One problem with language involves assuming we accurately understand others. Biblical wisdom would remind us, “The one who gives an answer before he listens – that is his folly and his shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
Consider for example someone asserting, “We are saved by faith alone.” Do you agree or disagree?
Since this statement could describe two very different ideas, a better response than offering a knee jerk “yes” or “no” would be to first seek clarification.
How could affirming that we are saved by faith alone possibly convey more than one idea? On the one hand, a person could be asserting that only belief in Jesus is required in order for someone to receive God’s gift of salvation. On the other hand, someone could be insisting that people only need to trust in Jesus as the gospel prescribes in order to be saved.
How can a quick answer, without first gaining a more accurate understanding of what is being asked, enable us to appropriately respond since a huge difference exists between the two possibilities? To illustrate this difference, those who accept the first possibility will also accept the latter, since they perceive the gospel only requires belief. However, those who accept the latter and who also understand that the gospel calls us to rely upon Christ with confession and baptism, will reject the assertion that mere belief is sufficient.
My thoughts here are not so much focused upon delineating the nature of saving faith as they are upon emphasizing the need to be quick to listen and slow to speak. If, however, I were to venture a brief paragraph about faith, I find the first position self-defeating. For example, one of the proof texts for “belief alone,” Romans 10:9-10, prescribes going beyond mere belief to do something – namely confess Jesus is Lord with one’s lips. Thus, if such “belief alone” can encompass the saving action of confession, why not also the saving action ascribed to baptism within the New Testament?
Returning to the real purpose of these thoughts, as soon as we hear or read another’s words we will form an understanding of that message. Nevertheless, have we understood what he or she intended to communicate?
Along these lines I love the story about the altar in Joshua 22. Prior to the events in that chapter, God had commanded Israel that they were not to offer burnt offerings wherever they might desire, but only at the place God would designate (Deuteronomy 12:4-14).
However, as soon as Joshua dismissed the two and a half tribes to claim their land east of the Jordan river, they built an impressive altar within their territory (Joshua 22:10). For the tribes west of the Jordan, communication occurred and the message had rebellion stamped all over it!
The ten tribes revealed they had learned the lesson that danger can come upon all of God’s people when some of them rebel (Joshua 22:17-18). Therefore, they prepared to attack the eastern tribes. However, before executing judgment they sent a delegation to listen what the two and a half tribes had to say about their new altar.
This delegation of wise leaders learned that the imposing altar east of the Jordan was not for worship or sacrifice. Rather, it was a monument reminding future generations that the tribes east of the Jordan and those west of the Jordan were one people who worshipped the same God at the one place where God would put his name. Just as significant as the delegation’s listening is their acceptance of the explanation regarding the altar’s purpose.
How many spousal arguments would dissipate if each person did not assume, “I accurately understand you” and then react? How many heated conflicts over spiritual matters could be overcome, if each refused to immediately judge the other based upon one’s own interpretation of the other’s words or actions?
Accurate communication does not resolve all difficulties, because sometimes people and their ideas are at odds with one another. However, those who fail to heed Proverbs 18:13 as well as James 1:19 will create unnecessary conflict.