This past Thursday evening, (April 1st 2004) we went to the Berryville Community Center and watched a high school choir production of Hans Christian Anderson’s classic tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” You may be familiar with the story. An emperor is more concerned with his own vanities than he is with the affairs of his kingdom. Two flattering and seductive villains persuade the king that they can make the finest set of clothes in all the empire for him, but the clothes are so sheer that only the “wisest” will see them. They take all of the emperor’s money, dupe him with “invisible clothes,” and abscond the empire before the truth is discovered. While the emperor’s subjects all remark at how beautiful the clothes are (not wanting to be considered anything but wise), a small boy finally exposes the truth that the emperor is naked. Having had his “eye’s opened,” and learned a valuable lesson about deception the emperor is a wiser and humbler public servant.
While considering the basic plot of this story, I thought, “How so much like many in the religious world today.” There are millions who allow themselves to be deceived religiously on a regular basis due to some of the same mistakes the emperor made. Considering that, let’s notice some ways in which we may be deceived. First, we are most likely to be deceived when we value things more than truth. Second, deceptive people generally employ flattering tongues, never dealing honestly and plainly with others. Third, we may be deceived when we buy into the notion that we will not be “wise” if we don’t accept the deception.
When we value things more than we value truth, we are more likely to be deceived. The emperor deeply valued his personal attire, so, when someone came knocking that could offer him something superior in that area, he was susceptible, valuing his vanity more than truth. Today, we hear of people being deceived in things they value as well. How many widows have been cheated out of their life savings because someone came along and told them their house was going to collapse if they didn’t fix the “foundation?” How many of us have fallen victim to “free vacation” scams? How many have been deceived by real estate ventures for the “free on site offer?” Houses, vacations, property—those are all things that we ought to value less than truth, but many do not. It is no different in the religious world today. Many come selling “self-help,” “motivation,” “emotional satisfaction,” “personal relationships,” and “personal worship experiences” all in the name of religion. Millions buy into these scheme’s every year, because they love self-experience and emotionalism more than they love truth. If they would investigate the truth, then they would know the fraud immediately and who is doing what is right. Proverbs 23:23 says, “Buy the truth, and sell it not; also wisdom, and instruction, and understanding.” We must value truth above all else, if we are not to be deceived.
Deceptive people generally employ flattering tongues, never dealing honestly and plainly with others. Those who desired to sell the emperor his new set of clothes told the emperor what distinguished tastes he had in clothing, what polished refinement in style, and what discerning eye in fashion. Obviously, these deceivers couldn’t have been wrong in their assessment of him, so when they promised to deliver the best clothing possible, they must have been right in that as well. If they had told the emperor that they were there to steal his money and convince him to parade around town naked, no doubt he would have rejected them immediately. In the religious world today, many use flattery and other forms of deceit to sway the multitudes in their favor. Little do you hear of people preaching on the subjects of sin, the necessity of repentance, hell or the necessity of righteous living. Most sermons are preached on “love,” tolerance (of sin), forgiveness (without repentance), and other “feel good” themes. And while there is nothing wrong in preaching on positive subjects, preaching on them to the exclusion of the other is deceptive and flattering. It assumes the hearer doesn’t need to change, doesn’t need to be warned, and can’t handle the honest truth on such “controversial” subjects. Most would rather have their ears scratched than to have to deal with hard teachings that require personal sacrifice. Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 2:3-5, “For our exhortation was not of deceit, nor of uncleanness, nor in guile: But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, which trieth our hearts. For neither at any time used we flattering words, as ye know, nor a cloke of covetousness; God is witness.” Next time someone tries to butter you up, religiously, beware. The likelihood is that the person who causes you to reflect negatively on yourself is telling you the truth.
Those who are often deceived usually are so deceived because to be otherwise would mean that they were not “wise.” The emperor’s subjects deceived themselves because they thought that if they told the truth, then there would be no wisdom in them. Then, that deception grew throughout the whole empire because no one had the courage enough to stand up to the majority who thought they were wise. Who wants to be thought of that way? Today, those who have the truth are often ridiculed as not understanding God’s love, mercy, and grace. And indeed, who wants to be thought of as not understanding those things? We all want to understand God’s love, mercy, and grace. So to be accused of not understanding it, places one into the position of not being “wise” in matters of religion. And, the more people who believe that you “just don’t understand those things,” the more foolish one appears. Notice I said, “appears,” because it is not how one appears that truly demonstrates one’s understanding of something, but what one believes in comparison to the truth. Paul wrote, “Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe” ( 1 Corinthians 1:20, 21). Those who preach and teach the truth are often the one’s who appear most foolish. But it is not man’s wisdom that truly judges whether something is wise or not, but God’s.
The Bible warns us that sin is deceitful ( Hebrews 3:13). Will we, like the emperor, don a set of clothing that is no clothing at all? Or will we enrobe ourselves in the garments of truth and salvation? Let us always be on our guard, prizing truth above all else, preaching the plain and simply gospel, not mindful of other men’s flatteries, and seeking the wisdom that is from above. By following after these things, we will protect ourselves against the one deceiver that is opposed to all, Satan himself ( John 8:44).