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Keeping the Sabbath Holy April 6, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 17:19-27.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gates of Jerusalem:

  • the people of Judah need to observe the Sabbath
  • if they obey this command, then He will maintain the preeminence of Jerusalem
  • if they disobey this command, then He will destroy Jerusalem.

Thoughts: Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this passage in his commentary on verses 19-21:

This discourse should be separated from the preceding one. Whoever divided the chapters was in my judgment deficient here, as well as in many other places.

Calvin’s thoughts led me to the following question: how was the Bible divided into chapters and verses? A quick Google search revealed links such as this one and this one. My conjecture is that many Christians have grown accustomed to the standard chapter-and-verse divisions; thus, removing them would do more harm than good. Yet we must not allow them to hamper our understanding of a given section of Scripture. Once we have used them to locate a particular passage, we must then attempt to ignore them if they might hinder our grasp of what God is saying in that particular case. One thought is that when one is preparing an inductive Bible study, they can omit the verse divisions in the handouts that contain the passage of interest.

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Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All May 16, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 10:1-18.

Summary: The author begins by:

  • conceding that the old covenant between God and men was a harbinger of the new covenant
  • inferring that the old covenant was not designed to be permanent.

The impotency of the old covenant is highlighted by the fact that God appointed that its attendant sacrifices should be repeated; thus, the blood of those sacrifices could not take away sin.

The author then quotes from Psalm 40:6-8 to show that:

  • none of the sacrifices of the old covenant were suited to either the glory of God or the needs of the souls of men
  • the sacrifice of the new covenant – that of Christ Himself – was suitable in that regard.

Indeed, by offering Himself as a sacrifice, Christ:

  • fulfilled God’s eternal purpose and design
  • perfectly sanctified the church once only.

Now the author reiterates that since the Levitical priests – under the old covenant – had to stand and repeat their sacrifices, those sacrifices could not take away sins. In contrast, Christ sealed the new covenant by offering Himself as a sacrifice once only; He now sits at God’s throne, having perfectly sanctified the church.

The author concludes by quoting from Jeremiah 31:33-34 to show that in the Old Testament, the Holy Spirit declared that God would make a new covenant with men where their sins would be taken away.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, the author quotes from Psalm 40:6-8 to show that Christ came to dwell among mankind in order to fulfill – and abolish – the old covenant. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

No sacrifices of the law, not all of them together, were a means for the expiation of sin, suited to the glory of God or the needs of the souls of men. The constant use of sacrifices to signify those things that they could not effect in worshipers was a great part of the slavery that the church was held in under the old testament…Yes, and Christ himself had a command from God to lay down his life for the accomplishment of this work.

I found these verses to be rather poignant, especially since they hint at the great suffering that Christ was prepared to endure in order to abolish the old covenant and seal the new covenant. While I am ignorant in terms of the form and structure of Hebrew poetry, I can still appreciate the beauty of these three verses. Indeed, verses 5 and 6 neatly summarize the problem at hand – that sacrifices and offerings could not mend a broken relationship with God – while verse 7 presents the solution to this problem, which is the sacrifice of Christ Himself. These verses can also encourage modern-day believers, as they lend further support to the notion that doing God’s will is difficult and involves some degree of suffering. Of course, we can be further encouraged by the fact that Christ emerged victorious through His suffering – thereby guaranteeing our ultimate victory through our suffering.

This passage concludes the “theory” section of this letter; the next passage inaugurates the “practice” section of this letter. Overall, I would say that the author has presented an awesome proof of the superiority of the person and work of Christ to all of the core tenets and iconic figures of Judaism. Indeed, the plethora of carefully selected Old Testament quotations serve as an indomitable argument that the Hebrews cannot ignore; they were intimately familiar with the Old Testament, yet they failed to infer – before receiving this letter – that it testifies to the impending arrival of a Person who would render it obsolete in terms of maintaining the relationship between God and men. I would certainly like to meet the Hebrews in the next life and learn how they perceived the “theory” section of this letter. Were they thoroughly swayed by the author’s arguments and utterly convinced that they needed to respond to the Gospel with faith and obedience? Did they dispute the author’s interpretation of at least some of their selected Old Testament quotations? Were they offended to some degree by the author’s systematic dismantling of their former belief system?

