How to Train Your Powers of Perception
1. (a) How should Christians view the search for and use of worldly wisdom? (b) What can we learn from the contrasts Paul made between God’s wisdom and that of the world?
THIS might seem to be an eye-catching title, for many are keenly interested and would go to any length and pay any price to train and improve their powers of perception. To what end? We must admit it is often with a selfish motive. It may be with the desire to outwit competitors in business, or to learn how to see through others so as to get the upper hand and take advantage of them. This may be justified from the viewpoint of worldly wisdom, but a person seeking God’s favor cannot adopt that viewpoint. The motive is wrong. In any case, the Bible gives a straight warning of the dangers of worldly wisdom and perception. The apostle Paul had much to say about this when writing to the congregation at Corinth. Contrasting this world’s wisdom with that of God’s, he said that “the world through its wisdom did not get to know God.” He further explained that in calling those to form the Christian congregation, “not many wise in a fleshly way were called, . . . but God chose the foolish things of the world, that he might put the wise men to shame.” Why? “In order that no flesh might boast in the sight of God.” Our motive in seeking God must always be sincere and humble. So, as Paul further said: “We speak wisdom among those who are mature, but not the wisdom of this system of things nor that of the rulers of this system of things, who are to come to nothing. But we speak God’s wisdom in a sacred secret, the hidden wisdom.” And how wonderfully God has done that! It is all there in the Bible, a book that anyone can read, yet how few really perceive its hidden wisdom! The majority of those who reckon to accept it as God’s Word say that it contradicts itself, showing at once they do not begin to appreciate its grand harmony throughout.—1 Cor. 1:21, 26-29; 2:6, 7.
2. Why is maturity essential for a Christian, and what is involved?
2 What did Paul mean when he said, “We speak wisdom among those who are mature”? (1 Cor. 2:6) This plays a vital part in training your powers of perception as a Christian. Becoming a true Christian involves a big change in your outlook and way of life. It also involves constant progress and development. See what we can learn from our brothers at Corinth. Many there were slow in making the necessary changes. They were simply not growing up as Christians. They were not enjoying close Christian unity. Instead, there were divisions, looking to men as their leaders in a sectarian spirit, and not to Christ as their one head. Noting the worldly spirit of “jealousy and strife,” Paul had to tell them: “I was not able to speak to you as to spiritual men, but as to fleshly men, as to babes in Christ. I fed you milk, not something to eat [as a solid], for you were not yet strong enough.” Also, in line with our previous discussion, note how later Paul warned: “Let no one be seducing himself” by thinking “he is wise in this system of things . . . For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God.” So no training your powers of perception in the way of worldly wisdom with a selfish motive!—1 Cor. 1:10-13; 3:1-4, 18, 19.
3. What is the secret of true Christian growth?
3 Turning our attention to the positive aspect, observe how the same Bible writer explained the close link between this training process and the question of maturity. Writing to the Hebrew Christians, he first notes the foregoing tendency of a failure to grow up and make advancement. He says: “You have become dull in your hearing. For, indeed, although you ought to be teachers in view of the time, you again need someone to teach you from the beginning the elementary things of the sacred pronouncements of God,” adding that “everyone that partakes of milk is unacquainted with the word of righteousness, for he is a babe.” Then he reveals the secret of true Christian growth, saying that “solid food belongs to mature people, to those who through use have their perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong. For this reason, now that we have left the primary doctrine about the Christ, let us press on to maturity.”—Heb. 5:11–6:1.
4. (a) In our training work, what must we guard against? (b) How is proper training dependent on proper feeding?
4 This clearly shows that not only must we have the right motive, but we must also be careful to check as to the right method or process used in the training work. As Christians, we dare not rely on our own initiative or judgment, deciding for ourselves how to distinguish between right and wrong. That was Satan’s argument when giving the original “Go-ahead” signal: “Your eyes [of perception] are bound to be opened and you are bound to be like God, knowing good and bad.” With what result? The “eyes of both of them became opened,” yes, but only to become self-conscious in a guilty way. Both their motive and their method were bad. (Gen. 3:5-7) In contrast, note the close connection made between solid food and the training process. As Paul explains, the milk refers to the elementary things of God’s Word, hence the more advanced Bible truths and their application are likened to solid food. Assimilating these truths is essential to our growth to maturity, it forming the only safe guide whereby we can ‘have our perceptive powers trained to distinguish both right and wrong’ in the right way, learning how to perceive all things from God’s viewpoint.
