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Oaths November 29, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:33-37.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by presenting a general principle from the Old Testament forbidding perjury (note that specific injunctions in this regard can be found in passages such as Numbers 30:2 and Deuteronomy 23:21). He then interprets that principle, asserting that:

  • when making a vow, we necessarily refer to God
  • thus, all vows must be kept.

Thoughts: This passage caused me to reflect on the promises that I have made. I strive to honor the promises that I make in the workplace, as my ability to keep them has a non-negligible impact on my career progression. As for the promises that I make outside of the workplace, though, my track record is a mixed bag. For example, I find that I fail to honor simple promises such as, “see you at 1:30 p.m.” – especially when I am five minutes late. Thus, I plan to respond to this passage by making a greater effort to honor the promises that I make outside of the workplace. Moreover, if I find that I cannot honor these promises, then I should either offer a reasonable explanation of my failure or “underpromise and overdeliver.”

Instructions for Timothy August 20, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 4.

Summary: Paul begins by stating the following direct prophecy from the Holy Spirit: now that the clear light of the Gospel has arrived, some believers will become apostates – listening to false prophets and their demonic teachings. These false prophets attempt to gain God’s favor through human inventions, yet they cannot hide their wounds. In particular, these false prophets have prohibited marriage and the consumption of certain foods – yet God created these foods so that people could enjoy them and praise Him for His gifts; His children know about sound teaching, and so they can enjoy the foods that He has created. Indeed, all foods that come to believers from God are clean in His eyes, and so they should eat them with a clear conscience. This stems from the following:

  • God has made all foods holy through His Word, which believers receive through faith
  • when believers pray before their meals, they offer thanks to God for His goodness.

Paul then exhorts Timothy, as he has been nourished in Christian teaching from his infancy and has persevered in that teaching, to continue to win God’s approval by frequently reminding other believers about the truths that he has just asserted. He tells Timothy that his chief aim in life should be the spiritual worship of God that is only found in a pure conscience. Now all outward actions that are engaged in for the sake of religion are of little benefit; in contrast, once a believer has attained godliness, they lack nothing, as godliness is the source of the blessings in this life – and the blessings in the future. He makes this point quite strongly. Now it could be argued that believers are actually the most miserable of all people; yet he asserts that all of their difficulties and troubles stem from the following:

  • hope is the foundation of believers
  • God will guard believers to the end.

Now Paul exhorts Timothy to emphasize the truths that he has just asserted. Also, Timothy should not let people despise him because of his age; instead, he should have a fervent zeal for God and complete purity of life. Before Paul visits Ephesus, Timothy should avidly read the oracles of the Spirit day and night so that he can pass on what he has learned. He should not allow his gift to become rusty and degenerate, since the Holy Spirit designated him to enter the ranks of pastors and gave him the relevant gifts, which men symbolized through the laying on of hands.

Paul then exhorts Timothy to give himself to his work with unfailing perseverance so that results worthy of his efforts may become apparent. Paul concludes by exhorting Timothy to be diligent about his teaching and take care that he maintains his own integrity; in this way he will:

  • persevere on the road that brings him God’s grace
  • God will employ his efforts to bestow salvation on others.

Thoughts: In verses 1-3, Paul condemns those false prophets who forbade believers from marrying or consuming certain foods. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Quite soon after the apostles died came the Encratites (who derived their name from the Greek word for continence), Tatianists, Catharists, Montanus and his followers, and, later, the Manichaeans, who were opposed to eating meat and forbade marriage. Although the church repudiated them because they arrogantly tried to inflict their views on others, people gave way to some of their beliefs. These people never thought of imposing these things as laws on Christians, but they attached too much importance to forbidding marriage and not eating meat.

Calvin’s insights piqued my interest and so I learned some additional facts concerning the Encratites. My hypothesis regarding at least some of these heretical sects is stated as follows:

  • they were formed with noble intentions, as their leaders wanted to hew to Paul’s general call in this letter for believers to be holy
  • their leaders viewed singleness and vegetarianism as means to that end, especially since some meats at that time were offered as idol sacrifices.

Yet all of these sects erred when they forbade others from partaking of these things that God had created; also, if any of the sect members became convinced that asceticism was required for their salvation, that would have been another mistake on their part. Indeed, Paul consistently teaches that believers, who are called to be holy, should enjoy anything that God has created.

In verse 12, Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid letting his age devalue him in the eyes of others by living a pure life. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

Paul urges Timothy to make up for what he lacks in age by being earnest in everything he does. It is as if he said, “Be careful to win to yourself, through your serious bearing, so much respect that your youth, which would otherwise be a handicap to you, in no way lessens your authority.”

I actually preached a sermon on this verse during a mission trip to Laredo about six years ago. Interestingly, our host church happened to have a Youth Sunday during our trip, and so I chose this verse for my sermon that I delivered to an audience that included about twenty students. I recall spending some time discussing each of the positive qualities that Paul highlights here, including “speech” and “conduct.” Now I have not been in touch with our host church since that mission trip, so I am unsure as to whether my sermon had a lasting impact on those students. Hopefully my sermon watered the seeds that were already growing in their hearts. If it is God’s will, I hope to see all of them in the next life and hear how God worked in their lives.

