The right place for the truth. Mk4v21. He said to them, "Do you bring in a lamp to put it under a bowl or a bed?"

The Authorised Version puts it:"Is a lamp bought to be put under a bushel?" . This has given rise to the popular expression: 'Dont hide your light under a bushel', which means: make the most of your talents and abilities; do yourself justice; publicise your achievements. Unfortunately this is not the meaning Jesus intended.

Jesus usually refers to light when he is speaking about truth. The man who has the truth walks in the light but those remaining in ignorance walk in darkness. See John12v35to36. So the lamp represents the truth as Jesus taught it. A man who buys a lamp and brings it into his home is not indifferent to the truth. Jesus has just finished explaining the meaning of the Parable of the Sower to his disciples. They were serious listeners and eager to know the truth. However that is not enough. The lamp is bought to be put on a lamp stand - the appropriate place for it. So Christ's truth calls for an appropriate response; it must be practised. In Matthew's gospel Jesus says, "Let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your father in heaven." Mt5v16.

One of the simplest classifications of truth is into that which needs, and that which doesn't need, to be practised. It is interesting to read the truth about Inuit culture, spider's webs, or Oliver Cromwell. It is also comfortable because the truth doesn't have to be practiced. This kind of truth makes no demands. The textbook that I borrowed from school entitled, 'Learning to Type', does make demands. It teaches a kind of truth, namely the best way to type. It is possible to read the book out of interest. You might be interested in how people learn to touch type. Nevertheless the book cries out to be practised. The same is true of my cookery and gardening books; that is the prime purpose for which they were written. It is possible to study many cookery books and to know an enormous amount about the subject without necessarily being able to cook anything. The woman with a few favourite recipes who prepares them regularly might be a very fine cook.

Now it is possible to study the Gospels and Christ's teaching out of interest. It is a fascinating pursuit. The professionals, both scholar and cleric, find it intellectually stimulating. Many books and sermons about Jesus and his truth are mentally satisfying. It was not Jesus' main purpose to interest or entertain or even provide jobs for Theologians. He came to teach men how best to please God. Surely it is not sensible to know all there is to know about pleasing God and yet not actually please Him at all.

I avidly read Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones' book on the, 'Sermon on the Mount'. It was exciting to discover what Jesus meant by going the other mile, turning the other cheek and letting the man who sues you for your coat have your cloak as well. The light shone. My intellect was enlightened. I rejoiced at the expertise of Dr Lloyd-Jones and the ruthless daring of the teacher from Nazareth. I delighted in the truth. I well and truly bought it. But have I put the lamp on the lampstand? Have I been a doer of the word?

I have had plenty of opportunity to practise turning the other cheek. There used to be an advertisement for fizzy drink, called Tango, on Commercial TV. It involved the question: "Have you been tangoed?" - followed by someone getting slapped on the cheek. It was soon withdrawn for reasons that will soon be obvious. I was walking to my classroom at the end of morning break when approached by Peter Goodrum. He was a boy of almost angelic appearance. Appearances can be very deceptive. He had blond hair, blue eyes and seraphic smile. He did not so much smile at me as I crossed the covered way as grin. His blue eyes gleamed as he muttered out of the corner of his almost closed mouth, "Have you been tangoed, Mr Reed?" Slap! SLAP!! I hit him back so hard. He had to pay for his insolence. Where was Christ's teaching? Where was his truth appropriate to the occasion? The lamp was under a bucket.

The man who puts the lamp under a bucket doesn't do so by accident. It is intended. The light is inconvenient for some reason. A thief might drop a bucket over a lamp if he is disturbed and wants to escape in the darkness. So it is with Christians; they deliberately hide Christ's truth, pushing it to the back of their minds and never let it impinge upon their wills. This is very true with regard to the Christian's attitude to worldly wealth. Jesus says to us, "Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is there your heart will be also." Mt7v19to21. Many Christians do not take this teaching at all seriously. They do not practice it. Paul stressed that if we have enough money to buy food and clothes we should be content. 1Tim6v8. Does this satisfy us? It is clear from the New Testament that we should adopt a modest life style. Some reader might ask, "What is a modest lifestyle?" This is an easy question to answer. In Britain nearly all Christian ministers, from priests to pastors, have a modest life style. God's people ensure it! I know most about Grace Baptist pastors, a particularly impoverished breed. Not many of them can afford to buy a new car or holiday abroad year after year. So why don't Christians live like their pastors and give their surplus money away. Our lamp gets stuck under a bucket. Even mine spends some time under the bed.

