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Bible and crossThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

1 Timothy 3:14-16

The Mystery of Godliness

14 I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, 15 if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth. 16 Great indeed, we confess, is the mystery of godliness:

He[a] was manifested in the flesh,
    vindicated[b] by the Spirit,[c]
        seen by angels,
proclaimed among the nations,
    believed on in the world,
        taken up in glory.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s qualifications for deacons.

Today’s verses tie the preceding chapters of 1 Timothy together, as Paul wants to travel soon to Ephesus to see Timothy and explain everything in person, although that is not possible, hence his letter (verse 14).

John MacArthur interprets the verse as follows:

So what he is saying here then is, “Here’s the reason I wrote this epistle, that’s what I’m driving at. Here is the underlying reason for this epistle. I’m writing this to you, not only these things already said, but, of course, the things yet to be said.” And there’s no reason to narrow it down any further than that.

Paul continues, saying that if he is delayed, Timothy will know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth (verse 15).

In older translations such as Matthew Henry’s, the verse reads (emphases mine below):

15 But if I tarry long, that thou mayest know how thou oughtest to behave thyself in the house of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and ground of the truth.

Henry’s commentary says:

Timothy must know how to behave himself, not only in the particular church where he was now appointed to reside for some time, but being an evangelist, and the apostle’s substitute, he must learn how to behave himself in other churches, where he should in like manner be appointed to reside for some time …

Timothy had an urgent errand to complete in Ephesus: ridding the church of its false teachers who had sprung up in its ranks.

It is probable that Paul never did make it back to Ephesus to see Timothy.

MacArthur tells us:

… it may well be that he is saying, “Look, I’m writing this to you to give you instruction on how one is to conduct himself in the church. And in the event that I never get there, that I’m unable to come, I’m writing to be sure that you have this.”

He did say, by the way, to Titus in chapter 3 of Titus, verse 12, that he wanted to meet him and spend the winter with him in Nicopolis. Nicopolis is on the west coast of Greece, about a third of the way up. That would be the opposite direction of Ephesus which would be to the east. And it seems as though Paul did in fact go there and spend the winter there; and there is no evidence at all that he ever did get to Ephesus, we have no knowledge of that. It may well have been that he never did get there. And in the event that he didn’t, it was definitely the leading of the Spirit of God, of course, that he would set these things in writing so that they would have them since he was unable to come.

So to be certain that they get his instruction, he says, “I’m writing it, although I had hoped to come to you quickly. It may be that I’ll be delayed long.” And it is possible, that’s a third-class conditional, that he may be delayed. “And it is possible I may be.” And we have no knowledge that he ever did get there. So it’s important that he writes these things to them.

Now this was always the passion of Paul; I don’t want to belabor the point. But Paul always wrote to a specific issue and with a great concern in his heart; he wanted the church to be set right. Obviously the church at Ephesus had a place in his heart like few others. It was from the base of that church where he spent three years of his ministry that many other churches were founded. He poured his life into that. He loved and nurtured the men who were the leaders of that church in the original group, and to see it go wrong must have been a heartbreaking thing.

Paul’s addition of theology in verse 15 emphasises the importance of keeping the Church pure.

MacArthur gives us some of the Greek words used:

… go to verse 15, the text says, “If I tarry long, that you may know” – and by the way, that “you” is singular – “that you, Timothy,” – he is the first object of the letter – “may know how” – and that, by the way, is oida, which means “the possession of a knowledge or skill necessary to accomplish a goal.” It isn’t ethereal knowing, it isn’t just cognitive knowing, it’s knowing in the sense that you have the skill to do, “that you may know how to behave,” but literally it says, “how it is necessary to behave oneself.”

And with that verb form, that present middle infinitive, he says, “Timothy, I want you to know how it is necessary to behave oneself,” so he broadens it to encompass not only Timothy but everybody. “I want you to know how really everybody ought to behave, how it is necessary for people to conduct themselves in the assembly, in the corporate fellowship.”

So this speaks not so much of the personal Christian life, that’s part of it; but it speaks of our role and our behavior and our conduct as a duly-constituted assembly of redeemed saints. And the present, middle form of the verb, “how it is necessary to behave oneself,” is speaking not of an isolated action or isolated actions, but of a constant consistent pattern of life. “This is how you ought to always conduct yourself, because you’re a part of the house of God,” it says in the Authorized.

The word “house,” look at that in verse 15, is oikos. It could be translated “house,” because it can refer to the building itself. But here it is best to understand it as “household.” It is not speaking of a building, it is speaking of a family. We take it that way, because it’s used three other times in the chapter; and in each case it’s used that way.

In verse 4, “one that rules well his own house” doesn’t mean he rules the mud and the brick and whatever it was that made the house, it doesn’t mean that. It means he rules the people in the house in the substance of the family. Verse 5, the same word is used again, “rule his own house,” and it refers to his household, his people, his possessions. In verse 12, it is used again of the deacon who rules their children – who rule their children and their own houses. And again it’s the idea of the house as a household, as a family, as a group of people. Second Timothy 1:16, Titus 1:11 uses the same word in the same way …

The second thing he says, and this is so interesting, verse 15, we are told how it is necessary to behave oneself in the household of God, and then it says, “which is” – and I want to give you the proper Greek translation“the living God’s church,” – and I translate it that way for a better emphasis consistent with the text – “the living God’s church.” There is not a definite article with church, so “the church of the living God” adds a word. But it is the living God’s church. And any time the article is not there, we look for a stress on the character or the nature of something. And so it is a church which by nature is the living God’s church. We are then, note this, not only the household of God, but we are the living God’s church. We are His family. We are His assembly. Ekklēsia means His group of called out ones.

MacArthur’s sermon gives examples of the same from the Old Testament, which concerned distinguishing God’s people from idol worshippers.

MacArthur reminds us of the cult of Diana in Ephesus to draw a similar comparison:

How wonderful in this city of Ephesus, this little assembly of believers existing, as it were, as an island in a sea of paganism and cultic worship of dead idols was the assembly of the living God. All around them were those who worshiped dead idols.

The main idol of Ephesus was Diana, her female name; Artemis, his male name, the god of Ephesus. Those people belonged to that pagan cult and worship a dead idol. “They are the assembly of a dead idol, but you are the assembly of the living God.” And so, Paul makes much of Timothy’s and the other believers’ identification.

And, people, at the bottom line of our behavior, at the bottom line of our conduct is that we represent the living God, that we are in the household of the living God, and therefore are to conduct ourselves in a way that is consistent with the one whose name and image we bear. So, he says to Timothy, “Timothy, I want you to know, so that you can disseminate to everyone else how to behave in the church, which is the church belonging to the living God.”

MacArthur tells us about the temple of the cult of Diana. Just as it was a pillar and buttress to idolatry, so is the Church to eternal truth:

If you want to know what the church is, that’s it. We are the pillar and foundation of the truth. This is a wonderful designation, and would have vivid imagery to the Ephesians and to Timothy; for in the heart of the city of Ephesus was the temple of Diana, or the temple of Artemis. Let me tell you a little about it.

It was an incredible piece of architecture; huge, massive, buttress, bulwarking foundations laid on the bottom of it; and rising up to support the roof were 127 pillars supporting the tremendously heavy structure of the roof. The pillars were made of solid marble, studded with jewels and overlaid with gold. Each of those pillars was a gift from a king and represented the nobility of the one who gave the pillar. It was a tribute to the one it represented. The foundations, he uses the word hedraiōma, which basically means “the bulwark,” “the buttressing.” The foundation and the pillar held up that whole structure.

Now capturing some of that vivid imagery in the minds of those people, Paul transitions to the church, which as far as architecture goes in actual physical buildings didn’t probably have much to speak of, if anything, in Ephesus; but, in fact, was the foundation and the pillar that held up the truth. As that foundation in the temple of Diana and those pillars were a testimony to error and lies and paganism and cultic false religion, the church is to be the living support of the truth. Now listen, that is the heart of the mission of the church.

Paul ends with essential theology, a statement on the greatness of the mystery of godliness (verse 16).

Henry says:

Christianity is a mystery, a mystery that could not have been found out by reason or the light of nature, and which cannot be comprehended by reason, because it is above reason, though not contrary thereto. It is a mystery, not of philosophy or speculation; but of godliness, designed to promote godliness; and herein it exceeds all the mysteries of the Gentiles. It is also a revealed mystery, not shut up and sealed; and it does not cease to be a mystery because now in part revealed.

MacArthur relates a personal anecdote about revealing this holy mystery to others:

I was on the airplane and flying from Los Angeles to New York, and it’s about a five-hour flight, and I kind of figured the Lord had set me next to someone that I could have a profitable conversation with. So I sat down, and a man sat next to me, and he took out his book to read. I took out my Bible, and I was working on some of the commentaries I’m writing. And he took out his book, and it was the writings of Swami Paramahansa Yogananda something or other, and this big picture of the Swami on the back of his book. And so I said, “Here it is, the conflict of truth and error right here in row 16 A and B.”

So he was a very nice guy. And so he was reading his Swami, and I was reading the Bible; and I just waited for the Lord to give the opportunity. And I introduced myself to him, and he to me, and we had a little bit of a conversation. And then I said, “I notice you’re reading the Swami. Are you a Hindu?” And he said, “Yes, I am a Hindu.”

I said, “Well, that’s very interesting. What is he teaching? What do you believe?” And I can’t remember the exact words, but the statement was something like this: “Truth is only truth until you discover it.”

I said, “Well I don’t know about all of that. But I know the truth.” He said, “You do?” I said, “Yes, I know the truth.” “How do you know the truth?” he said. I said, “Because it’s in the Bible. All of this is the truth right here.” He said, “Well.” And he kind of chuckled in a nice way, you know. Poor soul, looking at me like, “What?”

But anyway, I said, “I know the truth.” He said, “You mean you believe that book is the truth?” I said, “That’s right. It’s all the truth.” He said, “Well, how do you know it’s the truth?” And there it came, right out of the back of my mind and the whole thing on why we know the Bible is the Word of God.

And about twenty minutes later, you know, he was sort of gasping, and it was great. But I just showed him why we know the Bible is true. And we had a wonderful conversation, at the end of which he said something like this: “Am I sentenced all my life to the frustrating seeking for truth that I will never find? I am weary of trying to find some truth that satisfies my heart.” That’s the bottom line.

Well, I went on to explain how he could know the truth, and he is now receiving materials through the mail, sending him some things that might help. But, you see, he was raised in a whole concept of life that says there’s no real truth, everything is some foggy thing; and the frustration of that was very evident.

And so, we are as a church very simply placed in the world to hold up the truth. Isn’t that wonderful? And see, that’s what’s so terrible about churches that abandon the truth. That’s what’s so terrible about churches that deny the inerrancy, the authenticity, the authority of the Word of God. What existence do they have? What justification? We are to hold up the truth … His saving, saving truth.

Now how do we do that? Remember Israel had that task once and they failed. They were given the oracles of God, Romans 3 says, Romans 9. But they failed to hold that treasure, to pass that treasure on. And so we are the new depository where God has put His truth. And we have one job, I don’t care what it is, whether we’re singing songs, we’re upholding the truth; preaching sermons, teaching Bible studies, studying the Bible, reading books, listening to tapes. Even if we have a Sunday School group of kids, we’re upholding the truth. We train teachers, so they can teach the truth. We have flocks so people can discuss the truth. We sit around tables in our fellowship groups to affirm the truth. That’s everything. No matter what the range of ministry is, the heart of it is always the same: we are the pillar and foundation that holds the truth.

Paul then gives Timothy a set of truths about Christ in verse 16, which, if the Apostle were alive today, he probably would have written as bullet points. MacArthur calls it a hymn.

The first one is ‘He was manifested in the flesh’. He referring to God, although the words in Greek are either ‘Who’ or ‘Which’, the latter because God is a spirit. Jesus is all human and all divine, the manifestation of God to mankind.

Henry says:

That he is God manifest in the flesh: God was manifest in the flesh. This proves that he is God, the eternal Word, that was made flesh and was manifest in the flesh. When God was to be manifested to man he was pleased to manifest himself in the incarnation of his own Son: The Word was made flesh, John 1 14.

MacArthur picks up on John 14:6:

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” John 14:6. He is truth incarnate. So in the same sense that we uphold the truth of God’s Word, we uphold the truth of God’s Son, don’t we? That’s what we’re all about. We exist for that purpose; that’s the heart of our mission.

MacArthur has more on ‘He’ in the Greek:

Now as I said to you, the subject is – the term in the Greek hos or hos, which means “He.” Literally could mean “He.” Here we would say, “He who,” because it makes better sense. Your Authorized Version has the word “God.” That does appear in some manuscripts. But all manuscripts older than the seventh century and all the best manuscripts of any century all have hos, which has the idea of “He who” rather than God.

We assume then that at a later date, some scribe put “God” in there, trying to emphasize the incarnation a little bit; and it’s true, but it just doesn’t appear in the older manuscripts. So we would translate it “He who,” and then it goes on to give six statements about the heart of our faith, the Lord Jesus Christ.

He — Christ — was vindicated, or justified, by the Spirit, or ‘in the Spirit’.

Henry explains:

He is justified in the Spirit. Whereas he was reproached as a sinner, and put to death as a malefactor, he was raised again by the Spirit, and so was justified from all the calumnies with which he was loaded. He was made sin for us, and was delivered for our offences; but, being raised again, he was justified in the Spirit; that is, it was made to appear that his sacrifice was accepted, and so he rose again for our justification, as he was delivered for our offences, Rom 4 25. He was put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit, 1 Pet 3 18.

MacArthur says:

Secondly, and very importantly, He was justified in the Spirit, justified in the Spirit. “Justified,” dikaioō; we get the word “righteous” from it. It means “to be declared righteous.”

And I believe the best way to understand this initially is, that in His flesh He was human. In His Spirit He was divine. He was declared to be righteous with respect to His spiritual nature. He was human, yes, in the flesh, but divine, yes, in the Spirit. His human spirit, His spiritual character, spiritual nature, whatever you want to call it, the person living within that physical body was perfectly righteous. And that is why the Father said, “This is My beloved Son,” – Matthew 3:15 – “in whom I am well pleased.”

He needed no Savior. He needed no redeemer. For He was, according to 1 John 2:1, “Jesus Christ the righteous.” What a great title: Jesus Christ the righteous

Romans 1:3 says that “Jesus Christ our Lord was made of the seed of David according to the flesh.” He was human. He came through the line of David. He was, as to His flesh, in the family of David. But, “He was declared to be the Son of God with power according to the Spirit of holiness by the resurrection from the dead.” And there I would say that it was His resurrection that was the affirmation that He was holy; and the Spirit of holiness, the Holy Spirit affirmed His holiness in the resurrection.

You say, “How so?” Well, if Jesus had had any sin in His life when He died on the cross He would have stayed – what? – dead. He never would have come out of the grave. If there had been any sin in His life for which He had to pay and there was no Savior for Him, He would have died and it was the end. The affirmation then of His perfect righteousness came when the Holy Spirit raised Him from the dead.

So He is holy and just in His spiritual nature as affirmed by the Holy Spirit. And it may well be that Paul’s intention here is to take both into consideration when he simply says, “justified in the Spirit,” – justified in His own Spirit, which would also be with a capital S, for He is God; and justified by the Holy Spirit in the declaration of His righteousness made when He was raised from the dead, proving He had died in perfect holiness for the sins of others, and did not have to pay for any sins of His own. He is righteous. So when you look at Jesus Christ, there’s no flaw in Him. There’s no flaw in Him. He is perfectly righteous.

He was seen by angels.

Henry reminds us:

They worshipped him (Heb 1 6); they attended his incarnation, his temptation, his agony, his death, his resurrection, his ascension; this is much to his honour, and shows what a mighty interest he had in the upper world, that angels ministered to him, for he is the Lord of angels.

MacArthur gives us the Greek for ‘seen’ as well as times during our Lord’s earthly life when angels attended Him:

Horaō is the Greek word. It means “to see,” “to visit,” “to observe,” to look after.” It could be the idea of being attendant to; and that’s true. Through His life and ministry the angels observed, and watched, and visited, and looked over Him, and attended to Him.

That was true at His birth. They were there announcing His birth to His earthly father, or step-father, Joseph. They were there telling the shepherds. The angels were a part of His birth, Matthew 1, Matthew 2. The angels were in their particular role as servants to Him throughout His life. They were there to assist Him in His temptation. After He came out of that, the angels came, and in a wonderful way did minister to Him. They are not always mentioned as being a part of the ongoing ministry of Christ, but there’s little doubt in anyone’s mind that they were there serving Him.

When He went into the garden to pray in Luke 22:43, an angel from heaven came and strengthened Him. And we could say, “Well, the angels, yes, He was seen by angels through His life and His ministry, and through the times of His greatest need. And they were there when they needed to be there in those times of weakness; they were there and would have been there if He had called on them.” He said to Pilate, “If I ask God, He’ll give me legions of them.” But the best way to see this is not to see the angels in a broad sense attending to His birth and His temptation and His ministry and so forth, but to see that in His death, which is the focal point of this passage, as He goes to the cross to die, He is seen by the angels.

What do we mean by that? Well, first of all, even the fallen angels. In 1 Peter chapter 3, it says, “Christ suffered for sins, the just for the unjust,” – there’s that same idea of His righteousness – “in order to bring us to God,” – it says – “He was put to death in the flesh, but He was alive in the Spirit;” – His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. His body was dead as His Spirit was alive – “by which He went down and preached” – or proclaimed a triumph – “to the spirits in prison.” And it goes to describe them and says, “He is now gone into heaven, on the right hand of God; angels, authorities, powers being made subject to Him.”

Now here’s the thought. When Jesus died on the cross, His body was dead, His Spirit descended into the place where demons are bound – demons who sinned during the time of Noah and have been in everlasting chains. He went down there and proclaimed a triumph over them. The demons that aren’t bound in chains in the pit, they knew He was dying on the cross; they were right there, they could see all of that. The ones that it might miss, He went right down into the pit and announced His triumph. While His body was dead, His Spirit was alive. He went back again, and you remember, rose from the dead after that.

Colossians 2:14 says that He, having spoiled principalities and powers, made a show of them openly, triumphing over them in His death. On the cross, He triumphed over the hosts of hell, He triumphed over the fallen angels, He triumphed over the bound angels who were locked in the pit and couldn’t get up to the earth to see what was going on. He went and announced the victory over them. So there on the cross He was seen by fallen angels, and He was seen in all of His wonder and glory as the victor over sin and death and hell.

He was also seen by the holy angels. The holy angels, they were there, they were a part of that. Matthew chapter 28, there was a great earthquake. An angel of the Lord descended from heaven, came, rolled back the stone from the door and sat on it. His countenance, or face, was like lightning; his clothing white as snow; and for fear of him the keepers did shake and became as dead men. And the angel answered and said to the women, “Fear not.” And you know the story. The angel was there.

When later on His tomb became available and they went in to see, they could see angels there. The angels attended the resurrection, they were a part of it. You read about it in Mark 16, you read about it in Luke 24, John chapter 20. The angels also were there later on when He launched things in the book of Acts, and the disciples saw Him going away; and there He was going in the presence of the holy angels.

But what it’s saying is that when Jesus came into the world in human flesh, spiritually He was God, humanly He was man, went to the cross and died, and in His death He triumphed over all angelic beings. The holy angels are in awe and worship Him. The fallen angels are in awe and despise Him; but they are defeated. The whole angelic host saw the wonder of His death and resurrection. And all angels are made subject to Him in that glorious work on the cross.

He is proclaimed among the nations, or, in older translations, ‘the Gentiles’.

Henry says:

This is a great part of the mystery of godliness, that Christ was offered to the Gentiles a Redeemer and Saviour; that whereas, before, salvation was of the Jews, the partition-wall was now taken down, and the Gentiles were taken in. I have set thee to be a light of the Gentiles, Acts 13 47.

This happened at the very beginning, with the Magi visiting Jesus when He was still a baby.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus also entered Gentile territory during His ministry, and set the Apostles the mission of preaching to Jew and Gentile alike:

They knew from the very beginning they would be fishers of men. They knew from the very beginning that it wouldn’t just be Jews, it would also be Gentiles. After all, He first disclosed who He was to a half-breed Samaritan woman. He Himself ministered over the border into Gentile territory. He ministered at great length in what was known as Galilee of the Gentiles. He would be the Savior of the whole world.

He was believed on in the world.

Henry says:

Many of the Gentiles welcomed the gospel which the Jews rejected. Who would have thought that the world, which lay in wickedness, would believe in the Son of God, would take him to be their Saviour who was himself crucified at Jerusalem? But, notwithstanding all the prejudices they laboured under, he was believed on, etc.

MacArthur reminds us how the Book of Acts recorded the huge growth in the Church from the first Pentecost:

The preaching resulted in faith, it resulted in salvation. The first time the gospel was preached in Jerusalem after the resurrection of Jesus Christ, the first time it was publicly preached, three thousand people believed, and three thousand people continued in faith in the life of the church, Acts 2:42 says. There had been belief already …

By the time you get to Acts 4, there are thousands more, maybe twenty-thousand plus. Then you go to chapter 8, the church is persecuted, it’s scattered. Philip takes the gospel to the Samaritans; there’s a great revival there, and they’re being saved. Then an Ethiopian eunuch gets saved. The next thing you know a Gentile gets saved named Cornelius. And then Paul is off on his missionary journey, and multitudes are saved as the word of God is spread across the then known world.

Finally, and most importantly, He was taken up in glory.

Henry says:

He was received up into glory, in his ascension. This indeed was before he was believed on in the world; but it is put last, because it was the crown of his exaltation, and because it is not only his ascension that is meant, but his sitting at the right hand of God, where he ever lives, making intercession, and has all power, both in heaven and earth

Henry concludes:

It being a great mystery, we should rather humbly adore it, and piously believe it, than curiously pry into it, or be too positive in our explications of it and determinations about it, further than the holy scriptures have revealed it to us.

MacArthur gives us advice on how we can uphold the truth:

We hold up the truth this way. First, by hearing it. First, by hearing it. Jesus said, “If you have ears to hear, you better hear,” Matthew 13:9. In Revelation 2 and 3, the Spirit says, “If you have ears to hear, you better hear.” And you need to hear the Word of God. You can’t uphold the Word if you don’t hear the Word … “Happy is the man who hears Me,” God says.

Secondly, memorize it. You hold it up when you memorize it. It’s not enough to just hear it, you’ve got to have it in your memory

There are a lot of people who just – they don’t know the Scripture, they’ve never memorized it. Their Christianity is limited to coming and hearing. But there’s a second step: you need to memorize the Word of God, to commit it to your mind, so that it’s there, so you can give a reason for the hope that is within you to anyone who asks you. You can give an answer to every man for the faith that you possess.

Third thing is to meditate on it. In Joshua 1:8, it tells us that we are to take the book of the law and meditate on it day and night, and observe to do all that is written therein, and then we will have a prosperous way and a successful life. We are to hear the Word, to memorize the Word. Psalm 119:11 says that’s hiding it in our hearts so we don’t sin …

Fourth, study it. Second Timothy 2:15, “Make diligence to study that you might be approved of God, a workman that needs not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.” So we will be able as a church – and I’m asking you as an individual, to recognize that you’re involved in this too; whatever your ministry might be, your purpose is to hold up the truth …

… I tell you, we are so bombarded with words in our society, it’s a wonder any of our minds can still meditate on the things of God. There is a tremendous need for insulation in that area. Fourthly, study it, dig into it, analyze it, understand it.

Then, fifthly, holding up the truth means obeying it. What good would it do to hear, memorize, meditate, study, and then not obey it? That would be hypocrisy. Obey it. Luke 11:28, Jesus said, “Blessed is the man who hears My word and keeps it,” – or – “hears My words and keeps them.” We are to be obedient. We are to do what it says.

Sixthly, we are upholding the truth in the church by defending it. Paul says in Philippians 1:17, “I’m set for the defense of the gospel.” The truth is always attacked, people always coming against the truth; and we need to be able to defend that. We need to be set for the defense of the gospel. So we hear it, memorize it, meditate on it, study it, obey it, defend it.

Seventh, live it. Titus 2:10, “We are to adorn the doctrine of God.” How do you adorn the doctrine of God? By living it. Colossians 3:16, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.” And then what happens is songs, hymns, spiritual songs, right marriage relationships, right parental/child relationships, right employee/employer relationships. Everything flows out of a Word-controlled life. So we are to live it.

And the last way we hold it up is by proclaiming it, by proclaiming it, “going into all the world and preaching the gospel to every creature, by teaching all men to observe everything Christ has said,” as it says in Matthew chapter 28, verse 20.

So we then hold up the truth. We hear it, memorize it, meditate on it, study it, obey it, defend it, live it, and proclaim it; and that’s the mission of the church at its very heart. “We are as a church called into this world to shine as lights in the darkness,” – Philippians 2:15 says – “holding forth the word of life,” – verse 16 goes on from there – “holding forth the word of life.” That is our task. We are, in this world, the foundation and the pillar that holds up the truth.

What a great mission we have, isn’t it? What a wonderful calling we have.

Paul goes on to discuss those who depart from the faith.

Next time — 1 Timothy 4:1-5

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday, is March 26, 2023.

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Part 1 of this exegesis covers the first 19 verses.

When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went to meet Him; Mary stayed at home (verse 20).

John MacArthur describes what it was like at home during this time of grief and mourning:

Let me give you kind of a picture.  When someone died, as I said, they put them in the ground right away.  Burial followed death immediately.  As a result of the death, people would be notified.  They would come to the house.  There would be a procession, a procession to wherever they were going to place the body.  They’re not necessarily digging a hole, but like Jesus who was buried in a cave.  There were many caves in the Bethany area as well as around Jerusalem.  Many believers were buried this way all over the ancient world around the Mediterranean.

So it’s very likely they put Him in some kind of cave on some kind of shelf, which is typically what they did in catacombs kind of places.  He would be placed there.  The procession would then go back to the house and mourners would stay for seven days, seven days.  This is how long the initial part of the funeral lasted.  For seven days, people would be sitting in the house.  Now, they couldn’t eat until the body was taken to be buried.  They didn’t want any kind of levity.  They didn’t want any kind of joy being expressed.  They didn’t want any kind of normalcy until the body had been buried, and then they would serve a meal.  They actually had designed a meal of bread, hard-boiled eggs and lentils, kind of a traditional meal to feed the people who were going to stay

Then they would continue to have to care for those people or others would bring food as the mourners stayed for seven days.  What they did was not just sit quietly like Job’s friends and say nothing.  They wailed out loud.  They mourned.  They wailed loudly.  Women led this, so it was kind of a screaming, wailing situation.  They saw this as comfort because of the sympathy behind it.  It was traditional.  They expected it.  For seven days, this wailing went on. 

So when Jesus comes and Lazarus has been dead four days, this is still in full bloom.  Sympathy was everybody’s duty.  It was really a beautiful custom.  By the way, at the end of the seven days, the wailing, sort of the formal wailing – and by the way, there were hired mourners as well, people who were professional wailers who sort of led the rest.  They embraced that family for seven days, and then after the seven days of really intense wailing, they would also carry on mourning for 30 days.  There would be some expressions openly, publicly of mourning for 30 days as those friends and those people came around.  During the time of wailing and mourning, there would be reminiscences and eulogies and remembrances.  There would be the sharing of stories and whatever was necessary to comfort.  It really was a beautiful custom. 

MacArthur offers possibilities on how Martha would have heard Jesus was there:

… maybe the messenger who came with them ran ahead. Do you remember the messenger who went to tell Jesus that Lazarus was sick? He must have come back with them. Maybe he waited the two days they waited, and then came back with them and maybe ran ahead a little bit. We can’t be certain about that, but somebody informed her that Jesus was near, but not quite at the village.

She heard that Jesus was coming, went to meet Him, but Mary stayed at the house. Now, here we come to these two sisters again, and they perform kind of according to their personality and their temperament. If you go back to Luke 10 for a minute, this is where we meet them earlier in the ministry of Jesus, quite a bit earlier in the ministry of Jesus. Jesus and His disciples are traveling along and He enters a village. By the way, it’s Bethany, that same village, and a woman named Martha welcomed Him into her home. She knew about Him, must have known about Him. We don’t know at this point how much. She welcomed Him into her home. “She had a sister called Mary who was seated at the Lord’s feet, listening to His word.”

… And she came up to Him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister had left me to do all the serving alone?”  I mean that’s a pretty bold lady.  “Then tell her to help me.”  Whoa.  “But the Lord answered and said to her, ‘Martha, Martha.” 

You know, when anybody repeats your name twice, you know you’re in trouble?  My mother was just, “Johnny, Johnny.”  “Martha, Martha, you’re worried and bothered about so many things.”  They don’t matter.  “Only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.”  No way I’m going to tell her to go to the kitchen and fuss around.  She’s chosen the right thing.  So there’s the initial characterization.  Mary is the pensive, thoughtful, inward, melancholy kind of personality and Martha is the busy one, the active one, the aggressive one.  So we see that again. 

Go back to John 11.  The word comes.  She gets the word that the Savior is on the way, and as soon as she gets the word that He’s on the way, she charges in that direction.  Verse 20, Mary stays back.  She’s melancholy.  She’s broken hearted.  She’s sad.  She’s pensive, in deep sorrow.  She doesn’t even know Jesus is coming.  She doesn’t even know that because she doesn’t find it out until verse 28 when Martha comes back and tells her.  She’s just caught up in the loss of her brother, the agonizing loss of this brother that she loved.

Martha said to Jesus that, if He had been there, Lazarus would not have died (verse 21).

MacArthur thinks that that thought was going around in Martha’s head since Lazarus died:

… as Martha reached Jesus, the thought that had no doubt plagued her brain and she had shared it with Mary for the four days, was that Jesus should have been there; and if Jesus hadn’t left, this wouldn’t have happened …  “If you had been here my brother would not have died.” Here she is telling Him what to do again. This is definitely her. This is her. The first time she said anything to Him, she told Him what to do. The second time, she scolds Him again and tells Him if He’d had done what He should have been doing, He would have been there, and this never would have happened.

Even so, she said, she knew that God would give Jesus whatever He asked of Him (verse 22).

MacArthur says:

This lady got a solid Christology while she was in the kitchen overhearing what He was saying to Mary. She got it. By the way, Jesus no doubt stayed at their home Many times, but somehow with all that she knew, there was this pain that testifies to a faith that comes short of believing His power to raise the dead. She says, “I know you can ask the Father and you can do that now, and God will give you if it’s His will.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary says much the same:

How weak her faith was. She should have said, “Lord, thou canst do whatsoever thou wilt;” but she only says, “Thou canst obtain whatsoever thou prayest for.” She had forgotten that the Son had life in himself, that he wrought miracles by his own power.

Jesus told Martha that her brother would rise again (verse 23).

Martha took that to mean that he would rise again in resurrection on the last day (verse 24).

Henry explains, linking those verses to today’s first reading, Ezekiel 37:1-14, about the resurrection of the dry bones into an army:

Thy brother shall rise again. First, This was true of Lazarus in a sense peculiar to him: he was now presently to be raised; but Christ speaks of it in general as a thing to be done, not which he himself would do, so humbly did our Lord Jesus speak of what he did. He also expresses it ambiguously, leaving her uncertain at first whether he would raise him presently or not till the last day, that he might try her faith and patience. Secondly, It is applicable to all the saints, and their resurrection at the last day. Note, It is a matter of comfort to us, when we have buried our godly friends and relations, to think that they shall rise again. As the soul at death is not lost, but gone before, so the body is not lost, but laid up. Think you hear Christ saying, “Thy parent, thy child, thy yoke-fellow, shall rise again; these dry bones shall live.

As bone shall return to his bone in that day, so friend to his friend.

Jesus stated that He is the resurrection and the life; those who believe in Him, even though they die will live (verse 25) and everyone who lives and believes in Him will never die. Then He asked Martha if she believed that (verse 26).

MacArthur says:

I just want to affirm to you, folks, there will be a resurrection. This is not a misinterpretation of Scripture because Martha got the same thing from Jesus.  It is the truth.  You will rise to life or damnation.  You will receive a body for eternity.  Then our Lord says, “Martha, look, I am the resurrection and the life.”  Listen, not, “I will be.”  I – what?  “I am.”  This is the fifth of seven I ams in the gospel of John. 

