“Forever, O Lord, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens.
Your faithfulness endures to all generations; you have established the earth, and it stands fast.
By your appointment they stand this day, for all things are your servants.
If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.
I will never forget your precepts, for by them you have given me life.
I am yours; save me, for I have sought your precepts.
The wicked lie in wait to destroy me, but I consider your testimonies.
I have seen a limit to all perfection, but your commandment is exceedingly broad.
“Oh how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.
Your commandment makes me wiser than my enemies, for it is ever with me.
I have more understanding than all my teachers, for your testimonies are my meditation.
I understand more than the aged, for I keep your precepts.
I hold back my feet from every evil way, in order to keep your word.
I do not turn aside from your rules, for you have taught me.
How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
Through your precepts I get understanding; therefore I hate every false way.”
How do you measure the ideas you come up with in your own mind? How do you know if they are true or not?
For instance, let’s say you come up with the idea, “It’s okay for me to publicly contradict my mother if I think she’s clearly wrong.” You construct that idea within your own mind, perhaps from seeing other people contradict their mothers, or perhaps because you love the truth so much, or perhaps from hearing someone else try to convince you of this same idea. Regardless of where it comes from, how do you measure whether this idea is true or not?
It would seem much easier to test ideas about the physical universe, like “A heavy rock and a light rock fall at the same speed.” You could test that idea by dropping heavy and light rocks in your back yard and seeing if they do indeed fall at the same speed. The real world provides you with a fixed standard of truth that you can observe to see whether the idea is true or not.
But you can’t just measure rocks in your back yard to test whether contradicting your mother is right or wrong. What can you measure? You might be able to look at examples of people who contradict their parents, and you might see examples both of times when it seemed to turn out okay and of times when it didn’t. But that won’t tell you whether contradicting your mother is right or wrong. Just like you need a fixed standard of truth to test an idea about falling rocks, you need a fixed standard of truth to test an idea about right and wrong.
But you actually do have a fixed standard of truth that lets you measure right and wrong, as well as lots of other more abstract ideas. It’s the same standard you use to measure ideas about falling rocks. You measure the real world. You measure God’s creation. Specifically, you measure God’s Word.
If I said, “The Bible is God’s creation,” I expect any good Christian would agree and say, “Oh yes, absolutely.” But if I said, “God’s written word is the real world,” I expect most people would give me a funny look. But why? Don’t you believe God is the creator of the world? Yes. Don’t you believe that what He says is true? Yes. “Your word is truth.” (John 17) And just how did God create the real world anyway?
“By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, and by the breath of his mouth all their host. He gathers the waters of the sea as a heap; he puts the deeps in storehouses. Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” (Psalm 33)
To test your idea about falling rocks, you measure the physical world that God spoke into being. That’s the real world. This is how you must measure any idea: You measure what God spoke into being. That’s the real world.
In the case of a question about how to behave toward your mother, where you can’t simply measure it with rocks you find in your back yard, you measure the real world directly at the source: God’s Word.
I do need to be clear that we shouldn’t say, “The Bible is the same thing as the rocks and dirt around us in the real world.” No, the Bible is not dirt. The Bible is also not the laws of physics. But the created universe is everything that God speaks into being. That includes the physical world of dirt and rocks. That especially includes the written Word of God in the Bible.
There are 3 main ways to search for truth in God’s Word. Keep them close to your heart:
- Find what God describes about the world. It is the true description of the real world.
- See what God does for His people and for His world. It is the example He gives for what is truly perfect, good, wise, and the best Way to live.
- See what examples God affirms from the acts of His people as faithful ways to follow Him.
Many people seem to stop after the first point and miss the other two. They’ll look for a few explicit verses, like the ones where God says, “You shall honor your father and your mother,” (Exodus 20, Ephesians 6) and after collecting those, they’ll say, “Well I guess that’s it.” And while those should be enough for you to work from, there is so much more in God’s Word for you! Very few Christians today seem to search the Scriptures to learn from the examples God taught for us.
If we want to know what the right Way to live looks like, the best example we could ever look to is that of God Himself. This is the second way, and perhaps the one that can teach us the most of the three.