The Day of the Lord July 30, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Peter 3.

Summary: Peter begins by speaking affectionately to his readers, stating that he has written them two letters to arouse them to godly life. He wants to focus their attention on Old Testament prophecy and apostolic teaching.

Peter then states that his exhortation is based on the fact that during the close of the Messianic dispensation, false teachers will appear; they will:

  • scoff
  • live evil lives
  • be skeptical about the First and Second Coming of Christ, since they assume that the world has not changed since the Old Testament times.

Yet these false teachers are willfully evil, as their assumption regarding the immutability of the world is incorrect – the Flood occurred. At that time, God used water to change the world; now, He can use fire to change the world.

Now Peter states although God has yet to use fire to change the world, there is a difference between the divine and human computation of time. In particular, His perseverance extends to these false teachers; His patience is balanced by His justice, though. The Second Coming of Christ is certain, and at that time, the world and the heavenly bodies will be burned up.

Peter then exhorts his readers to have an attitude of godly fear in light of this terrible event. They must display holy behavior, which stems from their holy character. They must earnestly long for this coming event – when they will meet Christ without shame and dwell permanently in their new, righteous home.

Peter reminds his readers that in Paul’s letters, he addresses the same themes that Peter has discussed in this letter; thus, he associates the letters of Paul with the Old Testament Scriptures as the Word of God. He states that unfortunately, unsteadfast souls are twisting Paul’s letters, especially the doctrine of justification.

Now Peter exhorts his readers to be watchful, since there are many dangers around them, and they might fail in facing them. He concludes by exhorting them to continue to grow in divine grace and have divine fellowship with God – who is worthy of all praise.

Thoughts: In verses 8-10, Peter discusses the Second Coming of Christ; in particular, he states that it will suddenly come upon us. Admittedly, when I read this passage, I started pondering the eschatological implications of Peter’s note on how “a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day”; perhaps since Christ ascended into heaven around 30 A.D., can we expect him to return around 2030 A.D., as that mark the “third day” since his ascension into heaven? I then remembered that dwelling on eschatology is rather unproductive, since I could put my time on this planet to better use by living a “holy and godly” life – especially in light of Peter’s exhortations. I hope to be found faithful when Christ returns, and so I must maintain my focus on that great Day without getting distracted by eschatology.

In verses 15 and 16, Peter discusses how Paul’s letters are equivalent to the Old Testament Scriptures. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

Ignorant and unsteadfast souls were already twisting Paul’s writings. Probably the reference is a general one, or it may be specifically to Paul’s letters to the Galatians, Ephesians, and Colossians, included in the churches of Asia Minor, to which Peter was writing (1 Peter 1:1). It is thought with great probability that it was St. Paul’s doctrine of justification that was particularly causing their own destruction (verse 16).

I am certainly eager to meet Peter and Paul in the next life and delve into their relationship; in particular, I would like to know how Paul viewed Peter’s letters. Did Paul know about Peter’s letters? If so, and if he also knew about Jude’s letter, how did he react to the common links between this letter and Jude’s letter? On a slightly different tack…if false teachers in Asia Minor were already twisting Paul’s teaching regarding the doctrine of justification, how did they respond to this letter? How many of Paul’s letters did Peter read? Did he have a special affection for any of Paul’s letters?

In verse 18, Peter highlights the importance of “knowledge” in the Christian life, especially as believers anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. Thomas offers some insights on this point:

Knowledge of God here, as elsewhere, implies personal experience and conscious fellowship, and this is one of the prime secrets of Christian steadfastness and progress. Thus the letter ends as it began, with its keynote of knowledge.

When I was in the fourth grade, I received a Bible from my Sunday School teacher, and she wrote this verse on the front endpaper. I still use that Bible when I 1) teach Sunday School and 2) participate in small group Bible studies, and I’ve occasionally pondered this verse. Now that I have completed my stroll through this letter, I have a new perspective on the concept of “knowledge.” Indeed, I now see that while it is good to have some understanding of God at an intellectual level, I must not be satisfied with my progress in that regard – I need to have divine fellowship with Him in order to truly know Him. If it is His will, I hope to know Him more in that regard.

