sermon: How the Human Mind Shapes What We Believe
Martin G. Collins
Given 10-Jun-00; Sermon #452; 76 minutes
Martin Collins, observing that our society has determined that everyone's opinion is of equal value?regardless of how ridiculous and sinful it is, identifies 13 fallacious reasoning patterns to which we can all fall prey. These twisted thinking patterns are seen in a number of incidents recorded throughout the Bible as well as in our daily lives. As we, through the power of God's Holy Spirit and the mind of Christ, continue to grow in godly knowledge, we should learn to recognize and guard against these deceptive thought patterns (or anything else that exalts itself against the knowledge of God) displacing them with godly wisdom- pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy (James 3:17), in short, taking on the divine nature of God.
America is in the grip of a biblical frenzy of opinions and interpretations. Books, claiming to contain divine instruction, fill bookstore shelves. One popular set is actually called God's Little Instruction Book series. Even athletes, who used to play ball while religious fanatics were yelling in the stands (and holding up placards saying, "Read John 3:16."), are now shouting biblical slogans themselves. 42% of Americans believe the Bible is the literal Word of God.
Now, some of this 'Bible thumping' gets even more ridiculous than this. A former country music promoter built an amusement park called God's Wonderful World—featuring a visit to hell, complete with blasts of heated air from below. The result is an increased religious war. By pitting scriptures against themselves conservative mainstream Christians prove that they are "right" by quoting one biblical passage, and the liberal mainstream Christians prove that they are "right" by quoting another back to them.
Take the familiar battlefield of welfare. On one side, they are arguing, "Anyone unwilling to work should not eat." Of course, they are quoting the apostle Paul in II Thessalonians 3:10. The opposing side argues "Give to everyone who begs from you." And they are quoting Jesus, of course, in Matthew 5:42.
In the end, pitting scriptures against themselves says a lot more about our society than it does about the Bible. People in the world get their behavioral codes from their communities, and then they go to the Bible to prove them. This often overflows into God's church, as personal opinions become more important than truth. If we are not careful, we can fall into the same trap that people in the world do. Human reasoning based on false beliefs can cause our interpretations, and our opinions, to be false.
Much of the false doctrine that infiltrates God's church is brought in by individuals who promote beliefs they acquired from worldly institutions, or other religions, or just the society as a whole. Most of the time, they do not realize that they are promoting worldly knowledge flowing from their own human reasoning. Many times, their interpretations are based on the false teachings of Protestantism, Catholicism, or some other Judeo-Christian theology. Or, they just bring in their 'politically correct' ideas from the world.
For example, the perversion that children should be catered to and allowed to do what they want, at any cost, is directly against Scripture. God's written Word is very clear that children are to honor parents, and their elders. And they should be lovingly corrected and punished when they do something wrong. Sometimes this requires spanking; but it is 'politically incorrect' to spank your child—which is directly against Scripture. People who disagree (that there are times when a child should be lovingly spanked) prove my point here, because they are getting that idea from society. In fact, laws are being passed to say that you cannot spank your child. Plus there is the educational system that says that it is hateful, and that it is 'beating' children.
But Proverbs 22:15 and Proverbs 23:13 are very clear that the rod of correctionwill drive foolishness from a child, and that we are not to withhold spanking from a child if we want to save him from death. Not spanking a child shows hatred to our children, according to Proverbs 13:24. The reason that I point this out is just to show you how easy it is for us to bring in human reasoning, from the world, into our own Christianity. That is, into our own obedience to God—or disobedience to God—as the case would be. This modern society values its opinions, and ideas, and interpretations, and reasonings above true concern for one another. And we have to be careful that our opinions are not based on the foolish teachings of this world.
Now, to say that the world is against truth is a dramatic understatement. People today are ignorantly sure that truth is subjective—that it is whatever they say it is. College men and women, raised in this 'politically correct' society, appear timid to suggest that anybody's opinion is not a good opinion, or is wrong—no matter how ridiculous it is. They believe that all opinions are worthy of respect. To discredit an opinion is now seen as identical with disrespect for the holder of that opinion—no matter how ridiculous, or perverted, that opinion may be.
William Graham proposed, to his Christian Responsibility class, an opinion as ridiculous as he could concoct. His college (Caldwell, in New Jersey) began life as The Caldwell College for Women. Now, I am going to quote from him. "What if," he wondered aloud, "I were to suggest that we should no longer be coeducational, but should instead become a college just for men? Men [his deliberately false reasoning went] are more educable and more suited to college discourse than women."
Mr. Graham tells us, "I expected that someone who had been paying attention all semester, would assert that the women in class were clearly a match for the men—perhaps more vocal and reasonable in their considerations of the matters at hand. I felt that someone who had been studying statistics, might suggest that they look at my grade book from previous semesters to determine whether men or women had tended to earn higher degrees. Instead, a young woman sitting in the rear of the room burst into angry tears. I asked, 'What (about our discussion) had prompted her reaction?' 'Well,' she said, shaking with sobs, 'that's my father's opinion.'"
Mr. Graham mused: "'The heartless creature! What kind of a father was he to discredit and discourage his bright and capable daughter?' Before I could form any comment, she continued, 'And you are not respecting my father.'" So she was not concerned in the least about whether the opinion being posed of her was true. She was only concerned that it was stepping on somebody's toes and showing disrespect to someone's opinion. (In that case, her father.) But this is the mentality that we see quite often in the colleges, today.
Our society has determined that everyone's opinion is of equal value—regardless of how ridiculous and sinful it is. Turn with me to Jeremiah 6. The society of Jeremiah's day was against the truth. Jeremiah records God's warning to us that if we (as a people) do not turn from our rebellious human reasoning, then He will bring calamity upon us. Look how accurately Jeremiah describes the general attitude of our society today. Even though Jeremiah is prophesying against the society of his day, it is really an accurate description.
