#1 - Philippians 4:13
"I can do all things through him who strengthens me"
The is a verse we often see in Christian sports movies, Instagram bios, and sometimes even church signs. But does it really mean that we can do "anything" because God will give us the strength to do it? Not quite.
In fact, if we just look at the previous verse, the context of this verse becomes clear. "I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need." (4:12)
So Paul is not speaking of being literally able to do "anything", but rather being able to adapt and be content in any situation that God places him in.
A better understanding of the verse would then be "I can do all these things through him who strengthens me". And "these things" refers to what Paul mentioned in the previous verse - being brought low, abounding, being hungry, or having plenty.
In other words, Paul has learned to be content. He has learned to be thankful and happy whether God has given him much, or just what he needs. And he has learned that in either of those situations, God will give him the strength to keep running his race.
So as wonderful as it might sound that we can "do all things through Christ", we shouldn't expect God to give us strength for anything we might desire to do, be it win a sports league or nail a job interview. Rather, we can count on God to give us strength to be content whether or not we succeed, or get what we want.
#2 - Matthew 18:20
"For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them."
Certainly you've heard a pastor somewhere say "There may not be many of us here tonight, but Jesus said, "where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them". This is a quote that many of us have heard before, and as wonderful as it sounds, that's not the intended meaning behind Jesus' words. That's not to say that Jesus isn't among us when we are praying or engaging God's word together - because he is, as is promised elsewhere in scripture (e.g. Matthew 28:20) However, as with all of scripture, we have to read this verse in context.
In the verses prior to this (18:15-17), Jesus is instructing his disciples what we must do when a brother (or sister) sins against us. Specifically, he says that we must "go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. ... But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector."
So when Jesus is saying "there am I among them", he is affirming that when a believer stands confronted for their sin, it is not just before their fellow believers that they stand, but before Jesus also. It's necessary to understand this verse in context to understand the importance of church discipline. It is a process that is meant not to punish the believer, but to restore them & sanctify them.
#3 - Matthew 7:1
"Judge not, that you be not judged"
A phrase that virtually every Christian and even non-Christian seems to know - Judge not, that you be not judged. Used most often, ironically enough, to condemn people who may cast judgment on others. But what does it really mean?
We live in a culture that promotes a certain tolerance to any sort of behavior that one may deem acceptable. But the Bible does not condone this sort of tolerance and lack of accountability. In fact, there are many passages in the Bible that instruct us on what to do when a fellow believer is caught in sin (Galatians 6:1-2, Matthew 18:15-17).
What is condemned by this verse, however, is hypocrisy. Jesus was speaking of Pharisees and other religious leaders who would create certain impossible standards that even they themselves wouldn't keep - and then judge people who didn't live up to them!
So what this verse really means is not that we should never judge anyone, but rather that we should live up to the standard by which we judge. Notice how the focus is on keeping ourselves in check before we try to keep others in check.
This also means that when we do keep others accountable, or hold them to a certain moral standard, it should by no means be with arrogance, but rather with biblical humility. When we begin to look down on someone for their sin, we become guilty of sin ourselves - and that is when we are prohibited to judge.
To sum up, a good rule to follow is Jesus' own a few verses later in 7:12 - "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets".
#4 - 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."'
This is one of the most popular verses among Christians today, especially in the west. And just as most verses which are taken out of context, it seems to offer a 'hope' for those who are concerned about their future. Let's see what it actually meant at the time it was written.
Firstly, Jeremiah was writing not to a single person, but to a large group of people. More specifically, he was writing to exiles in Babylon who were taken from their native land in Israel, and who thought that God had abandoned them. Jeremiah was reassuring them that God would restore Israel and bring them back from exile. However, this wouldn't happen immediately, and not even in the lifetime of those who were hearing it. It would happen after 70 years. (29:10)
Secondly, Jeremiah assures the exiles that they will call on the LORD and he will hear them. And "you will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart". (29:13) So the focus of the verse is not on the future of any particular individual, but on the community of God's people as a whole. The important thing to note is that God has a plan for his people. That plan may include short-term struggles and pain, but long-term restoration.
So if we should apply anything from this verse to our own lives, it's not that we will be prosperous and well during our short life on earth. Rather, we must learn to seek God with our whole heart, and return to him as a community of Believers .
#5 - Psalm 46:10
"Be still and know that I am God"
Quite often this verse is used to reassure believers that everything will be okay and that they should not be concerned, for God is in control. And while there is some truth to that (Romans 8:28-29), it misses the point of the verse. Firstly, the verse is often not quoted in full.
The full verse is this: “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” Most people focus on the "Be still" part when we should actually focus on the "know that I am God" part. Knowing who God is will ultimately lead us to be still.
The rest of the chapter also focuses on God, his power, and his provision for his people.
"God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble." (v. 1)
"The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress." (v. 7)
So the verse is not so much about simply stopping our concern and our worry - but replacing it with a seeking for shelter in God. And not just that, but being amazed at who God is, and what he has done.
Be still, and know that he is God.
Out Of Context Verses
If you've heard these out of context verses before, be sure to check out our "excuse me, that's out of context" shirt. So next time, you're prepared to demonstrate proper exegesis - even through the clothes you wear!