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Murder November 18, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:21-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus begins by quoting from Exodus 20:13. He then interprets that commandment, asserting that God wants us to deal with the intent of our hearts towards those whom we dislike and resent. He provides two practical applications of this principle – stressing that if we have wronged another, we need to immediately right that wrong.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus emphasizes the need to immediately address our offenses. This reminds me of a situation from several years ago where I made a mistake while composing an e-mail and offended a friend in the process. Initially, I did not know that I had offended him. After he noted my mistake, I was deeply embarrassed, and I swiftly apologized for my mistake. That experience – coupled with other situations where either I offended another or they offended me, and the offense in question was not immediately addressed – continues to motivate me to heed Jesus’ command in this regard. Indeed, allowing wounds from offenses to fester can hamper one’s relationship with God.

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One In Christ April 18, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Ephesians 2:11-22.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Ephesians – as God has done great things for them – to recall their former condition, when they:

  • were uncircumcised heathen
  • were abhorred by the Jews – who believed that circumcision secured God’s favor to them
  • lacked a Redeemer
  • were separated from the theocracy of Israel
  • were excluded from the many promises of redemption that God made to His people
  • were hopeless and forsaken by God.

Yet by being united with Christ, they – who were separated from God’s people and alienated from Him – have been introduced into His church and reconciled with Him by Christ’s sacrifice.

Paul then states that Christ has removed the enmity that existed between Jews and Gentiles – which divided them – by 1) satisfying the demands of God’s moral law and 2) His sacrifice; thus, they are freed from the obligations of God’s moral law. Thus, He created one holy church out of two hostile bodies – the Jews and the Gentiles – and renewed them. Also, He made peace between man and God by His atoning death, which removed God’s wrath toward sinners. Christ has announced this reconciliation between man and God, which applies to both Jews and Gentiles, 1) directly after His resurrection and 2) indirectly via His apostles and the Holy Spirit. All believers are introduced into God’s presence and His favor by Christ’s sacrifice and intercession.

Thus, the Gentiles are no longer excluded from the theocracy of Israel and separated from God’s family; they are children of God and full members of the kingdom of heaven. Moreover, God’s family rests on the apostles and prophets, and the entire church rests on Christ. Unity with Christ sustains the church, which grows via this unity into a building that is consecrated to God. Paul concludes by asserting that the Ephesians join other believers in being built – by the Holy Spirit – into a building in which God dwells.

Thoughts: In verses 14 and 15, we see that Christ has removed the enmity that existed between Jews and Gentiles by abolishing the obligations of God’s moral law – via His death. Hodge drives home this point as follows:

What that hedge was is expressed by the word hostility – having broken down the middle wall – i.e. the hostility or their mutual hatred. Hostility, therefore, does not mean the law, as the cause of alienation, but the alienation itself, because in what follows, the removal of the enmity and the abolition of the law are distinguished from each other, the latter being the means of accomplishing the former.

It is apparent that Jews and Gentiles genuinely despised each other in Biblical times, which stemmed from the Jews’ superiority complex – based on their Old Testament covenants with God. Now I wonder if the Jew-Gentile relations in Biblical times mirrored the enmity that festered between:

Given the “dividing wall of hostility” that separated the Jews and the Gentiles, only God could perform the apparently impossible feat of removing their mutual hatred – by the sacrifice of His Son.

Verse 19 shows that the Gentiles are now fellow citizens with the Jews in God’s kingdom. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts on this point:

In this spiritual kingdom the Gentiles now have the right of citizenship. They are on terms of perfect equality with all other members of that kingdom. And that kingdom is the kingdom of heaven.

This caused me to ponder the notion of believers as citizens in God’s kingdom, as this concept is discussed relatively infrequently in Christian circles – especially compared to the notion of believers as members of God’s family. Clearly citizens – at least in the United States – have privileges such as the right to vote and the right to remain in this country after committing a crime on American soil. Now citizens – at least in the United States – also have responsibilities, such as serving on a jury when called upon and – at least for males – registering with the Selective Service. As Christians we have rights in God’s kingdom, such as the right to reign with Christ and the right to enjoy eternal life. Now Christians also have responsibilities in God’s kingdom, such as honoring Christ as Lord and loving each other as ourselves. These fundamental truths should both fill us with joy and keep us from becoming arrogant.

The Ministry of Reconciliation January 7, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 5:11-6:2.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that as he earnestly desires the approval of Christ, he aims to convince others of his integrity; God knows his true character, and he hopes that the Corinthians are also convinced in that regard. Yet he does not want to praise himself; he wants the Corinthians to vindicate him by defending him against the charges of his opponents. Whether Paul acts extravagantly or discreetly, he aims to glorify God and build up the Corinthians. Indeed, his life is governed by his love of Christ, as he is sure that Christ died for those who would accept Him as their Savior – and His death is their death. Moreover, those who would accept Him as their Savior do not live for themselves; they devote themselves to Him, as He is their risen Savior.

