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The Parable of the Talents September 14, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 25:14-30.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that His kingdom can be represented by a man who goes on a long trip; before his departure, he delivers his goods to his servants. In particular:

  • one servant receives a bag of coins weighing five talents
  • another servant receives a bag of coins weighing two talents
  • a third servant receives a bag of coins weighing one talent.

This apportionment corresponds to their respective abilities.

The first two servants instantly engage in business and turn a profit; each of them actually doubles the amount that they have received.

Yet the third servant buries his bag of coins.

Their master eventually returns and compares accounts with them. The first two servants bring the profit that they have turned. He declares that they are excellent; thus, he will grant them more opportunities to turn a profit.

Yet the third servant attacks him, declaring that he is unforgiving and that he takes things from others. This servant assumes that if he had engaged in business and:

  • lost money, then his master would have punished him
  • made a profit, then his master would have taken it from him.

Thus, he chose to bury the amount that he had received.

His master declares that he is wicked and lazy; thus, he commands that this servant’s bag of coins be transferred to the first servant.

Similarly, God will grant those who bear spiritual fruit more opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. In contrast, those who do not bear spiritual fruit will not receive any additional opportunities to bear spiritual fruit. Moreover, He will cast them into hell.

Thoughts: In this passage, the first two servants are able to double the amount that they originally received from their master. This spurred me to consider the following hypothesis: significant profits are usually associated with significant risks. If this hypothesis is correct, then I believe that it relates to our walk with God. In particular, God may call us to take a particular risk, e.g. by placing ourselves in an uncomfortable position. In these cases, we may appear to fail – but perhaps we can bear more fruit when we are in a state of discomfort. As believers, we should consider how God may be calling us to take a particular risk; if so, how can we hold fast to Him, trusting that He will be glorified when we respond in obedience?

“Talents” play a central role in this passage, and Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Anything whereby we may glorify God is a “talent.” Our gifts, our influence, our money, our knowledge, our health, our strength, our time, our senses, our reason, our intellect, our memory, our affections, our privileges as members of Christ’s church, our advantages as possessors of the Bible – all, all are talents.

Ryle has an interesting viewpoint; he proffers a non-standard definition of “talents” (my understanding is that “talents” are usually defined as being equivalent to spiritual gifts, but I could be wrong on this point). If Ryle’s definition is correct, then as believers, we should ponder our advantages while discarding any notion of comparing ourselves with other believers in this regard. Given the advantages that are inherent to our circumstances, how can we leverage them to bear spiritual fruit? We must ask God to open our eyes on a daily basis, viewing our circumstances from His perspective.

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The Day and Hour Unknown September 7, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 24:36-51.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus asserts that only His Father knows the time of His Second Coming. He reminds His disciples that Noah’s contemporaries did not care about the flood, maintaining their personal and social routines until the cataclysm. Similarly, those who will witness His Second Coming will not care about it until it occurs; at that time, unbelievers will be judged – yet believers will be saved.

Thus, they should be constantly alert for His Second Coming. Just as a man who knows when a thief will come will not allow him to dig through his house, so they should be prepared for His Second Coming.

He then states that the kingdom of God is like a faithful and sensible servant who is told to rule over their master’s house. Their master will place them over all of his possessions – while dichotomizing an unfaithful and foolish servant.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, He will reward those who are faithful to the stewardship that He has given them – while condemning all others to hell.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that believers and unbelievers will be separated at His Second Coming. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

There will be no time for repentance or a change of mind when the Lord appears: everyone will be taken as they are, and reap according as they have sown. Believers will be caught up to glory, honor and eternal life; unbelievers will be left behind to shame and everlasting contempt.

It appears that Ryle believes in the Rapture, based on the phrases “caught up to glory” and “left behind.” Admittedly I am still confused about the mechanics of His Second Coming; thus, I am unsure as to whether Ryle is correct. If the theory of the Rapture is correct, then what will happen to a:

  • vehicle that was being operated by a believer?
  • meeting at work that includes at least one believer?
  • patient who was undergoing an operation led by a believer?

Perhaps it is best to not fixate on the mechanics of His Second Coming and allow God to work according to His ways and timing.

Here, Jesus exhorts believers to be prepared for His Second Coming. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

He knows the sleepiness of our nature; he knows how soon we forget the most solemn subjects in religion; he knows how unceasingly Satan labors to obscure the glorious doctrine of his second coming. He exhorts us to keep awake, if we do not want to be ruined forevermore. May we all have an ear to hear his words!

