Sharpening Your Tools
Attitude – the Four H’s of Bible Study
by David Churchill

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     What the world needs now is — honesty, honor, hearing, humility.

     The story as it was passed to me goes something like this:

     A man carrying two large buckets of fish was stopped by a game warden while leaving a lake well know for its fishing.  The game warden asked the man, “DO YOU HAVE A LICENSE TO CATCH THOSE FISH?”
     The man replied to the game warden, “NO, SIR.  THESE ARE MY PET FISH.”
     “PET FISH?” the warden replied.
     The man looked at the game warden for a moment, and then said, “HERE, I’LL SHOW YOU.  IT REALLY WORKS.”
     “OK, I’VE GOT TO SEE THIS!” The game warden was curious now.  The man poured the fish in to the lake and stood and waited.  After several minutes, the game warden turned to the man and said, “WELL?”
     “WELL, WHAT?” the man responded.
     “WHEN ARE YOU GOING TO CALL THEM BACK?” the game warden prompted.
     “CALL WHO BACK?” the man asked.
     “THE FISH”
     “WHAT FISH???” the man asked.

     Funny little story, isn’t it?  The humor involves the man believing three absurd things:  1) he can break at his leisure any laws that inconvenience him;  2) the laws’ creators and enforcers are feebleminded half-wits;  and 3) if the laws’ enforcers witness a crime, but the evidence goes away, then the crime and its punishment go away, too because a law-enforcer’s testimony means nothing.  Of course, we all know better realizing that the fisherman put himself into much bigger trouble, and that’s what makes the joke funny ... the irony of a foolish man who thinks he’s so smart.  And yet this story reflects a sad situation in our world.
     Our fisherman’s creative, but mistaken effort reminds me of how many people routinely use a mix of deceit, disrespect, close-mindedness, and arrogant pride in their treatment of authority, especially when they are caught ignoring authority.  They almost always try to insist they have done no wrong, even in situations when they knew they were deliberately breaking the rules.  It almost never occurs to them in a bad situation how they could reduce their troubles simply by being honest (or at least open-minded) about their mistakes, giving appropriate honor to an legitimate authority’s position while hearing out the options offered to them, and then demonstrating some humility working together on the best option.   Likewise, many people blunder expecting to apply selfish attitudes as they approach God, God’s religion, the Bible, and Bible study (see 2 Peter 3:14-16).

     Good Bible study involves applying several time-tested principles and practical tools.  Last time, in our introduction to Bible study, we discussed some motivations for exploring God's Word along with several suggestions for getting started and some points to keep in mind … all reflecting four essential attitudes of honesty, honor, hearing, and humility.  Let’s look briefly now at these attitudes to get an idea of why they impact Bible study.

•  Honesty
     Looking in the Webster’s English Dictionary, we learn that honesty is “the state of being honest” and that honest is defined as “truthful; trustworthy; sincere or genuine; gained by fair means; frank; open.”  Honest people are truthful people — they are right with reality.  How would you describe the fisherman in our little story?  Full of reality and truth?  In the wrong, but a good ol’ boy?  Mischevious, but an honest citizen?  Well, let’s give credit where credit is due … he did tell the truth when he admitted he had no fishing license … but since the game warden was already asking to to see his license, he probably figured he had no choice.  Otherwise, the rest of what he said was deceptive and far from truth.  The man lacked integrity — he lacked honesty.
     Honest people seek to know the reality about whatever is important to them.  They insist on telling the truth.  They are righteous … they are real toward God, toward other people, and toward themselves.  They try to think straight and to correctly understand the actual facts.   One might say that truly honest people practice handling the real truth rightly (see 2 Timothy 2:15).  
     God, as He describes Himself to Moses in Exodus chapter 34, lists among His several qualities that He is “
abounding in goodness and truth.”  A song of Moses recorded in Deuteronomy chapter 32 proclaims Israel’s God as “a God of truth and without injustice; righteous and upright is He.”  In other words, God is honest.  It should come as no surprise then to learn that God dislikes lying and deception.  In fact, God’s dislike of lying is so strong and passionate, Solomon describes it as hatred.  “These six things the Lord hates, yes, seven are an abomination to Him:” we read in Proverbs 6:16-19, “a proud look, a lying tongue, hands that shed innocent blood, a heart that devises wicked plans, feet that run rapidly to evil, a false witness who utters lies, and one who sows discord among brethren.”  (Notice how everything in this list either describes lying or else involves lying to present an false appearance of integrity.  And before you say “What does pride have to do with lying?” first remind yourself of all the times you ever heard proud or haughty people lie about their mistakes and weaknesses.)
     If we are going to approach God and learn about His plan for us, then we have to do it honestly and expect Him to be honest with us.  Fortunately for us, God is willing to teach us through the Bible how to be honest.  Fortunately for us, God is willing to show us through the Bible how He can be trusted.

•  Honor

     Honor is closely related to honesty, but with an important difference.  Whereas honesty has to do with our handling of the truth, honor has to do with our respect toward the truth.  
     Many people think it doesn’t matter what they believe as long as they believe in God and call Jesus their Lord and Savior.  They think God will accept anything they offer Him as long as they feel sincere.  They’ve decided they can “honor” God … respect God … without respecting His Word.  However, according to Jesus, they are mistaken.
     According to Jesus, people honor God by honoring His written Word enough to learn and teach what He has said.  “
These people draw near to Me with their mouth,” in Matthew 15:8-9 Jesus quotes God’s complaint from Isaiah 29:13-16, “and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.
     According to Jesus, people honor God by listening to His Word and obeying what He has said.  “
But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” Jesus asks in Luke 6:46-49.
     Are we being honest with God when we claim to honor Him as the One we obey if we refuse to obey His commands or if we refuse even to learn what those commands are?  Are we being honest with ourselves when we claim He gladly accepts the very same empty honor that He Himself complains as “vain” worship?  The correct answer … the honest answer … seems to be a resounding “NO.”
     If we are going to approach God and learn about His plan for us, then we have to honor His authority and the truth He shares with us.  Fortunately for us, God is willing to teach us through the Bible how to honor Him.

