Wednesday, July 4, 2007

Context, Context, Context

The golden rule of Bible interpretation is context, context, context. How often have I taught that one principle and yet I find myself being found guilty of failing to apply this vital principle. It seems that hardly a day goes by where one more pillar that I had taught or practiced in the past is being toppled over by this, the simplest of principles.

I know why it happened. I had listened to and agreed with sermons without critically analyzing the presuppositions of the presenter. I wanted the snake oil that was being sold that day. And sadly, I didn’t understand the greatest story ever told.

Evangelicals are notorious for using Biblical texts as a pretext for their own divisive or self-serving interpretations. And meanwhile the real beauty of the Bible is left collecting dust in the cobwebs of our mind or even worse paraded as a self-serving book that is merely there to scare and condemn others.

Here’s a case in point that I have heard preached passionately for years with myself adding to the deafening crescendo.

Luke 6:38 (NIV) Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you."

This verse is often used to pry the last penny out of greedy hands during some emotionally charged religious service. The preacher waxes eloquent to the point where the faithful are crying out to give more and more. Always with the caveat of receiving more and more for themselves, as well. It appeals to our fleshly appetites and works majestically to fill the coffers of whatever is being bank rolled that day.

But here’s the rub. What about the context? Luke 6:29-38

Luke 6:35 (NIV) But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.

Give to my enemies? Lend without expectation of return? To my enemies? That doesn’t appeal to my natural inclinations or soothe my judgemental spirit. My religious ghetto will not be served well if I give to my enemies instead of maintaining the status quo.

I have never seen a church budget yet with an expenditure line of "Money for Enemies".

What has that verse got to do with the preacher prying my last penny from my grubby little hand and using my own greed to capture me for his grand enterprise?



Sam Clemance said...

I understand the importance of context and agree we often miss it. I wonder though (without having done a detailed study of the verse yet) if perhaps Jesus isn't giving us a specific example of giving to our enemies and then going on to give us the more general principle of giving. It's like He's saying give to your enemies might be the hardest example of giving but know that whenever you freely give God smiles down on you.

I like what Bill Hybles says his approach to giving and volunteering in the church is. He says when we come and preach fire and brimstone to get people to give we assume that at the heart of most of our people is a selfish, greedy impulse to horde our time, money, things or whatever. Instead by assuming that people in general actually want to give into something that the believe in we create opportunities for them to give joyfully and freely.

David Grant said...

It seems giving from this passage will often have a personal connection in it, whereas modern day church giving is about giving to somebody else's idea of what God wants us to be doing. No doubt we are to give to more than just our enemies but even our enemies are known to us.

Most church giving gets placed into salaries and buildings, something which was quite foreign to Jesus and the early church.