Suffering for Doing Good June 11, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 3:8-22.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting believers to:

  • be of one mind
  • have compassion
  • love each other in Christ
  • be humble.

When they are attacked, they must seek the good of those who attack them, since they have been called to receive a holy inheritance. To support this point, he quotes from Psalm 34:12-16; in light of that passage, they must:

  • avoid profane speech, impious words, and speaking evil about people
  • loath evil and desire God’s glory
  • seek external peace with others.

Indeed, while God is angry with the wicked, He loves those who desire to walk with Him, and He answers their prayers.

Peter then notes that if his readers are ambitious to imitate God, then unbelievers may be overcome by their actions. Yet even if unbelievers attack them, they should be happy; to support this point, he quotes from Isaiah 8:12; in light of that passage, their souls should not become confused in the midst of the attacks of unbelievers. Instead, they must:

  • worship Christ
  • be ready to gently defend their faith when unbelievers attack them – by speaking about their faith with reverence.

Their inner nature must remain holy, so that those who attack them by speaking ill of them will acknowledge that their accusations have no merit. Moreover, if it is God’s will for believers to be attacked by unbelievers, then they will benefit from these attacks. To support this point, Peter reminds them that Christ suffered and died so that everyone could be received into friendship with God; Christ – in terms of His human nature – died violently, yet His human nature was then united to the spring of life. Also, Christ spoke through Noah to his contemporaries and warned them that He would judge their sinfulness; He bore with them, yet they did not believe His messenger, Noah. God then brought a flood on the earth, and only Noah and his family survived in the ark. This story also reminds believers that their baptism confirms their salvation; their souls are now at peace with God, and the resurrection of Christ confirms this great fact. Peter concludes by noting that Christ:

  • has ascended into heaven
  • has supreme dignity
  • is supreme over all of the elect angels.

Thoughts: In verses 19-21, Peter connects the flood that Noah and his family survived with the water of ritual baptism. Leighton offers some insights regarding baptism:

Thus, we have a true account of this power, and so of other sacraments, and we find the error of two extremes. First, that of those who ascribe too much to them, as if they worked through a natural, inherent value and carried grace in them inseparably. Second, the error of those who ascribe too little to them, making them only signs and badges of our profession. Signs they are, but more than signs that merely represent something. They are the means exhibiting and seals confirming grace to the faithful.

I would say that I am guilty of the latter error that Leighton notes above, as my perspective on baptism is that it constitutes another step in a believer’s spiritual walk. Now I should add that baptism is a distinctive step in this journey, as it typically entails the first public declaration of a believer’s faith. As for the former error that Leighton notes above, I have seen fellow believers place undue weight on baptismal ceremonies; also, I know people who were baptized and later wandered away from their faith. Perhaps any believer who is preparing for their baptism should consider how this public declaration of faith should spur them to make further progress in their spiritual walk. In particular, when I was baptized about ten years ago, I felt compelled to set a good example for others through my subsequent words and deeds, and I achieved some success in this regard.

In verse 22, Peter encourages believers in light of the fact that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

Would death be a terrifying word? Would it not, indeed, be one of the sweetest thoughts to make us rejoice, to bring our hearts solace and rest, as we look forward to the day of freedom? This infectious disease may stay here all winter and break out again more strongly again next year. [A plague ravaged Lothian in 1645 and first appeared at Newbattle in July 1645 and did not end until the end of 1646. – Editor’s note.] Do not flatter yourselves and think it has passed. But consider how Christ wishes us to contemplate our union with him.

A quick Google search revealed an interesting article on the plague that Leighton references above. Clearly Leighton and his readers were deeply affected by the plague, as about half of the population of Leith perished as a result of the disease. In the midst of great fear and panic, Leighton used this passage to encourage his readers to focus on their awesome status in Christ. Black rats, infected fleas, gangrene, etc. could cause great physical and emotional trauma, yet these temporal troubles could not affect the eternal inheritance that God had stored up for them in heaven. Perhaps we should heed Leighton’s advice in the midst of our contemporary troubles and difficulties by asking God to help us view these setbacks through His eyes.

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…

Be Holy May 3, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 1:13-2:3.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting his readers to:

  • gird up their affections
  • keep watch
  • rest perfectly on the salvation that they will fully receive at the Second Coming of Jesus Christ.

