by Jeffrey W. Hamilton
Text: II Timothy 2:14-18
I. My wife and I have done it numerous times and I’m sure it has happened to you as well. We’ll be talking about someone we know and then a comment is made that leaves you totally puzzled. So-and-so doesn’t have a relative by that name; at least, not that I remember. Or, when did so-and-so end up in the hospital, last I knew they were doing fine.
A. That is when you realize the context shifted. One of you moved on to a new topic but the other was still on the old one.
B. Old time comedy acts used to play games with this, one person speaking about one thing while another speaking about something entirely different, and yet both speakers words make perfectly good sense in each context.
1. Anyone remember the old gag of “Who’s on first?”
C. Context is absolutely vital to the understanding of any conversation.
D. And it is vital to our understanding of the Bible.
II. God is not the author of confusion - I Corinthians 14:33
A. Paul uses this argument as to why prophets must speak one at a time.
1. Imagine trying to follow five conversations going on at once.
a. It is difficult to do because there is no flow when you hear a bit at a time, first from one person then from another.
b. The difficult comes from not being able to keep the context straight.
2. Paul’s point is that God doesn’t produce confusion. There is a consistency that marks His teachings.
B. When we run into a teaching, we should always consider the context in which it was said.
1. It is amazing how often a question can be asked and if you just go back to the original passage and perhaps look at the passages immediately before and after the statement, things suddenly becomes clear.
2. Let’s take an extreme example. Did you know the Bible says there is no God? It’s true! It says it eleven times!
a. But turning to Psalm 14:1 we learn that we have to consider who is saying it.
b. Turning to Deuteronomy 32:39 we see that we must consider how the phrase is being used.
3. Example, “Christians are not supposed to judge, only your God is supposed to. In the constitution it states "Freedom of Religion". I guess people that believe in Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. are going to hell I suppose, right? If you’re a real "Christian" then you don't judge people by their religion, sexuality, etc. It says so in your Bible that only God is to judge when the day comes.”
a. The answer is to go back to the passages that speak about judging
b. John 7:24 - Judge righteous judgement. If judgments are only made by God, then this command would not be possible to follow.
c. Matthew 7:1-2 - Judge consistently. This is a warning concerning how judgment is made.
C. Sometimes when you look at the immediate context you find that a person made an assumption that is not supported by what is said.
1. Example: “There is one verse in particular which I have a hard time reconciling with the rest of Scripture. I know that you can't lose your salvation (John 10:27-29), but how is it possible to "fall" from Grace? There are some questions I just can't find the answer to. And if one can not lose their salvation, then wouldn't that mean that no shift in doctrine of lifestyle would be damning to them if they are already saved? (Galatians 5:4).”
2. If we go back to John 10:27-29 we find that Jesus is stating that no one can force a follower of God away from God.
3. But now that we see the passage, where does it say that a person, of their own volition, will not ever walk away?
4. Thus we realize that the misunderstanding came not from what was said, but assuming what was not said.
D. These type of discussions can be held because we know God is consistent in His message.
III. Rightly dividing - II Timothy 2:15
A. Consider the immediate topic at hand
1. It is those old questions we were told to ask: who, what, where, when, why, and how.
2. Example: One false teacher made the following claim: “Jesus came to ‘seek and save’ only ‘the lost sheep of the house of Israel’ (Matthew 1:21; 2:6; 15:24; Luke 19:10).”
a. The phrase “seek and save” comes from Luke 19:10 where Jesus state he came to seek and save that which was lost.
(1) However, there is no limit in Luke 19:10 which indicates that the lost is only the lost in Israel.
b. The phrase “the lost sheep of the house of Israel” comes form Matthew 15:24 where Jesus tells a Gentile woman, who was asking Jesus to heal her daughter, that he was only sent to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
(1) Even in this context, Jesus did not mean that he could not do miracles for the Gentiles because he proceeds to heal this woman’s daughter.
(2) We realize that Jesus is simply explaining that the focus of his mission was toward Israel.
c. The false doctrine is created by taking two passages dealing with different topics and combining them as if they were one.
3. What would you think about a conversation where someone objected to something you said. You discuss the matter and realize the person misunderstood because they had the wrong context. Still, they stubbornly claim they are right because ten minutes ago you were talking about that subject.
a. In any conversation, the subject at hand shifts as the conversation progresses.
b. Is it proper to go back something said a while ago and claim that is the context for what you just said?
c. Yet we have people doing this with the Scriptures.
(1) There are people who claim that because Galatians is addressed to the churches in Galatia (Galatians 1:2), therefore Galatians 6:9-10 is justification for churches to do social work.
(2) But the immediate context is individual Christians
(a) Brethren, a man, you (Galatians 6:1) and it continues down to verse 8.
(b) Yes, there is a shift in pronouns from you to we, but that means Paul is including himself in these reminders.
(c) The context does not show a collection of churches in action, but a collection of Christians.
d. We understand this, but I’ve seen brethren here, eager to make a point, forget such a basic concept and do the very same thing.
(1) I’ve seen people argue that I Timothy 2:11 only applies to the worship because I Timothy 3:15 mentions the church.
(a) The problem is that the context shifted from the behavior of women to qualifications of elders, qualifications of deacons, qualifications of their wives, and why Paul is writing to Timothy.
(b) When asked if the instructions on modest dress applies only to the worship in I Timothy 2:9, which is in the immediate context, well, that was ignored.
(2) There was a discussion on Matthew 18:18-19 and the statement was that it only applied to the apostles.
(a) The question was asked, are the other verses in that immediate context also only to the apostles, such as settling disputes in Matthew 18:15-17 or forgiving a repeated sinner in Matthew 18:21-35?
(b) If the passages in the immediate context indicate it is for all disciples, then what indicates in these two verses in between take place in a totally different context?
B. We also must consider the broader context
1. Premillennialism is built on assigning futuristic meaning to the book of Revelation. But the book says it written for the near term - Revelation 1:1, 3; 22:6
a. While the distant future may be mentioned, the overall understanding of the book must deal with things close to the time of the first century.
2. Sabbatarians build their arguments by pulling things from the old law
a. Ignoring that the Mosaical covenant was for Israel exclusively - Deuteronomy 5:2-3; 4:7-8
b. Ignoring that God said the covenant would change - Jeremiah 31:31-32
c. Ignoring that the New Covenant said not to justify things by the old - Galatians 5:4
d. Ignoring that most of the book of Hebrews is on the topic of why the covenants had to change.
IV. Context is important to the understanding of any writing or conversation.
A. Yet people will break simple rule for understanding a person’s words when they have an agenda
1. We see this in politics as each side “quotes” the other side, yet somehow manages to lose the context and suddenly things sound different from when they originally were presented.
2. It has become so common that politicians will ignore the context of their own words so they can deny decisions they made in the past.
B. But we see this frequently in religion
1. Instead of looking to see what God says on a particular matter; that is, striving to understand what was written
2. People decide what they want to believe and then turn to the Scriptures to find verses which justify that belief.
C. Let us realize that the Bible was given to teach us