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Bible GenevaThe 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.

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Commendation of Titus

16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going[a] to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending[b] the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers[c] of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to be as generous in giving to his fund for the church in Jerusalem as the churches in Macedonia were.

In today’s reading, Paul commends Titus to the Corinthians. Titus will be collecting their donations for the church in Jerusalem.

As false teachers in the church in Corinth were trying to besmirch Paul’s character in any and all ways possible, the Apostle is very careful in how he works with the congregation from a distance. Surely, some mischief maker will say that Paul is going to spend the money on himself or on something unworthy.

They already know and love Titus, because he has been delivering Paul’s letters to them. However, Paul wants to dot all the ‘i’s and cross all the ‘t’s to convey that everything regarding this fund is above board and acceptable.

As such, Paul thanks God for making Titus’s heart such that he cares for the Corinthians as much as he himself does (verse 16).

Paul adds that not only does Titus agree with the fundraising, he willingly wants to go to Corinth and collect the money himself (verse 17).

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You see, Paul was the leader, the dominating force, this hard-driving man, this great mind, this visionary, this man able to embrace the whole of the redemptive purposes of God, the plan of God doctrinally, and also to embrace the whole of the church. He was bigger than life, but Titus was more like them. We never hear him preach. We don’t have any of his sermons in Scripture. We don’t see him leading any meetings. He’s just always serving, serving, serving. They must have seen him not as some kind of a powerful entrepreneurial man, some kind of great mover, and shaker, and motivator, and mobilizer, but as a man who loved God, who loved them, a man who knew the truth.

And so, Paul happily says to them, “Titus agrees with the plan.” How important that is. The whole enterprise for the benefit of the Jewish poor and the Corinthian church was not just Paul’s passion, it was no one-man concern. Paul wants them to know that Titus, whom they knew so well, and whom they loved so deeply, was wholeheartedly in agreement.

Paul then describes Titus’s travelling companion in glowing terms as being famous for preaching the gospel among all the churches (verse 18).

Not only that, but the churches have agreed to appoint this man to travel with Paul and Titus in administering these donations — ‘this act of grace’ — for the Lord’s glory and as a sign of good will (verse 19).

Who is he?

Matthew Henry says it was Luke:

He commends another brother, who was sent with Titus. It is generally thought that this was Luke.

However, MacArthur disagrees:

I’ve heard people say it might be Tychicus, or it might be Trophimus. Some have said it probably is Luke, because it says “whose fame in the gospel has spread through all the churches” – and they think it’s probably a reference to Luke’s gospel. The problem with that is Luke’s Gospel was not in circulation yet when 1 Corinthians was written, so the people wouldn’t have known of Luke’s Gospel. So, it’s not Luke. We don’t know who it is. The name is not given. But they would know who it is.

MacArthur says they would know who the man was because he accompanied Titus when the latter was delivering one of Paul’s letters:

… he would be standing there with Titus when he delivered the letter. They would know him, and they would recognize him. He didn’t need to give his name because he was well known. It says, “He’s the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches.” He doesn’t name the man, and there’s no way to know who he was for us, but clearly the Corinthians knew him, and they knew him as a man who was famous for preaching the gospel. A distinguished preacher. Known and esteemed by all the churches. A prominent and unimpeachable brother who was sent with Titus to receive and transport the money.

Paul explains that he is sending these two men so that no one can cast aspersions on the donations (verse 20). Furthermore, he and they are aiming at what is honourable both in God’s sight and in man’s (verse 21).

Henry says:

He would not give occasion to any to accuse him of injustice or partiality in this affair, and thought it to be his duty, as it is the duty of all Christians, to provide for things honest, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men; that is, to act so prudently as to prevent, as far as we can, all unjust suspicions concerning us, and all occasions of scandalous imputations. Note, We live in a censorious world, and should cut off occasion from those who seek occasion to speak reproachfully. It is the crime of others if they reproach or censure us without occasion; and it is our imprudence at least if we give them any occasion, when there may not be a just cause for them so to do.

A third brother in the faith will also be going to Corinth, a man who has been tried and tested and whose earnestness is even greater than ever because of his confidence in the Corinthians (verse 22).

Henry says this man could have been Apollos:

He commends also another brother who was joined with the two former in this affair. This brother is thought to be Apollos. Whoever he was, he had approved himself diligent in many things; and therefore was fit to be employed in this affair.

MacArthur says that we do not know who he was but the Corinthians would have known of him:

This is another one, and we don’t have his name either, but that would obviously be known to them as soon as he arrived. He describes him with some glowing terms, “Whom we have often tested” – that’s that word dokimazō which means to be approved after testing, like testing metals and having them come out proven. “We have tested him, and he has passed. We have found him diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you.”

Just to take the extra precaution, here’s another one. Again, no name is given, but a great commendation, “whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things.” What does that mean? Diligent, it’s zealous, passionate. He’s just a – he’s a zealous person. Just in general, he’s passionate; he’s devout. “But now even more diligent, more zealous than normal because of his great confidence in you.” Perhaps he had heard the wonderful report of Titus in response to the severe letter and the restoration of their relationship to Paul. He heard that the Corinthians indeed proved to be teachable, responsive, responsible, repentant and loyal. He’d heard such good things, and he was now so encouraged he wanted to be a part of the whole enterprise.

So, now you’ve got Titus, and you’ve got the brother whose fame spread through all the churches because of his preaching, and now you’ve got a brother many times tested and found zealous and now committed to this whole process as well, with a greater zeal. Very, very careful accountability.

Paul winds up his commendation, saying that Titus is his partner working for the benefit of the Corinthians and that the two brothers are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ (verse 23).

MacArthur explains the words as written in Greek:

This is the summary of this little group, of this little financial committee. “As for Titus” – let’s go over it again – “he is my partner and fellow worker among you.” He’s my partner; he’s my koinōnos; he’s my close companion. “And he’s a fellow worker among you” – synergos; you know him; he’s been there; he’s worked with you, and you love him, and you know his character, and you know his heart. “As for our brethren” – these two brothers, the preacher and the man tested and proven – “they are messengers of the churches” – and again, that reminds us of back in verse 19, appointed by the churches – “they are messengers of the churches.”

I want to stop at that point and just make a couple of comments that are really very important. The word “messenger” here is apostolos, it’s apostles. They are apostles of the churches. What does that mean? Well, it’s a term used to refer to somebody who was officially authorized to be a representative. Likely the churches in mind here are the churches of Macedonia. Apostle or messenger is someone charged or commissioned with an official duty, and his role – listen – can only be understood by knowing who commissioned him and for what …

They were not commissioned by Christ to be witnesses of the resurrection and preach the gospel. They were commissioned by the churches to go with Paul and Titus to help secure the money and bring it all the way to Jerusalem.

So, they are messengers of the churches. So, you don’t include them with the apostles. They are official men commissioned by the churches, not Christ, and for the purpose of securing the money and taking it to Jerusalem.

But I want you to notice the caliber of men who were given to this task, the end of verse 23. This has got to be the single best, the single highest compliment ever given to a believer, “They are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.” Wouldn’t you like that on your epitaph? What more could be said? They are a glory to Christ. They bring glory to Christ by their holiness, by their virtue, by the excellencies of their spiritual commitment, by their obedience to the Word of God they bring honor to Christ. They are a glory to Christ. The best of men.

Paul ends by encouraging the Corinthians to give evidence of their love towards the churches and proof that these these men were correct in boasting about the congregation (verse 24).

MacArthur explains that verse’s message:

Therefore, give, and do it openly. Literally, the Greek says, “in the faces of the churches.” Let everybody see how generous you are; let everybody see how magnanimous you are; let them see the proof of your love.

You say you love? Prove it. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus said. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples, if you have love one for another.” Let’s see your love. Put it on display for all the churches. This is the opportunity to give visible demonstration of our love for the saints, of your love for the Lord of the Church.

Paul has a bit more to say on this topic in 2 Corinthians 9.

Next time: 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

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.

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Encouragement to Give Generously

We want you to know, brothers,[a] about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor[b] of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you[c]—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction to not associate with unbelievers in a profound way because it is akin to linking Christ with Satan.

The first verses of 2 Corinthians 8 concern the donation he has been collecting from the Gentile churches for the poor church of Jerusalem, including Judea.

Acts 4 tells us that, after the first Pentecost, the members of the church in Jerusalem pooled together all their resources — money, property sales and so forth — for their mutual benefit. Many pilgrims to Jerusalem who witnessed the first Pentecost never returned to their Gentile homelands. The church there was spiritually dynamic, with the Apostles having been invested with the gifts of preaching and healing, so miracles were taking place regularly. Who would not want to stay and witness these joyful experiences?

However, money is a finite resource, and what started out as a financially healthy church became an impoverished one. The Christian converts could not find work, either, with Jerusalem being the capital of Judaism. The Jews did not want followers of Jesus working for them.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

It wasn’t very many years until the rich weren’t rich, until it was just a whole bunch of poor people because they had all given it away.  It was so overwhelming for them, then, to try to sustain the needs of that church as persecution elevated and escalated And as pilgrims now stayed and couldn’t find work, of course, that Paul took upon himself the burden He understood it.  He even classifies himself in 2 Corinthians 6:10 as one of the poor. 

And, occasionally, in his life that’s how it was and he was dependent on the gifts of others many times in his life when he was not able to work.  So when he began his third missionary journey, he determined that he was going to collect money for the poor in Jerusalem because they had no more resources left So as he goes on his third missionary journey, this high priority of collecting the money is on his heart He wants to collect it from the Gentile churches and take it back to the poor in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, Jerusalem and the rest of the Roman empire outside of Rome was impoverished. The taxes the Romans collected were largely spent on Rome:

The economy of Jerusalem and the area around Jerusalem, the area of Palestine was as poor as any part of the Roman Empire And don’t for a minute think that the Roman Empire was wealthy.  Rome was fine, but the Empire was poor, very poor.  And it was made even poorer by the Romans who managed to extract everything out of all of the territories they occupied for their own aggrandizement.  

Paul’s plan was to create Christian unity between Gentile and Jew:

It wasn’t only economics; it was also spiritual love that he wanted demonstrated Do you remember that in Ephesians chapter 2, Paul said that the Jew and the Gentile were separated by a wall, but in Christ the wall had come down and they had been made one new man in Christ Well, racial bitterness and racial animosity and racial hatred run real deep, even in converted people.  Even in converted people.  And there was still lots of latent hostility between Jew and Gentile

And Paul knew there needed to be a real reconciliation and that what had happened spiritually needed to happen personally And so he knew that if he could collect money from Gentile churches and bring it as a love gift to the Jews in Jerusalem, it would go a long way to elicit a mutual affection It would express the spiritual unity of the church which is the true body of Christ It would also afford tangible evidence to a watching world that that middle wall of partition had been shattered and the Jew and the Gentile had come together It would also be a dramatic setback to the Judaizers and it would be a dramatic setback for the Hellenizers, both of which wanted to perpetuate the division.

Paul also wanted the Corinthians to continue to build their donations to this fund, something they had already started a year earlier. He refers to the ‘grace of God’ — the donations — from the churches in Macedonia (verse 1). More on this follows.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The apostle takes occasion from the good example of the churches of Macedonia, that is, of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and others in the region of Macedonia, to exhort the Corinthians and the Christians in Achaia to the good work of charity

He certainly means the charitable gifts of these churches, which are called the grace or gifts of God, either because they were very large, or rather because their charity to the poor saints did proceed from God as the author, and was accompanied with true love to God, which also was manifested this way. The grace of God must be owned as the root and fountain of all the good that is in us, or done by us, at any time; and it is great grace and favour from God, and bestowed on us, if we are made useful to others, and are forward to any good work.

Paul says that, despite severe affliction affecting those churches — similarly poor and persecuted — their joyfulness, poverty notwithstanding, produced a wealth of generosity (verse 2).

Henry says:

(1.) They were but in a low condition, and themselves in distress, yet they contributed to the relief of others. They were in great tribulation and deep poverty,2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:2. It was a time of great affliction with them, as may be seen, Acts 18:17. The Christians in these parts met with ill treatment, which had reduced them to deep poverty; yet, as they had abundance of joy in the midst of tribulation, they abounded in their liberality; they gave out of a little, trusting in God to provide for them, and make it up to them. (2.) They gave very largely, with the riches of liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:2), that is, as liberally as if they had been rich.

Paul says he can testify that they gave willingly, within their means and beyond their means (verse 3).

MacArthur says this was because the grace of God was at work in them:

The primary motive of their generosity was not human kindness.  The primary motive was not human philanthropy.  It wasn’t a desire to sort of satisfy their conscience.  It wasn’t a desire to do well, to share the milk of human kindness.  What motivated them was the grace of God at work in their hearts producing this generosity And listen, this kind of giving which we will see the Macedonians did is not normal It is not just human giving

It is prompted by something far beyond anything that you can find in the noble character of the human heart made in the image of God.  And I would agree that though man is fallen there are still vestiges of the image of God in him, and there is still a knowledge of right and wrong and still a conscience excusing or accusing.  Man can still do something that is humanly good, but at its highest level, human good will not reach the proportions of that goodness and that righteousness prompted by the transforming grace of God And that is true in giving as well.