I AM\\\am.  That’s the Tetragrammaton, the name of God.  I am the resurrection and the life.  He doesn’t say, “I can raise the dead.”  I am the resurrection.  I can pray the Father to give life.  I am life.  “He who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.  Do you believe this?”  So here is this great claim, this claim to be the I am, to be the one who is the source of life.  I am the embodiment of life.  I am the life.

Just as in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.”  Not in the future, “I will be.”  In the present, “I am.”  Here is the I am. Jesus is the life itself. He is everlasting life. That everlasting life, by the way, that resurrected life in heaven is for anyone who believes. Do you believe? That’s the compelling question. Do you believe? If you do not believe, you are without excuse. If you do not believe that He is the resurrection and the life, you are without excuse. Why? You must believe He is the life. He created everything that lives. You must believe He is the resurrection because He not only raised the dead, but He himself was raised from the dead; and because He lives, we live also.

Martha affirmed her own faith, saying, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world’ (verse 27). That is what the Old Testament teaches.

MacArthur says:

She didn’t even know about the cross yet because He hadn’t died. She didn’t know about His resurrection yet because it hadn’t happened, but she believed everything that had been revealed up to that point. She is an Old Testament saint. She is an Old Testament believer. I do believe. I do believe.

After Martha professed her belief in Jesus, she went back to the house to fetch her sister Mary, telling her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you’ (verse 28).

Henry says:

[2.] She called her secretly, and whispered it in her ear, because there was company by, Jews, who were no friends to Christ. The saints are called into the fellowship of Jesus Christ by an invitation that is secret and distinguishing, given to them and not to others; they have meat to eat that the world knows not of, joy that a stranger does not intermeddle with. [3.] She called her by order from Christ; he bade her go call her sister. This call that is effectual, whoever brings it, is sent by Christ. The Master is come, and calleth for thee. First, She calls Christ the Master, didaskalos, a teaching master; by that title he was commonly called and known among them. Mr. George Herbert took pleasure in calling Christ, my Master. Secondly, She triumphs in his arrival: The Master is come. He whom we have long wished and waited for, he is come, he is come; this was the best cordial in the present distress. “Lazarus is gone, and our comfort in him is gone; but the Master is come, who is better than the dearest friend, and has that in him which will abundantly make up all our losses. He is come who is our teacher, who will teach us how to get good by our sorrow (Ps 94 12), who will teach, and so comfort.”

When Mary heard what Martha said, she rose quickly to go to Him (verse 29).

Jesus was still not in the village at that point, but at the place where Martha had met Him (verse 30).

The Jews who were in the house consoling Mary saw her get up quickly and leave; they followed her because they thought she was going to her brother’s tomb to weep there (verse 31). In other words, they wanted to be available to console her at the tomb and not leave her on her own.

Now we have a body of witnesses for the upcoming miracle.

Henry says:

Those Jews that followed Mary were thereby led to Christ, and became the witnesses of one of his most glorious miracles. It is good cleaving to Christ’s friends in their sorrows, for thereby we may come to know him better.

Note that Mary says the same thing to Jesus as had Martha in verse 21, the big difference being that Mary knelt at His feet when she spoke those words (verse 32).

Henry points out:

Now here, [1.] Her posture is very humble and submissive: She fell down at his feet, which was more than Martha did, who had a greater command of her passions. She fell down not as a sinking mourner, but fell down at his feet as a humble petitioner. This she did in presence of the Jews that attended her, who, though friends to her and her family, yet were bitter enemies to Christ; yet in their sight she fell at Christ’s feet, as one that was neither ashamed to own the veneration she had for Christ nor afraid of disobliging her friends and neighbours by it. Let them resent it as they pleased, she falls at his feet; and, if this be to be vile, she will be yet more vile; see Cant 8 1. We serve a Master of whom we have no reason to be ashamed, and whose acceptance of our services is sufficient to balance the reproach of men and all their revilings. [2.] Her address is very pathetic: Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died. Christ’s delay was designed for the best, and proved so; yet both the sisters very indecently cast the same in his teeth, and in effect charge him with the death of their brother.

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews also weeping, He was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved (verse 33).

Both our commentators say that Jesus experienced a deep, groaning inner pain. In today’s secular world, we would call it an existential pain in the truest sense of the word: a yawning chasm of sorrow.

MacArthur tells us:

“He was deeply moved,” deeply moved.  Literally weeping is klaiō in the Greek.  It means to sob.  And when He sees all this sobbing, He was deeply moved.  That is a very interesting word, deeply moved.  It can mean being emotional.  It can mean being angry.  It can mean being indignant.  It can mean groaning, feeling inner pain and turmoil.  This is deep emotion.  This is a word that sort of grabs everything.  There is sorrow, sadness, indigence, anger, suffering.  It’s just every emotion grips Him in His spirit, in His inner person, His person, and He was troubled, reflexive verb, troubled in Himself or He allowed Himself to feel the trouble.  He let Himself feel everything.

This is like what Hebrews says, “He is in all points tempted like as we are.”  He’s been touched with the feelings of our infirmities as our great High Priest.  He’s sad because He’s lost His friends.  Now, He loved Lazarus.  It says that back in verse 3, and it’s phileō.  It’s, He had an affection for him, human.  He lost His friend.

He loved Mary and Martha.  There’s no question that He loved them.  Everybody recognized how much He loved them.  But there’s more there than that.  It’s not just the pain that He feels in the loss of a friend.  It’s not just the pain that He feels as He identifies with these two sisters.  He feels a far more transcendent pain.  He feels a cosmic pain.  He understands that He is surrounded by unbelievers, who are representative of a nation of unbelievers who are all being catapulted into eternal judgment because they will not receive Him.  He understands that looking down through human history.  He understands the pain and suffering of all humanity that faces the same inevitable hour of human loss.  He understands that how severe this loss is when you know you’re losing one to hell forever. 

I mean this is a massive moment of agonyMaybe a little bit like His agony in the garden as He anticipates the sin-bearing.  He deeply enters in, not only to the wounded hearts and sorrows of people who are broken because they’ve lost the one they love; but He sees way more than that.  He understands what sin has done to the world and what unbelief has done to these people who are gathered around Him. 

Henry offers this analysis:

… Christ not only seemed concerned, but he groaned in the spirit; he was inwardly and sincerely affected with the case. David’s pretended friends counterfeited sympathy, to disguise their enmity (Ps 41 6); but we must learn of Christ to have our love and sympathy without dissimulation. Christ’s was a deep and hearty sigh.

[2.] He was troubled. He troubled himself; so the phrase is, very significantly. He had all the passions and affections of the human nature, for in all things he must be like to his brethren; but he had a perfect command of them, so that they were never up, but when and as they were called; he was never troubled, but when he troubled himself, as he saw cause. He often composed himself to trouble, but was never discomposed or disordered by it. He was voluntary both in his passion and in his compassion. He had power to lay down his grief, and power to take it again.

Jesus asked where they had placed Lazarus, and the mourners replied, ‘Lord, come and see’ (verse 34).

Jesus began to weep (verse 35).

It’s even better in the King James Bible, which gives us the shortest sentence in Scripture:

35 Jesus wept.

Henry tells us:

A very short verse, but it affords many useful instructions. [1.] That Jesus Christ was really and truly man, and partook with the children, not only of flesh and blood, but of a human soul, susceptible of the impressions of joy, and grief, and other affections. Christ gave this proof of his humanity, in both senses of the word; that, as a man, he could weep, and, as a merciful man, he would weep, before he gave this proof of his divinity. [2.] That he was a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief, as was foretold, Isa 53 3. We never read that he laughed, but more than once we have him in tears. Thus he shows not only that a mournful state will consist with the love of God, but that those who sow to the Spirit must sow in tears. [3.] Tears of compassion well become Christians, and make them most to resemble Christ. It is a relief to those who are in sorrow to have their friends sympathize with them, especially such a friend as their Lord Jesus.

The Jews said (verse 36), ‘See how he loved him!’

But some of them asked (verse 37), ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Henry rightly calls this remark ‘sly’:

Here it is slyly insinuated, First, That the death of Lazarus being (as it seemed by his tears) a great grief to him, if he could have prevented it he would, and therefore because he did not they incline to think that he could not; as, when he was dying, they concluded that he could not, because he did not, save himself, and come down from the cross; not considering that divine power is always directed in its operations by divine wisdom, not merely according to his will, but according to the counsel of his will, wherein it becomes us to acquiesce. If Christ’s friends, whom he loves, die,—if his church, whom he loves, be persecuted and afflicted,—we must not impute it to any defect either in his power or love, but conclude that it is because he sees it for the best. Secondly, That therefore it might justly be questioned whether he did indeed open the eyes of the blind, that is, whether it was not a sham. His not working this miracle they thought enough to invalidate the former; at least, it should seem that he had limited power, and therefore not a divine one. Christ soon convinced these whisperers, by raising Lazarus from the dead, which was the greater work, that he could have prevented his death, but therefore did not because he would glorify himself the more.

Serendipitously, we had the reading of Christ curing the blind man last week in the reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, Year A (2023) here and here.

Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb, which was a cave with a stone lying against it (verse 38).

Henry explains why our Lord was disturbed:

Christ repeats his groans upon his coming near the grave (v. 38): Again groaning in himself, he comes to the grave: he groaned, (1.) Being displeased at the unbelief of those who spoke doubtingly of his power, and blamed him for not preventing the death of Lazarus; he was grieved for the hardness of their hearts. He never groaned so much for his own pains and sufferings as for the sins and follies of men, particularly Jerusalem’s, Matt 23 37. (2.) Being affected with the fresh lamentations which, it is likely, the mourning sisters made when they came near the grave, more passionately and pathetically than before, his tender spirit was sensibly touched with their wailings. (3.) Some think that he groaned in spirit because, to gratify the desire of his friends, he was to bring Lazarus again into this sinful troublesome world, from that rest into which he was newly entered; it would be a kindness to Martha and Mary, but it would be to him like thrusting one out to a stormy sea again who was newly got into a safe and quiet harbour. If Lazarus had been let alone, Christ would quickly have gone to him into the other world; but, being restored to life, Christ quickly left him behind in this world. (4.) Christ groaned as one that would affect himself with the calamitous state of the human nature, as subject to death, from which he was now about to redeem Lazarus.

Then we come to another famous verse — the previous one being verse 35 — one which I have also committed to memory in the King James Version.

Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone’, and Martha said that, after four days, there was a stench (verse 39).

The King James Version is far superior:

39 Jesus said, Take ye away the stone. Martha, the sister of him that was dead, saith unto him, Lord, by this time he stinketh: for he hath been dead four days.

It was a very typical thing of Martha, a practical woman, to say.

Henry explains why she said it:

Probably Martha perceived the body to smell, as they were removing the stone, and therefore cried out thus …

It is not so easy to say what was Martha’s design in saying this. [1.] Some think she said it in a due tenderness, and such as decency teaches to the dead body; now that it began to putrefy, she did not care it should be thus publicly shown and made a spectacle of. [2.] Others think she said it out of a concern for Christ, lest the smell of the dead body should be offensive to him. That which is very noisome is compared to an open sepulchre, Ps 5 9. If there were any thing noisome she would not have her Master near it; but he was none of those tender and delicate ones that cannot bear as ill smell; if he had, he would not have visited the world of mankind, which sin had made a perfect dunghill, altogether noisome, Ps 14 3. [3.] It should seem, by Christ’s answer, that it was the language of her unbelief and distrust: “Lord, it is too late now to attempt any kindness to him; his body begins to rot, and it is impossible that this putrid carcase should live. She gives up his case as helpless and hopeless, there having been no instances, either of late or formerly, of any raised to life after they had begun to see corruption. When our bones are dried, we are ready to say, Our hope is lost. Yet this distrustful word of hers served to make the miracle both the more evident and the more illustrious; by this it appeared that he was truly dead, and not in a trance; for, though the posture of a dead body might be counterfeited, the smell could not. Her suggesting that it could not be done puts the more honour upon him that did it.

Henry also tells us why Jesus asked for the stone to be moved:

He would have this stone removed that all the standersby might see the body lie dead in the sepulchre, and that way might be made for its coming out, and it might appear to be a true body, and not a ghost or spectre. He would have some of the servants to remove it, that they might be witnesses, by the smell of the putrefaction of the body, and that therefore it was truly dead. It is a good step towards the raising of a soul to spiritual life when the stone is taken away, when prejudices are removed and got over, and way made for the word to the heart, that it may do its work there, and say what it has to say.

Jesus perceived Martha’s doubt because He reminded her (verse 40), ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’

MacArthur makes an excellent observation:

You say you believe.  If you believe, you’re going to see the glory.  Get your eyes off the corpse and on the Christ.  Set your heart on the Lord.  Wait to see the glory revealed.  We need to live in that kind of expectancy.  We’re not looking for miracles, but I will tell you this, folks.  When you really believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you see Him display His glory throughout all of your life.  I tell people all the time: I live in the middle of a glory display all the time.  I’ve never seen a miracle, but I live in the middle of a glory display by the amazing, astounding, incomprehensible providence of God by which He orders every circumstance, every day of my life to reveal His purposes and His will.  The complexity of it is more staggering than if He interrupted natural law and did a single miracle.  How many miracles does it take to create a complex reality out of all kinds of contingencies of the non-miraculous?  It’s what He does every day. 

My whole life is a glory display.  I just go from one day to the next, to the next, to the next.  And if you’re looking and believing, you will see the same thing You will see God in your life.  You will see God in circumstances.  You will see God working His purposes.  That’s what He called upon her to look for.

So they took away the stone and, looking upward, Jesus prayed, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me’ (verse 41)’; ‘I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me’ (verse 42).

Henry says:

Thus he stirred up himself to take hold on God in the prayer he was to make, that he might offer it up with strong crying, Heb 5 7. Ministers, when they are sent by the preaching of the gospel to raise dead souls, should be much affected with the deplorable condition of those they preach to and pray for, and groan in themselves to think of it …

1. He applies himself to his living Father in heaven, so he had called him (ch. 6 17), and so eyes him here.

(1.) The gesture he used was very significant: He lifted up his eyes, an outward expression of the elevation of his mind, and to show those who stood by whence he derived his power; also to set us an example; this outward sign is hereby recommended to our practice; see ch. 17 1. Look how those will answer it who profanely ridicule it; but that which is especially charged upon us hereby is to lift up our hearts to God in the heavens; what is prayer, but the ascent of the soul to God, and the directing of its affections and motions heavenward?

(2.) His address to God was with great assurance, and such a confidence as became him: Father, I thank thee that thou hast heard me.

[1.] He has here taught us, by his own example, First, In prayer to call God Father, and to draw nigh to him as children to a father, with a humble reverence, and yet with a holy boldness. Secondly, In our prayers to praise him, and, when we come to beg for further mercy, thankfully to acknowledge former favours. Thanksgivings, which bespeak God’s glory (not our own, like the Pharisee’s God, I thank thee), are decent forms into which to put our supplications.

[2.] But our Saviour’s thanksgiving here was intended to express the unshaken assurance he had of the effecting of this miracle, which he had in his own power to do in concurrence with his Father: “Father, I thank thee that my will and thine are in this matter, as always, the same.” Elijah and Elisha raised the dead, as servants, by entreaty; but Christ, as a Son, by authority, having life in himself, and power to quicken whom he would; and he speaks of this as his own act (v. 11): I go, that I may awake him; yet he speaks of it as what he had obtained by prayer, for his Father heard him: probably he put up the prayer for it when he groaned in spirit once and again (v. 33, 38), in a mental prayer, with groanings which could not be uttered.

When He had said that prayer, Jesus cried with a loud voice (verse 43), ‘Lazarus, come out!’

MacArthur gives us the emphasis from the original manuscript:

If you were reading this in the original language, it would read like this: “He yelled in a loud voice with a loud voice.”  Why the double statement?  He is literally at the pinnacle of His voice, and He had a powerful voice, you can be certain.  He was a teacher.  He taught every day.  He taught in the open air, no amplification, except that which was natural.  He could speak to crowds of 20,000 people and be heard.  A powerful voice.  I’m convinced that probably was the most melodious voice ever created.  How could it be anything less than that.  And with that loud, commanding voice, maybe like the voice of many waters in the imagery of Revelation chapter 1, He yells at the top of His voice without distorting His words and says, “Lazarus, come forth.” 

The dead man then came out, his hands and feet bound in strips of cloth and his face wrapped in a cloth; Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go’ (verse 44).

I envision Lazarus wrapped like a mummy.

Henry tells us that this resurrection miracle not only recalls Ezekiel 37 but also our Lord’s resurrection and his Second Coming, when we shall be joined with our bodies once more for eternity:

By his word, he saith to souls, Live, yea, he saith to them, Live, Ezek 16 6. Arise from the dead, Eph 5 14. The spirit of life from God entered into those that had been dead and dry bones, when Ezekiel prophesied over them, Ezek 37 10. Those who infer from the commands of the word to turn and live that man has a power of his own to convert and regenerate himself might as well infer from this call to Lazarus that he had a power to raise himself to life. Secondly, Of the sound of the archangel’s trumpet at the last day, with which they that sleep in the dust shall be awakened and summoned before the great tribunal, when Christ shall descend with a shout, a call, or command, like this here, Come forth, Ps 50 4. He shall call both to the heavens for their souls, and to the earth for their bodies, that he may judge his people.

Many of the Jews who had accompanied Mary to Lazarus’s tomb and had seen what Jesus did believed in Him (verse 45).

MacArthur says that Lazarus might have lived another 30 years:

Tradition says he lived another 30 years.  Maybe that’s true.  Certainly, he lived for a while.  This was not a temporary resurrection in that sense, in a human sense.  We don’t know anything about the reunion of Mary and Martha.  We don’t know anything about the shock and awe that must have just literally roared through the mourners.  We don’t know anything about that.  We don’t know anything about the conversations that Lazarus had after this.

Wikipedia states that the Eastern Orthodox tradition says that:

Mary’s brother Lazarus was cast out of Jerusalem in the persecution against the Jerusalem Church following the martyrdom of St. Stephen. His sisters Mary and Martha fled Judea with him, assisting him in the proclaiming of the Gospel in various lands.[17] According to Cyprian tradition, the three later moved to Cyprus, where Lazarus became the first Bishop of Kition (modern Larnaca).[18] All three died in Cyprus.[citation needed]

Whatever happened, the main point is, as MacArthur says:

All we’re interested in is the glory of the Son, and when He said, “Lazarus, come out,” and in a moment Lazarus was standing there, that’s the point of the story.  The rest is irrelevant.  In fact, in verse 40, Jesus says to Martha, “Didn’t I say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” and they did.  The purpose of this was to bring glory to God, and glory to God incarnate, the Lord Jesus Christ. 

Ending on verse 45, how many are the ‘many’ that believed in Jesus?

MacArthur says:

I don’t know what the number is.  Maybe it’s dozens.  Maybe it’s multiple of 20.  Maybe it’s 100 or more.  I don’t know what the “many” is, but many mourners came, and they have been there now four days already, filling up the first seven days when everybody would be there.  Now the resurrection has happened, and the mourners are still there.  They have known the family.  They have known Lazarus.  They know he was dead.  They know he’s been in the grave four days.  They know what that means because Jews don’t embalm.  They get it …

They believed and they were given the right to become children of God.  Their sins were forgiven.  They were redeemed.  They became the children of God.  They ceased being the children of the devil.  They are the believing many, many in a relative sense.  Many of the number that were there; not many of the nation.  Many of the number that were there.  They believed. 

However, not everyone believed. John 11:46 says:

46 But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done.

A few verses later we read:

53 So from that day on they planned to put him to death.

54 Jesus therefore no longer walked about openly among the Jews but went from there to a town called Ephraim in the region near the wilderness, and he remained there with the disciples.

His hour had come.

The Fifth Sunday in Lent, Passion Sunday, is March 26, 2023.

Traditionally, the Fifth Sunday in Lent — Passion Sunday — begins a two-week season called Passiontide, which encompasses Palm Sunday (next week) and Holy Week.

Some traditionalist churches cover crosses and images with dark or black cloth from this Sunday throughout most of Holy Week. Crosses and crucifixes can be uncovered after Good Friday services. Statues remain covered until the Easter Vigil Mass takes place on Holy Saturday.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 11:1-45

11:1 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha.

11:2 Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill.

11:3 So the sisters sent a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.”

11:4 But when Jesus heard it, he said, “This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.”

11:5 Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus,

11:6 after having heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

11:7 Then after this he said to the disciples, “Let us go to Judea again.”

11:8 The disciples said to him, “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?”

11:9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world.

11:10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.”

11:11 After saying this, he told them, “Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.”

11:12 The disciples said to him, “Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.”

11:13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep.

11:14 Then Jesus told them plainly, “Lazarus is dead.

11:15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.”

11:16 Thomas, who was called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”

11:17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus had already been in the tomb four days.

11:18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away,

11:19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother.

11:20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.

11:21 Martha said to Jesus, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.

11:22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.”

11:23 Jesus said to her, “Your brother will rise again.”

11:24 Martha said to him, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.”

11:25 Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live,

11:26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?”

11:27 She said to him, “Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, the one coming into the world.”

11:28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, “The Teacher is here and is calling for you.”

11:29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him.

11:30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him.

11:31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there.

11:32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

11:33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved.

11:34 He said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”

11:35 Jesus began to weep.

11:36 So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”

11:37 But some of them said, “Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?”

11:38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it.

11:39 Jesus said, “Take away the stone.” Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, “Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead four days.”

11:40 Jesus said to her, “Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?”

11:41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upward and said, “Father, I thank you for having heard me.

11:42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.”

11:43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!”

11:44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”

11:45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

As this is most of John 11, I will write this in multiple posts.

This last great miracle of resurrection was late in our Lord’s ministry and was His final truly public miracle. His last miracle was healing the Roman soldier’s ear in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified.

John’s Gospel is the only one that has the story of Lazarus’s resurrection.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains possible reasons for that:

In this chapter we have the history of that illustrious miracle which Christ wrought a little before his death—the raising of Lazarus to life, which is recorded only by this evangelist; for the other three confine themselves to what Christ did in Galilee, where he resided most, and scarcely ever carried their history into Jerusalem till the passion-week: whereas John’s memoirs relate chiefly to what passed at Jerusalem; this passage therefore was reserved for his pen. Some suggest that, when the other evangelists wrote, Lazarus was alive, and it would not well agree either with his safety or with his humility to have it recorded till now, when it is supposed he was dead. It is more largely recorded than any other of Christ’s miracles, not only because there are many circumstances of it so very instructive and the miracle of itself so great a proof of Christ’s mission, but because it was an earnest of that which was to be the crowning proof of all—Christ’s own resurrection.

John MacArthur says:

It was J.C. Ryle, the English cleric, who looked at this chapter and wrote these words, “For grandeur and simplicity, for pathos and solemnity, nothing was ever written like it.” It’s a pretty amazing statement from a man such as he was. This is an amazing chapter. It is the account of the miracle of our Lord raising Lazarus from the dead. And while the story, of course, in short is very familiar to us, in its detail, it is much more rich. So we want to make sure that we cover the detail. This is the climactic, culminating, fitting sign to end John’s list of signs in this gospel that point to the deity of Christ.

John’s purpose, we all know that, is to present Jesus Christ so that you might believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing, you might have life in His name. He has an apologetic purpose that you might believe Jesus is the Christ, and he has an evangelistic purpose that in believing you might receive eternal life, but it’s all about Christ. It’s all about Christ. Here, in chapter 11, we come to the last and most monumental public miracle that Jesus did. It’s the climactic one for John. There is one later miracle, but it’s in the dark and very private because of how it happened. It’s in the garden and it was Jesus reaching over and giving Malchus a new ear after Peter had hacked it off. But apart from that miracle in the dark, this is the last great public miracle that Jesus did …

If you look at verse 15 in this passage, Jesus says about not being there when he died, “I’m glad for your sakes, I was not there so that you may believe.” This miracle not only is an undeniable permanent evidence of the deity of Christ. It was for the purpose of producing greater faith in the disciples.

A certain man, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha, was ill (verse 1).

This is not the same Lazarus of Luke 16, whom the rich man in hell saw nestled in Abraham’s bosom. Nonetheless, our commentators find it of interest that Jesus chose the name Lazarus for that parable.

MacArthur says:

His name, Lazarus, not to be confused with the Lazarus in the beggar story, but an interesting parallel, isn’t it? That it was an issue of resurrection that was brought up in that story about that other Lazarus. That was a fictional Lazarus in the story that Jesus invented. But why two named Lazarus? It was a very common name, a very common name from the Old Testament name, Eleazar, Eleazar, a very familiar Old Testament Hebrew name. It means, whom God helps, whom God helps.

Henry explains how the name Lazarus evolved out of Eleazar:

… his Hebrew name probably was Eleazar, which being contracted, and a Greek termination put to it, is made Lazarus. Perhaps in prospect of this history our Saviour made use of the name of Lazarus in that parable wherein he designed to set forth the blessedness of the righteous in the bosom of Abraham immediately after death, Luke 16 22.

Our commentators have a few notes on Bethany.

Henry says:

They lived at Bethany, a village nor far from Jerusalem, where Christ usually lodged when he came up to the feasts. It is here called the town of Mary and Martha, that is, the town where they dwelt, as Bethsaida is called the city of Andrew and Peter, ch. 1 44.

MacArthur says there were two villages named Bethany:

They lived in the village of Bethany.  That’s another interesting note because at the time that Jesus gets this message, He’s in another Bethany.  The tenth chapter ends in verse 40.  “He went away again beyond the Jordan to the place where John was first baptizing and was staying there.”  That place, according to 1:28 of John was also called Bethany.  So there was a Bethany beyond Jordan a day away from the Bethany of Lazarus and his two sisters. 

Bethany is a small village.  It means, house of the poor, house of poverty.  That would be characteristic of that village.  Perhaps that’s characteristic of the other village where Jesus was currently ministering.  And by the way, many were coming and believing in Him.  That’s how chapter 10 ends.  Once He got out of Jerusalem, and out beyond the Jordan back where John started to minister, He began to reap the harvest of what John had planted in proclaiming Him.  And the people out there said everything John said about Him is true, and they came to believe.  That’s how chapter 10 ends

Bethany, two miles from the eastern wall of Jerusalem, down the back slope of the eastern wall, across the Kidron brook, up the Mount of Olives around the bend and you’re in this little village of Bethany …

I can remember many years ago when Patricia and I were there and a number of times visiting there myself, but Patricia and I were there. I would say when we were there to find the traditional site of the grave of Lazarus and to go down the deep stairs into what is traditional said to be the place where he was entombed. I remember it was an Arab village at the time. There were Arabic women living there, Palestinian women living there, and we had the very bizarre occasion – Patricia will remember this – of having a lady offering us the opportunity to purchase her baby.

Now, I don’t know whether that was something she used as a device, but we were not interested in buying her baby. But that village, to this very day, is in Arabic named after Lazarus. So that’s the little village, and it is as nondescript, the last time I was there perhaps as it was even in ancient times.

Mary was the one who anointed our Lord with perfume; her brother Lazarus was ill (verse 2).

Was she Mary, the fallen woman who anointed His feet similarly at the Pharisee’s house?

Henry does not think so:

Here were two sisters, Martha and Mary, who seem to have been the housekeepers, and to have managed the affairs of the family, while perhaps Lazarus lived a retired life, and gave himself to study and contemplation. Here was a decent, happy, well-ordered family, and a family that Christ was very much conversant with, where yet there was neither husband nor wife (for aught that appears), but the house kept by a brother, and his sisters dwelling together in unity.

One of the sisters is particularly described to be that Mary which anointed the Lord with ointment, v. 2. Some think she was that woman that we read of, Luke 7 37, 38, who had been a sinner, a bad woman. I rather think it refers to that anointing of Christ which this evangelist relates (ch. 12 3); for the evangelists do never refer one to another, but John frequently refers in one place of his gospel to another. Extraordinary acts of piety and devotion, that come from an honest principle of love to Christ, will not only find acceptance with him, but gain reputation in the church, Matt 26 13.

Henry refers to Luke 7:36-50.

Nor does MacArthur:

What’s going on here?  That story doesn’t come until chapter 12.  But listen, that’s okay because that story had already been told in detail in Matthew and already told in detail in Mark and Matthew and Mark had been circulating for a very long time by the year 90 in the first century when John writes this gospel.  And so even though he hasn’t yet given his account of it, he knows they know that that Mary is the one he’s talking about.

And so he literally builds his comment on the knowledge of Matthew and Mark, gospels written very much earlier.

MacArthur is referring to Matthew 26 and Mark 14, when Mary anointed our Lord in the house of Simon the leper.

Mary — Miriam — was as common a name then as it is now, so the Mary of Luke 7 is probably not the same as the Mary of John 11 and 12, Matthew 26 and Mark 14.

In any event, the Catholic, Episcopal and Lutheran churches’ feast day for Mary, Martha and Lazarus is July 29.

Mary and Martha sent a message to Jesus that Lazarus — ‘he whom you love’ — was ill (verse 3).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s Bible translations the verse is as follows:

3 Therefore his sisters sent unto him, saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.

MacArthur looks at ‘behold’:

So this is going to take a day, a day to get from Bethany one to Bethany two. The message is very cryptic, very short. “Lord,” they acknowledge He is Lord. “Behold,” which means, this is urgent; this is sudden; this demands immediate response. “He whom you love is sick.” That’s the whole message. “He whom you love is sick.”

Since Jesus had left back in verse 40 of chapter 10 some weeks earlier, this man had become sick.

Henry elaborates on ‘he whom you love’:

His sisters knew where Jesus was, a great way off beyond Jordan, and they sent a special messenger to him, to acquaint him with the affliction of their family … The message they sent was very short, not petitioning, much less prescribing or pressing, but barely relating the case with the tender insinuation of a powerful plea, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick. They do not say, He whom we love, but he whom thou lovest. Our greatest encouragements in prayer are fetched from God himself and from his grace. They do not say, Lord, behold, he who loveth thee, but he whom thou lovest; for herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us. Our love to him is not worth speaking of, but his to us can never be enough spoken of. 

MacArthur explains the word ‘love’ in that verse:

They talk only of Jesus’s love for Lazarus.  They think that will catch His heart, and here’s a very important insight: “He whom you love.”  The word love here is not agapaō, not divine love.  This is phileō, the love of a friend, personal affection, human love.  Jesus loved this man as a friend.  He had personal affection for him.  It’s obvious that as God, He loves the world, that as God He loves His own who are in the world, and He loves them to perfection.  He will tell them that in the upper room, but that’s not the thought here.  That thought comes later.  The thought here is this is a man for whom Jesus had deep affection.  This is a man who filled a need in his own life for a friend.

When Jesus heard the message, He said that Lazarus’s illness would not lead to death but rather to God’s glory, in that the Son of God would be glorified through it (verse 4).

Henry says that this refers to the upcoming miracle:

It was for the glory of God, for it was that the Son of God might be glorified thereby, as it gave him occasion to work that glorious miracle, the raising of him from the dead. As, before, the man was born blind that Christ might have the honour of curing him (ch. 9 3), so Lazarus must be sick and die, that Christ may be glorified as the Lord of life.

Serendipitously, we had the reading of Christ curing the blind man last week in the reading for the Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, Year A (2023) here and here.

John says that Jesus loved Martha, her sister and Lazarus (verse 5).

MacArthur points out that the Greek word for ‘love’ here is different to that in verse 3:

This time the word changes.  This is agapaō.  This is divine love.  He loved this man Lazarus, about which we don’t know anything.  He loved an obscure man like a man loves a friends.  But he also loved this whole family with a divine love because they belonged to Him spiritually, like He loves His own who are in the world even to the maximum.  So much love.  He loves with a divine love and He loves with a human love.

MacArthur has an observation on our Lord’s humanity:

I know we talk about the humanity of Jesus and we have to, and He’s fully human.  But almost all the time you hear someone talk about the humanity of Jesus they say, “Well, He lived and He hungered, and He thirsted, and He slept, and He was weary, and He died.”  And all of those are human things, but what makes humans unique is relationships, and this is explains why when He gets to the grave, He cries.  He cries at the thought that His friend is dead.  This is a beautiful insight into the full humanity of Jesus.  He is a man and like every person, He requires a friend, somebody who cares about Him.  A perfect man with all the needs of a man.

You see, this is part of what makes Him such a merciful, faithful High Priest able to be touched with all the feelings of our infirmities because some of our infirmities have nothing to do with physical well-beingThey had to do with relationships, right?  Right?  I mean isn’t the worst of it all?  Isn’t that where the most pain comes from?  You could probably take the cancer if all the relationships were what they should be, but His sympathy extends to understanding relationships.  He’s been there.  His friend that He had great affection for was sick, seriously sick. 

After hearing that Lazarus was ill, Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was (verse 6).

I never understood why until I read Henry’s and MacArthur’s reasons for the delay. It was to bolster the Apostles’ faith, as we see later on.

In verse 4, John uses the word ‘accordingly’ — ‘as such’. He inserted parenthetical information about our Lord’s love for the three. Then comes verse 5, stating the delay: ‘Accordingly … Jesus stayed two days longer in the place where he was’.

Henry explains:

Now one would think it should follow, When he heard therefore that he was sick he made all the haste that he could to him; if he loved them, now was a time to show it by hastening to them, for he knew they impatiently expected him. But he took the contrary way to show his love: it is not said, He loved them and yet he lingered; but he loved them and therefore he lingered; when he heard that his friend was sick, instead of coming post to him, he abode two days still in the same place where he was … If Christ had come presently, and cured the sickness of Lazarus, he had done no more than he did for many; if he had raised him to life when newly dead, no more than he had done for some: but, deferring his relief so long, he had an opportunity of doing more for him than for any. Note, God hath gracious intentions even in seeming delays, Isa 54 7, 8; 49 14, etc. Christ’s friends at Bethany were not out of his thoughts, though, when he heard of their distress, he made no haste to them. When the work of deliverance, temporal or spiritual, public or personal, stands at a stay, it does but stay the time, and every thing is beautiful in its season.

Christ had raised two people from the dead soon after they died: Jairus’s daughter and the son of the widow of Nain. The raising of Lazarus would be even greater because he had been dead for four days.

After the two days had elapsed, Jesus said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again’ (verse 7).

The disciples countered, no doubt bewildered, asking why He would want to go to Judea again when the Pharisees had only recently tried to stone Him (verse 8). That is recorded in John 8:59.

Jesus responded, asking them if there were not 12 hours of daylight, therefore, those who walk during the day do not stumble because they see the light of this world (verse 9), but those who walk at night stumble because the light is not in them (verse 10).

MacArthur explains those two verses:

He answers with a very interesting Proverb.  Verses 9 and 10, “Are there not twelve hours in the day?  If anyone walks in the day, he doesn’t stumble.  That is, nothing bad happens to him because he is in the light and he can see what he is doing and where he is going.  But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles.  Bad things happen because the light is not in him.”  What is the point of that sort of strange introduction? 

Well, at this point we are now moving from the man, the critical man and the concerned sisters to the disciples.  Now, they are puzzles.  Why would you step back into this and here’s His answer.  It’s a proverb, and the proverb is simple, very simple proverb.  You can’t lengthen the daylight.  You can’t shorten the daylight, right? Nothing any friend can do can lengthen the daylight.  Nothing any enemy can do can shorten the daylight.  It is what it is and it is fixed by God, and so is my life.  No enemy can shorten it.  No friend can lengthen it.  It is what it is.  And in that light of life which God has ordained for me, I will not stumble.  That is to say, nothing will happen to me that is outside the planI’m not going in the dark.  I’m going in the light of God’s divine day.  A day can’t finish before it’s ordained end. 

The time allotted to me to accomplish my earthly ministry is fixed.  It’s fixed by God …

Jesus knew that His hour was coming, but it hadn’t come yet, and many times He’d said, “My hour hasn’t come. My hour hasn’t come.” And He escaped all of the plots and all of the mob violence. This has great application for us I think to realize that if you’re walking in the Spirit and serving the Lord, you have your day. Being a coward and taking all kinds of precautionary steps and not being faithful isn’t going to lengthen it; and being bold in the face of enemies isn’t going to shorten it because it is what God has ordained it to be. 

Jesus then told the disciples that ‘our friend’ — meaning that they all knew him — Lazarus had fallen asleep, but He was going there to awaken him (verse 11).

The disciples took Jesus literally, because they said, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right’ (verse 12).

Jesus had been speaking about Lazarus’s death (verse 13). He then told the disciples plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead’ (verse 14).

Then He added, ‘For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him’ (verse 15).

That verse seems puzzling, but Jesus meant that the disciples’ faith would not have been increased had He been in Bethany and raised Lazarus from the dead sooner.

Henry says:

If he had been there time enough, he would have healed his disease and prevented his death, which would have been much for the comfort of Lazarus’s friends, but then his disciples would have seen no further proof of his power than what they had often seen, and, consequently, their faith had received no improvement; but now that he went and raised him from the dead, as there were many brought to believe on him who before did no (v. 45), so there was much done towards the perfecting of what was lacking in the faith of those that did, which Christ aimed at: To the intent that you may believe.

MacArthur adds:

The disciples were always struggling with faith, weren’t they?  “O ye of little faith, O ye of little faith, O ye of little faith.  Why don’t you believe?” 

Yes, they believed in Him.  Yes, they had affirmed that He was the Christ, the Son of God, but they needed faith to be strengthened and strengthened and strengthened.  I mean it wasn’t just that they would believe, but that Mary and Martha would have their faith strengthened.  And then down in verse 45, many Jews who came to Mary and got the whole story of the resurrection first hand, and were eyewitnesses of the living brother, believed in Him.  This is a glory display that’ll produce faith, and it’ll also produce hostility that drives Him to the cross right on schedule. 

Referring back to verses 7 and 8 about the return to Judea despite the dangers there, Thomas the Twin — Didymus — said to his fellow disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him’, meaning Jesus (verse 16).

Henry’s Bible phrases the verse as follows:

16 Then said Thomas, which is called Didymus, unto his fellow disciples, Let us also go, that we may die with him.

MacArthur says:

He gets a lot of bad press for that, but just think about this.  This is a courageous pessimist.  This is not a cowardly pessimist.  He didn’t say, “Let’s get out of here or we will all die with Him.”  He said, “Let’s go and die with Him.”  This man has great faith, and this man knows what Luke 9:23 means.  “If you want to come after Me, deny yourself.  Take up your – “what? “ – cross.”  It might cost us our lives, men.  Let’s go.

Henry explains the names Thomas and Didymus:

Thomas in Hebrew and Didymus in Greek signify a twin; it is said of Rebekah (Gen 25 24) that there were twins in her womb; the word is Thomim. Probably Thomas was a twin.

When Jesus arrived in the Bethany of Lazarus and his sisters, He found that his friend had been in the tomb for four days (verse 17).

Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles away (verse 18).

MacArthur gives us the timeline:

And so they go, and when they arrive he’s been dead four days; the day the messenger came, the two days, the day back, four days.

Henry has more:

When he came near the town, probably by the burying-place belonging to the town, he was told by the neighbours, or some persons whom he met, that Lazarus had been four days buried. Some think that Lazarus died the same day that the messenger came to Jesus with the tidings of his sickness, and so reckon two days for his abode in the same place and two days for his journey. I rather think that Lazarus died at the very instant that Jesus, “Our friend sleepeth, he is now newly fallen asleep;” and that the time between his death and burial (which among the Jews was but short), with the four days of his lying in the grave, was taken up in this journey

MacArthur tells us what happens to the human body once it has been dead for four days:

Some might argue that since there was no way to be certain someone was dead, perhaps this was just a resuscitation of someone who was temporarily in that condition.  But in the case of Lazarus, that’s not possible because this is someone who’s been dead four days, four days.  Now, that really does matter.  I mean it matters a lot.   

And just to help you know how much that matters, I did a little research this week to find out what happens to a body in four days.  Very interesting.  This was not a theological resource, but as I opened up some research material, I was amazed to find out that all of the bad stuff happens by 72 hours.  What happens in four days? 

The Jews did not embalm.  The Jews did nothing to stop the decay.  They wrapped the body and sprinkled spices on it to mitigate the smell.  That’s it.  Here’s what happens in four days, pretty grisly stuff.  The heart has stopped beating.  The body cells are then deprived of oxygen, and they begin to die.  Blood drains from throughout the circulatory system and pools in the low places.  Muscles begin to stiffen in what is known commonly by the Latin, rigor mortisThat sets in after three hours.

By 24 hours, the body has lost all its heat.  The muscles then lose their rigor mortis in 36 hours, and by 72 hours rigor mortis has vanished.  All stiffness is gone and the body is soft.  Looking a little bit deeper, as cells begin to die, bacteria go to work.  Your body is filled with bacteria, but that’s another subject.  The bacteria in the body of a dead person begin to attack, breaking the cells down.  The decomposing tissue takes on a horrific look and smell and emits green liquids by the 72nd hour.  The tissue releases hydrogen sulfide and methane as well as other gases.  A horrible smell is emitted.  Insects and animals will consume parts of the body if they can get at it. 

Meet Lazarus.  That’s the condition he’s in when Jesus arrives.  That’s important.  Everyone knows he is dead.  As Martha says in verse 39, “Lord, by this time there will be a stench,” or as the King James said, “He stinketh,” because he’s been dead four days. 

Look, they lived in a world of death.  They didn’t live in a sterile world of mortuaries and undertakers and embalming fluids and all of that where the body disappears and you never see anything but somebody in a casket who looks like the horizontal member of a cocktail party with a suit and tie and dressed up and make up

People lived with death.  They lived with the realities of death.  They lived with the horrors of death.  That’s very important.  It’s also very important to understand that there was a certain expectation, and it became a reality in this case of what a funeral was like.  When someone died, family, friends, neighbors, even connected strangers poured into their life.  Everybody showed up. 

As such, many of the Jews went to Martha and Mary to console them about the loss of their brother (verse 19).

This exegesis concludes with part 2.

bible-wornThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

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

1 Timothy 3:8-13

Qualifications for Deacons

Deacons likewise must be dignified, not double-tongued,[a] not addicted to much wine, not greedy for dishonest gain. They must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 And let them also be tested first; then let them serve as deacons if they prove themselves blameless. 11 Their wives likewise must[b] be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded, faithful in all things. 12 Let deacons each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their own households well. 13 For those who serve well as deacons gain a good standing for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus.


Last week’s post concluded a three-part series — 1, 2, 3 — on the first seven verses of 1 Timothy 3, the qualifications for overseers, or principal church leaders.

Anyone wanting more information on the qualifications here for deacons can consult those posts, which are quite detailed.

I shall design this post slightly differently because of the subject matter.

What is a deacon?

Our two commentators have slightly divergent views on deacons.

Matthew Henry, rightly, in my opinion, points us to Acts 6 (emphases mine):

We have here the character of deacons: these had the care of the temporal concerns of the church, that is, the maintenance of the ministers and provision for the poor: they served tables, while the ministers or bishops gave themselves only to the ministry of the word and prayer, Acts 6 2, 4. Of the institution of this office, with that which gave occasion to it, you have an account in Acts 6 1-7. Now it was requisite that deacons should have a good character, because they were assistants to the ministers, appeared and acted publicly, and had a great trust reposed in them.

I understand why John MacArthur disagrees. Technically, he is also right:

we don’t have any specifics about the office of deacon at all until we get to 1 Timothy.

Now, somebody immediately is going to say, “What about Acts 6?”

So, let’s turn to Acts 6. This is a fascinating account, and most people who have advocated the diakonate in the church have felt that Acts 6 is where it was born, and that you have in Acts 6 the first deacons. But there are several things to note. The one thing I want you to remember here is this: in Acts 6, the seven men chosen by the Church for the work here are never called deacons. They are never called deacons …

At and after the first Pentecost, there were converts among Jews from Jerusalem as well as Greek Jews from elsewhere in the ancient world. There were a lot of widows in both Jewish groups, and the Greeks felt those from Jerusalem were more favoured than they.

As such, a collection for widows and food provision had to be more efficient:

Verse 2, “The Twelve called the multitude of the disciples to them and said, ‘It’s not right or fitting’” – proper – “‘that we should leave the Word of God and serve tables.’” Now, here is a line of demarcation. Some people in the church need to be doing the Word of God, and other people need to be taking care of the business.

That line of demarcation does stand when you get to the pastoral epistles. “We’ve got to do what we’ve got to do, and we’ve got to find somebody to do the rest.” It was not the apostle’s priority to leave the Word to serve food. They’ve got thousands upon thousands of people. Remember this; they’re all brand new converts. They’re from all over the world, and these 12 men are trying to get them all discipled before they leave. They had a tremendous task on their hands, and they really didn’t want to get stuck trying to figure out how to bring equity and parody to the matter of food distribution.

So, they wanted to get somebody else to do that, verse 3, “Wherefore, brethren, look among you and find seven men who are honest” – obviously, they’re going to have a lot of money on their hands – “full of the Holy Spirit and wisdom” – why do they need the Spirit and wisdom? Because they’re going to have to discern where real need exists – “and we’ll appoint them over this task.” Over this task.

Notice that they were appointed for a specific task. There’s no office here; there’s no ongoing function here. We’re going to get them to figure out how to do this task, this – may I be so bold? – one task. “And we” – verse 4 – “will continue to give ourselves to prayer and the diakonia of the Word. The only use of the term diakonia here is in reference to the apostles. And then back in verse 1, in reference to the daily diakonia of serving the widows.

Nowhere does it call these men deacons. The apostles were doing their deaconing, their serving, and the people passing out food were doing their serving, too. But these are not called deacons specifically. It is interesting to note that in the early Church in Rome – I shouldn’t say the early Church, the post-apostolic church of Rome – only allowed seven deacons. They picked up on this and made it the standard, and they had seven deacons in the church at Rome for the purpose of passing out goods to the poor. But I don’t believe that this is intended by the Spirit of God to establish some kind of ongoing order. I don’t think these seven men chosen were deacons. Look at verse 5, “The saying pleased the whole multitude; and they chose Stephen, a man full of faith and of the Holy Spirit” – that was the qualification – “Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmenas, and Nicolas, a proselyte from Antioch.”

So, they chose seven men. Now, with that in mind, I want you to kind of grasp the thought. It isn’t a major issue, but just so you have it in your mind. The reason I don’t think these are actual deacons is, number one, the term is general, and it is just a general speaking here of service. The only reference to actual diakonia connected with certain individuals is in verse 4, and the diakonia there is connected with the apostles. The New Testament – and watch this – never again refers to these seven as a diakonate as a group of deacons. In fact, the book if Acts never ever mentions the word “deacon.” They never appear again. If this was some kind of new order of deacons, they should have popped up again and again, particularly in chapter 11, when the famine went on, and when they wanted the food to be cared for in the famine, it says they were to give it to the elders – Acts 11:29 – not the deacons, because there were no deacons.

You say, “Well, if they aren’t deacons, what are they?”

They’re just some men chosen for a specific task. Honest so they could handle money, full of the Spirit and wisdom so they could discern where the needs were. They were seven men chosen for a one-time crisis, not necessarily installed into a full-time office. If they were being instituted as deacons here, you could be sure they would have appeared later on in the book of Acts someplace. And probably, as I said in Acts 11, in dealing with the famine

Another interesting thing is all seven of them have Greek names. If they were an ongoing group of deacons for the church at Jerusalem, it would have been a little bit strange that they would have all been Greek Jews. But if they are appointed for one specific task, to relieve Greek Jewish widows, then it makes sense that they would choose Greeks to do that. That would move toward equity. So, special task.

But keep this in mind, there is a preliminary sense here in which we’re getting a look at what deacons will be like, because you have apostles here whose thing is the Word and prayer, and deacons who take care of implementation of certain tasks. And that kind of structure does carry into the church. The elders of 1 Timothy do emphasize the word and the oversight, and the deacons do emphasize the implementation and application. So, that kind of – that kind of relationship continues to exist.

The comparison of these things then shows us that deacons did have I guess what you could say a historic precedent in Acts 6, but that they were not in specific actual deacons. In fact, in many ways, they were more like elders. Let me show you why. Look at verse 6, “They prayed, laid hands on them” – and then verse 7 – “and the Word of God increased.”

Now, why did it increase? Well, first of all, I think it increased because the apostles were free from serving tables to make it increase. Right? The apostles were free to do what they felt they had to do, and that was spend their time in the Word and prayer. “The number of disciples multiplied in Jerusalem greatly, a great number of the priests were obedient to the faith.” But another reason why it multiplied was not just the work of the apostles, but look at this, “And Stephen” – who may well be representative of the other six – “full of grace and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.” Now, could it well be that the other six did the same. Could it be that these were anything but deacons in the traditional sense? These were Holy Spirit-empowered evangelists who went out into that city doing signs and wonders and mighty deeds; teaching, preaching, evangelizing; full of faith, full of the Spirit, full of power, performing wonders.

Now, we know that at least one other of them was a powerful wonder-working preacher, and that one was Philip, for he’s mentioned as such as you come over to chapter 8. Two of the seven we know were powerful preachers. It may well be that the other five were involved in such a ministry also. So, they would be more like apostles, more like evangelists than they would be like the actual role of deacon as we understand it in the pastoral epistles.

MacArthur explains that the word ‘deacon’ in Greek implies service and/or ministry. All Christians are called to serve God on earth in some capacity — even informally — but not all Christians serve as deacons in the way that Paul specifies:

Look at Romans chapter 12, and here we find these terms used of something a bit more specific. In Romans chapter 12, there is a list here of varying gifts given to the body of Christ, and we all know about the spiritual gifts; we’ve taught much about that through the years.

It says in verse 6 – verse 4 says, “We’re all in one body, but we don’t all have the same function. We are many, and we have differing gifts. They differ according to the grace” – that is – that’s God’s grace; God has graciously given us differing gifts. Then he goes on to discuss prophecy and those who have that gift should operate according to the proportion of faith given for the use of that gift. And then he says if the gift is of ministry, then we need to be concentrating on our ministry.

Now, the ministry and ministering in verse 7 is again the same word group diakonia, diakonos, diakoneō. It’s the same thing. So, he’s saying here that there are special gifts of service, special gifts of serving. It would be parallel to his mention of the gift of helps in 1 Corinthians. There are some people who are just a – I guess you could say a cut above everybody else because they are uniquely designed by God to serve.

So, you start with that broad level. Everybody is in the service of Christ. There are some, however, who are specially gifted to function in that way. It doesn’t mean the rest of us don’t do it; it just means that they do it in a unique sense. They serve a special way of life, energized by the Spirit of God.

For example, to meet such person or more than one, look at 1 Corinthians 16. This is an interesting characterization. It says in 1 Corinthians 16:15, just a rather incidental thought here, but it’s germane to our point. At the end of this great epistle, he speaks of a very specific family. “I beseech you, brethren (you know the house of Stephanas, that it is the first fruits of Achaia)” – that is the first converts in the province of Achaia, and look at this – “(and that they have devoted themselves to the diakonia of the saints).” Now, it just may well be that here is a family in which all are serving and perhaps some are uniquely gifted. And so, their whole family is characterized as those who serve the saints

You are [obliged] to serve as a way of life. Some of you are specially gifted for that. And that must be recognized as well.

So, the term can be used generally. It can be used a bit more specifically to refer to those who in the exercise of their spiritual gifts are placed in positions of faithful service, assisting and helping others in menial and common areas of responsibility.

Now, that’s really – that’s really the sweep of everything that dominates the New Testament relative to the area of service. It’s just very general, and then especially those that are gifted.

But what about deacons? Well, deacons don’t even appear, in my judgment, in any definition, until 1 Timothy 3, and only in 1 Timothy 3. It is the only discussion of the specific office. So, we would say, then, there’s a third category. Everybody is serving on this level, some people on the next step up are uniquely gifted, and then the next step up would be those who are in the office of a servant in the church, and we know them as deacons, though they well could be called Servants with a capital S.

So, you have three levels of service in the church: that which is rendered by everyone, that which is rendered by those uniquely gifted by the Spirit for it, and that which is done by those who are officially placed in an office of service and become the leaders and the models of service for everybody else in the church.

Another complication is that some churches have elders, whose functions lie between those of pastors and deacons.

If you, like I, don’t know about elders, MacArthur explains the difference between them, deacons and overseers (pastors). The one thing that they do have in common is top-notch spirituality:

Deacons are the models of spiritual virtue. They stand, in that sense, alongside the elders. There’s no diminishing. You don’t have elders here, and deacons here spiritually. The elders have the authority because they carry the power of the Word of God in their teaching emphasis. But the deacons from the standpoint of spiritual modeling are equal. In fact, there’s no difference between the spiritual qualifications of the two.

So, these are to be equally godly men, but men whose strength is not in the teaching area. That’s the difference. That’s where a pastor and an elder and an overseer steps apart. His overall responsibility is in the ruling of the church through the authority of the understanding and proclamation of the Word of God. But right alongside him come those who implement what he teaches, who implement the ministry, and whose lives are no less godly than his. And the reason is to pull the whole congregation to that level, not to set those people apart and say, “Well, they’re the abnormal pious ones; none of us could ever be expected to live like that.” Quite the contrary. The message of what a deacon is to be is a message of what you and I are to be, because they’re there to model that for us …

you don’t look at it and say, “Well, there’s a guy with a messed up life; we better not make him an elder; we’ll make him a deacon.” That isn’t it at all. The people from the spiritual standpoint are at the same level; the qualifications are the same. It is that they carry out the function that is designed by and led by the overseers in the church. It’s a beautiful, beautiful way that God has designed their leadership.

MacArthur says that, unlike overseers, women can also be deacons:

And may I hasten to say that I believe, with all my heart, that deacons have to be – and whether they’re male or female – considered as leaders in the church. They are leaders. They lead by example; they lead by function. They are leaders in the church. Every church needs not only the pastoral leadership but the servant leadership. We couldn’t get anything done if it weren’t for these marvelous deacons – men and women – who carry out the administration, in the implementation, and the application. I believe, for example, that you can have a group of elders who spend all their time studying the Word of God, and under them all the administrators of the church can be deacons.

I’m not quite convinced of his reasoning there where it’s okay for deacons but not overseers to be women, however, he explains it more when we get to verse 11.


Now let’s explore today’s reading.

Paul says that, just like overseers — ‘likewise’ — deacons must be dignified, not double-tongued, not addicted to much wine and not greedy for dishonest gain (verse 8).

This is what Matthew Henry’s translation says:

Likewise must the deacons be grave, not doubletongued, not given to much wine, not greedy of filthy lucre;

‘Grave’ here means ‘serious’.

Henry tells us:

Gravity becomes all Christians, but especially those who are in the office in the church. Not doubled-tongued; that will say one thing to one and another thing to another, according as their interests leads them: a double tongue comes from a double heart; flatterers and slanderers are double-tongued. Not given to much wine; for this is a great disparagement to any man, especially to a Christian, and one in office, unfits men for business, opens the door to many temptations. Not greedy of filthy lucre; this would especially be bad in the deacons, who were entrusted with the church’s money, and, if they were covetous and greedy of filthy lucre, would be tempted to embezzle it, and convert that to their own use which was intended for the public service.

MacArthur has more:

Number one, in verse 8, “The deacon is to be grave.” The word is semnos, it means “serious.” It could be translated “dignified.” It could be translated “stately.” It has the idea of being serious in mind as well as serious in character. It comes from a root verb sebōmai, which means “to venerate” or “to worship.” It has the idea that this person has a stateliness about them that demands a respect. They have a sort of a – and I don’t want to stretch the point – but they have a sort of majestic quality of character that makes people stand in awe of them.

Another word that is often a synonym is the word hieroprepēs, which means “to act like a sacred person.” This is a person who by virtue of their life character spiritually has a certain mystique about them. There’s a certain awe held in the hearts of those who know them because of the integrity of their spiritual life. It’s a very beautiful word and a very important designation.

So to begin with, one who serves as a deacon is to be one who could be held in awe as having a majesty of dignity, of life that comes to one who understands the seriousness of spiritual issues. This particular person would not be a flippant person, not be a silly person, not be a frivolous person, not be a person who makes light of very serious things, not be a person engaged in trivia as a way of life, not be a person who is trite; a person with dignity, a person who understands the seriousness of life. And I confess to you, as I’ve said before, that the older I get, the more seriousness life takes on.

MacArthur elaborates on the negative traits in that verse:

And then after that very positive affirmation of personal character, three negatives come in verse 8. The second of these four personal character qualifications is not double-tongued. This is the only place in the Scripture where this word appears, dilogos; and it is simply what it says: two-tongued, two-tongued. Now what is a two-tongued person? Well, we might say this is a gossipy person, somebody who doesn’t just have one tongue going, but two tongues going, which might indicate some kind of rapid fire discussion of things that perhaps ought not to be said.

But the best way to translate this word, to keep it in its simplest meaning, is to refer to a person who isn’t saying one thing to one person and another thing to another. In other words, a double-tongued person is telling me something and someone else something quite the opposite of that to gain his own personal or her own personal goals. The idea here is integrity of speech. Because those who serve in the church are privy to very private matters, because they know well very grave spiritual issues, because they are dealing with things that people would like to keep private in their own lives, because they’re a part of spiritual warfare at very intense levels, they need to be the kind of people who know how to speak when you should speak, and to speak with integrity whenever you speak.

There’s a always a high, high premium on verbal honesty and integrity among spiritual leaders, not to speak hypocritically, but to speak consistently, righteously, honestly, uprightly

… the person in leadership is to have great integrity of speech. Nothing is more devastating than to tell one person one thing and someone else the very opposite for your own personal gain, or to protect yourself, and thus begin the process of spinning lies among God’s people. Truth is at a premium.

The third qualification is not given too much wine. That’s the translation we have in the Authorized. The Greek would say “not holding near much wine, not holding near much wine.” You say, “Why doesn’t it just say, ‘Not holding wine at all’?” Well, because wine was a matter of a common drink.

Admittedly, we know now very clearly that it was mixed with water. In fact, sometimes it could be ten-to-one water. It was very, very greatly and largely water. And the reason for that was, of course, to prevent intoxication. And they had to drink the fruit of the vine, the fruit of whatever they were able to get out of their land, because that’s the only basic drink they had. And so it was caution that had to be expressed in regard to wine. And anyone in spiritual leadership, as we saw with the elders, was not to give himself to wine. And that same qualification is expressed here.

Prosechō means “to hold near.” Or if you use it in a metaphorical sense, it means “to turn one’s mind to,” or “to occupy oneself with.” The person is not to be occupied with much wine. Of necessity to drink some, given that it would be diluted with water, yes, but not to be indulgent.

And the present active nature of the participle means this is to be his habitual practice. Habitually he is to be known as a person who is not holding near much wine. In other words, this is a person who basically does not allow drink to influence his life, or her life. And in this case, of course, we’re talking about the male, as we shall see the contrast in verse 11 when the female is introduced …

But the point is the same. This is to be a person who, in terms of life pattern according to verse 8, is serious, a person who speaks with great integrity, and a person who is control of their sense at all times. And then fourthly, one who is not greedy of filthy lucre. In other words, who is not greedy for gain, for money. Why? Because in those days, those who served in the church in an official capacity would be handling funds.

They would be passing out money to widows, to orphans, to needy people. They would be making collections. They would be dealing with the funds, paying whatever they had to pay to this place or that place, providing meals and so forth. And there were no bank accounts, and there were no audit firms, and so forth and so on; so everything was a cash transaction, and the people who handled the money actually had a little purse on their belt and in it was the money; and the temptation would always be there to stick your hand in the bag and use the money for your own purposes. And so they had to be those people who were not motivated by money, who were free from the love of it.

Now those are all things about character: doesn’t love money, doesn’t linger by wine, doesn’t speak dishonestly, and has seriousness of mind and conduct.

Paul says that deacons must hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience (verse 9).

Henry says:

The practical love of truth is the most powerful preservative from error and delusion. If we keep a pure conscience (take heed of every thing that debauches conscience, and draws us away from God), this will preserve in our souls the mystery of faith.

MacArthur discusses ‘mystery’ in this context:

The word “mystery,” mustērion, Paul uses it very often, and what he means by it is “something that was hidden and is not revealed.” In fact, he gives that very definition in Ephesians chapter 3: something which was hidden and is not revealed. And when you sum it all up, the mystery of the faith is that truth which was hidden and is now revealed; therefore it equals New Testament revelation, that which was hidden from the past generations before the coming of Christ. It is God’s redemptive truth revealed in the New Testament; the sacred things hidden from natural reason known only by the revelation of God, hidden from Old Testament saints, known only by the revelation of God …

So basically what it means is Christian doctrine, New Testament theology, New Testament truth, New Testament revelation and doctrine. It encompasses the mystery of the incarnation of Christ, which was hidden and is now revealed; the mystery of the indwelling Christ, of the Jew and Gentile, one in Christ, of the saving gospel … There were many elements of it illustrated through the New Testament Scripture, but the body of content totally is all New Testament revelation. To put it simply, Matthew to Revelation; that is the unveiling of the hidden truth now revealed in the New Testament.

So the deacon then must hold to New Testament revelation. He has to be a New Testament, doctrinally-oriented individual, who knows and understands truth revealed in the new covenant. This is of great concern to Paul. All the way through this epistle he makes a major point out of sound doctrine, good teaching.

As for conscience, MacArthur says:

The stronger your theology, the stronger your conscience. The more you understand about the Bible, and the stronger your faith and belief, the stronger your conscience. To say it another way; when a person who really has strong doctrine and strong theology, and holds to the mystery of the faith with great strength violates that doctrine, they have a very strong conscience reprimanding them. You show me a person who is weak in conviction and I’ll show you a person with a weak conscience, because conscience reacts to the body of truth the person is committed to. If I am not committed to truth, if I just flow and vacillate, my conscience has no standard by which to accuse me.

We often hear someone say in looking at a terrible crime or a terrible sin or something that someone has done, we say, “Haven’t they got any” – what? – “conscience? Has that person no conscience?” The answer is, “Yes, they have a conscience, but conscience responds to standards.”

… “I live by it, therefore my conscience is pure. It is not defiled with sin. It is not accusing me.” This is the required spiritual life for a deacon.

Paul says that those wishing to serve as deacons should be tested first, and if they prove themselves blameless, then they may assume that office (verse 10).

Henry interprets the verse the way I understood it:

It is not fit that the public trusts should be lodged in the hands of any, till they have been first proved, and found fit for the business they are to be entrusted with; the soundness of their judgments, their zeal for Christ, and the blamelessness of their conversation, must be proved.

However, MacArthur says that the testing is ongoing, just as continuing refinement would be:

Look at verse 10 just quickly: “And let these also” – that’s an imperative verb, by the way – “let these also first be tested,” dokimazō, to approve after testing. “Let them be tested.” It’s a present passive, which means it’s an ongoing test, not an aorist, which would be some kind of a probationary period or a point in time in which they were tested. This is an ongoing thing.

“Let them continually be being tested,” would be a way to translate it. “Let them continually be being tested; and then” – another imperative – “let them serve as a deacon.” And that’s just one verb. “Let them diakoneō. So in terms of Christian service, they are to be being tested.

Now what test is this? This is nothing more than the ongoing general assessment of the church as they evaluate the service of this person. They are being tested at all times by the basis of their own service to Christ. It is not a one-time test, it is not a written test, it is not a probationary period; it is the ongoing evaluation.

Would you circle the little word “also” in verse 10, because this jumps back and makes application of this same truth to the elders. “These also are to be tested,” which means that it is assumed that the elder or the pastor would be tested as well. We want to make that affirmation.

So everyone is tested, and the testing is an ongoing process. We have done this for many years in Grace Church. We watch people, and we see their spiritual service, their Christian ministry, how they live for Christ. And over a period of time as we evaluate their service to Christ, we are rendering a verdict on whether they have been approved through that testing period. Those who are deacons are tested and proven people. It is a process.

So qualification then is a matter of personal character, spiritual life, and Christian service. Fourthly, moral purity. The end of verse 10 introduces us to a familiar word we met in verse 2: They are to be blameless, being blameless. Again, the qualification is not lower for a servant. The service is different, the function is different. It is carrying out what the elders design. But the qualification is the same: blameless.

