Handle With Care Part 6 Application

Handle With Care Part 6 Application

(0:00 – 2:28)

We’ve arrived at the final talk on handling the Bible with care, and we come last but certainly not least to where the rubber meets the road in terms of application. I once heard a preacher make the most basic of points that when you apply anything, there is contact with a surface. The rubber comes into contact with the surface of the road.

The paint on the brush comes into contact with the wall. Whenever we apply anything, we make contact, and that contact changes the object that it contacts. The brush leaves color on the wall.

The tire in some situations leaves marks on the road. And so it is with the Word of God. When the Word of God comes into contact with the people of God, it leaves an unmistakable mark of change upon them.

I mean, if we are Christians this evening, this is self-evident. The Word of God has saved you and brought you surely to this point. And this Word continues to apply into your life because this is an ongoing process of change through the Word.

And I hope that at this stage in your Christian life, you do want to grow in this, that you’re not becoming stale, you’re not becoming dull and deaf to the Word that has saved you. Well, this evening, I’ve jotted down some thoughts that I pray might help you to apply the Bible a little bit better. I’m not going to tell you how many I have.

I’ve got a few. The first one is a conviction about the Bible, and it’s this, the Bible is intended to be applied. Or to put it another way, when you apply the Bible, you are going with the grain of the Bible.

(2:28 – 4:08)

You are going with the intent of the Bible. The Bible by God’s intention is designed to be an agent of change. Isn’t that what Timothy was told in 2 Timothy chapter 3? It’s a great little section.

If you want to just look it up in your Bible before you, chapter 3, verse 15, Paul reminds Timothy that the holy Scriptures, this book that stands alone within the world of literature, this holy book, was able to make Timothy wise unto salvation. I was struck by that. If you ask Timothy, Timothy, what is the first thing you got from the Bible? He might have answered by saying, I didn’t get anything from the Bible.

The Bible got me. It got hold of this dead man, this sinful zombie marching towards the final judgment, and it gave me saving life through Jesus. And he might then have told you that the Word of God didn’t stop there, that the breathed-out Word of God had equipped the man of God by teaching him, this is verse 17, and rebuking him and correcting him and training him.

(4:09 – 8:48)

God saved him and then equipped him, as God does in the life of every believer. That is the Bible’s own intent, which means we do not make the Bible relevant. The Bible is relevant.

Our only job is to uncover the relevance the Bible already has. Application is not a bolt-on. It is a built-in into the Scriptures itself.

That’s the first thought. Now, my second thought is that patience is indispensable. Patience is indispensable to application.

Now, this could just be my own weakness, but I’m guessing I’m not alone. My instinct is to rush to relevance. I know the Bible is relevant, and I want to get to the relevance, and I’m making time for God.

Maybe not as much time as I should be, but I’m making some time, and I’m kind of in a hurry. What I want to get to from this passage is a quick takeaway for my day. And the trouble is that when I’m in such a hurry, I rush past the context, I skip the observation, I barely take a minute to consider the original meaning or how the Old Testament passage might relate to Christ, and I snatch hold of any application that appeals immediately to my mind that may be related to the application of the passage or may be a hundred miles from it.

Here’s the vital thing about application. Application is more like the roof of the house than it is like the foundation or the floors of the house. If you like, application sits on top of everything else.

The Bible teacher David Jackman puts it this way. He writes, good application is the fruit of good interpretation. Good application is the fruit of good interpretation.

You only get the right application when the right interpretation is underneath, when the context is in place, when you’ve observed the passage carefully and gained an accurate sense of what it meant and therefore what it means, what God said and what God therefore is speaking today. Only then will application be done. Who knew that our sin of impatience could actually make us poor Bible readers? But I think that is the case.

Now, I hope you’re staying with me. Thirdly, the most important question when it comes to application. And if there’s anything on method tonight, there’s not a lot on it, but this is maybe the big takeaway just in terms of a practical thing.

Thirdly, ask why. Ask why. Cornhill students, as Rory will know, are schooled in handling the Bible.

And they’re often told, I mean, I’ve not been in a class, but I believe they’re told that there are two questions to ask of every Bible passage. I’m not going to quiz you on it, Rory, just in case. Number one, what does the text say? And number two, why is the author saying it? Why is Moses, why is David, why is Mark, John, Peter, Paul, why are they saying the they are saying? Andrew Sack is a pastor in London, and he gives this really helpful illustration.

