Scriptures Correctly Applied
WHEN teaching others, more is required than merely reading verses from the Bible. The apostle Paul wrote to his associate Timothy: “Do your utmost to present yourself approved to God, a workman with nothing to be ashamed of, handling the word of the truth aright.”—2 Tim. 2:15.
To do this means that our explanation of scriptures must be consistent with what the Bible itself teaches. This requires that we take into account the context, instead of simply selecting expressions that appeal to us and adding our own ideas. Through the prophet Jeremiah, Jehovah warned against those prophets who professed to speak from the mouth of Jehovah but who actually presented “the vision of their own heart.” (Jer. 23:16) The apostle Paul warned Christians against contaminating God’s Word with human philosophies when he wrote: “We have renounced the underhanded things of which to be ashamed, not walking with cunning, neither adulterating the word of God.” In those days dishonest wine merchants would dilute their wine to make it go further and to bring in more money. We do not adulterate the Word of God by mixing it with human philosophies. “We are not peddlers of the word of God as many men are,” Paul declared, “but as out of sincerity, yes, as sent from God, under God’s view, in company with Christ, we are speaking.”—2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2.
At times, you may quote a scripture to highlight a principle. The Bible is filled with principles that provide sound guidance in dealing with a wide variety of situations. (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) But you should make sure that your application is accurate and that you are not misusing a scripture, making it appear to say what you want it to say. (Ps. 91:11, 12; Matt. 4:5, 6) The application must be in harmony with Jehovah’s purpose, consistent with the entire Word of God.
“Handling the word of the truth aright” also includes getting the spirit of what the Bible says. It is not a “club” with which to browbeat others. Religious teachers who opposed Jesus Christ quoted from the Scriptures, but they were shutting their eyes to the weightier matters—those involving justice and mercy and faithfulness—which are required by God. (Matt. 22:23, 24; 23:23, 24) When teaching God’s Word, Jesus reflected his Father’s personality. Jesus’ zeal for the truth was coupled with his deep love for the people he taught. We should endeavor to follow his example.—Matt. 11:28.
How can we be sure that we are making proper application of a scripture? Regular Bible reading will help. We also need to appreciate Jehovah’s provision of “the faithful and discreet slave,” the body of spirit-anointed Christians through whom he provides spiritual food for the household of faith. (Matt. 24:45) Personal study as well as regular attendance at and participation in congregation meetings will help us to benefit from the instruction provided through that faithful and discreet slave class.
If the book Reasoning From the Scriptures is available in your language and you learn to use it well, you will have at your fingertips the guidance that you need for correct application of hundreds of scriptures that are frequently used in our ministry. If you are planning to use an unfamiliar scripture, modesty will move you to do needed research so that when you speak, you will be handling the word of the truth aright.—Prov. 11:2.
Make the Application Clear. When teaching others, make sure that they clearly see the connection between the subject that you are discussing and the scriptures that you use. If you lead up to the scripture with a question, your listeners should see how the scripture answers that question. If you are using the scripture in support of some statement, be sure that the student clearly sees how the text proves the point.
Just reading the scripture—even with emphasis—is usually not enough. Remember, the average person is unfamiliar with the Bible and will probably not grasp your point with just one reading. Draw attention to the portion of the text that directly applies to what you are discussing.
This usually requires that you isolate key words, those that have a direct bearing on the point being discussed. The simplest method is to restate those thought-carrying words. If you are talking to an individual, you might ask questions that will help him to identify the key words. When talking to a group, some speakers prefer to achieve their objective by using synonyms or by restating the idea. However, if you choose to do this, exercise care that the audience does not lose sight of the connection between the point of discussion and the wording in the scripture.
Having isolated the key words, you have laid a good foundation. Now follow through. Did you introduce the scripture with a clear indication as to your reason for using the text? If so, point out how the words that you have highlighted relate to what you led your audience to expect. State clearly what that connection is. Even if you did not use such an explicit introduction to the text, there ought to be some follow-through.
The Pharisees asked Jesus what they thought was a difficult question, namely: “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife on every sort of ground?” Jesus based his reply on Genesis 2:24. Notice that he focused attention on just one part of it, and then he made the needed application. Having pointed out that the man and his wife become “one flesh,” Jesus concluded: “Therefore, what God has yoked together let no man put apart.”—Matt. 19:3-6.
How much explanation should you give in order to make the application of a scripture clear? The makeup of your audience and the importance of the point being discussed should determine that. Let simplicity and directness be your aim.
Reason From the Scriptures. Regarding the apostle Paul’s ministry in Thessalonica, Acts 17:2, 3 tells us that he ‘reasoned from the Scriptures.’ This is an ability that every servant of Jehovah should try to cultivate. For example, Paul related facts regarding the life and ministry of Jesus, showed that these had been foretold in the Hebrew Scriptures, and then gave a forceful conclusion by saying: “This is the Christ, this Jesus whom I am publishing to you.”
When writing to the Hebrews, Paul repeatedly quoted from the Hebrew Scriptures. To emphasize or clarify a point, he often isolated one word or a short phrase and then showed its significance. (Heb. 12:26, 27) In the account found in Hebrews chapter 3, Paul quoted from Psalm 95:7-11. Notice that he then enlarged on three portions of it: (1) the reference to the heart (Heb. 3:8-12), (2) the significance of the expression “Today” (Heb. 3:7, 13-15; 4:6-11), and (3) the meaning of the statement: “They shall not enter into my rest” (Heb. 3:11, 18, 19; 4:1-11). Endeavor to imitate that example as you make application of each scripture.
Observe the effectiveness with which Jesus reasoned from the Scriptures in the account found at Luke 10:25-37. A man versed in the Law asked: “Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” In reply Jesus first invited the man to express his view of the matter, and then Jesus emphasized the importance of doing what God’s Word says. When it became clear that the man was missing the point, Jesus discussed at length just one word from the scripture—“neighbor.” Instead of simply defining it, he used an illustration to help the man come to the proper conclusion himself.
It is evident that when answering questions, Jesus did not simply quote texts that gave a direct, obvious answer. He analyzed what these said and then made application to the question at hand.
When the resurrection hope was being challenged by the Sadducees, Jesus focused attention on one specific portion of Exodus 3:6. But he did not stop after quoting the scripture. He reasoned on it to show clearly that the resurrection is part of God’s purpose.—Mark 12:24-27.
Mastering the ability to reason correctly and effectively from the Scriptures will be a significant factor in your becoming a skilled teacher.