Rightly Reading God's Word
Alo06 – Rightly Reading God’s Word– Psalm 119:18
Pastor Dave Shepardson Calvary Chapel Nuevo / www.wordbymail.com
Open your Bibles. Title of the message, “Rightly Reading God’s Word.” Our key scripture is Psalm 119:18.
This is not a message for Bible teaching. This is not a message to train Bible teachers. This is a practical message on how to rightly read God’s Word for your daily devotions.
We’ve spent five weeks talking about the one hundred percent guaranteed transformation that can come through meaningful, Spirit filled, daily devotions with God – in his Word. And so I thought it was only right that we should do one message at the end on how to rightly read God’s Word so that we can be rightly transformed by it.
For the most part, God’s Word can be understood plainly, by plainly and carefully reading it. Most of the letters that make up the New Testament were NOT mysteries to the people who received them. Sometimes there were parts (or entire letters) that were mysteries and maybe still are mysteries.
But for our purpose today, we are going to avoid the mystery texts, not because I am afraid, but because we only have a few minutes together and we have to start at the beginning. So today, we’ll start at the beginning of how to “Rightly Read God’s Word.”
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, please, inspire us to connect with this message. We need to maybe transform how we read your Word, how we look at your Word. Lord, we need to be in that place that we can hear you speak plainly, simply and correctly through your Word into our lives. Give us this practical knowledge, this practical understanding so that when we do turn to your Word that we can hear you correctly, that we can hear you plainly, and we can hear you in a way that will transform our lives. Through your Living Word, by the power of your Spirit, teach us this today, please, for your glory and in your name, Jesus, amen.
Our key verse today is Psalm 119:18 and it says,
Psalm 119:18 (NLT)
18 Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.
That is our desire, to have eyes to see the wonderful truths that are IN God’s Word. We don’t want to come up with our own truths while we’re reading God’s Word. We want to have eyes to see God’s wonderful truth that is already there, and that is not as hard as you might think.
You know, most of the books of the New Testament are letters written to real people and real churches, dealing with very real subjects. And if someone writes you a letter, you have a certain way of going about understanding what that letter is about, right? The way that you approach your understanding of what your friend’s letter is about is called CONTEXT.
Now, there are numerous types of context in numerous areas for studying the Bible, but today we are only talking about the context we see while reading the Bible for our daily devotions.
So, let me define the specific type of context we’re looking at today, from Dictionary.com.
CONTEXT: The parts of a written or spoken statement that precede or follow a specific word or passage, usually influencing its meaning or effect.
CONTEXT means that what your friend writes before and after any one sentence in their letter is what determines what the one sentence means. Does that make sense?
I have a Bible at home (that I love) that has no chapters and no verses in it. And so the books that were written as letters look like and read like letters. And when you read it, you have a tendency to look at larger sections like paragraphs in order to follow what the writer is saying in his letter.
The chapters and verses in our Bibles are helpful for us all to find a certain place to read together, but they can really hinder the correct understanding of God’s Word because we tend to start and stop our focus on those silly (and meaningless) numbers.
When your friend writes you a letter, you don’t search for a single sentence in the middle of the letter and then ask yourself what do I think that one single sentence means?
Hopefully you try to determine what your friend meant:
By first getting a grasp on the letter as a whole
and then following the FLOW of the letter up to that point
and then looking closely at the paragraph that sentence is in
and THEN finally looking closely at that sentence.
That is called: CONTEXT.
CONTEXT is the number one rule for correct Biblical interpretation. (Let me repeat that.) CONTEXT is the number one rule for correct Biblical interpretation.
So why do we only teach context to Bible teachers? Don’t’ you need to know the number one rule for correct Bible interpretation for your daily devotion? (Yes, you do.)
Let me show you what I mean. Turn over to Philippians Chapter 1 and let’s try to walk through what I’m talking about.
In Philippians Chapter 1 there is a famous verse I’d like to use, but I need to start with it from the ESV (same as the KJV) because that’s the wording for the famous quote of this verse.
