Last year a well-known auto insurance company ran a creative commercial warning drivers about the importance of having good car insurance (especially theirs). An actor starring as “Mayhem” rides on the left panel outside a woman’s car, right where her blind spot would be. He introduces himself to the viewers by saying, “I’m your blind spot. And my job is easy. Hide big things.” As the woman checks her left side to see if it is safe to switch lanes on the freeway, Mayhem mischievously tells her, “You’re good!” and gives her the thumbs up while simultaneously blocking her view. Of course, there is a truck in the next lane, and the woman gets into an accident as a result of his bad advice. The commercial ends with Mayhem urging the viewers to buy insurance from the sponsor so they can be protected from situations like the one he just created.
When we learn to drive a car, we are told about the importance of checking our “blind spots,” or the areas next to our cars that we cannot see if we only look at our side and rear view mirrors. However, we can also have “blind spots” in understanding Scripture. We can easily overlook vital information or interpret incorrectly when we view Scripture through the interpretive lenses of our own limited expectations and experiences. Those blind spots can cause us to miss “big things.”
A good example of this is our tendency to understand various Scripture passages through an individual lens and not see the corporate implications. Sometimes we fail to pay adequate attention to this critical aspect of some passages, such as in 1 Cor. 3:16, which describes the community as “God’s temple.” While many of us are already familiar with the idea of our bodies being temples of the Holy Spirit, as Paul expresses in the more well-known and more often quoted 1 Cor. 6:19, I find few comments from pulpits or books (other than commentaries, which have to talk about the verse) about the importance of the church being the holy temple of God. However, Paul apparently thought that the church was so important that he follows this description with a warning in 1 Cor. 3:17 that “If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”
At other times, our focus on seeing passages as referring to individuals can cause us to misunderstand the author’s intention. This occurs in Phil. 2:12, where Paul exhorts believers to “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.” While the passage is often used as the basis of a theological discussion on the role of works vs. faith in an individual’s salvation, a careful examination of the literary context reveals that the issue is not the state of a person’s soul but rather the relationships within the Philippian community. Beginning in 1:27 Paul encourages the Philippians to live in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ, which involves “standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel.” He goes on to urge them to be of “the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind.” They should look to the interests of others rather than just themselves. He finishes this part of his presentation by telling them that they can do all of these things by having the “mind of Christ,” which he presents in the great hymn in 2:5-11. This mindset is seen in the example of Christ, who, though being God, “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” The hymn then leads directly into Paul’s directions to the Philippians to work out their salvation, and he indicates the connection between the two parts by saying "therefore." Thus, the passage is not so much about the role works play in personal salvation, but rather describes the way in which the Philippians are to conduct themselves as a community by having a Christ-like sacrificial and other-oriented mindset towards one another.
Because we often have these “blind spots” that cause us to miss the corporate background of many passages, this interpretive habit can become an unfortunate self-reinforcing tendency. We expect Scripture to speak mainly to our individual spiritual lives and then read it in a way that strengthens this focus. However, we lose a vital and foundational part of our spiritual formation if we do not see the many significant ways in which the Bible speaks of the importance of the corporate body of Christ.