Context!

It is not uncommon to hear someone in the church emphasizing the importance of considering individual Bible verses in their larger context. A prime example of this might be Matthew 7:1, “Do not judge so that you will not be judged.”

Without any context, someone might conclude that we should never judge anyone over anything. However, if you take the time to read and consider the next several verses, you will find that Jesus was actually warning us against hypocritical judgments in which we apply a harsher standard to others than we do to ourselves. Thus, in verse 5 He clarifies: “You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.”

Another principle that can be important for understanding the true meaning of a verse or passage is to consider what other passages have to say about the subject in question. Once again, we can apply this principle to the question of passing judgment.

We have suggested that Matthew 7 encourages us to pass judgment, but only when we have first examined ourselves by the same standard. John 7:24 gives us another caution about our use of judgment: “Do not judge according to appearance, but judge with righteous judgment.”

We might conclude based on these two passages that judgment is always appropriate, as long as we examine ourselves first, and take the time to consider the issue carefully rather than jumping to conclusions. But there are even more passages that might expand our thinking on judgment further.

“I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and then each man’s praise will come to him from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:4-5)

Wait a minute… I thought we were supposed to judge with righteous judgment, so why does Paul say we must not go on passing judgment before the time? It appears (from context) that Paul is speaking of matters in which the motives of men’s hearts are not outwardly apparent. We can judge outward actions, but at least in some instances, only God can see into their heart to judge their actual motives.

Also consider 1 Corinthians 5:12-13, “For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges.”

This would seem to suggest that we can only judge people who are members of the church. In that case, is it wrong to criticize the behavior of someone who is not a Christian, or to tell them that they are lost and need Jesus? After all, Paul spent the first chapter of the book of Romans calling out the Gentiles for their wickedness, even going so far as to list specific sins, such as the practice of homosexuality, and saying that they are “without excuse” and have incurred God’s wrath.

Examining the context of Romans 1 shows us that the judgment spoken of here is a kind of judgment that applies to all people: the assertion that their sins separate them from God. On the other hand, the judgment of 1 Corinthians 5, which is only appropriate towards those in the church, is a judgment that results in a period of disciplinary dis-fellowshipping that will enable the person to realize their hypocrisy as someone who claims to follow Christ but rebels against his commands.

It turns out that judgment is a more complicated topic than simply “It is always right to judge someone,” or “you should never judge someone.” The word “judgment” itself can have different meanings in different contexts, and can have a different application depending on who is doing the judging, who is being judged, and what the content of the judgment is.

Judgment is only one example. The moral of the story is that we must examine context carefully and consider multiple passages in order to avoid overcomplicating what God has made simple, or oversimplifying what God presents as nuanced.

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Life of David – overview with Psalms

This table is intended to serve as an overview of the life of David in 1 and 2 Samuel and the psalms that he wrote which speak to events in his life.

“Psalms direct” refers to psalms that are directly attributed to particular events in David’s life in their headings.
“Psalms apparent” refers to psalms that I believe strongly correlate with particular events or the themes within them.
“Psalms additional” are other psalms of David that speak on similar themes.

It should be noted that there is some amount of subjectivity regarding what events certain undesignated psalms most directly relate to, and also that the historical dates given are not universally agreed upon.  I included them just as a rough guide of the passage of time throughout the account of his life.

