What if I told you context is not the most important factor in correctly applying God’s word? Let me explain.
In Matthew 4, while in the wilderness, Satan quotes two verses from Psalm 91. Word for word. He doesn’t twist the verses. He doesn’t change the words. But he does use them out of context. Psalm 91:11-12 is a powerful reminder of God’s protection and desire to care for his people. Instead, Satan uses this truth as a way to test God’s sovereignty. He uses creative freedom to make God’s words say what he wants them to say.
In Matthew 22, while responding to a question about marriage and the resurrection, Jesus quotes a verse from Exodus 6. Word for word. Does he use it out of context? Absolutely. No one reading the words of Exodus 6 would conclude resurrection is the topic. Jesus uses creative freedom to make a verse say what he wants it to say.
So, what’s the difference between Satan’s application of God’s word and Jesus’s application? This is huge. Don’t miss it.
Satan’s goal is to distort God’s character. Jesus’s goal was to reinforce God’s character.
Satan manipulates God’s words to fulfill his selfish desires. His mission is to kill, steal, and destroy, so he applies God’s words through that lens. Jesus might have used Scripture out of context, but he always applied it in a way that reinforced his mission and values, to glorify his Father.
Here’s the point.
Your values, what you hold as most important, will impact how you apply Scripture. You can hop in a time machine, grab a cup of joe with Peter or Paul, and make notes about the culture and the people. But if your values aren’t God’s values, you will apply Scripture incorrectly.
Context isn’t enough. You must dig deeper. My goal is to expose the layer underneath the layer. If you read Scripture through a red, white, and blue lens, a white, suburban America lens, or any lens other than the one Jesus used, you won’t apply God’s words correctly.
So, I want to highlight 7 historically misapplied Scriptures. But I want to add an additional layer…the American value that causes you to misuse the Scripture. You ready? Let’s go.
1.) ACHIEVEMENT – Philippians 4:13
“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
I played sports year-round in high school. Sports were my life. And although sports teach you valuable life lessons, those lessons don’t come easy. On the hard days, when I wanted to give up, I would recite Philippians 4:13.
“You can do this, Frank. You can do all things through Christ who gives you strength. Push through it.”
This verse is plastered everywhere, from workout facilities to locker rooms. Why? To encourage achievement. Americans idolize achievement, and we will use any means necessary to achieve more.
This verse is really about contentment. Ironically, we apply this verse as a means to help us accomplish more, while Paul uses this verse as a plea to stop pursuing more.
If there’s a message Americans need to hear more than contentment, I’m not sure what it is. We pursue more. We strive harder. We’re convinced contentment will come if we can only get that job, lose those pounds, or win that award. Then it doesn’t come. Why? Paul tells us. The secret to contentment isn’t having more stuff or less stuff.
The secret to contentment is Jesus Christ.
2.) PROSPERITY – 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 a future and a hope.'”
Few values are more central to the American dream than prosperity. So, it’s not surprising that the “prosperity gospel” leans heavily on Jeremiah 29:11. And, while there’s nothing wrong with prosperity, there’s a lot wrong with believing God is primarily concerned with it.
Jeremiah delivers this verse to the Israelites who are staring at years of hard labor. In fact, for the next 70 years, the Israelites would be in captivity. Most of those hearing these words from Jeremiah would never taste freedom again.
Meanwhile, we use this verse to justify our desire for prosperity.
If you examine the larger narrative of the Bible, several themes arise, but earthly prosperity isn’t one. The opposite is actually true. Most men and women who accomplished things for the Lord experienced seasons of severe disappointment, loss, and suffering. God’s plan isn’t for you to live comfortably on this earth. If you’re blessed with wealth, praise God. Use it for his glory.
But let’s not be so naive to believe the fuel that run America’s engine, prosperity, is also God’s primary desire for our lives.
3.) COMFORT – Romans 8:28
“And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”
Last Sunday, a man I greatly respect gave his testimony. This man has experienced unimaginable suffering. At one point, he was perfectly healthy. Athletic. Passionate Christ-follower. Great family man. Then, his health began to deteriorate. Sunday, as he fought back tears, he explained how it took 15 minutes to tuck in his shirt. The doctors believe eventually this disease will take his life.
So, tell me, how does God work that together for good? Tell me what’s good about a man who can’t fully enjoy his family and health?
Romans 8:28 hinges on the word “good.” When I hear “good” I think comfort, security, and health. But that’s not what God sees. Look at the next verse. Go ahead. Read it now.
Children of God can count on one thing: God can and will use every situation to conform you into the image of Jesus Christ. This doesn’t mean your life will be free from pain, suffering, or hardship. It does mean those experiences won’t terminate on themselves. So, when you hear “good,” don’t look at it through the world’s lens. Look at it through God’s lens.
4.) SELF – Matthew 7:1
“Judge not, that you be not judged.”
