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Context is Key

By Lark Kelsey

Have you ever gotten a text message like this and responded quickly, only to later realize you totally misunderstood? Being in a hurry can cause some hilarious confusion! However, when we rush our reading of scripture it has far more significant consequences and can be less than humorous.
Though there are many reasons we misread God’s Word, one I commonly see is skipping the work of understanding the context.  
Like the texting example above, knowing the author of a passage of scripture is key to understanding the context. Once we know about the author, we also need to know who it was written to, when, why, and in what style. When we understand the context of Jeremiah 29:11, instead of assuming that verse can help us choose our major (like I did in college), we can be encouraged that even in exile and punishment God will provide a way for his people to come to him.
For many of us who have been in church a while, it is easy to skip observing the text in context because we already have some prior knowledge or have heard it taught before. So often I am reading and think to myself, “Where is the verse about…?” only to realize that what I was looking for was in the Charlton Heston or VeggieTales version, not the actual Bible. Whether it is Hollywood, old flannelgraphs, or relying too much on commentaries, we must search scripture for ourselves and not rush it. We put time and energy into the things we care about, so let us avoid outsourcing our understanding of God’s Word. It is not something we can just leave up to the professional Christians and be spoon fed our whole lives. God calls us to love him with all our minds, not with someone else’s. Let us be taught primarily by the disciples, Isaiah, and Paul instead of Wiersbe, Keller, and Sproule. We have the same Holy Spirit residing in us as they do! If we are to comprehend God’s Word, we cannot casually read it, we must earnestly study it.
But I want to encourage you! It can be intimidating to study scripture. We are going to get it wrong sometimes, but the goal in studying God’s Word is not to get it right. The goal is to know God and be conformed to the character of Christ. To that end we must approach scripture with humility, patience, and perseverance, allowing the Spirit to change us as our understanding is clarified and reformed according to His Word.