Your Measuring Stick

Ryan Goodwin




            The popular mentality in our culture is to reject and ridicule Bible authority. Even the very existence or awareness of divine truth is balked at by the world. We see so many people turning to the idea that there are no absolutes – even the church is not left unaffected by this unfortunate and pernicious reasoning. But what is so inconsistent about those who deny Bible authority is that they (perhaps unwittingly) derive authority from some other source. “Even those who say they reject all arguments based on authority base their arguments on authority” (“Authority Always Wins”, Seu, World Magazine, October 25, 2003, p. 47). The humanist’s authority may not be derived from the Bible, or from rule of law, but it comes from somewhere. Every single assertion that is based on logic and reason must have some perceived authority behind it, or else the person would not be using it to justify his or her actions. The problem with all of this is that it results in a world of different measuring sticks. To some, the license for their beliefs comes from their “special insight” into sociological or cultural inconsistencies. Others believe their authority comes from their own mind (“If it feels right, then it is”). Still others seek justification for their beliefs based on human preference, prejudices, or the negative affects of opposing arguments. So what is your measuring stick? How do you judge moral matters? By what authority do you make confident assertions?    


Human Inconsistency


            This is the attitude of the person who relies on the mistakes of others to justify his own shortcomings. Instead of accepting responsibility, he deflects criticism or scorn by pointing out what he perceives to be greater sins in others. At the very least, this sort of person rejects Bible authority by asserting that we are all sinful, and, therefore, even Christians should not be criticizing the world. A belief in this line of reasoning begins at childhood, as every parent is aware. Often, when we tell children to perform a certain task, their immediate response is to point out that a sibling has not performed the same job either. Children also make comparisons between their own situation and a friend’s, stating that his parents do not require him to do that. But pointing out inconsistency is the oldest trick in the book for rejecting authority, and it does not stand. Hypocrisy on the part of the speaker does not mean what he is saying is wrong, just as our Lord states in Matthew 23:3 of the scribes and Pharisees, “All that they tell you, do and observe, but do not do according to their deeds; for they say things and do not do them.”

            We need to recall the Israelites of the Old Testament, who were so inconsistent in their living that even the Pagan nations surrounding them began to ridicule God (Romans 2:24, Ezekiel 16:27, Isaiah 52:5). Did Judah’s hypocrisy somehow make the truth of God less true, though? A great practical application is found in the example of the Old Testament people of God. Their hypocrisy resulted in the blasphemy of God, and created a stumbling block for the Gentiles to believe in the one true deity. In the same way, how does our personal or professional life affect our influence in the world. We may say something that is entirely true and biblically authoritative, but our poor marriage, disobedient children, or filthy language may be too great a barrier for our unbelieving acquaintances to overcome. Human inconsistency does not change Bible authority:



“Perfect” Presentation


            Some people are turned off from the truth because of the supposed attitude of the professed Christian doing the talking. They say, “Well, I didn’t like how that preacher was so combative, or close-minded.” Others may confess that the message is good, but the speaker just handled the subject with too little care to be taken seriously. While the Bible does make it clear that attitude is essential in proper presentation of the Gospel (2 Timothy 2:24-26), many folks who reject the Word of God often see this is as a very convenient excuse. If we deny something from the Bible because of the improper presentation, we seriously need to consider whether we are being honest. Would I really accept this Biblical concept if the speaker were better? Really? There were plenty times when the speaker was Jesus, but many quit listening to Him – not because of how He said it, but because of what He said! Read the following verses and seriously ask yourself, “Would I have continued to listen to this and repent?”



            The excuse does not stand when you consider the “presentation” of men like John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, and the Lord Jesus Christ. If you are rejecting the Bible, is it really because of how it is presented, or because you do not like the truth of what it says about you?




            Even if a person renounces all supposed authority known to man, he is still acting under the authority of himself. Many people say things like, “I just don’t like authority, man” or “I reject authority because I don’t believe in it.” But the inconsistency is that even those statements necessarily infer the authority of self as final arbiter and judge. A matter is not judged as right or wrong because of anything objective or a standard, but because “self” decides one way or the other – whether personal preference, stubbornness, self-will, or a refusal to practice humble submission (the greatest of all attitudes). But where is the standard if right and wrong are found from within and not without? Who is to say that what you are doing is detestable or laudable? If all authority comes from within then there is nothing to say that murderers, rapists, and child molesters are criminals, so long as they are fully convinced in their self-authority.

            The same problem existed in Corinth. “For we are not bold to class or compare ourselves with some of those who commend themselves; but when they measure themselves by themselves, and compare themselves with themselves, they are without understanding” (2 Corinthians 10:12). It displays a great lack of understanding to judge situations based on the authority you find within your own mind. In Corinth, it seems that these enemies of the truth had formed their own mutual admiration society. Their own achievements made up their standard of excellence. We can all fall prey to this attitude, as well, when we allow ourselves to measure the spirit by personal preference, opinion, or accomplishment. We may come to think that because of our success in an area, that is a divine endorsement of our actions, yet it is a false sense of security. The truth is that self will never be the final judge. If we are righteous in the eyes of God, it is because He has forgiven us for our shortcomings. If we are of any value, it is because Christ has confessed us. If we are right about anything, then it will be judged, not by our own standard, but by the word of God (John 12:48).

            Friends, it is never enough to simply say, “I do not agree” or “I think…” Self will never be the standard by which God appraises truth.


How does this teaching affect the world?


            For many people, the measuring stick of authority is how a certain teaching, religion, or doctrine affects the world. Something is not right because of objective truth, but because of its positive influence on people. Even Christians can approach the world from this perspective, using their measuring stick of societal standards, customs, taboos, and prejudices to appraise spiritual matters. One very good example of the way this standard of authority is applied by Christians is in matters pertaining to divorce, which has become increasingly regular over the last fifty years. “Several years ago I attended a debate on the issue of marriage, divorce, and remarriage.  A preacher friend whom I had not seen in several years was also at the debate.  As we visited, he indicated his agreement with the aforementioned erroneous position. He explained that he had been brought to adopt this view because there are so many people in the world who have been divorced and who are in second, third, or fourth marriages.  He ‘reasoned’ that we will soon run out of people to whom we can teach the Gospel if we do not adopt a more liberal view of Jesus’ teaching than that which brethren at one time taught almost universally.  I immediately responded that the immoral condition of society is hardly the right criterion for determining Truth and error.  The preacher friend mentioned above actually admitted that raw emotion had led him to exchange the Truth for error on this subject”  (“A Strange Criterion for Doctrine”, Gospel Journal, March 2003, p. 2).



Human Preference


            The measuring stick of others is human preference. In a 1985 “Unity forum” involving some members of the Independent Christian Church and members of the liberal Church of Christ, it was agreed that Leviticus 10:1-2 would no longer be used by the Church of Christ to argue against instrumental music (that is, the parallel between “strange fire” and “strange music” in worship). Of course, if one is going to quit using a Bible verse simply because somebody does not like the obvious application, then why not throw out everything else in the Bible? Do we ever do the same thing, just because certain verses are not popular, or are prone to hurt people’s feelings?

            Using human preference as a measuring stick for morality does not work, either. If you derive all of your authority for what you do based solely on what people around you are feeling, then two things will become very clear:



            Just because somebody does not prefer what the Bible says does not change it. Rather, we ought to look to the Bible as our only measuring stick, and seek conformity to it, and not the other way around.