The art of lifting a verse from its context in order to prove a point is incredibly dangerous. Abusing its intended meaning, tantamount to tampering with God’s Word, is eternally damaging to any who believe it. Understanding what God means when He says what He says and correctly implementing His directives cannot be understated. Take, for instance, Acts 16:31.
The work of Paul and Silas took them into strange places and difficult circumstances. The truth of God’s Word was not always gladly received (Acts 2:41) and was often attacked (Acts 4:18; 5:40; 7:59-60; et al.). Acts 16 finds Paul and Silas preaching in Philippi to a warm welcome that came to an abrupt halt when a fortune-telling female “who brought her masters much profit” began to expose Paul and Silas as messengers of God. Paul silenced her “in the name of Jesus Christ,” which brought an end to their profit-sharing. With trumped-up charges against the two preachers, they were beaten and imprisoned.
Not given to moping about circumstances, these hardy souls began to sing and praise God in their cell, literally bringing the house down. Experiencing the earthquake and failure of security, the jailor drew his sword, intent on becoming past-tense. A hair’s breath away from death, he heard Paul: “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Throwing himself at the apostle’s feet, he asked: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Many sincere God-seekers believe the entire plan of salvation is in Paul’s response: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The doctrine promoted is: faith alone saves. But, wait! Put this text in its context. The jailor could not be baptized to walk in newness of life (Romans 6:1-6) because he had neither confessed Christ (Matthew 10:32-33) nor repented (Luke 13:3, 5). He could not do either of these because he did not yet know that “without faith it is impossible to please Him” (Hebrews 11:6) and, in fact, did not know Who to believe in (John 8:24). Paul’s response merely introduced the man to a journey of faith and obedience toward salvation (Romans 1:5).
What “de-contexters” miss is that the Philippian jailor was told what he needed to hear based upon where he was, a heathen, ignorant of the Christ. They spoke the word of the Lord to him and his household, producing f (v. 32; faith, cf. Romans 10:17), then the jailor responded, repenting (“washed their stripes,” v. 33; cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10), and obedience (“immediately he and all his family were baptized” (and isn’t it interesting that in every conversion in Acts, baptism is mention). And, notice further, it was after baptism that there was rejoicing, not before (v. 34).
A fellow once said, “A text without a context is a pretext for a proof text”; such a “proof text” is just wrong. So, believe on the Lord.