Welcome to today’s edition of Teaching Tip Thursday!
Today’s Tip: Consider the Context
When we are preparing a class or discussing scripture with someone, always be mindful of these three important rules:
That’s pretty easy to remember, right?
My spouse and I had three classes with two young mormon missionaries. We asked them how they could justify some of their practices (i.e. calling themselves elders when the Bible clearly states Elders should have wives and believing children etc) and they would often cherry pick verses to prove their point. Before they could jump to another verse in a completely different book, I would ask them to pause for a moment and read the verses surrounding the one they just used. More often than not, they would look a little startled when they realized the verse—in it’s context—did not actually work to prove their point. As always, do this as gently and respectfully as possible. Our job in teaching is never to insult, but instruct. Remember, our goal is to lead the lost to Jesus! Most people will run away if you start whacking them over the head with your Bible knowledge. Sometimes it’s like fencing, but even that duel demands a certain decorum!
Just say no to Proof-Texting by Contexting.
(Contexting is not a real word, but you get the point…)
When we use verses out of context to prove a point, it is called proof-texting.
What is ‘Context’?
Context generally considers three things:
- Who is writing
- To whom it is expressed
- Their train of thought
Biblical context also considers:
- Is the language literal or figurative?
- Is this command under the Old Law, New Law, or addressed to a specific individual (or group) alone?
Here’s an example:
“Come to Bethel and transgress, At Gilgal multiply transgression; Bring your sacrifices every morning, Your tithes every three days.”
People will use a verse like this to say, “See! We are supposed to tithe!”
Hold your horses, and apply the rules of context:
- Who is writing: Amos, the prophet
- To whom is it written: The Israelites, particularly those oppressing the poor.
- Train of thought: Stop oppressing the poor and offering worthless tithes!
- Literal or figurative: primarily figurative
- To whom was the command given and when: Command given under the Old Law to the Israelites
The point is, we can be too quick to type a word in our search function or look up a word in our concordance and then use that verse as our “proof.” When we do not consider the context, we run the risk of handling God’s word improperly.
The “Therefore” Rule
If you’re in a study and your verse says, “Therefore,” you’d better go back and see what it’s there for.
“Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.” (Matthew 10.31).
Why should we not fear? So what if we’re worth more than sparrows?
Let’s scoot back a few verses:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.
Jesus was encouraging the twelve apostles (in the fuller context) to teach the Word without fear. If God considers an animal as insignificant as sparrows and keeps track of the number of hairs on their head (also insignificant and innumerable to humans), then they (and we) should trust that God has infinitely greater power than men. This passage teaches us about God and His power. Jesus’ encouragement to his disciples here was echoed in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 6.25-34) and in the letters from the apostles to the early Christians (and us) to fear God rather than men. We can safely say that we also are worth more than sparrows!
Paul instructed Timothy, the young evangelist: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” [2 Timothy 2.15] He wanted Timothy to be careful in what he taught so that his teaching would be profitable. He contrasted this with two individuals who were leading people astray with their “profane and idle babblings.” In the same way, we also ought to be careful in our handling of God’s Word.
Whether you are a blogger, a teacher in Bible class, or just studying with someone, please do not neglect to scan the context before using a verse to make your point.