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Psalm 62 August 16, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 62.

Summary: In this passage, David asserts that God is the source of his salvation and security.

He then notes the efforts of his enemies to undermine him. Yet he is not troubled by their plots, reaffirming God as His divine protector. Moreover, he exhorts His people to view Him as the source of their salvation and security.

After asserting that all men are ephemeral – regardless of their station – he exhorts the people of God to reject worldly wealth as the source of their salvation and security.

He concludes by praising God for:

  • His strength and love
  • the fact that He blesses His people.

Thoughts: This passage forms the basis of “Psalm 62”. A quick Google search reveals that this song was written by Aaron Keyes. I hope to meet him at some point and and learn how he composed those memorable lyrics. How did this passage inspire him at that time? How did he decide to weave certain verses into this song? Why did he omit verses 11 and 12 from this song? On a related note, as modern-day believers, how does this passage impact our thoughts, words and deeds? Do we actually “trust in him at all times,” or does our confidence (frequently) waver? Do our souls actually “find rest in God?” These are challenging verses, but we must confront them.

In verse 9, David asserts that regardless of one’s station, their lives are relatively short. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

We gain little by putting our trust in the aristocracy; they are not one whit better than the democracy. May we not trust the elite? Surely reliance may be placed in the educated, the chivalrous, the intelligent? For this reason are they a lie: because they promise so much, and in the end, when relied upon, yield nothing but disappointment. The more we rely upon God, the more we shall perceive the utter hollowness of every other confidence.

David’s assertion – and Spurgeon’s thoughts – are germane to our modern context, as we wrestle with the effects of economic inequality. One thought is that since Confucianism stresses respect for authority, modern-day believers of Asian descent may naturally “trust the elite”, especially as one can readily quantify their achievements. Yet believers are called to reject “the elite” as the source of our confidence; instead, we should “rely upon God.” What does it mean to “rely upon God?” Can we rely on our military and other first responders? How should we reconcile Spurgeon’s thoughts with New Testament commands to respect our governing authorities?

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.

The Shipwreck January 7, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 27:27-44.

Summary: In this passage, God worked through Paul on the fourteenth night of the ongoing storm to forestall a catastrophe. In particular, Paul learned that the sailors were attempting to escape via lifeboat; he then advised the soldiers to compel them to remain on board, as he knew that they would play an integral role in their impending deliverance. He then exhorted his companions to regain their strength by eating, as they would soon be delivered from the storm. On the following day, the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. All of those on board eventually reached dry land; some of them were able to swim to shore, while the rest clung to flotsam and jetsam.

Thoughts: In verse 38, we see that grain comprised at least part of the cargo of the ship that carried Paul and his companions. When I meet Paul in the next life, I plan to ply him with questions pertaining to the cargo. Did they keep the grain from being ruined by the storm before they threw it overboard? Did they make bread before they were beset by the storm, or did they prepare it while the storm raged around them? What was the financial loss that the owner of the ship incurred as a result of those two perilous weeks? Were the Roman soldiers on board subjected to any discipline due to the storm?

Here, God performed a miracle by delivering Paul and his companions from the storm. Did those two perilous weeks affect the worldview of the unbelievers on board? Was Paul able to discuss the Gospel message – and his belief in the God of Israel – with any of them after their deliverance? Did the unbelievers merely assume that their gods had delivered them from the storm? I assume that they prayed to their gods during the storm; perhaps they had confidence that their gods would save them according to their timing.

The Great Multitude in White Robes January 9, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 7:9-17.

Summary: In this passage, John observes an innumerable group of believers who are dressed in white and hold palm branches. They praise God the Father and God the Son for their great plan of salvation. The angels join them in this doxology. One of the twenty-four elders informs John that these believers have been delivered from great trials; they are victorious.

