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Ed Jordan: Understanding the Context

Posted: 6/29/18 at 11:55am. Column by Ed Jordan.

In regard to selling real estate, the important pithy saying is: location, location, location. Location impacts the marketing value of a property.

In reading a piece of written literature, or in properly understanding a song or speech, the important word is: context, context, context.

Statements always have a context behind them, a context around them, and a context into which they are being spoken or read.

For example, the meaning of the statement “The British are coming!” today might vary greatly depending upon the context into which it is presented.

It could be a reference to the midnight ride of Paul Revere, or an old headline referring to the British Bands (i.e. The Beatles, The Byrds, Herman’s Hermits, or the Rolling Stones) flooding into America in the 1960s. It could refer to the more recent Weezers’ song title or be a metaphor warning of a threat of impending conflict.

The context in which things are spoken, written, or sung helps us interpret the meaning of the words we are reading or hearing.

The context in which things are spoken, written, or sung helps us interpret the meaning of the words we are reading or hearing.

In order to really understand sentences or phrases, we need to go back to the oldest historical uses of the phrase which gave it a lasting metaphorical meaning; we need to understand the original usage and meaning before trying to reinterpret it within more modern uses.

“The British are coming” is associated with what Paul Revere said as he rode through Massachusetts in 1775, warning of impending invasion by the British forces.

In reality, most of our glamorized concepts of this ride come from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s 1860 poem entitled: “Paul Revere’s Ride,” which was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1861.

While Paul Revere did ride to warn Lexington that the British were coming, he did it more quietly and perhaps was even captured by the British. Regardless, its original meaning has become a metaphor to awaken a sleeping public that they need to wake up and stand up, for the enemy is at the gates.

The historic context of Longfellow’s written poem was just prior to the outbreak of the Civil War. When I was young, we were required to memorize the poem in school. It made the start of the Revolutionary War come alive.

Longfellow used a familiar historical metaphor to subtly remind his fellow Americans of the events on the horizon of his day and of the seriousness of the times. As the War Between the States approached, he wanted to awaken people to not take lightly the rising signs of conflict.

As we reflect upon the fourth of July, we would do well to reread the Declaration of Independence and focus on understanding what caused the colonists to rise up and shake off the chains of British rule. The document is all about context—giving the reasons to King George as to why America wanted to become independent from British rule.

Some of those issues were excessive taxation and governance by a king instead of by leaders who were elected by (and accountable to) the people. Let some of the key words of the Declaration stand out in your thoughts and consider what each phrase meant to the early colonists. Unalienable rights, given by our creator—such rights as life, liberty, the pursuit of happiness, governments established to protect these rights, and others.

While we are pondering those words on freedom, we should also ponder the words of Jesus regarding how we can gain and live in individual freedom. In John 8:34, 36 (NLT) Jesus said: “… “I tell you the truth, everyone who sins is a slave of sin… So if the son sets you free, you are truly free.”

The context of this scripture is important too. The leaders with whom Jesus was speaking were people who prided themselves in trying to be sinless by following religious rules. Jesus said that sin, the breaking of God’s rules, removes a person’s freedom. This makes us slaves to rules and regulations which have no power to set us free from sin.

However, whoever entrusts his or her life into Jesus hands and accepts his perfect life as fulfilling all the requirements of God and his death as payment for the penalty for all of our failures to keep God’s standards, will be set free from enslavement to sin.

Now this is great news, and a freedom worth pondering and receiving. This July fourth, why not celebrate our freedom in the United States and an even greater freedom that is available to us in Christ!

 

ed-jordan2Award-winning columnist Dr. Ed Jordan is pastor of Gwynn’s Island Baptist Church, Gwynn, VA. You may also read his past columns.

He can be reached at szent.edward@gmail.com.