Nathanael’s Pride and Prejudice
43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” 44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter. 45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.” 46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” 47 Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him and said of him, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!” 48 Nathanael said to him, “How do you know me?” Jesus answered him, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” 49 Nathanael answered him, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” John 1:43-49 (ESV)
Early in Christ’s ministry, he seeks out those whom he would later appoint as his apostles. In this short text, we find our Lord meeting Philip and Nathanael, otherwise known as “Bartholomew” (Luke 6:14). Yet, as we might suppose otherwise, this encounter is not without correction. Even Jesus’ trusted servants then were, and as any are still today, in need of purifying.
Before Philip takes unbelieving Nathanael to Jesus, Nathanael said, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Nazareth was a small village with one spring. Whether or not it had a bad reputation among Jews at this time is unknown to us today. But, regardless, Nathanael’s utterance is a reflection of his heart. While it may have been on impulse, or a frequent declaration against those of Nazareth, he was wrongfully questioning Philip’s exciting encounter with the prophesied one, the coming Christ. It is not an innocent question, but one of pride and prejudice. However, he rises above this and later admits Jesus to be the chosen one.
At this point, some may think, “But wait a minute, did not Jesus say he was without deceit?” Well, yes, he did, but is that what Jesus literally meant? Why would Jesus praise Nathanael at this time soon after he judged him as unworthy to be the Christ simply based on his hometown? If Jesus saw Nathanael “under the fig tree”, did he not also hear what he said about him? Of course Jesus heard it! Jesus was making Nathanael aware of that when he said, “Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” Jesus was actually sarcastically judging Nathanael when he said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!”
If we look closer at this statement and consider other truths, they will indicate it is sarcasm. First, would Christ literally tell someone they had “no deceit” in them? That is equivalent to stating one has no sin in them before they come to Christ. Was not Philip coming to Christ? And even after coming to Christ, we can only in a relative sense say we have “no sin”, which Jesus states in John 9:41. However, at this time, Christ would be lying if we take his words literally, since later he inspires John to write, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not us” (1 John 1:8, NKJV). Second, for Jesus to praise Nathanael for having “no deceit” would be as much an exaggeration to say he was full of deceit, since Nathanael does have enough sense to admit he is wrong after Jesus corrects him. Third, Christ is not in the business of praising others on his first encounter with them, unless they do something at that moment to merit it, consider the “centurion” in Matthew 8:8-13. But notice, he did not praise this centurion for being without deceit, but for his “great faith” (v. 10)—the two are drastically different. Therefore, how could Christ praise Nathanael for having “no deceit” when he judged Jesus based on prejudice? When he did not wait to utter his judgment until he had gathered the facts? It was prideful for Nathanael to do so. What made him a better judge than Philip, when Philip had seen Christ himself? At this moment, Nathanael was not praise worthy, but correction worthy!
With this understanding, we have many great lessons to take from this short text about Jesus encountering one of his apostles the first time. Prejudice is closely related to pride. If you are prideful, you will be prejudice; if you are prejudice, it is because you are prideful! That is the nature of sin. That is why it is so destructive, as Solomon himself states, “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Proverbs 16:18, NKJV). And to think pride stops at the church doors is naïve. While saints may clearly see the involvement of pride in some sins such as abortion, homosexuality, fornication, etc., often they fail to see the pride that leads to divisive behavior followed by churches being splintered into separate congregations. While we should not praise Nathanael for being without deceit, we can praise him for repenting of it! He changed his mind, and quickly believed—an attitude we all should have.
Now, there is a difference to admit we can be wrong, and to admit when we are wrong. Everyone will admit and has said, “Yes, I can be wrong”, but to actually admit when that happens is not always easy, and impossible for some. Words often betray the mouth from which they spring. For it is written, “Out of the same mouth proceed blessing and cursing…[but]…these things ought not to be so” (James 3:10, NKJV). When brethren prejudicially judge one over another, it is often on the basis they cannot admit they, or their closest brother or sister, are wrong. Such take sides with the accused because they cannot believe brother or sister so-and-so can actually be wrong! Such brethren will also, sometimes, refuse to see the evidence because they cowardly do not want to make a judgment against their beloved brother or sister. However, what they may not realize is that they are judging the one providing the evidence as untrustworthy when they may be presenting the truth. How can sin be judged and disciplined in such an environment? How can the church grow in unity?
Not only can this be a problem within each congregation, but even abroad among believers in Christ—including preachers. For example, John, who is a preacher, is praised for a written work, but another preacher says, “Can anything good come from brother John?” With this attitude, one, perhaps, will meticulously scan thru his work to find error! And if you are looking for error, you will find it whether it truly exists or not. But is this not deceitful? Another example is a local congregation receives praise for doing a good work, but another congregation says, “Can anything good come from them?” Or, perhaps, someone praises another group who is known to teach error, and it infuriates us when they are used as a good example, and think, “Can anything good come from them?” When this is happening in our hearts and then finds itself being expressed, we need to remember that pride and prejudice leads to despising others we should love. And remember, a servant with this contemptible attitude cannot be “justified” before God (Luke 18:9-14).
The words of the Holy Spirit are fitting to soon end this study:
5 So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great things. How great a forest is set ablaze by such a small fire! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of unrighteousness. The tongue is set among our members, staining the whole body, setting on fire the entire course of life, and set on fire by hell.7 For every kind of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by mankind, 8 but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. 9 With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God. 10 From the same mouth come blessing and cursing. My brothers, these things ought not to be so. 11 Does a spring pour forth from the same opening both fresh and salt water? 12 Can a fig tree, my brothers, bear olives, or a grapevine produce figs? Neither can a salt pond yield fresh water.
13 Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. James 3:5-18 (ESV)
Let us be people of peace, not of discord. Unremoved pride and prejudice will not allow unity to exist. In coming to Jesus, we all need our hearts purified, just as Nathanael's was. Do you allow Jesus to purify your heart?"
From Expository Files 21.5; May 2014