Bible Abuse: When Scripture Quoting Gets In the Way of Understanding

Saturday is for Thinking

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


Philippians 4(13)Recently I read a post from the Gospel Coalition that encouraged Christians to stop reading Bible verses. It was titled, “The Single Most Practical Advice for Christians? Never Read a Bible Verse” and was itself an excerpt from a longer article from the website STAND TO REASON by Greg Koukl. It was a great article and one in which I am in complete agreement. The article’s title was . . .

Never read a Bible verse.

The title sounds shocking but it has a serious and powerful warning.

So many verses in so many situations are quoted out of context and given “a meaning” that they never had, to suit the interpreters point or the need of the moment. We have probably all done it at times. But it is never good no matter how “helpful” we might find it to be in the moment. It is an abuse of the Scripture. It is using the Scripture for a purpose for which the Spirit of God never intended. To put it simply, a text can never mean what it never meant. A text can never mean what the Spirit did not intend.

So Greg Koukl is right. Never read a Bible verse. Always read at least a paragraph. Always read its context to make sure that you have understood the text and apply it properly to your own situation.

The other day, I saw a short video by a popular younger preacher that unfortunately was a good (sic) example of bad interpretation and a misuse of the Bible.  I like Craig Groeschel. He’s a great communicator, a charismatic leader, and a passionate follower of Christ. He also has a great sense of humor and is a creative and visionary thinker. But in a recent video taped behind the scenes at a recent Willow Creek Leadership Summit, Craig misapplied a text that is maybe one of the most abused texts in the New Testament.

Here’s the story line. Craig had to travel. Craig doesn’t particularly like to travel. He said such to his wife who replied, “Well, why don’t you just become good at traveling?”

He was a bit incredulous. She continued. “You’re the kind of person who if you wanted to become good at something, you become good at it.”

So far no problem.
Craig is being honest about what he does well
and what he does not do so well
and his wife is being wonderfully supportive and positive
and encouraging to him about the kind of capabilities
she sees in him as a person.

From there Craig begins to talk about becoming a person who says more positive things and becomes more like the things he is confessing. I’m going to believe the best here and assume that Craig is not talking about the theologically suspect “positive confession” movement that turns God and good things happening into a magic genie.

Craig then says, “Any leader can make massive changes if we change our self-talk.”

I agree. Especially if the changes are needed for what God calls the leader to do.

But then Craig throws down Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Him (Christ), who strengthens me.” From there he says, “God has given me everything I need to do everything God calls me to do.”

That caveat, “everything God calls me to do” is a good one. But let’s get back to Philippians 4:13.

Is this a text that should be used by leaders (or anyone else) to claim as the beginning of a cure for problem areas of their gifting or lacks in their personality, or skill or training? Let’s look at the context. Here’s the paragraph:

Philippians 4:10–14 (ESV)

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 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. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. 14 Yet it was kind of you to share my trouble.

Jesus is EnoughPaul is writing to the Philippians about how God has provided for his needs through the gift that the Philippian church sent to support his mission. He thanks them and tells them of how he rejoiced in being cared for by them (vs. 10). Then he speaks of how he has had the experience of God supplying just what he needs when he needed it and as a result he has learned the secret of living with “plenty and hunger, abundance and need.” (vv. 11-12)

In that context, “abundance and need”, he writes verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.” This is not a verse to hog tie to any desire or deficiency we have but a verse to remind us that Jesus is enough, whether we are rich or poor, whether we have much or little. Christ strengthens us in our service of Him and the kingdom and reminds us that He is enough for every situation.

This is not a verse for a 140 lb. college student to claim, “I want to be an NFL linebacker and the Bible says I can do all things through Christ.” Nor is a verse for a man or woman to claim as the foundation for developing gifts that God has never given them.

Be careful with the Scripture. And be careful of preachers, including me, who periodically don’t do all the homework we should and apply the Scripture in ways that it was never intended to be applied.

4 thoughts on “Bible Abuse: When Scripture Quoting Gets In the Way of Understanding

  1. Marty, Marty, Marty….
    Matthew 12:30 NKJV
    [30] He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad.


    Mark 9:38-41 NKJV
    [38] Now John answered Him, saying, “Teacher, we saw someone who does not follow us casting out demons in Your name, and we forbade him because he does not follow us.” [39] But Jesus said, “Do not forbid him, for no one who works a miracle in My name can soon afterward speak evil of Me. [40] For he who is not against us is on our side. [41] For whoever gives you a cup of water to drink in My name, because you belong to Christ, assuredly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.

    I attend Life Church in Hendersonville TN. Love the worship and love the work they do.. Craig’s theology might be lacking; I do believe he is Calvinist, but God is with him look at the people born again, the amount of funds given, the ease of quickly placing people in leadership who love Jesus. This is not my home church. Again, I don’t agree theologically, yet I agree with God n blessing him.. One more point…

    2 Kings 2:23-24 NKJV
    [23] Then he went up from there to Bethel; and as he was going up the road, some youths came from the city and mocked him, and said to him, “Go up, you baldhead! Go up, you baldhead!” [24] So he turned around and looked at them, and pronounced a curse on them in the name of the LORD. And two female bears came out of the woods and mauled forty-two of the youths.

    Please use your blog and explain why or why not Elisha was a man of God? Yeah I believe you get the point…


    1. Antonio,

      I’m sorry but I neither get your point nor understand why you object to my post. It was kind, positive and respectful of Craig as a man, as a communicator, as a leader, and as a pastor. It affirmed his wife in her respect and love for her husband and it acknowledged his positive responsiveness to her counsel.

      Because Craig is a man of God, I suspect he would be one of the first to give the same warning that I give at the end of the post that congregants be careful to keep their fingers on the text whenever we speak. I included myself, by the way, in the warning. No teacher is above ever being questioned. Frankly, I think if Craig were to read the post, he would probably say something like, “you know, I think this no-name guy Marty has a point. I think I did misapply that text.”

      And we would part as friends. He is a good man and I praise God for his ministry.

      Now, on Elijah being a man of God. Elisha was a man of God, which is to say that he loved and served God. It is not to say that he made no mistakes. He is, after all, like Craig and myself, just a man.


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