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Big Mistake: No Context


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A tapestry can be a beautiful and magnificent thing but if you pull one string from it and look at that string only it is reduced to nothing but ordinary and plain. You can’t look at that one string and determine what the tapestry looks like. You also can’t look at it and determine where it fits in the grand scheme of the tapestry. A string needs to be in the tapestry to fully appreciate its part and place. It is no different with Scripture and yet one of the biggest mistakes we make is pulling those ‘strings’ out of the ‘tapestry.’

The Bible is the beautiful and magnificent tapestry we have of God and His plan of redemption. When you view it in its entirety it is perfect. The problem occurs when we pull a verse or two from the Bible and start determining doctrine or proving our belief. Without viewing Scripture within the context of the Bible we will run into all sorts of problems. We could get a few verses to say almost anything we want if we peal it from the full message of the Bible. Perhaps the greatest example of this is making the need to ask for continual forgiveness necessary to the Christian life from this verse:

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:9

Amazingly, this verse doesn’t say anything about asking for forgiveness- it simply states that forgiveness comes when we ‘confess’ which is to admit to error. But, beyond that, if we ensure that we keep this verse within the message of Scripture we would know that nowhere else in Scripture does it speak of having to ask for forgiveness with one exception:

And forgive us our debts, As we forgive our debtors. Mt 6:12

This verse is from the Sermon on the Mount and isn’t about what we need to do but what we would have to do apart from Christ. Therefore, this verse only makes sense when we understand the message Jesus was giving to those who were seeking Salvation through the Law. It has nothing to do with life through the New Covenant which tells us to forgive AS WE HAVE BEEN FORGIVEN (Col 3:13).

If we look at the bigger picture of forgiveness in the Bible, we will find that forgiveness only came through blood:

And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission. Heb 9:22

Look at the Law and you will find no place where people had to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness only came when the people offered their sacrifice, which was a way of confessing they needed forgiveness. To avoid this big mistake, we need to understand Scripture as a whole and keep each verse in that context. But this also applies in a smaller scale- within the context immediately surrounding the verse.

Let’s go back to our example above. Now that we understand that we need to keep the big picture in mind, let’s also ensure we keep the small picture in view too. In order to do that we need to become investigators when we read Scripture. Good investigators ask questions such as; Who is this to? What are the circumstances leading to this passage? When and where was this written? What verses apply that surround this verse? Now, let’s apply these questions to 1 John 1:9.

Who was this written to? 1 John was written to a group of people seeking to follow Jesus. Most people would say it was written to Believers, but this isn’t true. Most of the New Testament epistles were written to groups or churches but that didn’t mean they were all Believers. Think about a pastor today giving a message to the ‘church.’ Does he only speak to Believers? If so, why does He give an invitation for people to come and become Believers? John didn’t know if everyone reading his letter were Believers and wrote as such. In fact, John knew that some in this group were trying to entice the others to believe wrong things. They were claiming that Jesus didn’t come in the flesh because all flesh is evil, and Jesus wasn’t evil. They were also claiming that because the flesh was evil, they didn’t need forgiveness from what the flesh did as long as their spirits trusted God. With that understanding of who was in the group, look at the very first part of 1 John:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled, concerning the Word of life— 2 the life was manifested, and we have seen, and bear witness, and declare to you that eternal life which was with the Father and was manifested to us— 3 that which we have seen and heard we declare to you, that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His Son Jesus Christ. 4 And these things we write to you that your joy may be full. 1 John 1:1-4

It sure sounds like John is trying to convince some people that Jesus did come in the flesh. Why would he have to write that to people who were Christians? He would only write that if he knew some didn’t believe Jesus came in the flesh and you can’t be a Believer without acknowledging that. Let’s go to the next question. What are the circumstances leading to this passage? Well, again, we can get an idea of the turmoil being created by these people who were advocating for false beliefs- they were causing a problem with the fellowship:

This is the message which we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all. 6 If we say that we have fellowship with Him, and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. 7 But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:5-7

John understood two groups with different beliefs both claimed to walk in the light, which can’t be true. John is clearly talking to non-Believers here which leads us to ask why John was writing this. John knew that if he didn’t address this with the group that the false beliefs would lead to disaster, so he makes it clear what truth is:

If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar, and His word is not in us. 1 John 1:8-10

John can’t be any more clear- you either believe that you have a sin problem and admit that to God or you simply have no place in the fellowship of Believers.

When you study Scripture learn to be an investigator. Asking questions is the best way to get to the truth and when you ask questions, the Spirit can answer them for you which we will address that more in a few days.

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