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The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:1-9.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples ask Jesus who will be greater than all the rest in the kingdom of God. He responds by asserting that if they want to enter the kingdom of God, they must adopt a childlike attitude – lowering themselves and completely depending on Him.

Moreover, by treating their (childlike) brethren with kindness and love, they treat Him with kindness and love.

In contrast, if they cause their (childlike) brethren to sin, then they would be better off dying the worst kind of death. Consequently, they should take drastic measures to guard against that possibility.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the centrality of humility in one’s walk with God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The surest mark of true conversion is humility. If we have really received the Holy Spirit, we will show it by a meek and childlike spirit. Like children, we shall think humbly about our own strength and wisdom, and be very dependent on our Father in heaven. Like children, we shall not seek great things in this world; but having food and clothing and a Father’s love, we shall be content.

Reading through this passage caused me to consider the fact that when a believer serves in their church, they often receive compliments from other believers; examples include:

  • applauding the worship team after they perform a special song during the offertory
  • thanking a Sunday School teacher after their class
  • thanking a pastor after their sermon.

This raises the following questions:

  • if we complement our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our compliments?
  • considering the third above-mentioned example, should we modify our compliment by saying, “I enjoyed your sermon since I sensed that God was speaking to us through you?”
  • if we receive complements from our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our response to them?
  • again, considering the third above-mentioned example, should a pastor respond by saying, “Praise God, who has chosen me as a conduit of His blessings to my congregation?”

As believers, we want to ensure that God receives all glory and praise – instead of hoarding any plaudits for ourselves. That being said, I wonder if my ideas would induce stilted conversations between believers…

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Listening and Doing August 8, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 1:19-27.

Summary: James begins by exhorting his readers to:

  • have a teachable mind to wait on God’s Word
  • not rashly give their opinions about things concerning the faith
  • not be angry with those who differ from them.

This stems from the fact that the wrath of man does not attain the righteousness that God approves. Thus, they should:

  • put off sin and the abundance of evil in the human heart like an unclean garment
  • have teachable minds as they make room for God’s Word in their hearts, since His Word is accompanied with divine grace for their souls and bodies.

James then exhorts his readers to not only listen to God’s Word – as that would lead to a false discourse in their consciences; they must receive its work into their hearts and express the effect of it in their lives. Indeed, he who is content with superficial listening and knowledge about God’s Word is like a man who stares at his face – that nature gave him – in a mirror, and then forgets his facial blemishes. In contrast, those who meditate deeply on God’s Word – His counsel to His friends – and persevere in studying it and working hard to put it into practice – will prosper in whatever they do.

Now James warns his readers that if anyone seems religious to himself – yet does not abstain from the evils of the tongue – he flatters himself and his religion is a pretense. He concludes by stating that in God’s eyes, true religion entails performing all duties of love, including showing charity to orphans and widows who are being oppressed; in this way, they will remain holy – keeping themselves from the rule of worldly desires.

Thoughts: In verse 19, James exhorts his readers to wait on God’s Word – instead of rashly giving their opinion about it. Manton offers some insights on this point:

If we take these directions as being a specific reference to the matter in hand, the context is easy to understand. I agree that it is good to apply Scripture, and so this teaching extends to private conversations, when people are full of talk themselves and cannot bear to listen to others and seek private revenge in anger; these things are often found in Christian meetings and conventions. But the main aim of the apostle is to direct his readers to the solemn hearing of the Word.

Over the last few years, I have made a conscious effort to apply this passage during small group Bible studies – though perhaps Manton would disagree with my approach, as it seems that he focuses on sermons in that quote. In any event, it is difficult for me to remain silent during small group Bible studies, as I constantly battle the impulse to “display my knowledge” and share “deep theological insights.” I have discovered, though, that remaining silent allows my brain to process my thoughts, determine their relative utility, and suppress relatively useless thoughts. In this way, I can present any relatively useful thoughts after they have passed that filter. Indeed, I have found that my first thought after a difficult question has been posed to my small group is often relatively useless – or even incorrect; thus, waiting on God to reveal His truth more clearly to me can be very beneficial. I should also note that remaining silent allows me to benefit from hearing the insights of others, as God speaks to each believer in a unique way.

In verse 27, James exhorts his readers to display true religion by showing charity to widows and orphans. Manton offers some insights on this point:

A great fruit of piety is provision for the afflicted. In Matthew 25 you see acts of charity. Works of mercy become those who have received mercy from God. This is being like God. One of the chief glories in the Godhead is his tireless love and bounty. He looks after the orphans and widows; so should we…True generosity is when we give to those who are not able to reciprocate…

This passage is an important reminder that all believers should regularly show mercy to others. Along these lines, my previous church had a social concerns ministry that allowed members to serve food to the homeless, assist with neighborhood beautification projects, tutor at-risk inner-city students, etc. If a believer’s home church does not support this type of ministry, though, then regularly showing mercy to others can be more difficult. In that case, one must take the initiative to get involved with a parachurch organization that focuses on showing mercy to others – or even start their own effort to minister to those who are in need. I should also note that regularly showing mercy to others keeps believers from growing comfortable in this world. Indeed, when we regularly interact with those who are in need, we are reminded that this world is imperfect, and we long for the next life.

Imitating Christ’s Humility August 11, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 2:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that if the following statements are true:

  • their life in Christ speaks to their hearts with a persuasive eloquence
  • they have an incentive from being loved by Him
  • they have a genuine communion with the Holy Spirit
  • they have an abode of tender feelings that manifests itself via compassionate actions

then they should complete his joy by:

  • exhibiting concord out of a common love
  • exhibiting harmony in their feelings
  • directing their thoughts to a single end.

