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Jesus’ Mother and Brothers April 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 12:46-50.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is informed that His mother and half-brothers are waiting to speak with Him. He responds by declaring the primacy of spiritual bonds over earthly bonds, as those who are spiritually bonded to Him obey His Father.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus stresses the importance of spiritual relationships. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Who can conceive the depth of our dear Lord’s love towards his blood relatives? It was a pure, unselfish love. It must have been a mighty love, a love that passes man’s understanding. Yet here we see that all his believing people are counted as his relatives: he loves them, feels for them, cares for them as members of his family, bone of his bone, and flesh of his flesh.

When we sense that we are fulfilling God’s will in our lives, we can draw strength from this passage. Indeed, we know that He delights in our submission to His will. Moreover, He enables us to sense His delight and to share in it. We know that fulfilling His will in our lives can be wearying; thus, whenever we experience weariness, we can return to this passage and experience His pleasure in our efforts, knowing that He will not forsake those whose lives reflect their eternal bond to Him.

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The Fulfillment of the Law November 14, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:17-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that He has not come to do away with the Old Testament; instead, He has come to:

  • obey it
  • explain its true interpretation.

Indeed, His followers will always be subject to the authority of the Old Testament. Those who are in the kingdom of heaven accept this truth; they rest on His finished work and rely on the power of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the authority of the Old Testament. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

First, let us beware of despising the Old Testament, for whatever reason. Let us never listen to those who tell us to throw it aside as an obsolete, antiquated, useless book. The religion of the Old Testament is the germ of Christianity. The Old Testament is the Gospel in the bud; the New Testament is the Gospel in full flower.

I believe that many Christians refrain from studying the Old Testament for a variety of reasons, including:

  • the God of the Old Testament appears to be relatively forbidding compared to the God of the New Testament
  • since many believers are not ethnically Jewish, they have difficulty understanding the context of the Old Testament
  • along these lines, many of the Old Testament laws have been rendered obsolete by the finished work of Jesus.

Indeed, it is difficult to view the Old Testament and the New Testament as essential components of a unified text. Perhaps it would be good to ponder the following questions:

  • How does our belief that God is unchanging enable us to resolve the apparent incompatibilities between the Old and New Testaments?
  • How can we improve our understanding of the context of the Old Testament?
  • How can the Old Testament spur us to make progress in our relationship with God?

On this last point, I am grateful that I completed my recent strolls through Jeremiah and Lamentations; those experiences allowed me to deepen my relationship with God – the One who keeps His promises.

Zedekiah Questions Jeremiah Again July 8, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 38:14-28.

Summary: In this passage, King Zedekiah arranges a clandestine meeting with Jeremiah. After reassuring Jeremiah of his willingness to heed his advice, Jeremiah declares that he – and Jerusalem – will be spared if he surrenders to Nebuchadnezzar.

Otherwise, Jerusalem will be destroyed and he – along with his wives and children – will be captured by Nebuchadnezzar.

Zedekiah responds by ordering Jeremiah to not divulge the contents of their conversation. Several royal officials question Jeremiah on this point, yet he obeys the king’s command in this regard.

Jeremiah remains in the courtyard of the guard until Nebuchadnezzar destroys Jerusalem.

Thoughts: In verse 19, Zedekiah expresses his fears regarding surrendering to Nebuchadnezzar, as he does not want to fall into the hands of “the Jews who have gone over to the Babylonians”. Now I am curious: who were these Jews? Did they surrender to the Babylonians in response to Jeremiah’s prior instructions in this regard? Why would they have sought to harm Zedekiah if Nebuchadnezzar had delivered him to them? Would they have blamed him for the capture of Jerusalem?

In verses 24-26, Zedekiah instructs Jeremiah to conceal the substance of their conversation concerning his impending defeat at the hands of the Babylonians. I am also curious: did Zedekiah wield any power in his administration? Did Nebuchadnezzar select Zedekiah as a puppet ruler, knowing that he lacked the ability to govern effectively? Who were the royal officials who struck fear into his heart? Did these royal officials consider the possibility of a coup – given their dire circumstances?

