Pulpit and Bible Study Helps vol 16 number 5 tells this story: Dr. Clarence Bass, professor emeritus at Bethel Theological Seminary, early in his ministry preached in a church in Los Angeles. He thought he had done quite well as he stood at the door greeting people as they left the sanctuary. The remarks about his preaching were complimentary. That is, until a little old man commented, “You preached too long.” Dr. Bass wasn’t fazed by the remark, especially in light of the many positive comments. “You didn’t preach loud enough,” came another negative comment; it was from the same little old man. Dr. Bass thought it strange that the man had come through the line twice, but when the same man came through the line a third time and exclaimed, “You used too many big words” –this called for some explanation. Dr. Bass sought out a deacon who stood nearby and asked him, “Do you see that little old man over there? Who is he?” “Don’t pay any attention to him,” the deacon replied. “All he does is go around and repeat everything he hears.” The people were complementing the pastor there, but were not telling the truth. They were not sincere, and their remarks did not measure up to what was true of Dr. Bass’s sermon. This is a great illustration of why we need the belt of truth, as Paul tells us.
There are two main things that this passage means. The first is that there is a standard of truth that is outside of us, namely, the Word of God. I realize that Paul is going to talk about the Word later, describing it as a sword. However, that does not mean that what Paul says here about the Word is redundant. Here we learn about the power of truth. When Paul tells us about the sword, he is telling us that the Bible is our offensive weapon. Anyway, the Bible is our truth. That is the first thing. The second thing is that we must be truthful. Truth must characterize us. To get at these truths, and to show what truth does for us, we will look a little at the background of Paul’s statement here.
Paul was writing from prison in Rome at the time Ephesians was written. This means that he had a soldier guarding him at all times. Of course, such a soldier would not have been wearing all the armor of which Paul speaks here. However, he would have been wearing some of it. That probably sparked Paul into thinking about the Old Testament and its descriptions of armor, as we saw last week.
The description of armor here follows a natural order in which the armor would be put on. We learn something important from that: the belt goes on first. What did a belt do? Well, a belt kept all the clothes together. Normally, a Roman would be wearing a toga, or robe. It was a long, flowing garment that would get in the way of a solder in the middle of battle. So a belt would be used to hitch up that robe and tie it together so as to keep it out of the way. Oftentimes such a belt would also hold the sword. But in any case, the most important point about the metaphor is that the belt held everything together. Without the belt, all would be disjointed, uncoordinated, and chaotic. You had to have the belt. That had to go on first.
So it is in the Christian life. Truth is of paramount importance. It must go on first in our lives. We must know the truth about Jesus Christ. That is, we must know what the Bible says. There is no substitute for this. A bank once decided to have a seminary on how to tell true currency from counterfeit bills. What they did was have their tellers go to a place where they would handle thousands of bills, just counting and counting and counting those same bills. But by handling true bills that much, they were able to tell instantly when a bill was counterfeit. They had handled the truth so much that an error stuck out like a sore thumb. We need to be like that with the Word. We need to handle the Word of God so much that an error will be obvious to us. All of us, myself included, can definitely improve in that area. Furthermore, we are a confessional church, which means that we believe that the truths of Scripture are accurately summarized in the teachings of our church. That would mean the Heidelberg Catechism, the Belgic Confession, and the Canons of Dordt. Do you read those for yourselves? They make wonderful devotional reading. What is so important about them is that they summarize the Bible’s teachings on the most important things we need to know. Of course, these teachings are not infallible as the Bible is. However, those documents are a description of how we as Reformed people have agreed to read the Bible. This is our confession of faith.
The importance of knowing your Bible and knowing the church’s teachings can be seen in what happens when we do not know the truth. The Bible itself declares that if we do not know the truth, then we will be blown around by every wind of doctrine. The latest new fad in doctrine will have us hooked. Truth in the sense I have used it here of being the truth of the Word of God is contrasted with all forms of heresy. Heresy means false teaching. Anyone or any teaching which contradicts the Word of God is heresy. Any fancy dancy television evangelist who never tells you about sin and salvation, but instead talk about money and how much the Holy Spirit is telling him to tell you to give him money, such people will rope you in unless you are firmly grounded in the truth of Scripture. Why do churches have pastors? It is not so that the pastor does all the work of ministry. The Bible itself says that the pastor’s job is to equip the saints, which is everyone, for the work of ministry. A pastor’s job is to preach the whole counsel of God to the people so that they will know the truth themselves. My job is is to make myself unnecessary. At some point, we should all know the truth of Scripture so well that we are all firmly anchored in the Bible, and therefore safe from errors. We should all have that as one of our top priorities in life: that we should know the truth so well that any error will immediately be obvious to us, because we have handled the truth so much. The truth will have mastered us. And the truth will have set us free from man’s errors, and confirmed us into all truth.
Jesus is the best example of this. When Satan came to tempt Him, Satan misquoted from the Bible, trying to convince Jesus that He should short-circuit the cross, and avoid being a mediator for His people. Jesus opposed Satan’s errors in interpreting the Word of God. The way He did that was to put forward God’s truth. It is not enough merely to quote the Bible. Satan did that with far more skill than modern heretics do! What Jesus does is give the true interpretation that allows Scripture to interpret itself. Jesus knew that the Bible does not contradict itself. Satan was quoting one part of Scripture in such a way that another part of Scripture was denied. Jesus fixed that problem by opposing error with truth. The error of Satan was not in the words that he quoted, but in the way in which he made use of them, the way he twisted Scripture’s meaning. Jesus opposed this error with truth.
Oh, how little most Christians today desire this truth! Most Christians today want entertainment rather than truth, comfort rather than the hard work of obtaining that truth, a standard of living that makes us look good rather than the love of God’s truth. May that not be true of us, though I fear that many of us have these wrong priorities. Without the truth, our lives will be confused when it comes to battle. The long robes of wealth, social standing, ego and vanity will trip us up when we try to fight against the evil powers. The evil powers want us to have those nice long robes. But they do not want us to have that belt of truth that restrains those things, and keeps them in check, keeps them from becoming idols in our lives. Make that belt strong, wide and deep! Then it will be able to regulate our lives so that we can be nimble and agile in the fight against Satan and his army.
So, the first aspect of this truth that is so necessary is that we believe in the truth of the Word of God so that we are safe from errors. The second truth that we learn from this belt of truth is that our lives are to be characterized by the truth. This means that we are truthful, and not hypocrites. We are not to be like those people who said one thing to the pastor, but something entirely different to the little old man. This aspect of the truth is that which we experience in our personal relationships. Of course, the truth of God’s Word helps us here, too. I am merely distinguishing here between objective truth and subjective truth. Or, in other words, the truth that is outside of us, and the truth that is inside of us. Now, by “truth that is inside us” I do not mean some kind of inner light that glows all by itself. What I mean is the Holy Spirit working with the Word of God inside us. The Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth, Jesus tells us in the Gospel of John. The Word is on the outside, and the Holy Spirit makes that same Word live in us, ruling and directing our lives. Of course, that truth will have many positive effects in our lives. We will love God and our neighbor. We will tell the truth. We will visit the poor and the widow and the orphan. We will struggle against Satan and his temptations. But here in Paul, the main point is that we will be truth-tellers. Just as God’s Word is truth, so also are we truthful when that Word of God dwells in us. As Colossians 3:16 tells us: “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” We will not be hypocrites. However, it is human nature to be hypocrites. As Mark Twain said, “We are all like the moon. We have a dark side that we don’t want anyone to see.” The moon, you see, is always turned with its face toward the earth. The moon turns just as the earth turns. This happens in such a way that we only see the same face of the moon toward us. However, we as Christians are not to be like the moon. Only truth indwelling us will cause us to cease to be hypocrites. Only God’s grace in changing us to be like the true Word, Jesus Christ, will change us. So, ultimately speaking, when Paul tells us to put on the belt of truth, what he is really saying is that we should believe the truth about Jesus Christ, and that Christ’s person and work is for us. Secondly, we should live that out in our lives in such a way that we become more like Jesus. These outward and inward truths are connected in such a way that we cannot have the one without the other. So, believe the truth, and do the truth! Put on that belt of truth!