Thoughts: This passage should comfort believers who experience intense persecution in nations such as North Korea, Somalia and Iraq. Here, God assures persecuted believers that if they do not deny His name, He will deliver them from their trials and enable them to reign victoriously. As a believer in a First World country that is relatively free of persecution, though, I wonder if this passage applies to me. Indeed, I often struggle with the following questions:

  • why do many believers – especially in First World countries – avoid persecution, grow old and die peacefully of natural causes?
  • why does God allow certain believers to experience intense persecution?
  • does one need to experience intense persecution in order to be a genuine believer?

At this point, I wonder if believers who experience intense persecution are, in some sense, more worthy to receive “white robes” and “palm branches” than believers who do not experience intense persecution. On a personal note, I still believe that God has called me to serve Him in my First World country and that He will reward me for that service. Of course, He can always call me into a more difficult situation at some point…

Warning Against Falling Away April 22, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Hebrews 5:11-6:12.

Summary: The author begins by telling his readers that he has a multitude of important things to tell them regarding Melchizedek; yet he reproves them for their slothfulness – which has given them a weak understanding of this topic. Indeed, they had enjoyed a time of instruction in the Gospel message that should have enabled them to instruct others – yet they still need someone to teach them the first principles of Christian religion which stem from the Old Testament; these principles – and not the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel – are appropriate to their present condition. On one hand, anyone whose present condition requires them to learn the first principles of Christian religion is unable to use the Gospel message wisely, as they have made little spiritual progress. On the other hand, those who have made spiritual progress can be taught the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel, as they have attained – through constant exercise – the ability to make an exact judgment between good and evil.

The author then exhorts his readers to not dwell on the learning of the first principles of Christian religion; instead, they should aim to learn the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel. Indeed, other people have already taught them the first principles of Christian religion, including:

  • repentance from the sins of unregenerate people
  • special faith in Christ
  • baptism
  • the giving of the supernatural spiritual gifts of the Holy Spirit to those who have been baptized
  • the resurrection of the dead
  • a general judgment for all people.

If it is God’s will, then the author will help his readers learn the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel.

Now the author warns his readers that God’s image cannot be renovated in the nature of those who have:

  • been instructed in the teaching of the Gospel and understand it spiritually
  • experienced the power of the Holy Spirit in the dispensation of the Gospel
  • benefited from the spiritual work of the Holy Spirit
  • experienced the desirable nature of the Gospel
  • experienced the gifts of the Holy Spirit in the kingdom of Christ
  • totally renounced all of the principles and teachings of Christianity.

This stems from the fact that those people had never been inwardly renewed in the first place. The author illustrates this point with an agricultural analogy: land that receives abundant rain and brings forth green herbs at the correct season for those who cultivate it is blessed by God, while land that brings forth thorns and thistles is rejected and neglected – and eventually it will be totally destroyed.

The author then hastens to assure his readers – for whom he has complete affection – that he is confident that they have saving grace in them. He assures them that God is not unrighteous; indeed, He cherishes and preserves them as they continue to obey the Gospel. In particular, He will reward them for their ongoing ministry toward poor saints. He exhorts all of them to continue diligently in carrying out their duties so that they can have a fixed, constant assurance that they will receive the good things that God has promised them. The author concludes by stating that his readers should follow those who quietly waited on God – exercising faith in Christ as their Savior from sin – and inherited the good things that God had promised them.

Thoughts: In this passage, the author reproves the Hebrews, since they have not made much spiritual progress. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 12 of chapter 5:

Here is a yardstick by which Christians can measure their spiritual maturity. If the solid doctrines about the work of Christ, especially his priesthood and sacrifice, are in their minds and emotions, and if they find spiritual nourishment in them, this is a sign of the progress they are making in understanding Christ and the Gospel.

Owen seems to draw a distinction between “plain, basic truths” and “the great and deep mysteries of the Gospel” in his commentary on the distinction between “milk” and “solid food.” Now this passage can be linked to 1 Corinthians 3, where Paul reproves the Corinthians, since they have not made much spiritual progress. In Hodge’s commentary on 1 Corinthians 3, he noted:

The important truth is that there are not two sets of doctrine, a higher and a lower form of faith, one for the learned and the other for the unlearned; there is no part of the Gospel that we are authorized to keep back from the people.

