One of the primary keys to Bible study is context.
While it is helpful to memorize scriptural passages to discipline our mind, to have encouraging things to remember, and to have passages to meditate upon when we prepare to pray, it is also important to be aware of and understand the context from which the passage comes.
While there are a variety of contextual issues to keep in mind, one of the more basic types of context is the sequence of the passage we are studying. There are sometimes important sequences that we must be mindful of to avoid attempting to apply a scripture out of context and avoid spiritual frustration.
An Example: “Do Not Worry”
Many Christians love the “Do not worry” section of Matthew 6:25-33. Some read it everyday. Sadly, many do not benefit from the peace the passage offers because they fail to embrace the choices emphasized in the preceding passages.
This passage is preceded by the choice of who you will serve or where your treasure will be. That is preceded by the discussion on fasting which is preceded by prayer. In other words, the sequence of Jesus’ instruction is this:
Prayer + Fasting + Choosing God only (or embracing dependence on him) = Freedom from worry.
Without the sequence, there is no freedom from worry. Many try to not worry but still want to think about possessions, money, clothes, food, etc. The focus must be on depending on God if you want to be free from worry. It is not possible simply to “not worry.” Something (actually, Someone) must fill that place and replace the worry.
Understanding the sequence of this text also helps understand the instructions leading up to the section on worry. The value of fasting can also be better understood in this context because fasting can enhance our understanding of our dependence upon God and that we need him more than air, food, or water. Once we grasp this dependence and accept that he does love us and that we can trust him, then we can be free from worry.
Ultimately this principle of “do not worry” — and all the teachings found in the Sermon on the Mount — are underpinned by seeking and having the first of the Beatitudes, namely, being “poor in spirit.” We must empty ourselves, and allow the Holy Spirit to transform us. If we try to live out these teachings externally without salvation and the internal transformation of the Spirit, we will have the righteousness of the Pharisees warned against in Matthew 5:20.
So as you embrace your favorite passages, understand and remember their context, and especially the sequence of the Scriptures.