April 29, 2014

Context is King


Context matters. In fact, some would say "context is king"…and I wholeheartedly agree.

The above statement applies when seeking to understand everyday conversations, and it is crucial to interpreting Scripture.

You've all been there: sitting in a coffee shop, overhearing a verbal interaction that sounds nothing short of awkward, looking over to see the people engaged in said convo, and seeing that neither one is as perplexed as you are by what was just relayed. And then you realize what has occurred. You have overheard a "bit" or a "piece" of a bigger conversation, and you have incorrectly interpreted those drips and drabs to mean one thing when the original speakers clearly meant another.


We also do this with Scripture. 

We readily apply "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13) to pursuits like trying to beat the opposing team in a sports game. But the author's original intent was to encourage us to be content in every circumstance, whether "facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need" (v. 12). Paul taught that we could have contentment in all situations through Christ's strength working in us. He was not giving us a magic genie lamp to "rub" every time we needed help to win a competition! Too many times, we seek motivation or comfort from our "favorite Bible verses" that don't actually apply to our situations at all.

While I could continue to point out many other glaring examples of poor interpretation, I'd rather step away from that for a moment. [Truth be told, I started typing away example after horrible example, and realized I was getting all worked up about it…so I'm dialing it back a bit!] But I do want to share with you my most recent "aha!" moment concerning context. It came to me through this past Sunday's sermon, which my pastor referred to as a #preacherfail. But alas, God will work through that which God wants to work. Amen?
My pastor has been preaching through 1 Peter for a while now, and last Sunday's text was 1 Peter 3:1-7. This passage contains one of the most hailed messages regarding modesty in the Bible: "Do not let your adorning be external - the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear - but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God's sight is very precious." I gotta' admit, I have used this verse multiple times when teaching young women about modesty, beauty, etc...and while I still think that this verse points to a larger biblical truth for women, the context of the verse opened my eyes to an avenue I had not previously thought it applied: evangelism.

1 Peter 3 follows 1 Peter 2 (duh!), and the first word of the passage is likewise. Whenever we see words like likewise, therefore, etc...we must look at the previous statement in order to correctly interpret the meaning of the current one. Chapter two ended by teaching believers about following in the steps of Christ (v. 21) and dying to sin in order to live to righteousness (v. 24). Chapter three then follows by instructing husbands and wives to conduct themselves in ways that they might witness to those in their lives who have not yet come to Christ - primarily lost spouses. Another thing that promotes correct interpretation is considering the historical and cultural factors of the setting. When Peter tells women not to concern themselves so much with external beauty, He is warning them against the practices of the lost women of the day who would "bling themselves out" for their pagan worship practices. 

Ultimately, Peter wanted women who were new believers to know that Christianity should look different. He wanted them to dress modestly for two main reasons:
1) To draw attention to God rather than themselves. The other religions of the day put a heavy focus on self-promotion and gratification, so modest dress would fly in the face of pagan worship practices. In Christianity, God is the one who deserves the attention - not us - so Peter wanted to encourage Christian women to dress in way that was counter-cultural in order to present a more accurate view of the faith.2) To be a faithful witness of Christ to their lost husbands. In order to present the best witness possible to their husbands, newly-Christian women needed to be modest when leaving the house to attend worship. Otherwise, their husbands might assume they were not being submissive to them but rather seeking to impress and serve other men when attending their new houses of worship.

As I was reading through this section of 1 Peter (and listening to my pastor's sermon!), my eyes were opened anew to the importance of context. Now, does this context negate the importance of modest dress for the Christian women of today? Not at all! When we apply Scriptural teaching from the Old and New Testaments to our own time and situation, we must lift the meaning that was originally intended as is and then superimpose it over our current climate. Currently, there is still a need for believing women to draw attention to Christ rather than to ourselves. And currently, we will still be a better witness to the lost if our appearance is more demure than  it is showy. Garish and glitzy garb can be intimidating to others and do more to separate rather than draw you close to those you are trying to reach. Also, whether they're lost or not, our husbands would much prefer for us to dress up for them than for the other guys out there in society. And even more so for the lost husband - how devalued would it make him feel for you to get all dressed up to attend church with other men and then come home to him and slip back into your lazy-day t-shirt and sweats? It just doesn't jive.


I still adore 1 Peter 3:3-4, and I still believe it is a key passage for modesty instruction in the Bible. However, my eyes have been opened to the nuances that the actual context brings - and it has made the meaning all the richer. So next time you are tempted to bust out one of your "go-to" verses for motivation, comfort, or teaching…make sure to check and see if it really means what you think it means. Sometimes it won't, and you'll have to adjust your thinking. But sometimes it will, and it will be made even sweeter to your soul to know the correct background and context.

 Hear it, Use it!
~ This post is part of the "Hear It, Use It" {Link-Up}. ~

2 comments:

  1. You are so right context and personal application...both key! Nice meeting you, Leah from Michelles's place today.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks so much, Dawn! It's nice to meet you too!!!

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