Philippians 1:21 (ESV)
21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
That is very poetic and an incredible statement. But, honestly, we can make that verse mean many different things, can’t we? But the ONLY meaning that matters is the one Paul (inspired by the Holy Spirit) meant.
So, often, (not always, but often) the easiest way to get headed in the right direction is to use a good Bible that has the ability to consider the context when translating the verse. These Bibles are called Dynamic Translations and the New Living Translation (NLT) is my favorite. You need to have a good literal translation around as well. But watch how the “dynamic translation” of the NLT gets us headed in the right direction here.
The literal ESV said, 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.
And here is Philippians 1:21 in the NLT: 21For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better.
That’s a little different than the literal translation, right? For to me, living means living for Christ.
How does the NLT get to that translation? The answer is context. So, let’s take Philippians 1:21 and work backwards into a bit of the context. I am going to put on the screen the paragraph that Philippians 1:21 is in and I’m going to take out the verse numbers so it looks like a paragraph which is much closer to how it was written.
Unfortunately even the paragraphs are not designated in the original text and so the paragraph breaks can be different in different translations – so be aware of that.
Okay, here is the paragraph in the NLT that is made up of 4 verses – Philippians 1:20-24.
For I fully expect and hope that I will never be ashamed, but that I will continue to be bold for Christ, as I have been in the past(that’s the 1st thought). And I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die (bringing honor to Christ is now the issue, whether by living or dying). (And then our verse21) For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better(the word ‘For’ – is a connecting word - Because this statement actually ‘comes out of’ the previous sentence about honoring Christ, whether by life or by death). (And then Paul continues (or expands) that statement) But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me. But for your sakes, it is better that I continue to live. (It seems like Paul’s kind of thinking out-loud) (He’s kind of ‘musing’ over his comments about living or dying).
Now, I know that this can take a little time and practice, but did you get the sense that this entire paragraph is about bringing honor to Christ, whether by living or by dying? And that famous verse 21 actually begins with that connecting word “for” meaning it’s a continuation of a previous thought. And what is that previous thought? I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ, whether I live or die
And then the remainder of the paragraph is Paul kind of thinking out loud about the benefits of living or dying. So… the focus of the paragraph is caught up in the line “I trust that my life will bring honor to Christ.”
So, what did Paul mean when he wrote For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain?
He meant that for him… Living meant - Living to Bring Honor to Christ, and dying is even better – It’s the BEST.
So the famous verse For to me to live is Christ . . . MEANS For me - living means living to bring honor to Jesus Christ.
That is what the verse means: If I’m ALIVE – I’m Alive to bring HONOR to Jesus Christ.
And you and I don’t get to change that meaning. We only get to apply that meaning to our personal life. So, how can you apply Paul’s commitment living means - bringing HONOR to Jesus Christ? Is there an area in your life where you could live to bring honor to Jesus Christ? Naming that area is called application. Responding to that application is what will transform your life.
So, the next time you’re sitting in a Bible study and someone asks you what you think Philippians 1:21 means, say – very politely – “It doesn’t matter what I think it means. Let’s try to find out what PAUL mean by looking closely at the context and then let’s all honestly apply what Paul meant to our lives.”
Now you may or may not need a little more background or insight on the book or section of the Bible you are looking at in order to better grasp the context. I’ve been talking about the very condensed Bible guide, With The Word by Warren Wiersbe, which will do that for you.
But the next step up is a good study Bible which I highly recommend that you get. Our “go to” favorite has always been The Life Application Study Bible but my current favorite is The NLT Illustrated Study Bible – (really incredible) (which is the follow-up to the NLT Study Bible. And any of the study Bibles will give you more info than you need for rightly reading the Word in your devotion time.
And for your devotion time, you can usually skip most of the introduction material (or just skim it) and just find the section called PURPOSE – or THEME - or MESSAGE which gives the reason (purpose) of the book. Just get the background information you need to grasp the context of the book and of the section you’re looking at.