MacArthur also points out that there is no New Covenant mandate to give a certain percentage of what we have:

God does not expect you to give what you don’t have.  He expects you to give what you have.  That’s all God asks is that you give according to your ability Giving is to be proportionate

This sets no fixed amount It sets no fixed percentage It isn’t a tenth.  It isn’t 15 percent.  It isn’t 5 percent.  It indicates no fixed figure.  It simply says they gave according to their ability.  And everybody certainly was different.

MacArthur says that it was the Corinthians who inspired the Macedonians to donate so generously:

It was the zeal of the Corinthians that stirred up the Macedonians originally Now, remember what we have here.  As Paul is writing 2 Corinthians, we told you that it is a year that has passed since he first told the … Corinthians about giving.  He mentions that. 

A year ago he had told the Corinthians about giving and they had started to give.  We saw that right there in chapter 8.  They had already begun to give as much as a year before.  Apparently, it was their initial interest in responding to Paul and giving that the Macedonians heard about.  When Paul told the Macedonians about the generosity of the Corinthians, it stirred up the Macedonians to want to give

So we could suggest then that the Macedonians were following the example of the Corinthians, who started a year before, and that the Corinthian generosity, initially motivated the Macedonians and then they just ran with it.  And maybe Paul never really overtly asked them to give knowing how poor they were They volunteered it.  Based upon the pattern of the Corinthians, they wanted to get involved

That would fit with verse 4. Not only did they give, Paul says they begged to give, considering it a privilege — favour — to help relieve the plight of the saints in Jerusalem.

MacArthur says:

That, too, might indicate that Paul was reluctant to ask them for anything because they had so little but they were begging to be able to participate.  They volunteered It was right out of their hearts.  They were freely, voluntarily, willingly giving from the heart.

The Macedonians, Paul observes, gave in an unexpected manner: giving themselves unto the Lord first, then, by God’s will to Paul (verse 5) and perhaps Titus and Timothy.

Henry gives us a practical application for our own use:

This, it seems, exceeded the expectation of the apostle; it was more than he hoped for, to see such warm and pious affections shining in these Macedonians, and this good work performed with so much devotion and solemnity. They solemnly, jointly, and unanimously, made a fresh surrender of themselves, and all they had, unto the Lord Jesus Christ. They had done this before, and now they do it again upon this occasion; sanctifying their contributions to God’s honour, by first giving themselves to the Lord. Note, [1.] We should give ourselves to God; we cannot bestow ourselves better. [2.] When we give ourselves to the Lord, we then give him all we have, to be called for and disposed of according to his will. [3.] Whatever we use or lay out for God, it is only giving to him what is his own. [4.] What we give or bestow for charitable uses will not be accepted of God, nor turn to our advantage, unless we first give ourselves to the Lord.

Paul explains that, as Titus began the collection in Corinth, he should complete this act of grace, meaning the donation (verse 6). That would have meant during the previous year, when Titus was first there.

MacArthur says now that the Corinthians are improving their behaviour as a congregation, Paul feels more comfortable in the reminder about the donation:

The relationship has been restored now and Paul wants to reaffirm his emphasis on the giving Through the restoration and reconciliation, Paul feels the freedom now Even though the relationship, admittedly, is still fragile, as we’ll find out in later chapters, he wants to reaffirm the pastoral authority over their need to follow the Macedonian example and continue their giving Get back on track with your giving.

Then, even though he has corrected them severely via letter, he commends them by saying they ‘excel’ in many things, therefore, they should excel equally in this act of grace (verse 7).

MacArthur expands on Paul’s compliment:

In verse 7, he says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.”  It’s not giving in a vacuum.  It’s not giving in isolation.  It’s not giving contrary to what’s in your heart.  This kind of giving is in perfect harmony with other Christian virtues.  You find me a heart filled with faith and utterance and knowledge and earnestness and love and I’ll show you a generous heart It’s in combination; it’s a network.

He says, “Just as you abound in everything”  Now, that’s a very complimentary statement to these vacillating Corinthians But back in chapter 1, verse 4, he said…chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, verse 4, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus that everything you were enriched in Him.”  He says, “From the beginning you had everything that the grace of God could give.  You had it all.  God gave it all to you.” 

Here he says, “I’m starting to see it abound in you just as you abound in everything, faith…”  What is that?  Strong trust in God, a saving, securing, sanctifying trust in the Lord.  And “utterance.”  What is that?  It’s the Greek word logos It really means doctrine.  It’s used for the word of truth, the word of righteousness, the word of Christ, sound word.  You have doctrine You have faith.  And then knowledge.  You have understanding of how doctrine applies, how divine truth applies.  And you have earnestness There’s that word spoud We’ve seen it earlier in chapter 7.  It means eagerness, it means energy, vigor, diligence, spiritual passion.

And he adds, “You have love, agape, the love we inspired in you.”  How did he inspire it?  By example, by teaching, by preaching.  “You abound in these things, in faith and doctrine and knowledge and passion and love; see that you abound in this gracious work also.”  See that your giving is in concert and harmony with these other Christian virtues You overflow in these others, overflow in this one.  It should go right along with everything else.

In closing, MacArthur touches on the reason for the lack of giving in churches:

A little footnote here.  Whenever people in a church become disillusioned about their leaders, their giving drops And it happened in Corinth and it happens today.  It always happens.  It’s happened in our church when people have spread lies and rumors and untruths about leadership in this church.  It has an immediate effect on people’s giving because where they have confusion and chaos or anxiety or distrust at the level of leadership, they are hard-pressed to be generous

I can confirm that is true. Many years ago, we had a vicar whose faith I wondered about. In the pulpit, he sometimes sounded as if he were agnostic, possibly atheistic. Outside of Sunday contributions, I stopped giving regularly to the annual fund drive. Since then, we have had better vicars, and I have resumed my annual contribution.

Next week’s post will be about Paul’s commendation of Titus to the Corinthians.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 7:16-24

John F MacArthurThroughout his letters, St Paul often wrote of endurance, a resilience to the end.

John MacArthur has a sermon on the subject, ‘Secrets to Endurance’, based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Because we all want to know what St Paul’s secret to endurance was, I’ll start there, even though it is near the end of MacArthur’s sermon:

The secret is focusing on the inner man not the outer man, focusing on the spiritual and not the physical. The secret is to look to the future not the present, to take your eyes off present pain, and look at future glory. And the secret is to be consumed with what is invisible and not what is visible; to give your life to what will never perish, not what will perish. Place the unseen far above the seen, the future far above the present, and the spiritual far above the physical.

