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Psalm 51 July 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 51.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to show mercy to him, as he has committed adultery with Bathsheba and attempted to conceal that sin by murdering her husband, Uriah the Hittite.

He asserts that he has acted based on his inherent sinfulness – heightening the contrast between his sinfulness and God’s righteousness.

He then prays that God would:

  • cleanse him of his sins – not counting them against him
  • restore him to a right relationship with Him
  • incline his soul towards Him.

He then asserts that he will respond by praising Him – and exhorting other sinners to do likewise. Moreover, he will praise him based on an acute awareness of his inherent sinfulness.

He concludes by praying for the people of Israel – especially that they would praise Him based on an acute awareness of their inherent sinfulness.

Thoughts: I enjoyed reading the following note that Spurgeon included in the preface to his commentary:

In commenting upon some of [the Psalms], I have been overwhelmed with awe, and said with Jacob, “How dreadful is this place, it is none other than the house of God.” Especially was this the case with Psalm 51; I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling more and more my inability for the work. Often I sat down to it, and rose up again without having penned a line. It is a bush burning with fire yet not consumed, and out of it a voice seemed to cry to me, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from off thy feet.” The psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are of one born of woman; but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine, as if the great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth. Such a psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion; but, commented on – ah! where is he who having attempted it can do other than blush at his defeat?

Notwithstanding the last sentence, I approached Spurgeon’s commentary on this psalm with great anticipation in light of this note. Thus, I was displeased with the edited – and abridged, I assume – version that appeared in my Crossway Classic Commentary; my conjecture is that the original version was relatively lengthy and included a great deal of soul-searching. In light of this disappointment, I anticipate meeting Spurgeon in the next life and probing him on this point. Were his thoughts and feelings on this psalm influenced by any personal failings, e.g. temptations to commit adultery and/or murder? How long did it take for him to complete his commentary on this psalm? How did he eventually find the wisdom – and strength – to write it? How would he have responded to the abridged version that was produced by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer?

In verses 18 and 19, David prays that God would bless Jerusalem – and the people of Israel. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

Zion was David’s favorite spot, whereon he had hoped to erect a temple. He felt he had hindered the project honoring the Lord there as he desired, but he prayed God still to let the place of his ark be glorious, and to establish his worship and his worshiping people…He had done mischief by his sin, and has as it were polluted down her walls; he therefore implores the Lord to undo the evil and establish his church.

These two verses form an interesting conclusion to this famous psalm, and they call us to ponder the (potential) broader impact of our sinfulness. Can our personal failings lead others away from God? Can our ostensibly private sins hamper our public efforts to honor God? Can God respond to our sins by rejecting our acts of service – and not blessing those whom we desire to bless? While we should recoil at the fact that our personal failings damage our relationship with God, we should also consider how our wrong choices may hurt others. Perhaps such ruminations will spur us to be more circumspect in our private lives.

Psalm 39 May 26, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 39.

Summary: In this passage, David recounts an instance where God punished him for his sins. At that time, he implored Him to be merciful to him – especially given that:

  • life is short
  • his enemies increase his misery with their mockery.

Thoughts: In verses 4-6, David reflects on the relative brevity of human life. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 6:

Men fret, and fume, and worry, and all for mere nothing. Read well this text, and then listen to the clamor of the market, the hum of the exchange, the din of the city streets, and remember that all this noise (for so the word means) is made about unsubstantial, fleeting vanities.

Reports of someone’s passing – especially one in the prime of their life – often compel us to confront the fact that we cannot control our lives. That being said, my conjecture is that humans are not naturally inclined to constantly reflect on the brevity of life, as that would fuel undue mental stress and anxiety. A more salubrious approach entails regular reflection on the meaning and purpose of our lives; do we strive to serve and honor God through our words and deeds? Do we endeavor to seek the good of others? These reflections lead to righteous thoughts, words and deeds – preparing us for the time when we, too, pass from this life.

After strolling through this passage, I struggled to comprehend David’s initial refusal to speak in the presence of the wicked. Was he afraid that he would accidentally unjustly blame God for his misery? Was he fearful that he would reject the authority of God in the midst of his pain? Was he tempted to castigate his enemies? Acting on these impulses would support his enemies’ assertions that his righteous image was actually a facade. How did they respond to his statements in this passage? Did his prayers chastise them? Were they angered by his mention of “fools” in verse 8?

Psalm 38 May 25, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 38.

