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What If the Scriptures Aren’t about Me?

Image: Nooku

Image: Nooku

In a recent post about the communal nature of Christianity, I discussed the individualism that’s poisoning the church. Even the way we interact with the Scriptures is often colored by our “me” oriented culture.

A lot of leaders encourage me to read the Bible as if it’s a love letter written especially to me. The problem is that message of the Scripture is neutered when I read the Scripture with me as its focus. The Bible isn’t magic; it isn’t a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure book. The power of the Scriptures lie within their context and the authors’ intention.

Here’s an example:

Jeremiah 29:11: For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. (ESV)

The Israelites are in Babylonian captivity. They’re distraught and hopeless about their situation questioning the words God spoke to Abraham. Jeremiah’s words come to them as a promise. God hasn’t rejected his people; he hasn’t forgotten them. This was a promise to God’s people. Many of the individuals who received this promise died in captivity. This promise was bigger than any individual Israelite, it was a promise that God’s plan would not be thwarted.

This isn’t how this verse is often read. If you go into any Christian bookstore, you’ll find Jeremiah 29:11 tacked onto all sorts of artwork. The context of this promise now becomes “me.” We take a verse like this and make it our “life verse.” God has given me a hope and a future that might have to do with any number of things from my finances to my marriage.

Does God have a hope and a future for you? Yes, eschatologically speaking, he does. In that way, we (collectively) are recipients (albeit indirectly) of this verse. We have a hope and a future for spending eternity in the presence of Christ without any more tears being shed. But in the meantime, Christians, the world over, are laborers helping to redeem this broken world to Christ. While we do so, we are captive. Christians still go bankrupt and suffer divorces, and individual Christians still suffer unspeakable atrocities at the hand of a diabolic occupying enemy.

Something dramatic happens when we begin to read the New Testament with the church in mind. Most of the epistles were written to congregations. When Paul speaks to “you,” he is often talking to a community of believers. To read the New Testament with the proper communal emphasis doesn’t diminish my importance; it puts it into context.

When Paul says to the Philippians that “he who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it,” he speaks a dramatic promise to a struggling church. Does this mean no individual Philippian walked away from the church? No. This amazing promise was bigger than any individual Philippian. And God’s dramatic story is bigger than me—but I get the pleasure of being part of it.

And that’s just fine with me. I don’t have to be the center of the story. An invitation to be part of God’s astonishing narrative is enough.

Image: Nooku

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7 Comments Post a comment
  1. I find in FASCINATING to watch how the me centered Christians cherry-pick their verses that apply to them. Lev. 18:22 which they think prohibits being gay (or at least gay male sex) is at the top of the list yet yet Lev 119-12 (no shrimp eat’n!) and Lev. 19:19 (no mixed fibers!) don’t apply, even though these are labeled an abomination. Funny, I was at a party the other day and an overweight man (Proverbs 23:20-21) eating shrimp, wearing a cotton-polyester blend tried to argue with me about how being gay is a sin. The irony almost killed me.

    In all seriousness, there is such power in the corporate reading of the Bible. It breaks us out of our ding-a-ling rivalries and petty differences. We are connected to one another. As much as I give my conservative brothers and sisters a hard time, I need them for a variety of reasons. First they are part of the body of Christ and the eyes cannot say to the hands, I don’t need you (1 Cor 12:21). They are participating in the same story as I am fulfilling a different purpose for God… at least that is my hope.

    November 14, 2012
    • It’s true, Luke. I remember there was a group of us who were meeting on Saturdays to read through the Scriptures out loud to each other. We’d pick a book and we’d plow through the whole thing. There’s something about hearing the Scriptures read, in context, and in community that has amazing power.

      November 14, 2012
      • Yeah man. Context is everything.

        November 14, 2012
  2. Christ is the King of context. When we are in Christ, we fit into the context of Scripture … somehow, even if it is the inconvenient call to repent.

    November 20, 2012
    • There’s no question that we fit into the context of Scripture. And there is a very individual aspects that Scripture calls and asks us to respond to. If you read this post any other way, I didn’t do a very good job of communicating. For that, I apologize. But I still stick to my conviction that the context of the Scriptures is God’s creation of a community and my invitation to join this story.

      November 20, 2012
      • “Christ is the King of context.” -if4es
        -What does that mean? Seems like a throw away phrase, meaningless.

        Christ is bound by his context as a Jewish man, under Roman occupation, and in the first century. When we read the scriptures, we must make sure we’re not bringing our post-Enlightenment 21st American Christian assumptions to the text. They are not Christ’s, the writers of the Gospel, nor anywhere but in our context.

        Christ often trumps context, if that is what you mean, and still inspires, moves, and claims people for the Kingdom of God. But if you really want to know what Christ is about, namely God’s creation of a community and my invitation to join this story of salvation for all peoples context is key on how to go about the work of the Kingdom in our time and age.

        November 20, 2012
      • More on context: Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:11 call mixed fibers a sin, an abomination. In our context it seems that my wearing of this poly-cotton blend is a sin on the level of coveting, adultery, and owning an angry ox. Yet when we look at the context, these laws are the first consumer protection laws. Taking a good fiber like wool or linen and mixing it with another fiber would produce a cheaper garment and thus steal from your neighbor.

        Context is everything in scripture.

        Same with Jesus. His parables within his context become POWER HOUSE KNOCK OUT STORIES vs. our trite white-washed versions of them here in the 21st century.

        November 21, 2012

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