And when you do that, you will be able to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Paul suffered much persecution during his life, which, as an Apostle, though not one of the original twelve, brought him much physical pain. There was emotional pain also, because a lot of people wanted to kill him.

It could have been so different for him. As a Pharisee growing up far from Jerusalem, he was educated in Greek ways of thinking. When he moved to Jerusalem for religious training, he learned under the best teacher, Gamaliel. He could have had a highly privileged life.

Yet, the Lord chose Paul to evangelise in His name, far and wide, to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece.

Paul’s three-day long Damascene conversion began with an appearance by Christ along the road to Damascus which left him blinded during that time. Our Lord spoke to him, uncomfortable, yet eternal, truths for a persecutor of Christians such as Saul.

Paul wrote that he had seen the face of Christ. That blinding moment helped him persevere through the hardest trials of persecution.

MacArthur cites 2 Corinthians 3:18:

… he found the solution for his trouble, and his trial, and his anxiety, and his depression by looking at the face of Jesus. And as long, “beholding as in a mirror” – as verse 18 of chapter 3 says – “the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ” – as long as he did that, he found strength, and comfort, encouragement, and even joy in the midst of his trials.

MacArthur wants us to develop a similar spiritual strategy, imagining the face of Christ from the pages of the Bible and making that ‘image’, for lack of a better expression, a living one we look at every day:

So, we’ve been suggesting to you that looking into the face of Jesus is the way to live your Christian life. And that is an objective thing, not a subjective one. We’re not asking you to find some mystical image of Jesus in space somewhere and fix yourself on it, but rather to look at the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed on the pages of Scripture. And finding there the real Christ, learn to trust in Him.

Now, I want to sort of approach the same program, the same issue this morning, the same pattern of vision, looking at the person of Christ, but from a bit of a different angle, rather than just talking about looking at the face of Jesus, I want to take a step beyond that, and I want to define that look as love, if I may, and say to you that the reality of the Christian life, as I have been saying, is looking at the face of Jesus. And the reality of that is simply loving the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s really what that is. That is synonymous with loving the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reality of loving the Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart and soul and core of the Christian life. Love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. I’ll say it again; love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. In fact, we could be defined as those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Most frequently we say, “Well, I accepted Christ,” or, “I trusted Christ,” or, “I confessed Christ,” or, “I put my faith in Christ.”

And perhaps what would be more true would be to say, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ,” and in so saying, you are saying he is the object of my highest affection. He is my highest joy. He is the one to whom I am supremely devoted. He is the object of my desires, and my interest, and my love. My whole life is centered on Christ. To use the words of Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ,” is another way of saying, “I love Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And Paul certainly exhibits that kind of devotion.

This is what Jesus asks us to do, as documented in the Gospels:

In John 8:42, Jesus said this, “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” “If God were your Father, you would love Me.”

In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”

This matter of being a Christian, then, is a matter of loving the Lord Jesus Christ – and being loved by Christ, by God the Father – and demonstrating that love in sacrifice a willingness to alienate yourself, if need be, from family, willing to give your life, a willingness to give up your life, and certainly a willingness to obey.

That is a tall order and one which I struggle with at times. I know very few believers, because there are few in Britain. Obedience is also something difficult for me, as I occasionally strain at the bit. Those are my weak points.

MacArthur summarises temptation rather well:

we take our eyes off Christ, don’t we? We fluctuate in the intensity of our love. We fluctuate; we wax and wane in the regularity of our devotion to Christ. Why? Because we become enamored with other attractions. Other things vie for our affections. Things in the world, material things; other people; other goals, and dreams, and ambitions, and desires, they compete.

And so, the love that we have for the Lord Jesus Christ, while always there, because it is an incorruptible love, fluctuates in its intensity, and we fluctuate in our devotion. When we take a our eyes off Jesus Christ, we become weak and sinful

and it’s hard to look if your affection is diverted.

I mean that’s true in the human life. You can and should be fixed and devoted to the object of your love, your marriage partner, an undiminished, incorruptible, and singular devotion. But there are other things, very, very often, that get in the way. And once other things or other people begin to distract our attention, no matter to what level of involvement we might come or not come, it begins to take away the singular devotion of attention that should be given to our own partner. The same thing is true in the spiritual dimension. So, Satan just parades a string of other things in front of us to divert us. And when we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, and our love for Him diminishes, we become weak and sinful.

This is something we must guard against because it can become a destructive habit.

MacArthur mentions our Lord’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:

Perhaps as graphic an illustration of that as is in the Scripture we would find in Revelation chapter 2. Let’s look at it, because it’ll set in motion what I want to say to you, and we’ll come a full circle by the time we’re finished and come back to this concept.

But do you remember the letter of the Lord to the church at Ephesus, a very, very well-known letter. And the Lord writes to them, and in verses 2, 3, and 6 of Revelation 2, He commends them. In verse 2 of Revelation 2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance” – in other words, “I know that you serve; I know that you work hard, you labor, you toil to the point of exhaustion. I know your perseverance – that is your steadfastness – that is you stay at it; you stay at it. “I also know you can’t endure evil men” – you don’t tolerate wickedness. I also know that you put to the test those who call themselves apostles” – in other words, you measure them by the Scripture – “and if they are not, you will find them to be false.”

Verse 3, “You have perseverance, and you have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” And then in verse 6, “Yet the – this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” They were a group of people involved in sinful indulgence, uncleanness, and immorality. He commends them for their purity, their discernment, their hatred of sin, their doctrinal soundness, their endurance, their service, their hard work. So much to be commended.

But the fatal flaw comes down there in verse 4, where He says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Sadly, the honeymoon had ended. Love was cold. No longer were they fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ …

And so, then we have an essential word here for us as to the church at Ephesus. Verse 5, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen” – get back to that first affection, that first love – “repent and do the deeds which you did at first. If you don’t, I’ll remove your lampstand.”

The church in Ephesus was dying then. The Muslim invasions of the 7th century ended what was left of it.

Returning to Paul’s endurance, MacArthur says:

And so Paul here, as he writes, back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, is in the middle of severe trials, severe problems, heartbreaking issues in the church, physical things pale beside the immense emotional trauma that he was feeling as everything was up for grabs, and his whole ministry was being assaulted as to its integrity.

And in the midst of that he finds his equilibrium, and he finds his strength, and he finds his victory, and he finds his peace, and he finds even joy not by changing circumstances, but by looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God revealed.

