Most of us wouldn’t want to start watching a movie halfway through. And we wouldn’t pick up a new novel and start reading on page 188. We understand the need for context.
Yet we will pick out a single verse of scripture and make an application without considering what the Bible says before or after that single verse.
I recently saw a Bible study lesson based on 1 John 4:19: “We love because he first loved us.” According to the curriculum’s teaching plan, the main point was, “Because God loves us, we are supposed to love others.”
Many Christians probably see it that way. But the verses immediately before 1 John 4:19 describe how “love comes from God.” And, “His love is made complete in us.” And, “we live in him and he lives in us and he has given us his Spirit.”
The main point is not that I am supposed to love others because God loves me. The main point is that I am able to love others because God loves me. I will love others when God’s love is in me.
At first the Pharisees did not know what to make of Jesus. But that changed.It changed because he said things like this:
“I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins.” John 8:24
We can only imagine how angry this made the Pharisees.
They thought that their religion and their own works were the way to God. Jesus said that He was the true way to God.
They thought they could attain righteousness; actually they thought they had already attained it. They believed that violating the Law was the heart of sin.
Jesus says that unbelief in Him is the source and basis and definition of all sin.
Later in the same chapter (John 8) they say Jesus is demon-possessed; at the end of the chapter they try to stone him; later they will crucify him.
But then he proved how wrong they were.
A key part of Jesus’ teachings was to show the inadequacy of the Law for achieving righteousness.
One day he commented, “You have never murdered anyone? Never violated the 6th commandment? Never broke that law? Well, if you think someone is an empty-headed fool and you say that out loud then you are in danger of hell.”
“And you have never had a physical adulterous relationship? You have never broken the 7th commandment? Well, if you have ever had a lustful thought, then you’ve committed adultery in your heart and that’s the same thing.”
And some religious people in that crowd heard those teachings, and just like religious, well-meaning people who hear them today, they said, “Hmmm. Jesus just gave us some new rules. We need to follow those rules also.”
But what was Jesus really doing? He was showing them the impossibility of achieving righteousness by following a law system of human works.
Jesus was not giving new laws; he was letting the Law do its work. He was letting it condemn self-righteousness so that his hearers would realize their need for the righteousness he would offer.