(8:49 – 12:52)

He says, there’s a mother shouting at her son from the kitchen. She bellows through the house, your dirty rugby kit is on the floor. Now, it’s obvious what she’s saying, but why is she saying it? Is she giving her son some factual information? You know, is she just observing a number of things in the kitchen and explaining their location? You know, the toaster is on the worktop, and the knives are in the knife block, and the dirty rugby kit is on the kitchen floor.

Well, of course, we know why she is saying it. She says it to correct her son and to change his behavior in the future insofar as next time he will put his strip inside the washing machine. You see, it’s not enough just to note what is being said.

We need to get behind that to the intent, the why it is being said. And what we’ve got to realize is that every book of the Bible is written with a reason why. And every passage within each book is written with a reason why.

So, John in his gospel very famously tells us, I have written these things to you so that you may believe, and so that by believing, you may have life in Jesus’ name. Why is John writing? Well, it’s not a secret, is it? He’s trying to make a believer out of you, or to keep you believing what you believe. And so when you read any passage in John, you should be asking the question, how does this passage help me believe in Jesus? Now, there may be other applications, but that is the main line of application through John, because John tells you.

Or, you know, when I’m reading an individual passage, say a very famous one, 1 Corinthians 13, that beautiful poem about love, love is patient, love is kind, and so on. When you read that in its context, you discover that Paul, he’s not just been doing some poetry classes and thinking about love and how beautiful love is. He’s not writing a poem to be read at weddings.

That wasn’t why he wrote it in the first place. But he is beautifully and gently but clearly correcting the Corinthians. He is actually redirecting them away from their selfishness and pride.

Let me show you, he tells you that at the beginning of the text, let me show you a more excellent way, because you’re not going down the excellent way. Let me show you a more beautiful sort of way. And so now I realize that the intent of the passage for me, similarly, is that God would beautifully and yet gently and yet clearly redirect me from the ugly selfishness that can creep into my heart.

That makes you read the text in a very different kind of way, doesn’t it? In a way that examines your own heart. So I think this is the greatest key to unlocking the application of any passage, asking why. But the application, fourthly, needs to be done to the whole person.

(12:53 – 13:41)

Here’s a forethought, apply to the whole person. I can’t believe it was round about 12 months ago, I was on a sabbatical, and I thought that I should read some books that were longer, that I don’t normally have the patience and time to read. You know the sort of books that they could double up as a, if you didn’t have a chair, you could stand on them to get to the top shelf or throw thick.

So I tried to read this thick tome by a guy called Christopher Watkin, and I didn’t understand about half of it. But there were some lovely little nuggets in the book, and one of them came to mind this week. He’s got a section where he discusses the human person.

(13:42 – 13:58)

And Watkin explained that in the Bible, the inner parts of our humanity are distinguished but not separated. So there’s rationality, our thinking. There’s emotions, our feeling.

(13:59 – 14:07)

There’s desires, our longings. There’s the will, our deciding. And there’s our actions, our doing.

(14:09 – 17:12)

And Watkin says that in the modern era, people have become obsessed with not only these inner things, but also with the question, which of these is most important? Which of these controls the rest? And so you can go into Watterson’s, you’ll find a book over here that will tell you that if we can just get our thinking right, that will change our feelings and behaviors. And then a few books along, you find another book and someone’s, this guy’s now saying that book’s a load of rubbish, because actually, the key thing is how you feel. And if we can just feel the right sort of way, then that will drive the way that you think, and that will drive the way that you behave.

And then another prof comes along and he says, no, actually, you’re both wrong. You know, the core of everything is action. If we just do the right thing, then we’ll think the right way and we’ll feel the right feelings.

Now, interestingly, Watkins gives his own take on this. He writes, no single category, by which he means thinking, emotions, and actions, and so on, no single category controls all the others. To assume that it does is a particularly modern pathology.

Now, whether you agree with Watkins isn’t the point of the illustration. The point that came from that is that we can fall into the danger of reading the Bible through the lens of our own pathology. So, for instance, some of us are thinkers, right? That’s how we see ourselves.