And so, we have said that as he talks [about] the new covenant here, and the great privileges of being a new covenant preacher, he’s not just talking about something for which others are privileged, but he himself, because his own joy is found in looking into the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the new covenant.

And so, in verse 18, he says looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God is a clarifying look. In verse 18 he says it’s a transforming look. Then in chapter 4, verse 1, it is a strengthening look. At the end of the verse, we do not lose heart. Looking into the face of Jesus, in verse 2, is a purifying look. It causes us to renounce the things that are hidden because of shame and not walk in deception.

It is a truth-loving look. It causes us never to adulterate the Word of God, but always by the manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to ever man’s conscience in the sight of God. So, it is a truth-loving look. So, Paul has found that no matter what the trial, things become clear. He becomes transformed, strengthened, purified, and begins to love the truth as he gazes at the face of Jesus Christ in any situation.

Paul could have boasted about that, but he remained humble:

Whenever Paul talked about himself, he talked about his weakness. Whenever he referred to himself, he referred to himself in terms of his inabilities. The apostle Paul never promoted himself, never preached himself. His vision of Christ caused the glory of Christ to dominate his life. His love for Christ caused him to be completely consumed by Jesus Christ, and Christ was the focus of everything. If we would boast in glory, he would glory in the Lord. And if there was anything to boast about in him, it was his weakness – so in his weakness he could be made strong. He never promoted himself.

He goes further, in verse 5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” I think we could safely conclude from that that Paul was a lordship preacher. I think that’s a safe assumption. He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.

Humility is essential:

Let me tell you something, a true look into the face of Jesus results in humility. It results in humility. I mean this is very, very basic. Anyone looking at the face of Jesus is turned into a humble, self-effacing person. It’s true.

And conversely, anyone who is not humble is not looking into the face of Jesus. Anyone who is in love with Christ and deeply, profoundly devoted to Christ, anyone who has established the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of his affections, the singular object of his love is going to manifest humility. He’s going to be a servant of the one he loves and a servant of those whom the one he loves loves. Going to be a servant of God’s people.

Where there is a real look at Jesus, where there is a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ, you will see humility. And where there is no humility, there is no real vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and there is a kind of love that we could say is less than first love. In fact, where you see pride, there’s another person vying for that love, and it’s self. Right?

That’s why when I – when I look at someone who names the name of Jesus Christ, particularly someone who claims to be a preacher and represent the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His truth, the first thing I look for is – what? – humility. Because I’m going to know the level of love for the Lord Jesus Christ in that person’s life by the demonstration of humility. And if there’s not humility there, then self is the main object of affection, and they’re not looking into the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God.

The reason for humility is the realisation that we cannot accomplish salvation ourselves:

And salvation or redemption is as much a divine operation as was creation, and it’s as much a creative operation. Spiritual darkness covers the minds of men and women until God shines in their hearts. Colossians 1 says, “Giving thanks to the Father” – verse 12 – “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Thanks to Him, He did it. He delivered us. It wasn’t our cleverness, ingenuity, insight, ability to comprehend. It wasn’t our good sense, common sense, and it wasn’t the cleverness of a preacher; it was simply the truth presented. God turned on the light. God alone can dispel the darkness. Second Corinthians 5:18 says, “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ.” God alone can dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in which people are perishing under Satan’s deception. Only the creative power of the Almighty can transfer men from that kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

It’s right back there in Isaiah 2, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” And Jesus came and said, “I’m the fulfillment of that.” He was the true Light that lights every man who comes into the world.

Christ bore the light of God. God alone can turn on the light in the heart. So, the point that he’s making is creation and redemption are each works of God. God commanded the light to shine out of darkness at the creation. And the light which shined in a creative way has now begun to shine in a redemptive way. The light of creation has become the light of salvation. The light placed in the heavens has now become a light placed in the heart. He light which was material has become immaterial or moral. The physical light of the sun – S-U-N – has become the spiritual light of the Son – S-O-N. The universal light has become the personal light. The sovereign God shines the gospel light into the human heart, when the truth is preached, and God designs to save.

And so, he says in verse 6, “God is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light, to make the light known. And what is that light? It is the light that is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is the light? It is to know who Christ is: that He is graduate incarnate, that He is the clearest revelation of God. It is the illumination of the truth about God revealed in Christ. That’s it.

And Paul is saying, “Whatever might happen to me, I can’t despair. Whatever might happen to me, I can’t be depressed for very long. Whatever may happen to me, I can’t be sad and sorrowful. Whatever difficulties of ministry, I can’t quit, bail out and fail, and give up, because I am so immensely, immensely blessed that my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving, that in the midst of my darkness, a sovereign God chose to turn on the light.

MacArthur concludes:

So, rekindle that first love. Remember from where you are fallen. Begin again to focus all your life on knowing Jesus Christ, gazing at Him through the mirror of Scripture that reflects the glory of God in the face of Christ, and you’ll find in Him all the realities and all the resources for triumph, for peace, and for joy.

It’s an encouraging message for the week ahead.

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.

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The Temple of the Living God

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?[a] Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concerned the greater glory of the New Covenant compared with the Old Covenant, which is no more.

In today’s reading, Paul addresses the Corinthians’ syncretic (false) religion combining Christianity with idolatry.

John MacArthur describes their situation, exacerbated by false teachers (emphases mine):

When a person becomes a believer they are transported out of one world into another And shuttling back and forth is absolutely unacceptable And that is precisely what the Corinthians were trying to do.  Having named the name of Christ, identified with Him, come into the church, they were still hanging on to their own idolatry, their old pagan ways

Corinth was dominated above the city by an acropolis, a high mountain on top of which was the temple to the false deities which engaged itself in pagan ritual and worship and priestess prostitution This temple not only was the center of that religion, but from it disseminated its religious viewpoints and ideologies through the entire culture of Corinth It was a part of everything in life Holidays, festivals, celebrations and so forth.  And it was a constant pull to the Corinthians to fall back into those old patterns And they did

Additionally, the false teachers had come in and they had brought a quasi-Christian syncretism and eclectic religion which took Christianity, a little bit of Jewish legalism and some pagan religion, and melted it all together and offered it as the truth And that compromise had found its way into the Corinthian church and found an audience and some of them were listening and believing and accepting it.  You see, the false teachers wanted to make Christianity more popular, less demanding, less distinct, less narrow, less offensive, less different, less exclusive so they’d get more people in on it, so they could get more money, which is always what false teachers want

And so here is the Corinthian church, new and fresh and being assaulted by pagan religion around it You couldn’t separate the social life from the religion You couldn’t separate the historical life of that village in terms of its patterns from the religion.  And that village that became a city bore all of the signs of the religion that moved in its growth.  It was a full-blown pagan system down to the very core And it was hard to sort it out

To be involved at all in the life of the culture was to be involved in the paganism, unless you made a very clean break The Corinthians didn’t do it And as I said, then add to that the confusion of the false teachers

It’s very much like modern Christianity today, by the way, that seeks to blend Christianity with popular culture, wants to make Christianity more popular, less different, more palatable, less offensive, less narrow, less exclusive.  And the result of it is that true Christianity and the purity of God’s Word gets corrupted by compromise, and the church can become useless and shameful and blasphemous in mocking the truth

With that in mind, Paul instructs the Corinthians to have nothing to do with unbelievers, asking what partnership righteousness has with lawlessness or light with darkness (verse 14).

