This morning, as I was leaving my doctor's office, I noticed a gentleman reading the Psalms. I commented that the psalm he was reading (101) was a great psalm, and that I had just finished reading through the Book of Psalms myself. One bit of conversation lead to another, and he asked me what my "life verse" was.
Now, having grown up in the Baptist tradition, I am more than familiar with the concept of a life verse, and, before we continue, I want to make it clear that the idea behind it is very good: take a piece of Scripture, memorize it, and take every opportunity to apply it to your life. Sounds great . . . on the surface. What seems to happen, though, is we tend to take a verse, remove it from its context within the Scriptures, and then make it mean whatever we want. This is, sometimes, okay, but often quite dangerous.
In Habakkuk 1:5, God tells the prophet, "Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told." Over and over, as a young man, I heard this quoted as someone's "life verse." They would say things like, "God is using me to be His Light, just as He told Habakkuk." Or, "See? This means that God is working, and He's using me to do it!" They would often take this verse and use it as an encouragement to themselves. But let's read further, shall we?
"Look at the nations and watch - and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told. I am raising up the Babylonians, that ruthless and impetuous people, who sweep across the whole earth to seize dwellings not their own" (1:5-6). When placed in its context, the verse isn't quite as encouraging, is it?
We may turn to John 3:16 as a life verse, but the verse makes no sense if we don't first understand the Law. Of course, why would God even be interested in mankind to begin with? Well, without the Creation and the Fall, we don't have an answer. Then the question arises, "If God is merciful and loving, then how is there wrath?" At which point the various prophets make that clear. Of course, to understand why God is angry with Israel to begin with, that takes us back to the Law, which takes us to the Gospels, which take us to the finale, The Book of Revelation, which only makes sense if interpreted in light of Daniel, Ezekiel, Joel, etc., which only make sense in the context of the Law, so on, ad infinitum.
The point is that a "life verse" must be used carefully. Perhaps the best approach is to have a "life passage," like Romans. Or, dare we say it, a "life Bible"? Hmmmm. . . . We must never, ever, be so quick to twist the Scriptures, whether we're dealing with Genesis or Jude.