Not The Verse We Think It Is

Like most people, I have a few pet peeves. One is people taking verses of Scripture out of context and making them say something they don’t actually say. For instance, in the atheist Facebook group to which I belong, an atheist says that according to good Hebrew rabbis, Jesus saying He fulfilled the Law means that we too are to obey the Law.

Well, actually it doesn’t mean that at all as the rest of the New Testament makes clear. Take Paul’s letter to the Romans, for instance. I could quote any number of verses, but these should suffice:

For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh, so that the requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. (Romans 8:3-4; emphasis mine)

Sadly, atheists are not the only people who take Bible verses out of context and make them say something they don’t actually say. Christians do that too. Well-meaning, God-fearing, Bible-believing Christians. I can postulate why that happens, starting with the fact that we are fallible, and moving on to the fact that not enough of us know the Bible, so we’re ignorant of the context of many of our favorite verses.

It’s one of these favorites that I want to address.

The verse is Philippians 4:13 – “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” In truth, the verse fits well with our doctrine of God. Christians believe that God is omnipotent, that He can do the impossible. Consequently, it seems quite logical that God’s strength can also enable His followers to do the impossible, or as this verse says, “all things.”

But what are the “all things” that Paul was referring to here?

I mean, if we think about the verse logically we know that “all things” can’t possibly mean anything we can imagine or wish to do. I can’t fly, for example, or shed 20 years off my age. I can’t become an Olympic star simply because I believe I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. Rather, I think Olympic stars need to be considerably younger than I am, that they need to dedicate their lives to their craft, and work hard.

This reminds me of a story my pastor told us. He was with a group of Christian school kids on a science camp kind of trip. At one point he was in a boat, but ended up in the water. With lots of kids watching, he tried and tried to get back in that boat. As he struggled, some of those kids began calling out, You can do it, Pastor. You can do all things through Christ. Except, he never was able to get back in that boat.

So, is the Bible not true when it says, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me”?

Actually the Bible is always true. We can be sure of that. When something in Scripture doesn’t fit with our perception, we can know that our perception is off—our perception of God or the world or the Bible itself.

In this instance, by taking this verse out of context, our perception of the Bible is actually the thing that is off. Our perception of God is fine. He can do the impossible. Our perception of the world is fine. There are hard things that we can’t do without help. But what about our perception of the Bible, of this verse?

That brings us right back to the meaning of “all things.”

Paul had just finished thanking the church in Philippi for their financial gifts, but he qualifies his statement by saying, he’s not bringing up the issue because he’s hinting that they give him more–not because he’s needy. Rather, he says, he’d learned to get along no matter what economic conditions he encountered. Sometimes he had lots. Sometimes he had little. No matter, because he could do all through Him who strengthened him.

In other words, the verse kind of means the opposite from the meaning many Christians give it.

Paul’s point: even when I don’t have a lot, God gives me the strength to endure not having.

Sadly, contemporary Christians generally quote the verse meaning, if we don’t have something we want, God will give us the strength to get it.

I think the latter presumes upon God. We want something, so we tell God He needs to give us the strength to get what we want. Of course, we will sing His praises if we succeed, but all too often, like my pastor, we’re left in the water when we wanted to get back into the boat. In those cases, it’s easy to see a bit of doubt creep in. Does God really give us strength? Is the Bible really true?

In short, we do no one any favor by taking a verse like this out of context and “claiming” it, as if we’ve got God lassoed now, and He has to do what we want. That’s the definition of presumption—as if I know what God should do for me, better than what He could know.

On the other hand, it really is sweet to realize that no matter what circumstances I find myself, God will strengthen me to endure. I’m sure that’s what got Paul through all those beatings and ship-wrecks and imprisonments.

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Published in: on July 19, 2018 at 5:52 pm  Comments (5)  
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5 Comments

  1. Amen! There’s a meme floating around that says “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” and the lady says, “that’s not actually about opening jars.” Makes me laugh.

    One of my favorite sayings is, “grace gives us the power to love the law.” No we’re not under “the law,” but you just mysteriously want to follow it anyway. I know of many people who really struggled with stuff and then suddenly they just weren’t struggling anymore. Without any awareness of grace, I think for some faith is just perceived as this burdensome list of rules.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha! Very cool–not about opening jars, indeed!

      Romans 6:6 is becoming a favorite: But now we have been released from the Law, having died to that by which we were bound so that we serve in newness of the Spirit and not in oldness of the letter.

      Yes, we serve, but for a completely different reason and in a completely different way.

      Becky

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I am sure those same atheists tell you that …always being ready to give and answer with meekness and respect….means you can never stop answering questions, or never disagree, right?

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    • Well, right now they’re telling me that I’m whining because I’m saying they should stop using belittling speech that deflects the discussion from the points I’m making. There’s a pretty clear “playbook” they use, for sure!

      Becky

      Like

      • LOL, Becky. Yeah those guys sure have a lot of doctrinal content for a supposedly content free thing!

        Liked by 1 person


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