Context keeps you right… or at least it should!

One of the blessings of being a native English speaker is that I have the Bible, God’s Word, in my own language and in so many different translations. This is a privilege that many people can take for granted. I worry that many Christians today have become numb to the joy and honour that it is to have the Bible in our own language and that we have the freedom to read it. There are many problems that come from this approach to Scripture, one of them is that we might be tempted to be over confident and look for what we want in the Bible, rather than trying to discern what it actually says. Why is this such a problem? Well, let’s have a wee think about that…

One of the problems with a blasé approach to Scripture is that the person can cherrypick the verses that they like and forget about the rest. Here are just a few of the verses that are routinely misquoted and taken out of context…

Romans 8:28 “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.”

Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”

Jeremiah 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Esther 4:14 “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Now onto some of the more controversial ones…

Ephesians 5:22 “Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord.”

1 Corinthians 14:33b-34 “As in all the churches of the saints, the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says.”

It is so important that we take the context of every verse of the Bible into consideration when we are studying, quoting and using a verse because if we don’t understand the context, how can we understand the verse?

All of these verses, if taken out of context, can lead people to have a skewed view of God and of the Christian life. If our desire is to live lives that glorify God in every way, then our desire should also be to effectively and rightly use and divide the Word of God. To do that, we must understand the context of a verse and passage.

My concern in this post is the last two, and more controversial, verses. I’m not wanting to give an exposition of the passage, or draw out the points of tension that they bring within differentiations denominations or church moments. Instead, I want to stress the problem if these verses are taken out of context. But for the sake of time let’s just think about Ephesians 5:22.

There are men who take these verses, particularly Eph. 5:22, and use it as a license to treat their wives horribly. Some people can use this verses as a means to spiritually guilt a wife into certain decisions or actions. If you’re anything like me, that makes your blood boil! That is not what a godly husband is called to do. No person should take a verse out of context and use it to justify their own selfish acts, or their abuse.

Such conduct not only damages another image-bearer of God, but it also makes a mockery of God’s design and plan for marriage. In the past many people have misused this verse to commit atrocities, which has lead to many people mistrusting anything the Bible says about marriage all together.

I am a complementarian, which basically means that I believe God has created men and women as equals but with different roles within the church and the home. Complementarity does NOT equal abuse. Complementarity does NOT diminish the value of women. Complementarity does NOT say that women have no gifts and must mindlessly serve a tyrant husband.

All we need to do is look at the context of that verse in Ephesians 5 to see that, there are more commands to the husbands in that passage than there are to the wives. Every time I read this passage I realise again and agin just how hard hitting the command is to me, as a husband, in Eph. 5:25 “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her”. That is a tall order and one that husbands should take seriously.

Whenever we hear Ephesiaisn 5:22 (and similar verses) taught we need to teach what it means, but I think that we also need to teach what it doesn’t mean. I’ve been struck by a recent seminar I attended and a book I recently read about domestic abuse. Often Eph. 5:22 is used to justify abuse and so we need to equip and help our people understand what this verse does not mean.

Ephesians 5:22 does NOT mean…
– That a husband can do as he pleases and the wife must mindlessly obey.
– That the wife has no say in the particulars of the family life, or her own.
– That the husband can control areas of his wife’s life (finances, friends, etc.)
– That the wife is the servant of the husband.
– That the husband can live as he pleases without being challenged by his wife.

We need to realise that the horribly high statistics of domestic abuse, in all of its forms, are not an outside problem. It happens in the church too. We need to equip our people to understand the Bible, know the context and to correct wrong thinking and theology. This correction and teaching needs to happen in the pulpit, in 1-1s and in small groups. We should leave no room in our sermons for people to misinterpret and misunderstand the Word of God. But instead we should be working to the best of our ability to rightly divide an expound the Word of God and make much of the Saviour in our sermons.

The context of a Bible passage or verse should keep us right. Therefore, we need to teach it, teach what a passage means and correct any harmful and wrong interpretations that are incompatible with the Word of the Lord.

3 thoughts on “Context keeps you right… or at least it should!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: