Many are content to put confidence in their experiences and emotions. But faith does not come from our feelings, but from hearing God’s word. Feelings will mislead us when they are misinformed (Gen. 37:31-35). “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov. 14:12). Paul counseled Timothy to exercise his mind, contemplate his teachings, and receive understanding from the Lord. We are thankful that treasures of wisdom and knowledge are in Christ and not ourselves (Col. 2:3). Wisdom and knowledge from Christ enriches our lives and leads us to heaven. Paul’s instruction to Timothy confirms the following: (1) We can understand God’s word (Eph. 3:3-4). Jesus taught this, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). (2) We must use our minds to understand God’s word. “I have more understanding than all my teachers, for Your testimonies are my meditation” (Ps. 119:99). Faith comes from hearing God’s word, so Paul said to consider what he said (Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 14:37). Meditate on God’s word to increase in understanding God’s will (1 Tim. 4:15; 2 Tim. 2:15). (3) Understanding God’s word leads people of faith to do God’s will. “Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart” (Ps. 119:34). (4) Understanding God’s truth leads people of faith to hate every false way. “Through Your precepts I get understanding; Therefore I hate every false way” (Ps. 119:104). Take time to read, learn, and meditate on God’s word, and “the Lord will give you understanding in everything” (2 Pet. 1:2-4).
24 And some were persuaded by the things which were spoken, and some disbelieved. 25 So when they did not agree among themselves, they departed after Paul had said one word: “The Holy Spirit spoke rightly through Isaiah the prophet to our fathers, 26 saying, ‘Go to this people and say: “Hearing you will hear, and shall not understand; And seeing you will see, and not perceive; For the hearts of this people have grown dull. Their ears are hard of hearing, And their eyes they have closed, Lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears, Lest they should understand with their hearts and turn, So that I should heal them”’ (Acts 28:24–27, NKJV).
Why do some people readily respond to the gospel of salvation? Why do some people reject the gospel and refuse to believe it? The answer is not due to any deficiency in the gospel itself. The gospel is not a distant, inaccessible, and undiscernible message. It has been preached openly to the world (Rom. 10:6-8; Eph. 3:3-5). The answer lies in the heart of the hearer. Isaiah wrote of the dull hearts, heavy ears, and closed eyes of Israel (Isa. 6:9-10). Jesus applied the prophet’s words to His generation (Matt. 13:13-15; 15:7-9). Christ also taught parables that illustrated hard hearts that prevent the gospel’s penetration and saving power (Matt. 13:18-19). Do not marvel when the truth of the gospel is rejected, scorned, and denounced. The problem is not the word of salvation; it is the solution (Rom. 1:16). Honest and good hearts receive the word of God, “keep it and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).
6 But now, brethren, if I come to you speaking with tongues, what shall I profit you unless I speak to you either by revelation, by knowledge, by prophesying, or by teaching? 7 Even things without life, whether flute or harp, when they make a sound, unless they make a distinction in the sounds, how will it be known what is piped or played? 8 For if the trumpet makes an uncertain sound, who will prepare for battle? 9 So likewise you, unless you utter by the tongue words easy to understand, how will it be known what is spoken? For you will be speaking into the air. (1 Corinthians 14:6–9, NKJV)
Speaking in tongues was a temporary miraculous gift of the Spirit by which one spoke in a foreign language unknown to the speaker but understandable to the hearers (1 Cor. 12:7-11; 13:8). Such a miracle helped spread the gospel to the world (1 Cor. 14:21). Without comprehension, the gift did not edify the listeners (1 Cor. 14:2, 4-5, 11-12, 28). Paul used musical instruments to illustrate the goal of comprehension through clarity (v. 7-8). Then, he made his point that using the gift of tongue-speaking was intended for people to understand the gospel message (v. 9, 7). If it failed to accomplish this, then it was ineffective (even hurtful, 14:23). We want people to understand what we say when we teach God’s word. Let us use “easy to understand” words to promote mature understanding and spiritual strength in those who hear us (v. 9, 18-20, 26).
