10 Minute Read + Scripture readings
Today’s Bible Reading:
Today’s Bible Verse(s):
“We know that God doesn’t listen to sinners, but if anyone is God-fearing and does his will, he listens to him.”
John 9:31 (CSB)
Reflections on Today’s Bible Verse(s):
The verse I have chosen for today may seem like an unusual choice especially since it is presented as a truth-claim … that isn’t true.
Now that I’ve got your attention …
As students of the Bible, there is something very important that we must learn. In seminary, it’s called hermeneutics. In the real world, it’s simply the ability to understand the different ways that Scripture is presented (poetry, narrative, prophetic, apocalyptic, etc.) and how to interpret those various types of literature.
For instance, the book of Proverbs is written as wisdom literature. In this type of literature, we must realize that the truths are presented as general truths, not absolute truths that are true all of the time. It will take wisdom to determine which principle(s) applies.
For instance, read Proverbs 26:4-5. Those verses clearly contradict each other unless what I have just said is true – that the literature in Proverbs is to be taken as general truths and it takes discernment to know which verse(s) to apply to different situations.
Proverbs 26:4 (CSB): “Don’t answer a fool according to his foolishness or you’ll be like him yourself.”
Proverbs 26:5 (CSB): “Answer a fool according to his foolishness or he’ll become wise in his own eyes.”
In our verse for today, we understand that it appears not in wisdom literature but in narrative literature. The Gospels are written as stories. So, this type of literature carries it’s own set of rules in how it is to be read and interpreted.
One of the rules of reading the narrative portions of Scripture is that the words are presented the way they were said. But, the truth claims of the one doing the talking are not necessarily true. We must investigate to determine whether the one speaking actually aligns with the rest of Scripture.
For instance, when Jesus speaks, His words are always true. We don’t have to worry about determining if what He said is true. Jesus words are always true and they are the standard against which all other truth claims must align.
But, what about the man in John 9:31 who made the truth claim about God not hearing the prayers of sinners? The Bible is without error in that it tells us what the man said. But, is what the man said actually true? Realizing this is written as narrative, we cannot assume that it is true. We must investigate.
First, we realize that the man wasn’t even a believer in Jesus when he made this claim. He wasn’t saved until verses 35-38. So, he uttered these words when he was an unbeliever. If we use John 9:31 as a proof-text for saying that God doesn’t listen to sinners, then we are appealing to the words of an unbeliever as proof.
Further, we realize that while there are very specific principles that must be complied with if our prayers are to be heard and answered, and while it is true that unbelievers are incapable of complying with some of them, it is also true that our God can do whatever He pleases and sometimes, in His mercy and grace, He listens to the prayers of sinners:
God listened to the pagans who threw Jonah overboard:
Jonah 1:14–15 (CSB): “So they called out to the Lord: ‘Please, Lord, don’t let us perish because of this man’s life, and don’t charge us with innocent blood! For you, Lord, have done just as you pleased.’ Then they picked up Jonah and threw him into the sea, and the sea stopped its raging.”
God listened to the prayer of the sinful tax-collector:
Luke 18:13–14 (CSB): “But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other; because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
There are a few other instances in Scripture that I could highlight but you get the point. There have been times when God, because He is filled with grace and mercy, has listened to the prayer of sinners.
Now, understand that these instances are the exception to the rule. It is only because of God’s grace and mercy that He listens to anyone. And it is only through the blood of Jesus that God can express His love and justice simultaneously by listening to and answering prayers.
My point in this post is not so much to show that sometimes God graciously responds to the prayer of unbelievers. My primary point is to show you that we must be competent students of God’s Word when we read it. We need to understand what kind of literary style God is using to present His Word to us and then use the necessary literary rules to properly understand what God is saying.
Jesus because there is a Bible verses that says “God doesn’t listen to the prayer of sinners,” doesn’t mean it is true. The Bible is true so we believe that when the Bible claims that the man made that statement, then that man actually made that statement. But, as far as the truthfulness of the statement, we need to investigate, realize it is part of a narrative, was spoken by an unbeliever, and wasn’t necessarily true.
If you have any questions on this, just put them in the comments section below. I’ll try to respond in a timely manner.
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Lord Jesus, there are plenty of people who mishandle Your Word. I don’t want to be included in that group. I want to grow in my understanding of Your Word and the principles of how I can accurately mine out it’s truths. Holy Spirit, I desperately need You in this process. Thank You in advance for what I will discover. Amen.