In light of the 502nd Reformation anniversary we as a church zeroed in our preaching emphasis on the centrality of the word of God for the life of the church. Like other churches, we proclaim the sufficiency of Scriptures. We believe that it is God’s only means of birthing us into His kingdom. We believe that by it faith is awaken in us. We believe that spiritual maturity is possible only if we are to crave and drink it as our pure spiritual milk and so be satisfied by it. We believe that this is God’s primary means for cleansing us, so that we may bear more fruit, and not wither. We believe that when God’s word abides in us, Christ abide in us, and we are being conformed by it into his image. And we believe that the Scripture have these effects because God the Holy Spirit moved the human authors to write it with human languages(Greek and Hebrew). That is with words, phrases, clauses, and paragraph. The Bible is our sole infallible and inerrant authority. But we can’t have all of these benefits unless we read it and come to understand it. It is one thing to just affirm the sufficiency and inerrancy of God’s word, and another thing to live by that principle. Reading and understanding things written about God’s word is not the same as reading and understanding God’s word. The former is filtered by a third party, the latter is mining directly from the source, and there’s no substitute for it. Yes, others might help you understand the Scripture, but no one can do the “thinking and understanding” for you. People can tell you that the ice cream is delicious, but you can never really know how delicious it is until you taste it yourself. So the reading(hearing) and right understanding of God’s word are His indispensable means to receive these glorious realities. We will see this in Proverbs 2:1-5. And my aim is that after hearing(or reading) God’s message we will grow to love more and more the reading or hearing and understanding of God’s word.
At the outset we can see from the structure of this proverb that gaining understanding and knowledge about God is contingent or dependent upon our receiving and treasuring God’s word:
vv. 1 “If you receive my words and treasure my commandments with you…”
vv. 5 “Then you will understand”
Verse 1 is the condition for verse 5. That is a real “if”. If there is no receiving, and no treasuring, then there’s no understanding. But how do we receive and treasure the word of God?
Verse 2 tells us how. The first half answers how are we to receive it. It is by making our ears attentive to wisdom. In other words it is by listening intently. It is through the hearing of God’s wisdom in his word. For us to receive it, we need to hear it first.
This is one of the reasons why missions is important. Romans 10:14 says: “How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” According to Paul faith is dependent on whether people have heard the gospel.
Then the second half of verse 2 answers how are we to treasure God’s commandments. It is by inclining our hearts to understanding. That is, we need not only to hear the word but also understand the word. The Hebrew word for the “heart” and the “mind” is the same. So to incline one’s heart is to incline the mind. It is the seat of the will. Therefore what’s being said is that we need to desire and long for understanding. If there is no desire to know the things of God, then there is no treasuring. We treasure it by desiring to understand it. You can’t say that you treasure the word, yet you don’t want to understand the word.
Now, just as missions is important, education is important for the same reasons. The goal of education, first and foremost is so that people may read and treasure God’sword by understanding it. And this should be our goal as students, as teachers, and as parents. That should be our primary motivation for education.
Let’s consider what inclining one’s heart to understanding does looks like. The “if” clause in verse 3 is not another condition for gaining understanding. Rather the if clause is functioning as a concession to the last half of verse 3. Meaning, assuming you call out for insight and it does not come at your first call, then raise your voice higher. Make greater efforts until understanding comes at your summons. This is how we incline our hearts to understanding. We wrestle with the text. We don’t just settle in ignorance.
Don’t short circuit exegesis by your laziness. True, personal, and experiential knowledge comes only if you truly think hard to understand the word of God yourself. Commentaries have its right place in the study of God’s word, but we can’t use it as a stop-gap measure for our laziness to think through the logic of the text, and to get to its main point. Being too dependent on commentaries and articles is not a sign of humility. It is a sign of slothfulness. Again I’m not saying that commentaries are not helpful. But be sure not to confuse reading commentaries with doing exegesis. Because after all, theologians and commentaries, more often than not, have differing views on a particular text of Scriptures, and you still have to make an intelligent, and exegetically informed decision. You can’t just choose according to your favorite theologian.
This is a very sad reality that exist even within groups who claim to affirm the sufficiency of Scriptures. What would pass for thorough exegesis today is gathering enough one liners to quote and polemics to throw. They merely restate the conclusions of celebrity theologians. There is no real thinking as to what the biblical authors meant by what they wrote. Their conclusions and arguments are ready made.