… That is to be without reproach, no blot on their life, without spot, without blemish, nothing for which they could be accused and disqualified. There’s, in a sense, not only the moral purity of the heart, but the moral purity of perception which renders them without blame.

Verse 11 says ‘their wives’ must also be dignified, not slanderers, but sober-minded and faithful in all things.

Henry understands the verse as written. This is how it appears in his translation:

Even so must their wives be grave, not slanderers, sober, faithful in all things.

He says:

All who are related to ministers must double their care to walk as becomes the gospel of Christ, lest, if they in any thing walk disorderly, the ministry be blamed.

However, MacArthur says this doesn’t refer to the deacon’s wife but rather to a female deacon:

So far we’ve been talking about men. But notice verse 11. Without looking almost we sort of skip by what Paul just dropped in there. I don’t know why he put it in before verse 12, I’m not sure there’s any way we can explain it, but he did; it’s there. And I want you to understand verse 11, because it’s such a wonderful one: “Even so” is the word “likewise” or “in like manner,” the very same word as verse 8; and that indicates to us that we are now coming to a third category of people.

Now you will notice that it is translated in the Authorized with some italics, “Even so must their wives.” Let me say that I think that is an inadequate translation. In the first place, there’s no word in the Greek for “wives.” This is the word gunaikas, which means “women.”

And it doesn’t say “their women.” It could say that in the Greek. There is a word for “their,” and the apostle Paul could have said that if the Holy Spirit wanted him to say it, but he didn’t. It actually says, “Likewise women.” That’s all it says in the Greek, “Likewise women.”

The question is, “What women? Are they the wives of the deacons, as some interpreters believe, or are they just women who also serve in the church in a deacon capacity?” That’s the question we have to answer; and I think it can be simply answered.

The best translation here is “women,” because that’s the translation of the word. The reason that I’m not at all convinced that this could possibly be the wives of deacons is manifold. Number one: Why would there be qualifications for the wives of deacons and not qualifications for the wives of elders who have an even more important responsibility? Why would he isolate the wives of deacons and not say anything at all about the wives of the overseers?

Secondly, the use of “likewise” in verse 11 means we have a new category, because it was used in verse 8 of a new category. First overseers, likewise deacons, likewise women. And this is to say to me that the church is to recognize that there is a group of women who serve in the church. If he wanted to say “their women,” he could have used the word “their.” But he didn’t use it.

You say, “Well, why didn’t he use deaconesses?” Because there’s no Greek word for that. That’s why Phoebe, a woman in Romans 16:1 is called a deacon, because there’s no feminine form. So the only word he could use if he had used – if he had said, “Likewise deacons,” and meant “women,” we never would have known he meant “women,” because the word is not feminine. There was no word for “wives,” so the only word he could use was “women,” and the way he tells us this is a new category is with “likewise.”

So clearly he’s introducing … I kind of prefer to call them “women deacons,” because that maintains the New Testament terminology a bit better. “Women deacons.” He just drops this right in the middle of his discussion of deacons as a new category.

Paul says deacons — male deacons, in this verse — must each be the husband of one wife, managing their children and their households well (verse 12). He said the same of overseers. This is because both are to set the best example for the congregation to follow.

Paul concludes by saying that deacons who serve well gain a good standing — reputation — for themselves and also great confidence in the faith that is in Christ Jesus (verse 13).

Henry says that it is not unusual for deacons to progress eventually to the priesthood:

… the reason why the deacons must be thus qualified is (v. 13) because, though the office of a deacon be of an inferior degree, yet it is a step towards the higher degree; and those who had served tables well the church might see cause afterwards to discharge from that service, and prefer to serve in preaching the word and in prayer. Or it may be meant of the good reputation that a man would gain by his fidelity in this office: they will purchase to themselves great boldness in the faith that is in Christ Jesus …

Integrity and uprightness in an inferior office are the way to be preferred to a higher station in the church: They purchase to themselves a good degree ... This will also give a man great boldness in the faith, whereas a want of integrity and uprightness will make a man timorous, and ready to tremble at his own shadow. The wicked fleeth when no man pursueth, but the righteous are bold as a lion, Prov 28 1.

In the Catholic and Anglican churches, deacons are formally ordained. This brief paper, ‘Discerning the Diaconate’, explains what Anglican clergy look for in a deacon.

Paul ends 1 Timothy 3 with a brief discussion of the mystery of godliness.

Next time — 1 Timothy 3:14-16

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, is March 19, 2023.

Readings for Year A, including an explanation of Laetare Sunday — the joyful Sunday in Lent — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the second of a two-part series. You can read Part 1 here. That said, this is also a long post as there is much to cover.

The Pharisees asked the man once more what Jesus did to him and how He opened his eyes (verse 26).

John MacArthur points out the irony here:

Well, this is pretty significant, folks, because now they just admitted what? That he was healed. They’ve just admitted that he was blind, and his eyes were opened. What did He do to you? How did He open your eyes? Maybe they were probing for some trick. Who knows?

The man said that he had already told them once before and that they would not listen; he asked them why they wanted to hear his answer again and if they wanted to become His disciples (verse 27).

MacArthur points out the man’s righteous sarcasm:

This is an outcast talking to the in-crowd. “Why do you want to hear it again? You don’t want to become His disciples too, do you?” Sarcasm. He just nails their sarcasm, their hypocrisy. This is a man who’s feeling the joy, feeling the confidence, feeling the strength of the conviction that he knows he’s dealing with a man who is from God, who is a prophet. And as the story goes, he comes to fully believe in Him for salvation

Then the Pharisees came out with one of their favourite attacks, saying that he was one of Christ’s disciples, yet they, the notional religious grandees, were disciples of Moses (verse 28).

They added that they knew God had spoken to Moses but, as for ‘this man’ — Jesus — they knew not from whence He came (verse 29).

The Pharisees created the chasm between Judaism and Christianity that still exists today:

There’s that breach again. Moses and Christ, the church and the synagogue, Judaism and Christianity. Still at odds. We know this man is a sinner. We are from Moses … I think they knew He was from Nazareth, Galilee. They should’ve known where He was from in John 6 when He preached the sermon on the bread of life, He said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven. I have come down from heaven to give My life for the world.” He had said again, and again, and again, “I come from heaven.” He even mocked them by saying, “You think you know where I’ve come from.” Chapter 7. “But you really don’t know My heavenly origin.” When they said, “We don’t know where He’s from,” they simply meant, not so much the town, but we don’t know the origin of this man. We’re unwilling to say it’s God. In fact, they were convinced that He was satanic. Satanic. 

I mean, this is the character of unbelief.

The man answered back, saying that what they were saying was astonishing; they did not know where He came from, yet He healed him (verse 30).

Henry elaborates on ‘an astonishing thing’:

First, He wonders at their obstinate infidelity (v. 30); not at all daunted by their frowns, nor shaken by their confidence, he bravely answered, “Why, herein is a marvelous thing, the strangest instance of wilful ignorance that ever was heard of among men that pretend to sense, that you know not whence he is, and yet he has opened mine eyes.” Two things he wonders at:—1. That they should be strangers to a man so famous. He that could open the eyes of the blind must certainly be a considerable man, and worth taking notice of. The Pharisees were inquisitive men, had a large correspondence and acquaintance, thought themselves the eyes of the church and its watchmen, and yet that they should talk as if they thought it below them to take cognizance of such a man as this, and have conversation with him, this is a strange thing indeed. There are many who pass for learned and knowing men, who understand business, and can talk sensibly in other things, who yet are ignorant, to a wonder, of the doctrine of Christ, who have no concern, no, not so much as a curiosity, to acquaint themselves with that which the angels desire to look into. 2. That they should question the divine mission of one that had undoubtedly wrought a divine miracle. When they said, We know not whence he is, they meant, “We know not any proof that his doctrine and ministry are from heaven.” “Now this is strange,” saith the poor man, “that the miracle wrought upon me has not convinced you, and put the matter out of doubt,—that you, whose education and studies give you advantages above others of discerning the things of God, should thus shut your eyes against the light.” It is a marvelous work and wonder, when the wisdom of the wise thus perisheth (Isa 29 14), that they deny the truth of that of which they cannot gainsay the evidence. Note, (1.) The unbelief of those who enjoy the means of knowledge and conviction is indeed a marvelous thing, Mark 6 6. (2.) Those who have themselves experienced the power and grace of the Lord Jesus do especially wonder at the wilfulness of those who reject him, and, having such good thoughts of him themselves, are amazed that others have not. Had Christ opened the eyes of the Pharisees, they would not have doubted his being a prophet.

The man continued, in all boldness. He said that God does not listen to sinners, but He does listen to those who obey His will (verse 31).

He went further, saying that, never since the world began had anyone been cured of blindness (verse 32), therefore, if this man were not from God, He would not have been able to do anything (verse 33), meaning effecting a miracle.

This man is a role model in the way he attacks the wilful ignorance of the religious authorities.

MacArthur says:

So, he’s become the preacher. He’s taken over the meeting. He’s talking to the leaders. First, he’s sarcastic, and now he’s specific, and clear-headed, and clear-minded, and faithful to the Old Testament, and even referring to the Old Testament that God doesn’t hear the prayers of sinners. He’s giving them an explanation of reality, a sensible, reasonable, logical explanation.

Henry analyses these verses in full:

a. He argues here, (a.) With great knowledge. Though he could not read a letter of the book, he was well acquainted with the scripture and the things of God; he had wanted the sense of seeing, yet had well improved that of hearing, by which faith cometh; yet this would not have served him if he had not had an extraordinary presence of God with him, and special aids of his Spirit, upon this occasion. (b.) With great zeal for the honour of Christ, whom he could not endure to hear run down, and evil spoken of. (c.) With great boldness, and courage, and undauntedness, not terrified by the proudest of his adversaries. Those that are ambitious of the favours of God must not be afraid of the frowns of men. “See here,” saith Dr. Whitby, “a blind man and unlearned judging more rightly of divine things than the whole learned council of the Pharisees, whence we learn that we are not always to be led by the authority of councils, popes, or bishops; and that it is not absurd for laymen sometimes to vary from their opinions, these overseers being sometimes guilty of great oversights.”

b. His argument may be reduced into form, somewhat like that of David, Ps 66 18-20. The proposition in David’s argument is, If I regard iniquity in my heart, God will not hear me; here it is to the same purport, God heareth not sinners: the assumption there is, But verily God hath heard me; here it is, Verily God hath heard Jesus, he hath been honoured with the doing of that which was never done before: the conclusion there is to the honour, Blessed be God; here to the honour of the Lord Jesus, He is of God.

(a.) He lays it down for an undoubted truth that none but good men are the favourites of heaven (v. 31): Now we know, you know it as well as I, that God heareth not sinners; but if any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he heareth. Here,

[a.] The assertions, rightly understood, are true. First, Be it spoken to the terror of the wicked, God heareth not sinners, that is, such sinners as the Pharisees meant when they said of Christ, He is a sinner, one that, under the shelter of God’s name, advanced the devil’s interest. This bespeaks no discouragement to repenting returning sinners, but to those that go on still in their trespasses, that make their prayers not only consistent with, but subservient to, their sins, as the hypocrites do; God will not hear them, he will not own them, nor give an answer of peace to their prayers. Secondly, Be it spoken to the comfort of the righteous, If any man be a worshipper of God, and does his will, him he heareth. Here is, 1. The complete character of a good man: he is one that worships God, and does his will; he is constant in his devotions at set times, and regular in his conversation at all times. He is one that makes it his business to glorify his Creator by the solemn adoration of his name and a sincere obedience to his will and law; both must go together. 2. The unspeakable comfort of such a man: him God hears; hears his complaints, and relieves him; hears his appeals, and rights him; hears his praises, and accepts them; hears his prayers, and answers them, Ps 34 15.

[b.] The application of these truths is very pertinent to prove that he, at whose word such a divine power was put forth as cured one born blind, was not a bad man, but, having manifestly such an interest in the holy God as that he heard him always (ch. 9 31, 32), was certainly a holy one.

(b.) He magnifies the miracles which Christ had wrought, to strengthen the argument the more (v. 32): Since the world began was it not heard that any man opened the eyes of one that was born blind. This is to show either, [a.] That it was a true miracle, and above the power of nature; it was never heard that any man, by the use of natural means, had cured one that was born blind; no doubt, this man and his parents had been very inquisitive into cases of this nature, whether any such had been helped, and could hear of none, which enabled him to speak this with the more assurance. Or, [b.] That it was an extraordinary miracle, and beyond the precedents of former miracles; neither Moses nor any of the prophets, though they did great things, ever did such things as this, wherein divine power and divine goodness seem to strive which should outshine. Moses wrought miraculous plagues, but Christ wrought miraculous cures. Note, First, The wondrous works of the Lord Jesus were such as the like had never been done before. Secondly, It becomes those who have received mercy from God to magnify the mercies they have received, and to speak honourably of them; not that thereby glory may redound to themselves, and they may seem to be extraordinary favourites of Heaven, but that God may have so much the more glory.

(c.) He therefore concludes, If this man were not of God, he could do nothing, that is, nothing extraordinary, no such thing as this; and therefore, no doubt, he is of God, notwithstanding his nonconformity to your traditions in the business of the sabbath day. Note, What Christ did on earth sufficiently demonstrated what he was in heaven; for, if he had not been sent of God, he could not have wrought such miracles. It is true the man of sin comes with lying wonders, but not with real miracles; it is likewise supposed that a false prophet might, by divine permission, give a sign or a wonder (Deut 13 1, 2), yet the case is so put as that it would carry with it its own confutation, for it is to enforce a temptation to serve other gods, which was to set God against himself. It is true, likewise, that many wicked people have in Christ’s name done many wonderful works, which did not prove those that wrought them to be of God, but him in whose name they were wrought. We may each of us know by this whether we are of God or no: What do we? What do we for God, for our souls, in working out our salvation? What do we more than others?

The Pharisees were offended, saying that a man born entirely in sins, a reference to their belief that disability was a divine curse, was trying to teach them, the notional experts; with that, they threw him out (verse 34).

MacArthur picks up what he said earlier about unbelief often resulting in violence:

That’s the disdain of it all. So, it gets physical. They threw him out. Be prepared to face this when unbelief investigates a miracle. This is how it acts. This will be a disappointment. It has been a disappointment already in your life, I’m sure. Major disappointment through the years to any of us who walked with Christ for a long time. We accumulate this kind of disappointment.

What can we do except to pray for lost souls? MacArthur tells us:

What is there to do about this?  How can it change?  Well, the only answer is where Jesus went in John 6, three times.  He said this: “All that the Father gives to Me will come to Me.  No man comes to Me unless the Father draws him.”  And then, verse 64 of John 6, He summarized it again.  “For this reason I have said to you, no one can come to Me unless it has been granted him from the Father.”  The only way an unbeliever can be released and delivered from this kind of bizarre captivity and bondage to what is evil, and irascible, and intolerant, and irrational; the only way an unbeliever can be delivered from this is by the power of God.  So, what do we do?  We plead with God to be gracious, don’t we?  We plead with the sinner to believe, and we plead with God to be gracious.  Because the natural man, Paul says, understands not the things of God.  To him, they’re foolishness, because they’re spiritually appraised, and he’s spiritually dead. 

So, we don’t go out to evangelize with any hope, really, that we have the power in our reason or the power in our facts or the power in our truth to shatter the blindness and the darkness and the bondage of unbelief.  We go with the truth, and we cry out to God to draw the sinner out of this bondage of unbelief. 

MacArthur points out the transition that takes place at this point:

Verses 1 through 34 are about physical light, physical sight.  But also, there are overtones of spiritual blindness and spiritual darkness manifest by the Pharisees.  When we come to verses 35 to 41, the subject changes from physical sight and light, completely, to spiritual sight and light, and spiritual blindness and darkness.

Now, as we look at these just brief verses, straightforward and simple, I just want to break them into two sections: spiritual sight, verses 35 to 38, that’s the beggar; spiritual blindness, verses 39 to 41, that’s the Pharisees You have here a comparison build on this miracle, between spiritual sight, which the beggar receives, and spiritual darkness, in which the Pharisees remain. 

Now, let’s look at the spiritual sight and the beggar, the opening verses 35 to 38.  Just to give you a little bit of a pattern to follow, four things define this spiritual sight, okay?  Four things.  He’s going to be an illustration of one who not only sees physically for the first time, but who will see spiritually for the first time.  There are four elements.  First of all, and this is very important.  The first element is: spiritual sight requires divine initiative.  Spiritual sight requires divine initiative.  This man doesn’t have any capability to make himself see physically, nor does he have any capability to make himself see spiritually.  That’s why this transition is made, because it’s such a graphic illustration.  He can’t do anything to help himself.  There’s no such thing in those ancient times as a surgeon who can fix something in his eye and enable him to see.  There’s no way that he can have spiritual sight on his own.  It can’t happen.  Humanly speaking, it can’t happen on a temporal, physical, natural level.  If he is going to see, heaven has to come down and find him, locate him, and that’s exactly what happens.

Jesus heard that the Pharisees had driven the man out of their midst, and when He found him, he asked (verse 35), ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’

In Henry’s translation, the verse reads:

Jesus heard that they had cast him out; and when he had found him, he said unto him, Dost thou believe on the Son of God?

Henry calls our attention to the fact that Jesus sought the man who had given Him such a bold defence as the author of the healing miracle:

I. The tender care which our Lord Jesus took of this poor man (v. 35): When Jesus heard that they had cast him out (for it is likely the town rang of it, and everybody cried out shame upon them for it), then he found him, which implies his seeking him and looking after him, that he might encourage and comfort him, 1. Because he had, to the best of his knowledge, spoken so very well, so bravely, so boldly, in defence of the Lord Jesus. Note, Jesus Christ will be sure to stand by his witnesses, and own those that own him and his truth and ways. Earthly princes neither do, nor can, take cognizance of all that vindicate them and their government and administration; but our Lord Jesus knows and observes all the faithful testimonies we bear to him at any time, and a book of remembrance is written, and it shall redound not only to our credit hereafter, but our comfort now. 2. Because the Pharisees had cast him out and abused him. Besides the common regard which the righteous Judge of the world has to those who suffer wrongfully (Ps 103 6), there is a particular notice taken of those that suffer in the cause of Christ and for the testimony of a good conscience. Here was one poor man suffering for Christ, and he took care that as his afflictions abounded his consolations should much more abound. Note, (1.) Though persecutors may exclude good men from their communion, yet they cannot exclude them from communion with Christ, nor put them out of the way of his visits. Happy are they who have a friend from whom men cannot debar them. (2.) Jesus Christ will graciously find and receive those who for his sake are unjustly rejected and cast out by men. He will be a hiding place to his outcasts, and appear, to the joy of those whom their brethren hated and cast out.

II. The comfortable converse Christ had with him, wherein he brings him acquainted with the consolation of Israel. He had well improved the knowledge he had, and now Christ gives him further instruction; for he that is faithful in a little shall be entrusted with more, Matt 13 12.

1. Our Lord Jesus examines his faith: “Dost thou believe on the Son of God? Dost thou give credit to the promises of the Messiah? Dost thou expect his coming, and art thou ready to receive and embrace him when he is manifested to thee?” This was that faith of the Son of God by which the saints lived before his manifestation. Observe, (1.) The Messiah is here called the Son of God, and so the Jews had learned to call him from the prophecies, Ps 2 7; 89 27. See ch. 1 49, Thou art the Son of God, that is, the true Messiah. Those that expected the temporal kingdom of the Messiah delighted rather in calling him the Son of David, which gave more countenance to that expectation, Matt 22 42. But Christ, that he might give us an idea of his kingdom, as purely spiritual and divine, calls himself the Son of God, and rather Son of man in general than of David in particular. (2.) The desires and expectations of the Messiah, which the Old-Testament saints had, guided by and grounded upon the promise, were graciously interpreted and accepted as their believing on the Son of God. This faith Christ here enquires after: Dost thou believe? Note, The great thing which is now required of us (1 John 3 23), and which will shortly be enquired after concerning us, is our believing on the Son of God, and by this we must stand or fall for ever.

MacArthur continues reinforcing the idea that heaven had to find the man:

Verse 35.  The buzz around the temple area and wherever it was that this interrogation took place is still going on, so Jesus hears that they had put him out.  And I love this.  “And finding him.”  This is parallel.  You remember back in chapter 5, the man at the Pool of Bethesda picked up his bed and walked, ran into the Pharisees, the same kind of interrogation, the same kind of encounter.  And it says there in that same chapter, chapter 5, and I think it’s verse 14, “Jesus found him.”  Jesus found him.  This is how you receive spiritual sight.  It all started in a divine initiative.  It all started by a sovereign purpose in the mind of God.  Luke 19:10 Jesus says the Son of Man is come to seek and save that which was lost.  Not just the saving, but the seeking.  Romans 3, no man seeks after God.  We wouldn’t know where to go, wouldn’t know who to look for.  So he’s the seeker.  He says to His apostles in John 15:16, “You have not chosen Me.  I have chosen you.”  Matthew 18, “The Son of Man has come to save that which was lost.”  That’s why He came.  He’s the finder.  He’s the one who is seeking us … 

And so, Jesus finds the man.  This is where spiritual sight begins.  This is a powerful illustration of it, a very powerful illustration, because this is a helpless, hopeless man, and so is every sinner.  So is every sinner. 

So He finds him, and He initiates a conversation.  Very short.  This, again, is cryptic.  These accounts in the New Testament are condensed.  We don’t think the conversation was limited to this, but this is the essence that God has revealed to us.  He says, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?” 

MacArthur tells us that this Messianic title came from the prophet Daniel:

Listen to what Daniel chapter 7 says.  Daniel is given a vision, and it’s in the night.  Chapter 7:13.  I kept looking in the night visions, and behold with the clouds of heaven, one like a Son of Man was coming.  That’s a Messianic title.  This introduces the coming of Messiah to establish His kingdom.  He came up to the ancient of days, that’s God the Father, was presented before him, to Him was given dominion, glory, and a kingdom that all the peoples, nations, and men of every language might serve Him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion which will not pass away, and His kingdom is one which will not be destroyed.  And this is not God, because this is one who comes to God.  This is one to whom God gives this eternal, everlasting universal kingdom.  It is the Messiah, and He is the Son of Man, which is a prophecy that He will be incarnate. 

But the Jews all understood the Messianic title, the Son of Man.  By the way, it appears 13 times in the gospel of John because it’s familiar in the conversation of the Jews because they know Daniel 7 is referring to the Messiah So, our Lord says to him, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  Do you believe in the Messiah?  Do you believe in Messianic theology?  Do you believe the Messiah is coming to establish His kingdom?  Do you believe that?

The man answered Jesus, asking him (verse 36), ‘And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him’.

Henry’s verse 36 reads as follows:

He answered and said, Who is he, Lord, that I might believe on him?

The man could not see who cured him, so he thought that Jesus was one of the Messiah’s disciples.

MacArthur says:

The second thing that I want you to see here in this case of spiritual sight, is that spiritual sight not only begins in divine initiative, but it requires faith.  It requires faith, verse 36.  This is just an amazing statement.  He answered, “Who is He, Lord, that I may believe in Him?”  What an amazing statement.  Here is a man who is ready to believe.  He just wants to know who to believe in.  I wish I had the time to develop that as a theology, because what you’re seeing here is the essence of the doctrine of regeneration at work This man is ready to believe.  He just wants to know what to believe.  This is not easily understood.  It is not because of what we say that people believe.  It is because of what God has done to open them to believing that they respond to what we say.  This is an amazing thing.  Here is a man who is saying, “I’m ready to believe.  Who do I believe in?  Show me who to believe in.”  That’s a prepared heart.  That’s good soil. 

MacArthur discusses the title of address in this verse:

See the word Lord there, and it’s lower-case sense, sir?  He doesn’t know who He is, so he’s not calling Jesus Lord in the upper-case sense The word kyrie can be used at “sir,” like you would see it in an Old English, the lords and ladies kind of idea So, here, I think he is still using it in the common sense.  Who is He, sir, that I may believe in Him?  Something has been happening in his heart.  This divine initiative is not only physical, not only Jesus finding him, but God, by the power of the Holy Spirit is opening his heart to believe, and all he needs.  It’s like Lydia, whose heart the Lord opened.  Remember in the Book of Acts?  The man’s heart is opened.  All he wants to knowis: who? 

Jesus said to the man (verse 37), ‘You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he’.

MacArthur brings in a third element of spiritual sight:

There’s a third feature in spiritual sight.  It starts in divine initiative.  It requires faith.  Thirdly, spiritual sight confesses Jesus as Lord.  Where there is the miracle of spiritual sight, there will be a confession of Jesus as Lord. 

Notice verse 37.  Jesus said to him, he’s saying, who do I believe in?  “You have both seen Him.”  You’ve seen Him.  You’re looking at Him, “and He’s the one who is talking with you.”  Wow.  It’s interesting to me that I don’t know how much this man had heard Jesus teach.  Certainly, he hadn’t seen any miracles.  Something, there were lots of people who saw miracles.  The whole population saw miracles.  Couldn’t overcome spiritual darkness.  But God is overcoming his spiritual darkness by giving him faith.  And all he wants to know is who he’s supposed to put that faith in Jesus says, “You’ve seen Him, and He’s the one talking with you.”  It is I.  Remember back in chapter 4 when the woman at the well, the Samaritan woman said, well, we know that the Christ is going to come, and Jesus responds by saying, “I who speak to you am He.”  I’m the One.  And she believed, and the whole village of Sychar believed. 

The Samaritan woman’s conversion was last week’s — Year A’s — reading for the Third Sunday in Lent in 2023: John 4:5-42 (parts 1 and 2).

The man replied to Jesus saying, ‘Lord, I believe’, and he worshipped Him (verse 38).

MacArthur looks at the title the man uses here:

And he said, “Lord, I believe.”  And now, Lord gets an upper-case It’s Kyrie in the upper-case.  He’s gone from sir, to the Lord of lords

This is Lord in its fullest and most lofty and elevated sense.  Lord, I believe.  And even though the word is the same, there’s a huge difference.  When he says “Lord” in verse 36, he’s asking a question.  Who do I believe in?  Now, he believes, and he says “Lord” in a completely different sense because he immediately does what?  Worships. 

How do you know when spiritual sight comes to someone?  Well, it’s initiated by God, the heart is prepared, the heart opens up to accept the truth and confesses Jesus as Lord It’s just an astounding and marvelous miracle, like the miracle of physical sight.

MacArthur recaps the episodes in Christ’s ministry that John has given us thus far:

We’re starting to accumulate a little roll call here of believers, aren’t we?  Back when we began the gospel of John, it was Peter and Andrew, and Philip and Nathaniel.  And then, Nicodemus showed up, and maybe not a believer yet, but he’s on the way.  And eventually becomes a believer, shows up in the burial of our Lord.  But as of now, we’d have to limit it to Peter, Andrew, Philip, Nathaniel, and then that Samaritan woman in chapter 4, and then the folks from the village of Sychar And then some true disciples in chapter 6 And now we can add the blind man to our little roll call of true believers.  Every one of them is a divine and supernatural miracle. 

Interestingly, Year A (2023) has had some of these Gospel readings. I gave you the one of the Samaritan woman a few paragraphs ago. Peter, Andrew and John’s conversion was the reading for the Second Sunday after Epiphany (John 1:19-42). Nicodemus’s story was the one for the Second Sunday in Lent (John 3:1-17).

I love serendipity, especially when it involves the Bible. We can really make proper connections then.

Our Lord’s discourse with the man concludes at this point. Henry says:

None but God is to be worshipped; so that in worshipping Jesus he owned him to be God. Note, True faith will show itself in a humble adoration of the Lord Jesus. Those who believe in him will see all the reason in the world to worship him. We never read any more of this man; but, it is very likely, from henceforth he became a constant follower of Christ.

Jesus then directed His thoughts elsewhere, saying that He came into this world for judgement, so that those who do not see may see and those who do see may become blind (verse 39).

He spoke of the Pharisees in the second half of the verse. They were wilfully blind to Him.

MacArthur says:

Obviously a play on words on this whole concept of blindness, which is, as I said, is all over the Scripture When Jesus sees this man worshiping Him, He compares this humble, confiding, trusting, believing heart of the beggar with the hostile, stubborn hatred of the Pharisees And He admits: this is how it’s going to be in my coming Even though the Son of Man is come to seek and to save the lost, even though He doesn’t come for judgment, as He says in John 3, He didn’t come to judge the world but to save the world. 

MacArthur reminds us that Simeon prophesied similarly when the infant Jesus was presented at the temple 40 days after His birth (Luke 2:22-32 and Luke 2:33-40). We remember this day on February 2, the feast of Candlemas:

34And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35(and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.”

MacArthur tells us that salvation becomes division:

… even though He came in His incarnation to save, His salvation in itself becomes a dividing reality There is a judgment bound up in it.  Like Simeon said, “This child is for the rising and the falling of many.”  He’s the divider.  This is not final judgment.  This is a kind of immediate judgment that happens at the point at which the gospel is introduced, at which Christ is introduced.  There is a dividing that takes place between the believer and the unbeliever.  Yes, He didn’t come to judge in the sense of final judgment.  He came to save.  He came to be humbled, and go to the cross, and rise from the dead to save.  But even that is a judgment rendered.  In fact, in John 3, He says, “If you reject Him, you judge yourself.”  You judge yourself.  You’re already judged.  If a person sees in Jesus who died on the cross for salvation, nothing desirable, nothing that that person wants, that is a judgment on that person.  That’s a self-condemnation.

If a sinner sees in Jesus nothing to desire, nothing to long for, nothing to want, nothing to put trust in, that’s a self-condemnation.  That’s the Pharisees.  They didn’t need anything.  They could see clearly.  They saw it all.  They knew God.  They knew the truth.  They knew that Jesus was a vile sinner, a satanic, demonic, insane man.  Because they thought they see, they are totally blind.  So that’s the point of verse 39

Some of the Pharisees heard Jesus and said to him (verse 40), ‘Surely we are not blind, are we?’

Whether they scoffed at Jesus or scorned Him, they resented His words.

Henry rewords the text to give it fuller meaning:

“Now,” say they, “we know that the common people are blind; but are we blind also? What we? The rabbin, the doctors, the learned in the laws, the graduates in the schools, are we blind too?” This is scandalum magnatum—a libel on the great. Note, Frequently those that need reproof most, and deserve it best, though they have wit enough to discern a tacit one, have not grace enough to bear a just one. These Pharisees took this reproof for a reproach, as those lawyers (Luke 11 45): “Are we blind also? Darest thou say that we are blind, whose judgment every one has such a veneration for, values, and yields to?” Note, Nothing fortifies men’s corrupt hearts more against the convictions of the word, nor more effectually repels them, than the good opinion, especially if it be a high opinion, which others have of them; as if all that had gained applause with men must needs obtain acceptance with God, than which nothing is more false and deceitful, for God sees not as man sees.

MacArthur tells us about spiritual blindness:

The first thing then, about spiritual blindness is: spiritual blindness brings judgment Spiritual blindness brings judgment.  Tragic.  Judgment.  Now, and in the future.  Spiritual blindness, secondly, is stubborn, verse 40.  “Those of the Pharisees who were with Him heard these things and said to Him, ‘We’re not blind too, are we?’“ Again, speaking metaphorically, they refused to admit their blindness We’re not blind in the sense that, they say this with disdain, and arrogance, and scorn.  You’re not saying we, the most learned, erudite, righteous, holy, virtuous, representatives of God, you’re not saying we’re blind, are You?  Well, that’s exactly what He was saying.  This man was spiritually blind, but now he can see, spiritually.  You think you can see spiritually, which simply demonstrates that you are spiritually blind.  Blindness, the idea of spiritual blindness to them is a joke

Jesus replied, saying that, if they were blind, they would not have sin; however, now that they say they see, their sin remains (verse 41).

Henry explains:

This very thing which they gloried in, Christ here tells them, was their shame and ruin. For,

1. If you were blind, you would have no sin. (1.) “If you had been really ignorant, your sin had not been so deeply aggravated, nor would you have had so much sin to answer for as now you have. If you were blind, as the poor Gentiles are, and many of your own poor subjects, from whom you have taken the key of knowledge, you would have had comparatively no sin.” The times of ignorance God winked at; invincible ignorance, though it does not justify sin, excuses it, and lessens the guilt. It will be more tolerable with those that perish for lack of vision than with those that rebel against the light. (2.) “If you had been sensible of your own blindness, if when you would see nothing else you could have seen the need of one to lead you, you would soon have accepted Christ as your guide, and then you would have had no sin, you would have submitted to an evangelical righteousness, and have been put into a justified state.” Note, Those that are convinced of their disease are in a fair way to be cured, for there is not a greater hindrance to the salvation of souls than self-sufficiency.

