an image of the first page of the letter to James in the Bible

An Overview of James Chapter 3: Maturity in Speech

In his letter, James covers ways we can mature as Christians. The first two chapters cover growth through trials by knowledge of God’s word, by putting that knowledge into action, and by letting go of worldly prejudices. Chapter 3 adds another layer to our Christian maturity by talking about how we use our words in how we teach and in how we generally speak to or about others. The quality and contents of our speech reveals how much we have let godly wisdom truly mature in us.

I’m working from the Christian Standard Bible.

Verses 1–2: A Warning to Teachers

Not many should become teachers, my brothers, knowing that we will receive a stricter judgment, for we all stumble in many ways. If anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a mature man who is also able to control his whole body.

James 3:1–2

Between his warnings against prejudice and about speech, James sandwiches a small admonition that we should be cautious about teaching. We understand from passages like Matthew 28:19–20 that we are all called to teach. Sharing the gospel is part of how we show love to the world. Here, I believe James is talking about those who take this role on more formally. These days we might call them preachers or ministers — those people who make a profession of teaching God’s word and, in turn, receive respect and a certain amount of authority based on their position.

James says to be cautious about taking on that role, for we all have faults that can undermine the message. In the previous chapter, James talked about the way prejudice can undermine God’s message, and he’s about to launch into an exploration of the way we use our words. In the formal role of teacher, both of these will be tested often. Maturity is a key quality for those who would be the face of the gospel.

Verses 3–12: The Power of the Tongue

Now when we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we also guide the whole animal. And consider ships: Though very large and driven by fierce winds, they are guided by a very small rudder wherever the will of the pilot directs. So too, though the tongue is a small part of the body, it boasts great things. Consider how large a forest a small fire ignites. And the tongue is a fire. The tongue, a world of unrighteousness, is placed among the parts of our bodies. It pollutes the whole body, sets the course of life on fire, and is set on fire by hell.

James 3:3–6

James minces no words when he describes the power of the tongue. Nothing else has destroyed marriages, ruined friendships, and launched wars like the tongue. Yet it is also capable of great good. As powerful as the tongue can be to produce harm, we must also realize that the opposite is true. Through it we can accomplish great good. We must be mindful of Christ’s words in Matthew 15:18: “But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart…”

Today, we could also say that what comes out of our keyboards comes from the heart. I’ve known Christians who would be perfectly kind and respectful to my face but would only interact with me online to insult and attack me. This is not how we are supposed to behave. When we let online anonymity lull us into a sense of safety to the point where we become harsh and abusive with what we post, then we have let our words become a raging fire and a world of unrighteousness. We should hold our online interactions to every bit as a high standard as we do our spoken conversations.

We praise our Lord and Father with it, and we curse men who are made in God’s likeness with it. Praising and cursing come out of the same mouth. My brothers, these things should not be this way. Does a spring pour out sweet and bitter water from the same opening?

James 3:9–11

We need to understand that the way we use our words with each other affects the nature of our praise to God. God no more accepts words of love and devotion from a mouth full of insults and hatred than we would accept drinking water from a polluted spring.

Verses 13–18: Living True Wisdom

But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy. And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who cultivate peace.

James 3:17–18

James uses wisdom as a segue between his thoughts on our words and teachings about humility in chapter 4. Are you mature in your wisdom? Then it will show in your conduct, your gentleness, and your mercy. These qualities will be evidenced by your lack of prejudice, by how you use your speech, and in the humility you show toward others and God. Make no mistake: an uncontrolled tongues is a sign of foolishness in God’s eyes.

In any given situation, are our words gentle? Are they full of mercy? Do they resist prejudice? Do they encourage peace? If they do, then our words reveal a heart full of our Savior’s goodness.

Miscellaneous Thoughts and Conclusion

  • I acknowledge that Jesus, Paul, and Peter did, on occasion, use strong words. However, a handful of isolated events over the course of multi-year ministries do not give us an excuse to ignore passages like this and delve into abusive language on a regular basis.
  • One of the best ways we can prevent ourselves from trying to praise God with an unclean mouth is to simply stop listening to others who act this way. I’m not talking about movies with bad language here; I’m talking about radio, television, and online personalities who frequently devolve into yelling messages of hatred and anger. Their bad company can corrupt your good intentions.

