This lesson is my expansion on a masterful lesson I heard about forty years ago from Steffi Geiser. I was impressed. I took notes. Later I developed the thoughts myself, Credit to whom credit is due. This lesson is as important today as it was then. See if you don’t recognize situations familiar to you in the following teaching.
Yeshua is our role model in life and in faith-sharing. Our efforts to explain our beliefs to others will be much more effective if we pattern ourselves after him. This is particularly true in responding to questions. Yeshua never merely answered questions. Instead, he answered questioners, and there is a world of difference between the two. In dealing with questioners, Messiah always discerned the heart of the questioner, and answered accordingly.
So often, the comments addressed to Him were meant not to seek the truth but rather to set the trap. Of this phenomenon, we read the following in John’s gospel:
Now when He was in Jerusalem at the Passover on theFeast Day, many believed in His Name when they saw the miracles which He did, but Jesus did not commit Himself to them because He knew all men, and needed not that any should testify of man, for He knew what was in man (John 2:23-25).
Our Messiah knew the truth about people’s hearts. Jeremiah reminds us, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desparately wicked; who can know it?”(Jer. 17:9) Perhaps it is this understanding which Jeremiah had in mind when he spoke later of the New Covenant which God would make with the House of Israel and the House of Judah, a covenant which would include provision for “a new heart,” as Ezekiel taught as well.
Even with sincere inquirers, Yeshua dealt with the questioner rather than just with the question. We may see this most clearly in the familiar account of Nicodemus, a ruler of our people, who came to Yeshua by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God; no man can do these miracles you’re doing unless God is with him.”
In other words, Nicodemus was trying to discover whether or not Yeshua was indeed the promised Messiah. But Yeshua, rather that responding to the question with a merely informational reply, gave Nicodemus an answer which burrowed its way straight to the heart of the matter. Jesus answered and said unto him, “Amen, Amen I say to you, unless a person is born from above he cannot see the Kingdom of God.”
That wasn’t exactly the answer Nicodemus was expecting, but it was the answer that he needed to hear. This is typical of the ministry of Yeshua. He answered the questioner, not just the question. He discerned the true question, the real issue , he spoke to the heart of the individual, whether dealing with sincere or malicious inquirers, and in each case, he gave the appropriate answer.
The Biblical Admonition to Discern the Heart of the Questioner
Not only do we have, in Yeshua, our model for dealing with the hearts rather than just with the apparent questions of inquirers, we also have pointed scriptural admonition in thus regard. We read in Proverbs, “When a wise man has controversy with a foolish man, the foolish man either rages or laughs, and there is no rest” (Prov 29:9).
The application to our faith sharing opportunities is that in addition to the merits of our case and the weight of our presentation, an individual’s response to our presentation will be determined by his/her true posture regarding the things of God, and by his/her humility before the truth of God. It is a matter of the heart.
Of course, this is not to say that the quality of our presentation is unimportant, but rather that even a first class presentation is wasted on a fool, one whose attitude toward God and the things of God is wrong. For this reason among others, it is important to “qualify the contact”- to discern the condition of their heart in order to answer with spiritual effectiveness. Another text from Proverbs which ought to be remembered in this regard is Proverbs 26:5-6, where we read, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, lest you also be like him. Answer a fool as his folly deserves, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
Commenting on these seemingly contradictory texts, Charles Ryrie says, “While it is unwise to argue with as fool at his level and to recognize his foolish suppositions, there are cases where it is best to refute him soundly lest his foolish opinions seem to be confirmed.” That’s about it. I like to say that you need to know what kind of fool you are dealing with–is it someone just looking to pick a fight, or is it someone who can be corrected–and should.
It is important then to exercise discernment when deciding how to answer: to differentiate between a sincere question and an insincere one, and even to differentiate between a fool who should be ignored, and one who should be answered!
It takes maturity, discernment and skill to do these things. But if we’re ever to learn to defend our position well, we must learn to identify where our questioner’s heart is so that, in giving the appropriate answer, we speak to their heart, and so perhaps win some.
The fact is though, Yeshua constantly faced insincere questions, and it was extremely rare for the public to ask him sincere questions. It may amaze you to realize that almost all of the questions asked of him were insincere ones. In fact, it is a fascinating and instructive study to see the types of insincere questions He faced. In examining these encounters, we may learn a priceless lesson for our own live becuase, let’s face, if people loaded him down with insincere non-questions, we won’t be any different.
The insincere question is always a lie: it is a pretense that the questioner wants to know something when he really doesn’t, that she’s open to your answer when she really isn’t, that your time will be well invested in dealing with such a person when it really won’t be. To answer an insincere question straightforwardly is to play the fool, and to make the message appear foolish as well. In addition, he who answers an insincere question straightforwardly risks abuse for his trouble. For this reason, Messiah warned us not to cast our pearls before swine, let they turn to attack us. This can mean nothing less than to avoid displaying those things which are precious to us before those who have no intention or ability to value or respect them. When He commissioned His disciples for ministry, Yeshua placed little value on naivete. Instead, He said, “ I send you forth as sheep among wolves; therefore be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”
What Kinds of Insincere “Non-Questions” Are We Likely To Encounter?
