"Whatever is true..."

By Gwen Sellers

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Philippians 4:8
Information is power. Or so I tend to believe. But can too much information be damaging? Is there a way to have information about the wrong things, thus actually leading us to worse ends instead of better?

For example, I have heard that some drug prevention programs are not only ineffective, but can actually cause an increase in drug usage. I have not personally examined the research to be able to comment on whether it is valid, and there is controversy over such findings. Yet it makes sense to me. What fifth grader thinks about sniffing glue to get high on his own? But tell him it's possible and he might give it a try. Sadly, we also see this with "copycat" self-harming behaviors. Does having information on how to harm oneself escalate it? And, of course, there is sometimes copycat crime. No doubt each of these situations is much more complex than mere information. And clearly not everyone who learns about glue's effect then gives it a try. Or even if they do, it doesn't mean knowing the full consequences of hard drug use doesn't scare them out of it. So how do we balance providing enough information to genuinely help people and prevent unnecessary suffering while at the same time not encouraging behavior that is harmful?

For some things like suicidal ideation and self-harm, talking about it can be very helpful. Shying away from mentioning self-harm can leave a person feeling isolated or ashamed. Yet at the same time, talking about the specifics of how it is done can be a trigger. We want people to be aware that they are not the only ones with a certain struggle and that help is available. Yet we don't want to explain the struggle in such detail that it encourages even more harm.

This is all very interesting for psychologists and sociologists, but does it have anything to do with the church? I think it does.

Ephesians 5:11-14 says, "Take no part in the unfruitful works of darkness, but instead expose them. For it is shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret. But when anything is exposed by the light, it becomes visible, for anything that becomes visible is light...." It is good to expose the things that are against God. But it is not good to dwell on them. We don't need to know the ins-and-outs of a specific sin. We need only to know that it is sin and move on. Dwelling on behavior that is against God only entices our flesh. It is of no benefit. Rather than try to figure out and specify just how dark the darkness is, we should focus on the light.

I think this concept also applies to the matter of false teaching. It is important to recognize it and expose it. But I don't think it is necessary to seek to understand every false doctrine and tear it apart bit by bit. The analogy of counterfeit money is a common one. Authorities don't spend the majority of their time studying all the ways people try to make counterfeit. Rather, they study the genuine article in order to know it well. When they know the true thing in such detail, a fake becomes obvious. So it is with us. When we spend our time studying God's Word and seeking His truth, anything not of God becomes obvious. Focus on the truth, and the lie is glaring. Live in the light, and darkness is automatically exposed.

My church is studying through Philippians. One point our pastor made is how focused on the gospel Paul was. So much so that, while chained to a Roman guard, Paul said, "Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will. The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel. The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice" (Philippians 1:15-18).

It may seem strange that others were seeking to hurt Paul by sharing Christ, but when we examine our own hearts and see that sometimes we, too, try to compete in ministry, it's not so odd. Yet look at Paul's response. He's just glad the truth is being shared. We should have the same attitude. Yes, expose falsehood (we certainly see Paul do so in other letters). But there is no need to waste our time and energy tearing down every misguided thing out there. Instead, let's focus our hearts on God. Share His truth. People don't need to know exactly why the lie is a lie as much as they need to know the truth. When they know truth, they'll see the lie for what it is.

The New Testament epistles set a good example of how to deal with false teaching. The authors certainly did not shy away from confronting false teachers (see 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, 1 and 2 Timothy, 1 John, and Jude for example). Yet they also did not go about denouncing every falsehood out there. To do so would have been akin to playing whack-a-mole — another mole is always going to come up. Rather, the authors of the epistles warned their brothers in Christ not to be led astray. And then they reminded them of the truth. Rather than hit every mole, they equipped the believers to carry a mallet of their own. Perhaps even more so, rather than be distracted by a carnival game, they stayed on mission. They called back those who were being led astray and won them over by reminding them of the truth, by re-establishing focus on the light. The encouragement: Keep your eye on the ball.

So rather than go looking for what is false and denouncing it, let's go about spreading what is true and heralding it. As Paul wrote:
Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me — practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you. Philippians 4:49

Image Credit: StockSnap; untitled; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  | Christian-Life  | Controversial-Issues  | False-Teaching  | Sin-Evil

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Published 10-26-16