Recently I came across an article in a Christian blog that carries the tag line, Change the World – Share What Matters. The article is about misapplying scripture, something often and commonly committed by well-intentioned Christians. The author contends that it is better first to know and understand the original context before applying the “full and beautiful meaning of Scripture.” I agree. And I would like to share with you two verses that are frequently misapplied.
• Phil. 4:13 (ESV). I can do all things through him who strengthens me. This short verse is often uses by all and sundry to motivate others to accomplish great things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, etc. However, the context of this verse is “contentment.” Paul was writing to the church in Philippi to let them know that God had taught him to be content in times of plenty and in times of desperation.
So, in its proper meaning, it is a tribute to a man who learned to follow God in any circumstance. Whatever came Paul’s way, he handled with faith. It could be stoning, prison, shipwreck, beatings, etc. This passage is not a clarion call to go out and accomplish great feats of strength, but a beautiful reminder to pursue faith and trust God in the midst of the ups and downs of a life given fully to the cause of Christ.
• Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV). “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. This verse is often quoted during a trial to encourage or inspire — pointing us to the promise that God has specific plans to help us “prosper” so don’t worry! However, in context, this verse is dealing with a particular promise given to Israel from God; the promise points to the end of their Babylonian exile in specific terms (the promise is in vs.10). So, the word “prosper” doesn’t refer to money or material blessings, but physical and spiritual salvation.
But, someone might say, God still wants us to prosper, right? Well, in terms of salvation, yes. In fact, this passage is a great reminder of the fulfilled prophecy and the perfect Word of God. This is an amazing story that points us to a greater release and redemption for all of God’s people. So, taking away our specific, individually focused application doesn’t subtract the awesomeness from this passage. In fact, it enhances it and reminds us of the collective salvation of God’s people in history and in the future, still to come–which is much better than money or material things in the here and now.
So, beloved, when you next read your bible, I recommend that you prayerfully let God speak to you and not read your understanding into God’s words.
Rev. Robert Chew