Everywhere I go, I hear Christians and Bible-minded people quoting passages of scripture or I see certain passages on signs, bumper stickers, or on personalized car plates (tags). At first glance these passages seem to be encouraging or seem to be full of promise. Yet, often, after a deeper look at the context of the passage, they do not say what the sign, sticker, or tag implies. I have selected three of the more popular of these scriptures from the Old Covenant and three from the New Covenant to share and explore.
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.” People quote this verse implying that God has a plan of my welfare for a future for hope, He has a specific plan for my life. I just need to let go and let God take control. But that is not what that verse is about. It is not about you. It is not about me. Unless of course, I want to wait 70 years like the verse before says. Contextually, God is telling the nation of Judah, “You have abandoned me, I am going to send you into captivity for seventy years, then you will come back here and call on My name – returning to Me, Then I will lay out the plans I have for you.” The plan was to restore them so the Messiah – Christ could come.
2 Chronicles 7:14 “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” Many use this verse as if to say that if the United States of America would just pray, God will make America great again. I hate to disappoint you, but The United States is NOT God’s chosen people. The USA is not God’s nation. To be honest, we are not really a Christian nation. We are a democratic-republic who elects leaders. In the context of 2 Chronicles 7, Solomon has finished construction of the temple and God is warning Israel about becoming unfaithful and telling them He will punish their unfaithfulness but will forgive when they repent. Any application today is not to the United States of America but to God’s chosen people today, His kingdom, His body – the CHURCH. If the church wants to grow, we need to be a people of prayer and reliance on God.
Isaiah 43:19 “Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” I heard someone on the radio using this verse as a promise. Their statement was along this idea, “You are going through a tough time, but God is taking you through that on purpose. He has a plan. A plan to give you something new and better.” Then they explained how their first marriage broke apart and how devastated they felt, but God lead a new spouse into their life and it is the best that has ever happened to them. All that sounds fantastic. That is until you realize the Lord is making a comparison. He is comparing the Exodus of Israel from Egypt to a new way and a new covenant He will make through the Messiah. The new thing is salvation through Christ and the promise of eternal salvation in Him.
Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” Many times, this verse is used when you or I do not want someone saying what we are doing or are about to do is wrong (dangerous, immoral, sinful, etc.) But that is NOT what Jesus is saying. Contextually, Jesus is saying before you tell someone about their sin, know that you will be judged by the same standard. So, make sure you are aware of and admit your own weaknesses before you condemn others for theirs (Matthew 7:1-5). Other passages us teach Christians to watch out for, edify, encourage, and even to judge one another (1 Corinthians 5:12). I want you to help me become more righteous, so please judge what I am doing and offer correction when I am in the wrong. Just realize that you do not have the ability to know my motives. You can judge my actions but only God can judge my heart.
Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” Many times, we apply this verse to tasks, education, tests, sports and more. We use it to say we are invincible in this life and communicate that we will always come out on top when we rely on the strength of Christ. In Phil 4:10-14, Paul is thanking the Philippians for assisting him in his time of need. He shares that he is able to endure the hardships of persecution, need, hunger, as well as the joy of acclamation, abundance, and feasts. He has learned to take life in stride because his life is about Christ not about himself. If we apply this to sports, then I can win graciously because my life is in Christ and I can also lose graciously because my life is about Christ not about my ability (or lack thereof) on the basketball court.
John 13:7 “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” Many use this verse in connection with Isaiah 43:19 (Behold I am doing a new thing) and claim that what hardship we are going through is from God and that although we do not understand it, we will when He gives us a new blessing afterwards. So we say, “God, I don’t know why you caused my house to burn down, but I know you have something new and better planned for me. I don’t understand what you are doing, but I have faith that everything happens for a reason.” That is not what this verse is about. This verse is about Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and coming to Peter who tells Jesus, don’t wash my feet. Jesus replies, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” A few verses later he explains so that Peter and the rest would know what He was doing, “. . . Do you understand what I have done to you? You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them. (John 13:12-17). Jesus is teaching them about humble service and servant leadership. If He, Jesus the Christ, stooped to wash feet like a lowly house servant, then His followers and the leaders of His people (the Church) are servants not tyrants. That is what Peter and we are to understand from John 13:7.
My challenge to each and every one of us is to not use the Bible as a book of maxims to be randomly applied to make us feel better about life. That we not look at the Word of God as a book of various promises to demand (claim) from God. We need to take time to learn the context of a passage, take time to learn the over-riding message of the Bible – God’s plan for redeeming man back to Himself for eternity.