The first time I saw this tee shirt, I said to myself “I need one of those.”
|I didn’t buy it. And Mary Ann wants me to add that no one should buy it for me. I have too many tee shirts as it is. Some are 20 years old, but they’re still fine and they have sentimental value.
The reason I like the tee shirt is because sadly, it captures the evangelical zeitgeist. We talked Sunday about taking up the sword of the Spirit, which the Bible tells us is the Word of God. And I talked about the need for us to go beyond simple devotional Bible reading. Devotional Bible reading isn’t bad. But if we don’t carve out time to really study the scriptures, our devotional Bible reading becomes a breeding ground for straight outta context issues.
I read an online article this week where the author listed his top five most popular out of context scripture verses. Any guesses which verses he included on his list? Is it possible you’ve misused any of the following?
In reverse order, the author listed the following verses:
5. Psalm 46:10. “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”
The first half of this verse is often seen as an encouragement for us to slow down, stop our activities, quiet our hearts, maybe meditate, and just be alone with God. Those are good things. And taking time to “be still” like that can help remind us that God is God and He is in control.
But Psalm 46:10 is written in a time when God’s people are facing opposition from their enemies. The Psalm begins with the declaration that God is our refuge and our strength. The Psalmist declares that we will not fear, even if the earth falls into the sea.
In that context, Psalm 46:10 is a directed at the enemies of God. They are the ones who are to be still and know that He is God and that He will be exalted over all the earth. His purposes cannot be thwarted.
4. Matthew 7:1. “Judge not, lest you be judged.”
People who don’t know much at all about the Bible have this verse memorized. They love to pull it out anytime a Christian says that a particular activity is sinful or bad. If you tell someone that what they’re doing violates God’s word, you’re accused of judging them. “Judge not,” they tell you.
Here’s the problem. Jesus has no problem telling people that certain behavior is wrong. If you read the verses that lead up to this statement, you see Jesus clearly declaring that it’s wrong to lust, it’s wrong to hate someone in your heart, it’s wrong to lie, it’s wrong to seek vengeance, and so on. He calls people hypocrites for offering showy prayers or trying to be noticed when they are fasting. And right after the warning not to judge, Jesus tells us not to cast our pearls before swine… which means we’re going to have to decide who the swine are! Sounds a little like judging to me!
Matthew 7:1 is a warning against self-righteousness. It’s an admonition against thinking that you are morally or spiritually superior to others.
3. Jeremiah 29:11. “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
God does know the plans He has for each one of us. Ephesians 1:11 says that God works all things according to the counsel of His own will. And it’s true that God has promised good for us. Psalm 31:19 says “How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you. You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world.”
But in context, Jeremiah 29:11 is not a universal promise for all who follow Jesus. It is God declaring to the Jews who were in captivity in Babylon that He had not abandoned them, and that as a nation, He intended to restore and bless them. It’s a corporate promise to His people, not a promise to every individual.
2. Matthew 18:20. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
We often hear this verse quoted as people are praying in a small group setting. “Lord, we thank you that you are with us, for your Word says that where two or three are gathered…” But wait. Doesn’t the Bible teach that God is with us even when we’re alone? And what happens if four or five are gathered? Does God check out?
In context, Matthew 18:20 is telling us that during difficult times when church leaders have to confront open, unrepentant sin in the local congregation, God is with those who are seeking in grace to restore a fallen brother or sister.
Before I get to this author’s #1 most taken out of context scripture verse, let me add a couple of honorable mention verses:
Isaiah 53:6. “by His stripes you are healed.” That verse does not teach that Jesus’ death brings guaranteed healing to all who are sick.
1 John 4:16. “God is love.” That’s true. But He is also holy and righteous and just and to be feared and reverenced.
Luke 11:9. “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” This is not an invitation to name it and claim it (or if you prefer, to lip it and grip it, or to blab it and grab it).
Matthew 5:39. “Turn the other cheek.” I’ve heard this used with women who are experiencing domestic abuse or violence. That’s shameful. That’s not what Jesus is teaching.
We could go on. But let’s get to the verse that goes at the top of the out of context list. Have you guessed it yet?
1. Philippians 4:13. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
This is a verse that is most often misused in a locker room as a way to fire up an athlete or a team facing a difficult opponent. It’s how we wind up with tee shirts like this one, with a Bible verse next to a boxing glove.
|In context, the Apostle Paul is talking about how he has learned to persevere in the face of hardship. He has experienced times of plenty and times when he’s gone hungry. He has known both comfort and suffering. And, he writes, he has learned the secret of being content in whatever circumstance he’s in. He can face anything in the power of Christ, who gives Him comfort.
Context matters. If our goal is to know God and to understand His ways, then studying your Bible carefully is critical. That’s why the Apostle Paul told his young protégé Timothy to study carefully so he could rightly handle the word of God (2 Timothy 2:15).
That should be our goal as well.
GOOD FRIDAY | Fri, Apr 2 & EASTER SUNDAY | Sun, Apr 4
Good Friday is next week. And Easter is a week from Sunday. I hope you’ll plan to join us in person or online Friday night, April 2 at 7:00 for our Good Friday service, and then again on Sunday April 4 as we gather on Easter to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus. Be thinking now about people you might know who you could invite to join you for either service.
SUMMER PLANS UNDERWAY
We are starting to make plans for church wide events happening later this spring and summer. We’ll have more details soon, but here are just a few of the activities that will be on the schedule in the coming months.
> Friday night, April 30 – A Gathering for women. More details soon.
> Saturday, May 22 – A float trip on the Buffalo River for students – and for anyone else who is looking for a great way to enjoy the great Arkansas outdoors.
> Wednesday nights in June – Parking lot picnics for everyone, with special activities for kids each week.
Saturday, July 10 – a trip to Magic Springs Amusement and Water Park in Hot Springs, capped off that evening with a concert from Rend Collective.
Save these dates, and keep praying that the COVID trends make all these activities possible for us.
rcc membership meeting | Sat, APR 10
For those interested in finding out more about becoming a member at Redeemer, plan on joining us for our membership get together on Saturday morning, April 10 at 9:00 am at church. There is some reading and on-line viewing we ask you to do in advance of the meeting. If you’d like to find out more about the new members class, email Pastor Matt and let him know you’re interested. His email address is email@example.com.
We wrap up our series on Spiritual Warfare this week by talking about the critical role prayer plays in our ongoing battle with the world, the flesh and the devil.
See you (in person or on line) Sunday!
Soli Deo Gloria!