All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version (ESV)
This is the second article in a series explaining eight essential qualities of men who are good at building their lives according to God’s Word. These qualities form the acronym BUILDERS. Although I’d originally wanted to include “unashamed” as the second of them, upon a long period of reflection, I’ve concluded that this was covered under “bold”. I’ve decided that the best word to replace it with is “understanding”. Thus, BUILDERS includes the following virtues:
In my first article, I explained that one of the essential characteristics of a good building man is that he’s bold. This means that he shares the whole truth to those who need to hear it, when they need to hear it, in a way that they can understand, and without fearing the consequences. The next quality is “understanding”. By this, I don’t mean that a man is “considerate”, “kind”, or “compassionate” — although he ought to be. By an “understanding man”, I mean a man who understands the truth about reality, and lives accordingly. That is, he understands who God is through Christ; understands who people are; understands who the Lord wants him to be; and understands how to do what it takes to be like that. Let’s look at Scripture to learn more about why men need to be understanding, and how we become more understanding.
Why Building Men Need to Be Understanding
The Basic Reasons for Understanding
According to the apostle Paul, one of the first reasons that men need to be understanding is to understand who the Father is, and what He’s done for and to us. In Ephesians 1:16-19a, he tells the Ephesian church,
“. . . 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe . . .”
The “Spirit of wisdom and of revelation” — whether or not you understand it as a human spirit, or the Person of the Holy Spirit — provides the Ephesians with “wisdom and revelation”. “Wisdom” is the knowledge of the truth that comes with it the knowledge of how to apply it. This is basically what biblical “understanding” is. And what does Paul want this understanding to result in for the Ephesians?
- the knowledge of the Father
- knowledge of their hope that He’s given them
- knowledge of the riches of their inheritance from Him, and
- the greatness of His power toward them
A close second reason that we need to be understanding is in order to live in a way that’s worthy of the Lord, so that we please Him in all areas of life. Paul again teaches this to the Colossian church in his expression of prayer for them:
“. . . we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God . . .”
Here, Paul explicitly says that he prays that they’ll be filled with 1) the knowledge of God’s will in 2) all spiritual wisdom and understanding. So what does it mean to be understanding? At the very least, it means to know God’s will. And what does Paul pray this will enable the Colossians to do? To “walk”, or live their daily lives, in a way that’s “worthy”, or “fitting for”, the Lord, so they will be “fully pleasing to Him”. How will they do this? By being fruitful in the area of “every good work”, and by “increasing” in their knowledge of God.
But this knowledge and doing of God’s will also requires that we understand the Lord’s will. That’s why Paul gives these commands to the Ephesians:
“Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”– Eph. 5:17
Here, Paul calls failing to understand the Lord’s will the same as being foolish, making biblical understanding true wisdom.
For Christian fathers, there’s an extra reason that they need to be understanding. It’s because they have the responsibility to “bring [their children] up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). Doing this requires you to understand your children, how to discipline them, and what to instruct them in, among other things. And of course, this understanding can only come from “the Lord”.
Proverbs’ Reasons for Understanding
Moving from the New Testament to the Old, the Book of Proverbs is filled with reasons that God’s people need to be understanding. In fact, one of the key words in Proverbs is “understanding”, since this is used in basically the same way as “wise”. So, in Proverbs, to be an “understanding man” is to be “wise”.
Closely related to the duty of fathers to discipline and instruct their children according to the Lord’s teaching is the duty of all Christian men to teach wisdom and knowledge to those who are ignorant and immature. Proverbs 1:2-5 gives this as a reason that God’s people ought to become more understanding:
“2 To know wisdom and instruction,
to understand words of insight,
3 to receive instruction in wise dealing,
in righteousness, justice, and equity;
4 to give prudence to the simple,
knowledge and discretion to the youth—
5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance . . .”
This reason is given in verse 4, where those who are “wise” and “understand” in verse 5 are to increase their learning and get “guidance” in order “to give prudence to the simple” and “knowledge and discretion to the youth”.
In Proverbs 2:11-16, the author explains that three dangers can be avoided by being understanding. These are the path of evil, those who speak perversely, and adulteresses:
“11 . . . discretion will watch over you,
understanding will guard you,
12 delivering you from the way of evil,
from men of perverted speech,
13 who forsake the paths of uprightness
to walk in the ways of darkness,
14 who rejoice in doing evil
and delight in the perverseness of evil,
15 men whose paths are crooked,
and who are devious in their ways.”
