Devoted to the Propagation and Defense of New Testament Christianity
March 7, 1957
NUMBER 43, PAGE 10-11

The Truth First

Jerry F. Bassett, San Diego, California

In the seventh chapter of Acts is recorded an incident that ought to stir the heart and mind of any God fearing man. It is an account of the last gospel sermon preached by Stephen and the martyring of this brave and noble man as a consequence of it.

Turning back to the sixth chapter for some background we learn that Stephen was "full of faith and power." He worked many wonders by God's power before the Jews to preach Christ unto them. But when the Jews "were not able to resist the wisdom and the spirit by which he spake" false witnesses were raised against him to testify that he blasphemed Moses and God because he had said, "Jesus of Nazareth shall destroy this place and shall change the customs which Moses delivered us." The seventh chapter, then begins with Stephen's defense of the gospel he had preached.

At the very outset of Stephen's defense it is significant that there was not the least hesitation to stand firmly upon the truth he had preached. Stephen had preached, and was preaching, Christ unto many of the very men who had hated Christ enough to have him crucified. A little thought makes the fact obvious to us as it must have been to Stephen that if these men had hated Christ enough to murder him, surely they would have no qualms about doing the same to a man of less renown. Yet Stephen was not afraid to preach Jesus the Christ even in the face of death.

Unfortunately, however, not all men have such strong love for the truth as Stephen had. It is common to hear men make such statements as, "Truth is truth and I will take my stand on it regardless of other influences"; proof of the sincerity of such statements is anything but common. Too many men use the terms "stand" and "walk" interchangeably so that when they say "standing on the promises of God" they really mean "walking on the promises of God," which is just another way of describing those whom the Hebrew writer spoke of when he said "Of how much sorer punishment suppose ye shall he be thought worthy who hath trodden under foot the Son of God . . . ." (Heb. 10:29.) It would be wonderful if such statements of conviction were genuine. If they were genuine, the ranks of God's army would be swelled with former denominationalists who would have stopped saying, "I know that that is what the Bible teaches, BUT," and who would be saying instead, "that is what the Bible teaches, therefore I will live by it." There would also be many among us who would no longer be saying "It doesn't seem to me that God intended for us to rely on the New Testament completely" and who would be quoting, "If any man speak let him speak as the oracles of God, if any man minister let him do it as of the ability which God giveth ...." with unfeigned conviction.

Men who purport to be teachers of God's word would do well to think intently on I Peter 4:11 which is referred to above. The statements are, "let him speak as the oracles of God," and "let him do it (minister) as of the ability which God giveth." But Peter continues in the same verse to give us a very explicit reason for speaking and ministering in the prescribed manner. The reason given is "that God may be glorified through Jesus Christ" and the meaning is simply that the man who teaches and lives by God's word as delivered in the gospel of his Son glorifies him thereby and is therefore pleasing unto him.

Notice, however, that where the positive is stated explicitly the negative is implied. The positive in this case is that the man who speaks as the oracles of God and who ministers as of God's ability glorifies God. The implied negative is that the man who does not speak as the oracles of God, and does not minister as of God's ability does not glorify God. This same writer had reference to this fact when he wrote in his second epistle, "But there were false prophets among the people even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and heap upon themselves swift destruction." (II Peter 2:2.) The fact is then stated and reaffirmed that those who will not speak as the oracles of God are those who do not glorify God, and incur not his pleasure but his wrath.

It seems no accident that the fate of a false teacher is so clearly set forth. It serves as a stern warning to all men who would teach others the way of God to teach "not in words which man's wisdom teacheth but which the Holy Ghost teacheth." Those who take no thought of glorifying God by speaking and acting according to his authority stand clearly upon the threshold of destruction.

It should also be remembered that changing or adding to God's word is not the only way to become a false teacher. Paul told the Ephesian elders, "Wherefore, I take you to record this day, that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God." (Acts 20:26-27.) Paul affirms that he had fulfilled his obligation as a preacher of the word because he had "declared all the counsel of God." Again a strong positive statement is made and again a clear negative is implied. If Paul had not preached all the word he would not have been free from the blood of these men!

Preachers sometimes (any time at all is too often) for various and inexcusable reasons neglect to preach all the truth. Members sometimes (any time at all is too often) ask that certain "touchy" subjects not be preached upon, or if preached upon, "dressed" up, (what they mean is disguised) to be made more delectable to men. Brethren, to fail to teach the whole truth is to incur the responsibility of the lives of those who we teach. To neglect to preach all the truth is nothing less than the commission of spiritual suicide! (I Tim. 4:16.) It may not always be the easiest way or the most pleasant task, but as Stephen of old, let us preach the word in its completeness, in its purity, and in its power!

