“Then he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up.’”
“Listen to what the parable of the sower means: When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path.” – Matthew 13:3-4; 18-19
In the first part of this article, it was said that even though the word of God is powerful, living, and active, Jesus, in the parable of the sower, said the hearers of the word do not always bear fruit. The first reason he gave was a lack of understanding: “When anyone hears the message about the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in his heart. This is the seed sown along the path” (Matthew 13:19, my italics). What understanding is, why people are blind to the word of God, and the need for spiritual illumination were explained.
Since it is clear that the word of God is powerful, that it is in itself not veiled but it is the minds of the unbelieving that are veiled from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ; that even the believing need to turn to the Lord to understand his word, is there something that anyone can do to help their understanding of the word and be fruitful thereby?
KEYS TO UNDERSTANDING THE WORD
- Turn to the Lord: Turn to the Lord in prayer as you approach his word. “Whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away” (2 Corinthians 3:16). That’s what Jesus did to the disciples following his resurrection: “He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). Turn to him in single- and wholehearted expectation. Ask and you will receive, for he who asks receives. Remember that a double-minded man will not receive anything from the Lord. What should be the content of your prayer? The holy men who penned down the word were inspired to do so by the Holy Spirit. Jesus said, “The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life” (John 6:63). Since they are spirit, their understanding can only come from the Spirit. Ask for the Spirit’s interpretation of the word and for your eyes to be opened to grasp the meaning of what is being said.
- Pay Careful Attention: A student who doesn’t pay attention in class will lack understanding. When you approach the word, whether in Church or in private, give it your attention. There are many instances in scripture where God calls for attention to be paid to his word. Hebrews 2:1 calls us to “pay more careful attention, therefore, to what we have heard.” You must be seen to embrace the word and treasure it for its deep secrets to be unveiled to you.
- Meditate on the Word: In order to be successful and prosperous, Joshua was told to “not let this Book of the law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night” (Joshua 1:8). To meditate is to contemplate or reflect or ponder or focus one’s thoughts on something. Paul told Timothy to “Think over these things I am saying [understand them and grasp their application], for the Lord will grant you full insight and understanding in everything” (2 Timothy 2:9, AMPC). You need to be delivered from a thoughtless consideration of God’s word. God expects that when you hear his word, it will not go through one ear and leave through the other. He expects that you will treasure it and spend time pondering over it. Spirit-empowered and Spirit-guided meditation unlocks the meaning of Scripture. An offence not let go but focused upon becomes a grudge in the heart. What would normally be a light offence results in explosive reactions after it is brooded upon. That is the power of focus. Spending time to contemplate on the word also shows that you treasure it. Focus on the word and watch the Spirit give you understanding.
- Study the Word: To study is to carefully examine or extendedly consider something. You need such an attitude to understand the word of God. One way to do so is by arcing. That is to take a paragraph or unit of Scripture, break it down into individual statements, and see how each of those statements relate to each other logically. Study also involves considering the meaning of words. Don’t just read, not understand and go away without making any effort to understand. Seek to understand, for he who seeks finds; to him who knocks the door will be opened. Sometimes why you may not understand a certain part of Scripture may be tied to something as simple as language. If you are reading the Bible in English, have a bible dictionary and an English dictionary. Your problem may just be English language. Reading from different versions also helps with understanding Scripture. The availability of smart devices now means that you can conveniently have these dictionaries on your phone. As good as the King James Version is, sometimes because the language used in translating it is not contemporary, meaning may be obscure and error will ensue. I read a story in EDWJ about a deacon in a small church in the US who was asked by the congregation to take over the leadership of the church after the minister left. He agreed to do so but felt somewhat inadequate for the task because he did not have a divinity degree. He toyed with the idea of buying a theological degree from what in America is called a Degree Mill – an institution which specializes in selling unaccredited degrees. He prayed about the matter and one day, after reading 1 Timothy 3:13 in the KJV, his mind was made up. This is what he read: “For they that have used the office of a deacon well purchase to themselves a good degree.” Whoa! Here’s what that same verse reads in a more contemporary translation, the New Living Translation: “Those who do well as deacons will be rewarded with respect from others and will have increased confidence in their faith in Christ Jesus.” Reading different renderings in different translations is good for grasping the meaning of Scripture.
Always endeavor to read the Bible in context. A lack of context is a major source of error. One of the things we have done with the addition of number verses to the Bible is to pick up verses and read. Sometimes these verses are neither the beginning nor the end of statements; they are in the middle and can easily be taken out of context. Take Romans 3:23 as an example: “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” That is the middle of a statement. It has been used too many times to preach and tell sinners their condition. It doesn’t provide a solution. In fact, that verse alone is not the gospel. For it to be the gospel, it must include verses 22 and 24:
“22 This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.”
There are different ways to study the Bible. You can focus on topics like sin, faith, justification, sanctification, eternity, etc. You can study characters like Jesus, Abraham, Sarah, Jacob, Esther, David, Paul, Stephen, etc. You can choose to study whole books. How to study the Bible is a huge topic of its own that you can pursue. The Bible promises that, “If you call out for insight and cry aloud for understanding, and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as for hidden treasure, then you will understand the fear of the lord and find the knowledge of God” (Proverbs 2:3-5).
- Listen to Gifted Servants of God: “It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Ephesians 4:11-12). Private study is good, but it is God’s way to also reveal his word to us through the ministry of his gifted servants, given to the Church. Avail yourself of this blessing. Participate in group Bible studies and save yourself from small- and narrow-minded understanding of the word. I can’t count how many times I have participated in a group Bible study and someone has shed light on what is to me, a familiar portion of Scripture, and I have said to myself, “I’ve read that several times, how come I never saw that?” In Acts 8, Philip was told by the Spirit to go and stay near the chariot of the Ethiopian Eunuch, who was reading a passage from Isaiah. Philip asked him, “Do you understand what you are reading?” Here’s the Ethiopian’s response: “How can I understand unless someone explains it to me?” His lack of understanding, even though he was reading about Jesus, kept him from salvation. It was from there that Philip told him the good news about Jesus. Luke 18:34 says “The disciples did not understand any of this. Its meaning was hidden from them, and they did not know what he was talking about.” In Luke 24:45, Jesus “opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.” If God allows you to understand everything on your own, pride alone may kill you, for knowledge puffs up. Secondly, you may have no need of the Church and such will destroy God’s design for his body, the Church. Even though Eli had his own issues as a priest, the day God came and stood where Samuel was and called him, Samuel still needed Eli to teach him how to hear God and respond. Maximize the opportunity of understanding God’s word that he has made available through the corporate ministry of the Church. People have written books that explain Scriptures, there are many sound Bible commentaries, there are multitudes of resources online, avail yourself of them.
Here’s Jesus’ explanation of the seed that fell on the good soil: “But the one who received the seed that fell on good soil is the man who hears the word and understands it. He produces a crop, yielding a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown” (Matthew 13:23, my emphasis). The fruitfulness comes from the man who hears and understands. He produces a crop many, many times what was sown, because he has understanding.
A lot has been said but let me tie it up this way: When you hear the word of God and you do not understand it, it is by the wayside, unprotected. It is not yours. The evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in your heart. That stolen seed cannot bear fruit in your life. To avoid that, strive to understand the word. Understanding is key to fruitfulness from God’s word. Therefore, though it cost you all you have, get understanding.