Tag Archives: John 3:16

The first lesson in studying the Bible: Read it in context

This is a handout from a lesson I once used with some high school kids at church.  I thought I’d share it here.

The purpose was to give an overview of how to read the Bible, then focus on reading it in context.  I addressed barriers to reading in context then gave examples of commonly misused verses.  Finally, we picked a chapter at random and show how well these techniques work.

——

A simple and effective way to read the Bible – from James MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” Podcasts*.

  • Read it – 1-3 chapters (less for doctrine, more for history)
  • Question it
    • What stands out to me? Why?
    • Is there an example for me to follow?
    • Is there an error for me to avoid?
    • Is there a duty for me to perform?
    • Is there a promise for me to claim?
    • Is there a sin for me to confess?
  • Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
  • Pray it – pray scripture back to God
  • Share it – helps others, and helps us to remember it

How to read in context: Don’t just read a Bible verse (a great slogan and lesson from Stand to Reason). Always read at least a paragraph, and preferably a section or a chapter. Looking at what came before and after will help ensure you are getting the right meaning.

We should read it in the way the authors intended it, depending on the context and type of writing.  Examples:

  • When was it written?
  • Who was it written by / to?
  • Type of writing
    • History
    • Metaphor / illustrations / parables
    • Doctrine
    • Poetry
    • Figures of speech – i.e., exaggerations

Barriers to reading in context

We don’t like to admit we’ve made mistakes, so we hold onto bad interpretations.

  • Solution: Swallow your pride, get it right and remember to read in context next time. For the record, I have misused every verse in this lesson.
  • We have all been guilty of reading out of context. Some mistakes are more serious than others. Our choice is to dig in our heels and continue to use it incorrectly or humbly accept and use the correct teaching. As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.“

Fear of getting it wrong.

  • Reading in context isn’t that hard to do! Don’t be afraid of misinterpreting – just read surrounding passages and study notes.

We have an important point we want to make and we can’t use that verse for it any more.

  • Find another passage to prove the point you wanted to make.
  • If you can’t find another verse to support it, maybe your point isn’t valid or particularly important.

—–

Sample passages – the part in bold is what is frequently used out of context. Note how just reading a couple surrounding verses shows the real meaning.

 

Even one of the most famous verses ever gets misused. Not everyone goes to Heaven – only those who trust in Jesus.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most commonly misused passages. It isn’t about achieving great sporting victories or leaping tall buildings.

 

Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 

You only have to go back ½ of one verse to get the context. Paul has a secret! A secret about what? A secret about how to be content in every situation. It is a great message – actually, much better than the typical application.

And another very commonly misused verse is Jeremiah 29:11. I see this abused on a regular basis in sermons, on t-shirts, signs, etc.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4, 10-11 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . . This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

There is actually a great message in Jeremiah 29:11: God makes huge promises and keeps them. The Israelites had been taken into captivity because of their rebellion and worship of false gods, but God promised to bring them back. And He did. But He did not make a generic promise to all people and at all times to prosper them.

People even throw that verse at non-believers, but that would give them a false sense of security. God’s message to them is the opposite. If they don’t repent and believe, his plans for them are horrible!

If you want to encourage people, try Matthew 11:28-30 instead (Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.) That points them to Jesus.

Both Christians and non-Christians abuse Matthew 7:1. Jesus isn’t saying to never judge, He is saying not to judge hypocritically.

Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

People have used Matthew 5:39 to oppose capital punishment. But it is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead, and it is unjust for the government to “turn the other cheek.” It would mean that we’d never punish anyone for anything.

Matthew 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Christians often use Matthew 18:20 reflexively when talking about praying together, but is Jesus not there with you when you are by yourself?

Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. . . . And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The part in bold makes people squirm. Reading the whole passage helps put it in perspective. I doubt many wives will complain about husbands who love them as Christ loves the church.

Ephesians 5:22–33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” . . . However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Malachi 3:8 gets misused a lot in stewardship campaigns. Robbing God?! That can’t be good. But it is not a New Testament concept (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.).

Malachi 3:6–10 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

*Sadly, MacDonald’s doctrine and presentation have slipped a lot over the years, but this was from when his teachings were sound.

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You’ve read John 3:16. Why not finish the chapter?

Really, it will only take a few minutes.

John 3:16 is a great verse, of course (aren’t they all?), but sadly too many people read it in a universalistic sense:  “Hey, if God loves the world, and world sometimes means everybody in it, then it must mean He loves me and would never punish me.  That’s all I need to hear!”