5. How did Jesus faithfully exemplify this rule, and what guidance did he promise for our day?
5 Jesus himself was no exception to this rule. Throughout his ministry he relied on the Scriptures in meeting every temptation and challenge, saying: “It is written.” (Matt. 4:4-10) He taught and did nothing of his own originality. He fed on God’s Word not only by growing in the understanding of it, but also by applying it to himself in a practical way, in its principles and prophecies due to be fulfilled in his life and ministry. Thus he could rightly say: “My food is for me to do the will of him that sent me and to finish his work.” He also foretold that at the end of this system of things there would be a “faithful and discreet slave” class that would be appointed over all his belongings, including the provision of “food at the proper time,” thus ensuring a continuation in our day of the feeding program by both the right motive and the right method.—John 4:34; 14:10; Matt. 24:45-47.
6. In what ways should we always seek growth and advancement?
6 Physically, men reach and pass their maturity, but still need to feed on solid food. Mentally and spiritually, though, there is always room for growth, hence the greater need to take in constantly and digest the spiritual food. We should always be keen to “press on to maturity.” (Heb. 6:1) No milk diet for us! To begin with, as “newborn infants” in first coming to a knowledge of God’s Word, we “form a longing for the unadulterated milk belonging to the word,” but we should always be ready and anxious to advance, with a growing appreciation and a readiness to accept the increasing responsibility resulting therefrom.—1 Pet. 2:2.
7. If progress is lacking, what does this indicate, and how did Paul warn of the dangers involved?
7 The point is, we cannot stand still in this respect. If we do not advance, we begin to slip back. That was the trouble with many of those Hebrew (Jewish) Christians. Their interest was waning, their hearing dulled, they were again needing someone to teach them the elementary things from the very beginning. They had lost touch and become unacquainted with the word of truth. We hear the same report of some today who let things slip after making a start as true Christians by dedication and water baptism. Whether we are aware of this tendency in ourselves or we see it in others, can we afford to be indifferent, hoping that somehow such ones will attain salvation? Paul did not take that attitude, but plainly indicated the outcome if such a course was persisted in to the point of resenting any offer of help. He said: “It is impossible as regards those who have once for all been enlightened . . . and who have tasted the fine word of God and powers of the coming system of things, but who have fallen away, to revive them again to repentance.”—Heb. 6:4-8.
8. How should warning be properly balanced with encouragement?
8 We must be careful, though, not quickly to become impatient with any who seem to be drifting into indifference and abandon them. Paul did not. Notice what he next writes: “However, in your case, beloved ones, we are convinced of better things and things accompanied with salvation, although we are speaking in this way.” He set us a fine example of how to maintain the proper balance, combining warning with encouragement. As he wrote later on: “Keep on remembering the former days in which, after you were enlightened, you endured a great contest under sufferings.” Then, after quoting from Habakkuk 2:4: “‘My righteous one will live by reason of faith,’ and, ‘if he shrinks back, my soul has no pleasure in him,’” Paul adds: “Now we are not the sort that shrink back to destruction, but the sort that have faith to the preserving alive of the soul.” How encouraging!—Heb. 6:9; 10:32, 38, 39.
9. In what way is Paul a good example for us?
9 Paul certainly proved that his perceptive powers were well trained, as shown by the way he dealt with the many problems in the various congregations, also by the way he faced up to and handled the fierce opposition from his enemies. It was also manifest by the way Jehovah used him, through the operation of the holy spirit, to write the many letters forming a vital part of the Bible. How was this thorough training achieved? As he himself says, it was “through use,” through constant and untiring use, while we were being sustained by continually feeding on the “solid food” of God’s Word. In this Paul was following the perfect example set by Jesus when on earth hence he could say: “Become imitators of me, even as I am of Christ.” So why not let us pay closer attention to this much-used and faithful servant in seeking to train our own perceptive powers in a godly way.—Heb. 5:14; 1 Cor. 11:1.