2. “But now you say, We see; now that you have knowledge, and are instructed out of the law, your sin is highly aggravated; and now that you have a conceit of that knowledge, and think you see your way better than any body can show it you, therefore your sin remains, your case is desperate, and your disease incurable.” And as those are most blind who will not see, so their blindness is most dangerous who fancy they do see. No patients are so hardly managed as those in a frenzy who say that they are well, and nothing ails them. The sin of those who are self-conceited and self-confident remains, for they reject the gospel of grace, and therefore the guilt of their sin remains unpardoned; and they forfeit the Spirit of grace, and therefore the power of their sin remains unbroken. Seest thou a wise man in his own conceit? Hearest thou the Pharisees say, We see? There is more hope of a fool, of a publican and a harlot, than of such.

MacArthur contrasts the way Jesus uses blindness in verse 40 with verse 41:

This is continuing this little play on words on the notion of blindness.  But Jesus is using the term in a completely different way.  In verse 40, you are blind.  You are blind, in the sense that you don’t see your sin.  You are blind.  You are blind.  But in verse 41, you’re not blind.  How do you do that?  You’re not blind.  “If you were blind, you would have no sin.”  What does that mean?  You are not blind as to the truth.  If you were blind to the truth, if you had no knowledge of the truth, no revelation of the truth, if you didn’t have the Scripture, didn’t have the Old Testament, the law, all the prophets and holy writings, didn’t have Me, didn’t have all the demonstration of who I am, your sin would not be so severe.  This would be like the times of the past when God overlooked people’s sin because the revelation was incomplete.  There’s less punishment, a less severe judgment falls on those who have no knowledge.  But you’re not blind.  You are blind in the sense that you don’t see your own sin.  You are not blind in the sense that you have been exposed to the truth.  You have the law, the prophets, the covenants, everything.  The promises, the Old Testament.  You’ve had Me.  You’ve heard My words.  You’ve seen the miracles.  You have no excuse.  Yes, blind to your own sin; no, not blind to the truth.

Spiritual blindness then, receives judgment, refuses to admit its blindness, rejects the offer of light and sight when it’s given, such as they had received.  Finally, results in doom, end of verse 41.  “But since you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

You’re doomed.  You are accepting the condition you’re in, of spiritual blindness, as spiritual sight.  You are doomed.  You are hopeless.  If you think you can see, you’re doomed.  Amazing play on words.  Your sin remains.  Finality.  So, the light shines in the darkness The darkness cannot extinguish it.  The darkness cannot put it out, but the darkness rejects it.  Came to His own, His own received Him not.  He’s in the world.  The world was made by Him.  The world knew Him not. 

They are the religious elite.  They are in the darkness.  And a blind beggar, who’s a total outcast, sees physically; more importantly, sees spiritually.

MacArthur gives us something to consider as we contrast the blind beggar with the Pharisees:

How do you know when someone’s a believer?  Because he becomes a what?  Worshiper.  How do you know you’re Christian?  Not because you prayed a prayer.  Not because you asked the Lord to do something for you.  Not because you got emotionally moved in a meeting and felt sentimental about Jesus.  How do you know you’re a believer?  How do you know you’ve been transformed?  Because you have become a worshiper, a worshiper.  That’s why I said to you earlier: this narcissistic, sentimental, self-centered approach to the gospel creates an endless dependency that the system that offered originally the answer to what everybody wants keep giving that person what that person wants.  It’s relentless.  How do you turn that person into one who is a totally selfless worshiper? 

This man falls on his knees in adoration.  The opposite, back in verse 59 of chapter 8, when Jesus declared who He was to the Pharisees, they picked up stones to stone Him.  That’s what spiritual blindness produces.  This is what spiritual sight produces.  So, if you’re asking the question: how do I know if I’m saved?  Ask yourself if you love Christ, if you love God, if you love the Holy Spirit, if you desire to be obedient, if you desire to honor, to please the Lord, if you’re a worshiper.  We were talking in the elder’s meeting the other night about some few people who don’t come to church, and when we contact them, they give all kinds of kind of lame, well, you know, I’ve got other things, and so and so bothers me, and blah, blah, blah.  The bottom line is: those people, very likely, aren’t believers, because believers worship.  That’s the priority of their life.  And I’m not saying that the only place you worship is in the collective assembly of the church That’s not.  But this is what lifts you up and strengthens you and encourages you for the rest of those hours when you worship as an independent person.  This is critical.  This fulfills the longing of our heart, to honor the Lord, to hear from the Lord, to exalt the Lord, to praise the Lord.  Worshipers. 

May all reading this (far!) have a blessed day.

Forbidden Bible Verses returns tomorrow

The Fourth Sunday in Lent, Laetare Sunday, is March 19, 2023.

Readings for Year A, including an explanation of Laetare Sunday — the joyful Sunday in Lent — can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 9:1-41

9:1 As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.

9:2 His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”

9:3 Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.

9:4 We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.

9:5 As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”

9:6 When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes,

9:7 saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent). Then he went and washed and came back able to see.

9:8 The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”

9:9 Some were saying, “It is he.” Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.” He kept saying, “I am the man.”

9:10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”

9:11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’ Then I went and washed and received my sight.”

9:12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”

9:13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.

9:14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.

9:15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight. He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes. Then I washed, and now I see.”

9:16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.” But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?” And they were divided.

9:17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him? It was your eyes he opened.” He said, “He is a prophet.”

9:18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight

9:19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind? How then does he now see?”

9:20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind;

9:21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes. Ask him; he is of age. He will speak for himself.”

9:22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.

9:23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”

9:24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner.”

9:25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”

9:26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”

9:27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen. Why do you want to hear it again? Do you also want to become his disciples?”

9:28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.

9:29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”

9:30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing! You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.

9:31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.

9:32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.

9:33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”

9:34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?” And they drove him out.

9:35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9:36 He answered, “And who is he, sir? Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”

9:37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”

9:38 He said, “Lord, I believe.” And he worshiped him.

9:39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”

9:40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”

9:41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin. But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the first of a two-part series. That said, this is a long post as there is much to cover.

In John 7 and John 8, we see the stubbornness of the Jewish hierarchy.

In John 8, they insult Jesus and try to stone Him:

48 The Jews answered him, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?”

49 “I am not possessed by a demon,” said Jesus, “but I honor my Father and you dishonor me. 50 I am not seeking glory for myself; but there is one who seeks it, and he is the judge. 51 Very truly I tell you, whoever obeys my word will never see death.”

57 “You are not yet fifty years old,” they said to him, “and you have seen Abraham!”

58 “Very truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “before Abraham was born, I am!” 59 At this, they picked up stones to stone him, but Jesus hid himself, slipping away from the temple grounds.

Still near the temple in Jerusalem, Jesus walked along and saw a man blind from birth (verse 1).

John MacArthur has more:

Jesus is in Jerusalem.  He’s going through one of the temple entrances, temple gates.  And He comes across a blind man who has been born blind.  He’s never seen.  He has some kind of congenital blindness.  He is reduced to being a beggar So, he sits there with the rest of the beggars at the temple entrance because that’s where most people come and go who are concerned about honoring God, and who may be more sensitive to doing what they should do, doing right, and giving alms to beggars And so, those entrances and exits were occupied by beggars.  Jesus comes across this man who is blind, who obviously can’t see Him. 

Our Lord’s disciples asked Him whether the blind man had sinned or his parents had sinned, hence his disability (verse 2).

Any Jew with a disability was an outcast, because they considered it a sign of serious sin.

MacArthur explains the issue with blindness:

the greatest ancient contributor to blindness was gonorrhea.  And since there was no treatment for that, when a mother had gonorrhea, a baby passing through the birth canal could come out blind, essentially.  This was epidemic.  Even in the modern world, where in third-world countries, there is no remedy for that.  Silver nitrate, or whatever is used; there’s no remedy for that.  Blindness is multiplied. 

There was a time not many years ago, according to one source I read, where 90 percent of the blind, born blind, were from venereal disease.  And again, even today in countries where they don’t have the ability to care for that, blindness is increased.  So were they saying something about the sin of the mother or the father?  Something about a transmitted disease?  Maybe that was in their mind, but probably more likely it was theological, rather than physiological. 

The rabbis were convinced that the sins of the parents were visited upon the children.  Where did they get that?  They got that because they misinterpreted Exodus 20 .. But they believed that parents’ sins could show up in children’s guilt and punishment. 

Jesus, in His omniscience, answered them saying that neither the man nor his parents had sinned; he had been born blind so that God’s works could be revealed in him (verse 3).

God’s ways are not our ways.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

This man was born blind, and it was worth while for him to be so, and to continue thus long dark, that the works of God might be manifest in him. That is, First, That the attributes of God might be made manifest in him: his justice in making sinful man liable to such grievous calamities; his ordinary power and goodness in supporting a poor man under such a grievous and tedious affliction, especially that his extraordinary power and goodness might be manifested in curing him. Note, The difficulties of providence, otherwise unaccountable, may be resolved into this—God intends in them to show himself, to declare his glory, to make himself to be taken notice of ... Secondly, That the counsels of God concerning the Redeemer might be manifested in him. He was born blind that our Lord Jesus might have the honour of curing him, and might therein prove himself sent of God to be the true light to the world. Thus the fall of man was permitted, and the blindness that followed it, that the works of God might be manifest in opening the eyes of the blind. It was now a great while since this man was born blind, and yet it never appeared till now why he was so. Note, The intentions of Providence commonly do not appear till a great while after the event, perhaps many years after. The sentences in the book of providence are sometimes long, and you must read a great way before you can apprehend the sense of them.

Jesus said that He — and we — must work the works of the Father who sent Him while it is day, as night is coming when no one can work (verse 4).

Henry looks at this in a literal and practical way, of that 24-hour day and of our obligations as believers:

[2.] Now was his opportunity: I must work while it is day, while the time lasts which is appointed to work in, and while the light lasts which is given to work by. Christ himself had his day. First, All the business of the mediatorial kingdom was to be done within the limits of time, and in this world; for at the end of the world, when time shall be no more, the kingdom shall be delivered up to God, even the Father, and the mystery of God finished. Secondly, all the work he had to do in his own person here on earth was to be done before his death; the time of his living in this world is the day here spoken of. Note, The time of our life is our day, in which it concerns us to do the work of the day. Day-time is the proper season for work (Ps 104 22, 23); during the day of life we must be busy, not waste day-time, nor play by day-light; it will be time enough to rest when our day is done, for it is but a day.

[3.] The period of his opportunity was at hand, and therefore he would be busy; The night comes when no man can work. Note, The consideration of our death approaching should quicken us to improve all the opportunities of life, both for doing and getting good. The night comes, it will come certainly, may come suddenly, is coming nearer and nearer. We cannot compute how nigh our sun is, it may go down at noon; nor can we promise ourselves a twilight between the day of life and the night of death. When the night comes we cannot work, because the light afforded us to work by is extinguished; the grave is a land of darkness, and our work cannot be done in the dark. And, besides, our time allotted us for our work will then have expired; when our Master tied us to duty he tied us to time too; when night comes, call the labourers; we must then show our work, and receive according to the things done. In the world of retribution we are no longer probationers; it is too late to bid when the inch of candle is dropped. Christ uses this as an argument with himself to be diligent, though he had no opposition from within to struggle with; much more need have we to work upon our hearts these and the like considerations to quicken us.

Jesus said, ‘As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world’ (verse 5).

Henry tells us:

He had said this before, ch. 8 12. He is the Sun of righteousness, that has not only light in his wings for those that can see, but healing in his wings, or beams, for those that are blind and cannot see, therein far exceeding in virtue that great light which rules by day. Christ would cure this blind man, the representative of a blind world, because he came to be the light of the world, not only to give light, but to give sight. Now this gives us, First, A great encouragement to come to him, as a guiding, quickening, refreshing light. To whom should we look but to him? Which way should we turn our eyes, but to the light? We partake of the sun’s light, and so we may of Christ’s grace, without money and without price. Secondly, A good example of usefulness in the world. What Christ saith of himself, he saith of his disciples: You are lights in the world, and, if so, Let your light shine. What were candles made for but to burn?

Before we get to this healing miracle, MacArthur tells us about the miracles in the Old Testament, which were few and far between:

… if you go to the Old Testament, these corrupt influences falling on physical life are so dominating and so normal, and so unabated and uninterrupted, that throughout the entire Old Testament, miraculous healing is so rare, it is virtually non-existent. 

There was the healing of Naaman the leper, who was a border terrorist attacking the Jews.  That’s in 1 Kings.  And then, there was King Hezekiah who had a terminal illness, and God spared him and cured him of that terminal illness.  That’s 2 Kings.  And then, in Numbers 21, God sent snakes that bit the children of Israel with a deadly poison They would’ve died, except the Lord was merciful to them, and healed their snakebites

And as far as an outright individual healing, very, very rare and unusual.  When you come into the New Testament, as the New Testament begins, there are a couple of other physical miracles of healing One happens to Elizabeth so that she who has been barren all her life is enabled to have a baby, John the Baptist That is a healing miracle.  And then, there of course is Mary, and Mary’s is not a healing, but Mary is given the right, and the privilege, and the power to bear a child without a father, a human father, the virgin birth But when you look at the Old Testament, you’ve got six occasions where an actual, physical miracle brought about a change in someone’s physiology.

In the Old Testament, you have three resurrections.  That’s all.  Three.  The widow’s son in 1 Kings 17, the Shunammite widow’s son in 2 Kings 4, and the man in Elijah’s grave in 2 Kings 13.  Three resurrections.  That’s it.  Very, very rare through the entire history, from the Fall, to the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ.

And by the way, you say, well, that’s just the Old Testament.  Yes, but if you just took the Old Testament, that would be religion central, wouldn’t it be?  That would be where God is most active.  That would be where God is working, God is acting through the fathers, through the prophets, through the history of Israel, the nation of Israel.  And in all of that period of history where God is acting, miracles don’t happen except on extremely rare occasions, miracles of healing.

Until Jesus shows up.  And when Jesus showed up, miracles explode in every direction throughout His three-year ministry By the way, He did no miracles for the first 30 years of His life.  None.  Because, when He reached the age of 30 and He went to a wedding in Cana, and turned water into wine, the Bible says this is the first miracle Jesus did.  So, these nonsense, gnostic, false gospels that have Jesus doing miracles as a boy are nothing but foolish.  We just don’t have healings in history.  You don’t have miraculous reversing of disease and deformity.  You don’t have resurrections.  You don’t have people coming back from the dead.  This is a very rare occasion.

Then you come into the life and ministry of Christ, and healings are happening virtually on a daily basis This is an explosion intended to demonstrate that the Messiah, the Son of God, God in human flesh, has arrived in the world.  Matthew 12:15 says He was healing all.  He was healing all.  So, He was healing all the people in all the places.  That’s why I’ve said many times that He banished illness, essentially, from the land of Israel.

Returning to today’s reading, Jesus spat on the ground, made mud with His saliva and spread the mud on the blind man’s eyes (verse 6).

Henry says:

1. The preparation of the eye-salve … He made clay of his own spittle, because there was no water near; and he would teach us not to be nice or curious, but, when we have at any time occasion, to be willing to take up with that which is next hand, if it will but serve the turn. Why should we go about for that which may as well be had and done a nearer way? Christ’s making use of his own spittle intimates that there is healing virtue in every thing that belongs to Christ; clay made of Christ’s spittle was much more precious than the balm of Gilead.

2. The application of it to the place: He anointed the eyes of the blind man with the clay. Or, as the margin reads it, He spread (epechrise), he daubed the clay upon the eyes of the blind man, like a tender physician; he did it himself with his own hand, though the patient was a beggar. Now Christ did this, (1.) To magnify his power in making a blind man to see by that method which one would think more likely to make a seeing man blind. Daubing clay on the eyes would close them up, but never open them. Note, The power of God often works by contraries; and he makes men feel their own blindness before he gives them sight. (2.) To give an intimation that it was his mighty hand, the very same that at first made man out of the clay; for by him God made the worlds, both the great world, and man the little world. Man was formed out of the clay, and moulded like the clay, and here Christ used the same materials to give sight to the body that at first he used to give being to it. (3.) To represent and typify the healing and opening of the eyes of the mind by the grace of Jesus Christ. The design of the gospel is to open men’s eyes, Acts 26 18. Now the eye-salve that does the work is of Christ’s preparing; it is made up, not as this, of his spittle, but of his blood, the blood and water that came out of his pierced side; we must come to Christ for the eye-salve, Rev 3 18. He only is able, and he only is appointed, to make it up, Luke 4 18. The means used in this work are very weak and unlikely, and are made effectual only by the power of Christ; when a dark world was to be enlightened, and nations of blind souls were to have their eyes opened, God chose the foolish things, and weak, and despised, for the doing of it. And the method Christ takes is first to make men feel themselves blind, as this poor man did whose eyes were daubed with clay, and then to give them sight. Paul in his conversion was struck blind for three days, and then the scales fell from his eyes. The way prescribed for getting spiritual wisdom is, Let a man become a fool, that he may be wise, 1 Cor 3 18. We must be made uneasy with our blindness, as this man here, and then healed.

Jesus told the man to wash in the pool of Siloam, which means Sent; the man went, washed and came back able to see (verse 7).

Both our commentators tell us about the significance of the pool of Siloam.

Henry says:

Concerning the pool of Siloam observe, [1.] That it was supplied with water from mount Zion, so that these were the waters of the sanctuary (Ps 46 4), living waters, which were healing, Ezek 47 9. [2.] That the waters of Siloam had of old signified the throne and kingdom of the house of David, pointing at the Messiah (Isa 8 6), and the Jews who refused the waters of Shiloah, Christ’s doctrine and law, and rejoiced in the tradition of the elders. Christ would try this man, whether he would cleave to the waters of Siloam or no. [3.] The evangelist takes notice of the signification of the name, its being interpreted sent. Christ is often called the sent of God, the Messenger of the covenant (Mal 3 1); so that when Christ sent him to the pool of Siloam he did in effect send him to himself; for Christ is all in all to the healing of souls. Christ as a prophet directs us to himself as a priest. Go, wash in the fountain opened, a fountain of life, not a pool.

Last week, in Year A’s reading for the Third Sunday in Lent, we had the reading about Christ’s conversion of the Samaritan woman, that of living waters in John 4:5-42 (parts 1 and 2).

Of the waters of Siloam, MacArthur adds this:

So, this spoke of God’s provision.  It spoke of God’s cleansing, spoke of the water of life.  It’s really a beautiful picture, and it was water sent into the city, another wonderful symbol.  The waters flow from the temple hill and are regarded, even in the Old Testament, as symbolic of spiritual blessing.  Isaiah 8 talks about that. 

So when a man went to wash at Siloam, there was an analogy there.  He was going to the one who was the true Siloam, the spring of life water from God.  Christ is the true Siloam.  That, He even said back in chapter 7 verse 37.  “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me and drink.”  Beautiful imagery, beautiful analogies. 

This is how salvation works in this analogy.  Sovereign grace confronts a blind and helpless, hopeless begging sinner.  He can’t see, can’t see God, can’t see Christ.  But sovereign grace comes to him, places His glorious, merciful hand on his sightless soul, asks only a response of simple faith, prompts that response.  He finds his way to the cleansing waters, which is an emblem of Messianic salvation in Isaiah, and he comes back, and he can see, spiritually.  It’s really a beautiful picture. 

The people’s reaction is interesting. They asked whether the healed beggar was the same man they had seen before (verse 8). Some said it was; others said it was someone who looked like him, so the beggar spoke up and kept saying that he was that man (verse 9).

That poor man. He must have been so exhiliarated at being able to see everything around him, and yet people doubted that he was the one who begged at the temple gates.

The people asked him how he was able to see, how his eyes had been opened (verse 10), an interesting choice of words, implying to us that a spiritual opening had also taken place.

Henry says:

We may apply it spiritually; it is strange that blind eyes should be opened, but more strange when we consider how they are opened; how weak the means are that are used, and how strong the opposition that is conquered.

The man replied, sticking to the facts: the man called Jesus made mud, spread it on his eyes and told him to wash in the waters of Siloam, which he did, and he then received his sight (verse 11).

MacArthur says that the rest of the story concerns unbelief, which we have already seen in verse 9, with some doubting it was the same man:

First of all, I want you to see that unbelief is inimical, inimical. You probably haven’t used that word today or any day for that matter. But it’s a really good word, and it means “hostile.” It means adverse, it means pernicious, ill-disposed. It could even be dangerous. Unbelief is not benign. You need to understand that. When you’re dealing with unbelievers, you’re not dealing with some benign reality. This is an aggressive attitude to take. When you don’t believe in the Gospel, and you don’t believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, you inevitably are hostile toward that. That is why it is unbelievers who ultimately persecute Christians …

It starts intellectual, becomes emotional, then becomes verbal, and ends up physical. That’s what’ll happen in the story. It starts as a discussion about facts. It then becomes emotional. And the man starts sarcastically firing away at them. And then it becomes them firing at him, reviling then, and eventually physically, they throw Him out. Those are the sequences of conflict. And unbelief, if pressed, can go down that path pretty fast

Secondly, verses 17 to 24, we’re going to work through this quickly. Unbelief is intractable. And what does intractable mean? Will not bend. Cannot be convinced. The blind man told him exactly what happened. I was blind. I can see. Jesus came, he names Jesus in the first testimony back in verse 11. He came, He told me to go to the pool. I went to the pool. I washed the mud out of my eyes, and I see. And he is literally staring at them, and they at him, as he gives this testimony. And there are all kinds of people around affirming the reality of this. But it is the nature of determined, willful unbelief that it wants more evidence, but never wants to do anything with it. It’s really on a mad search to discredit. It keeps probing, not because it seeks the truth, but because it seeks justification for its conclusion. In Deuteronomy 32 and verse 20, Moses called apostates “children in whom is no faith.” Children in whom is no belief.

and thirdly, unbelief is irrational. With … facts, if you come to a wrong conclusion, you’re irrational. Unbelief is irrational. You face this all the time in trying to proclaim the Gospel to people. You give them the facts; you lay out the facts systematically like Peter did on the day of Pentecost. People reject it, because unbelief is irrational.

The people asked the man where Jesus was, and he said he did not know (verse 12).

Henry tells us why they asked that question:

Where is he? Some perhaps asked this question out of curiosity. “Where is he, that we may see him?” A man that did such cures as these might well be a show, which one would go a good way for the sight of. Others, perhaps, asked out of ill-will. “Where is he, that we may seize him?” There was a proclamation out for the discovering and apprehending of him (ch. 11 57); and the unthinking crowd, in spite of all reason and equity, will have ill thoughts of those that are put into an ill name. Some, we hope, asked this question out of good-will. “Where is he, that we may be acquainted with him? Where is he, that we may come to him, and share in the favours he is so free of?” In answer to this, he could say nothing: I know not. As soon as Christ had sent him to the pool of Siloam, it should seem, he withdrew immediately (as he did, ch. 5 13), and did not stay till the man returned, as if he either doubted of the effect or waited for the man’s thanks … Thus in the work of grace wrought upon the soul we see the change, but see not the hand that makes it; for the way of the Spirit is like that of the wind, which thou hearest the sound of, but canst not tell whence it comes nor whither it goes.

The people took the man to the Pharisees (verse 13).

When I read that verse, I thought of Luke 17:11-19, which is the Gospel for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity in Year C. Jesus healed ten lepers, and told them to visit the priest (Luke 17:14). Henry’s commentary states:

As the ceremonial law was yet in force, Christ took care that it should be observed, and the reputation of it kept up, and due honour paid to the priests in things pertaining to their function; but, probably, he had here a further design, which was to have the priest’s judgment of, and testimony to, the perfectness of the cure; and that the priest might be awakened, and others by him, to enquire after one that had such a commanding power over bodily diseases.

Perhaps some of the people had that in mind, too. However, John tells us that it was the Sabbath (verse 14), when no work was to be done. So, there was undoubtedly on the part of some in the crowd a malicious intent in bringing the man before the Pharisees so that they could further condemn Christ.

The Pharisees asked the man how he obtained his sight; the man responded with the facts, saying that He put mud on his eyes, then he washed and then he could see (verse 15).

Henry expresses the mood perfectly. His thoughts mirror those of MacArthur’s with regard to unbelief:

So much passion, prejudice, and ill-humour, and so little reason, appear here, that the discourse is nothing but crossing questions. One would think, when a man in these circumstances was brought before them, they would have been so taken up in admiring the miracle, and congratulating the happiness of the poor man, that they could not have been peevish with him. But their enmity to Christ had divested them of all manner of humanity, and divinity too. Let us see how they teased this man.

The Pharisees were divided (verse 16), as they were in John 7:

45 Finally the temple guards went back to the chief priests and the Pharisees, who asked them, “Why didn’t you bring him in?”

46 “No one ever spoke the way this man does,” the guards replied.

47 “You mean he has deceived you also?” the Pharisees retorted. 48 “Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed in him? 49 No! But this mob that knows nothing of the law—there is a curse on them.”

50 Nicodemus, who had gone to Jesus earlier and who was one of their own number, asked, 51 “Does our law condemn a man without first hearing him to find out what he has been doing?”

52 They replied, “Are you from Galilee, too? Look into it, and you will find that a prophet does not come out of Galilee.”

Returning to today’s reading, the Pharisees asked the man what he thought of ‘him’, meaning Jesus; the man stated, ‘He is a prophet’ (verse 17).

MacArthur says:

he was right. He knew his Old Testament. There’s not one single healing of a blind man in the entire Old Testament. It was unheard of. He knew that …

So this man has caught the wind of this man, Jesus. He knows His name from verse 11. He knows He’s a prophet. He now believes He’s a prophet from God because of His miracle power. And so, He gives them a straightforward, sensible answer, which should’ve been the end of the investigation. Here’s the man. He can see. This must reveal Jesus as a Prophet.

This hardened the Pharisees against the man who then refused to believe that he had ever been blind, so they called in his parents (verse 18). The Pharisees asked the parents whether the man was their son who was born blind and, if so, how it was that he could see (verse 19).

MacArthur says:

Now remember, they’ve heard from the man, and the man is surrounded by all the strangers and neighbors who knew him and brought him and all that testimony collectively.  And they still don’t believe because again, unbelief is intractable.  I’m telling you this because you need to understand this is what you’re going to face when you give the Gospel.  Most of the people are going to reject what you tell them about the Gospel, throughout your whole life of ministry and evangelism, most people will not accept what you sayThen, there is an element of hostility toward the Gospel, and there’s an element of being intractable and immovable against the Gospel.  This is what we face.  The way is narrow.  Few there be that find it. 

So, this is the predisposed viewpoint.  They say look, we’re going to dig deeper into this, because they will not give up the notion that this man is a sinner and he is not from God.  So, there must be something about the story that they’re not seeing yet.  There’s some kind of cover-up here.  There’s some kind of lie.  There’s some kind of deception.  We’ve got to get to the bottom of this.

Henry has more:

This they did in hopes to disprove the miracle. These parents were poor and timorous, and if they had said that they could not be sure that this was their son, or that it was only some weakness or dimness in his sight that he had been born with, which if they had been able to get help for him might have been cured long since, or had otherwise prevaricated, for fear of the court, the Pharisees had gained their point, had robbed Christ of the honour of this miracle, which would have lessened the reputation of all the rest. But God so ordered and overruled this counsel of theirs that it turned to the more effectual proof of the miracle, and left them under a necessity of being either convinced or confounded.

The questions that were put to them (v. 19): They asked them in an imperious threatening way, “Is this your son? Dare you swear to it? Do you say he was born blind? Are you sure of it? Or did he but pretend to be so, to have an excuse for his begging? How then doth he now see? That is impossible, and therefore you had better unsay it.” Those who cannot bear the light of truth do all they can to eclipse it, and hinder the discovery of it. Thus the managers of evidence, or mismanagers rather, lead witnesses out of the way, and teach them how to conceal or disguise the truth, and so involve themselves in a double guilt, like that of Jeroboam, who sinned, and made Israel to sin.

The parents affirmed that the man was their son and that he had been born blind (verse 20).

They said they did not know how he came to see, nor by whom, so they told the Pharisees to ask him themselves, as he was an adult and could speak for himself (verse 21).

Our commentators point to the cowardice of the parents, but, we discover that they were afraid of the Jews, who had already agreed that anyone who confessed that Jesus was Messiah would be thrown out of the synagogue (verse 22). Therefore, his parents said, ‘He is of age; ask him’ (verse 23).

MacArthur explains why the parents said that:

They knew what it was to be thrown out of the synagogue, by the way, because their son had lived outside the synagogue. They knew what the ban was, what the curse was, with all its implications. They knew what being an outcast was, and they didn’t want that.

Can’t throw him out of the synagogue. He’s not in the synagogue.

MacArthur also explains how awful being thrown out of the synagogue was for worshippers. Essentially, you lost not only your fellowship of worshippers but all of your social contacts. The synagogue was every practising Jew’s meeting place:

Now, being thrown out of the synagogue was a big deal.  A very big deal.  If you were in Jewish society and you weren’t in the synagogue, you were like a leper.  There were three kinds of excommunication, but each of them had social implications, economic implications, and religious implications.  The first, according to the Talmud, there were three kinds of Shamatha, which means destruction.  That’s considered destruction, when you’re thrown out of the synagogue, cut off from God, the life of the countryThere is Nezifah, which was 7 days to 30 days.  7 days to 30 days, a week to a month.  You were out of the synagogue.  You were a pariah for those days.  Second, there was Niddui.  30 days and up.  That could last a long time.  Months, maybe years, depending on the crime.  And if you died under that ban, you had no funeral.  You were seriously dishonored.  The worst was Herem, which was an indefinite, permanent ban.  The rabbis used to say that being banned was far worse than being flogged, ‘cause of its implication socially and economically, as well as religiously. 

So, they didn’t want to get anywhere near having to experience what he experienced.  And since they couldn’t throw him out, they said, “Ask him; he’s of age.” 

The Pharisees called the man in again and asked him to recant giving Jesus the credit for his sight, which is why they said, ‘Give glory to God! We know that this man is a sinner’ (verse 24).

The man wisely answered that he did not know whether the one who healed him was a sinner, only that he was blind and now he can see (verse 25).

That verse was the inspiration for Amazing Grace, the fascinating story of which I will relate in a future post.

My exegesis concludes here.

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


There is much to write about this passage, as seen in Parts 1 and 2.

This final part concludes, covering verses 5 through 7.

If a man cannot run his own household, Paul asks, then how can he care for God’s church (verse 5)?

Paul said that a good overseer must manage his household and family well (verse 4).

John MacArthur explains that caring for God’s church requires a strong commitment to help and an ability to lead as well as manage. He says that the Good Samaritan is a good illustration of the character needed for a lead pastor, or overseer (emphases mine):

Now, there is a man who is fitted to lead the church, and that’s exactly what verse 5 says from a negative viewpoint. “If a man doesn’t know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of” – and it’s an anarthrous construction here – “a church of God?” How can he rule a local assembly if he can’t rule his own house?

Now, notice it says at the end of verse 5, “How shall he take care of the church?” That’s a beautiful word. That word is used in a very familiar parable of our Lord in Luke 10, the parable of the Good Samaritan …

… It starts with compassion, extends to giving time, extends to binding up wounds, to pouring in oil, to sacrificing your means of transportation to carry him, to take him to an inn and paying his bill. And then, in general, just taking care of him. And that’s wonderful because that’s what it’s all about in leading the church. It’s taking care of the church.

And what does it mean to take care of the church? Well, it encompasses a lot of things. It encompasses stopping what you’re doing sometimes and being diverted to a guy lying in the road. It involves pouring oil and wine in his wounds; it involves binding him up; it involves self-sacrifices – you put him on our own animal, as you pay his way at the inn, and as you generally take care of and meet his needs. And I’ll tell you, there is no better place to see whether a man has a life committed to meeting needs than to take a look at what he does with the people in his household. Right? Does he care about them? Is his life committed to them? Does he work hard to meet [their] needs? If he doesn’t, and he doesn’t have the leadership manifest, then how could he ever take care of the needs of the church?

