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Context is King

Plastic Dowel

Plastic Dowel

The Mystery 

The tube measures two and half inches long and is just under half an inch in diameter. It did not look expensive but seemed like one of those things that would be difficult to find if it needs to be replaced. I knew I had seen it before, I just could not place where it had come from. I asked Jamie about it, and she did not know what it was or where it came from. The kids did not have any idea either. It was a mystery.

I did not want to throw it away because I thought I would need it as soon as it was trashed. So, we left it. For weeks it just sat on our kitchen counter.

Mystery Solved 

The mystery was eventually solved. If you run or walk your dog, you should carry waste bags in case you need to clean up after them. The brand of waste bags we use come on a spool. You guessed it! The spool measures two and half inches long and is just under half an inch in diameter.

I have seen these spools hundreds of times as we work our way through dog waste bags. Most of the time they get thrown away or they get left in the bucket where I keep my running gear. Right now, there are ten or twelve of them floating around the bottom of the bucket.

I did not recognize the spool because it was out of context.

This happens to everyone. We see something or someone out of context and it throws us off. Think back to a time where you saw a teacher at a grocery store, and you did not recognize him or her because you had never seen them outside of a classroom setting. If you are young when this happens it takes you time to process:

“Mr. So & So goes to the grocery store?!”

“Mrs. So & So eats food?!”

“I guess they can go see a movie…”

Context is King

My alma mater has a phrase that is used when interpreting scripture, “context is king.” It is easy to cherry pick verses out of Scripture and make the Bible say what you want. However, interpretation requires a careful investigation of the text in its original context. We can only apply Scripture accurately to our lives after understanding the author’s intended meaning.

This is a principle that needs to be applied to everyday life.

We live in a culture of immediacy. There are great benefits to be able to have information available at our fingertips. However, it is also having the power to be destructive in every area of life. In a 24/365 news cycle the goal is clicks, and everyone knows you must break the story and “you bleed to lead.” How many news reports have broken without giving complete context or reporting things as facts which later turn out to be false information.

There is an old story about a woman who was cutting the ends off her ham before cooking it. Her husband asked her why she did that and she did not have a reason, that is just the way her mother did it. The next time she was with her mother she asked her why she cut the ends off her hams before cooking it. Her mother said it was so that it would fit in the oven. Context is critical in understand why decisions are made.

Think about how many relationships have been damaged because we do not take the time to get to know someone’s story, of course someone has trust issues when you find out their spouse of 23 years walks out on them. Naturally, a person has an anger problem after growing up in an abusive home. It makes sense that a person who has struggled financially saves everything.

This is not to dismiss poor or destructive behavior. It is simply to say that context is king, by taking time to find out a person’s story you will be able to understand much of how they act.

Moving Forward 

James writes to the church in Jerusalem and admonishes them to be slow to speak and quick to listen.

Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:19–20, ESV)

Listening to with a heart to understanding is a skill that can be learned. Remembering that context is king helps to slow down and see people situations with a better perspective. However, there is another rule at work when seeking understanding. Looking at the example of Christ, we affirm context is king, but see that humility is paramount.

Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,” (Philippians 2:3–6, ESV)

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