The answer is none; the two are mutually exclusive, as MacArthur says:

The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive. 

They cannot work together in common partnership; they cannot fellowship together They are not in harmony with one another One is old; the other is new.  One is earthly; the other is heavenly.  One is deadly; the other is life giving.  One is wicked; the other holyOne is built on lies; the other is all truthOne perishes and the other lives eternally.

Paul then is making it clear that believers can’t live in both worlds Certainly, John said this in his first epistle, 1 John, when he clearly identified this disparity between the two worlds with these familiar words, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Mutually exclusive worldsYou can’t be in both at the same time.

MacArthur explains that lawlessness in the Bible is used to describe unbelievers:

Question number one, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?”  Partnership is metoch It’s the only place it’s used in the New Testament, it’s really a synonym for the word Koinonia, which means partnership It means a common sharing together, the common engagement in a common effort And obviously righteousness and lawlessness can’t join hands in the same enterprise Righteousness is that which pleases and honors God Lawlessness is that which displeases and dishonors God Righteousness is doing what is right.  Lawlessness is doing what is wrong. 

Believers are classified in the Bible as righteous The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us ... God has covered us with the righteousness of Christ which includes the forgiveness of sins.  On the other hand, unbelievers are lawless, unrighteous.  Their sins are not forgiven.  There is no possible partnership for those two very opposite categories.

What about unbelievers?  In what way are they lawless?  Well it simply means they do not abide by God’s law They violate it, they rebel against it, and they disobey it And the Bible characterizes unbelievers as lawless They will be damned to eternal punishment because they are lawless, because they are unrighteous, because they violate God’s law and there is no possible cure for that violation because they do not come to the Savior who alone provides forgiveness.  So they die, as Jesus said, in their sins and are punished eternally

Jesus classifies them that way For example, in Matthew 7:23 He says to those who claim to know Him, “I never knew you, depart from Me – ” and here’s His characterization of those to be judged – “you who practice lawlessness.”  The pattern of their life is an ongoing, constant, uninterrupted, violation of God’s law, God’s command, God’s will and God’s Word. 

Therefore, Paul’s primary purpose of that verse is to make it clear that the unrighteous should not be involved with leadership positions in church.

MacArthur has more. He gave this sermon in 1995:

What we’re talking about here is any linking together with an unbeliever in any religious or spiritual enterprise That’s what we’re talking about.  We’re not talking about mutual funds; you can rest easy.  We’re not talking about you should quit your job cause you work with non-believers We’re not talking about Christians pulling out of the school because he doesn’t have a Christian teacher We’re not talking about leaving your neighborhood We’re not talking about any of that.  We’re talking about a spiritual enterprise, worship, ministry, evangelism.

Religious cooperation between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light is ridiculous Why would we want to give Satan access?  You say, “Is this…is this a problem?”  Is this a problem?  This is Satan’s number one ploy.  I remember when I was a student in college I was first confronted with the fact that huge massive evangelistic endeavors were being held in America And the committees were made up of Christians and non-Christians, people who believed the Bible and people who denied the Bible and were theological liberals And I wasn’t particularly profound, believe me, at that age .. But it was in those years and I was asking, “How can they do that?  I don’t understand how you can bring unbelievers and believers together in a common spiritual enterprise.”  It doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, why would you invite Satan in?

We still have that today Satan still endeavors to encroach.  Recently we had the Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles And right around the time of the Promise Keepers, I picked up the Los Angeles Times and found that the Cardinal…the Catholic Cardinal had affirmed everything about the Promise Keepers and encouraged all the parish priests to take all their men That was followed in an article, I think a day later, by the local Mormon bishop who said that he was encouraging all the Mormons to go What does that say about Promise Keepers?  Nothing.  What it says about Satan is everything That’s always been his approach He doesn’t want to fight it; he wants to what?  He wants to join it

If we are married to unbelievers, we should not divorce them, because God hates divorce.

However, Christians looking for a spouse should be careful, nonetheless.

MacArthur relates this true story:

I’ll never forget a young man with whom I had a close association in seminary, one of the most tragic things.  We were dear friends We participated in all kinds of activities together.  He was headed to the ministry, as I was.  We graduated from Talbot Seminary the same year.  He married a Buddhist It wasn’t long until there was a Buddhist altar in his house It wasn’t long until he had abandoned the faith One wife.  You know, whenever I see men who are notably in the mainstream of the church and evangelicalism, and all of a sudden they seem to fall off into some serious deviation or error, I always want to ask, “What is the wife like?”  Certainly in many, many cases, if not most, that’s where Satan’s subtleties enter in.

Paul goes on to ask what accord Christ has with Belial, or Satan, and what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever (verse 15).

The answer, again, is absolutely none.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states another important consideration about a forming a close relationship with an unbeliever:

Believers are made light in the Lord, but unbelievers are in darkness; and what comfortable communion can these have together? Christ and Belial are contrary one to the other; they have opposite interests and designs, so that it is impossible there should be any concord or agreement between them. It is absurd, therefore, to think of enlisting under both; and, if the believer has part with an infidel, he does what in him lies to bring Christ and Belial together.

What a terrifying way to lay out the truth of the matter.

The next three verses — 16 through 18 — are a summary of four verses from the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

“Just as God said I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”  And by the way, that mosaic of Old Testament texts is the blending together of statements made in Leviticus 26:11 and 12, Jeremiah 24:7 and Ezekiel 37 and 27 He is just taking what is the Old Testament teaching and sort of pulling it together in a mosaic and summarizing it, and saying God says He will dwell in His people and walk among them and be their God and they’ll belong to Him.  We are the temple of the living God. 

