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Bible readingContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 13:18-21

The Mustard Seed and the Leaven

 18 He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? 19It is like a grain of mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden, and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.”

 20And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? 21 It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened.”

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In last week’s reading, which immediately precedes today’s verses, Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of synagogue leaders who took issue when, on the Sabbath, He healed a woman who had been bent over for 18 years because of a demon.

In today’s verses Jesus states that the kingdom of God will start out small but grow to the extent that everyone under its influence will benefit (verses 18, 19).

Jesus makes this statement because, as Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Many perhaps were prejudiced against the gospel, and loth to come in to the obedience of it, because its beginning was so small they were ready to say of Christ, Can this man save us? And of his gospel, Is this likely ever to come to any thing? Now Christ would remove this prejudice, by assuring them that though its beginning was small its latter end should greatly increase so that many should come, should come upon the wing, should fly like a cloud, to lodge in the branches of it with more safety and satisfaction than in the branches of Nebuchadnezzar’s tree, Daniel 4:21.

In order to explain His ministry and the sowing of the seed of His bride the Church, he uses the analogy of the mustard seed which grows into a huge, sturdy bush. Everyone in His audience knew how tiny these seeds were.

John MacArthur says that the mustard seed was the smallest seed in that part of the world in those days. The only seed which approximates it in size is the tobacco seed, which is the size of a full stop (‘period’ to my American readers) seen on this page. However, tobacco was an American plant exported to Europe only in the 16th century.

MacArthur elaborates on the size of a mustard seed bush:

Now a mustard seed produced a bush. Typically it could grow to eight feet high and 15 feet in diameter. That is a big plant. As far as garden plants go, that is the biggest garden plant that they new anything about …

And it grew to be a tree it says, it’s not a timber tree, but a large shrub is in view here. In fact, this thing is so large it says that birds of the air nested in its branches. And the word nested here is permanent dwelling. They set up their home, they put their nests there. It’s branches were big enough and broad enough to build permanent nests in. A little unusual for a garden plant. That’s the picture. They get so big and so sturdy and so strong that the birds find it a good place to put their permanent home. We’re not talking about lighting on it and flying away. We’re talking about building a nest and staying.

Jesus’s ministry produced relatively small results at the time because of unbelief often driven by hypocrisy of the religious hierarchy, hence, His allusion to the mustard seed. Yet, it would continue to grow and spread throughout the world. Civilisation under the influence of Christian belief would come to provide a good, secure life for all. Certainly, there have been exceptions throughout history; nothing is perfect. Civilisation has had to evolve over two millennia. And we all wonder about the world today, including Western society.

Despite that, MacArthur says (emphases mine):

And you know, as the kingdom grows in its external visible form as Christianity develops, what comes with it? The greatest civilization, the most advanced civilization, the greatest comforts, the finest medicine, the best education, the best harnessing of human resources and the resources in the earth. Christianity is the one that brought along all of the graces that grace this otherwise pagan world.

And just like 1 Corinthians 7:14 says, “That an unsaved spouse is sanctified by being married to a Christian.” So unregenerate people are sanctified by being around the influence of the growing kingdom of God. I mean, we who live in America should understand that, right? Don’t call America a Christian nation. It isn’t. But Christians have been such a dominating force in this nation’s history as to have provided the best possible life on the planet for all the non-Christians that nest in the tree of Christianity. So the Lord shows by simple power…a simple parable, don’t underestimate the power, the external growth of this kingdom. Christianity, as we speak today, in name is the largest religion in the world; in the world. And it came from such a small and obscure beginning. Just as Jesus said it would. And nesting in the tree are many nations throughout the history of the world benefiting from the blessing of the growth of the kingdom. That’s the external.

Note his mention that this analogy represents the external Church.

In the next two verses (20, 21) Jesus describes the internal growth of the believer. He compares it to the woman who leavened flour. MacArthur says she would have done this with sour dough culture:

when a young Hebrew girl married, her mother would give her some things as mothers do when girls get married, but one of the things that a mother gave a Hebrew girl was some fermented sour dough. That was a wedding present and she took it to start her first batch of bread in her new family. And it symbolized the wonderful continuity from her family into that new family. There are some things you want to leave behind, like the wretchedness of Egypt. There are some things you want to take with you like the love of a family.

And so this idea of leaven symbolized all kinds of influences. And He is saying so it is with the kingdom.

Jesus is saying that faith transforms one person at a time, just as a relatively small amount of raising agent transforms flour into dough from which one can make bread.

Henry says:

But you must give it time, wait for the issue of the preaching of the gospel to the world, and you will find it does wonders, and alters the property of the souls of men. By degrees the whole will be leavened, even as many as are, like the meal to the leaven, prepared to receive the savour of it.

MacArthur makes two good points about the influence of Christianity in our fallen world. The first ties in nicely with Henry’s perspective of allowing a lot of time for the Gospel to percolate. It concerns the Tsunami relief work which was going on in 2004 when MacArthur preached the sermon I’ve been citing in this post:

many of the relief workers in South Asia helping with the Tsunami victims are Christians. In fact, this word that I received was that Christians are flocking in there realizing that these nations are anti-Christian, persecute Christians, kill Christians, burn churches, etc. I heard a story this week about a whole seminary that was burned to the ground. They know there’s a window of opportunity and that the relief work is permeated by Christians. The world doesn’t know it. The world doesn’t see it. It can’t be seen. But it’s a way that God advances His kingdom, and it comes down to this, it’s you and it’s me in the sphere of our influence. That’s how it happens. It’s not going to happen in the great capitols of the world. It’s not going to happen through bureaucracies and civil government and authority. It’s going to happen the way it’s always going to happen, hidden as we influence the world. What a glorious calling and what a great ending.

MacArthur’s other point is that the Church continues to grow, believer by believer, even in countries which forbid any exercise of religion:

I read recently that 95% of the world’s population presently have part of the Bible or all of the Bible in their language. It’s working. Ninety percent of all tribes have had an opportunity to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. You think about Ethiopia, claims to have something around 35 million “Christians.” Talk about 50 million plus Christians in China. Did you know Cuba has 50 Christian denominations operating there under Fidel Castro? Somebody estimated that about 65,000 people profess to give their lives to Christ daily somewhere in the world.

And about 1,500 new churches start ever week. We don’t need the political power. We don’t need the military power. Christians through the years have gotten that very confused. It happens through influence. And Jesus put it this way, “I will build,” what, “my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.” And some day He will come as King of kings and Lord of lords. And at that time, let me tell you folks, every eye will see Him as King of kings and Lord of lords and we will be revealed as the glorious manifestation of the children of God becomes evident to the whole world, and we’ll reign with Him in glory for 1,000 years and then on into eternity forever.

May we rejoice every time someone asks us about the Gospel message. That’s the internal influence leading to further external influence of the Church.

Next time: Luke 14:2-6

John F MacArthurMany unbelievers and some lukewarm believers think that fearing God is unhealthy.

They also think that God is somehow ‘bad’ for encouraging this fear.

Yet, the fear of which the Bible speaks is an awe that we mere mortals, prone to sin, cannot comprehend.

To believers, ‘fear’ and ‘dread’ differ in meaning from the way we understand these familiar words in a secular context.

John MacArthur has a useful blog post on the subject called ‘The Gravity of Sin’, well worth reading in full.

The section called ‘The Fear of the Lord’ stood out for me and it might help us explain this holy fear to others (emphases mine):

Although God is loving, merciful, and forgiving, He nevertheless holds believers accountable for disobedience. Like John, Paul understood well that “if we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

Knowing that he serves a holy and just God, the faithful believer will always live with “fear and trembling.”

An important Old Testament truth is “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10; cf. Proverbs 1:7, 9:10). It’s not the fear of being doomed to eternal torment, nor a hopeless dread of judgment that leads to despair. Instead, it’s a reverential fear, a holy concern to give God the honor He deserves and avoid the chastening of His displeasure. It protects against temptation and sin and gives motivation for obedient, righteous living.

Such fear involves self-distrust, a sensitive conscience, and being on guard against temptation. It necessitates opposing pride, and being constantly aware of the deceitfulness of one’s heart, as well as the subtlety and strength of one’s inner corruption. It is a dread that seeks to avoid anything that would offend and dishonor God.

 

Bible croppedContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 13:10-17

A Woman with a Disabling Spirit

 10Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. 11And there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. 12When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” 13And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. 14But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” 15Then the Lord answered him, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger and lead it away to water it? 16And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the Sabbath day?” 17As he said these things, all his adversaries were put to shame, and all the people rejoiced at all the glorious things that were done by him.