Regardless of the many Bible examples we have of men such as Stephen preaching the truth in the face of opposition many still clamor for soft preaching, appeasement, and diplomacy in the pulpit that we might have peace. Many are horrified at the thought of disagreement and opposition being stirred up over strong preaching, and prefer peace with men at the price of purity of the gospel. However, it does not take a great amount of New Testament reading to discover that these pleas for superficial peace do not represent the thinking of the Lord. Beginning with Christ's sermon on the mount as recorded in Matthew 5-7 we find as splendid an example as exists of truth being set forth regardless of opposition that might arise. By the time the reader of the New Testament has progressed only to the tenth chapter of Matthew he ought to be convinced that Christ did not come to bring peace to men through compromise, forfeiture of principle, or appeasement of error. If any doubt of this fact should exist, notice now Matthew 10. Herein is the record of Christ sending out the twelve to preach the coming of the kingdom to the lost of Israel, and doing so in full knowledge that such preaching would create opposition and dissension among men! In verse sixteen Christ tells them that they are sent "as sheep in the midst of wolves," a circumstance productive of anything but tranquility. But lest these men should be alarmed or discouraged at the trials they were to face, Christ informs them of the nature of their mission as reflected by the nature of his own Purpose in coming to earth. Hear him, "Think not that I am come to send peace on earth. I came not to send peace but a sword. For I am come to set a man at variance against his father, and the daughter against her mother, and the daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a man's enemies shall be they of his own household." (Matt. 10:34-36.) Of course Christ is not telling them that his purpose in coming is to create animosity but rather that that will be the effect of his coming when men reject him. The point still holds however in that Christ is instructing his disciples to preach his truth in the face and irrespective of man's opposition however violent it might be.

No, Christ did not come to bring peace (appeasement), but rather a sword, and that sword is his word. (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12.) When the word is preached and falls upon the ears of an audience it does exactly the work of a sword. It cleaves the group of listeners in two so that there are two groups; one believers of the word, the other non-believers; one receivers of the word, the other non-receivers, and the two are set at variance one against the other.

Often those who will not receive the word are so infuriated by its preaching and its condemnation of their unrighteousness that there is no measure too extreme or too violent for them to resort to in order to stop the preaching of the truth. Stephen's death is witness to this fact; so also the death of all who have died for the sake of righteousness. Certainly no greater witness can be found of the violent opposition evil doers display against the truth than the death of Christ when Israel rejected his righteousness and crucified him on the cross.

In view of these facts, it should not be, shocking to anyone that the preaching of the gospel stirs up opposition. It is no more than Christ warns all men who will serve God by his gospel to expect and to endure as well. (Matt. 10; II Tim. 3:12.) It would be wonderful if all men would lay aside prejudice and self will, and simply accept God's word, but as long as men are not willing to do this, opposition, heated feelings, and even violence will be stirred wherever the truth is preached. Those who propose to preach and teach the truth need to realize this fact and brace themselves to stand regardless of what may befall. In spite of all that the forces of Satan can do to oppose the truth its preaching must not and cannot be neglected or compromised in any way. Inspiration teaches us that peace is God's will, but not peace at the price of purity. James said, "But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable..." Peace without purity is then peace without godliness. There is only one ground upon which we can stand unified and at peace with any man or group of men and that is the ground of the truth of God's holy word. "Now the God of patience and consolation grant you all to be like minded one toward another according to Christ Jesus: That ye may with one mind and one mouth glorify God ......(Rom. 15:5-6.)

In the introduction to this article it was pointed out that Stephen preached the truth to the Jews and that they could not withstand its power. Notice, however, that when his fact became obvious to those Jews, "then they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and ran upon him with one accord, and cast him out and stoned him ...." (Acts 7:57-58.) They could not answer the truth so they destroyed the man who preached it! This pattern of behavior is well worn and almost as old as the world itself. When Cain felt rebuked by Abel's righteousness he slew him, his own brother. When the Israelites were confronted by the prophets they could not answer them so they put them to death. When Christ came the Jews could not refute his flawless teaching so they schemed to destroy him. Yes, this is a well worn pattern; if the teaching cannot be met, destroy the teacher. And brethren, the pattern has not been lost or forgotten through the years. There are brethren in our midst today who prefer to stoop to conniving, deceitfulness, and quarantine to stop the mouths of those who would examine their practices in the light of God's word. Appalling to think of? Indeed it is, but true nonetheless.

Regardless of the opposition and persecution that teachers of truth have had to face there is still no need and certainly no room for despair. Stephen, like many others, died for what he taught but the truth did not die, nor will it ever. Peter by inspiration said. "But the word of God endureth forever ...." and it is evident that those who dwell in that living word shall endure with it according to God's promise. This is the consolation Christ gave the twelve when he sent them out "as sheep in the midst of wolves." "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." (Matt. 10:32.) In the next verse Christ issues a sobering warning "But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my father which is in heaven." Those who walk in the living word will by the word be sustained but those who deny it, compromise it, and surrender its sacred principles need expect no heavenly reward. An eternity in the presence of the brightness of God's glory is promised only to the faithful.