James 4 will speak about maturity in the context of humility.

Running Without Legs

hunterwoodhall

This is based on a sermon I delivered at the South Boone Church of Christ a few years ago. Image of Hunter Woodhall of Team USA 2016.

On January 2, 2008, one of my favorite tech bloggers posted this short anecdote:

On the final day of a trip to Disney World with my family last month, I saw something remarkable: a boy, 4 or 5 years old, with two artificial legs, running around Mickey’s Toontown Fair in the Magic Kingdom. Running. If he had been wearing pants instead of shorts, you’d have simply thought he had a bit of a limp.

He was born without legs, but yet there he was, galloping across the playground on a warm, sunny December morning, every bit as happy, excited, and carefree as every little kid in the world ought to be.

His legs — sleek, lightweight, and impressively dextrous — were inspiring and beautiful. And they were made using technology that simply did not exist when I was his age, one generation ago. Focus solely on current events and it’s all too easy to despair at the state of the world. But science and progress march ever forward, and the world is a better place today than it used to be.

This post caught my attention for several reasons – not the least for shaking my perspectives about this world we live in, for contradicting that, “What is the world coming to?” voice. I really think that sometimes we have grown very fixated on negative things to the detriment of our spiritual lives. Hopeless and pessimistic attitudes can impair our spiritual walking in a way this child’s disability fails to impede him.

Recognizing Our Obstacles

We often go to Ephesians 5 to discuss our Christian walk, and in verse 2, Paul instructs us to walk in love. If we skip to verse 5, he encourages us to walk as in the light, and the apostle concludes in verse 15 that we should walk with wisdom. Love, light, and wisdom should guide our lives. In other words, we should be able to:

  • Clearly see what matters. This is light.
  • Make good choices based on what we see. This is wisdom.
  • Allow compassion for others and for God motivates every step we take. This is love.

Worldly Cares

Unfortunately, there is much around us to tear us away from this walk if we allow it to consume our energy and attention, leaving us sitting along the side rather than progressing toward our goal. We can grow discouraged at crime rate statistics, at political figures, at business decisions, at stock market trends, at individuals or groups who somehow offend our sensibilities.

We argue these issues over the dinner table. We complain about them around the water cooler. We blog about them. We yell at the TV about them, and, in so doing, we are sitting down and giving up. We are forgetting how to walk. We are failing Christ. We are failing our brothers and sisters. We are failing those toward whom we should be examples – and over what? Over things that are temporary and insignificant in the bigger picture.

Matthew 6:19-21 reminds us that the things of this world are temporary and warns us about letting them take hold in our hearts. Also, I John 2:15-17 warns us against loving the things of this world, which are transient and will pass away. Often, we apply these passages to outward temptations and covetousness, but we fail to apply these at a deeper level.

When I argue with and berate you because my politics don’t agree with yours, am I not putting worldly cares first? When I mope and complain about taxes or bills, am I not allowing money to rule my life? In these cases, I have stopped walking that Christian walk of light, wisdom, and love, and I have allowed myself to become helpless along the side of the road.

Back in Matthew 6:31-34, Jesus concludes that we should not be overly concerned with the petty details of this life, relying on God for what really matters, and Paul, in Philippians 4:8 reminds us to concentrate mainly on those things that are virtuous and encouraging.

Helplessness

Additionally, I can permit my own sense of helplessness disable my journey. After all, I am apparently powerless against sin (Romans 3:23). I cannot earn my salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). I deserve death (Romans 6:23), and every sin I commit reinforces the torture Christ went through millennia ago (Hebrews 6:6). I may feel myself a hopeless case. I am expected to walk the narrow path. I am expected to walk in light, love, and wisdom. Yet I find I have no legs to stand on.

James 4:10 tells us that we should humble ourselves before God, and He will lift us up. I Peter 5:6 reiterates this sentiment, encouraging us to cast all worries and doubts upon Him who cares for us. In every passage that recounts our helplessness before God, his grace and mercy is described as negating those obstacles between us and Him.

