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Psalm 51 July 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 51.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to show mercy to him, as he has committed adultery with Bathsheba and attempted to conceal that sin by murdering her husband, Uriah the Hittite.

He asserts that he has acted based on his inherent sinfulness – heightening the contrast between his sinfulness and God’s righteousness.

He then prays that God would:

  • cleanse him of his sins – not counting them against him
  • restore him to a right relationship with Him
  • incline his soul towards Him.

He then asserts that he will respond by praising Him – and exhorting other sinners to do likewise. Moreover, he will praise him based on an acute awareness of his inherent sinfulness.

He concludes by praying for the people of Israel – especially that they would praise Him based on an acute awareness of their inherent sinfulness.

Thoughts: I enjoyed reading the following note that Spurgeon included in the preface to his commentary:

In commenting upon some of [the Psalms], I have been overwhelmed with awe, and said with Jacob, “How dreadful is this place, it is none other than the house of God.” Especially was this the case with Psalm 51; I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling more and more my inability for the work. Often I sat down to it, and rose up again without having penned a line. It is a bush burning with fire yet not consumed, and out of it a voice seemed to cry to me, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from off thy feet.” The psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are of one born of woman; but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine, as if the great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth. Such a psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion; but, commented on – ah! where is he who having attempted it can do other than blush at his defeat?

Notwithstanding the last sentence, I approached Spurgeon’s commentary on this psalm with great anticipation in light of this note. Thus, I was displeased with the edited – and abridged, I assume – version that appeared in my Crossway Classic Commentary; my conjecture is that the original version was relatively lengthy and included a great deal of soul-searching. In light of this disappointment, I anticipate meeting Spurgeon in the next life and probing him on this point. Were his thoughts and feelings on this psalm influenced by any personal failings, e.g. temptations to commit adultery and/or murder? How long did it take for him to complete his commentary on this psalm? How did he eventually find the wisdom – and strength – to write it? How would he have responded to the abridged version that was produced by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer?

In verses 18 and 19, David prays that God would bless Jerusalem – and the people of Israel. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

Zion was David’s favorite spot, whereon he had hoped to erect a temple. He felt he had hindered the project honoring the Lord there as he desired, but he prayed God still to let the place of his ark be glorious, and to establish his worship and his worshiping people…He had done mischief by his sin, and has as it were polluted down her walls; he therefore implores the Lord to undo the evil and establish his church.

These two verses form an interesting conclusion to this famous psalm, and they call us to ponder the (potential) broader impact of our sinfulness. Can our personal failings lead others away from God? Can our ostensibly private sins hamper our public efforts to honor God? Can God respond to our sins by rejecting our acts of service – and not blessing those whom we desire to bless? While we should recoil at the fact that our personal failings damage our relationship with God, we should also consider how our wrong choices may hurt others. Perhaps such ruminations will spur us to be more circumspect in our private lives.

Psalm 32 April 27, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 32.

Summary: In this passage, David asserts that those who have been forgiven by God are “lucky bums.” He then recounts an instance where he:

  • refused to acknowledge his sins to God
  • was weighed down by his obstinacy
  • acknowledged his sins to God.

At that point, God forgave him.

In light of that experience, he prays that all of the people of God would acknowledge their sins to Him – and find refuge in Him. He concludes by asserting that God will guide and protect His people; thus, they should praise Him and be joyful.

Thoughts: In verse 5, David acknowledges his sins to God, and God forgives him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

After long lingering, the broken heart bethought itself of what it ought to have done at the first, and laid bare its heart before the Lord…We must confess the guilt as well as the fact of sin. It is useless to conceal it, for it is well known to God; it is beneficial to us to own it, for a full confession softens and humbles the heart.

Whenever I offend someone with my words and/or deeds, I readily confess that sin before God. Yet I struggle to acknowledge my transgression to the one whom I have offended and ask them to forgive me. This may stem from the fact that I detest awkward feelings, which usually arise when I ask for forgiveness (since I seek to conceal my shortcomings). Yet this passage reminds me to take ownership of my sins; moreover, if I fail to ask for forgiveness, then that will damage my relationship with 1) the one whom I offended and 2) God Himself.

Verse 7 forms the basis of “You Are My Hiding Place”. A quick Google search reveals:

  • that this song was written by Michael Ledner
  • posts including this one that provide the context for this song.

I hope to meet Ledner at some point and query him on these points:

  • the context of verse 7 is that David found refuge in God after he confessed his sins to Him; did Ledner consider that context when composing these memorable lyrics?
  • did he consider weaving other sections of this passage into that song?

On a related note, as modern-day believers, we should evaluate verse 7; do we truly seek refuge in God after we sin? How does God “surround [us] with songs of deliverance” after we confess our sins to Him?

The Parable of the Unmerciful Servant June 24, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:21-35.

Summary: In this passage, Peter asks Jesus if there are limits to forgiving a believer who has sinned against him.

Jesus responds in the negative. Indeed, His kingdom can be represented by a king who regularly settles his accounts with his satraps. One of them owes him an inestimable debt; thus, the king declares that his entire family should be enslaved and his possessions should be liquidated.

This satrap responds by pleading for mercy. As the king loves him, he forgives him his debt.

This satrap then searches for one of his servants who owes him a relatively small debt. Upon finding him, he goes about choking him and demanding that he repay that debt.

His servant responds by pleading for mercy. Yet he refuses to forgive him his debt, and he imprisons him.

Other servants are excessively grieved by the actions of this satrap, and they meticulously recount them to the king.

The king then summons this satrap and asserts that he should have forgiven the debt of his servant, as he has forgiven his debt. He then turns this satrap over to his inquisitors.

Similarly, they should forgive any believer who sins against them, as God has forgiven them for their sins against Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus calls believers to refrain from setting boundaries on forgiveness. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

It is clear from this parable that one motive for forgiving others ought to be the recollection that we all need forgiveness at God’s hands ourselves. Day after day we are coming short in many things, “leaving undone what we ought to do, and doing what we ought not to do.” Day after day we require mercy and pardon. Our neighbors’ offenses against us are mere trifles, compared with our offenses against God.

Ryle makes an interesting point by comparing the sins of our neighbors and our sins against God. In order to obey Jesus’ command in this passage, we must begin to comprehend the magnitude of “our offenses against God.” The difficulty of this task is compounded by the fact that we cannot perceive Him with our senses, though. When we offend another believer, their response to our actions can elicit feelings of shame and regret. Yet we cannot readily discern God’s response to our offenses against Him. Perhaps this sobering fact points to the importance of the Holy Spirit in our walk with God; the third member of the Trinity can enable us to perceive His grief over our sins and spur us to truly seek His forgiveness.

Reading through this passage also spurred me to ponder my sinful tendency to bear grudges against other believers over perceived slights. My current view is that most of these perceived slights do not constitute actual offenses against me. While I was offended by these perceived slights, I now believe that I was overly sensitive in those instances. Moreover, I now believe that in general, believers do not set out to offend other believers. Thus, if those with whom I associate these perceived slights did not set out to offend me, then I do not need to forgive them – since they did not sin in those instances. Moreover, I should not bear grudges against them; this is a major challenge, though, and I need God’s grace to overcome this obstacle in my walk with Him and seek their best interests.

Jesus Heals a Paralytic February 11, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:1-8.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus travels to Capernaum, where He encounters a paralytic and four of his friends. These men trust that He can heal their friend; He responds by:

  • forgiving his sins
  • declaring that the ability to forgive sins is equivalent to the ability to heal
  • healing him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus rebuked several scribes for their blasphemous thoughts. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Nothing can be concealed from Christ. What do we think of in private, when no one sees us? What do we think of in church when we seem grave and serious? What are we thinking of at this moment while reading these words? Jesus knows…Surely we ought to be very humble when we consider these things: we ought to thank God daily that the blood of Christ can cleanse from all sin…

I must admit that when I desire to spend time with God, e.g. while meditating on my daily Bible reading, I am easily distracted. I believe that distracting thoughts in those instances are not genuine acts of worship, since I associate those thoughts with my sinful nature; thus, I regularly confess those thoughts to God. Ryle’s last point, then, is instructive: since I cannot rid myself of distracting thoughts in this life, I must constantly rest on Christ for my salvation. Moreover, even though my sinful nature attempts to exert its influence over me through distracting thoughts, I know that I will eventually defeat it – and those thoughts – with the assistance of the Holy Spirit.