Summary: In this passage, David prays that God would not be overzealous in punishing him for his sins. Indeed, he is already in abject misery; moreover, his enemies plan to destroy him. Thus, he offers a prayer of contrition and asks God to rescue him.

Thoughts: In this passage, David waxes poetic on the effects of his sins. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

God’s law applied by the Spirit to the conviction of the soul confronts sin, wounds deeply and rankles long; it is an arrow not lightly to be brushed out by careless mirthfulness, or to be extracted by the flattering hand of self-righteousness. The Lord knows how to shoot so that his bolts not only strike but stick.

While I sin on a daily basis, occasionally I commit sins that genuinely prick my conscience, where I believe that I could have controlled my actions. At such times, I am acutely aware that God is displeased with me; moreover, I sense that a gulf has opened between us, and I regret the fact that I have disappointed Him. These feelings spur me to earnestly pray for mercy and forgiveness, as I cannot bear to be out of fellowship with Him; moreover, I earnestly pray that I would be cleansed of the sin in question.

In verses 13 and 14, David states that he was rendered deaf and mute during his punishment. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

Well and bravely was this done. A sacred indifference to the slanders of malevolence is true courage and wise policy. It is well to be as if we could not hear or see…David was eminently typical of our Lord Jesus, whose marvelous silence before Pilate was far more eloquent than words. To abstain from self-defense is often most difficult, and frequently most wise.

Now a note in my NIV Study Bible regarding these verses includes the assertion that David was effectively “catatonic with inner distress.” Thus, I am curious: which of these interpretations is correct? Did David intentionally refrain from responding to the taunts of his enemies – or did his deep sense of guilt overwhelm his brain? I anticipate meeting him in the next life and querying him on this point.

In verses 17-20, David confesses his sins while asserting that his enemies are unjustly plotting against him. Spurgeon offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

This verse is not inconsistent with the writer’s previous confession; we may feel deeply guilty before God, and yet be entirely innocent of any wrong to our fellow-men. It is one sin to acknowledge the truth, quite another thing to submit to be belied.

Admittedly, when I first strolled through this passage, I wrestled with this point. I wondered, “how could David confess his sins – yet then declare that his enemies wrongly plotted against him? Were his enemies aware of his sins? If so, did they leverage their knowledge in forming their accusations against him?” Given that we do not know the context of this passage, we cannot be certain that David was truly innocent of the charges that he faced. I anticipate meeting him in the next life and probing him on this point.

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven June 17, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 18:1-9.

Summary: In this passage, the disciples ask Jesus who will be greater than all the rest in the kingdom of God. He responds by asserting that if they want to enter the kingdom of God, they must adopt a childlike attitude – lowering themselves and completely depending on Him.

Moreover, by treating their (childlike) brethren with kindness and love, they treat Him with kindness and love.

In contrast, if they cause their (childlike) brethren to sin, then they would be better off dying the worst kind of death. Consequently, they should take drastic measures to guard against that possibility.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus emphasizes the centrality of humility in one’s walk with God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The surest mark of true conversion is humility. If we have really received the Holy Spirit, we will show it by a meek and childlike spirit. Like children, we shall think humbly about our own strength and wisdom, and be very dependent on our Father in heaven. Like children, we shall not seek great things in this world; but having food and clothing and a Father’s love, we shall be content.

Reading through this passage caused me to consider the fact that when a believer serves in their church, they often receive compliments from other believers; examples include:

  • applauding the worship team after they perform a special song during the offertory
  • thanking a Sunday School teacher after their class
  • thanking a pastor after their sermon.

This raises the following questions:

  • if we complement our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our compliments?
  • considering the third above-mentioned example, should we modify our compliment by saying, “I enjoyed your sermon since I sensed that God was speaking to us through you?”
  • if we receive complements from our brethren, should we evaluate the propriety of our response to them?
  • again, considering the third above-mentioned example, should a pastor respond by saying, “Praise God, who has chosen me as a conduit of His blessings to my congregation?”

As believers, we want to ensure that God receives all glory and praise – instead of hoarding any plaudits for ourselves. That being said, I wonder if my ideas would induce stilted conversations between believers…

God’s Answer March 16, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 12:5-17.

Summary: In this passage, God begins by warning Jeremiah about his relatives – as even they have rejected his prophecies. He then addresses his complaint from the previous passage, asserting that He will punish His people for their sins and smite their land. He concludes by addressing the pagan neighbors of Judah who have appropriated her land; in particular, He will not punish them forever based on that sin – but only if they promise to worship Him.

Thoughts: In verse 7, we see that God will punish His beloved people. Now although I am not a parent, I do have a hazy notion of the thoughts and emotions that a parent experiences when they discipline their misbehaving child. In particular, recently I volunteered as a teacher for a K-2 Sunday School class at my church; that experience reinforced the importance of setting boundaries for the students and communicating the consequences of misbehavior. While I did not enjoy rebuking the students for their actions, I found it helpful to adopt a long-term perspective on this point; basically, I want to inculcate them with habits that they can employ as adults.

In verses 14-17, we see that God extends an offer of salvation to the pagan neighbors of Judah. This is a valuable reminder that God’s love is not confined to Jews; indeed, He desires that all people enter a covenant relationship with Him. As a Gentile, I am especially thankful for this fact. Of course, my recent stroll through the book of Acts reveals that preaching the Gospel to Gentiles has its attendant challenges, including the importance of overcoming roadblocks that are unique to the target’s culture, religion, etc. For example, believers should consider how to properly engage with those who adhere to polytheism.

Jeremiah’s Complaint March 12, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 12:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jeremiah wrestles with God – wondering why He has blessed the wicked. He beseeches God to punish them for their sins – as their actions have even cursed the land.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jeremiah recoils at the external prosperity of the wicked; he cannot fathom how a righteous, sovereign God could shower blessings on them. Modern-day believers can empathize with Jeremiah in this regard, as history is replete with tyrants who have exploited their nation-states, slaking their thirst for rape, pillage and murder. Many of these tyrants died peacefully of natural causes after committing countless sins. In light of these historical facts, we may wonder, “O Lord, why did you refrain from punishing these tyrants?” Perhaps their lives compel us to meditate on the next life, trusting that God will exercise His justice at that time. That is our only recourse as we continue to recoil at sin in this world.

The Fall of Babylon February 26, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 18.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a mighty angel declaring the downfall of Babylon the Great – since she has:

  • committed adultery with other nations
  • indulged in excessive luxury.

Believers are exhorted to separate themselves from her – since God will judge her for her sins. Her abrupt downfall is mourned by many unbelievers, including:

  • the kings of the earth
  • the merchants of the earth
  • seafarers.

Believers are also exhorted to rejoice over her downfall – since she has persecuted them and even executed many of them. A mighty angel then describes the totality of her downfall.

Thoughts: Verses 12 and 13 demonstrate the economic power of ancient Rome. She enjoyed the finest luxuries and ruled over a vast empire – yet God called believers to “come out of her…so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues.” These verses should challenge those of us who live in First World countries. For example, if our nation belongs to the Group of Eight, then one could argue that it possesses the economic strength of ancient Rome. In that case, what aspects of life in a prosperous nation compete with our call to worship God alone? Is God calling us to “come out of” our nation and avoid “her sins?” Do we need to emigrate to less prosperous nations? As God’s holy people, we must wrestle with these questions as we seek to maintain our spiritual purity.

In verses 10, 17 and 19 we see that the downfall of ancient Rome occurred “in one hour.” This highlights the rapidity of her demise; as a history buff, I believe that these verses should greatly encourage modern-day believers – especially those who live in Third World countries. Great leaders have built vast empires over the course of human history – yet we have seen that all empires eventually decline and fall. This stands in sharp contrast to the permanence of God’s power and His sovereignty over human history. In light of this, we should strive to worship our eternal, sovereign God. Indeed, history has repeatedly demonstrated that God is more worthy of worship than any empire or world leader.

Children of God February 16, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 John 2:28-3:10.

Summary: John begins by stating that everyone who lives righteously has been born of Christ.

John then states that God the Father has benevolently declared believers to be His children; since the world does not know Him, though, it treats believers with ridicule and contempt. Although believers are surrounded by miseries, they know that when Christ is revealed in the power of His kingdom, they will share the divine glory – as they will see Him as a friend. This hope leads them straight to Christ, who is a perfect pattern of purity.

Now John asserts that everyone who wholeheartedly runs into evil transgresses the divine law. Yet Christ was sent by God the Father to destroy the reigning power of sin; indeed, there is no room for sin wherever Christ diffuses His efficacious grace. Moreover, those who are made one with Christ do not consent to sin; those who consent to sin lack the knowledge of Christ.

John then notes that everyone who is conformed to Christ will manifest their new life by their good works. On the other hand, everyone who is conformed to the devil – who has been an apostate since the creation of the world – will manifest their servitude to him by their perverse deeds. Yet Christ came to take away sins; thus, all of God’s children lead righteous and holy lives, as the Holy Spirit has a sovereign presence in them. The hearts of God’s children are effectually governed by the Holy Spirit; thus, they follow His guidance. John concludes by stating that God’s children will fear Him from the heart and walk in His commands, as they are endued with benevolence and humanity.