Now I may be mistaken on this point, but it certainly appears that Owen and Hodge have different conceptions of the distinction between “milk” and “solid food” as they relate to the Gospel message. Thus, I hope to be able to meet Owen, Hodge, Paul and the author of Hebrews in the next life; if it is God’s will, then perhaps we can discuss the distinction – if it exists – between “milk” and “solid food” at that time. Returning to the current passage, if Owen is correct in his interpretation of “solid food,” then one must wonder if there are other “great and deep mysteries of the Gospel” that God did not include in the Bible; perhaps Hebrews serves as a preview of the sublime truths that we will learn in the next life.

In this passage, while the author reproves the Hebrews for their lack of spiritual progress, he does commend them for their obedience to the Gospel. Owen offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 10 of chapter 6:

The Hebrews show their work and love by constantly engaging in it…They exercise their love toward the saints.

How did God view the Hebrews at that time? On one hand, they were rather slothful in terms of understanding the basic Gospel message, which prevented the author from immediately proceeding to his teaching regarding Jesus’ priesthood and sacrifice. On the other hand, they had taken concrete steps toward meeting the material needs of other poor believers. Did the Hebrews actually have saving grace in them, or was the author merely expressing his desire for their ultimate salvation? If the Hebrews actually had saving grace in them, were they able to hold fast to their faith when they died, or did they fall away before that time? I certainly hope to meet all of the Hebrews in the next life and see how they responded to this letter – including the harsh words that were employed by the author in this section. Now I should note that this passage has also spurred me to improve my understanding of the Gospel so that I can convey its basic principles to others; indeed, this blog is a means to that end.

Suffering for Doing Good June 11, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 3:8-22.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting believers to:

  • be of one mind
  • have compassion
  • love each other in Christ
  • be humble.

When they are attacked, they must seek the good of those who attack them, since they have been called to receive a holy inheritance. To support this point, he quotes from Psalm 34:12-16; in light of that passage, they must:

  • avoid profane speech, impious words, and speaking evil about people
  • loath evil and desire God’s glory
  • seek external peace with others.

Indeed, while God is angry with the wicked, He loves those who desire to walk with Him, and He answers their prayers.

Peter then notes that if his readers are ambitious to imitate God, then unbelievers may be overcome by their actions. Yet even if unbelievers attack them, they should be happy; to support this point, he quotes from Isaiah 8:12; in light of that passage, their souls should not become confused in the midst of the attacks of unbelievers. Instead, they must:

  • worship Christ
  • be ready to gently defend their faith when unbelievers attack them – by speaking about their faith with reverence.

Their inner nature must remain holy, so that those who attack them by speaking ill of them will acknowledge that their accusations have no merit. Moreover, if it is God’s will for believers to be attacked by unbelievers, then they will benefit from these attacks. To support this point, Peter reminds them that Christ suffered and died so that everyone could be received into friendship with God; Christ – in terms of His human nature – died violently, yet His human nature was then united to the spring of life. Also, Christ spoke through Noah to his contemporaries and warned them that He would judge their sinfulness; He bore with them, yet they did not believe His messenger, Noah. God then brought a flood on the earth, and only Noah and his family survived in the ark. This story also reminds believers that their baptism confirms their salvation; their souls are now at peace with God, and the resurrection of Christ confirms this great fact. Peter concludes by noting that Christ:

  • has ascended into heaven
  • has supreme dignity
  • is supreme over all of the elect angels.

Thoughts: In verses 19-21, Peter connects the flood that Noah and his family survived with the water of ritual baptism. Leighton offers some insights regarding baptism:

Thus, we have a true account of this power, and so of other sacraments, and we find the error of two extremes. First, that of those who ascribe too much to them, as if they worked through a natural, inherent value and carried grace in them inseparably. Second, the error of those who ascribe too little to them, making them only signs and badges of our profession. Signs they are, but more than signs that merely represent something. They are the means exhibiting and seals confirming grace to the faithful.