PAY CLOSE ATTENTION
10. As shown in the Bible, in what way should we pay close attention?
10 Throughout the Bible we find many expressions exhorting us to be alert and attentive with the right motive. Here are a few examples: “Take good care of your souls . . . that you may not act ruinously.” “If you do look for Jehovah . . . you will also certainly find him, because you will inquire for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” “Watch out for yourself that you may not forget Jehovah your God.” “How I do love your law! All day long it is my concern.” “Keep looking, keep awake.” “Pay attention . . . that your hearts never become weighed down.”—Deut. 4:15, 16, 29; 8:11; Ps. 119:97; Mark 13:33; Luke 21:34.
11. How does Paul stress the same thing, and to what extent?
11 However, when we examine Paul’s writings, we find possibly even stronger expressions. Mental perception is important, but Paul speaks of the “eyes of your heart having been enlightened,” betokening a heart appreciation beyond that of head knowledge. This only comes about when there is a free flow of God’s “spirit of wisdom and of revelation,” so that we can grasp “what the surpassing greatness of his power is toward us believers,” and to “know the love of the Christ which surpasses knowledge,” from a human viewpoint. Again, he tells us not only to watch, but to “keep strict watch . . . because the days are wicked . . . [and to] go on perceiving what the will of Jehovah is.” These expressions are in the superlative degree, embracing every possible aspect.—Eph. 1:17-19; 3:18, 19; 5:15-17; see also Colossians 1:9-11.
12. What similar expressions occur in the letter to the Hebrews, and what added aspect invites our attention?
12 Paul’s letter to the Hebrews is no exception. He exhorts not only to pay attention, but to “pay more than the usual attention.” He tells not only of those looking for Christ, but of “those earnestly looking for him,” and tells us to “look intently . . . Indeed, consider closely the one [Jesus] who has endured . . . that you may not get tired and give out in your souls.” However, besides these arresting expressions, the apostle gives an additional reason for paying close attention, and that is—someone is paying close attention to us. Who is this and how is the close inspection carried out?—Heb. 2:1; 9:28; 12:2, 3.
13 The answer briefly is that it is Jehovah who takes this close look at us, doing so by the agency of his Word. To realize how this works out will aid us in having our perceptive powers rightly trained. In the early part of his letter, commencing at Hebrews 3:7, commenting on God’s dealings with Israel of old, Paul quotes twice what “the holy spirit says” at Psalm 95:7, 8: “Today if you people listen to his [God’s] own voice, do not harden your heart.” (Heb. 3:7, 8, 15) That is what he is stressing, the need to listen closely in a responsive way whenever God speaks. This will help us to draw ever closer to him, resulting in an ever-growing faith. Paul sharply warned to avoid a contrary course, saying: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God,” and Paul further warns of becoming “hardened by the deceptive power of sin.” (Heb. 3:12, 13) Israel as a nation proved disobedient to God’s word and hence failed to enter into God’s rest. Note that Paul closely links disobedience with a lack of faith. (See Hebrews 3:18, 19.) Then, in chapter four, he shows there is still a promised rest in a spiritual way for those of spiritual Israel, the Christian congregation, and stresses the same need to pay close attention, saying: “Let us therefore do our utmost to enter into that rest, for fear anyone should fall in the same pattern of disobedience.” To drive the point right home, Paul then makes the impressive statement: “For the word of God is alive and exerts power and is sharper than any two-edged sword and pierces even to the dividing of soul and spirit, and of joints and their marrow, and is able to discern thoughts and intentions of the heart.”—Heb. 4:11, 12.
14. (a) How should the Bible be rightly viewed? (b) In what way can it be said to be alive and life imparting? (c) What can we thereby learn as to how God deals with and judges his people?
