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Bible kevinroosecomThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

In 2021, the Third Sunday in Lent is March 7.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Third Sunday in Lent — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 2:13-22

2:13 The Passover of the Jews was near, and Jesus went up to Jerusalem.

2:14 In the temple he found people selling cattle, sheep, and doves, and the money changers seated at their tables.

2:15 Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both the sheep and the cattle. He also poured out the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables.

2:16 He told those who were selling the doves, “Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!”

2:17 His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”

2:18 The Jews then said to him, “What sign can you show us for doing this?”

2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”

2:20 The Jews then said, “This temple has been under construction for forty-six years, and will you raise it up in three days?”

2:21 But he was speaking of the temple of his body.

2:22 After he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this; and they believed the scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken.

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the temple follows the miracle at Cana in John’s Gospel.

This was the first of two purges that Jesus did at the temple. The second comes near the end of His ministry, days before the Crucifixion.

He had departed for Jerusalem (verse 13) from Capernaum, His headquarters in Galilee.

Once at the temple, he found a marketplace for animals to be sacrificed (verse 14). This was a real racket, especially for poorer people. Some carefully raised their own birds for sacrifice only to be told before entering the temple that they had blemishes, forcing them to buy a bird from one of the sellers at an inflated price. Money normally had to be exchanged for this to take place, hence the money changers.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that what Christ came to reform, He first had to purify:

Christ came to be the great reformer and, according to the method of the reforming kings of Judah, he first purged out what was amiss (and that used to be passover-work too, as in Hezekiah’s time, 2 Chronicles 30:14,15, and Josiah’s, 2 Kings 23:4, &c.), and then taught them to do well. First purge out the old leaven, and then keep the feast. Christ’s design in coming into the world was to reform the world and he expects that all who come to him should reform their hearts and lives, Genesis 35:2. And this he has taught us by purging the temple. See here,

[1.] What were the corruptions that were to be purged out. He found a market in one of the courts of the temple, that which was called the court of the Gentiles, within the mountain of that house. There, First, They sold oxen, and sheep, and doves, for sacrifice we will suppose, not for common use, but for the convenience of those who came out of the country, and could not bring their sacrifices in kind along with them see Deuteronomy 14:24-26. This market perhaps had been kept by the pool of Bethesda (John 5:2), but was admitted into the temple by the chief priests, for filthy lucre for, no doubt, the rents for standing there, and fees for searching the beasts sold there, and certifying that they were without blemish, would be a considerable revenue to them. Great corruptions in the church owe their rise to the love of money, 1 Timothy 6:5,10 Secondly, They changed money, for the convenience of those that were to pay a half-shekel in specie every year, by way of poll, for the service of the tabernacle (Exodus 30:12), and no doubt they got by it.

[2.] What course our Lord took to purge out those corruptions. He had seen these in the temple formerly, when he was in a private station but never went about to drive them out till now, when he had taken upon him the public character of a prophet.

Henry tells us why Jesus did not have a quiet conversation with the chief priests:

He did not complain to the chief priests, for he knew they countenanced those corruptions.

So, in the Court of the Gentiles, where this took place, He made a whip and drove men and livestock out of the area then poured the money collected on the ground before tipping over the money changers’ tables (verse 15).

He told those selling doves to remove them and not to make His Father’s holy place a marketplace (verse 16).

John MacArthur says that this was not the first time something like this had happened within the confines of the temple:

There’s a book called The Jews at the Time of Jesus. It’s written by a man named Wylen, W-y-l-e-n, and he says in there, and this is a quote, “Such incidents were not unusual as trouble in the Temple.” And he gives one very interesting one. The high priest was in the Temple at one of these events and the Jews were very unhappy with the high priest. And so they started throwing lemons at him, blasting the high priest with lemons. He unleashed his private mercenaries, his mercenary army, and according to the record, slaughtered the people in the courtyard in the multiple thousands for throwing lemons at the high priest. That’s a far cry from what our Lord does. He doesn’t kill anybody, but He does more than throw lemons at the high priest because He doesn’t like the high priest. He pronounces judgment on the entire religious system, priests and people.

Henry describes the wisdom of Jesus in His approach:

First, Drove out the sheep and oxen, and those that sold them, out of the temple. He never used force to drive any into the temple, but only to drive those out that profaned it. He did not seize the sheep and oxen for himself, did not distrain and impound them, though he found them damage faissant-actual trespassers upon his Father’s ground he only drove them out, and their owners with them. He made a scourge of small cords, which probably they had led their sheep and oxen with, and thrown them away upon the ground, whence Christ gathered them. Sinners prepare the scourges with which they themselves will be driven out from the temple of the Lord. He did not make a scourge to chastise the offenders (his punishments are of another nature), but only to drive out the cattle he aimed no further than at reformation. See Romans 13:3,4,2 Corinthians 10:8.

Secondly, He poured out the changers’ money, to kermathe small money–the Nummorum Famulus. In pouring out the money, he showed his contempt of it he threw it to the ground, to the earth as it was. In overthrowing the tables, he showed his displeasure against those that make religion a matter of worldly gain. Money-changers in the temple are the scandal of it. Note, In reformation, it is good to make thorough work he drove them all out and not only threw out the money, but, in overturning the tables, threw out the trade too.

Thirdly, He said to them that sold doves (sacrifices for the poor), Take these things hence. The doves, though they took up less room, and were a less nuisance than the oxen and sheep, yet must not be allowed there. The sparrows and swallows were welcome, that were left to God’s providence (Psalm 84:3), but not the doves, that were appropriated to man’s profit. God’s temple must not be made a pigeon-house. But see Christ’s prudence in his zeal. When he drove out the sheep and oxen, the owners might follow them when he poured out the money, they might gather it up again but, if he had turned the doves flying, perhaps they could not have been retrieved therefore to them that sold doves he said, Take these things hence. Note, Discretion must always guide and govern our zeal, that we do nothing unbecoming ourselves, or mischievous to others.

Fourthly, He gave them a good reason for what he did: Make not my Father’s house a house of merchandise. Reason for conviction should accompany force for correction.

His disciples stood by watching. They remembered Psalm 69:9 (verse 17).

MacArthur explains:

these six men were really true Old Testament believers. They were followers of John the Baptist, preparing for the Messiah. And John it was, you remember, who said, “Follow Christ,” and they had followed Him. They have been with Him now for a while, a week at least between when they first started following Him and had the wedding at Cana and now a few days more. They know their Old Testament. And when they see Jesus do this, they remember a verse; it’s Psalm 69:9. This is the verse they remembered: “Zeal for Your house will consume me.” They know that passage. Psalm 69 was written by David. And David was calling the people to true worship, that’s the scene. David was calling the people to true worship and what He was getting back was resistance and hatred and hostility. The people were in the same condition then that they are in Jesus’ time. But David is doing his best to call them back to faithfulness. And David says they’re mistreating me, they’re hating me; and then he says in verse 9 of Psalm 69, “But zeal for Your house has consumed me and the reproaches of those who reproach You are fallen on me.”

The Jewish hierarchy wanted to know on whose authority Jesus acted, so they asked for a sign from Him (verse 18).

Henry posits that the act itself, which met with no resistance from the guilty, was itself proof enough of a sign:

His ability to drive so many from their posts, without opposition, was a proof of his authority he that was armed with such a divine power was surely armed with a divine commission. What ailed these buyers and sellers, that they fled, that they were driven back? Surely it was at the presence of the Lord (Psalm 114:5,7), no less a presence.

As we know, the hierarchy was opposed to Jesus from the start. Their hearts grew ever harder throughout His ministry.

Jesus was aware of this, so He spoke of His death and resurrection by referring to His body as the temple (verse 19), which He knew would confound them (verses 20, 21). They were thinking of the building, asking how raising it again in three days could be humanly possible.

Looking at it from our Lord’s perspective, He knew how things would end and begin again. Therefore, He told them.

John MacArthur offers this analysis:

They don’t even know they’re going to kill Him, yet this is the beginning of His ministry. All that stuff hasn’t really taken shape in their minds and hearts, formed itself into motives, and then become a passion that finally ends in Him being executed at the hands of the Romans. They don’t even know that all of that is working, but He knows: “Destroy this Temple and I will raise it up.” He knows the future, they will destroy Him. He knows that He will rise from the dead on the third day. He knows all of that. That’s the knowledge of the future that He has.