Since they are the children of God, they must separate themselves from the polluted habits that resided in their hearts when their souls were in complete darkness. He quotes from Leviticus 11:44 to drive home this point: since God is set apart from the world, they must also be set apart from the world.

Peter then reminds his readers that since they are the children of God – who will fairly assess all actions, words and thoughts – they should be:

  • mindful that the Earth is not their permanent home
  • reluctant to displease God.

They know that God did not use temporal things – even items that people value most highly – to free them from a life of slavery to sinful habits and vain religious devices. Instead, He caused His perfect Son to suffer for them; He planned this before the beginning of time, and now He has manifested His Son through His incarnation, which has perpetual value for them. Thus, Christ – through His work – has placed Himself between them and the Father, and so they can place their faith in the Father.

Now Peter states that since his readers are being renewed through their obedience to God’s rule of purity, they should genuinely seek the good of others. This stems from the fact that the abiding Gospel message has made them the children of God. He quotes from Isaiah 40:6-8 to drive home this point: while everyone will eventually turn to dust, the Gospel message that they have received is incorruptible.

Since Peter’s readers are the children of God, they must not:

  • wish evil on others
  • be jealous of the goodness of others
  • carry these evils around under better appearances.

Instead, they must act like infants by exhibiting a vehement desire for the Gospel message, which transforms and enlightens them. Peter concludes by reminding them that this vehement desire should be their natural response to God’s kind disposition toward them.

Thoughts: In verse 13 of chapter 1, Peter exhorts his readers to prepare themselves for the Second Coming of Christ. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

Therefore it is a day of grace, and all light and blessedness to those who are in Christ, because they will appear with him. If Christ is glorious, they will not be without honor and ashamed. If we were then to be confronted by our secret sins and have them exposed to the view of everyone, who could look forward to that day? This is how all unbelieving people view that day, and so they find it most frightening.

I wonder if many believers – especially Christians who dwell in First World countries – consciously live for the time when Jesus will return to the Earth. Living in a comfortable setting enables us to enjoy the pleasures of life; moreover, we often derive our security and satisfaction from these pleasures. Does this imply that all Christians must relocate to Third World countries in order to properly anticipate the return of Christ? Can we truly live for the Second Coming in a comfortable setting? I find this concept to be quite challenging in that I wonder if I can truly long for the Second Coming if I am not being persecuted or suffering for His Name. I certainly need more wisdom and strength from God as I wrestle with this issue.

In verse 17 of chapter 1, Peter exhorts his readers to live in a way that will not displease God. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

In the great judgment all secret things will be revealed. As all secret things are already open to the eye of this Judge, so they will then be opened to all people and angels.

I wonder if the “secret things” of believers “will be revealed”; was Leighton only thinking of unbelievers? Clearly all believers have entertained sinful thoughts at some point in their lives, as no one is perfect. If the “secret things” of believers “will be revealed,” then their sinful thoughts are “opened to all people and angels” at the Last Judgment. Will a believer experience a temporary sensation of embarrassment and guilt at that time before God declares that the blood of Christ has covered them? Will this revelation determine one’s standing in heaven, i.e. those who have entertained the fewest sinful thoughts will receive the highest places in heaven? I am definitely curious as to how God will answer these questions.

In verse 2 of chapter 2, Peter exhorts his readers to have a burning desire for the Gospel message. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

And because it is natural, it is, second, an earnest desire. This is no cold, indifferent wish. The Greek epipothe sate signifies vehement desire – like a baby who will not be satisfied until it has breast milk, even if you offered it gold and silver. The baby ignores these, for they do not meet its desire, which must be satisfied.

Since I am fairly disciplined, I have no difficulty maintaining my habit of studying God’s Word. Now I wonder how I can reconcile my habit with Peter’s point that we:

  • must consciously seek after God’s Word
  • will feel satisfied after studying God’s Word.

I experience this feeling of satisfaction every now and then, especially after I read a memorable passage or come across an insightful thought by a Bible commentator. It is safe to say that some believers, including mature Christians, experience this feeling of satisfaction more often. Perhaps as I allow the Word to challenge me more often, I will have more of a “vehement desire” for it; putting the Word into practice can be painful, but it often leaves a deep impression on the soul.

