We think rich application is complicated, but Jesus proved it can be quite simple. Consider his summary of how to apply the Bible:
A lawyer asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matt 22:35-40, ESV).
“All the Law and the Prophets” is pretty comprehensive. Jesus said that the entirety of what God wants us to do boils down to two things: love God and love your neighbor.
These two commands show two “directions” in which we can apply any passage of the Bible: inward and outward. We can work on becoming more Christ-like people who love God more desperately (inward application), and we can work on becoming more selfless people of influence who love others as Christ has loved us (outward application).
For example, Ephesians 6:4 has obvious and immediate inward application to fathers: Be a more Christ-like, patient, loving father to your children. Instruct and discipline them in the ways of the Lord. We could get much more specific, but I think you get the general idea here.
However, taking your application outward will deepen your insight, whether you are a male with children in the home or not. How can you invest in the fathers around you to help them be better fathers? How can you make the most of your current season of life (singleness, retirement, etc.) to serve others and help them in their parenting of their children? What can you do to serve in your church’s children’s ministry? How can you image God by being a father-figure to the fatherless in your community? How might these issues affect your prayers for your church and community?
Let’s practice further on Luke 2:1-21. We previously identified Luke’s main point as: “God sent Jesus to be born so he might save the lowly and rule them graciously. This brings him highest glory.”
Inward application might yield the following questions:
- Do I see myself among the lowly, or among the high and mighty?
- Am I open to the Lord’s correction and salvation?
- How can I give more glory to God when he rescues me from my sin and foolishness?
- Where do I feel the pain of my weakness? Where am I resisting the Lord’s efforts to change me?
- Who can help me be more brutally honest about my need for Christ? How can I invite that person’s counsel?
Outward application takes us in a different, yet just as important, direction:
- Am I faithfully proclaiming the message of Christ’s rescue to others?
- How can I be more effective at connecting every conversation to the saving power of Christ to rescue the lowly?
- How can I season my conversation with salt to expose where people trust in themselves and need Christ?
- Do I believe that the Lord can rescue anyone?
- How can I pray for God to rescue my extended family? My neighbors? My co-workers?
- Why do I remain silent, caring more about my glory and comfort than God’s glorious rescue of sinners?
As you study the Bible, remember to consider both how you can change and how you can help others to change. All the Law and the Prophets depend upon it.