Understanding the Bible—What Will Help You?
“YOU have carefully hidden these things from wise and intellectual ones, and have revealed them to babes.” (Luke 10:21) These words that Jesus addressed to his heavenly Father indicate that to understand the Bible, we must have the right attitude. Jehovah’s wisdom is revealed in that he has provided a book that only humble, teachable people can truly understand.
Humility does not come easily to most of us. We all have an inherited tendency to be proud. In addition, we live in “the last days,” among people who are “lovers of themselves, . . . headstrong, puffed up with pride.” (2 Timothy 3:1-4) These are attitudes that work against our understanding God’s Word. Regrettably, to some degree we are all influenced by our surroundings. How, then, can you acquire the attitude needed to understand the Bible?
Preparing the Heart and the Mind
Ezra, an ancient leader of God’s people, “prepared his heart to consult the law of Jehovah.” (Ezra 7:10) Is there some way that we can prepare our heart? Yes. We can begin by adopting a proper view of the Scriptures. To fellow Christians, the apostle Paul wrote: “When you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.” (1 Thessalonians 2:13) Though men were used to write the Scriptures, what they wrote was from Jehovah. Recognition of that vital fact will make us more receptive to what we read.—2 Timothy 3:16.
Another way to prepare our heart is by prayer. Since the Bible was inspired by holy spirit, its message will become understandable to us with the help of that spirit. We must pray for such help. Notice how this was the concern of the psalmist who wrote: “Make me understand, that I may observe your law and that I may keep it with the whole heart.” (Psalm 119:34) We need to pray not only for the mental ability to comprehend what is written but also for the heart attitude that will allow us to accept it. To understand the Bible, we need to be receptive to what is true.
As you meditate in order to have the right frame of mind, consider what studying the Bible can do for you. We have many excellent reasons for consulting God’s Word, but more important than any other is that it helps us to draw close to God. (James 4:8) As we read about how Jehovah reacts to different circumstances, how he appreciates those who love him, and how he deals with those who leave him, we discern what sort of person he is. Our primary motive in reading the Bible should always be to become better acquainted with God and thus strengthen our relationship with him.
Obstacles to Having the Right Attitude
What might hinder us from understanding God’s Word? One obstacle is a misplaced feeling of loyalty. For example, you may hold the beliefs and opinions of certain ones in high esteem. However, what if these individuals do not really uphold or value the truth of God’s Word? Under such circumstances, to understand what the Bible really teaches may present a challenge. Thus, the Bible encourages us to assess carefully what we have been taught.—1 Thessalonians 5:21.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, faced such a challenge. She was brought up according to Jewish tradition. She carefully observed the Mosaic Law and doubtless went to the synagogue. Later in life she recognized that the way of worship that her parents had taught her was no longer acceptable to God. Consequently, Mary accepted Jesus’ teaching and was among the first members of the Christian congregation. (Acts 1:13, 14) This was not showing disrespect for her parents or their traditions; rather, it was an expression of her love for God. If we are to benefit from the Bible, like Mary we must place loyalty to God before loyalty to anyone else.
Sadly, many people put little value on Bible truth. Some are content to follow religious traditions that are based on falsehood. Others show disregard for truth in their speech and way of life. Accordingly, accepting Bible truth comes at a price: It may put you at odds with friends, neighbors, workmates, and even your family. (John 17:14) Nevertheless, the wise man wrote: “Buy truth itself and do not sell it.” (Proverbs 23:23) If you hold truth in high esteem, Jehovah will help you to understand the Bible.
Still another obstacle to comprehending the Bible’s message is an unwillingness to apply what it says. Jesus told his disciples: “To you it is granted to understand the sacred secrets of the kingdom of the heavens, but to those people it is not granted. For the heart of this people has grown unreceptive, and with their ears they have heard without response.” (Matthew 13:11, 15) Most of those to whom Jesus preached were unresponsive, unwilling to change. How unlike the traveling merchant Jesus spoke of in an illustration! Upon finding a pearl of high value, the merchant promptly sold all the things he had to buy it. Understanding Bible truth should be equally precious to us.—Matthew 13:45, 46.
The Challenge of Being Taught
A major challenge in understanding the Bible is that of being teachable. A person may find it difficult to accept new ideas from someone who appears to be lowly. Yet, the apostles of Jesus Christ were “unlettered and ordinary” men. (Acts 4:13) Explaining why, Paul wrote: “You behold his calling of you, brothers, that not many wise in a fleshly way were called, not many powerful, not many of noble birth; but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame.” (1 Corinthians 1:26, 27) If you find that being taught by a lowly person challenges your humility, remember that he or she is merely the means used by God to teach you. What privilege could be greater than to be taught by Jehovah, our “Grand Instructor”?—Isaiah 30:20; 54:13.
The Syrian military commander Naaman was someone who found it challenging to receive instruction from a lowly one. Seeking a cure for his leprosy, he went to see Jehovah’s prophet Elisha. But God’s instructions for a cure were relayed to Naaman through a servant. The message and the way it was presented challenged Naaman’s humility, so that he at first refused to obey the word of God’s prophet. Later, Naaman changed his attitude and was healed. (2 Kings 5:9-14) We face a similar challenge when we turn to the Bible. We may learn that to be cured spiritually and morally, we need to follow a new way of life. Will we have the humility to allow someone to teach us what we need to do? Only those with a teachable attitude can enjoy an understanding of the Bible.
A fine attitude was displayed by a man in power under Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. He was returning to Africa in his chariot when the disciple Philip ran alongside and approached him. Philip asked the man if he understood what he was reading. The official was humble enough to reply: “How could I ever do so, unless someone guided me?” Upon gaining an understanding of God’s Word, that man was baptized. After that, he “kept going on his way rejoicing.”—Acts 8:27-39.
Jehovah’s Witnesses in general are ordinary people. Each week they conduct Bible studies in the homes of over six million people. Since the Bible teaches the best way of life, explains the only sure hope for mankind, and points out how to become acquainted with God, millions have found that studying the Bible and understanding what it says is an immeasurable pleasure. It is a pleasure available to you.
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Naaman found it difficult to accept instructions from a lowly servant
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Understanding the Bible warms our heart