FOUR ATTITUDES TOWARD TRUTH
(1 Kings 22)
John Dryden: “Truth is the foundation of all knowledge and the cement of all societies.”
Solomon: “Buy the truth, and do not sell it, Also wisdom and instruction and understanding” (Pr. 23:23).
Truth is absolutely indispensable to our relationships with both God and man. Nothing can take its place! Everything that can be done must be done to secure and safeguard the truth. The man who would be God’s servant is admonished to: (1) call upon Jehovah in truth (Psa. 145:18); (2) serve Jehovah in truth (1 Sam. 12:24); (3) walk before Jehovah in truth (Psa. 86:11); and (4) worship Jehovah in truth (Jn. 4:23-24).
Our service to God and our relationship with Him must be founded upon truth, because truth is an inherent characteristic of deity. Jehovah is a God of truth (Psa. 31:5). Jesus is the very epitome of truth (Jn. 14:6). The Holy Spirit is the Spirit of truth (Jn. 15:26). Our service to God and our relationship with Him must be based upon the word of God, because it is the word of truth (Jn. 17:17). Now, I’ve said all this to emphasize the fact that our attitude toward truth is of supreme importance. In a letter to Anthony Collins, Esq., John Locke said, “To love truth for truth’s sake is the principal part of human perfection in this world, and the seed-plot of all other virtues.” (Oct. 29, 1703).
There is a true story preserved in 1 Kings 22 that illustrates four different attitudes toward truth. Four principle characters play their respective roles in this drama: Ahab, the wicked king of Israel; Jehoshaphat, the good king of Judah; the 400 prophets of Israel; and Micaiah, the son of Imlah. They each manifest a different attitude toward the truth and provide a mirror to help us look at our own attitude toward truth. If you are familiar with this story, you know that Ahab wanted to attack Ramoth-Gilead to recover this city of refuge from the Syrians. He asked Jehoshaphat to become his ally and he agreed. The 400 prophets of Israel assured Ahab that he would be victorious. However, when Micaiah was consulted, he prophesied Ahab’s defeat and death. If you are not familiar with this story, let me encourage you to read it in its entirety (1 Ki. 22:1-40) before proceeding.
Four Attitudes Toward Truth:
Ahab hated the truth. There are at least five things that clearly demonstrate that Ahab did not care about the truth: (1) He decided what he wanted to do before he even consulted truth (1 Ki. 22:3); (2) He consulted with the prophets who would approve what he already wanted to do (1 Ki. 22:6); (3) He did not want to consult Micaiah, because he knew that he would not tell him what he wanted to hear (1 Ki. 22:8); (4) He rejected the truth when Micaiah gave it to him, because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear (1 Ki. 22:17-18); and (5) He soothed his conscience by getting rid of the messenger of truth (1 Ki. 22:26-27).
There are a great many people today who have the same kind of attitude toward truth. Like Ahab, they decide what they want to do before they even consult the truth that is revealed in God’s word. In the mid 1800’s, many Christians started using instrumental music in worship to God, because they said in their hearts: “We like it. We want it, and we’re going to have it!” In the early 1900’s, many churches of Christ started building and supporting homes for orphans, widows, and unwed mothers without consulting God’s word. Historically, the practice was begun, and then later men began to ask: “Where’s the authority for this in God’s word?” When some brave men began to speak out against some brethren’s “sacred cow,” that’s when the “fur began to fly.”
Like Ahab, many people today find a preacher who will approve what they already want to do. Most folks today who do not have the right to either get married or stay married to one another just keep looking until they find a preacher who will tell them what they want to hear; and sooner or later, they find him. Usually it’s sooner! Like Ahab, many people today refuse to even listen to anyone who will not tell them what they want to hear. Not everyone who says he wants the truth really wants the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Some folks have even been honest enough to admit it by saying things like this: “I don’t care what the Bible says, I’ve had an experience.” “I wouldn’t trade what I feel in my heart for all the Bibles in the world.” etc. etc. Like Ahab, many people today reject the truth when it is presented to them. Friends, if you want to believe a lie, God will make it easy for you (2 Th. 2:8-12). Like Ahab, many people today often soothe their conscience by getting rid of the messenger of truth. Many a preacher has been fired, not because his message was proven to be false doctrine, but simply because folks didn’t like it, and so they took it out on the messenger. What about you? Is your attitude toward truth ever like Ahab’s?
The 400 prophets perverted the truth. In fact, they perverted the truth in two different ways. First, Zedekiah and the other prophets were willing to tell the king whatever he wanted to hear to gain his favor (1 Ki. 22:6, 11-12). They loved popularity, peace, and harmony, more than truth. Second, the messenger who went to summon Micaiah pleaded with him to confirm the words of the other prophets, because he was more concerned about pleasing the king than telling the truth (1 Ki. 22:13). In essence, he told Micaiah: “Get on the band wagon!” “Don’t rock the boat!” “Don’t make waves!”
Sadly, many preachers and teachers today are willing to tickle the itching ears of their hearers for the sake of popularity, peace, harmony, crowds, money, etc. Paul warned Timothy that this kind of thing would happen. “1I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: 2Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 3For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; 4and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables” (2 Tim. 4:1-4:4). Many years ago, my father talked with a Methodist preacher about the Plan of Salvation, and the preacher agreed that the Bible teaches that baptism is essential to salvation. But he said, “That’s not what the Methodist church teaches, and I’m seven years away from my pension.” In the early days when the institutional issues were being discussed and debated among brethren, Bro. Elmer Moore was told by one “big-named” preacher that if he took the “Anti Position,” he wouldn’t get to hold Gospel Meetings in the big churches. What about you, my preaching colleague? Is your attitude toward truth ever like the 400 prophets of Ahab?
