The whole idea that Christians can categorically say what is right and what is wrong is quite unpopular. Whether the debate is abortion, gay marriage, divorce, or whatever moral issue, people will often say, “Don’t you impose your beliefs on me.” I remember a friend in high school telling me that he didn’t need a blankety-blank-blank preacher telling him what to do when he found out where I was going to college.
That idea, sadly, even exists among Christians. Research has shown that many Christians are reluctant to evangelize because they don’t want to impose their beliefs on others. But, should we “impose our beliefs on others?” I don’t mean that we make people do right—People, as designed by God, are free to do their own thing; we dare not force anyone to do anything. But, can we speak authoritatively? Can we say, “Here is what is right and what is wrong?”
Jesus Spoke Authoritatively
Jesus often told others what was right. Throughout the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke with authority—e.g., “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22). At the conclusion of that Sermon, the people understood the authority with which Jesus spoke (Matthew 7:28-29).
When Jesus spoke to the scribes and Pharisees, He spoke rather authoritatively: e.g., “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in” (Matthew 23:13).
In the Great Commission, Jesus spoke with authority: Matthew 28:18-20.
Obviously, we cannot speak with the same authority Jesus spoke. He, after all, is the Son of God, and He had the authority to command what is right and wrong; obviously, you and I have no such authority. However, if we speak the words of Jesus, should we not do so authoritatively? Those words, because they come from the Son of God, have great authority, and should we not teach them with authority?
In addition to speaking authoritatively, Jesus viewed truth quite narrowly. It is quite unpopular today to view truth as narrow. The politically correct thing to do is to be quite inclusive and not exclude anyone. A Catholic priest recently said, “When we get to heaven, there’s not going to be a Catholic heaven, a Jewish heaven, or a Muslim heaven. It’s just going to be heaven.” He was being quite inclusive.
Jesus Christ, however, was not nearly that inclusive. “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matthew 7:13-14). “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). William Penn, the founder of Pennsylvania, said, “Right is right, even if everyone is against it, and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.” How true!
Jesus also claimed to be the judge of men. “The one who rejects me and does not receive my words has a judge; the word that I have spoken will judge him on the last day” (John 12:48). Obviously, we cannot judge in any way like Jesus can. But, if the words of Jesus will judge at the last day, should we not speak those words authoritatively so that individuals might stand before God prepared?
Peter Spoke Authoritatively
At Pentecost, Peter spoke quite authoritatively. The apostle accused the Jews gathered there of having crucified the Messiah. “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). “Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified” (Acts 2:36).
Before the Sanhedrin, Peter spoke with great boldness. When the Sanhedrin called Peter in to account for the healing of the crippled man, Peter said, “Let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” (Acts 4:10). When Peter and John were told not to preach any more in the name of Christ, they responded to the Sanhedrin, “Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20).
Peter spoke with great boldness when Ananias and Sapphira lied to him. To Ananias, Peter said, “Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God” (Acts 5:4). To Sapphira, Peter said, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out” (Acts 5:9).
Paul Spoke Authoritatively
When Paul was at the Areopagus, he spoke with authority. “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything” (Acts 17:24-25). Remember, the context in which Paul said this: Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus, looking at a whole host of idols and idolatrous temples, and he said, “The real God isn’t like these.”
Paul dealt with sin with great authority. Notice what the apostle said concerning the man living with his step-mother: “For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing. When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” (1 Corinthians 5:3-5). Recall also what Paul did with Peter: “When Peter had come to Antioch, I withstood him to his face, because he was to be blamed” (Galatians 2:11).
What Implications Can We Draw?
We must speak the truth.
Jesus, Peter, and Paul did not just speak authoritatively; they spoke truth authoritatively. We need to make sure that we speak the truth. We’re exhorted in Scripture to speak what is true. “As for you, speak the things which are proper for sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). “Putting away lying, ‘Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor,’ for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25). I know Paul is speaking of telling the truth as opposed to telling a lie, but the principle works well: Get rid of what is false and speak what is true.
Diogenes made himself most unwelcome in Athens by trudging about barefoot without wearing a proper outer robe. He was best-known for carrying a lantern during daylight hours, thrusting the lantern in the face of people, and saying, “I am looking for an honest man.” It is said that he never found that honest man. Let us be those honest men! Not just men who tell no falsehood, but let us actively tell the truth of Jesus!
We must not be timid about speaking the truth.
Far too often, people are afraid to share their faith with others because they don’t know how the other person will react. Jesus, Peter, and Paul all met death because they were willing to speak the truth; if they endured death, surely we can endure a few hostile words.
The early church prayed that they might proclaim God’s Word with boldness. “Now, Lord, look on their threats, and grant to Your servants that with all boldness they may speak Your word” (Acts 4:29). Notice the response they received: “When they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31). Isn’t it time that we pray for boldness to proclaim the truth of God?
We must always speak the truth in love.
“Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
We cannot impose our opinions on others.
Jesus, Peter, and Paul spoke what was true. Notice what Jesus said in the Sermon on the Mount: “I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” (Matthew 5:22). Jesus didn’t stand there and say, “Here’s what I think,” rather He said, “Here’s what the Son of God says.”
We’re going to have a multitude of opinions. There is nothing wrong with having opinions—from what I know about Peter and Paul, I would imagine that they were quite opinionated. The problem is when I begin to say, “Here’s the way you have to do it, because this is what I think.”
Scripture instructs us not to bind our opinions on others (Romans 14:1-3). Let us speak the truth, but not our opinions!
Let us always hold forth the truth of God!