By Jamie Harms
The sun taunted me this week as I am itching to get out into my garden and put some plants into the ground. I have my gloves and spade next to my backdoor, and they are set and ready for the first day following our last hard frost. I did end up contenting myself with planting some seeds for starts to grow in my window sill, but the outside garden must wait a few more weeks. However, when the day comes, my gloves and spade — my good old standbys — are ready to go. I always take them out with me just in case I need them. They are not specialty tools like the stump grinder we talked about last week, but they are foundational to daily life in the garden.
Today I am going to introduce you to two foundational Bible study tools. Context is the first super important tool in your toolbox. Without context, it is really easy to twist Scripture to mean what we want it to mean — instead of what it says. For example, let’s take a minute and look at Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.”
We see this Bible verse written on athletes’ gear and hear it used in the context that we can do anything we want so long as Christ does it with us. However, if we read the verses around this famous verse, including Philippians 4:10-20, we see that this statement of “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” comes in the midst of a conversation about God’s provision and how Paul can endure in want or with much because of Christ’s strength in him.
When we look at the book of Philippians as a whole, we see that the main theme of the book talks a lot about joy in all circumstances. So we see that this famous verse is actually telling us we can submit to God’s provisions and be content and find joy in all circumstances. Thus, if we read just a single verse, we miss the point of what the author was trying to communicate, and hence the truth of God’s Word.
Determining context often does take work because we need to read around the desired text and see how it fits into the chapter, the book, and even the entire storyline of Scripture. In taking time to consider context, Scripture comes to life as it is so interconnected, revealing God’s character, telling the story of God’s love for us, and showing the gift of redemption through His Son Jesus.
The second tool actually helps us with context. This tool is cross references. This is where you see something in your Scripture passage and look up related texts to help you understand your primary text better. The nuts and bolts of cross referencing is to take the idea, a repeated word, or a reference to a location or story and look it up in other places in Scripture to gain a better contextual understanding of the passage that you are studying. This week we had all kinds of opportunities for cross references to help us understand the text, including looking up the concept of submission or looking up all the places that mention walking in a manner worthy of the gospel. Study Bibles often include a column of cross references to aid in finding related texts. Electronic resources like blueletterbible.org and biblehub.com are great tools to help with cross references, too.
Just as I use my gloves and spade each day to help my garden grow and flourish, so context and cross references should be our good old standbys as we approach Scripture. After beginning our time in God’s Word with prayer, these tools will lay the foundation for a fruitful time in His Word.
Praying for you ladies as you dig into God’s Word this week!
Find more from Rejoice: A Study of Philippians here.