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Luke 13 is a continuation of Jesus’s calls to repentance in Luke 12.

Last week’s Forbidden Bible Verses post looked at the conclusion to Luke 12, Jesus’s likening the Final Judgement to appearing before a magistrate. He advises ‘settling along the way’ — making amends with God via repentance whilst we are alive, rather than face condemnation in the life to come.

The first story in Luke 13 concerns those who are asking about the spiritual state of the Galilean victims of Pilate’s persecutions and those who perished when the tower of Siloam fell (near the healing pool of Bethesda/Bethsaida in John 5). Jesus tells the people that they had no greater spiritual afflictions than they, therefore, what happened was not a divine punishment. However, Jesus emphasises that those who are wondering about other’s spiritual state should spend that energy examining and improving their own, lest they face condemnation in the next life.

He then relates a parable about a fig tree which has not yet borne fruit. The gardener — vinedresser — advised his boss the landowner to allow him to give it special attention for a year to see if it would bear fruit. If it did not, then he would fell the tree. Jesus’s message here is that God gives us a certain time to repent; if not, we face the consequences of eternal condemnation. We can pray for sinners to be infused with grace and wisdom so to do. However, we cannot pray that God will pardon the unrepentant. Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Reprieves may be obtained by the prayers of others for us, but not pardons[;] there must be our own faith, and repentance, and prayers, else no pardon.

Now we come to today’s passage, Jesus’s merciful healing of a disabled woman on the Sabbath. This, too, although a healing miracle, symbolises God’s acceptance of the repentant sinner who believes in Christ.

Jesus was teaching in an unnamed synagogue (verse 10). Among the congregation was a woman who was stooped over and could not stand upright; a demon caused her longstanding condition with which she suffered for 18 years (verse 11).

Keep in mind that in synagogues then — as is true in Orthodox synagogues today — women had to sit separately from women. John MacArthur surmises that, in Jesus’s day, the women sat at the back, so she would have been out of sight from the leaders at the front.

Jesus called the lady to come forward and told her she was healed (verse 12). As He laid His hands upon her, she was able to stand up for the first time in nearly 20 years and praised God (verse 13).

The leader of the synagogue then stood up and denounced our Lord’s healing by saying that He had six other days of the week to do it; work was not permitted on the Sabbath (verse 14).

Jesus expressed His righteous indignation at the synagogue leader’s denunciation by saying that hypocritical Sabbath observers were kinder to their livestock than to a human (verse 15). Furthermore, He added, this lady was a Jew — one of their own (verse 16). In other words, who would deny her this merciful healing miracle? Only a hypocritical legalist.

With that Jesus shamed the legalist synagogue leaders and the people rejoiced at His words (verse 17).

MacArthur unpacks this scene for us (emphases mine):

He endeavors to bring on the head of Jesus a violation of the law of God. But of course, there’s nothing in the law of God that says you can’t help somebody on the Sabbath. Any deed of mercy, any necessity was perfectly acceptable on the Sabbath and their Jewish law even said it. The Mishnah even said that you could do anything for a person or an animal that was necessary or merciful. And Jesus, Himself, in the 12th Chapter of Matthew had told them, you know, you’ve got the whole idea of the law of God wrong. Do you remember when David’s soldiers were hungry and they went into the temple and ate the show bread, because they were hungry. And feeding men who were hungry was more important than the symbolism of the show bread.

It really was the hatred they had for Jesus. He was going to make up a rule that you can’t heal on the Sabbath. There could never be such a rule in Judaism, because nobody could heal anyway. So how would that rule develop? So the Lord answers him in verse 15. The Lord answered him and said, “you hypocrites,” He was direct, as always, you spiritual fraud, “does not each of you on Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the stall and lead him away to water him?” Well, He got them, because they did that.

In fact, in the Mishnah, the codification of Jewish rabbinic law, it prescribes that you can do that. You can take your animal if you put no burden on his back and lead him to water or to eat. It even gives you a maximum of 200 cubits that you can go. And they even have some prescription about how wide the well is so you can see how they encumbered these things. But it was perfectly fine to do that. You phonies.

Of course, the crowds that lauded Jesus for His mercy and compassion turned against Him by the time it came for His trial and crucifixion.

