When it comes to understanding, context is everything. We take what we already know and apply it to the things we don’t using our past experiences, logic, and even our worldview. We add up the clues one by one and come up with a conclusion that makes sense to us. But the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 13:12 that now we “see through a glass darkly.” We don’t always have all the info. Not only that, but our personal experiences can’t always help us understand the new things we encounter. That’s exactly what happened to me this week. God showed me a Bible verse that I had all wrong and a lesson about why Proverbs 3:5 tells us to “lean not on your own understanding.”
The Bible Verse in Question
“that you may be sons of your Father in heaven; for He makes His sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.”Matthew 5:45
This is the verse I thought of this week when I was leaving for school in the pouring rain. The next day, God brought it to my memory again just before I read my morning Bible passage. And, then it was right there in black and white. Since it was the third time I had encountered the verse in twenty-four hours, I was curious enough to look it up in the Bible commentaries. Needless to say, I was surprised to see that I had been using it all wrong.
Context Clues & Personal Experiences
As an English teacher, I’m very familiar with using context clues to understand what I’m reading. In this case, it seemed like a clear case of contrast. “God makes the sun rise on the evil and the good.” Obviously this means that God provides good things to everyone whether they are His children or not. The next part, I thought, must be the opposite. God also sends the annoying-get-your-shoes-wet-while-you’re-trying-to-go-to-work rain on people no matter their level of righteousness. That’s the way I always used the verse. I thought it meant that unfortunate situations happen sometimes in our fallen world. Both believers and unbelievers just have to deal with them.
See, I’m a city slicker with little use for the wet stuff beyond enjoying the quiet patter on a Saturday afternoon when I don’t have anywhere else to be. My fruits and vegetables all come from the produce section of the grocery store, so the connection between rain being a good thing that helps the crops grow (hello?) escaped me for the moment. See, this verse isn’t about contrast at all. This is a form of repetition for emphasis. God gives good things to people no matter if they are good or bad. It’s just an extension of His goodness. Therefore, the commentaries suggest, as His children, we, too, are to be indiscriminately good whether people are good to us or not.
Lean Not on Your Own Understanding
Of course, when I read the true meaning of the verse, I was more than a little embarrassed at my error. I thought I knew exactly what the verse meant, but I was way off. On hindsight, I see that my first-world suburban idea of rain was narrow-minded and naïve. Not only that, but my reading experiences with context clues didn’t take into account the Jewish technique of saying something twice for emphasis. I didn’t have all the information I needed to correctly assess the meaning of the verse, and my personal experiences didn’t help me at all.
Now let’s take that to the many situations we encounter in life. Do we always have all the information? No; 1 Corinthians 13:12 is clear on that. Are we always correct in our assumptions based on past experiences? Probably not. That’s a pretty dangerous combination. To me, one of the scariest verses in the whole Bible is Proverbs 16:25. “There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.” The bottom line is that our limited understanding of how things work can lead us astray. Believing what God says in His Word never will.
We Must Live by Faith
We must choose to live by faith and trust in what God says is true even when it contradicts what we think we “know.” For example, it can seem unfair when Christians go through pain and hard times for no apparent reason, but the Bible tells us that God works everything for our good. Prayer can feel futile when things don’t happen on our timetables, but the Bible says God hears our prayers and everything happens in God’s timing. The devil can lie to us and tell us we aren’t important to God or making a difference for His kingdom, but the Bible tells us that we love Him because He first loved us, and when we trust in Him, He will direct our steps.
Isaiah 55:8-9 says, “’For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,’ says the Lord.” That means that situations that make no sense to our minds based on what we already (think we) know may be the very things that God is using for His purpose in His plan. Since this is the case, the only way to be sure we have it right is to trust in the Lord with all our hearts and lean not on our own understanding. We don’t always have to get what’s going on. We just have to say, “God, I choose to believe you do.”
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