How Does God Speak to Mankind?
A few years ago while in preaching in Lithuania, a nice young woman came up to me and asked if she could tell me something. When I told her that I would be happy to speak with her, she launched into a truly bizarre story. She told me that God spoke to her out of a spaceship. This close encounter of the strange kind left her absolutely certain that she knew all that she needed to know about spiritual matters. However, her claim to be the recipient of divine communication did not stop at that galactic vision. She further claimed that, after the space ship, God spoke to her through a horse, a cow, a light fixture, a frog and an image of the Madonna.
Though she seemed sincere, I did not decide to abandon Bible study and begin searching the night sky for a heavenly spaceship, nor did I launch out in pursuit of an intelligent looking frog. I seriously doubt any of those reading this article would suggest such methods for determining God's will either. Why? Because we recognize that God does not deliver His truth through a holy cow, but through the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 2:14-17). It is just that simple.
Why do people not use the same simple logic when trying to determine if the teaching they hear in the religious world is the truth of God's will? When a man behind a microphone or a television camera purports to speak for God, why do otherwise rational people blindly accept his word rather than comparing his teaching to the known source of God's will -- the Scripture? Denominational preachers and other teachers of error are characterized by diverting a hearer's attention away from the fact that their teaching is at odds with the plain statements of God's word. They tell the hearer that people cannot understand the Bible alike and that it was never intended as the source for unity. Thus, the modern pulpits and airwaves are filled with preachers asking us to trust them to guide us to God's will. They would have us cease efforts to eliminate error and promote truth by depending on the Bible. How does God declare His will?
Factors Essential to Understanding God's Speech to Man
Paul's instruction in 2 Timothy 2:15 will help us to answer our questions about what God expects of us and how we can know His will. The Bible says:
The word translated "rightly dividing" refers to teaching accurately or expounding soundly. Thus, God teaches us something through the Bible and we are to accurately determine what that message is. Unlike the teaching done by many in the denominational world, the Bible says that we can understand the will of God. We are told, "Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is" (Ephesians 5:17). Other passages confirm that we can and must come to a knowledge of God's truth (2 Peter 1:1-4; 2 Timothy 3:16-17; John 7:17; Matthew 7:7-8).
This end can only be reached as one is "diligent" in using God's word. The King James version uses the word "study" to translate the word rendered "be diligent" in most other English versions of the Bible. The original word carried the sense of "making every effort" to do a thing. This does not suggest a lackadaisical and indolent approach to Bible study. One is not diligent in the use of the Bible when he casually looks at it for a few moments two or three times a week or less. Diligence demands a systematic and thorough examination of God's word every day of one's life. It requires an intense effort and an exhaustive search of all that God has said within His word. It is never satisfied with learning only part of God's will, but searches for all that He has said on any subject. If people studied a subject in school or in their jobs as they study Bible subjects, confusion and contradiction would predominate in those areas, too. Understanding the subject and reaching proper conclusions takes extra effort in all areas of life.
Suppose you took a course in Shakespearean literature and spent only 30 minutes reading one part of one play before throwing the book down and saying that Shakespeare cannot be understood. Would such a brief attempt to understand the literature justify the conclusion? Would you expect to get a passing grade in the course after such a brief attempt at understanding? How many hours of diligent study would be necessary to comprehend it? We would surely employ various aids and much time trying to understand the meaning.
We know the same thing is true of seeking knowledge in any area of study, but many expect knowledge of God's truth to be handed to them with little or no effort on their part. A recent study showed that over 80% of Americans professing "Christianity" spend less than 30 minutes each year reading their Bibles! How can one expect to understand the Bible with that little effort? One cannot "be diligent" in rightly dividing the word by spending only 30 minutes a day on understanding God's word, much less 30 minutes a year. How much time and effort do we spend reading and studying our Bible?
If we are to please God, we must do as Paul commanded Timothy:
Are these words a fair and accurate description of our habits in Bible study and spiritual growth? The meditation on God's will here stated to be necessary is that which the psalmist declared a "day and night" process (Psalm 1:2). The great psalm on God's word associates diligent effort to the meditation of those who truly seek to serve the Lord (Psalm 119:15-16, 23-24, 97, 147-148). Do these verses characterize you and me? Have we given ourselves "entirely" to the word of God? That description suggests that one must have the pursuit of truth as the preeminent and defining characteristic of his life (cf. Matthew 6:33; Philippians 3:8-14). When one gives himself "entirely" to knowing and obeying the will of God, it is apparent to all around him. Is that how our friends and family would describe you and me?
In order to meet the requirements of this passage, we must "take heed" to ourselves. This would necessitate a careful inspection of self to assure that our lives are parallel to God's word (2 Corinthians 13:5). We are also required to "take heed" to our doctrine. When is the last time we sat down and carefully thought about the doctrine we believe?
This commitment of our entire being to God's commands is not just a one time obligation, but we are to "continue in them." Are we truly exemplifying this passage in our lives?
We must be as the Bereans of old. The Bible says of them, "Now these were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, examining the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so" (Acts 17:11). We need to emulate the nobility of the Bereans by searching the Scriptures every day in our quest to know and obey God's will.
Just as it takes work to study and properly understand a subject in school, it takes work to study and properly understand Bible subjects as well. There is no shortcut that negates the need for diligence. If we are to unite in the proper understanding of God's word, it will require a diligent effort in discerning His truth from the revealed word. It does not just suddenly come to us from a spaceship or a frog.
We must "be diligent to present ourselves approved to God, as workers who do not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth." Let us never abuse God's word by improper handling. Instead, we must deeply respect, thoroughly study and properly use it each day of our lives.