There is a thing that many Christians do. It is neither a bad thing nor a good thing…just a thing. This thing, however, can often be misguided and good for nothing more than a daily pick-me-up from the bible. This thing is what we Christians call our “life verse”. A life verse is one verse that can capture who you are and your relationship with God. It is useful for in-home posters and on-line signatures. The only problem with having a life verse is the microscopic setting we place that particular verse in. Let me briefly give 2 examples:
Example 1: Jeremiah 29:11
This may be the life verse of all life verses. It says, “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.” Well how do you go wrong with that??? The only problem is, as with most life verses, Jeremiah 29:11 cannot be properly interpreted with the microscope method/life verse method of interpretation. To read this verse would imply prosperity, happiness and a bright and hopeful future. But when we take 2 steps back from this verse we are able to see the larger context. God had just told Jeremiah to tell those who were carried into exile by Babylon to get comfortable in their new homes because they were going to be stuck there for 70 years!!! At this point in Jeremiah’s life, he would never see the return of his people to his city. All of a sudden this life verse becomes a bit of a downer.
Example #2: Philippians 4:13
This is the life verse that tells us that we can do anything through Christ who strengthens us!! Yes, definitely another worthy life verse. We can now hit home runs, follow our dreams and even meet Bono through the strength we are given by God. But once again we run into problems when we use our microscopes to interpret the bible. When we back up, we start to see a clearer picture. Paul is writing these words to the church in Philippi, letting them know that he has found the key to contentment. Contentment?? That seems like a weak life verse when our culture tells us that success can only be found by excelling to the top! I have learned to be content? Really? But that’s what Paul is saying. He has experienced a life of some wealth and a life of extreme poverty and learned that with the strength of Christ he can be content in either.
When we read the scriptures, we must start by reading the passage in its original context. When we dive into the bible and pick out what we like as if we were hawks hunting for fish, we lose the meaning. This approach to interpretation has caused many earthly grievances over the history of humanity. And although I’m certain that when we use these passages as life verses our intent is not to cause harm, but we certainly will be disappointed when what we think they mean never takes place in our lives. How truly great a message is it to know that God will bless you even in exile. How awesome is it to know that we can be content in a culture that demands that we always have more. This is where these life verses truly find life!
If Paul and Jeremiah were to choose life verses based on their own observations, perhaps they would turn to Paul’s letter to the Romans…
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.