Preachers and teachers of God’s word are called (as this blog’s name suggests) to STUDY, OBEY and TEACH GOD’s WORD. The three basic steps of bible study or hermeneutics (the process of interpretation) requires OBSERVATION, INTERPRETATION and APPLICATION.
Observation – We must read and read and reread the text. We must observe what the text says with careful eyes, not reading into the text but noting the details which God the Holy Spirit led the original author to craft.
Interpretation – Now the work begins! We must discover the meaning of the original text written by the original author to the original readers. We must ask the right questions of the text and begin the process. We must observe the context – the sentence, the paragraph, the chapter, the book, the testament, the genre (type) of literature, and the entire canon of both testaments. Scripture interprets scripture and with the promised guidance of the Holy Spirit who breathed-out Scripture, we tackle this assignment.
Application – Having seen what the text says and what it means using all the God-given skills we possess me move to this aspect of proper study. We apply the text to our situation, our world. We contextualize what we have learned and discover the transferrable principle, the specific way we may be “doers of the word and not hearers only.”
John the Baptist had a specific role of preparing people for the coming Christ (his cousin Jesus). His message was one of REPENTANCE – literally a change of mind as he spoke to the crowds assembling around him in the desert of Judea and beside the Jordan River. When his hearers came up with a specific question, John, without hesitation had thought through applications. Some times preachers miss the step and hearers leave not clear as to “the next step” God is calling them to take.
“What should we do then?” the crowd asked.” The sermon has been preached, now a response is expected. It is not enough to hear truth, one must obey it. I recall years ago on a mission trip to Japan seeing this exemplified. At the close of a service, having heard a clear sermon (translated for our benefit as guests), I typically expected a closing hymn and benediction. No, a thousand times no, the missionary insisted….those who heard the truth this morning must commit themselves prayerfully to action. So after the hymn was sung, men, women, and young people of all ages began to pray, declaring publicly their willingness to DO what GOD had told them to that morning. Wow, I thought, pay attention, this is biblical! This should be done every time truth is taught, yet sadly, many a strong sermon is concluded (after the postlude) with shallow conversation about Saturday night’s hockey game or where “everyone” is meeting at which restaurant!
To conclude, let’s summarize the specific applications, John the Baptist–the preacher for the occasion had thought through and now informed his hearers to practice.
#1 A man with two tunics? SHARE with him who has none!
#2 A man who has food? SHARE with him who has none!
#3 Those who work as Tax collectors? Don’t collect more than you are required to collect (by the Roman authorities.)
#4 Those who are employed in the Roman military? Don’t extort money! Don’t accuse people falsely! Be content!
These applications give us a quick snapshot of the audience, the type of hearers the Spirit of God had assembled on this occasion. Like congregations today, there are rich and poor, there are government employees, military personnel and a host of other professions. Every one of them needs to know the “SO WHAT?” of the message preached and the preacher must have thought through clear, specific applications of God’s word.
(Though the painting is of a “white” audience, the author of the attached painting has tried to capture John the Baptist preaching in the wilderness.)