John 1:47, "Jesus saw Nathanael coming to him, and saith of him, Behold an Israelite indeed, in whom is no guile!"
This morning, we see Scriptural prophecy and testimony being manifested and confirmed over and over again. When certain things occur in our world that the Bible told us would either come or remain here, we should not act surprised when we see them. Paul told Timothy that evil men and seducers would wax "worse and worse." (II Timothy 3:13) These perilous times that Paul told Timothy of are most certainly upon us today, for all of the warning signs in that passage from II Timothy 3 are flashing brilliantly today. However, did Paul mean to convey to the young minister that men would become worse in the sense that the depravity of man would increase and be worse than it was before? Are men today in these days worse in the sense of heightened depravity than they were in yesteryear? Since mankind was completely and wholly condemned by the act in the Garden of Eden, he was already wholly set in the deeds of wickedness. You cannot push beyond what is complete and total. But, friends, man's depravity will always manifest itself to the fullest extent that it can under the current circumstance it is in. For example, man's wicked nature wants to do more than is perhaps feasible for a certain setting or situation. A man cannot commit adultery on his wife with her right there with him. Though he might have that desire, he cannot act upon it under the present circumstance. Yet, as evil men wax worse and worse, the text makes a prophecy that days are coming when the circumstances are such that man's depravity becomes worse and worse in manifestation. He will have circumstances available to him to push the envelope further than it was pushed before.
In our study verse, we see a statement made by the Master that should make us sit up and take notice. Sadly for me, I passed over this verse quite often in my reading of it, though this passage is quite special to me personally. My name comes from verse 45 (Philip findeth Nathanael), which makes this passage a personal one. Still, before we get to the famous "fig tree" discussion that Christ has a little later with Nathanael, He makes a statement that shows us something not only about the man but also about our Lord. Notice the word that Christ used: guile. The same word is used by Peter in I Peter 2:22 to state the same thing about Christ. Peter says that there was no guile found in the mouth of Christ, and here Christ Himself says there is no guile in Nathanael. Are these statements equal? Certainly the men were not, but are these equal statements?
Above we mentioned that men today are not more depraved in their nature than they ever have been but the circumstances are such that it is manifested more and more. Without bounds and checks upon the world, man will fulfill more and more in manifestation of those things that his hearts conjures to do. When no guile was found in Christ's mouth, He manifested what was already the underlying quality of His character. The word guile means "craftiness or deceit." Furthermore, the word stems from a family of words that implies the tactic of baiting someone dishonestly. In other words, guile is one of the worst forms of falsehood and dishonesty because there is absolute malice and destruction at the center of it. When someone tries to bait someone else in conversation or otherwise, there is the sense of delight that they try to fulfill by seeing someone else "fall for it" or "fall into it." Christ not only was completely honest, but there being no guile in His mouth, He did not then nor does He now delight in seeing people fall into things. A man filled with guile delights when other people "get it" while he is left unscathed.
Knowing then that Christ's character and purity was fully displayed by His righteous conduct and behavior, what does Christ's statement to Nathanael mean? Was Nathanael as pure as Christ? Certainly he was not! However, Christ says that his behavior and action show something else about him. Not only does he have some quality of goodness – that He Himself put into Nathanael – but it is fully evidenced in his life. Nathanael was known as an Israelite of the highest moral integrity. What you saw was what you got with him. He did not try to trap anybody, nor did he take delight in watching others stumble. This tells us a lot about the man. How much/little guile someone has speaks volumes to their character.
When I was growing up, there were levels of punishment in my parent's home based on the level of transgression. Certain sins were punished more severely than others. The hardest consequences were reserved for matters of falsehood. When I lied about doing something and was discovered, I would get a few licks (spanks) for what I did initially that was wrong, but I got many licks for then lying about it. Dad always stated why lying was so abominable, "Son, no matter what you have done wrong, honesty about your behavior at least allows us to keep talking to one another about it. When you lie to me, I can't trust anything you tell me, and it kills our conversation." Furthermore, the hardest spankings for lying in the house came for those lies that were told with more malevolent intent (guile). For example, if you told a lie to save your hide, that was still a grave offense, but a graver offense came when you lied either to hurt someone else or seemed to delight in your own falsehood.
When Christ Jesus told the people gathered around that Nathanael was without guile, He spoke volumes about him. Those standing there that might not have known who he was would immediately get a good impression of him and feel able to trust him. However, this statement not only tells us something about the man, it also tells us something about the Master. Doubtless, Christ was the reason that Nathanael was good at all, for short of the grace of God in regeneration, Nathanael would have never done anything that was good, and instead of having no guile, his mouth would have been full of the poison of asps and like an open sepulchre. (Romans 3) Still. God's children can develop a reputation of being habitual liars. Jacob – though loved of God – lied on numerous occasions in his life to try to get ahead – his very name means supplanter or deceiver. Nathanael's life was not known in such a fashion. To people that knew him, they thought of him as honest and full of integrity. But greater still, so did his Lord.
Too often, we can play the dangerous game of thinking of ourselves as worthless. By nature, we are. By His grace, we are not. Further still, a godly and faith-driven walk is not worthless either. Christ's very statement shows that He thought of Nathanael in a positive light. Christ commended his behavior and course of life. When you read through those godly characters in Hebrews 11, you are not reading a record of perfect people. Nor are you always reading a record of people who always acted faithfully in the matters recorded about them. For example, Sarah is mentioned as having the faith to conceive and bear a son in her old age. Yet, the Genesis account records her laughing about having a son in her condition. Did God get it wrong when He inspired her to be spoken of in such a glowing fashion in the New Testament? No friends, it shows that even though we fall so short of perfection, we do not always fall short of His commendation.
Good advice for a young preacher is to never undervalue his sermons and ministerial efforts if they bless those he serves. Surely, they are not perfect, but that does not mean that they do not bless anybody. Good advice for young parents is to never undervalue their efforts in bringing up their children. Again, they will not be perfect, but God has and does bless us when we seek to go the right way in that regard looking to Him and His Book for the answers. Nathanael was a sinner, and I have little doubt that he had told a lie(s) at some point in his life. Perhaps he even had delighted in baiting someone else just to watch them fail. However, his manner of life was known more for honesty and uprightness. Christ smiled on his behavior and plainly and unequivocally stated it.
Today friends, we are going to fall short of the mark on a daily basis. Thank God His grace has been given us to have the capacity to serve Him with reverence and godly fear. May our lives be known as Nathanael's was. May people see in us an honest people that do not delight in what the evil men and seducers delight in. Though their manifestation of sin and carnality may increase and get worse and worse, may our sense of moral integrity shine brighter and brighter than at any other time. Since these men are not any more depraved than anyone else but manifest it more, I am convinced that we are no more righteous than any other of God's children that have ever lived (we were all saved completely and equally by Christ), but may we manifest that righteousness more than any others that have gone before us. Just as Christ was pleased with Nathanael's conduct and efforts, I feel certain based on His immutability that He will be just as pleased with us if we try to follow a similar course.