What is better - to be an expert on cookery or a good cook; to have an encyclopaedic knowledge of gardening or to make a good garden; to be an expert in Christian ethics or to be a great saint? One of the great dangers of putting the lamp under a bucket is that it eventually goes out. There is always the likelihood of losing theoretical knowledge. I have forgotten far more of my University course than I can remember. On the other hand Knowledge that is practised is rarely lost. Once you have learned to cook an omelette or make pastry it is hard to lose the knack. If we learn generosity, forgiveness, self-control and humility by practising these virtues the lamp will be on the lamp stand when we most need the light. If our lamp has been hidden under the bed the light may have gone out when we require it most. Christian preachers, teachers and writers must not be content with merely proclaiming the truth they must, they must, urge their hearers and readers to practise it. It is better to know a little truth and do that than to possess all knowledge without application. For as Jesus says, "Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them." John13v17.

Disregarding the challenge of the truth. Mk4v22 For what ever is hidden is meant to be disclosed, and whatever is concealed is meant to be brought out into the open.

My young friend Dave was sitting in the staff room quietly marking some exercise books. As I walked past I patted him on the head. His hair was stiff and lacquered. I cried out mischievously, some might say insensitively, "Dave, I've discovered your guilty secret." I did not proceed any further because if looks could kill Dave's look would certainly have killed me. Next day, early in the morning, he took me on one side and accused me of being malicious. As it happened his hair wasn't lacquered as I suspected. It wasn't his hair at all. Dave was wearing a wig to cover up a rather unsightly birthmark. Some would say, "Ah well! Nothing is hidden which shall not be made manifest," - quoting from the Authorised Version.

I am sure that this is not the meaning that Jesus intended. He did not mean that in the end every secret will be revealed; every deception exposed. This is not consistent with what the passage in Mark is teaching. Nor is it realistic. Many, many, things are hidden that are never revealed. Rather it is Dave's strategy of covering up his birthmark that Jesus is referring to.

According to the Pulpit Commentary edited by the Rev. H.D.M. Spence the true rendering of v22 is there is nothing hid save that it should be manifest. In other words, you only hide up what you do not want to be seen or you keep secret what you don't want to be known. Jesus is elaborating on the policy of buying a lamp and putting it under a bucket. This is a deliberate act to stop the light from being seen. Jesus is stressing the degree of intent involved in knowing the truth and deciding not to act upon it. Just as Dave deliberately wore a wig to hide his unsightly baldness so we must wilfully suppress Christ's teaching in order not to practise it. William Law said, "Most men are not good because they do not intend to be."

Mr Tommy Bamber, when he was an esteemed Head of Year at the County Upper School, used up a few minutes at the end of assembly to inveigh against the squalid practice of dropping litter. The majority of the pupils didn't listen. They realised old uncle Tommy was trying to get them to change their life style and so they switched off. His words didn't register. The seed fell by the wayside. A few of the more responsible children bought the truth. They agreed with their Head of Year's sentiments that to drop litter was antisocial and turned the school into a tip. One member of this group finished eating a Mars bar at break. He had a wrapper to dispose of. He agreed with what uncle Tommy said but the rubbish bin was several yards off. He was surrounded by discarded Mars bar wrappers. The truth begged to be practised. The boy knew he should walk to the bin and dispose of his rubbish. Instead he hid the truth. He either expelled it from his consciousness or he buried it under a layer of excuses - the rubbish bin was nearly full, there was litter everywhere - another bit won't make much difference. So the wrapper was chucked to join the rest. The seed fell on stony ground.

Christians hide the truth in the same sort of way - either by thrusting it to the back of their minds or by smothering it with excuses. Of these two strategies I think the second is the more dangerous as it involves a certain amount of self-justification. I will look at some examples of both methods.

I used to preach in a church in which two sisters worshipped who had not spoken to each other for over twenty years. They were enthusiastic Christians who had hidden with a fair measure of determination Jesus' teaching about forgiveness. If they had let their light shine then both would have been reconciled. As it was neither wanted to take the first step, swallow their pride and confess to a wrong, or admit blame. The truth that demanded action was deliberately suppressed and effectively hidden.

