Keep It All in Context

28 Jun

SouthernPlate_fromDebVA few years back, Debbie, a friend from Alabama, gave me a plate with all sorts of Southern phrases.  Most of them have become commonplace in American lingo:

  • I declare!
  • Sit a spell.
  • Much obliged!
  • Help yourself, hon!
  • Just a sliver, please.
  • Homegrown.
  • Sweet Tea.

But one was new to me:  Ya’ll are too cute! I’ve since seen it on some Southerners’ Facebook pages.

Robin, my sister-in-love who lives in Texas, has her own version:  She says, “Ca-u-u-u-u-ute!” The phrase is usually connected to the context of a picture, situation, Facebook comment, etc. (“Ca-u-u-u-u-ute!” makes no sense otherwise.)

I got to thinkin’ (which is a phrase my Grandpa used):  Do I ever say things that, taken out of context, make absolutely no sense to people?

One phrase that I say is, “Throw that woman a life preserver!”

Now some people might wonder about that one. I’m not talking about a woman drowning in the ocean or a pool, or even a woman who’s struggling with something. In my context, it means, “She’s got her nose so high in the air, she could drown in a rainstorm.” In other words, this is one proud woman and she needs a life preserver before she drowns in her conceit!

I read an excellent book that tackles some of the biblical scriptures (and phrases we use that come from them) that are totally taken out of context. These scriptures are misused and misunderstood, even by well-meaning Christians.

Here are only a few cases:

  • “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1).
  • “… plans to prosper you and not to harm you…” (Jeremiah 29:11-13).
  • “Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do… (John 14:13-14).
  • “… all things work together for good … (Romans 8:28).
  • “I can do all things through Christ… (Philippians 4:13).
  • “The prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well” (James 5:15).
  • “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Proverbs 19:18).
  • And even the common “revival” scripture that begins, “If my people…” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

These and other verses are dissected with biblical wisdom by Eric Bargerhuff in his book, The Most Misused Verses in the Bible: Surprising Ways God’s Word is Misunderstood.

I was familiar with some of these scriptural distortions, but others surprised me. I’ve used them incorrectly for most of my life! I discovered that sometimes we “fix” scripture to meet our needs or presumptions, and then they have little or nothing to do with the author’s original intent. In some cases (think, Adolf Hitler), scriptures have been twisted. The altered text becomes dangerous! Faulty interpretation can also lead to theological heresy, and that’s never a LOL matter!

The apostle Paul urged Timothy to handle the Word of God with care;

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).

He would caution us today not to twist passages to mean what we want them to mean for our own purposes. Even if those purposes are well-intentioned and good. We need to “get it right” when we study, teach and proclaim scriptures.

Some study tips I’ve drawn from Bargerhuff’s book:

1. Start with the literal reading of the text.

2. Quote the verse accurately; don’t leave out or add words.

3. Read the full context of a verse. (Read surrounding verses and even the whole chapter in some cases. Consider the theme of the book.)

4. Use scripture to interpret scripture.

5. Consider the historical and cultural background of the passage.

6. Consider the literary “genre.” (Are the verses from prophecy, poetry, wisdom principles, parable, a narrative or letter, prophecy or apocalyptic literature?)

7. Resist the temptation to “work” a passage into what you want it to say.  In other words, don’t read an application into scripture that isn’t there. Be sure your application is as accurate as the interpretation.

Sometimes our misuse of scripture is entirely innocent. Other times, we have an agenda.

DontTwistScriptureAfter reading Bargerhuff’s book, I am more committed than ever to “rightly divide” the Word of God. We must not play games with the “Word.” Do we really think this “fixing” or “working” of scripture for our own designs doesn’t matter to God?

I have to admit that I’ve been guilty in the past of taking passages out of context for my own purposes. (They were good purposes, and the verses “fit” so nicely into my message that certain way.)  It’s so easy to do this.

We can mishandle scripture without thinking. And that’s the problem.

It’s not a wise practice, and for me to continue to do so now – knowing the truth about these scriptures – would be a point of pride, an unwillingness to preserve the clear meaning of God’s Word.

With that kind of arrogance … “I declare, I’d need a life preserver!”

Is “working” a passage to fit your needs or agenda, a problem for you too? Let’s commit to handling God’s Word with greater care.

– Dawn


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