When I was a young kid in elementary school, we played the ‘telephone game’ in class. One person would pick a word or phrase, and “pass it on” by whispering it to their neighbor’s ear and this would repeat until it reached the last player in the line. The fun part of the game was seeing how the word or phrase would change from the originator to the last player in the line. Sometimes the original word “peas” became “bees”, which would become “sees”. This game tested each players ability to listen to the word or phrase spoken in their ear and how accurately we spoke it to the person next to them. The important lesson from this game is that it illustrates how messages gets distorted from the original source as it is relayed from one person to another. Broadly, the meaning of words do shift due to cultural changes. For example, when I was younger, the word ‘dope’ meant you were ‘stupid’, but today, the word now means ‘cool’. I’m only 35 years old, but this shows how words can change swiftly generationally.
Now I’m not here to go in-depth into the science of speech and interpretation, but to illustrate a larger important point: expressing caution that the Word of God can be distorted by our own human biases and this is what Satan wants. I will caution the reader, before you venture further, I would be remiss to not warn you that I may unintentionally offend some, but this is not the intent of the article, but rather to raise awareness that what we believe Biblically could be followed inaccurately.
In both non-denominational and denominational churches, pastors and priests alike, pass the Word of God through their preaching. It’s important to understand that they are human, just like us, who are susceptible to the same temptation of sin. Moreover, they have their own unconscious biases and predispositions, which are shaped by their own life experiences, and it’s important to be aware of this because this could influence how they interpret the Word of God and what they choose to preach to us every Sunday. Similarly, our own unconscious biases shape our belief systems as well, and in turn influence which church we choose to attend and what preachers we want to listen to. Having an inaccurate understanding of the Word of God can impact our salvation and eternal life.
Our biases can create echo chambers that could reinforce our own worldview, if we are not consciously aware of it. In fact, our own cognitive biases shape which political parties we associate with or even hate (and political consultants know this). We can see the effects of this in what the political parties are doing today to our society. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past decade, the current state of our politics in the United States are contentious, divisive, and dysfunctional; to say the least. As Americans we no longer read or watch the same news outlets, let alone have a common understanding of what the Bible says. In our churches, for example, this can be seen in what the congregant and preachers believe the Bible says about same sex marriage. The camps divide into either supportive, unsupportive, indecisive, or indifferent, when it comes to this one issue. Not everyone can be right. Only God’s Word can be correct. It seems when it comes to the biblically truth, we are contorting scripture to fit ‘our truth’ and our worldview.
In psychology, this distortion of information is called confirmation bias. It is defined as the “tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms one’s own preconceptions, leading to statistical errors.” In layman’s terms, we as humans, knowingly or unknowingly, cherry-picking (or selectively choosing) information that affirms (or reinforces) our own existing beliefs or ideas. We not only do this in what political candidate we end up voting for, but we do this when it comes to the Bible. Many of us will selectively choose parts of the Bible or seek out pastors who preach messages that reinforces our own sinful desires to help us find comfort in our sin. The Bible cautions us against appeasing our ‘itchy’ ear. In 2 Timothy 4:3-4 (NIV), the Apostle Paul writes to his protege Timothy, while in prison waiting to executed:
“For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths”.
Paul realized that Satan would relentlessly attack the Word of God and consequently our salvation. He charged Timothy and every other pastor after him to be faithful in preaching the Word, no matter the hostility or difficulty they may face. He clearly wanted pastors to preach the truth of the Gospel. “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke, and encourage, with great patience and careful instruction” (4:2). In the beginning of this chapter, Paul wrote emphatically, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge” (4:1). He was making a firm statement in how imperative it is for pastors to preach the truth of God’s Word. I could picture the Apostle Paul making firm movements with his non-writing hand, while writing this epistles chapter, in his dark, cold prison cell.
The key nuggets found within this epistles chapter, Paul clearly shows how preaching the Word goes both ways. The pastors preach and the people hear (it’s a give/receive relationship). In verses 1-2, Paul explains the importance for pastors to preach the truth of God’s Word to their congregation, no matter the resistance they may encounter. There are many churches who will avoid preaching on touchy topics (for example: same sex marriage, premarital sex, divorce, pornography etc.) to prevent people from leaving their church, or get caught up in measuring their success based on tithing amounts. If preaching the truth leads to parishioners walking out or stop tithing, so be it.
Preaching the truth of God’s Word is much more important. Paul clearly wants our pastors to preach the word, meaning God’s truth. But more importantly, in verses 3-4, Paul shows why it is equally as crucial for the people who sit in the pews, to hear the truth from their pastor (even if it’s difficult to hear the truth). He pointed out that we need to resist the temptation of our own sinful desires, to seek out teachers who would appease and make us feel comfortable, in our sinful ways. As the body of Christ, who sit in the pews listening to the Word of God, we need to hear the truth; even if it makes us uncomfortable. We must remember we are all sinners saved by grace, and the truth may be painful and sobering at times, but it is important to hear, and internalize it. But here is the Good News. We have a savior and His name is Jesus Christ, the son of God who died for our sins, so that those who believe in him shall not perish but have eternal life. God loves us that much!
We should all be vigilant when it comes to God’s Word; both preachers and the congregant. God’s Word is the truth, and we are not entitled to our own biblical truth, despite what secular culture may believe. We are not of this world, but of another. I hope this encourages men to study God’s Word more attentively, and to be watchful and aware, that Satan will attack God’s Word and to be careful of who we are listening to on Sunday.
Christian, Husband, Political junkie, Braves fan, Marvel Nerd, craft beer aficionado, and a sinner saved by grace. He has a passion for helping Christian men grow in their faith. He is the founder and editor of Joshua’s Outpost.