Some time ago, I asked people to contribute their favorite (or least favorite, most likely) verses taken out of context. I don’t know what I expected. Probably to laugh about how hideously some Scriptures are distorted.
I didn’t expect how badly it would hurt to consider the fact that these misquotes are used in really awful ways that cause real hurt to real people. Instead of following that post up in the way I had originally intended, I ended up writing “When Hope Wears Mourning,” which was an expression of some of the cries of my heart in response to the comments from the previous post as well as some of my own suffering at the time.
Recently, I was reminded of that post I never did get around to writing, while listening to a sermon from Philippians 4.
When I think of verses taken out of context and stretched to teach things that seem not to be implied in the text, I think of Philippians 4:13:
I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.”
I wrote that original post asking for examples of Scriptures that are taken out of context because I had seen an example of this in an article about an up and coming basketball player. I don’t remember the guy’s name. But I do remember that he is apparently quite amazing, he is a Christian, and he is giving God all the credit for his amazingness. And that he publicly displays his gratitude by emblazoning the reference “Phil. 4:13” on his tennis shoes.
Now, I don’t have anything against someone publicly acknowledging God. But I do have a problem with some of the things that seem to be implied by slapping Philippians 4:13 on a competent basketball player’s shoes.
If I write Philippians 4:13 on MY tennis shoes, and confidently go out proclaiming I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me, is there any chance at all that I can become an up and coming amazing basketball player?
And yet I hear in the recesses of my memory, echoes of the Donut Man singing that verse and boisterously asking kids, “HOW many things?” “ALL things!” they shout in response. “SOME things?” “ALL things!” “A few things?” “ALL things!”
Oh really, I want to ask?
This is more than just skepticism about hyperbole. It’s also about looking at the context. What kinds of “all things” might Paul be talking about here? Yes, I know, “all” shouldn’t have to be qualified, but still, Paul has just listed a variety of things he “can do”. And the fact that he “can do” each (and all) of them seems to be tied into having learned to be content in all circumstances.
Paul CAN DO being hungry. Just like he CAN DO being well fed. He CAN DO being in need. Just like he CAN DO having plenty. He CAN DO being content whatever the circumstances.
I don’t feel comfortable going out confidently proclaiming that whatever it is I’m not sure I can do, I really CAN DO, if I just believe and quote Philippians 4:13 loud enough, frequently enough and cheerfully enough (or write it boldly enough across my sneakers).
But I do feel comfortable, as I read all of Philippians 4, believing that Christ can strengthen me to face every circumstance with contentment. Whether it is all things or any thing, I do believe that through Him who gives me strength, I CAN DO contentment.
I do believe that I can trust God in similar ways to how Paul did. I do believe that living life with a trusting-God heart is possible (and if you have read my blog long, you will know that I do not believe a trusting heart is the same thing as a heart that asks no questions or a heart that does not doubt. ) I do believe that in the context of a heart that trusts God, the strength to live life with contentment, whatever the circumstances is a CAN DO kind of thing.