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Psalm 2 December 15, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 2.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist draws a sharp contrast between two parties.

The first party is Jesus Christ – the Son of God. His Father has granted Him authority over all things, including the nations. Thus, those who choose to submit to Him will be blessed.

The second party consists of those who refuse to submit to Him. The psalmist exhorts them to submit to Him – lest He judge them.

Thoughts: This psalm includes several prophecies concerning the Messiah. I hope to meet the psalmist (possibly David) in the next life and probe them on this point. Did they intentionally reference the Messiah when writing this psalm? If so, what were their thoughts and feelings regarding the Messiah? Did they eagerly anticipate His First Coming? Were they filled with a sense of awe and humility while pondering the deeds that He would perform? Did they believe that His First Coming would occur in their lifetime? What was their conception of the spiritual facet of the Messiah’s kingdom? Did they receive any feedback from their compatriots regarding these prophetic references?

Here, the psalmist exhorts all who reject the authority of the Messiah to submit to Him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

Delay no longer, but let good reason weigh with you. Your warfare cannot succeed; therefore desist and yield cheerfully to him who will make you bow if you refuse his yoke. How infinitely wise is obedience to Jesus, and how dreadful is the folly of those who continue to be his enemies!

I am curious as to whether other nations were aware of this psalm. If so, how was it conveyed to them? How did they respond to it? Did this psalm compel them to declare their loyalty to the king of Israel – or did they regard it as bluster? Did they have analogous “psalms” in praise of their deities that included exhortations for Israel to submit to them? If they suffered a defeat at the hand of Israel, did the survivors reflect on this psalm and bemoan their decision to ignore it?

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The Rich Young Man July 8, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 19:16-30.

Summary: In this passage, a rich young man asks Jesus how he can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by asserting that one obtains the life of God by keeping His commandments.

The rich young man asserts that He has kept all of God’s commandments – yet it turns out that he cannot place all of his possessions under His Lordship.

Jesus then stresses the following point: it is impossible for a rich man to obtain the life of God.

His disciples are dumbfounded; they wonder if anyone can obtain the life of God. Jesus responds by stating that while men cannot obtain it by their own efforts, God can enable them to obtain it by causing them to submit to His Lordship. Moreover, at His Second Coming, His disciples will:

  • reign with Him
  • inherit the entire body of Christ.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus asserts that a rich man cannot obtain the life of God by his own efforts. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Riches, which all desire to obtain – riches, for which people labor and toil and become gray before their time – riches are the most perilous possession. They often inflict great injury on the soul; they lead people into many temptations; they engross people’s thoughts and affections; they bind heavy burdens on the heart, and make the way to heaven even more difficult than it naturally is.

While I lead a (relatively) spartan life, I strive to retain the comforts that I enjoy. Since I crave security and comfort, I strive to retain my job; moreover, the prospect, however remote, of unemployment is worrisome. I posit that many believers experience at least some stress regarding their finances at some point in this life; even if one has achieved financial security by accumulating great wealth, I posit that the process of building a nest egg is stressful. I struggle to maintain my confidence and trust in God’s providence on a daily basis, and I certainly need His forgiveness for those instances where I have doubted His willingness to supply my daily needs.

Jesus also asserts that each believer inherits the entire body of Christ. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Christ can raise up friends for us who will more than compensate for those we lose; Christ can open hearts and homes to us far more warm and hospitable than those that are closed against us; above all, Christ can give us peace of conscience, inward joy, bright hopes and happy feelings, which will far outweigh every pleasant earthly thing that we have cast away for his sake.

I do not know if I have lost any friends due to my faith, as none of the unbelievers whom I have known have ever stated that they could not interact with me due to my Christian worldview. I do know that I have enjoyed the hospitality and care of various believers over the years. I am grateful for those believers whom God has placed in my life to bless me and encourage me in my walk with Him; I am curious as to how God will enable me to maintain – and deepen – those relationships in the next life…

Boasting About Tomorrow October 10, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on James 4:13-17.

Summary: James begins by provoking his readers to think, as they are confident of their own wisdom and hard work in their undertakings – without the blessing and permission of providence. He asserts that every day brings new events with it, and life passes very quickly; thus, they should always submit to God’s will. At this time, they are foolishly predicting their own successful efforts; they are driven by pride and wretched complacency. James concludes by addressing a potential objection to his teaching – that his readers already know it; he replies that this obliges them to submit to God’s will.

Thoughts: In this passage, James exhorts his readers to submit to God and acknowledge His sovereignty – instead of assuming that they control their own destinies. Manton offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 14:

We have no assurance of our lives and comforts or the events of the next day. This is a common argument; the heathen used it a lot. So then, let every day’s care be enough for itself; live every day as the last day. Petrarch tells of someone who, when invited to dinner the next day, answered, “I have not had a tomorrow for many years.” And Ludovicus Capellus tells us of one Rabbi Eleazer who advised people to repent only the day before their death – that is, right now (for it may be the last day before we die).