That said, not only is this account of Luke’s one of merciful physical restoration but a pointer towards the compassion God has for us sinners. As Matthew Henry puts it:

This cure represents the work of Christ’s grace upon the souls of the people. (1.) In the conversion of sinners. Unsanctified hearts are under this spirit of infirmity they are distorted, the faculties of the soul are quite out of place and order they are bowed down towards things below. O curvæ in terram animæ ! They can in no wise lift up themselves to God and heaven the bent of the soul, in its natural state, is the quite contrary way. Such crooked souls seek not to Christ but he calls them to him, lays the hand of his power and grace upon them, speaks a healing word to them, by which he looses them from their infirmity, makes the soul straight, reduces it to order, raises it above worldly regards, and directs its affections and aims heavenward. Though man cannot make that straight which God has made crooked (Ecclesiastes 7:13), yet the grace of God can make that straight which the sin of man has made crooked. (2.) In the consolation of good people. Many of the children of God are long under a spirit of infirmity, a spirit of bondage through prevailing grief and fear, their souls are cast down and disquieted within them, they are troubled, they are bowed down greatly, they go mourning all the day long, Psalm 38:6. But Christ, by his Spirit of adoption, looses them from this infirmity in due time, and raises them up.

4. The present effect of this cure upon the soul of the patient as well as upon her body. She glorified God, gave him the praise of her cure to whom all praise is due. When crooked souls are made straight, they will show it by their glorifying God.

Therefore, as the psalmist said, let us rejoice and be glad.

Next time: Luke 13:18-21

j0289346Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog recently called his readers to explore the Reformed tradition of exclusive psalmody — psalms sung a cappella rather than hymns accompanied by musical instruments.

Clark points out that psalmody cuts across cultural and national lines. He cites a 1996 article from the Associated Press which puts this ancient biblical tradition into a modern perspective. The AP reporter visited the Selma Reformed Presbyterian Church in Alabama.

Although fewer Reformed congregations are sticking with traditional exclusive psalmody, the Reformed Presbyterian Church, congregations of which are found mainly in Pennsylvania, New York, Indiana and Kansas, still believes psalms are the best songs for worship.

The Reformed Presbyterians came to the US from Scotland in the 17th century and are known as Covenanters. They follow the Westminster Confession of Faith and attempt to make their worship as biblical as possible.

They point out that, unlike hymns, the Psalms are divinely inspired because they are part of the Bible. They add that the New Testament records Jesus as having worshipped in synagogues, therefore, He would have sung them, too.

The Covenanters believe that worship must be God-centred, giving Him glory. They say that hymns focus more on man’s condition and detract from focussing on the Almighty.

At one time, the AP article says, nearly every Protestant congregation sang hymns, an ancient Christian tradition revived during the Reformation.  Then, in the 18th century, Isaac Watts began penning hymns. No doubt the melodies were more pleasing to the ear than the ancient ones used with psalms, because, over the following century, hymns and instrumental accompaniment became more widespread in church. By the early 20th century, most denominations moved towards hymns almost exclusively.

John Delivuk, a librarian at Geneva College near Pittsburgh and an authority on Reformed Presbyterian history, points out that clergy and liturgists are asking the wrong question when they wonder how to attract new members. The issue is not what people want to hear but rather,  ‘How can a congregation best please God in worship?’

He, like his fellow Reformed Presbyterians (and other smaller Reformed denominations), believe that psalms sung a cappella allow a more focussed and spiritual worship of God.

The Selma Reformed Presbyterian Church’s Facebook page features several sung psalms, such as Psalm 100b:

O Shout for joy unto the LORD
Earth’s people far and near;
With gladness come and serve the LORD,
And bring Him songs of cheer.

Perhaps church music leaders might slip a few psalms — sung without music to ancient (not modern) melodies — in their worship. They might be surprised at the positive reaction from the congregation. They would also avoid the question of what to sing — always a contentious issue when planning the Sunday service.

A post I wrote for Orphans of Liberty today looks at the effect women bishops will have on the popularity and membership of the Church of England (CofE).

What follows is a summary of that post.

First, there is the matter of how the victory was engineered. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said that he’d received pressure from the government for the Synod to approve women bishops. Welby was ready to dissolve the Synod and reconvene it for another vote on the matter had it been defeated on July 14, 2014. In other words, keep voting until you get the ‘right’ result.

Second, no scriptural arguments were used, or at least these were not made public. Persuasion revolved around cultural norms and bringing the CofE into line with the 21st century.

