The proverb reads, ‘Get wisdom; get insight (understanding NASB); do not forget, and do not turn away from the words of my mouth.’ (Prov.4:5 ESV) The words of a father to his son, take pains to get wisdom and insight, though it cost you dear, you will be rewarded. Many today, even among Christians, think believing is an anti-intellectual exercise. ‘Either you believe, or you don’t. Who can explain it?’ Scripture says otherwise; get wisdom, get insight.
Teachers as Fathers
I am reading Richard Milton’s Shattering the Myths of Darwinism. There was a time when I would have simply allowed the book to inform me, uncritically taking aboard his carefully reasoned arguments. Those days are long gone.
These days I often find myself asking ‘what don’t I know? What insight, what understanding do I lack that, if I had it, might help me better judge what I am reading?’ This will send me off in search of authorities I trust to help make up what I lack. Our teachers should be as fathers to us, get wisdom, gain the insight the proverb writer urges us to seek.
Sure enough, I found a wise and authoritative review of the book on the creation website. You can read it here. If you read the review you will see the book has great worth, but the reviewer points out several errors in Milton’s reasoning to watch out for. I didn’t know that but, because I sought insight, I am better prepared to wisely discern what I am reading.
Here’s a test I often share with people and groups. A Jehovah’s Witness has knocked at your door. As usual, you are caught on the hop, but you do your best to hold your own in the ensuing conversation. Discussion over, you politely wave them goodbye, close the door, and wonder how you might have better handled the whole thing.
What do you reach for next? Your Bible, a good book on witnessing to Witnesses, or the TV guide? Believe me, there is little wisdom or insight to be had in the TV guide! Encounters with cults, with new ideas, with ideologies that challenge our comfortable certainties are a great opportunity to learn new things, to reinforce and take us deeper into established truths, to better equip us for the next opportunity to talk about Jesus.
Being the Wise Teachers
In witnessing we often find ourselves in the role of the teacher/father, and it is important to understand what others might lack in insight, then fill what they lack.
The Worldly Man
When we speak to the worldly man we address someone who doesn’t understand what it is to sit under the authority of Scripture.
This person thinks religion is a matter of opinion, and one man’s opinion is as good as the next. We may sit in a circle and discuss weighty matters of religion all day, but worldly people don’t expect any conclusion to be arrived at because there is nobody whose opinion is better than anyone else’s, no wisdom to be got.
The Christian has the Bible to settle issues, and the Christian’s life and understanding increasingly falls in line with the wisdom and insight the Bible supplies. The worldly man, supplied with plenty of opinions of his own, sees no sense in this. Here is an opportunity to go back to first principles and talk about how and why the Bible is the authority in life; not just my life, but all life.
Pressing on with fine arguments from Bible texts with someone who hasn’t a grasp of this basic principle is frustrating. We are met with, ‘so what?’ A good question. Can you answer it?
When we meet the cultist our challenge is different. A Mormon, or Jehovah’s Witness will believe with their whole heart that they sit under the authority of Scripture. They understand it differently, they will admit this, but there is no question they hold it in the highest regard. Anyone who has witnessed their adding to and taking away from the Scripture will know different.
When Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses use James 2:20 to argue a salvation by a mixture of faith and works it is clear they are quote mining and don’t understand James in light of the rest of the Bible.
When Jehovah’s Witnesses add to the Scripture in Colossians 1:16 and Philippians 2:9 to make Jesus a creature, 1 Thessalonians 4:16 to make him an archangel, we know they have not allowed the Bible to speak for itself.
When we see them get their doctrine from their books and magazines, rather than the Bible, we see they don’t know what it is to sit under the authority of the Holy Book. Here is an opportunity to demonstrate what it is to allow the Bible to speak for itself, without an organisation, or a system of interpretation, filtering the text.
When I, as a Mormon, was looking at Christian teaching, I would ‘interpret’ the texts and passages shared with me. I would, typically, say, ‘I know that’s what it says, but this is what it means.’ Any former cultist will recognise this experience. The answer would come back, ’But what does it say?’ Light began to dawn the day I realised it means what it says.
It can be as simple as that. Show them your complete trust in the Bible. Let them see what the Bible says, instead of what the organisation tells them it says.
What We Are Doing
It’s important we understand what faces us, what specifically we are doing in a conversation.
Sometimes you simply get to show what it is to have confidence in the Bible, but it can leave the other person wondering, ‘Why can’t I know such confidence?’
Sometimes you only get to correct one misconception, but if you do it well and prove worthy of their trust, that person is more likely to trust you next time they want to talk.
Sometimes you only get a brief opportunity to model what it is to truly recognise Scripture authority, but the next time that person sees it done badly they might think of you and think, ’this isn’t right.’
One of the challenges we face is the idea that, in our witnessing, we are meant to make something happen.
When I say those familiar words, ’You are simply a link in a chain,’ Christians readily understand.
When we talk about ‘sowing seeds,’ everyone knows what this means.
I point out we are to be witnesses and to leave the new mind and new heart business to the Spirit and people ‘get it.’
When it comes to witnessing, that understanding seems to fly out the window. Do yourself a favour, witness for faithfulness sake, not for results. That is what Jesus calls us to.
Read! Please read. I encourage you to be curious about what you read. Don’t let books merely inform you; stop, have a coffee, and go deeper, seek insight that provides wisdom. Then you can better judge, and better appreciate what you are learning. This better equips you to grow personally, and to help others grow.
I encourage you, learn to value the day of little things, those times when all you have is a kind and wise word to share, a demonstration of Christ’s love, a demonstration of what it is to have the Bible inform and enlighten, shape your life and thinking. Believe me, these people have seen nothing like it, but they can see it in you, and what they see in you will forge another link of witness, will be manna in the desert to them, though they don’t realise it themselves…yet.