Hopefully you are reading your Bible every day. And not just Bible reading, but meeting with the God of the universe in prayer and meditation.
I’ve reached a point in my life where its *literally* life or death for me…..*figuratively speaking.* (What?).
Now of course it does not get me more saved or help me earn some kind of extra favor or power from God, but to me it is a vital, life-giving, empowering discipline by which I am equipped both spiritually and emotionally to best pursue my day to the Glory of God.
Again, it is vital. Look, Satan prowls around like a roaring lion, and we are called to resist him. “Lord, equip me to resist…and delight in you.”
Anyways, as faithful Bible readers, we have to guard against making scripture verses say what we want them to say. We cannot quote mine scripture but must be careful that we are using it within context.
This is important.
But there is another reason why we should be attentive to the context of the passages we read and it is this:
Getting the Bible context right brings about life to the passage. It makes it more personable, more relatable, more alive, more REAL (in the human sense), more applicable.
I want to give you a simple example today of the bounty that comes from carefully reading in context….the life it brings to your reading.
This is NOT an exegetical post, but simply to demonstrate some guideposts that you would look for in the Bible context as you read.
And I want to demonstrate this with the following verse in particular:
He said also to the man who had invited him, “When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.” (Luke 14:12-14)
And I want to do this within the wider story of Luke 14 & 15.
And………..I want to offer 10 guideposts in this passage to help you bring life to this section of scripture, and these go in succession.
So find some time today to open your Bible and follow along with me.
Here they are:
1. First, disregard the section headings.
I love section headings, and I hate section headings. I love them because it helps me remember where certain passages and stories are, and at times they help me to see the break between “scenes” or thoughts. I am always reminded of this when I open a King James Bible (as they don’t have them……well, not the one I own).
But unfortunately section headings, more times than not, make you think there is a break in thought when there is not.
For this reason when you are reading the Bible (not looking up something), try to tune them out and maintain the flow of thought.
This also goes for chapter numbers.
2. “The man who had invited him..” (14:12)
Ok, so to the passage….
Who had invited Jesus? Where was Jesus at?
The first verse of chapter 14 tells us that he was dining at the house of a ruler of the Pharisees.
3. The poor, crippled, lame and blind (14:13)
Jesus tells the man who had invited him that he should not invite his friends, relatives, rich neighbors, etc. to his meal because the expectation is that they will repay him the favor. He should instead invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind, as they cannot repay……….instead he will be repaid at the “resurrection of the just.”
Who was it that Jesus healed just a few verses earlier? A crippled man (v. 1-4)!!!!
4. “Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them..” ( v. 25).
At this point it seems he got up. Perhaps he is on his way out. Perhaps he has left the house and the crowds continue to accompany him.
5. “Now the tax collectors and sinners were all drawing near to hear him. And the Pharisees and the scribes grumbled, saying, “This man receives sinners and eats with them.” (15:1-2)
Now this is the key.
Who are those “drawing near to him?” Sinners!!
Who are in the background grumbling? The Pharisees.
These are ultimately the two contrasting groups in this entire section. This makes what took place prior, as well as the forthcoming parables, make complete sense……how valuable these “sinners” are to God (and how the Pharisees would have to (and are able to) come to God the same way).
6. The Parables in Context
The Lost Sheep, The Lost Coin, The Wayward Son (Chapter 15)………these are all parables about the joy there is when these sinners repent and that we all must come to Christ in this respect, thus providing overall in us compassion for, both physically and eternally, the poor, needy, etc.
Who is “drawing near to him” as he is speaking? The “sinners.”
7. Scene Setting With The Older Brother
Now back to point 5. When Jesus finished the story of the Prodigal Son and begins to speak about the Older Brother, you can imagine him now looking up from those sinners in front of him, and into the eyes of the Pharisees behind them. Not with condemning eyes. There is hope still for you Pharisees. Note this verse “His father came out and entreated him….” (15:28).
8. But he was angry and refused to go in (15:28)
This is the state of the Pharisees.
They do not like these sinners, and do not think they are worthy of this celebration and rejoicing when they repent. This is the grumbling……the older brother refusing to join the celebration.
9. I slaved and NEVER disobeyed your command
Catch this amazing, amazing sentence in light of our context. The Older Brother states:
“Look, these many years I have served (literally slaved) you, and I never disobeyed your command, yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fattened calf for him!’” (15:29-30)
In other words, I have slaved for you (do you notice the “slave status” and not the “son status”) and NEVER disobeyed your command. And these nasty sinners come and you are rejoicing at their repentance???
10. The story is left hanging
In order for the Pharisees to come to Christ, they must, like the older brother, come back inside the party, back inside where the sinners are.
This is the only way.
The story is left without a conclusion. But we see the Pharisees do not come in after all.
Now that we have briefly discussed some context, go back and read the passage.
Do you see the riches that are revealed just by taking the time to note the Bible context clues in this passage as opposed to breaking up the story into segments or mining for our favorite verses out of the story?
It does not take theological training to simply study the context of a passage, but patience and help of the Holy Spirit.
Yet for those looking for further resources on this, particularly in regards to the Bible, here are a few suggestions:
So take some time to note the context as you read your Bible, the “therefore” and the “thus,” the settings and the changes in settings, the parallels, the characters of the story, etc.
It will always serve to help you more faithfully and more effectively mine the riches of God’s word.