Not Like a Horse or Mule

Scripture itself lays great stress on conscientiously using the mind, not of course in order to stand in judgment on God’s word, but rather in order to submit to it to grapple with it, to understand it and relate it to the contemporary scene.

Indeed, there are frequent complaints in Scripture that man keeps forgetting his basic rationality as a human being made in God’s image and behaves instead “like a horse or a mule, without understanding” (Psalm 32:9).

So Jesus rebuked his apostles for their lack of understanding and their failure to use their common sense (see Mark 8:17-21). He reproached the multitudes similarly: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57).

This command to “judge for yourselves” to is particularly prominent in Paul’s first letter to Corinth. Here was a church which laid claim to great wisdom, but failed to exhibit it. Again and again Paul asks incredulously, “Do you not know—?” (1 Corinthians 3:16, 1 Corinthians 5:6, 1 Corinthians 6:2, 1 Corinthians 6:3, 1 Corinthians 6:9, 1 Corinthians 6:15, 1 Corinthians 6:16, 1 Corinthians 6:19), and introduces his apostolic instruction with phrases such as “I want you to know, brethren” or “I do not want you to be uninformed” (1 Corinthians 10:1 and 1 Corinthians 12:1).

He is clear that, whereas the natural or unregenerate man is unable to understand God’s truth, the spiritual or regenerate man “judges all things.” That is, what the natural man cannot discern, the spiritual man can and does, because he is inhabited and ruled by the Holy Spirit and so has “the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:14-16).—

In other New Testament letters similar exhortations occur. Christians are to “test the spirits” (i.e. human teachers claiming divine inspiration) and indeed to “test everything” they hear (1 John 4:1). Again, when faced with difficult ethical decisions, they are to give their minds to the problem, so that each may be “fully convinced in his own mind” (Romans 14:5). It is a mark of Christian maturity to have our “faculties trained by practice to distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

We must, then, take seriously this biblical injunction to use our rational and critical powers. We are not to oppose prayer and thought as alternative means of increasing our understanding of Scripture, but to combine them.

—John R. W. Stott

Published by Intentional Faith

Devoted to a Faith that Thinks

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