That’s kind of how we think we’re wired. We’re thinkers. And there’s not a passage in the Bible that we could not turn into the most dense theological lecture if you gave us enough time.

You know, so we’re in a psalm, like, say, the Hallelujah Psalms at the end of the Psalter, and it’s a whole bunch of stuff about those joyful explosions of praise towards God, our King, and our Savior. But when we come to these psalms, we think them to death. And we are doing all sorts of deep study around, you know, what exactly is a lute? And how was the tambourine used at the various points of biblical redemption? Now, I’m being a bit facetious, but you see, it never occurs to us that actually the point of those psalms is that we would pick up a tambourine, which is actually an instrument that any of us can use, and that we would be exuberant, not just educated, in the way that we praise the Lord.

(17:15 – 18:07)

And there’s other lenses, isn’t there? There’s the opposite kind of problem. You know, people are reading their way through a dense part of Romans, and they’re in Romans 5 or somewhere like that, and it’s a whole bunch of theology about Adam. And they come away from their time with the Lord saying, I’m not really feeling any better.

And they don’t understand that part of the way God’s Word applies to us is not just to our feelings, but also to our thinking. And when we understand that, that God’s applying to the whole person, then we’re not trying to wrestle every text into a piece of theology or a piece of emotion or a to-do list. We’re not trying to vote on all sorts of applications that aren’t there.

(18:09 – 19:05)

So, be aware of yourself and aware of your tendencies and apply to the whole person. Let’s press on. Fifthly, don’t look for yourself in the text, but look for the application to yourself in the text.

Avoid the where’s Wally approach to Bible interpretation. We, by the way, are Wally. We’re Wally.

And in this approach, you read the Bible trying to find yourself somewhere in the passage. Subconsciously, we’re asking the question, am I Joseph here? Am I David in this one? Maybe this is one I’m not David. Maybe the one before I was David, maybe this one I’m not David.

(19:07 – 22:52)

You know, am I the disciples here or am I the Pharisees? Where am I in the text? Now, the trouble with that approach is, there’s a kind of really obvious one, we are not in the text. That’s the first thing. And even if we were somehow to find ourselves in the text, there would be a question around, well, which people in the text are we? You know, in the David and Goliath story, are we like David who boldly trusts the Lord and trusts in the promises of God and goes to face and conquer the enemy? Or actually, are we more like his cowardly brothers and the cowardly Israelites who were trembling and cowering while David went out alone, right? I mean, it’s at least as likely, maybe more so, that we actually should be sitting with them rather than with David.

Do you see the difficulty? Actually, the whole approach is wrong. We don’t need to find ourselves in the text. We simply need to make application from the text.

And as we said last week, that application will be supremely pointing us towards Jesus in some way. Since the Bible is supremely a book about Jesus, very often in the Old Testament, the application to us will be in some form, here is the gospel in wonderful foreshadow, rejoice in it, rest in it, and respond to it with fresh thankfulness, faith, and obedience. This is good news.

And yet, there is a little caveat to that. Sixthly, sometimes there is an example to follow or avoid. Sometimes there is an example to follow or avoid.

Have any of you heard of character study preaching? It used to be pretty popular. It basically was, let’s study the life of Moses or someone like that. And let’s learn lessons from his life.

So, you learn about the life of Moses, his call, his obedience, his mess ups, and his high points. And you would learn a bunch of lessons from his life to your life. Now, the appeal of that approach was that it felt immediately relevant.

The problem with that approach is that it tended to focus the attention on ourselves, not on God. That’s kind of inevitable, isn’t it? When you make the focus Moses, then by definition, you’re not focusing so much on the God of Moses. And so, from about 50 years ago, in lots of Christian circles, people started to see this, and they moved away from character studies.

And the pendulum swung from a man-focused reading of the Bible to a much more God-focused reading. And people said that God is the hero of the Bible, which is correct. But they also sometimes said the Bible is about God and it’s not about you.

(22:54 – 23:15)

And that following biblical examples is always wrong. Now, I’m a fully signed up member of the God-centered movement, whatever that means. But like anything else, pendulums can swing too far.

(23:17 – 23:26)

We must always be God-centered. It’s not a case of being less God-centered. But that doesn’t mean the Bible has nothing to say about humanity.