I would say that I am guilty of the latter error that Leighton notes above, as my perspective on baptism is that it constitutes another step in a believer’s spiritual walk. Now I should add that baptism is a distinctive step in this journey, as it typically entails the first public declaration of a believer’s faith. As for the former error that Leighton notes above, I have seen fellow believers place undue weight on baptismal ceremonies; also, I know people who were baptized and later wandered away from their faith. Perhaps any believer who is preparing for their baptism should consider how this public declaration of faith should spur them to make further progress in their spiritual walk. In particular, when I was baptized about ten years ago, I felt compelled to set a good example for others through my subsequent words and deeds, and I achieved some success in this regard.

In verse 22, Peter encourages believers in light of the fact that Christ is now seated at the right hand of God the Father. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

Would death be a terrifying word? Would it not, indeed, be one of the sweetest thoughts to make us rejoice, to bring our hearts solace and rest, as we look forward to the day of freedom? This infectious disease may stay here all winter and break out again more strongly again next year. [A plague ravaged Lothian in 1645 and first appeared at Newbattle in July 1645 and did not end until the end of 1646. – Editor’s note.] Do not flatter yourselves and think it has passed. But consider how Christ wishes us to contemplate our union with him.

A quick Google search revealed an interesting article on the plague that Leighton references above. Clearly Leighton and his readers were deeply affected by the plague, as about half of the population of Leith perished as a result of the disease. In the midst of great fear and panic, Leighton used this passage to encourage his readers to focus on their awesome status in Christ. Black rats, infected fleas, gangrene, etc. could cause great physical and emotional trauma, yet these temporal troubles could not affect the eternal inheritance that God had stored up for them in heaven. Perhaps we should heed Leighton’s advice in the midst of our contemporary troubles and difficulties by asking God to help us view these setbacks through His eyes.

A Call to Persevere January 11, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on Jude 17-23.

Summary: Jude begins by exhorting his readers to recall the following prophecy that the apostles made: during the last dispensation, people with profane spirits will attack the lordship of Christ. The apostles were referring to the heretics that he has previously denounced, who:

  • cut themselves off from the church
  • are sensual
  • are destitute of true grace and regeneration.

Jude then exhorts his readers to:

  • use the means of grace to grow spiritually and care for one another – based on the doctrine of faith
  • pray by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit
  • use the means of grace to love God and to love others as they hope for the good that they will receive at Christ’s coming, including their happiness in heaven.

Jude now exhorts his readers to show compassion to those who have gone astray. He concludes by exhorting them to:

  • warn guilty sinners about the fact that they are in danger
  • do their best to be instruments of their salvation
  • act severely toward the aforementioned heretics
  • avoid the company of evil people.

Thoughts: In verses 20-23, Jude provides various exhortations to his readers in light of the fact that the heretics who are troubling them will be judged by God. Manton offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

It is not enough to be grounded in the faith, for we must daily grow more and more in the faith. After the foundation has been laid, the builder must add to it brick by brick…It is the holy ambition of Christians to be more like God every day…God acknowledges nothing in prayer except what comes from his Spirit…So then, when you start to pray, look to the Holy Spirit who has been appointed by the Father and purchased through the Son to help you in this sweet service.

It is encouraging that Jude and Paul both highlight the necessity of spiritual growth (which leads to holiness) and complete dependence on God through prayer in the life of a Christian. Also, Jude and Paul both view spiritual growth and prayer in light of a Christian’s eternal destiny; being diligent in these exercises will lead one to “eternal life” as noted in verse 21, while neglecting these exercises will lead one to “the fire” as noted in verse 23. Given the stakes at hand, both of these apostles rightly highlight the importance of preparing for the time when one’s eternal destiny is revealed. Thus, I would expect the other New Testament authors, including Peter and John, to also place special emphasis on preparing for The Day of the Lord.

