The Bible is like an accordion. The text is full of folds. Within each fold there is a massive amount of information. The more you pull on it, which in the Biblical sense is known as exegesis, the larger the meaning of the passage becomes. The fact that the Bible has so much information can also be confusing. When many people read the Bible they are confronted with so many ideas so quickly they fail to see how it all holds together. As a result, when people read the Bible, they hear static instead of music.
A helpful way to deal with the accordion of the Bible is to outline. Writers have a message they want to convey. In conveying the message they may reveal truths, present arguments, or illustrations to support or prove the central message. The points are not the message, but merely a part of the message. The Bible is written communication. It conveys a message. It is not a hodgepodge of ideas but a story, a letter, a teaching, that conveys a central idea. Because the Bible has so many folds most people read it in bits and pieces, point by point. In so doing one fails to see the central message. So how do we remedy this problem? In previous posts I have endorsed reading the Bible in chunks and within its context. So read the Bible in chunks, but you may also want to eat the chunk, piece by piece, with an outline.
In reading Romans we have already encountered that Romans 12:1-2 represents a transition. It is not another idea of the book, but simply another expression of it. The first 11 chapters of Romans focused on doctrinal concerns and now we shift to the application of those doctrines to daily concerns. I have said that Romans 12 begins a section on how to live difficult doctrine in an even more difficult world. The main idea of Romans is how God saves the human soul, but we see that Paul speaks of that idea in two expressions. Now you have an outline!
In simple terms:
Romans 1 – 11 (the way God saves the human soul)
Romans 12-16 (the way saved human souls live)
Romans 1 – 11 (The doctrine of salvation)
Romans 12-16 (The practice of salvation)
The book is about salvation! The book is not about salvation and something else.
But what if you want to break things down even more – like an accordion – expand the outline. You can outline entire books of the Bible chapter by chapter. You can then go to each chapter and expand the outline of each chapter. So what about Romans 12? If you read Romans 12 without thinking of a central argument you will hear static! There is so much there it almost seems random. It appears that Paul is emptying his pockets of things to say at this point, as if he is throwing everything he has left out on the table. But what if you see Romans 12 like this:
In order to live the Christian life we must relate to:
1. God (vv. 1 – 2)
2. Self (vv. 3-8)
3. Others (vv. 9-21)
What about the static of verses 9 – 13? Try simply writing the text bullet by bullet:
· Let love be genuine
· Abhor what is evil;
· Hold fast to what is good;
· Love one another with brotherly affection . . .
If you simply break down the phrases of a passage it helps clarify the message. Then start to think through its application. You can find a variety of applications. What are the qualities of a great church (a group of Christians that relate well to one another)?
They truly love one another
They are active to avoid evil
It is like family
It almost seems like they compete to honor one another
They are not lazy, but highly committed
You get the idea. Take a passage and pull it apart. The Bible is like an accordion. The more you pull on it the bigger it gets. If you pull at it the right way you will get rid of the noise and start making music!