HOW TO APPLY A PASSAGE
We now come to the final part of studying the Bible. In some respects it is the most important part of all that we have learned. And that is applying the passage that we have been studying. If we cannot apply it, then in a very real sense it becomes just intellectual knowledge. All that we have studied, all the ways that we have investigated, all our detective work, all our diagnosing, all our exegeting, must be applied to our everyday lives. How do we do that? I suppose it is the ultimate answer to the question that I suggested that we ask of any passage: ‘So what?’
One of the most elementary ways of applying a passage is to read it as if it was written exclusively to you. That can be a very dangerous thing to do unless you know what the passage is about. Obviously not every passage can be applied to you personally. First of all, you must go through all the processes that we have been mentioning until you know what the passage says. Then, when you know that you have a right to apply it personally to yourself, you have a right to read it as if it was written to you.
And so, taking our model passage Ephesians Chapter 2 Verses 19 to 22, you could read something of like this :-
- So then I am no longer a stranger. I am no longer an alien but I am a fellow citizen with all the saints, and I am of God’s household. I have been built upon the foundation of the apostles and the prophets. Christ Jesus Himself is my chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building being fitted together is growing into a holy temple to the Lord. And I am also being built together into the dwelling of God in the Spirit.
Reading that passage and putting in my own personal pronoun does something to me. There is a stirring in my spirit as I realize that this is God speaking to me and about me. I am right in the centre of that passage of Scripture. And you too will find that reading it personally to yourself with intelligence brings a great sense that God is speaking now to you. As you read it to yourself you should begin to question how it applies to your personal life. Go over that Scripture and hear it and lay your own personal life before it. Ask, ‘So what?’
You have to ask what it is doing to your world-view. All of us have world-views. Basically a world-view asks, ‘Who is my God? How did the Universe come into existence? What is the meaning of it all now? Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going to, if anywhere?’ Every person in the world has a world-view of some sort, even if they say that there is no God, or that they got here by chance, or that there is no meaning to life, or that they are going nowhere. Scripture is the essential world-view, and you have to make up your mind that it is changing you now. You have to change your mind about some of those ideas about where you came from, the meaning of life, where you are going to. And you find that out of the application of the Scripture to your mind there comes a new view of the meaning of life and of the universe.
It is amazing what you can say you believe, and yet unless you challenge your thinking it does not change the way you normally live. It is uncanny that you can absorb a mass of truth and still think the way you used to think. You are living on two levels. You know the truth but you never challenge it, continuing to think as you have always done. You continually complain about the weather and about the government just like everybody else. You accept all the news bulletins as if you have never read the Bible in your life. You allow yourself to be completely moulded by the world when you have just been listening to tapes that should have changed your whole world-view. However, when you do challenge your thinking, your view of the meaning of life changes. You can no longer listen to a news bulletin or read a newspaper in the way that you used to. You see God breaking through.
This, I suppose, is the essence of Christian meditation. You turn the Word of God over and over in your mind until it is seeps into every part of your attitude and thought life. Now you cannot look backwards or forwards in life without being challenged by the Word of God. You will find that a lot of traditions will be challenged, traditions that you were always uneasy about. I receive many letters from people commenting on my teaching, and they say that they always believed it but they were afraid to acknowledge it. They were so hedged in by what their Church had traditionally taught them that underneath there was an uneasiness.
Now that you are coming to the Origin of truth you will find a lot of evidence that makes you uneasy. You need to challenge your traditions, otherwise you will be caught in a hideous tension. Let those traditions go – cut all the ropes that have held you to them – and hear what God says. And begin to be it, and live it, and think it, and build your life around it. We have been anchored to our traditions for too long.
Do not be afraid of doubts. Doubt is faith in the making. Nobody has ever had true faith without doubt. The person who says that they have never had a doubt has probably never thought either. Anyone who thinks is going to doubt in some way or another. I welcome doubts. My heart never doubts, because it knows where it stands with God. But my head doubts. It is a happy day when you have lived through your doubts and can say, ‘I know that I believe, and I know why I believe, and I know that I know, and I know with my head as well as with my heart.’