The imagery of God’s hand is replete throughout the Old Testament, and the prophet Isaiah encourages God’s people with the news that His hand is able to save them from their helpless state if they would but take it in Isaiah 59:1 . We may be unable to walk on our own.

We may be unable to make the Christian journey on our own legs, but remember Jesus in Mark 2 when helping a paralyzed man. He asks the scribes around Him which was more difficult, to make him walk or to forgive his sins. With this man, Jesus does both, and today He gives us the ability to walk with Him because of the forgiveness He offers.

Running Toward the Goal

The child at Disney World was not content to walk, though. Even on his artificial legs, he wanted to run, and he ran so well, he could have fooled those around him had it not been for the shorts he was wearing. Likewise, I Corinthians 9:24 encourages us to run to obtain the crown. Hebrews 12:1-2 encourages us to run with endurance toward Christ, but to do so we have to be willing to lay aside anything that burdens us.

I personally like the account in John 20, when Mary Magdalene tells Peter and John of the empty tomb, and both race to see it for themselves. John makes it first, but Peter runs right past him and into the tomb itself. For all intents and purposes, these two should have been strangers to each other by now — the disciple possibly closest to Christ and the one who verbally denied Him. Still, they set aside their differences, and they ran toward Christ. We can do likewise. Though we have no legs of our own, through Christ we can run.

Are We Having Fun Yet?

There are times in this life when sorrow rolls over us and peace is far away. There are times when our sin is ever before us. The phrase, “Are we having fun yet?” is a sarcastic remark that permeates pop culture. Usually, when we ask this question, we are feeling the exact opposite. “Are we having fun yet?” may have, in fact, made a good title to some of the chapters in the book of Ecclesiastes. Many of the issues we find in the wisdom literature still exist today.

Solomon recognizes times of trouble, times of sin, times of conflict. He sees much around him that is without endurance and without foundation. He sees that we live in a broken world where bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. We see twisting of justice. We see a lack of fairness. It is not life itself that is unprofitable or vanity. Rather, vanity comes from living to the world’s standards of success and happiness. Successful jobs, praise from others, material possessions, pushing boundaries – none of these things fulfill man’s purpose nor provide enduring contentment.

Seeking the Next Fix

We grow dull and desensitized to those things that give us joy and excitement. Solomon begins looking for pleasure in chapter 2, but that is not enough. He then moves on to building great works – houses, gardens, parks, pools, etc. Verse 7 then transitions to material possessions. He has servants, flocks, silver and gold. It begins with him seeking pleasure, and he moves on time and again to the next fix. By verses 10-12, Solomon indulges in any and every joy he sees – whether wise or foolish.

By chapter 2:17-20, all of this brings him despair and dissatisfaction. He seeks pleasure in this life, regardless of the source. Hebrews 11:24-25, in the context of Moses’ life, speaks of the pleasures of sin, yet the writer calls these pleasures seasonal. They are temporary and transient. Moses recognizes this and chooses God. While we acknowledge the ability of sin to deliver pleasure and satisfaction, but what long-term gains come from it. Romans 6:20 calls sin freedom from righteousness, but verse 21 asks what the point it, though, when the end of that freedom is destruction.

Discovering True Contentment

Can respect, honor, dignity, and love come from living in sin? Paul says no – shame and death come from sin. Are we having fun yet, while we continue to distance ourselves from God? Returning to Ecclesiastes 2, however, Solomon sees hope. In verses 22-24, he sees that one can enjoy life in this broken world while acknowledging God and keeping Him in perspective. Chapter 5:18 reinforces this idea of enjoying our possessions and labors in gratitude to God. Chapter 8:12 reminds us that those who do good will do well before God. He concludes in chapter 12 by admonishing us all to remember our Creator and to live our lives for Him.