His resurrection then will be the sign from heaven that ultimately validates His claim to be the Son of God. And why would you consider it a sign from heaven? Because He will die and He will be dead, as verified by the Romans withholding the breaking of His legs because He was already dead, jamming a spear into His side, all of which the leaders of Israel knew–blood and water coming out, He is dead. He is buried in the grave. He is a dead man. The sign from heaven is that He comes back. And the sign from heaven further is that at His resurrection there are angels sitting in the tomb who had been sent from heaven by God. There’s ample testimony to that angelic presence. You want a sign? I’ll give you a deferred sign, I’ll give you a deferred sign. I will raise it up.

By the way, this is a good place to make a little note. When He says, “I will raise it up,” He’s saying, “I will…I will raise Myself from the dead.” In other places in the New Testament, for example in Romans 1, it says that God through the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead. In 1 Corinthians 15 it says, “God raises the dead.” So in Romans 1 the Spirit raises Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15, God raises Christ. And here, Christ raises Himself. Is that a problem?

Well, it’s not a problem here anymore than it’s a problem with creation. God creates; the Holy Spirit moves to make the creation take shape. And Christ creates everything that is created, and nothing is created that He didn’t create. This is the Trinity’s work. They are one in nature. They are one in operation. One in nature, one in operation.

So they want a sign. Jesus says, “I’ll give you a sign deferred. A sign from heaven that will involve someone who dies and goes out of this world and comes back from heaven, attested by angelic angels.”

Although it is unlikely that those in the pulpit preach about it very often, this episode at the temple was a sign of God’s sovereignty, as MacArthur says:

And when I use the word omniscience, I mean that He knows everything, He knows everything. Science is for knowledge, omni means “everything.” He has all-inclusive knowledge. That’s what that word means. He knew what people can know and He knew what they can’t know. He knew what people discover, and He knew it without discovering it. He knows everything there is to know. He knows the future, He knows the present. He knows what is happening. He knows what is invisible. He knows the visible and the invisible. He knows the past. He knows the present. He knows the future. This we see on display in Jesus here. This is testimony to His deity. God alone knows everything. God alone knows the past, the present and the future. God alone knows every thought, every word, every action, and the collective effect of all thoughts, all words, all actions. Only God knows, according to 2 Corinthians 4, the intent of the heart…1 Corinthians 4, rather…the intent of the heart. God will judge every man when the motives and intentions of the heart are made manifest, because God knows them. He knows history and He knows all that is behind history. He knows everything that has happened perfectly, everything that is happening perfectly, everything that will happen before it happens perfectly. And, in fact, He not only knows all of this but He controls it all, He controls it all. That’s His sovereignty. God doesn’t learn anything, nobody teaches God anything. He knows everything that can be known. He knows all the incalculable motives, all the effects. He has known them forever. He knows them perfectly. He knows them eternally. He has to gain no knowledge and He loses no knowledge. His presence and power control absolutely everything exactly the way they need to be controlled to bring about His purpose and His glory, because that’s the goal of everything.

The disciples understood what Jesus was saying because they knew Holy Scripture and all the Old Testament prophecies. Therefore, after Jesus rose from the dead, they were even more confirmed in their belief that He is the Son of the Living God (verse 22).

My takeaway message from this is that it is important to read, understand and remember what the Bible says. It answers all questions of faith.

As those in the Reformed (Calvinist) churches so often say, ‘Know what you believe and why you believe it’. The Bible gives us the key to articulating our beliefs.

Bible openThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:36-40

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,[a] if his[b] passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s advice on marriage and celibacy.

He had been answering questions from the Christians of Corinth on which state was better. Paul replied that both were good, although celibacy afforded the ability to devote oneself entirely to God. Marriage, on the other hand, detracts from that as one is always concerned about pleasing one’s spouse, never mind raising one’s children.

The English Standard Version of today’s verses are a bit vague and read better in the King James Version (emphases mine below):

36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

The social convention at the time was for young men and women to marry. Both Jewish and Gentile parents arranged marriages for their children.

Then, as now, to a certain extent, there was always a question mark over the person who chose to remain single.

Matthew Henry says:

It was in that age, and those parts of the world, and especially among the Jews, reckoned a disgrace for a woman to remain unmarried past a certain number of years: it gave a suspicion of somewhat that was not for her reputation.

John MacArthur thinks that verse 36 is addressed to fathers with virgin daughters: try to keep them single, but, if you find they must get married, then allow a wedding.

Henry also reads it that way but allows for another interpretation, one which ties in with last week’s verses. His commentary says that Paul could equally be speaking to young adults themselves. ‘His virgin’ could refer to a celibate man’s own virginity:

But I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity.

Henry points out that confirmed bachelors were not looked upon all that kindly:

… it was a common matter of reproach among Jews and civilized heathens, for a man to continue single beyond such a term of years …

Verse 37 appears to lend itself more to fathers with regard to their daughters. If a father finds that his daughter has no desire for marriage, then he does well to keep her celibate.

Ultimately, the father who marries off a daughter who desires a husband and a family does well, but the man who has a daughter wishing to maintain her virginity does better because she can devote her life to the Lord (verse 38).

As MacArthur has pointed out before, celibacy is a gift. Most people have the desire for a sexual relationship with someone else. If a parent does not allow that young person to marry, sexual desire will out in one way or another:

The Spirit of God didn’t give her that gift, and that’s a gift the Spirit of God gives. If she doesn’t have the gift, the father’s saying, “Man, it’s obvious she doesn’t have the gift, all she talks about is this guy. And apparently there’s a guy there, or it wouldn’t say, “Let them marry.” There’s a them. Somebody’s hanging around. And, you see, he is behaving unfairly toward his daughter, because if he doesn’t let her get married, he’s going to tempt her to immorality – physically to immorality in her mind and to seduction.

And so, he realizes, “I can’t do this to my lovely little daughter. As much as I’d want to devote her to the Lord, there’s a guy here, and she’s saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and I’m saying, ‘No, no, no,’ and it’s not right.

So, dads, hey, it’s a super idea if you want to devote your daughter to being single, or your son, but if they get to the age of sexual consciousness, and they require marriage, let them marry. It’s no sin. You don’t have to keep some vow. We’re not in the vow age anymore.

In the concluding verses, Paul turns his thoughts towards widowhood.

Unfortunately, MacArthur skips these verses entirely.

Paul says that it is entirely appropriate for a widow to remarry, provided she has given careful reflection and prayer to that decision (verse 39).

Henry says:

In our choice of relations, and change of conditions, we should always have an eye to God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God’s blessing only when they are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, in the change and choice of a mate – when they can look up to God, and sincerely seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their conduct.

Paul concludes that a widow is better off not remarrying (verse 40). As with the celibates, she can better serve the Lord with no husband, who would divide her interests.

Paul ends by saying that he, too, has the Spirit of God (verse 40). That remark is addressed towards his detractors. Recall the the Corinthians had allied themselves with different pastoral leaders, some of whom were false teachers.

Henry offers this interpretation:

Whatever your false apostles may think of me, I think, and have reason to know, that I have the Spirit of God.

Ultimately:

Note, Change of condition in marriage is so important a matter that it ought not to be made but upon due deliberation, after careful consideration of circumstances, and upon very probable grounds, at least, that it will be a change to advantage in our spiritual concerns.

Agreed.

We should take our time in evaluating a prospective spouse. There is no rush. As the nuns used to say, ‘Act in haste. Repent at leisure’.

1 Corinthians 8, which concerns food offered to idols, was read in 2021 as the Epistle on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B).

1 Corinthians 9 is about personal freedom in daily activities.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:1-7

In 2021, the Second Sunday in Lent is February 28.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent — Year B

There are two choices for the Gospel reading. I have chosen the first, where Jesus tells His disciples that He must die (emphases mine below):

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Sometimes, the older versions of the above verses are so well known that it is good to refer to them. Here is the King James Version:

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. 34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Just before Jesus spoke those words, He asked His disciples two questions:

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Why those verses could not have been added to today’s reading in order to provide context is perplexing. As I have often said, that is why the Lectionary can be irritating. No wonder people don’t read the Bible more often.

On one level, the disciples know that Jesus is the Messiah. On the other hand, people are confused because they expect a temporal Messiah, one with the appearance of a king.

John MacArthur explains:

… through the years, they struggle with that. They don’t struggle because there’s no evidence of divine power. They just struggle because He doesn’t conform to their preconceived patterns. It’s like he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. It’s just a really hard hurdle to get over. They struggle with doubts because, as the people concluded, He can’t be the Messiah, so He has to be somebody short of the Messiah – John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah; Elijah, who will come back before the Messiah; Jeremiah, who will come back before the Messiah. But nobody’s saying He’s the Messiah. He doesn’t fit the preconceived theological package. He’s maybe, obviously, a prophet of God; we’ll grant Him that, but He just hasn’t done what the Messiah will do. Where’s the conquest? Where’s national independence? National freedom? Power? Blessing? Where’s the overthrow of Rome? And He’s so meek, and lowly, and humble, and submissive, and pays taxes to Rome, and He’s hated by the leaders of Israel.