In verse 23, Jude exhorts his readers to be both compassionate and harsh – when necessary – in order to save those who are headed toward eternal destruction. Manton offers some thoughts on this point:

Again observe that fear is a way to reclaim obstinate sinners. It is sweet to use arguments of love, but sometimes we must set the terrors of the Lord before people…Paul, a chosen vessel, made use of threats. Sluggish creatures need the goad. God’s wrath is the proper object of fear and must be seen like this by the converted and the unconverted…This is exactly the situation with sinners. They are happy with their condition, and if they are not soundly awakened from their slumber, they will rest where they are and die in their sins.

Perhaps Manton, as a Puritan preacher, would have identified strongly with the Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God sermon by Jonathan Edwards; moreover, Manton may have preached similar sermons in his time. Did Manton encounter militant atheists or noncommittal agnostics during his tenure as a preacher? If so, did he address their “obstinate” attitudes by using “arguments of love?” Or did he attempt to rouse them from their spiritual “slumber” by repeatedly threatening them? Perhaps evangelism in our postmodern society needs to be more subtle and nuanced than the approaches that Manton employed. Maybe it could be argued that a subtle and nuanced approach to evangelism would have been effective in Manton’s time. One must wonder how Manton’s sermons would have been received if he had preached in present-day London…

Doing What Is Good October 26, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on Titus 3:1-11.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting Titus to remind the Cretans that they should calmly respect the order of civil government; they should obey the laws and submit to the law officers. Indeed, believers should not reproach other people; they should avoid quarrels – even with the lowest and meanest of people.

Paul then reminds the Cretans that previously:

  • their wisdom was vanity, since they did not know God
  • they rebelled against God
  • they wandered about as lost sheep

and so they indulged their carnal desires. Yet because God is kind and merciful, He offered and revealed Christ to believers in the Gospel message. None of their good deeds can regenerate them; yet they have received salvation as symbolized by their water baptism. Indeed, they have been washed by God’s power; His mercy alone enriches them in Christ. He has imputed righteousness to them by His grace; thus, they have the hope that brings them full assurance of their status as heirs of life. Paul solemnly asserts these points; moreover, he wants Titus to strongly affirm them – as they are worthy of praise – so that the Cretans will make good deeds their chief concern.

Now Paul states that Titus should avoid questions – including those that concern the lineage of races and debates that stem from the law – that make no contribution to godliness, since they provoke conflict with obstinate people. He should rebuke them with a public and severe censure. Paul concludes by asserting that there is no hope of repentance for them, as it is clear that their sin is deliberate and voluntary.

Thoughts: In verse 1, Paul highlights the importance of believers submitting to the civil authorities. One must wonder if at least some of the Cretan believers wanted to rebel against the Roman government. Were they subject to burdensome taxes? Did Roman soldiers randomly attack Cretans on their patrols? Did the civil authorities persecute the Cretan churches? Perhaps Paul wanted the Cretan believers to behave in an exemplary manner – in contrast to the rebellious Jews, as Calvin notes in his commentary on verse 1. In this way, the Cretan believers could display the life-changing power of the Gospel to the civil authorities. One must wonder if any of the Roman leaders on Crete converted to Christianity as a result of Paul’s instructions in this regard.

In verses 3 to 7, Paul highlights the amazing transformation that has occurred in the lives of believers by the work of the Holy Spirit. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

There are two implications of Paul’s words here that should be noted. First, people who have now been enlightened by the Lord should be kept humble as they recall their own previous ignorance and so should not exalt themselves proudly over others, nor treat them more harshly and severely than they thought they themselves should be treated when they were in that state. Second, they should realize that what has happened to them may happen tomorrow to those who are outside the church today.

I am sure that all believers struggle with the problem of exalting “themselves proudly over others,” albeit to varying degrees. In my case…as I spent more time studying the Bible and serving in various capacities in my previous church, I became more arrogant toward other believers; I regarded them as being spiritually immature. Indeed, I set a high bar for them, and I judged them for failing to meet that standard. Yet I failed to realize that I could not meet that standard, though my arrogance blinded me to my shortcomings. I still struggle with this problem; I definitely need the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to be more patient with fellow believers.