Jeremiah 6:13 "Because from the least of them even to the greatest of them, everyone is given to covetousness; and from the prophet even to the priest, everyone deals falsely."
And this "falsely" was not only in their actions—but also in their mental attitudes and their statements as well.
Jeremiah 6:14-15 "They have also healed the hurt of My people slightly, saying, 'Peace, peace!' when there is no peace. Were they ashamed when they had committed abomination? No! They were not at all ashamed; nor did they know how to blush. Therefore they shall fall among those who fall; at the time I punish them, they shall be cast down," says the LORD.
Did Bill Clinton blush when he was caught in the scandal with Monica Lewinsky? Not at all! There was no appearance of any embarrassment for the act. When he said, "Define is," was there any feeling that was a ridiculous statement (or embarrassment)? No, not at all! So these verses, by Jeremiah, really tell us the way our society is today. Bill Clinton reasoned that the truth was whatever he said it was. This is the attitude in our society. This is why, in our society, no opinion is wrong. So you can just imagine the sheer confusion that is out there.
How many promoters of their own ideas believe that correct interpretation of Scripture is whatever they say it is? How many times have you spoken with someone who had an opinion of a scripture (or set of scriptures), and they are just so entrenched in their belief that they will not give in? And they will argue their point until they are blue in the face. Well, they are using human reasoning to argue their point from.
Continuing on in Jeremiah, God tells the descendants of Benjamin to "ask for the old paths." That is, the foundational truths. But they refused. They would not even listen to the warnings that were given by Jeremiah.
Jeremiah 6:16-19 Thus says the LORD: "Stand in the ways and see, and ask for the old paths, where the good way is, and walk in it; then you will find rest for your souls. But they said, 'We will not walk in it.' Also, I set watchmen over you, saying, 'Listen to the sound of the trumpet!' But they said, 'We will not listen.' Therefore hear, you nations, and know, O congregation, what is among them. Hear, O earth! Behold, I will certainly bring calamity on this people—even the fruit of their thoughts, because they have not heeded My words nor My law, but rejected it."
"The fruit of their thoughts" —that is, the fruit of the thoughts of a rebellious people—is the evil that they bring upon themselves. (1) Their thoughts produce insanity, and (2) their actions expose their foolishness; and then (3) God curses them with disaster. So, it is a process that begins with foolishness and with human reasoning.
Turn with me to Proverbs 1. In reality, if the fear of God is missing from a person's life, he will hate truth. But he still has his precious opinions. He will not give them up.
Proverbs 1:29-31 Because they hated knowledge [Or, you could insert the word "truth" there.] and did not choose the fear of the LORD, they would have none of My counsel and despised My every rebuke. Therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way, and be filled to the full with their own fancies.
Now, this is speaking of a very foolish people. Because they said they would not listen to their Creator and would not accept the knowledge of God's way—He allowed their minds to become debase, polluted, and confused.
Romans 1:28 And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a debased mind, to do those things that are not fitting.
So they used human reasoning—and God just said, "Continue to use your human reasoning."
The society of Christ's day was against the truth as well. Human nature has remained constant throughout man's history; and no matter what period of history we turn to, we will find that man has been against the truth—and that human reasoning has replaced it. In Mark 11, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came to Christ to accuse Him—and to question His authority. Jesus asks here:
Mark 11:30-33 "The baptism of John—was it from heaven or from men? Answer Me." And they reasoned among themselves, saying, "If we say, "From heaven," He will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' But if we say, 'From men,'"—they feared the people, for all counted John to have been a prophet indeed. So they answered and said to Jesus, "We do not know." And Jesus answered and said to them, "Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things."
The chief priests, and scribes, and elders here were more worried about appearances than with the truth. They were envious and self-seeking, and humanly reasoned that their best option here was to lie. So you see how quickly human reasoning comes into our lives, when we are trying to get ourselves out of a 'fix' or when we are trying to save our skins in some way.
Turn with me to James 3. James was inspired to write that human reasoning (which comes from envy and self-seeking) is earthly, sensual, and demonic.
James 3:14-16 But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. [We see the "human reasoning" appearing here.] This wisdom does not descend from above [That is, "human reasoning" does not descend from above.], but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.
And that is exactly what we see in our society today. Human reasoning has taken over. There is no wisdom, and confusion reigns—and, as well, every evil thing imaginable. The effect of this arrogant and bitter earthly wisdom produces disorder. Instead of bringing people together, it drives them apart. Instead of producing peace, it produces strife.
And, of course, it destroys unity. So if this is allowed in the church (if human reasoning, in each and every one of us, is allowed to take over), then we will have disunity. Thus, human reasoning is something that we have to grab hold of and control—and turn it into godly reasoning.
Human reasoning is biased against the truth. We will see that here in Mark 2.
Mark 2:6-8 And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, "Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?" But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, "Why do you reason about these things in your hearts?"
They were so involved in their own opinions and false interpretations of Scripture, that they did not even realize that they were sitting there speaking to the Messiah. All they could think of was what their interpretation was—of the Old Testament and of whom the Messiah would be. They totally missed the life of the true Messiah, there, on earth.
Proverbs 12:5 The thoughts of the righteous are right, but the counsels [or, you could say the discussions] of the wicked are deceitful.
We certainly see that here, in this example of how the scribes reasoned in their hearts—and did not even recognize the Savior of this world.
While attending John Hopkins University, I took a class called Technical Writing. The class was designed to teach engineers to be able to put facts down in an organized manner, without a lot of opinion. So it was technical writing, in that it was the type of writing that one would do to write manuals, or instruction sheets, or whatever that would be. So there was no room for 'opinion' in those sheets—because they had to be precise and right down the line, in order. And so 'the facts' were emphasized; and 'opinion' was thought of as being the wrong thing to put in a 'fact' sheet.
