One of the keys of understanding the Bible is understanding the context; however, many people who approach the Bible mess this up. Whether you’re the fundamentalist that takes a verse on its own in order to generalize a law that puts you in a position of power, or the Atheist that’s taking a passage directed at Israel during the time of its Theocracy in order to say that Christians today need to not wear clothing of two different kinds of fabric, context is everything.
The first time that I encountered this was when having lunch with a theologian turned software programmer many years ago. His pearl of wisdom, that the song “I know whom I have believed” wasn’t correct in context. It wasn’t that the concept was wrong– God would keep them safe until the day of salvation– but that in that context that wasn’t the correct interpretation.
A more famous one is one that’s crept up recently, Christians appropriating Jeremiah 29:11 as their life verse, or a verse to make their life feel special and important. In 2016 America, this verse tells believers that their life is not meaningless, that they have something important to do, and God has a plan for them in mind.
However, when Jeremiah wrote this, he had something totally different in mind, and it all hinges on the word “you”.
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the LORD, plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope. – Jeremiah 29:11 ESV
The you in this verse is the exiles in Babylon. At this point in time, God had judged Judah and sent them into exile for 70 years. To those exiles, it may have seemed that God was done with them– that He had decided not to keep His promised protection and blessing, that their time was over. Jeremiah is comforting them, saying that when the time of their discipline is up, He would bring them back because He still has a purpose for them.
There are no promises to America in 2016. God has not exiled believers, and has no covenant with them except for the fact that faith is Christ will lead to eternal salvation and Heaven. There is no promise of prosperity, and the first century believers endured much hardship for their faith.
Now, it’s certainly correct to say that in the future, after we pass away and when Jesus reigns, we will have welfare, a hope and a future; however, none of that is promised for us today. If you’re using this verse in the former manner, then it’s true, there is a plan for all believers– to one day be with Him forever. If you’re using it in the latter matter, then at best you’re using it unknowingly (God has a big plan for you that has yet to be seen) or incorrectly (God has no specific plan for you on a grand sense other than for you to be saved).
Lastly, the best thing that we can do in the Christian life is to be faithful in what we know God wants us to do each and every day.
More Reading on this topic: Does Jeremiah 29:11 Apply to Us Today?