CONDITIONS OF UNDERSTANDING THE WORD
EVERY sane, thinking person who knows God and the Lord Jesus Christ wishes to acquire a knowledge of His will to the end that he may avoid entanglements with evil men and wicked women and that he may be associated with the very best people. In Proverbs 2 God has told us how we may learn the secret of such a successful and happy life. An analysis of this chapter yields the following result:
The four conditions for understanding the will of God (1-5);
The object in acquiring knowledge and wisdom--walking in the paths of justice (6-8);
The specific purpose of knowledge and wisdom (10,11):
(1) To keep one from evil men (12-15)
(2) To deliver one from the strange woman (16-19), and
(3) To cause one to walk in the paths of the righteous (20-22).
The objects in view are indeed the greatest incentive to Bible study. In order that we might obtain this knowledge and wisdom, let us endeavor to understand the conditions whereby we may be enabled to acquire these priceless, spiritual gems.
WILLINGNESS TO RECEIVE GOD'S MESSAGE
"My son, if thou wilt receive my words ..." Solomon, inspired by the Spirit of God and in behalf of the Lord, addressed those who are God's sons and put the first condition of the understanding of His Word in the language of the quotation just given. The most fundamental of all attitudes is that of being willing to receive any and everything that God has said. My observations, made over a period of thirty-odd years of special study, have led me to the conclusion that many Christians are not willing to receive unqualifiedly any and everything that God has said in His Word. The rule seems to be that people are willing to accept those teachings with which they have been familiar all of their lives, and which do not go contrary to their own natural judgment and inclination. All too often have I seen those otherwise excellent men and women who have preconceptions and prejudices. As a rule, their peculiar views color everything at which they look and cause them to interpret all things in the light of their own limited and often-distorted experiences and mentality.
One must, by the grace of God, rise above this level and reach the plane where he can lay aside his prejudices and preconceptions and view any subject or scripture impartially, desiring to know what God teaches in His Word.
As suggested above, all Christian people are not willing to accept and to do what God has taught in His Word. Years ago I met an excellent young lady, educated in a Christian college, who stood as the leader of the young people in her community. She was recognized as a devout, sincere Christian. One day in a general conversation, she made the remark, "I am willing to do anything that God has said in His Word except one. This I will never do." Shocked by such a statement coming from a person like her, I instantly asked, "What is it which God has said, and which you refuse to obey?" Her reply was this: "God says that wives are to obey their husbands. If I ever marry, I certainly will never obey my husband." I am wondering whether or not she has ever had an opportunity of disobeying a husband. I have never seen her since. Of course, this was an extreme case; but let us analyze the situation. She sat in judgment on what God said. It did not coincide with her ideas that a woman should obey her husband. She had set her will that regardless of what God had said she would not do that. I am not arguing whether or not the Scriptures, rightly interpreted, mean that the woman should obey her husband in everything. This young lady understood that such was the Bible teaching. Believing that it was, she definitely and positively said that she under no condition would do that. This attitude of mind and heart would lead her to reject and disobey any other commandment which God has made, and which did not meet with her approval. Such a heart attitude cannot be pleasing to God.
Another extreme case came under my observation which illustrates the importance of being willing to receive what God says. A certain minister was talking to a lady on one occasion about being baptized and insisted that God required her to obey Him in this matter. In fact, he presented baptism as a saving ordinance and insisted that, though she did believe in Christ, she was not saved because she had never been baptized. In order to convince her of the necessity of being baptized, he quoted Mark 16:15,16. Then she replied: "That is not in my Book." He insisted that it was and read it from his own Bible. She still insisted that it might be in his Bible but that it was not in hers. He immediately asked her to bring her Bible and pressed upon her to do so. Finally, she burst forth: "It is not in my Bible, for I tore it out!" I am confident that the preacher was wrong in his interpretation of the passage. Men are saved by the boundless grace of God but accept His salvation by simply believing on Jesus as Saviour and trusting in Him for redemption. Those who thus accept Jesus are commanded to show their faith in Him by submitting to baptism in His name. But let us look at the attitude of this woman. There was a passage in God's Word which she did not like. She was unwilling to receive the teaching of that passage. Therefore with deliberation she actually and literally tore the page on which the passage appeared out of her Bible. Should there have been another page or chapter which did not meet with her approval, she would have treated it likewise. The attitude of the people at Berea is the only one that a person can afford to take toward any and all portions of the Word: A desire to receive "the word with all readiness of mind, examining the scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). One must welcome and receive unreservedly all that God has said on any and all subjects.
