“Context is everything!”, my friend once said to me as I wandered back to my room to try and find an appropriate scripture to back up what I was saying in the bible study group that night. He informed me that the point I was making was correct, but the passage I chose to support it was not saying what I wanted it to. At the time I thought this was very frustrating because I was up against a time limit to complete this study before the people in the group began arriving. I wanted to use the verse anyway, but I could not get that phrase out of my mind. As I looked again at the text I had chosen it became clear to me as well that I was bending things a bit to make them fit. The saying has never left me as I delve into the word, and it has served me very well over the last seventeen years or so.
You see, the thing of it is that if I go around fitting verses to what I want to say I am really cutting the bible in half. Many times a verse/verses will be there to back up a conviction or belief, but if I add in others that do not fit then those additional verses are lost to me as far as their true meanings are concerned. Those verses and passages become tinsel and fluff to adorn some other sacred cow that I adore, and so they are left just as lifeless. On the other hand, when a contextually aware line of thinking is used to mine the Word the scene changes dramatically from a store window with serenely posed mannequins displaying the wares of the market, and it becomes a living, dynamic part of my life. I go from being a consumer who searches the aisles for that can of “Hope in a Desperate Situation”, and the bottle of “Financial Promises” hot sauce to spice it up, to someone who will walk with the Living Word.
The bible lives and breathes to point not to itself, but rather to Christ. As Richard Wurmbrandt said about the times when he was being tortured because of his faith, he could not turn to a memorized scripture, a familiar hymn, or a trusted maxim from a godly author. The only thing that would sustain him was the living presence of Christ in him, and the relationship that he had cultivated with Him. As he said, even the bible is simply the truth about the Truth. I love that, and it too sits in my breast pocket with my reading glasses, along with my friend's timely advice, to remember as I put them on to read scripture. It is difficult to count the verses and passages that have changed for me over the years as I have done this. Far from taking me into terrible heresies it has guided me safely through many challenges and winds of doctrine. Rather than making me some bible know-it-all or answer man, it has given me a living foundation upon which to place my feet, and it has proved all the firmer when the “hot sauce” in the fridge has gone bad, if you take my meaning.
Most of the shifting that has occurred has been in taking the focus off of the men and women of old and placed it back on the Living God. The capes and tights of biblical superheroes lay now where they rightly belonged all along, at the foot of His throne.
Doctrines meant to allow me a nice acreage upon which to build a pleasant little residence have been evicted by the understanding that I was never meant to get that comfortable here. I am a nomad.
Exegesis that cannot stand in the fetid cells of those suffering for their faith has been gleefully tossed aside in exchange for the Living Word these saints graciously feed upon to sustain their ability to overcome as more than conquerors.
Passages meant to be applied between believers, which have been turned conveniently to apply to those who don't know Christ are being restored to the intent of making the community of faith which will draw the lost rather than the one that repels them. Look carefully for these ones, because while they are not that numerous the omission of their intent is bringing about grave natural consequences amongst us who believe. We have shifted the debt of love from be owed foremost to those closest to us, and have written it in the IOU's we give to the lost. As Jesus said about the weightier matters, we should be doing the latter without neglecting the former.
I think I will knock this off here before it becomes an essay rather than a blog post. I will, though, encourage you to take a fresh look at the scripture next time you are reading there. Come as a child rather than a scholar. We have a good Father.