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Part Four: Application

As we return to tackle the fourth session in our series and review the big picture of how God chose to communicate with man, we will be reminded again how the Bible came to us, and how we should respond to it.

 

In parts one, two, and three, we saw the process of God's communication as a chain that stretches from the mind of God, to the act and attitudes of man. Thus far we have seen revelation; inspiration (a circular process of receiving and recording the Word of God without any error); transmission (the copying as accurately as possible, the original Hebrew and Greek manuscripts and their copies); translation (seeking the most accurate rendering of the original language manuscripts into our own language); and illumination and interpretation (finding what the author meant by what he said; and by the Spirit, putting the meaning into contemporary expressions).

We have now come to the final link in the chain—Application. We asked the question at the beginning of our series, "How can we get from the mind of God to the acts and attitude of man?" This gap can now finally be crossed by this final connection. The whole purpose of interpretation and illumination is not only for our understanding; it's also so that we can be changed to reflect God's intention for us and that ultimately we would impact others.

Three principles are helpful for us in understanding application.

Application always follows interpretation.

John Calvin said, "The Word of God is inexhaustible and applicable at all times, but there is a difference between explanation and application, and application must be consistent with explanation." That means I must never decide "what the Scripture means to me" until I first determine what the passage means. Application must be consistent with explanation. Therefore, application always follows interpretation, i.e., sermons, personal Bible study, or small group study. All of our application must be based on, and be consistent with, an explanation of the passage.

Here's a summary of all interpretive questions:

  • What does it say?
  • What does it mean?
  • What does it say to me?

We must understand what the passage means first in the light of the original author and hearers, and then seek an application to our own lives. Interpretation is acquiring knowledge; application is putting that knowledge into action.

Application may take many forms.

We should know there is only one interpretation of any passage, not multiple meanings or levels of meaning of what the authors wrote. They weren't confused as they were being driven along by the Holy Spirit. Look then for the one meaning in each passage. When it comes to application, however, there can be multiple applications of the interpretation. Most passages of Scripture will offer many options for the interpreter. The wonder of Scripture is that we will have one interpretation of a passage, but even in a service or small group, there will be many possible applications. (We'll give some assistance with these applications in a moment.)

Application of a passage must take place, or our understanding of the text will have little lasting value.

There is little spiritual value to us if we merely read and study the Scripture. The test of whether we have properly received the truth is if we obey it. For the Greeks of the New Testament era, the big thing was to hear; to listen to oratory, lectures, speeches, etc.; to be taught was the ultimate. For the Hebrew, however, knowing and doing was tied together. They didn't know something until they did it. Knowing was to lead to obedience.

The Jews didn't always get it either, however, even though they knew better. Jesus told the Sadducees, those who read the Scriptures more than anyone of his day: "You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God"—Matt. 22:29. Why did He say this? It was shocking to all who heard it! Didn't the Sadducees spend their time studying Scripture?

The reason Jesus made this startling statement: "... you do not know the Scriptures..." is because they only read and studied the Scripture. They didn't obey all of it, only what pleased them and made them look good. We really don't know the Scriptures until we have put them into practice. Every time we come to the Scripture, therefore, we have a decision to make: Are we going to do what it says, or are we going to ignore/overlook what it says? Stated another way: are we going to only act like we know what Scripture says by merely listening? The result of these choices will be quite profound and dramatic.


The Need for Application

Let me show you from Scripture how important our application is. The results of becoming familiar with and yet failing to personally apply Scripture can be dangerous and/or disastrous to our Christian life—Matt. 7: 24-27; Luke 11:28; James 1:22-25. There are four reasons.

First, Bible study without application can be dangerous because knowledge without application puffs up-1 Cor. 8:1.

". . . .We know that we all possess knowledge. Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up." Many who study the Bible or have been around it all their lives, have an exaggerated/puffed up/inflated attitude about their spiritual state. They think their knowledge somehow is equal to spiritual health, but it isn't! (The King James gives you the feel for the word—"puffeth up...")

Second, Bible study without application can be dangerous because it can lead to deception—James 1:22-25.

"Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says." How can merely listening to or reading the Word lead us to deception? The definition of "deceive" is "to reckon wrong, to draw a wrong conclusion by false reasoning." That means if we congratulate ourselves on merely being hearers of the Word, we have come to a false conclusion. Or if we think that merely listening to or reading the Word entitles us to some special favor from God, we are duped by faulty reasoning. The responsibility of those who hear, in fact, is far greater than those who never hear.

James 4:17 says, "Anyone, then, who knows the good he ought to do and doesn't do it, sins." It would be wrong to conclude that James is against listening to the Word, or that reading is unnecessary and unimportant. My job as a teacher of the Word is important, and likewise, your witness to people is important, even beautiful.

Rom 10:13—"Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." 14] How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" [ Isaiah 52:7 ] People who witness, or share, and preach the Word have "beautiful feet." It's very important that the truth is proclaimed! If, however, we do little more than merely listen, we are just hearers and nothing more, and the result is we will be deceived.

This is really hard to grasp. How could listening to the Word deceive us? We might be deceived into thinking we have a relationship with God because we attend church, read the Bible, and go to Bible studies, for example. Or we could think if we know about religious things, we are somehow spiritual, even spiritually mature. But James is making it clear: knowing isn't enough. What then will keep us from deception with regard to the Word? James' answer is: "Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says"—v. 22b.

Third, Bible study without application can be disastrous because we will forget what we don't apply to our lives—James 1:23-24.

James elaborates on the difference between a person who only listens, and the one who listens and obeys. He gives us an example of those who listen to the Word but don't do what it says in vv. 23-24. "Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like a man who looks at his face in a mirror 24] and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." When James talks about "looking at his face in the mirror," this is not referring to a hasty glance, as some have suggested, but to careful observation; thoughtful and attentive consideration (e.g., Luke 12:27). Jesus uses the same word when He invites us to consider/look at the lilies.

The person in James 1:23-24 looks at himself in the mirror of the Word, and has a very revealing picture of what he looks like (he studies himself and becomes very familiar with his features (Heb. 4:12-13). "For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13] Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and aid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account."

Do you see what is revealed in the mirror of the Word? Isn't it amazing? The Word dissects the smallest and most complicated areas of our inner lives, judging and revealing our thoughts and attitudes. The problem, as James 1:24 states, is that because the man in the mirror doesn't do what is called for, he goes away and forgets what the mirror of the Word has revealed. Remember, this is a person who listens to the Word attentively and at length, so he understands what he hears. His lack of response isn't because he failed to hear or understand what was in the Word.

We should ask ourselves if we are becoming forgetful about what we used to know in the Scripture. Have we noticed that we have to hear the same things from the Word of God over and over because we forget? Why? The answer is obvious. We're not responding to the Word when we hear it the first time, and thus we forget it. I hope the illustration of the man in the mirror will speak to us and cause us to be committed to hearing and doing what the Word says. Let me give you a few more examples

  1. During and after a church service, what should be our response when the mirror of the Word reveals thoughts and attitudes in our soul and spirit that are not pleasing to God? A few verses earlier, in James 1:21, we find the answer: "Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you." (Put off, change your attitude, and put the Word in you.)

     

  2. How about after a personal Bible study? One commentator says, "once we have looked at the Scripture, we have a choice: we can either deceive or bless ourselves. We deceive ourselves if we make the mistake of thinking that we have responded correctly to God's Word by only hearing and receiving it. We say, I spent 45 minutes reading my Bible, I can't even remember what it said. (But) What a great, uninterrupted time." What did we remember? Only that we had an uninterrupted time, but not what we studied. If we don't find an arena of application, we will forget what we study or hear!

     

  3. How about pastors? I must make sure that I practice what I preach. I must hear and obey what I am preaching

     

  4. What does this say to us about Scripture memory for children?

    "Don't we sometimes give out rewards for children for memorizing Bible verses, or giving correct answers regardless of whether the children obeyed or even understood them? In doing this, I wonder if we begin to deceive them into equating knowledge with spiritual maturity. Scripture memory is wonderful, if it is memorized for the purpose of obedience. The purpose of Scripture is to make us mature, not make us smart"—James Vanderet.

