Part One and Two showed we must study the Bible diligently because God says to; we need God’s peace to withstand the evil attacking our nation and our world today; and we must be ready to do our part in the world-wide revival that has already begun.
Guidelines in Part One and Two of “Diligent Bible Study–now!” urged us to
A. Read the Bible through each year.
B. But do not just read – STUDY.
C. And do not just study—study FOR YOURSELF.
D. And do not just study for yourself—study IN YOUR AREAS OF NEED.
E. Let Holy Spirit teach you—DIRECTLY!
Today we will look at one guideline — the importance of getting the context when we do Bible study.
[F] Use a context net to study the Word, not just a cane pole. If you want just one fish, a cane pole might catch a fish. But what if you want all the fish you can get? What if you hunger and thirst for all the fish in an area? In that case, you would use a cast net.
A cast net is a fishing net with weights on the side that help it sink so as to catch whatever creature is in the netted area. You catch few or no fish if you do not know how to cast the net properly because it will not open up and cover the area you are focusing on. Your net will hit the water in a wadded-up, probably fish-less tangle. Watch any video on using a cast net. A person knowing the basics of cast netting makes the net unfurl just right and cover the area he wants it to cover.
But suppose you have never seen a cast net properly used. You make toss after toss of your wadded up net, you catch one small fish, and stop. Or, suppose you often catch nothing but you keep casting that net, day after day, because other people say they catch many fish. You grow discouraged and feel something must be wrong with you but you keep trying. And you survive on the occasional fish you catch yourself and the abundance that others share with you from their own fishing.
<<God means for you, too, to be a successful fisher for His truths.
That requires casting a net wide enough
to pull the context of a verse into your thoughts.>>
Are you catching the context? Just reading one verse is like overhearing one single sentence of a ten-minute conversation. To correctly interpret one or two sentences you hear requires hearing the entire conversation, in other words, catching the context. God wants you to correctly understand His “conversations”, or discussions, in the Bible. So, at bare minimum read verses before and after the one you are studying. Preferably, at least glance over the entire chapter and an outline of the book of the Bible you are studying or a short summary (both of which are often included in the front of each book of the Bible and always in the front of study Bibles).
What is context anyway? If we think about Webster’s 1828 online dictionary definition, we see that context means the general sense or structure of a discussion, specifically the parts of a discussion coming before or after the sentence quoted, or “the passages of Scripture which are near the text, either before it or after it.”
If we still read the Bible on scrolls, we would nearly always at least skim the context. Think about it. Back in those times, suppose you were a cruel husband and wanted to justify how you treat your wife. If you heard that Paul’s teaching on marriage was “toward the end of the Ephesians scroll”, you would have to at least skim through many sentences to find the passage. And if you were looking for that specific statement that wives are to submit to their husbands (what we label today as Verse 22 of Chapter 5), you would need to read that entire passage slowly and carefully. In so doing, you would at least be exposed to the context. And if your heart was right, God would use that entire passage—not just one isolated statement—to guide your conduct.
Do you see how the modern convenience of grouping verses into sections and assigning chapter and verse makes it easier to take God’s Words out of His intended context and misuse them? No, God did not “accidentally” let us put His Word into this format. Using a book format, with section, chapter, and verse designations is helpful but God’s Word—and simple common sense—tell us that studying the Word correctly involves more than plucking a sentence here or there. Would you approach a college chemistry textbook that way, or a recipe for lasagna, or the instruction manual for assembling playground equipment?
We cannot take one isolated verse here, one there and another fifty pages away and think we have “studied”, for example, what God means by righteousness. If we get the correct context of each of those three verses, and then study them, however, we might have a little bit of a start on understanding righteousness.
Another example. To further illustrate this point, suppose you want to find some verses about safety because you travel often. You find a list of verses and start with Deuteronomy 28:6: “You will be blessed when you go in and blessed when you go out.” (NIV). It would comfort your soul to rest in that promise but wait. Do you know to whom God is making that promise? This promise and those following apply to those who fulfill the conditions of the first two verses of Chapter 28. Hear verses 1 and 2: IF you fully obey the Lord your God and carefully follow all his commands I give you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations on earth. 2 All these blessings will come on you and accompany you IF you obey the Lord your God:” (emphasis added)
But suppose you are not really interested in what God thinks about this subject, and you do not take time to reason with Him and see His perspective. No, you only want to get something for yourself., not really study the Bible. So you do not cast that wide context net and you fail to see what is around that one little blessing you want to grab. Instead, you claim that blessing and go on to the next verse on your list.
