Context Clues

I grew up going to church — Sunday school, Sunday morning “big church”, Wednesday night dinner, youth ministry. I went to church camp every summer until I aged out. So I grew up knowing certain verses by heart just through the repetition of hearing it and commonly quoted.

  • John 3:16 – For God so loved the world he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
  • 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.”
  • John 1:1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God. He was with God in the beginning.
  • Psalm 46:10 – Be still and know that I am God.
  • Psalm 121:1,2 – I lift up my eyes to the mountains — where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
  • Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life.
  • Isaiah 40:31 – Those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:4 – Love is patient; love is kind.
  • 1 Corinthians 13:13 – These three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.

And I think one of most well known:

  • Philippians 4:13 – I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

I’ve heard that repeated in many different circumstances. Tim Tebow has worn it during games. People say it to others to buck up their courage, quoted in hard times, before interviews, etc. In fact, I can specifically remember my mother saying it to me before try outs and school presentations.

I’ve heard it so many times in fact that I’ve never actually looked at the verses before it. We go to it for strength and comfort. We go to these verses what what we need.

The verses around it put it into context. The book of Philippians is written by the apostle Paul while in prison to the Christians in Philippi. So here’s what the rest says:

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.

So it wasn’t about being superman or invincible. It was about Paul being able to handle all the situations. He’s been sitting in jail, in poor conditions, probably hungry, probably dirty – but he’s still content with his life because of Christ. He’s content in Christ.

I feel stupid! I didn’t realize this on my own. It was through a Bible study and I feel like it really opened my eyes to how I read the Bible.

Context y’all! Context is important!

We pick and choose verses to fulfill whatever we need at the time — comfort, strength, reassurance, guidance. When we read the Bible, we pick out the things that we need and suit us. That’s the same thing that hate groups who pull out certain voices to justify the horrible things they do.

We should read the Bible, like any other literature (Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Kerouac, etc.), we have to keep in mind the context — author, intended audience, and culture at the time it was written.

I’ve never thought to do that outside of some of the early Old Testament. So I thought I’d share. The Bible study is really good; if you’d like to check it out click here.

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