‘Sounding Down’ the Truth into Minds and Hearts of Learners
1. What sad experience do Christian ministers sometimes have?
WHAT a sad thing it is when a child is born and then, after a few months or a year, having barely begun to live, it suddenly sickens and dies. The feeling in the hearts of bereaved parents experiencing such a tragedy is similar to the feeling in the hearts of Christian ministers who spend months and perhaps years in aiding some person to come to a knowledge of the Bible, feeding such one the “milk” of God’s Word, nurturing him in the truth, seeing him take a stand for righteousness, even engage in the ministry of the Word himself—and then, suddenly, weaken spiritually and go into deathlike inactivity. (Gal. 4:19; 1 Cor. 3:2; 1 Thess. 2:7, 8) Unfortunately this does happen, sometimes to the extent that for every two persons starting out in the active ministry, one person ceases to share therein. Why does this happen? Can anything be done about the situation?
2. What weakness is noted in many who abandon the road to life, and what questions does this raise?
2 Case histories indicate that there has often been a lack of genuine understanding of God’s Word on the part of many persons who begin to walk in the path that leads to life and then turn aside. During the year 1968, Jehovah’s witnesses world wide were conducting an average of 977,503 free home Bible studies. As a result, 82,842 individuals indicated that they were building on the rock foundation of obedience by submitting to water baptism, thereby symbolizing their dedication to do God’s will as his Son set the example. Will these go on? Or will some of them drop away as others have in the past? Since hundreds of thousands more are even now studying, those of us sharing in giving such Bible education to truth seekers can seriously ask ourselves: Are these persons who may become the new Kingdom proclaimers of tomorrow really understanding the Bible’s message and what its principles mean for them in their daily life? The answer to that question depends to a great extent on how we answer other questions: Why are we studying with these persons? How deeply do we have their interests at heart? (2 Cor. 12:15; Phil. 2:17; 1 Thess. 2:8) How effectively are we ‘sounding down’ the truth into their minds and hearts?
3. What should be our aim in having a Bible study with interested persons?
3 We should, and probably do, have the same desire for these newly interested persons as the apostle Paul expressed for believers of the truth in Ephesus. His prayer for them was that “the Christ dwell through your faith in your hearts with love; that you may be rooted and established on the foundation, in order that you may be thoroughly able to grasp mentally with all the holy ones what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge.” (Eph. 3:17-19) Paul, of course, was not interested in just being able to ‘report a home Bible study to meet a goal.’ Nor was he satisfied that those he helped got just a superficial view of God’s will. He wanted them to see the truth in its full dimensions, breadth, length, height and depth. He wanted to help them be persons of faith; to have Christ dwell, not just in their minds, but in their hearts, with love. Certainly we want the same for the sheeplike persons of our day, do we not? We, too, want to help them broaden their view of God’s purposes, deepen their understanding, develop a long-range outlook toward the future, and lift up their minds and ways to God’s standards as they heighten their appreciation of his provisions. Of course, they cannot do this overnight; first they need our help to begin getting “rooted and established on the foundation.” How can we effectively help them?
4. Why is it not advisable to insist on a fixed routine for conducting Bible studies?
4 We should never forget that each person is an individual; so he needs individual attention and help according to his own particular needs and personal situation. (Compare Romans 14:1-8; 1 Corinthians 9:20-23.) That is why among Jehovah’s witnesses there is no fixed routine set out by which they must conduct their home Bible studies with interested persons. Their “catechetical” teaching is not stereotyped. Their recent publication entitled “Your Word Is a Lamp to My Foot” (page 94) says: “There is no arbitrary ruling as to how the study should be conducted, but be sure that the student really understands the points discussed.” Surely where the proper motive exists, one does not need numerous rules in order to aid another to come to an understanding of God’s Word.
5. (a) How has the practicality of the suggestions given through God’s organization been demonstrated? (b) What is the finest source of guidance in this matter?
5 At the same time, many very fine, practical suggestions on teaching and Bible education are provided for Jehovah’s witnesses at their assemblies, and through their monthly publication Kingdom Ministry. These suggestions have helped greatly toward equipping them for the splendid work they have accomplished in helping more than 650,000 persons in the past ten years come to the point of dedicating their lives to God, symbolizing this by water immersion. But over and above these helpful and practical suggestions, we have actual Bible examples and counsel to guide us. How much thought have we given to considering these? How deep is our concern to apply them to the greatest advantage in view of the fact that lives are at stake?—1 Tim. 4:16.
