Rightly Dividing the Word of God

Do you ever wonder about the meaning of certain scriptures in the Bible? We have to be careful that we don’t take a biblical scripture and use it in the wrong way.

It is important to really dig into scripture and understand the context of scripture. Too many Christian people today will use and take scripture out of context and endeavor to make a scripture mean something that is not true.

So, when you get to a passage of scripture, and you want to understand the context what must you do. At least do this: read the verse before and after it.

Here is a four-step process that will help you in understanding the context of any verse.

When you read a verse – S T O P

S stands for: Situation – What is the historic situation. What has gone on. What has transpired up to this point.

T stands for: Type – What is the type of literature. The bible has as collection of all these books and letter and there is so may types of literature. There is poetry, epistles, prophecies, hyperbole, parables. You may ask me “is the Bible meant to be taken literally.” Yes, when it wants to be taken literally. When Jesus says “I am the door” no one expects that he has hinges on his rib cages with a physical door attached.

When it says in Proverbs, “Train a child up in the way he shall go and when he is old, he shall not depart from it?” Is that to be taken literally? That the grown up child will be off a character you trained then to be, on every occasion, all the time, no matter what? Of course not. So is the Bible lying. No, we all have known people who have grown up in the faith and they have now left God and denied him. But when you understand the type, you understand that this is a Proverb. It is proverbial wisdom. Following what that passage teaches is the wisest, smartest, most prudent and best way to have a godly outcome. If you want your children to walk in the faith, then raise them up in the way they should go. That’s wisdom.

O stands for: Object – Who is this verse for. Is it for you. Is it for everyone, Is it just for ancient Israel.

P stands for: Prescriptive – Is it prescribing something you should do or is it describing an event.

So let’s take one well-known scripture as an example, and take a closer look at it than what most will do. When we consider the verse Jeremiah 29:11, do we just get to take that and apply it to anything we want to. Should we be telling everyone, this is God’s promise that he is going to prosper you?

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

Should we take this scripture and apply it to just about anything we should desire? This is what those who are teaching the prosperity gospel are doing today. Many religious ministers are using this scripture to push their “Prosperity” gospel. “God is going to prosper you with all the desires of your heart. But first you must send in your money to me for this to happen.” The preacher is getting rich off of his congregation and telling them lies in the process.

What would be the harm if this scripture is misunderstood? Think about that. You are told your whole life, “God is going to prosper you.” What happens when your “expected end” of prosperity doesn’t happen?

“God is not going to harm you.” What happens when you experience harm? Do you start to wonder, “does God really have a plan for me? Does God really love me? Is the Bible even true?”

I had this situation happen to me and it is not right, and why is another person prospering and I am not. Do you see the confusion that can come by this misleading prosperity gospel doctrine? Spiritual malpractice can happen against us when we don’t understand the true context of a verse.

So let us apply the S T O P to the verse Jeremiah 29:11.

S – so here is the situation. There came a time in the Old Testament lineage of kings, that the people of God departed from God and his Law. They went back to serving idols. To make things worse, they pretended that they were still serving God, so there was a lot of hypocrisy. Consequently God allowed the King of Babylon to rise up against Jerusalem and destroy both the City and the Temple. Most all the people were carried far away as captives into the Kingdom of Babylon.

This is the setting, and the historical situation in which Jeremiah enters in as a prophet. God has a mission for Jeremiah. Jeremiah 1:9,10 Jeremiah had a dual purpose, justice and mercy. So, when you get into the book of Jeremiah the first 24 chapters we find warning, warning, warning. “Turn from your wicked ways…” and “…woe upon you!”

But then in Chapter 25 there is a transition where the warnings stop. Jeremiah 25:4-11
“I will bring your enemy Babylon against this land.” Transition point. No longer warnings, now there is justice. The punishment for not listening to God or his prophets for hundreds of years, is 70 years of captivity in Babylon.

So, we now come down to Jeremiah 29, and this tells us of Jeremiah writing a letter to the exiles living in Babylonian captivity.

Jeremiah 29:4-6, 7 he tells them to get comfortable where you are because you aren’t going anywhere for a while. In fact, you will be staying in captivity for 70 years. Go ahead and settle within the land of Babylon and buy a house, plant a garden, have kids.