One of the topics covered, in that course that I took, was entitled "Fallacies in Human Reasoning". The professor came up with thirteen fallacies. I thought that was an interesting number, in the fallacies in human reasoning. As we go through these, briefly, you will notice how deceitful the mind of man is—with regard to reasoning. These fallacies are really eye opening. So I want to run through them, just briefly. I think you would be amazed that these are not the only fallacies of human reasoning. There are others. But these are the ones that a worldly professor came up with.
The first one that he mentioned was over-generalization. This type of reasoning jumps to conclusions from one or two cases. "If something happens once or twice, then it must be true all the time." This type of reasoning usually contains the word "all," "none," or "never." And stereotyping is a form this—where we might say, "All short people are in bad attitudes, because they are always trying to assert their authority." That is not true; but that is what over-generalization is. Here is another example: "Everyone in Worldwide keeps Sunday as their Sabbath." Well, the fact is that everyone does not. So, this is a fallacy in human reasoning.
The second one: a thin entering wedge. This special type of over-generalization involves prediction. "If this is done, then that will follow" is the way the reasoning goes. Here is an example. Psychics predict what will happen to people in such general terms, that it is very probable that it will happen—because it already, almost, happens to everyone anyway. So you see the thin entering wedge is where you have a point; and it just gets in your mind with just a small sliver of what may be true. And once it is in, it opens up your mind for the rest of the lie (or, the falsehood).
If you will turn with me to I Samuel 28, we will see this in a biblical example. This is where Saul called upon the medium of En Dor.
I Samuel 28:7-14 Then Saul said to his servants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, that I may go to her and inquire of her." And his servants said to him, In fact, there is a woman who is a medium at En Dor." So Saul disguised himself and put on other clothes, and he went, and two men with him; and they came to the woman by night. And he said, "Please conduct a séance for me, and bring up for me the one I shall name to you." Then the woman said to him, "Look, you know what Saul has done, how he has cut off the mediums and the spiritists from the land. Why then do you lay a snare for my life, and cause me to die?" And Saul swore to her by the LORD, saying, "As the LORD lives, no punishment shall come upon you for this thing." Then the woman said, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" And he said, "Bring up Samuel for me." When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out with a loud voice. And the woman spoke to Saul, saying, "Why have you deceived me? For you are Saul!" And the king said to her, "Do not be afraid. What did you see?" And the woman said to Saul, "I saw a spirit ascending out of the earth." So he said to her, "What is his form?" And she said, "An old man is coming up, and he is covered with a mantle." And Saul perceived [if you will notice that word] that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground and bowed down.
Saul had already humanly reasoned that whatever he was going to see was going to be Samuel. Because he already believed that medium could do that, and that he would see Samuel; he was already convinced. So, it did not take much of a thin entering wedge to open his mind to believing it. Saul never saw the demon that he thought was Samuel. The medium only described the evil spirit. The evil spirits know exactly what God expects from His servants; and, once Saul bowed down to it, it knew that Saul's death was imminent. Saul had bowed down, and become in subjection, to a demon.
The third fallacy in human reasoning is getting personal. That is, forsaking the issue to attack the character of its defender. This not only happens often in election campaigns, but also often in religion. Here is an example. Instead of disproving the true doctrines of God's church that were associated with Herbert Armstrong, many disillusioned people attacked his character—and tried to prove their own opinions and interpretations, to replace those solid foundational doctrines.
Turn with me to Matthew 13; and we will see another biblical example here—of this "getting personal." This is the example of when Jesus Christ went to His own home area to teach.
Matthew 13:54-57 When He had come to His own country, He taught them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished and said, "Where did this Man get this wisdom and these mighty works? Is this not the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary? And His brothers James, Joses, Simon, and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this Man get all these things? So they were offended at Him. But Jesus said to them, "A prophet is not without honor except in his own country and in his own house."
So we see there that they reasoned humanly,"This couldn't possibly be the Messiah, because He is someone we have known all our lives." And so they reasoned that God would not use this individual.
Matthew 13:58 Now He did not do many mighty works there because of their unbelief.
So, directly related to human reasoning is unbelief!
The fourth fallacy of human reasoning is justifying a false premise. "My point may be bad, but yours is just as bad. That makes us even." Two wrongs do not make a right. Here is an example. Some of the more flimsy arguments on "the Calendar" fit this reasoning. "My calendar may not be perfect, but neither is yours." (I actually heard that statement.) What does God say about this type of reasoning?
Proverbs 17:15 He who justifies the wicked, and he who condemns the just, both of them alike are an abomination to the LORD.
So we see the pressure on us to make sure that our "reasoning" is godly reasoning (not human reasoning). We need to replace our human reasoning with godly reasoning.
The next fallacy is cause and effect. If event "B" comes after event "A," then it is assumed to be the result of event "A." This conclusion is the basis of superstition. Here is an example: "Before the sun comes up, the rooster crows. Therefore, the rooster's crow makes the sun come up." You see how ridiculous that reasoning is. Another one: It rains on the just and unjust alike; but the unjust man says, "It rained on my farm, and not yours. Therefore, I am just and you are not." There is another fallacy in human reasoning.
Another one is false analogies. This situation (it is argued) is exactly like that situation—but it really is not. And here is an example: Euthanasia—where a person argues, "We put animals out of their misery, when they are old and sick. Why not people?" You see how distorted and perverted the reasonings can become.
And the seventh one: Wise men can't be wrong. This is clinching an argument by an appeal to authority. Can we really rely on the "leaders" and the "experts" of this world for authentic and truthful predictions? Let me give you some examples. I have a short list here of some things that forecasters have said. And they are quoted in the book The Experts Speak: A Definitive Compendium of Authoritative Misinformation. I think that you will find this interesting, because these are really eye opening—about how wrong predictions have been in the past.
