Picking Cherries or Cherry-Picking ?

By Kenneth D. MacHarg

One of the many pleasures of living in Kyrgyzstan, as we did for portions of three years, was to pick cherries each spring.

First came the sour, pie cherries which we gladly picked to make cherry pie, cobbler, jam or a host of other goodies. Some friends had one of those trees in their yard and couldn’t use all of the fruit. So we spent several cool mornings picking away and adding to our supply.

About the time that the sour cherry trees completed their season, the trees bearing sweet cherries put forth their own fruit. Not only did we pick large quantities of those but, when we walked the tree-shaded streets of Bishkek, we often found cherry tree branches hanging over a fence or a wall. As we passed by, we, as well as many others, grabbed a handful to eat as we headed for our destination.

While picking cherries is a wonderful experience, I’m reminded that cherry-picking is something quite different than obtaining good fruit.

Dictionary.com defines the practice of cherry-picking as to “choose or take the best or most profitable of (a number of things), especially for one’s own benefit or gain.”

The cherry-picking that is most disturbing to me is that which involves looking for a proof-text biblical verse that supports one’s own pet belief or a point they are trying to make in a sermon or article. I often describe this process as a sermon in search of a text.

In a presentation I heard some time ago, the speaker was doing just that—presenting an inspirational message that, rather than use a biblical passage and interpreting its truth for the listener, snatched three short phrases from various places in the Bible to “prove” or illustrate his points.

In so doing, the speaker distorted the message of the biblical passage and missed the more complete teaching offered. As a result, listeners were short-changed by not allowing the text itself to reveal the complete message of the Gospel.

This is the text that the speaker used (Romans 3:23): “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”

Now, here is the complete section from Romans 3: 21-26 in which that quote appears:

 21 But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. 22 This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. 25 God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood—to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished— 26 he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.

The sharp reader will notice that the text selected was an extracted phrase from a longer sentence and paragraph. In addition, on the overhead screen where the phrase was shown, the first word, all, was capitalized as if it was the initial word of the sentence, which it isn’t in the text. In addition, the punctuation was changed from a comma at the end of the phrase to a period—leaving the listener to assume that the thought was complete.

It wasn’t.

What was missed? Plenty, but particularly in just that sentence:

  1. The teaching applies everyone, both Jews and Gentiles.
  2. The passage demonstrates that all who sin and fall short are justified by God’s grace
  3. And, it shows that God’s grace is given through redemption in Jesus Christ.

That, my friends, is the proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News, the understanding that in the face of universal sin, God’s forgiveness and grace come through Jesus Christ.

No wonder I was so frustrated that day. A grand opportunity to actually proclaim the good news of salvation through Jesus Christ was missed by a cherry-picked, incomplete quote, a changed punctuation mark, and the omission of the Gospel proclamation.

It’s a good reminder that while I will continue to pick cherries, I will always stay away from cherry-picking scripture to serve my own purpose and instead will allow God’s complete word to be proclaimed.

Unless otherwise noted, scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved. The “NIV” and “New International Version” trademarks are registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by International Bible Society. Use of either trademark requires the permission of International Bible Society.

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