In fact, it was so bewildering, compared to their messianic view, that even John the Baptist got confused. John the Baptist, the one who was His forerunner, the one who was related to Him, the one whose mothers were related, who talked about all these issues. John the Baptist must have heard from His own family all the story about how the angel came and announced to His mom and dad that He would be born, and that He would be the forerunner of the Messiah. And they must have told Him about how Mary came and bore the child who was the Messiah, and Jesus was His relative, and he knew who He was, and it was all angelic, divine revelation. And he heard perhaps again and again the incredible stories of the annunciation and the birth of the Messiah. And yet, he gets confused. Why? Well, he’s in prison. This doesn’t look like the right plan here.

Jesus tells the disciples about what ‘must’ happen to Him: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (verse 31).

Peter was profoundly affected by that announcement and took Jesus to one side to ‘rebuke’ Him (verse 32). One wonders whether ‘rebuke’ in this verse is the same as it usually is, one of reprimand and condemnation. Peter loved Jesus and wanted to protect Him.

MacArthur says:

Matthew says it this way, “God forbid, Lord; this shall never happen to You.” He’s not asking questions; He’s making statements. And idiomatically, an interesting phrase in Matthew, “May God grant You better than that.” Whoa. “This isn’t going to happen, and we’re not going to allow this.”

Matthew Henry says:

He took himproslabomenos auton. He took hold of him, as it were to stop and hinder him, took him in his arms, and embraced him (so some understand it) he fell on his neck, as impatient to hear that his dear Master should suffer such hard things or he took him aside privately, and began to rebuke him. This was not the language of the least authority, but of the greatest affection, of that jealousy for the welfare of those we love, which is strong as death. Our Lord Jesus allowed his disciples to be free with him, but Peter here took too great a liberty.

That explanation reminds me of an illustration I used to see in my youth of Peter embracing Jesus, his head on His shoulder, weeping. It might have been in our family Bible. However, it was a powerful depiction of this particular moment.

Jesus immediately rebukes Peter — in the traditional sense of the word — correcting him with harsh words in front of the other disciples (verse 33).

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, Matthew said He said, “You’re a stumbling block”you’re in the way; you’re a hindrance. Then the real blow, “Get out of My sight, Satan.” That’s literally what it says. “Get out of My sight, Satan.” It’s a bad idea for followers to play God. When you put yourself in the place of God, you end up putting yourself in the place of Satan. He says to him, “You’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” That’s an indictment of Peter. Peter didn’t want a cross. These guys were looking for glory. Do we remember that James and John had come with their mother to ask if they could sit on the right and the left hand in the kingdom? I mean it was all about elevation, glory, power, prosperity. Jesus says, “You are an offense to Me,” according to Matthew. “You’re a skandalon.” Skandalon means you’re a trap. “You’re a baited trap; you’re a Satan trap; you’re a Satan stumbling block. If you’re trying to dissuade Me from the cross, you’re on Satan’s side. Get out of My sight.”

Far from speaking about glory, Jesus then says that His followers will have to suffer in His name by denying themselves and taking up their own cross (verse 34).

Henry explains the verse this way:

Those that will be Christ’s patients must attend on him, converse with him, receive instruction and reproof from him, as those did that followed him, and must resolve they will never forsake him.

Jesus continues by indicating the way to salvation: caring more about eternal life than temporal life (verse 35).

MacArthur lists other difficult verses on the same theme:

Jesus said the very same thing in Matthew repeatedly, Matthew 10, Matthew 16, and alluded to it elsewhere. He said it in Luke – Luke chapter 9, verses 23 to 27 is a direct repeat of what we read in Mark. And then at the end of Luke 9, verses 57 to 62, Jesus basically says, “If you say you want to follow Me, but you have any other agenda that is more important immediately than Me, then you can’t be My disciple.”

Remember a man said, “Oh, I want to follow you, but I need to go home and get my inheritance. Oh, I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go bury my father. I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go negotiate some things of my family so I make sure I have some money while I’m following You.”

Jesus said, “Don’t do that. Don’t start to follow and turn back or you’re not worthy.” He’s always talking about the price of following Him. In the twelfth chapter of Luke – and Luke is particularly strong in emphasizing these teaching passages of our Lord with regard to invitations. He says in verse 51 of 12, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on Earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; from now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” Two become a believer and the other three don’t; three become believers, and the other two don’t. “They’ll be divided, father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Again it is this emphasis that you pay a price relationally when you come to Christ

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is not easy. Why? You have to say no to self. You have to say no to family. You have to say no to the things of the world, no to the love of sin. People want the kingdom. It’s attractive. They want forgiveness, they want eternal life, but the price is everything. That’s why later in chapter 14, another time, he said, “If anyone comes to Me and doesn’t hate His own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can’t be my disciple.” He doesn’t mean hatred in the sense that you despise the people that you love. He simply means that you treat them as if they aren’t nearly as significant as coming to Christ. So, you’re willing to say, “I’ll go to Christ; I’ll follow Christ, even if it costs me my family.”

“And it might even cost you your life,” He said. And in the twelfth chapter of John, He said the same thing in verse 25, “You better be willing to hate your own life.” So, coming to Jesus was not easy. Coming to Jesus was not something that you could simply do because you wanted the pluses that Jesus offered. It demanded much more than that. Jesus’ invitation was not easy. It was even severe because He threatened those who rejected it. It was hard because the cost was so high. So high.

Jesus then asks two questions.

What good is it having everything possible in this world only to lose one’s soul in the next and be condemned to eternal death (verse 36)? What price has a man’s soul (verse 37)?

MacArthur explains:

Remember the man about whom Jesus spoke, the man who kept building bigger barns and bigger barns and bigger barns because he had more stuff and more stuff? And he said, “Okay, soul, take your ease. Eat, drink, and” – what? – “be merry.” And boom comes the divine voice, “Tonight you die.” And then what? What are you going to profit if you gain the whole world? That’s hyperbole. Nobody could gain the whole world. Nobody. But even if you could gain the whole thing, actually, who would want it? But even if you could gain the whole thing, what would it matter if you lost your eternal soul? It is the common belief of man that he is the happiest when he has the most stuff – the most that the world has to offer. And what a delusion that is if he forfeits his soul.

“Because” – verse 37 – “what are you going to give in exchange for your soul?” How are you going to buy back your soul? You think you can – if you owned the whole world, could you pay that price for your soul? If you had the whole world – all the money in the world, all the resources in the world, all the power in the world – with it could you buy your soul? What are you going to give in exchange for your soul? What is of equivalent value to your soul?

You want to look at this the other way? Your soul is worth more than everything in this world because this world will burn up. You will live forever. You say, “I don’t – I even rent my house; I don’t own any of it. I lease my car; I don’t own anything.” You, my dear friend, are more valuable than everything material in this world. There is no price for your soul except the provision of Jesus Christ on the cross. He paid an infinite price because of an infinite value attached to you. That’s the gift of salvation.

Jesus ends His discourse by saying that those who are ashamed of Him in this life will not inherit eternal life in the world to come, because our Lord will be ashamed of them (verse 38).

MacArthur puts it equally plainly:

This is a severe invitation because judgment is attached to it. This is a hard invitation because it requires total abandonment, self-denial, cross bearing, loyal obedience, giving up your life to save it. And if you choose not to do it because you want to hang onto your own life, and you’re ashamed of Christ and ashamed to identify with His words, His teaching, and you want to fully embrace your place in the middle of this adulterous and sinful generation – if that’s where you want to be, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes at His coming in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And you take your place with the perishing world, with the doomed rejecters to whom the gospel is a shameful thing, to whom Christ is a shameful person; you will face divine judgment. When Christ comes, He comes to judge the world. That’s what it says.

This is a powerful verse

It certainly is a powerful verse, giving us much to contemplate in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Bible ancient-futurenetThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s verses introduced Paul’s dissertation on one’s marital state, in which he said there was no need to be either single or married in order to serve the Lord.

He continues in that vein here, responding to questions on the subject from the Christians in Corinth.

Those who had been Jewish believed that marriage and family fulfilled God’s plan for mankind. On the other hand, the Gentiles, influenced by Greek philosophy, thought that remaining single would allow one to devote one’s life entirely to the Lord.