Solomon recognizes that striving after fulfillment in this life ultimately results in vanity. No matter how we try to ignore it or run from it, we know eternity awaits us. Many aspects of life lose meaning without God. Without Him, all these pleasures and achievements are mere distractions that will leave voids needing to be filled again and again. Are we having fun yet? Perhaps that is the wrong question altogether. Paul asks of the fruits of sin, but he offers hope in Romans 6:22-23. We are free from sin in Christ’s sacrifice, and he concludes where Solomon concludes: serve God. We can enjoy the things of this life, but we have meaning and contentment when we acknowledge the temporary nature of this world. In serving God and obeying Him, we can enjoy life and find peace in a broken world.

lesson by Tim Smelser

The Beginning of Wisdom

And unto man he said, “Behold, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom; And to depart from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28).

The pursuit of wisdom has been one of the great pursuits of the ages. For generations, people have sought out wisdom and have attempted to preserve it for their descendants. Yet, unlike technology, advancements in knowledge, and other such pursuits. the pursuit of wisdom seems to begin anew with every successive generation. Why is it that we can learn about tools and information from those who came before us, but not wisdom?

For far too many, wisdom is considered as folly. We in the twenty-first century have advanced so much, and our forefathers were “ignorant” and “misinformed,” in their view, so what can we really learn from them? They may not have had cars, computers, cell phones, or quantum physics. In our new age, things are different, or so it is believed.

In reality, there are no greater fools than those who repudiate that which was learned by the experience of those who came before us. The fact of the matter is that while technology has advanced, nothing has really changed. Humanity is beset by the same woes that have always beset humanity: foolishness, sin, isolation, despair, temptation, and the like. The Preacher was quite wise in Ecclesiastes 1:9: there is nothing new under the sun!

One of the greatest tragedies of humanity is how each successive generation seems incapable of learning from the mistakes of their ancestors. Each successive generation either follows the paths of their fathers directly, or they decide to entirely repudiate that path and go to the other extreme. Parents make irresponsible financial or relationship decisions, and the children go and do the same. Parents raise children one way, and the children feel compelled to raise their children in the entirely opposite way. Neither of these reflect wisdom: our fathers made many mistakes that we would do well not to repeat, and over-reactions tend to produce different problems, but problems nonetheless, than the problem that was attempted to be solved in the first place.

Why is wisdom so hard to communicate? Job understands many of the difficulties as he reflects on wisdom in Job 28. Wisdom is not like precious metals or ore which can be discovered and mined (Job 28:1-2). Wisdom is not a faraway destination that requires great skill and an epic journey (Job 28:3-4). Wisdom is not gained by considering animals or nature, since it is not with them (Job 28:5-11). Thus, we cannot go anywhere to find wisdom, we cannot find the resources with which we could purchase wisdom, and we will not find it in death (Job 28:12-22)! The challenge of wisdom is that it cannot be obtained or discovered using the preferred means of human beings.

Instead, wisdom belongs to God (Job 28:23-27). Wisdom is not like knowledge– it cannot be forced upon anyone, and it requires a certain disposition to receive it. Wisdom must begin with a particular attitude and a particular perspective: the fear of God (Job 28:28).

This is why wisdom is so terribly hard to pass along to every successive generation. Wisdom is generally gained through hard learning. It is easy to give lip service to the “fear of the LORD” when one is young– the fear of the LORD is often gained through humbling experiences and challenges. We humans tend to insist on our own ways until we discover their folly and their end (Jeremiah 10:23). Until a person recognizes that they are the creation and not the creator, that they are in need of instruction and cannot figure everything out on their own, and that they need to trust in the LORD and His understanding and not their own, they can never obtain wisdom. Wisdom requires humility– the recognition that there is much to understand and learn that we do not understand and learn, and that we ought to keep ourselves in proper perspective.

When we come to terms with our own weaknesses, and can learn to trust in God Almighty, we can truly begin understanding that which is wise. Its basis is in the fear of the LORD and turning away from that which is evil (Job 28:28). If we understand that God is our creator and that He seeks what is best for us, we will trust that all things contrary to His will are detrimental to us, and we will avoid them. We cannot do that until we have humbled ourselves and have come to the realization that blazing our own trail leads to death and destruction (cf. Proverbs 14:12, Romans 6:23).

