We cannot arrive at a true understanding of God's Word by detaching texts from their
contexts to find personal meaning in them and be feeding them into the world of our
private preoccupations and letting that world impose new senses on old phrases.
A theological student whom later I knew as a senior friend had committed himself to
starting his ministry in the north of England when he received a very attractive
invitation to join a teaching institution in South Wales instead. He did not feel able to
withdraw from his commitments, but one day he read in Isaiah 43:6 (Authorized Version),
"I will say to the north, Give up", and concluded that this was God telling him
that he would be providentially released from his promise and so set free to accept the
second invitation. No such thing happened, however, so he went north after all wondering
what had gone wrong. Then he reread Isaiah 43:6 and noticed that it continued,
"...and to the south, Do not withhold." At this point it dawned on him that he
had been finding meaning in the text that was never really there. Instead, the concerns
which he brought to his reading of the text had governed his interpretation of it.
To impose meaning on the text is not the way to learn God's Law. Yet we constantly do
this (don't we?), and it is one chronic obstacle to understanding.
James Packer, Your Father Loves You, Harold Shaw Publishers,
A professional boxer was converted to Christ. He felt it was wrong to continue hitting people but only knew boxing as a
profession. Sought counsel of the deacons. One responded, "Don't see why you can't continue. Bible says that it's better
to give than to receive."
In about 512 B.C., as Darius I of Persia led his armies north of the Black Sea, the Scythians sent him a message
comprised of a mouse, a frog, a bird, and five arrows. Darius summoned his
captains. "Our victory is assured," he announced. "These arrows signify that the Scythians will lay down their arms; the mouse
means the land of the Scythians will be surrendered to us; the frog means that their rivers and lakes will also be ours; and the
Scythian army will fly like a bird from our forces."
But an adviser to Darius said, "The Scythians mean by these things that
unless you turn into birds and fly away, or into frogs and hide in the waters, or into mice and burrow for safety in the ground,
you will all be slain by the Scythian archers." Darius took counsel and decided that the second was the right interpretation,
and beat a retreat!
Today in the Word, January 1992, p.22.
If you believe what you like in the Gospel, and reject what you don't like, it is not the Gospel you believe, but yourself.