Jehoshaphat wanted truth on his side. In my opinion, Jehoshaphat’s attitude toward the truth is the hardest to pin down; but I believe I have accurately described it. Unlike Ahab, Jehoshaphat did want to consult and consider the truth (1 Ki. 22:5, 7), and this is an admirable quality. But Jehoshaphat’s attitude toward the truth was flawed and imperfect. I say that for two reasons. First, Jehoshaphat had already decided what he was going to do before he suggested that they “inquire for the word of the Lord” (1 Ki. 22:4). He had already agreed to become Ahab’s ally. Second, he was unwilling to change his practice to conform to the truth. Despite the warning, Jehoshaphat joined Ahab in battle against Ramoth Gilead (1 Ki. 22:17-18, 29-33). Jehoshaphat was interested in the truth if it supported what he already believed and wanted to do. Now he would have been very happy if he could have confirmed his practice by truth; but he was unwilling to change his practice to conform to truth.
The Jews in Jeremiah’s day were a lot like Jehoshaphat. They asked Jeremiah to seek Jehovah’s will for them in prayer, and they promised to obey the Lord no matter what (Jer. 42:1-6). Jeremiah prayed and Jehovah answered. He promised to bless His people if they remained in the land and to punish them if they fled to Egypt (Jer. 42:9-22). When Jeremiah delivered Jehovah’s message, the leaders accused Jeremiah of speaking falsely, and the people went down to Egypt despite God’s will and despite their promise to obey (Jer. 43:1-7). These people were willing to obey God as long as God told them what they wanted to hear.
The story is told that one day someone came into the dressing room of the famous comedian W. C. Fields and found him perusing a Bible. Surprised, the individual asked Mr. Fields what he was doing, and in his inimitable way, Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes, my dear. Looking for loopholes.” Many folks are like that today. They go to the Bible to find what they’re looking for rather than to look for what they find. This seems to be especially true when it comes to the subject of marriage, divorce, and remarriage. Friend, if you want to find a passage to justify a sinful relationship, you will. What about you? Is your attitude toward truth ever like Jehoshaphat’s?
Micaiah wanted to be on the side of truth. Ahab hated the truth. The prophets perverted the truth. Jehoshaphat wanted truth on his side. But Micaiah wanted to be on the side of truth; and there is a big difference. Richard Whately wisely observed: “It is one thing to wish to have truth on our side, and another to wish sincerely to be on the side of truth” (Essay on some of the Difficulties in the Writing of the Apostle Paul, No. 1. On the Love of Truth)
Obviously, Micaiah’s attitude toward the truth was the right attitude for at least two reasons. First, he was willing to speak the truth regardless of the sacrifice, or the pain it caused, or the consequences (1 Ki. 22:14). R. L. Whiteside wisely said:
“Much is said about preaching the truth in love, and so it should be preached. But in love of what? The preacher should so love the truth that he will not sacrifice any of it nor pervert it, and he should so love people that he will not withhold from them even an unpleasant truth. He that does either of these things loves neither the truth nor the people. We frequently fool ourselves; we think we do this and so to spare the feelings of others, when it is our own feelings that prompt us. ‘Preach the word; be urgent in season, out of season, reprove, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching” (The Shively Messenger, 5/15/84, 24:9).
Second, Micaiah was willing to speak the truth even though he had to pay a price for doing so. Zedekiah struck him and mocked him (1 Ki. 22:24), and finally, he was imprisoned (1 Ki. 22:26-27); but none of this silenced this mighty messenger of God. Those today who love the truth, will speak the truth regardless of the sacrifice, or the pain it causes, or the consequences. Those who want to be on the side of truth will pay a price. That is just inevitable.
Nobody wants to be wrong; but a lot of folks don’t really want to be right either; they just want to be approved. What is your attitude toward truth? Are you like Ahab, who hated the truth? Are you like the prophets, who perverted the truth? Are you like Jehoshaphat, who wanted truth on his side? Are you like Micaiah, who wanted to be on the side of truth?
No matter what your attitude toward it might be, the truth is still the truth no matter what. AHAB DIED just like Micaiah said he would!!! (1 Ki. 22:34-38). Shakespeare was right when he said: “Truth is truth to the end of reckoning” (Measure For Measure, 5:1:45).
Gary Henry: “In the past, the quality of gold or silver samples was determined by the use of a ‘touchstone,’ a hard, black stone such as jasper or basalt. The sample was rubbed against this touchstone and the resultant streak was compared to that made by a standard alloy. The ‘encounter’ of the sample with the touchstone said nothing about the touchstone — it was what it was — but it said everything about the sample. So it is with some of the most significant things in life: they assay us by our reaction to them. We are shown to be what we truly are by our contact with these things.
“Truth is such a touchstone. You can tell a lot about a fellow by the way he reacts when confronted with reality. What a person does when he stands face to face with truth says volumes about his character, the kind of human being he has chosen to be. If we will not accept truth and adapt ourselves to it, we not only demonstrate our character to be inferior, we doom ourselves to the suffering that inevitably comes from living on the basis of illusion and error. A life built on unreality is not a good one. Truth is what it is, with or without our right response to it. But our response makes all the difference for us” (“Truth the Touchstone,” Brass Tacks, 2:3:2).
From the Expository Files Archives, Aug. 2010