17 But Jesus, being aware of it, said to them, “Why do you reason because you have no bread? Do you not yet perceive nor understand? Is your heart still hardened? 18 Having eyes, do you not see? And having ears, do you not hear? And do you not remember?” (Mark 8:17–18, NKJV)
Jesus expected His apostles to understand His warning against the leaven of the Pharisees and Herod, but they were only thinking about physical bread (Mark 8:14-16). He said their hearts were “still hardened” because they could not perceive (understand) the meaning of His warning. They needed to comprehend the corrupting influence of their error, immorality, and hypocrisy (Matt. 16:11-12; Luke 12:1). Here is a lesson on being distinctive hearers. It matters how we hear Christ’s word. Jesus said, “Therefore take heed how you hear” (Luke 8:18). The Pharisees disputed with Jesus and rejected His signs (Mark 8:11-12). Like their forefathers, they were “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears” (Acts 7:51-52). We must have open hearts to receive the gospel of Christ, lest the leaven of the Pharisees, the Sadducees, and the Herodians corrupt us. (Demanding preaching that scratches itching ears still happens, 2 Tim. 4:3-4.) When we resist the word of Christ, we are disputing with and testing Jesus just like the unbelieving Pharisees (Mark 8:11). May we humbly, reverently, and obediently accept the word of Christ. We understand Christ’s teachings when our will is to do the will of God (John 7:16-17; Eph. 3:3-4; Heb. 5:12-14). Open your heart to the gospel of Christ, and you will be blessed (Acts 17:11-12).
9 Then His disciples asked Him, saying, “What does this parable mean?” 10 And He said, “To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand” (Luke 8:9–10, NKJV).
A parable is a similitude in which a spiritual lesson is thrown alongside a commonly known occurrence (hence, the word parallel). Parables illustrate a truth “using comparison, hyperbole, or simile” (The Lexham Bible Dictionary). Christ’s parables are understandable by those with open ears and hearts (“He who has ears to hears, let him hear!” Luke 8:8, 18). These are the ones to whom it is given “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God” (v. 10-11; Matt. 13:10-12, 16-18). Although the parables reveal God’s truth about the kingdom of God, they are not understood by those who close their hearts, shut their eyes, and stop their ears (v. 10; Matt. 13:13-15). The state of mind we have when hearing the word of God is crucial to understanding and following it. That is the essence of the parable of the Sower and Soils that prompted the exchange with Jesus in today’s text (see Mark 4:10-13). The types of soil represent the condition of hearts and whether they receive the word of God (Luke 8:4-8, 11-15). The “noble and good heart” hears and keeps God’s word, bearing fruit with patience (Luke 8:15). (The Bereans in Acts 17:11 will become examples of this good heart.) Parables are beautiful expressions of the gospel of Christ. Our heart condition determines whether we are blessed by them or stumble over them. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.
17 For nothing is secret that will not be revealed, nor anything hidden that will not be known and come to light. 18 Therefore take heed how you hear. For whoever has, to him more will be given; and whoever does not have, even what he seems to have will be taken from him (Luke 8:17–18, NKJV).
How we listen to God’s word is a determining factor of whether we will understand it. When we make up our mind about any Bible subject before even considering what the whole counsel of God says, we have closed hearts, ears, and eyes (Luke 8:9-10; Matt. 13:10-17). We will never accept and hold fast the word of God with such a self-satisfied mindset (Luke 8:15). God’s word is not beyond comprehension. It reveals the purposes and will of God and the secrets of the human heart (Luke 8:17, 10; Heb. 4:12). A willingness to do God’s will, coupled with an earnest examination of God’s word, will result in knowing, accepting, and obeying His word (John 7:16-17; Acts 17:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:15). This person is assured abundant spiritual blessings (Luke 8:18). The person who dismisses the meaning of God’s word because it does not agree with feelings, experiences, and preconceived ideas has deceived himself. What he thinks he possesses (knowledge of the truth) is denied him due to conceit, self-righteousness, and arrogant assumptions. When we listen to God’s word, may we always keep humble hearts turned toward God and away from ourselves. Be careful how you listen to God’s word (John 8:43-47).
Consider what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything (2 Timothy 2:7, NASB95).
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).