Context and application
I explained very briefly yesterday how texts rightly understood in context bring a sermon a power that it cannot have otherwise. This is, I guess, “rightly dividing the word of truth.” But I want to go further and say that this context also drives application. Take just one of those texts from yesterday’s passage: “if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here.”
In my teenage Bible this is underlined a few times, highlighted too, but I’m not sure I ever bothered to understand it in context. It’s an obvious truth, as a standalone verse. It is about the difference that being born again makes. It is about how significant the change is. I could make a sermon out of that!
But the context makes you think quite differently, even about application. The context is Paul defending himself against the super-apostles: Paul doesn’t mind even if they claim he is out of his mind, for – if so – it is for the Lord’s sake. And though the super-apostles are assessing Paul from a worldly point of view (in terms of the spectacular that he lacks) he will not be drawn into the same slanging match (2 Cor 5.16). Why? Because even his detractors, if saved, are new creations! The old has gone, the new has come.
Suddenly there is pointed application. This is about how Paul relates to others, especially those who are his detractors. To paraphrase the late Bob Horn, he “starts with generous assumptions.”
And so must we.