.
And we Christians likewise, have experienced powerful changes in our history. We began with a very small but dedicated church, with a very simple message to preach to the masses of pagans surrounding them -- Jesus is Lord and Savior. All, of course, in the context of the Hebrew monotheistic worldview. Even though the heart of the message remained the same, the message got increasingly complicated as more and more questions were thrown at Christians, and Christians responded, for example, with the doctrine of the Trinity.
But the conversion of Constantine led to Christians getting political power -- which eventually led to unhappy changes in the lives of Christians, one of the worst being the use of power to convert and maintain the loyalty of Christians, such as the Inquisition and burnings at the stake. A violation of wisdom.
But the seeds of greater wisdom were being planted. Some of the seeds persisted, and God gradually brought forth notable changes in the lives of Christians. Even in the midst of a corrupt Church, and the horrendous wars among Christians at the time of the Reformation, God raised up what we call science.
God meant science to produce a more finely honed Sword of the Spirit - a more precise way to get true knowledge about any aspect of life, including about Himself.
The basic principle of science can be expressed: "We must be truth-seekers, not position-defenders". We give up our right to be right, and let the truth and the Lord of Truth speak for themselves. That is a principle which every Christian must adopt. We have wrongly been eager position-defenders. It is not that positions are unimportant. What we believe is very important. But it is also important that we give good reasons for our beliefs. We are told: "Always be prepared to make a defense to any one who calls you to account for the hope that is in you.... " I Peter 3:15.
What can "be prepared to make a good defense..." mean -- if not: give an intellectually, morally, and spiritually credible account of why we believe such things? Would not this be a part of any honest wisdom? Would not wisdom require that we get our facts straight (as Paul says in I Corinthians 15 concerning the Resurrection -- If Christ was not raised from the dead, then we cannot preach it....). Wisdom is based on fact and logic. Salvation is based on fact and logic. The Kingdom of Heaven is based on fact and logic.
Fact and logic are not all there is, but they are absolutely essential. The Christian community has suffered great loss over the last 200 years because Christians were told that reason and revelation were not compatible. So many Christians abandoned reason as of the devil. That is not true. Reason and revelation are not only compatible, neither will survive without the other. That is wisdom.
Honest, well-meaning persons in all areas of life have contributed to the sum of human knowledge. They may not have been Christians or Jews, but were truth-seekers using the best lights they had. We Christians must pay attention to other persons, even when they disagree with us -- because we all need each other to keep honest. Many secular and pagan persons have given honest critiques of the mistakes and sins committed by us Christians.
God used the Assyrians, Babylonians, Egyptians, and others to discipline the Hebrews, and He can certainly use the secular and pagan folks among us today to discipline us and call us to account. The only way we will be able to hear God speak the truth to us through them is if we are truth-seekers rather than position-defenders. That is wisdom.
The problem with position-defending is that it almost always petrifies and becomes sterile. It becomes locked into its own presuppositions and unable to hear truth from any source but itself. That is a fatal mistake, and not an example of Godly wisdom.
Truth-seeking, on the other hand, is the Royal Road to God, who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
We Christians have in science (the epitome of reason), been given a very powerful weapon for truth. The Sword of the Spirit is said to be 2-edged. I would suggest that those two edges are revelation and reason welded back to back -- making an invincible weapon. Revelation and reason are paracletes to each other, from Greek military language (para + kaleo, called to stand together), standing back to back, defending each other's back sides if they got separated from their own lines.
It is a slander against God to say that God is unreasonable, which suggests that God is incompetent and immature. Muslims seem to imply that about Allah, that he does not hold himself accountable to either truth or righteousness. The Hebrews were not philosophers, they did not write philosophical treatises or ask philosophical questions. But they did address the big issues of life in the Biblical the record of God's dealings with them. And if they wouldn't, God would. God was calling to them in different ways, "Come, let us reason together..." centuries before there were any Greek philosophers.
