While working on a sermon recently, I began thinking about the two sides of reading the scripture. Every time you read anything in the Bible you have the fundamental question of “What does the passage mean?” and then “How does that apply to my life?” My professor in college called it the “What” and the “So What.”
Each one of us goes through this process when we read the Bible. We need to clearly understand what the original writer of each section meant to say to the original reader. Every word has its own meaning within its own context. Once we have arrived at primary meaning, then we can begin to understand what that means to our life today.
This second part of Bible reading is where I see many people struggle. There are a lot of resources out there to help us understand what each passage is saying. While there are some controversial passages, most of what is written is plain for us to understand. The difficulty comes when we try to apply those Scriptures to daily living.
Through the years, I have come up with three primary questions I ask to help me apply what I am reading in the Bible. I primarily use these questions when I am writing the application part of my sermon each week. Maybe you will find these helpful as you read the Bible and try to follow the instructions of our Lord.
1. How does that work?
Recently I was talking about having peace in our lives. I asked myself some hard questions about this topic. How do we get peace when we have made a mess of our past? Do we just try to forget the past and move on? Does God do anything that will help me through this process? Is this passage about doing something specifically? How do I get it?
Does God just give us a principle or does the Scripture give us any insights into how his plan works?
2. What does that mean to me?
There is a very personal element to every piece of scripture application. For me, the question is, “What does this passage mean for a 45-year-old married man with children to have peace?” I think that it is easy to see Bible application for other people, but it is hard to see it clearly for myself. Quite often this requires me to take a long look in the mirror and be brutally honest with myself. I may tell everyone I have peace, but why do I lay awake some nights and replay the scenes of my childhood? Maybe I haven’t accepted what I calmly speak about? Where does scripture rub up against my life? I have found that most of us have the same struggles, but no one talks about it. That is where real application takes place.
3. What does that look like?
For example, how does a middle-aged man with Godly peace look different from a regular guy? Is it the look on his face, the clothes he wears, the books he reads or simply the time he spends at places of worship? What would it look like for a person to experience real peace with their past? We need to be careful of creating caricatures of what it means to be a follower of God that have no connection to reality. When Jesus was asked about loving our neighbor he told a story about a good Samaritan that pushed the application of a principle into the everyday experiences of life. We need to do the same thing.
I think it is easy to create simple applications that do not actually address Biblical transformation. The end result is that we produce Christians who have easy answers but look nothing like Christ. My hope is that we will read the Bible with a mind fixed toward understanding, but once we understand what it says, we will work to make it happen our lives.