If you want to follow the advice of the great hymn "Standing on the Promises," you need to be sure you are on solid footing. Our spiritual lives must be founded on what God has said—not merely on what we wish He had said or what we think He might have said. We need to be sure we are not misquoting the Lord when we claim a biblical promise for ourselves.
The basic rules of proper interpretation that apply to the whole Bible also form the starting point for our interpretation of biblical promises. The rules of interpretation can be summed up in one word—context.
The context of the immediate setting: Look at the verses that immediately precede and follow the promise. Does your interpretation fit the context?
The context of the whole Bible: Consider the passage in its relation to the whole Bible. God does not contradict Himself. The interpretation of the promise must be in keeping with all of Scripture. This step requires a growing knowledge of God's Word and a dependence on the Holy Spirit to guide your understanding.
As we read the Scriptures, we can learn how to interpret and apply God's promises. Considering the context of each promise, use the following questions as guidelines for its interpretation and application.
1. The terms of the promise.
- Does the promise have conditions to fulfill?
- Do you meet the conditions?
- What will happen if you fail to measure up?
- What characteristics of God can increase your confidence in His promises?
2. The people of the promise.
- Is the promise given to all people of all time?
- Is a specific individual mentioned?
- Are only believers in view?
- Is the promise to obedient believers only?
- Are you included?
3. The method of the promise.
- Does the Scripture imply obvious fulfillment?
- Could the promise be fulfilled spiritually?
- Could the promise be fulfilled physically?
- How is God's faithfulness demonstrated?
- What are some of the options in your situation?
4. The time of the promise.
- Can fulfillment be expected soon?
- Will it be fulfilled in heaven?
- Can God fulfill this promise a number of times?
- Why would God possibly delay fulfillment?
- Are you willing to trust God's timing?
From "How Does God Keep His Promises?" by Kurt DeHaan. Copyright 2005 by RBC Ministries, Grand Rapids, MI. Reprinted by permission.