Thoughts: In this passage, John describes the attributes of a child of God. This reminds me of a recent sermon by one of our pastors. During that sermon, he showed a slide with two images; one depicted a father leading his child on a walk along a beach, and the other depicted the Sun. He then asked the congregation to determine the image that served as the best approximation of their conception of God. After giving this some thought, I concluded that the image of the Sun was the best approximation of my conception of God. In particular, I have a strong sense of God’s power and majesty as revealed by His creation. I can also sense God’s power as revealed by His guiding me through various difficulties over the years. Yet I rarely sense that I am one of God’s children. For me, it is simpler to think of God as my Lord than to view Him as my Father. Now I should note that our above-mentioned pastor exhorted us to view God as being both powerful and fatherly; this sounds like a worthy – albeit difficult – goal to pursue.

In verse 9, John states that if the Holy Spirit dwells in a person, then they will not continue to sin. Calvin offers some challenging thoughts on this point:

Here, the apostle ascends higher, for he plainly declares that the hearts of the godly are so effectually governed by the Spirit of God that through an inflexible disposition they follow his guidance…Moreover, it is easy to refute the absurd argument of the Sophists that the will is taken away from us. They are wrong because the will is a natural power. But nature is corrupted; so the will only has depraved inclinations. Hence God’s Spirit has to renew it in order that it may begin to be good.

I am quite eager to meet Calvin in the next life so that I can discuss free will with him. Now it certainly seems that if believers are led by “an inflexible disposition,” then they do not have free will; this viewpoint would align with that of the Sophists, which Calvin belittles. If the will is renewed by the Holy Spirit, does it retain the power to make choices that contravene His desires? Attempting to resolve this apparent paradox has been a can of worms for me since I began pondering this issue as an undergraduate. I certainly hope that God will explain the relationship between free will and predestination to me at some point…

Struggling with Sin March 12, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 7:7-25.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses an inference that could be drawn from the preceding passage – that is, since we need to be released from our obligations to God’s moral law in order to bear fruit to Him, that law is inherently evil. Paul asserts that this is actually a faulty inference, and he proceeds to reveal the true nature of God’s moral law. To this end, he draws a distinction between God’s moral law and our sinful nature; in fact, the sinful nature actually uses the law as an instrument to effect its evil purposes. He explains this by appealing to personal experience; he knows God’s moral law and comprehends its inherent goodness, and he desires to obey it in order to be saved. Instead, all the law can do is to reveal the presence of his sinful nature to him; his sinful nature then bears fruit for death by causing him to disobey the commands in the law (e.g. “You shall not covet”). Thus, the real hindrance to Paul’s salvation is not so much God’s moral law but his indwelling “sin principle.” Again, Paul knows the law and desires to honor its obligations, but his indwelling “sin principle” causes him to do the exact opposite of what he wants to do. Thus, Paul, who knows God’s moral law, has two indwelling “principles” that are battling for control of his life; one approves of the law and desires to live up to its obligations, while the other disapproves of the law and desires to do the exact opposite of what the law commands. This is an intensely frustrating situation, since Paul is keenly aware of his inner conflict, and he realizes that his indwelling “sin principle” will not leave him in this life. Paul concludes by 1) giving thanks to God that Christ Jesus has already done what is required to free him from his indwelling “sin principle,” which will be fully achieved in the next life, and 2) noting that the law, while it is not inherently evil, cannot fulfill that task.

Thoughts: Christianity has witnessed a long-running theological debate over whether this passage refers to

  • those who are unsaved, or
  • those who have trusted in Christ as their Lord and Savior and have received the Holy Spirit.

Great theologians such as Erasmus and Grotius would fall under the former camp, while great theologians such as Melanchthon and Beza would fall under the latter camp. Clearly there is no simple method for determining the correct interpretation of this passage. Hodge decidedly subscribes to the latter view, and he supports his position with several well-reasoned arguments, including appealing to the structure of Paul’s overall argument in Romans, citing analogous passages in Paul’s writings, and referencing the everyday struggles that all Christians experience.

If we accept Hodge’s explanation of the issue as stated in the previous paragraph, then it is apparent that Christians cannot find even the smallest shred of the basis of their salvation in God’s moral law. To this end, Hodge remarks of the Christian:

Pride, coldness, slothfulness, and other feelings which he disapproves and hates are day by day reasserting their power over him. He struggles against their influence, groans beneath their slavery, longs to be filled with meekness, humility, and all other fruits of the love of God, but finds he can neither of himself nor with the help of the law achieve his freedom from what he hates or fully accomplish what he desires and approves. Every evening sees his penitent confession of his degrading slavery, his sense of utter helplessness, and his longing desire for help from above. He is a slave looking and longing for liberty.

I must admit that I definitely identify with the sentiments that Hodge presents here. Even though I can tell that I have grown in my faith over the years, I still sin on a daily basis. Many of these sins consist of wicked and unprofitable thoughts, which show that I am still trapped by my inherent sinfulness. Honestly, I wish that I could achieve perfection for just one day, but I find that to be an utterly impossible endeavor due to my improper thoughts; thus, even isolating myself from others does not prevent me from sinning.

If we hold to the view that this passage refers to Christians, then verses 21-23 make it quite clear that all Christians have an “evil, wild beast” within them (to put it mildly). In his commentary on verse 23, Hodge notes:

Besides the inner being or the principle of divine life, there was not merely another law numerically, but another in kind, one that is of a different nature. This evil principle is called a law because of its permanency and its controlling power. It is not a transient act or changeable purpose but a law, something independent of the will which defies and controls it.

This “evil, wild beast” constantly desires to gain control of our lives; when I gave this some thought, I was quite horrified and disgusted in realizing that it also dwells within me. The fact that it is active and constantly planning its next evil move shows that we are up against an extremely formidable adversary in this case. For a reason that we cannot fathom at this time, God has chosen to allow this “evil, wild beast” to dwell in us until either 1) our physical death or 2) Jesus’ second coming, whichever comes first. This is intensely frustrating, which allows me to truly comprehend (and rejoice in) Paul’s statements in verses 24-25.

Slaves to Righteousness February 24, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on Romans 6:15-23.

Summary: In this passage, Paul addresses an objection that could be raised to his main point at the conclusion of the preceding passage – namely, believers are not subject to God’s law (either the Mosaic law or the natural law that is written on men’s hearts) but live under a gracious dispensation. The objection in question states that believers are free to sin since they are not subject to God’s law; of course, Paul strenuously opposes this point. To show that believers do not have a license to sin, Paul brings up the example of slavery, which was not uncommon in the Roman Empire. By definition, slaves are continually compelled to obey their masters. Now it turns out that men only have two choices in life – either they can be slaves to sin, which is guaranteed to result in death, or they can be slaves to God, which is guaranteed to result in life. Paul is thankful that though his readers had made the former choice, they have now turned to the latter option; he also notes that his example of slavery is quite relevant to them, since their sinful natures keep trying to “re-enslave” them. He then exhorts them to show the same fervor in obeying God – being sanctified in the process – as they showed when they obeyed sin – and became more wicked in that case. Paul concludes this passage by noting that just as obeying sin results in death, obeying God results in eternal life, since believers serve a risen Savior.

Thoughts: As noted in my previous post, I struggle to understand the nature of our slavery to righteousness; why do truly regenerated believers need to strive to obey God? Hodge notes the following:

Similarly, the more completely God reigns in us, and the more completely we are subject to his will, then the greater our freedom – that is, the more we act in accordance with the laws of our nature and the end of our being.

To me, this smacks of predestination, and not so much of free will. Yet somehow we are commanded in verse 19 to “offer yourselves as slaves to righteousness leading to holiness.” Why would we need to willfully enslave ourselves to righteousness if we are truly subject to God’s will? Does this relate to the free will that we exercise in being justified in the first place?

In verse 17, we see the phrase “the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.” Hodge clarifies this phrase as follows:

Form of teaching means the Gospel, either in its limited sense of the doctrine of free justification through Christ, of which the apostle had been speaking, or in its wider sense of the whole doctrine of Christ as a rule both of faith and practice. The former includes the latter. He who receives Christ as priest receives him as Lord. He who comes to him for justification comes also for sanctification. Therefore obedience to the call to put our trust in Christ as our righteousness implies obedience to his whole revealed will.

It is clear that genuine justification must be followed by sanctification. That is, it is not sufficient for someone to merely claim that they trust in Jesus as their Lord and Savior; their subsequent life must reflect the truth of this statement. Of course, this is an incredibly difficult and challenging endeavor. Most, if not all, of Jesus’ commands in the Gospels are extremely demanding and involve denying oneself and solely depending on Him. Even mature Christians struggle to live a life that is worthy of His calling.