Today, on my way to school, I was thinking about a writing program that I would like one of my grade levels to consider for the future. It would be a bit “out of the box” for some of the teachers because, instead of studying writing, grammar, spelling, and vocabulary all as separate subjects, it teaches them in one – writing. Grammar is learned alongside the writing assignments, in context. Spelling is learned alongside their writing, in context, and so on. That’s what got me thinking about the importance of context.
I remember years ago listening to a sermon and feeling very frustrated because I couldn’t figure out where the preacher was headed or what the sermon was about. He had provided no context. The preacher seemed to want to keep it a mystery until the end – maybe for some grand finale. The problem was, without context, nothing made sense. It was as if he was arguing his point, but you had no idea what the argument was about. By the time the point of the sermon was finally revealed, much of the value of what had been said had been lost.
There is a commercial currently on TV for a phone service. The young man hears that his parents are going to “have a kid” before the line goes dead due to a dropped call. He imagines all kinds of things about a new little brother before his parents are able to reconnect to let him know that they are going to “have a kid mow the lawn.” Context is everything!
Teachers know that our students learn best when we tell them what they are going to learn about before we teach them. Students learn and understand everything better in the context of how it fits with the world around them. Context provides us with background knowledge to connect with new information. It adds depth to our understanding.
Context is critical in the Kingdom of God, too. I think one of the most important examples is the Old Testament. Reading through the Old Testament is so neglected in our daily devotions, except for maybe Psalms and Proverbs, which we find more agreeable, perhaps. But reading completely through the Old Testament gives you a much bigger picture and understanding, both about who God is, but also who we are. Time and time again, the people God has made turn against Him – they break His laws, worship false gods, and do whatever their flawed, sinful hearts suggest. Yes, they do get judged. Should that surprise us, given their actions? What should surprise us more is God’s readiness, even eagerness, to forgive and restore this broken people to the status of His beloved, chosen, blessed people. The Old Testament foreshadows the need for and coming of a Savior. Without the Old Testament, the New Testament loses context and depth of meaning. The Old Testament provides context for the New.
God’s Word gives us context for everything in our lives. God’s Word helps us understand how everything fits together. It gives us truth that we can live by because it IS true. It teaches us why there is evil in the world, it teaches us right and wrong, how to treat each other, how to please God. It teaches us who we are – image bearers, yet fallen and damaged. It teaches us how to be made new and be reconciled to God. It gives us hope. The more we know and understand God’s Word, the more consistently we can live our lives. Having a biblical worldview is essentially living in the context of God’s truth. Sadly, we often live inconsistent with what we say we believe or know to be true.
Do you teach your children to obey rules, yet they witness you breaking them? Do you teach your children not to lie, but they hear you lie to your spouse or your boss or a friend? Do you teach your children to trust God, but they see you worry and fuss and try to solve things yourself? Do you teach your children to apologize and ask for forgiveness when they do wrong, but they never experience you doing the same? Whenever I see a parent choose not to honor a school policy while they are on campus, usually because it is inconvenient, I cringe to think what they are unwittingly teaching their child who is watching. We are providing context for our children. What are your children learning from the context you provide?
All your words are true;
all your righteous laws are eternal.