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Monday, October 29, 2012

Spiritual Ignorance

Spiritual Ignorance

Paul described his past as a blasphemer, persecutor and insolent opponent. He knows firsthand how the "certain persons" are acting in Ephesus, because he once was the same. He used the Law of God as a weapon and a rod, exerting control over others and protecting his own power and influence.

Paul had used the law unlawfully.

But Jesus graciously forgave and transformed Paul.

"But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV)

Ignorance causes unbelief, and actions flow from that unbelief that can hurt one's own self and others.

IGNORANTLY: agnoeo (not to know, to ignore); from a (not) and noeo (to exercise the mind, to observe, to comprehend or heed); from nous (the intellect, the mind, meaning); from ginosko (to know absolutely)

We use a similar word in English: agnostic. "Agnostic" often implies that "it's God's fault". An agnostic will say, "I don't know that God exists, neither do I know that God does not exist," implying God's failure to adequately communicate or make a difference. Agnostic means ignorance of God with little inclination to remedy the ignorance.

Paul's words, at first glance, seem to say that Paul received mercy from Jesus only because his sin was rooted in ignorance, as if any other origin of sin would have prevented such mercy. Many people believe in levels of sin, with God unable to forgive some sins, but easily overlooking “minor” sins, or sins of ignorance.

BECAUSE: hoti (demonstrative, that; causative, because)

"Because" can be demonstrative or causative. Demonstrative means "because" is best translated as "that", a word that describes which object is being pointed to, as in "Hand me THAT dish, please."

Causative means "because" indicates the reason for an action, as in "I fell BECAUSE I slipped on the ice."

The context of this verse indicates that the word "because" is causative. Paul is explaining the reason for mercy. Paul required, and received, mercy because of his sin of ignorance. Paul is not saying that only sins of ignorance will be forgiven, but that merciful forgiveness is required in all cases of sin. In Paul's circumstance, it was his sin of ignorance that required mercy, and he's thankful that God's grace met that need.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Paul was blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent. Of what was he ignorant when he was living in this way? What major decisions or circumstances have you experienced that may have been influenced by ignorance on your part? When have you ever been confronted with the stark knowledge of your own ignorance regarding something important?

First comes ignorance, then comes unbelief.

In that order.

Paul's ignorance was the direct cause of his unbelief, which then gave birth to sinful behavior: blasphemy, persecution and insolence.

The remedy for ignorance is more that simple teaching or informational education. Jesus often encountered ignorance in his disciples, despite simple, clear explanations.

"While they were all marveling at everything he was doing, Jesus said to his disciples, - Let these words sink into your ears: The Son of Man is about to be delivered into the hands of men. - But they did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it. And they were afraid to ask him about this saying." Luke 9:43-45 (ESV)

"They did not understand", is the English translation of the very same word used by Paul: agnoeo (not to know, to ignore).

Despite simple words, the disciples remained ignorant of the very important message given to them by Jesus. They wanted to understand, and it bothered them that they didn't understand, but still the fact remained: they were ignorant.

What didn't they understand?

Fourteen simple words! They didn't connect "Son of Man" with Jesus, and they failed to see in what way the "Son of Man" would be delivered into the hands of men.

The result of their ignorance was unbelief. That is, they did not act upon what Jesus said, and they did not allow it to affect their thoughts and desires, other than to feel fear. Their ignorance led to unbelief which expressed itself in sinful fear.

Another example of the sad results of ignorance is in how people become hardened and impenitent due to ignorance.

"Do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed." Romans 2:4-5 (ESV)

Again, "not knowing" is the same word translated elsewhere as "ignorant". Ignorance of the foundational truth that God is kind leads people to lack faith in God...they do not believe that He is kind. Therefore, despite countless instances of mercy shown to them by God, they remain ignorant of His patient, kind forgiveness, and their hearts become sin-hardened. Unless a miracle happens, these hard and impenitent hearts will end their lives on earth and spend eternity in precisely the circumstance in which they hoped for: an eternity without God.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Compare your life now with your past life. Of what were you ignorant that you now understand much better? In what things are some of your non-Christian friends ignorant? What do you feel you are still ignorant of, things that other Christians seem to be so sure of?

What is the remedy for ignorance?

Notice what Paul said:

"Though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus." 1 Timothy 1:13-14 (ESV)

Paul did not cease to be a sinner first before Jesus showed him mercy. No! Paul was in the very middle of his sin when Jesus broke through to his sin-hardened heart and showered grace upon him, making Paul realize that God had already shown him mercy the moment that Christ Jesus had died for Paul's sins.

Before God acted, mercy was hidden from Paul...he was ignorant of God's mercy until God broke through that ignorance.

The disciples of Jesus suffered from this same malady.

