Suppose you walk into a room and see a man and woman talking rudely to each other (you assume). You do what most people should do and try to stop them from fighting with one another. What you don’t realize is that they are brother and sister and that they are just teasing one another. That’s the importance of context. Understanding it would save you a lot of embarrassment.
Context helps us to determine what’s really happening. Instead of only seeing part of the picture we step back and see the entire thing. This is especially important in light of the scriptures. Context helps us see what the writer is really saying, and why he is saying it.
In many years of being in church I have heard MANY things taken out of context. I have even done it while preaching myself! I believe strongly in the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, but when we take things out of context we don’t do ourselves any favors. The reality is that context is extremely important, and it puts the scripture in a clear picture for us to understand.
Context deals with who wrote a passage, why they wrote it, the audience to which they wrote it, and the time period in which they wrote it, as well as other possible factors. Passages in scriptures weren’t written in a vacuum. They were written for a specific purpose to a specific group of people. When we take one verse and place it in a context that it was never meant to be in, then we fail to understand the passage correctly.
For example, we live in the 21st Century in mostly highly developed societies in the West. the Bible was written mainly in the Middle East during the first century under the oppression of the Roman Empire. It’s easy to see that there are differences between now and then. If we read the Bible using a Western mindset then we will miss a lot of what the Bible is ACTUALLY saying.
One huge mistake in context that many people make is with the Book of Acts. Some people will try to apply the methods used in the Book of Acts to start a church in the United States. First, we don’t know the exact methods the apostles used in the Book of Acts. Second, even if we can glean some methods from the book itself those first century methods are more than likely not going to work in the 21st century. This is why many churches never even get off the ground. We have to figure out what works for us in our context.
Another huge mistake in context is made with the Book of Revelation. There have been so many people who have tried to decode this apocalyptic book, and all of them have failed miserably. Whether it’s trying to figure out who the Beast is, or what the vials and trumpets are, no one can seem to figure it out. Never mind the fact that John wrote his book to seven churches in Asia Minor who were struggling with their faith against a seemingly overwhelming Roman Empire. Could it be that the most important reason for Revelation is to encourage some small and struggling churches in their faith?
I have said for a while now that one of the biggest mistakes we make in America with endtime prophecy, and the Book of Revelation in particular, is that we tend to think that prophecy revolves around us. We can’t help it as Westerners. We think the entire world revolves around us! The reality is that biblical prophecy revolves around Israel and the church. To see Revelation, or any other prophetic book, in any other way is to make a serious mistake in context.
We must understand that just because something preaches well or gets a lot of like on Facebook doesn’t mean that it is accurate. My advice is to listen to all preaching, but remember context through all of it. Study it out for yourself. Bible reading is central to the life of a Christian, and context is the cornerstone for scriptural study.