John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

But even reading that verse carefully shows the obvious inference: Those who don’t believe in Jesus will not have eternal life.  It is symptomatic of spiritually dead people that they read the verse and miss that.

If people would just read the next couple verses it would be more clear:

John 3:17–18 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

Better yet, read to the end of the chapter and think about this truth, which restates much of verse 16.

John 3:36 Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

What?!  The wrath of God is already on those who don’t believe?!  Now why don’t the false teachers ever mention that?  Oh, right, because they’re false teachers.

As my most excellent Sunday School teacher likes to say, you won’t see that verse on many coffee mugs or t-shirts.  Maybe people should start holding up John 3:36 signs at football games . . . or at least preaching it in church.

The top Bible verses are also the most misused

Pastor Timothy made a good point about the Top 5 Bible Verses of 2011 as listed by BibleGateway.com: None mention sin.

That isn’t too surprising to me, but here’s what bothered me more: Items 1, 3 and often 5 from the list below are also the most misinterpreted verses.  I have never — and I mean that literally — heard Jeremiah 29:11 used properly in church.  I can’t recall hearing Philippians 4:13 referenced properly either.  Even pastors and very committed Christians reflexively quote those improperly.

There is actually a great message in Jeremiah 29:11: God makes huge promises and keeps them. The Israelites had been taken into captivity because of their rebellion and worship of false gods, but God promised to bring them back. And He did. But He did not make a generic promise to prosper all people at all times.

People even throw that verse at non-believers, but that gives them a false sense of security or a bad reason to reject Christianity (deep down everyone knows Jeremiah 29:11 doesn’t apply to everyone in the manner it is used). God’s real message to them is the opposite. If they don’t repent and believe, his plans for them are horrible!

Here’s a post analyzing where people go wrong on Philippians 4:13.  It is simple as going back one verse to see what Paul’s proclamation about doing all things through Christ really means.  It isn’t about being able to accomplish anything, it is about being able to be content regardless of the situation.  The real meaning is even better than the wrong interpretation, but it doesn’t feed our worldly desire to accomplish whatever we want.

Please read the Bible in context so you’ll be part of the solution and not part of the problem.  It is the simplest and most effective way to properly understand what God meant.

BibleGateway.com, which has the Bible on line with multiple translations, has compiled a list of the Top 5 Bible verses that were searched on their site for 2011. The list is not that surprising when you look at it. Here it is: In descending order of popularity, here are the top five Bible passages of 2011: 1. JEREMIAH 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV) 2. JOHN 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV) 3. PHILIPPIANS 4:13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (ESV) 4. PROVERBS 3:5-6 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; don’t rely on your own intelligence. Know him in all your paths, and he will keep your ways straight. (CEB) 5. ROMANS 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose. (HCSB)

Somewhere Greg Koukl is smiling . . .

Never read a Bible verse is one of the simplest and most important Bible study lessons you’ll ever get.  Always read what surrounds the text to ensure you understand the context of it.  I expanded on that theme in a class I taught to high school students a couple months ago.  One challenge with that age group they are hard to read.  They sit there politely, but often it is hard to tell if they are really engaged.

But I got some nice news today: One of the students loved the lesson and shared it with her mom.  Her mom got a lot out of it and shared it with someone at Care Net Pregnancy Center, who may use it there.  So the benefits of this lesson spread out quickly and effectively without me knowing about it until today.  Sometimes you just have to trust the process.  Sow the seed generously and let God make it grow where He likes.

I also picked up a new thought on the importance of reading in context.  I had already noted in the lesson below how often Jeremiah 29:11 is misused.  But in talking to the Care Net volunteer today I realized another problem with it that I added:

Also, deep down people know that is a false promise.  Try telling that to someone who has seen nothing but misery in the lives of those around her.  How can she believe in a God like that?

If you haven’t checked out the web site, blog or Podcast of Stand to Reason I highly encourage it.  It is the best organization I know for clear thinking Christianity.

Here is my outline from the class.

——

How to read in context: Don’t just read a Bible verse (a great slogan and lesson from Stand to Reason – http://www.str.org).  Always read at least a paragraph, and preferably a section or a chapter.  Looking at what came before and after will help ensure you are getting the right meaning.

