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The Apostles Heal Many May 15, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:12-16.

Summary: In this passage, the apostles continued to perform miracles, such as:

  • Peter healing the sick by merely allowing his shadow to fall on them
  • driving out tormenting, evil spirits.

Also, the church continued meeting at the temple in Jerusalem, and it grew rapidly.

Thoughts: When I first read this passage, I was baffled by an apparent contradiction between verses 13 and 14: were people actually accepting the Gospel message? Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

A second consequence of the miracles was that unbelievers were so convinced about God’s amazing power that they did not dare to ignore the apostles. Quite the reverse: they were forced to honor the church…Anyone who does not reach the point of willingly embracing God’s grace, which is so evident in the miracles, is held back through a guilty conscience.

Calvin’s insights spurred me to consider this question: do unbelievers affirm the reality of miracles? At least some would argue that since all phenomena can be explained by science, miracles are figments of our imagination. Others may affirm the reality of miracles while ascribing them to some entity other than God Himself. Now Christians affirm the reality of miracles – yet we, to varying degrees, battle our inner doubts along these lines. We definitely need strength from God Himself to remain open to the possibility of miracles in this day and age. Perhaps this video will offer some encouragement for us in this regard.

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Strolling Through the Book of First Thessalonians April 5, 2013

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I’ve recently started reading through the First Epistle to the Thessalonians with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through 1 Thessalonians. As in my recent stroll through the book of Galatians, I hope to comprehend 1 Thessalonians as a whole. In particular, I would like to know why this letter is regarded as one of Paul’s (relatively) cheerful epistles.

I plan to blog about this experience as I read through both the epistle and Calvin’s commentary. Each post will correspond to a specific section in the NIV translation.

For starters, here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 1:1.

Summary: In this passage, Paul associates Silas and Timothy with himself as the authors of the letter; he wishes God’s unmerited favor – and its attendant blessings – on the Thessalonians, as they constitute a true and lawful church.

Thoughts: Paul’s greeting to the Thessalonians is quite interesting; Calvin offers some insights on this point:

The brevity of the inscription clearly shows that Paul’s teaching had been received with reverence among the Thessalonians, and that without controversy they all rendered to him the honor that he deserved. For when in other letters he designated himself an apostle, he did so for the purpose of claiming for himself authority.

Having just completed a stroll through Galatians, it is evident that this stroll through 1 Thessalonians will be relatively mild. While Paul used strong rhetoric to battle the false teachers who attempted to foist circumcision on the Galatians in his letter to them, I assume that this letter will have few, if any, sharp words. One can only speculate on the joy that Paul experienced while writing this letter – knowing that the Thessalonians accepted his teaching. This also leads the reader to compare the Galatians and the Thessalonians; perhaps it is appropriate to consider the Parable of the Sower in this case.

The Supremacy of Christ October 5, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Colossians 1:15-23.

Summary: Paul begins by asserting that Christ represents and manifests the unseen God; He existed prior to all creation, and He is sovereign over all creation. He is the source of the universe of things – heavenly and earthly – including:

  • angels in the immediate presence of God
  • angels who are next in rank to the above-mentioned class
  • evil and good earthly and heavenly rulers

as all creation is reconciled in Him. Paul asserts Christ’s pre-existence and states that all things cohere in Him. Now He is also the source of the church; He is its origin, and He is sovereign over it – so that He is the head of the universe and the church. This stems from the fact that the Father – in His good pleasure – made the plenitude have its permanent abode in Christ. The Father, then, restores the whole universe of things – through Christ and His sacrifice – to Himself.

Paul then asserts that at one time the Colossians were estranged from God and were hostile to Him in their intent. In the New Testament dispensation, though, the Father has reconciled them to Himself through Christ’s physical body; He presents them as a flawless sacrifice against whom no charge can be leveled. Paul concludes by expressing his hope that the Colossians will remain in their faith that is built on a firm foundation – the Gospel; this Gospel has been proclaimed to all creation, and he – though he is weak and unworthy – has been commissioned to proclaim it to the Gentiles.

Thoughts: This passage does not have a direct analogue in Ephesians, though one can find elements of this passage sprinkled throughout Ephesians.

In verse 16, we see that the universe of things was created “for” Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

All things must find their meeting point, their reconciliation, at length in him from whom they took their rise – in the Word as the mediatorial agent, and through the Word in the Father as the primary source. The Word is the final cause as well as the creative agent of the universe…The eternal Word is the goal of the universe, just as he was the starting point.