    Parents, don't be satisfied if your kids can mouth back to you a few simple answers to your Bible questions. It is imperative that children learn to hear and obey too. Otherwise, they will be deceived as to what spirituality is all about.

  5. What should James 1:23-24 say to our small groups, peer groups, scouts, etc.? v. 24—"and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like." Our groups should not only care for one another and study the Scripture; we must hold group members accountable to apply what is studied, or they too will forget what they have learned.

Do you get the idea? Then "just do it." The purpose of listening to the truth is so we can act on it; in fact, we gain knowledge that will last only by acting on it. A theoretical knowledge of Scripture is condemned, but if we do what the Scripture says, we will remember.

Fourth, Bible study without application can be dangerous because we build instability into our lives—
Matt. 7:24-27.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. 26] But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash."

These are the last words of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount. He is saying that each of us will have continuous tests/storms in our lives, and the way we weather them depends on how we apply the Scripture on a consistent basis. The tests are those of obedience and of adversity.

The first test is the test of obedience. If we hear God's words and put them into practice, we are building our lives on solid rock. If we apply the Scripture, we are building our lives on the words of God and putting them into practice; we are building our lives on Christ Himself and His words—that has to be solid! This test prepares us for the second.

The second test is the test of adversity. 25] "The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house..." We will all feel the storms of life, the winds of adversity. Floods will come to try us. We will be able to stand, however, if we have built our house on the rock of the application of our Lord's words. If we have heard and obeyed, then adversity only reveals our strength. Hard times reveal that the Lord is the foundation of our life.

Obedience or lack of obedience will cause profound results: instability or stability.

Stability: 25] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.

Instability: 27] The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." The weather will test our foundations. (Do you hear the crash of some people's lives in verse 27?) This explains why in some of our lives adversity has not built us up, but has caused great destruction in our lives? We can look at this passage and forecast the spiritual weather; the flood and wind damage that will happen? What does this say to you personally about whether or not you have flood and weather insurance?

In summary, it is easy to see how dangerous and how much there is to lose by not hearing and obeying the Scripture. This should be of concern to us, for the vast majority of Americans have been deceived into thinking they are Christians and have a relationship with God because they attend church, read the Bible, and go to Bible studies. I have related to some pastors that there is too much teaching and too little application in their churches. Do you know what happens to a person who believes listening, attending and studying is enough? The long term result is that he eventually loses heart and finds it difficult even to listen and read the Scriptures anymore because there is no life, joy, or peace in just listening.

Life comes through doing what the Word of God says. Relationships are built with other believers and with our Lord that are extremely vital and meaningful, when we seek to apply the Scriptures to our lives. Some may have concluded there is not much to the Christian life, but what would happen if you began to study and apply the Scripture consistently? You wouldn''t be puffed up, deceived, forgetful, or unstable.

Are you convinced of the need? Are you ready for some help in applying Scripture? I'll make it quick and simple.

The Preparation Needed for Application

First, be prepared for the hard work ahead. It requires thinking, empathy, prayer and compassion. It requires knowledge of the text. It requires a knowledge of the world—what's going on out there—and t requires change, which we resist. It requires a fight with Satan. It requires creativity and a dependency on the Spirit.

Second, be prepared to pray for insight as you apply the passage, and state your willingness to obey. The steps involved in application of the Scripture begin with questions centered on the application of your study.

A Search For Personal Application

What does it mean to me?

The Theological Question focuses on the implication and application of doctrinal issues in the passage. Each passage usually teaches something about doctrine. What is being taught about:

  • the nature of God
  • man
  • sin
  • church
  • salvation
  • the Christian faith
  • the universe

What difference will it make to the world, the church and my relationship to God? is an important question because, as we've already discussed, doctrine without application will be forgotten. Doctrine applied, however, will save us from false teachers and winds of doctrine—Eph. 4:14.

The Contemporary Question deals with the application of the text to our world today. How do we apply what this passage says to government, politics, economics, business, education, the institutional church, the values and goals of our society? What is the social application of the text, i.e., Matt. 5:38-42?

