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A Brother Who Sins Against You June 23, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:15-20.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that since God cares for all believers, He wants to gain any believer who sins against their brother. To that end, the believer who has been offended should adhere to this process (each step is contingent on the failure of the offender to acknowledge their sin after the previous step):

  • pursue the offender and expose their sin to the light
  • have two or three witnesses acknowledge their sin
  • have the whole assembly acknowledge their sin
  • treat the offender as an outcast.

By adhering to this process, the whole assembly acts in accordance with God the Father – and God the Son – who knows whether the offender has been freed from their sin.

Thoughts: In verses 19 and 20, Jesus asserts His presence among those who “gather in my name.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There is comfort in these words for all who love to meet together for religious purposes. At every assembly for public worship, at every gathering for prayer and praise, at every missionary meeting, at every Bible reading, the King of kings is present, Christ himself attends.

In particular, some believers cite verse 20 when encouraging others to attend prayer meetings. After reading through this passage, though, I wonder if these believers are taking this verse out of context. In particular, it seems that one should connect verse 20 with verse 16, where two or three believers gather to acknowledge the sin of a brother who has offended one of them. In verse 20, Jesus may be asserting that if these believers gather in order to gain the offender, then they know that He supports their efforts. They may not necessarily gain the offender, but they know that He will approve of their words and deeds. Now I may be misinterpreting this verse; perhaps I will be able to query Him on this point in the next life.

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Rest for the Weary March 18, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 11:25-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus:

  • acknowledges the sovereignty of God, declaring that the things pertaining to His kingdom cannot be discovered solely through human intelligence
  • asserts His deity
  • calls those who attempt to enter the kingdom of God by their works to repent and believe in Him.

Moreover, only He can enable them to enter the kingdom of God; thus, they must submit to Him.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus calls people to submit to Him. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

No doubt there is a cross to be carried, if we follow Christ; no doubt there are trials to be endured, and battles to be fought; but the comforts of the Gospel far outweigh the cross. Compared to the service of the world and sin, compared to the yoke of Jewish ceremonies and the bondage of human superstition, Christ’s service is in the highest sense easy and light.

Indeed, I have found that a life of obedience to Christ has many attendant (internal) “trials” and “battles.” I am often tempted to abandon the “narrow path” with its obstacles and embrace the “wide path” with its pleasures, especially when I fail to discern the fruit of my obedience. Yet my failures in pursuing short-term gains remind me of the importance of maintaining a long-term perspective and (painfully) persisting in storing up treasures in heaven. These failures remind me of the ephemeral nature of the pleasures of this life and compel me to work towards the pleasures that might endure in the next life – namely, attempting to bless others with my gifts and abilities.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way October 21, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 3:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, John the Baptist proclaims the impending arrival of the kingdom of God – thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Isaiah 40:3. In particular, he calls his compatriots to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via baptism in the Jordan River.

When several Pharisees and Sadducees come to observe his ministry, he rebukes them – as they refuse to repent of their sins. While they place their confidence in their Jewish ancestry, he asserts that God requires them to:

  • repent of their sins
  • display their repentance via good deeds.

Moreover, he warns them that the Messiah is coming – and He will judge them based on their repentance, or lack thereof.

Thoughts: Here, we see that when John the Baptist addresses the Pharisees and Sadducees, he makes two references to “fruit.” This is a valuable reminder that good fruit naturally results from the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of a believer. In particular, reading this passage spurred me to consider how I can continue to bear good fruit as I continue my walk with God. One thought is that I can bear good fruit in situations where my faith is stretched – i.e., situations where I am not in my comfort zone. My prayer – with great fear and trembling – is that God would continue to place me in these situations and enable me to bear good fruit while experiencing discomfort.

This passage also reminds us that Jesus will judge the world – rewarding those who belong to Him while punishing all others. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

We need to be warned severely that it is no light matter whether we repent or not; we need to be reminded that there is a hell as well as a heaven, and an everlasting punishment for the wicked as well as everlasting life for the godly. We are fearfully apt to forget this. We talk about the love and mercy of God, and we do not remember sufficiently his justice and holiness.

In terms of evangelism, one thought is that nonbelievers reject the love and the justice of God. For example, they may:

  • be offended by the concept of hell
  • respond to a description of His love with difficult questions regarding evil and suffering.

Clearly we must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit – and His assistance in our prayers – when it comes to the salvation of unbelievers.

Unfaithful Israel February 4, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 3:6-4:4.