A simple and effective way to read the Bible
  • Read it – 1-3 chapters (less for doctrine, more for history)
  • Question it
    • What portion stands out to me?  Why?
    • Is there an example for me to follow?
    • Is there an error for me to avoid?
    • Is there a duty for me to perform?
    • Is there a promise for me to claim?
    • Is there a sin for me to confess?
    • What does it not mean?  (If a difficult passage says the opposite of other more clear teachings, you know what it can’t mean)
    • Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
    • Pray it – pray scripture back to God
    • Share it – helps others, and helps us to remember it

We should read it in the way the authors intended it, depending on the context and type of writing.

  • When was it written?
  • Who was it written by / to?
  • Type of writing
    • History
    • Metaphor / illustrations / parables
    • Doctrine
    • Poetry
    • Figures of speech – i.e., exaggerations

Important points about reading in context

  • We don’t like to admit we’ve made mistakes, so we hold onto bad interpretations
    • Solution: Swallow your pride, get it right and remember to read in context next time.  For the record, I have misused every verse in this lesson.  Some mistakes are more serious than others.
    • We have all been guilty of reading out of context.  Our choice is to dig in our heels and continue to use it incorrectly or humbly accept and use the correct teaching.  2 Timothy 2:15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.
    • God can forgive this error just like He delights to forgive everything else done by those who trust in Jesus.
    • Fear of getting it wrong
      • Reading in context isn’t that hard to do!  Don’t be afraid of misinterpreting – just read surrounding passages and study notes.
      • We have an important point we want to make and we can’t use that verse for it any more
        • Find another passage to prove the point you wanted to make.
        • If you can’t find another verse to support it, maybe your point isn’t valid or particularly important.
        • Once you get it right, don’t be smug about it.  You’ll need to bite your tongue a lot and only correct people inappropriate settings and ways (e.g., Bible studies, one-on-one, etc.).
        • Great news: Even though you may have misunderstood the meaning, it still has a meaning – and it may be better than the one you thought it had!

Sample passages – the part in bold is what is frequently used out of context.  Note how just reading a couple surrounding verses shows the real meaning.

 Even one of the most famous verses ever gets misused.  Not everyone goes to Heaven – only those who trust in Jesus.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most commonly misused passages.  It isn’t about achieving great sporting victories or leaping tall buildings.

 Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 You only have to go back ½ of one verse to get the context.  Paul has a secret!  A secret about what?  A secret about how to be content in every situation.  It is a great message – actually, much better than the typical application.

And another very commonly misused verse is Jeremiah 29:11.  I see this abused on a regular basis in sermons, on t-shirts, signs, etc.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4, 10-11 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .
This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . .  This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

 There is actually a great message in Jeremiah 29:11: God makes huge promises and keeps them.  The Israelites had been taken into captivity because of their rebellion and worship of false gods, but God promised to bring them back.  And He did.  But He did not make a generic promise to all people and at all times to prosper them.

People even throw that verse at non-believers, but that would give them a false sense of security.  God’s message to them is the opposite.  If they don’t repent and believe, his plans for them are horrible!

Also, deep down people know that is a false promise.  Try telling that to someone who has seen nothing but misery in the lives of those around her.  How can she believe in a God like that?

If you want to encourage people, try Matthew 11:28-30 instead (Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”)  That points them to the Jesus.

Both Christians and non-Christians abuse Matthew 7:1.  Jesus isn’t saying to never judge, He is saying not to judge hypocritically.

Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

People have used Matthew 5:39 to oppose capital punishment.  But it is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead, and it is unjust for the government to “turn the other cheek.”  It would mean that we’d never punish anyone for anything.

Matthew 5:39  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Christians often use Matthew 18:20 reflexively when talking about praying together, but is Jesus not there with you when you are by yourself?

Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. . . . And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The part in bold makes people squirm.  Reading the whole passage helps put it in perspective.   I doubt many wives will complain about husbands who love them as Christ loves the church.

Ephesians 5:22–33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” . . . However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Malachi 3:8 gets misused a lot in stewardship campaigns.  Robbing God?!  That can’t be good.  But it is not a New Testament concept (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.).

Malachi 3:6–10 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Interesting Facebook chat about Rob Bell

Rob Bell has gotten a lot of well justified criticism over the universalist heresies (that is, everyone goes to Heaven) in his Love Wins book.  Ironically, now Bell is saying he’s been misinterpreted and that he’s not a universalist — which means that Rob’s universalist supporters disagree with him.  What chaos!

