by Rebecca Roman
In this issue, Darryl Klassen describes some ways Christians can abuse scripture in his article, “Hermeneutical Fallacies and Sexuality.” One way, he says, is that “scripture can be used ungraciously, as a weapon, to ‘beat down’ the other.”
This is an aspect of scripture’s use that has often concerned me. There are descriptions in the Bible of God’s word as a weapon—not against people, but against “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).
In Ephesians 6:17, “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” is our God-given weapon against “the evil one” (v. 16). We see this principle in action when Jesus resists temptation in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1–11, Luke 4:1–13).
Hebrews 4:12 describes the word of God as “alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” The push here seems to be towards self-examination in light of God’s word, not judgment of others.
Another way we can improperly use scripture is taking verses out of context. A popular instance of this is quoting Jeremiah 29:11 as if it applies to me as an individual: “‘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.’”
When we look at the context, it’s clear that this is part of a “letter…to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile” (29:1). The “you” here is plural, not singular, and refers to the nation of Israel. Preceding Jeremiah 29:11 are verses 4 through 10, where the Lord instructs his people to “seek the peace” of Babylon, to settle down there because that is part of his plan.
In his article, “Being Christian in a Secular Society,” Gordon T. Smith explores a proper application of this passage and describes ways we can live faithfully as Christians in our modern-day society.
What, then, does proper use of scripture look like? Some guidance can be found in Psalm 119. Although written about God’s law, we can draw inspiration for our approach to scripture from what the psalmist describes.
A common theme is obedience. While we want to avoid reading scripture as a set of rules and regulations, it is our ultimate source of deciphering God’s will for our lives. See, for example, Micah 6:8—“And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” While we need the assistance of the faith community and the leading of the Spirit to know what this looks like in specific circumstances, the general hallmarks of a life of faith are clear.
The word “teach” also crops up often. We come to scripture with the openness of a student; our passion is to learn from scripture. We have a tendency to come to scripture looking for it to accord with our pre-conceived ideas. But scripture needs to inform our thinking, not the other way around.
This passage is also marked by words such as “delight,” “love,” “precious.” These are relationship words. They speak to our approach and our ultimate purpose in reading scripture: to know God and to become more like him. May your reading and application of scripture draw you ever nearer to that goal!