William G. Bass was engaged in a meeting with a local church, working in the neighborhoods of a small town in southeastern Florida. He and I had been asked by someone (and my, how you never seem to know just who) to find time to visit a recent convert who had been worshipping with a digressive group in town, seeking perhaps an encouraging word.
“Jesus answered them and said, ‘My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. Did not Moses give you the law, and yet none of you keeps the law? Why do you seek to kill Me?'” (John 7:16 – 19)
The second passage of interest in this study is taken from the gospel of Matthew chapter 17 verses 10 through 17. This passage comes at the close of the telling of the parable of the sower and gives the detail of the parable to the disciples.
“And the disciples came and said to Him, “Why do You speak to them in parables? He answered and said to them, “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For whoever has, to him more will be given, and he will have abundance; but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him. Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: “‘Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has 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 heart and turn, so that I should heal them.'” But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.'”
I have a theory for you, an absolute if you will, and that is this – a person must be receptive to any statement, idea or objective before he or she will accept it, take it in, embrace it, or further study its application.
I think that you’ll agree with me that this is true in all matters. It doesn’t matter whether we are discussing religious things or politics or anything in between them, this statement will still be true: that anyone must first be willing to receive what they perceive to be the truth behind any idea, statement or object before they will adapt to it, or embrace it.
Let me give a simple and obvious example out of our daily press. Today there are essentially two political camps in this country: those who believe that President George W. Bush is a conniving and evil manipulator, and those who believe that he is perhaps one of the best presidents in our history – and there is not much middle ground. Now I’m not interested in the politics of the day in this; I’m interested only in a proof statement for this premise. Those who maintain that Mr. Bush is a manipulator and a dictatorial presence have accepted that notion and base their views and their acceptance of the news of the day upon that foundational idea. Those that do not accept that side of it also react accordingly and base their opinions and ideas upon other versions in the news as reported. As the philosopher said, never shall the twain meet. So one side pretty much ignores the arguments of the other and lists the arguments of the other as being baseless or as fabrications.
As another example: it is likely that you will reject wholesale whatever President Kim Jung Il of North Korea states in relation to his nations intentions concerning their nuclear programs. You probably didn’t react favorably to his suggestions that first, his country doesn’t have nuclear weapons, and second, that he needs nuclear weapons to protect his country against the United States; and you probably won’t accept his statements or his explanations based upon the information that we have been receiving in the press here. It is also unlikely that he will offer any well received proof for his arguments that will act to sway you to take a more benevolent view of his or his countrys intentions.
In all of history these things have been true. Galileo Galilei was an outcast in his day because he ran contrary to the notions of society and religion even though he had rightly noted and published that the earth was not at the center of the solar system. That his statements were true had little to do with their acceptance by the public, and as a result he was excommunicated from the catholic church and also lived as an outcast from the scientific community.
Cristobel Columb (the man known to us as Columbus ) was not well received when he suggested that the world was not flat or mounted by four posts onto the back of a giant sea turtle. But it wasn’t until a full century later that the geographer Sir John Mandeville and later the Italian scientist Toscanini published their findings in agreement with Columbus so that these notions that had been promoted and fostered during the Dark Ages then began to fade.
Did you know that it took a full 50 years after its publication for the King James Bible to supplant the Duoay and Geneva Bibles even though these were vastly inferior works of scholorship when compared to it?
The theory of evolution is accepted or rejected by folks based upon this same sort of principle. Those that accept it as a scientific fact do so because they have received and accept the premise as given – they consider it to be reasonable and true – it makes sense to them. And so they search and reach for evidences in support of their side of things. The other side understands it in opposition: that the basic statements are erroneous and falsely propounded and they search for and accept things that tend to support their side of things. Now please note, I am not interested here in the rightness or wrongness of any of these things but only in how it is that we decide on things in our thinking.
I was taught by Ed Jones, a leading educator and training expert, that when anything new is presented to us we tend to go through three distinct stages in assessing and assimilating ideas, notions, or technology. Stage one is that we are frozen. We simply don’t like new ideas and change is not readily or easily adapted. Once the truth, or the usefulness or efficacy of something new sinks in or strikes us, then we have entered into stage two: we thaw. We are un-frozen and take to the new idea or change, and we adapt it or assimilate it. But as soon as that happens we then enter into stage three where we re-freeze. And once again we’re frozen and don’t want to change readily or to adapt to the next thing on the horizon.