THE SUPERLATIVE TEACHER
6. In what aspects was Jesus’ teaching notable?
6 What better example could we have than that of Christ Jesus, God’s own Son and the perfect Teacher of sheeplike persons? His teaching methods were recorded in the Bible, surely for a good reason. When you read the record of his ministry, what impresses you? Perhaps the simplicity of his teaching. His methods were not complicated, but he always showed a deep concern for the people, a loving desire to teach them the truth of his Father’s purposes. (Matt. 9:35, 36; Mark 6:34) This is the first essential; without it nothing else would be of value. (1 Cor. 13:1, 8) This loving interest made Jesus reliable in his educational work. When he told Zacchaeus to ‘come down out of that tree, for today I am going to be at your house,’ Zacchaeus could be sure that Jesus would be there without fail.—Luke 19:1-6.
7. What else did Jesus always keep in focus while teaching?
7 Outstanding also is the genuine interest Jesus showed in people as individuals. Though he often taught large groups, he knew that each person had his own problems and needs. Each one, too, would have to render an account for himself before God. (Rom. 14:12) So, whether it was Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman at the well, Mary, Martha or one of the apostles, Jesus gave careful consideration to them as individuals. (John 3:1-21; 4:7-26; Luke 10:38-42; 22:31-34; John 20:24-29) His teaching was not matter-of-fact nor a stereotyped routine. He was interested not only in their minds but in their hearts. We, too, should give serious consideration as to how we can best help the particular individuals with whom we study.
‘SOUNDING DOWN’ THE TRUTH WITH DISCERNMENT
8. Speech consists basically of what two things, and which of these often needs more attention in teaching?
8 Did you ever stop to think that, basically, there are just two things you can do when you talk to another person? One is: you can give information. The other is: you can ask questions. Though there are all kinds of information and many types of questions, all speech resolves itself basically into these two things. Now, in the home Bible studies that we conduct the really important information is found in the Bible and also in the Bible-study aids we use. But much of our success in helping that Bible information reach deep into the mind and heart of the student depends on our use of questions. There is real value in questions, perhaps more than we generally realize.
9, 10. (a) How do adults differ from children in receiving instruction? (b) What need does this emphasize in teaching?
9 Children, by nature, will usually ask “why” whenever they don’t understand something, as any parent can testify. But adults are often different; some express themselves readily but many hold back from asking the questions in their minds. They may appear to be agreeing to points considered in a certain Bible-study aid or to what we ourselves explain to them or even to what they personally read from their own Bibles. They may even say, “Yes, I understand.” But they may not really understand. (John 11:11-14) Such lack of understanding may not become apparent until much later. Then, when more advanced points are considered, the person’s inability to grasp these makes it very evident that right understanding was not gained in earlier studies when the more basic things of God’s Word were considered.—1 Cor. 3:1, 2.
10 What does this show? It emphasizes the importance of encouraging students to express themselves, the importance of drawing them out with additional questions besides those in the textbook. The student is helped much more by well-framed questions that lead his mind to the Bible answer than by your simply telling him the answer. (Compare Paul’s method at Galatians 3:1-6.) Nor does it really help the student greatly simply to direct him to the place in the textbook where the answer is found and then have him read it word for word as though it were his answer. He may read it, but does he understand what he read? And does he believe it? What does Matthew 24:15 show to be the important thing to do when reading God’s Word?—See also Acts 8:30-35.
11, 12. (a) The false “catechetical” teaching of Christendom has left her members with what disability? (b) In what way can the wise use of questions aid in overcoming this?
11 As the apostle Peter put it, we want to ‘arouse the student’s clear thinking faculties.’ (2 Pet. 3:1) There are millions of people on earth today who claim to be Christians and yet who have little or no understanding of the Bible. Most of them would find it difficult even to explain the basic tenets of their particular religion. Any “catechetical” teaching they had was not the true kind; rather, it was religion by rote. False religion has never taught the people to think, to reason on right principles. (Matt. 15:7-9; Luke 11:52) True Christians need to help honest-hearted persons to learn how to use their minds in harmony with God’s Word so as to “know wisdom and discipline, to discern the sayings of understanding, to receive the discipline that gives insight, righteousness and judgment and uprightness, to give to the inexperienced ones shrewdness, . . . knowledge and thinking ability.”—Prov. 1:2-5; 2:10, 11.
12 Helpful questions stimulate and train a person’s thinking. They can guide one’s mind in an orderly way from one point to another so that a conclusion can be reached. (Compare Jesus’ questions at Matthew 16:5-12 and Paul’s seventeen questions in 1 Corinthians 9:1-14.) Such questions help to ‘plow up the ground’ so that the seeds of Bible truth can sink down deep and begin to reach the person’s heart. Also, at the close of a study period, the use of questions to review the principal Bible truths learned is similar to the practice of lightly tapping with a hammer the rivets in the steel structure of a building to test whether they are solid or not.
13, 14. (a) Give examples showing Jesus’ appreciation of the value of questions. (b) What does this example encourage us to do?
13 Jesus made remarkable use of questions. Remarkable not merely in the frequency of his use of questions, but in the way in which he taught by them, doing so when it might have seemed much easier and less time-consuming simply to tell the person the point. Note, for instance, the occasion when tax collectors came to Peter, asking him if his teacher paid the temple tax. (Matt. 17:24-27) Peter, often impulsive, answered, “Yes.” Then he went inside, perhaps to inquire of Jesus about the matter or to obtain the money for payment. However, “when he entered the house Jesus got ahead of him by saying: ‘What do you think, Simon? From whom do the kings of the earth receive duties or head tax? From their sons or from the strangers?’ When he said: ‘From the strangers,’ Jesus said to him: ‘Really, then, the sons are tax-free.’” True, Jesus then helped Peter out of his dilemma so that the tax was paid; but do we see the point of Jesus’ questions? Certainly they made Peter think, reason and remember.
14 Consider the night of Jesus’ arrest. Amid those turbulent conditions, Peter impetuously used his sword. Jesus then asked Peter three questions: “The cup that the Father has given me, should I not by all means drink it?” “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father to supply me at this moment more than twelve legions of angels? In that case, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that it must take place this way?” (John 18:11; Matt. 26:52-54) Think of it: Jesus was there faced with a mob, under tremendous tension, knowing his arrest was imminent and that before the day was over he would be dying on a torture stake—yet he took the time to impress those truths on Peter’s mind by questions. (Mark 14:33; Luke 22:44) Should not his example make us pause and reconsider when we start thinking we are too busy to prepare ourselves properly for conducting a home Bible study, or feel we must hurry through the material of the study, or perhaps leave abruptly afterward due to other matters to which we want to attend?
15. To use questions effectively in a study what is required, and what problems are often faced?
15 Teaching, of course, is not merely a matter of asking questions just to be asking them. A teacher must first know his material well and then use questions with a purpose, endeavoring to reach not only the student’s mind but also his heart. Certain problems commonly face us as we endeavor to aid sheeplike persons to get rooted on the foundation of Bible truth and the rock-mass of obedience to Christ’s teachings and example. The student has preconceived ideas, likely false teachings from prior religious association. There is a great advantage in knowing what these are so as to give needed assistance. While some persons express themselves openly, others do not. Tactful questions can help in the latter case.
16, 17. In the account at Luke 24:17-27, what did Jesus’ questions accomplish?
16 Consider Luke 24:17-27. As you may recall, two disciples were walking to Emmaus, discussing Jesus’ death and the report of his resurrection. Jesus approached. What did he do first? He asked a question: “What are these matters that you are debating between yourselves as you walk along?” Cleopas countered with the question: “Are you dwelling as an alien by yourself in Jerusalem and so do not know the things that have occurred in her in these days?” Jesus, in turn, asked: “What things?”
17 Now did Jesus ask these questions because he did not know the answers? Obviously not, for he was the very one of whom these disciples had been talking; he had personally experienced the things they discussed. But his questions caused them to express what was in their minds and their view of matters. They told of Jesus’ death, the guilt of the religious leaders, and how they, these disciples, had themselves been “hoping that this man was the one destined to deliver Israel,” as well as the report by certain women that Jesus had been resurrected. They showed not only how their minds were working but, more importantly, what was in their hearts. They had some doubts about Jesus’ resurrection, for they had been “debating” the matter. Jesus now said: “O senseless ones and slow in heart to believe on all the things the prophets spoke! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into his glory? And commencing at Moses and all the Prophets he interpreted to them things pertaining to himself in all the Scriptures.”
18, 19. (a) How can similar questions help us to give better aid to learners? (b) Give a practical example.
