The late, great General Douglas MacArthur once wrote about a lesson he learned when he was a student at West Point.He was studying “time-space relationship formulated by Einstein as his Theory of Relativity.” MacArthur said the text was complex and difficult to comprehend. So, he simply committed the pages to memory.
When called upon to recite, He solemnly reeled off almost word for word what the book said. The instructor, Colonel Fieberger, looked at him somewhat quizzically and asked, “Do you understand this theory?”
“It was a bad moment for me,” MacArthur wrote, “but I did not hesitate in replying. ‘No, sir.’ You could have heard a pin drop. I braced myself and waited. “
Then slowly the professor responded: “Neither do I, Mr. MacArthur. Section dismissed.”
This story teaches a great lesson that speaks to honesty, integrity, and truthfulness. However, it also reminds us that it is possible to study a subject, memorize it word for word, and yet fail to really understand it.
Our word of the week is “understanding.”
When it comes to spiritual matters God requires understanding. This involves several facets. Understanding requires the ability to grasp something. To comprehend. To discern. Understanding involves insight. Intuition. And perception. Understanding demands that we grasp the importance, significance, and relevance of the subject we’re studying.
Understanding is important to our spiritual growth. And it begins with a knowledge of God and His Word. The wise man wrote, “Make your ear attentive to wisdom, Incline your heart to understanding” (Prov. 2:2). In fact, he implores, “Get wisdom. And in all your getting, get understanding” (Prov. 4:7). The apostle Paul commanded, “Be not unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph 5:17).
It is possible to read the Bible, commit sections to memory, and recite it flawlessly, without really understanding what it means and how it applies to our lives. D. L. Moody once quipped, “God didn’t give us the Bible to make us smarter sinners.” He wants us to understand how to use its principles and precepts in our lives. Really understanding Scriptures gives us the ability to use common sense in applying the Bible to the challenges we face every day.
If we are not careful we can reduce Bible study to a theological exercise. Our knowledge can become a source of pride that we know the Bible. Our classes can be reduced to generic, lofty platitudes that have little application to modern life. And our worship may degenerate into a doctrinal correct service but be devoid of an awareness of God’s presence and a perception of our relationship to Him.
While our preaching and teaching must be accurate and according to God’s Truth, it must also find application in the lives of the hearers. What is the connection between God’s command and our daily conduct? What is the relevance between the righteousness of God and our relationships? What is the meaning of the message as it relates to my personal ministry? My life’s mission? And as a member of God’s family?
Real understanding diminishes darkness, enlightens the heart, and helps us really see Jesus. Understanding allows us to look into the mirror of God’s Word and see ourselves as He sees us. And then it prods us into the appropriate change in our lives.
Spiritual understanding encompasses an eternal view that looks beyond this life and can see the unseen. It is fortitude by faith. Anchored in hope. And guided by love.
Paul’s prayer for the Colossian brethren to be “filled with the knowledge of His will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding” is one that we need to pray today.
When we are filled with both knowledge and understanding then we “walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him, being fruitful in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9)
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman