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A Mother’s Request July 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 20:20-28.

Summary: In this passage, James, John and their mother ask Jesus for the chief place in the kingdom of God. Jesus asserts that they do not comprehend the nature of their request – as that place is reserved for those whose suffering is comparable to His own.

This request later fuels a dispute among Jesus’ disciples. He addresses this dispute by asserting that while world leaders lord it over their subjects, they must not lord it over others. Indeed, those who desire the chief place in the kingdom of God must be willing to:

  • perform menial service
  • be the bondslaves of their brethren.

This stems from the fact that He has been given in exchange for all believers.

Thoughts: Here, James, John and their mother angle for a high rank in the kingdom of God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

But do we never commit the same mistake that the sons of Zebedee committed? Do we never fall into their error, and make thoughtless, inconsiderate requests? Do we not often say things in prayer without “counting the cost,” and ask for things to be granted to us without reflecting how much our supplications involve? These are heart-searching questions; it may well be that many of us cannot give them a satisfactory answer.

This is an interesting point; I have my heart’s desires, and I regularly express them to God in my prayers. Yet I fail to consider the full implications of my requests; I can envision their benefits, but I am ignorant of their drawbacks. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I am a finite, flawed human being with limited understanding. In contrast, God is infinite, perfect and omniscient; He considers the full implications of our requests. In light of this fact, perhaps we should pray with humility; we should acknowledge our inability to thoroughly evaluate our requests, and we should ask God for His wisdom and strength in the event that He grants our requests.

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The Transfiguration June 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 17:1-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus takes His intimates to a mountain in upper Galilee. There, they witness the following events:

  • the total change of His body and form
  • Moses and Elijah discussing His death with Him while encompassed by His glory
  • God asserting the necessity of the suffering of His Son
  • God asserting the supremacy of His Son.

His intimates are temporarily traumatized by these events. He then:

  • instructs them to temporarily refrain from divulging these events, since He wants others to view Him as their spiritual Messiah
  • asserts that these events do not contradict the prophecy in Malachi 4:5-6, as it has been fulfilled by John the Baptist.

Indeed, He will share the fate of John the Baptist.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus speaks with Moses and Elijah during His Transfiguration. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

Second, we have in these verses an unanswerable proof of the resurrection of the body, and the life after death. We are told that Moses and Elijah appeared visibly in glory with Christ: they were seen in a bodily form. They were heard talking with our Lord. Fourteen hundred and eighty years had rolled round since Moses died and was buried; more than 900 years had passed away since Elijah was taken “up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Kings 2:1), yet here they are seen alive by Peter, James and John!

I completely missed this point when I read through this passage, so I am glad that it did not escape Ryle’s attention. Now one could ask, “does this account contradict Paul’s teaching concerning the resurrection in 1 Corinthians 15:35-58? Does Paul teach that Moses and Elijah will be “asleep” until the Second Coming of Christ?” One might also wonder if Moses and Elijah had truly been resurrected before the events of this passage – or if Jesus’ intimates were experiencing a dream or vision. I hope to meet Moses and Elijah in the next life and probe them on this point, as the events of this passage are mind-boggling.

We also see that Peter, James and John are temporarily traumatized by the events of this passage. While we often make sport of Jesus’ disciples – especially Peter’s propensity to speak and act rashly – we must admit that we would also have been overwhelmed by the Transfiguration of Christ if we had directly witnessed it. If we were confronted by the divinity of Christ, could we actually respond in a calm, cool and collected manner? Indeed, we serve an infinite and holy God; while we fail to comprehend the full extent of His holiness, we know that He calls us to worship Him. Moreover, we cannot help but obey this calling.

Greetings and Doxology November 14, 2015

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 1:4-8.

Summary: In this passage, John states that this book is written to the seven churches in the Roman province of Asia. The content of this book is derived from God the Father, God the Son and God the Spirit. John especially praises Jesus Christ by highlighting the benefits of His earthly suffering and His subsequent heavenly glorification. Jesus Christ also declares that He is God and that He will judge the world.

Thoughts: God the Son is the focus of this passage – while God the Father and God the Spirit receive only a passing mention. This reminds me of a theory of the pastor at my former church:

  • Jesus Christ was still relatively obscure in the Near East when John wrote this letter
  • thus, John intentionally highlighted the supremacy of Jesus Christ – even depicting Him as superior to God the Father – to compel his readers to live committed, holy lives and share their faith with unbelievers.

This theory is certainly debatable, yet readers of this passage can agree that John heaps praise on Jesus Christ. This also reminds me of John’s Gospel where He also highlights the supremacy of Jesus Christ. I will certainly have to probe John on this point in the next life.

Suffering for Being a Christian June 27, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 4:12-19.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting his readers to acquaint their thoughts and hearts with suffering. Indeed, if they commune with Christ in suffering, then they will be filled with joy at His Second Coming; thus, they should rejoice. When they are taunted by unbelievers, they are blessed, since they have been anointed with the Spirit of Christ. Now the suffering that they should be acquainted with should not stem from their living in an impure and unholy way; instead, this suffering should stem from their communion with Christ. He asserts that believers will suffer before the Second Coming of Christ; after His Second Coming, though, unbelievers will suffer terribly. To support this point, he quotes from Proverbs 11:31, where it is stated that:

  • those who endeavor to walk uprightly in the ways of God will encounter great difficulties in the process
  • those who do not endeavor to walk in the ways of God will encounter even greater difficulties after they die.

Peter concludes by asserting that believers – who suffer according to God’s good pleasure – should place their souls in His safekeeping and follow His will in everything.

Thoughts: In verses 12 and 13, Peter states that the Christian life necessarily entails some degree of suffering. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

The ungodly world hates holiness, despising the Light. And the more the children of God walk like their Father and their future home, the more unlike they must be, of necessity, from the world around them. Therefore, they become the target of all the malice of their enemies. And thus the godly, though the sons of peace, are the occasion of much disturbance in the world.

Believers who live in nominally Christian nations such as the United States may have difficulty applying this passage to their context – compared to believers who live in nations where the political structure is directly opposed to Christianity. As a believer in a nominally Christian nation, I am thankful for the separation between church and state along with the freedom to practice my religion…yet I feel disadvantaged in that I wonder if this passage truly applies to me. Indeed, many of the New Testament epistles were written to believers who were enduring persecution. Now one might note that members of the Christian right can apply this passage to their context, as they have endured their fair share of insults and verbal assaults from those who oppose their views on issues such as gay marriage and abortion. Yet one might ask: has the Christian right truly acted in a “godly” way in advancing their agenda? Can a believer in a nominally “Christian” nation truly incur “all the malice of their enemies” by acting in a godly way?

In verses 14-16, Peter states that when believers suffer, their suffering should stem from their holy lives. Leighton offers some interesting thoughts on this point:

So what if you are poor, mocked, and despised? The end of all this is at hand. This is now your part, but the scene will be changed. Kings here, real ones, are in deepest reality mere stage kings. [If, as there is good reason to believe, these words were written soon after the battle of Worcester, September 3, 1651, they have a special significance, referring to the dethronement and tragic end of Charles I. – Editor’s note.] But when you are no longer the person you now are, how glorious will be the result. You appeared to be a fool for a moment, but you will truly be a king forever.

I was inspired to learn about the Battle of Worcester, and my research clarified that Charles II, not Charles I, was defeated at that decisive engagement. My research also revealed that Charles II opposed Presbyterianism in Scotland, implying that Leighton struggled under his reign. Thus, it can be inferred that Leighton applied this passage to his context, essentially stating that Charles II and his supporters persecuted him for living a holy life. Did God approve of Leighton’s thoughts in this regard? Since Charles II was a member of the Church of England, was Leighton making a legitimate application of Peter’s exhortations (i.e. could a conflict between two Christian denominations be viewed as an example of persecution)? Perhaps if Charles II was only a nominal Christian, then Leighton would have been justified in his application of this passage. I am eager to meet Leighton in the next life and probe him on this section of his commentary.

Submission to Rulers and Masters May 17, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Peter 2:13-25.

Summary: Peter begins by exhorting his readers to submit to all civil powers, since God has:

  • appointed civil government as a common good among men
  • commanded believers to obey it.

Moreover, God desires that believers submit to all civil powers so that they can muzzle those who speak evil of them. While He has given them Christian freedom, they should not use it to live in disobedience to any civil power; instead, they should be obedient to Him. Since they do not want to displease Him, they should honor all people; they should display a special love for other believers and obey all civil powers.

Peter then exhorts Christian slaves to keep their place under their masters – even masters who are enslaved to their own passions. Now diligent slaves who keep their place under their masters may still suffer at their hands, yet since they know God and do not want to displease Him, He will reward them. Also, they should maintain their diligence since the actions of Christ on Earth should be copied by His followers. As an example, Peter quotes from Isaiah 53:9 – since Christ was perfectly holy, all of His words flowed from a pure spring. He maintained His holiness in silence when He was tormented, since He placed His life into God’s hands. Now the sins of all people were transferred to Him when He was crucified – enabling them to hate sin and delight in God’s will; His suffering has opened up a way for people to repent and be freed of God’s wrath. Peter concludes by reminding his readers that although they had wandered from God, they have now come to Christ, who provides for them and heals them.

Thoughts: In verses 13-17, Peter exhorts believers to obey the governing authorities – thereby vindicating themselves in light of the accusations of non-believers. Leighton offers some insights on this point:

One of the most false yet common prejudices the world has had against true religion is that it is an enemy of civil power and government. The enemies of the Jews made this accusation as Jerusalem was being rebuilt: “In these records you will find that this city is a rebellious city, troublesome to kings and provinces, a place of rebellion from ancient times. That is why this city was destroyed” (Ezra 4:15).

It is safe to say that believers in the United States have little difficulty submitting to their government, which is not the case for believers in nations such as China, Indonesia and Egypt. On one hand, believers who are subject to oppressive regimes can draw great strength from this passage in the midst of their suffering, as they can readily identify with Peter’s original readers. On the other hand, believers who are not being persecuted by their government can feel rather disconnected from this passage; should they merely file it away for future reference? Perhaps this passage should remind them to give thanks to God for His blessings in allowing them to reside in a particular country, and it should spur them to consider how they can be better political subjects.

In verse 25, Peter notes that Christ guides believers as their Shepherd. Leighton offers some thoughts on this point:

Young and weak Christians, and also older ones when weak and weighed down with problems, are led gently and with the tenderness that their weakness requires. The Shepherd provides for his flock, heals them when they are injured, washes them, and makes them fruitful.

I thought about Psalm 23, which portrays Christ as the Shepherd of believers, who are His sheep. We picture Christ leading us in a peaceful setting with an abundance of green grass and gently flowing streams; brilliant sunshine and a beautiful breeze complete the picture. While this is assuredly the case in the next life – and also describes this life to some extent – it seems that the context of this passage implies that we, as sheep, experience many difficulties in this life. Perhaps this passage pictures Christ leading us through ravines and thickets, helping us navigate dangerous mountain passes, fending off a host of hungry wolves, etc. These sobering realities should spur us toward greater thankfulness to Christ as our Shepherd.

Paul’s Concern for the Galatians February 24, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on Galatians 4:8-20.

Summary: Paul begins by reminding the Galatians that when they did not know God’s will, they were enslaved by the imaginations of their hearts – which caused them to practice idolatry. Now although they now know God by the preaching of faith, they have turned to the law; he wonders if they want to be enslaved by the law. In particular, they are observing special occasions (that should be observed by all Jews) including the Sabbath day, the new moons in the first and seventh months, and the Year of Jubilee. He is troubled by the possibility of his preaching the Gospel among them without bearing any fruit.

Paul then gently entreats the Galatians to have the same affection for him as he does for them; indeed, they have not offended him – yet they have offended themselves. He reminds them that the physical suffering and affliction that he endured spurred him to preach the Gospel to them – yet they were not offended by his physical suffering and affliction at that time. Instead, they loved him dearly and treated him as they would have treated Christ Himself. He asks them why they have turned from their lives as believers, where they were highly commended in all things. They had given their lives for him, yet now he must beg them to not regard him as their enemy given his rebukes in this letter.

