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Welcome back to our short series concerning The Discipleship Spiral. I pray that the foundation we’ve laid so far has been valuable for you.
However, if you’re just tuning in, be sure to go back to episode 90 before continuing with this episode so that you have all the necessary parts of this discussion.
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And — with that — let’s talk about the fact that a disciple of Christ needs to be a Discerning Researcher.
So, last time we became disciples by choosing our mountain and starting on the journey of a disciple.
And the first portion of that journey involved attentively and intentionally acquiring the knowledge of God.
But knowing things about God isn’t enough. There’s still so much more we need to do. So, it’s time to move to the second phase of discipleship.
So, here’s what’s going to happen as you hike the path of a disciple. As you travers the relatively easy part of the knowing path, at some point you will walk around a bend in the road and discover that the trail is far less pristine than it was a moment ago.
This part of the trail has tree roots, large rocks, tight spots, and a more aggressive incline. You’re still walking most of the time, but every now and then you need to pull yourself over a boulder, crawl under a fallen tree, and you’re definitely spending more time using your hands than you did before. In addition, your clothes aren’t as clean as they were before, and you’re starting to sweat as your heartbeat rises.
Now, not every facet of this metaphor has a direct spiritual connection. I’m simply trying to illustrate that this next part of the disciples’ path is going to take more concerted effort on our parts.
That’s because the next requirement in the life of a disciple is to understand what you have previously learned.
Now, just like with the concept of “knowledge,” there is so much biblical data about understanding. We’ll discuss a lot of it today, but we won’t really be able to scratch the surface.
So, let’s start with a definition. What is understanding?
We could say that understanding is “the mental process of a person who comprehends.”
What’s funny about the concept of understanding is that few people really understand what it means to understand.
I think part of the problem lies in the fact that we don’t have many English synonyms for understanding. Some of the best synonyms are “comprehend” (a word we understand as well as we understand “understand”), then there are idiomatic expressions like “get the hang of,” “make sense of,” “get the idea,” “get the picture,” and so on.
So, here’s how I like to explain understanding — understanding is the result of having “figured something out.”
Picture this in your mind. A story was once told of a man who built a house in the desert, and despite the shifting sands, the man’s house was firm because he built it on a slab of rock. But after many years the sands were blown away to reveal that he had actually built his house on top of an ancient pillar. When the whole thing was finally unearthed, the man discovered that the pillar on which his house sat was thirty feet tall.
Now, imagine that the man’s house is an idea. It’s a fact. The house represents simple information. When you have the house, you posses basic knowledge.
Now imagine that uncovering the pillar is a picture of the process of understanding. To understand is to figure out what “stands under” the knowledge. Did you hear what I did there with the word? Understanding is comprehending all the information that “stands under” and supports the fact. The better our understanding, the more of the pillar we’ve unearthed.
Do you remember the definition of learning that we’ve been using? Learning is the process of acquiring information about God, systematizing it, and then using it for His glory.
The “acquiring information” part is gaining knowledge. And the “systematizing” refers to the work necessary to understand the information we’ve acquired.
I’ll come back to this in a moment, but I want you to be comfortable recognizing that understanding requires that we engage in systematizing.
Now, all of this and more is why understanding is more difficult that simply acquiring knowledge. Basically, understanding is multiplied learning. It’s not good enough to unearth the barest foundation — which is the most basic knowledge about the foundation. We need to do the arduous work of uncovering as much of the foundation as possible. The more we uncover, the better we understand what’s going on with the original fact.
Here’s an example I like to use to show how complicated understanding is.
I’m going to assume that you know how to ride a bike. However, to a five year old, riding a two-wheeler may seem like magic. On the other hand, junior highers are beginning to understand gears, equilibrium, and the importance of the inner ear. But those with advanced training might even be able to verbalize the physics behind the process.
But did you know that up until 2007, scientists have had a very difficult time figuring out how bicycles balance? In fact, using a sheet of incredibly complex mathematical equations researchers have recently discovered that there’s no one reason — there are many reasons that bikes can achieve balance.
Here’s a quote from the paper called, “'Linearized dynamics equations for the balance and steer of a bicycle: a benchmark and review."
