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The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard July 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:1-16.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a ruler of a house who enters a village before 6 a.m. to hire day laborers to harvest his crop. He agrees to pay them a denarius for their time and sends them into his vineyard.

At 9 a.m., noon, 3 p.m., and 5 p.m., he returns to that village. On each visit, he finds some who are unemployed and promises to pay them a proper wage.

At 6 p.m. he instructs his foreman to gather all of his day laborers and pay them, starting with those who have worked the least. He pays each day laborer a denarius. This act causes those who have worked the most to grumble; the ruler then rebukes them for envying their fellow day-laborers.

Similarly, all believers will receive eternal life – regardless of the idiosyncrasies of their walk with Him.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that all believers will receive eternal life – regardless of the duration of their relationship with Him. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

His Gospel holds out pardon and peace with God through Christ to the heathen of our own times, as fully as it did to St. Paul. The converted inhabitants of Tinnevelly and New Zealand will be as fully admitted to heaven as the holiest patriarch who died 3500 years ago.

After reading through this passage, I pondered the following questions:

  • would any believer not desire the salvation of their fellow man?
  • would any believer actually desire the eternal condemnation of their fellow man?

Personally, I would desire the salvation of my worst enemy, as the thought of eternal suffering is simply unbearable. Even if one were to commit the most heinous crimes in this life, I would not want them to suffer for an infinite period of time. Thus, this parable should spur us to redouble our efforts in spreading the Gospel message to unbelievers.

Ryle also includes the following clarification in his commentary:

Let us beware of supposing from this parable that all saved souls will have the same degree of glory. To suppose this is to contract many plain texts of Scripture. The title of all believers no doubt is the same – a place in haven. “Each will be rewarded according to his own labor” (1 Corinthians 3:8).

Thus, as believers, we should not respond to this passage with complacency. While all believers will receive eternal life, God still calls us to respond to this priceless gift with thanksgiving – as expressed in our thoughts, words and deeds. One caveat is that the prospect of additional rewards in heaven should not be our primary motivation in this life. While we know that our labor will be rewarded, His glory should serve as our primary motivation. I should note, though, that I (and, I suspect, other believers) struggle to shift my focus from eternal rewards to His glory.

The Rich Young Man July 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:16-30.

Summary: In this passage, a rich young man asks Jesus how he can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by asserting that one obtains the life of God by keeping His commandments.

The rich young man asserts that He has kept all of God’s commandments – yet it turns out that he cannot place all of his possessions under His Lordship.

Jesus then stresses the following point: it is impossible for a rich man to obtain the life of God.

His disciples are dumbfounded; they wonder if anyone can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by stating that while men cannot obtain it by their own efforts, God can enable them to obtain it by causing them to submit to His Lordship. Moreover, at His Second Coming, His disciples will:

  • reign with Him
  • inherit the entire body of Christ.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that a rich man cannot obtain the life of God by his own efforts. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Riches, which all desire to obtain – riches, for which people labor and toil and become gray before their time – riches are the most perilous possession. They often inflict great injury on the soul; they lead people into many temptations; they engross people’s thoughts and affections; they bind heavy burdens on the heart, and make the way to heaven even more difficult than it naturally is.

While I lead a (relatively) spartan life, I strive to retain the comforts that I enjoy. Since I crave security and comfort, I strive to retain my job; moreover, the prospect, however remote, of unemployment is worrisome. I posit that many believers experience at least some stress regarding their finances at some point in this life; even if one has achieved financial security by accumulating great wealth, I posit that the process of building a nest egg is stressful. I struggle to maintain my confidence and trust in God’s providence on a daily basis, and I certainly need His forgiveness for those instances where I have doubted His willingness to supply my daily needs.

Jesus also asserts that each believer inherits the entire body of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Christ can raise up friends for us who will more than compensate for those we lose; Christ can open hearts and homes to us far more warm and hospitable than those that are closed against us; above all, Christ can give us peace of conscience, inward joy, bright hopes and happy feelings, which will far outweigh every pleasant earthly thing that we have cast away for his sake.

