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.

Scriptures and thoughts about: “Word”

Our church is embarking upon a weekly study, with a particular word being the focus of each week.  The second word we devoted our attention to was: “creation.”

We have had several requests to make the scriptures and brief notes from these studies readily available online.  Hopefully this can be a helpful resource.

Question/Discussion topics in bold: scriptures and thoughts follow.

Psalm 33:6-9 – words had power to create
John 1:1-5, 14 – Jesus is Word
John 5:21-24 – Words give us life
John 12:44-50 – Words Judge us
Revelation 12:10-12 – Words overcome the accuser

Inspiration:
2 Timothy 3:16 – All Scripture is inspired by God (God breathed)
2 Peter 1:19-21 – not of private interpretation, men were moved by Spirit
Ephesians 6:17 – and the sword of the Spirit; is the word of God
John 14:26 – Holy Spirit will remind you of all I said
Deuteronomy 18:18 – I will put my words in His mouth

Jesus as the Word:
Philosophical History of term Logos
Philosopher quotes
John 1
Colossians 1:19

Do we have the original words of the Bible?
Thousands of manuscript at CSNTM.org

Why Koine?
Widely spoken over a huge area, the common language of the day uniting countless cultures. Also, very highly inflected and specific language.

Why use men to write His words?
Colossians 4:16 – They provided a means of circulating it.
1 Corinthians 16:21 – I Paul, with my own hand – lend credibility

Power of Words
Acts 2:24-27 – God said, so it had to be
Hebrews 4:12 – sharper than a sword

Jesus’ literal words recorded?
“Talitha Cumi”
Mark 15:34 – “Lama Lama Eli Sabacthani”
Consider Inspiration by Spirit, sent by Jesus – John 14:26

Most powerful words?
John 19:30 – it is finished!
Genesis 1:3 – Let there be light!
Matthew 11:28 – Come and I will give you rest

“Words are ambiguous!”
1 Corinthians 14:33 – Not a God of confusion
2 Peter 1:19-21 – not of private interpretation, men were moved by Spirit

Self-Examination

In our recent sermon on dealing with sin we looked at Jesus’ instructions in Matthew 7 to examine ourselves first before making judgments about the actions of others. “Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?”

This is not the only Bible passage that talks about self-examination.

  • In 2 Corinthians 13:5, Christians are told, “Examine yourselves, to see whether you are in the faith.”
  • 1 Corinthians 11:28 applies this idea specifically to observing the Lord’s Supper: a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.”
  • In Lamentations 3:40, Israel was exhorted, Let us test and examine our ways, and return to the Lord!”

He may not have stated it directly, but Jesus encouraged His listeners to examine themselves when He said:  “The eye is the lamp of the body; so then if your eye is clear, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light that is in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!”

Jesus was emphasizing that the way we look at the world colors all of our experiences. The wise man will stop to consider not only what he sees, but also the eye with which he sees it and the mind with which he interprets it.

There is so much that needs to be done in the world. Billions of people need to know about Christ, including many of our friends and family. But before we can take the next step, we must make sure that we are right with God in our own personal lives.

May it never be said of us what Jesus said of the religious leaders in His life, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” The Pharisees had big plans for traveling the world and making disciples, but they had failed to disciple themselves.

As Ravi Zacharias says of the contemporary man, “Like Alexander the Great, he has conquered the world around him, but has not yet conquered himself.”

Self-examination is not seeking to justify ourselves by comparing our actions to those of other people. Rather than being satisfied with being “better than so-and-so,” we must step back and evaluate ourselves objectively.

Each one must examine his own work, and then he will have reason for boasting in regard to himself alone, and not in regard to another. (Galatians 6:4)

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