I Can Do “All” Things?

Once in church we had been attending a financial person of the church stated that, after 30 years of studying God’s Word, he has found Scripture “never calls on us to give to a cause; instead we are called to give to God.” He then quoted something from 2 Cor 9.

Hum….

The context of 2 Corinthians, starting in chapter 8 running through chapter 9, indicates the giving Paul had in mind was for the “relief of the saints” (2 Cor 8:4) in Jerusalem (see 1 Cor 16:1-3). This sounds like a cause to me. The pericope (scope of thought = context) hardly speaks about giving money to a church, unless of course the church was taking up a collection for the poor. Though I don’t disagree that our giving must be to God, to say that our giving is never to a cause flies in the contextual face of 2 Corinthians 8-9, to wit: the cause of the poor believers in Jerusalem. This is a classic false dichotomy (either give to a cause or give to God). It does not permit the idea that I can give to God by giving to a cause.

allthingsAnother classic instance of the importance of context is the use (or mis-use) of Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (ESV). I once heard a youth pastor tell a student that he can claim this verse for passing his geometry exam. Wowsers! Paul had Pythagorus in mind, eh? No respect for context…NONE! The “all things” (see the better rendering in the updated NIV 2011, “all this”) has only to do with the ability to advance the Gospel message whether we suffer terrific loss or have great material gain. Paul hardly had mathematical skills in mind.

I would argue an important hermeneutical rule: Whenever a Bible passage is taken out of context and applied to a life situation, it has no power or authority. Conversely, whenever a Bible passage is rightly applied to life given that is what God intended, then it always has power and authority. The Bible is not a magic book full of incantations that we can just speak over a situation without respect to the intent of the Author. Whenever someone claims to be an authority (“30 years”) on what Scripture says, they inadvertently teach everyone poor interpretive practices when they yank a passage out of its context. This is a grave error when the very institution that claims to speak for God misrepresents him!

In light of this, I’m always interested in posts like Louis’. It speaks to the importance of context before claiming the Bible means “x” (fill in the variable for any call on your life that others are insisting the Bible must say.). Check out “Is Jeremiah 29:11 a Promise You Can Claim?” and the new offering by Mark Strauss How to Read the Bible in Changing Times. Here’s the conclusion from the passage in Jeremiah:

It should be clear from this example that not every promise in the Book is mine. Every biblical promise has a context and a recipient, and that situation must be understood before any application can be made. Don’t misunderstand what I am saying. Every promise in the Bible is God’s Word. It is God’s Word to them and must first be interpreted in its original context before it can be applied to us. Just as the Bible is not a list of commands to obey, so it is not a series of promises to claim.” (pp 27-28)

2 thoughts on “I Can Do “All” Things?”

  1. I appreciate your point of view and I know I don’t have the theological schooling to really give a just reply to your thoughts, but the thought that “if we keep every Bible verse only for the application we can see in the Bible, what is left to give us hope and strength for our everyday problems? God is certainly there and He gives us hope through His Word, right? But if I cannot use the “I can do all things…” verse , if that verse does not apply to my everyday issues and difficulties, what do I have left, that can help me through when I am in a tough situation?? Didn’t God allow those Scriptures to be here for us, for more than just knowing that they applied to the particular situation, the context in which we find them in the Bible?

    I agree that many times Scripture is taken out of context and used in situations where it clearly doesn’t apply, like Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three gather together because they are mine, I am there among them.” (Life Application Bible) I don’t know how many times I have heard that verse used to remind someone that God is with us in a prayer meeting or at times of grieving the death of a loved one.. And there are many others that obviously don’t apply to the situation in which we are using them. I guess i question where we draw the line.

    If God only wants a particular verse to be used in a particular context, then the truth of that verse or passage cannot apply to another situation? How many times has another Christian used “I can do all things…” to help me press on in very hard circumstances? Many times and am I not supposed to think that those words can help me move on, keep going even though times are tough, hang in there and not give up?

    It seems like if we lock ourselves in too closely to only using God’s Word where we know for sure it applies, we will be missing out on the many ways God can use His Word in our lives. Who among us has not looked at the Psalms, many of which were written by David, right, where Saul is chasing Him and David is so discouraged and we should not use those verses to see that David realized God was watching over him, and those who were rich in material things even though they gained them by wrong means, when that same situation applies to us??

    Where do we draw the line with this?

  2. Thanks for commenting, Jan!
    You raise a valid concern and it’s only reasonable to hope that God’s words would bring us comfort for our situation.
    Most likely God does have words of comfort for us that applies to our situation; only those words we know may not be the words he has for us. So often we have the right idea but the wrong biblical support for it because we’re reading into the text our circumstances that the biblical author did not have in mind. Of course, with Christ we are empowered to do all those things which he expects of us, but doesn’t 2 Pet 1:3 say as much? Would that text not be more to the point you raise? If so, then by all means find comfort from Peter!

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