Context, Context, Context

September 13, 2019

The disc jockey on the Christian radio station had a verse to read — the word of God for us. He read Jeremiah 29:11.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (NIV)

He went on about how comforting these words were for us. And he is not alone. The verse appears on posters, wall hangings, and Internet memes.

But there is a problem. It ignores the context of these words. Look at the verses before and after.

For thus says the LORD: When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will visit you, and I will fulfill to you my promise and bring you back to this place. (Jeremiah 29:10, ESV)

Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will hear you. You will seek me and find me, when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you, declares the LORD, and I will restore your fortunes and gather you from all the nations and all the places where I have driven you, declares the LORD, and I will bring you back to the place from which I sent you into exile. (Jeremiah 29:12–14, ESV)

Jeremiah wasn’t even promising this to the people of his day. It was a future message of hope for Israel after the Babylonian Captivity. I certainly cannot apply this directly to my situation. I do believe that the people of God have a bright future. I can read Revelation 21-22, which is more directly related to the Christian life, and realize that. However, I don’t know what we may have to pass through on our way to there. Revelation was predicting persecution and economic hardship for those first century Christians who first read Revelation.

I cannot know that the future has prosperity and no harm for me personally or for my country on the basis of Jeremiah 29:11. I know that it will be well for the people of God if we are faithful, but I don’t know the circumstances we may face. I’m not a prophet, and Jeremiah 29:11 is not addressing us.

The Bible is not meant to be read as a series of isolated verses. It is intended to be read as a book with us asking basic questions: who, what, when, where, why, and how? The old adage for Bible interpretation (and for that matter, any interpretation of a text) is true: context, context, context.

— Russ Holden


Please, Thank You, and Excuse Me

September 6, 2019

Are good manners a part of Christian living? I would be the first one to admit that the words in my title are cultural expressions. But behind these cultural expressions are Christian virtues: kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control (see the Fruit of the Spirit in Galatians 5:22-23), and gratitude (Luke 17:15-17). Although I see a great deal of courtesy in my own community, it seems in the wider world we see a growing rudeness and hair trigger anger.

Manners do not come as standard operating equipment on children. My parents had to teach them to me. My Great Aunt Mabel made it a point to teach me manners when she could. I’m certain I didn’t always appreciate her lessons as a child, but I can look back with gratitude. One of her lessons was that I was to stand when an adult entered the room in order to greet them. It was years later that I found there was actually a biblical basis for this one: “You shall stand up before the gray head and honor the face of an old man, and you shall fear your God: I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:32, ESV). I still feel awkward if I’m not in a position to stand when greeting someone. Parents are civilizing the next generation. Being civilized has nothing to do with the time or country of origin of your birth. It has to do with what you are taught and trained to do.

In the past year, I’ve been hospitalized for 45 days on three occasions and in rehab for 8 days. For much of that time, I wasn’t allowed out of the bed or chair without assistance. I’ve had a lot of dealings with nurses and nursing techs, and I practiced manners and kindness. I realized I wasn’t the only person on the floor, and that pushing the call button might not get an instant response. I tried to plan ahead so that my calls were not urgent. I was cooperative and considerate. I treated them as the medical professionals they are. And do you know what? I was treated with kindness and consideration in return. I was not motivated by that, but we do reap what we sow. (Obviously, there will be exceptions where you will be treated rudely in return, but I think at this time, it will be the exception and not the rule.) I had one nurse say to me: “I had a really bad day yesterday. I’m so glad to have you as a patient today.” And they knew that the way I treated people was because I am a Christian.

In an increasing rude world, good manners motivated by Christian virtues will stand out and be noticed. It will make life more pleasant, and it will make you more pleasant to be around. The “magic words” as some parents call them are still valid: please, thank you, and excuse me.

— Russ Holden