Now Paul asserts that the false apostles are displaying evil zeal for the Galatians by seducing them; indeed, the false apostles desire that they reject Paul and only love them and accept their doctrine. He reminds them of their affection for him when he preached the Gospel to them in the midst of his physical suffering and affliction; he now exhorts them to display their affection for him even while he is not physically present. He then attempts to move their hearts by reminding them that he begets the form of their minds, since he helps them to speak, think and will as God does. Paul concludes by telling the Galatians that he wishes he could be physically present so that he can properly deal with each of them; he is extremely troubled in his spirit about them.

Thoughts: In this passage, we see that Paul was welcomed by the Galatians in spite of his external (and internal) sufferings and afflictions. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary:

Paul’s illness was not a disease of the body, but the physical suffering and affliction that he endured, which he contrasts with the power of the Spirit…He says in effect, “When I preached the Gospel to you, I was always in danger, both from the Jews and from the Gentiles, and also from false brothers. I suffered hunger and lacked everything. I was the very filth and offscouring of the world.”

Perhaps the modern-day equivalent of Luther’s description of Paul would be that of a homeless person who had been empowered by God to deliver words of rebuke and encouragement to a particular church. I must admit that if this homeless preacher spoke to me, I would probably reject him as a fraud (and possibly speculate on the cause of his homelessness). Thus, it must have been an extraordinary act of God that empowered the Galatians to welcome Paul when they met him; somehow they overcome their natural revulsion for him (based on his appearance) and were willing to hear his message for them. As modern-day Christians, we need to learn patience and be better attuned to God’s voice, as He can speak to us in many ways. Sometimes He will speak to us in an unexpected way to test us and evaluate our response to His voice.

We also see that Paul criticizes the false apostles for their attempts to seduce the Galatians. Luther offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

Satan, through his servants, is very clever at beguiling simple people (Romans 16:18). First of all, they protest that they seek nothing but the advancement of God’s glory and that they are moved by the Spirit to teach the infallible truth…so that the chosen people may be delivered from error and may come to the true light and knowledge of the truth. Moreover, they promise certain salvation to those who accept their teaching.

With the benefit of hindsight and our trust in the infallibility of God’s Word, we know that Paul taught the correct doctrine to the Galatians – while the false apostles taught them an incorrect doctrine. Now if we put ourselves in the shoes of the Galatians, though, we can see that they were caught in a quandary. Both Paul and the false apostles displayed great zeal in advancing their respective doctrines. Both parties spoke forcefully and eloquently; in fact, we can hypothesize, based on 2 Corinthians 11:1-15, that the false apostles in Galatia were superior to Paul in terms of their eloquence. Both parties were utterly convinced of the correctness of their respective doctrines, so how were the Galatians to know which group was teaching the correct doctrine? Of course, Paul would point them to the presence of the Holy Spirit in their hearts; they only received Him when they heard his teaching and accepted it – not when they heard the teaching of the false apostles.

Paul’s Chains Advance the Gospel July 26, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on Philippians 1:12-30.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Philippians that his circumstances – instead of hindering the Gospel – have advanced it. His captivity has borne testimony to the Gospel among:

  • the soldiers in the imperial regiments
  • a wider circle.

His captivity has also spurred a majority of believers to have confidence in the Lord to preach the Gospel more zealously – without fear.

Now Paul notes that in Rome, there are:

  • Judaizing Christians who preach the Gospel from their envy of his influence
  • others who preach the Gospel out of benevolence.

Those in the latter group know that Paul has been destined to preach the Gospel. Those in the former group, though, act to promote the interests of their party and behave selfishly, aiming to annoy him during his captivity. Yet he knows that whether the Gospel is preached out of 1) a desire to promote the interests of a particular party or 2) selflessness, it is preached; thus, he is determined to rejoice.

Indeed, Paul will rejoice, as the Philippians have prayed for him, and their prayers have been answered by God, as He has supplied the Holy Spirit to Paul; this bountiful supply will save him. He earnestly desires that he would not be cowardly – but confident, so that Christ would always be glorified in him. Now he knows that living entails serving Christ, while dying entails a complete realization of his union with Christ. Yet he wonders if his life might bear fruit for Christ; he does not understand what would be the better option in this case. He is hemmed in both sides; his own desire is to leave his earthly tent and be in the presence of Christ – yet it is better that he clings to his present life. Being persuaded of this fact, he is convicted that he will continue to strengthen the Philippians in their faith. Thus, they would be able to boast in him.

Now Paul exhorts the Philippians – whether he visits them or not – to live as citizens of heaven and hold their ground. More specifically, they would not be timid in the face of opposition; their fearlessness would show their opponents that:

  • God would deliver the Philippians
  • they would be destroyed.

Indeed, God has granted the Philippians the privilege of suffering for Christ. Paul concludes by noting that they are contending for their faith, just as he was persecuted at Philippi – and is enduring opposition in Rome.

Thoughts: In verses 15-18, Paul addresses the issue of Judaizing Christians in Rome who preach the Gospel with the twin objectives of 1) gaining converts to their theology and 2) belittling him. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 15:

Here…the choice is between an imperfect Christianity and an unconverted state; the former, however inadequate, must be better than the latter, and therefore must give joy to a high-minded servant of Christ. In Rome there was room enough for him and for them. He was content therefore that each should work on independently. It was a step in the right direction to know Christ, even though he were known only in a worldly way.

Now this is a rather difficult passage to digest, notwithstanding Lightfoot’s explanation. I wonder how Paul would react to a pastor who insisted on his congregants wearing formal clothing to Sunday services and claimed that those who dressed casually were not truly saved. Also, how would Paul react to a pastor who insisted that his congregants refrain from consuming alcohol and claimed that only teetotalers are truly saved? Perhaps God had already revealed to Paul that the converts of the Judaizing preachers would eventually know the freedom of the Gospel, which would have been quite encouraging.

Verses 21-26 illustrate Paul’s struggle between living for Christ and dying – whereby he could be with Christ. Lightfoot offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 22:

The grammar of the passage reflects the conflict of feeling in the apostle’s mind. He is tossed to and fro between the desire to labor for Christ in life, and the desire to be united with Christ by death. The abrupt and disjointed sentences express this hesitation.

Unfortunately, many modern-day Christians – and I would count myself in this camp – fail to truly appreciate this inherent dilemma in Paul’s ministry. More often that not, believers seek the pleasures of life on this planet, bemoan the sufferings that stem from laboring “for Christ,” and fear death – especially as we fail to grasp the concept of infinity. This passage serves as an important reminder for believers to focus on Christ and embrace the concept of eternity – without getting ensnared by impermanent issues.

In verse 29, Paul states that the Philippians are blessed by God in that they are suffering for Him. Lightfoot restates this point as follows:

“God has granted you the high privilege of suffering for Christ; this is the surest sign that he looks upon you with favor.”

This is an interesting statement and it caused me to think about believers who live in different contexts. Are believers in countries where Christianity is denounced, e.g. China and Nigeria, automatically more blessed than other believers in countries where Christianity is tolerated, e.g. the U.K. and the U.S.? Will believers who are being actively persecuted for their faith automatically gain a relatively higher place in heaven than believers who enjoy freedom of worship? Of course, this subject is a can of worms; the question “can Western believers truly suffer for Christ?” has been roundly debated.

Paul Boasts About His Sufferings February 16, 2012

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 11:16-33.

Summary: Paul begins by telling the Corinthians that they should not regard him as a boaster; they should bear with him, though, as he speaks – to a limited extent – of his actions and sufferings. By boasting confidently he is not performing an inherently Christian action, as boasting is foolish. Yet the false teachers boast from unworthy motives, so he will boast from good motives. He ironically notes that the Corinthians – in their wisdom – bear with the false teachers. Indeed, they bear with those who:

  • act like tyrants
  • greedily consume their possessions
  • ensnare them
  • insolently lift themselves up against them
  • slap their faces.

His opponents regard him as being weak.

Now whatever Paul’s opponents want to claim, he will also claim. They boast of belonging to God’s chosen people – yet Paul can make the same claim. Also, they boast of being servants of Christ; Paul knows that he is unworthy to boast of his position in this regard, yet he knows that he is more devoted than they are as a servant of Christ – as seen by his:

  • abundant labors
  • frequent and severe floggings
  • many deaths.

In particular, he was beaten five times by the Jews, where each beating consisted of thirty-nine lashes, and on three occasions the Romans beat him with rods; he was also stoned, shipwrecked three times, and had to spend a 24-hour period on a turbulent open sea. He has been exposed to danger from:

  • swift rivers
  • bandits
  • angry Jews
  • angry Gentiles
  • being in cities
  • being in deserts and mountains
  • being at sea
  • those who falsely claimed to be his brothers in Christ yet wanted to betray him.

He has also:

  • toiled and suffered
  • gone without sleep
  • been forced to go without food
  • been cold and naked.

In addition, he is anxious for the churches that he founded. When their weak faith causes them to act scrupulously, he pities them; when they depart from the truth of the Gospel, he is indignant with those who cause them to fall.

Indeed, Paul only boasts of those things that highlight his weakness. He appeals to the God of the New Testament covenant to confirm the truth of the entire preceding account. He also notes that when he was in Damascus, the ethnarch under King Aretas set a guard at the city gates to arrest him if he tried to leave. Paul concludes by noting that he escaped from Damascus by being lowered in a basket from a window of a house on the city walls.

Thoughts: This is one of those passages in Scripture that simply leave the reader speechless. After reading it I figured that the story of Paul’s life should be the basis of an epic film. Now it turns out that his life story has been told in several movies. Yet I could see Paul’s life playing out on screen in a performance like that of Peter O’Toole in Lawrence of Arabia, Charlton Heston in Ben-Hur and Kirk Douglas in Spartacus. One can imagine the sufferings that Paul endured filling out a four-hour film as his character interacts with a relatively large cast, including Elymas, Alexander the metalworker and Sosthenes. Now it’s not clear to me as to which classic actor would play Paul in such a film; suggestions are welcome.

In verse 20, we see that the false teachers severely mistreated the Corinthians. Hodge offers some insightful thoughts on this point:

They were lords over God’s heritage (1 Peter 5:3), not only as they tried to reduce the Christians to the bondage of the law, as appears from the letter to the Galatians, but as they exercised a tyrannical authority over the people…These men were tyrants, and therefore they exploited, insulted, and mistreated the people.

This caused me to wonder why the Corinthians would put up with the false teachers if they were acting like tyrants towards them. Moreover, the Corinthians were even treating them like genuine apostles by paying them; recall that they preached for monetary gain. My thought is that since each false teacher – unlike Paul – spoke Greek as a native speaker and was a skilled rhetorician, the Corinthians were sufficiently impressed; thus, they tolerated their imperfections. The Corinthians must have placed an excessive value on verbal fluency and rhetorical skill, as “money talks.”

In verse 26, we see that Paul was in danger from those who falsely claimed to be believers. Hodge offers a thought on this point:

This probably refers to the treachery of those who falsely claimed to be his brothers in Christ and yet tried to deliver him into the power of his enemies.

Given all of the other difficulties – as listed in this passage – that Paul endured, he probably desired genuine Christian fellowship. Most likely he wanted brothers and sisters who could pray with him and encourage him in his ministry. Now some believers fell into this category; for example, perusing Romans 16:1-27 shows that Paul was not entirely alone in his Christian walk. Yet the fact that some “believers” were ready to betray him must have broken his heart. Such experiences probably reminded him that his ultimate hope lay in God alone.

Treasures in Jars of Clay December 14, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 2 Corinthians 4.

Summary: Paul begins by noting that as he is serving – by God’s grace – in the context of the Gospel, he does not neglect his responsibilities in that regard. In particular, he refuses to:

  • use secrecy and concealment when preaching the Gospel
  • use cunning methods to achieve his ends
  • corrupt the Gospel.

Instead, he declares the Gospel using pure methods so that all who hear it must acknowledge its truthfulness – as God is watching him. Yet there are those who fail to recognize the divine origin of the Gospel; they will be eternally condemned. This stems from the fact that Satan has hindered them in this regard, keeping them from seeing the radiance of the Gospel, which is the glory of Christ; the glory of the Father is in Him. Indeed, Paul does not preach the Gospel to glorify himself; instead, he wants his audience to know that Jesus is the Messiah, and he does this for the Corinthians’ benefit – out of his love for Christ. He wants his audience to know that Jesus is the Messiah, since God – who brought light out of darkness in His supreme act of creation – has illuminated the (formerly darkened) hearts of believers so that they can understand His glory as revealed in Christ Himself.

Now Paul is able to serve in the context of the Gospel – although he is weak and suffering – as this shows that the power of the Gospel comes from God. Indeed, he must constantly deal with the following difficulties:

  • being pressed for room
  • having no idea how to proceed – yet always finding a way forward
  • being persecuted – yet never being deserted by God
  • being (seemingly) defeated by his enemies – yet always being delivered from their grasp by God.

Wherever Paul goes, he endures the external sufferings (and eventual death) of Jesus, as this proves that Jesus lives. While he is alive, he constantly expects his death, as this repeatedly shows the power of Christ’s life in him. Thus, the Corinthians benefit from Christ working through Paul’s sufferings.

Now Paul quotes from Psalm 116:10 – where David, in the midst of his difficulties, praises God; similarly, the Holy Spirit moves Paul to preach the Gospel in the midst of his difficulties. Indeed, he knows that just as God has raised Jesus from the dead, He will also raise him from the dead; moreover, all believers will stand before the throne of God with great joy. He reiterates that all of his actions – and his suffering – are for the Corinthians’ benefit, as his repeated deliverance from the grasp of his enemies causes those who pray for him to rejoice; they then give thanks to God.

Given the preceding discussion, Paul does not become discouraged – although he is breaking down physically – as he is being constantly refreshed spiritually. In fact, his suffering is actually insignificant in light of the eternal blessings that he will receive in heaven. Paul concludes by asserting that his focus is not on worldly things – which are merely temporary – but on heavenly things, which are eternal.

Thoughts: In verse 3, Paul states that those who refuse to accept the divine origin of the Gospel will be eternally condemned. Hodge offers some rather incendiary thoughts on this point:

Worldly people cry out against this doctrine. They insist that people are not accountable for their opinions. However, they are accountable for the character by which those opinions are determined. If they have the sort of character, the sort of inner spiritual state, that permits them to believe there is no God, that murder, adultery, theft, and violence are right and good, then that inner state that constitutes their character, and for which they are responsible…is reprobate.

This is a rather difficult quote to stomach. I find it hard to believe that all non-believers would assert that “murder, adultery, theft, and violence are right and good,” so I’m wondering if Hodge is trying to make a different point. In particular, when non-believers such as Brad Pitt are helping to rebuild homes and lives in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina while many Christians refuse to engage in any social concerns-related work, it is difficult to see how all “worldly people” can be characterized as being internally “reprobate.” I suppose the issue here is that even when non-believers do good works, they do not give glory to God; thus, the challenge is for Christians to give glory to God in their deeds.

Verse 7 inspired the name of the Christian band Jars of Clay, and they have played a major role in the contemporary Christian music scene since the mid-1990s. The band’s Wikipedia article cites an NPR interview where it is noted that their later work consciously downplays their faith. Now this is interesting in light of Hodge’s above-mentioned commentary on verse 3. Some Christian critics would undoubtedly assert that Jars of Clay “lost their way” after achieving their initial successes. My take on this is that music speaks in different ways to different people; if some have been led to a saving faith in Christ as a result of hearing the band’s later work, then their strategy has been successful.