Carry a notebook with you wherever you go, because if you do what I am telling you, your study is going to go over and over in your mind all the time. I used to jot down revelations of truth on the backs of napkins in restaurants, until I realized the expediency of carrying a notebook. Now I can make notes in a form that I cannot lose. It is in those moments when your mind is relaxed and you are thinking about something else, that suddenly the Holy Spirit seems to put together all that you have been meditating on. Suddenly you see the answer, and unless you jot that down you are going to lose it. I guarantee that unless you have been taking notes while listening to these tapes, within the next two days you will have forgotten eighty percent of what I have said. When you have an idea, or a revelation, or an insight, write it down. Otherwise you will sit down in the evening and say, ‘What was that?’ And you will live in hideous frustration because it will have gone forever. You will just hate yourself for it. Carry a notebook and jot down everything as it begins to apply to and invade your life.
Find an illustration in real life on which to hang the truth that you have discovered. Now that is something that some people find easy and some people find difficult. If you can find an illustration on which to hang your piece of truth, you have a peg and you will never forget it. You will never forget a piece of truth that you found an illustration for. Never. It is yours forever. I always thrill when I get an illustration. It is mine. And so as I go through life I am always looking for illustrations. In fact, people who are close to me live in terror that they will become part of the next illustration. I got that from Jesus. What was Jesus doing for the first thirty years of his life? He was collecting illustrations of truth. All of those parables that Jesus told were about things that happened every day in little communities such as Nazareth. They were about ordinary life. These parables were illustrations that were rooted in the lives of the people, and everybody related totally to them. They were the pegs on which Jesus hung the truth of the kingdom of God.
The following parables are in Matthew Chapter 13. In Verses 3 to 8 Jesus told of a sower who went out to sow. That happened every spring in Nazareth, and when Jesus related sowing to life in the kingdom of God He was saying something that the people would understand. He hung his truth on an illustration. Another of His illustrations, in Verses 47 and 48, was taken from men who went out fishing. That was something that the men around Galilee were doing every day of their lives. They had done it since they were children, pulling in the nets, picking out the bad fish and throwing them away, keeping the good ones.
In Verses 45 and 46 Jesus told of the merchant who went looking for pearls. That was something that every boy in any village of Israel was well aware of. The travelling merchants were the men who filled the romance of a young boy’s mind. They came down through Syria and checked in at the Customs House on the way to Egypt. They came from the big world and they went to the big world, all the time bartering for pearls and riches. Oh yes, they were well-known characters. And Jesus took that illustration and told of the pearl merchant who, when he had found the pearl of great price, sold all that he had to buy it. On that story Jesus hung the truth of the kingdom.
Look at another illustration in Verse 44. Who in Israel had not dreamed of tripping over hidden treasure? Remember where they lived. It was the crossroads of the world. There had been many battles fought there between the great world powers, and there was much treasure buried in the earth. It was very possible for a man walking in a field to find a box full of treasure. Jesus took that as an illustration and said that tripping over a box of treasure and buying the field in order to have it is like knowing the truth of the kingdom of God.
Look at Jesus’ words, ‘You are the salt of the earth.’ in Matthew Chapter 5 Verse 13. Now what peasant would not relate to that? They all knew about cooking with salt and using it as a preservative. Or Verse 14: ‘A city set on a hill cannot be hidden.’ At night-time you would find your way by following the lighted torches of towns on hilltops. You could go on multiplying all those vivid illustrations. In the same way you should go out into your life and find illustrations on which to hang all that God has shown you.
Jesus even used the miracles, the supernatural workings of God in the lives of men, as illustrations. In Matthew Chapter 16 Verses 5 to 12, He was remonstrating with the disciples because they complained that they had forgotten to take bread. He said to them, ‘Did you not see the miracle of the loaves? Can you not take that and apply it to life? Can you not correlate the truth that you have seen with the life you are living? Make that an illustration of the provisions of God.’ Again in Matthew Chapter 6 Verses 26 to 30 He asked the people, ‘Can you not look at a bird and understand the provisions of your Heavenly Father? Have you never looked at a flower and understood that God will take care of you?’ It is as if Jesus is saying, ‘Wake up, open your eyes, come alive. There is a whole world out there preaching to you all the time’.