There are a few different subjects here; and I will just read them, very quickly. On the electric light (This was the comment that was made.)—"Well it's good enough for our transatlantic friends. . .but unworthy of the attention of practical or scientific men." That was stated in the British Parliament's report on Thomas Edison's work, in 1878. On the telephone (Here is another ridiculous statement.)—"That's an amazing invention, but who would ever want to use one of them?" That was said by President Rutherford Hayes, in 1876. On the television—"People will soon get tired of staring at a plywood box every night." Darryl F. Zanuck, head of 20th Century Fox, around 1946. Here is one on computers—"There is no reason for any individual to have a computer in their home." That was stated by Ken Olson, president of Digital Equipment Corporation (also known as DEC), in 1977.
On aviation—"The popular mind often pictures gigantic flying machines speeding across the Atlantic and carrying innumerable passengers. . .It seems safe to say that such ideas are wholly visionary." That was Harvard astronomer William Henry Pickering (one of the most famous astronomers in history), in 1908. Nuclear energy—"Nuclear powered vacuum cleaners will probably be a reality within 10 years." That was a misstatement! Of course, that was from a vacuum cleaner manufacturer, Alex Lewyt, in 1955. And then the final one, not to leave medicine out—"The abdomen, the chest, and the brain will be forever shut from the intrusion of the wise and humane surgeon." Leading British surgeon, Sir John Eric Erichsen, in 1837. So wise men can be wrong (is my point there); and I thought that you would find those to be both interesting and humorous.
The eighth fallacy of human reasoning is figures prove. This is a subclass of "wise men can't be wrong." Averages can be misleading, or phony. Here is an example. It is especially popular in the U.S. today (especially in the opinion polls) to fix the figures to support a cause. Some opinion polls do not even include certain states that are known to be more conservative. So when you hear the government, or liberal groups, quote opinion polls—you cannot believe a word that they are saying, because they actually leave whole states out. (I believe one of them is North Dakota, and possibly Minnesota.) They listed eleven states that they leave out of the opinion polls because they are known as wholly, or mostly, conservative states. "More people enjoy our brand than any other brand. Six out of ten agree." What they do not tell you is that 40% disagree, and think it is bad.
And then the ninth fallacy of human reasoning is appeal to the crowd. This type distorts an issue with mass prejudices. You remember the murder trial of O.J. Simpson; and the appeal that was used was to a mixed cultural and racial make up in the jury. Since some of them had suffered at the hands of the police, the police were painted as the villain in that case. And so it was an "appeal to the crowd."
Turn with me to Numbers 16, and we will see a biblical example of this. You will recognize this right away. This was when Korah, Dathan, and Abiram stirred up the crowd against Moses.
Numbers 16:1-2 Now Korah the son of Izhar, the son of Kohath, the son of Levi, with Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. And they rose up before Moses with some of the children of Israel, two hundred and fifty leaders of the congregation, representatives of the congregation, men of renown.
So these were not just anybody, or people that you might call 'the nobodies' of the congregation. These were the leaders of the congregation.
Numbers 16:3 They gathered together against Moses and Aaron, and said to them, "You take too much upon yourselves, for all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. . .
So you see how this group appealed to the crowd. They said, "We're as good as you." And immediately, they got quite a following.
Numbers 16:3 For all the congregation is holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD?"
So there you see "an appeal to the crowd"—another fallacy in human reasoning.
Arguing in circles is the tenth fallacy. This is also called circular reasoning—using a conclusion to prove itself. For example: setting dates on when the dinosaurs lived. The archeologists claim that the parasaurs lived during the Jurassic Period—180,000,000 years ago. The way that they established that day is by which period is the Jurassic Period in the layer. They establish which level is the Jurassic Period by which bones are found in that period; but, at the same time, they establish what period it is by the bones that are found in that period. So, what they are doing is just in a spin, or a circular reasoning way—they are using both opinions to prove the other. And so you have two falsehoods, two lies, that are suppose to prove each other—and they don't. (In theology—the Trinity Doctrine is based on circular reasoning, and so is Sunday worship.)
The eleventh fallacy [of human reasoning] is self-evident truths. That's trying to win an argument by saying, "Everyone knows it's true. So it must be!" For example: most people in mainstream Christianity keep Sunday as their "sabbath" because most people in mainstream Christianity do. If you ask somebody to prove why they keep Sunday, they can only say "Everybody does in Christianity." So it is, supposedly, a self-evident truth; but it is, in reality, a very deceitful lie.
The foolishness of a man twists his way, and his heart frets against the LORD. (Proverbs 19:3)
So foolishness is bound up in human reasoning. It is bound up in the heart of a child, and it is bound up in the heart of adults who fret against the Lord.
The twelfth fallacy [of human reasoning] is black or white—one or the other. This is forcing an issue with many aspects into just two sides; and, so, neglecting many important shades of gray. This type of reasoning is also called the false dilemma. An example of that is regarding divorce and remarriage. To say "we can divorce for any reason" is wrong. It is giving it a "black or white," when biblically we can divorce for only certain circumstances and reasons. There are limitations.
The thirteenth fallacy is guilt by association. That is making a false identification between two dissimilar persons, or events. You've heard this in the media quite often. A liberal says, "All Christians right-winged extremists." There's an example of another fallacy in human reasoning.
I give those thirteen to you to make a point—to show you that even the world (when they sit down, and they analyze the way humans "reason") can come up with at least thirteen fallacies that look ridiculous to them. But all human beings are guilty of most of these—if not all of them. And we have been guilty of them as well. As we grow in the Church of God, we replace that human reasoning (and those fallacies in human reasoning) with godly reasoning.
