A TRUE UNDERSTANDING OF THE WORD OF GOD
Fundamentally, your understanding of the word of God – the Bible – does NOT depend on your natural intelligence or your education (although it does help if you can read!).
How do we know this? Because the Bible tell us this! According to the Bible, there are two main conditions for understanding the word of God: the condition and disposition of our hearts and secondly, having the Holy Spirit.
The most important thing in understanding God’s word is the (spiritual) condition of our hearts. The proud may collect a lot of Bible knowledge, but they will not KNOW God nor truly understand his word. Our understanding of God’s word depends on our spiritual relationship to him.
Look at the Pharisees! They were very educated men. They knew their scriptures very well – better than almost anyone else! They knew every point of the Mosaic law and they knew that Christ would be born in Bethlehem, etc. But they didn’t KNOW God! They OPPOSED him! The pride and hardness of their hearts BLINDED them to the truth, and to a true understanding of God’s word. They were FILLED with knowledge of the scriptures but Jesus called them “You serpents, you generation of vipers”. (Math.23:33).
God gives true understanding of his word to the humble, to those who fear Him and humble themselves before his word,
“The MEEK will he guide in justice: and the MEEK will he teach his way….The secret of the LORD is with them that FEAR him; and he will SHOW THEM his covenant (Psalm 25:9,14).
“The FEAR of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…his secret is WITH THE RIGHTEOUS…The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom: and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.” (Proverbs 1:7; 3:32; 9:10).
This is why Jesus said the following, “I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and have revealed them unto babes.” (Matthew 11:25).
These things do not depend upon our education or intelligence – they depend on a humble, trusting relationship to God. It PLEASES God to reveal his truth unto the humble. Why should God give a true understanding of his Word to those who are proud and oppose his nature? What does Jesus say a few verses later? The Son of God says this, “learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart.”
This is amazing. We must learn from Jesus who declares his meek and humble of heart! And if our Great Teacher and Saviour is humble, then we can only learn of him if we humble ourselves before him and his word! In verse 27 Jesus reveals this important truth, “All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knows the Son, but the Father; neither knows any man the Father, except the Son, and he to whomever the Son will reveal him.” You can study the Bible as much as you like but it will not do you any good if your heart is not humble and right before God. God reveals himself to those who fear him and humble themselves at his word.
This is the reason Paul writes to the Corinthians saying, “Now concerning things offered unto idols, we know that we all have knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love edifies.” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
You can have a lot of ‘knowledge about the truth but it doesn’t do you any good if your behaviour contradicts the nature of God. The Corinthians to whom Paul was writing were converted through his ministry and had been baptised in the Holy Spirit, yet for many, their hearts were not right before God, their behaviour and actions were contrary to his love and righteousness! The Corinthians were arguing amongst themselves and treating each other badly so Paul had to write this to them, “Awake to righteousness, and sin not; for some have not the knowledge of God: I speak this to your shame.” (1 Corinthians 15:34; also 6:6). You see. Paul is telling the Corinthians although they have much “knowledge” (1 Cor. 1:5), some of them don’t know God and their behaviour is wrong! Our knowledge is no good if it does not change how we behave! If your behaviour is not consistent with his word and nature, then your knowledge is useless. The word of God is not there to lift you up and to make you proud about what you know; it is not there to fill your head with information; it is there to direct your heart to God, to reveal the nature of God and to change you into that nature (2 Cor. 3:18; 2 Peter 1:4,5)
This problem is very clearly shown in the arguments you find in Christian facebook goups. Some people think they ‘know’ the truth ‘better’ than others (just like among the Corinthian Christians), and because of this mock, dreride, abuse and slander others, using language that is quite inappropriate for a believer in Christ! They think they are declaring and defending God’s truth, but they write as if they don’t know him at all! The way in which they write contradicts the Spirit of Christ. They destroy the testimony of Christ in their lives and just shame themselves. Discussions on facebook should be a matter of teaching and feeding each other. Yes, Paul exhorts us to defend the faith (Jude 3) but such a ‘defence’ should not corrupt itself by becoming just an ‘intellectual battle’ where we seek to triumph over others and mock them.