LAYING UP GOD'S COMMANDMENTS IN THE HEART
The second condition of understanding the Word of God is expressed in the clause, "and lay up my commandments with thee." David said that he had laid up God's Word in his heart that he might not sin against Him. We must be not only willing to receive the Word--which is literally and verbally inspired--but we must be willing to lay up God's commandments in our hearts. This condition informs us that, if we are to receive God's Word and a knowledge of it, we must actually store up in our minds the very words and utterances that are found in the Scriptures. This thought expressed in modern terms is that we must memorize the Scriptures. We may not be able to do it with exactness, but we can get the thought and the very words if possible.
According to verse 2, we must treasure up the words of God in our minds to the extent that they incline our ears to wisdom and cause us to apply our hearts to understanding. The very words of the Scriptures are powerful and formative in the life of the one who is willing to receive everything that God says. When anyone has actually treasured up the words in his heart until they unconsciously determine his style and phraseology, then he has complied with the second condition of obtaining an understanding and knowledge of God's Word.
PRAYING FOR SPIRITUAL UNDERSTANDING
The third condition for understanding the Word of God is expressed in the following words: "Yea, if thou cry after discernment, And lift up thy voice for understanding ..." The Word of God is spiritually discerned, and, by his intellectual faculties, man can to a limited extent, grasp the thought here and there; but he is utterly incapable of understanding the real import of the words by his human intellect and effort. This is a fact that has been proved in innumerable instances. There are men with gigantic minds who have very poor and distorted conceptions of the Word. On the other hand, there are poor, unlettered, uneducated, people who have a clear grasp of the truth. Paul declared that the Scriptures are inspired--God-breathed--(II Tim. 3:16,17); that spiritual words are combined with spiritual ideas; and that they are spiritually discerned (I Cor. 2:12-16). He urged the Ephesian Christians to pray that God might give them "a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him" (Eph. 1:17). To the church at Colosse, the Lord Jesus gave counsel that they should ask Him to give them "eyesalve to anoint thine eyes, that thou mayest see" (Rev. 3:18). The Psalmist David realized the importance of the illumination which comes from the Spirit of God alone. Hence he prayed, "Open thou mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of thy law." (Ps. 119:18).
I wish to give my own testimony on this point. At the beginning of my ministry I could not interpret the Word but had to depend upon what I was taught in school by my instructors. Finally, my attention was called to the verse just quoted. I accepted it by faith and asked the Lord to open my eyes. In answer to my cry for spiritual discernment, He gave me an understanding that I have for practically thirty years enjoyed. God is no respecter of persons. The humblest child of God may come to Him at any time asking for spiritual understanding and discernment. If he is sincere in his petition and will trust, the Lord will not fail him.
SEARCHING THE SCRIPTURES FOR THE TREASURES OF TRUTH
The fourth and last condition for understanding the Word of God is expressed in these words: "If thou seek her as silver, And search for her as for hid treasures: Then shalt thou understand the fear of Jehovah, And find the knowledge of God." We have all been told that that which costs us nothing is not worth having. We must be willing to labor and toil if we are to get down into the depths of the blessed Word. A willingness to receive God's message, memorizing the Scriptures--learning the very words of the text--and praying for spiritual wisdom are all necessary and essential but are not substitutes for hard, deep Bible study. All Bible teachers will confirm this statement.
Throughout my Christian experience I have endeavored to study hard in order to obtain a thorough knowledge of the Word. I have read many books, but I believe I am safe in saying that I have devoted more time to the reading of the Scriptures alone than I have employed in studying all other books combined. Of course, I have devoted much of this time to the study of the Scriptures in the original Hebrew and Greek. Those who have had the privilege of learning these languages have a decided advantage over those who do not know them. If anyone has this knowledge, he can thank God for it and can dig deeper by far than the average person who does not have this knowledge. Each one should avail himself of every opportunity of acquiring more knowledge in order that he might go deeper and deeper into the Word of God.
When a person complies with these four conditions, there can be no doubt whatsoever concerning his arriving at a very clear, definite idea of the teaching of God's Word. The deeper he digs, the better will his understanding of it be. In order to retain it, he should pass on immediately to others that which he has learned. According to one of the fundamental laws of pedagogy, the student will, by the very fact of his giving out to others, gain a clearer and a better grip upon the truth than he can if he simply neglects to give to others what he learns.
As stated in the analysis of Proverbs 2, one needs to acquire the knowledge of God in order that the Lord may keep him in the paths of wisdom and righteousness. By this the Lord delivers him from evil men, wicked women, and gives him association with the righteous and the just.