Third, a number of Synod members who had voted against women bishops in 2012 changed their minds this year because they feared being deselected from the next Synod or were tired of the grief they received from people in their diocese.

It is clear that the CofE is increasingly moving away from scriptural tenets. The co-founder of Orphans of Liberty — and one of my readers — James Higham has written an excellent essay exploring why and how England’s established (state) church is failing.

Women bishops won’t fix a thing. (Women priests didn’t.) Nor will allowing single-sex church wedding ceremonies, which may well be a topic at the next Synod. Nor will support of euthanasia.

The CofE has become merely another social club which goes along with popular culture — the world — at every turn.

Who wants to get out of bed on a Sunday when one can get the same talking points from the media?

As I said at Orphans of Liberty, a small number of people will continue to go to other denominations or to independent churches which are faithful to the Bible.

Sadly, many more will choose to leave the Church altogether.

The CofE’s USP is its frequent Communion services. However, it is difficult to receive the Sacrament from a priest who embraces the world so fully, as many of our clergy do.

Yet, even there, Article XXVI of the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion states:

… Neither is the effect of Christ’s ordinance taken away by their wickedness, nor the grace of God’s gifts diminished from such as by faith and rightly do receive the sacraments ministered unto them, which be effectual because of Christ’s institution and promise, although they be ministered by evil men.

That said, the Anglican Church is expected to depose such clergy. Article XXVI concludes:

Nevertheless it appertaineth to the discipline of the Church that inquiry be made of evil ministers, and that they be accused by those that have knowledge of their offences; and finally, being found guilty by just judgement, be deposed.

It should come as no surprise that the CofE considers the Thirty-nine Articles as ancient history to be disregarded.

Much the same way they consider Holy Scripture: old-fashioned and out-of-date.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s blog post of June 30, 2014, ‘Sin and the Work of the Spirit’, warns Christians against easy conversions and describes what conversion really means.

MacArthur takes the epistle 1 John for his primary text and supports it with passages from Paul’s letters and other books of the New Testament.

He explains:

John’s portrait of true faith highlights the conflict between sin and saving faith. Over and over, he makes clear that true believers cannot and will not continue to live in open, unrepentant sin after salvation.

Adding:

The new birth—what John calls being “born of God”—epitomizes the work of the Holy Spirit (cf. John 3:3-8). The Spirit implants in those He regenerates the essence of His divine life, which John pictures as a “seed.” Just as a human birth results from an implanted seed that grows into new physical life, so also spiritual life begins when, at the moment of regeneration, the divine seed is implanted by the Spirit within the one who believes.

Also (italics in the original):

The new birth is also a monergistic operation, which means God’s Spirit alone accomplishes it (as opposed to synergistic, which means that human effort participates in the process).

MacArthur’s post is a good one for Christians to read and understand, especially if they are new or returning to the faith.

With regard to St John’s epistles — letters — I did a series on them two years ago. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors could not include more in their readings for public worship.

They can be found on my Essential Bible Verses page and are as follows for 1 John. Many of them contain excerpts from John MacArthur’s sermons and reveal John the Divine’s blueprint for Christian living:

1 John 2:3-11 – Commandments, obedience, light, darkness, love of neighbour

1 John 2:12-17 – speaking to converts as they are in sanctification, countering worldliness

1 John 2:18-29 – antichrists, false teachers, belief in Christ

1 John 3:9-13 – sin, love one another, unbelievers, Cain, first murder, hate

1 John 3:14-18 – love one another, hate akin to murder

1 John 3:19-24 – assurance, conscience

1 John 4:1-6 – discernment, antichrist, the world, faith, belief

1 John 4:7-13 – Christian love, Christ as propitiation

1 John 4:14-21 – perfect love, God loved us first

1 John 5:7-13 – Holy Trinity, unbelief, Christ’s blood and water

1 John 5:14-21 – truth of and confidence in Jesus Christ, faith, prayer, sin, Satan and the world, beware of idols

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s most recent post on the Grace To You blog is called ‘Who Is Responsible For Your Spiritual Growth?’

Many readers will find it useful, especially as he cites a number of passages from Paul’s epistles.

