In working on my sermon this week, I’ve come across one of the most abused verses in Scripture. It’s not as abused today as it was some 70 years ago, but it is still one of the most abused passages of Scripture. The passage is John 8:31-32 “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” Only in it’s abuse, those using it only quote verse 32, without the first part of the conditional clause.
A conditional clause means that there is a condition to knowing the truth. Knowing the truth means that we are His disciples. Being His disciples mean that we follow Him and His word. Yet countless people use the old King James Version, Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free, in a manner to indicate that the truth is just floating about for anyone to find it. It is not, for truth to be know, we must know it in the light of Christ.
I’m reminded of my childhood growing up in the cult of Christian Science and see that portion of the passage on the inside cover to Mary Baker Eddy’s Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures (Please note: she has no keys to Scripture. Her book is filled with senseless drivel. She doesn’t know Christ, God or the truth). The passage is used in such a way that it suggests that objective truth is just floating about and all we need to do is look for it. It’s not. The only true way to know real Truth is to know Christ and be known by Him (Matthew 7:21ff). Truth is not disconnected from Christ.
We also see this passage on the building of countless universities across the land. There too, it’s put forth as if truth is out there for anyone looking for it apart from Christ. I know the arch-rival of my own university, texas university, has the scripture emblazoned on one of the buildings. However I don’t think that school, or any other state-run school that has the passage emblazoned on campus is advocating their students become disciples and followers of Christ.
The point is that when Christ uttered those words, He was in a heated debate with the Jews about His identity and their need to be freed from sin. He wasn’t throwing up the idea that truth was to be known apart from Him. Knowing the truth means we must be “in Christ,” and by being “in Christ” we will know truth about who He is and who we are. We are sinners in need of a Savior, and the Truth is that He is that Savior. Being in Him means we are freed from one of our greatest foes: sin. We cannot be truly free unless sin is dealt with, and only through Christ is that sin dealt with. Otherwise we will die in our sins, as Jesus warned the Jews (John 8:21).
This is why this verse makes my Top 5 list of the most abused passages in history. People have abused it in an attempt to make themselves seem erudite in the pursuit of truth. Yet, truth pursued apart from Christ does us no good at all.
4. Number 4 on the list is Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose. The reason this one makes the list is that far too many people use it as a quick fix to someone else’s problems. Your cousin just died in a car wreck? Romans 8:28. You have cancer? Romans 8:28. You just lost your home to foreclosure? Romans 8:28. Your cat had puppies? Romans 8:28.
It is abused because of the way that it is used in Christian circles. People use it in an attempt to belittle the struggles of others and this is unconscionable. It is thoughtless, and mean. Paul writes that we are to weep with those who weep in Romans 12:15, not throw Romans 8:28 in their faces.
To abuse this passage is to ignore the fact that Christians have been called to suffer just as Christ suffered. I know, suffering is one of those things that polite Christians do not talk about. But it is a reality of the Christian life. To deny it, is to deny the calling every Christian has in life. So when someone suffers, don’t throw up a quick passage so you can sooth your conscience and be on your way. Sit down with them, and be with them and weep with them.
3. Number 3 on the list is Philippians 4:13 I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. This verse is abused because it is ripped out of context. The context is that Paul is saying he has learned to be content whether he has plenty or he is abased, both to abound and suffer need. He does not say that he can conquer the world because he has Philippians 4:13.
This verse should not be the foundation of every motivational speaker to come down the pike. That is not what Paul is saying. In fact, he would probably be aghast at the idea that so many are using this passage in such a manner, given that Jesus Christ conquers the world and our worlds, we do not. We are mere servants, not tiny gods out to conquer all that is before us.
2. Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, that you be not judged.” This passage is abused among the haters of Christianity. It’s not used to teach us to guard against being hypocritical, as Jesus intended it to be used, but used to silence anyone who would espouse any godly standard above that of being a dog. Jesus isn’t giving a blanket statement for not judging, but given a lesson on how to judge rightly.
I like what Paul Washer is reported to have said concerning this verse: “People always tell me, ‘Judge not, lest ye be judged.’ I reply, ‘Twist not Scripture, lest ye be like Satan.’”
1. John 3:16 For God so loved the world… You know my hatred of the abuse of this passage. Far too many use it to justify their ungodly behavior and lack of holiness because of God’s love. In other words, “For God so love the world, I can live and believe as I please, and Jesus is there to take care of everything for me.”
This passage is also the foundation of so much bad theology that I think we should stop quoting it, and quote all of John 3 to bring it back into light. Anything less than this is to abuse the fulness of what Christ was saying in John 3.
There you have it, my Top-5 abused passages of Scripture. What are yours?