It is we humans who do not show up for the discussion, not God. We are the ones who fear honest truth-testing.
Secular wisdom is amoral, and thus merely pragmatic, because the secular worldview cannot support morality. It has no concept of authority other than that which one can have by power. But that is not authority, it is just -- power -- pretending to be authority. It works by fear, not by authority. It can recommend (or force) the good, but it cannot command it.
That means secular wisdom can identify the good, that which is helpful to life, but it can never make the good anything more than a good idea, something helpful. It can never make the good an obligation on anyone, let alone the primary obligation for all persons at all times.
But Godly wisdom not only identifies the good, that which nurtures life, but also makes that good mandatory in the two highest laws of the universe. We are commanded to do good for one another. We are commanded to love one another. No pagan philosopher would have said such a thing, because in the pagan world, as in the secular world today, such love is totally impractical. It leads nowhere. So no one suggested it as a law.
But in God's world, with a Creator who loves us, love trumps power, and leads up the path to heaven itself, both morally and practically. Love is the highest of all wisdom.
The rise of science was not a secular event, it was a Judeo-Christian event, a fulfillment of the love of God. Christians believed the worldview of the Hebrews and saw science hidden away among its unfolding mysteries, an orderly physical world which was capable of being discovered, known, and put to work for the service of God and the benefit of mankind.
The wisdom of the Bible and of Christian faith tells us that Jesus is both Lord and Savior. Psalm 110, by which this morning we gave praise to God, is the most quoted psalm in the New Testament, and perhaps among all early Christians, because Jesus interpreted it as giving testimony to His Lordship. The psalm testifies to the Lordship of the Messiah over all peoples, everywhere. "The Lord shall send the rod of thy power out of Sion: be thou ruler, even in the midst among thine enemies.
David, the psalmist, and the early Christians got the message which we modern Christians have lost -- that Jesus is King of kings and Lord of lords, and that the kings and lords over whom Jesus rules are all the kings, princes, presidents, and other officers of state, bar none. If you are a ruler on earth, Jesus rules over you -- whether or not you know or agree with Him.
But the only way we Christians will recover our credibility and testimony on the matter is if we are truth-seekers, not position-defenders. And the only way we can expect to convince unbelievers of the Lordship of Christ over all things is if we let the truth and the Lord of truth defend their own positions. We do a poor job of it on our own. If we learn how to present their case, and then get out of the way to let them prove their own case (as Elijah did on Mount Carmel with the prophets of Baal), many more unbelievers will become believers. And we Christians will regain our credibility.
St. Paul prays for the Corinthians, "that in every thing ye are enriched by Him, in all utterance, and in all knowledge; even as the testimony of Christ was confirmed in you..."
"In all utterance, and in all knowledge..." Paul prays that they will be able to speak convincing words. The testimony of Christ was confirmed in them, meaning that they themselves become evidence for who Christ is. Their lives are the testimony and the evidence.
And in the Gospel we get a double treat. Jesus gives the two Great Commandments, and then expounds on Psalm 110. Jesus says to the unbelieving Pharisees: If David, the writer of Psalm 110, calls the Messiah "Lord", how can the Messiah be the son of David? The son cannot be lord over the father.
The Pharisees were caught in what seemed like a contradiction. In human reckoning, the Messiah was indeed the son of David. But in actual fact, the Messiah was also the Christ who appeared at the Burning Bush with Moses, Yahweh, He who Is, the Son of God. That the Messiah could be both Son of God and son of man was incomprehensible to the Jewish leaders, but it was part of the Wisdom of God to make Him so.
Let us Christians become Godly truth-seekers and truth-speakers so that we might give adequate and true testimony to our faith, and be the channels for the truth of God to be revealed abroad in a corrupted culture which is being brought down by God to bring repentance and renewal.
The law of God is the wisdom of God -- designed for our welfare and good. We have the best of all possible worlds to share with our friends and neighbors.
So let's get on with it.
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