The apostle Peter was taught in a vision that it was quite permissible to eat with Gentiles.See Acts10. It is evident from Gal2v11to13 that Peter hid this truth. He refused to eat with Gentiles in Antioch after the arrival of legalistic Christians from Jerusalem who believed in circumcising converts. Paul had to oppose him to his face. I am afraid that there remain in the church those who hide away Christ's teaching on the little ones of the faith. Jesus said, "If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to be thrown into the sea with a large millstone tied around his neck." Mk9v42. Every denomination has its, 'Militant Tendency', consisting of the super-orthodox who exercise an influence out of all proportion to their numbers. Sadly there are still those like Peter who want to keep in with the Pharisaic element. To do so they may act in an unbrotherly way towards those who are not denominationally minded - the little ones who have not fully grasped the importance of the historic doctrines that make for distinctiveness - and divisiveness. I believe those who are very particular about whom they invite to the Lord's Supper hide Christ's light under a bucket.

I think that there is some hope for Christians who have put aside Jesus' teaching without any self-justification. It is wilfully disobedient but at least their is no hypocrisy in it. The two estranged sisters were, thank God, reconciled through the good offices of their pastor. Peter accepted and acted on Paul's rebuke. In both cases the bucket was, as it were, overturned and the light poured forth.

It is riskier to heap up a pile of excuses over the truth. Christians are, by and large, very hostile to abortion on the grounds that it is wrong to kill life just because it is inconvenient. Not all those Christians take such a serious view of the commandment: Honour your father and mother. Ex20v12. The penalty for breaking this was precisely the same under the old dispensation as for committing murder. Christians will make all sorts of excuses for not taking parents incapable of looking after themselves into their own home. "We just haven't got the room," or, "We have to think of the children", they say. Compared to Indian Hindus, Chinese Communists or even Japanese Buddhists Western Christians have plenty of room. The words of Paul ring out today, If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever. ITim5v8. But excuse is piled upon excuse: my wife and her mother can't get on; father would be better off receiving professional attention(as if!); it's the State's responsibility - that's what we pay our taxes for. Jesus condemned the Pharisees who refused to help their parents asserting that their time and money were dedicated to God (Corban - see Mk7v9to13. ) Jesus said to them, "You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions.v9. We do precisely the same thing when we shuffle off our obligations to our parents. Let us be honest; we refuse to care for a parental invalid because it is hard work; it restricts our freedom; it may involve financial sacrifice; we do not love him or her enough.

It is very difficult for someone who has gone to a lot of trouble to cover the truth with excuses to find it again and act upon it. It is also hard for anyone to assist them. They have justified their actions so convincingly to them selves that advice or criticism is bitterly resented. Indeed the meddler can be opposed with implacable hatred. Christians get very wound up over their responsibilities to parents especially when they have not been able to bury their guilt as deeply as they have buried the truth.

There are items in my house hidden away in cupboards - almost but not quite forgotten. I could find the articles if I searched for them and brought them out into the light of day. There may be truths tucked away in the recesses of our minds or buried under a great pile of excuses that need to be dragged into the open and at long last acted upon. It is surprising how beneficial this will be. No Christian ultimately loses by placing the lamp upon the lampstand. He or she are the good soil upon which the seed falls that brings forth thirty, sixty or even an hundredfold.

A calculating attitude to the truth.Mk4v24 "Consider carefully what you hear. With what measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more."

The AV puts it, "Take heed what you hear." I think that little word, 'heed', means more than, 'consider carefully'. I used to offer my A level Geography students plenty of advice on how to do well in their examinations. They listened dutifully but by no means all of them heeded what they were told. My pupils did not all act on the advice given. Someone who heeds advice acts upon it. So Jesus is once again emphasising the necessity of practising the truth before going on to deal with a common response to rules of conduct. We are prone to adopt a calculating attitude to Christ's teaching. We bring our measuring sticks to the truth. We approach it in a negotiating frame of mind - in the spirit of compromise.

Christ's clientele pick and chose from the New Testament selection of moral imperatives rather like ladies shopping in a boutique. Some of the garments on the peg are unfashionable: "I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery." Mt19v9. Other outfits would be a very tight fit and restrictive: "Do not judge, or you too will be judged." Mt7v1. Something is wanted to show off assets to the best advantage and so, "Do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing." Mt6v3., is discarded. Anything too expensive is reluctantly rejected. "Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Mt5v42. , has a certain bold appeal but might turn out to be rather costly. Jesus expects us to go right on in to his store and buy up the entire stock!

