“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (2 Timothy 2:15)
Is it the responsibility of every Christian to handle the Bible rightly? Or should we solely rely on the interpretation of our pastor(s)? The question may sound obvious to many, but there are undoubtedly many who will have a different answer.
All Christians — whether pastors, evangelists, lay members, old or young believers — should do their due diligence of handling the Word of God with great care. We shouldn’t handle it frivolously. It should be handled rightly, as the text says.
Hopefully, all Christians can give a hearty “Amen!” to that imperative. It’s Bible 101. Though we may agree with it, the Christian faith at-large displays a lack of regard for handling His Word with care. Whether it be negligence, apathy, laziness, or deception, Christians oftentimes don’t do the biblical text justice.
In the post, I want to cover a few ways in which Christians can be better at handling the Word of God, because it’s of utmost importance that we do so.
Context is Key
There may be no greater problem concerning evangelical’s handling of the Word of God than taking verses out of context. It is truly a systemic issue. Why is that, though? Why do Christians, by and large, have difficulty reading verses in the proper context? It’s a question worth asking.
One of the reasons we have trouble reading verses in context is the same reason many Christians get fidgety listening to a sermon that goes longer than 30 minutes: we don’t have good attention spans. I don’t mean that as an insult to people’s abilities to listen; it’s more of an indictment on our consumer-driven, immediate-gratification culture. We want things now and don’t enjoy waiting–and 45 minutes is simply too long.
As a result, we have a culture of believers who don’t take the time to read a single verse in its context because it would not only take more time, but make us think. It’s easier to read the verse of the day briefly and go on with our lives.
Herein lies the problem. Not only are you doing a disservice to your own spiritual nourishment but, even worse, you’re not rightly handling God’s word, like 2 Timothy 2:15 says. That same verse tells us you should feel ashamed for not doing that work.
“Raking is easy, and you get leaves,” John Piper said. “Digging is hard, but you may get diamonds.”
This was simply his commentary from an article at Desiring God written by David Matthis (you can read it here). In this analogy, raking is picking one verse (many times taken out of context) and simply skimming over it. In raking, you’re simply getting the surface. There’s not much depth. Not much work is being done.
In digging, however, you may vigorously dig and find gold. This means reading a particular passage in its context and diving even deeper into the background, setting, application, and so on.
The more you get the overall point of a passage, the more accurately you’re able to apply it to yourself.
Skimming over a couple verses is easy but you may take it out of context and only get so much out of it. Taking a passage and diving headfirst into it and spending a period of time on it can be wearisome but it’s massively rewarding.
Are you willing to dig?
Now we go to something that many well-meaning Christians don’t think about: authorial intent. This is intertwined with the context but it has a different facet to it. Each verse, passage, chapter, and book we read needs to be read in light of what the author intended. Many times, we get the meaning of the passage wrong because we’re not taking into consideration what the author was attempting to convey.
How do we find what the author was intending? We look for background information and who the author was writing to. Sometimes, for example, we see that the author is writing from prison, which was Paul’s situation when writing to the Philippians.
And what passage in Philippians is very popular? Look no further than Philippians 4:13. No verse in all of Scripture has been taken out of context more. So, then, what is the meaning of this popular verse? I will let the late RC Sproul explain:
Philippians 4:13 is not an expression of confidence in oneself. Instead, it is an expression of sufficiency in Christ. No matter what happens to us, we are in Christ, and that is enough. If we are wealthy and prospering, we are in Christ. If we are poor and suffering, we are still in Christ. Ultimately, both economic statuses are of little consequence. What matters is that we are in Jesus, for Jesus alone can strengthen us to resist the temptations that uniquely attend wealth as well as those that uniquely attend poverty.
It’s clear from the context that the Americanized version of this text doesn’t do it justice whatsoever. It has such a deeper meaning when read in light of the context.
Read in light of what the author is trying to say, not what you want it to say.
Scripture Interprets Scripture
Reformer Martin Luther was not a fan of the Book of James. He did not like it because it seemed to contradict everything Paul had said about justification by faith alone. He went so far as to say, in his preface of the German translation of the New Testament, “St. James’s epistle is really a right strawy epistle, compared to these others [Romans, Galatians, Ephesians, 1 Peter, and 1 John], for it has nothing of the nature of the gospel about it” (italics mines).
Luther made the common error of not letting Scripture interpret Scripture.
To let Scripture to interpret Scripture is to have explicit passages “speak to” implicit passages.
For example, James does not, in any way, contradict Romans. Romans focuses on the free gift of eternal life through faith in Jesus Christ. James focuses on what that faith will do after salvation. In their respective writings, Paul and James are talking about two different facets of salvation. Pail is speaking to how we are saved; James is speaking to what should happen after we are saved.
No contradictory, only complementarity.
Handle His Word Rightly!
Friends, the Bible we hold in our hands is not an ordinary book. It’s supernatural. It’s God-breathed. God has spoken to us through this Word. Let’s handle it with great care, giving attention to detail and not overlooking context. In short, let’s handle His word of truth rightly.