Warning Against Refusing God June 7, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 12:14-29.

Summary: The author begins by exhorting his readers to seek peace with all other people and be universally holy. He warns them against the following evils:

  • missing God’s gracious favor and acceptance in Christ
  • those in their midst whose hearts are turning away from the Gospel – as they could contaminate others with abominable errors
  • living in sexual immorality and godlessness – like Esau, who could not cause Isaac to change his mind in conferring his blessing on Jacob.

The author then reminds his readers that their forefathers went to Mount Sinai; at that time:

  • their fear was heightened by words that came straight from God, including the command in Exodus 19:12-13
  • consternation fell on Moses, as seen in Deuteronomy 9:19.

In contrast, the author tells his readers that they have been called to a glorious state through the Gospel. In this glorious state:

  • they see an innumerable company of angels
  • they see God’s elect, who have been called, gratuitously adopted, and made fellow-heirs with Christ of the whole heavenly inheritance
  • they have favorable access to God whenever they wish
  • they see the souls of people who have departed and are totally delivered from all sin
  • they see Christ’s sacrifice, which is superior to the sacrifices before the law.

The author then exhorts his readers to believe and obey God. He reminds them that Christ has revealed the mysteries of the will of God – and those who refuse to believe His revelations will be judged for their sins. To reinforce this point, he quotes from Haggai 2:6, where God promises to destroy the earth – leaving a new kingdom where believers receive spiritual things.

The author infers that since his readers will receive this heavenly, spiritual state under the rule of Jesus Christ through a gift from God, they – and their worship – should be well-pleasing to God. In particular, their worship should stem from a due sense of His majesty and glory along with a due sense of their own vileness. The author concludes by quoting from Deuteronomy 4:24 to drive home this point: God will consume and destroy sinners whose worship is not well-pleasing to Him.

Thoughts: In verses 16 and 17, the author presents the story of Esau as a cautionary tale for his readers. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

The second evil is godlessness. There are very few people in Scripture about whom more evidence is given of being a reprobate. This should warn everyone not to trust in the outward privileges of the church. Esau was Isaac’s eldest son; he was circumcised according to the law and took part in all the worship of God in that holy family. Yet he became an outcast from the covenant of grace.

I can definitely understand the rationale for Esau’s actions, as it is human nature to focus on short-term needs at the expense of long-term needs. Since Esau was famished after his hunting trip, he was in immediate need of sustenance; most likely he did not ponder the consequences of surrendering his birthright to Jacob. His story should compel believers to consider the consequences of their daily response to the Gospel message. Indeed, believers have short-term needs that they may prioritize over developing their eternal relationship with God, including aiming for a promotion at work, visiting the newest Michelin-starred restaurant in their city, and cheering for their favorite sports team in the midst of a championship run. We must be certain that our actions reflect our long-term focus on God and the eternal inheritance that he has prepared for us.

In verses 18-21, the author reminds his readers of the time when God gave the Old Testament law to their forefathers at Mount Sinai. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

The giving of the law was so full of terror that the people could not bear it but realized that they would die if God carried on speaking to them. The sinner is overwhelmed when he has a sense of the voice of God himself in the law. When he finds God himself speaking in and to his conscience, he can no longer bear it.

This passage caused me to ponder God’s greatness and awesome power, especially compared to my standing before Him. Indeed, I know that:

  • I am one person living in one city
  • this city is part of one county
  • this county is part of one state
  • this state is part of one country
  • this country is part of one continent
  • this continent is part of one planet
  • this planet is part of the Solar System
  • the Solar System is part of the Milky Way Galaxy
  • the Milky Way Galaxy is part of the Local Group
  • the Local Group is part of the Universe.

While I have omitted some of the intermediate classifications such as the Local Interstellar Cloud and the Virgo Supercluster, the basic point should be clear: I am just a tiny part of God’s creation. I cannot even begin to fathom God’s infinite nature, yet somehow He has chosen to have a relationship with me as one of His adopted children. God’s infinite condescension to His children is truly an amazing concept.