The Sola Sisters have a good analysis of why Rob’s responses to his critics fall short.  Here’s an example they highlight:

…..Hell, as a period of “pruning” in which God is continuing to woo each person who is there until they end up in heaven (Bell’s version, p. 91 “Love Wins”) as compared to
……Hell as an eternal punishment for those who have broken God’s moral laws, and who are paying the penalty of their sins with their own lives (God’s version).

I ended up in this Facebook thread on a friend’s page.  The “Pastor Universalist,” as he ended up calling himself, eventually deleted all his comments, leaving mine all alone on the thread (it now reads like some weird soliloquy). Again, this guy is defending Bell and his universalism, even though Bell is now trying to deny his universalism.  There’s just the pesky problem of this book he wrote where he seems pretty clear about it.

FB friend: Has anyone wondered why Rob Bell has not been accused of being divisive with his apostate treatise on Hell “Love Wins”?

Me: Good point. It is only divisive to disagree with Rob.

FB friend: I can help but to see the parallels in the insanity budgeting/gov. shutdown blame circus.

Pastor Universalist (PU): Well then what is the alternative …..Either God so Loved the world that he gave his only Son to die for it….or he hates it and is going to kill everyone off….. What does your Bible read?

Me: It is about the definition you pour into the word. Does love win? Of course. But Rob Bell ignores countless scriptures to interpret that as universalism — as if what Jesus said about Hell is true then love lost. Was Jesus being loving when He told the Pharisees that they would die in their sins if they didn’t believe who He was? God wins. Love wins. Justice wins.

PU: BTW ….allow me to address your question as well….The reason that many have not accused Rob Bell of being an Apostate is because there are many who believe that his offerings are scripturally sound and follow the essense and Heart of the New Testament doctrine….

Me: Bell and his followers can’t even get John 3:16 right. John specifically mentions that those who believe in him won’t perish — meaning that those who don’t believe in him will. If that wasn’t clear enough, verse 18 will help

Me: Should you believe Rob Bell or Jesus? (Hint: Go with Jesus)  Rob Bell (Love Wins, p. 66): Could God say to someone truly humbled, broken, and desperate for reconciliation, “Sorry, too late”? Many have refused to accept the scenario in which somebody is pounding on the door, apologizing, repenting, and asking God to be let in, only to hear God say through the keyhole: “Door’s locked. Sorry. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late.”

Compare that to Jesus Christ (Matthew 25:1-13): Then shall the kingdom of heaven be likened unto ten virgins, which took their lamps, and went forth to meet the bridegroom. And five of them were wise, and five were foolish. They that were foolish took their lamps, and took no oil with them: but the wise took oil in their vessels with their lamps. While the bridegroom tarried, they all slumbered and slept. And at midnight there was a cry made, “Behold, the bridegroom cometh; go ye out to meet him.” Then all those virgins arose, and trimmed their lamps. And the foolish said unto the wise, “Give us of your oil; for our lamps are gone out.” But the wise answered, saying, “Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you: but go ye rather to them that sell, and buy for yourselves.” And while they went to buy, the bridegroom came; and they that were ready went in with him to the marriage: and the door was shut. Afterward came also the other virgins, saying, “Lord, Lord, open to us.” But he answered and said, “Verily I say unto you, I know you not.” Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.

PU: And Yes Neil…..It really does depend on your study and Interpretation of Scripture…. Christiaity is a Universal Doctrine….In otherwords….availible to all who ask and recieve… However…To Judge someone as an Apostate is a strong acusation…. Remember that Jesus also spoke that by whatever measure you Mete out….you will also recieve……To build a case for Love winning is a great step of Faith… To Hate is carnal and God is Love… So to believe that God can save is also a great step of Faith….. It is easy to write other people off as lost and unreconciilable to God… But to hold a Vision of salvation is a great Gift….

Me: ‎”To Judge someone as an Apostate is a strong …acusation…. Remember that Jesus also spoke that by whatever measure you Mete out….you will also recieve”
Seems odd that a universalist would warn me about warning about false teachers.

Me: ‎”It is easy to write other people off as lost and unreconciilable to God… But to hold a Vision of salvation is a great Gift….”
The question isn’t whether it is easy or hard to do, but what scripture teaches.

PU: That’s Pastor Universalist to you brother…. And again…You are accusing….. I am going to exhort you to be careful here….”

