In this worship gathering, we hear a message with some advice from Revelation 18 on how to avoid compromise with society, particularly in an economic sense. You can watch the message below, or the whole worship gathering below that.
I’ll admit that when I see someone quoting the Bible on social media, I get a little excited. It’s always great to see God’s Word sent forth through whatever channels we can, whether to encourage or challenge.
So I saw the following post earlier this week; I’ve blotted out the information about the posters for their own security. Can you see the problem?
The person who posted this decided that she would appropriate this passage of Scripture for herself. I pointed out that the “her” in Psalm 46.5 doesn’t refer to any woman who decides to read it, but to “that city”, i.e., Jerusalem. (Not all translations use the feminine pronoun for Jerusalem in this passage, which is helpful in situations like this one!)
In response to my pointing out that the text was about Jerusalem, the poster’s response was to say, “I am Jerusalem.”
As someone smarter than me once said, all Scripture is equally inspired, but not all Scripture is equally applied. When we yank a passage out of context and apply it to ourselves, or a given situation – without regard for the context of the passage – that’s called “proof-texting”. It might also be called abuse of the text (and, when applied to others in this manner, spiritual abuse of another sort).
Psalm 46 is not about the person who posted this on social media in that sense. There are principles we can draw from the Psalm, not least the “be still, and know that I am God” part (verse 10). Even that, though, can be abused; I remember a famous Hollywood person many years ago using this verse to suggest, in some sort of ersatz Eastern meditation seminar, that the participants be still and know that they are God.
Nope. All kinds of nope.
The Bible is not given for us to snip bits we like. When you pick up a saw, you’re not just using one of the teeth, right? To use it effectively, as intended, you’re making full strokes with the saw, using all the teeth. Trying to cut a piece of wood with one saw tooth would take you a very long time (you would die before you were finished). It is no less foolish to lift parts of Scripture and misapply them. While it might make us feel good and be a boost to our energy, we’re actually deceiving ourselves in so doing.
By all means, please do read the Bible. But don’t yank out parts of it that inspire you without yanking the context out with it.
Let me give you one more example. I saw this verse posted on a daily tear-off inspirational desk calendar one time: “I will give it all to you if you will kneel down and worship me.”
Sounds inspiring, even empowering, right? But consider the context:
Next the devil took him to the peak of a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. “I will give it all to you,” he said, “if you will kneel down and worship me.” “Get out of here, Satan,” Jesus told him. “For the Scriptures say, ‘You must worship the LORD your God and serve only him.’” (Matthew 4.8-10, NLT)
Ouch. Not so inspiring in context, is it?
Scripture is intended to be inspiring and challenging. But until we pay attention to the context, we’re playing with fire. It is, after all, a sword.
“Put on salvation as your helmet, and take the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6.17, NLT).
(By the way, you could accuse me of pulling Scripture out of context when I close each Encouragement with a verse or two, but rest assured I have considered the context around what I choose and seek to apply it helpfully. Feel free to battle back if you think I misuse a Bible verse!)
One of the key tenets of the Christian faith is that we believe that Jesus was both divine and human: fully God, fully man. Sometimes, though, I know I am guilty of focusing on Jesus’ divinity and neglecting his humanity.
We don’t always reflect on just how human Jesus was: that he felt every emotion known to the human race, yet did not sin.
Sure, we know Jesus was happy and sad, but Jesus also experienced anger.
Often, when we do think of Jesus getting angry, we think of how he turned over the tables of the money-changers in the temple (John 2). But Jesus also got profoundly angry at the Pharisees and teachers of religious law, the “establishment” in the Jewish world of his day. Much of Matthew 23 is dedicated to Jesus’ verbal tirade against these highly-respected religious leaders.
Many people are taught that it’s wrong to get angry – maybe even unchristian. Yet Jesus got angry…for the right reasons, for righteous reasons. So did the prophets. So did the Psalmists. So does the Father!
It’s not unbiblical to be angry before God. Everything we do is before God anyway! And because Jesus expressed anger, we can, too.
Our challenge is to be able to do so without sinning. That’s the hard part, isn’t it?
When we are angry for righteous reasons, perhaps we are less inclined to sin in our anger, directing that energy instead toward upholding the glory of God.
So don’t hold back your emotions before the Lord. Be honest, be real – but don’t let your emotions get the best of you. He knows how you feel anyway. Because Jesus experienced every human emotion, you can be sure God really knows how you feel.
“’[D]on’t sin by letting anger control you.’ Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, 27 for anger gives a foothold to the devil” (Ephesians 4.26-27, NLT).
There is a meme that has been making its way around social media for the last few years that has always troubled me. It depicts a number painted on the ground, appearing either as a six or a nine, depending on the perspective from which you come to it. The caption reads, “Just because you are right does not mean I am wrong. You just haven’t seen life from my side.”
In some ways, it may seem comforting to know that, yes, there are different sides to every story and every situation.
But what it fails to communicate is an important truth: What was the original intent of the person who painted that number on the ground? Was it intended to be a 6 or a 9? Unless it was painted maliciously – to get people to fight about it – the only way one can know whether it is a 6 or a 9 is to know what the painter intended it to be.
There are, of course, small matters on which this meme depicts reality. Let’s say, for example, that instead of a number it was a pitcher of milk that was sitting there. One person may come at it with great joy, because she loves milk and has it on her cereal every morning. Another person may approach it with great revulsion, because he hates milk, having been forced to drink it warm from the cow’s udder by his mother.
That, though, is a matter of taste, not objective truth. Trouble is, some people apply the same principles to truth as they do to taste, and that’s where we get into difficulty.
We live in a strange time. Western society used to treat objective truth as just that. Then we moved into a phase where truth was believed to be relative (what’s true for you might not be true for me, etc.). Now, in some ways, society has moved back to a place where truth is absolute, but only when it suits our own agendas.
For example, as a friend posted on social media yesterday, it’s astounding how some people will believe that the Bible can speak clearly and objectively about the importance of caring for refugees, but those same people may not believe the Bible speaks clearly and objectively about matters of sexuality – or vice-versa.
We can’t pretend to control what the world thinks or believes, though we can seek to influence it. As followers of Jesus, we need to be on the same page – literally and figuratively. We need to be willing to submit to God’s Word as objective truth. Yes, we read it with sensitivity to its cultural context, but we also must read it with full knowledge of our cultural context. That is, at the same time as we take the culture of Bible times into account when we read it, we must also be fully aware of our own culture, being careful not to read our cultural norms into the Bible’s context.
This is why it is so important for us to read prayerfully, with an eye to how students of Scripture have read and interpreted it over the course of the two millennia of Christian history that preceded us.
In short, read Scripture the way it wants to be read, not the way you want it to read. And yes, be sensitive to the perspectives others bring, but look primarily for the original intent as you read.
“For the word of God is alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT).