Have you noticed how easy it is to have the meaning of words confused and twisted? It is very easy for things to be turned upside down or get them back to front. Of course this is true in many situations. You say something to someone and they completely misunderstand your intentions. You thought what you communicated was crystal clear, but somehow your intended purpose was not perceived – the message was not received. Miscommunication and misunderstanding cause all sorts of problems in relationships. I’m sure you’re familiar with that. You tell your spouse one thing, but she/he hears something else…
Misunderstanding often arises when close attention is not given to the entire conversation. This is vital to all good communication. Careful consideration of the context (entire conversation) is vital to a proper understanding of the Bible and its application to our lives.
Consider the following meme, which was copied from a friend’s Facebook page. He reposted it from a Facebook group called The Reformation Resurgence. It’s worth a look a little later.
Do you see the problem? When these words of Scripture are isolated from their Scriptural context, they seem to suggest a false universal application. That is, Jesus will help anyone do anything they put their mind to – anyone can do anything they determine to do…
This practice has great appeal to our human natures. Especially alluring to us is the notion of autonomy. We like to think that we don’t need anyone else (at least most of the time) and that we can handle our circumstances on our own. We don’t need help; thank you very much. The fact of the matter is that we human beings are fragile and weak. More often than we admit, we really do require help from the outside. Although each of us has great abilities, we also have greater limitations and inabilities. It might be hard to admit it; but that’s the truth. We are not as powerful as we put on. We are vulnerable not invincible.
The Bible, especially Philippians 4.11 – 13 teaches just the opposite of ability based on determination. When that passage is read, it states:
11…for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.
Observe the following assertions:
- It is possible to be both weak and content in any situation (v.11), even in humbling (low) and pleasant (abounding) circumstances (v. 12)
- There is a “secret” to being content in troubling and favorable circumstances (v.12)
- This “secret” ability comes from “him (the Lord v.10) who strengthens me”
- The Lord gives strength… The Omnipotent One shares his power!
- The Lord give strength to his people. The Omnipotent One shares his power with well us!
Stop: Think of the encouragement and comfort this provides. Almighty God is our helper.
Looking at a broader context (verses before and after, but still in the same passage), we see that:
- We should always rejoice because the Lord is near to us (v.4, 5);
- We should not be anxious about anything because the Lord is near to us (v. 6);
- We should pray with thanksgiving and make our requests known to God. (V.6, 7)
- The Lord helps his people (V.7), often through the efforts of his churches/other Christians (v.14 – 18)
- The Lord promises to supply every need according to his riches in Christ Jesus. (V.19)
From this overview, it is quickly seen that we are not autonomous. We need help from the outside. This help comes from the Lord himself, who frequently uses other believers to provide what we need. We need help because there are circumstances beyond our control, whose demands exceed their ability. Surprisingly, even favorable situations mandate help from the outside. Even in good times we must rely on God’s help.
Further, we see how easily verses and phrases are wrenched out of context and twisted to mean something completely different from God’s intended purpose. It is important to read the Bible and its immediate (close) context as well as in its broader context. That is, we need to test our interpretation against the total teaching of the Bible.
Here’s out works for me. Most of you know that I am a quadriplegic. I’m paralyzed from my shoulders down and have no sensation or function below my neck. It’s obvious to me and everyone else that I am disabled. I have limitations. But these did not start with my injury; I’ve always had limitations. (No matter how hard I tried, I could never dunk a basketball – I could never be in the NBA!) But my limitations go far beyond this.
Since my injury, over six years ago, have had to learn to deal with my limitations; this includes being dependent on a lot of people, especially my wife. More than that, I recognize in a fresh way, my utter dependence upon the Lord. He has the power to heal me in answer to many prayers, “Help Pop–pop get out of the wheelchair…” However, I am learning to be content in all circumstances. I am learning that I am able to do all that he calls me to do. He will strengthen me.
The Lord’s communication to you is also clear. Pay attention to it. Live by it. God gives power to his people to enable them to do what he commands.