|Volume 18 Number 10 October 2016||
Ronald D. Reeves
A non-Christian once observed while talking with me that the Bible does not always address matters in a straightforward plain manner. Being reasonably intelligent, he was puzzled and wondered aloud why this would be. Others may have also wondered why the Lord would speak to us in a manner that requires intelligent men and women to exercise their mental faculties before discovering and understanding truth. In the past I, too, would have questioned this interesting phenomenon. Today, the issue is now clearer.
On one occasion when Jesus was teaching great multitudes (Matthew13:1-9), He communicated His message through the use of parables. His disciples consequently asked, “Why speakest thou unto them in parables?” (13:10 KJV). His response was both instructional and that which arrests our attention. Initially, He said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given” (13:11). We are hereby compelled to ask why some would be blessed with an understanding of the truths that can be known only by revelation while others are not so blessed. Surely our Lord is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34-35).
The verses following (13:12-15) are truly enlightening. Not only do they address the problems of the day in which they were spoken, but they as well reveal one of the root causes behind so much misdirected religious commentary that may be found either in or out of the body of Christ today. A tragic error would occur if we were to assign to our Lord responsibility for the failure of some to come to a knowledge of the truth. The Lord, being One who would have all come unto repentance (2 Peter 3:9), has not denied and will not deny anyone access to truth by which one may be saved (Mark 16:15-16). Rather, the responsibility for a failure to come to a knowledge of the truth often times squarely lays at the feet of men and women who are characterized as described in the verses following. As He introduced the basis for the declaration in verse 11, He declared that “whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance: but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath.”
When the Lord said, “For whosoever hath,” He did not specify the object of possession under consideration. A contextual analysis is necessary to understand its identity. Accordingly, my seasoned judgment holds that He spoke of a specific inward attitude of heart wherein one is genuinely committed to searching out truth while unencumbered with prejudices that would prevent the discovery and understanding of truth (good soil). Therefore, the declaration of verse 11 is founded upon the premise that the one having a genuine desire to know truth will be the one who shall be blessed with a discerning heart, thus able to come unto a knowledge and an understanding of truth.
Conversely, the one not having this genuine desire to know truth will lose his powers of discernment, thus limiting access to greater knowledge and understanding. This problematic heart condition is further revealed when He said, “because they seeing see not; and hearing they hear not, neither do they understand” (13:13). Subjectively, they both see and hear. From their clouded individual viewpoint, they are convinced that they both see and hear. In reality, because they are not open to truth and have set their feet steadfastly in error, they cannot objectively see, hear and understand. This is confirmed in their condition of heart described as “waxed gross” (13:15), an attitude of the lack of responsiveness that causes one to be dull of hearing and to close one’s own eyes. They are self-blinded by their condition of heart. Never is there one so blind than he who refuses to see!
Every generation faces the task of taking truth to a lost and dying world and to edify the saved in the Lord’s church. Everyone will not be receptive to the message of truth. May we, as children of God, be the first to exemplify the positive condition of heart portrayed in this passage (13:12a) so that we can lead others by our attitudes as well as by our teaching. May we show others that we value truth so much that we will weigh and measure teaching carefully before we reject a message when it contradicts some long held personal viewpoint. May we always rely on a “thus saith the Lord” and be willing to change any and every religious viewpoint that cannot stand the test of biblical examination. May we never so close our minds that we become like the self-blinded religious leaders in the days of Jesus. May we truly open our minds unto the Lord and allow Him to be our fullness!
The Language of Defeat
T. Pierce Brown (deceased)
There is a very close relationship between the way a person thinks, talks and acts. If one can change any of them, he can influence the other two. The difference in defeat and victory may depend on our thinking, talking or acting.
I want to consider some examples in the Bible and in our lives where the language used was a primary factor in the defeated lives that we find. In Exodus 14:12, we find a group of fearful, faithless Israelites who saw the Egyptians marching after them. They said, “Is not this the word that we did tell thee in Egypt, saying, ‘Let us alone that we may serve the Egyptians?’ For it had been better for us to serve the Egyptians than that we should die in the wilderness.”
There are two things in this statement of defeat that are especially significant in terms of our present lesson. First, “We told you so.” Before they left Egypt, they had their minds made up that they would fail, and nothing had happened that had changed it. Psychologists sometimes call this, “Self-fulfilling prophecy.” When a person looks at some program that has been designed for the advancement of the cause of Christ and the progress of the Gospel and says, “It will not work,” many times his subconscious mind gets in tune with his words to see that it does not work. Then, when some aspect of it fails because of his opposition or indifference, he says, “I told you so.”
It may be that a more significant aspect of the language of defeat is hidden in the last part of the verse. “It had been better for us to serve the Egyptians, than that we should die in the wilderness.” Almost invariably, the language of defeat is a result of reacting to false assumptions. It usually works like this: 1. A person sees some facts. 2. He assumes the facts he sees are all the facts that are relevant. 3. He assumes some things about the facts that he sees. 4. He reacts to his assumptions about the facts as if they were the facts.
Note the facts. They had been in bondage, being killed or mistreated by the Egyptians. They cried unto God who attended to their cry and performed miracles that led them to be released. They fled, but Pharaoh changed his mind and followed them. They came to a sea in front with an army behind. Note their assumptions. “God may be powerful enough to do signs and wonders, but not powerful or loving enough to save us now. There is no way out of this problem. We will die.” What a group of blind, unfaithful assumptions! Yet, we see the same kind reasoning operating in and out of the church today.