Above all, Paul does not want there to be anxiety about the world’s cares conflicting with serving the Lord (verse 32). To that end, he says that an unmarried man has fewer external cares and more ability to please the Lord.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Note, It is the wisdom of a Christian so to order his outward affairs, and choose such a condition in life, as to be without distracting cares, that he may attend upon the Lord with a mind at leisure and disengaged. This is the general maxim by which the apostle would have Christians govern themselves. In the application of it Christian prudence must direct. That condition of life is best for every man which is best for his soul, and keeps him most clear of the cares and snares of the world. By this maxim the apostle solves the case put to him by the Corinthians, whether it were advisable to marry? To this he says, That, by reason of the present distress, and it may be in general, at that time, when Christians were married to infidels, and perhaps under a necessity of being so, if married at all: I say, in these circumstances, to continue unmarried would be the way to free themselves from any cares and incumbrances, and allow them more vacation for the service of God. Ordinarily, the less care we have about the world the more freedom we have for the service of God.

Paul goes on to say that a husband is concerned about pleasing his wife and, therefore, has divided interests (verses 33, 34).

John MacArthur cites an example, Luke 14:20:

I think about Luke 14, verse 20, where Jesus was calling people to follow him. And he says to this one guy, “Come and follow Me.”

And the guy says, “I have married a wife, and therefore, I cannot come.”

I wonder how many times that has happened around the world in the history of the Church, that there have been ministries and opportunities open, but somebody married a wife and couldn’t go?

You say, “Well, was it wrong for them to marry?”

No, it wasn’t wrong, but maybe it would have been better, if they had the gift of singleness, to have stayed single. And then they wouldn’t have had that problem.

Similarly, with women, a single woman thinks more about serving the Lord than a wife, who is equally concerned about pleasing her husband (verse 34). Therefore, the wife, like the husband, has conflicting interests.

MacArthur explains:

what he’s saying is that the one who is not married can be separated unto God physically and spiritually. And there are no physical attachments, humanly speaking. There is no need to satisfy the physical. There are no spiritual encumbrances. There is a certain liberty and consecration, and that’s what he’s talking about.

However, celibacy is a gift. Some people are perfectly happy being single and celibate. Others hope to marry and, in most cases, have children.

Paul had always been single. He had that gift. It allowed him to go wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit directed. Paul planted churches. He travelled throughout Asia Minor and Greece, returning now and then to Jerusalem, from whence he sailed (Caesarea) to preach in Rome, eventually was imprisoned there and died a martyr.

Peter, on the other hand, was married. He and his wife eventually ended up in Rome. They were both imprisoned and, according to early Christian history, died as martyrs.

Peter and Paul met in Rome.

From their life choices, it is apparent that one can serve the Lord whether one is celibate or married.

Paul ends by saying that very thing, not in order to promote one choice over the other but to leave it up to the individual in ordering his life and his ability to serve God.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s words as follows:

It isn’t that you have to stay single. Even if you have the gift for it, it is not a command, it is not that you must do this or else, it is that you have the option; you have the liberty; you have the freedom. And I’m only telling you for your own good, if you have the gift, you’d be better off to use it.

Also:

And he’s saying simply this: if you have the gift of singleness, think about it, because if you ever choose to marry, that’s a final choice. And you can’t go back unless there is a death.

Henry offers this conclusion:

That condition of life should be chosen by the Christian in which it is most likely he will have the best helps, and the fewest hindrances, in the service of God and the affairs of his own salvation.

Paul has more to say about marriage, to be continued next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:36-40

In 2021, the First Sunday in Lent is February 21.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the First Sunday in Lent — Year B

My focus today is on the Gospel reading from Mark, which concerns the baptism of Jesus (emphases mine):

Mark 1:9-15

1:9 In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

1:10 And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him.

1:11 And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.

1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.

1:14 Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God,

1:15 and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

I have often written about the accounts of our Lord’s baptism as a sign of obedience to God the Father. There was no reason for Jesus to undergo immersion in the River Jordan for His sins as He had none. Yet, He partook in what would become a sacrament in order to obey the ordinances of his Father under the New Covenant and to share in our human experience.

However, there is a far greater reason why Jesus was baptised. This was His earthly coronation, as John MacArthur ably explains.

Those who have read Mark’s Gospel know that it skips parts of Jesus’s earthly life and early ministry. This is because Mark wrote it for the Gentiles in Rome. He wanted them to understand quickly and simply that Jesus is the Son of God and our Saviour.

Instead of beginning with the lineage or Jesus or the Nativity, Mark begins with John the Baptist’s ministry, but not before introducing his Gospel as follows (Mark 1:1):

The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.[a]

Christ’s baptism has many scriptural hallmarks of being His coronation, through baptism, a religious ceremony that is not part of the Jewish tradition in terms of repentance.

There are ritual baths, mostly for women, but those are for the purposes of ceremonial rather than spiritual cleansing.

MacArthur looks at both the coronation and the sacramental aspect of baptism.

First, the coronation, involving this meeting between Jesus and His cousin, John the Baptist, as adults:

This is the only one recorded in the New Testament. Though they contacted each other through their disciples, there is no other indication they had met. But this meeting is monumental. This meeting has significance that is sweeping and far-reaching because on this occasion of their meeting, there is the coronation of the new King. Remember I told you that in the gentile world, as well as the Jewish world, the word euaggelion, the word gospel had to do with the ascent of a king, the accession of a king to his throne. And Mark is writing about God’s great King, the new King who is coming, who will declare a new era for the world. This is His coronation.

From the Greek word euaggelion we derive the words ‘evangelist’ and ‘evangelical’. In French, the word évangile means ‘Gospel’.

From Matthew 3:14, we know that John was reluctant to baptise Jesus, because he knew who He was, so He gave this reason:

15 But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented.

Jesus obeyed the commands of His Father, and baptism was one of them (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

If God said this is to be done, then I will do this. It is that perfect obedience of Christ that is imputed to you and to me when we put our trust in Him. It’s what’s called His active righteousness.

But, how could the King of the Jews come from Galilee, let alone a little-known place called Nazareth?

The Jews considered Galilee unclean. MacArthur lays out the reasons why:

I don’t know if you know the history of Galilee. It was originally, of course, part of the land conquered by Joshua around the eighth century, I think – it was about then – it was invaded by the Assyrians, yes. And when it was invaded by the Assyrians, obviously they deported the Jews and many Gentiles came to live there. In the second century, they tried to – they tried to circumcise those gentiles, that didn’t go over real big.

They tried to attach them all to Judaism, that didn’t go over real big, either. So by the time you get to the ministry of John the Baptist, there are just a lot of Gentiles in that area. That’s why it’s called Galilee of the Gentiles. In fact, it was hated or treated with scorn and disdain by the Jews. One of the things that was said concerning Peter in Mark 14:70 was, “Isn’t he a Galilean?” There was nothing but scorn for Galilee. In fact, the further you were from Jerusalem, the more disdain they had for you, and this was a long, long way from Jerusalem. It was out on the fringes where the unclean people lived.

Yet — and yet — Isaiah prophesied that the Messiah would come from Galilee:

It would be unthinkable for the Messiah to come from Galilee, Galilee of the gentiles, that scorned place. And yet did they forget Isaiah 9, “There will be no more gloom for her who was in anguish. In earlier times he treated the land of Zebulun and the land of Naphtali with contempt, but later on He shall make it glorious by the way of the sea on the other side of Jordan, Galilee of the gentiles. The people who walk in darkness will see a great light, the light will shine on them.”

That’s the Messianic prophecy, that the Messiah would come from Galilee of the gentiles, Messiah would come from the land of Zebulun and Naphtali. This is Galilee, northern part of Israel.

Let us take a closer look at Nazareth. MacArthur says:

the town is Nazareth, so obscure it has to be named and it has to be located into Galilee. If you said Jesus came from Nazareth, nobody would know where it was. Nazareth in Galilee because Nazareth is not known. There is no place in any existing Jewish literature, ancient Jewish literature, where Nazareth is ever mentioned. It’s not in Josephus, it’s not in the Talmud, it’s not in the Old Testament, most obscure no-place place.

Except that Nathanael knew about Nazareth (John 1:46; Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B). He asked of the newly-called Apostle Philip, rather bluntly:

1:46 Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Historically, the Jews expected the Messiah to come from Jerusalem, but the prophets knew better. MacArthur tells us:

The assumption was Messiah would come from Jerusalem, the temple is there, but the head, you know, the core, Jerusalem was corrupt, apostate. So the prophets said the Messiah will come from the fringes. The Messiah will come from the outskirts. He’ll come far at the most remote place from the religious establishment that is apostate. This in itself is a commentary on the corruption of Judaism at the time. And so He came and was baptized by John in the Jordan.