For me, the concept of Christ being the Creator of the universe is much easier to comprehend than the concept of Christ being the “meeting point” of the universe. After some contemplation, I came to understand it as follows: basically, Christ is guiding all of creation to fulfill His ultimate purpose, which is to glorify Himself for eternity. One way in which His glory will be manifested is His ultimate redemption of a people – His church – for Himself – note that the gulf between man’s sinfulness and His holiness should have rendered this an impossible task. Of course, many questions remain: for example, how will the current financial crisis fulfill Christ’s ultimate purpose? Any thoughts on this are welcome.

In verse 23, we see Paul expressing a hope that the Colossians will not abandon the Gospel message that they had initially received. The historical context of this letter shows that the Gnostic heresy weighed on Paul’s mind as he composed it. This passage – and indeed, the entire letter – reminds me of the recurring theme of the sermons at our church: Christians should hold fast to the Gospel, even in the midst of persecution, because Christ is supreme, and He is ready and able to judge those who do not worship Him. This passage presents an interesting slant on this theme, in that Christ is supreme due to His pre-existence and sovereignty over both creation and the church; indeed, these are weighty reasons for believers to hold fast to Christ.

Wives and Husbands May 24, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Ephesians 5:22-33.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting wives to obey their husbands – as part of their obedience to Christ. Wives should obey their husbands – as the husband leads the wife, which is analogous to Christ leading His church; indeed, He is her savior. Nevertheless, just as the church is obedient to Christ, wives should obey their husbands in all things – according to God’s will.

Paul then exhorts husbands to love their wives – as Christ loved His church enough to die for her in order to sanctify her, having already removed her guilt via the rite of baptism, which is the sign of His promise of the forgiveness of her sins. Moreover, the ultimate objective of Christ in this regard is to display His church as His glorious bride – without any faults, but fully sanctified. Similarly, husbands should love their wives because their wives are their bodies; a man and his wife are one. This is based on the fact that a man will always nourish and cherish his own body – just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church, which is His body. He illustrates the oneness between Christ and the church by quoting from Genesis 2:24, which states that a man and his wife are one. Indeed, the oneness between Christ and the church is beyond human understanding. Paul concludes by exhorting the Ephesians – although they cannot fully understand the oneness between Christ and the church – to apply what they do understand of that relationship to their marriages and:

  • love their wives as being themselves (in the case of the husbands)
  • acknowledge the superiority of their husbands (in the case of the wives).

Thoughts: In verse 23, we see that husbands are meant to lead their wives just as Christ leads His church. Hodge offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

The ground of the obligation, therefore, as it exists in nature, is the eminency of the husband – his superiority in those attributes which enable and entitle him to command. He is larger, stronger, bolder – he has more of those mental and moral qualities which are required in a leader. This is just as plain from history as that iron is heavier than water…The superiority of the man, however, is not only consistent with the mutual dependence of the sexes and their essential equality of nature and in the kingdom of God, but also with the inferiority of men to women in other qualities than those which entitle to authority.

I assume that men and women can agree on the point that “He is larger, stronger, bolder.” One can see this reality playing out in the loss of another women’s soccer league and the financial troubles of the WNBA. Clearly athleticism and viewer ratings have some positive correlation. As for Hodge’s note regarding “the inferiority of men to women in other qualities than those which entitle to authority,” he did not go on to list these qualities, though; providing such a list would have given his readers a better sense of his views on the equality of the sexes. On a related note, I am curious as to whether any women have written commentaries on Ephesians; if so, how did they interpret this passage?

In verse 26, we see that Christ has removed the guilt of the members of His church via the ceremony of baptism. Hodge offers some insights on this point:

Whatever he may have experienced or enjoyed before, this is the public conveyance to him of the benefits of the covenant and his inauguration into the number of the redeemed. If he is sincere in his part of the service, baptism really applies to him the blessings of which it is the symbol.

This caused me to ponder the significance of the baptism ceremony, as several high schoolers at our church were recently baptized. Now I have always believed that the day that one “prays the sinner’s prayer” is, in some sense, more important than the day that they publicly confirm it via baptism. Yet it is apparent from Hodge’s quote that the baptism ceremony itself conveys some important blessings. Perhaps God is always pleased when His people publicly glorify Him – by declaring Him to be their Lord and Savior in this case – and thus He rewards them for that declaration. Also, public baptism is based on Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River, where God the Father publicly declared His approval of His Son and visibly empowered Him with His Spirit. Perhaps God approves of His sons who are being baptized, and He gives them more grace to fulfill His will in their lives. So, in some sense, public baptism is a more momentous occasion than I had realized.