"They did not understand this saying, and it was concealed from them, so that they might not perceive it." Luke 9:45 (ESV)

CONCEALED: parakalypto (to cover alongside, to veil); from para (near or beside) and kalypto (to cover up); akin to klepto (to filch) and krypto (to conceal by covering)

Humans, all of us, have a congenital defect. Each one of us is born spiritually blind. We are born unable to see essential spiritual truths. It's like living in a world where all the important signs and messages are written in infrared ink, but our eyes can't detect infrared light rays. The truth is there, but we lack the ability to see it.

Moses spoke of this spiritual blindness.

"Moses summoned all Israel and said to them: “You have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, to Pharaoh and to all his servants and to all his land, the great trials that your eyes saw, the signs, and those great wonders. But to this day the Lord has not given you a heart to understand or eyes to see or ears to hear." Deuteronomy 29:2-4 (ESV)

The people of Israel had experienced miracles of God, yet they meant little to nothing for them. Their heart did not understand what they had physically seen and heard. Just as the disciples stood there, hearing the words of Jesus with their physical ears, but it meant little or nothing to them.

Ignorance gives birth to apathy.

"They say to God, - Depart from us! We do not desire the knowledge of your ways. What is the Almighty, that we should serve him? And what profit do we get if we pray to him?" Job 21:14-15 (ESV)

The ignorant condition in which we are born quickly becomes a lack of desire to have that condition remedied. God becomes at best a superstitious, religious concept that has little to do with what we naturally desire here on earth.

WHAT DO YOU THINK? What is the world's perception of the word "ignorant" and what it means? In the world's mind, what causes ignorance and what is the world's remedy for ignorance?

What is the remedy for ignorance? Is it a better educational system? Is it the world wide web internet? Is it found in some still-hidden scripture or religion?

Isaiah says it best:

"Thus says God, the Lord, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and what comes from it, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it: - I am the Lord; I have called you in righteousness; I will take you by the hand and keep you; I will give you as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations, to open the eyes that are blind, to bring out the prisoners from the dungeon, from the prison those who sit in darkness. I am the Lord; that is my name; my glory I give to no other, nor my praise to carved idols. Behold, the former things have come to pass, and new things I now declare; before they spring forth I tell you of them." Isaiah 42:5-9 (ESV)

It is God Who can remedy our ignorance. God alone.

Isaiah describes God's relationship with His Son, the One given as a covenant for the people, a light for the nations. It is God's power, through Jesus, that opens spiritually blind eyes and frees spiritually imprisoned sinners.

It is God's power that remedies our ignorance.

Unless God intervenes in a person's life, they remain as they were naturally born: ignorant.

"They know not, nor do they discern, for he has shut their eyes, so that they cannot see, and their hearts, so that they cannot understand." Isaiah 44:18 (ESV)

Understanding spiritual truth is a blessing of God, an undeserved gift given to those who would not be able to see unless God opened their eyes. That is why Jesus blessed those that followed him:

"But blessed are your eyes, for they see, and your ears, for they hear." Matthew 13:16 (ESV)

Seeing and hearing with spiritual understanding is evidence that God has worked a miracle in a person's life.

Simon Peter understood that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the living God, and this spiritual understanding was possible only because God chose to bless Simon:

"Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven." Matthew 16:17 (ESV)

The wisest man who ever lived, Solomon, confessed his own ignorance and inability to be truly wise:

"I said, - I will be wise,- but it was far from me. That which has been is far off, and deep, very deep; who can find it out?" Eccl 7:23-24 (ESV)

This was Paul's experience. His ignorance of the truth concerning Jesus led Paul to lack any faith in Jesus, hardened his heart, and made him a blasphemer, a persecutor and an insolent opponent.

Until Jesus opened his eyes.

Ironically, Paul's spiritual eyes were opened to the truth of Jesus at the very moment that his physical eyes became blind.

"I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.

"In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, - Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads. - And I said, - Who are you, Lord?- And the Lord said, - I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles - to whom I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me." Acts 26:9-18 (ESV)

Jesus broke through the sin-hardened ignorance of Paul, giving him spiritual eyes to see and understand the truth about Jesus, making Paul His servant, an instrument through which Jesus would perform the same miracle to hundreds of others.

"What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him - these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. - For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ." 1 Corinthians 2:9-16 (ESV)

"Open my eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law." Psalms 119:18 (ESV)

WHAT DO YOU THINK? Image a friend coming to you and saying that they feel ignorant about spiritual things. What would you advise them to do? What is the connection between spiritual activities - study of the Bible, prayer and worship - with the fact that God alone can open a person's eyes to spiritual things? Do our efforts count toward fixing our ignorance? Is one who spends more time studying or praying less ignorant that someone with less time available?

Image provided by Quinn Dombrowski, Creative Commons License.