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Psalm 43 June 9, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 43.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah pray that God would:

  • vindicate them
  • deliver them from their opponents
  • enable them to worship Him in His house.

While they cannot fathom their predicament, they maintain their trust in Him.

Thoughts: In verse 5, the psalmist reaffirms their confidence in God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Wherefore indulge unreasonable sorrows, which benefit no one, fret yourself, and dishonor your God? Why overburden yourself with forebodings?

This verse – which appears twice in the preceding passage – encouraged me during a recent trial. While I pondered this verse, I made the following conjecture: we cannot expect a believer to initially respond to unwelcome tidings by exclaiming “praise God!” Indeed, a normal initial response to adverse circumstances includes feelings of shock, sadness, anger, etc. In light of this conjecture, I view the key words in the above-mentioned quote as “indulge” and “overburden.” While our initial response may be sorrowful, at some point we must decide to place our ultimate trust in God Himself. We must eventually resolve to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our words and deeds even in the midst of our difficulties. In this way we will see Him sustaining us through the vicissitudes of life.

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Jesus Anointed at Bethany September 23, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is at the house of Simon – a former leper – in Bethany. Mary approaches Him with a vessel made of alabaster containing perfume that is worth a year’s wages; she then pours it all over Him.

This angers the disciples, as they believe that she has wasted her perfume. In particular, Judas had wanted to enrich himself by selling it.

Jesus responds by:

  • asking them why they are furnishing Mary a burden – as she has shown her love for Him by lavishly preparing His body for burial
  • asserting that while they should still meet the needs of the poor, they should show their love for Him at this time
  • asserting that all who read the Gospels will encounter a memorial of Mary’s act of love.

Thoughts: Here, Mary worships Jesus by preparing His body for burial. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, we see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will take place in the day of judgment. On that great day no honor done to Christ on earth will be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, will not be mentioned on that day; but the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or his members, will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance.

The main point of this passage is to celebrate Mary’s beautiful act of worship of Her Savior. Now if one attempts to apply this passage to the process of drawing up a church budget, difficult questions arise. For example, a deacon could ask, “should we use these miscellaneous funds to start a literacy program for neighborhood youths, or should we transfer them to our building fund?” Such questions often lack simple answers. Thus, I believe that when reading this passage, we should not attempt to complicate matters by pondering its modern-day applications; instead, we should be thankful that God worked through Mary to help her grasp the reality of Jesus’ impending death – a fact that the disciples failed to grasp.

Jesus at the Temple July 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus enters the temple and throws out:

  • all who are working with the priests to extort the people
  • makers of small change.

Since they have fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 7:11, He must fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7.

He then shows compassion to those who suffer, and young boys worship Him. While the chief priests and the scribes are furious, He asserts that this act of worship fulfills a prophecy in Psalm 8:2.

Thoughts: Here, the chief priests and the scribes respond to Jesus’ acts of compassion with anger. When I read this passage, I immediately judged them for their response, as I failed to comprehend it. Upon further reflection, I determined that their response stemmed from their spiritual arrogance; they viewed Jesus as a lunatic from Nazareth (not Jerusalem) who had not been divinely commissioned by God, as He promoted heresies. On a related note, as modern-day believers, we must not allow our biases to impact our response to God and His genuine work in the world. For example, believers in First World countries should not immediately dismiss accounts of miracles in Third World countries. Instead, we should ask Him for discernment in assessing their veracity – and the strength to praise Him even if we cannot reach a firm conclusion on that point.

False Religion Worthless February 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 7:1-29.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gate of His temple in Jerusalem: the people of Jerusalem and Judah have failed to worship Him properly. Although they pretend to worship Him, they repeatedly sin against Him; for example, He charges them with:

  • idolatry
  • oppressing the disadvantaged
  • shedding innocent blood.

While they commit these sins, they rest on the assumption that God will not hold them accountable for their deeds. In particular, they assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would never allow it to be destroyed; thus, they draw strength from its supposed permanence. Yet He disabuses them of that notion by citing the example of Shiloh; He punished their ancestors for their sins by allowing Shiloh to be destroyed, and so He will punish them for their sins by allowing His temple to be destroyed.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the people of Jerusalem and Judah assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would not allow it to be destroyed. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet repeated the words the temple of the LORD because the Jews boasted, as it were, “We are invincible. How can enemies come to us? How can any calamity reach us? God lives in the middle of us. He has his court, his temple, and his Most Holy Place with us.”

There are no modern Christian theocracies – apart from the Vatican City – and so this passage lacks a primary application for most modern-day believers. In terms of a secondary application, though, perhaps believers who live in countries where a majority of the citizens are Christians should heed the warnings in this passage. Do we – either knowingly or unknowingly – assume that God views our nation with special favor? Are we hewing to His commands in verse 6 and striving to bless the disadvantaged in concrete ways? Indeed, as long as we strive to obey the second greatest commandment – and reject the assumption that our nation is uniquely blessed by God – then we can be confident that He will abound in spiritual blessings towards us.

Verse 18 displays the pervasive nature of idolatry in Jerusalem and Judah during the ministry of Jeremiah. Here, we see that all members of a particular family collaborate in the offering of sacrifices to an idol. Indeed, the depravity of the people of God even ensnared children. In light of this sobering fact, it is no wonder that Jeremiah’s repeated appeals for the people of God to repent were met with derision. Clearly God had to employ the Babylonians as His instrument of punishment; otherwise, the sinfulness of His people would continue to offend Him for generations to come.

The Three Angels February 10, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 14:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, John observes:

  • one angel – who calls the world to worship God before He judges all unbelievers
  • a second angel – who proclaims the demise of Babylon the Great
  • a third angel – who declares that those who worship the beast out of the sea will face the wrath of God; he also exhorts all believers to maintain their faith.

The Holy Spirit then confirms that any believer who passes away – without committing apostasy – will be blessed.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it clearly distinguishes the fates of:

  • those “who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus,” as they are “blessed” and “will rest from their labor”
  • everyone else, as they “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.”

I conjecture that any believer who endures persecution for their faith is strongly tempted to renounce their faith – thereby reaping the short-term benefits of apostasy. Persecuted believers know that if they maintain their faith, they may:

  • lose their possessions (e.g. job, home)
  • be reduced to begging for food and drink
  • lose their families
  • lose their lives.

Yet God calls all believers – especially those who endure persecution – to maintain their faith; in this way, they exchange the short-term benefits of apostasy for the long-term benefits of salvation. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for His requisite assistance as we struggle to live out our long-term priorities; without His help, we would certainly exchange them for short-term priorities.

The Beast out of the Earth February 4, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 13:11-18.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a beast emerging from the earth. This beast acts on behalf of the beast from the preceding passage; in particular, it compels all unbelievers to:

  • worship that first beast; to this end, it performs miracles and signs
  • have the mark of the first beast on their hands and foreheads; otherwise, they would be destitute.

John references the number 666 as the number of the first beast.

Thoughts: This passage should be lumped in with the preceding passage. In fact, the pastor at my old church covered both passages in one sermon; he offers the following insights in one of his devotionals:

The two beasts, then, are the Roman imperial power and the local provincial authority which enforces the worship of the emperor. The dragon is Satan, working through the empire, demanding worship due God alone, and persecuting those who resist. Yet while this passage refers directly to the Roman imperial system, its application is not restricted to the first century AD…Revelation 13 applies whenever a government aspires to blasphemous claims or ambitions; all the more, if it oppresses the people of God…

…We must avoid two extremes today. One is excessive loyalty. Governments tend to self-promote and self-aggrandize. Many use patriotism to promote compliance. Christians are to be absolutely loyal to God alone. The other extreme to avoid is disparagement of our government, especially after a polarizing election. Government is not demonic unless it demands absolute allegiance from its populace, deifies itself, or persecutes the church.

Thus, both of these passages offer solace to believers who are subject to state-sponsored persecution. They realize that Satan works through their government to oppress them – yet they also know that God has already won the ultimate victory over Satan. If they maintain their faith in God in the midst of state-sponsored persecution, then they will join God in His ultimate victory. These passages should also spur believers in countries that practice religious tolerance to pray for their brothers and sisters who do not enjoy religious freedoms – that they would emerge victorious from these severe tests.

In verses 16 and 17, we see that people could not “buy or sell unless” they “had the mark…of the beast.” The pastor at my old church offers some insights on this point in one of his devotionals:

The mark of the beast is required for all commercial transactions: the emperor’s seal was required on business contracts, his portrait was on the face of coins, and professional trade guild meetings included emperor veneration. In short, the emperor cult competes for loyalty with God…

If I had been a believer in a first-century church in Asia Minor, this financial restriction would have been a severe test of my faith. How would I obtain food, drink and clothing? How could I avoid any contact with coins that featured the emperor’s portrait? Would I resort to a life of begging on the streets of my city? I certainly hope to meet the members of these churches in the next life and learn how they were able to maintain their faith in God without succumbing to the demands of the emperor cult.

The Sin and Doom of Godless Men January 8, 2014

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Here are my thoughts on Jude 3-16.

Summary: Jude begins by conveying agape to his readers (who are with him in Christ); he is concerned for their spiritual welfare and wants to help their faith. In this letter, though, he must focus on the fact that the school of Simon, the Gnostics, and other heretics are trying to cut them off from the truth; thus, they must contend earnestly for the sound teaching that is to be absorbed and believed for salvation. This teaching has been given to them – as members of the church – so that they might keep it. Now these heretics, who crept in unawares into the church, were condemned by God from all eternity since they:

  • do not worship God
  • use the Gospel to justify their indulgence in luxury and the impurities of lust
  • openly renounce and secretly attack Jesus Christ, who is their only ruler and mediator.

Jude then states that his readers have certainly and irrecoverably received the following truths:

  • God delivered His special people from Egypt – yet He later destroyed those among them who neglected and refused Him
  • some angels had a high and dignified nature – yet they rebelled against God; thus, He will condemn them in the sight of the whole world and sentence them to eternal misery and torment
  • the people of Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim had a vehement addiction to unclean practices and practiced sodomy; thus, He placed them under everlasting judgment, and their experience instructs the world to keep His law.

Likewise, these heretics, who have been bewitched and enchanted:

  • pollute themselves with libidinous practices
  • display utter enmity toward civil policy and government
  • curse the officers of the church.

Jude contrasts their behavior with that of Michael – the leader of the blessed angels – who had an altercation in words with the devil regarding the knowledge of Moses’ place of burial. In particular, Michael did not blasphemously judge the devil in this case – he referred the matter to God’s cognizance. Yet these heretics reproach all spiritual things; they understand other things by natural inclination – which draw down punishment on them.

Jude then denounces these heretics, since they:

  • follow Cain’s example by attacking those who disagree with them
  • follow Balaam’s example by perverting the truth
  • follow Korah’s example by opposing magistrates and the ministry of Christ; thus, they would perish as Korah perished.

Jude also states that these heretics can infect others by their example. In particular, they feast liberally with the rest of the church – at the church’s expense. They eat without respect for the fellowship that should exist between saints. They do not produce positive ideas that will help people in their understanding. Their lives are not characterized by holiness, and their apostasy is incurable; thus, they are very dead. They fill every place with their trouble and strife, revealing their abominable opinions and practices. They pretend to have a great deal of knowledge – yet they are swallowed up by the horrors of eternal darkness.

Now Jude states that Enoch, who is in the seventh generation after Adam, served God by asserting the following fact regarding these heretics: Jesus Christ will come to judge the world with the highest possible number of angels and saints. He will judge the wicked and present damning evidence of their:

  • malicious opposition to His servants
  • abusive language against Him

and so they will be found guilty and condemned. Jude concludes by asserting that these heretics:

  • mutter angrily
  • complain about what God has given them
  • walk after their evil desires
  • use unsavory gibberish to present their own opinions
  • try to win over people to join them.

Thoughts: In verse 7, Jude notes that the Lord destroyed Sodom, Gomorrah, Admah and Zeboiim for practicing sodomy. Manton offers some insights on this point:

1. Note the quality of the place. There were many good cities, of which Sodom was the principal one, in the plain of Jordan. It was full of people and had plentiful supplies of corn, wine, oil, and all earthly goods…2. Note those cities’ earlier deliverance. Four kings went to war against them and captured them and carried them off before they were rescued by Abraham (Genesis 14:15-16).

Manton quotes from Genesis 13:10 to support his assertion that these four towns had access to abundant resources before their destruction. How did the inhabitants of these towns become enslaved to the most horrible vices? Perhaps their prosperity caused them to become arrogant, and they assumed that they had earned their wealth. Also, did they begin practicing sodomy before Abraham rescued them from their captors? In any case, evidently they did not remember the Lord’s abundant blessings. Indeed, the Bible records numerous instances of God punishing those who did not remember the Lord’s abundant blessings. Ah, if only humans could be more mindful of God on a daily basis…

In verse 9, Jude notes that the archangel Michael did not blasphemously judge the devil when the devil was trying to determine the site of Moses’ place of burial. Manton offers some insights on this point:

We read that the body of Moses was secretly buried by the Lord. “He [the Lord] buried him [Moses] in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is” (Deuteronomy 34:6). Concerning the circumstances surrounding this, Jude might have received this information by divine revelation, which is here made Scripture. It was quite normal for those who wrote the Scripture to add circumstances that were not mentioned in the passage where the story was first recorded.

When I initially read this passage, I was under the impression that Jude was unique among the New Testament writers in terms of his application of extra-biblical accounts. I then remembered that Paul had referred to Jannes and Jambres in 2 Timothy 3:1-9. The fact that Jude later refers to an extra-biblical prophecy by Enoch in verse 14 makes me wonder, though, if Jude was more inclined than Paul to include extra-biblical references in his letters. Did Jude write other letters that are no longer extant, and if so, were those letters characterized by an unusually large number of extra-biblical references? In any case, this account – whether or not it is historically accurate – makes a powerful point: it is not the prerogative of believers to judge the devil, as that is best left to God Himself.

In verses 12 and 13, Jude states that the heretics are very dead, since their lives do not produce fruit. Manton offers some thoughts on this point:

Our Savior directs us to scrutinize people: “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles?” (Matthew 7:16)…This also means that your lives must be lived according to God’s laws or you will bring shame on God…This implies that they do not bring any honor to God, nor good to others, and are not wise for the benefit of their own souls. To be barren and unfruitful while professing to follow Christ is a sign of great hypocrisy.

Jude and Manton raise some tough points here that believers must consider. I often wonder if I am truly advancing the kingdom of God; are my words and deeds truly bringing glory to God? Sometimes I feel that my life is a mixture of 1) moments where I get the sense that I am honoring God and 2) moments where I know that I am falling short of His holiness. Have my efforts (e.g. in terms of Christian ministry) brought “good to others,” helping them to progress in holiness? Will the lyrics of the song Thank You by Ray Boltz apply to me? Perhaps this passage should spur me toward exhibiting a greater degree of holiness in my life; since it sets a high bar, I can only improve by aiming for it.

What Must Be Taught to Various Groups October 23, 2013

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Here are my thoughts on Titus 2.

Summary: Paul begins by exhorting Titus to preach the wholesome doctrine as long as he is a pastor. In particular, he should teach older men to:

  • avoid excessive drinking
  • have well-regulated habits
  • worship God
  • obey the second half of the Ten Commandments
  • be patient.

Paul also exhorts Titus to teach older women to show by the way they dress that they are holy and godly; their example will make younger women sober in their minds. Indeed, younger women should show love for their husbands; thus, their faults will not bring dishonor on the Gospel.

In addition, Paul exhorts Titus to teach younger men to be well-regulated and obedient to reason. Indeed, the power and majesty of Titus’ teaching should shine in his life. His words must be pure and free from all corruption – that he may prove himself blameless; this will shut the mouths of the ungodly.

Paul then exhorts Titus to teach slaves to obey their masters; in particular, slaves should neither answer their masters petulantly nor steal from them. Thus, their lives will be an ornament to the name of Christ.

Now Paul states that these teachings stem from the fact that salvation has come to all kinds of people. Salvation enables those who accept it to renounce their neglect of God and all human desires; believers can engage in pure worship of God and act rightly toward others in this present life. Moreover, believers await the blessed life that is kept for them in heaven, which will be revealed in Christ so that all His elect can share in His glory. Indeed, Christ has purchased believers for Himself as His possession; He has purged them of the sinful desires of the world and has consecrated them to good works.

Paul concludes by stating that Titus should claim for himself authority and respect in teaching the aforementioned principles; he also confronts the Cretans’ pride and orders them to stop despising sound and beneficial teaching.

Thoughts: This passage is similar to 1 Timothy 5 in that Paul – through Titus – exhorts various groups of people to live rightly. Calvin offers some head-scratching thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Paul proceeds to correct two other common faults among older women as he tells them not to slander people or be enslaved to drink. Talkativeness is a disease women are prone to, and old age seems to make it worse. In addition to this, women are never satisfied with talking unless they also gossip and attack people’s reputations. This results in women’s slanderous garrulity being like a burning torch and setting fire to many houses. Many older women are also given over to drinking; they put all thoughts of self-control to one side and indulge themselves.

Now this is an incredibly odd observation. On one hand, I can support the part of Calvin’s statement where he notes that women are susceptible to gossiping (which can be a destructive habit). On the other hand, I fail to understand how older women are susceptible to drinking. Was female inebriation a problem on Crete when Paul wrote this letter? Were older women in Calvin’s church frequently intoxicated? I assume that in general, men (including Calvin’s contemporaries) are more susceptible to getting drunk than women. Was Calvin a male chauvinist? If so, that could explain this strange statement.