10 When He had called the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 Not what goes into the mouth defiles a man; but what comes out of the mouth, this defiles a man.” (Matthew 15:10–11, NKJV)
When moral and religious disagreements arise we may demand that others hear and understand us. No doubt, good communication skills (like careful listening) are essential to resolving tensions. Yet, there is something even more crucial and fundamental to harmonious resolution. We must listen to Jesus, understand His word, and follow Him. How do I do this? First, I must believe that God speaks to me through His Son (Heb. 1:1-2 says God does). Many Scriptures confirm Jesus speaks to me and you through the inspired words of His apostles and prophets (Jno. 16:8-15; 1 Cor. 2:6-13; 14:37; 2 Tim. 3:16-17; 2 Pet. 1:20-21). I must listen to their writings, or I are not listening to Jesus (Jno. 13:20). Secondly, I must commit myself to the principle that God’s word is true (Jno. 17:17; Rom. 3:4). I must yield my will to His on “all things that pertain to life and godliness” to partake of His promises and nature (2 Pet. 1:3-4). Thirdly, I must agree that I can understand the Scriptures. As Jesus exhorted the multitude to comprehend His words, so also we are commanded to “understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). Fourthly, I must follow the word of Jesus (Lk. 6:46). Instead of demanding others focus on understanding me when tensions arise, I should focus on hearing, understanding, and following Jesus.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. 15 This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. 16 For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” (James 3:13–16, NKJV)
Wisdom and understanding are traits much needed by every Christian. These are observable character traits – shown by one’s good and meek conduct (v. 13). Wisdom is the skillful use of knowledge; it is excellence in the application of knowledge. Understanding is akin to this, as it is the evaluation, comprehension, perception, or discernment that gives knowledge its skill and usability. Understanding evaluates and wisdom actuates knowledge. We must avoid the false wisdom that is generated by selfish conceit. Measuring itself against others and elevating itself over others, earthly wisdom works on the basis of self-interest instead of truth (v. 14, 16). Its selfish, sensual instinct of survival leads to bitterness, envy, confusion, and evil. It is fleshly, faithless, futile, and demonic. We remember those became fools while professing to be wise. They plunged into the darkness of sin’s depravity and death by refusing to recognize, honor, and thank God (Rom. 1:20-23). The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 9:10). To leave God and His truth out of your life is exceedingly foolish.
14 When He had called all the multitude to Himself, He said to them, “Hear Me, everyone, and understand: 15 There is nothing that enters a man from outside which can defile him; but the things which come out of him, those are the things that defile a man. 16 If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear!” (Mark 7:14–16, NKJV)
We can understand the teachings of Jesus by listening to them. It concerns us when Christians take exception with that simple statement of trust in the inspired word of God (2 Tim. 3:16-17; Eph. 5:17). When we reduce the teachings of Christ and His apostles (who taught His commands, 1 Cor. 14:37) to personal and relative “interpretation,” we have elevated ourselves above the Lord and surrendered our allegiance to His authority (Matt. 28:18-20; Col. 3:17). In today’s passage, Jesus taught that spiritual corruption does not occur because of what one eats, but is due to what comes out of the heart (Mk. 7:17-23). Understanding that evil proceeds from the heart and is identifiable is not a personal, relative, or so-called traditional interpretation of the Scriptures – it is what Jesus said (read Mark 7:20-23). We ought to ask ourselves, “Do I have ‘ears to hear’ Jesus?” If so, you will understand Him. Do not be deceived by attempts to persuade you that understanding God’s word amounts to accepting a tradition about the Scriptures. Truth is not open to different interpretations or opinions. Therefore, neither is understanding it. We open our hearts to the devil when we close our ears to the word of God by reducing an understanding of it to “our tradition.”
