Luke 12:41 “Peter said, “Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?” An interesting question Peter is asking Jesus here isn’t it? The question that comes to mind as I read this verse with you, is why would Peter ask if something the Lord said, was for everyone, or just for him and the primary disciples? Could it possibly be that Peter knew that some things were directed to them, and that other things were directed to everyone? Could it also possibly be that not all of the Word is directly applicable to our lives?
During my years as a college student, which was the past couple of years prior to my recent graduation, I communicated with many of people who professed themselves to be Christian. In one gathering, I was listening to two people discuss the Word, and one young lady made the statement, “I hate when people say we can only apply certain things to us in the Word. You can apply everything in the Word to your life.” Not wanting to get in a debate in that moment, I allowed her statement to stand, but I did not indicate I agreed with her. Now, if I could speak to this young lady again, I would politely tell her that she’s mistaken in her understanding, because there are numerous instances where the Word does not directly apply to our lives.
The principle of specificity and generality
My fellow students of the Word, we need to understand a certain principle with regards to accurate reading of the Word. That principle is the principle of specificity and generality. There are instances in statements and instructions in the Word where we encounter either specific applications to specific people in a specific situation, or general applications to all people in a general context. For example, I would gander that most wouldn’t disagree, though I’ve been surprised before, that the justification with God by the Law was specifically applied to a specific people (The Israelites). I think we’re all aware that justification by the Law is no longer specifically applied to anyone’s life today as Romans 3:28 appears to indicate in stating, “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from works of the Law.”
Now here’s something to think about. If we all agree this is clearly the case, where not everything in Scripture directly applies to our life, then how much more is it the case that one has to carefully consider and understand what is and what is not directly applied to our lives? There are so many other instances where you can’t directly apply everything in the Word to your life? Husbands cannot apply wife instructions in Scripture to their lives no more than wives can apply husband instructions to their lives. The reason they can’t is what we have to remember, that there are sometimes specific statements to specific people for a specific situation. What we cannot do, is turn a “specificity” into a “generality”. As I saw someone so eloquently state once, a description does not always equal a prescription.
One of the most misapplied verses today
So with that as our guide, let us discuss one of the most misapplied verses in today’s Christian culture.
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” Now while this is a very nice sounding verse, this is not factually being directed to the Body of Christ. Just as no matter how nice an Old Law or Husband instruction verse sounds, you cannot directly apply it to your life if you’re a Christian or wife respectively. In context, this verse is being directed to the Exiles. If we read verse 1 and 2 it states, “This is the text of the letter that the prophet Jeremiah sent from Jerusalem to the surviving elders among the exiles and to the priests, the prophets and all the other people Nebuchadnezzar had carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon”
Something else that’s interesting about this misapplied verse is that a lot of people fail to read verse 14 which clearly shows it factually cannot be applied to Christians. Verse 14 states, “I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.” Two questions I would ask us all, is have any of us ever been to Jerusalem and have any of us ever been exiled to Babylon in the process? Now some of you perhaps can say yes to the first question, but I highly doubt any of you can say yes to the last question.
Now someone might ask, well why is this such a big deal? Doesn’t God have plans to prosper us, a hope and a future for us anyway? He sure does, but this isn’t it. Our hope and future is eternity through Jesus Christ, not returning to Jerusalem after being exiled to Babylon. I would politely ask someone, why do you have to pull verses of hope from places that don’t directly apply to you, when you already have verses of hope for eternity, for peace in this life, and many other things you can already apply to yourself? If one is going to go so far as to say they can make any verse they want applicable to them, why stop where you’ve only pulled what sounds good to you? Go ahead and apply the Law to yourself as well.
The danger we get into picking and choosing whatever verses we want and applying it however way we want to our lives out of context is that we can grossly distort the Word, and create false doctrine that is contrary to it. It’s a matter of making sure we’re living for God in His way, and not living for God in our own way, which will only be a way of destruction. As 2 Peter 3:15-17 states, “and regard the patience of our Lord as salvation; just as also our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given him, wrote to you, 16 as also in all his letters, speaking in them of these things, in which are some things hard to understand which the untaught and unstable distort as they do also the rest of the Scriptures, to their own destruction. 17 You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,”
May we all carefully understand scripture for our own continued construction of steadfastness to the Word of God as it is specifically stated.
Peace to all those who are in Christ.