This paragraph, in particular, stood out:

God is responsible for supplying everything you need for life and godliness, and you are responsible for actively using that power to grow in sanctification for His glory. The paradox is found in the believer being both fully responsible, and yet fully dependent on God’s supply. We may not fully comprehend the paradox, but we can exercise faith that it is resolved in the infinite wisdom of God and respond in obedience to His commands.

Please take a few minutes to read his article in full.

Bible kevinroosecomContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 12:57-59

Settle with Your Accuser

 57“And why do you not judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you go with your accuser before the magistrate, make an effort to settle with him on the way, lest he drag you to the judge, and the judge hand you over to the officer, and the officer put you in prison. 59I tell you, you will never get out until you have paid the very last penny.”[a]

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As I mentioned a few weeks ago, Luke 12 is a hard-hitting chapter.

Jesus warns against secrets, says that God is to be more feared than man and that we are to acknowledge our Lord openly.

The Parable of the Rich Fool follows, in which Jesus condemns materialism. He says that believers are to put God’s Kingdom first; everything else to satisfy our temporal needs will follow.

Jesus then relates to His disciples the parable of the servants who are unprepared for their master’s return. Similarly, severe punishment awaits those who persist in sin, thinking that they have plenty of time to repent.

The chapter goes on to recount Jesus’s warning that His divine truth will divide families. This continues to be true today:

51 Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. 52For from now on in one house there will be five divided, three against two and two against three. 53They will be divided, father against son and son against father, mother against daughter and daughter against mother, mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.”

Jesus then rebuked the hypocrisy of many of the people whom He encountered in His ministry. He said they could interpret the weather but were ignoring the greatest blessing they could ever receive — His presence, as God had predestined from the beginning of time. A similar passage can be found in Matthew 16:1-4, which I wrote about in 2010.

Therefore, His question about discerning what is ‘right’ (verse 57) is a call to repentance — now.

To illustrate this, He uses the analogy of appearing in court. Law-abiding people fear this, and rightly so. However, as off-putting as a temporal court is, Jesus tells us God’s court on Judgment Day will be even more so.

This is why He advocates settling with one’s accuser on the way to court (verse 58) — in other words, embrace repentance. Turn away from sin before it’s too late, because, just as those who are convicted for debt are imprisoned until the last penny — lepton, in His time — is paid, those whom God finds guilty of sin will receive a punishment with no reprieve (verse 59).

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives this advice:

let us give diligence to be delivered out of the hands of God as an adversary, into his hands as a Father, and this as we are in the way, which has the chief stress laid upon it here. While we are alive, we are in the way and now is our time, by repentance and faith through Christ (who is the Mediator as well as the magistrate), to get the quarrel made up, while it may be done, before it be too late. Thus was God in Christ reconciling the world to himself, beseeching us to be reconciled.

John MacArthur says:

2 Corinthians 5 talks about that God is in Christ reconciling the world to Himself. He’s provided reconciliation. God wants you to settle out of court and the way you settle is to make peace with Him through His Son, through faith in Christ, whom God made sin for us that we might be made the righteous of God in Him. God punished Him, the just for the unjust, that we might be brought to God. Grace is available. Forgiveness is available. Freedom from sin is available. Freedom from punishment, the hope of eternal life, escape from judgment. You can settle with God out of court. If you don’t, you’ll get to court and you will pay in full down to the last cent. Don’t even be there. Settle your account. Put your trust in Christ. He says to them, “How…how could you waste such an opportunity? You didn’t discern the time and you didn’t discern the threat”…tragedy. Isaiah 55, “Seek the Lord while He may be found. Call on Him while He is near.” 2Corinthians 6, “Now is the acceptable time. Now is the day of salvation.” Don’t miss it.

In closing, MacArthur also explains how the courts system worked in Jesus’s time. Some of it remains unchanged in certain countries even to this day:

The magistrate is the archonta, the archon, the ruler, the person of power, and this is sort of a preliminary hearing which would occur. You’d go and the guy would lay out his case and the magistrate would then remand the thing to the judge and put him to court …

The judge is just that, kriten, the judge. The constable, proctor is the word, and the constable was the person who had the responsibility to exact the punishment. He is called an exacter of penalties. A proctor, here called a constable, is one who enforced the payment of debt by imprisonment. It’s always been interesting to me. I’ve been in Northern Ireland and I toured with the Northern Ireland Police, who have no small job, and they are called constables and the police are the constabulary. They are the ones who enforce the payment of debts by imprisonment. That’s what they do and that’s exactly what this Greek word means.