I personally have been collecting illustrations over the years. When I have seen truth I mull it around in my head until a certain set of circumstances gives me my illustration. And usually anyone who talks to me about what I have shared with them will not remember what I have said, but they always remember my illustrations. For example, there are many people across the country who ask me how my bush eyes are. That comes from when I was walking through a jungle in Africa and I could not see what the natives could see. I said to them, ‘I nearly tread on snakes, I nearly walk into a leopard. How can I not see them? They are sitting right in front of me.’ And my African guide just said, ‘Bush eyes, Pa, bush eyes. You live in the bush long enough, you begin to see what is really there.’ And I suddenly realized that we have the ability to see God in every situation. We wander through the forest seeing nothing and asking, ‘Where is God?’ But with our ‘bush eyes’ we can see Him. I hung on to that simple little illustration as a whole mass of truth concerning the providence of God and the workings of God in our lives.
I remember when I wrestled with how to share with people the idea of union with Christ. I wished to avoid saying it in such a way that people might think that I became Christ or that Christ became me. How could I tell them that Christ was in me? I remember sitting in a café dipping a tea bag in and out of the cup. And suddenly I had the answer. Into that colourless water goes tea. The tea unites with the water, so that now we call the water ‘tea’. But actually the tea is in the bag. That union of tea and water is a perfect illustration of the union of man with God. Into my empty, colourless, tasteless, life comes Jesus Christ. He is in me and I am in Him; but I never become the tea bag and the tea bag never becomes me. I now had my illustration, my peg. And incidentally, on that we could hang nearly all of Colossians and Galatians.
I was trying to explain to a number of Africans how merely trying to be like Jesus is not enough. I realized that I was groping for words. Then I saw a chimpanzee that was doing everything I did. Every time I lifted my hand the chimpanzee lifted its hand. Everybody was laughing, and suddenly I had my illustration. I said,
- That chimpanzee is doing a magnificent job of imitating a human being, and all it gets is a lot of laughs. It can imitate something higher but it can never be something higher. And therefore all its imitations are laughable. In the same way, when I, a mere human being, am trying to imitate Jesus Christ, that is laughable. First of all I have to be born again, and then I can say that I have within me the very nature of Jesus Christ. It is as if now the chimpanzee has a human heart, and it has been lifted higher.
The natives understood that. Then as I was going to the aeroplane to leave, one of them came to me with Ephesians Chapter 5 Verse 1, which says ‘Be imitators of God’. I grappled with that all across Europe. When my plane landed my daughter Donna was there to meet me. She was doing something, and someone said, ‘Boy, she is just like you.’ And I had my answer. She can imitate me because she has my nature. Donna and the chimpanzee have been the subject of our illustration all across America. I have something on which to hang my truth.
Let us now look again at our model passage, Ephesians Chapter 2. What are some of the conclusions – the ‘so what’s’ – that we could apply to ourselves? We have seen that we are no longer strangers and aliens but are fellow citizens with the saints, and are of God’s household. We have gone over this passage again and again, and we are well aware of what it is saying. As we now apply it, we realize that we personally were the aliens. For some of you that is so obvious, and you may have faced up to it a long time ago. But for others it may be a entirely new revelation where God just rips open your hearts and shows you that you were aliens. We have already discovered that the word ‘alien’ means ‘one of another nature, one who is not the same’. You need to realize that you were on the outside. You were not just a nice person to whom Jesus was added making everything perfect. You were a person completely on the outside, and you had to have a radical change in your nature in order to be where you are now.
