Application of God's Word to God's people rather than just the individual


As a western I am becoming aware of how much I emphasize the experience and application of God’s Word to the individual almost to the exclusion of the application to God’s people as a whole. I am seeing that it is difficult for me to understand how a promise (i.e. Psalm 91 about keeping you from plague and destruction, etc.) can apply to the whole of God’s people but not to the individual. (The ‘you’ in Psalm 91 are singular, but I am guessing this is not merely a prophecy about Jesus, but an application to God’s church.)

My question has to do with the application of God’s Word and promises that may apply to God’s people generally but not to the individually specifically. Perhaps some of you from a non-western background or those with experiences from non-western communities can help shed light on this.

Morgan Nix


@morgannix18 Could you provide an example of a promise that might apply to God’s people, but not to an individual? Certainly there is a danger when we think we can live our Christian life separated from the Body of Christ. We are called to community.

This book has some good material on understanding the Bible by taking off our western glasses. Here are some of the topics covered.

  • guilt based culture versus shame / honor based culture
  • individualistic culture versus collectivist / family oriented culture
  • rule based culture versus relationship based culture


“Misreading Scripture…” is what has prompted some of my questions. Yes, it is a good read!

What I mean by “God’s Word and/or promises applying to God’s people generally but not to the individually specifically” has to do with consistency. As an example: King David says in Psalm 37:25, “I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken, or his children begging for bread.” I find it hard to believe that of all the hungry children across the globe none of them have godly (Christian) parents. If this be the case then it would follow that this assessment of King David’s applies to God’s people generally but not necessary to every individual experience. Meaning, there are Christian parents whose kids do go begging for bread.

Does this clarify my point?

Thank you Sean,


@morgannix18 I think you’ve brought up a great question that deals with the difference between proverbs and promises, as well as the difference between an affirmation of God’s character and knowledge of how God will express His attributes in a given situation.

Are some of these thoughts helpful? :slight_smile:

Affirmation of God’s Character

We can acknowledge that God is able to save us and will ultimately save us even if he does not choose to save us in this exact moment. Daniel’s friends express this attitude perfectly in Daniel 3. They know God is able to save them, but they will not bow to idols even if He chooses not to…

Some of the things David said may be affirmations of God’s character, but they do not necessarily determine how God will act in a given situation. Remember, God did keep His promises to David, but David also ran around in the wilderness for many years running from King Saul. He hardly had a life where it always looked liked things were going exactly how he would have liked.

God’s character does not change and His promises are true, but how that gets worked out in life is not always as clear.

Daniel 3:16-18 - Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliverus[a] from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”

Proverbs and Promises

A proverb is not a promise. “I have never seen the righteous abandoned…” may be more of a general truth rather than an absolute truth. See following thread.

"Goethe once said of languages that “whoever know only one, knows none,” and that is likely true, but it is even more true of proverbs. If one proverb says, “The morally good always have a good life,” and later another says, “Sometimes the morally good suffer,” we modern readers think we’ve found a contradiction. That’s because we think of proverbs either as individual stand-alone promises or commands. But usually they are neither. Each is a description of some aspect of how life works. Tim Keller

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Thank you Sean. Very helpful. My question was brought about by a section in “Misreading Scripture through Western Eyes” on the topic of rules. One of the authors mentioned that as Westerns we view rules and black and white. In collectivist cultures rules have more flexibility and this tends to be due to a relational dynamic. The author made the point that for Westerns a rule must equally apply to each individual as it does to the whole otherwise we see this as a violation of the rule. This topic stood out to me and has increased my desire to learn from other cultures so as to enable me to more clearly view God’s Word.

Thank you again.


@morgannix18 Yep, the chapter on rules vs relationships was a good one. @andrew.bulin or @Lakshmismehta might have some thoughts on how other cultures view rules and relationships and how that might impact Biblical interpretation.