A true knowledge of God AND HIS NATURE does not puff a person up! True understanding and knowledge of God does not depend on my education or intelligence! It depends on the condition of my heart, on my personal relationship to him – do I hunger and thirst after righteousness; am I willing to humble myself before his word and seek his will only, and to love him with all my heart! These are the great conditions on which a true knowledge of God depends! Not whether you have finished form 6 or been to University or Bible College! This is wonderful news to all those who are meek and humble of heart! This is a wonderful and encouraging truth! This opens the door to ALL. This is how God has ordained things in his wisdom! This is why the word of God teaches us the following, “For you see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called.” (1 Cor.1:26). Praise God for his great grace and righteous wisdom!
The apostles Peter and John were fishermen without formal education but they amazed the Pharisees! Why? Listen to what the word of God says: “Now when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were UNLEARNED and ORDINARY men, they MARVELLED; and they took knowledge of them, THAT THEY HAD BEEN WITH JESUS.” (Acts 4:13).
These are wonderful verses that reveal to us the heart of the truth about what we are speaking about in this study.
The most important thing is your RELATIONSHIP to Jesus – not your intelligence or education! You see, the Pharisees ‘recognised’ that the apostles ‘had been with Jesus’. Is that what people recognise about us – that we have been with Jesus, that we follow him, that we spend time with Him, that our behaviour stems from our love for him and obedience to him? Does our private time with Jesus Christ affect our daily living so that people realise there is something different about us? The Pharisees couldn’t understand that people without a proper education could speak with such boldness and be so different. They realised this could only be explained by the disciples’ relationship to Jesus, “they took knowledge of them, that they had been with Jesus.”
Now, I do not despise education but let me say again that knowing God and understanding his word does not depend on your education! Paul was an educated man but listen to his testimony:
“But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it of man, neither was I taught it, but by the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 1:11,12). Concerning all his religious training and education he says this, “But what things were gain to me, those I counted loss for Christ. Yea doubtless, and I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but rubbish, that I may win Christ.” (Philippians 3:7,8).
The greatest and most precious thing for the apostle Paul was to KNOW Chrst! And this is no surprise! What is eternal life? Jesus tells us clearly, “And this is life eternal, that they might know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (John 17:3). But let us be clear about this again, if we truly KNOW God, then this will show itself in our BEHAVIOUR, in our obedience to his word (1 John 2:3,4). We have no true knowledge or understanding of God’s word if we don’t obey his word. Listen to what Jesus says, “If any man will DO his will, HE shall know of the doctrine, whether it be of God, or whether I speak of myself.” (John 7:17). True understanding of God’s word comes from a close walk with God in our daily lives and keeping his word. We find this truth in the Old Testament too, “My son, forget not my law; but let your heart keep my commandments: For length of days, and long life, and peace, shall they add to you. Let not mercy and truth forsake you: bind them about your neck; write them upon the table of your heart: So shall you find favour and good understanding in the sight of God and man.…” (Proverbs 3:1-4).
We now come to the second important and vital condition for having a true understanding and true knowledge of the word of God. We have already seen that the Pharisees who had great knowledge of the Old Testament didn’t have any real understanding of its message! They used the scriptures to oppose and kill the Christ! The word of God makes it very clear that without the aid of God’s Spirit we cannot have a true understanding of God’s word,
“For what man knows the things of a man, except the spirit of man which is in him? Even so the things of God KNOWS NO MAN, BUT the SPIRIT OF GOD. Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; THAT WE MIGHT KNOW the things that are freely given to us of God. Which things also we speak, not in the words which man’s wisdom teaches, but which the Holy Spirit teaches; comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But THE NATURAL MAN receives NOT the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Cor. 2:11-14).