By Faith June 1, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 11.

Summary: The author begins by asserting that justifying faith gives the good things that are promised in the future a real substance in the minds and souls of believers. Indeed, all true believers from the foundation of the world until the end of the dispensation of the old testament were commended because of their justifying faith.

Then, the author asserts that by faith, believers assent to the fact that God spoke and the universe was made; they are assured that the things that their senses and reason can understand were made by the invisible power of God.

Now the author furnishes the following examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • Abel responded to God’s command and promise by offering a sacrifice – along with 1) a sense of sin and guilt and 2) a trust in the way of redemption and recovery that God had provided; thus, God accepted his sacrifice and spoke well of it, and he is well-known in all generations
  • Enoch was translated from a state of faith and obedience – here in this world – to a state in the next world of enjoying God, and this occurred without the intervention of death; indeed, without faith one cannot be well-pleasing to God, as He only rewards those who are diligently seeking Him
  • when God told Noah that He would destroy the world, Noah had a reverential fear about His warnings, and he built an ark according to His directions; thus, the faith he exercised and his obedience condemned the world, and he was freely adopted by God – obtaining righteousness
  • when God transferred the right and title to Canaan to Abraham and told him to go there, he wholly committed himself to God’s faithfulness and goodness, even though he did not have the least encouragement about Canaan
  • moreover, Abraham sojourned in Canaan – as did Isaac and Jacob, since God specifically made the same promise to them both that he would transfer the right and title to Canaan to them; this stems from the fact that Abraham looked for heaven, as God is the artificer and maker of that settled, quiet habitation
  • Abraham and Sarah were equally involved in the divine revelation concerning the birth of Isaac; thus, although Abraham’s natural body had died – in terms of procreation – his seed became like the stars of heaven due to their faith.

Next, the author asserts that the aforementioned believers persevered in faith to the end; indeed, even though it was a long space of time before God’s promises to them were fulfilled, they greeted them with love and delight. They knew that they were just passing through the world, and they declared their beliefs plainly. If they had desired their own countries, they could have returned to them; instead, they longed for heaven.

Then, the author returns to the examples of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and asserts that:

  • when God commanded Abraham to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, he fully obeyed Him even though He had earlier stated that the promise of his offspring would be fulfilled in Isaac; Abraham’s faith reconciled that promise with God’s command, and so God gave Isaac back to him
  • Isaac authoritatively applied God’s promises to Jacob and Esau
  • as Jacob died, he worshiped God – leaning on the top of his staff; also, he authoritatively applied God’s promises to the two sons of Joseph.

Now the author furnishes additional examples of true believers in the Old Testament:

  • as Joseph died, he focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise – in terms of land – to his forefathers; thus, he put his brothers and their children under oath regarding his funeral arrangements
  • the parents of Moses preserved his life – as a baby – due to their strong faith
  • Moses lived and worked by faith, as he crucified his heart to his outward enjoyments, the riches of Egypt and their attendant advantages; since he believed in Christ and focused on the fulfillment of God’s promise in Him, he was distressed with evil things that destroy nature
  • Moses delivered the people out of Egypt – despite the fact that he had in front of him a bloody tyrant
  • Moses observed the Passover along with the ordinance where one would dip a bunch of hyssop in a bowl containing the blood of a lamb and then use the hyssop to strike the sides and tops of the doorframes of their house; thus, the angel whom God used to execute His judgments did not destroy the firstborn of Israel
  • when God parted the waters of the Red Sea, the children of Israel passed through it; when the Egyptians also tried to pass through it, they were swallowed up
  • the children of Israel marched around the high and strong walls of Jericho for seven days; thus, God allowed them to take and destroy that city
  • Rahab received the Israelite spies, concealed them, gave them intelligence and arranged for their safe escape; thus, God exempted her from the denounced doom of her race, even though she had given herself up to the vilest of sins.

