Colossians: Set your hearts on things above: Relationship Matters
Paying attention to context. There was a catchy phrase I heard over and over in seminary that continues to echo through my life to the present. A text without a context is a pretext for trouble. From my Greek and Hebrew professors, to my New Testament and Old Testament studies, Reformed Worldview and Pastoral Care/Counseling classes, study of the creeds and confessions, any number of various preaching courses (exegetical and otherwise),they all held this phrase in common when approaching God’s Word.
The instruction always was ‘study, meditate, and proclaim the Word of God with care to context.’ Why is this so important? Because to use scripture out of context can lead to serious misunderstanding, misinterpretation, mischief, misrepresentation, missing the mark, and in the end missing the main message, leading to a mess. This sentence of ‘misses’ is my own. And I speak it from an understanding of being on the receiving end, as well as the giving end, of using Scripture poorly. And when this happens, it can hurt.
A text without a context is a pretext for trouble.
Let’s consider Colossians, our book of the Bible for our messages we are currently in. When I approach Scripture, I like to see a particular text in its context in five different ways, each is important and gives layers of depth and insight to the writers inspired truth (understanding both human and divine authorship – ‘organic inspiration’):
1) the immediate context within the paragraph/pericope of study (Colossians 3:18-4:1)
2) the context of the particular teaching within the book/letter as a whole, expanding the texts understanding in relationship to the main message(s) of the entire book/letter, (The Book of Colossians)
3) the context of the pericope in relationship to other corresponding teachings of the Bible. For example, are there other passages in Scripture that speak to the text of focus through other letters (Ephesians), or wisdom literature (Proverbs), or Narrative story (Esther perhaps).
4) Then I ask a question: How does this particular text relate or communicate God’s message in the grand story of the Bible (support, echo, illuminate)? Take the grand theme of ‘God’s redemption, reconciliation, and renewal of all things’ for a broad example. How does a text of instruction on how we ought to live in our relationships with one another relate to God’s grand story of redemption?
5) And finally, but not last in the journey of seeking out context – always, always, always seek out the context in which the scripture was given and spoken: the cultural and historical context of when the Word was written and who it was written to. To understand better the message for them, and for them then, we can better understand God’s message for us now.
Yes, there is more to any study of God’s word: grammar study, original languages, theological impact, literary considerations, and yes, Holy Spirit direction. Sounds like a lot, because it is. And of course, there is good merit to simple plain readings of the text keeping in mind, “God so loved the world, he gave his only Son!” And this brings me to a final thought. Scripture is always and forever making Christ known – all of it. And our approach to God’s Word requires a seeking of truth in humility and grace, keeping Christ at the center – seeking and looking for Him, and then following.
Scripture is always and forever making Christ known – all of it.
And then for any message giver, comes the daunting task of packaging a message from God’s word in 25-35 minutes, that can communicate to a broad audience, each hearer with different life experiences, different worldviews, a variety of convictions, biases and beliefs, different expectations and heart postures, varying views of God and his character, different ways that people learn (visual and auditory), in the midst of a broader critical and skeptical culture, with the expectation God’s truth will shape, influence, and change our lives for the better… that sounds challenging! As a kid, I never thought about any of this when someone would bring a message from God’s word. Nor did I have any idea what a full-time preaching pastor was ‘producing.’ Not just once or twice a year, but 45-50 times a year bringing a message from God’s word. And to think, a few years back at my previous church, this number was more like 90-100… (morning and evening Sunday worship services, each with a message).
Thanks for reading my rambling words if you were able to read this far into the ‘text’… Just attempting to give context, about preaching texts in context. 🙂 I love God’s word… and I love to study and proclaim it. But as someone told me in the past, another pastor of course, because only other pastors truly know this, “Sunday’s come around with amazing regularity.” And for that, I’m not resentful, I’m grateful. I’m thankful for grace – given for each of us in the love of God the Father, the grace and mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the powerful presence and working of the Holy Spirit. May it be Jesus who we expect to meet each and every Sunday – not even the preacher, but Jesus.
See you Sunday, as we take a look at Colossians 3:18-4:1,