Context Is King

Context Is King October 12, 2015

Define “ball.” Then use it in a sentence. Share your sentence with the person sitting next to you. Did you both define it the same way?

It’s a bit of a childish exercise, I know, but I’m trying to make a point. Maybe you thought of “ball” as “a spherical piece of game equipment” and made up a sentence something like “The girl kicked the ball.” But that’s not the only definition of “ball,” and you may have been reminded of that when your neighbor’s sentence was something like “Everybody had a ball at the family reunion.” Or maybe it was “Cinderella danced with the prince at the ball.” Or “The boys were out playing ball.” Or “We decided to ball up the leftover dough and freeze it.” Or “That new player can really ball.” 

The dictionary lists over 20 different definitions of the word “ball.” So how do you know which definition is intended? Context. Words do not have meaning on their own. Meaning derives from context. In other words, it’s not until you put the word “ball” in its appropriate context—i.e., in a sentence—that people know what you are talking about. In order to have meaning, every word needs to be in a sentence. Likewise, every sentence needs a paragraph. And every paragraph needs a story.

And that is why we memorized Joshua 1:1 as our SOS verse for today.

It’s certainly not the type of verse you’d use to quiet your fears or fight temptation: “After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant…” Not much there to build your faith or help you witness to a non-Christian friend. So why would we ever want to commit this verse to memory? Why not just ignore all the irrelevant stuff in the early verses of chapter 1, jump right to Joshua 1:8, and get that really great verse in our hearts by itself? Because Joshua 1:8 doesn’t mean anything without its context.

Even in how we memorize the Bible, we want to treat the word of God properly. Memorizing isolated, “sugar stick” verses is fine, but it won’t really transform your life. The reason is simple. Meaning derives from context. If you don’t know the context of what God said, you’ll miss the significance of what God meant. Context, as they say, is king.