Bible Study Lessons

Parables: How to Understand Them

Introduction

Charlie and Ricky both worked on the line at Mr. Foreman's factory. Both had been hired the same week, and both had basically the same background and education. Mr. Foreman had a habit of walking around the factory every day and noticed that the two men seemed to be as different as similar men could be. Ricky seemed to be always learning things and becoming more efficient. Charlie kept doing things the same way. Even the things he grumbled about were predictably the same. Whenever Mr. Foreman would suggest a new way to do something, Ricky's eyes would light up and he would ask questions to understand the new process and implement it for maximum effect. Charlie, on the other hand, would grumble as soon as Mr. Foreman left about always being fussed at and whine that if he ever understood the instructions perhaps the advice would do him some good. One day Ricky heard Charlie complaining and tried to help him out. He suggested that Mr. Foreman always seemed ready to answer questions and that each piece of advice seemed to build on the last, so it was important to implement one before you could understand the next. But it only gave Charlie something new to grumble about - Ricky's luck. You can probably predict Ricky and Charlie's futures. In five years, Ricky was Mr. Foreman's right-hand man. Whenever Mr. Foreman was out of town or in meetings, it was Ricky who walked the line and tried to help the workers. But Charlie was out of work. He'd finally talked himself into quitting because of the insufferable conditions - constant advice, others getting promoted over him, etc. - and he hadn't found steady work since. In Mark 4:10-13 we learn that a person's response to Jesus' parables reveals whether they are more like Ricky or Charlie spiritually. Study the passage to discover what parables are, why Jesus used them, and how to understand them.

Observation

Pray

Ask the Lord for wisdom as you read and study His Word. He loves to answer that prayer when it is made in humility and faith.

Read Focus Verses

Read Mark 4:10-13 and notice what the theme of these three verses is.

Theme

What repeated word reveals the theme of today's passage?

Keyword - Parable

Marking the word parable will help it stand out as the theme of these verses.

Parable

Parables

Mark the word parable every time it appears in Mark 4:10-13.

Context

The context of these verses helps us understand more about them. Read Mark 4:1-34 and notice the parables in these surrounding verses.

The Crowd

To whom did Jesus speak in parables?

The Disciples

To whom did Jesus explain the parables?

When?

When does verse 10 say the disciples asked Jesus a question?

What?

What was their question?

To You

What does Jesus say about the disciples in the first part of verse 11?

For Them

Who does Jesus say He primarily used parables because of?

Seeing…Hearing…

What does Jesus say about seeing and hearing in the first part of verse 12?

Otherwise

In the second part of verse 12, what does Jesus say is the result of really understanding what the parables mean?

Jesus' Question

What does Jesus say in verse 13?

Interpretation

Alone

What does it say about Jesus that He was comparatively alone when it was just the twelve and a small group of others?

What Is a Parable?

Take a closer look at the word Jesus uses which is translated parable.

Strong's G3850

Greek,parabole [par-ab-ol-ay']

--Noun Feminine

Origin: from (3846)

Definition:

  1. a placing of one thing by the side of another, juxtaposition, as of ships in battle
  2. metaph.
    1. a comparing, comparison of one thing with another, likeness, similitude
    2. an example by which a doctrine or precept is illustrated
    3. a narrative, fictitious but agreeable to the laws and usages of human life, by which either the duties of men or the things of God, particularly the nature and history of God's kingdom are figuratively portrayed
    4. a parable: an earthly story with a heavenly meaning
  3. a pithy and instructive saying, involving some likeness or comparison and having preceptive or admonitory force
    1. an aphorism, a maxim
  4. a proverb
  5. an act by which one exposes himself or his possessions to danger, a venture, a risk

Some Examples

You already read a few of Jesus' parables when you read the context of today's verses. Read the parable in Mark 12:1-12 keeping in mind the other parables you read and the usage of the word parable.

Definition: Parable

Here is the heart of the definition of parables given in Vine's Expository Dictionary: Denotes "a placing beside"...It signifies "a placing of one thing beside another" with a view to comparison...It is generally used of a somewhat lengthy utterance or narrative drawn from nature or human circumstances, the object of which is to set forth a spiritual lesson...sometimes it is used of a short saying or proverb. It is the lesson that is of value; the hearer must catch the analogy if he is to be instructed.

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Your Definition

How would you describe what a parable is in one sentence?

More Detail

Now that we know what a parable is, let's explore why Jesus used them. Matthew 13:10-17 gives us more detail from Jesus' answer than is given today's passage.

Won't Understand

Jesus' answer teaches us that there is a dual purpose in parables. How do unbelievers respond to parables (Mark 4:11b-12)?

To Understand

How do believers respond to parables (Mark 4:11a, 13)?

A Quote

To explain why He used parables to keep those who did not want to believe from understanding, Jesus quotes God's commission to Isaiah in Isaiah 6:8-10.

