An expression becomes cliché when overused to the point of losing its original power or force. You hear it over and over until you no longer hear it. It becomes hackneyed, cliché. So many scriptures have degenerated into cliché. We speak the words, but they have lost their original force. Perhaps because we are mouthing the words in situations far different from the original context of the passage. While there are many verses that have become cliché, here are my top four.
“Where two or three are gathered together” (Matthew 18:20). So often I have heard these words muttered when someone is reluctantly reporting on a miserable turnout for a Wednesday night prayer meeting or righteously justifying a Sunday devotional at the beach. A quick glance at the immediate context (18:15-20) reveals Jesus spoke these words in the midst of teaching His people the path of reconciliation. What happens if someone sins against you? Tell him face to face. What if that doesn’t work? What’s plan B? This whole “two or three” thing was spoken by Jesus to assure God’s presence to those who are trying to reconcile, whether sitting down one on one, with witnesses, or in the midst of the church. You are not alone when trying to iron out differences. God is right there with you!
“Love is . . . “(1 Corinthians 13). What is more romantic than the love chapter, 1 Corinthians 13? Often we think of this as being a romantic or sentimental definition of love. The text is perhaps most often used to describe what family life ought to be like. While that is probably not a misuse of the passage, it is certainly not reading it in its historical setting. The great love chapter was not addressed to young couples to instruct them on marriage, it was not written to mid-life couples urging them to stay together, it was not written by an long-term married couple outlining their secret to success. I hate to drain the romance out of these words, but, take a look at 1 Corinthians. These words were written by the inspired apostle to address the situation in a deeply troubled congregation, the church in Corinth. Envious factions. Sinful cover-ups. Childish bickering. Chaotic worship. Doctrinal confusion. Gift devaluation. This situation can be corrected only with love.
“Think on these things” (Philippians 4:7-9). These words are best known as a rallying cry for the positive thinking movement. The original force has been lost. The context? A reading of Philippians reveals a church about to implode due to the fussing of two sisters. In virtually every paragraph Paul pleads with these two women to work out their differences. God isn’t finished with you. Share God’s grace. Have the mind of Christ. Forget the past. Think on these things. What things? Euodia needs to consider the good qualities in Syntyche — what is pure and right about her. Syntyche needs to recall the good in Euodia — what is admirable and praiseworthy about her. We cannot afford to let these words become trite.
“I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Philippians 4:13). One would expect to find these words in a Bible passage about how to play sports. This is some rallying cry for the team, isn’t it. “I can do all things through Christ, now let’s go hit somebody!” Utterly cliché. The meaning, the power, has been emptied. But a look at the context recharges the passage with spiritual energy. In a postscript to the letter urging reconciliation of the two sisters, Paul thanks the church for financially supporting his ministry. “I can do all things” is Paul’s way of saying he can live content with whatever his material possessions, even if that means poverty. This is no game. This is real life.
When you bust the cliché, you find these words really pack a punch!