16 So you will be delivered from the forbidden woman,
from the adulteress with her smooth words . . .
Notice in verse 11 it says that “understanding will guard you”. And what will it protect an understanding man from?
- “the way of evil”
- “men of perverted speech”
- “the adulteress with her smooth words”
In this context, “the way of evil” isn’t the way that the wise man walks down, so that he does evil. Rather, it’s the way that results in evil done to him by those who speak twisted things. We could also include in this the way that leads to the adulteress, who tempts the understanding man to commit adultery with her.
A third reason that Proverbs gives us to be understanding is to know how to flourish in this world, and thus please the Lord. This is vividly described in Proverbs 3:13-18:
“13 Blessed is the one who finds wisdom,
and the one who gets understanding,
14 for the gain from her is better than gain from silver
and her profit better than gold.
15 She is more precious than jewels,
and nothing you desire can compare with her.
16 Long life is in her right hand;
in her left hand are riches and honor.
17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness,
and all her paths are peace.
18 She is a tree of life to those who lay hold of her;
those who hold her fast are called blessed.”
Notice in verse 13 that finding “wisdom” is parallel to getting “understanding”, telling us that they’re basically the same. And how is the man described who obtains these gifts? First, he’s “blessed”, or literally “happy”. This doesn’t mean that he’ll be happy all the time in this life, but he’ll always have a reason to be happy, and will ultimately be happy forever.
And why is the understanding man blessed? Because understanding gives him better things than silver or gold can buy. Further, the preciousness of understanding is more “than jewels”, and “nothing you desire can compare with her”.
In the last three verses, the author describes the quality of life that being understanding brings. First, it allows you to have “long life”; second, it will get you “riches and honor”; third, living according to it will be a life of “pleasantness”; fourth, it brings “peace” to you; and finally it’s like “a tree of life”, or a tree that provides eternal life, as the Garden of Eden’s tree could (Gen. 3:22). And the author concludes his praise of understanding by again calling him who “holds her fast” “blessed”.
A fourth and final motivation from Proverbs for being understanding is simply because God provides the understanding man with “sound”, or “healthy”, teaching:
“Hear, O sons, a father’s instruction,
and be attentive, that you may gain insight,
2 for I give you good precepts;
do not forsake my teaching.”Proverbs 4:1-2
The “insight” referred to is at least part and parcel of “understanding” found elsewhere. So, one of the main reasons this wise father gives for his “sons” to pay attention to his “instruction” is that his “precepts”, or teachings, are “good”, or “beneficial”. Obviously, since this is Scripture, this father is writing on behalf of God, and so we can conclude that this passage teaches us that we are to pay attention to and obey our Father’s teaching, since it is good.
How to Become a More Understanding Man
Having seen several reasons that we ought to be understanding, let’s look at what instructions Proverbs has for increasing our understanding.
Seek Understanding as for Riches
First, Proverbs 2:3-5 urges us to seek it as if we’re seeking for riches:
“3 . . . yes, if you call out for insight
and raise your voice for understanding,
4 if you seek it like silver
and search for it as for hidden treasures,
5 then you will understand the fear of the Lord
and find the knowledge of God.”
This wise father describes two ways in which we need to seek wisdom. First, we need to ask for it so earnestly that we’re “calling out” for it. The first way we ought to do this is by praying for it, as James 1:5 commands:
“5 If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.”
But the second way the wise father describes this search is as a hunt for “hidden treasures” and “silver”. In other words, we’re to put in at least the same amount of effort that we would if we were a silver miner or a treasure hunter. That means we have to value understanding more than we value any earthly possession, even precious metals or vast amounts of wealth. This will motivate us to seek wisdom as if our well-being and happiness depends on it, since it does.
The author ends his call to seek understanding by concluding that such a search will cause the seeker to “understand the fear of the Lord”, and to “find the knowledge of God”. This means that he will fear the Lord, and he will know God in his experience. And such fear and knowledge will only increase as we become more understanding and wiser.
A close second way to become more understanding is given in the next verse of Proverbs 2, which explains that we will fear and know the Lord after welcoming and seeking His wisdom for this reason:
“6 For the Lord gives wisdom;
from his mouth come knowledge and understanding . . .”