I do not know if I have lost any friends due to my faith, as none of the unbelievers whom I have known have ever stated that they could not interact with me due to my Christian worldview. I do know that I have enjoyed the hospitality and care of various believers over the years. I am grateful for those believers whom God has placed in my life to bless me and encourage me in my walk with Him; I am curious as to how God will enable me to maintain – and deepen – those relationships in the next life…

The River of Life March 18, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 22:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, the angel from the previous passage shows John the river of the water of life. God is its source, and He uses it – through the tree of life – to remove the curse of the Fall. In particular, He will grant His people the light of His eternal presence. The angel then certifies that God is the ultimate source of this vision.

Thoughts: I long for the time when I will be allowed to:

  • “drink” from the river of the water of life
  • “eat” from the tree of life – especially since it bears fruit every month.

Now I think that believers will not (literally) eat or drink in the next life – as God will grant us new bodies that transcend our current physical limitations. Thus, this passage demonstrates the wondrous fact that God will continually meet our spiritual needs and desires in the next life. As believers, we should earnestly desire that glorious state – and continue to live out that desire in our current (ephemeral) state.

To the Church in Sardis December 6, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 3:1-6.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Sardis. In particular, He rebukes them for their hypocrisy. He states that He will judge those who persist in their hypocrisy. Yet He promises that those who shun hypocrisy will:

  • enjoy fellowship with Him
  • receive eternal life.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Sardis in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

  • were they aware of their hypocrisy before they received this letter?
  • how did they acquire their reputation as a strong church?
  • who were those in their midst who shunned hypocrisy?

Concluding Remarks March 8, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 5:13-21.

Summary: John begins by stating that he has written this letter to those who have already been taught the knowledge of Christ so that they might enjoy a fuller confidence as to eternal life. In fact, his readers can dare to confidently call on God, since they will necessarily subject their own wishes to Him. When they pray, they will necessarily consider what God commands; thus, they pray for what they obtain.

John then tells his readers that in particular, if they see a fellow believer sin – without committing apostasy – then they should ask God to forgive their sins. Believers who sin without committing apostasy are not wholly falling away from God’s grace, since Jesus Christ asks Him to keep them; thus, Satan’s assaults cannot extinguish their spiritual lives. Indeed, God only repudiates those who commit apostasy; thus, his readers should not ask Him to forgive those who commit apostasy.

Now John stresses that while the whole human race – including those who commit apostasy – gives itself up to the bondage of Satan, his readers:

  • know that they have been born of God
  • have been illuminated as to the knowledge of God, since in Jesus Christ they have God manifested in the flesh
  • are united to God through Jesus Christ, since Jesus Christ is God and offers them salvation.

John concludes by inferring that his readers must carefully continue in the spiritual worship of God.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, John states that believers should not pray that God would forgive those who commit apostasy. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

But again, you may ask what evidence tells us that someone’s fall is fatal. If we could not be certain of this, the apostle would not have been able to say that they were not to pray for a sin of this kind. It is right, then, to decide sometimes whether there is still hope. With this, indeed, I agree, and it is evident beyond dispute from this passage; but as this very seldom happens, and as God sets before us the infinite riches of his grace and bids us be merciful according to his own example, we should not rashly conclude that anyone has brought the judgment of eternal death on himself. On the contrary, love should make us hope for good. But if some people’s impiety does not appear to us anything other than hopeless, as though the Lord pointed it out by his finger, we should not argue with God’s just judgment or seek to be more merciful than he is.

This is a difficult passage and I did not find Calvin’s explanation to be entirely satisfactory. My fundamental problem with this passage is that believers often struggle to discern God’s will, as our sinful nature makes it difficult for us to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit. How can we be certain that someone is in a “hopeless” state? Shouldn’t we err on the side of caution and pray for them, especially if they are not in a “hopeless” state? What if our sinful nature causes us to mistakenly infer that someone is committing apostasy? Of course, I can understand Calvin’s argument to some extent; perhaps we waste our time praying for apostates when we could be praying for believers who have committed less egregious sins. In any event, I view this passage as a call for believers to pray more earnestly for each other.

