7 Familiar Bible Verses that May Not Mean what You Think They Mean
Have you ever felt like Inigo Montoya while listening to a sermon?
You may remember him as the sword fighting character from the movie The Princess Bride. He is part of a band of likable bad guys whose unpleasant leader repeatedly exclaimed “Inconceivable” in response to surprising events. The leader continues to do so until a puzzled Montoya finally observes:
“You Keep Using That Word, I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”
Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride
The sermon version of this experience is similar. It happens when you hear a Bible verse used in church, perhaps having heard it many times before, and realize it doesn’t sounds quite right. You may not be sure why it seems off, but something is not ringing true. It may be a popular verse application that you grew up hearing or one that is completely new, but the point is there seems to be a problem. You find your spirit whispering (or yelling) inside you:
“You Keep Using That (Bible Verse to Make that Point), I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means”
You, hopefully a Berean Christian
How you respond to this prompting is often very telling about the status of your heart or your church. You may respond with fear and guilt, thinking that you have earned God’s displeasure by thinking critically. This may reveal a heart that is not at rest with God’s true nature. You may be personally comfortable but your church may respond with an uproar and condemnation if you dare entertain such thoughts of disloyalty, disrespect, and ingratitude to they exalted teacher. You may be shamed internally or externally for daring to doubt the one who claims to speak for God. These may show a culture that has transferred its loyalty from the perfect Jesus to one fallible guy or one group of flawed people. There is no doubt that it is hard to face these questions and there are many other ways you can be discouraged from seeking answers, yet the questions remains:
What if you are right? What if the verses don’t mean what they say they mean?
The truth is there may be a very good reason for your bad teaching radar to go off. That pastor or elder may very well be using the Bible to teach something that is not from Jesus.
Though motivations differ, the reality is that the Bible gets misused and abused in churches on a regular basis. That is not something that you should feel guilty for noticing. It is not your responsibility unless you are the one doing it. You are not required to feel bad for another person’s choice to sin.
The Bible warns of many false teachers who will come and shamelessly twist the Word for their own gain. There are also those who are not as overtly evilly motivated, but are not as careful with the Bible and mistakenly veer from the intended meaning of verses.
This is why God never says just take someone’s word for what the Bible teaches. He gave you a duty to make sure those who claim to be working for God teaching His Word are actually doing so:
Now these people were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness,
examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so.
Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God. For many false prophets have gone out into the world.
1 John 4:1
Do not despise prophecies.
Test all things; hold fast what is good.
1 Thessalonians 5:20-21
God does not ask you to sit back and passively accept the authority of any man. “Trust me, bro” is not a firm foundation on which to base your faith. That opens the door to teachings that misuse, abuse, and hijack verses from God’s purpose and intended meaning under the guise of His authority. It is only Jesus who bought you with a price and it is to Him your loyalty is owed.
Instead, He called on you to vigorously test everything you hear against the Word to ensure that it is reliable. This means not only when something strikes you as wrong in a sermon, but consistently following along with teachings like the church in Berea to make sure that it is not only throwing Bible verses at you, but also applying them correctly. Since this is the Lord’s direction for you, Godly leaders should never be offended by it. In fact, they should openly encourage it if they understand their own frailty. The Apostle Paul was one of the greatest men and teachers in Christian history and he applauded the church in Berea for fact checking his messages against the Word. There is not a teacher of the Word alive who is not subject to the temptations that come with doing so.
No temptation has overtaken you except such as is common to man
1 Corinthians 10:13
Yet, the religion of man tends to treat God and the pastor, leader, or organization interchangeably. Your calling to be a Berean not only keeps you focused on Jesus, but also encourages your pastor to do so as well.
Are you willing to take up the calling? Are you open to examining your Inigo Montoya moments to make sure you are hearing from God and not man? Are you willing to stand up and hold others accountable for their handling of the Word?
If so, this series is a great starting point.
Over the next few weeks, I will lay out the 7 Bible verses that I see as the most often misused and abused in church. I will not include verses dealing with legitimately disputed theological issues. I may not agree with you, but there are quite a few areas where we can disagree based on honest readings of the Bible and do so in love. These are the ones that are very familiar and much repeated in sermons, but have common applications that are not actually supported by the Bible or are clearly contradicted by the Word.
I will not just make the claim and leave it at that. I won’t ask you to just “Trust me, bro.”. I will show you the problem with the application of the verse and lay out the errors and tactics that brought about the misuse or abuse. In doing so, you will hopefully also see why they are so harmful to you as a follower of Christ and be prepared for encountering them in the future.
I will count down from 7 to 1 in popularity, based on my experience.
Here is Number 7:
Figuring out how to respond to questions about teaching can be challenging and painful, I know from experience. My own Inigo Montoya moments left me stuck in neutral in my faith at times in my past. But take heart – Jesus did not die for you to leave you stuck following a man, a church, a tradition, or a denomination. He called you to follow Him and He will give you the wisdom to do so, if you are willing to ask Him.
I pray that it blesses you.