How can we derive the most personal profit from every aspect of the Word of God? Of course, to answer that question fully would require more than the allotted space. But a partial yet very important aspect of that answer has to do with context. It should go without saying that the meaning (hence, value) of any given word, phrase, clause, paragraph, and book requires knowledge of both what immediately surrounds the portion under consideration and, as much as possible, the entire Bible. But identifying contrasting components within the context being studied is an invaluable spiritual tool. What I mean by that is that the Spirit of God frequently provides a verbal correspondence between promise and exhortation. This concept should be understood from both directions: 1) every promise is given within the context of an exhortation; 2) every exhortation is given within the context of a promise. To those who would be quick to point out examples where this is not explicitly true, I would respond that, where left unstated, the omitted promise or exhortation is implied from the remainder of the Book. A few examples will suffice to illustrate the point. We could open anywhere, but since I had my Bible open to examine part of I Timothy, we will take several examples from the fourth chapter.
The exhortation: “exercise thyself rather unto godliness” (v. 7). The promise: “godliness is profitable unto all things, having promise of the life that now is, and of that which is to come” (v. 8). The exhortation: “be thou an example of the believers . . . give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine . . . meditate upon these things; give thyself wholly to them” (vv. 12, 13, 15). The promise: “thy profiting may appear to all” (v. 15). The exhortation: “Take heed unto thyself, and unto the doctrine; continue in them” (v. 16). The promise: “in doing this thou shalt both save thyself, and them that hear thee” (v. 16). We could continue this exercise throughout the entire Bible. But this brief citation illustrates the point.
Someone who fails to recognize either the exhortation and the (sometimes implicit) promise or the promise and the (sometimes implicit) exhortation has developed a kind of spiritual myopia that sees the entire universe only in a dim and blurred way. In the first place, he curries a wrong view of God. A person who sees only the promises in the Word manufactures a false god, whose love, kindness, and generosity are ungoverned by holiness or righteousness. A person who sees only the exhortations envisions a mythical god as well, but in this instance, one who lacks compassion and grace. In the second place, he develops, not just a wrong image of self, but actually a wrong self altogether. The one who tries to live only on the promises of God quickly becomes spiritually fat and lethargic—the equivalent of continual eating and no exercise. The one who attempts to live only on the exhortations soon becomes spiritually emaciated—the equivalent of continual exercise and no eating. Both views sap a person of spiritual strength and energy.
God has a good reason for citing in both Testaments the essential truth that “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4; also Deut. 8:3) because He knows that we require both promise and exhortation to thrive. If we want to discover the true riches hidden in the Word of God, we will search for the exhortations attached to the promises and the promises associated with the exhortations. Each will encourage us to believe and behave according to the other. Both will strengthen us in the Lord. And in believing the promises and heeding the exhortations we will glorify our God more fully and know and love our Savior more perfectly. What could be more profitable than that?
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