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Thursday 23 January 2014

If You Use a Sword Wrong You Might Cut Off Your Own Hand

This might sound like a strange title for a blog post, but I think you will see that it is very apt as you read on. You see Paul called the Bible, God’s Word, a sword, more literally the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). Now I don’t know how much you know about swords, and I will admit that I am not an expert on sword fighting, but I know this; you need training to use a sword, and if you use it wrong you could cut off your own hand, or maybe some other part of your body. Why be this so? Because swords are powerful and therefore dangerous; this is also true of God’s word, which is dangerous if used wrong.

I will be talking about this on Sunday night this week, but I want to give a little snippet of my sermon now, because I know that not everyone will be there on Sunday night. Many Christians use the sword of God wrong, often with great intentions, but still wrong, and this is dangerous, you could hurt yourself or someone else if you do this. The most common way people do this is by ripping passages out of context and then making them a verse for their day, or week, or life.

Let me give you a very popular verse as an example: Jeremiah 29:11, which says, “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). A wonderful verse right? Sure, a great verse, and truth be told there is a lot in this verse and its surrounding context which Christians can learn from, but here is the real kicker: This is not a promise for Christians. God has never once promised Christians that he will prosper them, or make them rise to the top of their game in whatever career he places them. This is just not a promise for Christians, and though there is much truth in this verse which is consistent with Christianity, God has a plan for our lives (see Rom. 8:29), and we have a great future and hope (see 1 John 3:1-3), we have never been promised prosperity, but the opposite (see Acts 14:22, Phil. 1:29-30).

So are you saying we cannot apply this inspired word from God through his prophet to Christians, Matt? No, I am not, I am saying we should apply it properly, and to do that we must understand its context. This verse was one sentence in a whole letter written to the exiles in Babylon (Jer. 29:1), and it was written to encourage them and challenge them to seek God and live according to his way while in exile and then God would prosper them, not just spiritually, but literally. He promises to restore their fortunes, aka make them financially better off and bring them back from exile, aka restore them to their homeland (Jer. 29:14). In other words this was a specific promise from God about a specific way he was going to look after the Israelites in exile, so that he could fulfil his promise to bring them out of captivity. He was going to make them rich (prosper them), and he was going to do this so that he could bring them through and out the other end safely. AND THIS IS EXACTLY WHAT HE DID!

Read Ezra, Esther, Daniel, or Nehemiah and you will see that God did fulfil this promise to the full to those who sought the Lord with all their hearts, see how he raises up Daniel to be number two in Babylon, which brings money and power, see how he raises up Esther to be Queen and Mordecai gets all the honour that was Haman’s, see how he blesses Ezra and Nehemiah, and all the Israelites whom he watched over and prospered so that they can come out of exile safely and rebuild their home city of Jerusalem. And herein is the application for Christians: God fulfils his promises. He fulfilled his promises in Jeremiah 29, and all throughout the Old Testament, therefore he will fulfil the promises he gives to Christians. This is the proper way to apply this verse today.

How many Christians have had their faith shipwrecked because some false teachers told them God would prosper them, make them wealthy and succeed in their career because of Jeremiah 29:11? A promise never meant for Christians, but for the Israelites in exile in Babylon. Use a sword wrong and you may cut of your own hand, or the hand of an innocent, use it right and you can bring power to bear in your life and the lives of others.

God’s word is a sword and as such we should respect it and use it correctly, not just rip verses out of context and say they apply in a way they do not. When we use God’s word correctly we unleash his power to transform our lives. I want to worship and serve and trust in God who fulfils all of his promises, don’t you? Our God is great, so let’s use his word in a respectful and careful way.