Next time: Luke 13:10-17

One of the drawbacks of being a church member is putting up with busybodies.

We all sin and churchgoers are no exception. Few things are as irritating or dispiriting as the church member who enjoys butting in to others’ business and pointing out their weaknesses.

Yes, they cite Scripture. Yes, they’re probably right.

But what if the person they are criticising is already aware of their own particular shortcomings?

We can become impatient with others’ sins, mainly because we sin differently.

I often wonder, however, if church busybodies criticise others they see as less gifted in the faith in order to make themselves look better.

The Revd Matt Kennedy is an Anglican priest and rector of Good Shepherd Church in Binghamton, New York. He is a regular columnist at Stand Firm.

His recent article ‘Speaking into Someone’s Life’ has seven excellent questions we should consider before interfering in someone else’s affairs.

Kennedy cites the verses troublemakers often use in order to justify their interference: Galatians 6:1-2 and Galatians 5:16-24.

His article has something for all of us, even if we do not fall into the category of busybody or troublemaker.

What follows are his seven questions someone should answer before interfering. Notional ‘love’ may come across as spite or one-upmanship, both of which hurt:

1. Is what I am planning to say true in an objective sense or just reflective of my own feelings? (expressing your feelings and speaking the truth are not synonymous. Scripture is the guide here, not your heart)

2. Is the person caught up in a sin or is he/she merely getting on my nerves? (a personality clash is not a reason to “confront” someone)

3. Do I have a past history of strife, jealousy, enmity or anger with this person? (If so, you probably aren’t the person to “restore gently”)

4. Do I genuinely want to help the person…am I willing to invest the time to meet, discuss, share my own struggles, and help this person escape from the sin I’ve observed? (if not, you’re not qualified to speak)

5. Is it something that the person knows about already and is trying to work on? If so, how would it be helpful for you to point out again what he/she already knows?

6. Do I have the ability to speak with gentleness and kindness or am I a battle axe? (if you don’t know, ask your wife, husband or closest friends. If you’re not kind, leave it for someone else)

7. Have I been praying for this person in private regularly? (If not, chances are that your heart is not in the right place)

How many church busybodies have examined their consciences in this area before opening their mouths?

That said, St Paul counsels the Galatians (Galatians 6:1):

But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted.

No doubt, the time will come when most of us will feel the need to criticise or interfere unprofitably. This is why Mr Kennedy’s questions — and our answers — are so important.

j0289346In 2011, I suggested teaching one’s children the Ten Commandments and a short Catechism. That post was Lutheran-oriented.

Summer is a good time to encourage one’s children to memorise their denomination’s doctrine by heart.

A Reformed minister and professor, Dr R Scott Clark of Westminster Seminary California and Heidelblog recently republished his 2009 post on teaching one’s offspring to memorise the shorter versions of the Heidelberg or Westminster catechisms.

Clark writes (in part):

… small children are apt to memorize. This is how they are wired. Our stupid contemporary education program seems to be systematically making us all ignorant by refusing to teach children that they can memorize or to encourage them to do it …

All things being equal, children are able to memorize a good deal of material at a very early age. As an experiment, I taught my children the first line of the Vulgate (“in principio creavit Deus, caelum et terram.”) when they were 2 and 3. They can still recite it at will. Imagine if our children knew the Heidelberg or Westminster Shorter Catechism by age 9? It’s quite possible. Simply have your child memorize a part of a q/a each Lord’s Day and before long your child will have the stuff of the Reformed faith in his head.

My mother taught me prayers by heart as soon as I was three years old. I also learned parts of the weekly liturgy which I could recite spontaneously during the week. It is possible!

The Daily Confession site has helpful shorter Reformed catechism entries, one post a day. Each response has only one or two sentences for a child to memorise and understand.

This Daily Confession post — ‘Structured Shorter Catechism’ — describes in more detail how to teach the catechism for memorisation purposes.

Some heads of families reward all the family with a special holiday afterward. The Blogorrhea site describes how one father planned a trip to Disneyland if he and his wife and his children successfully memorised parts of the Shorter Catechism.  Everyone had to participate and everyone had to do it well. Otherwise, the holiday was off. He outlines in a basic Q&A how the arrangement worked based on family members’ ages and capabilities.

Let’s make sure our children know what they believe and WHY they believe it.

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