It is natural for every successive generation to attempt to strike out on their own trail. That is why many wise fathers end up with children acting foolishly, but it also means that some foolish fathers may, despite themselves, end up with wise sons. Wisdom can only be gained and understood when we realize that no matter how things change, things stay the same, and that we are really no better than our ancestors or anyone else. Wisdom can only be gained when we realize that we are the creation, God is the Creator, and life can only be found through Him and His will. Let us seek after wisdom, having hearts prepared to receive it!

lesson by Ethan R. Longhenry

Biblical Appeals

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the author observes that God makes everything beautiful in its time, setting eternity in the heart of man. The latter part of the verse explains that God has given us a sense of something greater in our hearts, some recognition that we owe our existence to One greater than us. Our compulsive drive to understand the forces behind the world around us results from our creation after the image of He who set these forces in motion. We come to a better understanding of God and ourselves when we study from God’s word.
Wanting God in our lives without having his word in our lives is like being a lawyer that does not study law, like an engineer that knows nothing of physics. To know Him requires interaction with His word. Too often, our Bibles collect dust on days between worship services, and we are inundated with the concept that God’s word is out of date. We believe it no longer applies to us. How could something written two thousand years ago still appeal to mankind? The Bible does, and it appeals to man on an intellectual basis, on a philosophical basis, and a spiritual basis.
Appealing to Our Intellect
The Bible teaches us to learn from the actions of others. I Corinthians 10:1 begins a passage that opens with a reminder of things happening to those in the Old Testament, and Paul states those events happened so we may have an example. We learn from those who have come before us. Israel’s interactions with God teaches about the nature of God, His justice, His mercy, and His expectations.
The Bible teaches us that what we think we want is not always what we need. In I Samuel 8, the people call for a king, and God gives them a king impressive to the people. The second king, a boy called David, defies expectations, but God, in I Samuel 16:7, tells Samuel to look beyond David’s appearance. God see the heart. The king the people expect and want is not the king they need.
The Bible teaches that nothing escapes God’s notice. In Genesis 47, Jacob looks back on the deceptions filling his life, and he recognizes that he has received as he had given. Back in Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers recognize their guilt over their brother’s disappearance – years after the event. They see they are reaping the consequences of their actions.
Appealing to Us Philosophically
The Bible appeals to the pursuit of logic and wisdom. It is full of practical wisdom that can guide our lives. Proverbs 15:1, for example, encourages us to answer anger with softness. Proverbs 14:29 esteems one slow to anger. Proverbs 27:15 tells of the dangers of nagging. Proverbs 2:1 talks about seeking after wisdom and the importance of one generation passing wisdom on to the next. The Proverb writer is saying that listening to our elders and seeking wisdom leads to a better life.
The Bible speaks to the relationship between husbands and wives. Many wonder why the Song of Solomon is included in the Bible, but in chapter 2:7, the beloved advises her friends to be careful about rushing into relationships. This is repeated in chapter 3:5. Even after she is married to Solomon, she again entreats her friends to seek love only when the person and the time is right. It is a message we would do well to apply in our own relationships
On the nature of pain and suffering, we have the book of Job. One frustrating aspect, though, is that Job never receives and answer. What he does learn is that we are not defined by what we have. Luke 12:15 records Jesus saying that life does not consist of things. Instead, Jesus teaches, and Job learns, that sustenance is found in God.
Appealing to Spirituality
Genesis 3 demonstrates the separation between man and God resulting from sin. We see the promises later made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Old Testament tells a story of the fulfillment of God’s promises, leading to a Messiah brought to this world. John 1 describes this Messiah as God in flesh. Without studying His word, we remain unaware of God’s unending nature. The problem of sin remains the same, as Isaiah describes in Isaiah 59:2 and Paul describes in Romans 3:23.
Despite sin, however, God’s love remains the same. Isaiah 55:6 calls on God’s people to repent of their sins and return to God. The prophet reassures them He will forgive. We would have a hard time forgiving someone who has wronged us as much as His people wronged Him, but verses 8-9 explain that God’s nature and His love make such forgiveness possible. No matter how many times we let God down, if we turn away and repent, God is willing to forgive. His love has not wavered.
Finally, God’s word assures us that the urgency of God’s word remains the same. It can be tempting to be like Agrippa and procrastinate God until another time.  However, In Psalm 95:6-9, David appeals to God’s people to respond to Him today. In Hebrews 3:7, 3:15, and 4:7, this same plea is repeated. We never know what the next moment will bring, so the time to respond to His word is always the same: now.
Conclusion
II Peter 1:2-3 speaks of God’s divine power to give us all things pertaining to life and godliness. To fully appreciate the wisdom contained in God’s word, we have to study. For the Bible to be applicable to our lives, we must apply it. We may have eternity in our hearts, but, to spend eternity with God, we must know His word, His plan, and His expectations.

