1. Luke 11:9 “And I tell you: Ask you will receive. Seek and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you.”
Was this ever meant to be taken as a literal promise from Jesus (i.e. God)? This is certainly the way I’ve most often heard it preached and discussed. Whatever we want; whether money, a car, a promotion, as long as our heart is in the right place you should expect to see the divine delivery man showing up at your door.
The key to understanding this verse (and others like it) is to not take it out of context and look at the bigger picture. This verse doesn’t make sense unless you read what Jesus said leading up to verse nine. It’s easier, granted, to read one verse and tell people that their sense of misplaced hope, materialism, and narcissistic entitlement is exactly what God wants for their lives.
In 11th chapter of Luke, Jesus is teaching the disciples to pray. Just a few verses leading up to the misquoted verse 9, Jesus told his disciples to what to ask for when they pray. He said, “Bring us in your kingdom and give us the bread we need today.” In addition he says they should pray for the forgiveness of sins. So when you get to verse 9, when Jesus instructs the disciples to ask, seek, and knock; he’s already told them what they should be asking for and what they should be seeking. He’s told them to ask for the bread they need to survive for that day. Forgiveness is not something that comes easy to members of our species. Jesus was wants us to seek out the ability to forgive our enemies. Lastly, he wants us to go God when we’re looking for ways to bring his kingdom to the here and now. This is not a verse of scripture which should precede a prayer containing a list of things we want or think we need. For everything else we think we may want to add to the prayer, simply say, “thy will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven”. Feed us, bring up your kingdom, help us to forgive, and we trust you to do what’s right in this moment. It’s only at this point that Jesus says, “Ask and you will receive.” However, if we read only one verse, we might as well be saying, “Jesus told us to ask for anything we want and as long as I believe in his name I’ll get it.” Instead, Jesus wants us to ask for his kingdom and all it represents.
2. Philippians 4:13 “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Is the Bible a collection of moral one liners; all waiting to be put on some Christian motivational poster? If you look at social media and within the church itself, we regard the Bible as hodgepodge of pithy sayings that seem to be applied to winning the big game or killing an enemy. Nowhere is this truer than with this single verse from Philippians.
We like to read this verse as testament to achievement. Paul is interpreted as saying, “I can achieve and do anything with God’s help.” Christians then take this misinterpretation and apply it to scoring touchdowns and selling houses. When the chips are down, because this is what we’ve heard, we tell ourselves we can achieve any goal with God’s help. On the surface, that doesn’t sound like a bad message. The problem is this: Paul wasn’t talking about achievement. Paul was taking about endurance. Paul knew what it meant to suffer. He was beaten, tortured, arrested in the course of his daily ministry. Food could be plentiful or it might be scarce on the roads of Asia Minor. Money was necessary to live. Sometimes he had coins in his pocket and on other occasions he was flat broke. Paul endured all of the highs and lows of a 1st century life; extremes worse than most any of us know today. Paul is saying he can endure, put with up, bear, suffer through anything with God’ strength. Prison, hunger, and poverty were conditions Paul endured. They weren’t achievements on his divine resume.
When we misuse verses (verses often short enough to be tweeted or placed in a Facebook status), we make it more likely people will misunderstand what the Bible says. The more misunderstandings and faulty interpretations of scripture which float about our world, the harder it is to share the true meaning of the Gospel.
Many of the preachers on television rely on such misunderstandings in order to stay relevant. Evangelists like Joel Osteen need people to believe the Bible is nothing more than a handbook of self-help clichés. Look beyond the tiny fragments and motivational memes which Osteen and those like him use to distort the meaning of scripture.