As we seek to honor God by committing passages of His Word to memory I feel it is very, very important to understand the contexts and purposes of the passages we are memorizing. Rote memorization without a knowledge of the context can often lead to a misuse of those texts, and in my personal experience, I have seen many objections to God’s truth answered merely by the way I presented a text (with the context so that the application was clear). This has especially been the case in ministering to LDS up in Utah or out at the LDS Easter Pageant, where so often a foreign context is assumed by the Mormons with whom I would be speaking.
Knowing the context not only helps in the memorization of a text, but it also helps us to avoid the tendency to see these texts as disconnected, disjointed “sayings.” When we see the flow of a passage, follow the author’s intention and hear his “voice,” we can take a portion of that argument (the text we are memorizing) and use it to communicate his truth, but we do so in a way that honors the original intentions of the writer. One of the draw-backs of the addition of verse and chapter divisions long after the original writing is it tends, in our Western minds, to disjoint the text and create sometimes arbitrary divisions where none existed originally.
Take our current text. Colossians “2” is an arbitrary chapter division–how is chapter “2” continuing the thought of chapter one? It is always good to know the focus and argument of the book you are memorizing from (itself a challenge). Paul’s concerns in writing to the Colossians were….what? What was his relationship to the church itself? How does he approach his subject? These are all parts of those “background” issues that so many simply never even bother to ask, let alone master. These issues are basic to proper interpretation, yet it is just here that many in the church today skip past the “homework” it takes to master these things, evidently feeling that it just isn’t properly “spiritual” to do that kind of study.
In any case, since I am traveling this weekend, I am having a hard time getting the time at the computer to do what I want to do with the context of this text, so here is my plan: either on the way home (if I am stuck at the gate a long time or there are any delays) or shortly after getting home, I will try to put up another article discussing some of the key exegetical issues relating to our text. I will include our second week’s memorization task in the comments (without introducing a new text itself). Lord willing, I’m done traveling till I head to the UK in February (I can’t wait!), so I should be able to be consistent for a while. In any case, here are some questions to ponder till then: What was the nature of Paul’s “struggle” for the churches in Laodicea and Colossae (2:1)? What does this phrase mean, “full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ”? Why does Paul show the concern he does in verses 4-5? How does this set up the warnings and exhortations of which our passage is a part? What is the force of “see to it” in our passage? Of course, there are numerous lexical issues to note in regards to “traditions” or “elementary principles” and especially (and we will focus on this) in reference to the terms “deity” and “bodily” in verse 9. But it is now quite late and tomorrow will be a very, very long day, so I will get this posted, concentrate on what needs to be done here in Tampa, and move forward as soon as the Lord gives me the time next week. Till then, happy study!