June 1, 2022

Top 5 Verses You Might Be Taking Out of Context


When studying, interpreting, and understanding the Bible, context is one of the most important things that you have to consider. Especially in the culture that we live in today, Christians and non-believers alike are very prone to using Scripture to say things that it doesn’t mean by taking verses out of their context and twisting their meaning.

With that being said, here are 5 verses that you might be taking out of context, or you’ve at least heard taken out of context before.

Just a disclaimer, I’m not trying to throw shade on anyone for using these verses or if you’ve used these verses in the wrong way, I’m not looking down upon you, I just think it’s important to talk about using these verses the right way. Let’s get into it.

Verse #5: Matthew 18:20

For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

Matthew 18:20

Out of Context

Now, usually, people use this verse to say that God is with people when they gather together. For example, if you host a prayer meeting and only a few people show up, the host may say, “Hey, where two or three are gathered, right!” However, this actually isn’t what this verse means at all.

Firstly, let’s consider the implications of using this verse in that way. By saying that God is there where two or more have gathered, you are saying that if there is only one person, God isn’t there. I honestly don’t think anyone would agree with this! After all, God is omnipresent, meaning that He is in all places at all times. If we say that God is not with us when we are alone, then we are throwing out any notion of having a quiet time or a personal time with God because if we aren’t with other Christians, then God is not there.

We know from Scripture that God speaks to each of us individually and that He lives in each of us, meaning that He is not only there when two or more are gathered in His name. So then, what is the actual meaning of this verse? Well, let’s look at the context. Check out what the whole paragraph says here in Matthew 18.

In Context

If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that by the mouth of two or three witnesses every fact may be confirmed. 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 have been bound in heaven; and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven. Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst.

Matthew 18:15-20

When looked at within the context of these other verses, you can see that this verse is actually written on the topic of church discipline. Instead of focusing on God’s presence, the verse is rather focused on God’s agreement with disciplinary action.

Considering it within this context, we can see that this verse and the one before it are actually referring to making good disciplinary decisions as a team of Christ-following leaders. When true believers come together to make decisions, they can wisely act by following the Spirit and sharing how they feel God is speaking to them as a group. Therefore, God is there in that decision and in that gathering.

Verse #4: Matthew 7:1

Do not judge so that you will not be judged.

Matthew 7:1

Out of Context

We’ve all heard this one thrown around and specifically, more times than not, thrown at us. Especially when it comes to non-believers, people like to use this verse out of context to say that Christians are not allowed to judge people. What they really mean is that Christians are not allowed to say things are right or wrong or call others out for not following Christ in a way that is worthy of His Gospel.

Especially in the climate of our culture today, this one is used a lot as almost a shield to shirk conviction by people who aren’t living according to Scripture. However, although this interpretation is partially correct, it’s not entirely correct when considered within its true context. Let’s check it out in context.

In Context

Do not judge so that you will not be judged. For in the way you judge, you will be judged; and by your standard of measure, it will be measured to you. Why do you look at the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, “Let me take the speck out of your eye,” and behold, the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

Matthew 7:1-5

Although this verse is about judging others, it is more about avoiding hypocrisy when it comes to judging others. Hear me: Christians are supposed to stand up for truth in this world. We are supposed to call out injustice and evil in a loving way. However, we are not supposed to do it in a hypocritical fashion, calling out people for things that we ourselves are engaged in and practicing.

Note that the verse does say that we should take the speck out of a brother’s eye, but we need to assess ourselves before we look at someone else. Ultimately, it is God’s job to judge, and we cannot go around judging other people and not deal with ourselves first.

Just a side note, I think it is worth noting as well that this may refer specifically to believers helping other believers with the word “brother”. This word tends to be used to refer to fellow believers. It is of my belief or opinion that most of the judging that Christians do of non-believers is pretty pointless, to begin with. By no means am I saying that Christians should not stand up for truth, but we cannot expect non-believers to act like believers.

There are many cases where Christians expect non-believers to act a certain way, yet they have no reason to act that way if they don’t believe that God exists in the first place. Instead, we need to bring people to the Gospel first before we try to change their ways of living because it isn’t us who changes people in the first place, it’s God who does that. If we preach the Gospel and live in a way that shows God’s love and character to people, God will take care of the rest.

Verse #3: Luke 11:9

So I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.

Luke 11:9

Out of Context

This one is a bit harder as it seems very straightforward. If you ask God for something, He’ll give it to you, right? Well, this doesn’t seem to be the case in reality, so what gives? Either Jesus lied to us, or there’s a deeper meaning here that we aren’t understanding. Let’s check it out within the larger context.

