Hear me out. I full heartedly believe that practical application is important. And I also believe that every portion of Scripture has practical implications for our lives because every text has theological significance and all theology is practical; don’t misunderstand me. But, over the past few days I’ve been thinking…
Currently I am in the middle of writing a sermon on Acts 1:15-26 for a class. This passage was assigned to me; I don’t have choice. It’s not an easy passage on which to write a sermon (which is why they assigned it). It’s about the 11 apostles casting lots for the 12th apostle to replace Judas after his suicide. This passage does not provide any direct or explicit application for our lives today. It does not tell us to do something, to do anything! That’s not to say it lacks practical implications. Luke puts this section in his book for a reason. Therefore, through this literary purpose, it communicates theology at some level. And since all theology has practical implications, the text is practical.
But the passage isn’t directly about me. It’s not about you. It wasn’t written for this reason–to be about us. And I’m okay with that. “Devotional literature” is not the Bible’s overarching genre. Contrary to the common cliche, the Bible’s genre is not “love letter to Kirk Miller.”
I was sitting in Hebrew class this past Tuesday morning and we were discussing some minute exegetical detail in Ruth 2. And at the end of our discussion, my teacher asked, “Okay, so what does this have to do with my life?” Now, my teacher often asks this sort of question in class. I’m not faulting her for it. On the contrary, I’m glad she does this. It’s needful. However, it got me thinking… This exegetical insight isn’t about me. Maybe these truths we discuss don’t directly address my specific situation–probably not; almost never. Now, her question is a valid one; and surely there’s a valid answer. (And I don’t think my teacher was falling into what I’m about to criticize.) But I began to think…
Could it be that our Christian culture is so me-centered that in order for us even to begin caring about what Scripture says we first need someone to explain how it is practical for our lives? …We’ve put the cart before the horse.
I contend that Scripture’s importance does not need to be vindicated by showing how it satisfies our self-centered perspective. Scripture is important because its God’s Word and in it He communicates purposefully.
Understanding that God communicates purposefully is key to having a proper understanding of Scripture’s importance. Now, we may not always initially grasp the significance of why Matthew put a genealogy here, why this king died at this time in Israel’s history, why Paul greets so many people at the end of Romans, or why Luke adds the account of the apostles casting lots for a 12th apostle. But if we come to these texts understanding that the Biblical authors (inspired by God) deliberately, intentionally, and purposefully placed them in their respective books at these specific places for a reason, instead of passively “blowing them off” because we don’t see how they are practical for us, we’ll be pushed to dig in deeper and discover their (literary and then theological and then practical) significance. We will probably have to investigate the larger structure of the book. We will have to do some work, for sure. But at the end of the day, we’ll be valuing God’s Word as such–God’s word. And ironically, we’ll actually be gaining some practical insights for our contemporary lives.
In sum, Scripture is not valuable because it satisfies our curiosity or provides solutions to our problems. It’s valuable because it’s about God; and He is infinitely valuable.
So again, asking, “How does this apply to my life?” is an excellent and needful question in our study of Scripture. But my concern in this post is with why we ask this question. Does it expose a me-centeredness that values Scripture only for what it says about me or how it can make my life better; or does it reveal a desire to honor the truths of the text and live accordingly?
5 thoughts on ““Okay, So What Does This Have to Do with My Life?”
Dude. This is not only legit because it is applicable to each of us. It is legit because it is a needed message in a You- i- me- society. Thank you for this.
Good read! Thank you for writing, it does seem that people always want to try to apply everything to us . This opened my eyes because i was one of them that asked” what is he trying to say to me” thk u
For putting into perspective!
I would agree that the vast majority of those who claim Christianity ask that question from a self-centered perspective. That is why there is so much preaching on the second half of Paul’s letters. The one who truly desires to honor God wants to see Him in scripture then THINKS through the implications of that revealed truth about God. We always talk about the indicative/imperative in Pauline literature, but I think, in a way, narrative literature could be thought as the indicative, and we are left to think through what the resulting imperative should be.
Thanks for your comments guys. –Really, some great thoughts and additions to what I said.
And as I made clear in the post, the trouble isn’t asking the question, “How does this apply to me?” That’s a necessary question and should be the final step in our exegesis/interpretation. But “LAST step” is key (“last” in terms of logical, not necessarily temporal sequence). If we short circuit things and approach the text initially asking, “How does this apply to my life?” our interpretation will typically be rather erroneous due to our warped me-centered perspective. And more so, we might not even look into the text at all if we initially determine it’s not applicable to us.
Jennifer, you bring up a great thought. This perspective is incredibly freeing. I run into so many people who, regarding their daily devotional time, are under the assumption that they need to find an aspect of the text that speaks directly into their life. If they don’t, they feel as if they’ve failed. This is an extremely frustrating and depressing perspective because it’s often asking us to do the impossible! It’s such a burden-lifter to realize that these texts aren’t written as devotional literature to provide me with a quick sentimental thought to ponder as I drink my coffee at 7:00 am and get ready for my upcoming day. Once we realize this, we are free to understand the text on its own terms and then genuinely apply the implications of the text to our lives.
It’s not about avoiding or undermining application. It’s about reaching application in a healthy manner!
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