Now some people change quickly and readily when they are presented with new things and some never come to accept them. But most everyone – the great majority, lies somewhere between the two ends.
Now it doesn’t matter what facts are where or how beguiling the arguments, how compelling the presentation, or how mesmerizing the presenter, but rather like the song says, “A man hears what he wants to hear and disregards the rest.” We all like to believe that what we do and the basis for our lives and of our reactions is set upon some wider truth, that the things we do are sound, at the least reasonable if not well thought out. To think the opposite is to accept that we have no guide and no rudder and that we simply wander through our existence here, borne only upon the winds of each day. And to such no thought on religion or intellect will have any effect.
In teaching the gospel of Christ and the plan of salvation all of these same things are true. Only those who wish to know will seek the truth. From our reading in John chapter seven we saw the following statement made by Christ: “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.”
This is the question of the ages as concerns religious things: is the doctrine we hear of God, of Christ, is it truth, or is it from the mind and pen of man?
To repeat: “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority.” Now what does this mean?
First, Christ here has said that there is a distinction between the teaching of men and of God, and that if we set our mind on finding whether or not the teaching supplied to our ears comes from God or from somewhere else that there is a test for authenticity that may be given. Second, he said, “if anyone wants to do Gods will, that he or she will know concerning the things delivered by me” (not delivered by some man in modern times or from some church never heard of in history until the modern age, but the Master speaks – he says that he delivered it himself – that it is by Christ) that his words are in fact the Word of God and by that we will know whether he (Jesus) spoke by the will of God or by the will of men.
It is still the same today. Christ tells us that we can know whether what we are taught is from God or from somewhere else. The path to finding the truth is also given, and we must diligently seek it out. It is implied both that it doesn’t drop from the sky and that not everyone is teaching the truth. We must seek God and the word of God in order to find it. And then only the heart that is willing to receive it will in fact take it in.
In support of this very notion the Lord taught what is known as the parable of the sower. Now were not going to print the text of that here, but would rather that you as learners spend some time in reading and in reflection of it as we look into what is said there, as this lesson deals primarily with the explanation to the disciples following that. Yet we will note some things as being obvious in an examination of the parable.
Note that as the sower went forth to sow, that the emphasis is not on the sower, but is upon that which he was doing – upon the sowing of the seed. We see then that the Word of God is the seed that is sown.
Were told more. Were told that the four soils represent four different types of hearts where the seed of the Word of God will be sown: the wayside hearts (“those who do not understand”) representing those not centered upon the word, the stony places (“those that receive it, but who have no root within themselves”) representing the result of difficulties within the path of some of those who hear and their reaction to the difficulties, the thorny ground (where the “cares of the world rise up and choke it”), where sharp and difficult passage through this life affects the actions of those types, and finally, the good ground (where those are found who “understand it”) – that is the heart in which the truth is readily received and set to use.
You know that many will not accept the truth. You further know that it is contrary to what some folks have been taught and (to some) what they want to accept. This is clearly the case as recorded with most of the leaders of the Jews in Jesus own day. It is also the case today.
But some (that is a relative few) will receive the word readily and will accept it. Only a few will thaw quickly. Examples of this are found all through the New Testament as in the recounting of the conversions of the Eunuch of Ethiopia and of the jailer at Philippi . Both men were ready. They thawed almost instantly. One asked the Evangelist, “Here is water, what hinders me to be baptized,” and the other asked the apostle and his companion, “Sirs what must I do to be saved.” There was no hesitation, no delay on their part – their responses were immediate. The centurion Cornelius and the members of his household were much the same. They wanted the truth and were hungry for it, and the response was proactive, dedicated and immediate.
So Jesus said, “If any man will do his will.” Well, but then what? Friends, the Lord said, “He shall know it.” The word “shall” in English expresses a certainty, not a wish. The Lord didn’t say he may know or he might know. But in the strongest tense, he stated that “he shall know.” That means that it’s possible to be sure of what we hear and of what we may be taught. The light of truth and knowledge shall shine roundabout he or she and the path of duty shall be made clear before them.
