“As a Small Group Leader, it is important to do the legwork ahead of time in order to make sure you are not twisting God’s words out of context.”
No one likes when their words are taken out of context. With just a small tweak, someone can change what you said into something you never intended. Think about this… as a Small Group Leader, you handle God’s words on a regular basis. If you are not careful, you can easily inject your own personal bias or interpretation. Whether accidental or deliberate, it is a serious mistake to twist God’s words into something other than what He intended.
It wasn’t until the 1,200’s when Scripture was divided into chapters; and then in the 1,500’s it was further divided into verses. These divisions were intended to make Scripture easier to navigate – not to separate it into independent statements. It is a dangerous mistake to disconnect what we now call a “verse” from its original thought. The Bible isn’t a collection of random statements, stories, and witty slogans. It is God’s written revelation of Himself to us. It is to be handled carefully, and taken seriously. Each thought is intended to be understood in light of the whole.
One of the most essential elements of Bible study (Hermeneutics) is examining the context of the verses you are studying. There are two basic types of context to consider…
Perspective (Original Context and Cultural Setting)
It is important to understand who the passage was written to and from. Examining the original context and cultural setting helps to clarify what was being said from the initial perspective. An easy place to find this information is at the introduction before each book of the Bible (found in most reputable study Bibles).
Example: Jeremiah 29:11 “’For I know the plans I have for you,’ says the Lord. ‘They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.’” (NLT)
Notice what God is saying: He has plans – and He includes His people in them. It’s not the other way around. Examining the cultural context, sheds light on an important fact: these words were specifically directed to people who were being held captive in a foreign land. God was promising that one day He would bring His people back to their homeland. But in reality, it was another 70 years before this promise was fulfilled. Many of the people who heard those original words likely did not live to see them come true. God’s promise was fulfilled as He originally intended it; but the fulfilment only indirectly affected those who first heard these words.
The Overall Message (Immediate Context)
Examining the entire passage as a whole helps to give a more accurate and complete meaning of any one particular verse. Take the time to consider how that verse fits in context the flow of thoughts immediately before and after it. Consider the overall message in the passage, in order to avoid misunderstanding what a verse ultimately means.
Example: Philippians 4:13 “For I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength.” (NLT)
This verse can often be found on bumper stickers and posters depicting various athletic poses. But “I can do everything through Christ” wasn’t written from that perspective at all. When you look at the verses before and after (immediate context), you realize that the Philippian people had apparently been worried about Paul. So, Paul was explaining that he was learning to be satisfied with whatever he had. Sometimes he was dirt poor; and sometimes he had plenty. No matter what situations came up, God provided everything he needed. Paul was committed to spread the Gospel – come hell or high water. Sometimes he had complete freedom to travel unhindered; and sometimes he was running for his life. He was currently writing these very words from prison – not a football field, baseball diamond, or weight room.
Although both of the examples give a warm and encouraging glimpse into God’s heart – and demonstrate the detailed attention He gives each of us; they are not a promise of personal fulfilment or guaranteed success.
The Bottom Line
During a small group discussion, it is not usually necessary to walk the group through every verse of your contextual research (you’d likely bore them to death.) But as the leader, it is important to do the legwork ahead of time in order to make sure you are not twisting God’s words out of context.
-By Eddie Zdanio