I have often been asked – what is your life verse? Variations include what is your favorite or most inspirational verse. To be honest, every time I’ve been asked, I’ve struggled with trying to limit my choice to just one. It has occurred to me that the real problem is that I have trouble with the question and the idea that we should limit the totality of what God has given us for our life in one single verse. So it leads me to ask why do we think we need to sum the totality of Christianity and our experience into one verse. I think this forced reduction robs us in a number of ways. Here are my reasons.
1) It robs from what God has given us. We have 66 books that were composed by 40 authors over the span of 1,500 years. Throughout these 66 books, God unveils Himself, His heart and character according to what He wanted to reveal to us. There is an intricate story of redemption being weaved and tightly sown together. It is incredibly rich! Isolating one verse from the whole thing robs God’s revelation and gives us only a very miniscule slice of Him for our lives.
2) It robs us of what we should receive. Jesus came to give us abundant life and that life is built on a richness of promises. These promises are not contained within one verse. Moreover, our life is also complex and has been shaped by a variety of different influences. To think that one verses captures that complexity is short-changing a lot of what God has done and wants to do in our lives.
3) It robs the fullness of the verse. Whether it be a psalm, a proverb, a verse in a narrative or in a letter, it is typically surrounded by a complete body of literature that gives that one verse meaning. A verse by itself usually does not capture the fullness of it. For instance, one life verse that I have often heard is Galatians 2:20 – “I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live but not I but Christ who lives in me”. That is a pretty solid verse, right? But when you put that in the backdrop of Paul’s argument to the Galatians it takes on a much fuller dimension.
4) It robs the meaning of the verse. I have often argued that the segmenting of our Bibles to chapters and verses has produced an unfortunate fragmenting of scripture. Lifting one verse out of a page can easily lead to ignoring the context of the passage and the theme of the books. Verses can be so easily ripped out of their context and a variety of meanings can be imposed so that the verse can become whatever we want it to become. This is another reason I don’t like the verse of the day type of devotionals or displays. Greg Koukl has a good article on why isolating a single verse is not such a good thing.
We should be mindful that heretics do the same thing, lift verses out of their context and impose meanings. Heretics have life verses, too. Irenaues says it best regarding the heretics of his day;
Such then is neither their system, which neither the prophets announced, nor the Lord taught, nor the apostles delivered, but of which they boast that beyond all others they have a perfect knowledge. They gather their views from other sources than the Scriptures; and to use a common proverb, they strive to weave ropes of sand, while they endeavor to adapt with an air of probability to their own peculiar assertions the parables of the Lord, the sayings of the prophets and the words of the apostles, in order that their scheme may not seem altogether without support. In doing so, however, they disregard the order and the connection of the Scriptures, and so far as in them lies, dismember and destroy the truth. By transferring passages, and dressing them up anew, and making one thing out of another, they succeed in deluding many through their wicked art in adapting the oracles of the Lord to their opinions. (Against Heresies, 1.8)
So does this mean memorizing the whole Bible? No, but I don’t think it means we have to isolate just one specific verse.