Turn with me to Job 15. It is truly incredible, how many different ways there are to deceive ourselves. No doubt there are many more ways—than the thirteen that I just listed. But what we should understand from these fallacies in human reasoningis that, even in God's church, we are in danger of using these to prove our own opinions having to do with Scripture. And so we use human reasoning sometimes to 'prove' our opinions and to 'prove' our interpretations of Scripture. So, here in Job 15, we'll read verses 2 and 3; and then we'll skip to verse 31.
Should a wise man answer with empty knowledge [or factless knowledge, or faulty knowledge], and fill himself with the east wind? 3 Should he reason with unprofitable talk, or by speeches with which he can do no good?' ... 31 Let him not trust in futile things, deceiving himself, for futility will be his reward. (Job 15:2-3, 31)
We can certainly see that, in this world today. With them basing all of their decisions and trust on their futile things (on their futile reasoning, on their human reasoning), that is what their reward will be. It will be disaster and calamity.
Human reasoning thrives on false humility. Turn with me to Colossians 2. Here Paul warns us not to be cheated out of our reward by those who push their own doctrines—which they arrive at by their own human reasoning. Their opinions and interpretations only have the appearance of wisdom. It isn't true, godly wisdom.
Let no one cheat [or, defraud] you of your reward, taking delight in false humility and worship of angels, intruding into those things which he has not seen, vainly puffed up by his fleshly mind [That is, by human reasoning.], 19 and not holding fast to the Head, from whom all the body, nourished and knit together by joints and ligaments, grows with the increase that is from God. 20 Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations— 21 "Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle," [These were all human reasoning.] 22 which all concern things which perish with the using—according to the commandments and doctrines of men? 23 These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. (Colossians 2:18-23)
So we see that human reasoning thrives on this false type of humility. All human interpretations and opinions have "intents" behind them. The intents are either to feed human pride and ego—or to genuinely seek and obey God. We have to test our opinions. All of us, every one of us, have to test our opinions with the Word of God to discern if they are humanly, or godly, based—because the human mind is deceitful above all things. And, even being in God's church, our own reasoning can be more "human reasoning" than "godly [reasoning]."
For the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit, and of joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart. (Hebrews 4:12)
So right there we can see how we can analyze and determine—whether it's ours or someone else's—if it is actually human reasoning. That is, we compare it to the Word of God. Does it hold up against God's truth?
Human reasoning is also exposed by the use of many words. The more words—the more error. Solomon has a lot to say about those who give their opinions often and talk constantly. They rarely take the time to listen and learn. I just thought it was incredible, the number of times that Solomon mentions variation of what we are talking about here. Let me just give you a few of them.
In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Proverbs 10:19)
A prudent man conceals knowledge, but the heart [or, human reasoning] of fools proclaims foolishness. (Proverbs 12:23)
A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart. (Proverbs 18:2)
A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back. (Proverbs 29:11)
He who has knowledge spares his words, and a man of understanding is of a calm spirit. (Proverbs 17:27)
Now if you had these down in your notes (as I do), I ran some lines between them to connect words that I thought were interesting—to see the relationship. Having to do with those who speak a lot and give their opinions—it says, "multitude of words," "vents all his feelings," "proclaims foolishness," and "expressing his own heart." So those were the words that were about opinions, and speaking all the time.
And then concerning those of the wise (those of the godly)—it says "restrains his lips," "conceals knowledge," "holds them back," "spares his words." So there's a lesson right in there—of how we (as Christians) should be with opinions and interpretations. We should be more apt to contemplate—than we are to express—our "new idea," because we need to think it through (to make sure that it is not out of human reasoning).
One of the verses in the Bible that has stuck in my mind for the last thirty years is Proverbs 17:28 (having to do with the same subject here).
Even a fool is counted wise when he holds his peace; when he shuts his lips, he is considered perceptive. (Proverbs 17:28)
That's great advise for people who speak a lot, and for people who are always pushing their opinions. Now that doesn't mean that, after services, we can't fellowship anymore. (Although sometimes we might feel like it—that our opinions may not be worth anything.) The point I am making, here, is that we should be very cautious (1) in the opinions we have and (2) in the interpretations we make of God's Word. We'd better make sure that what we are interpreting of God's Word is THE TRUTH— [especially] if we are trying to teach someone else that.
Godly reasoning must be revealed through the Holy Spirit; and God reveals the proper application of "the wisdom from above" through His Holy Spirit. Herbert Armstrong wrote—on page 105, of his book Mystery of the Ages—(and I quote): Real truth is revealed. Unless revealed it remains a mystery, utterly unknown to the deceived and vain intellectuals. I repeat, Jesus said in prayer [And here's Mr. Armstrong quoting]: "I thank you, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hid these things from the wise and prudent, and revealed them unto babes (Matthew 11:25)."
Turn with me now to Ephesians 3. The apostles, and the prophets, instruct the church on revelation that is revealed to them through the Holy Spirit.
If indeed you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me for you, 3 how that by revelation He made known to me the mystery [Of course, this is the apostle Paul speaking here.] (as I have briefly written already, 4 by which, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ), 5 which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to His holy apostles and prophets. (Ephesians 3:2-5)
And to make all see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of the ages has been hidden in God who created all things through Jesus Christ; 10 to the intent that now the manifold wisdom of God might be made known by the church to the principalities and powers in the heavenly places, 11 according to the eternal purpose which He accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ephesians 3:9-11)
So He did reveal [godly wisdom], by the Spirit, to His apostles and prophets. Thus, we can very easily, and very firmly, rely on The Holy Bible that we have (the Old and New Testaments) to weigh human reasoning against, to see if it holds up—and whether it is a lie, or true.
Turn with me to I Corinthians 2. The apostle Paul did not speak to the Corinthians out of his own human reasonings—but from the power of the Holy Spirit.
And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom [That is, human reasoning.] declaring to you the testimony of God. 2 For I determined not to know anything [So we see Paul's humility, there.] among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified. 3 I was with you in weakness, in fear, and in much trembling. 4 And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom [Or, you could say, "human reasoning."], but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, 5 that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.
