Such Meaningful Contexts

I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me. Philippians 4:13 (KJV)

Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us. Romans 8:37 (KJV)

These are among the wonderful verses that are popularly quoted in Christian circles, but often without regard to their meaningful contexts. There is certainly nothing wrong with quoting verses in isolation or alluding to bits of Scriptures; Jesus and the New Testament writers did so quite frequently. Nevertheless, we should be careful to follow their diligent examples of understanding the deep, rich contexts from which they quoted.

For example, if someone were to cite the above two verses within a current "positive thinking" mindset to "pump up" one's own self-esteem, such a person might entirely miss the value of such verses. The "I" and "we" pronouns above were never meant to tower ten feet tall in people's minds as affirmations of SELF-importance! Nor are such verses appropriate to promote a theology of automatic immunization from painful, debilitating experiences if one really believes the promises of God! Flippant citing of verses without due regard to real contextual meanings can be a source of great confusion and frustration. These two verses are even used to convey the opposite of what they really mean. Despite its misuse in a once popular book, the "I can do" quote is not a justification for getting away with reckless driving!

I still have an old book that purports to be a listing of Bible promises with category headings such as "being successful." Even though it might be a handy reference for many verses, in a sense it is very misleading. It seems that the promises in this book are carefully extracted from the biblical contexts that, among other things, indicate the required conditions for enjoying such promises! The Bible itself is not a self-help book, nor is it a buffet from which one picks and chooses nice-sounding phrases while dismissing the overall contexts.

The context of the book of Romans deals quite a bit with the overall failure of mankind even though they had no excuse for turning away from God. Within that overall situation, Israel itself failed even though they had been entrusted with perfectly revealed information from a faithful God. Within this dilemma, how could God, without "throwing in the towel," be fair to everyone while at the same time honoring His covenant promises to Israel?

He provided the Messiah, as previously promised, whose reality and accomplishments were deserved by none! Yahweh was not unfaithful to anyone when He threw open the floodgates of overwhelming mercy toward all humans. The resulting reconfigured reality of the body of Christ, called "the Israel of God" in Galatians (with believing Jews and believing Gentiles as full participating members) is a new creation of gracious favor beyond what any could have previously imagined!

Responding correctly to such magnificent mercy is a major theme in the book of Romans. Instead of taking grace lightly or carelessly, Christians are to think through how Christ's accomplishments outstripped Adam's woeful legacy of death. There is quite a bit of detail about identifying with Christ in death and resurrection as it relates to the practice of living for God instead of continuing a sinful lifestyle. Even though the old nature's continued presence makes for a real "dog fight" so to speak, there is a victorious new nature due to Christ. Such empowerment enables a walk of obedience far beyond the Mosaic Law’s effectiveness for dealing with inherent sinfulness.

As one reads in Romans the specific context of God's victorious involvement in rescuing our lives through Christ (8:26-39), it is vital to remember that verse 37 does not negate the vast types of suffering we might presently endure: tribulation, distress, nakedness, famine, persecution, peril, or sword. Many faithful Christians, including the Apostle Paul, have been subjected to some or all of these things. Although such things seem to be "against us," according to verses 31- 34, they are vastly inferior to the ones (God and Christ) who are for us!

Also, verse 37 does not negate the meaningful quote from Psalm 44 in 8:36: "Just as it is written, 'FOR YOUR SAKE WE ARE BEING PUT TO DEATH ALL DAY LONG; WE WERE CONSIDERED AS SHEEP TO BE SLAUGHTERED.'" To read that complete psalm in light of Romans 8 permits one to see that righteous ones, who have not turned their backs on God, can suffer greatly, not for sins, but for the sake of being faithful to Yahweh! Since Yahweh allows such devastation in this present time, there are cries of anguish and humble pleas for help being poured out continually to Him! As hurtful as things can get, the context shows us in verse 28 that "God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God ..." What a significant backdrop for the "more than conquerors" phrase!

