When I was in college, I was in a preaching class that allowed us young men to gain some experience preaching and teaching the Word of God to an audience of peers while gaining valuable insight from seasoned Bible communicators. I can remember those classes well, and I am thankful for the lessons they provided for me. These lessons ranged from speaking to an audience to developing a simple outline for a sermon. But one lesson I was taught has stuck out in my mind as one of the most beneficial things I learned in any Bible class. Ready for it?
Context is king.
I remember one professor in particular would say this phrase just about every time our class met – likely because of the many last-minute, thrown-together, homework assignment sermons that were taken out of Biblical context that he had to endure (yes, some of our sermons were so bad that he had to literally endure them).
But he was never rude about it. The point wasn’t to show us how foolish we were or how unfit we were to preach (although I would have easily fit into that category). The point was to remind us of how important a role understanding a passage’s context was in deeply grasping and then properly interpreting a particular passage of Scripture.
Context is king.
The key to understanding what is meant by any verse, phrase, chapter, or book of the Bible is to examine its surroundings in order to get the full picture. To understand the specific, you must also observe the broad. This allows us to have a fuller, richer grasp of what is going on.
The danger of ignoring context is that powerful conclusions may be drawn from partial truths.
Like evidence in a courtroom trial that has been misrepresented, principles removed from their context can be either accidentally or intentionally manipulated. The Bible must be examined in proper context so that the true meaning of Scripture is realized and applied.
But context isn’t important only in Bible study; it should be utilized in our every day lives. Any good story has a back-story to help “set the stage” for its audience. Some stories even have prequels and sequels to further develop the plot. All of this detail is expanding the context to help the audience understand at a deeper level what is happening in the story. Without context, most stories just don’t make any sense whatsoever.
Whether we are dealing with someone we just met at the store or we are reading a social media post from someone we’ve never met from across the country, context is important.
In order to truly help someone, we must first understand the context of their situation. Sometimes we are quick to look at other people, see something we disagree with, label it as wrong, and immediately tell them where we think they are wrong and attempt to adjust their issue.
Now, I’m not talking about things that are obviously wrong according to the Bible. When things are Biblically wrong, you ought to take a stand against them. But even then, it ought to be approached from a heart of compassion and love toward that individual. And when addressing sin, it does help to understand the context of that individual’s life. The situations surrounding them do not excuse them doing wrong, but it does help us know how to best communicate and relate to them.
Beyond dealing with blatant sin, I am referring to us simply interacting with people in a way where we attempt to better understand what they are going through and what their situation is.
I am talking here about when we may see something that we don’t like or when someone does something in a way that is different than we would do it. I’m also talking about taking the time understand a situation before jumping in, drawing conclusions, and attempting to fix it.
This happens on a simple level in relationships almost every day. Have you ever texted or called someone and they “ignored” you all day long and you became frustrated with their apparent rudeness, only to find out later that misplaced their phone and hadn’t seen it all day? I have! And I felt foolish afterwards. Had I taken the time to understand the situation, to examine the context, I would not have been so quick to become frustrated.
Understanding the context of people’s lives helps us to not prematurely draw conclusions about them based on impartial assumptions.
It may be that people do things differently than we would do. That’s okay. Rather than criticizing someone for doing something, we ought to first attempt to understand the context of the situation. Not everyone is the same and not everyone is going through the same things in life.
Maybe you do have some advice that may help a person out. That is great! Just take some time to get to know the individual first. Get to know their life and what they are encountering at the present moment. One key to giving advice is knowing when and how to give the advice.
We cannot look at a single incident or social media post and derive an overall summation of a person from that one event. From one fact, we can’t assume that we know everything about a person and assert that we have all the solutions to their problems. We have to take the time to study the context of their lives.
If you want to make a difference in someone’s life, take the time to see what makes them who they really are. See what they are really like as a person. Find out what makes them tick. Understand why they have certain issues. Realizing a person’s context will help you understand that person better, and it will also help you build the relationship because that person will know that you are genuinely interested in them as a person. They will have the opportunity to see that you want to actually help them, not just conform them to your expectations of what they should be.
Context is king.