Verses 9 to 11 are analogous to the passages in 1 Timothy where Paul exhorts Timothy to avoid engaging in disputes over words that did not edify believers. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

When Paul told Titus to avoid such people, it is as if he said that he should not spend time in satisfying them, for they like nothing more than the opportunity to engage in a fight. This is a most necessary warning, as even people who are happy to take part in verbal battles are drawn into controversies, as they think they would lose face if they did not engage in battle in this way. But Paul does not want Christ’s servants to become too involved in disputes with heretics.

While Paul does identify some of these “heretics” in 1 and 2 Timothy, including Hymenaeus and Alexander, he does not identify any of the “heretics” on Crete. Yet we can be certain that Titus struggled with various heretics who challenged his teaching of the simple – yet pure – Gospel message. Perhaps we can assume that heretics arose in each congregation in the early church with the objective of challenging the apostles’ teaching. Now in the case of the church on Crete, did these heretics refute the divinity of Christ? If that had been the case, then it would have been almost impossible for Titus to refrain from debating them at every turn.

A Workman Approved by God September 19, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Timothy 2:14-26.

Summary: Paul begins by stating that Timothy should never grow weary of dealing with the Gospel message and the exhortations that he has added to it; he should:

  • make believers sit up in awe before God
  • keep believers from earnestly engaging in contentious disputes, as they are fruitless and upset people with weak faith.

Timothy should keep his eyes fixed on God; instead of being lazy, he should judiciously dispense the Word to everyone. This stems from the fact that there is no escape from profane and noisy speech. Indeed, false teachers will spread until they have destroyed the church; in particular, everyone should be on their guard against Hymenaeus and Philetus, who have invented some kind of allegorical resurrection. Yet believers can be consoled by the fact that God’s election endures, as He has privately kept the salvation of the elect. To keep believers from growing complacent in light of this fact, Paul then warns them that anyone who professes to belong to God’s people must be far from all ungodliness.

Paul then notes that in the church, it is not strange to find bad people mixed with good. Yet the good people in the church make themselves suitable for honorable and higher uses; they serve God by living holy lives.

Now Paul exhorts Timothy to shun the impetuous feelings and impulses that arise from the excessive passion of youth; instead, he should concentrate on a right way of living – consisting of faith and love – and cultivate peaceful relations with all believers. He should not engage in arguments that 1) do not instruct people and 2) only give rise to conflicts. Indeed, a servant of Christ should not fight over superfluous questions; instead, he should:

  • be kind
  • teach with moderation
  • be slow to become irritated.

He should show gentleness to those who least deserve it, as repentance is God’s gift and work – where He illuminates the minds of men. Paul concludes by noting that those who least deserve gentleness are currently acting on Satan’s command.

Thoughts: In verses 17 and 18, Paul warns Timothy about Hymenaeus and Philetus, who teach that the resurrection of the dead has already occurred. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

Paul singles out these pests so that everyone may be on their guard against them, for if we allow people who are contriving to ruin the whole church to remain concealed, we only give them an opportunity to do real damage…Paul meant this teaching to be not just for Timothy, but as a witness to all nations in all ages about the ungodliness of these two men, in order to shut the door against their depraved and deadly teaching.

Now we see that Paul has already punished Hymenaeus, as noted in 1 Timothy 1:12-20. Of course, this raises the following questions: did Hymenaeus have the opportunity to read 1 Timothy, and if so, how did he respond to Paul’s statement that he was a blasphemer? It is fair to say that Hymenaeus had hardened his heart, as he refused to stop teaching erroneous doctrines after his excommunication. Did Hymenaeus convince Philetus to join him in his blasphemy? Did they have the opportunity to read this letter, and if so, how did they respond to it? How did they infer that the resurrection of the dead had already occurred?

