Promises We Can’t Claim. Promises We Can
By Gregory Koukl
I recently wrote a mentoring letter about the bad habit Christians have of isolating Bible verses from their appropriate context, and then claiming the verse as a promise God has given to them personally. In many cases, the promise gives tremendous comfort to us in the moment, but it’s been taken out of context so it’s a misuse of the Bible and the promise.
This idea is part of Stand to Reason’s concept of “never read a Bible verse.” You don’t read a Bible verse if you want to know what a Bible verse means. You need to read a paragraph or more to make sure you’re not misunderstanding the point. In the same way, if you’re claiming a promise, you want to be careful that you don’t take someone else’s promise and bank your hopes on something that doesn’t belong to you.
When I teach on this I often experience pushback when it comes to specifics. I get nods of agreement when I explain the principle because it’s hard to argue with the point when clearly put, yet when it gets down to specifics, people get defensive if they have come to depend on a particular purloined passage for comfort and assurance.
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Last evening, my wife and I were speaking about a specific purloined promise: Jeremiah 29:11. It’s probably one of the most abused passages used to give comfort to a Christian in a difficult situation. Most of you know this passage because it’s been one that you have held onto in the midst of a difficult and trying circumstance. Or maybe you have passed it on to someone else, or someone else has offered it to you. Maybe the person who shared this verse with you even said, “The Holy Spirit gave me this for you.” If taken at face value, the verse is richly encouraging. That’s not surprising given the words of the verse: “‘For I know the plans that I have for you,’” declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity, to give you a future and a hope.’”
Those are wonderful words when you’re in the midst of a difficult time. When we are beset with trials and difficulties, and we’re wondering where God is. We’re wondering why our prayers are not being answered, and what the future holds. Then someone says to us personally, “Listen, God is telling me for you, ‘I know the plans I have for you, plans for welfare and not for the calamity’ that you’re experiencing right now, to ‘give you a future and a hope.’” It’s clear to see why one’s hopes might be lifted.
The difficulty with this particular passage, and many others that Christian claim, is that it is addressed to a specific group of people. If you follow the principle “never read a bible verse” then you realize that this passage, when read in the larger context, is actually part of a letter written to a particular group of people…
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