“To be honest with you…”
“To tell you the truth…”
“As a matter of fact…”
“To be frank…”
How often have you heard or uttered these words, or some similar phrase? Have you ever wondered why anyone would preface a statement with such a qualifier? After all, shouldn’t we always tell the truth? If you use one of these expressions in a given situation, does that mean you are dishonest the rest of the time?
While starting a sentence with “to be honest” may be a red flag in some situations—or simply a bad habit—there may be times when the speaker is trying to break the ice, command attention, or give the listener a heads-up that something direct or potentially unpleasant is about to be said. It can be a way of saying, “I’m about to say something important” or “listen up!”
Notice Important Qualifiers
Have you ever noticed that similar qualifiers appear in the Bible? Depending on which version you study, you will find phrases such as:
“Truly I tell you…”
“I say to you very seriously…”
“For I assure you…”
“I can guarantee this truth…”
“What I’m about to tell you is true…”
Zooming in on teachings prefaced by these qualifiers will help you get more out of your Bible reading. These markers help us identify truths that are vital to our understanding of God’s will for us and to our Christian growth. Like road signs that caution us to slow down or tell us where to turn, these clues in Scripture make Bible reading more than just an item to cross off our to-do lists.
Try Starting with Paul
Here’s a good place to start. In his letters to Timothy and Titus, the apostle Paul started or concluded five statements with “This is a true saying…” He was not implying that everything else he’d written was untrue, but he clearly wanted his readers to pay special attention to these teachings.
Let’s look at the five sayings Paul highlighted for his protégées:
“This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. I am the worst of them.” (1 Timothy 1:15)
In this verse, Paul adds extra emphasis to the opening statement when he says: “This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed” (italics mine). What could be more vital to the kingdom of God than the fact that lost sinners can be saved because of the sacrifice Jesus Christ made when he came into this world, died on the cross, rose from the grave, and returned to heaven? Paul was identifying a key truth that lays the foundation of our faith and, to strengthen his point, he related it to his own experience of being a sinner saved by grace.
“This is a true saying: If a man is eager to be a church leader, he desires an excellent work.” (1 Timothy 3:1)
This verse might seem to contradict other teachings in the Bible that warn believers not to be quick to desire to teach others (James 3:1) but, as one continues to read the chapter, it becomes clear that the role of an elder comes with great responsibility and accountability. Paul recognized the importance of good teachers, preachers, shepherds, and gatekeepers, and that those who felt called to serve in those ways wanted “excellent work.”
“Physical exercise has some value, but spiritual exercise is valuable in every way, because it promises life both for the present and for the future. This is a true saying, to be completely accepted and believed.” (1 Timothy 4:8-9)
As in the first example we looked at, Paul emphasizes that this teaching is “to be completely accepted and believed,” driving home the point that godliness requires discipline. In this entire chapter, Paul urges Timothy to not only read Scripture, but also to preach it and teach it.
“This is a true saying: ‘If we have died with him, we shall also live with him. If we continue to endure, we shall also rule with him. If we deny him, he also will deny us. If we are not faithful, he remains faithful, because he cannot be false to himself.’” (2 Timothy 2:11-13)
In this passage, Paul is summarizing his own teachings in other epistles as well as quoting Jesus (see Matthew 10:33, Romans 3:3, Romans 6:2-11, and Romans 8:17). The theme here is that though we may suffer for Christ for a while, there is a reward for faithfulness. It’s also worth noting that, in verse 14, Paul emphasizes: “Don’t let anyone forget these things.”
“But when the kindness and love of God our Savior was revealed, he saved us. It was not because of any good deeds that we ourselves had done, but because of his own mercy that he saved us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life by washing us. God poured out the Holy Spirit abundantly on us through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that by his grace we might be put right with God and come into possession of the eternal life we hope for. This is a true saying.” (Titus 3:4-8a)
In this case, Paul’s affirmation of the saying comes afterward. In verse 8, he adds: “I want you to give special emphasis to these matters, so that those who believe in God may be concerned with giving their time to doing good deeds, which are good and useful for everyone.” Once again, we see Paul giving much weight to the foundation of the Christian faith: God’s salvation through Jesus Christ and the hope of eternal life.
We should not be surprised at Paul’s use of these markers to point out key teachings. Jesus said things like, “I am telling you the truth…” (25 times in the Gospel of John) and “I assure you…” (25 times total in Matthew, Mark, and Luke). Jesus, and later Paul, were signaling the veracity of God’s Word, and that should give us assurance as we read the Bible.
Give it a Try
If you have time for further study, search for other passages using key words and phrases such as those mentioned above.
Grab a notebook, or reserve a page in your journal, to make a note every time you come across one of these clues that something of great significance was just said or is about to be said. You could also mark these sayings with a highlighter as you encounter them. Then reflect on what this teaching meant within its original context and how it could personally apply to your life.
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