What's the Context?
What's the Context?

One thing I have learned as a parent is that my kids can teach me some pretty good life lessons. They have no idea that they are teaching me, but if I watch carefully I can learn some things from the way they act or from the words they say. I remember a time a while back when Levi asked me this question, “Dad…if I say ‘Oh my God’ is that a bad word?” I quickly answered yes…then no. Then I realized something—it depends on the context! Levi has heard the words “oh my God” in numerous worship songs over the years and he has also heard his mom and dad tell him that it is not an acceptable phrase. So he was a little bit confused, and I had the joy of issuing the generic, but important, parental phrase, “it depends.”

In my exchange with Levi (and in many other exchanges with my kids), I am reminded of a very important truth regarding scripture. Scripture must be read in its context! All too often we have the propensity to yank a scripture out of a book of the Bible and make it say what we want it to say. Here is the danger in that: the meaning of a verse can drastically change if removed from its context. We take a scripture, isolate it, apply our own desires and perspectives, and quickly we have drastically changed the meaning from how it was intended.

Let me give you a prime example. Many of us have heard Philippians 4:13:

“I can do all things through him [Christ] who strengthens me.”

Some have taken this passage to mean they can do whatever they want, whenever they want, through Christ. If I want to be a football player, then I can be one! (Never mind the fact that I weight about 100 pounds less than most NFL players and barely made it out of 5th grade football alive.) Or, I can ace this test that I never studied for because Christ is with me! The problem with interpreting the passage this way is its context. Let’s back up to verse 10.

 “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” Philippians 4:10-12 (ESV)

Do you see what Paul is talking about here? He is saying that regardless of whether life is great or terrible, he will be fine because Christ is with him. When Paul says he can do all things through Christ, he is not saying he can do anything he wants to; he is saying that he can make it through anything in life because of Christ. He can make it through being beaten, being stoned, and even imprisoned because Christ gives him strength. Do you see how the context helps us understand Philippians 4:13 a little better?

When we read a verse in the Bible it is extremely important to consider the context. Viewing a verse or a passage in light of its context will help us to apply it correctly and will help us understand the intent behind the author’s choice of words. Context will prevent us from forcing a verse to fit into our personal philosophy or viewpoint, which is very easy to do!

So read your Bible and consider the context!

  • Look at the verses around each scripture, considering the setting and topics of each passage.
  • Look at the book of the Bible that this verse comes from and consider the audience and themes of that book.
  • Always consider the greater story of the Bible— the story of redemption. The Bible is one huge story of God redeeming all things to Himself through the savior, Jesus Christ. How does this passage fit into that greater story?

Pressing on….



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