Week

Scripture

Probable Date Event Psalms direct Psalms apparent Psalms additional Occasion of Psalm
1 1 Sam. 16 1024 BC Samuel Anoints David at Bethlehem   23, 19 8 David as a shepherd
1 1 Sam. 17 1024 BC David Kills Goliath   36 9 On the victory over Goliath
2 1 Sam. 18 1015 BC Jonathan’s Friendship with David   11   When David was advised to flee Saul
2 1 Sam. 19 1014 BC David Protected from Saul 59     On Saul surrounding the house of David
2 1 Sam. 20 1013 BC David and Jonathan’s Covenant        
3 1 Sam. 21 1012 BC David at Nob and Gath 56; 34     David with Philistines at Gath; On David’s leaving the city of Gath
3 1 Sam. 22 1011 BC Saul Slays the Priests of Nob 142;52   17, 35, 64, 109, 140 David in the cave at Adullam; On the murder of the priests by Doeg and the following persecution
3 1 Sam. 23 1011 BC David Flees Saul 54 31   Betrayal by Ziphites; Persecution by Saul
4 1 Sam. 24 1011 BC David Spares Saul’s Life 57;63   58 On David’s refusal to kill Saul in the cave; prayer of David in wilderness of Engedi
4 1 Sam. 25 1011 BC Samuel Dies; Nabal and Abigail        
4 1 Sam. 26 1011 BC David Spares Saul a Second Time        
5 1 Sam. 27 1010 BC David Flees to the Philistines   141   Prayer of David when driven from Judea
5 1 Sam. 28 1010 BC Saul and the Witch of Endor        
6 1 Sam. 29 1010 BC Achish Sends David Away        
6 1 Sam. 30 1010 BC David Destroys the Amalekites   22   David is in distress, but trusts God
7 1 Sam. 31 1010 BC Saul and His Sons Killed        
7 2 Sam. 1 1010 BC David Mourns for Saul and Jonathan Song of the Bow (in the text)      
8 2 Sam. 2 1010 BC David Made King over Judah; Civil War Between Abner and Joab   101   David will strive to be a good king
8 2 Sam. 3 1006 BC House of David Strengthened; Joab murders Abner        
8 2 Sam. 4 1004 BC The Murder of Ish-bosheth        
8 2 Sam. 5 1003 BC David Reigns over All Israel   40 139 Prayer of David when made king over all Israel
9 2 Sam. 6 1000 BC The Ark is Brought to Jerusalem 30, 1 Chronicles 16 68   On the return of the ark to Jerusalem
9 2 Sam. 7 1000 BC David Plans a Temple   2, 110 16, 61 On the delivery of the promise by Nathan to David
10 2 Sam. 8 998 BC David Defeats the Philistines 60 133 108 On the conquest of Edom; Israel united
10 2 Sam. 9 995 BC David and Mephibosheth        
10 2 Sam. 10 995 BC David Defeats Ammon and Aram   20 21 On the war with the Ammonites and their allies
11 2 Sam. 11 993 BC David and Bathsheba   32 33 On the pardon of David’s adultery
11 2 Sam. 12 991 BC Nathan Rebukes David; Solomon is born 51 38   Confession of David after his adultery
12 2 Sam. 13 990 BC Amnon and Tamar; Amnom Killed by Absalom        
12 2 Sam. 14 988 BC The Widow of Tekoa; Absalom Recalled   103    
13 2 Sam. 15 976 BC Absalom’s Conspiracy; David Flees Jerusalem 3 70 4, 5 On Absalom’s rebellion and David’s flight from Absalom
13 2 Sam. 16 972 BC David and Ziba, Shimei   131 7 On the reproaches of Shimei
13 2 Sam. 17 972 BC Hushai’s Warning Saves David   41, 55   Treachery of Ahithophel
14 2 Sam. 18 972 BC Absalom Slain by Joab   143   During the war with Absalom
14 2 Sam. 19 972 BC Joab Comforts David        
15 2 Sam. 20 972 BC Sheba Rebels Against David   37   Sheba’s rebellion foiled
15 2 Sam. 21 970 BC The Gibeonites Avenged        
16 – Wed 2 Sam. 22 970 BC David’s Song of Deliverance 18 (in text)     On the conclusion of David’s wars
16 – Wed 2 Sam. 23 970 BC David’s Last Song last song (in text)      
16 2 Sam. 24 970 BC David Counts the Fighting Men        
16 1 Kings 1 970 BC David’s Last Days   145   David, when old, reviewing his past life
16 1 kings 2 970 BC David dies, Solomon Cleans House      

1 John 1:7 May Not Mean What you Think it Does

1 John 1:7 is one of the more well known verses in the Bible. It gives us comfort because it helps to answer the questions, “how can I know if I will go to heaven when I die? Could my sins keep me out of heaven, even though I try to be a good Christian?”

When these questions are raised, we remind each other of John’s words: “if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” This verse is thus repeated quite often in the context of questions about the security of the believer, with a focus on the fact that the blood of Jesus cleanses us when we walk in the light.

But in focusing exclusively on this one part of the verse, especially when plucking it from the wider context of 1 John 1, we may have neglected to properly consider another part of the verse. Specifically, we may have misunderstood what John means when he says, “we have fellowship with one another.”

While studying 1 John 1 together this past week, myself and many in the church here discovered that “having fellowship with one another” appears to refer NOT specifically to fellow Christians experiencing unity, but rather to the individual in question having fellowship with GOD HIMSELF. Look at the context even just of verses 5 through 7 and see if you do not agree.

 This is the message we have heard from Him and announce to you, that God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the Light as He Himself is in the Light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.”

The passage states plainly enough that fellowship with Him (capital H) is impossible in the darkness. Fellowship with Him, therefore, is a benefit of walking in the light because “He Himself” is in the light, and walking in the light is thus walking with Him. Greek scholars tell us that the grammar of the original text supports this reading.

Maybe you have always understood this verse to give this teaching, but many such as myself have come to the verse with preconceived notions for so long that we failed to understand it in this way. This can be a reminder to us of the dangers of “proof-texting” to the exclusion of genuine Bible reading, and the importance of coming to the text with an open mind.

Furthermore, this discovery gives us something new to think about. Fellowship with God Himself! To walk in the light is to walk with God! May we grow in true fellowship with Him.

Does God have Plans for Me?

“‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.'” (Jeremiah 29:11)

This verse came up recently in our weekly Bible study. Specifically, the question was considered, does God’s promise to Jeremiah apply to us as well?

It is extremely common for Christians to use this verse for comfort in their own difficult trials. It is also quite common to witness satirical or even mocking reminders that God was talking to the great prophet Jeremiah while in Babylonian captivity, and not to any of us.

So, does God’s promise to Jeremiah apply to us as well? God does have plans for us, and not plans that He dreamed up five minutes ago.

God has been planning since before creation to send His Son on our behalf.

“For He was foreknown before the foundation of the world, but has appeared in these last times for the sake of you, who through Him are believers in God.” (1 Peter 1:20-21)

God has been planning since before creation for us to know and follow this Christ.

“He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.” (Ephesians 1:4)

God’s plans for this salvation apply to all of us.

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

His plans are not only for our salvation in an abstract sense, but truly for our ultimate welfare.

“God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Romans 8:28)

Therefore, God does know the plans that He has for us, and they are plans for welfare and not calamity, to give us a hope and a future.

If we misunderstand these assertions to be promises about smooth relationships, financial prosperity, good physical health, or good luck, we will probably be disappointed sooner or later.

But if we understand God’s promises as those that are ultimate and eternal, we can rest in His promises. That which is known is central for us, while that which is unknown is peripheral.