Summary: The events in this passage occur during the reign of King Josiah of Judah. At this time, God speaks through Jeremiah, comparing the deeds of the northern kingdom of Israel with those of the southern kingdom of Judah. Although both nations have been adulterous toward Him, He regards the adultery of Judah as egregious – as she persists in her idolatry, dismissing the punishment that has befallen her northern sister. Thus, He calls the people of both nations to acknowledge their sins, repent of them and return to Him. Moreover, He promises to unite Israel and Judah as one nation – where He is their King.

Thoughts: Here, God promises that He will forgive the people of Israel and Judah and restore them to a right relationship with Him – if they will repent of their sins. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 14 and 15 of chapter 3:

God intimates that the exile will be temporary, and the Israelites will again have a part in his inheritance, if they return to God in sincerity and truth…God promises that he will provide for the salvation of his people after their return from exile, so that they will not perish again.

Initially, I was confused by the fact that God demanded that His people repent of their sins – implying that deeds, in some form, were a prerequisite for His blessings. After mulling over this point, I was able to convince myself that it is right for God to require repentance from His sinful people. In particular, we know that:

  • on one hand, while repentance constitutes an action for a sinner, it is relatively straightforward; on the other hand, God could have demanded that a sinner perform an impossible task in order to receive His favor, e.g. demanding that a sinner grow wings and immediately fly to the moon
  • God cannot maintain a right relationship with an unrepentant sinner, as sin is antithetical to His holiness.

Of course, as sinners, we may – and often do – struggle to express genuine remorse over our sinful deeds. We must rely on the assistance of the Holy Spirit to apprehend the nature of our sins and delight in righteousness.

In verse 4 of chapter 4, we see that God commands the people of Israel and Judah to circumcise their hearts. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

In effect the prophet is saying, ‘When God commanded the descendants of Abraham to be circumcised, it was not his aim to have a small part of skin cut off. He had something higher in mind – that you should be circumcised in heart.’

This verse reminds me of a concept that I have been contemplating – namely, the simplicity of the Christian life. In particular, this world furnishes myriad opportunities for excess in our lives; we are readily distracted by the Internet, high-end electronic gadgets, and/or our favorite sports teams. While these things are not inherently sinful, they can slowly displace God from our hearts if we do not strive to place them in the proper perspective. Thus, we need to circumcise our hearts on a daily basis – cutting away cruft and refocusing on the simplicity that constitutes our heavenly calling. Indeed, my thought is that the Christian life is an exercise in daily circumcision of one’s heart. Cutting away cruft can be a painful endeavor, yet God calls us to that crucial task; thus, we must bravely meet that challenge.

Peter Speaks to the Onlookers April 29, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, many astonished Jews gathered around Peter, John and the beggar whom they had just healed. Peter swiftly glorified God in light of this miracle, and he used this opportunity to preach the Gospel message to them – including the fact that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. He then called them to repent of their sins and anticipate the Second Coming of Christ. To spur them in this regard, he asserted that in their cherished Old Testament, God had foretold the First Coming of Christ – and stressed the necessity of obedience to Him – through many prophets, including:

Thoughts: We see that the initial presentations of the Gospel message in the early church relied on the Old Testament; this was a sensible strategy in that Peter wanted to prove to Jews that Jesus of Nazareth is the Christ. One could argue that preaching the Gospel to Jews was relatively simple, as they already accepted the truth of the God of the Old Testament and His promise of the Messiah; they only needed to be convinced that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. Yet many modern-day unbelievers who lack a Jewish background reject the truth of the God of the Old Testament. While this can be discouraging for believers as we aim to carry out the Great Commission, we can draw strength from the forthcoming anecdotes in this book – where the Gospel is successfully preached to many Gentiles.

We also see that all of the Old Testament prophets eagerly anticipated the arrival of the Messiah as the One who would redeem Israel. They likely mulled over the following questions:

  • when would the Messiah be born?
  • where would the Messiah be born?
  • what would be the (earthly) name of the Messiah?
  • how would the Messiah redeem Israel?

While these prophets had to anticipate the arrival of the Messiah, modern-day believers are blessed in that we can look back to that historical moment. Yet we join these prophets in our anticipation of His (Second) Coming; thus, we ponder the following questions:

  • when will Jesus Christ return?
  • will Jesus Christ return at the Mount of Olives?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, what will I be doing?
  • when Jesus Christ returns, will He approve of me?

While we long for the answers to these questions, we must continue to trust in God – as only He knows the hour of the Second Coming.