Vs 8, 9 – tells us of a situation in Babylon where there are false prophets rising up to give to the people a false promise, and a false hope. These false prophets say Jeremiah is wrong. In 2 years we are going home. Do you think that a lot of people believed the guy that said 2 years? Yes, because we always want to believe what is easiest and in our best interest. You can’t just believe your way out of something that you dis-behaved your way into. You are still going to reap what you have sown. There is a consequence for doing wrong.

“Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatever a man sows, that shall he also reap.” (Galatians 6:7)

What we perceive in our best interest is Health, wealth and happiness. God’s desire for you is to believe him, to belong to him through salvation, and to go beyond what you want to fulfill the will of God. God wants humble servants, good stewards and obedient followers.

“For thus said the LORD, That after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall you call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29:10-13)

So let’s consider this 70 years. What if that situation happened here? We are all captured and carted off to another country. God tells us we have to stay in that foreign country as captives for 70 years. How many of us are going to ever make it back? If we are adults, almost none of us! But remember it is 586 BC when this happened to Jerusalem. There was no healthcare, so 70 years is a death sentence for you. Possibly some of your children we’ll make it. But mostly it will be your grandchildren that will come back to the land.

So now we have all the backstory situation, and we come to the verse Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, said the LORD, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

What’s the plan? 70 years exile in Babylon, then your grandkids will get to come back to the land.

What will be your prosperity? Not material wealth. This word “Peace” was Shalom in the original Hebrew, and the definition of this word is the absence of conflict. But it also points to the presence of something better in its place or completeness.

I know my thoughts I have for you, my thoughts for you are peaceful. There is a future for you.

Let’s take a look at this verse from a different perspective. One that reflects the purpose that God had for the children of Israel in allowing them to be carried away, and to learn an important lesson.

“God knows the punishment and restoration plan he has for disobedient exiles in Babylon, he won’t let them be eradicated, or become extinct, but after 70 years he will bring their grandchildren back to the land he gave them. And he will allow their family, crops and cattle to grow again, and hopefully they will learn a very important and valuable lesson: pray, follow, listen to and obey God.”

The principal that is taught within the scripture applies to all of us.

It does not mean you are going to prosper and not be harmed. That is junk theology.

When you see this verse you should say, “Wow God takes sin seriously! He wants them to seek him with all their heart. Wow God is patient. Wow God is merciful. He didn’t have to bring them back, but he chose to.”

I believe that the three verses following Jeremiah 29:11 are the ones that God wants us to focus on.

Jeremiah 29:12-14

“Then shall you call on me, and you shall go and pray to me, and I will listen to you. And you shall seek me, and find me, when you shall search for me with all your heart. And I will be found of you, said the LORD: and I will turn away your captivity, and I will gather you from all the nations, and from all the places where I have driven you, said the LORD; and I will bring you again into the place from where I caused you to be carried away captive.” (Jeremiah 29:12-14)

You know what they were living before? They were living duplicitous lives. They still had a place of worship. They were still going and saying prayers, and then they would go out and walk in a sinful way. So God is correcting them: “I don’t need lip service, I want your whole heart. I hope the lesson you learn from your 70 years is to seek me with all that you are. Don’t try to pay me money for blessings. But come after me wholeheartedly with faithful obedience.”

Another example of a verse that a lot of people misapply is Romans 8:28.

“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28:)

This verse teaches us that God is going to work it out for good. The problem is that God’s definition of “for good” is different than what we think. God will work it out for the “greater good.” But what if in the process, for us it goes from bad to worse? What if we don’t get out of the financial difficulty we are in? What if we are not healed? What if that broken relationship is not restored. Is it still true that he is working it out for good? Absolutely it is.

Here is what God’s definition of good is: he gives it to us in the next verse Romans 8:29

“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:29)

That’s Gods definition of good: you becoming like Jesus. It is not a Job story: “I know you have lost everything, but you will get it back 10 fold.” It is not the Joseph story: “I know you were thrown in a pit. I know you have been falsely accused. I know you are in prison, but don’t worry you will be second in command one day.” That is not this verse.

This verse says it can go from bad to worse, but in the midst of it all he will make you more like Jesus. And is that not better than Health, Wealth and Happiness? Absolutely it is.

But here’s the deal, that does not happen for everyone. The verse is very clear:

#1 you have to be saved. You cannot be conformed to the image of Christ unless you are in Christ. Have you done that? Put faith and trust along in God for the salvation of your soul.