Then, the author describes the faith of other true believers in the Old Testament, including Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets. These true believers:

  • subdued kingdoms
  • wrought righteousness
  • observed the fulfillment of God’s specific promises to them
  • put a stop to the mouth of a lion so that it could not hurt anyone
  • committed themselves to God’s sovereignty in a blazing furnace
  • fled from two-edged swords
  • overcame moral and bodily infirmities
  • were armed with strength for battle and defeated foreign armies
  • raised children from the dead – giving them into their mothers’ arms.

The author also asserts that some true believers were:

  • steadfast under torture, as they longed for the resurrection that leads to eternal life
  • mocked and subject to a servile punishment used on vagabonds and the vilest of men
  • imprisoned
  • killed – for example, some were beheaded
  • in a poor and mean condition, and they were in need of friends; they were tormented and pressured by great dangers that were continually brought on them.

Regarding the true believers who escaped death, the author states that even though they sheltered in uninhabited wastes and hollow places where wild beasts sheltered, the world was not worthy of having them live in it.

Now the author asserts that while true believers under the old testament had obtained witness through their faith, the promise of the manifestation of Christ for the redemption of the church was not fulfilled during that time. The author concludes by asserting that this promise has been fulfilled under the Gospel dispensation; thus, his readers are in a preeminent state.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Noah is commended by God for demonstrating his faith in response to His divine warnings and instructions. Owen offers some insights on this point:

These were not yet seen when Noah warned about them, nor were they “seen” a hundred years later. The cause of the flood, the wickedness of the world, and the destruction of the world, through God’s power, was invisible. So it was an act of pure faith for Noah to believe what he had no evidence for, except through divine revelation, especially since the thing itself seemed so incredible.

Clearly Noah demonstrated amazing faith in his unique circumstances. I would certainly like to meet him in the next life and learn how he meticulously designed and constructed the ark, successfully gathered a large group of animals and managed to place them in the ark, and successfully convinced his family to assist him in this massive project. How did he continue working on this project in spite of the insults and hostility of his neighbors? How did he maintain his faith in God’s promise to judge the world while sin continued to reign in his society? Did he feel vindicated when God finally judged the world with the flood, or was he affected by the fact that most of the world had been punished for eternity?

While all of the examples of faith in this passage are cogent, I was particularly struck by the faith of those who had to address life-or-death situations. For example, how did Abraham find the strength to prepare to offer Isaac as a burnt offering, even though he and Sarah had finally gained him as their promised descendant in their old age? How did Moses’ parents find the strength to preserve his life as a baby, even though Pharaoh could have executed them for disobeying his orders? How did Moses find the strength to defy Pharaoh and prove the superiority of the God of Israel to the gods of Egypt, even though Pharaoh could have ended his life with a simple order to his guards? How did Rahab find the strength to assist the Israelite spies, even though she could have been executed for treason? It is truly amazing that God can enable ordinary people to place His interests above the value of their lives.

In verses 35-38, the author cites examples of faithful believers in the Old Testament who endured great suffering. Owen offers some insights on this point:

The apostle now gives a different set of examples, which are more readily suited to the condition of the Hebrews. For hearing about the previous ten glorious examples they might think that they had nothing to do with them. For their condition was poor, persecuted, exposed to all evils and to death itself for the profession of the Gospel. They wanted to know: what will faith do when people are exposed to persecution and martyrdom?

The author provides an inspiring list of examples to encourage the Hebrews in the midst of their difficult circumstances – as they were strongly tempted to return to the apparent safety and comforts of Judaism. This passage reminded me of 2 Corinthians 11:16-33, where Paul provides a similarly impressive list of the difficulties that he endured for the sake of preaching the Gospel message. Clearly the list of examples in this passage would be fodder for an epic film; of course, a major caveat is that none of those believers are mentioned by name. In any event, this list challenges modern-day believers to keep themselves from growing complacent in this world. This list shows us that genuine believers draw closer to their true calling in Christ by drawing away from this world. Thus, we must seek to rise above the world around us; this is extremely difficult, though, as we are inclined to sink into the world around us. We need divine grace and strength so that we can internalize the transitory nature of this life and prepare for the permanence of the next life.

A Sabbath-Rest for the People of God April 9, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 4:1-13.