Paul asks what agreement the temple of God has with idols, stating that we are the temple of the living God, as He said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

I love the fact that He is called the living God as over against the dead idols That’s a common expression with Paul in contrast to dead idols.  He uses it in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians and 1 Timothy.  Any joining to unbelievers is putting idols in the temple of God, or putting the temple of God in an idol temple It is blatantly, overtly, intolerably sacrilegious And he confirms it with that little phrase, “Just as God said.”  And if you do that, you are openly, flagrantly assaulting what God has said. 

Paul continues his scriptural summary, saying that the Lord says to be separate from unbelievers and touch no unclean thing (verse 17), a reference to idols. Then He will welcome us.

Henry has another stern warning:

There is a great deal of danger in communicating with unbelievers and idolators, danger of being defiled and of being rejected; therefore the exhortation is (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 6:17) to come out from among them, and keep at a due distance, to be separate, as one would avoid the society of those who have the leprosy or the plague, for fear of taking infection, and not to touch the unclean thing, lest we be defiled. Who can touch pitch, and not be defiled by it? We must take care not to defile ourselves by converse with those who defile themselves with sin; so is the will of God, as we ever hope to be received, and not rejected, by him.

Paul concludes, saying that, if we do these things, the Lord Almighty will be our Father and we will be His sons and daughters (verse 18).

Henry asks:

is there a greater honour or happiness than this? How ungrateful a thing then must it be if those who have this dignity and felicity should degrade and debase themselves by mingling with unbelievers! Do we thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise?

Here’s a question that many will probably want an answer to: can we take unbelievers to church?

MacArthur says that we definitely can do so:

You say, “Do you mean unbelievers shouldn’t come to church?”  No, I don’t mean that.  I pray God that they will, and when they do that they’ll be saved What I mean is church isn’t to be designed to make pagans feel comfortable That is not its purpose.  They should be starkly held to accountability for their sins when they enter into the place of worship And they should feel uncomfortable and disconcerted.

So, what can we do about unbelievers we know and love?

Pray, pray and pray again that God draws them to Himself through Jesus Christ. I have been praying for months for someone I know to come to the faith. I will continue to do so. It is a long-term project of mine.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

Bible oldThe 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.

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

—————————————————————————————–

Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s comparison of Christ to a triumphal leader of a victory procession, where a fragrance of life or death, depending on whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, is present.

In today’s verses, Paul compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. He did this because Judaizers were infiltrating the Corinthian congregation, insisting that Mosaic Law be followed as well as Christian teachings. An example of this theological error would be to stipulate that Gentile males be circumcised, otherwise they could not be true Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

There were those in Corinth doing that.  Coming along and demanding that the people who were already redeemed in Christ, in order to validate their redemption and to assure their redemption, needed to keep the ceremonial Law of Moses.  These gentiles needed to be circumcised They needed to make sure they followed through on washings and ceremonies and sacrifices and et cetera They were demanding a return to old-covenant symbols which were now obsolete since the reality had come Going back and exalting the symbols is pointless.  It not only rejects the reality of the gospel but perverts the purpose and meaning of the symbol.  It never w[as] intended to minister grace.  It never w[as] intended to minister spiritual life, but only to be pictures of that which could and would do that.

So in dealing with this in Corinth, Paul writes in this section a concern that people understand the difference between the new covenant and the oldOr better stated, that people will understand the transition from the old covenant to the new It isn’t that the old covenant and new covenant are opposites.  It isn’t that they are opposed to each other.  It is that one gives way to the nextThe old covenant, in and of itself, was not complete It could not save It could not grant righteousness It had to pass away and be replaced by the newThe old covenant, however, did serve a purpose, a very good purpose.  And that purpose was fulfilled historically, and when the time came for that purpose to fade, it faded, and the new covenant came in its place

Paul discusses Moses’s receiving the law from God, which made his face blindingly brilliant, like the sun, even though that brilliance faded (verse 7).

When Moses was alone on the mountain, he had asked to see God’s glory. God granted his request, hence Moses’s brilliance in front of the Israelites when he returned to them. Because they could not look at him without being blinded, he put a veil over his face. Even then, his brilliance began to fade. By the time he removed the veil, he was back to normal.

MacArthur explains:

in verse 7, the Law came with glory The glory of God was on the face of Moses when he delivered the Law.  What he’s saying is, the Law is glorious; it is reflective of God.  You see, the Apostle Paul had been accused by the Judaizers and the circumcision party of being against the Law, speaking against the Law, denigrating the Law, depreciating the Law, ignoring the Law, discounting the Law, or lowering the Law.  He never did that He realized that the Law, the old covenant, came in glory.  It came with glory …

End of verse 7, he says, “–the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,” and then he throws this in, “fading as it was.”  The point is, the glory that was on Moses’ face was temporary After that encounter and that experience, it was gone; it faded.  In fact, it faded even as he was there, talking to the people.  And when he put the veil over his face, it would fade.

It was a “fading” glory

Paul calls the law of God ‘the ministry of death’ because no Jew was capable of obeying over 600 laws regulating every part of his or her life.

The law was there to convict God’s people of their sins. They were meant to take the law to heart and repent, which few did.

God had always intended for Jesus to redeem Jew and Gentile alike through His Son.

MacArthur tells us how redemption worked under the Old Covenant:

The old covenant could provide a basis of damnation, but not of salvation; a basis of condemnation, but not of justification; a basis of culpability, but not puritySomething had to be added.

You say, “Well, did the Jews know it was coming?  Were they ever told?”

Sure.  Jeremiah made it as clear – as crystal clear as it could be made Jeremiah 31:31, he says this, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke,” not like that one, “this is the covenant I’ll make with the house of Israel after those days.  I’ll put my Law within them and on their heart I’ll write it, and I’ll be their God, and they’ll be my people, and I’ll forgive their iniquity, and their sin I’ll remember no more.”  They should have known that the old covenant wasn’t the last

The ministry of Old Testament prophets – and we don’t have time to get into this the ministry of Old Testament prophets was to call the people to repent Over and over and over again, right on down to John the Baptist Repent, repent, repent, repent, repent.  That was the whole point You’re brought against the Law.  The Law reveals your sinYou’re called to repent.

See, what happened was, most of the Jews knew they couldn’t keep the moral Law, so they figured out a way to get saved “Oh, we can’t keep the moral Law, but what we do, what we will keep, we’ll keep the ceremonial Law, and the ceremonial Law will save us.”  So, they imposed the ceremonial Law on top of the moral Law as the savior, and that’s what it means that they worshiped according to the letter of the Law And that was damning.