Given this awesome reality, Paul does not judge people based on their external circumstances; he formerly viewed Jesus in that light, but he now knows Him as the Son of God. Moreover, anyone who is united with Christ is radically changed by Him; their old way of life has been replaced by a new way of life. Indeed, God has brought about this radical change by removing the hostility between Himself and mankind via the death of Christ, and He has called the apostles to announce this great news. God atoned for the sins of mankind by the death of Christ; He has forgiven their sins and has commissioned the apostles to preach this awesome reality. The apostles represent Christ and speak for God in appealing to men to receive His forgiveness; they exhort men to receive God’s offer of reconciliation. This stems from the fact that God regarded Christ as a sinner in the place of all believers so that by being united with Christ, all believers are regarded by God as being righteous.

Now as a fellow worker with God, Paul exhorts the Corinthians to not reject His offer of reconciliation. He concludes by quoting from Isaiah 49:8 to express the idea that God has ordained a time for revealing His plan of salvation for mankind, and He has now revealed that plan.

Thoughts: Verse 21 is probably familiar to many Christians, as it comprises the first verse of Jesus Messiah by Chris Tomlin. This got me thinking about how it is disturbingly simple to sing a worship song and not think about its lyrics – or even consider that the lyrics may be based on a specific Biblical passage. Unfortunately I fall into that trap on a regular basis; when I sang “Jesus Messiah” on several occasions, I did not recognize the critical role that verse 21 plays in that song. I am convinced that as believers become more well-versed in Scripture, their praise/worship experiences will be enhanced. Of course, Christian recording artists are not immune to the problem of misinterpreting Scripture when they craft their songs, but that’s a topic for another day.

In verse 2, Paul draws on Isaiah 49:8 to illustrate his point that God revealed His plan of salvation to mankind at a certain point in time. Hodge offers some interesting thoughts:

Isaiah 49, from which this passage is taken, is addressed to the Messiah…we may assume, in strict accordance with scriptural usage, that the apostle employs the language of the Old Testament to express his own ideas, without regard to its original application…He might have expressed it in other equivalent terms. But the language of the passage in Isaiah being brought to his mind by association, he adopts the form given there, without any suggestion, expressed or implied, that the passage had a different application originally.

Hodge’s quote implies that New Testament writers could be led by the Holy Spirit to liberally quote from the Old Testament in order to reinforce some of their points. As these writers were divinely inspired, it follows that modern readers should perceive the quoted Old Testament passages as having two interpretations:

  • that which arises from their original application
  • that which is intended by the New Testament writer in question

An interesting question, then, is whether these two interpretations always complement each other, or if they are occasionally orthogonal. In particular, can the New Testament interpretation completely overshadow the original interpretation?

Peace and Joy February 10, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 5:1-11.

Summary: In this passage, Paul describes some of the benefits that arise from our justification (besides the fact that by definition, we have been declared righteous in God’s sight). In particular, the work of Christ has now made peace between God and those who put their faith in Him. Believers can now enter God’s presence and not fear the loss of their righteous standing, because God, who is unchanging, has given them that status. Interestingly, Paul also shows that sufferings are a benefit of justification, since it is God’s desire that justified believers develop a mature, battle-tested faith; clearly, suffering is a necessary means to this end. In addition, we see that those who are justified receive an abundance of God’s love via His gift of the Holy Spirit. To illustrate the abundance of this love, Paul begins by noting that Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Now, if someone were compelled to give up his life for his fellow man, his natural preference would be to die for (in decreasing order of willingness) 1) a good man, 2) a merely righteous man who is not guided by love, or 3) a sinner. Clearly, then, Christ has shown a mind-boggling love for us through His work on the Cross. It should not be forgotten that those who are justified will receive salvation; Christ has removed 1) our enmity towards God and 2) God’s hostility towards sinners, paving the way for salvation to occur. In conclusion, Paul states that all of the blessings of justification are due to the work of Christ and are secured by the fact that He lives. His work allows us to share in God’s glory both here on earth and in eternity.

Thoughts: Verse 5 illustrates the critical role that the Holy Spirit plays in the Christian life. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for Christians, except for Pentecostals, to focus on the first two members of the Trinity at the expense of the third member. Here we see that the Holy Spirit should not get short shrift in our lives. Paul asserts that the Holy Spirit is the source of God’s love, which, as Hodge notes:

‘The love of God,’ says Philippi, ‘does not descend upon us as dew in drops, but as a stream which spreads itself abroad through the whole soul, filling it with the consciousness of his presence and favor.’

Christians must constantly revisit this fact so that they can be guided by the Holy Spirit through the storms and difficulties of this life, as we hope for God’s glory in both this life and in the next life.

It is clear that the major benefit of our justification rests in our salvation. Hodge clarifies the meaning of salvation as follows:

Salvation, in a general sense, includes justification, but when distinguished from it, as in this case, it means the consummation of that work of which justification is the commencement. It is a preservation from all the causes of destruction, a deliverance from the evils which surround us here or threaten us hereafter, and an introduction into the blessedness of heaven.

It is also apparent that if salvation were not one of the benefits of justification, justification itself would be rendered utterly meaningless and useless. What would be the point of God’s justification if the objects of His justification did not receive salvation? This justification would only be temporary, and would rob Christ’s work of its power and effectiveness. Thus, we see the full impact of Christ’s work in that justification is truly a “once for all time” event, and so truly justified believers should not fret about losing their salvation.