(23:28 – 23:54)

Humanity and the church are a pretty big theme throughout the Bible. And as 2 Timothy 3 made clear, the Bible didn’t only bring salvation to us, it also teaches and trains us to live a life of righteousness and service. And one of the ways the Bible does this, not the only one, is through the use of example.

(23:56 – 24:29)

So, ordinary, fallen men and women are cited in the New Testament as examples of faith, obedience, generosity, patience, and prayer, as well as a host of other things that they example. And there’s also negative examples as well. The wilderness generation in the book of Hebrews is set up before us as a bad example of those who do not trust in the promises of God.

(24:30 – 25:02)

And they serve as a warning for us from turning away from our confidence in Christ. So, while we shouldn’t find ourselves in narrative texts, while we shoot them in a Christ-centered, grace-centered way, we can also use them appropriately where they seem to be a legitimate example to us. Back to our off-quoted example of David and Goliath for just a moment.

(25:04 – 25:59)

David is a type of Christ. He is our champion who defeats the enemy that we could never defeat. But it might also be reasonable to see him as an example of trusting in the promises and power of God and acting upon that confidence.

And it might also be appropriate to see the cowardly Israelites and his cowardly family as examples to avoid. I don’t think we have to choose between seeing the gospel in that text and seeing some good and bad examples of faith. Well, we can think this through more together.

Seventhly, we’re almost done. The Bible often gives us general applications. We need wisdom to work out the specifics.

(26:02 – 26:31)

Now, this isn’t always the case. Sometimes the Bible is absolutely as specific as you need. For example, you should not murder, one of the commandments.

I mean, that’s specific enough, isn’t it? It doesn’t need to describe what kinds of murder you can’t commit. All of them are forbidden. But very often, the Bible gives you a principle of application that to some extent is general, and you need to then work it out with some wisdom.

(26:33 – 27:07)

An example here would be the command for parents to discipline their children in a way, and Scripture makes this clear, part of that disciplinary process is in a way that includes at times a painful element of consequence to it. Hebrews, no discipline is pleasant at the time. But precisely how that plays out is not so clearly specified.

(27:08 – 28:25)

Even the rod in Proverbs is not something that the law commanded. It was at that time a way of bringing a sense of consequence to wrong behavior. But it’s not like even in the Proverbs, there’s any specific guidance about, well, what are the situations where the rod is required, or how many strokes are needed in every situation? The application given is general, and we need to work out with wisdom what that looks like for us.

Now, it’s not a free-for-all. Christian parents must follow the principle in some way, or they will suffer the terrible fruit of ignoring the Bible’s wisdom. But the absolute specifics are not nailed down, and this might look different from family to family, and certainly it’s going to look different in 21st century Scotland, isn’t it? So, I suppose that’s an encouragement and a caution that we must know that the general application is not quite the same thing sometimes as our specific interpretation of it or our way of putting it into practice.

(28:27 – 28:41)

Let’s not restrict where God allows some freedom. Well, you’ve been very patient on a warm evening. Yes, I have eight points, and I didn’t tell you up front.

(28:42 – 29:08)

Final thought, very briefly. Application is a spiritual work, not a mechanical process. Application, at the end of the day, is about the living God coming through His Word into contact with our lives and changing them radically and dramatically.

(29:09 – 29:38)

And therefore, it doesn’t come down to formulas. It comes down to God and our response to God. Stuart Oliot, the English preacher, once said this insightful thing, unconverted men and women don’t like to hear application, nor do unspiritual believers.

(29:39 – 30:51)

You get the point he’s making. None of this has any value if we don’t want to hear from God. If we’re quite happy with how we are and with where we are.

To put it another way, a hard and deceitful heart will nullify even the best principles of biblical study. This is a spiritual work. It calls for our repentance, our humility, and our faith just as much as any principles of handling Scripture.

A person of holy humility will surely make a better attempt to handle God’s Word than someone who is not in that same posture. And so, the encouragement is not for us to go away with simply a set of principles, but perhaps most of all, with a different sort of attitude to the Word of God itself. Let me just pray briefly.

(30:53 – 31:19)

Father, thank you for all we have learned and gained from this series. Keep us from dull minds and hard hearts. In the words of the hymn we sang, take your truth, plant it deep in us, shape and fashion us in your likeness.

Amen.