Last Sunday, a financial person of the church we have been attending 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.
Another 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 nor 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)