For example, in the book of Colossians you will find the following passage of scripture --
Slaves, obey your earthly masters in every respect, not only when they are watching -- like those who are strictly people-pleasers -- but with a sincere heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you are doing, work at it with enthusiasm, as to the Lord and not for people, because you know that you will receive your inheritance from the Lord as the reward. Serve the Lord Christ. For the one who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there are no exceptions. Masters, treat your slaves with justice and fairness, because you know that you also have a master in heaven. Colossians 3:22 - 4:1
We find in these verses a different culture altogether than the one we live in today -- that of slavery. The laws of our land today do not allow for slavery. None of us are slaves, so we can't relate to the lifestyle. It is altogether different than anything we know. So, how do we read this and apply to our lives today?
As I was recently studying in the book of Colossians (and this passage in particular), I found the below 3 steps presented in my study guide ("Cappuccino with Colossians", by Sandra Glahn).
#1 - seek to explain what the author meant when writing
#2 - determine what part of God's character is behind practices that apply to all believers for ALL TIME (i.e., "timeless truths").
#3 - apply the timeless truth to your own situation once you know what's transferable.
Now, taking these three steps, here's an abbreviated version of how Ms. Glahn broke apart this passage of scripture to find how it relates to us today.
It's safe to say that when writing these words, Paul's meaning was to tell slaves to obey. In any culture where Christians are owned, they should certainly obey rather than to murder or steal. However, just because slaves should obey, this doesn't necessarily lead to us applying this today to our lives as "Employees, obey your employers." The situation is still different. Employees do not live with their employers as slaves did. Also, slaves where usually not allowed to leave their jobs with their masters. Today, we are legally able to leave our place of employment. While we can draw some conclusions about how to act in a position of lesser social power, we must be sure we understand where the differences are.
We can't take a straight interpretation and just say, "Paul told slaves to obey their masters, so we need to obey our employers". We are able to draw a few conclusions, though. When in positions of greater societal power, we should exhibit humility, gentleness, and even self-sacrifice because God is humble, gentle and self-sacrificing. When in a position of lesser social power, we are expected to exhibit attitudes of cooperation and confidence that demonstrates God is just.
How do you study God's word? Do you have any specific ways in which you apply God's word to your daily life? I'd love to hear from you!