It should be reiterated that being prepared for His Second Coming does not mean that we should anticipate His arrival on a particular date. Now I also believe that it does not mean that we need to meditate on His Second Coming on a daily basis. Instead, I believe that preparing for His Second Coming is equivalent to serving Him faithfully. In particular, we should regularly ask, “has God been glorified through my thoughts, words and deeds today?” If we can answer that question in the affirmative, then we are ready for His Second Coming; when He actually arrives, then He will reward us for being in a state of readiness.

The Beatitudes November 10, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 5:1-12.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands on the side of a mountain and begins to teach His disciples. He states that those who exhibit the following traits are actually “lucky bums”:

  • they are conscious of the fact that they lack the ability to enter the kingdom of heaven
  • they passionately lament their sins
  • they entrust themselves to God – who judges justly
  • they long to be in a right relationship with God
  • they show compassion for those in need
  • they are sincere and honest in their motives
  • they actively pursue peace
  • they are persecuted as a natural consequence of longing to be in a right relationship with God.

This stems from the fact that God will reward them abundantly.

Thoughts: This is one of the most famous Bible passages, and so I eagerly anticipated my stroll through it. I should note that at my church, our pastors recently preached through the Beatitudes. My high-level viewpoint on this passage is that it displays the contrast between short-term thinking and long-term thinking. Here, Jesus asserts that those who follow Him will naturally incur short-term losses; for example, they will be persecuted for their faith. Yet He also asserts that long-term gains will naturally follow these short-term losses. Long-term thinking is unnatural for believers, as our sinful nature drives our short-term mindset; thus, we need the assistance of the Holy Spirit – on a daily basis – in order to maintain our long-term focus on God.

In verses 10-12, Jesus asserts that those who are persecuted – for longing to be in a right relationship with Him – are actually “lucky bums.” Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

He means those who are laughed at, mocked, despised and badly treated because they endeavor to live as true Christians. Blessed are all such! They drink of the same cup which their Master drank. They are now confessing him before men, and he will confess them before His Father and the angels on the last day.

My impression is that in this age of relativism, nonbelievers – especially the conflict-averse – readily ignore Christianity. They often make no comment on a believer’s outward acts of faith, e.g. praying before a meal or describing a church activity when asked about their weekend. Now if a nonbeliever feels uncomfortable in those situations, they may respond with some combination of anger, sarcasm, etc. As believers, we should ponder the following questions:

  • How can we tell when we have mistreated an unbeliever?
  • How can we tactfully display our faith so that if nonbelievers oppose us, our consciences are clear before God?

These are difficult questions, and we need guidance from the Holy Spirit in order to navigate the choppy waters of this age of relativism.

Paul’s Charge to Timothy September 28, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Timothy 3:10-4:8.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding Timothy that he has already imparted to him a great deal of his own teaching; moreover, he has opened his heart to Timothy so that he may know that all his teaching is sincere. Even though he is afflicted, he knows that God is with him and will always be with him. Now the world will hate all of God’s children; evil people will be obstinate in their resistance to God by doing harm and corrupting others. Yet Timothy should stand firm, because he has been taught by Paul, who is Christ’s apostle. Also, Timothy has been used to reading the Scriptures – the only source of the wisdom necessary for salvation – since his childhood. Indeed, God is the Author of the whole of Scripture, which edifies believers by:

  • teaching them
  • convicting them of God’s judgment on their sin and leading them to repentance
  • instructing them in a godly and holy life.

Scripture can make believers perfect.

Paul then states that since nobody will escape the judgment of Christ at His Second Coming – when His kingdom will be truly established and His majesty will be publicly displayed – he gives Timothy the following solemn charge:

  • he should be aggressive in overcoming all barriers and difficulties in preaching the Gospel
  • he should provide strong reproofs and exhortations to believers – with patient gentleness.

This charge stems from the fact that people – because of human depravity – will hate the Gospel message; they will want a great crowd of imposters to satisfy their pride and curiosity. Yet Timothy should work conscientiously to remedy these troubles and do what an evangelist should do.

Now Paul states that his death will ratify his teaching, and he fearlessly declares that he despises death – as his soul will pass from his body. He has achieved the goal that he has been striving for; he has been a faithful soldier to the Lord until the end. Paul concludes by stating that he is certain of his reward; moreover, all believers who hope in the final resurrection will receive the same reward.

Thoughts: In verse 12 of chapter 3, Paul notes that all believers will be persecuted. Calvin offers some odd thoughts on this point:

We should reckon with the fact that if we are Christians, we will be liable to many tribulations and struggles of different kinds. But the question arises, should all people be martyrs? It is clear that there have been many godly people who have never suffered imprisonment or banishment or any other kind of persecution. I answer that Satan has more than one way of persecuting Christ’s servants.

