SwordI have a confession. Often when I am reading the Bible and I come across a particularly powerful passage, I immediately think of the people I know who need to read it. In fact, I suspect that sometimes I find a passage so compelling because it reminds me of other people’s problems, their wrong attitudes and actions. Now, I don’t intentionally read the Bible looking for ammunition against others. But it’s easy for me to see the relevance of certain passages to real-life problems.

But I’m not ashamed to make that confession for two reasons. First, I know that most of you do the same thing when you read the Bible, so I have plenty of company. And second, it’s not always wrong to read a passage of Scripture and apply it to someone else’s situation. Sometimes that’s a necessary and helpful response. But we’ll get to that later. Right now I want to focus on the first reason.

Be honest—you do this, too. You read the Bible and think of all the people who need to hear what you’ve just read. Maybe you even think of passive-aggressive ways you could covertly tell them—say, a Facebook status update. This method even has its own term: vaguebooking, posting an ambiguous status update designed to elicit sympathetic response from friends but also conceal the real reason behind the post. That way if the person you’re directing it at confronts you, you can claim it wasn’t about them personally. It’s a digital deniable op.

The problem with reading the Bible this way is that it short-circuits the true purpose of God’s word. Scripture was not given to us so we could use it to bludgeon others when they screw up. It was given to convict us personally of our sin so that we can right our own wrongs first. Jesus was dealing with this very issue in Matthew 7 when He taught us not to judge others. Before I go picking at the speck in my brother’s eye, I first must remove the plank in my own eye. The Spirit who inspired the Scriptures is the one who convicts us of sin, and conviction is always personal.

Paul called the word of God the “sword of the Spirit” (Eph. 6:17). But he didn’t mean we should use it to cut each other. He meant we should use it to fend off Satan when he attacks us. It’s not nearly as fun to apply Scripture to my own sins as it is to point fingers at someone else. I don’t usually like feeling convicted. It’s an uncomfortable feeling because it calls me to change, and none of us really like change. Not personally, anyway; I’m more than happy to point out where others need to change. Perhaps that’s why we turn the sword against each other. When we feel the cut, we shrink back from the discomfort and attempt to direct it toward others. Have you ever noticed that the faults we most often criticize in others are the ones with which we struggle the most?

In Hebrews, the author describes the sword this way: “For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Bible must always first and foremost convict me personally—my thoughts, my attitudes, my heart. Only after it has cut me to the heart can I understand what it means and then apply it to others. If I don’t let it cut me first, I have no right to cut others with it. There is a time and a place to use Scripture to encourage, comfort, and even rebuke others. But I cannot rightly do that unless I have applied the Bible to myself first. The next time you read a verse and start thinking about who needs to hear it, listen to it yourself. You may be surprised by how relevant it is to your life.

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