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  • Writer's pictureDean Dwyer

Free speech in God's plan and free speech in Satan's plan

Many people I speak to in Christian circles often lament the same issue: the world has a problem with truth.  However, I want to go a step further and say that the world also has a problem with truth-telling and truth-tellers.  The conflict that we see playing out in the world, particularly on university campuses is not, as they believe, a conflict between oppressor and oppressed.  It is a conflict between those who openly espouse lies and those who present truth. However, underpinning all of that, whether people are conscious of it or not, mankind’s relationship to truth really depends on who each individual sees as the highest authority in life: yourself, your government or God.    

 

For those who see themselves as the highest authority and arbiter of truth, at the root of their life is pride.  Pride is viewed as a great sin and rebellion against God because it presumes to possess excellence and glory which belong to God alone, including the right to determine what is true.  Those who display pride are unashamed in their thinking, but Proverbs 11:2 tells a different story: When pride comes, then comes shame; but with the humble is wisdom.  On college campuses, we have been alarmed to see vile antisemitism and accompanying violence, which really has come about due to astounding ignorance, spiritual deception and well-funded social agitators.  On the other hand, pro-Israel supporters have been well-behaved and stand upon truth as the basis of their conviction.  That didn’t happen organically – it is a Biblical principle.  Proverbs 13:10: By pride comes nothing but strife, but with the well-advised is wisdom.  Society has not only been let down by those who are considered future leaders, there has been a stunning lack of leadership displayed by current college presidents and politicians, who all appeared to be lost for ideas on how to address out of control students. 

 

When David ascended to the throne, Psalm 101 speaks of his determination to rule righteously and behave wisely.  In fact, Professor Willem VanGemeren once wrote that “In Europe the psalm came to be known as ‘the prince’s psalm’, owing to the concern for the proper conduct of a Christian magistrate, prince or king.”  Charles Spurgeon recounts a story about a man who would send a copy of Psalm 101 to any official who had done anything wrong.  Imagine if we were to do so today – our printers would run dry of ink! 

 

In the context of this article, I want you to notice verse 5 of Psalm 101: Whoever secretly slanders his neighbour, him I will destroy; the one who has a haughty look and a proud heart, him I will not endure.  David would not tolerate such attitudes and behaviour in his royal court.  Yet, our governments are full of such people and those same political leaders are indulging the ignorance, falsehood and propaganda of anti-Jewish protestors.  As frustrating as this is to witness, it should not come as a surprise.  After all, a perverse heart is a twisted heart and a twisted heart produces a deceitful tongue.  Proverbs 17:20: He who has a deceitful heart finds no good, and he who has a perverse tongue falls into evil.  

 

Now, this brings me to the point of my article – free speech.  In an age of censorship, it is becoming a hot topic, particularly given the collaboration by Western nations to introduce limitations on what they consider misinformation and disinformation.  But how should believers approach the issue of speech, particularly in the public domain?  It must be said that our communication style is very much connected to our nature.  We often qualify that based on our level of education, upbringing, interests and so forth.  But although those factors influence our speech, the substance of our speech is connected to our spiritual condition.  Because the sinner is spiritually dead, only death can come out of their mouth.  Satan’s version of free speech is designed to tear people down, spread lies, invoke violence against God’s chosen people (Israel) and destroy the witness of the church.    

 

In the New Testament we are introduced to a Greek word, “parrhesia”.  In essence, it means to speak freely, openly, plainly and confidently.  But, you may say, doesn’t that also describe those with an evil tongue!?  Yes and no.  Yes, on the face of it, most certainly.  However, let me quote some verses in order to establish the context of where the word is often used.  I have inserted parrhesia where relevant:-

 

  • Mark 8:31-32: And He began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.  He spoke this word openly [parrhesia].  Then Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. 

  • John 11:14: Then Jesus said to them plainly [parrhesia], “Lazarus is dead.  And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe.  Nevertheless let us go to him.”

  • John 7:26: But look! He speaks boldly [parrhesia], and they say nothing to Him.  Do the rulers know indeed that this is truly the Christ?

  • John 16:25: These things I have spoken to you in figurative language; but the time is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figurative language, but I will tell you plainly [parrhesia] about the Father.

  • John 16:29-30: His disciples said to Him, “See, now You are speaking plainly [parrhesia], and using no figure of speech! Now we are sure that You know all things, and have no need that anyone should question You.  By this we believe that You came forth from God.”

  • John 18:20-21: Jesus answered him, “I spoke openly [parrhesia] to the world.  I always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where the Jews always meet, and in secret I have said nothing.  Why do you ask Me? Ask those who have heard Me what I said to them.  Indeed they know what I said.”

  • Acts 4:13: Now when they saw the boldness [parrhesia] of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated and untrained men, they marveled.  And they realized that they had been with Jesus.

  • Ephesians 6:19: and for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly [parrhesia] to make known the mystery of the gospel.

 

I could go on, but you get the point.  Parrhesia is not only speaking freely, openly, plainly and confidently, it is free speech connected to the truth!  As opposed to the free speech Satan wants to promote which is full of cursing, bitterness and death, parrhesia is that which is connected to the lifegiving truth of God.  But the true meaning of the word also introduces an underlying principle – speaking freely without fear. 

 

Ultimately, this may only be done with the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit as evidenced in Acts 4:31: And when they had prayed, the place where they were assembled together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spoke the word of God with boldness [parrhesia].  Therefore, “parrhesia” is outspoken confidence in the power, the plan and the purposes of God and if one possesses it, they are ready and willing to make their convictions known in public without fear of repercussions.  O Lord, how we need believers imbued with holy boldness who speak nothing but truth and fear nobody but God!  What sets “parrhesia” apart is a commitment to speak the truth, even when it is dangerous or unpopular to do so.  That is the difference between free speech in God’s plan and free speech in Satan’s plan.

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