Chapter 14 - Application
After we have discovered the teachings of the Bible, we must use those
teachings in our lives.
Be careful to do
according to all that is written. (Joshua 1:8)
In fact, to gain Bible knowledge that has practical implications for your
life, but not use that knowledge in your life, is a very serious matter
Prove yourselves doers of
the word, and not merely hearers who delude themselves. (James 1:22)
That you may be filled with
the knowledge of His will . . . so that you may walk in a manner worthy
of the Lord, to please Him in all respects . . . for the attaining of all
steadfastness and patience. (Colossians 1:9-11)
The things you have learned
and received and heard and seen in me, practice these things. (Philippians
To one who knows
the right thing to do, and does not do it, to him it is sin. (James
This sounds a warning to the person who, out of pride, studies his Bible
with a motive of showing off his vast Bible knowledge, or to the person
who, out of a desire for recognition, studies the Bible with a motive of
gaining acceptance with those who value the Bible.
Today, if you would hear
His voice, Do not harden your hearts. (Psalm 95:7-8)
Finding the General
Often a biblical teaching can be directly applied in our lives.
When the Bible states a general principle which is relevant to us, we should
begin living and acting according to that principle with, of course, the
Holy Spirit's help.
Sometimes, however, what we find in the Bible is not a principle directly
applicable to us, but an example or a command directly applicable centuries
ago to a certain person (or group) in a particular situation. His
specific actions might have been proper for him in his circumstances,
but we cannot necessarily copy those exact actions in our circumstances
today. In these cases our task is to uncover the general principle
underlying the specific example or command and then reapply that principle
in our own circumstances. The general principle is transferable;
the specific applications may not be.
For instance, Jesus gave a specific command to his disciples not to
leave Jerusalem. Then he added, "You shall be My witnesses both in
Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the remotest part
of the earth" (Acts 1:8). Certainly this command in itself, as
it is worded here, is not a general principle which we are to apply
directly to our situation. If that were the case, we should all begin
our witnessing in Jerusalem. We need to uncover the general principle
which determined the command in thatsituation.
|----- THEN -----
The specific biblical situation
|----- NOW -----
My specific situation
|The specific example which took place in that particular situation, or the specific command given to fit that particular situation.
||My application in my own circumstances.
|The General Principle
Once that general principle is uncovered, we can then determine how
it should be applied in our particular situation. However, uncovering
the general principle is not an easy task. For instance, which of
the following general principles was in Jesus' mind and determined the
specific command he gave?
Extreme care must be exercised so that we do not jump to a conclusion
regarding the principles underlying specific biblical examples and commands.
Begin where you are.
Begin where you find the most receptive group.
Begin in a large city.
Another interesting illustration of a biblical command which was given
to fit specific circumstances is found in Jesus' command to his disciples
to tell people that he was the Messiah (Matthew 16:20).
Furthermore, there are varying degrees to which biblical examples and
commands are binding on us. General spiritual principles are obviously
binding since they can be applied in all places and at all times.
The Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) is such a general principle.
Notice the universal applicability for all times and places which is built
into this directive: "all authority . . . in heaven and on
earth . . . all the nations . . . I am with you always."
Certainly such a command is binding on us, even though it was not spoken
directly to us.
But many other commands and examples are less binding on us for
the following reasons. Many single examples and commands are situation-bound.
Such examples or commands are not in themselves binding on us, but the
underlying general principles are binding on us if we are
able to discern what they are with certainty. When an example or
command is repeated, however, it comes closer to being a general principle,
especially if it is repeated in varying circumstances. Also, although
the examples of Jesus are always correct in the given situation, the examples
of others are subject to error. The biblical writings of the prophets
and apostles are inspired and thus errorless, but on some occasions their
actions are poor examples for us (Exodus 18:13-26; Numbers 20:7-12;
2 Samuel 11:1-27; Galatians 2:11-14; Acts 15:36-40).
Thus, before making an application, we should ask the following questions:
This does not mean that we can simply ignore the single examples of the
prophets or apostles. Even with these we must carefully evaluate
the example or the command and attempt to discern how binding it is on
us and what underlying principle it represents.
- Is this command in itself a general principle, or
is it a situation-bound command?
- What is the general principle underlying this specific command
or example? How certain am I that I have uncovered the correct principle?
- Is this the example of Christ or of someone else?
- Is this a single example or command, or is it repeated?
Are the situations in which it is repeated all alike, or are they varied?
There are three other mistakes which are commonly made in regard to
The first mistake is actually the opposite of what has just been discussed.
Just as it is improper to attempt to apply every example and every command
to your own specific situation, it is also improper to dismiss every example
and every command on the assumption that none of them is relevant to you
today. We must remember that (1) many passages are relevant for all
places and all times since they are statements of general principles, and
(2) every specific example and command which is intended for only one place
and time is still based on a general principle which can be reapplied today.
Philippians 2:2-3 is an example of a passage which is directly applicable
Make my joy complete
by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose.
Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider
others better than yourselves.
To evade the application of such a passage on any so-called "cultural"
grounds is to rationalize away one's only valid response to the Word of
God and to frustrate the purpose for personal Bible study.
Another mistake is to think of the application of Scripture as a separate
"method," often called the "devotional method." When this is done,
it is very easy to think of application as merely one of several methods
to choose from, so that you can perhaps use the "devotional method" on
one passage or topic, but not on the next. Rather, personal application
of Scripture is something which you should be willing and ready to do at
all times, not merely when you have chosen to adopt the "devotional method."
No one should put application out of his mind simply because he is not
currently using that "method."
Another mistake is to attempt to use a devotional "method" or application
"method" too soon -- before you have gone through all the hard work that
is necessary to insure that you have the best possible interpretation of
the passage or topic. It is dangerous to apply a passage in your
life before working through the process of finding out exactly what the
text says, and before being sure of its true meaning. Personal application
must be placed where it belongs -- following careful, systematic
observation and reflective interpretation.
Back to Index | Next Chapter
Direct Bible Discovery copyright © by Ronald W. Leigh. All rights reserved.