Sermons and Bible studies tend to have a standard format: start with the scripture, end with the practical application. It seems a bible teacher is obligated to get through all the doctrine stuff fast, and get to the “meat,” the “point,” the important stuff: the ways it affects my life. Always looming over the teacher is the audience’s question: “why should I care?”
Now, some parts of the bible are really easy to apply. Take James, for example, or 1st Samuel 17, or Romans 1-8, or Daniel chapter 6. Whether a teacher is moralizing, or evangelizing, some parts of the Bible are inherently simple to apply. But what about Leviticus? Or Daniel 9? Or Romans 9 through 11?
Why should I care about how Jesus will return? Or why should I care about Israel’s history? Or her future? Or why should I care about the dispensations? Or the controversy of circumcision in the early church?
The Bible says there is a practical benefit for knowing any biblical truth.
(Not sure about that? Give an example in a comment!)
The apostle Paul says,
All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. 2 Tim 3:16-17
In his letter to the Corinthians, after giving historical Old Testament examples, he says,
Now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 1 Cor 10:11
Countless more examples from scripture testify that the study of God’s word –yes, even all of it– is beneficial. How is it beneficial? “As a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path,” is the obvious answer for much of it, but for the rest…
It is worth knowing for knowing’s sake.
Even if there were no practical benefits to knowing some aspect of God’s revelation, it would still be worth knowing. As persons created in God’s image, it is good for us to realize our created ends. As beings with intellect, it is good to acquire knowledge, and since God is our ultimate good and purpose, what greater use of our intellect could there be than to seek knowledge of God?
What does it mean to love the Lord with all your mind (Matt 22:37)? Learning more of God’s word is an act of worship, and gaining understanding of God is a way to love Him with your mind. If He really is perfect goodness, love, power, and wisdom, as more of His character and works are revealed, the more He is glorified. As His glory is made more apparent to you, the more fulfilled in purpose you will be, because His glory is your purpose. Even if what glorifies Him has nothing to do with you. Besides,
It has everything to do with Jesus.
If the goal of personal application is sanctification, it is of course a good thing. It’s dangerous, however, to view sanctification as taking principles or descriptions of right behavior and emulating those. In other words, it is wrong to view the whole process of spiritual growth as, say, reading Romans 12:9-21, and then going out and “trying really hard!” to do those things. Obviously much more could be said, but biblically, true sanctification comes from “abiding in the vine,” and “walking in the Spirit”; by being transformed by the renewing of the mind, setting our minds on heavenly things. In other words, it comes by fixing our eyes on Jesus.
It’s no accident that most of Paul’s epistles start with doctrine, and then end with the practical. Right behavior flows from right thinking. Because without the right doctrine, all the “right” behavior in the world becomes legalism. Even this doesn’t actually lead to right behavior. As Paul says in Colossians 2, rules and regulations have an appearance of wisdom, but these are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. In other words, simply attempting to apply principles of right behavior has no power for sanctification.
The difference between walking in the spirit and legalism, then, is ultimately motivation*. We respond to who God is and what He has done. (And not just what He has done for us, but everything.) The really practical Romans chapters 12 through 15 are all in response to Romans 1 through 11! It says, in view of the mercies of God, to be living sacrifices, which is our reasonable act of worship. A desire to live righteously is simply the reasonable response to who God is and what He has done.
The biblical way of sanctification is by becoming more and more enthralled in the glory of God; seeing oneself fully defined as disciples whom Jesus loved (as John did). And the better you know Jesus, the better and more glorious He will be to you.
So how can those who do know Jesus, get to know him better? By better knowing all of the Bible. All of the Bible (not just part of the New Testament) is about Jesus. From the promised Messiah to the promised King, from the rejected King to the sacrificed and risen Messiah, from the seated High Priest to the coming Bridegroom, from the coming and conquering King to the reigning King, it’s all about Jesus from Genesis to Revelation.
So no, you shouldn’t need any “life application” to make the study of God’s word worthwhile. Every jot and tittle is directly beneficial to you.
It’s not about you, it’s about Him.
At the end of the day, being a Christian is a relationship. The ultimate reason to care about every part of the bible, is because your loving Father has said something to you. Not all of it is about you, or addressed to you. But the fact remains, He has revealed for you, so many things about Himself.
A father took his young son to work, and showed him all around the workplace. He explained every task he does, and all the planning involved, both in the short term daily work of the company, and its long term future in the industry. Fidgeting with impatience, the son thought, “how does this apply to me?”
A wealthy and powerful man had coffee with a close friend. (The man had given this friend an entry level job in one of his companies.) He began overflowing with excitement and joy as he explained his goals for his company, current and future projects, and how the past has led to this point. With glazed-over eyes, the friend thought, “what practical application can I get out of this conversation?”
Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15) Let’s be enthralled with the reality of being called children, and friends; fixated on the grace that God would reveal so much to us. Let’s be people who sit at the feet of Jesus, hanging on His every word.
*This also applies to studying the bible. Our motivation for studying should not be for selfish or prideful reasons. To do so would be to misunderstand scripture, anyway!
This post was partly inspired by this article:
Some Brief Thoughts on Application in Biblical Interpretation
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