In verse 13, Paul exhorts Timothy to study the Scriptures and to let his studies fuel his preaching and teaching. Calvin offers some confusing thoughts on this point:

Paul knows how diligent Timothy is, but he still commands him to persevere in reading the Scripture. For how can pastors teach others if they themselves are not learning? If such a great man as Timothy is told to study and so make daily progress, how much more do we need to heed such advice?

The main issue I have with Calvin’s interpretation centers on the word “public” in the NIV translation. A quick search confirms that the word “public” also appears in the ESV and NASB translations of this verse. In that case, how does Calvin infer that Paul is exhorting Timothy to “study” the Scriptures? Studying the Scriptures implies a private activity on Timothy’s part. Also, public reading of the Scriptures did occur during worship services in the early church; at that time, was it standard practice for a lay member of the church to serve in that role – instead of the pastor himself? One must wonder if the original Greek for this verse did not contain the word for “public”; knowledgeable readers should feel free to chime in.

Paul and the False Apostles February 11, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 11:1-15.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that he knows that the Corinthians will allow him to engage in some self-vindication. Indeed, the Corinthians should bear with him, since he is jealous for them with a jealousy that God possesses, as he is the author of their marriage to Christ; he desires to present them to Christ as a glorious church at His second coming. Yet he fears that just as Satan seduced Eve, their minds might be corrupted and turned from their undivided devotion to Christ. The Corinthians should also bear with him since they bear with false teachers who

  • present someone other than Jesus as “the One” who can deliver them from sin
  • attempt to prove this by asserting that they have received a spirit other than the Holy Spirit.

In addition, the Corinthians should bear with Paul since he is on par with the chief apostles. Although he does not speak Greek as a native speaker, he possesses the Gospel; indeed, they are fully aware that he is a genuine apostle. He then asks if his opponents discredit his apostleship by focusing on his renunciation of the support that the Corinthians owed him – which was done for their good. In fact, he received his rightful stipend from the Macedonians so that he could minister to the Corinthians. When he was in Corinth, he was not torpid against anyone, as the Macedonians added to his income as a tentmaker; moreover, he is determined to continue this course of action. By the veracity of Christ in him, he declares that nobody in southern Greece will hinder his boasting in this regard. This does not stem from a lack of love for them; God knows his heart for them.

Paul then notes that he wants to prevent his opponents from being able to charge him with preaching the Gospel for profit; he wants them to join him in preaching without the desire for financial gain. This stems from the fact that his opponents are:

  • those who falsely claim to be apostles
  • workmen who use trickery
  • those who falsely claim to be servants of Christ.

This should be no surprise, as Satan presents himself as a bright and pure angel. Paul concludes by inferring that the false teachers – who actually promote Satan’s kingdom – will pretend to advocate God’s truth; yet God will judge their works.

Thoughts: In verse 5, we see that Paul knew that he was on par with the chief apostles. Hodge offers some helpful thoughts on this point:

In no one respect had he fallen short or was he left behind by the chief apostles; neither in gifts, nor in labors, nor in success had any of them been more highly favored, nor more clearly authenticated as the messengers of Christ…Therefore, the argument that the Reformers derived from this passage against the primacy of Peter is perfectly legitimate. Paul was Peter’s equal in every respect and so far from being under his authority that he not only refused to follow his example, but reproved him to his face (Galatians 2:11).

This raises the following questions concerning the nature of Paul’s relationship with the other apostles, especially Peter, James and John. Was Paul constantly reminded of the supposed supremacy of the other apostles, and if so, did he carry out his apostolic duties with a chip on his shoulder? How often did Paul see the other apostles in the course of his missionary travels? The Bible records some of Paul’s encounters with the other apostles, especially his above-mentioned conflict with Peter in Galatians 2; I am definitely eager to interview the apostles about their earthly interactions when I get to heaven.

In verse 9, we see that although Paul had difficulty supporting himself as a tentmaker, several believers from Macedonia came to Corinth to supply what he was lacking. We know from 2 Corinthians 8:1-15 that the Macedonian believers were impoverished, as they had suffered from the ravages of war for generations on end. Now I wonder if Paul wrote letters to the Macedonian churches that have been lost to the sands of time. It would be interesting to learn of the existence – and contents – of “The Epistle of Paul to the Macedonians.” Based on what we know of the Macedonian church, my conjecture is that this hypothetical letter would have been rather positive, as Paul would have praised them for their generosity in spite of their poverty. It is likely, though, that the Macedonian church would have been beset by sinfulness and temptations, so rebukes and corrections would probably have appeared in such a letter. It should be reiterated, though, that the Bible – as it stands – is a sufficient revelation of God; thus, this hypothetical letter would mainly be interesting from a historical standpoint.