Me: Why be careful? After all, on your view I go to Heaven even if I don’t trust in Jesus. How could trusting in Jesus and making (allegedly) false accusations be a bad combo? Or do you have a passage that says those who don’t trust in Jesus go to Heaven, but those who do trust in Jesus and make false accusations don’t?  What if you are making a false accusation against me? Howzabout we focus on the actual passages in question instead of lobbying threats?
I exhort you to heed the many passages about sound doctrine —http://tinyurl.com/4yja58j . And if you are a pastor then that is all the worse. I know of many, many false teachers. Titles mean little to me if their doctrine is false.

PU: OK Neil…..checking out…..believe whateewr you have faith for…Blessings to you…..May you find Christ….”

Me:  Ha! Oh, so now I haven’t found Christ? What a hypocrite. Please re-read your quotes about warnings.

Me: My new blog post is dedicated to you: False teaching universalists can’t even get John 3:16 right. Here’s what they think John meant: John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Oh, and BTW, those who don’t believe in him also have eternal life. Which, now that I think about it, means that I should have left the whole perishing thing out of this passage. After all, everyone is going to Heaven no matter what they believe. But I don’t want to have to start over, so I’m going to leave it in. My, I do tend to ramble on sometimes. That’s just me, the Apostle John. Now on to verse 17 . . . V. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. D’oh! I did it again!

Reading the Bible in Context

This is a handout from a lesson I’ll be using with the high school kids at church.  I thought I’d share it here.  Tips welcomed!

The purpose is to give an overview of how to read the Bible, then focus on reading it in context.  I’ll address barriers to reading in context then give examples of commonly misused verses.  Finally, we’ll pick a chapter at random and show how well these techniques work.

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A simple and effective way to read the Bible – from James MacDonald’s “Walk in the Word” Podcasts

  • Read it – 1-3 chapters (less for doctrine, more for history)
  • Question it
    • What stands out to me? Why?
    • Is there an example for me to follow?
    • Is there an error for me to avoid?
    • Is there a duty for me to perform?
    • Is there a promise for me to claim?
    • Is there a sin for me to confess?
  • Plan it – make a plan for how you will use it
  • Pray it – pray scripture back to God
  • Share it – helps others, and helps us to remember it

How to read in context: Don’t just read a Bible verse (a great slogan and lesson from Stand to Reason). Always read at least a paragraph, and preferably a section or a chapter. Looking at what came before and after will help ensure you are getting the right meaning.

We should read it in the way the authors intended it, depending on the context and type of writing.  Examples:

  • When was it written?
  • Who was it written by / to?
  • Type of writing
    • History
    • Metaphor / illustrations / parables
    • Doctrine
    • Poetry
    • Figures of speech – i.e., exaggerations

Barriers to reading in context

We don’t like to admit we’ve made mistakes, so we hold onto bad interpretations.

  • Solution: Swallow your pride, get it right and remember to read in context next time. For the record, I have misused every verse in this lesson.
  • We have all been guilty of reading out of context. Some mistakes are more serious than others. Our choice is to dig in our heels and continue to use it incorrectly or humbly accept and use the correct teaching. As 2 Timothy 2:15 says, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.“

Fear of getting it wrong.

  • Reading in context isn’t that hard to do! Don’t be afraid of misinterpreting – just read surrounding passages and study notes.

We have an important point we want to make and we can’t use that verse for it any more.

  • Find another passage to prove the point you wanted to make.
  • If you can’t find another verse to support it, maybe your point isn’t valid or particularly important.

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Sample passages – the part in bold is what is frequently used out of context. Note how just reading a couple surrounding verses shows the real meaning.

 

Even one of the most famous verses ever gets misused. Not everyone goes to Heaven – only those who trust in Jesus.

John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Philippians 4:13 is one of the most commonly misused passages. It isn’t about achieving great sporting victories or leaping tall buildings.

 

Philippians 4:12-13 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

 

You only have to go back ½ of one verse to get the context. Paul has a secret! A secret about what? A secret about how to be content in every situation. It is a great message – actually, much better than the typical application.

And another very commonly misused verse is Jeremiah 29:11. I see this abused on a regular basis in sermons, on t-shirts, signs, etc.

Jeremiah 29:1, 4, 10-11 This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon. . . . This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon . . . This is what the Lord says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

There is actually a great message in Jeremiah 29:11: God makes huge promises and keeps them. The Israelites had been taken into captivity because of their rebellion and worship of false gods, but God promised to bring them back. And He did. But He did not make a generic promise to all people and at all times to prosper them.