For me it is very humbling to realize that I cannot go back and say that I deserved it and worked my way into it. But there was a radical change first. Then and only then was I ready to be called a citizen of the family of God. I looked at all those people for whom I had been praying to become ‘nice’ Christians. And I began to realize that they were aliens. They were outside, of another nature. And that began to challenge my thinking about the whole world around me. There would be some people in the world who did a lot of good things. They might be nice people, but I would have to realize that they were aliens. All my thinking about the world would continually come back to the Bible. And I would begin to see the world in two camps. There are not very nasty people and then nice people and then Christians; but there are those who are born again and then every body else, whom the Scripture calls aliens. That would change my thinking, and change my praying, and change my attitudes. It would put the whole of my understanding in perspective.
Let us continue to apply Ephesians Chapter 2 to ourselves. We, who were once outsiders, are now on the inside. We are now in the household of God or, as we saw on tape 2, housemates of God. We are insiders because God put us there. You will remember that we discovered the passive tense. We have been built. We saw all those Scriptures that say that the Holy Spirit puts us into the Body of Christ. God does it. Now that should take us back through this Epistle. We would have done that as we correlated. You may not have gone into the Old Testament with your correlation, but you should have gone to the beginning of this Epistle and back again to see how it applies. The first verses of Chapter 1 of Ephesians show that the whole Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is at work in building us into the holy temple. Verses 3 to 6 say:-
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who…chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace…
If you continue to read that chapter you will find that the phrase ‘to the praise of the glory of His grace’ is a kind of chorus. Verse 6 continues: ‘…which He freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.’ ‘The Beloved’ is Jesus, and so Verses 7 to 9 speak of how the Son is involved in our salvation:-
- In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us. In all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His kind intention which He purposed in [Christ].
Paul tells us that all things are going to sum up in Christ, and that we also have obtained an inheritance. Verse 12 adds ‘that we who were the first to hope in Christ should be to the praise of His glory’. Here is a repeat of the chorus. Verse 13 says:-
- In Him, you also, after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation…were sealed…with the Holy Spirit of promise.
The whole Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is at work. And the prayer that Paul prays at the end of that chapter is an appeal to the Holy Spirit that He would be the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. Now you should be able to see that that all links up to Chapter 2 Verses 19 to 22. There you find that you have been built. Someone built you into this holy temple. Who was it? The Father built you: before the world began He planned that you should be built into His holy temple. Then the Son built you, because it was the Son who shed His blood and rose again having purchased for you a place in the holy temple. Then again it is the Holy Spirit who built you and who sealed you, and who now is opening your eyes and showing you what has happened.
I remember the first time I realized that I was the subject of the whole Trinity. Father, Son and Holy Spirit, the entire Trinity was at work in my salvation. I knew Him because He first found me. That was a very sobering and humbling thought. But then I read in these verses that we are now applying to ourselves that I am now part of God’s Holy of Holies. I am a brick in the building. When I first realized that, I had to challenge everything that I had ever been taught. I had been taught that the church building was the house of God. This was the biggest challenge to me, and I guess that at the time it threatened me the most. It touched a raw nerve: it challenged the structure, the hierarchy, all the business and administration of church. I knew that if I followed what I was reading in this passage, before very long I would get myself into trouble. I saw that the building was not the house of God; the people in the building are the house of God. They are the Holy of Holies built there by the triune God.
That affected a lot of my thinking. I began to realize that no place on earth is sacred. People are sacred, and whenever they are in a place then that place is sacred. When they leave, it is ordinary again. And then in the church that I was pasturing I opened in prayer, and like all good pastors who open in prayer I said, ‘We come into Your presence O Lord.’ And I coughed and spluttered and somehow limped to the end of the prayer, because as I had said ‘we come into Your presence’ all my meditations hit me. My mind said, ‘Don’t be stupid! A brick inside the Holy of Holies lives in the presence of God. You do not need to come into God’s presence; you already live there. And I knew that I would have to change all my praying and all my concepts.
Do you see how I am applying this? Do you see how you could apply it? The Church, who are made up of living stones – made up of the bricks of the Holy of Holies – may assemble; but you can never go to church. All the bricks can come together and be aware of each other; but you can never go to church. How can one of the bricks that make up the Church go to the church? Do you see how simply applying this one little verse and letting it do its work inside you can radically change all of your thinking?