The review says, ”A simple explanation does not seem possible because the lean and steer are coupled by a combination of several effects including gyroscopic precession, lateral ground-reaction forces at the front wheel ground contact point trailing behind the steering axis, gravity and inertial reactions from the front assembly having center-of-mass off of the steer axis, and from effects associated with the moment of inertia matrix of the front assembly.”
Now, I don’t care how well you think you understand how to ride a bike, those guys understand it better. And they understand it better because they have gone through the process of researching the information so that they have acquired more and more knowledge that relates to and expands their comprehension of the original topic.
In a similar way, people who do stunts with bikes understand the practical applications of balance far more than the average bicyclist. They’ve done the very hard work, and taken the very hard falls, in order to perform amazing feats on a bike.
Now, let’s use another example that we can appreciate but with which children often struggle.
All of us should know that eating vegetables is necessary. And — hopefully — we eat our veggies because we understand the health benefits. We’ve done a lot of additional study to really grasp why vegetables are so important. But we also should be well-versed in the harmful effects of sugar, processed grains, and an over-abundance of dairy.
When we couple this corresponding knowledge and understanding, we really understand the benefit of eating vegetables. And — if you have kids — no doubt you encourage your children to eat more greens and less sugar.
At least, I’m hoping you know and understand these things.
However, all that children know is that sugar tastes better than broccoli. And that’s all they think they need to know in order to make the decision that candy is good and broccoli is bad.
Therefore, in order for them to come to the same mature conclusions to which we’ve come, they will have to be exposed to much more information. They’ll have to learn more, understand more, and systemize more.
And that’s why a disciple must be a Discerning Researcher. We have to be prepared to do the necessary work to better understand the knowledge of God.
I say “better understand” because we’ll never fully understand God, but we do need to mature and grow in our understanding of Him.
Now, before we move one, I hope you see that understanding is very important. A large store of disconnected facts may be helpful in some cases, but lacking real understanding about any number of those facts could cause us to come to very wrong conclusions and end up getting ourselves in trouble.
In fact, I’m going to argue that every heresy is the result of one of two things. Sometimes people just lie because they don’t want to acknowledge the truth, and sometimes the heresy is a result of a lack of understanding.
Speaking of heretics, Jude says, “But these men revile the things which they do not understand; and the things which they know by instinct, like unreasoning animals, by these things they are destroyed.”
In II Peter 3:16-18 Peter is talking about people who were responding to the truth Paul preached: “as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand, which the untaught and unstable distort, as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness, 18 but grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory, both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.”
And I Timothy 1:7 speaks of “some men, straying from these things, have turned aside to fruitless discussion, 7 wanting to be teachers of the Law, even though they do not understand either what they are saying or the matters about which they make confident assertions.”
So, I hope you can see that understanding is often difficult, but definitely necessary for the Disciple of Christ lest we fall into great error and lead others into it as well.
Avoiding heresy is why a good Systematic Theology is so incredibly helpful, and — once again — we’re talking about systematizing.
To systematize is to arrange. It’s akin to dumping out the pieces of a puzzle and arranging them in the correct order. The pieces are the knowledge, and the process of arranging them provides the understanding of the big picture.
So, now let’s transition our conversation in order to better understand understanding.
To that end we’re going to systematize it by discussing the nature of understanding, the source of understanding, the rejection of understanding, and the acquisition of understanding.
1. The Nature of Understanding
A. Understanding can be Good.
On our last episode I made the observation that knowledge is always good. However, though knowledge of the truth is always good, understanding can be good or bad.
“How is that possible?” you may ask.
Well, though understanding does involve being acquainted with additional facts that support and expand on the original information, there is also a level of interpretation involved in understanding.
Have your ever had a student or counselee or church member or friend who was certain they understood, but when they tried to explain, they proved they didn’t understand the concept at all?
There’s a personal aspect to understanding in that interpretation and synthesis are part of the process of understanding.
This is why Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And do not lean on your own understanding.”
Your understanding may be very wrong. Yes, it may be what you believe to be true about a situation, but that doesn’t mean what you believe to be true is actually right. Your understanding can be very tainted.
Proverbs 21:2 says, “Every man’s way is right in his own eyes.”
