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Please explain: Can a Bible verse be overused or used at an inappropriate time or setting?

Can a Bible verse be overused or used at an inappropriate time or setting?

Picking up a family favorite from the dessert section in the grocery store can’t be a wrong move. Can it? Who wouldn’t light up with a smile upon seeing a tasty treat? Who would ever reject the cookies-and-cream ice cream cake that normally appears only on special occasions? No one, of course!

Except your spouse.

The startup stages of a family healthy-eating lifestyle plan just launched three weeks ago. Your spouse is bound and determined not to destroy what he or she has just begun. And you were to be the cheerleader and encourager to keep your spouse from backsliding. Bad timing? Yup. Not the setting for those sweets? Nope, it’s not.

Christians treasure Bible verses and want to share them. Particular passages have picked them up at crucial times and cradled them in God’s promises. But, dear Christian, just as a dessert needs to be delivered at the right time and in the right setting, so too do Bible verses.


Tragedy strikes, and people feel like their lives and future have lost all power, plummeted into the ground, and smashed to smithereens on impact. All they see is disaster. They didn’t expect death. They never envisioned a future of endless doctor visits and constant caregiving. They never thought someone could do that to their child.

We want to bring them up from the depths. We want to lift their eyes of faith to certainty. We want them to see that God has a good plan for them. We know just the passage. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him” (Romans 8:28).

But initially for them, “good” is nowhere to be found. All they see is grief and pain, and heads shake in disbelief. Good is so far away that it might as well be past Pluto. Now is not the time to hear God works all things for their good. Now is the time to be silent and mourn with them. Now is the time to be present. Now is the time for them to hear that people love them and they have a God who loves them with an everlasting love (1 John 4:10). There will be time later to present a delicious dessert of God working all good for them. But now is not the time.


Reading the room helps to know where people are at. Is the crowd ready for some lively kick-off-the-shoes fun or low-key chilling on the couch? You need to know your setting.

What’s the setting of someone’s heart? What do you sense? Is it broken and contrite? Does it show remorse and a repentant spirit? Or is it puffed up like a peacock with its feathers of arrogance and pride fully fanned out?

When the weight of guilt is crushing someone’s soul, it isn’t a time to make sure there is real sorrow because you haven’t seen tears. Unleashing the law of God with all its fury to be doubly certain that you have real remorse can leave a person despairing. That is not the setting to hear that everyone is sinful from conception (Psalm 51:5) and the soul who sins will die (Ezekiel 18:20). A crushed sinner needs to hear the message of forgiveness (Matthew 9:2) and that the all-knowing God can erase his memory and remember those sins no more (Jeremiah 31:34).

The opposite is also true. When a child of God is smug in sinfulness or blind to God-defying behavior, the good news of Jesus’ forgiveness can’t be shared. “But who am I to judge?” many Christians ask. After all, God says, “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” (Matthew 7:1). Jesus warns against hypocritical judging and not seeing our own failure and sin. But Jesus does call on us to judge. We are to judge if actions or words aren’t holding to Jesus’ teaching (Matthew 28:20). Not wanting to judge sometimes gives us an excuse for not saying anything about someone’s sin. That’s a setting that needs judgment for a soul’s eternal future.


It’s hard to imagine that God’s Word could be overused. Speak the truth in love, preach the good news, teach all of Jesus’ teaching to disciple the nations, and be God’s witnesses. Can there ever be too much of Bible verses?

Some of the most popular Bible verses are put on posters, blasted on billboards, touted on t-shirts, and often quickly quoted by Christians. But when we look closely at those passages’ surrounding contexts, the overused can become the misused. The passages don’t say what many think they do.

One of the most popular passages used for pep talks, inspiration to do what seems impossible, or as a Christianized power of positive thinking is the familiar “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). You and I can do it! so we think. But look at the context of Paul’s quoted passage. Kept in the confines of a freedom-less prison, Paul shares how he has learned contentment in conditions where he’s crushed on all sides. Only through the One who gives him strength, only by the Lord’s powerful words and works can Paul have the strength to keep on living contentedly. It isn’t about setting free the beast inside you to reach a personal workout goal or focusing on your ability to face your fears. It’s about the Lord being the strength-giver, the power-provider for contentment.

It’s through the Word that the Spirit guides us to share Bible verses in the proper time, setting, and use.

God gave the Jewish exiles who would return from Babylon the promise, “ ‘I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future’ ” (Jeremiah 29:11). That was the Savior-God of grace’s promise to Old Testament Israel to look forward to their return to the Promised Land. Plans for prosperity doesn’t mean the New Testament Christian business will overflow with cash, four years at the university will be over the top, the new job you apply for is yours, or your sports team will win championships. Jesus promised the Christian a cross for following him (Luke 9:23) and that Christians must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God (Acts 14:22). Yes, our Lord knows the plans he has for us. But those plans could include a lack of visible prosperity, a health report full of hurts, and dreams shattered and scattered like a picture window meeting a concrete floor. He knows what we need to keep us focused on the hope and future in a sin-free heaven. Let’s not let the overused be misused.

Treasure the Truth. Soak in the Scriptures. Grab hold of God’s voice in the Bible. It’s through the Word that the Spirit guides us to share Bible verses in the proper time, setting, and use.

Author: Daniel Schroeder
Volume 110, Number 08
Issue: August 2023

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