28 … And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. (Acts 8:28–31, NKJV)
This man from Ethiopia was reading the Scriptures. He wanted to understand them, yet he recognized his need to be taught their meaning. He put his desire into action by asking Philip to join him in his chariot, upon which he identified the text he was reading and asked Philip, “of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of someone else” (Acts 8:32-34)? Philip started with that Scripture and preached Jesus to him (Acts 8:35). Our willingness to be taught the Scriptures says some important things about us. It says we want to know God’s will. It says to learn we must have the humility to ask for instruction. It says we do not have all the answers, but the Scriptures do. We learn from this encounter that the Scriptures can be understood. We learn the Scriptures are the source of information to learn about Jesus (not human wisdom, church traditions, credal confessions, etc.). And, we learn God wants us to teach His Scriptures to others. So, we must want to learn from the Scriptures. And, we must want to teach the Scriptures. Both are crucial to faith and salvation in Jesus (Acts 8:36-39).
17 Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, (Ephesians 5:17–18, NKJV)
The person who wants to be wise can be, by understanding the will of the Lord. You are mistaken if you think you cannot understand the Bible (the will of God). Paul says you can. Do not numb your senses and stifle good judgment and understanding by filling yourself with intoxicants. Instead, fill yourself with the Spirit by letting the word of Christ dwell in your heart (Colossians 3:16). Being filled with the Spirit is not a mystical “better felt than told” experience. It happens when we listen to the word of God, learn it, believe it, and obey it. As an example, when the Ethiopian did not understand the will of God, Philip preached Jesus to him so he would understand the Scriptures. He understood God’s will, confessed his faith and was baptized to be saved (Acts 8:30-35; Mk. 16:15-16). Today’s passage commands us not to be unwise (foolish), but to understand God’s will. Filling yourself with wine does not make you wise, it displays your foolishness (Proverbs 20:1). On the other hand, we honor God when we put His word into our heart and obey it in our lives. “You, through Your commandments, make me wiser than my enemies; For they are ever with me” (Psalm 119:98). Do you want to be wise? If so, fill yourself with the Spirit-given word of Christ, understand and do the will of God.
But He said, “More than that, blessed are those who hear the word of God and keep it!” (Luke 11:28, NKJV)
Those who hear God’s word and keep it are more blessed than the womb which bore Jesus and the breasts which nursed Him. That’s impressive, since Mary was truly blessed among women (Luke 1:30, 42, 48). Jesus put a premium on keeping the word of God, not on merely hearing it. Indeed, it is keeping the word of God that shows one has “ears to hear” (Luke 8:8). In Luke 8:5-15 the parable of the sower and the soils depicts three hearts that hear the word of God, yet bear no fruit and are lost. It is only the good ground (“those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience”) that has “ears to hear” and are saved. When a sinner hears and keeps the word of God he is “saved by grace, through faith” – he has earned nothing (Ephesians 2:8-9). Why is that so difficult for some to accept? Well, to apply the words Jesus used when He taught this parable, because “seeing they may see and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand” (Mark 4:12; Luke 8:10). Either their heart has been hardened by unbelief, or it is spiritually shallow, or it is filled up with other things (Mark 4:13-20). Jesus promises His blessings when you hear word of God and keep it. Receiving His blessing depends on you.
60 Therefore many of His disciples, when they heard this, said, “This is a hard saying; who can understand it?” 61 When Jesus knew in Himself that His disciples complained about this, He said to them, “Does this offend you?” … 63 “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh profits nothing. The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” … 66 From that time many of His disciples went back and walked with Him no more. (John 6:60-61, 63, 66)
The gospel of Jesus Christ is not beyond our ability to comprehend. The problem here was the unwillingness of His audience to receive His teachings. When we complain about the difficulty of receiving and following the teachings of Christ we are complaining against Jesus Himself. The words of Jesus Christ are “the words of eternal life” (John 6:68, 63). Jesus did not modify and change His teaching to what the audience felt it needed to hear. He did not change the vocabulary of truth to be sensitive to their anxieties, insecurities and doubts. So, many were offended and did not follow Him. Yet, He boldly expected them to change themselves to conform to His word. He expects the same of us, too. Instead of trying to change the gospel to fit our agenda, Jesus says to change ourselves to fit His. His words give eternal life. Our own words can never do that (Jeremiah 10:23).