People even throw that verse at non-believers, but that would give them a false sense of security. God’s message to them is the opposite. If they don’t repent and believe, his plans for them are horrible!

If you want to encourage people, try Matthew 11:28-30 instead (Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.) That points them to Jesus.

Both Christians and non-Christians abuse Matthew 7:1. Jesus isn’t saying to never judge, He is saying not to judge hypocritically.

Matthew 7:1-5 Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.

People have used Matthew 5:39 to oppose capital punishment. But it is hard to turn the other cheek when you are dead, and it is unjust for the government to “turn the other cheek.” It would mean that we’d never punish anyone for anything.

Matthew 5:39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Christians often use Matthew 18:20 reflexively when talking about praying together, but is Jesus not there with you when you are by yourself?

Matthew 18:15–20 (ESV) If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. . . . And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.

The part in bold makes people squirm. Reading the whole passage helps put it in perspective. I doubt many wives will complain about husbands who love them as Christ loves the church.

Ephesians 5:22–33 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior . . . Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her . . . In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself . . . “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” . . . However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Malachi 3:8 gets misused a lot in stewardship campaigns. Robbing God?! That can’t be good. But it is not a New Testament concept (see 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 Remember this: Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.).

Malachi 3:6–10 “For I the LORD do not change; therefore you, O children of Jacob, are not consumed. From the days of your fathers you have turned aside from my statutes and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you, says the LORD of hosts. But you say, ‘How shall we return?’ Will man rob God? Yet you are robbing me. But you say, ‘How have we robbed you?’ In your tithes and contributions. You are cursed with a curse, for you are robbing me, the whole nation of you. Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. And thereby put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts, if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you a blessing until there is no more need.

Lost books of the Bible? Nope.

Some false teachers and skeptics claim that some books like the Gospel of Thomas were “lost” from the Bible (1).  This is still an important issue.  An agnostic employee of mine saw one of those “lost books” shows on TV and was captivated by it.  He asked me a lot of questions and seemed convinced by the DaVinci Code-type reasoning that Constantine and/or those misogynistic church fathers deliberately left out books they disagreed with.

But whether you think that the Bible is divinely inspired or not, it is bad reasoning to claim that any books of the Bible have been lost.  Greg Koukl has a great summary of this in No “lost” book:

Regardless of how you view the Scripture – as supernatural or as natural – there is no sense in which there could be lost books of the Bible.  If the Bible is supernatural – if God is responsible for its writing, it’s transmission and its survival – then God, being God, doesn’t fail.  He doesn’t make mistakes, He doesn’t forget things and He’s not constrained by man’s limitations.  God can’t lose his lessons.

However, if the Bible is not supernatural, as many will contend, especially those who claim to have found lost books – one faces a different problem.  By what standard do we claim that these are bona fide lost books of the canon of the early church?  If, from a human perspective, the Bible is that collection of writings reflecting the beliefs of early Christianity, then any writings discarded by the church fathers were not books of their Bible by very definition.

The good news is that my employee has an open mind and saw the wisdom in this reasoning.  He’s still exploring, but I’m encouraged.

Whether one believes that the Bible is divinely inspired or not, there is no rational basis to claim there are any lost books.  God doesn’t lose things, and if it was a purely man-made creation then by definition they put in what they wanted.

Anyone claiming the name of Christ who believes that books were lost is, at best, “saved and (very) confused,” and most likely a false teacher.

(1) See this example where false teacher Chuck Currie claims that the Gospel of John does not belong in the Bible but that the Gospel of Thomas does (So long, John 3:16 and more!).  Of course, that tips his hand as to not believing in any real God at all, because Chuck’s “god” isn’t powerful enough to preserve his teachings.

You’d think that such a transparent wolf in sheep’s clothing would be booted out of any church, yet Chuck is a spokesperson for the UCC.

The Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry has an excellent collection of articles on the supposed lost books.   You can read the Gospel of Thomas there, for example.  Note that the Bible critics and false teachers rarely quote passages like this one:

114 Simon Peter said to them: Let Mary go forth from among us, for women are not worthy of the life. Jesus said: Behold, I shall lead her, that I may make her male, in order that she also may become a living spirit like you males. For every woman who makes herself male shall enter into the kingdom of heaven.

They just use the existence of these books to cast doubt on the real Bible.  Just your basic Satan-inspired actions.