Summary: The author begins with the following inference from the preceding passage:

  • since God has offered his readers a rest (which I will denote as Rest 1) – through Christ – in the grace and worship of the Gospel, they must have a reverent understanding of His holiness
  • if they lack this understanding, then they will not enter into Rest 1.

Indeed, the Gospel message has been preached to them; the Gospel message was also preached to the people in the desert, yet the people in the desert gained no advantage from it – since they did not respond to it with faith. In contrast, New Testament believers respond to the Gospel message with faith; thus, they enter into Rest 1. The author illustrates this point by quoting from Psalm 95:11, which shows that faith is a necessary and sufficient condition for entering into Rest 1. Now Rest 1 is distinct from another rest (which I will denote as Rest 2) which God entered after He completed His work of creation; Rest 2 is described in Genesis 2:2, and God gave His creatures the Sabbath day as a pledge that they could also enter into Rest 2.

The author then refers to another rest (which I will denote as Rest 3), which entailed the worship of God in the land of Canaan; God offered Rest 3 to the people in the desert, yet they failed to enter into it because of their unbelief. Thus, God determined the day of the Gospel message and its associated rest – which is Rest 1; this is confirmed with a quotation from Psalm 95:7-8. This quotation also refutes the hypothetical objection of some readers that Rest 1 is irrelevant since the next generation of the Israelites under Joshua did enter into Rest 3. Now God has proposed Rest 1 for New Testament believers; they are called to enter this rest by emulating the rest of Christ from His works. Given the preceding discussion, the author then exhorts his readers to endeavor to enter into Rest 1; if they are not diligent in this regard, then God will punish them for their sins – just as He punished the people in the desert for their sins when they did not enter into Rest 3.

Now the author confirms his exhortation by stating that Christ has power that is effective in actual operation; in particular, He is able to:

  • pierce their souls
  • divide the most useful and secret parts of their souls
  • accurately inspect the inclinations of their hearts along with the principles that guide their intentions
  • give sentence on them based on the results of His inspection.

The author concludes by reminding his readers that they must give a final account to Christ, who is omniscient; thus, they cannot deliberately hide any sinful affections or inclinations from Him.

Thoughts: In this passage, God promises a rest to New Testament believers – including the Hebrews who were the intended recipients of this letter. Owen discusses this rest in his commentary on verse 10:

Indeed, God’s rest from and upon his works, besides a mere cessation from working, consisted principally in the satisfaction that he had in them. But now, if those mentioned are the works intended here, people cannot rest from them in the same way that God did from his. Men cease from their works and detest them insofar as they are sinful and enjoy deliverance from them since they bring such sorrow. Now, this is not to rest as God rested. Again, when are men supposed to rest from these works? It cannot be in this world, for here we are not free from temptations, sufferings, and sorrows.

Thus, God is not calling us to rest from our jobs in this passage. I had briefly contemplated resting from my job as a potential application of this passage, but Owen’s commentary disabused me of that notion. Now Owen asserts that this rest actually stems from obedience to the Gospel, and so New Testament believers are called to rest in the Gospel. If Owen’s interpretation is correct, then we are called to worship God and enjoy His presence in this life – we do not need to wait until we enter heaven for this to occur. This raises the challenging question as to how we can rest in the Gospel more often – not just on Sundays. Interestingly, I found a sermon by John Piper on the concept of worship as our main purpose in life, and I believe that can be linked to Owen’s interpretation of rest in this passage. Now it is extremely difficult for us to ensure that every facet of our lives conforms to rest in the Gospel – yet this is a high bar that is worth aiming for.