Yet the skeptic says, “I don’t know, I’m just not sure?” Or they say, “Is this so?” “Can you prove this with scripture?” As though the passages already noted were not quite good enough.
Let’s journey back to our reading, the reading that follows the teaching of the parable of the sower: back to Matthew chapter 13 and to the remarks made to the disciples that we read at the outset. Here (in chapter 13 and verse 10) the disciples asked, “Master why do you speak to them (meaning to the crowd) in parables?”
Did you ever think that that this was a polite way for them to say, “Lord we’re clueless as to what you’re talking about, but we’re not about to tell you that, because that would make us appear stupid, like we don’t understand things so well; so we’d rather ask you why you’re teaching the regular crowd this way, because you’re talking way over their heads, and so you’re way over our heads too Lord.”
Don’t believe for a minute that you or I would say anything different or in any way act differently. We often do things like this when we don’t understand the stuff going on around us. We’ll act as if we have a perfect knowledge of things, nodding our heads, because to say or act otherwise would be an admission that we just don’t know whats happening – and that friend is just as difficult for most of us as admitting when we’re wrong.
But here (verse 11) Jesus ignores the implications surrounding the question and directly answers them. “Because it has been given to you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.” Well friends, does this mean that God is partial? Does this mean that there is an elect state and a lesser state, that we are either predestinated to doing well with the teaching of Christ or to doing poorly – that we have no control on our destiny? To think so would be to draw a hasty conclusion. Why it is given to some and not to others is a fair question, and the answer to this is as valid now to us as it was to these disciples.
In all studies there are certain guidelines that must be adhered to. In the examination of written or spoken records there is the journalistic canon that expresses that when investigating details that we should always ask: who, what, where, when, why and how to assess how we can accurately make application to the things set before us. So let’s use this tool in our examination.
Who then is being addressed in response to the inquiry? To whom is it given to know? The answer to that is that its addressed to those disciples who were following the teaching at that time – the immediate crowd of learners then following the Lord, that had already said goodbye to the things of the world and who were daily following and learning from the Lord having already accepted his teaching. These had given up the overtime and some had left their occupation or time at home just to sit at Christ’s feet and learn. Their hearts were right and they wanted to know the truth – they were for the greater part, so far as is known, “good ground.”
Where and when the reply was made is of little importance to us here so we’ll dispense with that for now.
Therefore the “how” – “that unto them is given to know” is that by seeking and then learning and devouring the very words of the Lord is “how” they were given to know.
Why was this not given to others? Of course the Lord answers this doesnt he? Please look at the response as we read in verses 13 through 17:
“Therefore I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. And in them the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled, which says: “Hearing you will hear and shall not understand, and seeing you will see and not perceive; for the heart of this people has 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 heart and turn, so that I should heal them. “But blessed are your eyes for they see, and your ears for they hear; for assuredly, I say to you that many prophets and righteous men desired to see what you see, and did not see it, and to hear what you hear, and did not hear it.”
There were, there are, and there will be shut eyes and unhearing ears. The eyelids and “ear flaps” of some folks are in the lock down position. They’re shut down tight. Friends such men and women cannot learn the truth – it’s just impossible. And this is the type of whom the Lord says that it is not given to them to know. I hope and pray that that is not you and that that is not me.
But then the responsibility therefore lies with us as individuals, doesn’t it, and not with some church, that is, in this primary responsibility to seek out the will of God and to stand on the teachings of the Lord. The question that we all need to ask is – do I want to know what the will of God is? Like the Philippian jailer will we ask, “Sirs what must I do to be saved?” Or will we be thinking, “I must remain true to what dad taught me or to my side of the argument, to my investment in intellect.” “I must remain partisan, and my party or my idea must win no matter what.” Is my attitude the one that says that regardless of the printed and plain recorded word that I must have my way, that my view must prevail while all others may go. If so, the person that thinks like this will never get to heaven.
