“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” — Hebrews 12:1-3
Have you ever heard a small part of a conversation and thought, “There’s a good story behind that.” We all experience something like this in our day to day lives as we encounter moments when we hear something, such as a snippet of a conversation, and quickly realize that there is a bigger story we need to be aware of. The same idea applies to Scripture. While it is helpful to pick out certain lines or passages to hold onto, we cannot afford to separate them from their context. To do so would only distort the scriptures.
I would bet many of you have heard scripture taken out of context. You may have unintentionally done it yourself. Have you ever had scripture used to hurt you?
Scripture is a weapon but it’s supposed to be a weapon against evil. Like anything, however, even scripture can be used to harm. Since God has given us this holy book, we must use it as a way to draw closer to God.
Here are a few suggestions for becoming more familiar with the context of Scripture in order that we may know how to respond:
Read extensively. Scholar and pastor Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Holy Scripture does not consist of individual passages; it is a unit and is intended to be used as such.” If you spend most of your time in the New Testament, try reading some of the Old Testament as well. If you are focusing on a few verses, be sure to read the whole chapter in which those verses are found. Having a picture of the whole helps us to better understand the particular. And remember—Jesus quoted the Old Testament throughout his life. There’s a reason for that.
Utilize a Study Bible or commentary. Resources like these can help shed light on the historical context of what was going on in the lives of the original audience. They can also help in pointing us towards other passages within Scripture that address the same theme. While not all commentaries are created equal, many of them can help us understand what the text is saying and think through ways of applying it to our lives.
Ask questions. While reading Scripture, ask these three basic questions: 1) What is happening in the text? 2) What is the significance or meaning? 3) How does it relate to my life?
Studying of the scriptures is the most important spiritual discipline you can engage in. If you truly wish to know the heart of God and how to live out your mission as a Christian, read your Bible. God is speaking still.