The purpose of reading the Bible must not simply be for knowledge. It must be to give us the understanding we need to please God in what we do. We must apply what we learn — do what it says. But there are some important things to consider in making application from the Bible to your life.
How Can I Know If What I Am Reading Applies to Me?
The Bible was written for all people, with instructions to both old and young, both rich and poor, both men and women. We must understand the context of the passage to know to whom God is speaking. “Context” simply means the location of something in relation to those things around it. For example, think of the statement in Deuteronomy 15:13-14 —
you shall not send him away empty-handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock and from your threshing floor and from your wine vat; you shall give to him as the LORD your God has blessed you. What if I showed that to you and said, “See, God says for you to give lots of good things to the preachers. When the preacher goes home, do not send him away empty-handed.” What would you say about that? Some people would just accept that as what the verse is saying, but if we look at the context of the verse, it is not what it is saying.
Looking at the context, the first thing you should notice is that it is in the Old Testament. This should immediately alert you to the fact that it is not a law God has given for you today1. However, principles in the Old Testament are still true today, so let us examine it closer. What is the immediate context? If you read the verses around the verses I have quoted, you will notice that it is talking about Hebrew slaves. When a Hebrew set free his Hebrew slave, he was required to give him many good things. It is not talking to Christians about preachers! I have taken the verse out of context if I use it in another way, which means that I am using in a way other than what God intended.
However, as I have said, the principles we can learn are still true. If a brother “owes you a favor” and does some work for you like mowing your grass, you shouldn’t look at it as he is paying you back, so you don’t owe him anything. Feed him or do some other nice thing for him in return. Remember that to get the proper principle from a passage, you must look at it in context.
A Zulu preacher had a debate on the radio about worshipping ancestors, and one of the men he was debating used a scripture from Mark 10:47-48 where the blind man calls out,
Son of David, have mercy on me! Since he was referring to Jesus being the son of David, and Jesus healed him, they were worshipping ancestors. What is wrong with that application? There is nothing in the context that talks about worshipping David or any other ancestor. They did not pray to David or offer any sacrifice. To say that the statement meant they were worshipping someone other than God is to take it completely out of context and removes the meaning God meant for it to have.
When we make application in our lives from our study of the Bible, let us make sure that we know what is really being talked about.
Is there a command from God? Who is it for? Is it for old men, young men, rich men, poor men, women, etc.? If it is for you, then do it. If it is not for you, then learn from the principle behind it.
Is there an example to follow? What were the circumstances? What are the principles we can learn? Apply the principles to similar circumstances in your life. Look at the example that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 9:9 and 1 Timothy 5:18. Paul quotes from Deuteronomy 25:4 —
You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing. He applies the principle to religious workers. It would not apply to men who do not work. We find that in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 —
if anyone is not willing to work, then he is not to eat, either. Let us be very careful how we apply the word of God — but apply it.