Many Christians — myself included — have looked to various events and stories of the Bible as paralleling our own lives.
We derive wisdom, teaching, instruction and comfort from the Exodus adventure and subsequent wanderings of the Israelite in the desert, or we see ourselves in the man who called out to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9: 24)
This is one of the purposes of God’s Word — in detailing actual, historical events describing the involvement of God with His people, it leads us to discover and absorb truth that apply to our situations today — there is great comfort in knowing that when the writer proclaimed, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever,” (Hebrews 13: 8) he was addressing not only his 1st century readers, but providing words of comfort to the generations of believers to follow.
That being said, most of us are intelligent enough to recognize that the historical events of the Bible, and the Psalms written around them, and the prophecies of what was and is to come, do not dovetail seamlessly into our individual lives, and we won’t necessarily find word for word and sentence for sentence application.
One of my favorite gymnastic interpretations of Scripture is Gloria Copeland’s quote regarding Mark 10:29-30, the Scripture saying,
“No one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much –“
There’s more, but prosperity preachers like to cut it off there.
Copeland says in her book, God’s Will Is Prosperity:
“Give $10 and receive $1000; Give $1000 and receive $100,000 . . . give one house and receive one hundred houses or a house worth one hundred times as much. Give one airplane and receive one hundred times the value of the airplane . . . In short, Mark 10:30 is a very good deal.”
And Being Really Inflexible
Those of us not attending a mega-mammon-church that puts a big focus on giving to the ministry so that members, somehow, can get back, laugh off Copeland’s rendition of truth, and rightly so. Because of this over-the-top way of looking at things, however, other Christians — I think they’re well meaning — make it their ministry to seek out, identify, find, and shoot into little holes beloved verses that have brought great comfort to people in distress.
One of these verses is Jeremiah 29: 11:
“‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you a hope and a future.’”
Recently, I ran into the words of a Christian who took great pains to — actually, seemed to delight in doing so — dismantle this verse, loftily informing the addlepated puddingheads among us that the words have nothing, absolutely nothing, to do with us today, as they were clearly written to the Jews exiled to Babylon, promising them that someday they (or actually their descendants) would return to their land and be blessed (and this is, indeed, the context in which the verse was written).
His resulting analysis scolded readers for even thinking that they could apply this verse to their lives, much less derive any hope from it. The tone used was condescending, disdainful, supercilious, and patronizing, which is too bad, because the writer’s intentions were good (I think he’s as tired of prosperity preachers as I am), and the rest of the article was more balanced.
Out of Context
While it is true that we Christians have a lamentable habit of pulling verses out of context and using them to further our way of thinking, intelligent readers who encounter this passage in light of its context do not have to reject its potential for meaning in their lives any more than we discount Jesus’ long speech to his disciples in John chapters 14 – 18 because He was speaking to the apostles, not us.
Scripture, we understand, has multi-layers of application, and as we continue to read it, meditate upon it, pray for guidance from the Holy Spirit, and study, we will gain wisdom and discernment in how to apply it.
I know a woman who is alive today because she took seriously that promise about “a future and a hope.” She wasn’t looking for money or a car; she was looking for a reason to live. Is that such a bad message to derive from that Scripture?
It’s important to accept that, along the way in our reading of the Bible, we will make mistakes. We may put more into a verse than it can bear, or we may pull out of it much less, but the fear of doing so should not hold us back from plunging ahead in our reading, trusting to the Spirit of truth Jesus mentions in John 16: 13, to guide us. There is a subtle, or not so subtle, message out there that the average Christian isn’t educated enough, or steeped enough in Scripture, to read the Word for Himself and rely upon God to direct him in learning.
If this were true, then there would be universal agreement among the experts as to the meaning of everything in the Bible, because there are certainly enough people out there with the world’s credentials behind them to back up what they say.
Keep reading, my friend.
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