Using the mnemonic R.A.T.S., we may identify four varieties of insincere questions with which our Messiah was faced.
1. “R” is for Ridiculous questions: questions in which the questioner himself denies the premise upon which the question is based.
On that day some Sadducees (who say there is no resurrection) came to Him and questioned Him, saying, ‘Teacher, Moses said, “If a man dies, having no children, his brother as next of kin shall marry his wife, and raise up an offspring to his brother.” Now there were seven brothers with us; and the first married and died, and having no offspring, left his wife to his brother; and so also the second, and the third, down to the seventh. And last of all, the woman died. In the resurrection therefore whose wife of the seven shall she be? For they all had her (Matt 22: 23-28)
What was it that made this question a ridiculous one? Primarily its source: the Sadduccees. As you know, and as the text itself comments, the Sadduccees denied the reality of the resurrection hope: for them to ask a question about the resurrection which they themselves denied was plainly riduculous. And, he who would knowingly treat such a question as a serious one is a fool.
We too are often asked such ridiclous questions. Perhaps the most frequently asked one is this, “Do you believe that if I don’t believe in Jesus I’ll go to hell?’ This question is most often asked by persons who deny the reality of hell; therefore, to respond straightforwardly to such a question is to play the fool. (Probably the best way to answer such a question is to ask the person if they believe in hell. Most often, they’ll say , “No”. At that point, the proper response is to say, “Then what do you care what I believe about it? Don’t bother me with such ridiculous questions!” [By the way, this is not the kind of subject I like to explore with people, and it is not the way Yeshua’s disciples conducted religious conversations. But that’s another issue].
2. “A” is for Attack questions: questions in which the questioner is attacking the integrity of the person he’s addressing.
And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as he was teaching, and said, ‘By what authority are you doing these things, and who gave you this authority?’ (Matt 21:23)
Were these chief priests and elders asking for information? Were they really curious as to the source of Messiah’s authority? No, they were really saying, “Just who do you think you are, that you come off teaching here in the temple?” What poses as a question is really an accusation, an attack.
We are often asked such questions aren’t we? A common one is “How much Jewish education did you have?” The real import of the question and of the comments which inevitably follow is, “I already know you’re an ignoramus when it comes to Judaism, or you wouldn’t believe this foolishness. So prove it to me; how much Jewish education did you have?” The question is really an attack.
3. “T” is for Trap questions: questions which are asked in order to stigmatize the answerer.
Then the Pharisees went and counseled together how they might trap Him in what He said. And they went their discples to Him, along with the Herodians, saying,’Teacher, we know that you are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us therefore, what do you think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?’ But Jesus perceived their malice. . .”(Matt 22:15-18)
Again, as in the case with the Sadducees, it is instructive to note who is asking the question: in this case, Pharisees, who despised the rule of Caesar, and Herodians, who supported it! For Yeshua to have answered in favor of Caesar would have alienated the Pharisees and those of the people who supported them; while to have answered in rejection of Caesar’s tax, meant to antagonize the Herodians, and all who supported the rule of Rome, including the governmental and military forces who stood only too ready to punish insurrection with death. To answer in favor of Rome was treason against the Jews, to answer in against the tax was treason against Rome. He had been placed in a “no-win situation” (which He managed to win anyway, but more of that later!)
We too are often asked “no-win” trap questions, in which an honest answer will stigmatize and incriminate us: which is just what the questioner intends! These questions are asked not to elicit an answer, but to advance the hidden agenda of the questioner by discrediting you.
4. “S” is for Stumper questions: questions which are asked in order to make the answerer appear ignorant . If we seek to answer such questions in a straightforward manner, we fall into the trap of pride and risk discrediting our position.
But when the Pharisees heard that He had put the Sadduccees to silence, they gathered themselves together. And one of them., a lawyer, asked him a question, testing Him. ‘ Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?’ (Matt 22:34-36)
Why was he asking this question? Was it to compare religious views with the purpose of perhaps changing his own views about Yeshua if the answer was a good one? No. The text itself tells us the purpose of the question: to test Yeshua, in the sense of subjecting him to a trial which he was expected to fail. After all, this question was one which the Rabbis had been grappling with mightily, and there was much disagreement and heat attached to the issue.
From the context, it appears that the Pharisees were only entertaining themselves at his expense. Having seen how He’d silenced the Sadduccees, they wanted to try their own hand at stumping Him, with the expected outcome of demonstrating how smart they were in comparison to the Sadduccees—and in comparison to Him!
We too are often asked stumper questions, questions which our interrogators view as impossible to answer, and for which they are not really seeking an answer. Often, when people ask us to prove to them the existence of God, in reality, they feel it’s unprovable, and they’re looking neither for God nor for an answer. They only want to satisfy themselves about our stupidity.
In summary then, we may see that most often, our Messiah was faced with insincere questions coming from insincere questioners. We too will often find ourselves in this role, and following the admonition of Scripture and the example of Yeshua, we should seek to discern the heart of those who question us, and answer accordingly.