On my last post I had a few facebook comments that surprised me a bit. I just didn’t see it coming. They said that my take on Jeremiah 29:11 was legalistic. I presume they said that because my point was that the verse gets hijacked from its original context to be made to say whatever we want it to say. People didn’t like that because the verse is very special to them. I understand that.
Let me put on my teacher hat for a moment and teach something that I think is very important to understand when it comes to reading the Bible. Here it is – before you can apply the Bible to your own life it is very important that you understand what those words mean. Here is an example from John 9:31 that has been severely twisted by people in preaching, teaching, writing, blogging,
“We know that God does not listen to sinners. He listens to the godly person who does his will.”
Well the Bible said it and that settles it. God doesn’t hear the prayer of a sinner. I have heard people teach that from this verse. Have you? So let’s back up a bit because our attempt is to understand exactly what those words mean even though they appear to have a plain meaning. So let’s look at the context. Jesus just healed a man born blind. We learn in 9:14 that Jesus did this on the Sabbath. So now the story gets a bit more complicated although not that complicated. Now you have to understand what that meant in Jesus’ day and you get clues about that based on the reaction of the Pharisees like in 9:16,
“Some of the Pharisees said, ‘This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.’
But others asked, ‘How can a sinner perform such signs? So they were divided.”
So what’s the deal? The Old Testament commanded people not work on the Sabbath. Jesus healed this man and they were calling it work, therefore Jesus (in their minds based on their interpretation of the Sabbath rules and traditions) was sinning. Jesus wasn’t sinning but that is what the Pharisees concluded. But the people are confused because if Jesus was sinning, God wouldn’t give him the power to heal while he was sinning. So they ask the man who was healed what he thought about it. The man sides with those who say Jesus is not a sinner by saying God wouldn’t listen to a sinner. He isn’t teaching an eternal, inspired principle for all time as if Paul wrote this as instruction to the Corinthians or that Jesus told his disciples on the sermon on the mount, “God doesn’t hear a sinner’s prayer.” No. This man says this in defense of Jesus, that Jesus is not a sinner. That’s it.
Is this a legalistic interpretation of John 9:31? No. It is trying to understand the text for what it means. Who said it? Who were they saying it to? What was the circumstance? What language was used? How did they understand those words in their day? Those are all important questions to ask when we read the text and it will take some work.
Understanding scripture in context is not legalism. It is good Bible study.
Here is my last point – when you understand the text for what it said then you can better understand what the text says now. Let’s look back at Jeremiah 29:11. Given what I said in that post what can we glean from it today or even apply today? We know that God has made us promises and God will make good on his promises. So we can have hope. We know that ultimately God will make all things new and right so we certainly do have hope and a future that is bright. But we cannot expect what God said in Jeremiah 29:11 to shield us from harm, give us an easy path, etc. It just doesn’t teach that to us today.