18 Being “senseless” relates to the mind, but they were also “slow in heart,” as their answers to Jesus’ questions revealed. True, Jesus could read men’s hearts without questions; but we cannot. (John 1:47-50; 2:25) So, questions similar to these can help us find out something of what a student thinks about a certain Bible subject and at the same time perhaps gain some idea of his heart attitude. We can then give better help according to that person’s needs.
19 How we do this, of course, will vary with the person and the subject. But, as a practical example, you might be about to consider the subject of the “trinity” at a person’s home, perhaps using the publication “Things in Which It Is Impossible for God to Lie,” with its twelfth chapter, entitled “God a Person—or Three Persons in One God, Which?” Before even going into the material, you might first ask: “From what you have heard about the ‘trinity,’ what does it mean?” After the student expresses his view, you might add questions such as: “Does that sound reasonable to you? Do you find it understandable?” Whether he responds one way or another, you can simply say: “Well, let us see what the Bible actually teaches about this.” You have already gained your initial objective, that of learning something of his knowledge, views and attitude on this subject and so are in a far better position to aid him to gain real understanding.
20, 21. (a) Show how Jesus’ method at Matthew 16:13-16 can be used in dealing with another common problem in Bible education. (b) How might we use a like approach to this problem?
20 Another problem is to help those who study to see the real difference, the strong contrast, between Bible truth and religious error. Some seem slow to see this or to arrive at conclusions as to what is true, and so the call to ‘get out of Babylon the Great’ has no significance; their lives continue in danger. (Rev. 18:4) Rather than bluntness or harshness, tactful questions may aid them to see that contrast and also test their understanding. Turn now to the well-known account at Matthew 16:13-16. Jesus, in Caesarea Philippi, “went asking his disciples: ‘Who are men saying the Son of man is?’” Perhaps one by one, they answered: “Some say John the Baptist, others Elijah, still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” Having got them to express the ideas then current among the public, Jesus then asked: “You, though, who do you say I am?” Simon Peter answered up: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” Now, what did Jesus’ questions accomplish? By first asking what the public thought, he made it possible to contrast the wrong view sharply with the correct one. He also tested the progress of his disciples’ understanding and their development of true faith.
21 Similarly, we may have completed the study of some subject, such as “Your ‘Soul’ Is You,” in the publication mentioned earlier. At the study’s close, you might ask the one studying: “What do most persons today believe happens to one who dies?” After the student’s reply, you may ask: “Well, now, from what we’ve read in the Bible, what would you say happens? Why do you say so?” Questions such as these may aid the person not only to see the contrast but also to make up his mind as to what he really believes on any particular Bible subject. Of course, in some cases his reply may show he has not properly grasped the meaning of points studied earlier, making it necessary to review these points or even restudy them so that he may be solidly grounded and able to advance to further truths.
22. Why is it not enough that students be able to understand well in a Bible study?
22 But believing is not enough; action is also required. (Rom. 10:10) To be Jesus’ true disciple the student must begin to build on the rock foundation, doing so by putting to work in his life the truths learned. (John 13:17) Some persons seem able to grasp quickly what they study; their answers in the study are good and correct. But perhaps they do not seem to come to any decision as to what they are going to do in view of the truths learned. (Jas. 1:6-8) Questions, combined with an illustration, may help.
23-25. (a) How does Jesus’ illustration of the “Good Samaritan” show one way we can encourage learners to begin building on the rock-mass of obedience? (b) Show how we can do this today and explain why this method is beneficial.
23 Jesus’ illustration of the “Good Samaritan” is well known. (Luke 10:29-37) He gave it in answer to a man who wanted to prove himself righteous and who asked, “Who really is my neighbor?” Jesus then told of three different men, a priest, a Levite, and a Samaritan, and the reaction of each to his individual opportunity to help a man beaten by robbers, only the Samaritan rendering actual aid. Jesus concluded by posing this question to his questioner: “Who of these three seems to you to have made himself neighbor to the man that fell among the robbers?” The man replied: “The one that acted mercifully toward him.” Jesus then told him: “Go your way and be doing the same yourself.”