In verse 19, Paul notes that believers should not be alarmed when some in their midst commit apostasy. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

All this confirms the certainty of our salvation, provided that we belong to God’s elect. It is like saying, “God’s elect do not depend on changing events but rest on a solid and immovable foundation, for their salvation is in God’s hand”…as we are sure that the church is safe, we can, without being dismayed, allow the reprobate to leave for the fate for which they are destined, for the number of the elect that God has chosen remains untouched.

One of the major themes of Calvin’s commentaries – which includes his withering criticism of the Catholic Church – is his passionate defense of predestination. Whenever he encounters a passage that can be used to support predestination, he usually includes some thoughts on that doctrine in the accompanying commentary. Whenever he encounters a passage that can be used to support free will, he will invariably mount a defense of predestination in the accompanying commentary. On a related note, it is fair to assume that Calvin would assert that Hymenaeus and Philetus were not part of God’s elect; I am curious as to whether other commentators would assert that Hymenaeus and Philetus actually lost their salvation.

In verse 21, Paul states that believers should desire to be set apart for God’s glory. Calvin offers some intriguing thoughts on this point:

Nobody questions that we are called to be holy, but the question about a Christian’s duty and vocation is different from the question about his ability or power to fulfill it. We do not deny that believers are required to purify themselves. But the Lord also declares that this is his own work…So we should plead with the Lord to cleanse us, instead of vainly exercising our own strength to do it without his help.

Over time I have come to occupy a middle ground of sorts in the predestination-free will debate, as I believe that both of these doctrines are correct to some extent. Thus, my take on Calvin’s interpretation of this verse is that we exercise free will when we “plead with the Lord to cleanse us.” Also, since “the Lord also declares that this is his own work,” I can infer that we do not work toward our holiness. In that case, we are only required to desire that the Lord work in us – while desire is not considered as “work,” we still need to exercise this desire. This interpretation may appear to be overly lenient towards believers, yet I find it to be pragmatic in that we simply cannot earn holiness. I would not be surprised to learn that other believers share my thoughts on this point; comments are welcome.

Encouragement to be Faithful September 15, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Timothy 1:3-2:13.

Summary: Paul begins by asserting that he worships the God of Abraham – who gave His law through Moses – with a pure and heartfelt affection; he gives thanks to God. He notes that there is no time when he does not pray. He encourages Timothy by reminding him of the faith that his mother and grandmother displayed, even though they were not Christians.

Paul then exhorts Timothy to make progress every day in accordance with the grace that he has received; indeed, his ordination symbolized the fact that God gave Timothy the grace that he needed to carry out his work as a minister. Thus, he should not fall back into a state of laziness, but he should show himself to be full of the Spirit’s power by acting out of a calm concern for edification. Then he would not refuse to be Paul’s companion in the common cause of teaching the Gospel while relying on God’s help. Moreover, believers have received eternal salvation through Christ; salvation does not depend on works, as it is given to believers by free grace. Indeed, Christ has now appeared for salvation, and He has revealed eternal life by His death and resurrection. Now Paul states that he is a faithful and legitimate minister of the Gospel, as he:

  • has been tasked with publicly announcing the decrees of God
  • enjoys a special relationship with those who learn from him.

In particular, he has been appointed to the Gentiles, which is why he is currently imprisoned; yet he is not disgraced by his imprisonment, since he:

  • does not doubt that God will be true and faithful
  • has adequate protection in God’s power, since He has his salvation in His hands.

Now Paul exhorts Timothy to make his own teaching follow in the same mold as he has been given; his teaching should consist in faith and love, which stem from knowing Christ. He should take care that the gifts of the Spirit in which he excels are not taken away from him because of his laziness; indeed, God will give him the necessary strength to care for the dignity of his ministerial office.

Paul reminds Timothy that many of the believers in Asia have deserted him; moreover, two of them – Phygelus and Hermogenes – have been making false accusations against him.

Paul then prays that God would bless Onesiphorus and his whole family, since Onesiphorus showed generosity and zeal by assisting him. He prays that God would pardon Onesiphorus and be merciful to him.