(I Corinthians 2:1-5)
That is, that our faith not be in human reasoning—but in the power of God.
However, we speak [godly] wisdom among those who are [spiritually] mature, yet not the wisdom of this age [That is, "human reasoning."], nor of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. 7 But we speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God ordained before the ages for our glory. (I Corinthians 2:6-7)
So godly wisdom, we see there, is eternal. Human wisdom, and human reasoning, is only for a time—before the fruit of it causes calamity.
Which none of the rulers of this age knew; for had they known, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. 9 But as it is written: "Eye has not seen, nor ear heard, nor have entered into the heart of man the things which God has prepared for those who love Him." 10 But God has revealed them to us through His Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, yes, the deep things of God. 11 For what man knows the things of man except the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so no one knows the things of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received, not the spirit of the world [That is, "human reasoning" or "human nature."], but the Spirit that is from God. (I Corinthians 2:8-12a)
So we are to replace that human spirit (that "human reasoning") with the Holy Spirit. That is, we need to ask God to replace it for us; and we need to do our part, in obedience to God, to make it happen.
We have received, not the spirit of the world, the Spirit that is from God, that we might know the things that have been freely given to us by God. 13 These things we also speak, not in words [That is, not in interpretations and opinions.] which man's wisdom teaches but which the Holy Spirit teaches, comparing spiritual things with spiritual. 14 But the natural man does not receive the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him; nor can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned. (I Corinthians 2:12-14)
And the only way that a man can see whether his reasoning is human reasoning (or, godly reasoning) is IF the Holy Spirit helps him to discern that they are, indeed, humanly reasoned [or, godly reasoning].
But he who is spiritual judges all things [and that is "with godly reasoning"], yet he himself is rightly judged by no one. 16 For "who has known the mind of the LORD that he many instruct Him?" But we have the mind of Christ. (I Corinthians 2:15-16)
So without the mind of Christ, no one can correctly interpret the Scriptures. And no one can rely on their human reasoning. Just as when we break one of the Ten Commandments and are guilty of all—so also, IF our interpretation is wrong on one aspect of the truth, THEN our whole concept of that truth is faulty. So, we have to work very hard to get rid of those human reasonings and replace them with godly reasoning—so that we can discern, and understand, the truth of God.
To illustrate this, as an example, if we fire a rifle at a target and our sight (on the top of the rifle) is "off" by a fraction (even a hair)—we probably will not hit the bull's-eye; but we may also not even hit the target. This is the way human reasoning is! All we have to be "off" (in our human reasoning) is just a fraction, or small bit, in our interpretations; and we can be off in the wrong direction.
Another example: We've launched rockets and satellites up to survey other planets; and, as a people, we've totally missed the planet. You would think that would be a big enough target; but it only takes one calculation [to be] slightly "off," and you miss the whole target.
Turn with me to Daniel 4. The human spirit imparts mind power to the human brain. Here we'll read the example of when Nebuchadnezzar had lost his "reason." (Rather, God took it from him, because of pride.)
At the same time my reason [That is, "human spirit."] returned to me, and for the glory of my kingdom, my honor and splendor returned to me. My counselors and nobles resorted to me, I was restored to my kingdom, and excellent majesty was added to me. 37 Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and extol and honor the King of heaven, all of whose works are truth, and His ways justice. And those who walk in pride He is able to put down. (Daniel 4:36-37)
It was because of Nebuchadnezzar's pride that the human spirit was removed from him; and he wandered as a beast for years and years. The human spirit is the natural and specialized "power" that God has instilled in human beings. Reason is the result of the use of that power. It is that God-given spirit in human beings that separates us from the animals.
Herbert Armstrong wrote—on page 105 of his book Mystery of the Ages—this statement (quote): This "human' spirit imparts the power of intellect to the human physical brain. The spirit cannot see, hear, taste, smell or feel. The brain sees through the eye, hears through the ear, etc. The "human" spirit cannot of itself think. The physical brain thinks. [Continuing on with this quote, from Mr. Armstrong's book.] What, then, is the function of this "human" spirit? It is NOT a "soul." But, 1) it imparts the power of intellect—of thinking, and of MIND power, to the human brain; and 2) it is the very means God has instilled, making possible a personal relationship between human MAN and divine GOD.
The human brain never stops changing, and never stops learning. An interesting article (in the September 28, 1999 issue of The Washington Post—entitled "The Infinite Brain") explains what science has learned, recently, about the resiliency of the human brain. It's actually a very encouraging article, because it shows the power of God—although the article itself never mentions God. (Of course, it's a secular newspaper; and that's just not "politically correct"—as the human reasoning goes.)
[This article] shows that God made the brain far more wonderful than any of us could possibly realize. There's an interesting parallel between overcoming our own human reasoning and how the physical brain overcomes obstacles. I'd like to quote a few excerpts from this article; because I thought it was fascinating. It also helps us to see what a great God we have. And even though we have "human reasoning" [now], the brain that He has formed in us (in placing that "human spirit" in us) is a great and wonderful thing that He has given us—with the potential to change and become spirit someday ourselves.
Quoting from this article in The Washington Post: It's about three pounds of wrinkled, pinkish- gray matter, with the consistency of jelly—and yet, in Emily Dickinson's words, "wider than the sky." The human brain's nearly infinite reach comes from the elaborate circuitry of its billions of neurons—a marvel that has lead some to call it the world's most complex computer... It turns out the brain is plastic...in the sense of flexible and dynamic. The brain is not a cerebral black box, wired forever by age 2 or 3, as once thought. It remodels itself constantly, in response to experience, aging, hormones, illness, injury, learning and countless signals from the world.