Notice that the Lord isn’t only the Giver of wisdom, but also the Speaker of it. The wise father further describes wisdom as “knowledge and understanding”, which comes from the Lord’s “mouth”. Obviously, this is a reference to God’s direct revelation in the form of words. And where is this found now? In Scripture. It ought to go without saying, but one essential way of becoming more understanding is to learn, understand, and apply God’s Word.
Fear the Lord More
A third way we’ll increase in our understanding can result from the former, but goes beyond it. It’s the foundational attitude of our hearts toward the Lord:
“10 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight.”Proverbs 9:10
Here, the author not only gives us the beginning of wisdom and insight, but also it’s sustainer. “The fear of the Lord” refers to reverential awe for the Lord because of who He is, and what He’s done for us. This is an essential part of “knowing” “the Holy One”, since the One who is holier than all deserves awe, reverence, and fear. And if we do this, then we will want to be wise and understanding, since it pleases the Lord. Thus, as we fear and know Him more, our understanding will only increase.
A fourth way that we’ll gain understanding is simply by submitting to correction of our wrong or sinful behavior:
“32 Whoever ignores instruction despises himself,
but he who listens to reproof gains intelligence.”Proverbs 15:32
This proverb tells us that ignoring instruction is evidence that we’re disvaluing ourselves, while listening to “reproof”, or correction, increases our intelligence, or understanding. In the Jewish thinking of Proverbs, to “listen” to something isn’t merely to hear it being said, but to understand it, and to positively act on it. So, in this case, if we would become more understanding, we must accept and obey correction.
Learn More from All Good Sources
Finally, Proverbs is again introduced by making a general statement that those who are understanding will increase in knowledge, and get wise counsel:
“5 Let the wise hear and increase in learning,
and the one who understands obtain guidance . . .”Proverbs 1:5
Rather than discouraging getting knowledge and wise human advice, Scripture demands it of those who want to be more understanding. In fact, Proverbs mostly consists of conclusions about life drawn from wise people merely observing how things work in this world. So we ought not to think that we should confine ourselves to the Bible to get all the knowledge we need. The Lord has also given us, and others, senses and minds that function well enough to draw valid conclusions about the way this world operates. Let us not only listen to God Himself, but listen to His people, and to those whom He has gifted to be able to understand truths about His creation.
What Do We Need to Understand as Men?
So, now we’ve thought about the main reasons for acting like understanding men, and some ways we can grow in our understanding. But as Christian men specifically, what are the basic categories of knowledge that we need to understand?
- Who God is, and what He’s done for and to us.
Obviously, the first area of knowledge that’s essential to understand is the character and nature of God, including the redemption He’s given us through Christ. For Christian men, we need to not only understand God in general, but also His Son as a man, since He’s our example of what we need to be like. Further, we need to understand that God hasn’t only saved us to be righteous, but to do this as men, distinct from how our sisters in Christ are to act.
2. Who we are.
This is why it’s essential that we not only understand who God is, but who we are as fallen creatures who are now renewed saints with righteous and holy desires. Part of this understanding is that our sinful inclinations often tempt us to act in ways that are unfitting for our male roles in this world. We can be tempted to be cowardly, lazy, selfish, weak, and even effeminate. Hence, we need to remember and understand that the Lord has redeemed us to be bold, industrious, caring, selfless, strong, and courageous.
3. What the Lord wants us to be like.
Flowing from the understanding of who we are is the Lord’s desire for our final character. We were redeemed to eventually be completely like Him in His human character. Therefore, we should strive to understand what He’s like, and in what ways we’re not like Him.
4. What we need to do to become more like the Lord.
Finally, as we see how we fall short of being Christlike men, we ought to learn what actions we need to take to change into men who are more like Christ.
One great way to learn all these things from mature and not-so-mature brothers in Christ is to participate in this November’s third annual Builders Summit, a 3-day, 2-night, gathering of Christian men from all over the U.S. (and wherever else) who want to build one another up to become more like Christ. This year, 2 graduates of The Master’s Seminary will be teaching, as well as 4 BTWN podcasters and pastors. All lodging, meals, and activities are included in the easily-affordable registration fee, and if you BOOK A FLIGHT to the Summit, you can REGISTER FOR FREE. Please check it out at builderssummit.org.