What the Context? Testing the Lord


Have you ever searched a verse for some specific verbiage that would fit what you are trying to say or convey? After sharing it, you are taken aback when you hear the words "that verse was taken out of context." What does that even mean? 

Well meaning Christians have turned to scripture for years and years in an effort to learn, help, console, encourage, rebuke and to prove a point. This is exactly what we should do but, the danger that some fall into is taking the verse out of context. When using scripture to support an ideal, value, or thought, it is imperative to learn the context because otherwise we would be skewing scripture. And that isn't a good thing. 

The Bible can be overwhelming. Not only does it have many books, with even more chapters and words and stories. But it also has some translations that can make it hard to fully understand what is being said. I recommend a parallel Bible or one that has in depth study notes, references, concordance, dictionary, etc. It is also helpful to read from different versions as they will use synonyms that may convey the meaning in a more understandable way. 

If you take something out of context, you can make it say anything you want. For example, we can hear part of a conversation and the person saying "I hate it!" Well, I can use that phrase to support many things. They hate bugs. They hate broccoli. They hate hockey. Hey it's not nice to say hate! But, if we take a step back and listen to the full conversation from beginning to end - the context - we may learn something new. So, here is what the conversation might have been had we heard the whole thing:

Person 1: "I love going to the beach! The waves are so comforting to me."

Person 2: "I prefer the mountains! When sand gets in between my toes, I hate it! It hurts and I would rather be up where all the trees are anyway."

You see what I mean? When we get the context of the conversation, we get to learn what this conversation is actually about, who it is directed toward and what follows. Such is the case with scripture. We can read an entire verse or chapter and see one blip of a sentence we think sounds good. However, is it truly being used in the context for which it was intended? We need to be careful with this. Why? Because well-meaning (and some NOT well-meaning) people will try to prove a point that isn't valid by removing words or twisting them around. This is called "fitting a narrative". Other times, it's just an innocent mistake that one can learn from. 

I'm going to be exploring some scripture that is commonly used out of context. This isn't to belittle or shame. This is to help remind us that, as believers, we have a responsibility to ensure we do our due diligence in learning scripture and its context. It can be shaky ground when we don't. And it is doable! Like I mentioned before, get a Study Bible that has some good footnotes and concordance in it to help you out. This is one I use

The verse we are focusing on and has been thrown around lately, in my sphere, is Matthew 4:7:

Jesus answered him, "It is also written: 'Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'"

This verse was used twice, in my recent conversations, when relating it to our current COVID situation. Many states have put mandates on wearing masks, staying home and only doing what is essential if you are not home. There are a portion of states that aren't requiring them but have highly recommended wearing a mask. Several have made it a mandate. (Which is not the same as a law but, that would be a topic for another time in a political environment.) Some people have reservations about wearing a mask for many reasons. There have been some gatherings happening across the country in which groups have not worn a mask. Some would say this is selfish, irresponsible, uncaring and "if they would just wear a mask we could get past this!" Again, a topic for a different time and venue, this is just for context purposes. 

Matthew 4:7 was quoted when someone referenced what one is doing when they gather or do not wear a mask. To them, it was testing the Lord. Another example was given if you know you are in danger, do you stay or do you go? Well, that is quite the open ended example because I have been in danger before but knew I wasn't suppose to go. It had nothing to do with testing the Lord because I knew He would be faithful. It wasn't about testing, it was about trusting. 

I digress. Back to the verse. Now, understanding why this was used opens the door for digging into the context of this verse. It was used as a means to prove a point. This could hold true for any person who wanted to prove a point. For example, one could say, "Don't get in that car because you don't know what could happen today. You could put someone in danger. Do not test the Lord. Matthew 4:7." Or how about this scenario, a friend tells you they want to go on a mission trip to the inner city where gang violence is rampant but, they express their intent and mention God can protect them. The response from the person opposed says something like, why would you do that? Why would you put the Lord to the test? Matthew 4:7 says not to!

Can you see how this verse could be used? It is truly what it means, though? 

Let me pause for a moment to acknowledge my understanding of why someone would think this verse would work. When we witness someone doing something we would deem dangerous or irresponsible, it can certainly look like that person is testing the boundaries. It's like a child, who knows they aren't suppose to touch that cookie, slowly creep their hand toward it to see how far they can go. Or the teen, who has a curfew, but decides to test out what would happen if they came home 30 minutes late. I can see how someone would get to that perspective of thinking someone is "testing" God. 

But, here is the deal, when we back up to see the full conversation and history, we learn that this verse does not mean what one may think it means. The context opens up a huge window into what Jesus meant when he quoted it from another part of the Bible. But let's find out why Jesus quoted it in the first place. 

As we back up, we see Matthew 4:1-11. In my NIV Bible, the title of this portion of chapter 4 says 'The Temptation of Jesus'. Do you know who is testing him? The devil. This is the moment when Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. (verse 1). He fasted for forty days and then the temptations began. The devil, always beginning with the phrase "If you are the Son of God", tempted him to turn a rock into bread. Jesus responded that man does not live by bread alone. Then, the devil tempted him to fall off a cliff because it is written that angels will come and save. And here we have the response in verse 7, Do not put the Lord your God to the test

We have the full conversation. Here we have the devil who is blatantly pressing Jesus to prove who He says He is. The devil, in is slimy ways, actually thinks He can make Jesus do these things. But, Jesus, in His Godly way, doesn't fall victim to it. Because of His Holy Perfection, He puts the enemy in His place. 

The other thing to note is that Jesus is referencing Old Testament scripture. Let's take another step back. Deuteronomy 6:16 says, Do not test the Lord your God as you did at Massah.

What happened at Massah? Well, let's take another step back and look at Exodus 17 and here we have an interesting situation. It includes Moses and some thirsty Israelites after they had been traveling from the Desert of Sin to other places. They finally stopped to camp but, there was no water. Have you ever been exhausted and thirsty only to find there is no water nearby? In verse 2, we read where their state of mind was and how Moses responded: So they quarreled with Moses and said, "Give us water to drink." Moses replied, "Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the Lord to the test?" 

Ah ha! We have the whole picture now folks. When the Israelites first set off for the Promised Land, God was with them. He would continue to be with them. Many times they doubted but, He was faithful to supply their every need. And here we are again, people who have wandering and are thirsty. Where is the water God? You are God, right? We need water! 

Hmmm... sounds familiar. Remember in Matthew 4? "If you are the Son of God..." 

THAT is a test. 

There is a difference between stepping out in faith and testing the Lord. When we take action, with confidence in knowing our God will supply our every need, that is not testing. That is faith. Just like Peter stepping out of the boat. Faith. We can read all about others who acted in faith when others may have thought it dangerous. It was never about testing if God would be with them or not. It was about knowing He would be. If the precursor of the action does NOT include the phrase, "Hey... if you are truly God, you will protect me from this... or you will do this..." it is not testing. 

If someone knows God is calling them to do something and, they do it, it is not testing. This is when we get to encourage them in their faith. If we want to use Matthew 4:7 in it's proper context, we can use it in conversations when someone isn't believing God can do what He truly says He will do and wants the proof. "If you are really God..." It's a lack of faith. It's the devil's temptations.

God doesn't have to prove Himself. He doesn't need me to defend Him either. 

He is God. He supplies all our needs. 

Now that we have the big picture, we know the context and how to use this verse. Let's be diligent together in using it for what it means in the right situations. 

Stay tuned as continue to dig into scripture together. Take steps back and explore. I am excited to be on this learning journey with you. I'd love to hear any other verses you aren't sure the context. Let's dig into the Word of God together! 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6

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