Be Careful Lifting Quotes From Context

The last 6 minutes or so of my Yoga class ends in “final relaxation” where we lie in a comfortable position, close our eyes, focus on slowing our breathing, using our imagination perhaps to find (as one student puts it) “Gary’s happy place”, and relaxing.

When I wake them up (sometimes quite literally), I end class with a quote for inspiration or guidance.

The Bible is packed with sentences that can be taken for this purpose. 

Meditating on the beginning of Romans 12, I began to consider the importance of context when we lift quotes from scripture. 

Paul says that as much as is possible, he teaches that we should not think more highly of ourselves than we should. In itself, that is a worthy thought.

But why did Paul say that? What is the rest of the paragraph?

He says we should use sober judgement when we look at ourselves. Why? He continues that just as a body has more than one member, just so a church (group) has people with a variety of roles. Some teach, some offer compassion, or prophecy, or leadership, and so forth.

He’s telling us not to desire being the preacher when we are better suited for teaching, or maybe service.

In this case, I don’t believe that lifting out the first verse hurts that much.

Andy Stanley recently looked at the passage where Paul says he can bear all things. This one can become dangerous when someone quotes it to another who is hurting. Telling the  to bear all hurts is hardly empathetic. It can cause further hurt. Knowing the context is helpful, sometimes even essential.

Knowing the context is all important in understanding another. Sometimes in a soccer game a player will get kicked or tripped. They may utter a “bad” word. Maybe the word would warrant a booking (yellow card). But if the player was just hurt, the context would tell us to give a little grace.

Others we may meet may have hurts that we cannot say. They may say something bad. Perhaps if we knew their context we’d know to show them some grace.

There is much effort to understanding what we read in the Bible–and what we read in our relationships.

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