While reading the daily news can be depressing, it reminds me of my frailty and the uncertainty of my life. It is natural for me to focus on this life and its inherent pleasures; at those times, I neglect God’s sovereignty. Moreover, it is natural for me to make plans for the future, where my desired goals are achieved with God’s assistance – even if those goals do not glorify Him. The challenge for me, then, is to focus on God on a daily basis and consider how I can glorify Him on that day. That may appear to be a mundane calling, yet I have found that God can provide true satisfaction – and humble me in the process – by enabling me to perform small acts for His Kingdom. I still believe that God calls believers to make plans for the future, yet He desires us to strike the proper balance between making those plans and obeying our daily call to honor Him.

To Elders and Young Men June 29, 2014

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

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting pastors to feed Christ’s followers; he is qualified to make this exhortation, as he:

  • is also a minister of the Gospel message
  • was an eyewitness of Christ’s sufferings
  • will receive a rich inheritance at Christ’s Second Coming.

They should not:

  • be reluctant to feed Christ’s followers
  • exercise their authority in a tyrannical fashion.

Instead, they should:

  • choose to obey their calling
  • take delight in feeding Christ’s followers
  • be a pattern with which Christ’s followers will stamp their spirits.

In this way, they will be kings at Christ’s Second Coming.

Peter then exhorts younger believers to respect and obey their pastors; he also exhorts all believers to work hard to be the lowest. To support the latter point, he quotes from Proverbs 3:34, where it is stated that while God singles out those who flatter themselves as His enemies, He shows His divine favor to those who abase themselves. Thus, they should abase themselves before God – who is all-powerful – and He will refresh them in His wisely appointed time. Moreover, they should lay their desires and cares before God, since He orders everything for their benefit.

Now Peter exhorts his readers to be sober-minded and watchful, since Satan – who is strong, diligent and cruel – wants to destroy their souls. They must not allow Satan to destroy their souls; they must take hold of God’s promises. Moreover, they should be encouraged by the fact that Satan wants to destroy the souls of all believers; thus, they are not being singled out for temptation.

Peter then prays that God, who:

  • is the spring of divine favor
  • has united them to Christ
  • allowed them to behold and enjoy Him forever

would:

  • enable them to progress toward perfection
  • allow them to grow in their graces
  • support them against Satan’s attacks
  • help them to fix on the sure foundation of Christ.

Peter concludes by praising God, stating that He has everlasting authority and royal sovereignty.

Thoughts: In verse 8, Peter states that Satan wants to destroy the souls of believers. Leighton offers some warnings on this point:

He usually hides himself and lies hidden until he attacks us when we are least expecting it…He studies our nature and attacks with suitable temptations. He knows our bias toward lust and worldly ways and pride…He waits for his opportunity and then pounces with a fierce assault…He goes around and spots their weak points and then attacks them where they are least able to resist.

I have found that Satan often attacks me after I experience a “spiritual high,” e.g. after I have strengthened and encouraged a new believer. Before each of those attacks, I was confident that I was making progress in my spiritual walk; some of those attacks caused me to stumble, though. Thus, this passage is a helpful reminder of the importance of being sober-minded. Also, I should stress that I need the help of the Holy Spirit when repelling the assaults of Satan, as Satan preys on my inherent sloth and complacency. Lastly, I should stress that I have achieved some victories over Satan in these battles, which is a great encouragement in this lifelong struggle.

In verse 10, Peter reminds his readers that God has called them to share in an awesome inheritance that He has prepared for them in heaven. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

Notwithstanding all the mercies multiplied upon us, where are our praises, our songs of deliverance, our ascribing glory and power to our God who has gone before us with loving-kindness and tender mercies? He has removed the strokes of his hand and made cities and villages populated again that were left desolate of inhabitants. [This was most probably written in 1653. The years 1652 and 1653 were remarkable for fine weather and plentiful harvests; and under Cromwell the country was enjoying a security and peace it had never known before and was already beginning to recover from the desolating influences of sword, pestilence and famine. – Editor’s note.]

In light of the pestilence and other above-mentioned troubles, Leighton and his readers had many reasons to praise God. I am eager to meet Leighton’s readers in the next life and see how they responded to Leighton’s challenge. Did they offer genuine praise to God in light of His external blessings? Did they later fall into complacency after experiencing His blessings for a long stretch of time? Did they endure subsequent “sword, pestilence and famine” and praise God in the midst of those difficulties? Leighton offers many challenges in his commentary, and hopefully his readers responded positively to them. On a somewhat-related note, it would be neat to meet other believers in the next life who, while not belonging to the set of Leighton’s contemporaries, read his commentary and were strengthened by his exhortations.