We see hear that without the aid of the Holy Spirit of God we will be left without true understanding of God’s word and purposes. Our natural human understanding, everything we are by our first birth is not sufficient for having a true understanding an insight into the word of God. This is powerful! It is clear that the Pharisees with all their learning and understanding did not know or receive the things of the Spirit of God!
Remember, Paul was writing this to Christians (in the Corinthian letter) who had been baptised in the Spirit but they were living in a way that made them ignorant of God (as I have already shown above), and he had to make them aware of basic truths! And he has to emphasize the truth to them by saying, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, came not with excellency of speech or of wisdom, declaring unto you the testimony of God. For I DETERMINED not to know anything among you, EXCEPT JESUS CHRIST, and him CRUCIFIED.” (1 Cor. 2:1-2).
HUMAN intelligence and education is not enough at all! If we just use our human wisdom, which is the wisdom of this word (how the world thinks) then we DESTROY the message which we want to proclaim and make its power to have no effect! Paul makes this very clear,
“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel: NOT with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of NO EFFECT.” (1 Cor.1:17).
God himself, by his Spirit, is to be the source (asili) of our understanding. And if he is to be the source, then we are totally dependent on him for true understanding. God will not accept any other way, because he says,
“For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? (1 Cor. 1:19-20).
Even the disciples lacked understanding of the scriptures and needed Jesus to OPEN THEIR MINDS, “Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures.” (Luke 24:45).
In Acts chapter one we recognise that the apostles didn’t understand what kind of Kingdom Jesus was going to establish after his resurrection – they thought it was going to be a kingdom of worldly power! But on the day of Pentecost when they were baptised in the Holy Spirit, Peter had no problem understanding why Jesus had died when he preached to the multitude!
It is the Holy Spirit who gives light to our understanding and who shines the light on the word of God so we understand what is meant. And this is why Paul prays the following prayer for the Ephesian believers, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you THE SPIRIT of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him: The eyes of your understanding being ENLIGHTENED; that you may know what is the hope of his calling, and what is the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints.” (Ephesians 1:17-18 ).
So it is not just that a person needs to be baptised in the Holy Spirit, but the believer must rely on the Spirit of God to give him understanding of the meaning of the scriptures and of the Gospel. John emphasises this truth and makes it very clear when he says, “But the ANOINTING which you have received of him abides in you, and you NEED NOT that any man teach you: but as the same anointing teaches you of ALL THINGS, and is truth, and is no lie, and even as it has taught you, you shall abide in him.” (1 John 2:27).
This is an amazing statement, yet it is true. (The ‘anointing’ is the Holy Spirit that we receive when we are baptised in the Spirit.) What John is saying here is that if we have the Holy Spirit in our lives, then He is able to teach us and cause us to know the fundamental truths of our salvation with great assurance If you look at the context, he is saying that the Spirit of God is able to keep us in the truth and to recognise error – as long as we abide in Him. John is here talking about the fundamental things of our salvation, but it is clear that we meet together as believers to encourage, exhort and to teach one another in the things of God – it doesn’t mean that there shouldn’t be teaching in the church! In fact, God has given to the church those who have a ministry in teaching (Eph.4:11) so we might better understand what we ‘already know’.
Concerning the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, Jesus clearly confirms this truth to us when he says, “But the Comforter, who is the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, HE shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you.… But when he, the Spirit of truth, is come, he will guide you into all truth.” (John 14:26, 16:13).
It is the Spirit of God who will teach us and lead us into all truth! It is He who will make the scriptures to be ‘life’ to us. It is the Spirit who will not just give us an understanding of what we are reading, but also APPLY these truths to our hearts in a way that is relevant to our daily life!
