When we make scripture about us and our material good, we set ourselves up for spiritual failure. Paying attention to the context of a verse, and even better yet, the context of the Bible as a whole, alleviates this problem, and allows us to know God more fully and truthfully.
I lead the Bible Study at my church and write this and two other blogs in which I place a great deal of emphasis on reading and studying the Bible. As a teacher I am careful that those I teach understand scripture in the context in which it was written. That includes who it was written to and the reason that it was written. To understand the proper context, you must also know when it was written and the societal and cultural environment in which it was written. In 2018 I wrote a post titled Context Context Context. In it I wrote.
“The unity of the Bible is unique when compared other literature in that it was written over a period of approximately 1,550 years, with at least 40 human writers, most of whom did not know each other and were from varying backgrounds (king, fisherman, tax collector, shepherd, etc.). The Bible was written in various environments (desert, prison, royal court, etc). Yet its theme of the fall of mankind, God’s plan for reconciliation and redemption of mankind, and return to the original relationship between God and mankind, flows through the entire bible allowing any passage to be viewed in the context of the entire Bible because of its length, diversity of literary styles, and human interpretation many passages when taken out of context can be used to justify almost anything. When taken out of context people can be duped, hurt, and deceived. There are some passages of scripture that are taken out of context more than others. Most of the time they are not used to hurt of deceive but they may have that affect others both Christians and non-Christians.
Here are 10 verses of Scripture that many Christians and non-Christians alike often get wrong from Kathy Howard (some scriptures added by me to provide additional clarification).
By Kathy Howard Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
1. 1 Corinthians 10:13
“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it.”
Many Christians claim this verse as a “promise” that God will never allow them to experience more difficulties than “they can handle.” Yet, the larger passage deals with temptation and our ability to withstand it.
1 Corinthians 10:1-13 (ESV)1 For I do not want you to be unaware, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea,2 and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea,3 and all ate the same spiritual food,4 and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ.5 Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness.6 Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.7 Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, “The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play.”8 We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.9 We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,10 nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.11 Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come.12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.
God promises He will always provide a way for us to say “no” to temptation. In fact, Paul learned by experience that God will allow us to face circumstances “beyond our ability to endure” so that we will learn to rely on Him (see That’s Not In The Bible - God Will Never Give You More Than You Can Bear).
2. Proverbs 22:6
“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.”
Misunderstanding Proverbs 22:6 as a promise has led to grief for many parents. The book of Proverbs is wisdom literature, which offers general principles for successful living. A proverb is not a promise. Instead, let us use it as a tool for wise parenting and decision-making, and entrust our children to our faithful God!
3. Matthew 7:1
“Do not judge, or you too will be judged.”
Is all “judging” wrong? Jesus did condemn a harsh, critical “judging” motivated by a self-righteous, hypocritical attitude. But in the whole of Scripture, God clearly commands Christians to lovingly point out sin and exhort each other to holiness. It is not our place to determine their motives, but it is our responsibility to gently identify behavior God has already judged to be “sin.” The goal is to reconcile that person with God and others and to keep the sin from spreading.
Matthew 18:15-17 (ESV)15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.
1 Corinthians 5:3-7 (ESV)3 For though absent in body, I am present in spirit; and as if present, I have already pronounced judgment on the one who did such a thing.4 When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus,5 you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.6 Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump?7 Cleanse out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.
Hebrews 12:15 (ESV)15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled;
James 5:19-20 (ESV)19 My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back,20 let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
“Take delight in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
If I find joy in God, will He fill my life with all the things I value and enjoy? Wait – remember context and focus. In this psalm, David contemplated the age-old question of why evil people seem to prosper while the righteous often struggle. David wrote to encourage his readers – and us – to widen our perspective, to live in light of eternity and to set our hope in God’s everlasting purposes. When we commit ourselves (delight) to God’s capable hands, our desire for the righteous to prevail will be realized in His timing.
5. James 1:2-3
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.”
We would think that James meant we could find joy in Christ in spite of our trials. That makes more sense! Yet, James really did say – and mean – because of our trials. While God cares very much about our physical circumstances, James knew He uses trials to refine our faith and make us more like Jesus. That is something to rejoice about!
6. Matthew 18:20
“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”
Considering just this verse, we might believe that Jesus is with us only when we are with other believers. But the context of the larger passage is church discipline. When another believer sins, if he will not listen to one, two or three fellow believers should bring the matter to the church.
Matthew 18:15-20 (ESV)15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.18 Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.19 Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.”
7. Romans 8:28
“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
Does God control all the circumstances of our lives to make things turn out great for us? Let’s take a step back to grasp the glorious truth of Romans 8:28. First, this promise is not for all people, just Christians who love and follow Jesus. Second, in the larger context, Paul reminds us that although we must temporarily endure earthly suffering, God works through it to continuously work out His greater, eternal plan for us. The “good” God is working towards is not temporary, earthly “success,” but the eternal purpose of us being “conformed to the likeness” of Jesus.
Romans 8:18-39 (ESV)18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us.19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God.20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees?25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words.27 And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers,39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (emphasis mine)
“Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told.”
If we read this verse by itself, we might believe God is going to do something wonderful and glorious before our eyes. Well, He definitely did, but probably not what you’d expect. God sent the prophet Habakkuk to pronounce judgment on Judah for turning away from God. The amazing thing God planned was to send the brutal nation of Babylon to conquer His people and carry them into captivity.
Habakkuk 1:6-11 (ESV)6 For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation, who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.7 They are dreaded and fearsome; their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.8 Their horses are swifter than leopards, more fierce than the evening wolves; their horsemen press proudly on. Their horsemen come from afar; they fly like an eagle swift to devour.9 They all come for violence, all their faces forward. They gather captives like sand.10 At kings they scoff, and at rulers they laugh. They laugh at every fortress, for they pile up earth and take it.11 Then they sweep by like the wind and go on, guilty men, whose own might is their god!”
This verse should stand as a strong reminder that God does discipline His children.
9. Jeremiah 29:11
“‘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 definitely a promise. But it’s a promise for a particular people in a particular time. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God promised that after Judah’s pre-determined exile in Babylon, He would bring them back to the Promised Land.
Jeremiah 29:10 (ESV)10 “For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place.
We often misappropriate promises. And while God does make a lot of promises to all believers, this particular promise isn’t one of them.
10. Philippians 4:13
“I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
Philippians 4:13 is probably the most misused verse in the Bible. We pull it out of the surrounding passage and hold it out as God’s obligation to empower our plans and dreams. Yet, Paul was writing about being content no matter his earthly circumstances. He could endure any difficulty or physical need through the strengthening power of Christ.
Philippians 4:10-13 (ESV)10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity.11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content.12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need.13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Oh yes, Philippians 4:13 is a great promise indeed! Jesus will give us the strength we need to endure desperate need. His empowering presence will be with us through every difficult circumstance.