What is the most frequently heard verse in John’s gospel? John 3:16 may come immediately to mind: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son . . .”
Or can words from the prologue (1:1–18) lay claim to this title? They are, after all, read every year at Christmastime.
But perhaps the most likely answer is John 14:1: “Let not your hearts be troubled . . .” They are read at almost every Christian funeral service.
This may help explain two things:
1. We rarely hear and reflect on these words in their original context. If you were to ask even regular churchgoers, “Tell me when Jesus said these words, and what happened before and after He said them,” they might struggle to give an answer.
2. We tend to hear and read them as if they were spoken directly to us.
This is the way that many—perhaps most—Christians always read the Bible. Of course, it is relevant to us today. But it is important to remember that—like everything Jesus said in the upper room—while these words may apply to us, they were spoken only to the Apostles. We were not there.
Here, then, is a fundamental principle of Bible study: we reflect first on what the words communicated to those who heard them; then we work out, with the help of the Spirit, how they apply to us.
When we do that, we may find ourselves asking questions that we might otherwise overlook and that in turn may help us penetrate further into the meaning of the passage.
Here, for example, thinking about the original context of John 14:1 raises this question: How could Jesus say to His disciples, “Don’t let your hearts be troubled”? Doesn’t that break a basic rule of counseling? After all, their problem was that they were troubled, and apparently for good reasons.
If troubled people could relieve themselves of their troubles, they would. Isn’t telling them not to be troubled simply a counsel of despair? Did not Jesus know better than that?