With a few exceptions, every Thursday morning I gather with a group of men for breakfast and fellowship around the Word of God. The coffee is pretty lousy, but the food is good and the encouragement and fellowship makes it well worth getting up before 6:00. We don't have a leader or any specific structure—we just show up knowing what topic or passage we are studying, and, after a few minutes of light chatter, we dig into the topic. Sometimes the depth of conversation is amazing and always edifying.
Recently, I have been guiding us through a study of Christ—from eternity past to eternity future. We are in the early parts of His ministry, hoping to move forward through the Gospels chronologically. As we approached John 4, I was trying to think of how to frame thediscussion. One night as I was walking out of the office, a thought struck me. I don't know if it was the sharp December air or the anticipation of meeting in a few days, But I think it is a helpful question to keep in mind as we study Scripture.
We've all heard one—someone uses a passage of Scripture to support a certain point and it sounds good. Two weeks later, you read the passage in its context and wonder exactly how the person wrestled their idea out of what Paul was writing or what Jesus was saying. It seems more like they took a large pounding instrument and made their idea fit into the verse. The problem is, I am sure I am guilty of the same.
Let me give you an example. I was listening to someone teaching on making peace within relationships. The specific context at one point in the lecture was of a local church having a ministry to reconcile outside parties—a mediation service for the community at large. What a noble cause and a way to intentionally bring God's Word and His gospel into the conflicts people have. So what verse was the justification for such a ministry . . . 2 Corinthians 5:18. He emphasized that God "has given us the ministry of reconciliation." Sounds good if you just look at those few words.
But what was Paul really trying to teach" Let's look at the context to see if we can justify a church mediation team from this passage
Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation.Now then, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God. For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.
2 Corinthians 5:16–21
After reading this verse in its context, you can see that it has nothing to do with bringing two companies feuding over their property line together to make peace. The ministry of reconciliation is for those who have been redeemed by God ("in Christ" v.17) are to work to reconcile lost sinners to God by proclaiming the gospel, even imploring people to be reconciled to God through Christ's work on the Cross.
So here is the question to keep in the back of your mind as you approach a particular passage: What methods or doctrines is this passage typically used to support, and is there warrant for those claims based on the context?
As I read over John 4 in preparation for our time of fellowship, I knew that section is typically used to support specific evangelistic "methods" and the idea of the importance and immediacy of sharing the gospel. As we discussed the passage, I asked those questions and my brothers confirmed those ideas in the context.
As I continue to study Scripture, I will have this question in the back of my mind, along with others, to make sure that I am not using God's words to support ideas that were not intended by the text. I hope that this will help me, and you, to avoid using blunt objects to pound ideas into the Word of God.