When Jesus stood in trial before Pontius Pilate, he made the statement, “For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.” (John 18:37). Pilate responded by asking a profound question that people have been asking for centuries ever since. He asked Jesus, “What is truth?” (John 18:38)
The story is told of a company that was looking to hire a new Marketing Director. After sorting through all the applications, there were three candidates who made it to the final cut – a mathematician, a statistician and an accountant.
The mathematician was the first one invited in for the final interview and the committee asked him one simple question: What is 2+2? The mathematician thought about it for a bit, wondered if it might be a trick question and then simply answered 4.
The statistician was the next one in and the committee asked him the same question: What is 2+2? He also thought about it for a bit and then replied that statistically speaking, it was a number somewhere between 3 and 5.
The last candidate, the accountant, was then invited in and the committee asked him the same question: What is 2+2? And, without any hesitation, he responded, “What do you want it to be?”
Whether we like it or not, we now live in a culture that hears that question, “What is truth?” and the answer that is often given is, “What do you want it to be?” Those of us who are older can remember a time when people were concerned about truth. That’s not the case anymore.
According to a study in 2016 by Barna Research, a majority of American adults (57%), believe that knowing what is right or wrong is merely a matter of personal experience. In other words, something is not right or wrong because God said it is. Rather, it’s right or wrong because it’s what I think is right or wrong for me.
This view is even more prevalent among younger adults. Three-fourths of Millennials (74%) agree with this statement, “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.”
This morning, we continue in our study through the Old Testament, and we come to the book of Judges. Let’s watch this video which will give us an overview of the entire book and then I’ll come back to share with you what I think the book of Judges has to do with the subject of truth.
The book of Judges has a very different tone to it than the book of Joshua before it. In both Joshua and Judges, we find the Israelites fighting battles with their enemies. But the difference between the two books is made clear in just a few verses in Judges chapter 2.
In verse 7, we read, “The people served the Lord all the days of Joshua, and all the days of the elders who outlived Joshua, who had seen all the great work that the Lord had done for Israel.” (Judges 2:7)
But then we read in verse 10, “There arose another generation after them who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done for Israel. And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals. And they abandoned the Lord, the God of their fathers, who had brought them out of the land of Egypt. They went after other gods, from among the gods of the peoples who were around them, and bowed down to them.” (Judges 2:10-12)
Now, what that means is that apparently the Israelite parents did not do what we saw that God told them to do back in the book of Deuteronomy – that is, to love the Lord their God with all their heart, and to talk with their children about God throughout the day. And all it takes is one generation of parents not teaching their children to love God for God’s people to reach a point where they begin to live for themselves and turn their back on God.
In a couple of places in the book of Judges, there’s a statement made that sums up the attitude of the Israelites at this point. In Judges 17, and then again in chapter 21, we read, “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 17:6; 21:25). Which sounds remarkably similar to the statement that most people today agree with — “Whatever is right for your life or works best for you is the only truth you can know.” Do whatever is right in your own eyes.
And we shouldn’t be surprised that people feel that way. The basic nature of man is that man wants to get his own way. We all have a tendency to be selfish. We want what we want when we want it. And so, I have a tendency to try to define truth in a way that’s going to give me what I want.
And so, I think I have the right to determine what is right or wrong without submitting to any authority outside myself. If I reject the notion that there is absolute truth, then you can’t impose your beliefs on me. I am the source of truth. I’ll decide whether my actions are right or wrong based on how I feel. If it feels good, it must be true. As long as it makes me happy, that’s all that matters. As long as it doesn’t hurt anyone else, it doesn’t matter what I do.
But the truth is, it does matter. Truth is important. It’s important because what you believe determines how you behave. What you believe to be true determines how you will treat other people. It determines how you behave materially or financially. It determines how you behave morally. And, ultimately, it determines how you live spiritually, which will determine what happens to you after this life. What you believe determines how you behave.
And we see this demonstrated in such a powerful way in the book of Judges. You’ve got this whole nation of people doing what is right in their own eyes, and the result is chaos and tragedy. There’s disobedience to the Lord, idolatry, and immorality. Things never go well when people “do what is right in their own eyes” because people have a natural tendency to be selfish.
