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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.

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Salt and Light November 11, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:13-16.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus exhorts His disciples to:

  • arrest the spread of corruption in the world
  • dispel the darkness in the world.

In this way, others will see that God has set them apart from the world.

Thoughts: This passage spurred me to ponder the difficulties that believers encounter when engaging with unbelievers. While we may desire to be “salt” and “light,” our words and deeds may not have the desired effect on unbelievers. For example, if your non-Christian friend has had a rough day at the office, it is unlikely that they will respond enthusiastically to your attempts to share the Gospel with them over dinner that evening. This example reinforces the importance of being sensitive to the feelings of others; in this way, we can determine when it is appropriate to discuss our worldview with them. When the timing is right, one can use current events as an entry point to a discussion along those lines. For example, your non-Christian friend may assert the futility of offering up thoughts and prayers in the wake of a mass shooting. This comment may allow you to discuss the meaning of prayer and why believers still view it as a critical part of their daily lives.

The New Jerusalem March 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 21.

Summary: In this passage, God declares that He will enter into a new union with His people – where He will completely remove the consequences of the Fall. He exhorts His people to hold to His testimony so that they can enter into this new union – especially since those who do not hold to His testimony will be thrown into the lake of fire. One of the angels who poured out a bowl of the wrath of God then shows John the new Jerusalem; it is a beautiful city that reflects the glory of God. Indeed, its streets, gates, walls and foundations are composed of the most precious stones and metals. John notes that only those who hold to the testimony of God will be able to enter the new Jerusalem.

Thoughts: In verse 4, we see that believers will no longer be subject to “death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” These words must have greatly encouraged John’s original readers while they faced intense persecution for their faith. It would have been natural for them to abandon their faith and receive (short-term) pleasures – especially when some of their brethren were dying for their faith, leaving others to mourn their passing. Yet God called them to maintain their faith in the face of their (short-term) sufferings so that they could receive genuine (long-term) pleasures. These words should also greatly encourage modern-day believers who face intense persecution for their faith.

Here, John delights his readers with a wondrous description of “the Holy City, Jerusalem.” I am inclined to believe that John had a heavenly vision, and he had the challenging task of conveying the contents of that vision to his readers using earthly language. Perhaps the description of the foundations of the city walls that he provides in verses 19 and 20 demonstrates that his vision was consumed by an entity of infinite worth, and so he conveyed that infinite worth by mentioning an array of precious stones. My prayer is that I would eventually see this entity and experience the same sublime feelings that overwhelmed John when he wrote this letter.

In verse 27, we see that “the Holy City, Jerusalem” will be pure and unspoiled. Henry offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

There the saints will have no impurity left in them. In death they will be cleansed from everything that defiles. On earth they feel a sad mixture of corruption with their graces, which hinders them in God’s service, interrupts their communion with him, and intercepts the light of his countenance. But as they enter the Most Holy Place, they are washed in the bowl of Christ’s blood and are presented to the Father spotless.

I often struggle to maintain my communion with God, as I am easily distracted during worship services, daily quiet times and prayer. I often wish that God would heal my distracted mind – enabling me to focus on Him and give Him my undivided attention – yet I am acutely aware that I will never be able to honor Him fully in that regard during my earthly existence. While this is rather frustrating, the present state of affairs causes me to long for the next life, where I will be able to maintain my communion with God; indeed, I long for the time when I will savor all of His words and delight in His presence.

Greetings and Doxology November 14, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 1:4-8.

Summary: In this passage, John states that this book is written to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. The content of this book is derived from God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. John especially praises Jesus Christ by highlighting the benefits of His earthly suffering and His subsequent heavenly glorification. Jesus Christ also declares that He is God and that He will judge the world.

Thoughts: God the Son is the focus of this passage – while God the Father and God the Spirit receive only a passing mention. This reminds me of a theory of the pastor at my former church:

  • Jesus Christ was still relatively obscure in the Near East when John wrote this letter
  • thus, John intentionally highlighted the supremacy of Jesus Christ – even depicting Him as superior to God the Father – to compel his readers to live committed, holy lives and share their faith with unbelievers.

