2 Timothy 3:16-17 — Proof-texting and other unhelpful tendencies
There is an old saying: “He can’t see the forest for the trees.” No doubt you have heard it. What I find amazing is how easy it is for many of us to get into exactly that position.
We live is a world where everything is dissected to the nth degree. With each deeper probe into all manner of things, we come away feeling smarter and more in control. Yet with each deeper probe, we can also lose the big picture. Said differently, while we understand the minutest detail of the tree, have we forgotten how it fits into the forest?
Why talk about not seeing the forest for the trees? Because you and I have been going through the Letter to the Colossians in painstaking detail. I am enjoying it. I am also challenged to keep the big picture—the forest, if you will allow—in front of me.
I believe this is especially important as we come upon verses that speak to how husbands, wives, children and more are to relate to one another. These verses are so often pulled out of and away from the text, and then used as weapons against another person.
Please hear me. I am not suggesting we ignore them. Rather, I am suggesting we not twist and distort them. I am suggesting that we read and understand these verses, in fact all of the Bible, in the context it was offered.
The phrase that is sometimes used to describe when people misuse the Bible is proof-texting. That is when a person takes a verse or two, and uses them to prove their point-of-view. And look, sometimes the verses absolutely prove a viewpoint.
For me, before I land a verse on some one’s head, there are a few questions. First, is my application of the verse in keeping with the big picture purpose of the Bible? Second, is my application of the verse consistent with the larger context of the book, letter, section, of the Bible from which I am pulling the verse? Third, is it going to help the person by either correcting or encouraging them?
16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
If you want to think more about proof-texting, this is a link to an article I find helpful, Proof-Texting versus Wise Counsel.
Back to my three questions. The role of the Bible is not to prove my point of view. I hear people say the letters B-I-B-L-E stand for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth. Okay, sure, ordering our lives in accordance with God’s Word, I mean, of course that’s important. But I ask again: is that the purpose of the Bible?
I say no. The purpose of the Bible is to reveal God and God’s glory. Hear is a link for a sermon that is less than 8 minutes which unpacks this thought of God’s glory.
When I think about Jesus’ life and his complete obedience to the Law—what was Jesus’ goal? To give glory to his Father. Yes, he loves us, died for us, redeems us—all of that gives glory to his Father. The sermon link about gives about 15 examples from the Bible about how this is the aim of Scripture—to reveal God and give God glory.
Therefore, when I look at applying the Scripture to a situation, an important question to ask is: will it give God glory? You and I can be terribly biblically correct and apply that truth in a way that dishonors God.
Second question: is my use of a verse in keeping with the larger context of the letter or the book from which I am taking it? Consider Matthew 7:1, “Judge not...” The reality is, we judge every day. There is a larger context this sermon from Jesus. Or how about John 14:13-14, “Whatever you ask in my name...”? How many times have people been told that God is not answering their prayer because they need more faith?
Which leads to my last point. Will offering the verse help?
Right now, I am thinking of some of my favorite verses. How am I applying them? I am also wincing a little at the times I have offered them in the wrong way.