It’s time to start reading your Bible. There is no better time than right now. Since you are going to start reading, why not get the most out it?
In Part 1, we talked about a 3-part system to read the Bible effectively. In this article, I want to talk about understanding the larger context. Context is something that we understand, even if we don’t see it. For example, if you are watching a western movie it would seem very strange for the Millennium Falcon to drop in on the campfire. If you watched Die Hard recently, then it would have been very strange if they were using bows and arrows instead of guns. Or if Ralphie had dreamed of getting a PS4. All of those things are out of context.
It’s the same with Scripture. We have to be careful to keep things in context. Because of the nature and importance of God’s Word, it is easy to find what you want and make a life-altering stand. But what if it is out of context? You see, many people have built entire belief systems on a verse or there without making sure it is in context. For example, have you ever experienced someone taking what you say and twisting it up? Or what if someone took a phrase you said but inserted it into a different conversation? When I was in 8th grade we moved twice. This meant I went to 3 different 8th grades. The third one began a little rough. The state we left was ahead in math a year. When I arrived it was decided that I would take 9th-grade math at the High School. I was asked by some of the boys one day where I went. I told them I skipped a period to go to math at the High School. It didn’t take long for the cool kids to ridicule me for being a pregnant woman because I had missed a period.
That took a while to get over!
The whole point is that we need to make certain we keep the statements in Scripture in the context of what is being said around it and the whole message of the Gospel. What do I mean by this?
In the humiliating example above, what I said was not taken in the context of the conversation. This can happen in Scripture too. Let’s take a look at a popular example.
“I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me.” Phil 4:13
You have likely seen this at a sporting event. It is used as a way to pump someone up and give them a sense of confidence. Isn’t that what Scripture is for? Not really. The problem with much of it is that we have taken it out of context. We want to use this one verse to mean that anything I set out to do will be enabled by Christ. Sounds good, right? But if we look at the context of what is being said we find the truth Paul wanted the reader to understand.
“10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly because once again you renewed your care for me. You were, in fact, concerned about me but lacked the opportunity to show it. 11 I don’t say this out of need, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I find myself. 12 I know both how to make do with little, and I know how to make do with a lot. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being content—whether well fed or hungry, whether in abundance or in need. 13 I am able to do all things through him[d] who strengthens me. 14 Still, you did well by partnering with me in my hardship.”
Phil 4:10-14 allows us to see that Paul is helping the reader to understand that whatever situation befalls you as you follow Christ, he will enable you to endure it. Paul was in prison. He was cold, lonely, and hungry, and yet he would be able to endure it because he knew he was there because of following Christ. The difference is that we often start out on a path and then claim Phil 4:13 as a way to bolster our resolve. Paul was not on HIS path but GOD’S path.
The other area of context we need to understand is the message of God to us. If we don’t understand this then the stories of Scripture become morality tales and a system of ethics with no passion or permanence. We cannot reduce the message of God to morality, it is more!
The Old Testament is often shoved aside as being, well, old. We fail to understand that it mainly refers to the old covenant. Even those who teach or preach from it use it for morality or hype. For example, we use the story of David and Goliath as both morality and hype message when it is really neither. It is exciting, yes, but we need to understand what is going on. To do so, let me share with you how we need to be seeing the Old Testament. In literature, there is something called a “story arc” the point of the whole story. In scripture we see 3 of these:
- The story arc of God.
- The story arc of Israel.
- The story arc of man.
When we read passages in the Old Testament (OT) it is important to ask yourself 3 questions based on the 3 story arcs:
- What do I learn about God in this passage? With reference to David and Goliath, what do we learn about God? We find God to be honorable to His promise. The giant was challenging the army, yes, but there is more. He is defying God. He is challenging the legitimacy of God and His promise to give Israel the land. Would God honor His promise? We find that He does. What did you learn?
- What do I see true about Israel? You see, Israel is God’s chosen instrument to usher in Christ. If we get lost in the OT and forget that it is all an ushering in to Christ then we lose it relevance. I find myself in Israel a lot. There are stubborn. They are self-reliant. They forget. So do we. In this story we see Israel having to decide whether or not to trust the politics of Saul, the strength of the army, or God. David arrives and has chosen to trust God. Israel was at a defining moment. You are too. You are opening up God’s Word and wanting to find truth. Don’t make it up as you go. Find the truth! Israel was given a promise that if they were faithful God would provide and protect. But the giant is so tall? David doesn’t care. He leads Israel to trust God not present circumstances.
- The story arc of man. This is where it gets personal. Where do you find yourself in the story? When you find the truth about God and Israel then it makes it easier to apply the truth to you. Instead of this story being about how you can slay the giants in your life it becomes about a decision to trust God or not. Will you take God at His word or not? Further, am I even under the covenant to claim the protection of God?
Until you have decided about faith in Jesus you are not in the covenant. Israel was. Are you? If you are a follower of Jesus by faith then you also can call upon God. Just be sure it’s in context.