14 What a remarkable description of God’s Word, as if it were a living person with powers of penetration that can see what you really are at heart. It gets to the root of things. How so? Well, the Bible is not just a religious book written and compiled by devout men long ago, an ancient record dealing with the dead past. Rather, as a channel of God’s spirit it can be said to be alive. It is God’s Word, ‘his own voice.’ When David wrote and spoke under inspiration, it was not David who said thus and so, but it was “the holy spirit [that] says,” as both Paul and David realized. (2 Sam. 23:2; Heb. 3:7) Not only is it alive, but it can impart life even more wonderfully than is the case with human life. As the apostle Peter states, speaking of those who have become Christians, they have “been given a new birth, not by corruptible, but by incorruptible reproductive seed, through the word of the living and enduring God.” (1 Pet. 1:23) But notice now Paul’s further word of explanation at Hebrews 4:13, where he says: “And there is not a creation that is not manifest to his sight, but all things are naked and openly exposed to the eyes of him with whom we have an accounting.” Paul is now speaking of Jehovah himself and his penetrating vision. His perceptive powers are supreme in every sense, always with the right motive and most effective method. In view of the foregoing is it not evident that God sees and judges us through his Word and by how we react to it? This is the best method, for it enables us to a large extent to examine ourselves by the same means and see just where we stand. Do we sincerely try to conform to God’s Word in every aspect of our lives, and do we try and try again despite our many failures? We should, as we shall discuss later.—Prov. 17:3.
15. How do the Scriptures indicate that all creatures “have an accounting” with God?
15 At some time or other all creatures “have an accounting” with Jehovah, the Supreme Judge. It seems the same method is used, that of one’s reaction to God’s word at the time of judgment. (Rev. 20:12) It is true now. Those of this generation are more and more making themselves manifest by their reaction to the Bible message of truth, the message of God’s kingdom. (Matt. 24:14) The enthroned king, Christ Jesus, uses a similar means in dividing the “sheep” from the “goats,” determining their attitude to him by their attitude and behavior toward “one of the least of these my brothers,” that is, one of his disciples with the heavenly hope.—Matt. 25:31, 32, 40, 45.
PAY MORE ATTENTION TO THE MORE IMPORTANT THINGS
16. (a) What two things demand priority, and why? (b) How did Jesus stress this in his prophecy?
16 In training our powers of perception it is important to get our priorities right. Let us face up to it. There are two things that are very precious—time and life. In a sense, both are in short or limited supply. Life will not be in short supply under God’s Kingdom rule, but there is only the one means for gaining life, only one way of salvation, by the “precious blood” of Christ. (1 Pet. 1:19) And time is certainly limited, with about 56 years already gone of the generation witnessing the sign of the “time of the end.” (Matt. 24:34) This means we must be selective. We want to be properly guided in selecting the more important things for our more important attention, and minimizing, playing down, the lesser things for less and less attention. The Bible should be our guide in deciding these things. For example, consider what Jesus said in his prophecy on the “time of the end,” where, after stressing the urgency of the time, he continues: “But pay attention to yourselves that your hearts never become weighed down with overeating and heavy drinking and anxieties of life, and suddenly that day be instantly upon you as a snare. . . . Keep awake, then, [keep very attentive] . . . making supplication that you may succeed in escaping all these things that are destined to occur,” not by being taken out of the scene of action, but by being preserved from the snares due to our watchfulness. As a result, we shall be found “standing before the Son of man” in his favor and in our integrity and endurance.—Luke 21:34-36; see also 1 Corinthians 10:13.
17. Paul shows what connection between escape and paying careful heed?
17 Jesus’ mention of escaping reminds us again of the letter to the Hebrews. It was written shortly before the outbreak of persecution on the Jewish Christians at Jerusalem, and only nine years before the destruction of that city. Similar circumstances face us today. Time is running out. The “great tribulation” comes on apace, and this brings up the question of escape. Listen to Paul’s warning: “See that you do not beg off from him who is speaking [by not listening or paying heed]. For if they did not escape who begged off from him who was giving divine warning upon earth [when the Israelites were at Mount Sinai], much more shall we not [escape] if we turn away from him who speaks from the heavens,” and who will shortly shake and entirely remove the old system of things.—Heb. 12:25-27.
18. Should we pay close attention merely as a duty? Why so?
18 Do you feel that this matter of paying close attention is perhaps rather irksome, if not somewhat frightening? It need not be. It should not be. Pay attention that your faith and devotion remain strong. In other words, pay attention to your heart. That is the key to the whole situation as far as you personally are concerned, “for out of it [the heart] are the sources of life.” (Prov. 4:23) Rather than your head, do you not see that it is your heart, the organ that determines your motives and affections and desires, that really determines what you will give most attention to, at the same time finding pleasure in doing so?
19. (a) On what basis can paying attention become an absorbing delight? (b) Does agápē love properly enter into personal relationships, and how is this specially true of Jehovah?
