The Bigger Picture
I received a call from someone that I had not seen in more than 3 decades. I was connected to that family on a daily basis for several years and if you have attended our church for long, you have heard stories about this family. They were inviting me to participate in an anniversary celebration and I had the chance to catch up with them on that church, their family, and several mutual friends.
As I thought about that call and that time in my life, it reminded me of one of the most important principles we use in studying the Bible. “Context is everything.” If you were to look back at that time in my life with no background on who these people were, what they did for a living, their religious involvement, their family history, and my own connections with them, you might assume something that would be completely inaccurate.
The common stories, the familiarity of our conversation, several names that were mentioned might lead you to assume that I had grown up there, spent the majority of my life with them, returned often to continue the relationship, and a deep, abiding connection that has permeated my life because of the recollections in that 20-minute phone call.
But the reality would be completely different. I spent 4 years of my life, had no roots in that town, left there when I was just 18, haven’t visited in their home in over 4 decades, have had very few conversations with anyone there in all that time, and had few, limited remaining ties. Knowing that would probably reshape what you heard in our conversation.
Every time you open the Bible, you’re looking at a time, a set of people, a personal history, a connection between the writer and the recipients, and a cultural setting. And every word you read is part of a bigger communication. So, every time you open your Bible, you should ask what those issues tell you before you actually read the scripture. With the number of resources available today, a few keystrokes or a single page of introduction in your Bible will tell you about them. THEN you can discern what’s happening and why that scripture was written.
Knowing the why changes the meaning of what you read. Context is everything! The bigger picture helps you understand what the “closeup” means because you see it within the context of all these other issues.