Clear but Rejected

Romans 1:18-25 shows us the unbeliever's response even to more obvious truth.

Willingly Ignorant

2 Peter 3:1-7 also speaks of this willing ignorance.

Obvious Truths

What do these verses teach us about how plain God has made some basic truths?

These are Evident

What are some of the truths these verses tell us are so plain anyone who wants to know will understand them?

Unbelief

What do these verses teach us about those who do not believe these things?

Rejected

If you offered someone ten dollars and they refused, would you offer them a hundred dollars then? How does that analogy help us understand what Jesus is saying?

If You Don't Understand This…

Jesus' response to Nicodemus in John 3:12 can also help us understand why when someone rejects clear truth they are not always given more.

To Those Who Have

In Matthew 25:13-30 Jesus tells us a parable explaining the principle He gives that more is given to those who receive and use what they are given.

Receiving or Rejecting

How does this parable help us understand what Jesus means when He says more will be given to those who have?

To Be Understood

Jesus' response also reveals that His parables were to be understood by those who believed. The Gospels frequently record Jesus explaining the parables to His disciples. In John 14:26 Jesus tells us who will do this now that He isn't physically with us anymore.

The Spirit

1 Corinthians 2:7-10 also speaks of this.

Teacher

Who teaches Christians to understand God's Word now?

Tips for Study

This article provides tips for understanding parables biblically.

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Ears to Hear

In Mark 4:9 Jesus tells us what kind of person will benefit from His parables.

Again

He repeats this frequent phrase of His again later in the chapter in Mark 4:23-25 along with the warning about making use of what we have.

To the Churches

In Revelation 3:22 we see Jesus saying it a seventh time in the messages to the churches.

Hear

Look more closely at the word translated hear.

Strong's G191

Greek,akouo [ak-oo'-o]

--Verb

Origin: a root

Definition:

  1. to be endowed with the faculty of hearing, not deaf
  2. to hear
    1. to attend to, consider what is or has been said
    2. to understand, perceive the sense of what is said
  3. to hear something
    1. to perceive by the ear what is announced in one's presence
    2. to get by hearing learn
    3. a thing comes to one's ears, to find out, learn
    4. to give ear to a teaching or a teacher
    5. to comprehend, to understand

Hearing

What does Jesus mean when He calls those listening to His words to hear Him?

Casual or Real?

We see the differences between casual listeners and true hearers in Matthew 7:24-27.

Hearers and Doers

James 1:22-25 is even clearer.

It Will Show

According to these verses, how can we tell if we are truly hearers of Christ's Words?

Many Desired It

Read Matthew 13:16-17 again to be reminded of the privilege we have.

Seeing them Afar Off

Hebrews 11:13 tells us that all the Old Testament figures of faith we are told to honor and follow only got to look forward to the coming of Christ instead of knowing Him like we can.

For Our Sake

At the end of the chapter in Hebrews 11:39-40 we see that they had to wait for our sakes.

Diligent

1 Peter 1:10-12 tells us how diligently they searched what little they knew.

Inspiring

If they were so eager and so diligent about what little they knew of what was to come, how much more diligently should their example inspire us to study and rejoice in the fullness of the gospel as we know it today?

So Then…

The verses following the three you just read in 1 Peter tell us how we should respond to the fuller truth we know. Consider what 1 Peter 1:13-23 says about this.

Living It

How should we live in light of all we have the privilege to know?

The Core of It

According to these verses in 1 Peter, what is at the heart of these wonderful things God has revealed to us, which the believers through all ages have been looking toward?

An Extra Blessing

Perhaps sometimes it seems like it would be nicer to live when Jesus was here explaining everything Himself in audible words. But in John 20:29 Jesus gives an extra blessing to those who believe without seeing Him in person.

Comfort

What does John 20:29 promise today's believers?

Once More

Read Mark 4:10-13 once more in light of everything you've studied in God's Word.

What?

In summary, what are parables?

Why?

Why did Jesus use parables (remember He speaks of two groups - believers and unbelievers)?

How?

How can Christians understand Jesus' parables?

Application

Thankful

Take a few minutes and thank God for allowing you to know Jesus Christ and read His parables in His Word as so many faithful believers desired to do for centuries and couldn't. How will that truth change the way you think about and prioritize time with God's Word today?

To the One Who Has

As you saw today, God will give more understanding to those who will do what they know. Are you demanding more understanding before you obey something you know from God's Word? How will you begin obeying today

Hearing and Doing

What is your favorite of the parables you read today? Will you be someone who will hear it today by being a doer of what Jesus teaches through it? What action do you need to take today based on that parable?

Wrapup

Closing

We hope this study plan has helped you understand what parables are, why Jesus used them, and how to understand them; and we hope that it has challenged you to act on what you know in gratitude for the privilege of understanding God's Word and expecting to learn more as you obey.

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