Prayer December 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 6:5-15.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus notes that the:

  • Pharisees pray in order to be seen by men; thus, they only receive the applause of men
  • Gentiles pray mindlessly.

In contrast, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • shun the applause of men in their prayers
  • know the Person to whom they are praying.

He then instructs them to pray that:

  • the attributes of God would be glorified
  • the kingdom of God would be established at His Second Coming
  • all mankind would perfectly submit to the laws of God
  • God would supply their daily necessities
  • God would be merciful to them
  • God would enable them to be merciful to others
  • God would not allow them to run into sin
  • God would preserve them from the power of evil.

He concludes by restating the importance of mercy – as a repentant heart naturally expresses itself via acts of mercy.

Thoughts: In verse 10, we see that we should earnestly desire the Second Coming of Christ. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the time when sin, sorrow and Satan will be driven out of the world. It is…a time that is to be desired more than anything. It therefore fills a foremost place in the Lord’s Prayer.

I can say that when I am in a good mood, I rarely pause and ponder the kingdom of God. It is only when God jolts me out of my complacency – e.g. when I am reminded of the evil and suffering that plague this world – that I pray that He would swiftly establish His kingdom in this world. Indeed, accounts of evil and suffering constantly remind us – as believers – that this world is imperfect and that we should long for the complete realization of the kingdom of God. One thought is that we can display this longing to unbelievers by persisting in our acts of service.

In verse 12, we see that we should ask God to forgive us – as we have forgiven those who have offended us. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Its object is to remind us that we must not expect our prayers for forgiveness to be heard if we pray with malice and spite in our hearts towards others. To pray in such a frame of mind is mere formality and hypocrisy…Our prayers are nothing without love. We must not expect to be forgiven if we cannot forgive.

This section of the Sermon on the Mount continues to challenge me, as it exposes the obstacles that plague my walk with God. Lately I have pondered God’s ability to forgive us in light of our propensity to sin. One thought is that His ability to forgive stems from His understanding of His identity. When He forgives us, His glory is not diminished – even if we fail to accept His forgiveness and/or continue to offend Him. Perhaps my inability to forgive others reflects my lack of understanding of my identity in Him. If so, then I need to grow in that understanding – on a daily basis – in order to extend forgiveness to others.

Made Alive in Christ April 8, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Ephesians 2:1-10.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Ephesians that just as God raised Christ from the dead, He has given life to them, as they were separated from Him due to their

  • outer transgressions
  • manifestations of their sinful nature.

They had been living according to the spirit of the world and had been subject to Satan – who influences the wicked. Indeed, all believers were previously influenced by Satan; they satisfied the commands of the flesh and of the mind. Moreover, when they were born they were already subject to God’s condemnation. Yet because of God’s love for believers and His desire to support the miserable, He forgave them and regenerated them – just as He raised Christ from the dead; their salvation stems from the unmerited love of God. God has also exalted believers to a favorable state – the kingdom of heaven – which they begin to experience on earth. God has done this so that in the future He can show His grace, which is exercised through Christ. Now believers are saved – freely – by merely receiving God’s offer of salvation (even their ability to receive this offer comes from Him); their salvation cannot be earned, and so no one has merit in His eyes. Paul concludes by inferring that believers are saved by God and united with Christ for a life of holiness, as God has decided before the beginning of the world to prepare them for this type of life.

Thoughts: Verses 5 and 6 show that God has already given believers spiritual life and enthroned them with Christ in heaven. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts on this point:

Hence, all the verbs used in this connection – made…alive, raised…up, seated…with – are in the past tense. They express what has already taken place – not what is future, not what is merely in prospect. The resurrection, the making alive, and the raising up of Christ’s people were in an important sense accomplished when he rose from the dead and sat down at the right hand of God.

