We can learn a lot by familiarizing ourselves with the context and by orienting theologically to the revelations made in Scripture. However, we still need some step by step instructions. Yes, I know that I need to travel south to go to Dallas, but I need to know which roads to take, how long I stay on them, and where the next turn is. Fortunately, God provides similar details for us in His word.
It does no good to know all the facts if there is no application. Scripture moves us. That’s the point. If we just hold the map in our hands, but never take a step, then we will never make the journey. Our walk with God is the same. The facts that we find in His word are there to light they way. Those aren’t my words, they’re His!
Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.
-Psalm 119:105 (CSB)
As we read His word, we face certain practical challenges, or check points, on our path to moving forward. These are the steps through that particular part of the journey. We are at our point of origin and the practical challenges conveyed in these verses lead us in the direction of Christlikeness. Personally, when I begin to put this together I like to identify these two major points: the end point and the starting point. I can’t chart a journey unless I know where I’m going and where I’m starting. The end point is that one big idea that God is moving me toward through the teaching in these verses. We can get an understanding of this big idea by looking at the context and theology we’ve already covered.
Next, I can begin asking myself where I’m beginning my journey. That is the great part of following God’s Word. It is so powerful and authoritative that it doesn’t matter if I’m new to this whole Scripture thing or if I’ve been studying the Bible for decades. It meets me where I am, and then helps chart a course for following Christ forward in my walk with Him. One great way to determine where I’m beginning my journey is to ask myself questions. Where do I feel the sting of guilt? Where does this theme make me uncomfortable? Am I trying to find examples to justify something other than this teaching? The answer will give me my starting point.
The winding path between the starting point and the end point has to be traversed. There is a distance between where I am and where God is leading me in obedience to grow and mature in my faith and action. The distance between the two points is the main theme of our section. You know, that one main topic that the verses are about. It can address many different things, but usually there is one that jumps off the page.
Think of it like this. If God’s Word is a map, then the theme, or main topic, of these specific verses is us zooming in on this particular part of the journey. And so, you might come to a section like Paul’s writing in 1 Corinthians 15 and title the journey through those verses “Clarifying the Gospel.” The actual flow of his words, his thoughts, points, logic, and reasoning, then, would form the points that tie together the message Paul is conveying.
These thoughts make the theme make sense, and are steps that we would need to take to move from our starting point to the ending point of the journey called, “Clarifying the Gospel.” In the case of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul’s argument flows from his desire to make sure they are confident in the gospel in which they have placed their hope. In fact, this would be an excellent first check point. The gospel is worth getting right because it is points us toward our only hope in Christ.
Paul’s next step actually addresses the gospel itself. This checkpoint leads us to understand the individual parts of the gospel message he preached. You can see from the verses that he says in verse 3, “For I passed on to you as most important what I also received.” So, what he is about to state is a summary clarification of the gospel he preached. Implied is that Jesus was the Christ, the savior the world needed. “Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.” Finally, he writes of the resurrection as a vital part of the gospel message. In fact, the resurrection is the point of Paul’s writing.
So, you see, if we are following Paul’s logic through the part of our journey called, “Clarifying the Gospel,” from 1 Corinthians 15: then we see the check points are:
Realize the importance of getting the gospel right.
We can get the gospel right because it has been clearly revealed to us.
We can hope through the gospel, because Jesus is risen.
Now, these are summary statements, but these integrating thoughts usually become the points of a lesson or message from the verses. When I preached a message on 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 I used a similar outline with the message points The Essential Gospel, The Essentials of the Gospel, and the Essence of the Gospel. These are the thoughts that build the argument, reasoning, or logic that we must navigate in order to journey from where we began to where God is leading.
So, when we begin to study a section of text, we need to figure out the theme. Next, we follow the thoughts that tie it all together. Finally, we need to discover the significance, or thrust, of the journey these verses are taking us on. In other words, “so what?” Why do we need to clarify the gospel? Why do we need to hit these specific check points on our way toward the end point? This step is, in all reality, the main point of Scripture.
Remember, God’s Word was given for this point.
14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed. You know those who taught you, 15 and you know that from infancy you have known the sacred Scriptures, which are able to give you wisdom for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness, 17 so that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
-2 Timothy 3:14-16 (CSB)