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I am disappointed that I was so ignorant about reading the Bible in context for such a long time. That is not to say that at present I am learned and competent. Not at all. I have such a long way to go. Should I blame that early illiteracy on my teachers who quoted scriptures out of context when they preached? I can’t blame them for my laziness and inattention. It’s all on me. As for them, the Lord is their judge, not me. My elders didn’t teach me to be a foolish Christian. I was able to do that all by myself.

Quoting scriptures out of context in not necessarily bad in and of itself. For instance, this verse from Isaiah is well-quoted out of context: “You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you” (Isaiah 26:3).1 However, this one, taught to us in our early years, is potentially dangerous when quoted out of context. “And no inhabitant will say, ‘I am sick’”; (Isaiah 33:24a). Can you imagine how you would censor your speech about your physical illness if you were in the presence of an influential pastor who taught this? This verse engenders bondage and was part of the positive confession nonsense—perhaps it still is. However, if one reads the portion of Isaiah in context from which this verse is taken, he or she will discover that it speaks of a glorious time to come. “Behold Zion, the city of our appointed feasts! Your eyes will see Jerusalem, an untroubled habitation, an immovable tent, whose stakes will never be plucked up, nor will any of its cords be broken” (Isaiah 33:20). In other words, there will be no sickness in the Lord’s heavenly kingdom.

There are many examples of verses that have been taken out of context from the Bible, and some are so common that even the secular culture has appropriated them; and they have the same meaning for unbelievers as they do for Christians. This is a famous one: “Do not give what is holy to the dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you in pieces” (Matthew 7:6).2 I have addressed the false understanding of this verse before, but I invite the reader to investigate it himself. It may not mean what you think it means.

It’s sad when we bungle along in ignorance of the precious words of God.

Another truth that the world has appropriated—part of it, anyway—is in these two passages: “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20). “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple” (1 Corinthians 3:16–17).

So, quick quiz. Which one of these verses can be applied to keeping our bodies in good health and used to admonish people to lose weight, exercise, or stop smoking because their bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit?

The answer is, “Neither of them.” Why, then, we should ask, do so many Christians believe this untruth? I don’t know. Me-centered, evangelical Christianity? The passage from 1 Corinthians 6 is perhaps less vital to our growth in understanding God’s Word because the Lord is commanding men to “Flee from sexual immorality” (1 Corinthians 6:18) and not to join themselves to a prostitute because he becomes “one body with her” and the two become “one flesh.” I say it’s less vital because Christians are commanded in other places not to be sexually immoral, and Proverbs is packed with warnings about prostitutes.

Our ignorance about the other, from chapter 3, however, is much more troubling. Do you know what Paul was addressing in those early chapters of 1 Corinthians? Believers attaching themselves to dynamic speakers. Paul told the Corinthians that because they had done this, they were “infants in Christ,” “people of the flesh,” and “merely human.” (1 Corinthians 3:1, 4). They were boasting in men (vs. 21). The price for this infantile behavior is that it was dangerously possible that they were destroying God’s temple and in danger of being destroyed themselves (vs. 17).

I trust I don’t need to explain to the reader how pertinent this is for evangelicals today. It’s not enough that many of us have skimmed over these texts in 1 Corinthians 3 and 6 like a flat rock skipping over a smooth pond, thinking that the Bible was telling us to take care of our physical bodies because we are temples of the Holy Spirit, but that we have been blind to the danger of boasting in and attaching ourselves to dynamic speakers and leaders.

Lord, please open our eyes to see the truth of Your Scripture.

 

1All Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, unless otherwise noted.

2The New King James Version. (1982). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

Gif courtesy giphy.com

 

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I know it’s hard to hear—but Jesus doesn’t trust you—or me. Or anyone. We shouldn’t feel bad. If we stop and think about it, scripturally, why should He trust us? He knew what was in man: “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man” (John 2:23–25). 1

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