Sunday, October 10, 2010

"All" Really Does Mean "All"

A woman steps forward in an American court of law and stands in the witness box. Before she is allowed to give testimony, though, she must raise her right hand, place her left on the Bible, and swear to "tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth."

While the oath may initially seem redundant, the wording is really an attempt to completely define what "truth" is. For example, to "tell the truth" requires the woman to tell correct information as she knows it. The "whole truth," though, implies that she is required to not only speak words of "truth" but must also not omit or withhold any "truth" as she knows it. Finally, "nothing but the truth" implies that she cannot give opinion, assumptions, or conjecture--merely the truth as she knows it.

In legal cases, the judge and jury want to know every possible fact in order to help them come to a just decision. When it comes to knowing and proclaiming God and the gospel, though, modern day Christians and non-Christians alike seem to be content with knowing part of the truth.

I've listened to many a preacher give a beautiful message of God's love and mercy. The problem is that's the only kind of message I have ever heard escape their lips. Sections of the Bible that deal with sin, God's wrath, anger, and judgment are ignored, passed over...especially if the current political and cultural climate view those "sins" as "choices" instead of actions that directly contradict God's word.

God is loving. God is merciful. God is forgiving. God is compassionate.

So, why bother weighing people down with the "bad stuff"? The Bible tells us not to judge after all. Must we really learn about and share all of God's teachings, from Old Testament's Genesis to the New Testament's Revelation?

The answer lies in the word "all." Merriam-Webster defines the word as "the whole amount, quantity, or extent of." It means exactly what we think it means. All.

When the prophet Jeremiah received a word from the Lord, he heard that word twice.

The prophecy wasn't filled with warm, fuzzy messages for God's people. Instead, it was filled with words Jeremiah knew the other prophets, priests, and officials were not going to enjoy hearing. Probably for that reason, God admonished Jeremiah to "Stand in the court of the LORD'S house, and speak to all the cities of Judah who have come to worship in the LORD'S house all the words that I have commanded you to speak to them. Do not omit a word!" (Jer. 26:2, my italics).

God warned Jeremiah not to omit any of His words--he had to tell the "whole truth." Interestingly, God also emphasized that Jeremiah should speak to "all the cities" coming to worship the Lord--all of God's children deserved to hear of His pending judgment for their sin.

Scripture says that Jeremiah obeyed both "all" commands: "When Jeremiah finished speaking all that the LORD had commanded him to speak to all the people..." (v. 8, my italics).

"Why" Jeremiah obeyed is not directly addressed in Scripture. But perhaps, he obeyed because God had already explained the reason for Jeremiah's message, that Israel might repent and God would not judge their actions: "Perhaps they will listen and everyone will turn from his evil way, that I may repent of the calamity which I am planning to do to them because of the evil of their deeds" (v. 3).

Perhaps, also, he remembered an earlier prophet, Micah, who had been "filled with power--With the Spirit of the LORD--And with justice and courage To make known to Jacob his rebellious act, Even to Israel his sin" (Mic. 3:8). Like Jeremiah, Micah gave the same reason concerning why he had to speak God's word, even if it were distasteful to many: "But if they do not speak out concerning these things, Reproaches will not be turned back" (Mic. 2:6).

And perhaps Jeremiah also knew that history bore out the deferred judgment of a people when King Hezekiah both listened to the prophet Micah, "fear[ed] the LORD and entreat[ed] the favor of the LORD, and the LORD changed His mind about the misfortune which He had pronounced against them" (Jer. 26:19).

Compare this to the Great Commission in the New Testament where Jesus commanded His disciples to "Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you" (Matt. 28:19-20a, my italics).

Here, God the Son also uses the repetition of the word "all." Jesus' disciples are commanded to teach "all" of God's word. However, this time, they aren't just commanded to speak the message to merely "all" of God's children. With the coming of Jesus, "all the nations" is the new audience Christians are required to reach.

There is no way to turn back God's judgment on a man or woman unless the Word of the Lord is spoken--all the Word to all the nations. As Christians, you and I are just like modern-day Jeremiahs and Micahs, filled with the power and courage of the Holy Spirit. But unlike the prophets of old, we already have all God's word to study and proclaim in and out of season.

When given a platform to speak God's Word, to not proclaim it in its entirety because we don't want to hurt someone's feelings, because society is becoming more accepting of the sin, or because we don't want to incur the wrath of mankind, to not say anything is simply disobedience.

HOWEVER, that proclaiming must be done in brokenness over sin--not boastfulness over our knowledge of right and wrong.

Instead, our attitude must be like the prophet Micah who, when asked to tell Israel of its sin said, "Because of this, I must lament and wail...I must make a lament like the jackals And a mourning like the ostriches" (Mic. 1:8).

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