How would you respond if you were outside working and saw a man dressed in camouflage with a gun slung over his shoulder, heading in your direction? Today you likely would immediately head inside and call 911.
Several years ago my good friend got lost turkey hunting in a large public hunting land in central Pennsylvania. Heading toward a main road, he encountered a farmer in the valley working on a fence. He explained to the man he was lost and where he needed to go. The farmer gave him directions and after a mile detour he found his way back to camp; sweaty and tired.
The context of the situation dictates our understanding and reaction. With my friend, it was hunting season and not uncommon to see people in this area dressed in camo and carrying a gun. Not only that, but the farm boundary line adjoined the 17,000 acres of public hunting land. Had this happened in an urban area, then things would have been quite different.
Understanding the context in reading your Bible is equally important. It may be the most important concept for understanding Scripture.
To illustrate the principle, I will often joke and say that the Bible says, “There is no God”. Usually I get a blank confused look. Then I quote Psalm 14 verse 1; ‘The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.”’ Although it is an absurd example, it demonstrates the importance of understanding Biblical context.
Sometimes a lack of assurance of salvation results from a misunderstanding of a few verses that are taken out of context.
What are the nuts and bolts to understand words and context? Here are a few suggestions:
1. Who – Who wrote the book? Who is it written to? Who is speaking? Who is being spoken to?
2 . What – What is the purpose(s) for the letter or the word?
3. Words are defined by the words around them. What would you say if I asked you what the word ‘trunk’ means? Until I use it in a sentence in a particular situation you can’t be sure. But if I just came home from the grocery store and asked you to help me get the groceries out of the trunk, then you would understand what I meant.
4. Words carry a range of meanings. For example, the word ‘save’ can have up to 8 different meaning variations in the New Testament. But often we think of being saved from hell when we read that word. We have been conditioned to think this way. Again the context should define the meaning.
5. Understanding any passage must be in agreement with the broader context of the Bible. A word is in a sentence. A sentence is in paragraph. A paragraph is in a chapter. A chapter is in a book. And the book is in the Bible. The Bible does not contradict itself.
6. The Bible was written in a different time and culture. Learning about Jewish cultures and customs of the time can give you better insight into some passages.
7. Difficult verses must harmonize with the plain and main teaching of Scripture.
When it comes to assurance of salvation, do not allow yourself to be clouded by the many voices out there. The words of Jesus and the context is clear; “For God so loved the world (you and me) that He gave His only begotten Son, that WHOEVER believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Everlasting life lasts f-o-r-e-v-e-r! The moment one trusts in Him, understanding who He is and what He did, that individual has everlasting life. If it could be taken away it wouldn’t be everlasting. It would be temporary life. Words have meaning and context matters.
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