The Bible is a sharp, double-edged sword—able to pierce the heart. However, when portions of the Bible are used in the wrong context, it’s like trying to fight with the butt of the weapon instead of the blade. It’s just not effective.
Over my years in ministry and as an ongoing student of the Bible, I’ve come across many biblical misquotes, misunderstandings and flat-out misuses.
However, if I’m honest, many of these have come from my own lips. I confess: I’ve been guilty of abusing passages, ignoring context and, even at times, stretching the meaning for my own teaching needs, but I’m seeking to reform my loose ways in favor of something much more beneficial—the original interpretation.
Here are the top five Scriptures, in my opinion, that get misused in the church today—with a brief description of the original context.
I invite you to comment on each one or to provide additional passages you think should appear in the top five. Also, just to be clear, I don’t think referencing these passages in a slightly different context is a biblical felony—if it was, I’d probably be doing hard time—but it’s always good to know the heart of the original meaning.
1. I Can Do All Things
I can do all this through him who gives me strength. — Philippians 4:13 (NIV)
This short verse is often quoted by sports teams, bumper stickers and taglines as a rally cry to accomplish great things like running a marathon, climbing a mountain, winning the championship, finishing the remodel on the kitchen, etc.
However, this short—and powerful—passage gets its meaning amidst the context of contentment. Paul is writing this letter to the church in Philippi to let them know that God has taught him to be content in times of plenty and in times of desperation (he’s writing this letter in prison).
So, in its proper meaning, this verse is a tribute to a man who learned to follow God in any circumstance. Whatever came Paul’s way, he handled with faith. It could be stoning, prison, shipwreck, beatings, etc. This passage is not a clarion call to go out and accomplish great feats of strength, but a beautiful reminder to pursue faith and trust God in the midst of the ups and downs of a life given fully to the cause of Christ.
So, if you get put in prison for preaching Christ, beaten, and learn to live with little food or possessions, and you find yourself content because you have Christ, well, this verse should definitely be quoted.
2. Plans to Prosper
“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.” — Jeremiah 29:11 (NIV)
This verse is often quoted during a trial to encourage or inspire—pointing us to the promise that God has specific plans to help us prosper so don’t worry!
However, in context, this verse is dealing with a particular promise given to Israel from God; the promise points to the end of their Babylonian exile in specific terms—70 years (verse 10). So, the word prosper doesn’t refer to money or material blessings, but physical and spiritual salvation.
But, someone might say, God still wants us to prosper, right? Well, in terms of salvation, yes. In fact, this passage is a great reminder of the fulfilled prophecy and the perfect Word of God. This is an amazing story that points us to a greater release and redemption for all of God’s people.
So, taking away our specific, individually focused application doesn’t subtract the awesomeness from this passage. In fact, it enhances it and reminds us of the collective salvation of God’s people in history and in the future, still to come.