This theory is certainly debatable, yet readers of this passage can agree that John heaps praise on Jesus Christ. This also reminds me of John’s Gospel where He also highlights the supremacy of Jesus Christ. I will certainly have to probe John on this point in the next life.

Making One’s Calling and Election Sure July 19, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 1:3-11.

Summary: Peter begins by telling his readers that since they are in union with God, they have received His free and full gift; thus, they can begin, continue and complete the Christian life. He reminds them of God’s means of bringing them into union with Him – allowing them to partake of His divine life and be fully delivered from their former experience.

Since they have received God’s free and full gift, they should make haste to respond to His divine provision with diligence; in particular, they should grow in terms of their:

  • manly energy
  • intellectual and experiential knowledge of Him
  • power over that which is within
  • power over that which is without
  • reverence
  • special love for other believers
  • love for unbelievers.

Indeed, if they have these qualities abundantly and permanently, then they will have spiritual power, perception and privilege. On the other hand, those who are not diligent in response to God’s divine provision will lose their spiritual power, perception and privilege.

Given this stark choice, Peter makes a personal appeal to his readers to be diligent in response to God’s divine provision; in this way, they will be steadfast, and God will spare no expense in welcoming them into His everlasting kingdom.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, Peter lists several qualities that all believers should have in abundance. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

As there is this necessary connection between each one, we should note that each and all are expected to be in every Christian, not some in some Christians and others in others (see Galatians 5:22). “Fruit of the Spirit,” not “fruits.” The nine elements constitute one cluster to be exemplified in every Christian life. So it is here with these seven marks of diligence.

Clearly these qualities constitute the Christian life. Now I cannot claim to possess any of these qualities in abundance; even in terms of “knowledge,” while I apparently possess a strong intellectual understanding of God, my experiential understanding of Him is fairly lacking. The fact that Paul basically stresses the importance of the same list of qualities in Galatians – as Thomas notes above – is a further incentive for me to respond to God’s great gift with diligence. One thought is that I should continue to wrestle with the connection between love and seeking the good of others; if my “knowledge” of this connection improves, I will be able to make progress in this regard.

In verses 10 and 11, Peter states that if believers respond to God’s great gift with diligence, then He will welcome them into heaven. Thomas offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

Not a bare entrance, but “sweeping through the gates.” Compare verses [sic] 5 and verse 11. We supply, and then God will supply. The phrase here has been aptly translated, “God will spare no expense” concerning your entrance into the everlasting kingdom.

Thomas’ thoughts remind me of the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Now it is simpler for me to conceive of the Final Judgment as a nerve-wracking time where God sits on a massive throne and I bow before Him, trembling at His feet. I can hear God announcing – in a loud, booming voice – “your name is written in the Book of Life,” and I can see myself rising, still trembling, experiencing a mixture of residual fear and sudden joy. I have difficulty seeing God displaying His passion to me at that time by richly welcoming me into His house forever. Perhaps I need to regularly reflect on God’s dual roles of Righteous Judge and Loving Father, as that would help me eagerly anticipate the Final Judgment.

Living for God June 17, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 4:1-11.

Summary: Peter begins by telling his readers that since Christ suffered in their place, they must conform to Him by suffering in their bodies – ceasing from sin. Instead of walking in the ways of impiety, they are living sacrifices entirely offered up to God. Before their conversion, they had conformed to the world by walking in the ways of impiety. Now that they have been saved, they do not pour out their affections on ruinous vanities – and so unbelievers revile them. Yet at the supreme and final judgment, God will call these unbelievers to account for their insults. He also encourages them by reminding them that all deceased believers:

  • were converted at some point
  • ceased from sin after their conversion while enduring the insults of unbelievers
  • are now united to Christ.

Peter then reminds his readers that the supreme and final judgment will soon occur; thus, they should be sober and watchful – enabling them to pray in an acceptable way. Moreover, each of them must:

  • follow their primary duty of strongly seeking the good of others – enabling them to forgive their mutual failings
  • supply the needs of others based on the previous exhortation
  • use their endowments to seek the good of others, as God has given believers a variety of endowments.

Peter concludes with the following exhortations:

  • those who preach the Gospel message must speak wisely and in a holy way
  • deacons must depend on God’s strength when performing their duties

and so their service will be for God’s glory – spurring him to add a doxology to his exhortations.

Thoughts: In verse 9, Peter exhorts his readers to show kindness to fellow peripatetic Christians. Leighton offers some insights on this point:

One practical way to supply the necessities of our brothers is to cut back on our own excesses. Turn the stream into that channel where it will refresh your brothers and enrich yourself, and let it not run into the Dead Sea. Your vain excessive entertainments, your gaudy variety of clothing, these you do not question, for you think they are yours…You are a steward of all your possessions. If you do not share them, you are committing robbery. You are robbing your poor brothers who lack the necessities of life while you lavish on yourself what you do not need.

A quick scan of my e-mail inbox reveals that various entities tug at my purse strings. For example, an online retailer recommends that I purchase a book from their enormous inventory. Also, an airline encourages me to purchase a round-trip fare for a weekend getaway (along with renting a car and booking a hotel, if possible). In addition, my alma mater exhorts me to make a financial gift that will enable a current (or future) student to earn a life-changing diploma. Given all of these demands on my resources, how can I use my money wisely for the kingdom of God? I believe that it is important for Christians to formulate a financial plan so that they can give with a good conscience. This plan should be guided by the following compatible principles:

  • Christians do not need to sell all of their possessions
  • Christians should not be enslaved to their possessions.

In verse 11, Peter exhorts ministers of the Gospel message to preach with great caution. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

The Word is to be spoken wisely. By this I mean, it is to be delivered seriously and decently. Flippant remarks and unseemly gestures are to be avoided. You should speak with authority and mildness. Who is sufficient for such things?

I have discovered that during small group meetings, I have a tendency to say the first thing that comes to mind without considering its impact on the other attendees. Interestingly, another attendee has consistently challenged me when I have made unprofitable comments. While I still struggle to accept his criticisms, I have come to see that his primary concern is the spiritual welfare of our small group. This has spurred me to focus on presenting thoughts that can help the other attendees grow closer to God and to each other. Indeed, I have improved in terms of actually thinking through the implications of a particular statement or question before I verbalize it during our meetings. Perhaps this is God’s way of enabling me to tame my tongue, though I certainly have a long way to go in this regard.

The Living Stone and a Chosen People May 10, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 2:4-12.

Summary: Peter begins by stating that since his readers believe in Christ, He is the foundation of His church; He has life in Himself, and they derive their life from Him. Moreover, they have been set apart to offer the following to God:

  • their prayers
  • their praises
  • their lives

and since they are clothed with righteousness in His Son, He will delight in these offerings. He then quotes from Isaiah 28:16 to reinforce this point:

  • God chose His Son – due to His inner excellence – as the foundation of His church
  • God laid Him in the center of true religion
  • those who place their confidence in Him will never be separated from Him.

Indeed, they acknowledge the inner excellence of God’s Son. He then contrasts their perception of Christ with that of unbelievers, quoting from Psalm 118:22 and Isaiah 8:14, where it is shown that:

  • although the Pharisees, the chief priests, and the teachers of the law slighted Christ, He was confirmed as the foundation of His church
  • since unbelievers slight Christ, they will be miserable – accomplishing God’s secret purpose.

Peter then asserts that his readers have:

  • been effectually called by God
  • been consecrated by God to obey the Holy Spirit, pray for others and live righteous lives
  • been set apart from the world
  • God as their inheritance

and so they should glorify Him. They had been destitute of all spiritual truth and comfort, but now He has provided them with a correct knowledge of Himself through the Gospel message. They had been so miserable that they were equivalent to a heap of filthy carcasses, but now He has shown His compassion to them by establishing an enduring relationship with them.

In light of these awesome truths, Peter concludes with the following appeals to his readers:

  • since their earthly lives are relatively brief, they must hate the corrupt affections that characterize an unspiritual mind, as these affections can cause them to break God’s law – subjecting them to His wrath
  • they must lead holy and blameless lives among those who observe them so that even if they are accused of wrongdoing, their accusers will either embrace God or bring Him glory at the Last Judgment.

Thoughts: In verse 9, Peter tells his readers that God has set them apart as priests to serve Him. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

The worth of the holy function of believers is emphasized by these two words (royal and priesthood) being put together. By analogy this shows the importance of the ministry of the Gospel, which God has placed in his church in place of the priesthood of the law. So this title of spiritual priesthood rightly signifies a great privilege and honor that Christians are given. They are linked to royalty because the office of priesthood was so honorable.

I must admit that I rarely view myself as one of God’s “royal priests,” as I naturally neglect my awesome calling from God while fulfilling my day-to-day responsibilities. I feel rather disconnected from the notion of “royalty,” especially since monarchs have receded into the background of the 21st century. I also feel rather disconnected from the notion of “priesthood,” especially since I was not raised as a Catholic. Yet I am still confronted with this question: am I offering acceptable sacrifices to God on a daily basis? Perhaps I need to ruminate the great fact that God has shown me His divine favor by allowing me to serve Him; hopefully that will spur me to offer Him more fragrant sacrifices in the future.

In verse 12, Peter exhorts his readers to live righteously among non-believers so that God will be glorified by their actions. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

David says, “Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies – make straight your way before me” (Psalm 5:8). The word for “enemies” is “observers” or those who scan my ways, every step I take. If there is a single slip, they will be sure to note it. So we depend on the Spirit of God to be our guide and to enable us to lead a holy and blameless life.

Given that we live in a postmodern society that largely subscribes to moral relativism, I wonder if non-believers are concerned with the actions of the Christians in their midst (of course, it should be noted that many Christians have not revealed their faith to the non-believer in their midst). Consider the following hypothetical interaction between a Christian and a non-believer:

  • the Christian reveals their faith to the non-believer
  • the non-believer dismisses this revelation and proceeds with their daily routine.

Genuine seekers and relatively militant non-believers might respond differently in this scenario, though I wonder how many non-believers fall into one of these two categories. How can my life spur non-believers to judge my actions and assess my beliefs? Clearly I need the help of the Holy Spirit, as I wonder how many non-believers truly ponder the importance of holding a worldview…

Thanksgiving and Prayer May 12, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Thessalonians 1:3-12.

Summary: Paul begins by commending the Thessalonians – indeed, he is bound to constantly give thanks to God for them – as they are increasing in their faith and their love. In fact, he uses them as examples for other churches to follow, since their faith endues them with perseverance – sustaining them in their trials.

Paul then states that the persecutions that godly people endure from the wicked demonstrate that God will one day be the Judge of the world; moreover, these persecutions prepare believers for His kingdom. Moreover, it is necessary that the wicked be punished for their crimes; in this way God refreshes the Thessalonians – and Paul – as they endure persecutions. Indeed, Christ will bring dreadful judgment on His enemies as He brings the angels with Him to display the glory of His kingdom. Christ will inflict vengeance on unbelievers, who are ignorant about God and have contempt for Him. Unbelievers will be punished by:

  • destruction without end
  • an undying death.

At that time Christ will irradiate the godly with His glory; in particular, the Thessalonians are included with God’s holy people, since they accepted Paul’s preaching as Christ’s witness.

Paul notes that he prays for the Thessalonians, since they are constantly in need of God’s help; God’s grace is responsible for the whole progress of their salvation, and so he prays that His power would help them in a special way to reach the final goal. Paul concludes by praying that the Thessalonians would promote the glory of Christ – which is linked to their glory.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that God will punish the wicked for their persecution of believers. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

Some may ask whether it is right for us to desire vengeance, for Paul promises it as if it is correct to want it. I answer that it is not right to want vengeance on people in general, for we are commanded to wish them well. Besides, although we may in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked, yet, as we are not yet able to determine who they are, we should seek everyone’s welfare. In the meantime, the ruin of the wicked may be rightly looked forward to, provided our hearts are pure and controlled by zeal for God and there is no feeling of inordinate desire.

I know that my conscience is troubled whenever I desire vengeance on someone who has wronged me. Now I wonder if it is easier for believers who are being persecuted to “in a general way desire vengeance on the wicked”; are they more zealous for God as a result of their persecution, or do they desire vengeance on specific “wicked” people, namely, their persecutors? As for believers who are not being persecuted, are they tempted to suppress the certainty of God’s vengeance on the wicked as an unpleasant aspect of Christianity? I know that the concept of hell is rather bothersome for me, and so I rarely contemplate God’s judgment of unbelievers.

In verse 10, we see that Christ will show His glory in believers, and they will be glorified in Him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

There is an implied contrast between the present condition in which believers labor and groan and that final restoration. They are now exposed to the reproaches of the world and are looked on as being vile and worthless; but then they will be precious and full of dignity, for Christ will pour his glory upon them. The purpose of this teaching is so the godly may pursue their brief earthly journey as their minds are set on the future manifestation of Christ’s kingdom.

It can be inferred that Paul’s teaching in this regard encouraged the Thessalonians as they endured persecutions and other difficulties. Now believers who are not being persecuted face a major challenge: how do they apply this passage to their situation? If the world does not view these believers “as being vile and worthless,” can they eagerly await the time when “they will be precious and full of dignity?” These believers can grow complacent in their station in life and not anticipate the awesome benefits of Christ’s kingdom, as I know from my experience. Perhaps all believers need to be persecuted to some extent so they can long for “that final restoration,” though this is a controversial position.

Paul’s Longing to See the Thessalonians April 16, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:5.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians that when he was bereaved of them for a short time, his affection for them had actually been inflamed (despite the physical distance between them). He had been steadfast in his efforts to see them again, yet Satan contrived to obstruct him at every turn. Indeed, his happiness – in some sense – is treasured up in them; since he has promoted the kingdom of Christ among them, he will take part in glory and triumph on the last day.

Paul then asserts that he esteemed the Thessalonians above himself, since he chose to be left alone instead of leaving them to fend for themselves. In particular, he deprived himself of Timothy – whom he commended – so that they could be consoled and stimulated in their faith. He reminds them that the persecution he experiences is inseparable from him being a Christian; as they had been forewarned about this, they should battle more valiantly against their persecutions. Paul concludes by telling the Thessalonians that he had been concerned about them – especially if Satan had prevailed in enticing them to evil.

Thoughts: In verse 18 of chapter 2, we see that Satan prevented Paul from visiting the Thessalonians while he was in Athens. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Luke relates that Paul was in one instance hindered (Acts 20:3), inasmuch as the Jews laid an ambush for him along the route he traveled. The same thing, or something similar, may have occurred frequently. It is not without good reason, however, that Paul ascribes the whole of this to Satan, for as he teaches elsewhere (Ephesians 6:12), we have to wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities and spiritual wickedness.

Since many of the events in the life of Paul are not recorded in Scripture, we can only speculate as to how Satan hindered him in this case. Perhaps a believer in Athens became deathly ill just as Paul was about to travel to Thessalonica, forcing him to stay and take care of them. Also, perhaps Paul was about to leave Athens when he was stopped by a Roman official who refused to verify his travel documents (note that I am unsure as to whether the equivalent of a passport was required for travel within the Roman Empire; knowledgeable readers can clarify this point). In addition, perhaps robbers waylaid Paul as he was traveling to Thessalonica. Whatever the case may be, Satan was pleased with the final outcome: Paul could not see his Thessalonian brethren.

In verse 2 of chapter 3, we see that Paul sent Timothy to Thessalonica to evaluate the spiritual health of the Thessalonians and make a report to him. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The apostle assigned to Timothy marks of commendation, that he might show more clearly how much he cared about the Thessalonians’ welfare. If he had sent them some common person, that would not have afforded them much assistance. And if Paul would have done this without inconveniencing himself, he would have given no remarkable proof of his fatherly concern about the Thessalonians.