Verses 12 and 13 show that Jesus Christ knows the thoughts and inclinations of all His creatures, and He will judge His creatures at the end of time; thus, their thoughts and attitudes must reflect their obedience to the Gospel message. Now I have great difficulty comprehending the concept of God’s omniscience. While I know my own thoughts and attitudes, I certainly do not know the thoughts of people I pass on the street, other drivers on the freeway, and other commuters on the subway. Yet God knows their thoughts; indeed, He knows the thoughts of all people who have lived on Earth. Moreover, God knows the thoughts of all residents of the spiritual realm, including angels and demons. The vast extent of God’s knowledge is absolutely mind-boggling; I suppose this highlights the gulf between finite and infinite beings. On a personal note, whenever I consider my daily thoughts and attitudes, I find that they often reflect disobedience to the Gospel message. I know that I will not be able to obey the Gospel message perfectly in this life, yet I must continue to allow God to mold my thoughts and attitudes (e.g. countering each disobedient thought with an obedient thought).

Warning to Pay Attention March 8, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 2:1-4.

Summary: The author begins by exhorting his readers – based on the preceding discussion – to be ready to obey the Gospel message. This stems from the following facts:

  • his readers knew that the law was declared by angels, and it became an assured covenant between God and His people
  • his readers also knew that those who disobeyed the law were fairly recompensed according to His judgment
  • the preceding discussion has demonstrated that Jesus Christ is superior to the angels
  • his readers knew that the Gospel message was declared by Jesus Christ
  • thus, those who disobey the Gospel message will also be fairly recompensed according to God’s judgment.

Indeed, Jesus Christ declared the Gospel message to the apostles, and the apostles made it firm and steadfast to his readers. The author concludes by asserting that God also made the Gospel message firm and steadfast to them through works where His mighty power was clearly discernible and the distribution of free gifts of the Holy Spirit.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author states that God proved the truthfulness of His Gospel message by enabling His divine messengers to perform miraculous deeds. I occasionally envy those who experienced the early growth of the church, as they witnessed many miraculous deeds and clearly saw God as their source. I also occasionally wish that God would continue to perform miraculous deeds today – especially in First World countries – to reinforce our faith in Him. I am then reminded of the scoffers and doubters during the earthly ministry of Jesus, who may have responded to his miracles as follows:

  • “the disciples didn’t really see Jesus walking on the water; since they were extremely tired, they were prone to hallucinations”
  • “Jesus didn’t really feed the five thousand by multiplying loaves and fishes; the disciples concocted this tale to bolster Jesus’ standing in the early church”
  • “Jesus didn’t really raise Lazarus from the dead; the mourners in Bethany were so distraught that they began to see visions”

Thus, if God performed miraculous deeds today – especially in First World countries – there is no guarantee that people would recognize their divine origin. They would likely attempt to find a logical explanation for those actions that did not rely on the existence of God. Thus, as modern-day believers, we cannot rely on miracles to bolster our faith; we need to discern the more subtle methods that God employs to advance His kingdom plan.

Submission to Rulers and Masters May 17, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 2:13-25.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting his readers to submit to all civil powers, since God has:

  • appointed civil government as a common good among men
  • commanded believers to obey it.

Moreover, God desires that believers submit to all civil powers so that they can muzzle those who speak evil of them. While He has given them Christian freedom, they should not use it to live in disobedience to any civil power; instead, they should be obedient to Him. Since they do not want to displease Him, they should honor all people; they should display a special love for other believers and obey all civil powers.

Peter then exhorts Christian slaves to keep their place under their masters – even masters who are enslaved to their own passions. Now diligent slaves who keep their place under their masters may still suffer at their hands, yet since they know God and do not want to displease Him, He will reward them. Also, they should maintain their diligence since the actions of Christ on Earth should be copied by His followers. As an example, Peter quotes from Isaiah 53:9 – since Christ was perfectly holy, all of His words flowed from a pure spring. He maintained His holiness in silence when He was tormented, since He placed His life into God’s hands. Now the sins of all people were transferred to Him when He was crucified – enabling them to hate sin and delight in God’s will; His suffering has opened up a way for people to repent and be freed of God’s wrath. Peter concludes by reminding his readers that although they had wandered from God, they have now come to Christ, who provides for them and heals them.

Thoughts: In verses 13-17, Peter exhorts believers to obey the governing authorities – thereby vindicating themselves in light of the accusations of non-believers. Leighton offers some insights on this point:

One of the most false yet common prejudices the world has had against true religion is that it is an enemy of civil power and government. The enemies of the Jews made this accusation as Jerusalem was being rebuilt: “In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed” (Ezra 4:15).