In Ecclesiastes 3:11, the author observes that God makes everything beautiful in its time, setting eternity in the heart of man. The latter part of the verse explains that God has given us a sense of something greater in our hearts, some recognition that we owe our existence to One greater than us. Our compulsive drive to understand the forces behind the world around us results from our creation after the image of He who set these forces in motion. We come to a better understanding of God and ourselves when we study from God’s word.

Wanting God in our lives without having his word in our lives is like being a lawyer that does not study law, like an engineer that knows nothing of physics. To know Him requires interaction with His word. Too often, our Bibles collect dust on days between worship services, and we are inundated with the concept that God’s word is out of date. We believe it no longer applies to us. How could something written two thousand years ago still appeal to mankind? The Bible does, and it appeals to man on an intellectual basis, on a philosophical basis, and a spiritual basis.

Rational Appeal

  • The Bible teaches us to learn from the actions of others. I Corinthians 10:1 begins a passage that opens with a reminder of things happening to those in the Old Testament, and Paul states those events happened so we may have an example. We learn from those who have come before us. Israel’s interactions with God teaches about the nature of God, His justice, His mercy, and His expectations.
  • The Bible teaches what we want is not what we need. In I Samuel 8, the people call for a king, and God gives them a king impressive to the people. The second king, a boy called David, defies expectations, but God, in I Samuel 16:7, tells Samuel to look beyond David’s appearance. God see the heart. The king the people expect and want is not the king they need.
  • The Bible teaches that nothing escapes God’s notice. In Genesis 47, Jacob looks back on the deceptions filling his life, and he recognizes that he has received as he had given. Back in Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers recognize their guilt over their brother’s disappearance – years after the event. They see they are reaping the consequences of their actions.

Philosophical Appeal

  • The Bible appeals to the pursuit of logic and wisdom. It is full of practical wisdom that can guide our lives. Proverbs 15:1, for example, encourages us to answer anger with softness. Proverbs 14:29 esteems one slow to anger. Proverbs 27:15 tells of the dangers of nagging. Proverbs 2:1 talks about seeking after wisdom and the importance of one generation passing wisdom on to the next. The Proverb writer is saying that listening to our elders and seeking wisdom leads to a better life.
  • The Bible speaks to counsels relationships. Many wonder why the Song of Solomon is included in the Bible, but in chapter 2:7, the beloved advises her friends to be careful about rushing into relationships. This is repeated in chapter 3:5. Even after she is married to Solomon, she again entreats her friends to seek love only when the person and the time is right. It is a message we would do well to apply in our own relationships
  • The Bible addresses pain. On the nature of pain and suffering, we have the book of Job. One frustrating aspect, though, is that Job never receives and answer. What he does learn is that we are not defined by what we have. Luke 12:15 records Jesus saying that life does not consist of things. Instead, Jesus teaches, and Job learns, that sustenance is found in God.

Spiritual Appeal

  • Sin separates. Genesis 3 demonstrates the separation between man and God resulting from sin. We see the promises later made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Old Testament tells a story of the fulfillment of God’s promises, leading to a Messiah brought to this world. John 1 describes this Messiah as God in flesh. Without studying His word, we remain unaware of God’s unending nature. The problem of sin remains the same, as Isaiah describes in Isaiah 59:2 and Paul describes in Romans 3:23.
  • God’s love remains the same. Isaiah 55:6 calls on God’s people to repent of their sins and return to God. The prophet reassures them He will forgive. We would have a hard time forgiving someone who has wronged us as much as His people wronged Him, but verses 8-9 explain that God’s nature and His love make such forgiveness possible. No matter how many times we let God down, if we turn away and repent, God is willing to forgive. His love has not wavered.
  • God’s word is urgent. It can be tempting to be like Agrippa and procrastinate God until another time.  However, In Psalm 95:6-9, David appeals to God’s people to respond to Him today. In Hebrews 3:7, 3:15, and 4:7, this same plea is repeated. We never know what the next moment will bring, so the time to respond to His word is always the same: now.

