So many times we hear Bible verses quoted out of context. Scripture is exploited to control people, or push them away from God, or applied in hopes of personal gain.
Below are three such Scriptures, here listed in context to better understand their meaning and intent. All emphasis is the author’s.
“Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:19)
Jesus introduces his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew, Chapters 5, 6 and 7) with the Beatitudes, and explains the natural outcome of this character we receive through abiding in him is being salt and light. Jesus prefaces the remainder of his sermon with the statement above. He speaks about being the fulfillment of Mosaic Law (the Law and the Prophets, the entire Old Testament), yet in the same breath says not a single dot over an “i” or cross over a “t” must be ignored. To what does he refer?
He refers to what he is about to tell us – his commands to us. In this Sermon, Jesus correctly interprets Old Testament law previously misinterpreted and applied by religious leaders. Jesus focuses on the intent and meaning of the God-given Ten Commandments. By doing this, he speaks to our hearts.
He shows us what a disciple of his looks like. He illustrates, not new laws or a moral code, but what kingdom living should be. This is what calls us to be “greater than the scribes and Pharisees.” It is not simply an outward adherence to a list of items to be checked; it is an inner transformation of mind and heart which then leads to the expected outcome: love and action.
“In everything, therefore, treat people the same way you want them to treat you, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12)
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Many Christians believe if they evoke these verses, whatever they ask of God should be given simply because they asked! The truth is, Jesus said this in the context of the Sermon on the Mount.
Don’t be angry; do not covet; go the extra mile; love and pray for your enemies; pray, fast and tithe in private.
Honor God’s name. Surrender yourself so God can use you to build His kingdom here on earth. Don’t worry or be anxious about tomorrow; simply ask for provision for today. Ask forgiveness as you forgive others. Pray to be removed from temptation of your own making and to be delivered from the evil one.
Refrain from judging; take a look at yourself and your own condition before you leap to judge another.
And in all this, ask for help from Jesus. Seek power from the Holy Spirit to accomplish this. Continue to knock upon the door of grace and compassion, and you will receive wisdom and strength to do what he has asked of you.
Why? Because the manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth occurs when we love one another.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength.” (Philippians 4:13)
Sports figures use it to ensure they win in competition. Salespeople use it to accomplish their goals. Students use it to get “As” on tests. “Ministers” misuse it to teach anyone can be prosperous.
James, the brother of Jesus, wrote, “When you ask, you don’t receive anything, because the reason you ask is wrong. You only want to use it for your own pleasure.” (James 4:3)
The truth about these powerful words is the apostle Paul wrote them to encourage members of the church in Philippi to being content. Paul wanted to comfort and inspire them to keep their eyes on Jesus because they were being persecuted for being Christ followers.
Paul explains that Christ helps us to be content whether we have much or little, whether we are in ill or good health, whether we have cause to celebrate or grieve. When he wrote this letter, he was in a Roman prison. Here is his complete thought:
“I’ve learned to be content in whatever situation I’m in. I know how to live in poverty or prosperity. No matter what the situation, I’ve learned the secret of how to live when I’m full or when I’m hungry, when I have too much or when I have too little. I can do everything through Christ who strengthens me.” (4:11-14)
As Christ followers, it is simply not our destiny to have lovely, perfect lives. We will have troubles in this life as we walk the narrow, difficult road behind our Lord and Savior. But it is not about us. It is about absolute loyalty to the eternity of the kingdom of God and absolute trust in the One who abides in our hearts.
“And He said to them all, ‘If any of you wishes to follow me, you must turn from your selfish ways, take up your cross daily, and follow me.’” (Luke 9:23)