Have you ever read something in the Bible and thought to yourself, “Wait, what? Did I read that right?” I have too! There are some things that I just don’t get like why did God make Hosea marry a prostitute and don’t get me started on the book of Ezekiel. Have you ever read a piece of mail that was not intended for you but you did not know it wasn’t yours until after you read it? You find yourself thinking, what the heck are they talking about! I’ve been there too. The reason that piece of mail made no sense to you is because it was not for you. You didn’t have all of the necessary information to provide the proper context. Since you did not have enough information to form the proper context, the mail made no sense, but you could have saved yourself a lot of trouble if you just paid attention to who the mail was addressed to. The same is true of the Bible, we have to pay attention to who the mail was addressed to, and we have to understand the context to fully understand the message.
Let’s talk more about this who address thing. One of the first things we do when we receive a package or a piece of mail is check the address. Why do we do that? Because we want to make sure that what we are about to open is for us. Opening another person’s mail is a bad feeling, especially if it was something good that you couldn’t keep. Talk about disappointment. There are some parts of the Bible that are addressed to everyone, but there are some parts that are addressed to specific people. We have to be especially careful of this when the passage we are reading is a promise from God. If a promise is not addressed to you, you cannot claim it any more than I can claim the check that was mailed to my neighbor last week. I may be able to open the envelope and read the check, but the check isn’t mine to cash. It has my neighbor’s name on it so won’t clear the bank for me no matter how much I want it to. Specific addressing is much more common in the Old Testament than the New Testament, especially in the Old Testament prophecy books, all of the Old Testament books after the Song of Solomon. This does not mean that those books don’t hold any value for us. We can still learn a lot about the nature and character of God from those books. They reveal things like God’s holiness and the way He cares for His people. Many of the things that seem strange to us in the Bible were probably not addressed to us in the first place.
The second part of this equation is understanding the context of the passage you are reading. The context of a passage can be found by knowing a few things: the author, the original audience (who it is addressed to), the historical circumstances surrounding the text, and the meanings of the words used the text. A great tool for figuring out the context of a book or passage of Scripture is a Study Bible. The footnotes will contain a lot of this information, and most will give you the historical data you need to understand the text. We struggle to understand some parts of the Bible because we don’t understand what was happening in the lives of the author or the person it was written to. For instance, Jesus used a lot of agrarian or agricultural examples in his teachings. That’s great if you are a farmer, but most modern readers are not farmers and cannot relate to the context. Consequently, you may have to study some farming techniques to fully understand the meaning of a passage.
Here’s my challenge for you, read Philippians 4:10-13 once, then read it again after studying who the author was and what was happening in his life when he wrote this passage of Scripture. The author gives his name and his circumstances at the time he wrote this letter in chapter 1 of the letter. You can also find this information in a Study Bible. Take note of the impact of the passage when you read it with this new understanding. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me takes on a whole new meaning. As always, I’d love to talk more with you. Let me know your thoughts.