Daily Bible Studies & Sermon Notes

The Gift of Truth
Pastor Steve Schell
Acts 25:1-12
Character is who we are under pressure. It’s a part of us that we form one choice at a time. In effect, our personality becomes a collection of habits. When certain things happen we find ourselves responding the same way over and over again. And the older we get the deeper those patterns grow. We still have a free will and change is possible, but those habits grow so strong it’s as though they are now dragging us along through life. We are often unaware of how strong a habit has become until we face a crisis and need to act differently. If we actually try to change we quickly discover it’s not nearly as easy as we thought it would be. We’ve been making excuses for our behavior and giving ourselves permission to do certain things so often that we came to believe those excuses. Change can appear dangerous or even wrong. Many people try to compartmentalize their character. They think they can act one way in one area of their life, and another way in another area. But they’re fooling themselves. Habits are habits, and the patterns developed in one area are soon guiding the way we respond in another. In particular, the willingness to lie “when necessary” is a very difficult habit to break because in those situations there is always a price to pay for telling the truth. We probably learned to lie, if indeed we did, in order to avoid conflict. Our goal was to protect ourselves and preserve peace, not deceive someone. But once we let that habit in, it grew to have a far greater power over us than we expected. It began controlling us, rather than us controlling it.

Festus realizes he is going to pay a heavy personal price if he gives Paul justice. His political future could be at stake. Little does he know, he will be dead within two years, so he doesn’t have a political future to protect. At that moment he was simply trying to avoid the kind of controversy Felix had experienced. He’d watched how much influence Israel’s religious leaders had in Rome, and he didn’t want to end up like Felix who barely escaped Nero’s wrath when he returned. So what must have been an old habit took over. He would try to appear impartial while trying to manipulate the situation with lies.

Paul’s third trial (Ac 25:1-12)
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Festus responds to pressure
Felix had tried to avoid controversy by postponing tough decisions. He would pretend he was waiting for more information. But that hadn’t worked. The problems didn’t go away with time, they just got worse. So Festus decided to handle matters differently. He would maintain the appearance of being impartial while slowly maneuvering the situation to his own advantage. He probably thought of himself as a “realist.” At times lofty ideals get in the way and have to be set aside. A person may need to let injustice happen occasionally in order to keep peace. As a leader there are things that have to be done to keep the right people happy. So Festus pretended to think that this unreasonable request to transfer Paul to Jerusalem was perfectly reasonable. Given the flurry of unsupported accusations he had just experienced he couldn’t possibly have thought Paul might be given justice in Jerusalem. But he could act like he thought so and he could hope to lure Paul into thinking so too, by promising that he would make the final decision in the trial. But Paul wasn’t fooled for a moment. He saw the governor’s plan. He realized that in the governor’s mind he was expendable. So Paul appealed to the only means of escape available to him. If there was no justice in Caesarea or Jerusalem, he might find justice in Rome. He appealed his case to Caesar.

Later on Festus will claim that he had planned to declare Paul innocent all along but that Paul appealed to Caesar before he had the chance to do so (vs25,27). Since the case was now going to be reviewed in Rome it was important to Festus to make Paul look unreasonable. He wanted the emperor to think that he had been planning to give Paul justice, but that Paul had grown frightened and exercised his right to an appeal before he could do so.

The gift of truth
Sometimes the kindest thing you can do for someone is to tell them the painful truth, because nobody else will. That person may have been living in self-deception for years, and everyone else knows it. But no one had the courage to say anything, probably because they knew that person wouldn’t take it well. They know there is a good chance of losing their friendship and they might even become an enemy. But that person desperately needs someone to give them a gift… the truth spoken kindly, which, if they receive it, will transform their situation.

God constantly experiences that kind of rejection when He deals with the human race. He always gives us the gift of truth, but we often angrily reject Him for it because it hurts our feelings: “How dare He call us sinners?!”

To many people, being nice is better than being honest. In fact, in their minds, the worst thing you can do is to hurt someone’s feelings, which means they think lying can sometimes be a good thing. But what may feel right in the moment because it’s kind or reduces tension, in the long run turns out to be very damaging to everyone involved for one simple reason: it’s not true. That person now believes something that doesn’t exist.

Truth and lies
Truth is essential for all freedom or healing. Reality doesn’t go away just because we try to ignore it. It’s only a matter of time before it pierces through that fog of deception. That’s why God doesn’t lie, ever. It’s never a tool He uses. Jesus says Satan is the “father of lies” (Jn 8:44). Think about it. No matter how well-intended we may be, lying is a way to manipulate people. We take the control of their minds away from them by deceiving them into doing what we want them to do or feeling what we want them to feel. We deliberately control their decision-making by planting a lie in their thoughts so that they will respond the way we want them to based on the false information we gave them. This is the polar-opposite of the way God deals with us. He created us with a rational mind and a free will so we could understand right from wrong and choose to do what’s right, based on truth. He made us this way so we can become good, like He is; so we can become His children.

Reasons for truth
Remember, every sane person tells the truth when there’s nothing at stake. Honesty isn’t a virtue until telling the truth costs us something. An honest person is someone who tells the truth when truth is dangerous. So, why are some people willing to pay that price and others not? Here are a few suggestions:
1) Some people fear God and know He hates lies (Pr 12:22).
2) Some people are fighting to preserve their integrity. They feel like a part of them dies when they lie. They lose their grip on reality, and that’s too high a price to pay.
3) Some people love people enough or, at least, know that God loves people enough to give others the gift of truth with the hope of setting them free or helping them heal.
4) Some people want to preserve their credibility so that when they speak about Jesus Christ people will believe them.
5) Some people were blessed with good parents who steadfastly trained them to tell the truth.
6) Some people have a sensitive conscience that grieves them when they lie. For them, lying is an awkward, miserable experience.
7) Some people are humble enough to let God prophetically speak through them. They faithfully deliver His Word regardless of the reaction they might receive.

Our gift
Truth is a gift we give to others, but it’s also a gift we give to ourselves. What’s at stake is our ability to be honest with God and ourselves. Without being willing to face the truth about ourselves we can’t repent, and if we won’t repent we can’t come to God (Jn 3:16-21). Telling the truth is a habit. It’s not something we can switch on and off at will. If we give ourselves permission to lie sometimes, it’s very difficult to tell the truth when the truth is dangerous. We automatically shift into our self-preservation mode. So the greatest gift we can give ourselves is our own integrity, the decision to be honest with God, and ourselves and others… all the time. That decision plants our feet on the solid rock of reality and let’s God show us our sin and call us to repentance, and pour out His grace on us, and grow us into sons and daughters that look like Jesus.

Festus responds
A few days later, when Festus heard Paul preach the gospel, he shouted at him, “Paul, you’re out of your mind… great learning is driving you mad!” (Ac 26:24). Festus had lied so often he’d lost the capacity to believe that anyone else would tell the truth when under pressure. As he listened to Paul testify about seeing the resurrected Jesus, he couldn’t dismiss Paul’s sincerity, so he decided he must be crazy. The only option he seemed unable to consider was that Paul was actually reporting the truth even though it might cost him his life. His shrewd political mind no longer had a category for that. And tragically, two years later he would be dead.

1) Have you ever had to tell the truth knowing that it would get you in trouble? What happened?
2) As a child were you taught to tell the truth, or avoid the truth, if it was painful? How does that effect you now?
3) Has someone ever confronted you with a truth you didn’t want to hear, but later on you loved them for it? What changed your mind? 

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