Paul goes on to say that the overseer must not be a recent convert, lest he become puffed up with pride and fall into the condemnation of the devil (verse 6).

There were times when an overseer was a recent convert. That is because everyone else in the congregation was also a recent convert.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains why, in other circumstances, Paul’s letter does not recommend this:

He must not be a novice, not one newly brought to the Christian religion, or not one who is but meanly instructed in it, who knows no more of religion than the surface of it, for such a one is apt to be lifted up with pride: the more ignorant men are the more proud they are: Lest, being lifted up with pride, he fall into the condemnation of the devil. The devils fell through pride, which is a good reason why we should take heed of pride, because it is a sin that turned angels into devils.

MacArthur explains that pride is a well-known temptation in ministry, as is seeking approval for the wrong reasons, e.g. compromising the truth:

… all of us, I think, would like to have approval; we would like to have people applaud us. And so, the temptation is there to sort of back off, and maybe restrain the truth, and limit the message a little bit so that you gain some acceptance and sort of put yourself in a position to be better liked in the community.

Another temptation that I think comes to those in leadership is the temptation to pride, especially where God is gracious and blesses the ministry. It can create very proud feelings, “Look what I have done; look what I’ve accomplished,” and you’re always getting that temptation coming at you, a constant self-gratification.

Also, when you have successful ministry, and you’ve born a lot of the burden of that, there’s another way in which pride comes to you, and that’s sort of in – I guess you could call it an air of royalty. You get to the place where you think you’re the king that created the kingdom, and so you have a right to call all the shots

The problem with that is it breeds unaccountability, and pretty soon you’re not answerable to anybody, and you’re calling all the shots. And, frankly, you got to live with your successes and live with your failures, too, and you’ll never develop any leadership in that kind of a system.

But there’s always the temptation first to self-defense, self-justification, and then an abuse of authority, and then unaccountability. And pride pushes you in those directions. And we have that temptation coming at us in leadership.

I believe that we have to keep the armor of the Lord on because the enemy’s after us as much as anybody and probably more. Satan would do everything he could within his power to try to trip up a servant of God in a place of prominence, leading the people of God. I know that.

… it says in Scripture, “Greater is He that is in you than he that is within the world,” is a reality because I know if they’re attacking people, I must be one of them somewhere down the line they’re after, and they’re not successful. And in fact, I see myself growing spiritually, and I see our church gaining victory and God blessing, and so, I’m confident that I have nothing to fear as long as I walk in obedience to God’s will in the energy of his spirit. That’s a very hopeful thing.

But nonetheless, those kinds of onslaughts and temptations do come. And in all honesty, you know, when you’ve got all this coming at you – discouragement, indifference, laziness, compromise, pride, general temptation – be honest – and I’ll be honest, too, I mean who is going to be the person who never falls? Well, nobody.

I mean somewhere along the line, in those battles, we’re going to feel like giving up; we’re going to become indifferent; we’re going to be prideful sometime. We’re going to fall in temptation and maybe speak a word we should never have spoken to someone, an unkindness, or whatever it is. I mean that’s going to happen. We are far from perfect, and we do fall in stumbling with our lips. Only a perfect man would not do that.

And so, I want you to understand that though we’ve put the qualifications high, they’re not so high that everybody would be disqualified in God’s grace. He, by His Spirit, can make us what He wants us to be, as close to these standards as possible.

MacArthur addresses the importance of maturity in faith, rather than age, when leading a church:

Now, that brings us to the third and the fourth, and we’ll look at them and bring this passage to a conclusion. The third category in which the blameless qualification has to be applied is in the matter of maturity. The matter of maturity. There is missing, in verses 2 and 3, a very important spiritual characteristic, and that’s the characteristic of humility. And if you’ve wondered where humility was, here it is, coming up in verse 6 as we shall see.

Now, when you think about someone to be appointed as pastor/elder/overseer, verse 6 says, “He should not be a neophutos,” a neophyte. And neo means new, and the other word means planted. He should not be newly planted. That means a new convert, newly baptized. That word “newly planted” is used only here in the New Testament. It’s used outside the New Testament to speak of planting trees, the actual planting of trees in the ground. It refers, then, to a recent convert. Paul says to Timothy, “Don’t put a man in spiritual oversight as a pastor, an elder, who is a new convert, recently baptized.” That’s very basic. Now why? And I want you to watch this, because this is perhaps a big unexpected. Why? “Lest being lifted up with pride” – stop there. The issue here is not that he might not be a good teacher of the Bible. It’s not that he might prove to be less than a strong leader. It is not that he might not be well-versed in the Old Testament Scripture. The issue here is if you lift up a new convert in the church and give him a position with other mature, godly men, he’s going to have a battle with – what? – with pride. That’s the issue.

It doesn’t mean that he’s not qualified. In fact, he may be qualified, according to verses 2 and 3. He may live an absolutely impeccable life and blameless. He may have a marvelous family life. But if he’s a new Christian, if he’s relatively new in the faith, the tendency is going to be for him to feel proud about having been elevated to that level of leadership occupied by older, more mature, godly men who’ve been in the church for many years.

MacArthur contrasts what was going on in Ephesus with what was going on in Titus’s church in Crete:

the Ephesian church has been around for several years, and it has grown elders. In fact, the first batch of elders Paul himself discipled – didn’t he? – over a three-year period and set them in place. And now, several more years have passed, and so there is a maturity level, and the role of pastor or elder or overseer is seen as one attained to by very mature men.

Now, admittedly, some of the pastors, in Ephesus, needed to be put out. You look back at chapter 1, verse 20, Hymenaeus and Alexander were delivered to Satan to learn not to blaspheme. I’m sure they were two of the leading pastors in that church. But the place of pastor belonged to those – apart from those unqualified who had attained to it, those who needed to be rebuked, as it says later in this epistle, and put down. It still was a position for those who’d been in the faith for a period of time in which they’d proven their maturity. And to lift up a new Christian to that level would have caused him to say, “Boy, I’ve arrived. Look at me; I’m a brand new Christian, and I’m right in there with these guys.” And it would have put him open to pride.

Now, in contrast to that, look at Titus chapter 1 for a moment. I want to show you something comparatively to help you understand a little better this point. In Titus chapter 1, you have a whole different situation. Paul, writing to Titus, is writing to a man ministering on the island of Crete.

Now, the island of Crete was different than Ephesus. The Ephesian church had been around for many years. The church at Crete was very, very new, very young. And, frankly, there weren’t very many Christians who had been Christians for a long period of time. Therefore, when he starts out, in verse 6, discussing elders, the same as bishops in 1 Timothy 3, the same as pastors, he says about them, “They are to be blameless,” and then he goes basically through the same qualifications. But it is curious to note that it nowhere says “not a novice, not a new convert.” And the reason that’s not an issue in Crete is because in Crete everybody was a relatively new convert. And so, putting up a man to an eldership that was a new convert would not have tended to puff him up because everybody else, at that point, was also a new convert. See the point? Whereas in Ephesus, to lift up a new convert would have given him the idea that he had instantly attained to a level of spiritual maturity that took most men many years. But in Crete, since the church was relatively new altogether, there is no instruction in that regard, since putting a man in that position of leadership would not necessarily have puffed him up since the others who were there would have been relatively new Christians also.

Now, what that tells us then, beloved, is this. The issue here is not that an elder has to be so long a Christian, or an elder has to be so old in terms of age – the word “elder” means spiritual maturity used in reference to the church. It’s not talking about his age particularly physically, although there’s a certain amount of years implied in spiritual maturity, but an elder in the church is one who is mature spiritually.

Well, maturity in any church is relative to the age of that church, isn’t it? Here we are in a church like Grace Community Church. We are a mature church by standards of comparison with other parts of the world. We, perhaps, are third, fourth – some of us fifth, sixth generation Christians. The church has been here in this place 30 years. We have been teaching the Word of God here for 30 years. Men have grown up. There’s a tremendous amount of maturity here. You think of the elders here as mature men who really know the Word and teach the Word and have spent years preparing for that kind of leadership …

There are young men who graduate from seminary here who are not elders at Grace Church because they, relative to where this church is, still need more seasoning.

MacArthur looks at the second half of verse 6, involving being ‘puffed up’ or ‘lifted up’ with pride and falling into the condemnation of the devil:

“Not a neophyte or a novice, lest being lifted up with pride – that verb is a very interesting verb tuphoō. It means to puff up like smoke. We don’t want them to get puffed up like a big – like a big cloud, a false sense of spirituality, all puffed up, getting their head up in smoke and thinking they’re up in the air where they’re not, getting their head in the clouds. You don’t want that. You don’t want them proud. Why? Look at this; what a statement, “Lest being lifted up with pride” – puffed up – “he fall into the condemnation of the Devil.”

Boy, that is serious. You’d think it would say, “Lest being lifted up with pride he loses effectiveness,” or, “Lest being lifted up with pride he fail to fulfill his task,” or, “Lest being lifted up in pride he fall into sin.” No, very serious, “Lifted up by pride, he falls into the condemnation of the Devil.” Now, what does that mean? Some people think it means that he’ll be condemned by the Devil, but nowhere in Scripture is the Devil ever seen as the condemner or the judge. God is always presented in Scripture as the judge. He is the one who condemns. Therefore, this is best seen as what we would call an objective genitive. He falls into the judgment God pronounced on the Devil. It is the judgment that God brought on the Devil. He falls into the same condemnation the Devil fell into. Since God is always presented as the judge and not the devil, that seems to be the best approach.

MacArthur discusses Satan’s fall from grace as recalled in Ezekiel 28:

The Bible talks about the existence of different angels. I’m sure you remember these terms, but they’re all different ranks and kinds of angels. There are cherubim, seraphim, archangels, principalities, powers, and rulers. And they all refer to differing functions that angels have.

Some angels are higher, and some angels are lower; they’re different. Just as God created men with different capacities, so angels the same. The highest ranking angels are cherubim, and they appear always around the throne of God, always in the midst of His presence. Exodus 25; Ezekiel 1; Ezekiel 10; Revelation 4, verses 6 to 8, they’re always right around the presence of God, the cherubim. Now, we know three cherubim. They are surpassing in beauty. They are surpassing in power. And they are highest in rank of all the angels. So, above all the angelic hosts rank the cherubim.

At the top of the cherubim list, there are three leading cherubim. One we know very well: Gabriel. Gabriel’s task is to reveal and interpret God’s purpose and program for His kingdom. He is a revelation kind of angel – cherub.

The second one that we know so very well is Michael. And Michael is [the] super angel. He’s the commander-in-chief of the heavenly armies.

So, you have Gabriel and Michael, two lovely names and wonderful names that we use to name our sons. But the third cherub, and the most beautiful, and the most powerful, and the most glorious of all of them was a cherub by the name of Lucifer. And I might suggest to you, believe it or not, that maybe the most lovely name of all three is the name Lucifer; it means Son of the Dawn, Son of the Morning, Morning Star. Beautiful name. But because of what he became, it is so despised that no one would ever name his child Lucifer – hopefully.

Now, let’s find out what happened to Lucifer … In the first 10 verses of Ezekiel 28, the prophet speaks against the prince of Tyre, or the king of the city of Tyre. God is bringing a judgment on Tyre and the ruler of Tyre is going to be judged with the city. The judgment of Tyre comes in verse – chapter 27. And then the ruler, in the first ten verses of chapter 28, he talks about this man who claimed to be a God. “He says, ‘I am a God; I sit in the seat of God.’” In verse 9, “I am a god” and so forth. He really had a god complex. He thought he was a god. He was a very proud, boastful man, a very evil, evil ruler. In fact, verse 10, His judgment comes, “‘You will die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of a foreigner, for I have spoken!’ it says the Lord God!” So, God pronounces death on the king of Tyre because he’s such a proud and godless individual.

Then in verse 11, the Lord goes behind the pride of the king of Tyre to speak of the source of that kind of pride. “The Word of the Lord came unto me saying, ‘Son of man,’” – son of man refers to Ezekiel – “‘take up a lamentation on the king of Tyre,’” – only this time He isn’t talking to the king of Tyre; He goes behind the king to the one who was the source of that ugly pride – Satan himself

So, here He’s talking to the king, but the source of the king’s sin behind the king. And he describes, beginning in verse 12, Satan or Lucifer, who was energizing this proud, evil king. He says of him, “Thou sealest up the sum, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” What does it mean “thou sealest up the sum”? You’re the living end. You are it. You are the summation of all that I created of beauty and wonder and glory and wisdom and perfection; the epitome of angelic creation; the most beautiful, spectacular angel God made. His preexistence is discussed in verse 13. “You have been in Eden” – now that couldn’t have been true of the king of Tyre – “You have been in Eden, the garden of God.” That may well be the earthly Eden, because Lucifer was there. Genesis 3 says he was tempting there. But it may well also be the paradise of heaven, the Eden of eternity, the Eden of heaven. He was there, too. And the description seems to fit the Eden of heaven better than the Eden of earth. He appeared in the Eden of earth, but when he appeared there, he appeared as a snake.

“But you have been in Eden, the garden of God” – the glory of the paradise of heaven. And then He describes the incredible beauty. “Every precious stone was our covering” – and He lists a whole lot of precious stones, and He talks about, “the workmanship of timbrels and your flutes was prepared in you in the day were created.”

I believe Lucifer was not only the most beautiful angel, not only the most psychedelically glorious angel, with all the sparkling jewels and everything else used to describe his eminence and his personality, but I believe also he was the supreme musician of heaven. If the angels were designed by God to give Him praise, they needed to have a leader, and I believe that he was heaven’s choir director, the consummate musician. And music around the world today, my friends, is what you are seeing Lucifer produce in his fallen state. In his fallen state.

That’s why, in Ephesians, when the apostle Paul says, “Now that you’re filled with the Spirit, speak to yourselves in psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs.” Only in Christ, through the Spirit, can the curse on music be reversed. And that’s why our music can again give glory to God as the music of Lucifer once did. His profession, then, he must have been the musician of heaven. The heavenly choir director.

Verse 14 further says about him, “You are the anointed cherub that covers, and I have set you so.” In other words, you have a place in My presence, around My throne. You are near Me; you cover Me in some sense. “And you were in the holy mountain of God.” That’s the throne, the high and lifted up throne that Isaiah saw. “And you walked up and down in the midst of the stones of fire.” Probably the glorious, flaming Shekinah of God. And right in the Shekinah of God, and right in His throne, and right on His high and holy mountain, there is Lucifer, leading the angelic choirs in praise to God, this incredibly beautiful creature.

Verse 15 says, “You were perfect in your ways from the day you were created” – perfect, flawless, no sin – “until iniquity was found in you. And not only were you sinful” – verse 16 – “but you merchandised your sin.”

“He drew a third of the angels with him in his rebellion,” says Revelation 12:9. “And because of this” – catch the middle of verse 16 – “I will cast you as profane out of the mountain of God. And I will destroy you, O covering cherub, from the midst of the stones of fire.”

Now, when Lucifer sinned, his sin was the sin of pride. The result was God threw him out. God cut him down. What was his sin specifically? Look at Isaiah 14 just briefly. Isaiah 14 gives us that. Starting in verse 12 it says, “How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer?” Why did you fall? Why were you cut down? “Son of the morning, why? Why are you cut down to the ground?” he says. Here’s why, “For you said in your heart, ‘I will ascend into heaven; I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit on the mount of the congregation in the congregation in the sides of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the Most High.’In other words, “I’ll take over for God.” Five “I wills”. There’s his problem. His problem is pride.

Five times he said, “I will,” and once God said, “No, you won’t.” Verse 15, “You’ll be brought down to Sheol, to the sides of the pit. And you’ll become a spectacle, and people will see you, and they’ll say, ‘Is this the one who made the earth to tremble?’ You’re going to be humiliated.”

Now, do you understand what I’m driving at? Listen carefully, “Don’t lift up a novice, lest being lifted up he becomes proud and fall into the same condemnation that the Devil fell into.” The parallel is perfect. Satan was lifted up. He fell into pride and God cut him down. And that’s exactly the parallel that the apostle Paul wants Timothy to understand

MacArthur says the overseer needs humility:

Beloved, leadership must involve humility. And so, the church must protect itself and its good men from being lifted up too soon into vulnerability and thus being devastated. The sign of spiritual maturity, Jesus said, “If anyone would be chief among you, let him be your” – what? – “your servant.” Your servant. That’s what the Lord is after.

The test of maturity or the standard of maturity can be also called the standard of humility. Humility. And here must be great caution so that you don’t lift someone up that the Lord has to cut down. This is a great responsibility.

Paul concludes his qualifications for an overseer by saying that outsiders must think well of him, so that he might not fall into disgrace, a snare of the devil (verse 7).

This is how the verse reads in older translations:

Moreover he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.

Henry says:

He must be of good reputation among his neighbours, and under no reproach from former conversation; for the devil will make use of that to ensnare others, and work in them an aversion to the doctrine of Christ preached by those who have not had a good report.

MacArthur points out that the Greek ‘kalos’ is in this verse, meaning externally pleasing in addition to internally pleasing:

… we’ll close with just a brief look at verse 7, “The man set apart to pastor or lead the church as an elder or an overseer must also be tested as to reputation” – verse 7. “Moreover” – or in addition to it means – “he must” – that is to say – “it is necessary for him to have a good report.” That little phrase “good report” – kalos is good. It means not only good inwardly but good outwardly. It not only means that he’s got character, but it means he has a reputation that is good; there’s an excellency on the outside as well.

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘report’ and its importance in ministry:

He is to have an excellent testimony. The word “report” means testimony. In fact, it speaks marturia – we get the word “martyr” from it – but it basically speaks of a certifying testimony. He is to be certified by the testimony of people as to his character. And what people? Look at this; “He must have a good report of them who are” – where? – “outside” – outside what? – “outside the church.” What is his reputation in the community? A man chosen to be an elder, a man chosen to be a pastor in the church must have a reputation for righteousness, for moral character, for love and kindness and generosity and goodness among everybody in the community that knows him.

Now, I’m not saying they’re all going to agree with his theology, because that’s not the case. I’m not going to say that there won’t be antagonism out there, but the people who know him know that he is a man of moral character. Why? Because how can you raise a man to leadership, expect him to impact that community if the community has no regard for his character? A man can’t reach people who have no respect for him; he can’t bring anything but reproach on Christ, and that’s what it says; look at it. “Moreover, he must have a good certifying testimony from those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach.” The word means disgrace.

Beloved, it’s so sad to know how many men have disgraced the church, isn’t it? And the Lord. What a thought. The sin of a man will be a disgrace. This is why he has to be blameless. And I’m not just talking about the sin that he commits while he’s in the ministry. It could be some sins in the past for which he has gained an evil reputation. So, a man must be evaluated as to his ongoing reputation in the community, lest he bring disgrace upon the church.

… there’s a real visibility. Now, your world may be not as big as mine in terms of people who know you, but those who do know you need to see a blameless life. And if you’re to be in spiritual leadership, it’s so wonderful if the people out there can say, “I don’t agree with what they teach, but I’ll tell you one thing, that man has character.” And that’s what the Bible’s really after.

Satan is ever ready and waiting to trap the man of God:

Boy, there’s nothing the Devil would want more than to set a trap to discredit the man in spiritual service. Right? Sure. Sure. I mean that would be his full-time occupation, I think, to trap those who serve the Lord. He wants spiritual leaders to fall easy prey into some skillfully laid snare. And that Devil who goes around as the hunter of souls, as the roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, his aim is to destroy the credibility and integrity of the leaders of the church and to trap them. And again, I believe this should be interpreted that way because God doesn’t set traps. This would be a subjective genitive. This is a trap set by Satan to catch us.

And that’s why we have to be so cautious. And that takes us right back, doesn’t it, to that first thing we said when we started … that we are going to be tempted, and we are weak, and we have those areas where Satan works on us. And we are going to stumble. The one who doesn’t offend with his tongue is a perfect man, and we will stumble, so we have to be so very cautious. We don’t want to fall into Satan’s trap. We want to be a leader that leads others out of his traps.

All of us have read about and some of us have known clergy who have fallen from a great height into a scandal involving sex (including child molestation), strong drink — or money, what Paul calls ‘filthy lucre’ (verse 3, older translations).

We are aghast. We are disgusted. True believers are also sad at seeing or hearing these reports.

Yet, there we see the power of evil, the power of Satan’s snares.

Now we can understand why Paul insisted on strict standards for overseers.

MacArthur concludes:

And so, God identifies these men. Their moral character, their family life, their maturity, and their reputation. And, beloved, the future of the church, I believe with all my heart, is predicated on the fact that these are the kind of people that must be in leadership. And that is a constant and ongoing process. Why? What have we been saying all along? Why? Why does God want these kind of men in leadership?

You say, “Because they’re holy vessels, and Christ can mediate his rule through them.”

That’s right, but there’s a second reason, and it is this, because they are the models. And the point is all these qualifications are not just for them. They are for them to model so they can become true of all of us. And that’s why we say there’s no double standard here. Do you think the Lord wants anything less of the rest of us than to be blameless? Anything less than a one-woman man, a temperate man, a man with a disciplined mine and a woman with a disciplined mind? Does he want any less than good behavior? Than hospitality? Than skillful teaching? Does he want any less than good families? Does he want any less than spiritual maturity? Does he want any less than a good reputation? Of course not. But that’s not going to happen at the grassroots level if it isn’t being modeled at the leadership level.

Ephesus needed to examine its leaders, and so do we. So does the Church today.

I hope this series helps to clarify why a pastor needs so many excellent and godly qualities.

Paul goes on to discuss the qualifications for deacons.

Next time — 1 Timothy 3:8-13

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


Part 1 covered verses 1 and the first part of verse 2, up to ‘the husband of one wife’. I presented Matthew Henry’s summation of the second verse, but will cover aspects of it more thoroughly here.

This is another long post as John MacArthur looks at these qualifications in detail. In 1986, he preached seven sermons on these verses alone.

Continuing with verse 2, Paul says that the overseer must be sober-minded.

MacArthur is teetotal, so he has a bias against strong drink. Nonetheless, he tells us what the Bible says and provides insight as to why sobriety is so important in the priesthood:

… the word “temperate.” Interesting word. Not until this study began for me did I really understand this word. I had never really dealt with it before. But I looked it up, and it’s the word nēphalios. It means wineless. Kind of interesting. It means unmixed with wine.

Yes, Judges 9:13 says, “Wine cheers the heart.” Sure it was a pleasurable thing to drink the sweet juice of the grape. But it was also a potential for great harm. That’s why they always mixed it with water. You see, it’s a hot and dry land – Bible lands – and you would drink a lot just to replenish the fluids that your body lost in the heat. And the more you drank, the more potential for drunkenness. And so, wine was always mixed with high amounts of water so that you could drink it without having drunkenness result.

But even so, it was potentially dangerous because of the lack of refrigeration and the degenerative properties of wine that made it ferment and gain an alcoholic content which could be intoxicating. And that is why, though it can cheer the heart, and though it can be good, as Paul says to Timothy, for the stomach’s sake in some matters, and though it could be given to someone who’s near death for the sake of relieving their pain, still it’s goodness is not the whole story. It is offset greatly by statements like this in Proverbs 20, verse 1, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is raging, and whosoever is deceived thereby is not wise.”

Or Proverbs 23, “Who hath woe? Who hath sorrow? Who hath contentions? Who hath babbling? Who hath wounds without cause? Who hath redness of eyes? They that tarry long at the wine, they that go and seek even mixed wine. Look not thou upon the wine when it is red, when it gives its color in the cup, when it moves itself aright.” In other words, full bodied wine. “At the last, it bites like a serpent; it stings like an adder. And thine eyes shall behold strange things.” That’s the DTs. “Thine heart shall utter perverse things. You’ll be like somebody lying in the middle of the sea or lying on the top of a mast.” All kinds of illusions. You’ll be saying, “They’ve stricken me,” and you’ll say, “I wasn’t sick; and they’ve beaten me, and I felt it not.” And then you’ll say, “When will I awake? And I’ll see it again.” The wine that mocks.

I think of Noah in Genesis chapter 9. He decided to plant a vineyard. He was a farmer, it says, and he was going to plant a vineyard. So he did. And then he drank of his vineyard, and he became drunken, and he went in his tent. And it says, “He appeared in his nakedness.” And that doesn’t just mean he didn’t have his clothes on; there is some kind of evil sexual allusion in those words. And his son came in and came out and mocked him. And his other sons went in backwards with something to cover him up because they were so ashamed of his nakedness; his evil, vile, sinfulness because of his intoxication.

And you read of Amnon in 2 Samuel chapter 13, verses 28 and 29. Read throughout Scripture the evil of drink, and read Leviticus 10:9, where it says that the priest is never to enter into the house of God, to function in his priestly duty, having consumed wine. It was forbidden to them forever it says. The Nazarite vow, the highest vow of spiritual commitment in the Old Testament, Numbers 6:3, forbid a person to drink it. It was forbidden to kings; it was forbidden to princes and all leaders in Proverbs 31:4.

The potential of that is so devastating because of the judgments that have to be made, because of the model that has to be set, because of the example. And so, he says, first of all, “This overseer must be a one-woman man, and a man who doesn’t participate in drinking.” Those are the two cultural evils of the time, as well as the two evils of the heart. Drunken orgies were part of Ephesian culture. You read the story of Diana of the Ephesians and what went on at the temple, and the kind of lifestyle. Josephus says, “The word was commonly used for abstaining from wine entirely.” That’s Josephus.

The primary idea here may not even be this, although this is certainly an inherent idea. And the reason the word is translated temperate rather than having something to do with wine specifically is because in a metaphorical usage, it means to be – what can I say? – alert, watchful, vigilant, clearheaded. You never allow yourself to get intoxicated. You’re always thinking clearly. It is that inner strength that denies any excess.

Food can also be problematic:

Any excess, really, we could apply here. There’s a certain moderation of life in this. And there are so many things in which we can be excessive, not just drink, but for some food and often gluttony and drinking are linked. It seems to be that in the past that overeating has been known as the preacher’s sin. And often that’s a just criticism. But we are to be balanced; we are to be without excess who leads spiritually. Why? Because God expects us to have a higher standard than the people? No, because God expects the people to have that high standard. But in order to have that high standard, they have to have a model to follow. Okay? That’s very important to understand. We’re not to live this in isolation from the people. We’re not to elevate ourselves to some priestly stratosphere where everybody bows down and says, “Oh, aren’t they supernatural?” We’re to be the pattern to which everyone arises

that is also another mark of moral character.

The overseer is to be hospitable, i.e. towards strangers.

MacArthur explains how hospitality worked in the ancient world. I hope you find this as fascinating as I did:

Persecution, poverty, orphans, widows, traveling Christians – it made it necessary, in ancient days, to open the home. There weren’t any hotels like we have; motels. They didn’t pamper people like they do today. And the inns, for the most part, were brothels. They marked the ancient world with a black mark. There people were robbed and beaten, solicited to evil.

William Barclay writes of the picture of the ancient world with these words, “In the ancient world, inns were notoriously bad. In one of Aristophanes’ plays, Heracles asks his companion where they will lodge for the night, and the answer is, “Wherever the fleas are the fewest.” Plato speaks of the innkeeper being like a pirate who holds his guests to ransom. Inns tended to be dirty and expensive and, above all, immoral.

The ancient world, therefore, had developed a system of what were called guest friendships. Over generations, families had arrangements with other families to give each other accommodation and hospitality if they were in the area. And often the members of the families came, in the end, to be unknown by each other by sight, as the generations went on. They would then identify themselves by means of what were called tallies. A stranger coming into a town would seek accommodation and produce one-half of an object. That was called a tally. And if the house owner had the other half, he would know that this was someone from a family that had a guest friendship with his family in generations past, and the stranger was indeed the friend and could be admitted to the home.

In the Christian church, there were wandering teachers and preachers; they needed hospitality. There were many slaves who had no homes of their own. It was a great privilege to have them come into a Christian home, maybe for the only time in their life. You see, the whole church was kind of like a little island of Christianity in a sea of paganism and Christian homes would be the safest, most enriching and wonderful place of all.

And I still think we live in a world like that. Many are far from home, many are strangers, and many need a place to stay, and a Christian home would be the best place of all, and the door of the Christian home, as well as the heart of the Christian family ought to be open to all who come.

You see, what it’s saying here is that the pastor is not somebody who’s elevated to a place where he’s unapproachable. He’s not remote; he’s available. This is not the place for seclusion; this is not the place for isolation. His life and his home are open so that the true character of his life is manifest to all who come there. I mean if I want to know the most about you, I can go to your house and watch you for a few days or weeks. The pastorate is not a place where you ascend beyond the people and become untouchable; it’s a place where you become touchable and you hold our home as a stewardship to be used as God sees fit. And I’m always reminded, when I think about this, that received those of us who were strangers and alien from the covenant – those Gentiles. He received us as strangers into his family, and how can we who have been so welcomed not welcome other strangers into our own.

MacArthur also explains more about what it means to be able to teach:

teaching effectively is predicated on the character of the teacher. You cannot divorce what a teacher is from what he says, when the whole content of his teaching is moral. So, this in itself is a moral qualification. That is he is to be able to teach, and he will only be able to teach effectively if he lives up to what it is he teaches. Right? So, it is a moral qualification as well as a note about his function. He is to be a skilled teacher.

In 1 Timothy 5:17, the note is that he is one who labors – kopiaō – who works to exhaustion in the Word and doctrine. And I am always amazed at how many people are concerned about leisure, and how many people want time off, and yet in the Word of God, there is the constraint that one labors to the point of exhaustion in the Word and in the teaching. This is the primary task.

… The Lord’s servant must be didaktikos, skilled in teaching, able to teach because his life is of such moral constitution, so impeccable virtue that he is believable. Not only does he have skill in the communicating end of it, but he has the ability to make it believable because he lives it.

Now, not everybody is a teacher, and not everybody is called to be a teacher. And it isn’t wrong not to be a teacher of the church as a pastor or evangelist or leader. It isn’t wrong. It’s a question of the calling of God.

Paul says that the overseer must not be a drunkard; he must be gentle rather than violent, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money (verse 3).

Henry offers the best example, that of the supreme overseer:

Christ, the great Shepherd and Bishop of souls, is so.

MacArthur reminds us that the overseer’s role is to bring the sinner to salvation and to build up the saints, a heavy responsibility:

So, mark it; when you are called to church leadership, you are called to the task of bringing unconverted sinners to Christ. And even though you may emphasize the edification ministry, and even though you may emphasize some kind of design of church program, even though you may have oversight into some area of administration, the ultimate end of everything you do and I do is to bring the unconverted to Christ.

Secondly, it is a supporting priority for the church leader to build up the saved to maturity in Christ. We are called to build up the saved. This includes “Warning them that are unruly, encouraging the fainthearted, supporting the weak, and being patient to all men,” Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14. We are called to perfect the saints for the work of the ministry to the building of the body of Christ.

So, the priority then of perfecting and polishing the saints for useful service, for strong service for Christ, is a top priority. This means we must provide care for those who fall into sin, for those who lose their zeal, for those who disobey the Word, for those who lose their first love. The responsibility of strengthening, restoring those who are overtaken in a sin, feeding, challenging the strong to greater perseverance and even greater strength.

The third thing – and we could spend a lot of time on each, but just to touch them – the third thing that we are called to do by way of objective in the ministry is to feed the flock the Word of God regularly. To feed the flock the Word of God regularly. A strong and steady diet of divine truth and exhortation is the core of the church’s life.

There should be, in the heart of the pastor or elder a certain amount of anxiety, a certain amount of pain. Paul calls it travail or birth pains until the people have Christ formed in them. This means that we are involved also in the ministry of intercession on behalf of those to whom we speak the Word of God.

So, we are called then for the work of seeing the unconverted come to salvation. We are called also to build up the saved to maturity in Christ, and we are called to feed the flock of God regularly, to feed them the Word which equips them for service.

