I’ve got several big teaching and speaking assignments coming up next month and I’m busy preparing. It’s the work I love the most, but it’s still a lot of work. This week in my mussar practice (www.rivertonmussar.org), we’re learning about truth, and the maxim for the week isn’t making my work any easier: “Do not allow anything to pass your lips that you are not certain is completely true.” If we have to watch out for what passes our lips in general, how much more watchful do we have to be when we’re handling the Word of God? That’s probably why Ya’akov instructs us, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, since you know that we will be judged more severely” (James 3:1 CJB).
For teachers, the charge to limit ourselves to what is “completely true” should make us tremble.
Preparing a message that fits that description takes work in three dimensions. For our words to be true in the truest sense, to come across in 3D, they have to reflect all three, so I’m asking myself:
- Are my words true to the words of Scripture?
It takes effort and discipline to accurately interpret the text. If I’m going to be true to Scripture I can’t read it with my message or my opinions already set and just use its words to prove or illustrate what I already had in mind. I have to enter the thought-world of Scripture and let its words shape my understanding.
- Are my words true to the perspective of Scripture on life here and now?
Interpretation requires hard work with the text, but it’s not a matter of just analyzing the text, understanding its setting and original message, and stopping there. The second dimension of truth is bearing the ancient message into the realities of life here and now. Biblical truth is never just theoretical, but always works out on the ground.
- Are my words true to the way I actually live?
But even if my message accurately captures the original message and makes it up-to-date and relevant, I have to ask if I believe it enough to be doing it myself. If I preach something I don’t do, it’s not completely true. I shouldn’t allow it to “pass my lips” until I’ve taken it to heart for myself.
When I take this kind of responsibility for my message it has a chance to pop off the bema in 3-D, surround the listeners with its reality, and draw them in.
I’ve applied these three dimensions to those who teach scripture, but God tells all Israel, “Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise up” (Deut. 6:6–7). And Yeshua assigns every one of his followers to be a witness and bear his word. So the challenge of portraying truth in 3-D applies to us all.