In Context

If you go back a bit in this chapter, you’ll find a passage that almost all of us are familiar with: The Lord’s Prayer. Jesus, in this passage, teaches people a prayer that, according to Him, should serve as a sort of template as to how you should pray. In Luke, this prayer only consists of a few lines. However, Matthew 6:9-13 gives us the full version of the prayer that most of us are probably familiar with.

Within this prayer, Jesus says the line, “Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” This is basically a statement saying that you desire God’s will to be done. This would then contradict the notion that we often have with Luke 11 that we can ask God for anything, and it will be granted to us. This must mean that this isn’t what this verse is actually saying.

It’s also worth noting that this verse in Luke 11 is speaking about persistent prayer. The Bible often uses a trio of three things that are increasing in intensity to make a point. Here, it goes from simply asking for something to intentionally seeking something out, to actively doing something to find it (ask, seek, knock). It’s speaking about persistently praying for something, not simply mentioning it in a wish-list kind of prayer.

Bringing these things together, it makes sense when you consider the real purpose of prayer. We often think of prayer as an action that changes God’s mind about something. However, the true purpose of prayer is to change us, not God. As we pray and allow God to work within us, He changes us and molds our hearts to align more with His will and desires. Therefore, when you persistently pray for something and it isn’t aligned with God’s will and plan, He will change you and mold you through that process of prayer to understand why the thing that you prayed for wasn’t right or your attitude of prayer wasn’t in the right space.

We can get some more insight into this when we consider what James says about this topic.

You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel. You do not have because you do not ask. You ask and do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, so that you may spend it on your pleasures.

James 4:2-3

There is such thing as asking for the wrong things or asking in the wrong ways. However, even when this happens, through persistent prayer, God works within you to bring about His purposes and to shape you into a person who knows what to rightly ask for through godly prayer.

Verse #2: Philippians 4:13

I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:13

Out of Context

We’ve all seen this verse put up on a wall or on somebody’s lock screen, but this is one of the most taken out of context verses of all time. Usually, people will use it in the context of completing a really difficult task. For example, you’ll see this verse over a picture of someone running a marathon or it’ll be used as motivation for a big exam.

Basically, this verse tends to be used as a mini motivational speech. “You can do whatever it is that’s in front of you because God will give you the strength to do it!” However, this isn’t what this verse means at all.

In Context

But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity. Not that I speak from want, for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.

Philippians 4:10-13

Paul here isn’t talking about completing a difficult task, but rather about being content in every circumstance. See, Paul knows about trying to cope in a variety of circumstances. From being shipwrecked to being imprisoned who knows how many times, Paul has seen a bit of it all.

Rather than giving himself a motivational speech here, Paul instead is saying that he doesn’t need material possessions because it is Christ who sustains him through his persecution. Christ fulfills his every need, so he can be content in every circumstance. Being content is about recognizing that Jesus is everything so if you have Jesus, you lack nothing.

Verse #1: Jeremiah 29:11

“For I know the plans that I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.”

Jeremiah 29:11

Out of Context

This is 100% one of the verses that is most taken out of context in churches today. People use this verse all the time to comfort people or to motivate people by reassuring them that God has a plan for them and that it is for prosperity, not for hardship.

Hear me when I say this (or type this): THIS IS A FALSE HOPE!

Here’s why.

In Context

When we read the Bible, part of understanding context and gathering a good interpretation is understanding who is writing or saying the words and who they are saying them to. For example, let’s look at this whole passage here:

“For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and come and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. You will seek Me and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will restore your fortunes and will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you,’ declares the Lord, ‘and I will bring you back to the place from where I sent you into exile.’”

Jeremiah 29:10-14

This is God speaking directly to Israel telling Him what His plan for them as a nation is. This is not spoken to us or written to us today in the 21st century!

Yes, God does make promises in the Scriptures that we can claim and take upon ourselves. Yes, God does work all things for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28), but taking this verse and telling someone, “Hey, don’t worry! God has a plan for you and it isn’t for suffering, but it’s for prosperity!” is about the worst thing that you can do with this verse.

In fact, that wasn’t even what it meant for the Israelites whom this was written for in the first place. Notice at the beginning of the passage where it says, “Where seventy years have been completed for Babylon…” When they were in Babylon, they were oppressed and treated terribly! They went through great suffering, but God had a plan to redeem them back for Himself.

Instead of using this verse to comfort people in times of trouble, we should be pointing them to Jesus instead and giving them the truth that Jesus will be with them through whatever it is that they are going through. We cannot keep giving people false hope by giving them a promise that wasn’t meant for them.

These things I have spoken to you, so that in Me you may have peace. In the world you have tribulation, but take courage; I have overcome the world.

John 16:33