And, unfortunately, people really haven’t changed that much since the days of the judges. People are still doing what is right in their own eyes. And when people do what is right in their own eyes they will lie, cheat, covet, steal, hate, abuse and exploit if it gets them what they want. They will have sex with whomever they want to whenever they want to. They will even murder their own unborn children to avoid the inconvenience. Everyone is doing what is right in their own eyes, and our young people are being conditioned to believe that truth is not true for them unless they choose to believe it.
So, let’s go back to Pilate’s question — what is truth? Is it just whatever you want it to be or is there indeed some absolute standard of right and wrong? We need to begin by acknowledging that there is an absolute standard of truth. Jesus made that clear when he said to the Jews in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
For many people today, truth is a fantasy. It doesn’t exist. Or if it does exist – nobody knows for certain what real truth is. Nobody knows what it looks like.
Some have compared the search for truth to the story of the blind men who were standing around an elephant trying to figure out what it looks like. One man touched the side of the elephant and said it looked very much like a wall. Another man held its tail and said the elephant is very much like a rope. Another man stood beneath its massive ears as they waved back and forth and said an elephant is very much like a fan.
In other words, truth always depends on your point of view. What’s true for you may not be true for me. Can you imagine what this world would be like if people took this approach in every area of their lives? Suppose people said, “Maybe for you, green means go and red means stop, but that’s your truth, it’s not my truth.” Try using that line of reasoning with the next police officer who pulls you over. When it comes to traffic laws, there is an absolute standard of what is right and what is wrong.
Or imagine a football game where all the players are constantly arguing with the refs. What do you mean it’s wrong for us to have all eleven men in motion when the ball is hiked? That may be wrong for you, but you have no right to tell us that it’s wrong for us. No, when it comes to football rules, there is an absolute standard of what is right and what is wrong.
So, when it comes to morality, why would anyone have a problem with “truth?” And then it dawned on me that the problem is not with the concept of truth. What’s happening is not that people are rejecting truth – rather, people are rejecting someone else’s truth. They’re rejecting some else’s right to decide what is right and wrong. They’re rejecting the idea that someone else is telling them that what they’re doing is wrong.
Because they want to be the authority. They want to be the ones who decide what is moral and what is not. Everybody believes in truth; it’s just that everybody has their own standard of truth. Everyone has a standard by which they decide what is right and what is wrong.
And so the real question comes down to this – are we going to let truth be determined by what God says or are we all going to do what is right in our own eyes?
I love the story that’s told about Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln was having a disagreement with another man. Lincoln asked the man, “How many legs does a cow have?” The man said, “Four, of course.” Then Lincoln said, “What if we called the cow’s tail a leg, then how many legs would the cow have?” The man said, “Well, then he’d have five legs.” To which Lincoln replied, “No he wouldn’t. He’d still have only four legs. Just because you call a cow’s tail a leg doesn’t make it a leg.”
Just because society says homosexuality is moral doesn’t mean that it is. Just because society says it’s OK to have sex outside of marriage doesn’t mean that it is. Just because society says it’s OK to fudge a little bit on your income taxes since the government doesn’t make good use of the money doesn’t make it OK. Just because we are surrounded by people who look down on others because of their race or because they are poor doesn’t make it right. There is a standard of truth, a standard of right and wrong that holds true regardless of what we think about it.
And Jesus told us what that standard of truth is when he said to God, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). And we can choose either to accept that standard or we can establish ourselves as the ones who get to determine what truth is.
And, in our search for truth, we all need to ask ourselves a fundamental question. And I don’t care if you’re a Christian, a non-Christian, whether you’re a Buddhist, a Jew, an atheist or whatever. Every person must eventually ask themselves this question: What is going to be the authority for my life?
What’s going to be the basis for my beliefs and my behavior? What’s going to be the standard by which I evaluate my life? What is my authority? What is the final authority in my life? Because we all believe in truth, we just need to decide who or what is going to be the basis for truth in our lives.
But even if we concede that there is truth, sometimes that truth is hard to determine because there are so many voices around us trying to influence us. In I Kings 22, there’s a story about two kings who are getting ready to go into war. There was Ahab, king of Israel, and he was trying to get Jehosphaphat, the king of Judah, and his armies to join him.
