To better understand God’s Word, we must not only understand the content on the page but also the emotional context in which it takes place.
How many times have you misunderstood a letter, an email or a text because you misread the intended tone? Whether it was haste perceived as anger, friendship perceived as romance or sarcasm perceived as sincerity, anyone living in the digital age is sure to have stories of mixed signals.
It all just goes to show the significance of tone in all communication, even communication that comes without facial expressions or vocal inflection. That principle even includes the Bible. To better understand God’s Word, we must not only understand the content on the page but also the emotional context in which it takes place.
Identify the tone
For studying a particular passage of Scripture, I came up with a basic framework that helps me identify the emotional tone, which in turn helps me understand the overall message God is communicating through those specific words.
This approach also helps set up the service order and music for corporate singing. Too often, a church service is themed theologically, without consideration for the mood emotionally. But getting the mood right is very important. If you don’t, the sermon and the rest of the service won’t align for a journey, but collide like a car wreck.
Imagine a funeral dirge being played at a wedding, or cheerleaders showing up for a funeral. Some church services are like that: emotionally conflicted, confusing and chaotic.
In general, I tend to think of six kinds of Bible texts that require six emotional varieties of church services:
A wedding is a celebration. Easter Sunday, Christmas Eve and Ephesians 3:1-14 are sermons that should feel like a wedding.
Many passages in Scripture are cause for a big party. The message is exciting, we’re all celebrating, Jesus is alive, sin is forgiven and we get to live forever in heaven. The tone is energetic and upbeat.
Other sections of the Bible are like a funeral. A death takes place. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed. God floods the earth. Jesus dies on the cross, and the sky goes black. The tone of a funeral is somber and tearful.