Let me skip down, through the article here, and pick up another quote: The human brain has up to 100 billion nerve cells, or neurons...Each neuron can form thousands of links, giving a typical brain 100 trillion synapses.
I'm going to have to define "synapses," just very quickly. Synapses are the points of contact between adjacent neurons, where electrical nerve impulses are transmitted from one neuron to another. What that is, that's the little spark in the brain that connects the different areas and parts of the brain. So there are 100 trillion of those going on, in an average brain—just so we can think our way through life.
We can humanly reason our way for life. Or, we can godly reason our way through life. The decision is ours. With God's Holy Spirit, we certainly can [choose godly reasoning].
Now reading on, just a few more quotes: The connections in an active adult brain become more numerous, complex, and sophisticated—in a sense, "smarter." [Another quote from the article.] "You cannot have a brain without [plasticity]," said Alvaro Pascual-Leone, a neuroscientist at Harvard Medical School and director of behavioral neurology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston. "That's why the analogy with the computer is not a good one."
He comes right out and says that you cannot compare the human brain with a computer—because the human brain is so flexible, so plastic (in a sense), in its dynamic power that a computer will never, ever, reach the thinking power and the reasoning power of the human brain.
Now here's an example that he gave, of one of his patients. I thought it was very interesting—on how the brain 'remaps' itself. [Again, from the article.] One of Pascual-Leone's patients was a man who loved to paint pictures. The man suffered a stroke in his fifties and suddenly was unable to speak or move his right hand. His speech returned by the time he left the hospital, but it was only with great difficulty and long rehabilitation that he gradually recovered the ability to manipulate a paintbrush with his right hand.
Continuing, from the article: That progress, however, left a bizarre result: The man could no longer speak and paint at the same time. A PET scan showed that both speech and hand movement had relocated in his brain—and now occupied the same exact site on the cortical map.
Now there was another study, which I won't get into, where they removed an entire section of an epileptic's brain. It was a very small child, with epilepsy. They removed an entire section, and she no longer had the epileptic seizures. But she regained complete and full control of her brain, because her brain 'remapped' itself—making up for that lost segment. What an incredible devise God has created, and placed in us, for our use! And we waste it with human reasoning.
Pascual-Leone uses an analogy here [in the article] that I think is very interesting. [Quoting again.] "Imagine," said Pascual-Leone, "a house with a gazillion doors." He was trying to describe the adult brain. Meaning that the adult brain is more mature than a child's, and has far more "doors" than a child's brain.
[Returning to the article, quote.] The often-used doors in this mansion [the human brain] are kept unlocked or even opened, with easy access and free pathway. But with the passage of time, unused doors stay closed or blocked and eventually gets stuck.
So: "If you don't use it, you lose it." That phrase holds true with the brain.
[Again, reading from the article.] Is it possible to reopen a door that has been stuck closed for years? "Sure," he said, "but you may have to call a contractor." Meaning that you are going to have to figure out some way to open one of those closed doors. Well, the Holy Spirit can do that! It can open any door in our brain and give us access to it. The power of the Holy Spirit is unlimited.
Reading on, in the quote: As a mentally active person gets older...the connections between nerve cells become more numerous and far-flung. "They have more breadth and sophistication." [Pascual-Leone said.] Neurons have branches, like trees. Each time a nerve cell branches out, it allows for more subtle connections with other faraway neurons, not just the nearby ones that do similar things. But also it goes all the way across the entire length of the brain to connect to one that does a different function—not just the one immediately next to it. So electrical impulse can travel through the brain.
Reading on, finally here, with the quote: "So even though you may lose some of the details [as you age]," Pascual-Leone said, " you get the big picture." Isn't that encouraging? As we age, we become wiser—because we get the big picture.
He [Pascual-Leone] just makes one last comment (quote): "Maybe that is wisdom." Well, we know it isn't. We know that it is the spirit that God has placed in man. And then, that God's Holy Spirit gives us spiritual wisdom.
Now, the author of the article and Pascual-Leone [both] totally leave the spirit in man out of the explanation of what happens in the human brain. And that makes us different from the animal brain. So they humanly reason through this, and just cannot understand the spirit in man.
Herbert Armstrong wrote—on page 107 of his book Mystery of the Ages (quote): We humans sometimes speak of how wonderfully God made man, with his brain and the marvelous physical components of his body all functioning together. But without this spirit, imparting the power of intellect to the brain and also opening a channel of direct communication with the mind of the Great God, man would be no more than the dumb brutes. But with the spirit in man, man's creation becomes all the more awesome to contemplate. It is this human spirit in man that makes it possible for man to be united with God, so that man may be begotten of God by God's Spirit uniting with the human spirit, thus impregnating the human person as a child of the Supreme Creator God. (End of quote.) So the human spirit is the very essence of the natural human mind. But this is knowledge that man, without God's Holy Spirit, just does not understand.
Now, good conduct is directly related to godly reasoning. So, if we want godly reasoning, [then] we have to have good conduct. Whereas human reasoning, the fruit of it (if you look at it) is the opposite of good conduct. It's deplorable, awful, sinful conduct.
Turn with me to James 3; and we'll read a couple of scriptures there, that we missed the last time that we were in this chapter. (I wanted those separated for this part of the sermon.)
Who is wise and understanding among you? Let him show by good conduct that his works are done in the meekness of wisdom. (James 3:13)
But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. (James 3:17)
So "the wisdom from above" is more than reasoning about human facts. Character is involved in godly reasoning, and conduct. In looking at each of these virtues (of the characteristics of "the wisdom from above"), we can see here A CHECK LIST of what we can compare humanreasoningto—to see if it truly is human reasoning—or, if we are reasoning and interpreting correctly. (Because, if we have human reasoning, it won't hold up to these virtues.) It's interesting that there are seven virtues—the number of completion. And I just want to briefly go through these, as quickly as I can, to point out some aspects.