So, Ahab brought in 400 prophets who told the king what he wanted to hear, “Go into battle and you’ll be successful.” 400 prophets. And they all said the same thing. “This will be a successful battle. Go for it. God is on your side.” It seemed obvious what the truth was.
But Jehoshaphat said, basically, “Just to make sure, are there any other of the Lord’s prophets that we can ask?” And Ahab said, “Well, there is one other guy by the name of Micaiah, but I don’t really like him because he’s always saying bad stuff about me.” Jehoshaphat says, “I want to hear what Micaiah has to say.”
So, Micaiah, the prophet of God, is brought in. All of the 400 prophets say to him, “You make sure that whatever you tell the king agrees with us.” But Micaiah says, “As the Lord lives, what the Lord says to me, that I will speak.” (2 Kings 22:14). And so, he told King Ahab, “If you go into battle, your armies will be defeated and you will die.”
Now, if you were the king, who would you have believed? You’ve got 400 prophets telling you that you should go into battle and one guy telling you that you shouldn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to determine what the truth is. It’s especially hard when you have a whole bunch of people telling you something is right or something is wrong and only a handful of people telling you any different.
But majority doesn’t determine what’s right. Here in 2 Kings, you’ve got 400 men against one. But all those 400 were wrong. Micaiah was right because it was the truth that came from God. But Ahab decided to go into battle and Ahab was killed just like Micaiah said he would be.
It isn’t always easy to tell truth from error. When you ask, “Will the real prophet please stand up?” and a whole bunch of people stand up, what do you do? The problem in Ahab’s day was the false prophets confused what they wanted for what God said. They wanted to preach a message that was positive and comforting, and sometimes truth isn’t either one of those things.
As William Penn once said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.”
But we still haven’t answered the question: How can you be sure that you have the truth? It basically boils down to this: Develop a thorough understanding of the Word of God
D. P. Schaffer once said, “Whenever you preach, always use a lot of Scripture, because that’s one thing you know is true.” And remember that Jesus said to God, “Sanctify them by the truth; your word is truth.” (John 17:17). Truth must always agree with God’s Word or it’s not truth at all. God is not going to lead you off in one direction if his word indicates you should go in another.
Now, that doesn’t mean that nobody will ever take a verse out of context to support what they believe. But it does mean the better you understand God’s word, the better your chances of staying on the right path.
So, this morning, I want to ask you to commit yourself to three things:
yourself to seeking the truth.
Paul said to Timothy, “There is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth but will go around looking for teachers who tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas.” (2 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV)
We can either seek the truth or we can seek to hear those things that we want to hear. It’s important that we commit ourselves to seeking the truth. And I realize that’s not always easy because the truth is not always popular. And sometimes the truth can be downright painful. But we need to seek the truth.
2. Commit yourself to believing the truth.
3. Commit yourself to living out the truth.
Because, in the end, truth isn’t just something you believe or talk about. It’s what you do, it’s something you practice and apply.
In the book of Ephesians, we find these words: “We will no longer be like children, forever changing our minds about what we believe because somebody has told us something different or cleverly lied to us and made the lie sound like the truth. Instead, we will lovingly follow the truth at all times – speaking truly, dealing truly, living truly – and so become more and more in every way like Christ.” (Ephesians 4:14-15, TLB)
Winston Churchill once said, “Men occasionally stumble over the truth but most of them pick themselves up and hurry off as if nothing ever happened.” His point was that it doesn’t do any good to learn the truth if we don’t apply the truth.
In John 8:31-32, Jesus said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
I want to close by sharing with you the words to a song that was written by one of my favorite songwriters – Rich Mullins. The song is entitled, “The Maker of Noses”:
believe there is a place
Where people live in perfect peace
Where there is food on every plate
Where work is rewarded and rest is sweet
Where the color of your skin
Won’t get you in or keep you out
Where justice reigns and truth finally wins
Its hard-fought war against fear and doubt
And everyone I know wants to go there too
But when I ask them how to do it they seem so confused
Do I turn to the left?
Do I turn to the right?
When I turn to the world they gave me this advice
They said boy you just follow your heart
But my heart just led me into my chest
They said follow your nose
But the direction changed every time I went and turned my head
And they said boy you just follow your dreams
But my dreams were only misty notions.
But the Father of hearts and the Maker of noses
And the Giver of dreams He’s the one I have chosen
And I will follow Him