And Proverbs 12:15 tells us, “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes.”
Since it’s really easy to think we’re right even when we’re dead wrong, we need to recognize why it’s so dangerous to follow our hearts and lean on our own understanding.
This is why Judges 17:6 and 21:25 both read, “In those days there was no king in Israel; every man did what was right in his own eyes.” The author wanted the seriousness of the situation to weigh heavily on us. The idea of everyone doing what he thought was right is a scary scenario.
So, as we attempt to understand truth and help our fellow disciples do the same, we must make certain that our understanding coincides with God’s understanding. This is why we have to be Discerning Researchers. It’s not enough to research and systematize if we’re going to come to the wrong conclusions. We need to be discerning and compare our conclusions with the Word of God.
And this is desperately important for many reasons, not the least of which is . . .
B. Understanding is Power.
If knowledge is power, you’d better believe that accurately understanding that knowledge is even more power.
Proverbs 3:19, “By understanding [the Lord] established the heavens.”
Proverbs 24:3 tells us, “By understanding [a house] is established.”
Whether God is creating the universe or we’re establishing our homes, understanding is necessary. It’s not good enough to have a superficial knowledge of what it is to be a Christ-honoring disciple. We need to understand it as best we can.
And consider Proverbs 20:5. It says, “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.”
Understanding doesn’t just help us better comprehend truth, it helps us discover the truth about other people that they — perhaps — didn’t even know themselves.
Proverbs 20:5 is a powerful passage for anyone in a position of leadership or influence. “A plan in the heart of a man is like deep water, But a man of understanding draws it out.”
And it’s the power of understanding that makes it so that . . .
C. Understanding can Save.
Proverbs 28:2 says, “By the transgression of a land many are its princes, But by a man of understanding, so it endures.”
And Proverbs 19:8 reads, “He who keeps understanding will find good.”
What is this good that understanding will help us find?
Honestly, if we are discerningly researching God, His Word, and ourselves, we will increase our chances that we won’t fall into the destruction of sin.
Listen closely to the following passages.
Proverbs 1:5, “A man of understanding will acquire wise counsel.” Following wise counsel is very safe.
Proverbs 11:12, “He who despises his neighbor lacks sense, But a man of understanding keeps silent.” Understanding can save us from the relational carnage of sinfully tearing people down with our words.
This is very similar to Proverbs 17:27, “He who restrains his words has knowledge, And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.”
And Proverbs 15:21 tells us, “Folly is joy to him who lacks sense, But a man of understanding walks straight.” If you want to avoid the pitfalls of life, agree with God’s understanding of life.
And consider Proverbs 16:21-22, “The wise in heart will be called understanding, And sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it, But the discipline of fools is folly.”
“Understanding is a fountain of life to one who has it.”
This is why . . .
D. Understanding is Valuable.
My friends, whatever benefits can be derived from accumulating knowledge, they pale in comparison to the joys of understanding.
Consider this . . .
Proverbs 3:13, “How blessed is . . . the man who gains understanding.”
Proverbs 16:16, “Understanding is to be chosen above silver.”
In fact, Proverbs 23:23 tells us, “Buy truth, and do not sell it, Get wisdom and instruction and understanding.” Understanding is far more valuable than the money used to purchase it.
Understanding is good when it agrees with God. Understanding is powerful; it can save us from all sorts of destruction. And understanding is valuable.
All of this to say that it’s definitely worth the hike to continue up the Discipleship Spiral no matter how challenging it may be.
Now, let’s talk about . . .
2. The Source of Understanding
Proverbs 8:14 says, “Counsel is mine and sound wisdom; I am understanding, power is mine.” These words were spoken by the proverbial Woman of Wisdom. But the metaphor in this passage is a personification of God’s wisdom.
Just like God is the source of knowledge, He too is the root of understanding. We will never find true understanding outside of Him because our systematized knowledge needs to be systematized in the the way He ordains.
Listen, regardless of what the world thinks it knows and understands, it’s impotent to help us understand the cure for racism. No earthly politician can give us a better understanding of government than God can. The world does not understand identity better than the God Who created us.
