Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Lord Will Give You Understanding

In 2 Timothy 2:1-6 Paul, nearing the end of his life, gives Timothy three illustrations that will help him in faithfully living out his charge. The three brief illustrations involve a soldier, an athlete, and a hard-working farmer. Paul tells Timothy, "Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything."

"Think Over What I Say"

We must think over many things the Scriptures say. In our time and culture, we want to "get it" immediately, or at least fairly quickly. We have short attention spans, and have lost our taste and tolerance for riddles. But in the opening verses of Proverbs, which introduce the book's goals and purpose, the writer exhorts, "Let the wise hear and increase in learning, and the one who understands obtain guidance, to understand a proverb and a saying, the words of the wise and their riddles" (Proverbs 1:5-6). Proverbs is a great collection of sayings and riddles designed to give greater wisdom to the wise.

In his letter to Timothy, Paul imparted wisdom to his young son in the faith in a form that Timothy, "trained in the words of the faith" and having been brought up from childhood "acquainted with the sacred writings" (i.e. the Old Testament, including Proverbs) would be very familiar with--a riddle. In keeping with Proverbs 1:5, Paul's riddle (or proverb, or saying) is for the purpose of Timothy's obtaining understanding. God wanted Timothy to use his mind and his sanctified reasoning, and so be helped.

"The Lord Will Give You Understanding"

This is a thrilling and hopeful promise. Like Timothy, we're called to prayerfully think and ponder on the words of Scripture, knowing God is able to give us understanding of what the writer meant (that is to say, what the Holy Spirit meant, and means for us to understand). The ESV Study notes on this text say that "Paul exhorts Timothy to make the effort to think and meditate on what Paul has written; as he does so, God will give him understanding in everything about which Paul has instructed him. The believer's efforts and God's empowering work together" (italics mine).

The whole Bible is certainly not written as a riddle. A riddle (or a proverb or a saying), as mentioned above, is a literary device, and where such things are used in Scripture is obvious. But there are plenty of passages in the Bible that require this kind of "thinking over."

In a blog article (recommended) entitled "When the Bible Gets Too Hard" the author quotes John Piper and Philip Jensen:

If you only read things [in the Bible] after which you said “duh!” you'd stop reading in a hurry, because you already know and feel the way you should. But if you start bumping into things that are weird or strange, then you'd better live there. You'd better camp there until your brain and your heart get shaped by the strange things.1

I love puzzling over difficult parts of the Bible. I love it, for the difficulty is in my head, not on the page, and puzzling over these difficulties gives me an opportunity to change the way I think.2

May we learn more and more to think over what the Bible says, asking and trusting that the Lord will, in his time, give us understanding.

1 From the audio version of John Piper's sermon Thinking and feeling with God: A broken and contrite heart God will not despise.

2 Phillip Jensen's ‘Problems With the Text’ from So Long And Thanks For All the Fellowship.

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