This is a concept that had vexed me, especially during a previous excursion through the parallel passage of Colossians 3:1. Paul explains this notion of the close union between the physical resurrection of Christ and the spiritual resurrection of His people more fully in Romans 6, which I blogged about in this post. Clearly the reality of the resurrection of Christ and the surety of His promises allow Paul to use the past tense in this and in similar passages. We can be encouraged by Paul’s use of the past tense here, knowing that our spiritual resurrection and exaltation with Christ is so certain that we can speak of these events as having already occurred. This illustrates the magnitude and impact of the resurrection event.

In verse 8, we see that God freely saves believers, and even our ability to receive His gift of salvation comes from Him. Hodge defends this assertion as follows:

1. It fits the purpose of the passage best. The apostle’s aim is to show the free nature of salvation. This is most effectually done by saying, “You are not only saved by faith in opposition to works, but your very faith is not of yourselves – it is the gift of God.”

This is a point that I had missed in my previous excursions through Ephesians, and I am grateful that Hodge illuminated it in his commentary. Indeed, this apparent subtlety highlights the utter wretchedness and misery that enveloped believers before God extended His offer of salvation to them. We were so hopelessly lost that we completely lacked the ability to receive His offer of salvation – God had to plant that desire for salvation in us. We – in our state of misery – would have rejected His offer of life, so God went even further and enabled us to receive it. We can be thankful that God left no stone unturned in order to save us – to our benefit and for His glory.

Forgiveness for the Sinner November 19, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 2:5-11.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that although his previous letter to the Corinthians had been written with sorrow, their (formerly) incestuous brother – who played a major role in causing that sorrow – had not offended him personally; also, he had only offended some of them. In fact, their punishment of him was sufficient. Paul then encourages the Corinthians to forgive and comfort this brother – so that he will not be driven to despair (and destroyed in the process). To this end, he exhorts them to publicly assure this brother of their love for him. Now in his previous letter, Paul had instructed the Corinthians on how to deal with this brother in order to:

  • test their integrity
  • see if they would submit to his legitimate authority over them.

He is ready to join them in forgiving this brother, and his act of forgiveness occurs in the presence of Christ. Paul concludes by noting that his act of forgiveness stems from his desire to keep Satan from advancing his cause by destroying this brother – as Satan constantly endeavors to destroy believers.

Thoughts: Reading this passage got me thinking about church discipline and how it should be exercised in a modern-day church. Now let’s assume that as a church member, you are positive that a fellow church member is committing a particular sin on a regular basis (for now, we can assume that a brother, and not a sister, is in error here). Here are some thoughts on how you could address that situation.

First, I would pray (seriously) about this issue and wrestle with the following questions: is that brother actually sinning, or am I making a mountain out of a molehill? Also, what would be the best way for me to approach him about this issue? I would also talk with other trusted believers in our church; are they aware of his sinful actions and do they concur with your assessment of his behavior? If so, how would they approach him about this matter?

Then, I would approach the brother in question. Ideally we would meet in a location where he would be at ease. I would cut to the chase and tell him about his sinful behavior that I – and other church members – have noticed. Along with making an appeal for him to change his ways, I would tell him about his strengths that I – and other church members – have noticed. This stems from my belief that when constructive criticism has to be given, the message is more easily conveyed by also noting what the subject of the criticism is doing well.

Now if the brother in question changes their ways after that meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I would gather two or three trusted believers from our church to talk with that brother about his sinful behavior. Ideally these trusted believers would agree on the need for corrective action – while each of them would present a unique perspective on the issue at hand. In this way, we would increase our chances of being able to communicate our concerns to that brother.

Then, if the brother in question changes their ways after this meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I would gather our church body – including that brother – and discuss his sinful behavior. Now at this stage of the problem, I am utterly clueless as to how to act properly – apart from obeying the general principle of acting in love. Indeed, the concept of a church-wide meeting to address a particular member’s sinfulness sounds rather unpleasant.

If the brother in question changes their ways after that meeting, that would be great. Otherwise, I suppose that he would have to be put out of our church for some time. Ideally I – and other church members – would continue to meet with him on an individual basis, mainly to remind him of our love for him and our desire for him to remain in the Lord.

Any thoughts on these actions would be welcome.