The Seven Bowls of God’s Wrath February 19, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 16.

Summary: In this passage, John observes seven angels dispensing the just wrath of God on the:

  • land
  • salt water
  • fresh water
  • sun
  • throne of the beast out of the sea
  • Euphrates River
  • air.

Yet those who are struck by these plagues – and have persecuted believers – refuse to repent of their sins; moreover, they curse God and continue to worship the beast out of the sea. Babylon the Great is destroyed by the last plague.

Thoughts: Here, we see that those who are struck by plagues from God refuse to repent of their sins; moreover, they curse Him. This caused me to ponder the rationale for their actions:

  • did they deny the existence of God and view these plagues as natural disasters?
  • were they agnostics who did not view these plagues as convincing proofs of the existence of God?
  • did they acknowledge the existence of God – while asserting that they still controlled their ultimate destiny?
  • did they acknowledge the existence of God – while asserting their right to withhold their worship from Him?

My thought is that the third and fourth reasons are the most likely – based on a cursory reading of the text; perhaps God will shed some insights on this point in the next life. In any case, as believers, we should strive to avoid their fate and glorify God in this life.

Verse 16 includes the only reference to Armageddon in this book. I recall leafing through a Gospel tract that described a climactic battle between God and Satan – and their respective armies – at Armageddon; perhaps the authors of that tract utilized eschatology to convince their readers of the urgency of salvation. While there may be a climactic battle between God and Satan at Armageddon at the end of time, I am certainly curious as to whether God had a different battle in mind – featuring the Roman empire – when He dictated the contents of this book to John. Admittedly, my knowledge of ancient military history is weak; thus, I do not know of a battle in the 1st (or 2nd) century that would fit the description that John provides here. If any readers have any thoughts on this point, feel free to leave a comment.

The Trumpets January 16, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 8:6-9:21.

Summary: In this passage, John initially observes four angels blowing the trumpets that they have received; these trumpet blasts herald the partial destruction of the land, salt water, fresh water and the atmosphere. An eagle then declares that greater troubles will ensue after each of the three final trumpet blasts. The fifth and sixth angels blow the trumpets that they have received; these trumpet blasts herald the torture and death of part of the mass of unbelievers. The remaining unbelievers, though, refuse to repent of their sins.

Thoughts: This passage is replete with imagery – presenting a challenge for Bible commentators through the ages. The pastor at my old church chose to focus on “authorial intent,” enabling him to formulate the following interpretation:

The Roman empire was a superpower, but faced ever-present danger from two directions. To the north were the shadowy and fearsome germanic [sic] tribes (Goths), who eventually, in the 3rd and 4th centuries AD overran Athens and Rome, and the rest of the Roman empire. To the east, across the Euphrates River, were the Parthians, with whom Rome waged war for three hundred years, from 66 BCE to 217 AD.

The first woe brings an invasion of Goths to torment the Roman empire for a brief time (stipulated as five months). The second brings a horde of Parthians, a battle force of 200 million to kill 1/3 of the Romans.

It is unclear as to whether this is the correct interpretation of this passage; I am certain that other commentators would be able to formulate alternate explanations. If my former pastor is on the right track, though, then this passage would have been a great encouragement for John’s readers as they faced persecution. They would have been assured that their persecutors would (eventually) be punished for their actions – satisfying their righteous demands for God to display His justice and vindicate them for their righteousness.

This passage concludes on a disappointing note – as the unbelievers whom God spares from destruction refuse to repent of their sins. This spurred me to consider some of the reasons for their lack of repentance:

  • a tiger cannot change its stripes; since these people are inherently sinful, they will continue to sin (unless God chooses to save them)
  • they do not believe that the awful events that they have witnessed are acts of God; instead, they view them as 1) natural disasters and 2) actions of evil people
  • they do not believe that God will ultimately punish them for their sins
  • they believe in the concept of self-determination.

As believers, we know that God – even in the 21st century – hates sin; thus, He will judge those who persist in their sins. This sobering thought should spur us to redouble our efforts in praying for those who persist in their sins. Since they cannot come to repentance by their own efforts, we should pray that God would soften their hearts and enable them to recognize His offer of grace and restoration. Moreover, we should strive to maintain our relationships with those who persist in their sins; perhaps God will work through us to restore unbelievers to a right relationship with Him.

To the Church in Laodicea December 12, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 3:14-22.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus Christ commands John to write to the minister of the church in Laodicea. In particular, He rebukes them for lacking spiritual utility. He exhorts them to assess their spiritual state and repent of their uselessness. He promises that those who have spiritual utility will be allowed to reign with Him.

