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!)