History makes a mockery of Thomas the Apostle, yet he was a man who had no pretensions. Spiritual honesty is a far more accurate assessment of a man so committed to Jesus that he desired only the truth and to understand it fully. His doubts may have earned him a reprimand, but his teachable spirit brought Him to revelation and worship.
Thomas said to Him, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, and how can we know the way?” (John 14:5)
I was intrigued by a chance encounter with an article on Thomas the disciple – more familiarly known as ‘doubting Thomas,’ even to non-believers. I confess, I was a little humbled by what I realised was a somewhat prejudiced disregard for this Apostle. In all honesty, it no doubt happens because men like Peter and John were larger than life and filled centre stage. Thomas, on the other hand, seems to only stir up impatience at what, at face value, seems to be lack of faith. I was spurred on to do a little digging and found my opinion of the man changing rapidly. It made me reread those verses that include him with a more open mind, and I discovered a simple truth. Whatever else he may have been, Thomas was a man not afraid of spiritual honesty. Even his doubts didn’t pretend to be anything else.
Spiritual honesty and man.
I think history has been unkind to Thomas. He may have vocalised his doubts about the validity of Christ’s resurrection, but we should stop to consider that the other disciples had seen Jesus. Up until that point they, like Thomas, had cowered indoors, afraid of both Roman and Jewish authorities. None of them had fully understood Jesus’ references to His death and resurrection. They were both devastated and terrified for their lives. To suddenly jump to the idea of resurrection from being very dead was an enormous leap of faith without actually seeing it. It’s equally possible that Peter and the others might have had the same reaction. Thomas’ response reflects spiritual honesty with God and man. He didn’t pretend faith where there wasn’t any. He told it like it was and might well have expressed the same doubts many others shared but were afraid to speak.
His response when He encounters Jesus is as telling. Thomas is the only one, firstly, who saw and acknowledged Jesus as God. Secondly, his spiritual honesty manifests in worship. It’s true that Jesus chides him for his lack of faith, but He also meets him where He is and restores him. Honesty touches the heart of God. He’s concerned about our lack of faith, yes, but He’s more concerned that we are open and honest about it. Unless we are, He cannot help us. The absolute truth inherent in this kind of encounter always has two results. The first is revelation – we receive truth and understanding from God beyond our expectations. The second is worship. When we encounter Him with all pretence and excuses stripped away, He reveals Himself and worship simply follows. Barriers that could hinder our intimacy are removed and we see Him as God.
Spiritual honesty enables commitment.
The one thing about this kind of attitude is that it gets to the heart of things. Spiritual honesty is preceded by honesty with self. Thomas was what he was. Some might call him a pessimist, but his commitment wasn’t clouded by rose-coloured spectacles. In John 11, the disciples try to convince Jesus not to return to Jerusalem. Thomas, however, says, Let us also go, that we may die with him (John 11:16). Peter said similar words but was quick to deny Jesus when push came to shove. What is important though, is that Thomas’ honesty before God enabled him to commit despite the possible outcome. While the other disciples were looking for an out, Thomas committed himself to follow whatever the path. He might have sounded gloomy, but at least he had weighed the options and chosen Christ despite the possible cost.
The thing about spiritual honesty is that it doesn’t leave room for wishy-washy participation. It’s a kind of all or nothing ‘in’ – which does go a long way to explain his doubts. When someone commits on this level, they do so with both eyes open. They don’t want to believe based on rumour but on fact. That Jesus expected His disciples to have faith for the resurrection remains. While Thomas’ faith might have wavered, his commitment to Christ did not. His very honesty is evidence of it, as was his worship response. Thomas was in for the long haul needed to know that he wasn’t deceived. Perhaps those among us who chase after new ‘fad’ gospels and teachings could learn a little from this down-to-earth disciple. We may perceive him to be full of doom and gloom and doubt, but beneath that was a real commitment to absolute truth.
Spiritual honesty makes us teachable.
Today’s verse finds Thomas voicing questions that may well have been a source of confusion for all the disciples. Keep in mind, he had none of the facts that we have now. The Gospels didn’t exist and the cross and resurrection were still in the future. Jesus is sharing deep things, and Thomas isn’t afraid of spiritual honesty. He admits that he’s confused. He’s not afraid to ask questions. They may come across ‘wrong’ to some of us, but the search for truth is what defines him. He isn’t afraid to say he has no clue what Jesus is talking about. Thomas has a teachable heart. He doesn’t nod sagely and pretend wisdom and understanding but calls it like it is – likely to the relief of many others present. He asks because he wants to understand and learn because he’s committed to his walk with Jesus.
A teachable spirit is one which honours God. It’s a spirit of yieldedness and surrender. If we desire to learn from God, we need to learn spiritual honesty. Our pretensions and excuses get in the way of what He wants to reveal to us. History, if we take time to look, shows us that Thomas travelled further than any of the other Apostles. He was martyred in India where he’d founded a church and upset the local Hindi religious leaders. What this shows is that Thomas learned. His commitment and honesty before God meant that He was empowered and taught by God and given the boldness to go far afield, alone, to fulfil his calling. Had he not had the courage to ask, he might never have had the courage to go. A teachable spirit is one God can use because it’s entirely honest.
Finding spiritual honesty.
This can be difficult because we’re trained up to wear our ‘outside’ face and to mask our ignorance and insecurities. Spiritual honesty takes courage because we have to be willing to look at ourselves first. We must also be willing to acknowledge our weaknesses to others. What’s encouraging, though, is the assurance that God already knows. We cannot shock Him or even surprise Him. He’s already waiting for us to put it all out there. Others may look down on us or misinterpret what we ask or say. The truth is, that’s irrelevant. Unless we ask, like Thomas, we’ll never learn. If we never learn, we cannot live a commitment to His purposes. Most of all, honesty draws us into a deeper relationship of faith and worship, removing all the barriers that self and its pretensions raise up against the knowledge of God and His truth.
Thank You, Lord, for all the lessons so freely available in Your Word. Thank You for revealing truth in a real way through people like Thomas. Help us to be more like Him, to not be afraid to admit our lack and to have the courage to ask when we don’t understand. Help us to be teachable, to walk in deeper commitment to You, and to worship in the kind of honesty You desire.