First Key: Ask for God's Help With a Proper Attitude
Curiously enough, we find that the Bible is not a book that can be readily understood by everyone. How, then, can we come to understand it? Our first step is to humbly ask God for help. Prayer, coming to God to humbly ask for His help, is the first vital key to understanding His Word.
God describes the kind of attitude and approach He respects: "But on this one will I look: on him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at my word" (Isaiah 66:2).
God does not play favorites; He is not concerned with the color of a person's skin or his nationality. He looks on the heart, the attitude and approach, to determine whether to give understanding. Peter tells us, "In truth I perceive that God shows no partiality. But in every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him" (Acts 10:34-35).
Jesus Christ thanked God the Father for the way He chose whom to give spiritual understanding: "I thank You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that You have hidden these things from the wise and prudent and revealed them to babes . . . No one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son, and the one to whom the Son wills to reveal Him" (Luke 10:21-22; emphasis added throughout).
God reserves the right to choose those to whom He will reveal spiritual understanding. Sometimes one whom God so chooses may indeed hold to views that oppose the truth, as did the apostle Paul. God miraculously called this man who had vigorously persecuted the early Christians, then opened his mind and used him as a powerful tool to reveal a wealth of spiritual truth and write much of what we know as the New Testament.
Notice the importance of God's involvement in our understanding of the Bible. Christ said to His disciples: "These are the words which I spoke to you while I was still with you, that all things must be fulfilled which were written in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms concerning Me. And He opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures" (Luke 24:44-45). It was not their intellect that let them grasp the meaning; they had to have divine help.
Many overlook this point in studying the Bible. Even though we might possess the world's brightest minds, if God does not act to open our minds, the Bible will remain closed to us. The apostle Paul explained: "These things [God's Word] we also speak, not in words which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Corinthians 2:13-14).
Because God inspired the Bible, it follows that it is not a mere book that takes only a measure of intellectual effort to understand. God reserves the right to grant an understanding of His precious truths to whomever He will.
How we read the Bible—our motivation in studying it—is important. If we feel compelled to read it to please others or pore over it only as a religious duty, God likely will not open the Scriptures' true meaning to us. His truths will remain hidden. How, then, can we find these truths?
As we have seen, the first key to understanding Scripture is to ask for God's help with a right attitude: "And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13).
Why is attitude so important? Paul reveals the answer: "But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence" (1 Corinthians 1:27-29). No one will be able to boast that he was able to rightly understand God's spiritual truths with only his native intelligence and his own effort.
On the other hand, once a person humbly asks God for help and is committed to obeying what he learns, he is on the right track. Christ explained this to His disciples: "Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 18:3-4). No matter how intelligent we may be, if we don't humble ourselves and become teachable as a small child, God will not help us grasp His Word.
God promises that He will faithfully answer a humble request for understanding from those with whom He is working. James writes: "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all liberally and without reproach, and it will be given to him" (James 1:5).
All through the Bible we see examples of people who asked humbly for godly wisdom and were rewarded. Examples are David, Solomon, Daniel, Esther and Jesus' first disciples.
On the other hand, others are prime examples of those who relied on their own ability and were subsequently humiliated, such as Cain, the Pharaoh of the Exodus, King Saul, Nebuchadnezzar, the Pharisees and Herod Agrippa.
An example of a proper, humble, godly approach is that of the Bereans, mentioned in Acts 17:10-12: "[The Bereans] were more fair-minded than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness, and searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so. Therefore many of them believed, and also not a few of the Greeks, prominent women as well as men."
Unlike others, the Bereans did not immediately reject what Paul was saying, even though many things they heard contradicted their own long-held beliefs. They carefully reviewed the Scriptures with an open mind and saw that what Paul had said made sense. Then, after diligently searching the Scriptures, they verified that what he taught was indeed the truth, and they humbly accepted his teachings.
Similarly, if we want to understand the Bible, we need the attitude of the Bereans. We need to carefully review the Scriptures, not taking our beliefs for granted, because, as the Bereans found, our own ideas can be wrong.
Is humility, then, all that is needed? That a person begins with a humble attitude doesn't mean he will continue that approach and gain the understanding he seeks. The Bible shows that some who come to an understanding of certain basic revealed spiritual truths will lose that comprehension because they do not act on them. By rejecting knowledge revealed by God, they choose to lay aside their humility and exalt their own point of view.
Jesus illustrated, in His explanation of the parable of the sower, why some will understand while others will not: "To you it has been given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to the rest it is given in parables, that ‘Seeing they may not see, and hearing they may not understand.' "Now the parable is this: The seed is the word of God. Those by the wayside are the ones who hear; then the devil comes and takes away the word out of their hearts, lest they should believe and be saved. But theones on the rock are those who, when they hear, receive the word with joy; and these have no root, who believe for a while and in time of temptation fall away.
"Now the ones that fell among thorns are those who, when they have heard, go out and are choked with cares, riches, and pleasures of life, and bring no fruit to maturity. But the ones that fell on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience" (Luke 8:10-15).
There, in Christ's words, are some of the reasons people fail to grow in spiritual understanding. Most do not persevere in God's Word because of negligence, lack of faith or a self-centered rather than godly outlook.
An attitude of prayerfully, humbly seeking help from God so we can learn, leading to putting into practice what we do learn, is the first key to understanding God's truths in the Bible. You can put this principle into practice by asking God to enlighten, teach, instruct and correct you from His Word and lead you in understanding it.
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