How do we apply scripture?

Ever heard the prayer leader say something like this: “God, help the preacher to recall what he has prepared to say, and help us as listeners to apply what we learn.” So what does that mean… “apply what we learn?” When we actively listen to or study God’s word, application of what we study answers two fundamental questions: Why does this matter? What do I do now? A few suggestions to help us get from God’s word what will actually help us in our discipleship…

Context, context, context…

When reading, we ought to be asking a lot of fundamental questions about the text. Things like:

  • Who are the people in this passage and how are they like me?
  • What is the setting of this passage and how are these circumstances similar to my world?
  • What is happening in this text – is there conversation, conflict, tension, etc. – and how would I have responded in this situation?
  • What is the primary message for the first people who heard or experienced this event – what did God want them to learn from this?
  • Is there foundational truth revealed here – important teachings that are timeless and always applicable?
  • How is this event/conversation relevant to my situation in my world?
  • What situations in my life could this truth apply to – at home, at work, at school, in society, with friends, in church?
  • What attitude, behavior, belief or value in my life needs to be adjusted because of what this passage teaches?
  • How will I make these adjustments?

Not all of these questions apply in every situation. But hopefully you can see that the process of application first involves understanding completely what is going on in a passage.

A window of opportunity…

The Apostle Paul wrote:

All scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness. – 2 Timothy 3.16

What does this passage teach? Well, for starters, that the Bible – God’s inspired word – is given to us for the purpose of changing our beliefs and behavior. When we understand the purpose of scripture, we begin to understand that it has application in nearly every aspect of our lives. This passage, for example, fundamentally teaches that scripture can do four things for us:

  • Teach us – The scriptures reveal truth about what we should believe and practice
  • Reprove us – The scriptures reveal behavior that is displeasing to God
  • Correct us – The scriptures reveal how displeasing behavior can be reversed
  • Training – The scriptures show us how to properly apply scripture through the use of experience and wisdom

Paul concludes in the next verse:

…that the man of God might be competent, equipped for every good work. – v.17

Of course, application of scripture requires some pretty serious self-examination. We have to check our attitudes, our priorities, our issues, our activities, our understanding of truth, and most importantly, what sin we may be involved in. The next several articles in this series will discuss practical applications from various New Testament books. Comments and questions are always welcome.

May grace reign through righteousness in your life.

– Bo Couchman



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