Finding Application in Tough Passages
Everybody wants to know how the Bible applies to life.
Pastors, Bible teachers, and theologians are always more fascinated with texts of Scripture than the average person sitting in the pew. Why? Because someone sitting in the pew on a Sunday morning comes to church without the advantage of studying a text all week, and they want to walk out of there after a 35 minute sermon (or 50 minute in our case) and have something they can apply to life immediately.
This is noble, but not realistic. Sure, you can have supper every night in less than 5 minutes. It’s called a microwave meal, or Ramen Noodles. However, over the long haul, this will not promote good health, and honestly, these meals only taste good when eaten every once-in-a-while! Good food—healthy food—takes time, effort, and money.
Let’s jump to a quick application (it’s acceptable in a blog post, just not in a sermon): mining out biblically sound, Holy Spirit-intended applications from Scripture is hard work, and some passages are harder than others! Such was the case at The Creek recently.
Some say that I Corinthians 11 makes Bible scholars want to strangle Paul. I can’t say I disagree! This text is a death trap for a preacher! It’s an interpretational nightmare wrapped in a cultural conundrum. However, at the end of the day, the applications are rich, juicy, Filet Mignons of theological scrumptiousness that have a wide range of relevance to issues we face everyday. So, how do we find the steak, marinate it, grill it, and finally get it onto the plate?
Finding Implications in Tough Passages
In texts of Scripture, the easiest things to find are commands, or what we call imperatives. “Don’t lie.” “Don’t quench the Holy Spirit of God.” “Study the Word because it has power to change your life.” Commands are easy to apply. Here’s the trick to applying commands: Just do it!
The next layer down is implication. These are not commands, but instead they imply action of some kind, and the action implied can be convoluted by cultural distance from the text. The following are different levels of complexity for implications.
1. A clear implication with clear application
In Mark 12:17 Jesus says, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s…” Now, some smart-mouth could say, “That doesn’t apply to me because Caesar is not our king anymore!” I would slap that person (in Christian love) and tell him to grow up! Unfortunately, the implication is that we need to pay our taxes! The cultural adaptation is obvious.
2. A clear implication with fuzzy application
In I Corinthians 6:20 Paul says we were bought with a price and “We are not our own.” That’s a clear implication. Paul applies it to sexual ethics for the Corinthian church. However, what else could it apply to? The more you understand the implication in its original setting the better you will be able to apply it to life today.
3. A culturally cloudy implication with an equally cloudy application
Such is the case with I Corinthians 11:1-16. Was he talking about literal head coverings? What did head coverings mean in that culture? How did hairstyle play into the conversation? A text like this is complicated because Paul is giving a command to the original audience, but we’re not even sure what the command is, let alone how to apply it! However, despite the difficulty and confusion, some of these texts can be the most applicationally rewarding. Why? Because in this particular text we find both a command AND implications.
Implications for Women Covering Their Heads
Let’s process this together. What is Paul saying when he commands women to cover their heads?
Now even if we don't know exactly what Paul is referring to, we do know that he’s saying wives need to visibly show that they gladly place themselves under the headship of their husbands. He's also saying this is especially important when a woman fulfills a teaching/praying role in the congregation. So, even without answering the head covering question, we can draw some implications.
- Implication: A husband need to be the head of his home
- Implication: Wives need to submit to headship the way in which Jesus submits to the headship of the father
- Implication: Women should be given teaching and praying roles in the local church
- Implication: Men and women should visibly maintain manhood and womanhood in appearance
- Implication: Our clothing and appearance carries cultural associations that can either be used for good or evil.
Wow! That’s hard work! However, those implications lead to a treasure trove of applications. We deal with many of these issues every day!
So, when you study the Bible, or even listen to good preaching, the question should not immediately be “What relevance does this have to my life?” The question should be “What was the original message to the original audience?” From there we can draw implications that lead to proper applications. At that point, bon-appetit!
Enjoy your steak dinner!