Every Bible verse is to inform us but not every promise is for us.
I remember the first time I heard “’For I know the plans that I have for you’, declares the LORD, ‘plans for welfare and not for calamity to give you a future and a hope.’” Jer 29:11 (NASB). I had just gotten on the Va Beach Expressway at Little Neck Rd driving to work at the Norfolk Naval Base and was listening to John MacArthur on the radio when he spoke that verse to ME! God had a PLAN for ME!
I was a young Christian struggling to make sense of the Bible, God, faith, … life. As a concrete sequential kind of person (i.e. engineer), the mere fact that God had a “plan” gave me hope there was some possibility of understanding it, and my place in it, by careful study of His Word! That the verse seemed to say the plan was personal for ME was gravy on the biscuit.
As I grew in my study of the Word I learned that God does have a plan. In fact, there is the big plan – the sweep of His-story from before Creation, man, the fall, the rescue plan (Jesus), all the way to the New Heavens and Earth and eternity – that runs from Gen 1:1 through Rev 22:21. I also came to understand His personal plan for me was in Romans 8:28-39 - particularly in the phrase “to become conformed to the image of His Son.” His plan for me is to lead me to become more like Jesus.
Many people claim Jer 29:11 as “their” verse and promise. Some even see God promising them “welfare” as in prosperity and good health. This is a verse often used by Health, Wealth, Prosperity false-gospel hucksters, but this flies in the face of reality, doesn’t it? How many great Christians have been poor? How many, sick? How about Christians are being persecuted - even to death - in our times?
Reading the verse this way puts false words into God’s mouth, makes the Bible say what it never said, and wrongly claims a promise made for others - ancient Israel in captivity.
Misreading Jer 29:11 like this sullies God’s Word and dims the beauty of a loving God speaking hope and His plan to people in a specific time and place - Jews exiled by God in a foreign land. That’s our unchanging God speaking and revealing His unchanging character to us! That’s the message of Jer 29:11 for us today. In this case, as often in the Old Testament, it’s not the promise that carries forward to us but the consistency of God’s character.
Good Bible interpretation is NOT just for preachers and Sunday School teachers - it’s our responsibility, too.