“I will proclaim the name of the Lord; ascribe greatness to our God! The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.“ (Deuteronomy 32)
“God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one.” (James 1)
“What shall we say? That God is unrighteous […]? By no means! For then how could God judge the world?” (Romans 3)
“This God—his way is perfect; the word of the Lord proves true; he is a shield for all those who take refuge in him. For who is God, but the Lord? And who is a rock, except our God?—the God who equipped me with strength and made my way blameless.” (Psalm 18)
God gave you His Son Jesus, who is truly God while truly man, to live the perfect life in your place. That means that Jesus provides you with the perfect example for what is truly perfect, good, wise, and the best Way to live.
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life.… Whoever has seen me has seen the Father…. The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.” (John 14)
So not only can you look to God’s command that you should honor your mother, you can look to how Jesus honored his mother.
“And his mother said to him, ‘Son, why have you treated us so? Behold, your father and I have been searching for you in great distress.’ And he said to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Did you not know that I must be in my Father’s house?’ And they did not understand the saying that he spoke to them. And he went down with them and came to Nazareth and was submissive to them.” (Luke 2)
God is one. We do also look to the example of God the Father. Earthly fathers are made in His image, and by looking to Him we also see how we as fathers should guide our children. We are to be filled with His fullness:
“I bow my knees before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.” (Ephesians 3)
And God gave us the examples of those who believed in Jesus and received His Spirit also did the works that He did. This is the third way of the three.
The apostle Paul says, “Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.” (Philippians 3) And again, “Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.” (1 Corinthians 11)
And from this you can see the example of how a Christian should behave toward earthly authorities when those authorities contradict God.
“But Peter and the apostles answered [their Jewish authorities], ‘We must obey God rather than men.’” (Acts 5)
So we see that God wants you to respect, obey, and honor your father and your mother. And you should also obey your other authorities, such as your government.
“Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13)
And we see that God wants you to respect, obey, and honor Him above all. You must obey the higher authorities when people underneath them contradict their authorities.
And you should therefore not contradict your mother. Not in private, and especially not publicly, since that dishonors her before other people and might even teach others to do the same.
“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” (Matthew 18)
Only if it becomes a matter of obeying God rather than your mother should you dishonor your mother. God does not give exceptions like, “But it’s okay to dishonor her if you think she’s wrong.” If you only respect or obey your authorities when you agree with them, you’re not really respecting them. You’re only respecting yourself. “Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.” (Proverbs 3)
Now all that being said, we need to be very careful and reverent in how we follow God’s Word and imitate the examples He provides us. Just as it is important to take the commands God gives us in their context, it is also important to consider the context of the examples God gives us.
For example, not everything that Peter (also called Cephas) did is a good thing to do, though he did lead the early church. Paul writes,
“But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, ‘If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” (Galatians 2)
Christian leaders should follow Paul’s example here, not Peter’s.
For another example, God the Father punished and destroyed the wicked nations around the land of Caanan. But it is not your place to do that, because you do not have His authority. God tells us:
“If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’ To the contrary, ‘if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12)
And again God says, “Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7)
I suspect this is what makes many Christians uncomfortable with the idea of trying to imitate God’s example too closely. But though we must approach God with reverence and respect, we still should and do imitate Him as Christians. God didn’t leave us without a clear way to draw the line between how He acts as our creator and how we should act as His children. As God’s children, we follow the example of the Son. Our relationship with the Father is now the same as Jesus’ relationship with the Father because of His atoning sacrifice. Jesus is, in fact, the ultimate example of both the second and third ways to learn truth from God’s Word.
And really, Jesus is the ultimate source for the first way to learn truth, and the source for any standard of truth for you to measure, because, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.” (John 1)
The apostles sum it up pretty well:
“Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5)
“By this we may know that we are in him: whoever says he abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which he walked. Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning.” (1 John 2)
Christ is the Way, just as He said in John 14. Keep Him close to your heart, and by Him measure the right way to think about the world and the right way to live in life. You will be surprised how many questions and ideas this Way answers the more that you follow it.
That’s really the theme of this book. So consider this first chapter as the preface for the rest of it. Abide in God’s Word, and you will be able to discern right from wrong and to grow in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and with man.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” (Ephesians 4)