[forthright] Proper Goal, Proper Tools

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From: Forthright Magazine <forthrightmag@...>
Date: Wed, 23 Feb 2011 04:10:05 -0800 (PST)
Forthright Magazine
http://www.forthright.net
Straight to the Cross

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COLUMN: HANDS-ON FAITH

Proper Goal, Proper Tools
 by Barry Newton

What commonality exists between your spouse staring at
you for an unusual duration and a newspaper cartoon
featuring a president interacting with a dragon?
Perhaps not much.

However, one common element is certain: you will try to
understand what was meant and you will probably arrive
at some conclusion. But will our spouse or the
cartoonist agree that we have really understood?

Having the proper goal and tools promotes an
appropriate understanding. In the case of the cartoon,
a helpful tool involves knowing that inflation has been
stereotypically characterized in Brazil by a dragon.

Possessing proper tools and the appropriate goal in
Bible study is likewise significant for biblical
interpretation.

The objective in Bible study should not be to discover
or express my own feelings or thoughts about a text. If
this were the goal, the author's intended message would
be irrelevant. Nor should the driving agenda be to
defend a particular viewpoint or make the message
palatable to our cultural sensibilities.

Studying God's word needs to be focused upon trying to
hear the divinely inspired message which the author
communicated. One tool for hearing more clearly the
intended message involves becoming aware of ancient
literary techniques and forms.

In Philippians 1:3-11, Paul built upon the Hellenistic
form of including a thanksgiving when writing to those
of close friendship by also including a prayer for
them. Not only did Paul express gratitude to God for
their prior relationship with him, he prayed for who
they could become.

As Paul's mind would compose these introductory prayers
in his letters focusing upon the needs of the
Christians to whom he was writing, it was only natural
that those thoughts would intertwine with his motives
for writing. Paul's prayer sections are commonly
recognized as identifying why he wrote his different
letters.

What was Paul's prayer for the Philippians? He desired
that their love would abound with profound insight. We
should expect to hear in this letter a message laced
with calling them to love, but not a superficial love
driven by fickle and transitory emotions. The stage is
set for exploring what a love driven by deep insight
and wisdom looks like. The adventure awaits.

Gaining the proper tools prepares us to correctly
understand cartoons containing dragons or a spouse's
gaze. Similarly, we gain insight into Philippians by
understanding the role of Paul's prayers.

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