Now that I have completed my stroll through 1 John, I would say that John differs from Paul in that he does not divide this letter into a “theory” section and a “practice” section. Instead, my impression is that John focuses on a single question, “how do you know that you are in union with God the Father and God the Son?” and then expounds on the proper answer to that query; arguably the most important facet of that answer entails seeking the good of others. I should also note that John does align with Paul in extolling the supremacy of Jesus Christ at various points in this letter; moreover, he stresses that anyone who denies His supremacy is not in union with God. As for my main takeaway from this letter, I would say that: I need to be more zealous for the good of others, especially those whom I dislike.

Strolling Through the Book of Titus October 13, 2013

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I’ve recently started reading through the Epistle to Titus with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through Titus. As in my recent stroll through the book of 2 Timothy, I hope to comprehend Titus as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare and contrast 1 Timothy and Titus.

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 Titus 1:1-4.

Summary: Paul begins by referring to himself as a minister who has been given the office of an apostle; as an apostle, he teaches a doctrine that agrees with the faith of all believers who have ever lived. This faith holds to what is true, as it furthers the proper worship of God. His teaching causes believers to meditate on the life of heaven, which is founded on the unchangeable truth of God – many ages have passed since He first promised salvation to mankind. At the right time, God openly manifested life via the spreading of the Gospel: the Father has redeemed all believers by the death of the Son, and the Son has shed His blood as a pledge and price of their salvation.

Paul concludes by greeting Titus, whom he begot spiritually; they do share the same heavenly Father, though. He wishes Titus God’s unmerited favor and its attendant blessings.

Thoughts: In verse 2, Paul states that his ministry is designed to lead believers to look toward eternal life. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

So all good teachers should turn people away from the world so that they look up into heaven. I readily agree that God’s glory should mean more to us than our own salvation, but we are not now concerned with the question about which of these comes first. All I am saying is that people never truly seek God until they have confidence to approach him, and so they never apply their minds to godliness until they have been instructed in the hope of a life in heaven.

Now some unbelievers assert that Christians – while they claim to live for God’s glory – are mainly concerned with eternal life. This is a difficult argument to refute, especially since I am sure that if Christians had no hope of an eternal reward, they would never have converted to Christianity in the first place. One could conceive of a scenario where God states that nobody will receive eternal life – even if they place their faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – yet they must live for His glory since He is God. Would anyone choose to live for God’s glory in that case? How do we, as believers, balance 1) living for His glory with 2) “resting” on our hope of the eternal life that He has promised us?

Strolling Through the Book of Second Timothy September 11, 2013

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I’ve recently started reading through the Second Epistle to Timothy with the aid of a commentary by John Calvin. I should note that I’ve previously read through 2 Timothy. As in my recent stroll through the book of 1 Timothy, I hope to comprehend 2 Timothy as a whole. In particular, I would like to compare and contrast 1 and 2 Timothy.

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 2 Timothy 1:1-2.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses Timothy (and those who are not completely convinced of the validity of his claims); he represents Christ Himself, and God is the source and guarantee of his apostleship. God has appointed him as an apostle to lead people to Christ that they might find life in Him. Paul concludes by expressing his affection for Timothy and securing a place of authority for him – since he had given birth to him in Christ; he wishes Timothy God’s unmerited favor, which stems from the fact that He is merciful.

Thoughts: My NIV Study Bible and Calvin’s commentary concur on the following point: when Paul wrote this letter, he knew that he faced imminent martyrdom. This fact lends extra weight to this letter; perhaps a modern (secular) analogy would be the Last Lecture by Randy Pausch. In light of this, I plan to look for phrases in this letter that could have been written by someone who knew that his days were numbered. In this passage, I took note of “promise of life that is in Christ Jesus” and “my dear son”; as far as I know, the former phrase does not appear in the opening remarks in Paul’s other epistles. Now that Paul was about to face the most difficult challenge of his life, he clung to the hope that had fueled him ever since his conversion on the road to Damascus – the hope of eternal life in Christ Jesus.