•  Hearing

     It stands to reason that if we plan on honoring God by handling with honesty the truths in His written Word, then we need to plan on hearing those truths from their source.  I mean, how can a student be taught by a teacher without listening to the teaching?  The thought seems pretty obvious and without exception, doesn’t it?  Like the natural laws of gravity and energy describing the physical world, it could be a natural law describing how the spiritual world functions.  In fact, if any one passage in the Bible could be considered such a law of spirituality, it would be this verse from Paul’s letter to the church in Rome, “
faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Romans 10:17)  Need a sure way to increase your faith in God?  Study your Bible and listen attentively to His Word.
     Of course, as we just saw in our discussion of honor, listening to God’s Word is more than simply hearing sounds with the ears or reading words with the eyes.  If we are hearing so we can obey, then we are listening with the intention to do.  After Jesus’s complaint about disobedient people in Luke 6:46, He then goes on to say, “
Whoever comes to Me, and hears My sayings and does them, I will show you whom he is like.  He is like a man building a house, who dug deep and laid the foundation on the rock.  And when the flood arose, the stream beat vehemently against that house, and could not shake it, for it was founded on the rock.  But he who heard and did nothing is like a man who built a house on the earth without a foundation, against which the stream beat vehemently;  and immediately it fell.  And the ruin of that house was great.
     If we are going to approach God and learn about His plan for us, then we have to hear Him with the intent of doing what He’s told us to do.  Fortunately for us, God is willing to teach us through the Bible how to hear and what to do.

•  Humility

     One theme that is woven throughout the Bible is God’s respect and help for the humble (or meek) person.  The books of Psalms and Proverbs alone mention this at least fourteen times (Psalms 9:12, 10:12, 10:17, 18:27, 25:9, 34:2, 37:11, 69:32, 147:6, 149;4; Proverbs 3:34, 6:3, 11:2, 16:19, 29:23).  Moses was described as the most humble man of his time (Numbers 12:3).  The Old Testament prophet Zephaniah encourages the disobedient to repent “
Before the decree is issued, or the day passes like chaff, before the LORD’s fierce anger comes upon you, before the day of the LORD’s anger comes upon you!  Seek the LORD, all you meek of the earth, who have upheld His justice.  Seek righteousness, seek humility.  It may that you will be hidden in the day of the LORD’s anger.” (Zephaniah 2:2-3)
     What does it mean to be humble or meek as the Bible talks about being humble and meek?  Surprisingly, biblical humility has very little to do with weakness.  On the contrary, it has to do with strength — strength under control.  The Hebrew and Greek words translated into English as “humble” and “meek” come from words used to describe the plow horse or ox that is powerfully strong, yet willing submits to the guidance of the farmer.  Thus the description of Moses as the most humble refers not to his weakness or lack of strength, but rather to the facts that he did have tremendous strength of personality and leadership and that this strength was in submission to God’s guidance.
     Jesus touches on this idea of humility during his famous Sermon on the Mount as he discusses how God discerns who is saved and who is not.  “
Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.  Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’  And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’”  Given what we have seen so far about hearing and humility, Jesus seems to be keeping His promise about refusing to accept worship from people who don’t listen to God, but claim anyway to obey Him.  The apostle Paul also addresses this issue in his letter to the church in Rome.  “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God,” we read in Romans 10:2-3, “but not according to knowledge.  For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God.”  He’s talking about people who make up their own rules about how to satisfy God, isn’t he?
     Therefore, true humility toward God — submitting to His will and doing His righteousness — also requires finding out what is acceptable to Him.  “
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord.  Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth),” Paul writes to the church in Ephesus, chapter 5, verses 8-10, “finding out what is acceptable to the Lord.”  (New King James Version).  In other words, “You used to be like people living in the dark, but now you are people of the light because you belong to the Lord.  So act like people of the light and make your light shine.  Be good and honest and truthful, as you try to please the Lord.” (Contemporary English Version)  In other words, “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord; walk as children of Light (for the fruit of the Light consists in all goodness and righteousness and truth), trying to learn what is pleasing to the Lord.” (New American Standard Bible).  The humble follower of God desires to learn what is acceptable and pleasing to God.  
     If we are going to approach God and learn about His plan for us, then we have to be humble … humble enough to face honestly the truth about our need for God; humble enough to honor God as our creator, savior, master, and friend; and humble enough to hear and serve Him.  Fortunately for us, God is willing to teach us through the Bible how to be humble.

     Honesty, honor, hearing, and humility — all very essential attitudes for good Bible study.  To anyone who doesn’t have them already, but is willing to gain them, God does teach these attitudes through the Bible.
     What about all the people who are trying to study the Bible without these attitudes and without a concern to cultivate such in themselves?  What about all the people who are trying to worship God with little or no effort to study His written Word?  Well, for that you don’t need my opinion — you have the words of Jesus to answer those questions.  “
But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?” and “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honor Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me.  And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.

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      © David G. Churchill; used by permission. rev:060412-111027-150706
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