Then there is the aspect of counselling or advising in some respect:

Another of our priorities is to give special attention to the spiritual order and devotion of families – to give special attention to the spiritual order and devotion of families. This involves leading families I think into proper roles, men into proper roles for men, women into proper roles for women. This involves teaching families how to love each other, how to serve each other, how to combat treacherous, destructive things that are happening in the world around them, influences that tend to tear the family apart. This involves teaching the family how to devote themselves to one another, how to devote themselves to God, how to devote themselves to the Word, how to devote themselves to the church, how to devote themselves to the ministry, and how to have Christ at the center of everything they do. It is a high priority of ministry in the church to give special attention to the spiritual order and devotion of families.

Another one that helps crystallize what it is that the pastor or elder does, we are to minister to those people who are in special distress. We are to minister to those people who are in special distress. One of the great traditions in ministry, and as it ought to be, as the Savior gives us the example, is to reach out to those people who have unusual problems, whether they are ill, whether they are facing death, whether they have disease or divorce or disappointment, whether they’ve gone through a disaster, whether they are in need of comfort. This becomes a very important matter of commitment on the part of those who serve in the church, to minister to people who are in special distress.

I read an article at the weekend by an Anglican priest in his mid-thirties who says that priesthood involves the whole of the human life cycle every day, from birth to death and everything in between. Even a party can be a mission field. I didn’t bookmark the article, but he said that he once attended a friend’s party in civvies (no dog collar) and went outdoors for a breath of fresh air. He was followed by another guest going out for a cigarette break. The man asked the priest what he did for a living. When the priest said what he did, the man broke down in tears and poured his heart out to him. Therefore, a priest has to be prepared for every eventuality at any moment.

Update — Friday, March 24, 2023: The priest appeared on Mark Dolan’s GB News show. Although the Revd Fergus Butler-Gallie does not relate that particular incident, this short interview is still interesting:

MacArthur says:

… we recognize, then, that this is a high and holy and sacred calling to which men are called when they are called into the leadership of the church. It involves several things. It involves discipline. Anyone who is going to be successful in fulfilling this divine calling is going to maintain in his own life discipline. There’s going to be, in his own life, self-denial, because your life is not your own. You talk about a person who is called into a task beyond himself, this is it. You are not the master of your own fate; you are not the captain of your own soul; you are not the determiner of your own destiny. You move at the bidding of the Spirit of God, and the work that is done well will be done well, then, by those who are disciplined and by those who understand self-denial.

He says that teaching is an important part of being a priest in order to convey strong doctrine, which will help in any situation:

Two things, basically: one, do you have a strong and consuming desire to teach; Two, do the people you teach think you have the gift? Very important. There are people running around saying, “I have the gift; I have the gift,” and their class is coming after them saying, “No, he doesn’t; no, he doesn’t.” You don’t want to be under some illusion. You don’t want to seek some place of preeminence. You don’t want to rise in your own ego to a place where you are revered and esteemed a teacher if you do not have the gift. The gift of teaching is a Holy Spirit endowment that is given by God specially to those called to teach.

You know, sometimes people say to me – in fact, this is quite common – “How do you get that out of the Scripture? I read that verse so many times; I don’t see that.”

Other people will say, “How is it that you can do – convey Scripture and other people can’t?”

And the answer to that is very simple: it is a gift given by the Spirit of God. It is different, maybe, than your gift. You have a gift to do things with a facility spiritually that I don’t have, and that’s the way the Lord has structured His body.

So, skill in teaching involves exemplary life and the gift of teaching. Thirdly, a skilled teacher will have a reservoir of doctrinal understanding. A skilled teacher will have a reservoir of doctrinal understanding. In 1 Timothy 4, again, verse 6, he says, “A good minister of Jesus Christ” – 1 Timothy 4:6 – “is one nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine.” And he says, “Timothy, you’ve attained to that.”

Do you know what set Timothy apart as such a skilled teacher was the tremendous reservoir of biblical knowledge that he had. In 1 Timothy 6:20, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to your trust.” What did he mean? He meant doctrine – sound doctrine

Timothy was beginning to be equipped for the role of teaching, when he was just a child, because he learned the Scriptures. And there came into his life a deep reservoir of truth out of which one teaches.

That was thanks to his mother and grandmother, Eunice and Lois, respectively. My message to parents is to bring your children up well informed about prayer and the Bible at home from an early age. Don’t wait for Sunday School or a faith school to do it, because the results could be disappointing.

Verse 3 in older translations reads:

Not given to wine, no striker, not greedy of filthy lucre; but patient, not a brawler, not covetous;

MacArthur explains the importance of patience and not getting involved in violent quarrels:

I remember the pastor who told me about the fight he had with his deacon. The deacon punched him, and away they went. I’m sure he wasn’t the only one. But you don’t want people who deal with difficulty through violent, physical reactions. No place for that. This leadership demands a man who can deal with things with a cool mind, with gentleness, who doesn’t fight. Remember what I said that Paul said to Timothy in chapter 2 of 2 Timothy? “The servant of the Lord must not fight; he must not strive.” He doesn’t deal with things like that. He doesn’t resort to violence.

And it’s not only physical violence. I think we could imply also that it’s verbal violence. His tongue is not to be a lashing tongue which reaches out in strife. First Timothy 6 talks about using the tongue to bring about strife and railings. The tongue can be an instrument of violence. It can, as James 3 says – and we’ll get into that in some weeks – it can set on fire all of nature. The tongue can be such a violent, violent instrument. So, the man, then, who leads the church, is not to deal with difficulty through violent physical or verbal means.

Notice, then – and we skipped one in the Authorized Version; it’s not in the better manuscripts, and it’s covered by the last one – so, we go to the one that says patient. Patient – epieikēs. It means to be considerate, and genial, and forbearing, and gracious, and gentle. Aristotle said, “It has the idea of a person who easily pardons human failure.” It’s a beautiful virtue, a person who easily pardons human failure. And it’s used in 2 Timothy 2:23. He says, “The servant of the Lord” – 2:24 rather; 2:23 says, “Don’t start fights,” 2:24 says – “be gentle and patient.” Patient. What does it mean? You remember; Good not evil. You don’t build up a chronologue of everything everybody ever did against you. Listen, that messes up people’s ministry. I have known people in the ministry who get out of the ministry, who leave churches because they cannot get over the fact that somebody criticized them. Somebody said something against him. Somebody did something that upset them, and they carry around a list of grievances that eventually makes it impossible for them to serve anybody. That’s all they can see.

All that does is cloud your mind with things to anger you. Patience is the ease of pardoning human failure, focusing on the good done by others rather than injury and retaliation, all of that. And that’s the kind of person you want. You don’t want a person who holds grudges.

And then, “Not a brawler” – amachos. Again, this is a quarrelsome thing. It’s very much like the other term we looked at, which talks about coming to blows, but it doesn’t so much mean using physical violence; it means a quarrelsome person. Nothing is more difficult in a plurality of leadership, leading a church, than to have somebody who just likes to quarrel about everything.

MacArthur discusses covetousness, another danger to an overseer:

“Not covetous” – aphilarguros. That two-part word – three-part word, really, with an alpha privative makes it a negative, but the two main parts mean to love silver – not be a lover of silver. What a corruption that is in the ministry, to love money. And you see people as means to getting money. Everybody you look at becomes simply an avenue for you to get rich. That is such a temptation. And that’s why in 1 Timothy 6, Paul says, in verse 6, to Timothy, “Godliness with contentment is great gain, Timothy. We brought nothing into the world. It’s certain we’re going to do what? – take nothing out.

This brings us to Paul’s stipulation that the overseer must manage his own household well, with all dignity, keeping his children submissive (verse 4).

Henry’s version of the Bible puts the verse as follows:

One that ruleth well his own house, having his children in subjection with all gravity;

‘Gravity’ means ‘gravitas’ there: seriousness.

If a man cannot run his own household, Paul says, then how can he care for God’s church (verse 5)?

This, too, is another indicator of morality and good example. Henry says:

He must be one who keeps his family in good order: That rules well his own house, that he may set a good example to other masters of families to do so too, and that he may thereby give a proof of his ability to take care of the church of God: For, if a man know not how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of the church of God. Observe, The families of ministers ought to be examples of good to all others families. Ministers must have their children in subjection; then it is the duty of ministers’ children to submit to the instructions that are given them.—With all gravity. The best way to keep inferiors in subjection, is to be grave with them. Not having his children in subjection with all austerity, but with all gravity.

MacArthur says that a bad example at home will last through succeeding generations, not as a judgement but as the only example children know to follow:

It is not enough in the church to teach the truth. The truth must be modeled. That’s integrity. Integrity is living and teaching the same thing. That’s why the standards for church leadership here all relate to moral character – the power of influence.

You recall – do you not? – in the Old Testament that the Scripture tells us that evil is visited – the evil of the fathers is visited upon the third and fourth generation. Now please, don’t misunderstand that. That does not mean that an evil man has his children cursed by God for three or four generations. That does not mean that you shouldn’t adopt children because they might be under some curse because they had an evil grandfather or great-grandfather. That is a ludicrous thought. What it means is that influence is so powerful that once you have an evil generation, it takes you three or four generations to root out that evil and turn it around. It is not a statement about God cursing children’ it is a statement about the power of an evil influence

… all of this is to say that in terms of leadership, the crucial aspect is the matter of influence. And influence flows primarily out of example.

MacArthur discusses ruling well in verse 4:

Notice it says that as he rules at home, he is to rule well. It is not just that he rules. There are a lot of men who rule in the home, but they don’t rule very well. They don’t get the desired effect. This one rules well, and the word here is a very rich word. It is the word kalōs in the Greek, and basically we could translate it excellently, but that wouldn’t give us the full understanding.

In order to grasp what it means, we need to compare two Greek words: agathos and kalōs. Agathos is a common word in the New Testament that means inherently good or morally good or practically good. Kalōs takes it a step further, not instead of that, but in addition to that, it is aesthetically good. It is appealingly good. It is beautiful; it is lovely; it is appealing to the eye. Agathos, inherently good; kalōs inherently good and also appealing to the eye. And so, the idea is that here is a man who is to be leading his family in such a way that his leadership is inherently good and it is manifestly good to all those who perceive and see his leadership there

He is a leader in the family, and his leadership, I believe, involves three things. I want to share these with you as we draw to a conclusion: number one, firmness; number two, wisdom; and number three, love – or number one could be authority. Authority, wisdom, and love.

In the family, I believe it is essential that the father exercise authority that makes it – listen to this – advisable for his children to obey. Did you get that? He must exercise authority that makes it advisable for his children to obey

And so, I suggest to you an authority that makes it advisable to obey, and a wisdom that makes it natural and reasonable to obey.

Thirdly, a love that makes it delightful to obey. A love that makes it delightful to obey. Your children ought to long to obey you because they enjoy so much the intimacy of an unhindered, an uninterrupted love relationship with you. And that love has to be there. That love has to be there.

Now, there is a man who is fitted to lead the church, and that’s exactly what verse 5 says from a negative viewpoint. “If a man doesn’t know how to rule his own house, how shall he take care of” – and it’s an anarthrous construction here – “a church of God?” How can he rule a local assembly if he can’t rule his own house?

I will have more on verse 5 tomorrow, along with verses 6 and 7.

Bible croppedThe three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy omit — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (as indicated below).

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Qualifications for Overseers

The saying is trustworthy: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer, he desires a noble task. Therefore an overseer[a] must be above reproach, the husband of one wife,[b] sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own household well, with all dignity keeping his children submissive, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church? He must not be a recent convert, or he may become puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace, into a snare of the devil.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy about the role of women in church.

This is a long post about overseers in the church.

False teachers had arisen in the churches in Ephesus and surrounding areas. Timothy’s command from Paul was to replace them with good, faithful men. Recall that, at the end of 1 Timothy 1, the Apostle told his protégé that already had to turn Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan.

Matthew Henry’s commentary reminds us of Paul’s departure from Ephesus after three years of establishing the church there (emphases mine):

It seems they were very loth to part with Paul, especially because he told them they should see his face no more (Acts 20 38); for their church was but newly planted, they were afraid of undertaking the care of it, and therefore Paul left Timothy with them to set them in order.

John MacArthur picks up the story:

In Acts 20, he said to the Ephesian elders – he said, “I know that when I leave, perverse men will come in, evil men will rise up on the inside, and both from the inside and the outside will come false leaders to lead this church astray.” He knew the enemy, Satan. He knew the plan and the plot to work against the Kingdom of God, and he knew the inevitability of such an attack. And his prophecy was fulfilled.

By the time he gets out of prison and goes to Ephesus to meet Timothy there, he discovers that the church is filled with false pastors, and false overseers, and false elders, and those who teach lies and heresies. And so, leaving Timothy there to set things in order, he goes on to Macedonia. But isn’t gone long before he pens this letter, writes back to Timothy, and says, “Now, I want you to get this settled in that church.” There are issues that have to be dealt with. And a major issue that sits right in the middle of this epistle is the matter of confronting the church about the qualifications for church leaders.

Paul then lays out the characteristics of men in church leadership roles in 1 Timothy 3.

The Apostle begins with overseers, or ‘bishops’ in some translations. Paul means head pastors.

Verse 1 in Henry’s translation reads as follows:

This is a true saying, If a man desire the office of a bishop, he desireth a good work.

Right away Paul stamps the authority of truth on the desire to do good when one wants to become a pastor (verse 1).

Henry explains what Paul is conveying to Timothy and contrasts it with how it evolved over the centuries, and not always in the best way. The Church of England had long been established by the time Henry wrote his commentary:

I. The ministry is a work. However the office of a bishop may be now thought a good preferment, then it was thought a good work. 1. The office of a scripture-bishop is an office of divine appointment, and not of human invention. The ministry is not a creature of the state, and it is a pity that the minister should be at any time the tool of the state. The office of the ministry was in the church before the magistrate countenanced Christianity, for this office is one of the great gifts Christ has bestowed on the church, Eph 4 8-11. 2. This office of a Christian bishop is a work, which requires diligence and application: the apostle represents it under the notion and character of a work; not of great honour and advantage, for ministers should always look more to their work than to the honour and advantage of their office. 3. It is a good work, a work of the greatest importance, and designed for the greatest good: the ministry is conversant about no lower concerns than the life and happiness of immortal souls; it is a good work, because designed to illustrate the divine perfections in bringing many sons to glory; the ministry is appointed to open men’s eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, etc., Acts 26 18. 4. There ought to be an earnest desire of the office in those who would be put into it; if a man desire, he should earnestly desire it for the prospect he has of bringing greater glory to God, and of doing the greatest good to the souls of men by this means.

Henry gives us one of the questions those who thought they had a calling to the priesthood in the Church of England were to answer:

This is the question proposed to those who offer themselves to the ministry of the church of England: “Do you think you are moved by the Holy Ghost to take upon you this office?”

MacArthur would agree with that question:

… the statement that you need to know there is, “if a man desire.” That’s the key. You need to understand that all we know about in the New Testament in relation to call springs from desire. It’s a question of, what are you compelled to do? I believe that, where the call in the Old Testament might have been verbally from God out of heaven, the call in the New Testament might have been directly from Jesus Christ, the call in this age is the work of the Spirit of God.

God the Father called in the Old Testament. God the Son called in the New Testament. God the Holy Spirit is calling today. And the call of the Spirit of God today comes through the compulsion of the heart; the strong desire. And if you desire that, that’s a good thing to desire.

MacArthur discusses the words ‘a true saying’:

Notice the phrase: “This is a true saying” – or – “This is a faithful saying.” That little formula introduces something that is of great importance; of great importance. It is attached to something of monumental importance.

Paul uses that phrase five times. He uses it in 1 Timothy 1:15, he uses it here in 3:1, he uses it again in chapter 4, verse 9, he uses it in 2 Timothy 2:11 and he uses it in Titus 3:8. Five times it is used. Now, what that means is, “it is a trustworthy statement,” or to put it simply, “this is the truth, and everybody knows it.” This is axiomatic. This doesn’t need proof. This is obvious. This is patently clear to everyone. Here is a believable fact. Here is a trustworthy statement. Now, that is only a formula used in the pastoral epistles, which means that it didn’t come into use until late in the ministry of Paul.

As for ‘a good work’ or ‘a noble task’, MacArthur says:

Unquestionably, then, this gives to us a sense that the early church put a high value on a call to church leadership. It is a very sacred trust. It was essential in the life of the church.

… in that particular day and time, when the early church developed this saying, you can be sure that people didn’t go rushing into the ministry for the wrong reasons, because there was high risk connected with that; the church was persecuted. There was not a lot of prominence and prestige in the community for someone in that position. Great danger, great risk, problems, difficulty, hard work, great toil, low compensation, no security, very little future, no guarantees about anything.

So, the church, wanting to exalt that role, and encourage the hearts of young people, no doubt developed this saying, that it is a worthy thing to desire that, to impel those who were called to think seriously about that as a life career.

MacArthur points out that a Greek word used in the original manuscript is a masculine one:

You will notice further, verse 1 says, “If a man desires the office of overseer, he desires a good work.” It is limited to men. The use of the Greek tis, T-I-S in English, in the masculine form, indicates that men are in reference here. It means any man, but it is masculine; “if any man desires.”

… The limitations on this calling to men are also fortified by verses 2 through 6. And in verses 2 through 6, there is a listing of all kinds of descriptive qualifications; they’re adjectives. Every one of them in verse 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 are in the masculine form.

MacArthur looks at the Greek word for ‘desire’, used twice in that verse:

You will notice that two times, in the Authorized version, the word desire appears in verse 1. “If someone desires the office of an overseer” – or, actually, “desires the overseer’s work” – “he desires a good work.” There are two words for desire, though they’re translated as if they were one in English. The first one is oregō. What that means is, to reach out after, or to stretch out some – oneself, to grasp something. It doesn’t say anything about the inside; it just says what you’re doing on the outside.

It’s the idea of going after something. If someone goes after the function of an overseer; that’s the idea. If he pursues that; and the idea is, he gets in that track. Maybe he goes to school, he reads about that, he studies about that, he learns to do that, he gets under some people that are doing that. If he sort of tracks that track, then it says, if he does that, “he is desiring a good work.” But the second word for desire is completely different. The first word – oregō – is only used three times.

It’s used also, in chapter 6, verse 10, in a negative way; that’s reaching after something bad. It’s used in Hebrew – Hebrews 11:16, I believe it is, reaching for something good. It doesn’t say what you’re reaching for. Here, obviously, it’s reaching out for that pastorate, that leadership in the church. If a person does that, then it says, “he desires,” and he uses a totally different word – epithumeō – used many times in the New Testament, also for bad and good. But this word means a passionate compulsion.

Whereas the first word is something you do outwardly, the second word is something you feel inwardly. And it’s the two of those things that come together in this verse that give us the embodiment of the full understanding of that desire. What you have here, then, is someone who desires to lead in the church, and pursues it on the outside because he’s driven on the inside; he is compelled on the inside

But it ought to be a compulsion. If it’s from God, it will be a compulsion. Now, the compulsion may be stronger in some than others, but nonetheless, it is a compulsion.

Paul was compelled. We have read many times over the past couple of years in these posts of his compulsion. MacArthur gives us one example. Students of Paul’s epistles will remember more verses:

Paul says, “Look, don’t commend me for my ministry” – 1 Corinthians 9“woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel!” I am a driven man. I am compelled. I am compelled.

MacArthur gave a long citation of a book by the English Reformer, Hugh Latimer (1487-1555), who was one of the three Oxford Martyrs that Mary I — ‘Bloody Mary’ — ordered to be burnt at the stake. The three men — Latimer, Nicholas Ridley and Thomas Cranmer — were Church of England bishops in the Anglican sense, rather than the Pauline sense here, who resisted giving up the Protestant faith for Mary’s Catholicism.

MacArthur cites Latimer’s ‘Sermon of the Plough’, which reveals the depth and gravitas of Christian ministry. Latimer’s intended audience were clergymen who were relaxed about their vocations:

And now I would ask you a strange question: who is the most diligent bishop and prelate in all England, that passes all the rest in doing his office? I can tell, for I know who he is; I know him well. But now I think you listening and harkening that I should name him. There is one that passes all the others, and is the most diligent prelate and preacher in all of England. And will you know who it is? I will tell you: it is the devil.

He is the most diligent preacher of all; he is never out of his diocese; he is never from his cure [curacy]; you shall find – never find him unoccupied; he is ever in his parish; he keeps residence at all times; you shall never find him out of the way, call for him when you will, he is ever at home; he is the most diligent preacher in all the realm; he is ever at his plough: no lording or loitering can hinder him; he is ever applying his business, you will never find him idle, I warrant you.

When the devil is resident, and has his plough going, there away with books, and up with candles; away with Bibles, and up with beads; away with the light of the gospel, and up with the light of the candles, yea, even at noon-day…up with man’s traditions and his laws, down with God’s traditions and His most holy Word. Oh that our prelates [pastors] would be as diligent to sow the corn of good doctrine, as Satan is to sow cockle and darnel! There was never such a preacher in England as he is.

Latimer concluded his sermon with this:

The prelates are lords, and not laborers: but the devil is diligent at his plough. He is no unpreaching prelate: he is no lordly loiterer from his cure, he is a busy ploughman… Therefore, you unpreaching prelates, learn from the devil: be diligent in doing your office. If you will not learn from God, nor good men, to be diligent in your office, then learn from the devil.

MacArthur explains the Greek word for ‘bishop’ or ‘overseer’:

… the word is episkopos, the word for bishop or overseer …

It really could be used, the word – we could use the word leader or ruler, because that’s the idea. If you’re given responsibility to lead the church, to oversee the church, you are given a great responsibility. It is a very, very responsible calling. In fact, in Hebrews 13:17, it says you have to give an account to God for how you handled your leadership. James 3:1 says, “Don’t be in a hurry to be a teacher, because you’ll have a greater condemnation.” The responsibility is so great for one in a position of leadership.

Now, the word episkopos, or episkopē, comes out of Greek culture. There is a use of that word in the Greek culture. They use it to refer to an inspector, a sort of a city administrator, a finance manager; and some people believe that that word came out of Greek culture into the church. But it’s been discovered, too, that among a group of Jews called Essenes – they were monastic Jews; they were sort of heterodox Jews; they lived out in the wilderness by the Dead Sea – they also had episkopē.

They used the Hebrew term, mebaqqer and they – they had these men who would be called by them, in the Greek, episkopē, and in the Essene culture – the Qumran community, we call it – these men preached, taught, presided, exercised care, exercised authority, and did church discipline. It wouldn’t be called church discipline, but it was community discipline. They had the duty of commanding the people, instructing the people, receiving alms from the people. They had the duty of accusing the people, examining them, dealing with their sins, and generally shepherding.

So, it’s probably likely that the episkopē really gets its definition out of the Qumran community, rather than out of the Greek culture, because the Greek culture is such a narrow definition of administration, whereas the Qumran people saw this as a wide range of spiritual responsibility. So, the overseer – imagine – had that kind of responsibility; to command the people, lead the people, instruct the people, receive the giving from the people, receive accusations against the people and find out if they were true, examine the people, deal with their sins, shepherd the flock.

The range of responsibility, really, that belongs to every pastor and elder. The overseer is the same as a pastor and an elder. As I said earlier, elder – which is the word presbuteros – simply speaks of spiritual maturity; it means an older person. Shepherd is the word pastor – it is one who feeds – and overseer is the word episkopos – the one who leads, administrates, and coordinates, and supervises. They all refer to the same person. They are all used of the same people in Acts 20:28. They are all used of the same people in Titus 1:6 to 9 – in 1:5 to 9. They’re used of the same people in 1 Peter 5:1 and 2

So, they refer to the same person. I am an elder, spiritually mature. I am a pastor, I feed you. I am an overseer, I have responsibility of oversight, it’s all one and the same, just looking at it from different facets. And what is the responsibility of the elders at this church, the shepherds and pastors of this church; what is their responsibility? We are to rule. 1 Timothy 5:17 says we rule. That is proistēmi, to be ranked first or to stand first. We have the authority, given us by Christ, to rule in His behalf using His Word.

Finally, MacArthur looks at what Paul means by ‘a good work’:

The word good is kalos, a noble, excellent, honorable, high-quality work. This is the high estimate of the pastorate. It is of great, great value …

Then lastly … it is a demanding calling. And that is implied in the word work. It is a demanding calling. If you’re looking for leisure, if you’re looking for an easy time, you will not find it in the true exercise of the ministry.

You can find it by sort of getting in and just kind of laying low, but you’ll not fulfill the ministry. It is a demanding calling. The word work implies that. It implies energy, and expending of energy, and effort, and zeal, and commitment. And the word here has the idea, not of a one-time task or a one-time deed, but of a life work. It is a demanding occupation, I would like to translate it. It is a demanding life-long task. When Paul uses the same word, in 2 Timothy 4:5, and says to Timothy, “Do the work of an evangelist,” he’s not saying, “Do it today and tomorrow,” he’s saying, “Do that life-long work of an evangelist. You are one; do that work.”

And we are “to esteem” – 1 Thessalonians 5:12 – “those over us in the Lord for their work,” for their occupation, for the thing they do. The work of the ministry is a demanding thing. The work is never done. It’s – you don’t turn it off at five o’clock, let me tell you, folks. It never goes away – never, ever goes away. And there’s no assembly line that stops, and you can walk away. It just never, ever, ever goes away. It is a demanding calling. And when you look at your own heart and ask yourself if you’re called, realize that.

You’re talking about a life-long occupation. And Paul knew that; he suffered so greatly for that work. Well, these are the kind of people the church needs, who are called, because they understand that this is the kind of thing that it is: a demanding calling. And yet a worthy one, a lofty one, a compelling one. A calling that is rising from deep within the heart of a person, who understands its importance, understands that God is driving them to that. This is where church leadership has to begin. It starts with a calling.

Paul then gives Timothy six characteristics of an overseer, or pastor: being above reproach (blameless), a one-woman husband, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable and able to teach (verse 2).

We can see the heavy responsibility of being a pastor. It is a tall order.

In his next sermon on today’s verses, MacArthur cites Richard Baxter (1615-1691), another English clergyman. The Church of England expelled him during the English Civil War. Baxter continued as what is known as a Nonconformist clergyman, one not affiliated with the state church. He embraced Calvinism and became one of the leaders of the Nonconformist movement. Even today, pastors who are not affiliated with the Anglican church are referred to in England as Noncons.

Baxter wrote a book, The Reformed Pastor, first published in 1656, and MacArthur read it. A citation follows which fully expresses the solemn responsibility of a clergyman:

Take heed to yourselves, lest you live in those sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which daily you condemn. Will you make it your work to magnify God, and, when you have done that, dishonor Him as much as others? Will you proclaim Christ’s governing power, and yet condemn it, and rebel yourselves? Will you preach His laws, and willfully break them?

If sin be evil, why do you live in it? If it be not evil, why do you dissuade men from it? If it be dangerous, how dare you venture on it? If it be not dangerous, why do you tell men it is? If God’s threatenings are true, why do you not fear them? If they are false, why do you needlessly trouble men with them, and put them into such frights without a cause? Do you know the judgment of God, that they who commit such things are worthy of death, and yet will you do them? Thou that teachest another, teachest thou not thyself?

Thou that sayest a man should not commit adultery, or be drunk, or covetous, art thou such thyself? Thou that makest thy boast of the law, through breaking the law dishonorest thou God? What! Shall the same tongue speak evil that speaks against evil? Shall those lips censure, and slander, and backbite your neighbor, that cry down these and the like things in others? Take heed to yourselves, lest you cry down sin, and yet do not overcome it; lest, while you seek to bring it down in others, you bow to it, and become its slave yourselves.

For of whom a man is overcome, the same he is brought into bondage. To whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, His servants you are whom you obey, whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness. O brethren! It is easier to chide at sin, than it is to overcome it.

Henry explains the importance of each of the characteristics Paul gives Timothy in verse 2:

In order to the discharge of this office, the doing of this work, the workman must be qualified. 1. A minister must be blameless, he must not lie under any scandal; he must give as little occasion for blame as can be, because this would be a prejudice to his ministry and would reflect reproach upon his office. 2. He must be the husband of one wife; not having given a bill of divorce to one, and then taken another, or not having many wives at once, as at that time was too common both among Jews and Gentiles, especially among the Gentiles. 3. He must be vigilant and watchful against Satan, that subtle enemy; he must watch over himself, and the souls of those who are committed to his charge, of whom having taken the oversight, he must improve all opportunities of doing them good. A minister ought to be vigilant, because our adversary the devil goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, 1 Pet 5 8. 4. He must be sober, temperate, moderate in all his actions, and in the use of all creature-comforts. Sobriety and watchfulness are often in scripture put together, because they mutually befriend one another: Be sober, be vigilant. 5. He must be of good behaviour, composed and solid, and not light, vain, and frothy. 6. He must be given to hospitality, open-handed to strangers, and ready to entertain them according to his ability, as one who does not set his heart upon the wealth of the world and who is a true lover of his brethren. 7. Apt to teach. Therefore this is a preaching bishop whom Paul describes, one who is both able and willing to communicate to others the knowledge which God has given him, one who is fit to teach and ready to take all opportunities of giving instructions, who is himself well instructed in the things of the kingdom of heaven, and is communicative of what he knows to others.

MacArthur looks at these qualifications in more detail in his next sermon. He preached seven sermons on today’s verses.

He surmises that Paul mentioned being a one-woman man because avoiding sexual sin is hard, especially for men:

Now, I realize that the Old English, the King James, the Authorized Version says, “The husband of one wife.” That is not an accurate rendering of the Greek text. It uses the word gynaikos which is woman. It uses the word anēr, which is man, and it simply says, “A one-woman man.” The emphatic is the word “one.” “A one-woman man.” Here Paul is not stressing marital status. There is no definite article “the” husband of one wife. It is with without the article “a” one-woman man. And the absence of the article stresses not circumstances and not marital status, but character. It stresses character.

He begins to discuss the blamelessness of this man by a statement about his moral, sexual behavior. His character starts right here.

Somebody says, “Well, why is this first in the list?”

I’ll tell you; in my humble experience through the years, I have found this area of a man’s life to be that which most often puts men out of the ministry – more than any other matter, the inability to be a one-woman man. And that is why it is listed first, because it is such an obvious matter of grave concern, and such a mark of moral character.

He goes on to explain more about what Paul meant:

He’s not talking about polygamy here. Polygamy would disqualify you from even being in the church. They’d discipline you out before you got in. Sexual promiscuity was rampant. Vice was rampant. Prostitutes and deviant sexual priestesses and all of that was rampant in Ephesus, but not polygamy. The issue here is not that you can’t be a polygamist.

Somebody else says, “No, the husband of one wife means you could never have a second wife. You could never be married to more than one person.”

Well, I find that to be difficult in interpretation, because in the first place, that is not what the text originally says; it says “a one-woman man,” and it’s speaking about character, not marital status. But let’s assume even that we translate it the husband of one wife, are we saying that someone who had married a second wife could never be an elder in the church? Not hardly, because there are some terms in Scripture by which God not only permits but honors a second marriage. Is that not right? …

So, the point of this passage, a one-woman man, is not some kind of blanket forbidding that anyone married a second time could ever serve in a ministry. But there have been people who have interpreted it that way, and some who have been widowed, and then remarried men – a man losing his wife, marrying another woman, and some feeling they could no longer serve in the church. That’s not the intent of this text, for God honors that. God allows that.

Then the question comes, “Well, maybe it means divorced people.” Well, if it was intended to say that, it would have been very simple; all he would have had to say was, “This is to be a man who has never been divorced.” But it doesn’t say that either. It doesn’t say a man who has never been divorced. Because that would be such a broad, blanket statement, that that would pose problems as well

So, the point is this, people: a remarriage, in and of itself is not a sin. If a person was widowed and remarried, if a person was the innocent party in a divorce, where the other person was an unrepentant adulterer, a remarriage is not a sin. If an unbeliever departed, a remarriage is not a sin. So, we cannot blight someone’s life with a second marriage as if that in itself were sinful.

Now, having said all of that, I would confess to you that the majority of second marriages in our particular day and age are sinful. Obviously. Because they do not fit within that narrow definition of tolerable divorce given in the Word of God. But the point now, going back to 1 Timothy 3 – if you’re not there, turn to it, will you please – the point going back here is not that he is saying no one can ever be in church leadership who’s ever been previously married. That’s ridiculous, because there are tolerances within that. That isn’t even the issue here. If he wanted to be explicit about that, he would have said it another way …

The issue here, beloved, is a one-woman man. What that means is man devoted to one woman in his heart and mind. In his heart and mind. Keep in your mind that sexual evil was rampant in Ephesus.

