Nathanael: Honest and upright
Jesus could see what Nathanael was like before even speaking to Him. What was so special about Nathanael?
Nathanael: What Jesus saw
When Jesus saw Nathanael, He said “Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile.” John 1:47. What did He actually mean and how could Jesus know what Nathanael was like even though He had never met him?
Nathanael is only mentioned once in the Bible, but Jesus’ simple words showed that he was a man from whom we can learn a lot. What does it mean to have no guile, and why did Jesus choose to characterize him in that way?
In other stories, we see that Jesus had very different words for the Pharisees. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of extortion and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee, first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also.” Matthew 23:25-26. The Pharisees were the educated Jewish people. They were known for striving to have a good outward appearance according to the Jewish laws. They loved to make a show before other people emphasizing how religious they were. But in their pride, while keeping all the outward laws, they cared nothing about the sin that was still inside of them. They only served God for their own gain, and not at all because they truly loved Him.
Jesus met many people in His life and He was pure and true from the inside out. He knew and kept all the Jewish laws, but He also saw that all those outward laws could not take care of the sin that still dwelled inside.
In the “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus gave some examples of how the law could not take care of sin in the heart. “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.” Matthew 5:21-22. And “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28. With these examples, Jesus revealed that the law would punish only if someone carried out an act of murder or adultery, for example. But Jesus put sin to death on the inside – that hatred and that lust – so that it never had a chance to come out in the first place!
What do people see in me?
When Jesus met Nathanael, He sensed that he was an upright man. It wasn’t just about looking good before people or doing all the right things to get honor. Nathanael must have truly loved God and served Him with his whole heart for Jesus to say that. His spirit testified of the life he lived. Nathanael wasn’t trying to put on a show for Jesus or to hide anything, and Jesus could see that before they even spoke a word together.
It made me really think – if I met Jesus today, would He be able to say the same about me? Actually, what do the people I am with every day see? Do they see someone who has no guile? One who is honest and upright and has nothing to hide? One who treats others with respect, no matter who they are?
Recently, I heard someone say that we are not naturally born honest in all circumstances. When I heard that, it made me think about the Pharisees. They were so confident in their ability to keep a good appearance that they couldn’t even see or acknowledge that they were full of sin on the inside.
In Psalm 51:6, David wrote “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts, and in the hidden part You will make me to know wisdom.” If I want to be like Nathanael, then I have to take a really good look at what is on the inside, in the hidden where no one else sees. There are so many opportunities when a small “harmless” lie might seem appropriate, if it benefits me. Or maybe I feel compelled to act differently depending on who I am with. Do I tell others the truth, even when it is hard? Am I willing to lose honor to stand up for what is right?
Honest through and through
When I started to think about these things, I wondered, how is it even possible to overcome all this? How can I be honest through and through like I want to be? To be bold to speak the truth when I know I should?
It is written: “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23. It all starts in the heart! If I guard that, and watch over it always, then I will also be with no guile! It means I have to be completely honest when I see the sin that dwells in me. I have to acknowledge that it is there and ask God to set me free. I can’t try to deny it, or hide it in any way. When I am completely honest with myself, and with God, then I learn to love the truth about myself, because I see that the truth can set me free from the sin that dwells in me. And as I learn to be honest with myself and God, then I can become more and more honest with the people around me too.
Now, instead of seeking honor or favor from “important” people, I learn that the only important thing is what God thinks of me. When I have to tell someone the truth, then I do it, because I want to be honest and upright no matter what it costs. And I don’t need to lie to try to gain something for myself, because I trust that God will bless me if I am righteous.
In John 8:32, Jesus said “And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” That is the best motto! When I love the truth, I become invincible. No situation and no person can separate me from God. He stands by my side in every situation, ready to give me all the strength and help I need to overcome. And then, without words, I can be an example like Nathanael – one about whom Jesus can say that my heart is completely pure.
Scripture taken from the New King James Version®, unless otherwise specified. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.