19 In proof of this, have you not had the experience, especially when growing beyond the childhood stage, of finding yourself paying more than the usual attention to someone in particular? What a delightful and absorbing experience that can be, entering into all your waking hours! And when that particular person nicely responds and starts paying you more than the usual attention, what a thrill that can be! Nothing can stop you from paying much more than the usual attention. Is that not so? Ah! yes, you say, but a personal relationship of that kind is entirely different from what we have been discussing. Well, perhaps not so entirely different. The question of love comes into the picture; that surely is a matter of the heart. The highest form of love, as explained in The Watchtower, is agápē love. From what is sometimes said, the impression is gained that this form of love is so superior and desirable because it rises above personalities, being described as a love based on right principles. But that is not how The Watchtower defined the Greek word agápē. Peter, when using this same word, did not say “love strictly according to good principles from the heart,” but he did say: “love one another intensely from the heart.” (1 Pet. 1:22) Yes, agápē love can be intensely personal, but always in full harmony with and governed by right principle. As The Watchtower said, it is a “principled love,” but this does not mean that it is impersonal. This is specially true of our love for Jehovah. It is not sufficient or proper to love God, as many seem to do, as a far-off, invisible, abstract embodiment of good principles, a great First Cause. That is the big mistake made by Job’s comforters. They referred to God by his title, but never by his personal name, Jehovah. Similarly with the clergy, the modern-day Job’s comforters. But Jehovah is the supreme Being, the greatest Personality, and he invites us, by our constantly paying close attention, to get to know and love him as the One who is worthy of all that we can give, our whole heart, mind, soul and strength. He is the Source and Judge of all right and good principles.
20. What has been and still is a basic cause for drifting away from the truth?
20 As is well known, in recent years thousands have come to a knowledge of the truth and actually become Jehovah’s witnesses, and then have either drifted right away out of sight, or have had to be disfellowshiped from the Christian congregation. In the latter case, the cause of the deflection can often be traced to a strong personal influence operating against the truth and its high principles. Why do such things happen? Fundamentally it is because these ones never stayed in the truth long enough or went deeply enough really to get to know and love Jehovah as a person, The Person. Oh! yes, they loved the truth and the happy association with the brothers and the Kingdom prospects, but they never learned to build up between themselves and Jehovah, as between one person and another person, that close, personal, binding attachment and devotion that nothing can break.
21. In sticking to the right course, what encouragement do we get, and from what sources?
21 It is not impossible. It is not too difficult, not if you set your heart on it. The faithful men and women of old did just that, as described at Hebrews, chapter 11. By faith they proved their loyal devotion under severe suffering, knowing that Jehovah rewards those “earnestly seeking him,” paying him more than the usual attention. (Heb. 11:6) Similarly today, as shown by the record in our Yearbook, there is a whole host of integrity keepers the world over who are maintaining the same course of steadfast devotion. Also, many dedicated husbands and wives are daily proving true to their partners, and we must admit that the love between husband and wife is personal, right from the start, when they commence paying each other special attention. Again using the Greek word agápē, the Christian husband’s prior responsibility is made clear: “Husbands, continue loving your wives, just as the Christ also loved the congregation,” yes, every one of his bride class individually, making up the Christian congregation.—Eph. 5:25.
22. How can we get the right viewpoint of Christ Jesus, and how will this help us?
22 Jesus Christ, of course, is our chief example. After the record just mentioned at Hebrews, chapter 11, the appeal is made to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently . . . [and] consider closely the one [Jesus] who has endured such contrary talk by sinners against their own interests.” (Heb. 12:1-3) How do you view him? Through whose eyes do you see him? Do you see him as one worthy of following, or do you feel like those of whom it was foretold that they would say: “When we shall see him, there is not the appearance so that we should desire him”? (Isa. 53:2) To get the right viewpoint we must look at him by using God’s Word as a mirror. As we sometimes use a mirror to get a different angle on another person, so we can use the Bible to gain a fresh appreciation of God’s Son. This will help us to put on a new personality, one like his, and will encourage us to conform to the divine pattern in every aspect of our lives, and helping us to endure as Jesus endured right to the end.—Jas. 1:22-25.
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God judges us by how we react to his word