They should not promote party interests or their selfish desires – but in their lowliness of mind they should honor each other above themselves. They should aim beyond their own interests to those of others.

Now Paul asserts that in the Philippians’ hearts, they should be like Christ. He eternally exists as God, yet He did not view His divine nature as a treasure to be retained at all costs. Instead, He divested Himself of the prerogatives of deity and took the attributes of a servant; He came to represent the human race. Moreover, He was obedient to God and even endured a death reserved for criminals. Given His humiliation, God then directed all adoration and praise to Him. Indeed, all worship and praise will be given to Christ by the whole universe – both its animate and inanimate parts. Paul concludes by reiterating that all praise and thanksgiving will be given to Christ, which will glorify God the Father.

Thoughts: In verse 8, we are reminded that our Savior, Jesus Christ, died via crucifixion. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point:

The contrast of his own position must have deepened St. Paul’s sense of his Master’s humiliation. As a Roman citizen he could under no circumstances suffer such degradation; and accordingly, if we may accept the tradition, while St. Peter died on the cross, he himself was executed by the sword.

As Christians, we often forget that our Savior died a horrible, in the words of Lightfoot, “death reserved for criminals and slaves.” This highlights the depths to which He sank in order that we might be exalted far beyond the station that we deserved – eternal damnation. Indeed, before our salvation, we were “criminals and slaves.” Christ, though He is our innocent Master, became a “criminal” and a “slave” in our stead. We will always be indebted to Him for his humility and willingness to endure unfathomable shame.

In verse 11, we see that the entire creation will praise and give thanks to God for His Son, Jesus Christ. Lightfoot offers some head-scratching thoughts on this point:

In itself the Greek word is simply, “to declare or confess openly or plainly.” But as its secondary sense “to offer praise or thanksgiving” has almost entirely supplanted its primary meaning in the Septuagint, where it is of frequent occurrence, and as moreover it has this secondary sense in the very passage of Isaiah which St. Paul adapts, the idea of praise or thanksgiving ought probably not to be excluded here.

This is a rather curious interpretation of this verse. In particular, can we assume that the entire creation in this case includes all unbelievers who have been sentenced by God to endure eternal damnation? In that case, how could those unbelievers give thanks to God in the midst of their suffering? The lake of fire cannot be a pleasant environment for a condemned unbeliever; would they even have the presence of mind to shift their focus from their pain and suffering to giving thanks to God? The primary meaning of “confess,” as Lightfoot notes above, appears to be a better fit for this verse.

Love May 7, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 12:9-21.

Summary: Paul begins by commanding his readers to love both believers and non-believers without hypocrisy; they should strive to avoid words and actions that hurt others, and they should hew to words and actions that benefit others. Moreover, believers should love each other as close relatives, and they should set an example to each other in terms of showing respect and kindness. When serving God, they should not become lazy – but remain diligent. When facing difficult circumstances, they should be joyful, patient and devoted to prayer in expectation of God’s present and future blessings. They should also share the burdens of their fellow believers and empathize with them; one way for them to fulfill this responsibility was to entertain strangers. Now believers should pray for the good of their enemies instead of wishing evil upon them. Also, believers should be united in their feelings, interests and purposes; instead of being high-minded, they should be humble and shun arrogance. When wronged by others, believers should not desire to retaliate – they should be careful in their actions in order to win the trust and good favor of men. Indeed, believers should aim to promote a state of peace that is consistent with God’s calling for their lives and His desires. Again, believers should not retaliate against those who have wronged them, since it is actually God’s prerogative to punish them. Instead, believers should seek to meet the material and spiritual needs of their enemies, which is an effective means of subduing them. Paul concludes by asserting that kindness – instead of violence – is the best method for subduing believers’ enemies.

Thoughts: The latter half of verse 10 actually consists of an exhortation for Christians to set an example to each other in terms of showing respect and kindness. Hodge weighs in as follows:

The word translated above…strictly means “to go before,” “to lead,” and then figuratively “to set an example”…It is not only an injunction for politeness but urges that in all acts of respect and kindness we should take the lead. Instead of waiting for others to honor us, we should be the first to show them respect.

This is a command that I struggle to obey. When I am reminded of this command, I think, “all Christians should be aware of what Paul is saying here; therefore, why do I need to set an example for them? If I take the lead in showing them respect and kindness, doesn’t that imply that they’re disobeying this command?” While that may be the case, I am not released from my obligation to fulfill God’s desires in this regard. Painful as it may be, I should set an example for other Christians and pray that by denying myself in this way, God will be glorified and I will be blessed.

Verse 20 includes an interesting quotation from Proverbs 25, where we learn that by looking out for our enemy’s best interests, we “will heap burning coals on his head.” Hodge explains this phrase as follows:

To heap burning coals on anyone is a punishment which no one can bear; he must yield to it. Kindness is no less effective; the most malignant enemy cannot always withstand it. Therefore the true and Christian way to subdue an enemy is to overcome evil with good.

Most, if not all Christians would assert that it is rather difficult to show genuine kindness to our enemies and truly care for their well-being. Somehow believers must continually remember that this attitude and its associated actions can be quite effective in terms of evangelism. Believers should be mindful that the eternal destiny of their enemies is at stake, which lends a certain level of urgency to our interactions with them. It is encouraging to remember that even the hardest rock can be eventually worn down by a constant drip of water.