Friendship, love, emotions, worship, parenting, shame, fear, anger . . . the world is completely impotent to help us understand these concepts correctly. Even though they may be able to accumulate some truth and accurate realities about these topics, their understanding will fail them if it disagrees with God.
Even our own sinful heart will misunderstand these realities better than it will understand them.
I pray that you really grasp the fact that true understanding of any subject can only be had as we look at it through the lens of the Scriptures.
If we don’t believe this truth, there will be consequences. So, now let’s consider . . .
3. The Rejection of Understanding
Proverbs 18:2 says, “A fool does not delight in understanding, But only in revealing his own mind.”
The fool doesn’t care to understand the truth about an issue. They’re too busy leaning on their own understanding and trying to convince everyone else that their understanding is right.
But this will always lead to dire consequences.
Proverbs 10:13, “A rod is for the back of him who lacks understanding.”
Proverbs 13:15, “Good understanding produces favor, But the way of the treacherous is hard.”
Proverbs 14:29, “He who is slow to anger has great understanding, But he who is quick-tempered exalts folly.”
Proverbs 28:16, “A leader who is a great oppressor lacks understanding.”
Proverbs 21:16, “A man who wanders from the way of understanding Will rest in the assembly of the dead.”
Proverbs 10:21, “Fools die for lack of understanding.”
If I don’t understand how to safely use a firearm, I’m increasing my risk of injury and death. If your disciplees don’t understand how to safely live this life in the will of God, they are greatly increasing their risk of spiritual injury and death.
Therefore, let’s end by discussing . . .
4. The Acquisition of Understanding
Just like we learned last time, if we want to acquire understanding . . .
A. We need to want understanding.
In Proverbs 7:4 Solomon writes, “Call understanding your intimate friend.” We try hard to make new friends. We want to spend time with our friends. We need to want to spend time with understanding even more.
Proverbs 10:23 says, “Doing wickedness is like sport to a fool, And so is wisdom to a man of understanding.”
I like the imagery here. For a man of understanding, using that understanding in a wise way is as enjoyable as playing a sport.
Hopefully, you too can attest to the fact that being able to put your systematized understanding into practice is so incredibly satisfying.
But there are also sports we don’t like. They’re probably the sports at which we’re no good.
If we’re learning that we haven’t really increased our understanding as we should because we never really learned how or we developed a bad attitude about it, we need to change and mature. And that’s going to take work.
So . . .
B. We need to work for understanding.
Proverbs 5:1, “My son, give attention to my wisdom, Incline your ear to my understanding.”
I love all of this imagery of inclining our ears and paying attention. True attention takes work.
Listen again to Proverbs 2:2-11, “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding; For if you cry for discernment, Lift your voice for understanding; 4 If you seek her as silver And search for her as for hidden treasures; 5 Then you will discern the fear of the Lord And discover the knowledge of God. 6 For the Lord gives wisdom; From His mouth come knowledge and understanding. He stores up sound wisdom for the upright; He is a shield to those who walk in integrity, 8 Guarding the paths of justice, And He preserves the way of His godly ones. 9 Then you will discern righteousness and justice And equity and every good course. 10 For wisdom will enter your heart And knowledge will be pleasant to your soul; 11 Discretion will guard you, Understanding will watch over you.”
These are commands, my friends. They’re not suggestions. And they’re going to take work.
And lastly, if we want to grow in our understanding . . .
C. We need to embrace discipline.
If you truly value understanding, you’re going to engage with discipline.
Discipline is the four-stage process of teaching, reproving, correcting, and training. But the word “discipline” is often used specifically for the reproving step.
Reproof is the step where someone has to inform us that we’re wrong. We were believing a lie, we were leaning on our own understanding, we were interpreting the situation incorrectly. And because we did wrong there are consequences in our lives.
Well, when we learn from these interactions, we will increase in understanding.
Proverbs 15:32, “He who listens to reproof acquires understanding.”
Proverbs 17:10, “A rebuke goes deeper into one who has understanding Than a hundred blows into a fool.”
Proverbs 19:25, “Reprove one who has understanding and he will gain knowledge.”
I know that you probably don’t like being reproved. You may even hate being told you’re wrong. And you definitely don’t like receiving the consequences for your sin. But there is hope for every disciple of Christ to learn the value of reproof. All throughout the Bible God illustrates the blessed rewards of those who value reproof.