In verses 9 and 10, Paul exhorts slaves to obey their masters. Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 9:

There was a danger that the slaves might use the Gospel as a pretext for rebellion and maintain that it was not right for them to submit to ungodly people. Pastors must take great care to subdue and check this rebelliousness.

If Calvin had lived in the antebellum South, would he have told slaves that it was right for them to submit to their masters? I suppose that one could make a compelling case for either side of this debate, and this includes scenarios where an unbelieving master abuses his slaves. On one hand, by staying on their plantation and patiently submitting to the harsh punishments of their master, a slave could – by the work of the Holy Spirit – have a positive influence on their master. On the other hand, a slave master could be utterly convinced of the righteousness of their harsh punishments, and so the only way for a slave to show them the error of their ways would be for them to escape. One must wonder if Calvin is currently debating this issue with William Lloyd Garrison in heaven.

Propriety in Worship September 3, 2011

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Here are my thoughts on 1 Corinthians 11:2-16.

Summary: Paul begins by praising the Corinthians for being mindful of the instructions that he had passed on to them. Now it needs to be stated that

  • women are subordinate to men
  • men, as believers, are subordinate to Christ
  • Christ is subordinate to God the Father.

Therefore, every man in Corinth who publicly worships with his head covered disgraces himself. Also, every woman in Corinth who publicly worships without veiling her head disgraces herself – she places herself in the class of women who have had their hair cut off. Now if a woman does not care for her reputation, she should act in a manner befitting women who have had their hair cut off; on the other hand, if she does care for her reputation, she should observe the prevailing customs. Men, however, should not veil their heads, as they have God-given authority – women can only reflect this authority in men. This stems from the following facts:

  • woman was created from man
  • woman was created for man.

Given these truths – and because angels are present during public worship – women should veil their heads to reflect the God-given authority that men possess. Now Paul notes that it is God’s will that men and women must depend on each other. This arises from the fact that even though woman was created from man, man is born of woman – this is by God’s design. He then exhorts the Corinthians to determine for themselves whether it is proper for a woman to worship publicly without veiling her head. Indeed, their instincts should convince them that men with long hair are flouting cultural norms; on the other hand, long hair is actually a natural – and proper – veil for a woman. Paul concludes by stating that if anybody – after hearing the previous arguments – still wants to contend with him on this issue, the apostles are in agreement in this regard, and the churches in that region concur with the apostles’ directives.

Thoughts: This is clearly one of the most controversial passages in all of Scripture, and its meaning and applicability have been debated for centuries. In his commentary on verse 7, Hodge offers his thoughts on the subordination of women to men, especially in a Christian context:

The man is the glory of God because in him the divine majesty is specially manifested…She is not designed to reflect the glory of God as a ruler. She is the glory of the man. She receives and reveals what there is of majesty in him. She always assumes his position; she becomes queen if he is a king and manifests to others the wealth and honor that may belong to her husband.

Hodge’s commentary on verse 11 sheds further light on the nature of the subordination in question:

The apostle’s single aim is to show the true nature and limitations of the subordination of the woman to the man. It is a real subordination, but it is consistent with their mutual dependence; the one is not without the other…It is a Christian doctrine that the man and the woman are thus mutually dependent.

The consistency of this divinely-appointed 1) subordination and 2) interdependence is difficult to comprehend; one notable attempt at describing it is Lead Me by Sanctus Real. My understanding is that a believing wife must trust the Lord to lead her spouse to make the right decisions for their family, while the believing husband must be cognizant of his responsibilities – and trust the Lord to help him make these right decisions. Indeed, a mutual trust in the Lord appears to be essential here.

In verse 4, we see that Paul speaks against the hypothetical scenario of men publicly worshiping with their heads veiled. This seemed a bit strange to me – when would a man ever veil his face in public? Hodge’s commentary on this topic turned out to be rather enlightening:

Among the Greeks, the priests officiated bareheaded; the Romans had the head veiled; the Jews (at least soon after the apostolic age) also wore the Tallis or covering for the head in their public services.

This spurred me to read about the tallit. It is intriguing to learn that men used such a variety of coverings and adornments – or lack thereof – for their heads during Biblical-era religious services. Lest anyone think that this discussion is irrelevant, I wonder how a man wearing a baseball hat during a present-day Protestant worship service would be received.