But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. (Titus 3:9)
I recently listened to a powerful sermon based on the calling of God in our lives, using the call of Gideon as an example. It was moving, challenging and thought-provoking – until the preacher glibly threw in a claim that simply didn’t ‘feel right.’ In all honesty, I have to say that I believe Him to be a man of God, a strong believer and driven by a genuine passion for the Word, so this isn’t about questioning his integrity. All of us make errors, so I don’t judge him from one error out of the many sermons I have heard him preach. It’s about the need for each one of us to weigh the words we hear to determine, through the Word and the Spirit, what is truth and what is not.
The erroneous statement was that the Bible contains 365 verses that tell us to ‘fear not.’ As I wasn’t comfortable with it, I set out to investigate. I first did a search using my Bible study software on all of the different versions – and there are many – included in the application. I tried different search terms any number of ways, and not once did I come even close. If I included a combination of similar terms like ‘do not worry’ or ‘do not be anxious,’ I still couldn’t reach that exact number.
In the larger scheme of things, such a claim hardly seems worth the effort – after all, it’s a wonderful thought that maybe God did provide a verse for every single day of the year – but I felt there was a lesson to be learned and so I continued. I was astonished to find the proliferation of images, etc. on the internet all boldly proclaiming this ‘truth.’ I was even more astonished to discover a significant number of discussions surrounding this claim, and the divergent opinion’s, investigations and interpretations that accompanied it.
What emerged was that there are countless people out there who believe it because they have never tested the validity of it. Yes, it’s a ‘harmless’ untruth, but if we so easily believe something that is so easily proved or disproved through ten minutes of effort, how many other not so harmless untruths do we accept and base our faith on because we haven’t weighed them for ourselves? Just because we have an excellent preacher, or because someone may have a well-known, otherwise solid reputation in the ministry, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t check and recheck every single thing we hear.
I learned a few valuable lesson through this. How much time is spent on fruitless discussion is one. Another is that seemingly harmless untruths can start to misdirect us and lead us off course. Yet another is that it’s critical that we know the Word through our own personal study, not a reliance on what we are taught by others. I learned, too, how important it is to constantly check ourselves – even the very elect can be deceived, so the Bible tells us, so how much more those of us ‘ordinary’ believers? The Bible warns us not to add or remove anything from the Word of God, and this includes unfounded claims.
But perhaps the starkest truth emerged from the sheer overwhelming number of people who obviously believe this single error. It seems clear that they all want to believe it, that somehow we need for God to tell us every single day not to fear. I found myself wondering about the condition of our faith and trust in Him, and about our relationship with Him, if we need Him to remind us daily that we do not have to fear because He is with us – in us is more to the point.
Yet, given that He does actually say this a significant number of times in His Word, it’s clear that God recognises our true nature far better than we do ourselves and has sufficient grace to accommodate our constant need for reassurance. That is grace, but we should never discount those other verses, like today’s wonderful example, that remind us that spiritual maturity is not believing something simply because it makes us feel good. We should strive to study all the Word. All the time we spend discussing and spreading the harmless untruths could be better spent in getting to know our God so intimately that we never need reminding that we do not fear.
We are all human, and will all have moments where life and circumstances seem to overwhelm us. Only a deep and intimate relationship with Him, and a solid faith grounded in a true knowledge of His Word through which we come to know and understand Him, will bring us through. Warm and fuzzy sentiments cannot do that, no matter how ‘spiritual’ or ‘scriptural’ they sound. We cannot afford to take things at face value, listening to the words of men. While today it may be a harmless error, tomorrow it may be something that starts us on the road to perdition.
It really doesn’t matter how many times He may say something in His Word. In fact, if we’re honest with ourselves, the more times He has to repeat something means the more times we haven’t truly heard or believed it. When the storm is raging in our lives, and the night is dark and danger loud, having 365 verses wouldn’t aid us if we didn’t truly believe them. It’s not the quantity that matters. It’s that we believe it. And if we know our God intimately, just one single verse would be enough for us to believe and trust Him implicitly.
Father, forgive us for the times we have been distracted by fruitless discussion or debate, where we have been led into believing things through our own complacency rather than because we have judged them according to Your Word. Help us to keep our eyes on You, strengthen our faith in You, and draw us into a deeper, abiding relationship with You so that we will know what is truth and what is not.