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).
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)
Jesus expects us to listen to Him and to understand His teaching. Just as we listened to our math teacher to understand that 2+2=4, we must listen to the teachings of Christ to learn (properly understand) the truth of God. Divine truth is not an ever-moving target that can only be understood according to each person’s own situation and environment. This relativistic view of divine truth is common, but it not what Jesus taught about the nature of divine truth. Jesus defined His word as truth and said, “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (Jno. 8:31-32). God’s word is truth, not what we feel is truth or what our experiences say is truth (read John 17:17). We do well to conform our view of truth to Christ’s view of truth, and then listen carefully to what His truth says. That is at least part of what it means to have “ears to hear.” By doing so you are equipping yourself to listen to and understand His word (John 8:43).
43 Why do you not understand My speech? Because you are not able to listen to My word. 44 You are of your father the devil, and the desires of your father you want to do. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own resources, for he is a liar and the father of it. (John 8:43–44, NKJV)
Jesus challenged His audience to examine why they argued with Him and opposed His teachings. Why did they refuse to know and abide in the truth (John 8:31-32)? Why couldn’t they understand what He was saying? It was not because His word was unknowable. It was because they were not listening to Him with willing hearts. They were not committed to knowing and following His word (v. 43). Why were their hearts so closed that they would not believe and follow Jesus? Because they desired the sins of the devil instead of the truth of God (v. 44). The devil is a liar who convinces people not to believe the word of God, the Bible. He lies about Jesus, the Son of God. He lies about His gospel, God’s power to save. He lies about Christians when they follow the truth of Christ. At some point, all who reject the word of Jesus must face what is apparent: They are children of the devil and not children of God. That is the hard truth of the matter. What we desire will be reflected in our attitude and actions toward Jesus and His word. Do you want His truth? If so, then believe and follow it. (Reprint with edits of Sword Tips #604)
33 Teach me, O Lord, the way of Your statutes, and I shall keep it to the end. 34 Give me understanding, and I shall keep Your law; Indeed, I shall observe it with my whole heart. (Psalm 119:33–34, NKJV)
God will teach you His way, when you are willing to learn. Notice that the psalmist wanted to learn the way of God’s statutes because he was committed to keeping them with his whole heart. He was not interested in learning merely for the sake of gaining knowledge. He wanted to gain understanding so that he could obey God properly. Do you want to learn God’s way? If so, why do you want to learn? Is it to justify yourself in what you already believe and do? Is it to prove somebody else wrong? Or, is it to actually do the will of God in your own life? God will teach you His way when you listen to Him. The way you listen to God is by hearing His word that is contained in the inspired Scriptures (John 6:44-45; 2 Tim. 3:16). God speaks to all of us by His Son, Jesus Christ, who sent His apostles into the world with His message of truth (Heb. 1:2; Matt. 28:19-20). When we listen to the apostles, we are listening to Jesus (Matt. 10:40; John 13:20). This is how God teaches us His way (Matt. 11:29; 13:9). Commit yourself to doing God’s will, then let His word teach you what to do. Then, do it with your whole heart.