(Let me make it very clear here that the Spirit of God will give a true or deeper understanding of what is written in the holy scriptures – which were inspired by the Spirit of God himself! The Spirit of God will NOT give you some NEW revelation which is in addition to or different from what the Bible already teaches – neither by revelation nor by visions or dreams. This is an error and deception that many are falling into today. The Spirit of God may gift a servant of the Lord with a revelation of the truth so that he can give a deeper and clearer explanation of the things that a written in the Bible, but this will not represent a ‘new teaching’.)
We are to be filled with the Spirit, walk in the Spirit and live in the Spirit, ‘speaking to ourselves in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, making melody in our hearts to the Lord’. (Eph.5:19).
The Bible is not a school book; it is not a ‘text’ book. It is much more than just a book with information which you have to sit down and ‘learn’. We don’t read the Bible to accumulate knowledge! The word of God is food for us. It is the ‘living’ word of God to us. The word of God is LIFE. The Bible is the word of God, inspired by the Holy Spirit (2 Tim.3:16), and it is only by the Spirit of God that we can truly understand and interpret the Bible. The one who inspired the Bible is the one whom we need to interpret the truths of the Bible to us.
Jesus said, “the words that I speak unto you, they are SPIRIT and they are LIFE.” John 6:63.
How can the ‘natural man’ receive or understand words that are Spirit and Life? The word of God goes beyond natural understanding and intelligence. In John chapter 6 many disciples couldn’t understand what Jesus was talking about when he told them they had to ‘drink his blood’ and ‘eat his flesh’. They said this was too difficult to understand and receive! The DEMANDS OF THEIR NATURAL MIND took priority over HUMBLY SUBMITTING themselves to the Son of God and WAITING for His time to give them understanding. Their demand for explanations led them to STOP FOLLOWING Jesus Christ! Of course, this is an extreme example, but it can still be very instructive for us. In this same verse we are looking at Jesus also says this,
“It is the Spirit that gives life; THE FLESH PROFITS NOTHING.”
Let this sink down into our hearts! The ‘flesh’ profits nothing. What does this mean? It means that our natural understanding – without the aid of the Spirit of God – will not truly profit from the reading of the word of God! Our natural intelligence and cleverness will not be enough! The word of God is much more than ‘knowledge’ that we can learn by reading a book! The word of God becomes LIFE to us only by the work of the Holy Spirit. The word of God becomes our ‘food’; it becomes relevant to our daily living and is meant to transform us!
It is our love and devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ that should lead us to read His word and humble ourselves before him and his word. It is our desire to please and obey Him that should represent our motivation for reading the Bible. What was Paul’s advice to Timothy? We read this,
“Meditate upon these things; give yourself wholly to them; that your progress may appear to all. Take heed unto yourself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them: for in doing this you shall both save yourself, and them that hear you.” (1 Timothy 4:15-16).
You can see from what I am quoting here that I am NOT encouraging anyone to be lazy in these things! We are to meditate on God’s word continually and to give ourselves to the things we read in such a way that it transforms our lives and also touches other lives. When I was preaching in the Udzungwa mountains in the Iringa region of Tanzania, it was very cold in the evenings so they lit a big fire and we all gathered around it to get warm. It was then that I learnt this new Swahili expression – ‘kuota moto’ (to ‘soak up’ fire). This means that you stand or sit close to the fire so your body takes in and absorbs the warmth of the fire. This is how it is to be with us and the word of God! ‘Soak’ in the word of God! Absorb the life of the word of God so it ‘becomes flesh’ in your life. Walk close to God. Spend time with him and in reading his word so his word becomes real in you! Don’t be lazy in your thinking; don’t be lazy in your doing.
“And whatsoever you do, do it heartily, as to the Lord, and not unto men.” (Colossians 3:23).
