The value of compare and contrast in understanding a Bible passage is priceless. When used correctly, it can be a powerful tool for interpretation. When used incorrectly, it can be a dangerous weapon that hinders us from knowing and enjoying God and others through the Bible.
I’ll try to explain.
I’ve shared before that my hubby and I enjoy cycling together. Cycling has been a life-long hobby for my hubby. For me, it’s a new skill that I have taken up in recent years as a means to connect with him. Growing our relationship continues to be important. This empty-nest hobby provides for fun and connection. Yet, like any other new skill, I have faced the good, the bad and the ugly that can come with comparison.
To compare and contrast can be either a tool or a weapon.
In the beginning of learning to ride, and when I say ride, I mean more than just balancing on a bicycle. To ride involves balance, pedal stroke, tempo, rhythm, posture, core, and awareness of many things that together helps a person ride well. So in the beginning, I compared and contrasted myself to my hubby. With him leading, I had a good view of his pedal stroke, tempo and more. I could learn from him.
I learned lots.
One thing I learned was to downshift when coming to a stop or climbing a hill. I compared and contrasted my downshifting with his. Guess what? Because he is good at cycling and I’ve sought to be more like him, I’ve gotten better. Seeking to downshift like him has helped me go up hill easier. We celebrate getting up hills and then coasting down the other side together!
When used positively, compare and contrast provides a helpful tool for learning a new skill.
As I compared and contrasted my hubby’s cycling with my own, I also noticed that my stroke and tempo differed from his. My son calls his dad’s cycling legs “pistons”. He spins quickly. His pedal turnover is fast. Methodical. As hard as I try, I cannot match his rate of rotation. By comparison, I thought I was cycling wrong. I blamed it on being a newbie. I found it rather frustrating.
Years later, my rotation still remains slower than his. Should I hang up cycling for good?
Do you see that when used negatively, this tool of compare and contrast can be weapon that threatens to destroy a way of connecting with my hubby? Not to mention, I had also bought into a lie.
Was I cycling wrong?
No. As it turns out, my stroke and tempo differ because of the sheer fact that I am built differently from my husband. My legs are longer in proportion to the rest of my body. My rotation is naturally slower. My rotation will most likely never match my hubby’s rotation. My body is different from his.
Friend, I have seen this same phenomenon happen in Bible study. I bet you have too.
The purpose of growing in the skill of Bible study- like cycling with my hubby- is connection, to connect and journey with God and one another. As we come together to talk about God’s Word, we naturally compare and contrast. It’s a powerful teaching tool.
For this reason, God uses this very tool of compare and contrast in the Bible. He’s a Good Teacher! Think about it, we better understand the light when we contrast it with the dark. We better understand good when we contrast it with evil. We better understand life when we contrast it with death. When interpreting Scripture, compare and contrast is golden.
Yet, as people, we have couple of weaknesses (at least I'll only focus on two!): First, we don’t like to be wrong. And second, we compare ourselves to others. Again, this is not necessarily a bad thing… both can propel us to learn. Want to learn to be a good swimmer? Watch good swimmers! Want to be a good runner? Watch good runners. Want to know and enjoy God through the Bible? Be with others who are vibrant and zealous for God and His Word. When learning any skill, the ability to compare and contrast can be golden.
But when used negatively, comparison in Bible study can be deadly.
What’s deadly about it? Comparison can turn to the wrong thinking: “I can’t do Simply Bible studies.”
I’ve witnessed this first-hand. A woman listens to someone at her table share an observation with a beautiful Holy-Spirit take-away for the week. She compares this to her own study which had, for a variety of reasons, felt rather listless. She deflates and wrongly thinks, “I must not be good at Bible study. Why bother?”
Sometimes, this kind of wrong thinking even leads one step further going from bad to ugly: to envy. YIKES!
Do you see that when used negatively, the tool of compare and contrast can become a weapon that threatens against connecting with God and others? God gifted us with His Word that we might know and enjoy Him.
One of the most beautiful things about studying the Bible is coming to the table to learn from others.
We bring our differences with us. Differences are not bad, just different. We may differ in our church tradition or lack of a church tradition. We may differ in our familiarity with Scripture or lack of familiarity. Our life experiences differ. I grew up in a Methodist church. You grew up Catholic. I’ve read the Bible for 50 years. You’ve just begun reading the Bible. (By the way, if that is you, you will notice things that I skip right over because the Bible has become so familiar to me. Yes! Familiarity can be a hazard in Bible study!) I recently experienced a birth in my family. You recently experienced a death in yours. A wide variety of past and current life experiences will lead us to observe Scripture differently.
Because we bring these differing lenses to the table, we will learn from one another. Our eyes are opened to more treasure within the Scripture. I would never have been able to dig out all the treasure by myself. Each of us digs, and then, each of us puts a bit of treasure on the table for everyone at the table to see. In the end, we celebrate all the treasure we found and shared together.
A friend of mine calls this variety a “bouquet!” In essence, we all bring a different flower with us. As we discuss the Bible together, we create a beautiful, single bouquet of understanding that includes a wide variety of observations and applications.
Each of us digs, and then, each of us puts a bit of treasure on the table for everyone at the table to see.
The beauty is that no matter our differences, we can still journey and travel with God through His Word together. So friend, find someone else that is older and wiser or find someone that is younger and sees with fresh eyes. Compare and contrast. It’s powerful and priceless! Celebrate the beauty.
You are the Good Teacher. You compare and contrast throughout Scripture beginning in Genesis when You spoke light into existence and separated the light from the darkness. Thank You for creating us to learn, to know and enjoy You through Your Word. Keep us far from wrong-thinking and any lies that it is too difficult. Help us to be brave and learn from one another. May we seek after You and Your heart and celebrate this heaven bound journey with You and one another!
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