What if Holy Spirit is right there, longing to correct you, to convict you of sin, true righteousness and the consequences of disobedience? What if Holy Spirit wants you to remember one instance where you have not fully obeyed Him. What if, for example, you recently stopped tithing because finances are tight and someone you trust said “God will understand”. What if God wants to use this verse to convict you for your good—so that you can correct your behavior and He can bless your finances.
Suppose, that in this same time of Bible study, after claiming Deuteronomy 28:6, you read another verse on the list–Psalm 91:11—where God says He will “command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways” but again, you fail to catch the context.
Sadly, you do not hear God explain that the astounding promises in Psalm 91 are for those who fulfill the conditions in the first two verses–verse one that requires us to dwell (which means to make our permanent home) in His very presence, and verse two, which requires us to say God is our refuge and our fortress and that we trust in Him. If we have not done that, we sit in a parked car, spinning the wheel and making “Vroom vroom” sounds.
<<Like a child engaging in fantasy,
we deceive ourselves into thinking we are going somewhere
but we never activated the engine.>>
I simply cannot read part of an operator’s manual for a complex machine and expect to operate the machine correctly.
How do you know how wide to cast your context net? One way is to look for connecting words and phrases. Pay attention to connecting words, such as because, for, therefore, whereas, accordingly, etc. Words like these link statements or ideas together where the second statement or idea depends on the first. Connecting words show you the if/then nature of God’s laws and promises. They show what we must do to have the uncountable blessings He has prepared for us. Just as you cannot correctly understand what you read without understanding the context, you also cannot understand how God’s laws and promises work if you only grasp the end of a chain of thought. You will not see God carefully, lovingly telling you what obeying and disobeying do and what will be the effect of your actions.
Verses 1 through 6 of Psalm 119 start explaining how to live an upright life, a life pleases God. Verse 7 says I will be able to praise God with an upright heart “when I shall have learned [by sanctified experiences] Your righteous judgements [Your decisions for and against particular lines of thought and conduct’]. (AMPC) We learn when we experience consequences for our actions, when we experience God’s judgements for what we think and do, when we see the results or effects of breaking or keeping His laws. If we search out the Word, seeking to understand how God’s laws work, we will see that our action was the cause that led to the effect, or result, we experienced.
As you become more keenly aware of context, you will start going backward and forwards as a habit, seeking to see where the condition for a promise was stated, and you will find yourself reading bigger and bigger segments of Scripture. Woohoo! Keep going!
<<God’s Word NEVER fails, although
it APPEARS to fail
when WE FAIL to handle the Word correctly.>>
A pause to reflect. You might be saying, “This is getting complicated, and it will take a lot of time!” As for the former, with persistence these things will become as automatic as driving a car. As for the latter, yes, following these suggestions you are reading about requires time and steady, focused effort.
Dear fellow pilgrim, please hear me. I dare not presume to explain exactly how God works, but I can, with trembling and reverence, put forth some Bible truths. (1) God rewards obedience and He loves those who approach Him with sincere, pure motives. So, I believe He rewards any sincere effort at Bible reading and Bible study. (2) However, God also says—many times in His Word—that we get what we deserve. “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.” (Jeremiah 17:10, NIV). God does just give us many, many things, but He does require us to labor for some things. Would it be fair if I rarely even read my Bible yet received the same deep understanding as someone who reads the Bible daily and studies diligently several times a week?
<<Little effort studying the Word, yields little reward.
Great effort produces great reward. >>
God will teach you how to study better. And let’s demolish another sinister lie from the enemy that so often provides excuses for not studying the Word. God WILL teach you His Word, if you make the effort, no matter your situation or circumstance. Would God be fair if He withheld the riches of His Word from those of lesser means or education? No! He longs to open the storehouse of His Word to you—if you ask Him to! It does not matter if you “never were a good student” and/or have no formal training in Bible study. If you whole-heartedly ask God to help you, He will—somehow, some way—teach you how He wants you to study better.
God will give you the gift of wanting to do Bible study. Enjoying the act of studying is a great blessing. But whether it comes naturally or not, God will give you great pleasure in studying His Word. He did it for me and millions more. Proverbs 2:11 says “For wisdom will enter your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul (NIV). When we look at the verses before this one–when we unroll the scroll, when we cast that context net–Holy Spirit teaches us that this enjoyment of the Word is but one blessing that comes when we do what He lovingly urges us to do in Verses 1 through 4.
All these guidelines for Bible study require no formal training or costly resources, just a sincere heart, sincere effort, and faith—like a little child–that God WILL teach YOU, directly, through His Word. He wants you to catch lots of truth when you go fishing with Him!