This passage drives home the point that Paul is convinced of the certainty of the eternal blessings that await him for his faithfulness. Hodge puts it quite nicely in his commentary on verse 18:

He was sustained by the assurance that the life of Christ secured his life; that if Jesus rose, he would rise too; and by the firm conviction that the more he suffered for the sake of Christ or in such a way as to honor his divine master, the more glorious he would be through all eternity. Suffering, therefore, became not just endurable for him, but a ground of great joy.

After thinking about this, I concluded that Paul had a long-term perspective – on his ministry as an apostle – since he was constantly faced with dangers and regularly suffered for the sake of the Gospel. Our human nature is such that when we are allowed to enjoy the pleasures of this life, we forget about God and focus on our immediate “needs.” Now this raises the question of whether Christians should voluntarily suffer more often in order to truly please God. Indeed, how much suffering is appropriate for a given Christian? Is there a proper ratio of “suffering” to “happiness” that Christians should strive for in their daily lives?

Future Glory March 22, 2011

Posted by flashbuzzer in Books, Christianity.
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Here are my thoughts on Romans 8:18-27.

Summary: In this passage, Paul presents two reasons for the consistency between our status as God’s children and the sufferings that he mentions at the end of the previous passage. First, he asserts that these sufferings are insignificant when compared to our glorified state after Christ’s return. To illustrate the awesomeness of this glorified state, Paul states that the creation – consisting of the earth and all of its life forms apart from man – confidently and persistently waits for its appearance. Indeed, the creation is waiting confidently and persistently because God has subjected it to physical decay, yet that was accomplished in light of His ultimate objective of liberating it from that suboptimal state and allowing it to share in the glory that we will receive after Christ’s return. Moreover, the creation has been united in its longing for the revelation of our glorified state since the beginning of time; similarly, all Christians are united in their longing for their full adoption as God’s children, since we have “a foretaste of glory divine” in the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit. Second, we are sustained by God in the midst of our sufferings. In particular, Paul notes that since our full adoption as God’s children lies in the future, we must necessarily wait for this awesome event in a patient and joyful manner. Also, the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit is invaluable, since we inherently do not know what to pray for in the midst of our sufferings; the Spirit joins us in our struggles and serves as an advocate to God on our behalf. Paul concludes by noting that the Spirit can even communicate our deepest desires – those that cannot be put into words – to God, and that God approves of the Spirit’s advocacy on our behalf since the Spirit knows God’s will and will mold our prayers accordingly.

Thoughts: The church has witnessed a significant debate regarding the proper interpretation of the word “creation” in this passage. In particular, Hodge notes the following possibilities:

  • the whole rational and irrational creation, including angels and everything else, animate and inanimate
  • the whole world, excluding angels, but inclusive of the irrational animals
  • the whole material creation, in a popular sense – as we say, all nature
  • the whole human race
  • the heathen world, as distinct from believers
  • the body of believers

According to Hodge, he and “the great majority of commentators in all ages” hold to the third position – that is, the “creation” refers to “the earth and all its myriad creatures except for man.” Hodge supports his position with several well-reasoned arguments, including appeals to several passages in Isaiah and Jeremiah that tell of the earth and its non-human life forms sharing in both the penalty of man’s sinfulness and man’s rejoicing in God and His goodness.

The critical role that the Holy Spirit plays in lives of believers is again highlighted in the latter half of this passage. In his commentary on verse 26, Hodge notes:

It represents the Spirit graciously taking on himself, as it were, a part of our sorrows to relieve us of their pressure…We do not know how to pray, but the Spirit teaches us. All true prayer is due to the influence of the Spirit, who not only guides us about what we should pray about but also gives us the appropriate desires and works within us to produce that faith without which our prayers are useless.

Clearly the Spirit sustains us in the midst of our sufferings, helping us express our feelings, difficulties and desires in prayers that please God. Over time, I have discovered that a well-developed, mature prayer life is necessary for truly experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit in this regard. Relatively hasty prayers, unfortunately, tend to be superficial and essentially entail a one-way conversation between the believer and God. Meaningful prayers, though, entail some degree of struggling between the believer and the Holy Spirit, as the Spirit molds and shapes our prayers to conform to God’s will. I can attest that my most meaningful prayers have occurred during these wrestling bouts with God and His desires.