#2 You have to love God. We all know Christians who went thru a difficult time but did not come out looking like Jesus. Why because it is not passive. There is a role you have to play in conforming to the image of God. You don’t just go thru a hard time as a Christian and God just zaps you, and you become more like Jesus. There is something you have to do and that is to love God, even through difficulty. There is a reason Paul uses love and not believe. Love is setting the heart on God so that in all you do, you determine to please him. Belief can be abandoned when you go thru hard times, but love endures thru hardship

You have to be in Christ, and you have to love him and to seek him with all that you are.

These verses are not promising Health, Wealth, and Happiness. They are not promising you that you won’t go through hardship. They are promising you that God will go thru the hardship with you, and he will use even that hardship to make you more like Jesus.

You can take comfort from Jeremiah 29:11 knowing God is with you in the middle of your difficulty. You are not promised immediate change of your situation, but you can know God’s peace in it as you trust Him to work in it. I am amazed at the changes that God has brought about in my life. Some of the things that I prayed for, waited for, and hoped for a change in, have not always happened as I expected them to. But hindsight is a great thing, and I am so blessed that God did not answer my prayers in the way I thought He should!

God’s plan for you

So how can you know God’s plan for your life?Here are some great tips:

Seek God’s presence throughout your day. Seek the secret place of God for that is where true safety can be found as promised in Psalm 91:1, Proverbs 29:12, Matthew 6:33

Repent of your sins. Prayerfully ask God for a clean heart, so that you can hear Him speaking to you clearly.

Be in prayer ask God for His wisdom and direction in your life. James 1:5

Seek God first in all that you do. When you seek God first, you gain His perspective, and it may even give you such clarity when making choices and decisions that it changes your original plans. Godly counsel – Proverbs 11:4

Renew your mind. One of the benefits of practicing the presence of God is that our minds are renewed and transformed daily as we are thinking ‘God’s thoughts ‘ and reading His transforming words from the Bible. This occurs from prayerfully reading scripture and inviting the Holy Spirit to enable us to apply them to our hearts and lives. It will give you clarity on the decisions that you need to make. Psalms 119:105

Be obedient to God’s commands. Allow God to guide you. Trust that God’s plans for you are good. If you are constantly in God’s presence, then you can trust that the dreams and plans that you have are from Him. If after much prayer you feel that you have to make a change in your life – do it and trust God to open the doors in your life that need to be opened. John 14:15

The more you implement these steps into your daily life, the more you’ll have the Heavenly Father by your side, helping you make the right decisions. It’s important to pray and pray often. But you also need to read the Holy Bible to help supplement your prayers.
Your path in life may also be the path less traveled. But if you seek spiritual guidance, remembering to reject false prophets and continue to follow God, you can never make the wrong choice.
No matter what God has in store for you, it’s always the right path.

Gods plan calls for patient trust. 70 years is a long time to wait. Most of us would like God to work our problems by the end of the week not the end of the century. God is calling his people thru this word with patient trust. It is possible for healing, but is it guaranteed? Absolutely not. When suffering comes, sometimes suffering stays.

God promises hope for the suffering. But if you’re here, you might be struggling with something and wondering, “why am I still suffering? When will this pain end? Where’s my hope? Where’s my prosperity?”

Sometimes, God’s plan includes a miraculous rescue and other times it is to let us grow stronger in the midst of hardship.

God knows all and has authority over everything that was, is, and is to come. He is not surprised by anything; and, in fact, He has made a plan for each of us.
None of us wants God’s plan to include struggles, but sometimes it’s for our own good and growth; sometimes it’s because God has made us strong enough to help others who need Him.

In conclusion Jeremiah 29:11 was originally a promise to the Israelites who were in exile—forced from their homes in Jerusalem to Babylon under enemy rule. These people desperately wanted an immediate end to their suffering. And the message God provided was that He had an awesome plan of hope.

God doesn’t always provide an immediate escape. But why? Because, like the butterfly grows strong enough to fly by straining against the cocoon it struggles to exit, we also need to persevere through difficult times to become stronger and grow our faith. Like these Israelites, we might be asked to persevere through difficult times because it’s part of God’s plan to help us grow, and also to make us part of His larger plan to help bring all people to Christ.

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