IV. How To Understand The Bible: Application

“For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” – Hebrews 4:12

Nothing is more important than accurately applying God’s Word to a specific situation. It is great to know what the Bible says, but to be able to apply it is life changing. The application of the Bible’s original meaning to modern day life is called hermeneutics. It would seem that it would be easy to apply the original meaning of the Bible to us today. Wouldn’t we just do what the Bible says? Sometimes, applying the message of the Bible is easy and straightforward. Sometimes, it takes some effort on our part to discover the principle and translate it to our day and age. Take these two examples, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith…”, from Galatians 6:9-10 and “Do your best to speed Zenas the lawyer and Apollos on their way; see that they lack nothing…”, from Titus 3:13. Do both of these passages apply to us today? Well, yes, but in different ways. The first passage is straightforward. Do good to everyone, especially Christians. Paul’s command is as evident today as it was 2,000 years ago. The second passage is more difficult. It applies to us directly. We don’t know Zenas and Apollos, and their trip ended 2,000 years ago. We need to interpret the principle in Titus 3:13 and apply it to our cultural setting. Zenas and Apollos were two missionaries on a missionary journey. For us today, the passage means we all should help support missionaries and their work today wherever we can.  

Four Helpful Principles of Application with Examples:

1)      A verse could never mean what it didn’t mean to its original audience.

Take 3 John 1:2 for example, “Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.” Some “prosperity gospel” preachers interpret this passage to mean that God will always bless us with health and wealth. However, this passage is not a doctrinal statement. It is simply a greeting and a prayer blessing to Gaius from John. The passage cannot have a new meaning for us today.

2)      When a verse speaks to a similar situation as today, we keep the same meaning.

Take 2 John 1:5-6, which says, “And now I ask you, dear lady—not as though I were writing you a new commandment, but the one we have had from the beginning—that we love one another. And this is love, that we walk according to his commandments.” Loving our neighbor is a common principle throughout the Bible. This passage means the same as it did when John wrote it.

3)      When a verse speaks to a similar situation as today, we shouldn’t add a new meaning.

Take for example Colossians 3:15, which says, “And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts.” Without the context, this passage seems to state that God will give us peace about making a right decision in a difficult circumstance, as if God’s peace is an indication of His will. In context though, Paul is writing about church unity and that we should be at peace with fellow church members for the sake of Christ and through forgiveness. It doesn’t mean we should pray about something until we find inner peace about our decisions in life, as if God will finally confirm that “I am right because I will it to be so.”

4)      When a verse speaks to a situation that doesn’t exist today, we apply the principle to a comparable situation that exists today.

Take Philemon 1:16-17 for an example, “So if you consider me (Paul) your partner (Philemon), receive him (Onesimus) as you would receive me. If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.” Slavery was the economic system of the Roman Empire and Onesimus was a slave that ran away from his master. Many slaves became slaves to pay off a debt. So Onesimus didn’t run away because of a harsh master, but ran away from his responsibility to repay a debt to Philemon. Onesimus was in the wrong because he didn’t fulfill the requirement of paying off his debts. Today, Thank God, we have an economic system of paid workers. The principle to take from this passage reminds us to be good, honest, hardworking, and reliable workers for our employers. We shouldn’t steal from our employers by cheating them out of the time we work, their money, or inventory.

God Bless,

Pastor Joel