Part 7: Practice Makes Perfect

I have to be honest that after teaching Bible study this way for several years, I thought it would be simple to convert into a blog. However, taking what I’d normally discuss with a group over the course of an hour and trying to reduce it down into a concise blog format proved to be much harder than anticipated.

For the sake of what we can cover here today, I zoomed in on one passage from Ephesians. I would recommend, however, for your own study, that you read the surrounding chapters (or even the whole book) to grasp the larger picture. As we read from Ephesians 2, we are going to journey through the Inductive Guide so you can practice alongside me. For each section of the guide, I will explain what I do and then provide bullet-point information of the notes I would take in my journal. This is meant to give you ideas; it is not the only way to think about the passage and/or study scripture. The more you practice, the more you’ll find a rhythm that works for you. If you can, grab your Bible and turn to the book of Ephesians. Otherwise, I will also have the verses here. A printable version of today’s practice will be available at the bottom.

Ephesians 2:11-22

JEW AND GENTILE RECONCILED THROUGH CHRIST

Genre:

Here, I think about where the book of the Bible is located, use the Genre Guide, or look at the intro in a study Bible to help me determine what genre I’m reading.

  • Letter: sometimes referred to as Epistles.
    • Written in response to a specific need or circumstance.

Context:

For today’s purpose, or when I’m preparing a lesson plan for Bible study, I do dig into the context a bit deeper than for daily reading by utilizing some of the Tools I mentioned. But even knowing general context helps unveil new layers of the text. This where it’s helpful to use that study Bible introduction and think about where the book is located in the Biblical Timeline. In this case, Ephesians is written after Christ’s death and resurrection, when the new churches of Christian believers are being formed and undergoing heavy persecution.

  • Author: Written by Paul, the apostle, around 60 AD. One of the 4 letters written while in prison in Rome.
  • Original Audience: new Gentile Christian believers in Ephesus and the general Mediterranean area. Written to encourage them in their new faith and to encourage unity. (Gentile simply means “not Jewish”)
    • Listeners would have known that Paul was currently imprisoned in Rome after being accused by Jewish leaders that he brought an Ephesian Gentile beyond the temple’s outer court (see Acts 21:27-29)
  • Ethnic and cultural differences between the Jewish and Gentile believers had become an area of contention in the Ephesian church. This brand new church was in danger of becoming 2 separate churches.
  • When we enter the scene, this new church is fragmented, and Gentile Christians are being made to feel lesser than because they’re not Jewish (and not circumcised). Paul comes in and makes it very clear about their worth in the kingdom of God.

Observe: What does the passage say?

At this point, I begin reading and make notes along the way about significant points, themes, etc. I pause every couple or few verses to write down what I want to remember. I may also jot down other verses of which I’m reminded.


11 Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— 12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.
  • Vs 11 & 12: Remember what life was like before Christ!
    • Before Jesus and the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Jews did not realize that salvation would ever be extended to the world, to people outside of themselves. This was a big deal for Gentiles! (word for a non-Jew)
    • Without hope
  • Vs 13: Jesus dying on the cross changed everything. Jesus allowed them to be part of the family.
    • Ephesians 1:5- “he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ”

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
  • Vs 14/15- Jesus is our peace. He destroyed the barrier, between people and with God. Jesus brought reconciliation/atonement for our sins.
    • 1 John 2: 1-2 “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father– Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.”
  • Vs 15/16- Create a new humanity from the two = means to reconcile the two sides.
  • Vs 17- Christ’s message of salvation was for everyone; Jew and Gentile.
  • Vs 18- Both have access to the Father because of Jesus.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. 21 In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. 22 And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.
  • Vs 19- All part of God’s family; citizens.
  • Vs 20-22- Jesus holds it all together; the cornerstone; he’s the unifier. Everything is built off of Jesus.

Interpret: What does the passage mean?

Here, I look back over what I observed the text to be saying, along with what I know of the context. I try and pull a couple of main points or themes I am seeing from the text.

  • Jesus’ atoning work was and is a big deal! It changed a lot of things!
    • We tend to take this for granted in our era, but this was and is life-changing. Jesus’ death and resurrection ushered in a new era of relationship with God; the turning point in God’s rescue plan.
    • We are Gentiles. We would have been excluded prior to Jesus.
  • Theme: remember who you were, so you can remember who you are.
    • Remember what you’ve been saved from.
    • Those who receive Jesus are called members of God’s family; adopted, heirs; no second-rate citizens.
  • Theme of unity:
    • The body of Christ should not be at war with itself anymore.
      • The church, reconciled to God through Christ, is to live in a way that exemplifies the ultimate restoration
    • Jesus is our peace; the one who holds things together. But that also means we need him to hold things together; can’t do it on our own.

Application: What does it mean for me?

At this point, I can’t do it for you. This is where you apply what you’ve learned personally, not merely as a universal principle. What from the reading and interpretation is speaking to your heart? What is God challenging you to do or pray?

Personally, God was moving my heart about the theme of unity, and about how Jesus is our source for peace. We are in a time of extreme division, even within the church body. This reminds me not only of Christ’s call for unity, but the fact that he is the root of it. When our focus becomes ourselves, or when we try and do things in our own strength, everything falls apart, just as a foundation would if you pulled out the chief cornerstone. This past week it has caused me to reflect on how I can present Christ’s peace in my own sphere. It has also reminded me to see fellow believers as children of God, as part of the family. We may have moments of disagreement, but I should never be looking at others as second-rate citizens of the kingdom of God. We’re in this together, and it’s only through Jesus that we can remain in or come back to a place of unity.


I pray that God not only spoke to your heart about today’s reading, but you were able to learn something to grow your excitement and confidence in studying God’s word. In closing, I wanted to pray the same prayer Paul said to the Ephesian church:

And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge– that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Ephesians 3: 17-19

Blessings as you go about your week. Next week we’ll visit the last part in this series, an important component to our studying of the scriptures.

~Renee

Part 5: On the Topic of Application

Today we’re going to discuss why the order of application matters. Why can’t we just read a verse from the Bible and immediately apply it to our lives? There’s no one-size-fits-all with the variety of verses contained in the Bible. So there will of course be instances where that may work out and a verse means just what it sounds like, even after seeing the larger framework. However, with many other verses and passages, if we skip ahead of noting genre and context, we can skew the original meaning altogether. 

Let’s use another well-known verse as an example: 

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

Jeremiah 29:11 is often perceived as this notion that God will not let harm befall us; nothing bad will ever happen; God has good and prosperous things planned for me; and God is going to rescue you quickly from any troublesome situations. Again, a sort of motivational verse. 

Read in isolation, that does seem to be the case. God knows the plans he has for us and it sounds like he wants to give us prosperity and a hopeful future. Golly, if I’m going through a hard circumstance, it would sure seem like God is going to come to my rescue, for surely he doesn’t wish anything bad on me?

Right? 

Well, sort of. That idea isn’t all fallacy, but there are holes in that theology. 

If we put on the brakes and use the Inductive Method we’ll discover several important points to understand what God is saying here and why he is saying it. Jeremiah 29:11 is written at the point in history where the last of the Israelites’ land has been conquered by the Babylonians and they have just been taken into Babylonian Exile (see Part 4 for a Timeline and major Biblical events ). After ignoring Jeremiah’s warnings and pleadings for 23 years for them to repent, Israel is facing the consequences of breaking their Covenant relationship with God. 

At the beginning of Chapter 29, titled A Letter to the Exiles, God begins by letting the exiles know they will be in captivity for 70 years. He instructs them to ignore the false prophets who are spreading ideas that God will come to their immediate rescue and destroy Babylon. Instead, God tells them to build houses and settle down, plant gardens, and marry. He is making it very clear that they better get comfortable because they’re going to be there for a while. 

At that point, we approach verse 11 within its full paragraph: 

10 This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my good promise to bring you back to this place. 11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. 14 I will be found by you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the Lord, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.”

So what is God’s point here? He tells them to hunker down because exile will last 70 years. But then he says he will come to them and free them from captivity after that 70 years because he knows the plan he has for them. There is light at the end of the tunnel. He knows the journey through the dark tunnel may appear daunting, but ultimately, he has a plan; a plan that will result in a much better ending than if he’d merely taken away their immediate discomfort. He is encouraging them to hold on, have faith in him. There is hope and a future, it just may not involve squelching the discomfort today brings. It is meant to instill hope in the midst of their exile, not to provide news that exile will be short-lived.  

“It is meant to instill hope in the midst of their exile”


Now that you have the larger context of Jeremiah 29 and what it meant to the original listeners, take a moment to reflect and see how it applies to your life, to situations you may be facing.

How would you apply Jeremiah 29:11 to your life now? Does it still seem to fit within the Prosperity Gospel belief that if you follow God, no harm will come upon you? Does it still leave you with the assumption that immediate rescue is imminent? Or does it enable you to reflect on that verse differently? Does it teach you something new about the character of God? Does it cause you to reflect on your own trials in a new light? Does it provide a fresh lens with which to see a God in whom we can trust for ultimate purpose and intention, even when we at times have to experience pain in this life? 