Living to Please God April 22, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12.

Summary: Paul begins by intimating to the Thessalonians that they are already living rightly; he then allures them to make progress in the teaching that they had received from him.

Paul then asserts that God has called the Thessalonians to be holy before Him; in particular, they must not submit to any of the base desires of their flesh. While unbelievers cover their bodies with infamy and disgrace, they must keep their bodies pure from all uncleanness. He also exhorts them to behave righteously and harmlessly toward their neighbors, as God will judge them if they inflict injury on their neighbors. Indeed, God has rescued them from unchastity, and He calls them to be sanctified. He then infers that anyone who rejects his exhortations actually despises God, as He has given them His Holy Spirit so that they can distinguish between holiness and impurity.

Paul now states that the Holy Spirit has engraved love on the Thessalonians’ hearts. Indeed, their love diffused itself throughout the whole of Macedonia; he then exhorts them to make progress in this regard. He also exhorts them to be peaceable and tranquil; each of them should be absorbed with the duties of their own calling, such as performing manual labor. Paul concludes by inferring that if the Thessalonians engage in manual labor, they would:

  • have enough money to live on
  • live honorably in front of unbelievers.

Thoughts: In verse 3, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to avoid the sin of sexual immorality. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The apostle derived this command from the fountain he had just mentioned, for nothing is more against holiness than the defilement of sexual immorality, which pollutes the whole person.

It is apparent that the sins of idolatry and sexual immorality are consistently condemned in the Old and New Testaments. Now in many cases these sins were linked by the practice of shrine prostitution, where idol worshipers sought to increase their fertility and agricultural productivity. Most likely the licentiousness that characterized ancient Greece was present in Thessalonica, though it may have been a more pressing problem in Corinth. In any event, sexual immorality has a special character that distinguishes it from other sins – which necessitates Paul’s injunction against it in this passage.

In verses 11 and 12, we see that Paul exhorts the Thessalonians to perform manual labor. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

The apostle recommends manual labor for two reasons (verse 12). First, so they would have enough money to live on; and, second, so they would live in an honorable way in front of unbelievers. Nothing is more offensive than a person who is an idle good-for-nothing, who benefits neither himself nor anybody else, and who appears to have been born just to eat and drink.

Now this passage raises some questions regarding the economic climate in Thessalonica when this letter was written. Was the city prosperous? Were jobs available for those who wanted to work? Did some residents – mostly unbelievers – lounge about the city, whiling away the hours by playing games of chance? It seems that if the Thessalonian believers had been lounging about the city, Paul would have sharply rebuked them. In any event, Paul implies that industrious unbelievers frowned upon idleness; thus, the Thessalonian believers would harm the progress of the Gospel message in their city if they acted as if they had “been born just to eat and drink.”

Timothy’s Encouraging Report April 17, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Thessalonians 3:6-13.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Thessalonians that Timothy has brought him a joyous report of their true piety. He declares his zeal for God and Christ by stating that the fact that the Thessalonians are doing well swallows up all of his other anxieties. Indeed, he cannot find an expression of gratitude to God that can come up to the measure of his joy. He persistently prays to God that he can visit them and complete their faith.

Paul then prays that God and Christ would remove Satan’s obstructions and allow him to visit the Thessalonians. He prays that they would be filled with love mutually cherished and love for all people; he stimulates them by his own example in this regard. Paul concludes by praying that God would make the Thessalonians internally holy when they stand at His judgment seat – when Christ returns with his holy ones.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Timothy’s report regarding the Thessalonians made Paul quite joyous. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

This manner of testifying to the joy he felt about the steadfastness of the Thessalonians had the force of an exhortation, for Paul’s intention was to stir up the Thessalonians to persevere. It was undoubtedly a most powerful encouragement when they learned that the holy apostle felt so great consolation and joy from the progress they had made in their piety.

We see that Paul did not describe the depth of his joy for the sole purpose of sharing his feelings with the Thessalonians – he wanted his words to have an impact on them by spurring them to honor God more fully in their lives. Paul and the Thessalonians were enduring persecution at this time, and so the importance of mutual reinforcement and encouragement is stressed throughout the letter. The Thessalonians’ “progress” would spur Paul to make “progress” in his ministry, and his “progress” would spur them to continue their Christian walk, etc. Clearly neither Paul nor the Thessalonians could make “progress” on their own.