Verse 37 answers the question (from v. 35) about whether or not any such extreme adversity can separate us from the love of Christ: "But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us." We should remember that the one who loved us is the one who willingly died for us. The Father who sent him was willing to undergo the pain of seeing the suffering and death of His truly innocent Son. Verses 38 and 39 beautifully reiterate the point of verse 37. What a meaningful, deeply comforting context, describing the unfathomable love of the ultimate Father-Son team! This context deals precisely with our cry of anguish when hurtful situations are at their worst! This is far from a superficial, "feel good" verse used for the denial of crushing pain; it is the absolutely loving solution, pointing back to the one whose extreme suffering exceeded ours and forward to the promised hope, previously mentioned in 8:18, the glory to which present sufferings are not worthy to be compared. We should be as convinced as Paul was about the things that cannot separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!

Philippians is a tapestry of instructions regarding humility of heart intertwined with some of the most striking examples of unselfish service throughout the Scriptures. Paul wrote from the misery of a Roman jail, while being energetic to pray faithfully for the believers in Philippi who were quite a distance away. By rejoicing, he was a loving example of handling the stress of those who spoke from a motivation of selfish ambition. He elaborated to the Philippian faithful about the importance of doing nothing out of selfishness, but to think in terms of imitating Christ's perfect example of humble subordination and obedience to God − even to the point of an excruciating death. The exhortations to work out their own salvation "with fear and trembling" and to do all things "without grumbling or disputing" came from one who was joyful and totally uncomplaining, even if he would possibly be "poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service" of their faith. Such sacrifice to build up the faith of others was more than worthwhile. The unique, unselfish commitment of Timothy is highlighted in this context and so is the dedication of Epaphroditus, who "came close to death for the work of Christ" (2:20). He risked his life to provide a service that the Philippians had not provided.

Paul rejoiced in the hope instead of being proud of a pedigree of carnal credentials as esteemed by the world. He was patiently persevering toward the goal instead of resting on the laurels of any accomplishments. He exhorted others to live this way, to follow his example of harmonious, prayerful living with thoughts and actions focused on godly things.

When Paul gently expressed his gratitude for what the Philippians had supplied while he was in prison, he revealed an amazing attitude about being content whether he had a lot or very little. He had "learned the secret of being filled or going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need" (4:12). "I can do all things through Him who strengthens me" (v. 13). This is not the huffy, puffy assertion of a man with an inflated ego; the use of "I" does not connote that he was feeling invincible! Far from it, Paul, the weathered prisoner, knew quietly in his heart that he could be useful to God while hungry in jail as well as when having enough. He could peacefully depend on the spiritual strength of Christ within. He could stay focused in order to dwell on the things above, pray, and not get stressed out, no matter how dire his situation might get! In 2 Corinthians where his sufferings are listed in detail, he had stated, "when I am weak, then I am strong" (12:10). He had already expressed to the Philippians his being content at the prospect of even dying in a way that would be a gain for the gospel message. If living longer would be more helpful to them, he was willing to continue living, even if he was tired. He ended this letter by elaborating unselfishly on the blessing of fruit in the lives of the generous Philippians. In all of this he was superbly modeling his humble heart's desire not merely to look out for his own personal interests, but also for the interests of others (2:4). He was certainly strengthened by Christ to continue a devotedly unselfish lifestyle. What a meaningful, encouraging context of selfless thinking and living!

1 Response

  1. Paul Lenahan
    Such Meaningful Contexts I am reminded of a passage in Matthew 27, of Yeshua on the cross saying, "Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?", which the King James states, "that is to say, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" If we believe that then we are tempted to believe that he did sin. Wait, doesn't scripture teach that he was sinless? We will see that he was tempted to sin but renewed his mind with scripture, the right scripture at the right time, and DID NOT sin. I was taught that it means "for this purpose was I spared". While that explanation seems to line up with scripture and handles the sin question, we must put aside that explanation and let the scripture speak for itself. What was Yeshua really saying then? We know from MANY other scriptures that YHWH does not forsake us, let alone forsake his only begotten son and anointed one. If it is not plain where it is written in the verse we have to go to other options like the context (both immediate and remote), and where and how it was used before (preferably how it was used for the first time). If we search the scriptures we will find the answer to our immediate question and more. In Psalm 22:1 we see the same words which seem to indicate the same mood of being forsaken. However, if we read the whole Psalm we see that it is not despair that is conveyed, but victory. Also, we see that it is a prophesy, unfulfilled until the cross. Then we can go back to the entire passage of the crucifixion in Matthew and see what he was thinking (Psalm 22), right scripture, right time, no sin, glory to YHWH. Cool stuff, right?

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