The Coming of the Lord April 27, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-5:11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians that they should not mourn excessively for believers who have died; they should not follow the example of unbelievers, who give full rein to their grief when they mourn for the dead. Since Christ was raised from the dead, all believers – who have been grafted into Him by faith – can share in His resurrection. In fact, Christ has stated that at His Second Coming, deceased believers will be resurrected before living believers. At that time, the archangel will act as the herald who initially summons deceased believers to Christ’s tribunal. After that, living believers will not die; instead, their bodies will be suddenly changed, and all believers will have eternal life with Christ. Thus, the Thessalonians should minister comfort to each other in the midst of their grief.

Paul then recalls the Thessalonians from curious and unprofitable inquiry about the day of Christ’s Second Coming. Indeed, that day will take unbelievers by surprise. Unbelievers act carelessly and fall into indolence – yet that day will suddenly attack them.

On the other hand, Christ has shone on the Thessalonians by the faith of His Gospel, and so they look forward to the day of His Second Coming. Since Christ has rescued them from darkness, they enjoy the light of day. Thus, they should not be like unbelievers, who are sunken in indolence and senselessness in the world; instead, they should cast off the cares of the world. Moreover, they are fighting in a war, and so they should put on the full armor of God. Now it is reassuring that God has not decreed that believers should be subject to His judgment against reprobates; instead, they have obtained salvation, as Christ has acquired it for them. Indeed, Christ died for all believers – both deceased and living – so that they can have His life, which is perpetual. Paul concludes by stimulating the Thessalonians to continue comforting and exhorting each other in light of these facts.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to avoid excessive grief over deceased believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13 of chapter 4:

It is unlikely that the hope of a resurrection had been spread among the Thessalonians by ungodly men, as was the case in Corinth. The apostle rebuked the Corinthians severely, but here he referred to the resurrection as a thing that was not in doubt. It is possible, however, that this conviction was not strong enough in the Thessalonian believers’ minds and that they, mourning for the dead, retained part of their old superstitions.

As an aside, I wonder if the “superstitions” that Calvin cites were endemic to ancient Greece or if they were confined to Thessalonica. Now based on this passage, it is possible that the Thessalonians were mourning excessively for their departed brethren, and this grief was hindering them in their spiritual walk. In particular, excessive grief over deceased believers would have dampened the Thessalonians’ desire to continue loving each other (and all others); any believer who has experienced loss can attest to this. While Paul did not want them to forget their departed brethren, he wanted them to grieve in an informed manner so that they could maintain their desire to honor God in this life.

In this passage, we also see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to be prepared for the Second Coming of Christ. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3 of chapter 5:

The prophets often reprove the wicked because of this negligence, and assuredly the ungodly wait in a spirit of carelessness not merely about the last judgment but also about everyday events that happen to them. Although the Lord threatens them with ruin and confusion, they do not hesitate to promise themselves peace and every kind of prosperity. The reason they fall into this indolence, which is so dangerous and deadly, is because they do not see that these things will take place soon.

I find this point to be challenging for believers, too (though this varies from believer to believer). Now Christ does not call believers to constantly think of His return; in particular, they should not sell all of their possessions, move to a mountaintop and wait for that day. Instead, He calls believers to serve Him faithfully and advance His Kingdom without knowing when that day will come. Now while we are serving Him in various capacities – e.g. teaching a Sunday School lesson on Solomon – we cannot always think of His return. My thought is that God calls us to not be overly attached to the world; we must never allow ourselves to place undue weight on the pleasures of the world and forget about His Second Coming. Serving God in the world while not being overly attached to the world is a difficult balance that we must strike.