Thoughts: I certainly hope to meet the believers from the church in Laodicea in the next life and learn how they responded to this letter. I hope to ply them with queries such as:

Paul’s Joy January 21, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 7:2-16.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting the Corinthians to love him in return, as he has done none of the following:

  • treat anyone unjustly
  • corrupt anyone’s morals
  • defraud anyone.

He does not intend to question their devotion to him, as they are so dear to him that neither death nor life could separate them. He has joyful confidence in them, and he boasts of them; at this time he is filled with comfort, and his joy overflows in the midst of his difficulties.

When Paul entered Macedonia, he still endured mental anguish; he was faced with external and internal difficulties. Yet God, who comforts the depressed, comforted him via the arrival of Titus. Paul was consoled by hearing of the comfort that Titus had received from the Corinthians; moreover, Titus told him of their desire to see him, their mourning over having offended him and their zeal for him – and so he experienced joy beyond what he derived from hearing of Titus’ personal comfort.

Although Paul’s previous letter briefly pained the Corinthians, causing him to regret having written it, he now has no regrets. In fact, he now rejoices over it – not because they were pained, but that their pain caused them to turn from sin to God; they were pained according to God’s will, and so his first letter did not injure them. Sorrow according to God’s will is an essential aspect of salvation – and the one who repents should not regret it – while the sorrow of unbelievers only yields spiritual death. Now Paul’s previous letter caused the Corinthians to experience sorrow according to God’s will, and they displayed the following:

  • a desire to correct the sin in their midst
  • a desire to acknowledge their sin to Paul and ask for his forgiveness
  • anger at themselves for allowing the sin of interest to occur in their midst
  • fear that Paul would come and punish them for their error in this regard
  • affection for Paul
  • a desire for the reformation of the sinner in their midst
  • a sense that the sin in their midst must be punished

and so in every respect they showed themselves to be pure in this regard. Although he dove into their internal affairs by writing his previous letter, their above-mentioned actions prove that he wrote to them neither for the sake of the sinner in their midst, nor for the one who he had injured – but to show his love for them.

Paul is encouraged both by the Corinthians’ repentance in this regard, and by the fact that Titus’ spirit derived rest from them. He had boasted of them to Titus, and they did not mortify him; just as he had preached the truth to them, his boasting of them was vindicated. Indeed, Titus now has more affection for them than when he was with them, because he remembers their obedience toward him; they had greeted him reverently. Paul concludes by stating that he rejoices in the fact that he can be confident in them.

Thoughts: In verse 10, Paul states that sorrow for sin that stems from a proper relationship with God eventually produces life, while the sorrow of unbelievers eventually produces death. Hodge offers some pointed words on this subject:

It is a great mistake to suppose that the natural tendency of pain and sorrow is to bring good. They tend rather to excite rebellion against God and all evil feelings. It is only when they are sanctified…that they bring out fruit for righteousness…The more miserable you make a bad man, the worse you make him. The wicked are said to curse God while they gnaw their tongues with pain and refuse to repent of their deeds (Revelation 16:10-11).

This is a difficult quote to digest, especially when one considers how the class of unbelievers can be decomposed into its constituent sub-classes. For example, one of the core principles of Hinduism and Buddhism is that by leading a proper life, one can eventually escape pain and sorrow. I find it difficult to picture a Buddhist monk becoming “worse” as a result of experiencing sorrow; the monk in question would probably perceive sorrow as one of the standard obstacles on the road to enlightenment. Most likely Hodge’s point has its true significance in light of the Final Judgment, especially given his quotation from Revelation.

In verse 16, Paul asserts that he is confident in the Corinthians. Hodge offers some summary thoughts on this point:

This is the conclusion of the whole matter. The first seven chapters of the letter are intimately linked. They all relate to the state of the congregation at Corinth and to Paul’s relationship to the people there…Here, therefore, we have the conclusion of the whole preceding discussion. The result of the long conflict of feeling about the Corinthians as a church was the full restoration of confidence. ‘I rejoice that I have confidence in you in all things.’

This refreshingly positive conclusion to the first part of the epistle must have subtly influenced my understanding of it before I wrote this series of posts. While the epistle is miles away from being as “warm and fuzzy” as I had thought, Paul is clearly pleased that the Corinthians have responded positively to his previous letter – at least in terms of the case of their incestuous brother – showing that they are growing in their spiritual walk.