Portraits of a Mature Christian: An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

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Portraits of a Mature Christian

An aptitude for using the Scriptures properly

When I was about 19 years old I ran across this passage, 1 Corinthians 11:21: “For as
you eat, each of you goes ahead without waiting for anybody else. One remains hungry,
another gets drunk.” Shortly after reading that passage, I proudly announced to a
group of friends, “Did you know that the Bible teaches that you should wait for
everyone else to get their food before eating?” They stared at me curiously since I had
made such a grand statement about such a small matter. But none of them knew the
Bible any better than I did so it was difficult for them to critique my unsolicited
knowledge. Later that evening I went back to find the passage I had quoted, and I
checked the context. The passage isn’t really about table manners as much as it is about
manners regarding the Lord’s Supper. I had highjacked the verse and made it say what
I thought it should say. I was embarrassed.

This “highjacking” of God’s Word happens a lot. People look in the Bible to see if they
can make it say what they want it to say instead of what God wants it to say. The result
is confusion and false teaching. God doesn’t want to be misunderstood or have his
words taken out of context any more than we do. In his Word, he says exactly what he
wants us to know. When we change that, we misrepresent him to ourselves and others.
There is too much at stake. Many have lost their eternal salvation because they followed
teachers who used the Bible but who were not really telling what it says. Mature
Christians work hard at handling God’s Word correctly.

The apostle Paul told his young pastor friend Timothy this very same thing. Timothy
was responsible for teaching a lot of people in and around Ephesus. If he misused God’s
Word it would affect many souls. So Paul impressed on Timothy that before teaching he
had to slow down and study God’s Word well, so that he would not misrepresent God
and later become ashamed of it. Look at how Paul said it:
2 Timothy 2:15
Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be
ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.


1. Why do you think Paul said that when Timothy was teaching he was presenting
himself to God?
God is everywhere and is watching all of us. Imagine if you were teaching American
history about the Civil War and Abe Lincoln were sitting in the room. How would that
change the way you prepared to teach your class? You’d be more careful to speak the
truth and not your own imagination, wouldn’t you? Every Christian who is witnessing for
God is doing so with him in the room. We need to get it right. We are presenting
ourselves to him as his representatives. So, we need to handle his Word the way he
wishes. We will also teach in a more Christlike fashion when we remember that God is
with us while we are teaching.

2. Why is it so important for a Bible teacher to make sure that everything he or she
teaches is truly biblical teaching?
It is important to make sure our teaching is truly biblical because we represent God and
the souls of our listeners are at stake. If we teach them something false it will have tragic
results in their lives. They will miss out on everything God wants for them, and they could
even miss out on salvation if we don’t teach God’s plan of salvation correctly.

3. What exactly does it mean to “correctly handle the word of truth”?
It means to study every passage in its context to see what it was actually saying to the
original readers. It means to properly apply the truth of that passage to our modern
listeners without saying more or less than it was saying to the original readers. It means
keeping in mind the time and place of the passage so we don’t take Old Testament laws
for Israel and make them apply to the church. It means proclaiming the law to convict
sinners and to direct their spiritual life of faith. It means showing the beautiful gospel as
the final solution to all spiritual dilemmas instead of man’s effort and work. It means
keeping law and gospel in their proper places and not mixing them and distorting God’s
truth. It means teaching the stories of the Bible as real stories instead of myths or
allegories. It means letting the supernatural God be who he says he is without trying to
make all that he says and does fit our reason. It means first figuring out what the Bible is
truly saying and then truly saying it the way it was intended.

4. When the truth is handled correctly, what happens for the hearers?
When the Bible is handled correctly it saves souls. It changes lives. It purifies evil and
guilt from their souls. It corrects, rebukes, and trains in righteousness. It makes them into
the people God wants them to be.


1. What are some simple guidelines we can follow to help ourselves understand
God’s Word correctly?
First of all, read an introduction to the book in which you are reading to get the
historical background to the book. Then read the chapter before and after the chapter in
which you are working. Then read the passages right before and after the passage. Then
write out what the passage is saying in your own words and compare it to the passage
itself. Then look for other related passages in Scripture to see if they help you better
understand your passage. Then write down all the modern situations that this passage
could speak to. Finally, ask yourself, “What does this passage teach regarding our Lord
Jesus Christ and the salvation he has won for us?”

2. How does the context before and after a passage help us properly understand the
passage itself?
The context will give you background to your passage. It will help you see the major
subject being treated. You will learn more about the train of thought and the genre of
Scripture in which you are reading. It will help you see what the author was saying
rather than what you want him to be saying. The context will show you the bigger picture
instead of the small idea in the one passage. It will help you avoid saying your own
thoughts instead of God’s.

3. List as many passages that you can think of that have been taken out of their
This is a personal journal of your own experiences. Think back over all the discussions
you have had with friends and family over Scripture. What passages have been misused?
Lots of times people inappropriately apply Old Testament Jewish laws to modern
Christians when some of those laws were meant to become obsolete when Jesus came.
Others will try to find license to sin by twisting a passage or by teaching from the silence
of Scripture. Still others make the Word more of a rulebook than a testimony to God’s
grace in Christ. If you discuss your list with others, it will be a fruitful conversation.

4. Take a passage of Scripture and study it well in its context. Then write a devotion
about that passage and send it in an e-mail to your friends and family. Ask them to
respond by telling what they learned from it.

If you study the context around a passage and then the passage itself you will get to know
what it is saying. Then you can apply it to others. In your devotion make sure you
introduce the passage by giving its background first and then by presenting its truth and
then by applying its truth to our lives. Follow that order, and people will be able to see
your train of thought coming out of God’s Word, and they will grow in faith because of
your efforts.

Related Scripture passages
Isaiah 8:20
Hebrews 4:12
John 8:31-32
1 Peter 4:11
2 Corinthians 4:2
2 Peter 1:19
2 Peter 3:16

Copyrighted by WELS Forward in Christ © April 2010 reprinted with permission.