Of course that was only one step to realizing that I could continually enjoy the essential presence of God at all times. For the presence of God was known in the Holy of Holies at all times, and one who was part of that building making up the Holy of Holies would be constantly in the presence of God. I realized that that was the first step to actually practising the presence of God. I knew, because the Scripture said so, that I lived in God’s presence. I then understood the implication of all of those Scriptures in the Old Testament, that we tried to correlate on side one of this tape, concerning Zion. The people could come to Zion with everlasting joy upon their heads because of course they already lived in Zion. That place was the Holy of Holies. No wonder they had songs and shouts of joy! Then I began to think of myself along with every other Christian in relationship to the world. I realized that I was part of God’s naos, I was part of God’s Holy of Holies, and therefore I was in the world but not of it. I was a nation within the nations.
That meant that I could walk out into the world with a new sense of who I was. I had a new self-image. I was no longer just an individual Christian; I belonged to a holy nation. I was a living brick in God’s naos. I could walk in the world knowing who I was and knowing that I was different and knowing why I was different. I was a full citizen of God’s kingdom. And I had to face the fact that in that kingdom, that nation, there is absolutely no reference to nationality. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, but there is the new man. Gentiles have been transcended as Jews have been. I had to change a lot of my thinking about other races. I had quite a big problem with other races, you know. Galatians Chapter 3 implies that that holy nation transcends not only nationality but also rank and sex. There is neither rich nor poor, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female. There is a dignity that comes to those who are in the kingdom of God where they know a unity that is based on Jesus Christ. I am a member of the new Israel.
It was a long time ago when I first saw these things. I wrestled with them because I did not know what to do with the nation of Israel. If the Church was the real Israel, then what had happened to the others? I wrestled with that for a long time. Then I saw my other daughter Karen playing with her dolls. And she said that she never wanted to give up her dolls. That said a lot to me. I went away and began to ponder why little girls play with dolls. It is because they are made one day to hold babies. There is motherhood inside little girls, and motherhood reaches out to a doll and starts practising being an adult. My young daughter was practising motherhood on her dolls, and she said she never wanted to give that up. And I suddenly saw Israel playing with her dolls. Israel had in her hand all of the Levitical offerings and her beautiful doll’s house called the temple. Why? Because God said that He wished Israel to practise being His people. But when Israel one day grew up she said that she did not want adulthood and maturity. She wanted only her dolls. And she went off to continue playing with her dolls, while all who would join themselves to Jesus Christ became the mature adult Israel of God. That illustration of a little girl playing with her dolls was for me the beginning of a whole understanding of the place of Israel. But on it hung the truth of this chapter in Galatians.
Also I noted in these verses that we are studying in Ephesians, that the building is in the process of growing. That means that it is not yet finished. And while I was meditating on that I passed a building site and saw the biggest mess that I had ever seen. There were holes, bricks in piles, pieces of wood, girders, steel, noise. And then I realized that there is an Architect who has already seen the perfect building. He has even made little models of it. I reflected that it was as if in a hut on the building site there were a couple of men who could read blueprints. And because they could read the blueprints they could be involved in the growing building. I went away asking the Lord to teach me to read the blueprints. The Architect does have a few people on earth who can read blueprints, and they can see only what the Architect can see. That for me was another peg to hang truth on.
So do you see what to do when you study the Word of God? You take a book and read it; take a passage and observe it; take your observations and interpret them; take your interpretations and correlate them; and then take it all and apply it. Now we have done that in very careful slots, but you will find that in many cases the processes will overlap and merge together. It is not a one, two, three, four, five, six process; it merges many, many times. But you need to be aware that this all has to be done. You are not on a marathon, setting a time limit; nor are you trying to prove yourself such a fantastic student that you will be studying one particular book for three years. You just do it at your pace and let the thing unfold in front of you, and God will be glorified in all of your studies.