… And what he is saying, you see, to Timothy is, “Hey, Timothy, one thing you’re going to have to do at the very beginning, when you put these men in a position of leadership, it will be made very clear that they are one-woman men, because that’s the only standard that God tolerates in His Church in terms of godly living. This is a man who loves only one woman, who desires only one woman, who thinks of only one woman, whose heart is for only one woman, and that woman is the wife that God has given to him. This is a man who would never do treacherously against the wife of his youth, as the prophet put it, not in a legal sense of divorcing nor in the spiritual sense of violating that commitment to her in his own mind, in his own heart.

The series continues with the rest of verse 2 in part 2.

This post continues my exegesis on John 4:5-42, the Gospel reading for the Third Sunday in Lent (Year A in the three-year Lectionary).

I normally browse Twitter on Sunday mornings. This is the first time I can recall a Sunday reading trending. This morning’s trend was ‘3rd Sunday in Lent’, and there were dozens of tweets from all over the world, many focusing on the Gospel. A few of them follow.

Some pertain to the living water of which Jesus spoke.

I like the multi-lingual posters in Mangalore:

Airedale Holy Cross (Anglican) in Leeds had two tweets:

There were others on the living water theme:

Here is a song about living water:

One priest posted his sermon:

Other tweets showed various genres of artwork depicting our Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman:

And, finally, the Catholic Archdiocese of Los Angeles focused on John 4:25-26 (emphases mine):

4:25 The woman said to him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.”

4:26 Jesus said to her, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you.”

Part 1 of my exegesis has the Gospel reading, a link to the others for this day and covers verses 5-19, with background on the biblical history of the animosity between the Jews and the Samaritans.

N.B.: WordPress technicians found a solution for my external links which were no longer opening automatically in new tabs. All should now open in new tabs.

Picking up on verse 19, where the woman, whom Jesus has told is guilty of adultery, says that He is a prophet, Matthew Henry‘s commentary tells us that she did not react defensively. Most sinners would have recoiled at a stranger knowing the truth about them:

She does not deny the truth of what he had charged her with, but by her silence owns the justice of the reproof; nor is she put into a passion by it, as many are when they are touched in a sore place, does not impute his censure to the general disgust the Jews had to the Samaritans, but (which is a rare thing) can bear to be told of a fault. But this is not all; she goes further: First, She speaks respectfully to him, calls him Sir. Thus should we honour those that deal faithfully with us. This was the effect of Christ’s meekness in reproving her; he gave her no ill language, and then she gave him none. Secondly, She acknowledges him to be a prophet, one that had a correspondence with Heaven. Note, The power of the word of Christ in searching the heart, and convincing the conscience of secret sins, is a great proof of its divine authority, 1 Cor 14 24, 25. Thirdly, She desires some further instruction from him. Many that are not angry at their reprovers, nor fly in their faces, yet are afraid of them and keep out of their way; but this woman was willing to have some more discourse with him that told her of her faults.

At this point, she moved on to matters spiritual.

She said to Jesus that her ancestors worshiped on ‘this mountain’ — Mount Gerizim — but that the Jews say that worship must take place in Jerusalem (verse 20). It is her way of asking which place is correct.

John MacArthur says that questions about worship are an important factor in evangelism:

That’s the question, “Where do I go to worship?” Her soul is bowing slowly. Her soul is bowing slowly and she knows that being right with God is a matter of worship. She doesn’t know where.

In evangelism, there is condescension, there is the offer of mercy, an unparalleled blessing and eternal life. There is the necessary confrontation and conviction of sin to bring the sinner to repentance. And this must be addressed, unacceptable worship must be abandoned, unacceptable worship must be abandoned …

the compelling thing I want you to see is she knew she needed to bow before God. She knew she needed to go to God and bow her knee and acknowledge Him and she didn’t know where to go. All she knew was external religion, because that’s all sinners ever know. That’s all they ever know. She is stunned by Jesus’ knowledge of her iniquitous pattern of life. Her conscience is pained. Her soul is pierced. She is unmasked as an adulterous covenant breaker. She is a stranger to righteousness. The weight of guilt which she spent a lot of her time trying to avoid has now come down in full force on her head. The reality breaks on her once indifferent mind that she needs to be right with God. And maybe that’s the path to living water and eternal life. She had to go to God.

Jesus answered her, saying that the hour is coming when she — and others — will not be worshipping God either on the mountain or in Jerusalem, emphasising His statement with the words ‘believe Me’ (verse 21).

Henry explains:

Note, It should cool us in our contests to think that those things which now fill us, and which we make such a noise about, shall shortly vanish, and be no more: the very things we are striving about are passing away: The hour comes when you shall neither in this mountain nor yet at Jerusalem worship the Father. First, The object of worship is supposed to continue still the same—God, as a Father; under this notion the very heathen worshipped God, the Jews did so, and probably the Samaritans. Secondly, But a period shall be put to all niceness and all differences about the place of worship. The approaching dissolution of the Jewish economy, and the erecting of the evangelical state, shall set this matter at large, and lay all in common, so that it shall be a thing perfectly indifferent whether in either of these places or any other men worship God, for they shall not be tied to any place; neither here nor there, but both, and any where, and every where. Note, The worship of God is not now, under the gospel, appropriated to any place, as it was under the law, but it is God’s will that men pray every where. 1 Tim 2 8; Mal 1 11. Our reason teaches us to consult decency and convenience in the places of our worship: but our religion gives no preference to one place above another, in respect to holiness and acceptableness to God. Those who prefer any worship merely for the sake of the house or building in which it is performed (though it were as magnificent and as solemnly consecrated as ever Solomon’s temple was) forget that the hour is come when there shall be no difference put in God’s account: no, not between Jerusalem, which had been so famous for sanctity, and the mountain of Samaria, which had been so infamous for impiety.

MacArthur reminds us of what happened in AD 70, a few decades after Jesus had this conversation:

“An hour is coming”–and He says it again in verse 23–“an hour is coming and now already is when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father.” Not long after this, a few decades, 70 A.D. comes. The Romans come at the end of the Jewish rebellion that started in 66 and the Romans come and they destroy Jerusalem and they crush the temple and don’t leave one stone upon another and there’s no more temple worship. And then the Roman powers go up into the area of Samaria. They arrive at Mount Gerizim and historical accounts tell us they took out their swords and they slaughtered thousands of Samaritans on Mount Gerizim and brought an end to that worship as well. Jesus is giving the prophecy of what’s coming and coming very fast, and it already now is in the sense that the New Covenant is almost in place. It’s not long until it be ratified in His death on the cross. Our Lord’s answer is a very crucial, crucial answer.

Jesus told her that she — and the other Samaritans — worshipped what they did not know, whereas the Jews worshipped what they knew, for salvation was from the Jews (verse 22).

MacArthur interprets our Lord’s words as follows:

This is a critique, a simple and brief critique of Samaritan religion, which was limited as I said to the Pentateuch, and then the mixed in pagan, idolatrous elements of religion from those with whom they intermarried.

“You don’t even know what to worship. At least we Jews worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews.” That is, the Scripture was given to the Jews, the Messiah comes through Israel, that’s all He means by that. It’s not for the Jews only, but it’s from the Jews. But He’s saying we have the right data, we have the Scriptures, the oracles of God (Romans 3, Paul says). We have the truth. We know the truth. That’s not a commendation of Jewish religion, by the way, because it was apostate and Jesus denounced it repeatedly.

But nonetheless God had deposited the truth with them, and through them would come Messiah. So we have that on you. You don’t even know what you’re doing. We at least have the revelation of God about worship.

Jesus said that the hour is now coming, indeed it is here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and in truth, for the Father seeks such people to worship Him (verse 23).

Again, He was speaking of the coming destruction of the temple and all that was associated with it as well as the slaughter of the Samaritans.

MacArthur says:

There’s no more priesthood. There’s no more altars. There’s no more sacrifices. There’s no more vestments. There are no more incense, candles, all that goes with it. Whether it is the ill-informed worship of the Samaritans or the apostate worship of the Jews, it all disappears, it all passes away. No more mountains, no more temples, no more priests, no more sacrifices, no more altars, no more vestments, no more feasts, no more Sabbaths, none of it–all that is ripped apart, disappeared. And the punctuation point was made in 70 A.D. I mean, it had always been that God wanted heart worship, that’s why Amos said, “Stop your songs, your hearts aren’t right. I hate your feasts. I hate your Sabbaths. I hate what you’re doing.” Malachi said the same thing, “All you ever bring Me is lame animals.” Isaiah 1 said the same thing: your whole head is sick from top to bottom. It’s always been about the heart, but all those symbols that once pointed them in the direction of heart worship are gone, are gone

Jesus told the woman that God is spirit and, therefore, those who worship Him must do so in spirit and in truth (verse 24).

MacArthur continues:

Christ ushered in a new era of worship, doesn’t focus on externals or on symbols, but on what is internal and what is real and what is genuine. All you need to worship is the truth in the Scripture and a heart that loves God anywhere and everywhere. Such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. He wants worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth. He is a spirit, verse 24. And those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.

MacArthur points out the doctrine here:

By the way, we worship the Father, we worship the Father. Twice in verse 23 refer to meaning God, the true God, God Himself, but it’s not limited to Him. He is the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The very term “Father” ties Him into Christ as Son. He’s not a Father if He doesn’t have the Son. So we worship the God who is Father and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, as so often is repeated in the New Testament. We worship the God who is also the Holy Spirit–God the Father, God the Son, God the Holy Spirit, the true God. And we start with truth, right? We start with the truth about God; God is the Trinity.

The woman pursued the conversation saying that she knew that Messiah — Christ — was coming and that, when He came, He would proclaim all things (verse 25).

Henry gives us the Greek used, which means that she thought Messiah’s arrival was imminent:

The Samaritans received the writings of Moses, and were no strangers to the prophets, nor to the hopes of the Jewish nation; those who knew least knew this, that Messias was to come; so general and uncontested was the expectation of him, and at this time more raised than ever (for the sceptre was departed from Judah, Daniel’s weeks were near expiring), so that she concludes not only, He will come, but erchetai—”He comes, he is just at hand: Messias, who is called Christ. The evangelist, though he retains the Hebrew word Messias (which the woman used) in honour to the holy language, and to the Jewish church, that used it familiarly, yet, writing for the use of the Gentiles, he takes care to render it by a Greek word of the same signification, who is called Christ-Anointed, giving an example to the apostle’s rule, that whatever is spoken in an unknown or less vulgar tongue should be interpreted, 1 Cor 14 27, 28.

Henry explains what she meant by Messiah’s proclamation of ‘all things’:

What she expects from him: He will tell us all things relating to the service of God which it is needful for us to know, will tell us that which will supply our defects, rectify our mistakes, and put an end to all our disputes. He will tell us the mind of God fully and clearly, and keep back nothing.” Now this implies an acknowledgement, First, Of the deficiency and imperfection of the discovery they now had of the divine will, and the rule they had of the divine worship; it could not make the comers thereunto perfect, and therefore they expected some great advance and improvement in matters of religion, a time of reformation. Secondly, Of the sufficiency of the Messiah to make this change: “He will tell us all things which we want to know, and about which we wrangle in the dark. He will introduce peace, by leading us into all truth, and dispelling the mists of error.” It seems, this was the comfort of good people in those dark times that light would arise; if they found themselves at a loss, and run aground, it was a satisfaction to them to say, When Messias comes, he will tell us all things; as it may be to us now with reference to his second coming: now we see through a glass, but then face to face.

Then Jesus said to her, ‘I am He, the One who is speaking to you’ (verse 26). One cannot imagine what she must have thought at that moment.

MacArthur gives us the text from the manuscript for that statement:

Jesus said to her, “I who speak to you AM.” There’s no “He” in the original; it’s an I AM statement, the name of God. “I who speak to you AM.” The One speaking to you is the I AM. This is the final point in the glorious culmination. The incarnate Christ is revealed–the unveiling of Christ. She is ready for the truth, and He is there to give it to her. I who speak to you, I AM.

Twenty-three times in the gospel of John we read “I AM.” Seven times He says “I AM” something: the Bread of Life, the Branch, the Way, the Truth, the Life–all references to His eternal Godhood. He reveals Himself to her.

What a blessed woman she became.

MacArthur tells us how conversion works in our Lord’s physical absence. Here we understand that He is always with us, even if we cannot see Him:

This is how it works with the sinner. It starts when we condescend in love and compassion; when we offer the marvelous realities of mercy and blessing, the promises of eternal life, and then we move to confront the sin. And if the sinner will turn under the power of the Holy Spirit and repent of sin and reach out for the truth, it is at that point that Christ is disclosed to the sinner. He reveals Himself to her.

In response to her faith, in response to her repentance, this outcast, immoral, ignorant woman that our Lord sat down to talk with was completely disinterested and now she wants the truth about the life of God that is eternal, that her heart craves so desperately. She wants forgiveness for her wretched life. And in that moment when she believes and when she repents, He is revealed to her.

This is a divine work, isn’t it? She knew nothing about Him at all when it started. Now she wants to know everything about Him that’s available so she can be a true worshiper

You know, I don’t want to overdo this, or turn it into some kind of an analogy, but I would simply say this: when you’ve taken the steps, and obviously we can’t know people’s history like Jesus did, but when you’ve taken the steps to make the condescending conversation begin, initiated it, and when you’ve taken the steps to unfold, and unpack the beauties of the promise of the satisfying gifts that God gives to those who come to Him, and when you’ve confronted sin, and when you’ve warned the people that they have to turn from false worship to true worship, if you’ve done all of that, then you can leave it to God to unveil the truth concerning Himself. That’s the divine work. That’s what heaven has to do.

Just then, our Lord’s disciples arrived, astonished to find Him speaking with a woman, although they did not ask for a reason why (verse 27). Men and women did not converse in those days.

It was part of the divine plan that they did not arrive until just after Christ revealed to the woman that He is the Messiah.

MacArthur examines that timing for us and how it fit into the overall plan for evangelisation:

… notice verse 27, “At this point,” and in the Greek that is very, very specific. “At this point,” at this specific moment. This is a critical juncture. The disciples had finished their business in Sychar. It took whatever time it took to do whatever they needed to do to get the food and walk back. They returned to the well at this moment, at this point. You wouldn’t use that phrase unless you were trying to make a point of the precise timing that was going on there. The very moment Jesus had declared who He was, and the woman turned with that in her and couldn’t get to the village fast enough to tell everyone, at that moment, as that conversation comes to an end, the disciples arrive. If they arrive earlier, the conversation gets interrupted. If they arrive earlier, they begin to ask questions. They engage in the conversation, and we know what their questions would be because they have them in their minds. If they arrive late, they don’t even know about the conversation. The timing is perfect. They’re not too early and they’re not too late. They arrive exactly on time to see Jesus shattering barriers of tradition and prejudice. They see Jesus do what He wants them to do. What does He want them to do? He’s going to tell them…He’s going to tell them before His ascension in Acts 1:8, He’s going to say, You shall be witnesses unto Me in Jerusalem, Judea”…Then what?…Samaria and the ends of the earth.” He’s showing them what He wants them to do.

Yes, the gospel was for Israel, but it was for the world. And when it couldn’t go through Israel, God put judgment on Israel and carved out a new channel—His church made up of Jew and Gentile. God foreordains everything. When it said that, of necessity, Jesus went through Samaria, it was a divine necessity to be at a certain point at a certain time. Every moment, every detail, a thousand details caused everything to converge exactly the way it did, and yet Christ moves, as He always does, effortlessly through the conversation. It’s not forced. It’s not hurried. It comes to its climactic end with the claim that He is the Messiah and she affirms that. He operated on that amazing schedule. He says over and over again, and particularly to the gospel of John that we are in debt for this, “My time has not come,” “My time has not come.” His time had not come. And there are occasions when He said, “My time has come; My hour has come.” He was operating on a divine timetable.

Both our commentators agree that the disciples said nothing to Jesus about His conversation with a woman because they thought He had a good reason for it.

Henry says:

they knew it was for some good reason, and some good end, of which he was not bound to give them an account, and therefore none of them asked, What seekest thou? or, Why talkest thou with her? Thus, when particular difficulties occur in the word and providence of God, it is good to satisfy ourselves with this in general, that all is well which Jesus Christ saith and doeth.

MacArthur says:

They kept silent. Why did they keep silent? Well, though they are new disciples, though they haven’t been with Jesus very long, they’re beginning to learn what all disciples need to learn and that is trust. Here’s how your discipleship goes. When you’re new in Christ, you question everything. When you’re mature in Christ, you question nothing. And in the process you go from questioning everything to questioning nothing.

Then the woman left her water jar and went back to the city, saying to the people (verse 28) to come and see a man who told her everything she had ever done, asking, ‘He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ (verse 29).

John adds that marvellous detail about her leaving her water jar behind. I can think of several reasons why she did so. First, the notion that she came face to face with the Messiah who revealed everything she had ever done must have filled her with an eager awe to tell others. Secondly, she did not want to be slowed down on a mile-and-a-half trip into the city with a full jar of water. Thirdly, as she was calling people to meet Jesus, she would naturally return for her jar. Fourthly, she no doubt also left it behind for the Messiah and His companions to enjoy with their lunch.

She must have been persuasive when she went to Sychar, because John tells us that the people left the city and went to meet Him (verse 30).

Notice that she asks whether the man she met is the Messiah. She knows deep in her heart that He is but, being a woman in a patriarchal era, she must not stamp her authority on a personal statement.

However, MacArthur adds that she posed the question in order that the people discovered the truth for themselves:

she defers to them as men; she’s gracious about that, and she’s open about the fact that everything that I’ve lived, all the wretchedness of my life. He knew; He knew it all. Come see this…this…Is this the Messiah? And she poses it negatively because she wants them to make the discovery. She doesn’t want to force that on them. And so they responded.

Henry has more:

Two things affected her:—First, the extent of his knowledge. We ourselves cannot tell all things that ever we did (many things pass unheeded, and more pass away and are forgotten); but Jesus Christ knows all the thoughts, words, and actions, of all the children of men; see Heb 4 13. He hath said, I know thy works. Secondly, The power of his word. This made a great impression upon her, that he told her her secret sins with such an unaccountable power and energy that, being told of one, she is convinced of all, and judged of all. She does not say, “Come, see a man that has told me strange things concerning religious worship, and the laws of it, that has decided the controversy between this mountain and Jerusalem, a man that calls himself the Messias; but, Come see a man that has told me of my sins.” She fastens upon that part of Christ’s discourse which one would think she would have been most shy of repeating; but experimental proofs of the power of Christ’s word and Spirit are of all others the most cogent and convincing; and that knowledge of Christ into which we are led by the conviction of sin and humiliation is most likely to be sound and saving.

Meanwhile, back at the well, the disciples were urging Jesus to eat something (verse 31).

But He replied that He had food to eat that they knew nothing about (verse 32).

The disciples asked each other whether someone nearby might have brought Him sustenance in their absence (verse 33).

Jesus then gave them a brief discourse on the work of saving souls.

He said that His food was to do the will of the Father, who sent Him, and to complete His work (verse 34).

MacArthur reminds us that in the Old Testament God was often referred to as ‘God our Saviour’:

That is an Old Testament title for God. He is by nature a saving God—God who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe. He’s the Savior of all men in the sense that He even temporally and physically doesn’t give sinners what they deserve when they deserve it. If He did, they would all perish, we would all be dead the first time we sinned. God by nature is a Savior, is patient and gracious, and merciful and kind, hoping that His mercy leads us to repentance. And so He’s even in a temporal sense demonstrating that He’s a Savior by nature. In a spiritual sense, He does it eternally and spiritually when He brings us to true salvation …

Therefore, this was essential for Jesus:

His joy, His exhilaration, His delight was in the work of the Father in saving sinners. That’s His joy. That caused His heart to be so uplifted that He had no thought of physical hunger. There is evidence then of who He is from providence. There is evidence from priority, the focus of His life. He came to seek and save the lost.

Henry also says that Jesus takes delight in saving souls:

How Christ expresses the delight which he himself had in his work. His work was to seek and save that which was lost, to go about doing good. Now with this work we here find him wholly taken up.

Jesus asked the disciples if they did not say, ‘Four months more, then comes the harvest’, then, as if by way of illustration, told them to look around and see how the fields were ripe for harvesting (verse 35).

In older translations, ‘white’ is used for ‘ripe’. MacArthur explains that John is referring not only to crops once matured but also to the Samaritans arriving:

That’s a beautiful moment. Here come the villagers with their typically Middle Eastern, ancient white robes and when the harvest is white, it means that the tops of the grain have turned white and the harvest is ready. The green grain is still there but here come the white Samaritans and they’re like grain ready to be harvested. “Don’t say four months. I’m telling you, lift up your eyes, the harvest is now.”

What’s He talking about? He prophesies that those people are going to be saved that day. He not only knows the past of the woman, He knows the future of the village.

Jesus continued, saying that the reaper is already receiving wages and is gathering fruit for eternal life, so that sower and reaper may rejoice together (verse 36).

He said that the saying ‘One sows and another reaps’ holds true (verse 37).

He added that He sent them to reap that for which they did not labour; others had laboured, and the disciples had entered into their labour (verse 38).

MacArthur explains what Jesus meant:

Right now, you’re here and right now you are going to have the joy of reaping and receiving the benefit, the wages, the blessing that comes to those that gather fruit for life eternal. You’re going to be part of a revival right here. “And he who sows and he who reaps may rejoice together, for in this case the saying is true. One sows and another reaps.”

What does He mean by that? You’re going to reap what you didn’t sow. Who…who sowed? Who sowed into these Samaritans, Moses? They had the Pentateuch. Some of the prophets from which had developed their Messianic ideas; is it possible John the Baptist? There’s one other sower, the woman. She went and she told them what had happened to her. Something from Moses, something from the prophets, and something maybe had drifted from John the Baptist’s extensive ministry. Remember, he had moved north for the last number of months. And this is how it is. Some sow, some reap, and God…What?…gives the increase. So He’s teaching His disciples a lesson. And He’s saying, “I sent you to reap that for which you haven’t labored, others have labored and you’ve entered into their labor.” You’ve come at the end of the labor to reap the harvest, and you’re going to reap it today. What an amazing day, amazing day.

How does He know this? Because He not only knows what people think—He not only knows the past, He knows the future. He knows they’re going to be saved that day. After all, He’s the Savior; He’s the one who gives life. He’s the one who determines salvation. So evidence comes from prophecy.

Henry points to the hard work that goes on in a harvest of crops:

See here how Christ, having expressed his delight in his work, excites his disciples to diligence in their work; they were workers with him, and therefore should be workers like him, and make their work their meat, as he did. The work they had to do was to preach the gospel, and to set up the kingdom of the Messiah. Now this work he here compares to harvest work, the gathering in of the fruits of the earth; and this similitude he prosecutes throughout the discourse, v. 35-38. Note, gospel time is harvest time, and gospel work harvest work. The harvest is before appointed and expected; so was the gospel. Harvest time is busy time; all hands must be then at work: every one must work for himself, that he may reap of the graces and comforts of the gospel: ministers must work for God, to gather in souls to him. Harvest time is opportunity, a short and limited time, which will not last always; and harvest work is work that must be done then or not at all; so the time of the enjoyment of the gospel is a particular season, which must be improved for its proper purposes; for, once past, it cannot be recalled. The disciples were to gather in a harvest of souls for Christ. Now he here suggests three things to them to quicken them to diligence:—

(1.) That it was necessary work, and the occasion for it very urgent and pressing (v. 35): You say, It is four months to harvest; but I say, The fields are already white. Here is,

[1.] A saying of Christ’s disciples concerning the corn-harvest; there are yet four months, and then comes harvest, which may be taken either generally—”You say, for the encouragement of the sower at seed-time, that it will be but four months to the harvest.” With us it is but about four months between the barley-sowing and the barley-harvest, probably it was so with them as to other grain; or, “Particularly, now at this time you reckon it will be four months to next harvest, according to the ordinary course of providence.” The Jews’ harvest began at the Passover, about Easter, much earlier in the year than ours, by which it appears that this journey of Christ from Judea to Galilee was in the winter, about the end of November, for he travelled all weathers to do good. God has not only promised us a harvest every year, but has appointed the weeks of harvest; so that we know when to expect it, and take our measures accordingly.

[2.] A saying of Christ’s concerning the gospel harvest; his heart was as much upon the fruits of his gospel as the hearts of others were upon the fruits of the earth; and to this he would lead the thoughts of his disciples: Look, the fields are already white unto the harvest. First, Here in this place, where they now were, there was harvest work for him to do. They would have him to eat, v. 31. “Eat!” saith he, “I have other work to do, that is more needful; look what crowds of Samaritans are coming out of the town over the fields that are ready to receive the gospel;” probably there were many now in view. People’s forwardness to hear the word is a great excitement to ministers’ diligence and liveliness in preaching it. Secondly, In other places, all the country over, there was harvest work enough for them all to do. “Consider the regions, think of the state of the country, and you will find there are multitudes as ready to receive the gospel as a field of corn that is fully ripe is ready to be reaped.” The fields were now made white to the harvest, 1. By the decree of God revealed in the prophecies of the Old Testament. Now was the time when the gathering of the people should be to Christ ( Gen 49 10), when great accessions should be made to the church and the bounds of it should be enlarged, and therefore it was time for them to be busy. It is a great encouragement to us to engage in any work for God, if we understand by the signs of the times that this is the proper season for that work, for then it will prosper. 2. By the disposition of men. John Baptist had made ready a people prepared for the Lord, Luke 1 17. Since he began to preach the kingdom of God every man pressed into it, Luke 16 16. This, therefore, was a time for the preachers of the gospel to apply themselves to their work with the utmost vigour, to thrust in their sickle, when the harvest was ripe, Rev 14 15. It was necessary to work now, pity that such a season should be let slip. If the corn that is ripe be not reaped, it will shed and be lost, and the fowls will pick it up. If souls that are under convictions, and have some good inclinations, be not helped now, their hopeful beginnings will come to nothing, and they will be a prey to pretenders. It was also easy to work now; when the people’s hearts are prepared the work will be done suddenly, 2 Chron 29 36. It cannot but quicken ministers to take pains in preaching the word when they observe that people take pleasure in hearing it.

Returning to the Samaritans, in verse 39, John says that many of them believed in Jesus because of the woman’s testimony; he also reprises what the she said in verse 29, “He told me everything I have ever done.”

Both Henry and MacArthur point out a mass conversion such as this never happened among the Jews during our Lord’s ministry.

Henry says simply:

Who they were that believed: Many of the Samaritans, who were not of the house of Israel. Their faith was not only an aggravation of the unbelief of the Jews, from whom better might have been expected, but an earnest of the faith of the Gentiles, who would welcome that which the Jews rejected.

MacArthur reminds us of other episodes in our Lord’s ministry and contrasts those with the Samaritans in this passage:

Do you know that never happened in a village in Israel? In fact, the disciples were getting so tired of going into villages and proclaiming Christ and having Christ come in and being rejected and mistreated, that James and John came to Jesus and said, “Do You want us to call down fire from heaven and incinerate the town?” Jesus said, “Back off, guys.” This never happened. This never happened in Judea. He went to His own village in Galilee—the village of Nazareth—to preach one sermon; they tried to stone Him to death. This is a very significant event. The only time a town is converted and this is to tell us that He is the Savior of the world. And His people have rejected Him; He will go to the world. He tells the disciples what Paul says in 2 Timothy 2, “The hard-working farmer does what he does because he gets to taste the fruit.” Today you’re going to have a great experience.

Now remember, eventually they’re going to get the Great Commission. They’re going to go to the Judea, Samaria, the uttermost part of the earth. They need to know that when they go there will be fruit there. They need to know that they’ll taste the fruit. They’ll go, they’ll plant, they’ll water, they’ll labor—God will give the increase. They’ll enjoy the fruit. So this is a preview of things to come, after His ascension when the Holy Spirit came upon them and they were sent to the world. You’re going to find joy and rejoicing in the fact that God will honor your efforts.

Henry is so correct in mentioning earnest faith, because the Samaritans asked Jesus to stay with them, and He stayed there two days (verse 40). John tells us that many more believed because of His word (verse 41).

Did Jesus ever receive such hospitality from another group of people? No, he did not.

MacArthur wonders what those two days must have been like. He’s not the only one. I do, and I reckon you do, too:

I don’t know what those two days were like, but that must have been incredible. It’s the only time in His earthly ministry that ever happened. It’s the only time it ever happened where He actually spent two days with a whole town, revealing Himself who He was. And I’m sure He talked about the cross and the resurrection and the kingdom.

The Samaritans said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Savior of the world’ (verse 42), which sounds on the face of it to be a bit demeaning to her, but we should take it as, ‘He is everything you said He was — and more’.

Henry describes how their faith grew during those two days:

what he said and did there is not related, whether he healed their sick or no; but it is intimated, in the effect, that he said and did that which convinced them that he was the Christ; and the labours of a minister are best told by the good fruit of them. Their hearing of him had a good effect, but now their eyes saw him; and the effect was, 1. That their number grew (v. 41): Many more believed: many that would not be persuaded to go out of the town to him were yet wrought upon, when he came among them, to believe in him. Note, It is comfortable to see the number of believers; and sometimes the zeal and forwardness of some may be a means to provoke many, and to stir them up to a holy emulation, Rom 11 14. 2. That their faith grew. Those who had been wrought upon by the report of the woman now saw cause to say, Now we believe, not because of thy saying, v. 42. Here are three things in which their faith grew:(1.) In the matter of it, or that which they did believe. Upon the testimony of the woman, they believed him to be a prophet, or some extraordinary messenger from heaven; but now that they have conversed with him they believe that he is the Christ, the Anointed One, the very same that was promised to the fathers and expected by them, and that, being the Christ, he is the Saviour of the world; for the work to which he was anointed was to save his people from their sins. They believed him to be the Saviour not only of the Jews, but of the world, which they hoped would take them in, though Samaritans, for it was promised that he should be Salvation to the ends of the earth, Isa 49 6. (2.) In the certainty of it; their faith now grew up to a full assurance: We know that this is indeed the Christ; alethostruly; not a pretended Christ, but a real one; not a typical Saviour, as many under the Old Testament, but truly one. Such an assurance as this of divine truths is what we should labour after; not only, We think it probable, and are willing to suppose that Jesus may be the Christ, but, We know that he is indeed the Christ. (3.) In the ground of it, which was a kind of spiritual sensation and experience: Now we believe, not because of thy saying, for we have heard him ourselves. They had before believed for her saying, and it was well, it was a good step; but now they find further and much firmer footing for their faith: “Now we believe because we have heard him ourselves, and have heard such excellent and divine truths, accompanied with such commanding power and evidence, that we are abundantly satisfied and assured that this is the Christ. This is like what the queen of Sheba said of Solomon (1 Kings 10 6, 7): The one half was not told me. The Samaritans, who believed for the woman’s saying, now gained further light; for to him that hath shall be given; he that is faithful in a little shall be trusted with more. In this instance we may see how faith comes by hearing. [1.] Faith comes to the birth by hearing the report of men. These Samaritans, for the sake of the woman’s saying, believed so far as to come and see, to come and make trial. Thus the instructions of parents and preachers, and the testimony of the church and our experienced neighbours, recommend the doctrine of Christ to our acquaintance, and incline us to entertain it as highly probable. But, [2.] Faith comes to its growth, strength, and maturity, by hearing the testimony of Christ himself; and this goes further, and recommends his doctrine to our acceptance, and obliges us to believe it as undoubtedly certain. We were induced to look into the scriptures by the saying of those who told us that in them they had found eternal life; but when we ourselves have found it in them too, have experienced the enlightening, convincing, regenerating, sanctifying, comforting, power of the word, now we believe, not for their saying, but because we have searched them ourselves: and our faith stands not in the wisdom of men, but in the power of God, 1 Cor 2 5; 1 John 5 9, 10.

What a wonderful story. Yes, it is one most of us know well, but to dig deeper into it affords us spiritual treasure beyond value.

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