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.

Instructions on Worship August 6, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Timothy 2.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting believers – since they should worship God and love their neighbors – to pray fervently and constantly for believers and unbelievers; they should also give thanks for their general welfare. They should pray for princes and magistrates so that they can keep the peace and promote religion. By praying in this way, they will do what is right and lawful. Moreover, their prayers will be devoted to God’s goal – the salvation of everyone – as He calls everyone to acknowledge His truth. There is one God of both Jews and Gentiles, and they all have access to God through Jesus Christ, who is the bond between God and man. The sacrificial death of Jesus Christ has redeemed Jews and Gentiles; God had planned to reveal His grace in this regard at the proper time. Thus, He appointed Paul to bring the Gentiles into taking part in the Gospel; he adds an oath to underline the importance of his calling, as he is assured about God’s will in this matter.

Paul then exhorts all believers to exercise their faith by praying with a good conscience, avoiding any arguments between Jewish and Gentile believers. He also exhorts female believers to dress with moderation; they should dress as godly and honorable women.

Now Paul tells female believers to refrain from speaking in public. Also, they should not teach because they are subject to men. Indeed, women are subject to men because:

  • God gave a law from the beginning that this should be so
  • God made women live in this way as a punishment.

Paul concludes by stating that although women are subject to men, their hope of salvation is secure, as long as they accept God’s will by happily embracing childbearing, childbirth and parenting; moreover, all women should live pure lives.

Thoughts: In verses 1 and 2, we see that Paul exhorts all believers to pray for their political and judicial leaders. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

God appointed princes and magistrates to preserve mankind. No matter how much they fail to do this, we must not stop supporting what God willed. We must positively want it to be preserved. So believers must, in whatever country they live, obey the laws and wishes of magistrates. They should also commend their welfare to God in their prayers…We should want the peaceful continuation of the governments of this world, which have been appointed by God.

This is a challenging exhortation, particularly for modern-day believers whose governments condone the persecution of Christians; examples in this regard include China, Egypt and Nigeria. As for believers who are fortunate to live in the United States, I think we are often displeased with at least one (and possibly both) of the dominant political parties, causing us to refrain from praying for our political leaders. Perhaps we should pray that our leaders will – through their actions – preserve the rights that we often take for granted, such as the freedom to gather in a house of worship on Sundays. We should also pray that our leaders will not enact any legislation that curbs these rights. Moreover, we should pray that God will work through our leaders to advance His kingdom plan and bring more glory to Himself through their actions.

In verses 9 and 10, we see that Paul exhorts female believers in Ephesus to refrain from dressing immodestly. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

How we dress is very important, just like other external things, and as it is so hard to lay down precise regulations, moderation should be our yardstick…What is beyond dispute is that any fashions that go beyond the bounds of moderation are to be condemned. However, we should concentrate on inner motivation. There can never be chastity where sexual immorality reigns inside a person, and where self-seeking rules within, there will be no modesty in outer dress.

I think it is safe to say that some clothing choices are relatively provocative and immodest, so Paul’s teaching on this point would address those who adopt these clothing choices. This teaching, though, becomes more difficult to apply in more nuanced situations. For example, I once chatted with a Texan who remarked that Southern churchgoers typically adopt relatively colorful attire – compared to the drab attire of churchgoers in New England. This may be true, at least to some extent; now what if a native of New England visited a Southern church and thought, “since these people are so focused on their appearance, they must be self-seeking?” As another example, consider a church located in an affluent community; it is fair to assume that many, if not most, of its members would dress according to their economic status. Would they be dressing “beyond the bounds of moderation” in that case? If they did not give much thought to their attire, would God be pleased by their “inner motivation?”

In the latter part of this passage, Paul states that women should not be allowed to teach in the church. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

Women are forbidden to teach because this is incompatible with their being subject to men. To teach implies that the teacher has a superior authority and status over the pupil…women, who, by nature (that is, through God’s normal laws), are born to obey. The government of women is rejected by all wise men, as it is monstrous and goes against nature. For a woman to usurp a man’s right to teach is like mixing up heaven and earth. So, Paul tells women to be silent and to stay within the bounds of their own sex.

Clearly this is one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and Christians through the ages have wrestled with Paul’s teaching on this topic. Now I am quite sure that my church adopts a rather liberal position on this point, as we have a female youth pastor and a female junior high minister (along with several female Sunday School teachers). Moreover, our sermons have occasionally be delivered by female speakers. Thus, I am curious as to why my church has chosen its interpretation of this passage. Perhaps it would be worthwhile for me to read through another commentary on 1 Timothy to get a different perspective on this passage, as Calvin apparently has no qualms about prohibiting women from assuming teaching roles in the church. On a related note, I suspect that debate on this issue in American churches increased with the adoption of the 19th Amendment.