Wide View Application

WideViewIf we are not careful we can easily misfire when it comes to applying Bible texts.  One cause of dangerous misfiring comes from too narrow a view of the text.  The result is application that functions as a legalistic burden – appealing to the flesh, but not consistent with the gospel.

In Narratives Look Up.  In Bible stories we can easily focus on the human characters and determine to copy or not copy them.  The moral of this story is . . . oops.  This is a recipe for burdensome preaching.  It is not a recipe for gospel preaching.  It is not really good news that the Bible is full of examples for us to copy or not copy in our own strength.  We need to always look up.  The characters are not just humans in action, they are humans living in response to God and His Word.  Their response is instructive, but we don’t live as their copycats, we live as people responding to God and His Word too.  In preaching narratives, be sure to use a wider view and include the divine dimension.

In Epistles Look Out.  In epistles we can easily focus on the commands and determine to obey them.  The lesson for today is . . . oops.  This is a recipe for burdensome preaching.  It is not a recipe for gospel preaching.  It is not really good news that the Bible is full of imperatives for us to harvest and apply in our own strength.  We need always to look out.  The imperatives and commands are not just stand alone instructions for holy living, they are imperatives and commands coming in the context of a whole letter that was written to be heard in one shot.  The recipients would have felt the force of the instruction in light of the gospel content.  Ephesians 4 is to applied in light of Ephesians 1-3, otherwise it becomes just another burden for our weary souls.  In preaching epistles, be sure to use a wider view and include the divine doctrinal dimension.

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6 thoughts on “Wide View Application

  1. Good post Peter, but I’d like to understand what you mean more clearly. For example, I’m preaching out on Mark 15:42-47 this weekend, where we find Joseph of Arimathaea providing for the burial. As a narrative passage, how would you balance the focus on his actions with the divine dimension?

    • Tom – good to hear from you! It doesn’t seem like Joseph is a character that is being developed much in Mark, so perhaps Mark’s point is not so much to focus on his actions, but to underline the certainty of Jesus’ death? Even within the narrative, Joseph’s motivations are mentioned, so we can see in him the actions of a man with God in his sights. But I would want to preach that passage with far greater emphasis on the dead God before his eyes. He was inspired by sacrifice and so sacrificed. There is application there, but the purpose of the text seems not really to focus our eyes on Joseph, but to invite us to see through Joseph’s eyes to Jesus. Just a thought without studying the text, which I know you’ll have been doing! Blessings as you preach it, brother. Peter

  2. “In Bible stories we can easily focus on the human characters and determine to copy or not copy them. The moral of this story is . . . oops. This is a recipe for burdensome preaching.”

    Peter, I really do get your point, and in general, I’m in agreement. But when I read this paragraph, and especially the above part of it, I couldn’t help but think of I Corinthians 10:1-14.

    I know that verses 6-11 cannot be taken in isolation, but nevertheless, they are pretty clear that there are things that are written specifically for us of examples not to copy. Have you overstated your case here?

    • Hi Jon, thanks for the comment. Perhaps I have overstated. But I think it is worth looking closely at the passage you rightly point toward. Paul is demonstrating in the first five verses that the Israelites all shared experiences during the exodus and wilderness wanderings, and yet God was not pleased with most of them. They weren’t living and acting apart from an awareness of God/Christ.

      Why are those things written? As examples. Examples primarily of behaviour? No, examples to warn regarding heart issues. Paul wanted the Corinthians to not “desire evil” (v6), to not be “idolaters” (v7), to not desire pleasure rather than God – sexual immorality (v8). In fact, their actions: grumbling, etc., were putting Christ to the test (vv9-10).

      So all of that is given to the Corinthians and Paul for their instruction, and in Paul’s closing exhortation he warns the proud to take heed since they could fall. His closing challenge is not to be extra diligent to copy behaviour, it is again pointing to the faithfulness of God in the midst of temptation.

      Seems like Paul is affirming the wider point in this post which is to not lose sight of God in life (or in the narratives), but rather to learn from the people living their lives in response to Him. Losing sight of God and just copying human behaviour is dangerous and I am suggesting we should take heed lest we fall. I think it is instructive how much Paul points to God, to Christ and to the motives underlying actions in this passage.

      What do you think, Jon? Feel free to follow up on this. It is am important question.

      • In general, I agree, Peter. I gave the broader passage intentionally.

        Definitely we have heart issues in view, it’s obviously not empty moralism. But there are some specific action commands here, too — don’t commit fornication like they did, don’t complain like they did.

        I think part of what we see here is the working out of the principle of Hebrews 3:13. Sin is deceitful, it hardens us, if we do it the result is even more messed up hearts. So don’t do it. But recognise and address the root cause, too — unbelief, etc. Isn’t that exactly what Paul is doing in I Cor. 10? He’s exhorting them to not continue it that deceitful, hardening, sin, and using examples to do that. But he is also dealing with the heart issues, too.

        Perhaps I Cor. 10 reminds us that the error of moralism should not trigger in us an overreaction of ignoring and learning from these God-given examples. It gives us an example of how to use them spiritually.

        And I don’t think that contradicts your original post at all. It’s an emphasis / balance question, perhaps.

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