24 The answer to Jesus’ question was rather obvious, was it not? Yet Jesus had led the man’s mind to a certain conclusion, caused him to search his own motives, thereby aiding him to make a decision as to future action. In our case, let us suppose a study is in progress on pages 211, 212 of the book Life Everlasting—in Freedom of the Sons of God. These pages discuss the opposition and harsh treatment the apostles underwent due to official pressure to get them to stop their preaching activity. Here we might introduce Matthew 24:14 into the discussion, have the student read the verse, and then make clear that this is the work indicated for our day. We might then use an illustration, perhaps of three persons in a country where an official ban is placed on such preaching of the good news of God’s kingdom. Of the three persons, one stops his preaching immediately. The second is arrested and thereafter agrees to cease all preaching. The third is also arrested, but when finally released he keeps on preaching by whatever means he can. “Now,” we might ask the student, “which one would you say is proving himself a true Christian, one like the apostles were?” The answer, of course, is the last one; but after such answer we might inquire, “Why do you say so?”
25 True, the answer to the question based on this illustration is quite obvious, yet it may cause the person to search his own mind and heart on the matter, thinking of what he would do under similar circumstances. Posing a problem from real life is very useful. It aids persons to consider seriously just how they would apply Bible principles in their lives and what their future course will be. (Ps. 119:33-37) Also, it is human nature for persons to be more ready to accept conclusions that they themselves express, rather than a conclusion expressed for them by someone else.
26. What attention should be given to the conscience of the learners?
26 Kindred to the above is the matter of helping to educate the conscience of those with whom we study, to help them think seriously in terms of right and wrong. We want to aid them to come to love what is right and hate what is wrong. (Heb. 1:9; Ps. 119:101-104) Jesus raised questions, searching questions that should have helped persons to think seriously in terms of right or wrong, though their lack of response at times caused him to feel indignation, “being thoroughly grieved at the insensibility [not of their minds, but] of their hearts.”—Matt. 12:10-12; Mark 3:1-5.
27. (a) What is the intended purpose of the questions on page 108 of the book “Your Word is a Lamp to My Foot”? (b) How can the one conducting a Bible study arrive at an answer to these questions?
27 The recent publication “Your Word Is a Lamp to My Foot” (page 108) contains a list of ten questions that the conductor of a Bible study is urged to consider before inviting a student to share in the ministry. Among these are questions such as, Does he believe that the Bible is the inspired Word of God? (2 Tim. 3:16) Does he apply in his life what the Bible says about honesty? (Eph. 4:25, 28) Does he know what the Bible says about fornication and adultery, and live in harmony with it? (Heb. 13:4; Matt. 19:9) Note, however, that it is not the student who is expected to give a direct answer to these questions; it is the one conducting the study and extending the invitation to share in the ministry who is to answer these questions about the student. This means that it is not intended that the conductor boldly pry into the student’s personal life with direct questions. How, then, can the conductor answer the questions to his own satisfaction? Simply having the student read the Scripture texts and then comment on what he understands them to mean will often enable you to see whether or not he comprehends what is required of one engaging in the ministry of God’s Word. Also, the use of illustrations followed by questions based on the illustration will likewise aid the student to see the point without embarrassing him by point-blank questions.
28. How can we show genuine discernment in the use of these teaching methods?
28 One more final question, one asked by Jesus at Matthew 13:51: “Did you get the sense of all these things?” We certainly do not want to bombard students with a steady barrage of questions, but use them judiciously where they will help the most and really serve to sound down the key points of Bible truth into their minds and hearts. Nor should we push for an answer if the person indicates a reluctance to express himself on certain points. When a question brings a negative response or some illustration does not seem to ‘sit well’ with the person, rather than try to convince him then and there, we might do well simply to say, “Well, that is something to think about, isn’t it?” and then go on with the study. Jesus, too, exercised patience and forbearance.—John 16:12.
29. In the final analysis, who must do the building on the figurative rock-mass, but what should we always keep in mind when ‘sounding down’ the truth at our Bible studies?
29 We can only help those with whom we study to hear and understand Jesus’ sayings and example; the person himself must lay a foundation and build on it by becoming a doer of the Word. Whether using questions, illustrations or other methods, never lose from focus the individual’s heart; for while his mind can show him the need, the wisdom, the urgency of building on the rock-mass of obedience to Christ’s teachings and example, only his heart can move him to do so. Help those of sheeplike disposition to hear the Father of Jesus Christ, Jehovah God, saying: “My son, . . . incline your heart to discernment.” (Prov. 2:1, 2; 3:1-4) “Pay constant attention to yourself and to your teaching. Stay by these things, for by doing this you will save both yourself and those who listen to you.”—1 Tim. 4:16.
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Jesus used questions to stimulate and train Peter’s thinking
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Jesus closed his parable of the “Good Samaritan” with a question, leading the man to the right conclusion