I have a pet-peeve. I really hate it when people take verses out of context. That doesn't mean I go around correcting everyone, because we all know someone like that and it's incredibly annoying. But it does drive me nuts.
Think about all the times you hear people trying to correct your eating habits by quoting 1 Corinthians 6:19, "Don't you know your bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit" (hint: that passage is about sexual immorality, not cheeseburgers). Or how about when someone doesn't like something you are doing, even though it's not a sin, and confronts you with the King James version of 1 Thessalonians 5:22, "Abstain from all appearance of evil" (hint: the word means "form" or "manifestation". It's saying don't sin in any way, shape, or form). Or what about Revelation 3:20, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in with them and they with me." How many times have you heard pastors use that to invite sinners to accept Christ? That's all well and good, but in context Christ is speaking to his Church (i.e. those already saved), confronting them with their need for repentance and renewal.
Suffice to say, taking verses out of context really bugs me.
Which is why I find it interesting when I see all kinds of blog posts and internet articles about the need to stop abusing Jeremiah 29:11. That verse says "'For I know the plans I have for you', declares the LORD, 'plans to prosper you.'"
The context of that verse is insightful. In 597 BC King Nebuchadnezzar invaded Judah and carted off thousands of Jews to Babylon, several hundred miles from their homes. They would have been confused, angry, and distraught. Should they rebel or try to escape? In response to this, the LORD spoke to them through the prophet Jeremiah. Instead of fighting against Babylon, God told them to "build houses and settle down; plant gardens (v.5)..."marry and have sons and daughters; find wives for your sons and give your daughters in marriage" (v.6). He even told them to get involved in their new community (v.7, "seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper"). It was then that God added a promise. In 70 years time, he would bring them back to Israel (v.10). The whole point of v.11 is to help these Jewish believers to be calm in the face of great difficulty, resting on the promise that God would bring them home (or rather, their descendant's home).
What I find remarkable is that there are some who claim this verse doesn't apply to the church today. At one pastor's conference I attended, the speaker brought up this verse and even did a good job explaining its original context. But then, to a chorus of 'Amens', he said "Unless your a Jew living in exile in Babylon 500 years BC, this verse doesn't apply to you!"
Really? Is that how Scripture works?
By that logic, the Bible promise that "God will supply all your needs" (Phil 4:19) doesn't apply to you because you're not a believer in first century Philippi. And unless you were actually in the crowd listening to Jesus, his statement "Come to me all you who are weary and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28) has nothing to do with you.
The fact of the matter is that Jeremiah 29:11 does apply to you as a Christian believer today. Paul tells us that "everything that was written in the past [i.e. Old Testament] was written to teach us" (Romans 15:4). The same God who refused to forget or abandon Israel in a foreign land will not forget you if you are his child. The same God who had a plan for Israel's future has a plan for the future of all who put their faith in Jesus Christ.
True, Jeremiah 29:11 doesn't mean that God has a plan for you to prosper at work. Or prosper in your golf game. Or prosper in your relationships. We've all seen people abuse the verse by twisting it into some kind of greed-based, health-and-wealth sense of personal fulfillment. It's not about your personal fulfillment at all, but rather about God's eternal plan for your life.
So yes, I am concerned by those who try to turn this verse into saying God is going to get you a bigger paycheck. But I am equally concerned by those who run the other direction and scold believers for daring to think it has anything to do with us at all.
We need this verse. We need its reminder to live patiently and ethically in a world that often seeks to do us harm (Jeremiah 29:4-9), knowing that Christ will one day return for us. He has a plan for us (v.11), a plan for our eternal prosperity in a future with Him.