It is safe to say that believers in the United States have little difficulty submitting to their government, which is not the case for believers in nations such as China, Indonesia and Egypt. On one hand, believers who are subject to oppressive regimes can draw great strength from this passage in the midst of their suffering, as they can readily identify with Peter’s original readers. On the other hand, believers who are not being persecuted by their government can feel rather disconnected from this passage; should they merely file it away for future reference? Perhaps this passage should remind them to give thanks to God for His blessings in allowing them to reside in a particular country, and it should spur them to consider how they can be better political subjects.

In verse 25, Peter notes that Christ guides believers as their Shepherd. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

Young and weak Christians, and also older ones when weak and weighed down with problems, are led gently and with the tenderness that their weakness requires. The Shepherd provides for his flock, heals them when they are injured, washes them, and makes them fruitful.

I thought about Psalm 23, which portrays Christ as the Shepherd of believers, who are His sheep. We picture Christ leading us in a peaceful setting with an abundance of green grass and gently flowing streams; brilliant sunshine and a beautiful breeze complete the picture. While this is assuredly the case in the next life – and also describes this life to some extent – it seems that the context of this passage implies that we, as sheep, experience many difficulties in this life. Perhaps this passage pictures Christ leading us through ravines and thickets, helping us navigate dangerous mountain passes, fending off a host of hungry wolves, etc. These sobering realities should spur us toward greater thankfulness to Christ as our Shepherd.

Request for Prayer May 22, 2013

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

Summary: Paul begins by stirring up the Thessalonians to pray for him so that:

  • the Gospel would be disseminated
  • his preaching would effectively renew men in the image of God, since the Thessalonians had been renewed in this way.

He also asks them to pray that he would be victorious over the Jews and treacherous people who lurked in the church – since not all who profess faith possess real faith. He then calls them back to God and strengthens them against all the devices of men; indeed, He will protect them from Satan. Since the Lord is able to give them obedient hearts, he has hope in them; he knows that they are willing to obey his commands. Paul concludes by praying that the Thessalonians would persevere in the love of God and in the hope of Christ’s coming.

Thoughts: In verse 2, we see that Paul warns the Thessalonians about false Christians. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The wicked and evil men Paul referred to were treacherous people who lurked in the church, bearing the name of Christians, or at least Jews, but who with a mad zeal for the law persecuted all followers of the Gospel. Paul knew what great danger Christians faced from these groups of people…Our faith is bound to buckle unless we remember that among those who profess to follow Christ and bear his name there are many unbelieving, disloyal, and treacherous people.

Clearly Paul had to deal with many “treacherous people” in the church over the course of his ministry; they caused him countless frustrations and difficulties. Now I wonder if present-day well-established churches need to address this problem. My impression is that nowadays, those who want to work against Christianity clearly define themselves as either atheists or agnostics; they openly persecute Christ by writing books, penning screeds on Facebook, etc. I cannot think of an example of a present-day church where at least one of the regular attendees or members was working (either openly or secretly) against that church; any comments in this regard are welcome.

Paul’s Change of Plans November 12, 2011

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

Summary: Paul begins by sharing his joy due to his conscience testifying that his outward actions when dealing with others – especially the Corinthians – have been marked by God-given simplicity and sincerity; he has not been guided by the wisdom of his sinful nature, but by the Holy Spirit. For example, the simple meaning of his correspondence with them is its true meaning. Paul knows that most of the Corinthians accept him in the Lord, yet he hopes that the rest of them will follow suit, so that all of them can delight in him (as their teacher) just as he will delight in them (as his converts) on the day of the Lord Jesus.

As Paul was confident that most of them would receive him in the Lord, he notes that he planned to visit them twice during his journey to and from Macedonia, so that he could bless them in the Lord and have them accompany him partway to Judea. Since he did not carry out that plan, he was accused by his opponents of the following:

  • being careless when he made his original plan
  • being selfish in general, so that he could not be trusted.

