We've migrated to a new website. Some pages may not be available, click here to view the previous website.

Putting Context in Popular Bible Verses

It is common to see social media posts from people using Bible verses as the anchor to their message. Most often the verses used, while trying to offer inspiration and encouragement, may be misunderstood or used to suit the ideals or current situation of the individual.

Context is important in the study and application of God’s Word. While applicable to every aspect of our lives, a misused Bible verse may produce a false understanding. It is essential to learn what is behind the verse before we may apply it.

Together with Union Church of Manila, a Christian church in Makati, we are going to gain perspective around three popular Bible verses. By so doing, we may be better able to discover the even greater wisdom and revelation of God.

1. Jeremiah 29:11: “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Who does not love this sweet passage? It shows that the Lord has great plans for us and that He knows exactly what will happen to us in the future! All of this seems to be good. This Bible verse is commonly held onto for certain expectations or cited when one’s achieved a successful milestone. Many may think that God has already laid a good future for them and that they should only trust Him and not do anything else! This aspect, for instance, is where we need a fuller perspective.

First, let us explore some of the contextual details in this particular verse. It is evident from the passage that the Lord was speaking through the prophet Jeremiah, but to whom was He speaking? Of course, one may think that is to all of us, all people from both past and current generations. And while that may seem fine, the Lord was actually speaking to a particular people – the Israelites. But why does that matter?

During this time, the Israelites were in exile from Babylon due to their disobedience to the Lord. Jeremiah had come to debunk the false prophet Hananiah who was giving false promises. Jeremiah did assure the people through this particular verse. But we should understand that it was more of a spiritual promise than a material one. When we are in need of hope and encouragement, we may call on God. And we may often find Him meeting us in this need.

While what some people end up in life might not be alluring to our eyes it is what God had intended, it is His plan and it should be more than perfect. Plus, a guaranteed good future is not for everyone but only for those who are with Him. Only one verse later, God said that those who want hope and a future will call on Him and find Him with all of their hearts.

2. Philippians 4:13: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”

It is true that God gives us the strength that we can use for our everyday lives. But sometimes we may not be aware that by using this verse for particularly competitive situations, actually, we may be negating God’s presence. How so?

This passage is not about the towering physical and mental strength that God will give us to go through trials, literally or figuratively. More so, it is about the contentment that is only found with and through Him.

Paul, who wrote this, was actually in a dire situation of persecution at the time. And in the previous verse, he stated that “I know what it is to be in need, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well-fed or hungry.” That secret is the contentment found in Christ. Our real inner strength comes from Him.

Using this verse to exude strength, for example, in a sports competition or on a major exam is not exactly in line with the spirit of the text. The emphasis is less along the line of victory like in battle, rather, it is about keeping steadfast and strong in God’s love – even during times of trials and despair.

3. Luke 11:9: “And I tell you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.”

This is one of the most misused verses in the Bible. Some may cling onto this specific passage spoken by the Lord, thinking that to declare what is wanted is to bring one closer to the expectation that the Lord will give it.

Again, let us look at the context of this verse. During this time, Jesus was asked by His disciples about how to pray. Jesus gladly instructed them. One of the aspects is about the right way to pray. We ask the Lord to give us our daily bread and enough sustenance from Him. We ought to seek Him with all our hearts for our needs, with the right motivations and intentions, and He shall make an opening for us – in His way and in His time. The verse is not about asking the Lord for the abundant riches of this world. The verse is about asking the Lord for His daily blessing, as we are about His will.

Some of these passages we looked at today may have revealed different meanings than what you have been believing. But perhaps this can be a precursor for you to dig deeper into the Scriptures and in your relationship with the Lord. After all, the Scripture is God-breathed and should be used for our guidance, correction, and our work toward righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16).

It is okay to use Bible verses on social media and in our day to day interactions. But let us make sure that we are using them appropriately, so we can spread the Word effectively, and bring glory to God.