MacArthur explains the River Jordan:

You may have idyllic visions of the Jordan River, this mighty river. No. Jordan River is 105 miles long if you just fly down the Jordan. If you float, it’s 200 miles like that. Ten feet deep. At the widest, 100 feet across. “River” is stretching the word.

But it was there, away again from Jerusalem, in the wilderness, away from civilization because the center was so polluted. But John was baptizing as he had been commanded by God and Jesus came to be baptized.

MacArthur discusses John’s baptism of Jesus and the origin of the Greek word for this sacrament:

Baptizō means to immerse into water, Jesus was immersed, the symbol of the washing away of the old and purification that leads to newness, He was baptized. And He was baptized because God had commanded everybody to be baptized, and He was a man, and He would fulfill all righteousness.

And He was baptized secondarily because it was symbolic, I think, of going through the river of death, bearing the sins of His people.

As Jesus emerged from the water, two dramatic things happened (verse 10).

First, the heavens were ‘torn apart’. Secondly, the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus in the form of a dove.

MacArthur interprets this for us via Luke’s version of events:

“Immediately coming up out of the water,” Luke adds, Luke 3:21, “while He was praying” – Jesus was in communion with the Father the whole time – “coming up out of the water,” which is an indication that He was immersed. It doesn’t mean He walked up on the riverbank, it means He came up out of the water. The scene, by the way, is trinitarian, right? Trinitarian, one of the great trinitarian texts in Scripture.

Our Heavenly Father had not rent the heavens apart for four centuries prior to this. During that era, He had also silenced prophesy. John the Baptist was the first prophet to emerge since that time.

Then God rent the heavens — tore them apart for that moment when His only begotten Son was baptised — and crowned. The Holy Spirit also appeared.

God also spoke (verse 11).

These three phenomena were open to public witness.

People were there to witness what Isaiah had prophesied centuries before, as MacArthur explains:

as He comes up out of the water, the coronation takes place. Has two parts, a visual and an audible – a visual and an audible. First, the anointing by the Holy Spirit and secondly, the affirmation by the Father. Let’s look at the anointing by the Holy Spirit. “Immediately coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens opened.” This is not a vision, by the way, folks, this is not a vision. We know it’s not a vision because … John 1:32 and following where John says, “I saw it. I saw it. I saw the Spirit descend, I saw it.”

And there’s no reason to think that others didn’t see it as well. It’s not a vision, it’s a visible reality, in contrast, for example, to the vision of Ezekiel 1. He saw the heavens opening. This is a signal of God breaking into time and space. I mean, this is huge. Now, remember, God hasn’t spoken in four hundred years. Four hundred years of divine silence until an angel comes and talks to Zacharias and Elizabeth. And another angel comes and talks to Joseph and Mary, but none of that is public. The heavens have been closed for four hundred years. And now they split.

He saw the heavens opening, and Mark uses a verb that Matthew and Luke do not use, schizō which means to rip. It’s dramatic, the heavens rip open. It’s only used one other time in the New Testament, when the veil in the temple at the death of Christ was ripped from top to bottom. This is so significant because Isaiah has been talking about the coming of Messiah, the coming of Messiah through the 40 chapters and the 50 chapters, and when you come to chapter 64, here’s the cry of the people, here’s the cry of the prophet’s heart, “O, that” – this is Isaiah 64:1. “O, that you would rip the heavens and come down.”

They were waiting for that, that God would rip open the heavens and come down and make His name known. This is anticipation of Messiah. The day is going to come when the silent heavens are going to rip open and God is going to come. The text of Isaiah 64 is a cry for God to do just that, break into history. And the Jews saw that text as evidences that Messiah would come and heaven would split open and down would come God.

MacArthur continues detailing this holy mystery of the Triune God:

God is about to come down, and He does in the form of the Holy Spirit – I love this – “and the Spirit like a dove descending upon Him.” Heaven rips open and you might think of something violent happening, something crashing down, but the Spirit like a dove descends upon Him.

Now, first of all, folks, this isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. I know there are doves all over Bible covers, and all over paraphernalia and holy hardware and all that, symbolizing the Holy Spirit, but the Holy Spirit is not a dove. The Holy Spirit is not a dove. That’s not what it’s saying. It simply says the Holy Spirit descended visibly – visibly. Luke says, think it’s chapter 3, maybe verse 21 or so, in bodily form, in some visible form, He descended like a dove. The question is not why is He a dove, the question is how does a dove descend. You understand the difference?

A dove doesn’t come crashing down. The dove is the gentlest, according to one text of Scripture, the gentlest of the birds. It comes down lightly, delicately, and rests in its place. That’s how the Holy Spirit came. That’s all it’s saying. It isn’t saying the Holy Spirit is a dove. The Holy Spirit is nowhere pictured as a dove. You don’t have to connect it with the dove that Noah sent out of the ark, like many commentators try to do, which is impossible. A dove is a very gentle, beautiful, delicate bird, and the Spirit came down in some visible form with the same kind of gentleness and beauty which is displayed when a little dove lands softly.

This is important because Isaiah made it very clear that when the Messiah comes, He will be empowered by the Holy Spirit. So this is confirmation that Jesus is the Messiah because here comes the Spirit. Listen to Isaiah 11:1, “A shoot will spring from the stem of Jesse,” that’s the father of David, out of David’s line, “A branch from his roots will bear fruit.” That’s the Messiah coming through Jesse’s line through David. “The Spirit of the Lord will rest on Him.” Messianic prophecy. Thirty-second chapter of Isaiah in the fifteenth verse, “Until the Spirit is poured out upon us from on high.” They knew that when the Messianic Kingdom comes, when Messianic glory arrives, it will be with the full power of the Holy Spirit.

Listen to 42:1, Isaiah 42:1, “Behold my Servant, whom I uphold, my Chosen One whom my soul delights, I have put my Spirit upon Him.” Those are prophecies. The Messiah would have the full presence power of the Holy Spirit. In John 3:34 it says this, that God gave Jesus the Spirit – this is the key phrase – without measure – without measure, without limit. That’s not true of everybody else. Everybody else has the Spirit in measure. Even the New Testament says that even those of us living in the age of the Holy Spirit receive a measure of the Spirit.

But He received the Spirit without measure, the full presence, the full power of the Holy Spirit came down and rested on Him. The infinite presence and power of the Spirit so that the whole life of Jesus was controlled by the Holy Spirit. His whole life was controlled by the Spirit. At the risk of over-simplifying something that is profoundly mysterious and beyond the grasp of all of us, let me see if I can give you a way to understand it. You have the Man Jesus here, you have the Son of God, eternal deity here, and that which is deity is conveyed to the man which is humanity through the means of the Holy Spirit.

As it says, He grew in wisdom and stature and favor with God and man, it was the Holy Spirit dispensing to the man, Jesus, the developing realities of truth that matured Him. That’s how you have to understand it. The Holy Spirit is the mediator between deity and humanity. John Owen makes the point that His divine nature did not directly communicate anything at all to the human Jesus. His divine nature did not communicate anything directly to the human Jesus, it all went through the mediation of the Holy Spirit, part of His self-emptying.

Through the Holy Spirit, divine power came, understanding came, enlightenment came, revelation came, so that His human nature was under the full control of the Holy Spirit, so that everything He did, He did in the power of the Spirit.

Then the Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness (verse 12).

Mark arrives at this part of the story without filling in intervening details that the other Gospels do because he wants to demonstrate the authority of Jesus.

MacArthur explains Mark’s reasoning:

He demonstrates the authority of Christ over three realms. One, over Satan and his realm. Two, over sin and its dominion. Three, over sinners. It is important for us to know that if the new King is going to take His throne, if the new King is going to reign, if the new King is going to overthrow the usurper, the temporary king, Satan himself, and if the King is going to conquer Satan and sin and sinners, He has to demonstrate the power to do that.

And so that’s where Mark establishes His authority. First in His temptation, His authority over Satan becomes clear … He can overpower and will overpower Satan. He can overpower and will overpower sin.

Mark tells us that Jesus was in the wilderness for 40 days — which is how we derived the period of our Lenten season — and, whilst there, the angels tended to Him (verse 13).

During this time, Jesus went without food, which is the root for Lenten fasting accompanied by prayer.

MacArthur continues, reminding us not only of scriptural precedent but also that Satan was ever present, tempting Him to worldly comforts:

Now, Mark doesn’t tell us what Matthew and Luke tell us, and that is this: that Jesus went without food for the entire forty days. Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2, He didn’t eat for forty days. Forty-day fasts had happened before. According to Exodus chapter 34, Moses had a forty-day fast. According to 1 Kings 19, Elijah had a forty-day fast. That’s a long time, almost six weeks of eating nothing. Verse 13 says He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. Forty days alone, forty days in isolation, forty days in a dangerous, devastating place. Forty days without anything to eat.

So you have no support system, no one to help Him, no one to comfort Him, no one to instruct Him, no one to encourage Him, and He is at His lowest possible physical condition. His strength would be gone long before the sixth week. It would begin to diminish seriously the second week. But if He is the King, He must be able, alone at His weakest, to conquer the enemy. And so the Holy Spirit throws Him into that conflict.

He is not only to be a King – and this is what you want to keep in mind. He is a King, and He is reigning over His people now, and He will reign over the earth and over all the new heaven and the new earth in eternity. He is a King, He will always reign, and He will ultimately and finally reign over everything. But He is also a suffering servant. And while as a King He is exalted, as a suffering servant, He is humiliated. The new King is also the suffering servant, it is a paradox, it is a paradox. The most exalted one is the one who suffers most.

Wandering in that place alone for nearly six weeks with nothing to eat in the wilderness, He is tempted the whole time by Satan. Some people assume that He was only tempted at the end of the forty days. Well, the temptations that came at the end of the forty days are given in Matthew 4 and Luke 4, but here we are told He was tempted the whole time. The whole time. And the interesting thing about the temptation Mark doesn’t describe, he leaves that to Matthew and to Luke, the interesting thing about the temptation was that the temptation was never a temptation for Him to give up His sovereignty.

It was never a temptation to give up His royalty, if you will. It was never a temptation for Him to give up His rights and His privileges and His honor and His exaltation and His elevation. It was a temptation for Him to abandon His humiliation.

We do not know exactly how the angels ministered to Jesus. Perhaps they kept him away from dangerous beasts, which were in the wilderness. Perhaps they distracted Him in good ways to look at the natural beauty of his surroundings. Even a desert offers God-given flowers and stunning sunsets.

Matthew Henry says:

Note, The ministration of the good angels about us, is matter of great comfort in reference to the malicious designs of the evil angels against us but much more doth it befriend us, to have the indwelling of the spirit in our hearts, which they that have, are so born of God, that, as far as they are so, the evil one toucheth them not, much less shall be triumph over them.

MacArthur says that on the final day, the angels found food for Jesus:

How did the angels minister to Him? They fed Him. After forty days of fasting, they gave Him something to eat. But I think they ministered in another way as well. I think they brought by their very presence and the food the confirmation of the Father. This was God’s way of saying, “I am still well pleased.” The divine approval of His holy triumph over Satan and fierce temptation is signaled by God sending holy angels to minister to Him at the end in the exhaustion of His victory.

Then Herod had John the Baptist arrested, after which Jesus proclaimed the Good News in Galilee (verse 14).

In real time — according to the other three Gospels — this was probably over four months after the end of His time in the wilderness, according to MacArthur.

Note that Jesus preached in Galilee, the region where He grew up. MacArthur says:

Galilee was the northern part of the land of Israel, the hinterlands, the outskirts, far from the religious center in Jerusalem. The fact that Jesus really launched His ministry in full power there was a testimony to the apostasy of the core, the corruption of Jerusalem.

Jesus preached that the kingdom of God, as we still say today, was at hand (verse 15). When people say it now, we understand it to be that the end of the world is nigh.

However, when Jesus spoke of it, he did so proclaiming the era of the long-awaited Messiah. This is the best news the people of faith at that time could receive.

MacArthur explains the message of Jesus:

… this is the message. It is the good news, it is good news, it is the best news the world has ever heard. And what is it? Verse 15, it is this, “The time is fulfilled,” the kairos, not the chronos, not clock time, not calendar time, epochal time – the era, the fixed point in history for an event to happen. Or in the words of Galatians 4:4, “The fullness of time.” The administration of the fullness of time, it’s called in Ephesians 1:10. God’s sovereign moment. The significant hour in human history.

This is it for which the world has long waited, the most significant era in the world’s history, the arrival of the Savior who will pay the penalty for sin and thus provide salvation for all who have believed from the beginning of history to the end. The time is fulfilled. This is God’s great epochal moment. The promises of the Old Testament regarding Messiah, the promises regarding the Kingdom, the promises of salvation are about to be fulfilled. What is the message? That Christ has come not only to conquer Satan but to conquer sin – to conquer sin through the gospel.

The new King has arrived and with Him the Kingdom. The Kingdom is here because the King is here. Wherever the King is present, the Kingdom is. Jesus’ message, very simple, unmistakable: the Kingdom of God is at hand, here it is. I’m here, the Kingdom’s here.

When He was in Nazareth in Galilee, Luke 4, just after His temptation, right at this same time, goes in to the synagogue and He says, “Today this prophecy is fulfilled in your ears.” And He was talking about the Messianic prophecy from Isaiah 61. It is the message, the good news, God’s hour has come, the Kingdom is here because the King is here. How do you enter that Kingdom? Repent and believe in the gospel, writes Mark. Repent of your sin. Believe in the gospel, the good news concerning Jesus Christ.

Matthew Henry says that that people, by and large, forgot the ancient prophesies. Jesus reminded them:

Observe, (1.) The great truths Christ preached The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. This refers to the Old Testament, in which the kingdom of the Messiah was promised, and the time fixed for the introducing of it. They were not so well versed in those prophecies, nor did they so well observe the signs of the times, as to understand it themselves, and therefore Christ gives them notice of it “The time prefixed is now at hand glorious discoveries of divine light, life, and love, are now to be made a new dispensation far more spiritual and heavenly than that which you have hitherto been under, is now to commence.” Note, God keeps time when the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand, for the vision is for an appointed time, which will be punctually observed, though it tarry past our time.

The baptism of Jesus signified His kingship as Christ our Lord forevermore.

Shrovetide has ended. Lent begins in 2021 on Wednesday, February 17.

Below are Readings for Year B with a commentary on the Gospel verses:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

Exegesis on the Gospel reading for Ash Wednesday (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21; Matthew Henry)

For Christians, this is our principal spiritual time of the year. These 40 days often include prayer and fasting as well as almsgiving:

St Athanasius and the Lenten practices of the early Church

Lent in the early Church — not a pagan practice

This is an annual period for adopting a deeper spiritual life. All being well, what we learn between now and Easter will become a permanent part of our Christian journey.

Now is a good opportunity to start reading more of the Bible:

Why not read the Bible this Lent?

Bible study plan suggestions

You, too, can read the Bible with the Grant Horner system

Update on the Grant Horner Bible Reading System

I wish those who observe it a good Lent, one of profound prayer and spiritual reflection.

Bible treehuggercomThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28

The Unmarried and the Widowed

25 Now concerning[a] the betrothed,[b] I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present[c] distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman[d] marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction not to worry about one’s social status with regard to Christianity. The verses before that said that Christian men should not worry about whether they are circumcised.

In today’s verses, Paul says that we should not worry whether we are married.

In other words, the Lord knows our status in life and loves us just the way we are.

The word ‘betrothed’ in verses 25 and 28 does not mean ‘engaged to be married’. It means ‘virgin women’, as illustrated by the same verses from the King James Version:

25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.

28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is responding to questions that people from that congregation asked him. Marriage was one of them.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

The Corinthians were asking questions, according to verse 1 of chapter 7, “Concerning the things about which you wrote,” Paul is replying to direct questions they were asking. And the question he’s answering here is should they get married; is it better to be single, to serve God with a devoted heart and a single mind, or is it necessary to get married like the Jewish traditionalists were saying, in order to fulfill the will of God?

The Jews said you had to be married or you would violate God’s command to replenish the earth. And the Gentiles, coming out of a philosophical asceticism would say it’s better to be single, and you can devote yourself totally to God. Paul is saying both are good. Some have the gift of singleness, and if they do, that’s good. Some do not have the gift of singleness, and it’s better for them to marry, and that’s good, too.

In verse 25, Paul says that Jesus said nothing about virgins. Paul goes on to say that, in his considered judgement — one that ‘by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy’ — it is better to remain in the state in which one is (verse 26).

Paul mentions ‘distress’ (verse 26), which Matthew Henry says means persecution:

Christians, at the first planting of their religion, were grievously persecuted. Their enemies were very bitter against them, and treated them very cruelly. They were continually liable to be tossed and hurried by persecution. This being the then state of things, he did not think it so advisable for Christians that were single to change conditions. The married state would bring more care and cumber along with it (1 Corinthians 15:33, 1 Corinthians 15:34), and would therefore make persecution more terrible, and render them less able to bear it. Note, Christians, in regulating their conduct, should not barely consider what is lawful in itself, but what may be expedient for them.

