Questions are essential for learning and communicating. But some questions in the Bible were asked with a wrong motive. What can we learn about questions?
Communication experts point out that the literal meaning of our words is only a small part of our communication with others. Our facial expressions, body language, tone of voice and context are also important. All affect the message and ideas we hope to get across—and can reveal our motives.
Questions are an important part of communication, but they can be used for good or for bad.
Some of the questions we ask (or hear from others) may be a little questionable if we think about them a little deeper. What I mean by that is, What is the motive behind the question? How is it asked, and why is it asked?
For instance, a child spills a glass of milk, and we ask, “Why did you do that?” Do we really want him to analyze and go into detail about why he turned it over? Often that question is just a way we reprimand the child for what we might see as carelessness. Or it may be an expression of our displeasure.
Questions designed to trap Jesus
As Jesus Christ was teaching His disciples, a lawyer attempted to cause Him to stumble over something in His teaching. (See Luke 10:25-37.) First, the lawyer asked, “What shall I do to inherit eternal life?”
Jesus answered him with another question, “What is written in the law?” The lawyer answered correctly by quoting the two great commandments dealing with our love for God and our neighbor.
Jesus replied, “Do this and you will live.” This is the starting point in one’s journey toward eternal life.
But the Bible tells us this lawyer’s question did not stem from a sincere desire to learn, but was more argumentative, intended to undermine Jesus’ teaching. So, he responded with another question that exposed much about himself.
“But he, wanting to justify himself, said to Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’” Surely, he would not be expected to love just anybody and everybody!
Instead of asking, “How can I be a better neighbor to everyone?” his question revealed his prejudices and hard-heartedness toward those he considered unworthy of his love.
The woman caught in adultery
Another time, the scribes and Pharisees brought a woman caught in the very act of adultery and, again, in an attempt to trap Him, asked, “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned. But what do You say?” (John 8:3-11).
A Christian will always be looking for ways to grow spiritually. Christ spoke about how we are held accountable for every word.
Would He show mercy and go against the law? Or would He agree that she should be stoned and perhaps get in trouble with the authority of the government of Rome now occupying their country?
It takes two to commit adultery. They did not bring the man, and it seems they gave no thought to mercy or redemption. They could have asked, “How can we help this poor woman learn a better way to live her life?” Instead, their question revealed, among other things, their self-righteousness and hypocrisy.
Questions about divorce
There was a question among some of the religious groups in Jesus’ time about how serious an infraction or flaw in one’s wife there would have to be for a man to be allowed to put her away (see Matthew 19:3-9).
“The Pharisees also came to Him, testing Him, and saying to Him, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for just any reason?’”
One school of thought at that time was that a very small thing in her appearance or failure in her household duties would be enough to justify divorce.
Instead of asking, “How can we strengthen our relationships with our wives?” they were asking, “What excuses can we use to divorce them?”
Christ would not allow them to draw Him into taking sides on an issue that was contrary to God’s intent for the institution of marriage from the beginning. It was a sacred union intended to last until death. So, He reminded them of God’s instruction in the Garden of Eden.
Even Christ’s own disciples asked selfish questions
Often the questions asked by His own disciples revealed a lack of understanding or selfish motives. Several times the disciples were jockeying for positions and asked questions like: “Who then is greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” (Matthew 18:1). Rather than thinking of leadership as being an opportunity for service, they were thinking of positions of power and glory for themselves.
“But Jesus called them to Himself and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many’” (Matthew 20:25-28).
As you study the Holy Scriptures, take a minute to look at the questions. There is much we can learn by looking at the many questions we find in the Scriptures, whether they are asked by sincere people or hostile people—the centurion who asked Jesus to come and heal his servant or Pilate who asked, “What is truth?”
What was the purpose, motive and attitude associated with each question? They reveal much about human nature.
Questions as a teaching tool
As Jesus taught His disciples, He would often ask them questions. Many of those questions were designed to stimulate their minds on a particular topic or challenge some erroneous belief.
- “Have you not read?”
- “Is it not written?”
- “Which is easier, to say . . .?”
- “Do you believe . . .?”
- “And which of you, having a servant plowing . . .?”
- “But who do you say that I am?”
These are just some of the questions Jesus asked as He taught His disciples and the people.
The ministries of John the Baptist and Jesus Christ were to bring light and truth to those who were willing to accept it. John the Baptist’s father was inspired to prophesy about the outcome of his ministry, “To give light to those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79).
Jesus came as the true Light to bring truth and understanding to the world. But most people then rejected it—just as most now are rejecting it, being unwilling to change.
“And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God” (John 3:19-21).
If we love and live by the truth, we will want to understand what’s behind our own deeds. We will want to clearly see them in order to make improvements in how we live and serve God.
How much thought do we give to our questions—the questions we have about God and His way of life? About what we might need to start doing or stop doing? Even how we ask our questions might reveal a lot about us. Some ask to learn, and some ask to justify themselves for not practicing what is commanded.
I once had someone ask, “Well, if I lived at the north pole, how could I keep the Sabbath?” He wasn’t actually considering moving to the arctic. He was just seeking to argue. Many such hypothetical questions are not real questions, but excuses.
We must always be looking for ways we can have more of the mind of Christ.
Every idle word
Those desirous of making changes in their lives will want to examine themselves—their actions and their words. A Christian will always be looking for ways to grow spiritually. Christ spoke about how we are held accountable for every word.
“But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the day of judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
This is because our words reveal what is in our hearts. “For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks” (verse 34). Or, “Your words show what is in your hearts” (Contemporary English Version).
Often those words are in the form of a question.
The Bible speaks of hidden sins. There are two types of those. One type would be sins that people try to hide from others, and the other type is those sins in ourselves that we don’t see, ones we might yet be unaware of (see Leviticus 4:13).
But neither is hidden from God. “O God, You know my foolishness; and my sins are not hidden from You” (Psalm 69:5).
His Word and Spirit can reveal them to us if we desire to remove them from our life. “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).
Perhaps we should ask, Are the attitudes or motives behind some of our questions questionable? Too often we don’t give careful thought to our words or the questions we ask.
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