The Personal Question deals with the application of the text to our lives today. How do we apply what Paul and other writers of Scripture said to our personalities, needs, families, close friends, moral decisions, goals, etc.? This is the question of discipleship; "What am I going to do with what I've learned?"

How might I meditate on this passage even deeper? Use the SPACEPETS acrostic. This acrostic is a very useful aid to meditation and application. It asks: "Is there any . . ."

Sin to confess? Do I need to make any restitution?

Promise to claim? Is it a universal promise? Have I met the conditions?

Attitude to change? Am I willing to work on a negative attitude and begin building toward a positive one?

Command to obey? Am I willing to do it, no matter how I feel?

Example to follow? Is it a positive example for me to copy, or a negative one to avoid?

Prayer to pray? Is there anything I need to pray back to God?

Error to avoid? Is there any problem that I should be alert to, or beware of?

Truth to believe? What new things can I learn about God the Father, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, or other biblical teachings?

Something to praise God for? Is there something here I can be thankful for?

Pray the verse or passage back to God, especially the commands being called for and the promises and principles you will claim. Put yourself into the passage. Identify with the characters and scene in a personal way.

Form principles from your interpretation. The dictionary defines a principle as a general or fundamental truth; a rule of conduct by which an individual directs his life or actions. In other words, a principle is a clear declaration sentence which is intended to serve as a guide for conduct or procedure. A principle has several features:

  • It is an assertion or positive statement and not a negative one.
  • It is a clear or incisive declaration expressed in a single, brief sentence, containing one essential idea.
  • It is a truth which is always valid.
  • It is an established rule which is basic for life and conduct.

The development of Scriptural principles means, therefore, that we transform the truths of the text into easily remembered statements that will help us retain what the text calls for. Monitor your principles with two guidelines: be as accurate as possible in reflecting the truth of the text (don't sacrifice truth to be clever); and test the principle out with other Scriptures. Principles can be used to capsulize whole paragraphs, chapters, and even whole books.

Application of any study we undertake should follow four criteria:

Is it personal?

Is it practical? It ought to be something we can do. Plan a definite course of action that you can take. Design a personal project which will encourage you to be a "doer of the Word." Finally, make your application as specific as possible.

Is it possible? It should be something we know we can accomplish.

Is it provable? It is good to give a time frame to work with so we can check up on our success.

An Example of Application Questions from I Thessalonians 4:9-12

  1. Is God pleased with my love for other believers? Where do I need to grow specifically in my love for my family? My love for my fellow workers? What am I going to do this week to begin showing my love in a greater way? Who will I pray with and confess my plan to, so that I can be accountable? What kind of believers still bother me? Why do they? What Scriptures will help me? Do I need to be reconciled with someone? When will I do it?
  2. What is my chief ambition? Is it pleasing to God? What Scriptures affirm my actions to please God? How devoted am I to spending quality time with God? Where? When? How?
  3. How are my work ethics? Am I winning respect, or closing doors at work? Evidence? Am I dependable? Am I financially independent? What is my plan to be financially independent? When will I start?

It's good to get in the habit of jotting down the application of our studies. You could keep it in a file box or journal, so you could check up on yourself.


Conclusion

Let's seek to apply Matthew 15:1-15. Following is a brief example of how we could structure an application of a passage we've interpreted.


The personal question is: how do we apply what Jesus said to our own personalities, needs, families, etc.?

We must be aware of the yeast of the Pharisees. The effect of hypocrisy in my life and yours is horrendous. It blinds us and those who follow, i.e., friend, mate, child. It leads the guide and the follower into a pit.

This section sponsors a lot of questions:

  1. Are we blind?
  2. Are we leading others into a pit by our actions?
  3. Are we plants or weeds our heavenly Father will see are pulled up and thrown into the fire?
  4. Are we more focused on what we are doing than what we are deep inside?
  5. Are our spiritual rules and evaluations just made up?
  6. Are we trying to impose our superficiality on others?
  7. What does God think of our worship?
  8. Are we honoring God with our lips, but in reality, our hearts are far from Him?
  9. Are we acting?

This week, with these questions in mind I want you to read vv. 15-20 and examine your life in the light of what you see there.