“Don’t judge me. I can do what I want.” While you would expect those outside of Christ to say this (BTW…Those individuals are right. Christians don’t have a right to judge them. See 1 Cor. 5:12), it’s somewhat puzzling to hear Christians say it. But, man, we love this phrase. It’s our go-to statement when people confront our behavior.
Ok. Maybe you don’t say it. But, if you’re like me, you certainly think it.
But, in Matthew 7, Jesus doesn’t prohibit rebuke. He prohibits rebuke without self-reflection.
This is what happens when we view Scripture with a red, white, and blue lens. Individualism and relativism are championed in our culture. And while we are created uniquely in God’s image, we aren’t created independently of one another. To become the man or woman God created us to be, we must be in Christ-centered community with other Christians.
5.) SHAME/PRIDE – Proverbs 22:6
“Train up a child in the way he should go; even when he is old he will not depart from it.”
I want to take this verse literally. I really do. But, if I take this verse literally, how do I respond to the prodigal children in the Bible? How do I respond to the parents I know whose children have nothing to do with Jesus?
The writer of Proverbs, probably Solomon, isn’t giving a legalistic, cut-and-dry promise. He’s delivering a general principle that works…well…generally. In other words, if you point your children to Jesus and model genuine, authentic faith, generally speaking, your children will continue in the ways of Jesus.
It is not, however, a guarantee.
Satan uses this verse to build a cloud of shame over parents whose children walk away from Jesus. He also uses this to build a wall of pride around parents whose children never waiver from their faith. Both groups are missing the point of parenting a child toward Jesus, which is trusting completely in God.
If your child walks away from God, and you blame yourself, you’re taking Satan’s bait. No parent can make their child follow Jesus. All you can do is point them in the right direction. Let go of that burden. At the same time, if your children never abandon their faith, it’s not because you’re awesome. Don’t be prideful. Thank God.
Don’t allow Satan to manipulate you with Proverbs 22:6. Point your children to Jesus. Everyday. Give the rest to God.
6.) COURAGE/BRAVERY – Isaiah 6:8
“And I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?’ Then I said, ‘Here I am! Send me.'”
The final line of our nation’s national anthem is, “O’er the land of the free and the home of the BRAVE.” Courage and bravery are badges of honor in America. Army generals and commanders use this phrase as a rallying cry to defend our country and her rights. Church leaders use this verse as their mantra to enter the mission field or work in the nursery. And this verse resonates with Americans because we’re the home of the brave. There’s something glamorous about bravery, right?
But if you keep reading, the glitter and appeal of Isaiah 6:8 quickly go away. Verse 9 says, “Go tell the people, ‘Be ever hearing, but never understanding. Be ever seeing, but never perceiving.'” Things continue sliding down a hill of stinky poo from there.
This verse isn’t a rallying cry to fight for a country, work in a mission field, or change poop diapers. Here’s what God is saying.
“Isaiah, I want you to minister to people who won’t receive what you’re saying. You won’t have a single convert. And you’re mission concludes when the city lies in ruins.”
Would you accept that mission from God? No converts. No friends. No glamor. No future church plants. Just a city in ruins. “No thanks, God. What about a mission where the people repent, turn to you, and honor me as someone of bravery and courage?”
Be careful how you apply this verse. You might get what you ask for.
7.) ROMANCE – 1 CORINTHIANS 13:4-7
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
The Kleenex and Covergirl corporations probably thank God every day for 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. For centuries, these verses have caused women and “soft” men to shed tears and fix mascara. Only kidding about the “soft” men thing. I cry more than my wife. It embarrasses her.
Our culture is obsessed with romantic love. The kind of love you see at a wedding. And, yes, romantic love is on full display at a wedding. They recite 1 Corinthians 13, vow to love one another in sickness and health, then exchange “I do’s.”
And if we’re honest, the whole thing, while beautiful, isn’t a complete picture of godly love. A strong marriage is rooted in everything a wedding is not. Things like…patience, truth, forgiveness, perseverance, hope, commitment. Things like…1 Corinthians 13.
Sometimes Satan’s greatest tool isn’t perversion, but desensitization. You see, 1 Corinthians 13 isn’t even about marriage. It’s about unity in the church. Could this be applied to marriage? Sure. But, let’s be real, most couples don’t apply this verse to marriage. They apply it to their wedding day.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 are weighty Scriptures about selflessness, sacrifice, and humility. How different would our world look if these verses became the foundation for our marriage and not a filler for our wedding day?
This post isn’t another post detailing the same Scriptures Christians have distorted for decades. It’s larger than that. This post is about WHY we distort these Scriptures. Behind our incorrect application of Scripture is Satan. From the beginning, Satan’s plan has been to manipulate God’s word to fit his values.
When we apply Scripture through American values, we aren’t just messing up…we’re taking the bait. Satan’s bait. The same bait Adam and Eve took in the Garden. The same bait Satan dangled over Jesus in the wilderness.
Before applying Scripture, ask yourself, “Does this reinforce God’s character or worldly values?”
I love you all. To God be the glory forever. Amen!