“Now a certain Jew named Apollos, born at Alexandria, an eloquent man and mighty in the Scriptures, came to Ephesus. This man had been instructed in the way of the Lord; and being fervent in spirit, he spoke and taught accurately the things of the Lord, though he knew only the baptism of John. So he began to speak boldly in the synagogue. When Aquila and Priscilla heard him, they took him aside and explained to him the way of God more accurately.” (Acts 18:24-26)
In Part 1, we shared with you the power of context to shape us in regard to our associations. We can never think that those who hold a significant place in our lives do not have an influence on the way we think and behave. The scriptures tell us we are to choose our associations wisely that we might further our growth in grace and walk with the Lord (Proverbs 13:20, 1 Corinthians 15:33 & Hebrews 10:24-25).
However, the story of context doesn’t end there. We also mentioned in Part 1 that the cultural environment in which we are raised has a powerful influence on how we see the world. To a great degree this influence is subconscious on our part. As one person has said, “Context shapes us by stealth.” You and I did not chose the context in which we grew up, nor is it likely that we were objective enough to see just how slanted we were in the direction of that influence until we grew up and gained a little perspective. As we mature in life, we have perhaps a little more discipline to be honest about the prejudices and the blind spots that our particular context might have passed on to us. Some, however, never come to that level of self-awareness and die never having challenged the narrow boundaries of the context that shaped their views.
The same thing happens in church. Some live and die and never ask themselves why they believe what they believe, or why others who also seem to love God differ in their viewpoints about certain doctrinal questions. The possibility that the context in which we were raise could have been limited, or flat out wrong about certain issues of faith, is simply not appealing and, as a result, is often ignored. I believe it takes a combination of real honesty and earnest hunger in the heart of a believer to create enough force and determination to break out of the gravitational hold that context often has upon our lives. Speaking of context, I want to make sure my words aren’t taken out of the one intended. I am certainly not encouraging a search for answers outside the Bible or questioning the tried and true tenants of the faith that have stood the test of time. The Bible stands as the only God-inspired revelation by which we can come to know Him (2 Timothy 3:16-17, 2 Peter 1:20). I believe it was Augustine who said, “On the essentials, unity; on the non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” While the foundation of God’s Word stands sure and unchanging, it is our understanding of God and His Word that can, and should, continue to grow throughout our lifetime.
As a young man, I felt an indefinable desire to go further with God than I had in my present spiritual context. My search led me outside the boundaries of the well-worn paths of my denominational experience. I am not criticizing that denomination, and, in fact, my life in Christ is owed, in part, to their faithful stand for the fundamental truths of the scripture. Still today, much of what I believe and teach is the result of that initial influence on my spiritual life. However, as I sensed the need for a deeper experience, God opened doors of understanding for me in other places.
For you the journey may be different, but in my case God answered the hunger of my heart for more of Him by bringing into my life new associations who had that something for which I longed but could not explain. In following God’s voice outside the familiar bounds of my own denominational prejudices, I learned that truth was not the sole possession of one particular group or schism within the Church, but that His Spirit would “guide me into all truth” if I would have ears to hear (see John 16:13). Perhaps one of the most profound lessons I learned in this season (that I’ve taken with me into my life’s journey) is that God responds to hunger. “For He satisfies the longing soul, and fills the hungry soul with goodness” (Psalm 107:20). Certainly, we need to realize that Satan is ever ready to present false paths to lead us astray, but the scriptures provide safe boundaries in which the Holy Spirit will lead us into an ever-deepening understanding of God. Indeed, it is He, the Spirit of Truth, Who will safeguard us from deception (see 1 John 2:20, 27).
God has used many good Bible teachers to instruct me over the years. Some were fathers in the faith who opened the scriptures to me and ultimately helped to shape the foundation of my faith and belief through their teaching. Others have been instrumental in helping me present my faith to the world in which we live today, informing my style and philosophy of ministry. I think today I am secure enough to hear voices from different camps in the body of Christ and glean great benefit from their perspectives without losing sight of my own convictions. The voices that God uses to speak into my life, whether renowned communicators, peers in ministry, or simply good friends who know me best, represent the context in which much of my learning and growing takes place.
Recently, my wife and I began pioneering a new church in our hometown. While I am teaching many of the same truths I have taught for years, the context in which I am teaching them is different, thus forcing my approach to ministry to change. Some emphases have changed due to the needs of the people to whom I now minister and also to a greater understanding in my life of what is truly important in developing strong disciples for Christ. So, once again, I find context shaping me, and influencing my life, causing me to grow and become a more effective minister to God’s people. The journey never ends, and while we may become more secure in our walk with God, having a firm foundation beneath us, we must never shut out the fresh insights from Heaven that continue to enrich our experience and add to the wonder of our life and walk with God.