it seems that all over pinterest and tumblr are inspiring bible verses with pretty fonts and backgrounds. walk into any hobby lobby or parable store and woodcuts with those same verses line the walls, waiting to be hung in our kitchens. but do we really understand the context and meaning behind these verses, and could we even be using them incorrectly?
one of the first verses that comes to mind is philippians 4:13. commonly used to uplift athletes, performers, and the terminally ill, the verse is often seen quoted as saying, “i can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” yet the niv translation reads, “i can do all this through Him who strengthens me.” most other versions read “all things,” but the niv is different because it directly references the previous verses. (this is not to say the other translations are wrong, just to point out the importance of context in choosing bible verses.) in the passage, paul is discussing the hardships he has been through while serving Christ. he writes that he has “learned the secret of being content” no matter what situation he is in, whether starving or wellfed, imprisoned or free, at home or traveling. and it is these things, he says, that God has enabled him to endure with a strong spirit. the verse is in no way meant to imply that absolutely anything is possible for anyone who asks; instead, it means that no matter what we experience in life, God will be our source of joy throughout it and enable us to continue faithfully.
another commonly misread verse is 1 timothy 6:1-10. often quoted as “money is the root of all evil,” this verse is used to perpetuate class warfare and demonize the wealthy. yet the niv reads, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil.” paul here is speaking to timothy, urging him to learn the difference between true heavenly wealth and contentment and having earthly possessions. he states that loving both God and money fully is impossible, and love of one will produce hate for the other. the Christian believes that all sin stems from a hatred of God, and so if one loves something that is not God, it can lead to loving sinful things as well. this could of course happen in a variety of ways outside love of money (i.e., love of a significant other, love of fitness, love of food), but paul here specifically discusses material goods because timothy is surrounded by false prophets who seek to gain money by turning people to follow their teachings, believing that the money will make them happy.
the final verse i wish to discuss is jeremiah 29:11. this verse is rarely misquoted, just taken out of context. the niv reads, “‘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 verse is often used to console high school and college students without a career plan, or the recently unemployed who fear the future. sadly, however, this verse is not a universal comfort to the lost; it is taken from a prophecy delivered to the israelites living in exile. in the prophecy, God promises that after 70 years He will return the israelites to the land they had lived in before being taken to babylon. He advises them to live as comfortably as possible while they are there, and to stop fearing intermarriage. He directs His people to stop despairing and have hope. this verse is of course uplifting, and perhaps it can be taken as a source of hope today, but in all technicality it is not meant for us.
i don’t want to destroy anyone’s Christmas gift ideas, or say that no one should have a bible verse on a desk ever again. i simply believe it is important to know the context for any bible verse we want to quote. if we can’t even get uplifting, inspirational, and motivational verses right, then what basis is there for anyone to believe Christians have correctly interpreted God’s commandments?