Clearly Paul and Timothy had an extremely close relationship that enabled them to make a positive impact on the lives of many believers in the early church. Their bond was so strong, in fact, that perhaps Paul’s ministry in Athens would have been more successful if Timothy had not traveled to Thessalonica. This has heightened my anticipation of future strolls through the two pastoral epistles that are addressed to Timothy, which will allow me to delve into the nature of Paul’s relationship with his closest disciple. How did Paul make such a deep impression on Timothy and spur him in his Christian walk?

Paul the Minister to the Gentiles May 21, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 15:14-22.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that he, in and of himself, knows that the Roman Christians are full of kind and conciliatory feelings, and they are so well-taught in this regard that they can teach and correct each other. He then humbly notes that he has been a bit too bold in his previous exhortations and instructions – yet he was qualified to remind them of these truths as he had been divinely appointed as an apostle. In fact, he is a priest – figuratively speaking – with respect to the Gospel, since his mission is to present the Gentiles as an acceptable sacrifice to God by the power of the Holy Spirit. Given this fact, all of Paul’s preaching and success in spreading the Gospel was meant to bring glory to Christ Jesus. Paul would not glory in himself based on his leading the Gentiles to obey God with their thoughts and actions through 1) his preaching of the Gospel and 2) his performing any miracles to support the truth of his preaching; he would only glory in Christ and His working through him to produce those victories. Indeed, over the course of his ministry Paul performed countless miracles to 1) display God’s power and 2) prove the truth of the Gospel, and when combined with his preaching they produced a saving belief in the minds of those who witnessed them – by the power of the Holy Spirit; his ministry work was performed over a large area that was centered on Jerusalem, and he thoroughly accomplished God’s mission for him to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. In fact, Paul earnestly pursued the goal of serving God as an apostle, and not as a pastor. He acted in accordance with the prediction in Isaiah that those who had never heard the Gospel would have their eyes opened and their minds enlightened. In many instances this had actually prevented him from coming to Rome, since he knew that the Gospel had already been preached there; he needed to preach the Gospel if he was among those who had never heard it.

Thoughts: In verse 19, Paul notes that he has preached the Gospel message “from Jerusalem all the way around to Illyricum.” Hodge comments on this as follows:

Jerusalem was the center around which Paul carried out his labors. He had successfully preached the Gospel throughout a most extensive region…The apostle had preached in this wide circuit, founding churches and advancing the Redeemer’s kingdom with such evidence of the divine cooperation that there was no doubt that he was a divinely appointed minister of Christ.

I searched for, and found, a map of Illyricum to get a sense of the extent of Paul’s ministry work. Now the region “from Jerusalem…to Illyricum” includes locations such as Corinth, Thessalonica and Ephesus; if Paul’s ministry had spanned a smaller area, how many epistles would he have written? Honestly, it is quite amazing how many people Paul impacted in a positive way over the course of his Christian walk. He contended with false teachers, unbelieving Jews and Greeks, and all sorts of other hardships – yet he never lost sight of his mission as an apostle. Today all Christians can be thankful that God worked through Paul in such an awesome way to build up the early church.

In verses 20-21, it is clear that Paul was intent on fulfilling a prediction in Isaiah that the Gospel would be preached to those who had never heard it – and that at least some of those who heard it would accept it. When reading this I thought about the blessings and challenges of being an apostle (or missionary) as opposed to being a pastor, particularly in terms of saving the unsaved. In general, an apostle (or missionary) experiences the thrill and excitement of spreading the Gospel to an “unreached people group.” This thrill and excitement is inevitably accompanied by the element of the unknown; how will these unreached people respond to the Gospel? Will they respond with violence, hatred, indifference, curiosity, or even enthusiasm? As for a pastor, the unsaved people who they interact with in their communities will probably 1) have at least a rudimentary knowledge of the Gospel message and 2) have developed a tried-and-true rationale for denying its truth in their lives. If they hear the Gospel message from this pastor, they are unlikely to respond with violence or even outright hatred. Now it should be noted that in general, pastors will not experience the thrill and excitement of “pushing the boundaries of the Gospel;” as noted above.