by Roger Severino
- What did this text mean to the original readers (as best I can discern)? The basis for trying to understand any text is to discern the author’s intent. It’s the courtesy we try to provide for anyone in communication. If you and I have a conversation, and I take your words out of context and interpret them in a way you did not intend, then I have not listened well as a hearer. The same goes with the Bible. What did the biblical author intend for his readers to understand? Now, this is not always easy. It requires some basic practices, knowledge and discernment. You want to read a passage in its context—what comes before it, what comes after it. At times, it is helpful to know the historical context and cultural context. It can be helpful to know what type of literature this is—is it poetry, narrative, or some other genre? Here is where Bible study tools can be helpful. A Study Bible can help with its introductions to the book and the commentary it provides. Commentaries, Bible Dictionaries, and other resources can also be useful. You can ask a trusted spiritual leader for helps with resources.
- What principle from this text can and should be applied across time, geography, and cultures? Once I have attempted to discern what the author wanted to communicate to his original audience, then I look for principles from this passage that transcend the circumstances of the author and reader. If I’m reading Leviticus and its various sacrifices, I consider the principle applied today. We know from the New Testament that Christ’s sacrifice is “once for all” and that there is no more need of animal sacrifices (see especially the Book of Hebrews). But, I may still understand that God has to deal with sin and that sin is serious enough and requires a payment. This principle may allow me to consider and reflect on the cross of Christ and gain new insights on what Jesus has done on my behalf. When looking for a principle, I should consider the whole story of the Bible and how a passage applies in light of being a part of the New Covenant in Christ.
- How does the truth of this passage relate and apply to me? Why can’t we simply start with this question and skip the first two? The danger of only asking “What does this text mean to me?” is that it can easily digress into rampant subjectivism and narcissism. That is, I am in danger of reading into the text whatever I want through the lenses of my life and circumstances. I may try to make the Bible say something that it never intended to say. I can make the Bible all about me, where I am the main point (hint: it’s not about you). But…once I have done the hard work of thinking about and praying through the first two questions, then it is important and necessary to ask this third question. Bible study should never simply be an academic exercise. Ultimately, studying the Bible should result in life transformation as I submit myself to the teachings of Scripture.
The first question grounds my interpretation in the historical meaning related to the author’s intent. The second question tries to discern which principles rightly apply to other contexts, bridging the text to the modern reader. The third question insures that I apply the Bible and its truths to my life, and do not make Bible study simply an academic exercise. Ultimately, I engage the Word of God because in these pages I believe I can encounter the God of the Word. This is an academic exercise, but never merely an intellectual routine. I wish to present myself as a worker approved by God, “rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15).
by Roger Severino
I have a confession to make. Though I work in vocational ministry as a minister in a church, I am not drawn to canned approaches to evangelism, or programmatic ways of sharing my faith. I’m not saying God cannot use these approaches, and I do believe there are Christians who are gifted in using these methods. For me, I often feel like a salesman or someone peddling his wares. Having said that, there are things that motivate me to engage in sharing my faith. Here are a few:
- God is both Holy and Merciful. The holiness of God is a reminder that He is perfect and perfectly just. The apostle John put it this way: “God is light and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” God’s perfect justice is good news because we know that righteousness will ultimately prevail in this world, but it is bad news in that my sin and evil thoughts, intents, and actions must be addressed. There is a Judgment Day in which everyone will stand before a holy God. Fortunately, there is more good news. “God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us!” God was in Christ providing the way of forgiveness and reconciliation, and now gives me the privilege of joining with Him in this ministry of reconciliation (see 2 Corinthians 5:18-21).
- God Values Lost Things. I think I heard pastor Bill Hybels first share this phrase in unpacking Luke 15. In this passage, we learn about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son (or sons, if you factor in the older brother). When the lost sheep and lost coin are found, there is celebration. Jesus teaches that “in the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels over one sinner who repents.” When the prodigal son comes home, the father (or Father, if we remember that this figure represents God) celebrates because his son was lost and is now found. These stories Jesus told remind me that God cares about my unbelieving friends, neighbors, and family members even more than I do. He loves them and longs for them to be found.
- Jesus’ Example of Loving Sinners. Whether it was joining a party with Levi (Matthew) and his friends known as sinners (Luke 5:29-32) or allowing the “sinful woman” to wash his feet with her tears (Luke 7:36-50), there is ample evidence that Jesus loved sinners. This truth is a reminder that unbelievers are not the enemy, but rather victims of the Enemy. Christians can distort this truth when we develop an “us vs. them” mentality and treat unbelievers as opponents to be fought against. There is one Adversary. Question: Do we love those who have different beliefs, morals, and values than we do? Do we love those who vote differently or advocate for causes contrary to what we believe? Do we show them the love of Christ and pray for their salvation?
- I am Commanded and Privileged to Work with God in Reaching the Lost. Jesus commissions all believers to share the good news with the entire world (see Matthew 28:18-20 and Acts 1:8). Why would I withhold this from anyone I love? My only responsibility is to be a witness; not a prosecutor. I can leave the results to God. He promises to be with me and to empower me by His Holy Spirit. It is a privilege in that I have the opportunity to participate with God in His work in the lives of others. I must, however, be willing and obedient to join Him in this work.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Ro 5:8.
 The Holy Bible: Holman Christian Standard Version. (Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2009), Lk 15:10.
by Roger Severino
When I was in seminary, I was encouraged to develop a working definition of worship that I could modify as needed over time. What I came up with is probably not original to me. Here’s my definition: “Worship is a response to who God is and what He has done for us.” OK, let’s break that down.
- “Response.” A response means that worship is the “effect” side of a cause-and-effect relationship. Many of our modern worship songs want to rush us to the “effect” side of the equation without giving proper focus to the “cause.” The lyrics express some feeling of emotion (love, gratitude, awe) without showing us the reason for this type of reaction. We have not yet contemplated who God is nor what He has done for us, and yet we are guided into a response. There is nothing wrong with emotions; at some level, our emotions should be touched by genuine worship. Worship, however, is not merely an emotional catharsis to make us feel better. It’s not about us. God is the focus.
- “Who God is.” Idolatry is when we worship something or someone other than the one true God. God is not merely an abstract notion such as Love or Peace. Yes, God is love (1 John 4:8) and we have peace with God through our faith in Christ (Romans 5:1). Yet, when we limit God to one characteristic, we can end up with a God who is love but not holy, or a God who brings peace but not division. When we worship, we need to make sure that we are responding to the God revealed by Jesus Christ and by Holy Scripture, and not merely a God I have made in my own image.
- “What He has done for us.” Often, the Psalms offer worship and praise to God by recounting His saving acts, whether reflecting on how God delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, or a more personal remembrance of God’s salvation in the life of the psalmist. When we worship God, we too remember all He has done for us. For those of us on this side of salvation history, we reflect on the saving act of God through Jesus’ death and resurrection. We recount how He raised us from spiritual death to new life in Christ. We tell of the sufficiency of the cross to pay for all our sins and to reconcile us to God. We praise God for the gift of His Spirit who indwells us and empowers us for God’s work in the world. Worship is being appropriately astonished by God’s grace and voicing gratitude and praise. Genuine worship should not merely be an experience but should lead to spiritual transformation.
Finally, worship is not limited to an event (i.e. Sunday morning worship) or to singing. Worship is much, much greater than a church service or merely singing psalms, hymns, or spiritual songs. Worship is a lifestyle. Offering our lives to God as living sacrifices is perhaps our greatest spiritual act of worship (see Romans 12:1).