The following are the notes from this week’s CROSSROADS lesson. Words in bold identify key phrases from notes pages handed out each week. If you would like copies of our slides, please feel free to reach and request them. As these are from the notes pages for each week, please excuse any typos or grammatical errors.
Is it possible that you can do something bad by quoting the Bible?
At some point, after I had already gotten involved in ministry, I heard someone use the phrase “coffee mug verses”. I didn’t have the slightest clue what exactly this meant until they started talking about a few of the Bible verses they were referring to. One of the ones they quotes was Philippians 4:13 (“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength…”). I totally understood after that. They were talking about Bible verses that people use to “feel good” because they can be applied generically without having to really think about the “God part” too much.
The Bible is full of good verses from cover to cover. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that all scripture is “God-breathed and useful for teaching, rebuking, and correcting…” With that said, it’s easy to misinterpret scripture if you don’t know the full context. Even 2 Timothy 3:16 can be taken out of context if you would like. That verse almost reads like a license to beat people over the head with the Bible. “What? You mean I get to REBUKE people with the Bible?! Sweet!” You can almost imagine me berating some poor teenager and rationalizing my behavior by saying “well, I used the Bible and 2 Timothy 3:16 says that’s what it’s for.” The problem is that the very next verse continues the thought, “…so that the man of God may be complete and ready for good work.” Oh, so I can’t just arbitrarily gang up on someone? There actually has to be some purpose to my using the scriptures? Nevermind.
Unfortunately, we do this to the Bible all the time. Casual Christians use verses in the Bible as if they’re personal self-help mottos (like the Philippians 4:13 verse I just mentioned). Christian opponents use random verses out of context to try to pretend there are “mistakes” in the Bible or problems with God’s word. Even some Bible teachers can use the Bible out of context when they have a point that they want to make and don’t want anyone to argue with them.
Here is a video I found on YouTube (url: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u8ZPBKUYRvM) of a guy named Allen Parr. He goes through a “top 5” list of verses that he’s seen people use out of context. These are the “coffee mug verses” that he’s seen. Some of these may be verses you’ve heard and some may be a little less familiar to you. Regardless of whether you’ve experienced what Allen has experienced, we’ve all see verses of the Bible taken out of context.
EXAMPLES OF BAD READS
Let’s look at a few other examples of things in the Bible taken out of context.
Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 14:13-14)
This passage creates an image of God like a vending machine. There are a lot of TV preachers that love to take this verse out of context. If you read it the way it’s written, it looks like God is a MAGICAL VENDING MACHINE just waiting to give you anything you want. How many of you feel that’s who God has been in your life? Probably none of you.
Let’s look at this passage again in context by starting at verse 12.
“Truly I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do. And he will do even greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. Whatever you ask in my name, I will do it so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it. (John 13:12-14)
Now this looks very different. This begins to look like Jesus is saying that when you accept him as your God, you start to act and think like he does. With that as the backdrop, it makes sense that God would give you whatever you ask for “in his name”; God is willing to give someone living a life totally sold-out for God what their heart desires because their heart is totally focused on God.
Let’s look at another one that’s quoted often.
“Each person should do as he has decided in his heart—not reluctantly or out of compulsion, since God loves a cheerful giver.” (2 Corinthians 9:7)
This verse is used a lot when people want to talk about how they give to charity or even how they give to the church. Typically people bring this up when they feel guilty. If you just read this verse, it makes it sound like God only really wants you to be generous and charitable IF YOU FEEL LIKE IT. This is a bad read. When you look at the context in the verse prior, you see Paul almost berating the Corinthians for not giving enough!
“Therefore, I considered it necessary to urge the brother to go on ahead to you and arrange in advance the generous gift you promised, so that it will be ready as a gift and not as an extortion. The point is this: The person who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the person who sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 5-6)
When you read that, it starts sounding a lot more like Paul is saying “you should be giving a lot… and if you have an attitude about it, change your attitude.” That last part is where this verse gets twisted. A lot of people take this to mean that you should change your giving based on your attitude, but Paul seems to be saying that it’s our attitude that needs to change as we continue to increase how generous we are. Huge difference.
Let’s look at one more that people hear all the time at weddings.
“Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs.” (1 Corinthians 13:4)
It sounds so romantic, right? Many adults have heard this dozens, if not hundreds, of times at weddings or on romantic movies as something quoted by the pastor. It’s popular and it’s sweet, so I can see why people are attracted to it. They effectively use it as a Bible verse that talks about LOVING YOUR SPOUSE.
Let me ask this: if I were to take a praise and worship like “Reckless Love” and sing it to my wife as a love song, would that be weird? It would almost feel like I was cheapening that worship song that is really meant for something much bigger. Sometimes that’s what people do with the Bible. They don’t mean anything by misusing the verse, but it has the effect of cheapening what is actually being said.
Take a look at verses 1-3 for additional context.
If I speak human or angelic tongues but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith so that I can move mountains but do not have love, I am nothing. And if I give away all my possessions, and if I give over my body in order to be burned but do not have love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
Paul is clearly not talking about being willing to be burned at the stake for his summer crush; he’s speaking about the love he feels for God and God’s people. He’s saying that even if he is the best preacher, best teacher, and best prophet in history, it will all be for naught if he forgets that God came to love all of us and show us mercy. That’s way, way bigger than just a sweet little vow between husband and wife.
Having motivational verses is perfectly fine. In fact, I’d actively encourage it! Having a piece of scripture to keep in your back pocket to keep you motivated, encouraged, or accountable can have a huge impact on how you react to situations in your life.
At the same time, don’t feel the need to make the Bible something it’s not. The Bible is a powerful, powerful book. It’s the Word of God. It doesn’t need our embellishments or “spin” in order to make it meaningful. Reach the Word of God. Learn from it. In doing so, you’ll be ready to use the Bible as a tool for your life and be prepared to guard against anyone who might attempt to reduce the scriptures down to “just a coffee mug verse”.