Context. It's a great word. I always liked the sound of it. However it is far more than a great sounding word. It is a critical concept for properly understanding and interpreting the world around us. If you are play fighting and tickling your significant other and while laughing and trying to squirm free she says "I hate you" the context is far different than if she just discovered you've been leading a double life for 10 years and is throwing plates at your head and says "I hate you".
The words are exactly the same. The context is as opposite as can be. The context, not the words, determines the meaning of the feelings being expressed.
Yesterday while sorting through a box of donated books at our church I came across one with the title "Why So Many Denominations?" If there is only one God and only one Bible how can there be so many different churches and sets of beliefs all claiming to be "the truth"? There are several reasons but a huge one is lack of context when interpreting what the Bible means. Rather than take the time to understand who Paul was, who he was writing to, and what motivated the letter, people grab a verse they like from Romans and tear it from its context and then use it as they please.
In addition to this issue is a lack of understanding of the original structure of the Bible. When we read books they are typically divided into chapters. Each chapter is connected to the next but not fully. When a chapter ends and a new one starts there is typically a pause in time or a shift in thought and /or circumstance of some kind.
The Bible has chapters too but they can be very misleading. The reason for this is that the original authors never had verses or chapter breaks. These were inserted much later to make the Bible easier to navigate and use.
The problem is that in our minds when we come to the end of a chapter we assume we are coming to the conclusion of an idea. With the Bible this is a false assumption and some chapter breaks are a travesty.
I said all this as a lead up to the context of two very sensitive topics in Romans chapter 1 that continue into chapter 2. It is a text book example of both points I am making today: that context is critical and chapter breaks can be lethal to a proper understanding of what is being said.
The two issues are creation and sexuality but the context is seeing and understanding God through the lense of the Gospel story. Paul is saying that how we interpret our origins and our expression of sexuality is actually rooted in and a byproduct of our picture of God. Where the chapter break comes into play is that if you stop at the end of chapter one his line of reasoning seems stark and harsh but if you continue to the conclusion of his explanation the picture changes dramatically.
Remember as we plunge into potentially hot water tomorrow that Romans is not about our origins as a human race or about our sexuality. Romans is about the Gospel and how our understanding of God affects every aspect of our life from how we see our beginnings to how we choose to live each day.
When we pick up again tomorrow you may choose to disagree with Paul but we must be fair in looking at the whole picture in context while throwing the chapter break out the window.
See you tomorrow.