“It is Written”: Knowing Truth in Context
Have you ever not known how to respond when a non-Christian negatively throws a Bible verse in your face? Or when you’re still completely dejected despite a well-intentioned Christian telling you, “God helps those who help themselves” (um, Ben Franklin said that) or “God will never give you more than you can bear” (yes, this is based on 1 Corinthians 10:13 but within the specific context of overcoming temptation with Christ’s help)? Bible verses used out of context are not helpful and can even be damaging.
Matthew 4 displays Satan’s attempt to tempt Christ by using Scripture and fleshly desires. Satan wasn’t wrong in his statements of Christ’s abilities through the Father. But Satan’s prerogative was evil and he was banking on Jesus’ flesh to cave in. Jesus knew Satan’s intentions, knew the context of the Scripture used and was able to respond appropriately with Scripture.
Versus 1-4: (1) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. (2) And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. (3) And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” (4) But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”
Jesus was fully capable of making stones into bread (He made water out of wine and fed thousands with a few bread loaves and fish). And after 40 days of fasting in the desert, his flesh probably greatly desired food. But Jesus responded with Deuteronomy 8:3, choosing to live first “by every word that comes from the mouth of God” and prioritize God’s will and purpose over fleshly desires.
Verses 5-7: (5) Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple (6) and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, ‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.’” (7) Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
Satan then took Scripture out of context to tempt Jesus with power. Psalm 91:11-12 states, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” Satan intentionally left out part of the Scripture. The angels were there to guard Jesus in all ways, as long as these ways were within God’s Will. It was not God’s will for Jesus to submit to Satan’s request to jump from the temple. This applies to believers as well. “God had never promised, nor ever given, any protection of angels in sinful and forbidden ways” (Poole). Jesus responded in support of following God’s Will by correctly applying Deuteronomy 6:16.
Verses 8-11: (8) Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. (9) And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” (10) Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’” (11) Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
Satan was hoping to appeal to Jesus’ fleshly pride, offering him earthly kingship in exchange for worshiping Satan. But Jesus knew it was God’s Will for him to endure the cross and sins of mankind and to worship God alone. Jesus again responds by quoting Scripture (Deuteronomy 6:13), and Satan realizes he cannot tempt Jesus to sin.
What does this mean for us?
Jesus did not use supernatural powers to combat Satan’s temptations and misconstrued Scripture. He used a tool that’s also available to us: God’s Word. We can fully arm ourselves with God’s Word by:
• Reading the Bible. Sounds simple, but the only way you’ll know the context of a verse is to know the context of the chapter and book. There are multiple plans available online to conquer reading the Bible in a year.
• Praying. Pray that God reveals His Word to you. The more you are reading about God and communicating with him through prayer, the more you will know his character.
• Joining a small group. Small groups are a great way to meet with other Christians and study the Bible, chapter by chapter.
• Discipling relationships. Pairing up with another brother or sister in Christ allows you to better learn Scripture, gain accountability and grow in faith.
• Attending church. Set aside time in your schedule and clear your mind to fully absorb God’s Word each week through communal worship.
If you are interested in learning more about the above opportunities, send us an email at email@example.com.