Now Paul affectionately tells Timothy to shake off laziness and complete his task through the unmerited favor that:

  • comes from Christ alone
  • is given to all believers

He exhorts him to preserve the form and features of his teaching; in doing so, Timothy can rely on the support of many people who can testify that his teaching comes from Paul. He also exhorts him to hand on his teaching to those believers who have an outstanding measure of faith. In addition, he exhorts him to be prepared to patiently endure evil, since he is a servant of Christ. He reminds all pastors that:

  • soldiers concentrate only on the war – instead of their ordinary occupations and caring for their families
  • athletes finish running the race – instead of giving up halfway through it
  • farmers wait patiently for the harvest – instead of shrinking from the hard work of obtaining fruit after a period of time.

Timothy should ponder these metaphors, and he prays that God would give him understanding on this point.

Paul then emphasizes the following parts of his teaching:

  • Christ was born as a descendant of David, and so He was the Messiah
  • He rose from the dead.

These two points comprise the Gospel message, and because he has preached it to the Gentiles, he is now imprisoned; it appears that he is a common criminal, yet the Gospel has not been stopped from having free rein. Indeed, his imprisonment has promoted the welfare of the church so that they may receive salvation in Christ.

Paul concludes by encouraging believers to hold to the following truths, which are difficult to believe:

  • by bearing the death of Christ, believers also reveal the life of Christ
  • those who have given up confessing Christ will have no part with Christ
  • those who desert Christ will take nothing from Him.

Thoughts: In this passage, I found additional phrases that hint at Paul’s impending martyrdom. For example, he must have desired Timothy’s support at this difficult time, as he exhorts him to “join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God.” He also boldly faces his imminent death by stating that “I am not ashamed…and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him for that day.” In the midst of this trial, he remembers why God is testing him in the first place: “I endure everything for the sake of the elect.” He holds fast to the promise that “If we died with him, we will also live with him; if we endure, we will also reign with him.” Most likely Paul was greatly encouraged as he wrote this letter; thus, 2 Timothy can be an encouragement to those who are facing difficult circumstances that they cannot escape.

In verses 16-18 of chapter 1, Paul warmly remembers the kindness that Onesiphorus showed to him. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

We should also note that while it is only Onesiphorus himself who is praised for his help, Paul also prays that his whole family would be blessed by God. From this it is right to infer that God’s blessing rests not only on a righteous man himself but on his whole household. God’s love for his people is so great that it spreads over everyone who is connected with them.

Now Calvin’s note reminded me of the Hebrew emphasis – as seen in the Old Testament – on collective responsibility and blessings, as opposed to the Western emphasis on individual responsibility and blessings. An entire family could be wiped out for the sins of one person, while the righteous actions of one person could elicit blessings on their family for generations to come. This makes me wonder if I will have the opportunity to meet Onesiphorus’ whole family in the next life; if so, that would be quite neat. If Paul’s prayer was effective in this case, then it would have spurred Onesiphorus’ family to exhibit the same generosity and zeal for God that he displayed towards Paul during his time in Rome.

In verse 13 of chapter 2, Paul notes that those who abandon Christ cannot detract from His glory. Calvin offers some insights on this point:

So, Paul deprives ungodly apostates from having this comforting thought to console themselves with. Because they change their colors according to their circumstances, they imagine that Christ is also two-faced. Paul says that this is impossible.

I have struggled to understand this verse ever since one of my friends noted that this was one of her favorite Bible passages. The flow of verses 11 and 12 seems to be rudely interrupted by verse 13, and so I could not reconcile this verse with the rest of the passage. I checked the ESV and NASB translations of this verse, but they are essentially identical to the NIV translation. In any case, Calvin’s explanation is quite satisfactory as it illustrates how this verse connects with the rest of the passage. Of course, one must wonder if this passage has been used to support the notion that one can lose their salvation; if so, how would Calvin, as a prominent advocate of predestination, respond to that argument?