Ripped Out of Context: In Our Midst
· Building upon what we looked at in our Basic Training Series
o Knowing our weapon – studying scripture
o Ripped Out of Context – most misused Bible passages, showing what happens when proper Bible study is not done
o Not just passages that others in the religious world misuse, but passages Christians often misuse as well
EXAMINE THE PASSAGE IN IT’S IMMEDIATE CONTEXT
· NEVER READ A BIBLE VERSE! Never read a Bible verse. Instead, always read a paragraph at least! One of the reasons why so many verses are taken out of context and abused is because the person quoting the passage does not read the few verses before and after which give the verse that is being quoted it’s meaning, and often when the verse is quoted in isolation without the verses around it, you can come to a completely different meaning than the original author intended. This is a danger for us especially when we are doing topical studies, reading devotional books, etc. Passages are often taken out of context whenever we don’t consider the context of a passage before we use it. Just because someone quotes scripture in a lesson does not mean they are using it accurately.
· Whenever we are going to quote a verse or if we are studying a verse, take note of the verses before and after it to make sure you are going to use the passage to convey the message that the author originally intended.
· A basic rule of all communication: Meaning always flows from the top down, from the larger units to the smaller units, not the other way around. The key to the meaning of any verse comes from the paragraph, not just from the individual words.
· The numbers in front of the sentences give the illusion the verses stand alone in their meaning. They were not in the originals, though. Numbers were added over 1500 years later. Chapter and verse breaks sometimes pop up in unfortunate places, separating relevant material that should be grouped together.
ASK IMPORTANT BACKGROUND QUESTIONS ABOUT A BOOK/LETTER…
· There are questions we must ask ourselves before we read any passage in the Bible so we can better understand what we are reading or studying…
Who? Who is the author of the book? Who is the author writing to? What/when? What is the historical context that the book or letter is being sent into?
· What is the main idea of this section and paragraph in the book?
· All of these questions are important because they give the book context. If a specific interpretation of a passage does not take into account these questions, we can be guilty of misusing the passage.
With these thoughts in mind, let’s consider an example of how these
I’ve heard Jesus’ words, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them” () quoted countless times, but I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone quote the passage using the meaning that the writer originally intended…
HOW IT’S MISUSED 01
This is usually how I hear this passage used. See if any of these statements sound familiar:
· “When we go on vacation, we don’t visit an area congregation, we just have a devotional in our hotel room. You know what the Lord said, ‘Where two or three are gathered…'”
· “My family had some conflicts with some people at church. Now we just worship as a family every week. You know what the Lord said, ‘Where two or three are gathered…'”
· “I don’t belong to a church. I just meet with some friends for a Bible study at a coffee shop. You know what the Lord said, ‘Where two or three are gathered…'”
· “I know God heard our prayer or was with us in worship because of what Jesus says in…”
Not only do some of these statements reflect some other spiritual problems, they ignore the very context, and even the very words of . What we see in these interpretations of the passage is that most people apply this passage to Bible studies or worship assemblies, but that’s not really what the Lord was talking about.
And often, it is interesting how often we don’t think of other implications of using this passage to talk about Jesus being among us in worship, prayer, and Bible study… For instance
HOW IT’S MISUSED 02
“TWO OR THREE” OR “TWO OR MORE”? We usually interpret Jesus’ words “two or three” to mean “two or more.” It’s funny when a group of five people say, “We don’t have to meet with the church; there are five us and you know what Jesus said…” Wait. Jesus said, “Two or three,” five is not “two or three.” That is actually misquoting the passage! Jesus is using the phrase “two or three” in this passage to make a point. This is not the only time in the passage that Jesus uses the phrase, and when he says “two or three”, He means “two or three”…
WHAT ABOUT ONE PERSON? What about one person? Taking the verse at face value, how this verse is usually quoted would not only imply that Jesus is not with four or more people as they come together to worship, but also that he is not with ONE person who is worshipping or praying to him… And of course, this idea would contradict other passages that show otherwise! Just the fact that this interpretation of the passage would contradict other passages should lead one to reconsider the interpretation… And the fact that one must misquote it to get it to apply to more people should help us to see that our interpretation of the passage is wrong… And this is before we even look at the context of the passage!!!
WHAT WAS JESUS TALKING ABOUT?
Within the larger context, Jesus talks about how to deal with those who have gone astray. In verses 10-14, Jesus gives the parable of the lost sheep. In this parable, when a sheep strays away, the shepherd leaves the flock to go get that one sheep that went astray. This is talking about how God is concerned about those who go astray because of sin. In verses 21-35, after Peter asks Jesus how many times he should be willing to forgive his brother, Jesus gives the parable of the unforgiving servant. Before and after the passage that we will look at in verses 15-20, we see Jesus giving us teaching about restoring the lost and showing forgiveness to those who are restored. This is the context that verses 15-20 is in the middle of. In verses 15-20, Jesus is still dealing with this theme… Jesus said:
“ “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother.  But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.  Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.  Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven.  For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them.” (ESV)
Jesus is talking about the necessity of church discipline to restore a brother who has sinned.
He goes on to say that when Christians come together in agreement against someone who has sinned, they can take comfort in knowing that Jesus is in their midst in making such a difficult decision. In other words, they can know they are disciplining their brother by the authority of Jesus Christ.
If we would pay attention, we would see that verse 20 is not the only time the words “two or three” appear in the context. says, “But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.” In fact, nearly every time Scripture talks about “two or three” people, it is talking about having two or three witness to establish a charge against someone.
In both the Old and New Testaments, the Lord is very clear that His people should not entertain a charge against someone if it is just one person’s word against another. There must be two or three witnesses to “convict” someone of wrongdoing (see ; ; ). This is precisely the context of .
Consider another passage of Scripture which will help us understand this passage. In the Corinthian church, the Christians had to apply what Jesus was talking about. They had to remove a brother from their assembly who was sleeping with his father’s wife. Paul wrote to them saying:
“When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord” ().
We do not discipline sinful Christians nearly enough today. And maybe one of the reasons is that we don’t understand and apply Jesus’ words in this passage. He was saying, “I will be right there beside you when you make these difficult judgements.” What wonderful comfort that would be when someone must be disciplined.
BUT ISN’T JESUS STILL AMONG US ANYWAY?
The next question that usually follows is, “Ok, so maybe the context is church discipline and not worship, but that doesn’t change the fact that Jesus is among us when we’re in a small group setting.” My answer would be, it depends on what you mean.
Of course Jesus is always “with” His disciples (). Even when one Christian privately goes to the Lord in prayer, the Lord is with him /her. This is true, and there are many passages in the New Testament that show this… I just would not highjack out of its context to show this! Just because it may be true that God is with His people at all times does not mean we should misuse a passage to show this…
This passage is just the first example that we will look at regarding how we as God’s people can not just take God’s word out of context, but in so doing, be guilty of misrepresenting what God’s word teaches. Whenever we misuse scripture, even with good intentions, we are still guilty of misquoting God or twisting the words that Jesus gives through his apostles…