We must all learn to appreciate reproof and learn to grow in our understanding as we’re reproved.
Now, in closing, I want to read Proverbs 9:1-18.
This is one of the couple times in the Proverbs that Solomon personifies wisdom for us.
Solomon describes her this way: “Wisdom has built her house, She has hewn out her seven pillars; 2 She has prepared her food, she has mixed her wine; She has also set her table.”
Wisdom is personified as having everything we need. Security, sustenance, and satisfaction — she has it all.
But she doesn’t wait for us to find her. She’s not hiding in the middle of a forest or high up in a mountain.
Verse 3 says, “She has sent out her maidens, she calls From the tops of the heights of the city.”
Wisdom is looking for us and other disciples of Christ.
And as she cries, listen to her call, “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here!’ To him who lacks understanding she says, ‘Come, eat of my food And drink of the wine I have mixed.”
She’s targeting the people who need her most.
But keep listening. In verse 6 she says, “Forsake your folly and live, And proceed in the way of understanding.”
She has everything we need, she’s out looking for us, and she tells us exactly what we must do to have her.
But the passage continues in verse 7, “He who corrects a scoffer gets dishonor for himself, And he who reproves a wicked man gets insults for himself. 8 Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you, Reprove a wise man and he will love you. 9 Give instruction to a wise man and he will be still wiser, Teach a righteous man and he will increase his learning. 10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding.”
Here again we see the wise and foolish responses to her calling. Which one best describes you?
And then wisdom explains the joys of following her starting in verse 11 “For by me your days will be multiplied, And years of life will be added to you. 12 If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, And if you scoff, you alone will bear it.”
But here’s the thing. Yes, wisdom is actually very easy to get. The knowledge and understanding of God are always accessible and waiting for us. But wisdom is not the only one vying for our attention.
In verse 13 we read ,“The woman of folly is boisterous, She is naive and knows nothing. 14 She sits at the doorway of her house, On a seat by the high places of the city, 15 Calling to those who pass by, Who are making their paths straight:”
In the same way that wisdom is seeking out those who need her most, folly too is targeting the disciples of Christ. Folly wants to hurt God’s followers. Folly wants to drag them off the Discipleship Spiral.
Listen to whom she’s calling in verse 16, “Whoever is naive, let him turn in here,’ And to him who lacks understanding she says. ‘Stolen water is sweet; And bread eaten in secret is pleasant.’”
Folly is targeting you. She’s trying to seduce the naive and those who lack understanding. She doesn’t want you moving to the next stage of your discipleship where you research what you’ve learned, systematize it, and grow in your understanding.
She’s going to use your laziness and her other distractions to convince you that knowing what you know about the Bible is enough . . . there’s no reason to work harder to understand it.
The Devil, the World, and the Flesh are trying to convince you that your own understanding is all you need.
But listen to the consequences in verse 18 of the fools who buy what she’s selling . . .
“But he does not know that the dead are there,That her guests are in the depths of Sheol.”
Sheol is an ancient term for the grave.
So, my fellow disciples of Christ, if you are going to learn the way God created, commands, and capacitates you to learn, knowledge isn’t going to be enough. You must understand what you’re learning, and you need to systematize it the way God wants you to.
Please share this episode with your fellow disciples and post it on your favorite social media outlets.
And if you need help growing in your personal discipleship, please email us at Counselor@CelebrationOfGod.com. We’d love to provide the unique assistance you need to continue up the Discipleship Spiral.
And I hope you’ll join us next time as we seek to better know, love, and worship God and help the people in our life do the same.
To that end, we’ll be discussing our necessity to be an Unashamed Workman as we unpack the Discipleship Spiral, Part 4.
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AMBrewster is the creator and host of the Celebration of God. He originally designed the COG to be a discipleship tool for Christian parents to train their children to know and love God, but he quickly realized how valuable it is for all Christians. Whether it's a small group, church, classroom, one-on-one, or community relationship, this resource is guaranteed to draw people closer together as they draw closer to God.
Aaron is the President of Truth.Love.Parent. and host of its podcast.