“I can do all things through a verse taken out of context.” The T-shirt makes a humorous and embarrassing point. Too often, Christians claim Bible verses for those things that were the farthest thing from the mind of the biblical writer. Too many times to be counted, athletes have claimed Philippians 4:13 for motivation in a big event. But when Paul wrote that he could “do all things through Christ who strengthens me,” he wasn’t thinking of a rugby match or a marathon. He was thinking of the deprivation he sometimes experienced because of his commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ. Just two verses earlier, he made the claim that, whether empty or full, he had learned to be content. Paul’s persevering contentment is the “all things” that he could do “through Christ Jesus.” For Christ’s sake, empowered by Christ, he could remain content amid hardship.
As you and I walk through this life, we experience times when we face “plenty” and other times when we face “hunger”; times of “abundance” and times of “need” (Philippians 4:12). That is, the context of our life does not remain static; it changes. And God’s word has a relevant text for each context. Our responsibility is to rightly apply the text to our context. But it is also our responsibility to rightly discern and to rightly apply a text to the context of others.
Perhaps it is a bit of a caricature, but we have perhaps heard of those (maybe even experienced those) who are quick to quote, “We know that all things work together for good to those who love God” (Romans 8:28). That is a glorious text. But the context of timing needs to be observed. Perhaps it would be wise to say nothing as you embrace your friend who has just heard the words from the doctor, “I’m sorry, but he’s gone; we did all we could do.” Silence sometimes really is golden. The text of Romans 8:28 is true, but context matters. There will come a time when quoting and applying it will be completely appropriate. But perhaps allow some time for the numbness of heartache to subside before using this text.
The same can be said about many similar situations, including when the sin of another is staring you in the face. Quoting texts about the need to confront a brother who is sinning, and exhorting them, “Repent of your sin” is no doubt the need. But with emotions on edge, perhaps too hastily applying the flame of a text onto the kerosene of the context may not be the most prudent response. Time will probably aid the text in its effectiveness to the context.
As Christians who take the word of God seriously in a world of untruths, we need to know the text of Scripture, and we need to be prepared to use the sword of the Spirit in the various contexts of life. But if we misuse a text by either ignoring its context or by not considering the context of the situation, we shouldn’t be surprised if the results are less than encouraging.
In our fast-paced day we like simple answers and simple solutions. And sometimes we can be guilty of approaching Scripture this way. We need to pause before we quote. Perhaps especially in these days. Challenges loom large and, yes, Scripture addresses these. But simple proof-texting won’t usually be the wisest approach. Consider context and be careful before merely quoting a text.
As you go into your day, you are going to experience life in various contexts. You will have numerous opportunities to apply the text of Scripture. Let us therefore ask the Lord for wisdom to say a word in season rather than out of season. We can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. But only in the context God has appointed.
Carefully “texting” with you,