Usually, when I have heard preachers talk about this, they have emphasized the point that they were failing because they lacked faith. That is true, but the principle about which we are writing is more fundamental and has a broader application as it relates to God, others, inanimate objects, etc. That is, we should realize that 1. We cannot know all the facts about anything. 2. We may be misapplying the facts we do know. 3. We may be reacting to our assumptions about the facts as if they were the facts.
Most of us who have done any personal evangelism have had persons respond, “I could not live the Christian life if I started.” They know some facts. They know it is easy to sin. It is hard to do right. They have often failed. They have left out some of the most significant facts concerning Christ, the power of the Gospel and His promises to strengthen, aid and forgive. They have acted and spoken as if they had all the facts. Then, they have made assumptions and acted upon them as if they were facts. As a result, they were defeated even before they began.
Persons who have been convicted of grievous sin have said, “I have too many strikes against me.” Whether they were thinking in terms of having been so bad that they could not be forgiven, or whether they thought they had been so bad they could not overcome the sinful habits makes no difference. One man who had killed another, lived in sorrow for more than 40 years in the assumption that he had committed a sin that could not be forgiven. When I eventually discovered that, I impressed upon him that those who killed the Savior were forgiven when they accepted His terms of pardon as revealed in Acts 2:38; they were saved. He was baptized. His friends said they saw him smile for the first time in 40 years.
You may have two strikes against you, but you are not out until you leave the field. However, the principle behind the language of defeat is what I am trying to emphasize today. It almost invariably has this format: 1. Assuming something. 2. Speaking and acting on those assumptions as if they were facts.
Even before the Israelites said, in effect, “We told you so” in Exodus 14, Moses had done the same kind of thing in Exodus 4:1. When God had told Moses to lead them out of Egyptian bondage, Moses replied, “Behold, they will not believe me, nor hearken unto my voice; for they will say, ‘The Lord hath not appeared unto thee.’” The only preachers I have heard preach about that have said, “Moses had a lack of confidence in others and in God.” That may be true, and certainly his knowledge of his brethren would cause a lack of confidence in them. Yet, the principle that caused that lack of confidence and caused him to speak and act as if he were defeated before he began is deeper than that. Moses saw some facts. He made some assumptions about some facts. He spoke and acted as if those assumptions were the facts.
From the character and previous actions of the Israelites, did Moses have the right to assume that they would probably be a faithless and perverse generation? He did. Also, he had a perfectly good sentence, from a structural standpoint. It had a subject, predicate and could be diagrammed, analyzed, etc. If, though, all the analysis leaves out one significant fact, he had a problem. He was making a statement of an assumption as if it were a fact. Do you notice the difference in what his response probably would have been if he had said, “Suppose they do not believe me? What shall I do then, Lord?” Do you not see that instead of having a defeatist attitude, he would be counting the cost, considering the possibilities and preparing to overcome the difficulties with the help of God?
Look at another statement of Moses that is the language of defeat, but in a slightly different category. The Lord answered his first excuse, and so he had another, for he was accustomed to the psychology that leads to the language of defeat. He said, “I am not eloquent, neither heretofore nor since thou hast spoken to thy servant” (Exodus 4:10).
This is a statement of fact, but it is especially dangerous because it had some hidden assumptions behind it. Note some of them: 1. The assumption that eloquence is a necessary prerequisite of a leader. 2. People will not follow unless persuaded by eloquence. 3. One must be eloquent in order to do God’s work. 4. God who made my tongue cannot make it as eloquent as it needs to be.
When we call this a lack of faith, we are correct. If we can see the principles behind the situation that caused the lack of faith, we have a deeper appreciation of how to respond to the circumstances of life that may defeat us.
We see it continually appearing in their history. In Numbers 13, when they sent the twelve spies into Canaan, ten of them come back with the statement, “They are giants. They are stronger than we are. In our own sight we are as grasshoppers. And so are we in theirs.” Again it is very dangerous, for the facts are mixed up with assumptions and all reacted to in the same fashion. We could say, “It was a lack of confidence in self and God,” but there is a greater lesson that is almost invariably true in the language of defeat. Note some of the assumptions, reacted to as if they were facts. 1. Giants without God are stronger than we are with Him. 2. God who defeated Pharaoh at the Red Sea can be defeated by giants. 3. We are as grasshoppers in their sight. All were false, but two were subconscious. Yet, because of those kinds of things, they failed to enter the Promised Land.
We can find encouragement in the fact that even the great prophets like Elijah used the language of defeat, but God was patient and enabled him to overcome. Jesus gave parables that indicate the same kind of failure and consequences. In Matthew 25, the man with one talent used the language of defeat and was lost. In Acts 24, Felix used the language of defeat. We usually just say that he procrastinated, but note the same features we have mentioned several times. 1. He assumed he would have another opportunity. 2. He assumed it would be more convenient. 3. He assumed he would want to obey then, even though he did not now. In all cases, the language of defeat is the language that makes assumptions, whether overt or hidden, then reacts to them if they were facts.
Let us examine our thoughts, our language and our actions to see if we are living defeated lives because we think thoughts of defeat, spread the virus to others with the language of defeat and climax it with lives that are defeated. This has stopped many evangelistic efforts. When the elders hear a plea for money for a worthwhile project, and reply, “Our budget is full,” they use the language of defeat. That may be a fact, but what does that have to do with God’s will and His power to help us accomplish it? If you are accustomed to think the thoughts of defeat and use the language of defeat, you will doubtless be defeated.