Another common practice is to live by Jesus' teaching in most areas of our lives but not all of them. A Christian might be a man of his word in business but lack integrity in bringing up his children. I was always distressed as a teacher by young Christians who were zealous in the church but slovenly at school. Paul's instructions to slaves was, Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. Co3v23. He could hardly have given my lack-lustre Christian pupils better advice.

We are apt to engage in special pleading whenever Biblical teaching impinges on our lives. I know an ardent opponent of Sunday shopping who takes two Sundays off a year to do his firm's stock taking. My friend could make a stand with the management but instead pleads extenuating circumstances to God. I must confess to something of the same kind over Jesus' remark that, "anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart." Mt5v28. I tell God that so long as I am not married and sexually frustrated He will have to accept a degree of lusting. To expect otherwise is totally unrealistic!

Peter had a negotiating attitude to Jesus' teaching on forgiveness. He wanted to know how many times he should forgive an erring brother. Jesus told him that the forgiving spirit is never calculating. See Mt18v21to22. Many Christians have reservations about how far to apply the teaching of Christ especially in such matters as turning the other cheek, going the extra mile and not insisting upon rights.

Jesus warns us that "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you - and even more. Whoever has will be given more." This is another misquoted text. It is often used of the naturally gifted, someone who has good looks, intelligence and a sparkling personality and is then subsequently given more: friends, success and wealth. We say, "To him that hath more will be given." This is in fact a corruption of the AV text. Worse still, it is not what Jesus meant. We need to ask: whoever has what? The answer is: whoever has abandoned the measuring stick and has practiced the truth without reservation.

Let us see how this may be true. A medical student buys the lamp; she studies to become proficient in medical knowledge. Now some medical students never go on to practice medicine. They do something else instead and put the lamp under a bucket. The medical practitioner on the other hand puts the lamp on the lamp stand by applying the knowledge acquired to the treatment of sick people. More is given to the practitioner. She sees the relevance of her knowledge. She learns by experience and gains fresh insights. Above all the doctor has the joy of seeing patients that she has treated getting better. Further the more assiduously a doctor works the greater her reward. She may actually eventually receive the admiration and affection of the community she serves.

The same is true for Christians who obey Christ's commandments. They receive the benefits of being humble, submissive, forgiving, kind, helpful, cheerful and prayerful. I once taught a sulky, truculent, miserable, girl whom I accused of writing on her desk, 'Anne was here'. I was fed up with feckless teenagers writing banal comments on their desks so I was pretty sharp with Ann. I told her that she would have to stop behind at the end of the lesson and clean the desk. She erupted. She denied writing on the desk, accused me of picking on her, swore abusively and stormed out of the classroom. Now the observant reader will be aware that I had, indeed, made a mistake. Ann's father went to the Headmistress and said that his daughter would not return to my lessons until I made a public apology. I was soon acquainted with the facts of the situation! Now I had rights too. Ann had over reacted and used foul language. Perhaps she also should say sorry. Jesus taught that if we are sued for our coat we should give our cloak also. (Jewish law gave a man the right to retain his cloak whatever else might be taken from him.) So Jesus is teaching the Christian not to be the sort of person who insists on their rights. Next day I walked into Ann's form room and apologised publicly and unconditionally - asking her to forgive me. To my surprise she spontaneously said how sorry she was for her outburst. From that day on her work improved. She was no longer sullen and uncooperative. "With the measure you use, it will be measured to you." I had for once unreservedly applied Jesus' teaching and was more than amply rewarded.

Jesus concludes his remarks about applying the truth with a warning:"Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him."

This is tragically true. A man knows that he shouldn't drink to excess. The first two times he gets drunk his conscience troubles him but if he persists in ignoring the truth he finally loses even his sense of guilt. His conscience becomes as dulled as his senses. I know that self- control is an important Christian virtue. I also have a hot temper. If I give into my temper the impact of Christ's teaching is progressively lost and I find myself rationalising my excessive anger.

It is tragically but also dangerously true. The men and women who worked in the Nazi camps for the extermination of Jews once knew that the barbarities they practised were wrong. They knew - but as they got into the work they lost this knowledge and eventually everything of importance to humanity - sensibility, conscience and shame. They lost their souls.

There is a sizeable number attending church regularly in Britain who hear what Jesus has to say but do not heed it. These people seem to have! The truth is received attentively. It is attractive, satisfying and moving. But it is not heeded. The listeners remain uncommitted. The will is left uninvolved. They are not great sinners, nothing like the beasts of Belsen, but they are just as surely lost.