In verse 10, Paul prays that he would be able to see the Thessalonians again and help them attain perfection in terms of their faith. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

Now, this is the faith he had previously extolled. From this we infer that those who far surpass others are still far away from the goal. Hence, whatever progress we may have made, let us always keep in view our deficiencies, that we may not be reluctant to aim at something higher.

Perhaps this quote implies that even if a Christian nears the end of their life on earth, they “are still far away from the goal.” One must wonder if a Christian’s distance “from the goal” decreases at any point in their walk with God; conversely, can this distance increase at any point in their walk with God? What we do know, though, is that a Christian’s distance “from the goal” vanishes when they are reunited with Jesus Christ – either through physical death or at His Second Coming. That should encourage us during our walk with God.

Strolling Through the Book of Philippians July 13, 2012

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I’ve recently started reading through the Epistle to the Philippians with the aid of a commentary by J.B. Lightfoot. I should note that I’ve previously read through Philippians. As in my recent stroll through the book of Ephesians, I hope to comprehend Philippians as a whole. In particular, I hope to understand why Philippians is arguably the most intimate of all of Paul’s epistles.

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

For starters, here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:1-2.

Summary: In this passage, Paul and Timothy – who serve Christ Jesus – greet God’s covenant people in Philippi, along with the church officers. Paul and Timothy wish them God’s favor and its attendant blessings.

Thoughts: In verse 1, we see that Paul refers to the Philippians as “saints.” Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

Thus the main idea of the term is consecration. But though this does not assert moral qualifications as a fact in the persons so designated, it implies them as a duty. And it was probably because hagios suggests the moral idea, which is entirely lacking in hieros, that the former was adopted by the Septuagint translators as the common rendering of the Hebrew word for “holy.”

This actually meshes quite nicely with one of the consistent themes of the sermons at our church – that Christians must respond to the saving grace of Christ by living holy lives. In some sense, our pastors are reacting to the self-centered sermons that apparently pervade modern American churches (which could spawn a host of blog posts, though I’ll defer to more well-informed bloggers on that point). Our sermons constantly remind us that as believers, we must not rest on our laurels; we must constantly look for opportunities to proclaim God’s name in this life. I view this as a goal worth striving for, regardless of its attendant costs.

Do Not Be Yoked With Unbelievers January 15, 2012

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:1.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians to avoid any intimate associations with unbelievers, as those who conform to God’s law cannot bond with those who oppose it; also, believers and unbelievers are as incongruous as knowledge and error. In addition, just as Christ and Satan cannot be united, believers and unbelievers cannot be united. Indeed, one cannot worship both God and idols, as He dwells in every believer; God has stated that He will dwell with His people, and He will be their God. Given this awesome fact, God commands His people to avoid bonding with unbelievers. Moreover, He will be their Father and they will be His children. Paul concludes by exhorting the Corinthians to strive for purity by avoiding all sin, as sin pollutes their bodies and minds; in this way they will be perfectly holy – by striving to emulate God.

Thoughts: In verse 14, we see that Paul exhorts the Corinthians to avoid any intimate associations with unbelievers. Hodge offers some relevant thoughts on this point:

The exhortation is general and is not to be confined to partaking of heathen sacrifices, nor to intermarriage with the heathen, much less to association with the opponents of the apostle. It no doubt meant something particular in the special circumstances of the Corinthians and was intended to guard them against those entangling and dangerous associations with the unconverted around them, to which they were especially exposed.

I thought about this passage’s modern-day application: what types of intimate associations with unbelievers should today’s believers avoid? There are two obvious answers, as noted above by Hodge:

  • if an unbeliever is of a different faith, a believer should not participate in any of their religious ceremonies
  • a believer should not marry an unbeliever.

Besides these examples, I struggled to formulate a scenario where a believer could form a damaging, intimate association with a non-believer. Should believing parents adopt a non-believing teenager? What if a believer considers a non-believer as their closest friend? Can a believing soldier serve in the same squad as a non-believer – and possibly go into battle with them? It’s not clear to me that Paul’s exhortation has a broad present-day application; thoughts on this are welcome.