Editor’s Note: This article was originally posted on March 2, 2007.
Read Part 1.
Andre and Harold, two mature Christian men, received multiple job offers. Being well taught in the relevant biblical principles, they applied only for positions that were biblically permissible. But that still left each with more than one job to choose from.
Each took a different approach to resolving his dilemma. Andre redoubled his prayer efforts and sought to hear from God during his devotions. One day, God “gave him a verse.” It mentioned mountains in a favorable light, and one of the job offers included relocation to Colorado. Excited about how God had led him, Andre accepted the position and shared the story during testimony time at church. Hearts were warmed.
But Harold took a different approach. Having already yielded the matter to the Lord and asked for His direction, Harold sought advice, gathered information, and thought the matter through. The position in Colorado would provide well for his family, and he’d always enjoyed mountains and skiing. So he made his choice. It seemed reasonable to believe that God had led him. But at testimony time, he felt a strange reluctance to share his story. People often spoke of how “God gave them a verse” or how they “felt a peace” or “got a burden.” It just didn’t seem spiritual to say, “I asked for the Lord’s leading then did what made sense to me.”
Thus, two men arrived at the same place by very different routes. Did one take a better route than the other? Did Andre do the right thing by tuning into God’s working in his heart? Did Harold “lean on his own understanding” by overvaluing his intellect? Did Andre walk in the Spirit and Harold in mere “human logic”?
The Key Questions
The contrast between these two men illustrates why understanding the rational and non-rational features of our being is so important. Our beliefs in this area not only drive our approach to decision making but also shape what we think church should be like, how we measure spiritual health, how much we value learning and skills in the Lord’s work, and how we interact with Scripture.
Arriving at a biblical view of these matters requires that we answer two important questions: (1) What is the intellect for? and (2) Where does the Holy Spirit fit in?
What Is the Intellect for?
The cliché says God gave us our brains, and He must have intended that we use them. But what should we use them for? To hear some, the brain is a kind of necessary evil. We’re forced to do a certain amount of thinking in order to survive and to make time for the truly important business of emoting.
Others take it even further, speaking as though rational thought belongs entirely to the realm of godless academia and has no place among the godly. It’s only because we’re sinners that we still indulge in adding two and two sometimes when we think nobody’s looking.
But Scripture calls us to a much higher view of the intellect!
The Written Word
First, the Bible itself is a call to appreciate the intellect. God could have chosen to communicate with us mainly through inner impressions, through dreams and occasional prophets, or through omens and predictions. But instead He chose to inspire written words. By doing so, He gave us a form of communication that always requires intellectual activity first and responses of will, affection, and emotion second.
If Scripture operated directly on the will and emotions without passing through the intellect, we wouldn’t even need English Bibles. We could pass our eyes over Hebrew and Greek symbols, make feeble efforts to pronounce syllables we don’t understand, and come away knowing (or perhaps intuiting) God and His will better.
But it seemed wise to God that we may not spiritually discern (1 Cor. 2:14) until we first cognitively derive. Exercise of the intellect (rational thought) is vital in gaining knowledge of God and His will.
Direction for Love
Second, intellect is love’s right-hand man. While love provides the proper motivation, intellect provides the necessary information. Without data, love is all revved up with no place to go. If it goes somewhere anyway, it only harms when it desired to help.
Note the insufficiency of love alone in Philippians 1:9-10.
And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in knowledge and all discernment, that you may approve the things that are excellent, that you may be sincere and without offense till the day of Christ (NKJV).
Without abounding knowledge, love may be sincere, but it will not be “without offense.”
As Valentine’s Day approached, a man wanted to bring some warmth and cheer to his wife. But what could he give? Love told him why but not what in particular or how. Allowing just a little “head knowledge” into the equation (but not too much, since that has such a chilling effect), he thought, “Everyone knows chocolate is a winner!” And he gave her a box of decadent delights.
But his wife was allergic to chocolate. Had the man not undervalued intellect and overvalued “heart,” he would have remembered that. It was “zeal, but not according to knowledge” (Rom. 10:12), passion without information.
A Standard for Measuring the Affections
Third, since our will and emotions are marred by sin (see Part 1 in this series), governing them for God’s glory requires some means of evaluating them. And that requires both a standard of measurement and an act of measuring that are outside of what’s being measured. We cannot evaluate passion by means of passion. Rather, we must measure the non-rational workings of our inner man by biblical truth through a process of clear thinking.
Paul’s observations about his people are sobering on this point. The result of their zeal without knowledge was not that they charmingly bumbled their relationship with God while meaning well. Rather, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness,” they had “not submitted to the righteousness of God” (Rom. 10:3). Ironically, the condition of their hearts led them to reject the mental work of measuring their hearts by God’s standard. So they remained “ignorant.” Worse, they remained self-righteous.
Though neglect of “heart issues” has serious consequences, neglect of the intellectual task of evaluating the heart has consequences every bit as serious. Just ask the man who thought it was a good idea to reach out and steady the Ark of the Covenant when its cart hit a bump (2 Sam. 6:6-7). Apparently, “he meant well” was not a good excuse. Without intellect and reason to check them, feelings and passions are not merely ineffective. They are downright dangerous.
A Good Thing in Itself
Finally, the intellect is also for loving God. At first glance, this may seem contradictory, but Mark 12:30 reveals that it cannot be.
And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. This is the first commandment. (NKJV)
The command to love here refers to more than feeling. It also refers to doing. And where loving God with our “mind” is concerned, it refers to thinking.
Our God is a reasoning God who made us as reasoning beings in His image. Satan did not invent the intellect. And just as Satan is not honored when we use intellect as God designed, God is not honored when we shun intellect in His name. When God looked at what He had made and pronounced it good, He included the human brain.
Andre and Harold
That leads us back to Andre and Harold. Which of them made his decision in a God-honoring manner? If a heart for God cannot stand alone but needs a mind for God, might Harold’s approach have been best after all?
A final answer to that question requires that we first consider a remaining question: Where does the Holy Spirit fit in? Though Harold cannot be condemned for handling his decision thoughtfully, is it likely that he was guided by the Holy Spirit? Or is Andre a better candidate for that claim?
Furthermore, if Andre was wrong and Harold was right, what does that suggest about what we emphasize from our pulpits and about how we conduct ministry? These questions will be the focus of Part 3.
|Aaron Blumer, SI’s site publisher, is a native of lower Michigan and a graduate of Bob Jones University (Greenville, SC) and Central Baptist Theological Seminary (Plymouth, MN). He, his wife, and their two children live in a small town in western Wisconsin, where he has pastored Grace Baptist Church (Boyceville, WI) since 2000. Prior to serving as a pastor, Aaron taught school in Stone Mountain, Georgia, and served in customer service and technical support for Unisys Corporation (Eagan, MN). He enjoys science fiction, music, and dabbling in software engineering.|