The other side says, do I want Gods will to prevail even if its contrary to my own, contrary to what I think, to what I may have been taught? Can I give up my prejudices, my preconceptions and my former ideas if they run contrary to what Jesus and his apostles said to do and to practice? Can I dunk my head into the word of God and not come up until I have seized its intent and purpose – identifying what I must do? To never say, “won’t something else do” or “I can’t continue where this is taught and done.”
In order that a heart can do Gods will that person must believe that the Bible is the inspired word of God and that within its pages lies the only path to knowledge of what God would have us to do. We must come to believe and to know that only through an open reception of the written word can be had salvation in true service to God. For if we cannot accept this as true we will never, never find the truth either in this life or in the next.
You know there are some that say that the Bible is God’s word and that it is word by word inspired. But then you may also know that there are others that say it is inspired only in the same way that any common literary work is inspired, that inspiration lay in the hand that held the pen, and that they wrote it as they saw fit. Brent has dealt at length with these notions in his columns here and I urge you to read them, if you haven’t already. You may also recognize that only one of these theories can exist where there is an absence of the other. Only one can be true. Then comes another question of the ages – which is true? Which is the one that you hold to?
Do you know that the phrase, “thus says the Lord” appears in the scriptures hundreds of times? Do you know that this book is the ONLY book that claims to be the ONLY (and that means that no other work exists to be added to it or to complement it) – the ONLY word of God.
Have you not read these things in Deuteronomy 5 and verses 32 and 33?
“Therefore you shall be careful to do as the Lord your God has commanded you; you shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. You shall walk in all the ways which the Lord your God has commanded you, that you may live and that it may be well with you, and that you may prolong your days in the land which you shall possess.”
Have you not read these things in Deuteronomy 19 and verses 18 through 22?
“I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him. And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him. But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in My name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die. And if you say in your heart, “How shall we know the word which the Lord has not spoken?” When a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the thing does not happen or come to pass, that is the thing which the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously; you shall not be afraid of him.”
Have you not read Ecclesiastes 3: 14?
“I know that whatever God does, it shall be forever. Nothing can be added to it, and nothing taken from it. God does it, that men should fear before Him.”
Have you not read Galatians 1: 6 – 12?
“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ. But even if we, or an angel from heaven, preach any other gospel to you than what we have preached to you, let him be accursed. As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a servant of Christ. But I make known to you, brethren that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of I Christ.”
Have you not read that which we first read to you at the outset – John 7: 16 – 18?
“I answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him.”
Have you not read John 12: 48 – 50?
“He who rejects Me, and does not receive My words, has that which judges him – the word that I have spoken will judge him in the last day. For I have not spoken on My own authority; but the Father who sent Me gave Me a command, what I should say and what I should speak. And I know that His command is everlasting life. Therefore, whatever I speak, just as the Father has told Me, so I speak.”
Yet there are many that think that the opinions and thinking of the various hands that put these things to paper used their own style and colored the scriptures with their own palette of ideas, and therefore abridgements, alterations, dogmas and creeds are okay.
But have you not read I Corinthians 2: 12 and 13?
“Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. These things we also speak, not in words which man’s wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual.”
Or perhaps you have not read I Thessalonians 2: 13?
“For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.”
In the minds of some these things are settled. And they should be settled for you if you believe that you will ever see God. The gospel and the Word of God has been imparted as inspired of God and then handed down correctly, accurately, and understandably.
Therefore if when we die we should expect to sit at the Lord’s Table we had better prepare and make the heart into good ground for the Word of God – to be a true disciple. When we set out to do that, we must do it heartily, and we must exercise diligence to be true to the word of God – to obey every word that proceeded from the mouth of that prophet so that we will not be cut off from among God’s people. We must not follow man or the theories and connivances of the doctrines of men, but must settle ourselves upon the examples and teachings found in the Word of God – recognizing both the truth and exhibiting the attitudes that will in time carry us into the bosom of Abraham, there laid down in paradise by the hand of the angels.
We need to study to find ourselves approved by God, by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God, and in obedience to Gods will and not our own. At that time we must set aside our notions and the things not found in the Word of God both in our thoughts and in our lives.
Seek the truth. Spread the truth and adhere only to the truth as it appears in God’s book and at the end of all things a triumphant entry into heaven will be given you to be forever in the company of our Father and of his glorified Son.