Similarly, Paul said that the Corinthians who were married should not seek to separate from their spouses nor should those without spouses feel an obligation to get married (verse 27).

Paul went on to say that getting married is not sinful, although being married brings problems of its own (verse 28).

Personally, I do not find being married troublesome, but some married people do have problems and wish they were single again.

However, looking at this with regard to the Corinthians, the dangers of persecution would be magnified in a family situation.

MacArthur explains, looking at Paul’s own experiences preaching the Good News:

Now, Paul is speaking of the violence and the distress and the pain and the suffering that can come to anyone who confesses Christ. “It is difficult to be a Christian,” Paul is saying, “and it is especially difficult to be a married Christian because of the distress and the violence of the system.”

Now, Paul had had many experiences that would help us to understand this. Paul would go into a town, and they would beat him. He would go into another town, and they would stone him. He would go into another town, and they would give him stripes with a whip. He would go into another town, and they would put him in jail. On and on and on through the man’s life, there was pain and suffering, pain and suffering.

Now, can you imagine the intensity with which that problem would be magnified if the apostle Paul had had a dear wife at home and a group of little apostles running around the house? Well, that would have been much more complicated, and everything that Paul endured, he would have had in the back of his mind, “But if it happens to me, then who takes care of my wife? And who takes care of my children? And how can I keep doing this while my wife sits home in fear and the constant edge of heartbreak, and my children in fear that their father will never return? I must be home, taking care of them, and nurturing them, and raising them; that’s my primary obligation.”

Do you see, in the violence of the world in which Paul lived, marriage was a terrible encumbrance to somebody who was a Christian, at least in the sense of the ministry that he had. The Corinthian Christians could well remember what the Corinthian Jews had tried to do to Paul the very time he came to their city.

Now, Paul is saying because of the – notice this – the present or the immediate violence, Paul is anticipating something here. There is a violence that is going to come when the wholesale pagan persecution breaks out, and Paul could see it coming. He knew that a girl married, a guy married and raising children, might suffer the heartbreaking losses that can only come to those who have a family when the persecution broke out. He knew from his own life, as I said, that it was good that no wife and no children needed to weep and live with broken, fearful hearts every time he went somewhere. Hard times were coming to the Church, and Paul was aware of it. Change in the pagan attitude toward Christians was in the wind.

The Roman emperors were not entirely well disposed towards either Judaism or Christianity. Jews had to leave Rome for a time and go into exile. Under Nero, life for Christians was brutal and horrifying:

Nero refined cruelty upon cruelty and continued all manner and style of persecution. He had some Christians sown up in the skins of wild beasts, and then turned over to dogs to be torn into pieces. Others he dressed in garments that were made stiff with wax. He fixed those people to trees and then lit them like candles to light his garden. This occurred throughout the early centuries of the Roman Empire. Erastus, according to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, was one of those martyred in the first persecution, and Erastus was the chamberlain or the treasurer of the city of Corinth. What that tells us is that the persecution of Nero extended to Corinth and took the life of one of the men named in the Bible, one of the Christians of Corinth.

Now, Paul knew that this was coming to Corinthians. He could see it on the horizon. And in view of this, he says, “My advice is if you have the gift, stay single.” And, people, keep in mind that all of this advice is only to those who have the gift. Because to force somebody to be single who doesn’t have the gift is to force them to burn with desire all this life, and that isn’t accomplishing anything. But if you have the gift, he is saying, that’s the basic supposition of all of this. Don’t get married because of the pressure that is coming, the pressure of the system against the believer.

On a related note, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial. Given that we are now in 2021, he summarised a book about the year 2000:

There is an interesting book entitled The Year 2000, written by Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener. And in it, this is what they predict for the year 2000. It sounds like they’ve been reading Matthew 24, except they’re not Christians. This is what they predict: invasion and war, civil strife and revolution, famine, disease, persecution by despotism – that is by dictatorship – national disasters, and a depression or economic stagnation, etcetera.

Plus ça change … The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember all those things happening around the world in 1976, too. Every year, a lay person sounds the death knell online: ‘This is it, folks. The Lord is coming. This is what Revelation talked about. We’re in those final days’. Clearly, we’re progressing towards the end of the world, but it seems as if we still have a long way to go. There are days when I hope I am wrong.

Anyway, MacArthur mentioned the book because:

Those are the predictions of those people who look at the world analytically. And that’s precisely what Matthew 24 says. It’s a rough world. And being married only complicates it greatly because of the problem of caring for your wife and husband and caring for your children.

Paul has much more to say on marriage. For now, the next few verses that follow were read this year — 2021 — on the Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year B):

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

What Paul means is that we should not get too attached to our spouses, material things or the world in general. At some point, we may lose some or all of them. Therefore, throughout our lives, we should have Christ as our primary focus, because this world is but transitory for us. Our eternity is with Him, forever and ever. Amen.

That said, in closing, I hope that all who celebrated had a very happy St Valentine’s Day. Love is a beautiful thing, one of life’s great pleasures — and a gift from God.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Below are the readings for Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This is also Quinquagesima Sunday, 50 days before Easter, and the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the dramatic account of Elijah being whisked into Heaven by a chariot and horses, leaving Elisha to succeed him. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the background to Elijah’s influence as a prophet and what happened at his death. There were several schools of prophecy among God’s chosen at the time, and Elijah was the spiritual leader for all of them. Before he died, he bade farewell to those in the schools of prophecy. When he was about to die, he did not want Elisha there, but then he relented (verses 2, 4). Elisha asked his spiritual leader for ‘a double share of his spirit’ — meaning ability to properly interpret Scripture and thereby prophesy (verse 9). After Elijah was ‘translated’ (theological term) into Heaven, Elisha rent his own clothes, the traditional manner of mourning in Judaism. Scholars believe that the horse and chariot that whisked Elijah into Heaven were actually angels: cherubim and seraphim. Zechariah 1:8 and Zechariah 6:1 have similar imagery. Elijah appears in the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospel stories (see Mark’s below).

2 Kings 2:1-12

2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

2:3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

2:4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.

2:5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

2:6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.

2:8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

2:10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

2:11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

2:12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Psalm

The Psalm tells us to live a life worthy of God and avoid judgement in the afterlife.

Psalm 50:1-6

50:1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

50:2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

50:3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.

50:4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:

50:5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah

Epistle

Paul tells the Christians of Corinth that those who are perishing in sin are incapable of understanding the Gospel. On the other hand, Christians proclaim the Light, which is Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Jesus took Peter, James and John — His most trusted Apostles — to give them a glimpse of Himself as He lives and reigns forevermore. Note that Elijah (see the first reading above) was there with Moses. God the Father spoke, telling the three men to listen to Him. Compare Mark’s version with Matthew’s (read in Year A).

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

These readings give show us the incomprehensible heavenly glory of the life to come.

May I also take this opportunity to wish those celebrating it a very happy St Valentine’s Day!

Bible openThe 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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Corinthians 7:20-24

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant[a] when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers,[b] in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

——————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s words of comfort to Jewish and Gentile men converting to Christianity. There was no need for the Jew to fret that he had been circumcised as an infant. Similarly, there was no need for the Gentile convert to become circumcised.

These verses discuss the state of men and women converting to Christianity. Paul offers similar words of comfort, saying that God knows the circumstances in which we live and He accepts us all (verse 20). Christianity has to do with our spiritual rather than our physical state or social status.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The point is this: a relationship to Christ is compatible with any social status. You can be single, married, widowed, divorced. You can be a slave, a free man. You can be a Jew. You can be a Gentile. You can be a man. You can be a woman. You can live in any kind of society: democracy or total anarchy, or you can live in a dictatorship. You can be anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China to any place in the world, and Christianity is compatible with any social status. Why? Because it is internal, not external

Paul’s concern here is that the Christians realize that the primary business is being a Christian, not outward circumstances that are relatively or totally unimportant. Don’t ever let outward things become a major importance.

You’re saying, “This means you can’t have any progress?”

No, he isn’t saying that. He isn’t saying you can’t have a promotion, you can’t advance in your business or your education, or seek a better life, or seek to increase your income or get a better job or change employment. No.

What he is saying is don’t disrupt the social balance in the name of Christ. In other words, nobody should desire to change his status in life simply because he’s a Christian, as if Christian was incompatible with certain kinds of social positions. It isn’t. It’s compatible with anything. It’s well-suited to any man or any woman in any situation in life as long as that person realizes that the key thing is to keep the commandments of the Lord. Obedience is possible in any situation. Now you may pay a higher price for it in some than in others, but it’s possible.