In everything I have said, these are the basic truths that we have seen from the Bible: a true understanding of the word of God depends on and comes from the condition of your heart before God and your relationship to him, and on having the Spirit of God to lead you into the truth of Christ and his word, not just at the beginning of your Christian life but continually. It is wrong to think that you need to go to Bible School or to get a degree or have a high education to be able to truly understand and preach God’s word. The first will depend on your relationship to God and the second will, to some extent at least, depend on God’s call on your life. I am not saying this to give opportunity to anyone who out of pride thinks they can preach God’s word. There are many who think they are called to preach but they are not walking close with God and have no true calling. Nor am I saying that such education is necessarily bad – but we must recognise it is not the basis of our true understanding of God’s word. In some cases at least, a degree in theology can just fill a person’s head with ‘information’ which does not represent ‘food’ for God’s people. I was speaking to a pastor of a large church in Dar Es Salaam and I shared with him that my work also involved helping some poor believers in the villages. He immediately said, “Why are they poor? They have the Gospel, so why are they poor?” This pastor had a PhD in theology, but he spoke like someone who had never read the Bible nor understood what is written there!
If you want to know various geographical facts about the Bible, for example, where Antioch is; if you want to know Hebrew and Greek; if you want to know the historical context of events in the Bible and so forth, then you will need to learn this from other books or go to some kind of college. However, none of these things relate to your spiritual walk of faith before God and in this world; they do not relate to your life of faith and holiness, and your knowledge of God and his word does not depend on these things. I can testify to the truth of this in my own life.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say, “Use your mind.” Why does it not say this? Because we all use our minds – from the time when you wake up you use your mind to make all kinds of decisions, and you use your mind continually to think about things and to make decisions. We use our minds TO THINK. You cannot live without using your mind, without thinking! This is why the Bible doesn’t say, “Use your lungs!” All of us naturally use our lungs TO BREATHE. No one has to tell us to breathe! You cannot live without thinking, without breathing! For the first you use your mind, for the second your lungs!
Some people say we need to ‘Use our minds’. But what do they really mean? For some it is just an excuse to apply their own logic to scriptures to get the answers they want rather than being taught and led by God’s word. Others use this expression because they want to teach you a strategy of how to be successful in life, particularly in business and with money.
Of course, HOW we use our minds is another matter, but the truth is we all use our minds all the time. This is not a study on ‘how to use your mind’ but on what an understanding of God’s truth depends on! This is the heart of our subject, and we have clearly seen that neither human on its own nor education is enough to have a true insight and understanding of God’s word. Everything depends on the spiritual condition of our hearts and on our relationship to Christ. It is also clear in the scriptures that we are dependent on the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth.
In every-day language one person might say to another, ‘Think!’ or ‘Use your brains!’ What do they mean by this? Basically, it means that we think the other person is failing to consider or think about a matter properly and will thus prevent them from achieving their purpose, or it may even cause problems, damage or loss. In this kind of context, the Bible doesn’t talk about ‘using’ or ‘not using’ your mind but about being wise or foolish. The foolish do not consider a matter properly or sufficiently. Matthew 7:24-27 and 25:1-8 are just a couple of examples of this, among many. In these examples we find people who take steps with a certain expectation of fulfilling their aims. However, the foolish are termed so because they did not sufficiently consider what was required (of them) to achieve their ends. An element of being unwilling to count the cost of achieving their goal also seems to lead to this ‘laziness’ in thinking. (See also Luke 14:28-32). As I said, this is not the topic of this study, but if you want to truly have understanding of the word of God and you think this depends on your level of education or on your natural intelligence, then the designation of ‘foolish’ may also apply to you!
Yes, indeed, as I have said, further education or going to Bible College may teach us many things, but the foundation of a true understanding of the word of God remains the same whether we go to Bible College or not.
Nothing that I have written here is to give room for any lazy approach to reading and studying the word of God. Everything that is written here is to inspire us to read the word of God more and in such a way as to lead us to a true and deeper understanding and knowledge of God and his word, as it is written,
“Thus says the LORD, Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, neither let the mighty man glory in his might, let not the rich man glory in his riches: But let him that glories glory in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the LORD who exercises lovingkindness, justice, and righteousness, in the earth: for in these things I delight, says the LORD.” (Jeremiah 9:23-24).