So, again, no one will do the thinking for you. The promises of verse 5 are for those who treasure the word by inclining their hearts and minds to understand it. It is not for the lazy.
There is a unique, and peculiar joy when you seek to understand God’s word yourself(not without help of course). What I mean is that you are not just passively waiting for others to find it, but actively searching for that gold. And part of the joy of having a valuable treasure is the process of finding it yourself. Now, perhaps because we value what we invest our time and energy in the most, that is why it’s valuable to us. We are willing to trade precious hours, days and strength just to find that treasure. And because we do that, it becomes exceedingly more valuable to us so that we no longer want to depart from it. We want to store it in our memory, and in our hearts. But consider if you’re not involved in the search. You are not as invested in finding it as the others. Then you will more likely not going to treasure and value it. That’s what verse 4 is telling us. The condition for understanding how to fear the Lord, and have a knowledge about Him is if we are to look for understanding like searching for hidden treasures.
I believe that all of what was said about hearing is also true for reading God’s word. Paul tells us in Ephesians 3:4, that when we read what he wrote, we are able to understand his insights into the mystery of Christ. By reading we can discern his thought processes. But what is in between the act of reading and understanding? It is the act of thinking. We understand because we think it through. In 2 Timothy 2:7, Paul told Timothy to think over what he says, and the motivation given is that the Lord will give him understanding in everything. God will grant you understanding when you think over the words of the Bible. The natural process of reading and thinking about God’s words is the very means by which He will grant understanding of it. So where’s the supernatural aspect of it? James 1:5 says that if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. The supernatural aspect of it is that God grants understanding through an answered prayer. So the question is do we really trust the Holy Spirit that he will guide us in all truth? Do we really believe that God will grant understanding?
We all once heard of the saying that the Scripture is plain and can be understood even by a six year old. So why should we think hard about it? Answer: First, that is not the saying. The saying is that the gospel is plain… Not the entirety of Scripture. Some parts are definitely hard to understand. Take note of what Peter said about Paul’s teachings in 2 Peter 3:15-16. Peter said that “There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction as they do the other scriptures.”
That is a sweeping statement, “as they do the other scriptures.” In other words there are other scriptures that are hard to understand, not just Paul’s teachings. So we are being naïve if we say that a thorough study of Scripture is unnecessary.
Lastly, the grounds why right understanding of God’s word is possible is because ultimately the Lord gives wisdom. Verse 7 tells us that he stores up sound wisdom for the upright, and those who walk in integrity. That’s another way of saying that those who treasure the word are the people who will obey it. That’s why they will be granted understanding. They will not stand over the word but be under it. Verse 9 tells us that they will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path. Then in verse 10 he gave us the reason. For wisdom will come into their hearts, and knowledge will be pleasant to their souls.
So first we receive God’s word either by hearing or reading, then we treasure it by inclining our hearts to understand it. That is, we seek after wisdom like a treasure, thinking over what God says, then and only then will God pour wisdom and knowledge into our hearts if we ask Him.
Now one of the reasons why the Protestant Reformation happened was because the lay people were not given the opportunity to read and understand the Scriptures for themselves. And the Roman Church’s justification for not letting the people have access to the Bible in the vernacular is that it might open up a flood gate of iniquity. And that the unskilled will twist the word of God however they wish. So in one sense you might agree with them whilst saying let’s leave the interpretation to the “skilled”, the “professionals”, but Martin Luther would be on the opposite side saying, “And as to your saying that – “by these doctrines the flood-gate of iniquity is thrown open unto men” – be it so. They pertain to that leprosy of evil to be borne, spoken of before. Nevertheless, by the same doctrines, there is thrown open to the Elect and to them that fear God, a gate unto righteousness, – an entrance into heaven – a way unto God!” This is one of the gifts of the Reformation for us today. We can now read and think over what the Scripture is saying to us by ourselves. Yes, the risk of misinterpretation is great but the gospel is too precious and delicious for us to miss tasting it ourselves. So as we celebrate the 502nd anniversary of the Reformation, we are to cherish and treasure the reading and understanding of God’s word not only corporately as a church but also in the privacy of our homes. Happy Reformation to all!