Conclusion

II Peter 1:2-3 speaks of God’s divine power to give us all things pertaining to life and godliness. To fully appreciate the wisdom contained in God’s word, we have to study. For the Bible to be applicable to our lives, we must apply it. We may have eternity in our hearts, but, to spend eternity with God, we must know His word, His plan, and His expectations.

lesson by Tim Smelser

Seeing Without Perceiving; Hearing Without Understanding

There are certain drawing that look like one thing to some and something else to others. (Think of the duck/rabbit picture or the old woman/young woman picture.) The same applies to scripture. I may see one side; you might see another. I fear, however, that sometimes we only see or hear what we want to hear. When it comes to God’s word, there is only one side – God’s. We may point our fingers at those outside the church as viewing God’s this word, but God’s people, historically and today, are in danger of doing the same thing.

Misunderstanding Among God’s Elect

Isaiah 6:10 records God giving Isaiah his mission, and Gad warns that His word would shut the eyes and the ears of the people. In Isaiah 1:16-19, the prophet calls the people to repentance and obedience, and Isaiah 55:6-7 implores those separated from God to return to Him, seeking pardon and forgiveness. Unfortunately, as God warned in chapter 6, the people would hear but not listen. Verse 9 warns Isaiah’s intended audience would see and hear him without comprehension because their hearts are closed. Isaiah 55:10-11, though, proclaims that God’s word will never return to Him without accomplishment.

Moving from one prophet to another, Jeremiah 5:1 records God challenging Jeremiah to seek Jerusalem for anyone who cares about justice and truth. Verse 3 has Jeremiah responding to this by calling the people hardened against God’s word. They have turned away from their Lord, but Jeremiah 5:6-19 warns God’s people will be judged by that word they rejected. As they turned to serve strange gods, so would they be made to serve strange people. Jeremiah 5:20-21 then warns against hearing and seeing God’s words without understanding and applying.

Finally, during the captivity in Ezekiel 12:1-2, God says His prophet is dwelling in a rebellious house that consists of people with eyes that do not see, ears that do not hear. Ezekiel 33:23-28 records the attitude God’s people had, assuming their inheritance of the land of Judah and Israel as a given, but God says He will pull the land from these that reject His word. In Ezekiel 33:30-32, the people come to hear God’s word from the right source, but they fail to apply those words they hear. They sit and listen but do nothing.

Personal Applications

It’s easy to see these failings in coworkers and friends. It’s easy to judge others without judging ourselves. Matthew 13:10 has the apostles asking about Jesus’ habit of teaching parables, and, in His answer, Jesus uses language similar to those prophets of the Old Testament. Those crowds around Him sees without seeing and hears without hearing. Those people claiming to be religious, interested in the words of God, would see and hear what they wanted. They would be entertained by the words but fail to apply. The same can be true of us today.

In Acts 7:57, Stephen is accusing the Jewish leadership of killing God’s messengers time and again. The result of his accusations is his subsequent stoning. In contrast, Peter and the apostles make similar accusations in Acts 2, but verse 37 records a far different response. These opened their hearts to accept God’s word. One would have expected Peter’s and Stephen’s results to be reversed. Hebrews 6:4-6 contains a warning for those who have accepted Christ at one point only to later close their eyes and their ears.

Late in Jesus ministry, in John 6, many leave Him when He stops preaching the things they want to hear. He asks the twelve if they too will abandon Him, and Peter responds that they have no place to go. They recognize Jesus as the source of eternal life. James 1:21-22 encourages us to receive God’s word in meekness, but James goes on to say that we should not only be hearers of that word. We should do it, lest we delude ourselves by only seeing and hearing those things we desire. He says we should humble ourselves before the word, be receptive of the word, and then apply it.

lesson by Tim Smelser