I hope and pray this example has helped you gain insight as to why we should be cautious to apply scripture too hastily. Briefly pausing to understand the greater scope really can open the doors to a deeper understanding of God’s character and heart, and thus, how that pertains to our daily lives.


And in case you were curious about the end of the story, Babylonian Exile does end in 539 BC when Cyrus, king of Persia (who had since captured Babylon), allowed the Jews to return to their homeland. See the book of Ezra to read that story. All of that, combined with the world events that occur over the 400 Years of Silence (period between Old & New Testaments), set the stage for the perfect timing of the arrival of the Son of God, Jesus, who brought about the incomparable hope and future for mankind….but those details we’ll save for another time. 

Keep practicing and don’t get discouraged if the process still feels messy. Later this week, we’ll take a look at tools I’ve found helpful for studying the Bible.  

~Renee

Part 3: Why Context Matters

What comes to mind if you hear: “It’s brick outside.”? 

What about: “Can I get those fries animal style?” 

Or perhaps: “that’s sick!”

Well, the way you interpret those words will largely be dependent on where you live and the generation in which you were born. If you live on the East Coast, you know it to mean, “it’s freezing out, like a brick of ice.” If you’re from the West Coast, you can assume someone is ordering fries with cheese, Thousand Island dressing, and grilled onions. And again, depending on where you live or your social circle, “that’s sick,” could mean something is really gross, or it’s totally awesome. 

Those examples confuse you? Let’s try again.

Tell someone who doesn’t live in Michigan that you need to “run into Meijers and grab some Faygo pop,” or that your sister is a “troll,” and they may look at you cross-eyed. But locals here all know precisely that Michiganders love adding an “S” to everything, “Meijer” is a Michigan-based grocery store, and that Faygo is a local carbonated beverage called “pop”, never “soda.” You also aren’t using an offensive slur toward your kin, you’re merely saying your sister lives in the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, under the Mackinac Bridge, hence from which the term “troll” is derived. 😉 

Putting that into perspective, if there can be that much contextual difference within the same time period, just from region to region, how much more would we need to be mindful of contextual differences with Biblical accounts written thousands of years ago on the other side of the world? Jesus was not preaching in Mid-Western America. He was speaking to Jewish audiences in the Middle-East over 2,000 year ago. 

We want to be mindful of the cultural context we are bringing to the table when we open our Bibles. We can very quickly interpret scripture incorrectly when we view it through 21st Century Western culture. Our natural tendency will be to view things through our own cultural lens. So before reading a passage or chapter, take a moment to stop and think about the original context first. 

Let’s look at some examples from the Bible. In the NIV translation of the Bible, Jesus addresses his mother in John Chapter 2 as “Woman!” Understandably, I’ve witnessed people react to that as Jesus being disrespectful and misogynistic. Well, gee, when we read it within our cultural context, it does appear that way. But while the NIV often provides a literal translation, the cultural equivalent of what Jesus said would actually be like saying “Madame.” Do you see the difference in the level of respect by understanding just one word within its original context?!  

Now let’s address an oh, so popular verse: 

“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” – Philippians 4:13 

This is a classic verse taken out of context. Our Western, 21st Century culture loves this verse. It fits in perfectly with the cultural notion that 

“You can do anything!”

“She believed she could and she did!” 

“Work hard enough and you can achieve your dreams!”

Philippians, most likely written while Paul sat in a prison cell in Rome, was written to encourage the church of Philippi as they may face further persecution. 

Let’s look at verse 13 in full context of the paragraph: 

“I rejoiced greatly in the Lord that at last you renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you were concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” 

Interesting. When read all together, what is the main subject Paul is addressing? Is he talking about climbing the corporate ladder or killing it at a presentation or stashing away enough money to build that dream house? Paul is talking about contentment here! Not quite what is typically associated with that verse, now is it? 

I love that the NIV has actually updated the wording of verse 13 to read as “I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” By merely changing “things” to “this”, it directs your mind back to the aforementioned verses, as opposed to reducing Paul’s words into a motivational chant. 

Begin to practice pausing before you read scripture to consider that the original context was not 21st Century Western culture, and therefore, how would the original context have impacted its meaning? Below are some ideas for what to ask or pay attention to regarding context.  

Some study Bibles offer contextual info at the beginning of a book. Utilize that!

You absolutely do not need to answer every single one of these every time. They are merely meant to guide and assist, to provide you with some direction, not to bog you down. Again, don’t expect perfection from yourself pertaining to context, and certainly don’t worry if you don’t have all the answers. This coming Sunday we’ll return for Part 4 about the Bible as one big story and that will really help create some anchor points. 

Have a great weekend and I hope to see you here in a few days for Part 4!

~Renee