This week we began another season of Cor Deo – a small group of people longing to know God more and grow closer to Him. We had some great discussions, studied some wonderful passages and enjoyed getting to know each other. One discussion moment was the highlight of the week for me. A passage was raised and considered. The more we looked at it, the more it opened up for us.
Here’s the thing. If we had looked at just the particular verse, even a good few minutes of studying it wouldn’t have been enough. We had to look at the surrounding context. By the end of our time in that passage, my own view of it had changed significantly. But we could have easily misunderstood the verse, even with our initial reading the context.
As we look at any passage in the Bible, we must be quick to look and slow to decide.
Quick to look at context – This is not the same as looking quickly at context. What is going on before and after the passage? What is the tone of the section? What is the flow of the section? In the case of the verse we were considering, it began an apparently new section in the epistle, but we had to go back and see what came before or we would have misunderstood it.
Quick to look at connectives – The flow of the text depends, in part, on the author’s use of “for” and “therefore” and “so” and “and”, etc. Little words that make a big difference. In this case I continued to ponder the passage after others were off into broader context, and looking at the connectives I started to ponder the structure.
Quick to look at syntax – What was the structure of that paragraph? What is the dominant thought and what is subordinate/supportive? Phrase by phrase, how does it work?
Slow to decide – Without the extra looking and being open to learning about the flow and structure of the immediate context, our target verse would have been essentially misunderstood. Every one of us had an automatic sense about the verse, but careful observation proved that our sense was wrong. I am so glad for that reminder of the importance of being quick to look, but slow to decide. I’d hate to have preached it the way that seemed obvious from first reading, when in fact the whole tone of the text is almost a polar opposite!