Paul addresses the second charge by making an oath that his teachings are trustworthy. In particular, Paul, Silas and Timothy had preached the Gospel message in Corinth – which focused on Christ, who is true. Moreover, all of God’s promises relating to the salvation of mankind were accomplished in Christ, and Christians agree that they are true; the apostles’ teaching helped believers assent to their truthfulness. Yet it is God who enables all believers to hold to Christ and His truthfulness, as He has given them the Holy Spirit to perform the following functions:

  • set them apart for His service
  • prove that they belong to Him
  • serve as an initial deposit which guarantees eternal blessings for them.

Now Paul addresses the first charge by making an oath that he did not visit Corinth as he had originally planned – since he did not want to punish the Corinthians for their failings. He then qualifies that statement by noting that he does not determine what they should believe; his role is to help them in their walk with God.

Thus, Paul did not visit the Corinthians as he had originally planned, as he did not want to give himself pain, and he did not want to make them sorrowful. If Paul had brought them sorrow on his visits to them, how could they make him joyful? In particular, his first letter to them contained instructions on how to deal with their incestuous brother so that they would resolve that issue before his arrival; he trusted that most of them would obey his instructions, causing mutual joy. Paul concludes by noting that those instructions flowed from his broken heart (he wept greatly as he wrote them), as he did not want to bring the Corinthians sorrow – he has a great and unique love for them.

Thoughts: This passage is a microcosm of the letter in that Paul spends most of it defending himself against the accusations of his opponents. Hodge provides some insights in his commentary on verse 17:

Paul did not carry out this journey plan, and his change of plan was made the ground of a twofold charge against him: first, of levity, and, second, of inconsistency – saying one thing and doing another, or saying one thing at one time and the opposite at another, so that he was utterly untrustworthy either as a man or as a teacher. This was, indeed, a slight foundation on which to rest such a charge. It is no wonder, therefore, that it excited the apostle’s indignation.

It is clear that Paul considered the two charges against him to be sufficiently serious to warrant a strong response; indeed, he makes two oaths in this passage – relying on God and His truthfulness to refute the claims of his opponents. Also, by attacking Paul his opponents would be essentially throwing the Gospel itself into doubt in the eyes of the Corinthians; thus, he needed to address these charges so that his converts would not fall away from their faith.

This passage also teaches us an important fact about Christ: He is truth. Hodge offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 19:

Because he is the Son, he is eternally and immutably true; he was not “Yes” and “No.” There was nothing contradictory or untrustworthy in Him…That is, he was simple truth. In him (that is, in Christ) was truth. He proved himself to be all that was said of him. He was and continued to be all that they had been led to expect.

This important insight shows that 2 Corinthians does not consist of a mere stream of emotional arguments on Paul’s part; it also teaches us nuggets of wisdom. Indeed, the reliability of Christ (His person and work) is asserted by all Christians. For if Christ was not resurrected from the dead, and if He was not who He claimed to be, then He would be an outrageous liar. Christians through the ages would have martyred themselves for a false teacher. Though Christ is the most complex character in all of history, we believe that He is the embodiment of all truth.

The first four verses of chapter 2 reference the situation with the incestuous brother that Paul addressed in 1 Corinthians 5. Hodge offers some insights on this situation in his commentary on verse 4:

The combination of faithfulness and love that makes parental discipline uniquely effective also gives special power to ecclesiastical censure. When the offender is made to feel that while his sin is punished, he himself is loved, and that the target is not his suffering but his good, he is more likely to be brought to repentance. Every pastor must see an instructive example for imitation here in the apostle’s love for the Corinthians, and in the extreme sorrow with which he exercised discipline in the case of offenders.

Unfortunately, church discipline is an area that most modern-day churches attempt to ignore. Most believers would rather avoid dealing with sin than attempt to address it (I would count myself among them). To me, the main stumbling block is that many believers naturally avoid conflicts, and we tend to connect church discipline with painful disputes and hurt feelings. As believers, though, we need to remember that tolerance of sin is something that God abhors.