Now pure is from the Greek word hagnos, which means "moral purity, or a mind that thinks holy thoughts." True wisdom is pure enough to reveal God. Pure thoughts enable us to reason more righteously. In contrast, worldly wisdom wants to escape God's sight—causing deceit. So our reasoning has to be pure.
The second one, peaceable, is from a Greek word, eirenikos, which means "the right relationship between man and man, and between man and God." Peace enables us to reason without conflict or the urgency to save ourselves from verbal or physical harm. In contrast, human reasoning is presumptuous, clever, and arrogant. It separates man from man, and man from God. It is fearful reasoning.
The third is gentle. That's from the Greek word epieikes—which is one of the most untranslatable of all Greek words, but means "that which steps in to correct things when the law itself becomes unjust." Let me read that to you again, quickly. It means that which steps in to correct when the law itself becomes unjust. The gentleperson knows when it actually wrong to apply the strict letter of the law, because he reasons with meekness and love. In contrast, human reasoning is the reasoning used by those who pant after the dust that is on the head of the poor (that is mentioned in Amos 2:7). They want everything that the poor person has, to pay his debt. And they'll say, "But the law says that you have defaulted on this loan. So, therefore, all is mine." But you see the gentleperson doesn't apply the letter of the law in those cases.
The fourth one: willing to yield is from the Greek word eupeithes, which means "not rigid, and willing to listen." This is the reasoning used to learn from others, and from God's Word. This person wisely knows when to yield, and to whom. In order to learn anything out of God's Word, we have to be willing to yield. In contrast, human reasoning wants to impress others with knowledge, and is usually very forceful and opinionated. IF someone comes to you and they are so opinionate that they are blue, or red (or whatever you get) in the face Or, IF they are so dead set in their opinion that you can't even reason or talk with them. THEN, most likely, they are guilty of not being "willing to yield." They are not thinking it through.
A fifth one: full of mercy and good fruits. "Mercy" comes from the Greek word eleos, which means "mercy for the man who is in trouble, even if the trouble is his own fault." This person is merciful in a way that issues in good fruits, or that issues in practical help. In contrast, human reasoning is harsh in judging others and produces anguish.
And the sixth one: without partiality is from the Greek word adiakritos, which means that favor is not wavering and vacillating according to whom it is directed. This person is always fair with everyone, no matter who it is. In contrast, human reasoning creates a vast gulf between the rich and the poor, and between intellectuals and the average person.
And the last virtue, without hypocrisy, is from the Greek word anupokritos, which means that a person's real intentions are not hidden by an act, neither does he deal in deception. And so in contrast, human reasoningpretends to be what it is not. It pretends to feel what, in reality, it doesn't—especially a pretense of virtue. So human reasoning is hypocritical. IF you see hypocrisy in someone's reasoning, THEN you know that it is not godly reasoning (but human).
We can test the wisdom, and the reasoning—to see if it is heavenly, or earthly—by looking at the motive and the intent behind it, and the fruit that it produces. Is it envious and self-seeking? Or, is it pure and peaceable, and gentle, and willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy?
Actually, there are many checklists in the Bible with which we can compare human reasoning to—to see if it is human reasoning or godly reasoning. The Ten Commandments is one. Another is the fruit of the Spirit, in Galatians 5. And, of course, there are the attributes of love in I Corinthians 13. "Love never fails." "Love is kind." You can go on and on, and compare human reasoning to it, to see where that reasoning is coming from.
If it doesn't meet all of these requirements, our opinions (or interpretations) are, at least, somewhat faulty—and should be kept to ourselves, until we have really thought it through. For a person to force his false opinions on others is just foolishness. We have to be very careful that what we are trying to teach someone else, or what we are trying to impress upon someone else, is not from human reasoning.
I try very hard—and I hope, and have prayed—that this sermon has note been out of human reasoning but has been from godly reasoning. I apologize if any of the reasoning that I've had has not seemed godly reasoning, but I truly want it to be.
There is a huge gulf between divine truth and human reasoning. If we contrast the characteristics of "the wisdom from above" with the fallacies of "human reasoning," it becomes very clear that human reasoningis destructive—to relationships, to truth, and to humility.
Now turn with me to Proverbs 3, as we begin to wrap this up. Here [we see] that humility requires trusting God—that He will direct us, and that the proper reverence and fear of Him will keep us from humanly reasoning.
Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; 6 In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will direct your paths. 7 Do not be wise in your own eyes; Fear the LORD and depart from evil. 8 It will be health to your flesh, and strength to your bones. (Proverbs 3:5-8)
Now turn with me to Philippians 2. The concept of humility was not highly regarded in Greek Literature at the time of the apostle Paul. The Greek concept of a freeman led to contempt toward any kind of subjection whatsoever. This, of course, was in direct opposition with being in subjection to God. And this was what Paul had to deal with. In writing to the Philippians, this is one of the aspects that he warns them about.
Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. (Philippians 2:3)
Now considering others better than ourselves doesn't mean that we must have a false or unrealistic view of our own gifts, as compared with those of others. It's not speaking here of "gifts." Moral superiority is not the point here. Paul means our considering for others must precede concern for ourselves—as he states in Romans 2:10.
Human reasoning separates us from God, because it is of a rebellious nature. Godly reasoning draws us closer to God, because it is of a obedient and a humble nature; and it provides an opportunity to have a relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit.
A word [or, you could say, "an opinion"] fitly spoken is like apples of gold in settings of silver. (Proverbs 25:11)
So "a word fitly spoken" (a godly opinion) is a wonderful, and beautiful, and pleasant thing. Human reasoning is not! But, unlike the world at this time, we have the wonderful blessing of replacing our "human reasoning" with the reasoning of the mind of God.
God grant that OUR REASONING may be GODLY REASONING —using "the wisdom from above" wi