You see, when the Lord saved you, He didn’t save you to change your earthly status; He saved you to change your soul and your eternal destiny.

Today’s verses concern slavery, which was widespread throughout the ancient world. To be a bondservant meant that you had no property of your own and that you were essentially your master’s property.

That’s a bad state of affairs.

However, in the ancient world, slaves could a) purchase their freedom (e.g. by working long enough to pay off their financial debt to their master) or b) become free men during a census period or c) if master and slave arranged for freedom before a provincial official.

Depending on where one lived at that time, there were closed systems and open systems regarding freed men and women. A closed system still relegated a freed person to the bottom rungs of society with limited participation in it. An open system allowed freed persons to participate much more in society with certain rights guaranteed.

Whatever the case, the good news is that Paul wants slaves to know that their status is no bar to becoming a Christian. At the end of Romans, Paul speaks of various people he has encountered during his journeys and church planting. Some of those people were slaves and they were well respected Christians (see Romans 16:7-10 and Romans 16:14-16).

MacArthur continues:

You say, “John, did the Bible say slavery doesn’t matter?”

No. No, the Bible doesn’t say slavery doesn’t matter; the Bible says if you were saved as a slave, don’t worry about it. You can be a Christian as a slave. Can’t you? You can be a Christian as an anything, socially speaking. I’m not talking about moral things, but social. Paul is not approving of slavery; he is merely saying that slavery is not an obstacle to Christian living.

We see in verse 21 that Paul encourages those slaves who can gain their freedom to do so.

Paul goes on to say that a slave on Earth is a free man as far as Christ is concerned (verse 22). We are all equal in His sight.

MacArthur says:

what he’s saying here is if you’re saved a slave, don’t worry about it. But if freedom comes along, grab it. And, you know, in Rome, there was the provision. In fact, many owners kept a nest egg, and they added money into it all the time, until finally it got to the place where the guy could buy his own freedom. So, the definition wasn’t that, necessarily, oppressive. In some cases there were cruel masters, but you could be a slave. And it could be tolerable. Don’t worry about it. But if you’re freedom comes, use it. And this just means God’s giving you that and taking you another step.

He then explains the story of the Book of Philemon, which concerns one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, who was on the run:

There’s a good illustration of this in the little book of Philemon. Philemon is an interesting little book, right after Titus and before the book of Hebrews. And Philemon was a Christian man in Colossi. He had a slave, among other slaves. He was probably a very wealthy man. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. And Onesimus decided he wanted his freedom. So, Onesimus stole some stuff out of Philemon’s house, packed his little bag, and hustled off to Rome. And what he was figuring, to lose himself in the mob at Rome.

And while he was mingling with the crowd at Rome, he ran into a very interesting man by the name of Paul, which began a very dramatic transformation in the life of Onesimus. In verse 10, Paul says, “I beseech you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Now, we don’t know how – Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner here, and somehow he got in connection with Onesimus, and led Onesimus to Christ.

Onesimus became a Christian, and oh, Paul loved him. In verse 11 he says, “This guy was profitable, and I really cared for him. And he was important to me.”

But one day, Paul and Onesimus were kind of getting down to it, and they sat down, and Onesimus says, “Hey, Paul, I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know how this is going to go over, but I’m a runaway slave.” Well, that must have really crushed Paul. What was he going to do?

“Well, who’s your master?”

“Well, he’s Philemon. You know, a Christian over at Colossi.” That even made it worse.

“Oh.” Well, what could Paul do? “Well, look, slavery’s a rotten institution anyway. Just cool it, and I’ll keep you here, and no one will ever know. That’s one thing; we’ll just hide you. The other one would be I’ll send you back with a letter telling Philemon what I think of him as a slave owner.” And Philemon could have been, “Dear Philemon, let all your slaves go. Slavery’s a rotten institution.”

Or Paul could have just said, “No, according to this society, we have a social status of masters and slaves. You’re a slave. You disobeyed the rules of society. You have to go back and make it right.”

And that’s what he did. And he sent Onesimus back with a letter. And you know what the letter says? “Hey, Philemon, here comes your slave, and he’s really been great to me, and I’ve led him to Jesus Christ. Would you accept him as a brother? Would you take him back in good graces as your good slave? I think he’ll serve you better than he’s ever served you.”

And off hustles Onesimus with a letter. And, you know, he had a lot to risk, because slaves in those days, for running away, could be killed, or at best they could have a brand on their head. They put a big F on their head for fugitīvus which meant runaway. So, he could have paid a high price. But Onesimus, now in the bonds of Christ, goes back and gives the letter, and tradition tells us Philemon embraced him with open arms, and they were accepted as brothers together, even though he continued to be his servant and his slave.

Now, in all of Philemon, Paul says nothing about slavery. He doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t tell Philemon to set Onesimus free. He just accepts the social status that Onesimus was in and knew he could go back and be a slave, and it wouldn’t have any effect on his Christian life.

Slavery in the US and in former British colonies was in the news a lot last year. Marxists have long condemned the Church for not having done enough about it. They conveniently ignore the abolitionist movement, more about which below.

However, MacArthur offers a reason why there were no Christian revolutions about slavery in the New Testament era. It would have completely taken Jesus out of the equation. Jesus came to offer us salvation, not a socio-political revolution:

Now, some people have criticized Paul for not attacking the system of slavery. But the point is this, people, if Christianity had encouraged the ending of slavery, then Christianity would have been seen as a political revolution, and Christians would have been killed in a revolution.

And I would add another thing. If Christian slaves had started to disrupt society, then the major issue would have been lost: the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, you know what’s happened in America. Every time ‘Christianity’ attaches itself to a social movement, the message of Christianity gets totally lost. Given the Christian faith, emancipation is bound to happen. At the time, it was not right. So, Paul says, don’t concern yourself with your earthly state; don’t concern yourself with a situation that is superficial. The major issue is internal.

Therefore, a slave can live as a slave and still be redeemed by Christ. To Christ, the slave is a free man (verse 22).

However, Paul adds in that verse that a free man becomes a slave to Christ upon his conversion:

All he’s simply saying is, “You may be a slave physically, but you’re a free man spiritually. And you may be a free man physically, but you’re a slave spiritually.”

In other words, he just kind of shows the fact that nothing really matters on the surface. It doesn’t matter whether you’re physically bound or free, it only matters that you’re both spiritually bound and free in the paradox of Christianity. Do you understand that paradox? That as a Christian, you’re the servant of Jesus Christ; and yet, as a Christian, you’re free from the law, from sin, from Satan, from hell, from the curse. You understand that paradox? That’s what he’s saying.

Christ has totally set you free to be His servant. Don’t worry about the superficial situation you’re in.

MacArthur reminds us that the abolitionist movement in Britain and the United States came from Christians:

Did you know that the concentration of righteousness that was in Christianity really became the catalyst that ultimately abolished slavery in the world? Christianity has done that. The important thing, you see, is to serve God. And a slave shouldn’t worry about the fact that he’s a slave; he should just serve God. And as this whole righteous kind of life begins to penetrate and spread, the downfall of an enslaving system will occur.

Where does slavery exist today? Mostly in Asia. However, in Africa, it still exists in Mauritania, even if the government says it doesn’t. It would be interesting for protesters from the US to go there and urge the Mauritanian government to get everyone to free their slaves. They could protest, riot and topple statues. One wonders what would happen.

In 2018, The Guardian published an article, ‘The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania’, which begins as follows:

In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratines forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.

Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation. For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”. Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.

On June 26, 2020, The Daily Caller published an article, ‘An African Country Still Has Slavery — Obama Awarded Them Trade Benefits, Trump Reversed It’:

There are currently an estimated 21 million to 45 million people trapped in slavery today, and an estimated 9.2 million of them are in Africa. Among these countries, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is perhaps the only place in the world where people can still be born into slavery.

But I digress.

In verse 23, Paul reminds the Corinthians that Christ paid the price for their spiritual freedom by dying on the Cross.

Therefore, Christians should not worry about their temporal condition (verse 24).

Matthew Henry sums up these verses as follows:

Note, The special presence and favour of God are not limited to any outward condition or performance. He may enjoy it who is circumcised; and so may he who is uncircumcised. He who is bound may have it as well as he who is free. In this respect there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, Colossians 3:11. The favour of God is not bound.

God knows where we are in life. Similarly, our Lord Jesus knows. Christians can fulfil God’s will by obeying the Commandments and be certain of the life of the world to come through salvation through Christ Jesus.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:25-28

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