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Hi @morgannix18 , that’s a very interesting question. As you have been reading in this area, you may be in a better position than myself in understanding how a rule based versus a relationship based cultures would interpret the Bible differently. Thanks @SeanO for directing me to this conversation and opportunity to share. Some initial thoughts I have are that -

  • A rule based culture would apply the rules universally irrespective of the circumstance, personal feelings, status, degree of personal acquaintance
  • A relationship based culture may be more flexible with the rules. Rules may be bent based on how something impacts the feelings of the group as a whole, based on who has most power /status in the group, how hurt feelings impact future decisions so as to not insult the loyalty in a relationship.
  • Rules in a culture depend not only the individualistic/collectivistic nature of a culture but may also depend on other factors. For example: the drive for success/status, ability to handle ambiguity in a situation, view of time.

After living in the United States and now on my travels to India, what I do notice is the relaxed manner in which rules are followed or circumvented in India. If one breaks a rule, we often see others break the rules as we may not be able to accomplish anything in that kind of a situation by following rules. It’s not out of disrespect for authority but generally if there is no harm done to anyone, why keep a rule? With people being more focused on relationships, time and efficiency sometimes can take the back seat. Part of this could be related to the cultural view of time being cyclical. However, with the emphasis on hindu doctrines such as karma, jobs do ultimately get done because of a sense of responsibility. One great strength I observe is the high level of flexibility people tend to have when things dont go as planned. Knowing how “to adjust” is key to accomplish anything in this kind of culture. Adjustment can involve time, people, plans, deadlines, goals, appearances, comfort and may be much more.

How do these views affect the way we view God and His word?

  • As someone raised in a collectivistic culture, I find that what I would sacrifice for belonging to my family, I now must sacrifice to belong to the family of Christ. Honor that came from belonging must now be replaced with honor that comes from belonging to God. The separateness that I experienced from another group because of differences in identity must now be bridged according to the commandments of God in love. Rules that were ‘relative’ become ‘absolute’ but not without a God’s family to belong to. In the Bible, collectivism is not at the cost of individualism but through the celebration of individualism. There seems to be a flourishing in individualism within collectivism. Rules of God apply equally to all but we also have the opportunity to belong to an eternal community.
  • I think what may need to be addressed in evangelism to relationship based culture is the perceived loss of family and sense of identity which can become obstacles in receiving the gospel.
  • When it comes to understanding God’s promises, I think its ultimately about God’s perfect will for humanity as a whole. It’s not about individual flourishing or the flourishing of a particular group but of those who are in the will of God. I am reminded of the words Jesus spoke, “who is my mother, brother or sister but those who do the will of God”. Similarly in Paul’s words when he says, not all who descended from Israel are Israel, he is identifying individual believers as belonging to God’s community without losing our differences whether Jew/Greek/Gentile.

How do you think a rule based culture affects the view of God or His word? It would be great to hear perspective of others on that.

I hope this is a helpful start in thinking about cultures and biblical interpretation.


Thank you very much Lakshmi! Very insightful about your experience from a collectivist culture and how you now apply certain “rules” as a Christian.

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Let me suggest this book. If you liked Misreading scripture this book will take you a new level of understand when it comes to the whole idea honor, patronage and kinship. I read Misreading Scripture after the HPKP book.

As you read this keep in mind that the Bible is a product of this culture a culture that encompasses 80% of the world’s population. Enjoy and if you think about it come back with some thoughts.

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Hey @morgannix18,

I found the book The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame and Fear Cultures to be a handy resource (and an easy read) that concisely distills key doctrinal components of Christian theology, and relates them to different cultures. (I also find it to be a heavily referenced resource in my cross-cultural ministry studies.)

When engaging in cross-cultural studies, I find that understanding my own worldview lens is just as important as I wind up interpreting other cultures with my own slant on things. It is also a key to understanding the experiential- and tradition-base sources of our own theology. I think David Livermore does an excellent job of addressing worldview lenses as it relates to the “other” in his Cultural Intelligence book.

If you want something that is very in-depth, Paul Hiebert’s Anthropological Insights for Missionaries is a great resource, but definitely a heavy read.

I feel like these books are key general topic books that have strongly influenced my cross-cultural perspectives and helped me to become a better lifelong student of culture.

Hope that helps! :slight_smile:



These look great!! Thank you so much for your recommendations!


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My apologies, I just saw that you posted this to me. Your point about 80% of the world’s population coming from this cultural slant is a core reason I want to gain a greater understanding. Thank you for your help!