You don’t have to prepare a college paper on it. Just get a general idea of the context so you can be “in the same lane” as the author’s “originally intended meaning.” And if necessary get some discipleship on this from a believer who is currently doing it (or learn it together).
Now, since we are in Philippians, can you handle one more? I am going to put on the wall one paragraph from Paul’s letter to the Philippians (I’m not telling you the verses) and I’m going to ask you what Paul meant when he wrote one specific sentence in that paragraph. NOT what do you think the sentence means, but what did Paul actually mean when he wrote it? But you really have to pay attention to the entire paragraph before you make a decision on that one sentence, okay?
Here it is.
How I praise the Lord that you are concerned about me again. I know you have always been concerned for me, but you didn’t have the chance to help me. Not that I was ever in need, for I have learned how to be content with whatever I have (that is the main point of the paragraph). (And then Paul expands that thought [that’s how we know it’s the main thought]).
I know how to live on almost nothing or with everything.
I have learned the secret of living in every situation, whether it is with a full stomach or empty, with plenty or little. For (connecting word –summing up his thought) I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. (Then he finishes the thought) Even so, you have done well to share with me in my present difficulty.
In this paragraph is (possibly) the most famously “quoted out of context verse” in the entire Bible: I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me
But now that we’ve read the entire paragraph, can you tell me not what we want this verse to mean, but can you tell me what Paul meant when he wrote this verse? It’s not too hard looking at the entire paragraph, right?
The Philippians were concerned for Paul’s well being, but he told them he never felt “in need” Because he had learned how to be content with whatever he had – (main point) and then he expands on that main point by saying, He had learned how to live on nothing or with everything, in every situation, whether with a full stomach or empty, whether with plenty or little.
And then the famous verse, Philippians 4:13: For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength. Paul clearly meant that he knew how to face any circumstance no matter how good and no matter how bad.
It becomes pretty easy to see that Paul is saying that his circumstances don’t matter at all, that through Jesus Christ Paul has the strength to face any situation – whether it’s the absolute worst or the absolute best and it doesn’t matter which one. The condition of his circumstances has zero bearing on his life in Christ.
Tell me, is that the meaning most people give this verse? Have we not taken that verse and used it for the exact opposite of what Paul meant when he wrote it? And is that a problem? Well yeah, it certainly CAN be.
Because we have implied this verse means:
We can Accomplish ANYTHING we WANT to
We can Climb any mountain
We can make any amount of Money
We can Achieve whatever we Want
and we can WIN this FOOTBALL game – thru Christ . . .
The problem is that is the exact opposite of what the Bible actually means in this verse. But here is the good news.
What the Bible actually means is way, way better than our own meaning of scripture. The true meaning of Philippians 4:13 is one hundred times better than our man-made version of its meaning, because this scripture means that whatever you are going through today, your abiding relationship with Jesus Christ will be your strength to get you through it.
It means that Jesus Christ is with you and that he is your strength and it means that you can now focus on HOW you can honor him in this situation, no matter whether it is the best situation in your life or the worst situation in your life. Jesus will be your strength and you can focus on honoring him.
The life transforming truth of the Bible is the actual truth of the Bible – not our opinion of the truth.
So, as we open God’s Word
to MEDITATE on it
to APPLY it
to RESPOND to it,
Let’s be aware of the CONTEXT of what we are reading and how the context directly impacts the meaning of the text. Let’s commit ourselves to “Rightly Reading God’s Word.”
Let’s pray. Lord Jesus, please, your Word is living and powerful and sharper than a two-edged sword, it divides and discerns and transforms us. But God when we force our own meaning into it, we block it, we shut it down, we remove its power. And so Lord, give us a desire to see the wonderful, plainly clear truths in your Word, to draw them out, and to apply them correctly and respond obediently so that we can experience continual life transformation more and more into your image, Jesus, until we see you face to face. Do that, God. Inspire us to that. Inspire us to seek hard after you and to seek the wonderful, correct truths in your Word. Thank you, Jesus. Lead and guide us by your Spirit as we do this please, for your glory and in your name Lord, amen.