When Calvin notes that “it is clear that there have been many godly people who have never” been persecuted, is he contradicting himself? Should we read that statement as the words of those who would ask, “should all people be martyrs?” Based on the rest of Calvin’s commentary on this verse, he apparently agrees with Paul’s statement, so the above-mentioned statement seems misplaced. In any event, I wonder if any believer who does not experience overt persecution is still being persecuted. Could it be the case that unbelievers subconsciously judge them based on their worldview? If so, and believers are unaware that they are being subconsciously condemned, does this persecution cause them to live differently? Should believers be more aggressive about declaring their worldview, thereby compelling unbelievers to overtly persecute them?

In verses 3 and 4 of chapter 4, Paul notes that many people will reject the Gospel message and seek out teachers who will satisfy their desires. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

The way of the world is such that it enthusiastically gathers around itself countless deceivers, as it wants to stamp out everything that is of God. Many errors occur for no other reason than the open desire of people to be deceived rather than to be correctly taught.

One must wonder if Paul’s prophecy is being fulfilled in contemporary American churches. In particular, pastors such as Joel Osteen are often criticized for preaching messages that deviate from the simple truth of the Gospel. These pastors appear to be successful in their ministry, as their churches boast large attendance figures. Could large attendance be a sign of God’s blessing, or could it be an indication that people’s (improper) desires are being satisfied? Based on this passage, it could be argued that some small churches, by virtue of their low attendance figures, are actually teaching the simple truth of the Gospel. Can a church truly grow while its minister(s) continue to preach the unadulterated Gospel message?

In verses 6-8 of chapter 4, Paul notes that he has completed his service to God in this life, and now he rejoices in his impending reward. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

It is possible to make a great effort and still fail to reach one’s goal. But Paul says that he was certain of his reward. He derives this certainty from turning his eyes to the day of resurrection, and we should do the same. We see nothing but death all around us; so we should not concentrate on the appearances of the world but should have Christ at the forefront of our minds. Then nothing can spoil our happiness.

This passage forms Paul’s clearest statement in this letter regarding his impending martyrdom. Although he is about to be executed, he reflects on his eventful life and declares that he 1) ran a strong race and 2) finished it. In some sense, he can report to Christ, “mission accomplished!” Moreover, he can expect Christ to reward him for completing the race that had been prepared for him. As believers, we should pray that at the end of our lives, we will share Paul’s confidence in our impending reward. It is clear that many who begin this race fall by the wayside once they stumble. Yet given the eternal consequences of completing this race, we must ask God for the strength to resume it when we stumble.

Rules for Christian Households October 21, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Colossians 3:18-4:1.

Summary: Paul begins by stating how Christian wives should act towards their husbands – and how Christian husbands should act towards their wives.

Paul also exhorts Christian children to always obey their parents – and he exhorts Christian parents to avoid irritating their children, which would cause them to become spiritless.

In addition, Paul exhorts Christian slaves to always obey their masters – not to render mere eye-service. This stems from the fact that God is their Master, and He will give them their inheritance and reward for serving Him. Indeed, God is characterized by justice and equity; thus, if a slave offends his master – or vice versa – He will punish the guilty party.

Paul concludes by exhorting Christian masters to reciprocate by treating their slaves impartially, as God is their heavenly Master.

Thoughts: The analogous passage in Ephesians is Ephesians 5:22-6:9, which I’ve blogged about. Now this passage is relatively brief, yet it does delve into the nature of the master-slave relationship. Lightfoot offers some relevant insights in his commentary on verse 25:

The philosophers of Greece taught, and the laws of Rome assumed, that the slave was a chattel. But a chattel would have no rights. It would be absurd to talk of treating a chattel with justice. St. Paul places the relationship of the master and the slave in a wholly different light.

We see that this passage cannot be discounted in the debate over slavery in the Bible. According to Lightfoot, the “worldly sphere” in the apostolic era would treat slaves relatively harshly – compared with the “sphere of the Spirit.” While Paul does not advocate an outright abolition of slavery, he sets a fairly high bar for the Christian master: he must treat his slaves with fairness and equity. This injunction would have been a radical concept in the apostolic era. This makes me wonder if history can furnish any examples of Christian masters treating their slaves with fairness and equity; comments are welcome.

In verse 20, we see that Christian children are called to obey their parents “in everything.” Lightfoot offers a thought on this point:

The rule is stated absolutely because the exceptions are so few that they may be disregarded.

This reminds me of a book that I read several years ago. Clearly there are times when a Christian child must go against their parents’ wishes – especially if their parents are nonbelievers – in order to follow God’s calling for their lives. That being said, this verse should still guide Christian children if/when those situations arise; they should thoroughly consider the consequences of their proposed action. Are they truly following Christ, or are they actually glorifying themselves? In many instances I suspect that the latter is true, due to our sinful nature.