The Bible is the most important book ever written. The one true God chose to reveal Himself to us through the written word. Amazing and humbling!
Yet sometimes we get it wrong. We misunderstand or misapply the truth God has given us. Although there are countless causes, through my experience I’ve seen two primary problems crop up again and again.
Perspective – Too often we read God’s Word with our own purposes and goals in mind. But the Bible is all about God. When we read it with His eternal purposes in mind, we will better grasp the truth of His Word.
Context – The Bible may have unlimited applications, but its meaning never changes. It means the same today as it did when it was written. To understand the original meaning, we must pull back and understand the context – of the passage, of the chapter, of the book.
Here are 10 verses that are often misunderstood due to perspective, context, or both:
- 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 (1 Corinthians 10:1-13) deals with temptation and our ability to withstand 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 2 Corinthians 1:8-11).
- 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!
- 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, 1 Corinthians 5:5-7, Hebrews 12:15, James 5:19-20).
- Psalm 37:4
“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.
- 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!
- 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).
- 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, (Romans 8:18-39), 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 (Romans 8:28-30). 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 8:29).
- Habakkuk 1:5
“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. This verse should stand as a strong reminder that God does discipline His children.
- 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. We often misappropriate promises. And while God does make a lot of promises to all believers, this particular promise isn’t one of them.
- 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. 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.
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