But let’s take a true Jew who really believed What would he do?  He’d come to God repentant, pleading for grace and pleading for mercy He saw the ceremonial Law as symbolic of God’s provision for him somewhere down the future He knew God would provide.  He knew God would be gracious, and God would be merciful, because that’s the kind of God he was.  And he cast himself on God’s mercy and God’s grace, and he would be redeemed, based upon what Christ would do in his behalf.

But for most Jews, the vast majority apart from that true remnant, they disobeyed the Law, offered no genuine repentance, exercised no saving faith in God, depended not on God’s grace but on their own works, keeping the external ceremonial religion, and that was really a killer And along came the prophets and constantly called them to repentance, and called them to repentance, and called them to repentance.  That’s always the message It boggles my mind how that people can say today that we don’t have to preach repentance It’s always been the message.

Paul asks that if the Old Covenant — the law of God — came in glory, how much greater then is the ministry of the Spirit, the New Covenant (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

The term “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the new covenant He calls the new covenant the “ministry of the Spirit.”  The Law, written on stone, was a killer, but written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, is a life-giver and produces righteousness The Law, written on stone, condemns.  The Law, written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, saves.

Therefore, if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation — the Old Covenant — the ministry of righteousness of the New Covenant must far exceed it in glory (verse 9).

MacArthur tells us why that is true:

What does the new covenant bring?  Righteousness.  The new covenant changes God’s view of the sinner It changes his attitude.  He sees him clothed in the righteousness of Christ “Garmented with a robe of righteousness,” Isaiah calls it, covered with the righteousness of Christ, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, put to his account.

Paul goes further by saying that the glorious Old Covenant no longer has glory because the glory of the New Covenant has surpassed — eclipsed — it (verse 10).

Matthew Henry elaborates:

The law was the ministration of condemnation, for that condemned and cursed every one who continued not in all things written therein to do them; but the gospel is the ministration of righteousness: therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed. This shows us that the just shall live by his faith. This reveals the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the remission of sins and eternal life. The gospel therefore so much exceeds in glory that in a manner it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation, 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:10. As the shining of a burning lamp is lost, or not regarded, when the sun arises and goes forth in his strength; so there was no glory in the Old Testament, in comparison with that of the New.

In verse 11, Paul says that the New Covenant is permanent in all its glory. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has reconciled us to God.

Henry says:

Not only did the glory of Moses’s face go away, but the glory of Moses’s law is done away also; yea, the law of Moses itself is now abolished. That dispensation was only to continue for a time, and then to vanish away; whereas the gospel shall remain to the end of the world, and is always fresh and flourishing and remains glorious.

As for those who do not know God, an Anglican priest, the Revd Peter Mullen, wrote an inspired article for Conservative Woman, ‘God leaves His calling cards’, which concludes with this encouraging, simple instruction and prayer:

You seek God’s comfort and the certainty of this presence? Just ask him for it.

O God, take away all my faithlessness and fear, and give me imagination that I may know certainly that thou art ever near. Make me bold to look for thee, that I might ever find thee.

What a marvellous message on which to end.

May everyone reading this have a blessed week ahead.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

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.

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Triumph in Christ

12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

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In last week’s verses, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to forgive and allow a man whom they had excluded from fellowship to rejoin their congregation because he had gone through enough and repented.

In this week’s reading, we have Paul’s account of moving from despair to hope.

Paul had an intense love for the Corinthians, even though they were mired in sin.

He wrote them three letters, two of which are in the New Testament, and one which is not. John MacArthur calls the one excluded from the canon the ‘severe’ letter.

Yet, just as Paul despaired over their spiritual state, he knew that God had greater things in store for him.

Today’s passage addresses the same emotions of despair and hope.

Paul tells the Corinthians that he was awaiting the arrival of Titus in Troas and when he did not arrive as expected, Paul stopped preaching to the people of that city and went instead to Macedonia (verses 12, 13).

Titus was supposed to give him an update on the state of the congregation in Corinth, which troubled Paul greatly. While waiting, Paul preached to the people of Troas but was too dejected to continue. He really wanted to hear from Titus about the Corinthians.

MacArthur describes what was going on in Paul’s mind and heart at that time (emphases mine):

What a church, certainly a church to bring grief to a pastor’s heart.

It is that very grief that we feel in the text before us. Would he ever be welcome at Corinth again? Could he ever go back? He already planned a trip and then changed his mind in chapter 2 because he really didn’t want to have another sad visit. He wasn’t up to it. He couldn’t take any more pain. The last brief visit that he had there was very short and very painful.

On top of all of this, as we find the apostle Paul, he has been in Ephesus; and in Ephesus things weren’t going very well either. Some think he may have had a serious, even potentially, fatal illness, because he said, “We carry about in our body the dying of Jesus Christ.” Others think it was just the relentless persecution. It all culminated when a riot started that could have taken his life in Ephesus, so things weren’t going well where he was, and they were certainly going terribly where his heart was.

It’s not then hard to understand that there is some pathos  in this letter, there’s some grief in this letter. There’s some ache in his heart as he writes.

Paul’s visit to Troas here was not the same one in Acts 16, where he first met Luke. This was a second trip. MacArthur tells us more:

Now Paul had been to Troas before. Acts 16 records his first visit there in verses 8 to 11, and apparently on that occasion he did not found a church. It is also true that in Acts 20, and verses 6 to 12, we read that there is a church in Troas. There was not church there the first time he went. There was a church there in Acts 20. We assume then that the church was planted on this visit. It says – go back to verse 12: “I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ,” to evangelize the city which was the way you started a church. He had come with a purpose of evangelization, not just to meet Titus.

Now he may have come early because of the pressure from Ephesus. Titus may have missed his boat. And so while he is there waiting for Titus, he purposely evangelizes. And then he adds in verse 12, notice the last phrase, “and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,” – stop at that point for a moment before we finish that sentence.

He had commented about an opened door in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9. He loved opened doors. He said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9, “I have to stay at Ephesus because there is an open door. And even though there are many adversaries, I have to stay because the door is open.”

Well, it’s the same thing; here’s an open door in Troas. It wasn’t opened by human ingenuity – would you notice verse 12? – “It was opened for me in the Lord, by the Lord, in the power and strength of the Lord.” The Lord had given him a tremendous opportunity there.

Now in order to know that, he must have already preached. He must have preached with great blessing and success. And many people must have come to hear; and some believed, and more interested. How else would he know the door was open unless he had tested it? So we can assume when he arrived, he started to preach, and people believed.

Despite his success in Troas, his heart was still with the Corinthians. Note verse 13:

my spirit was not at rest

MacArthur says:

he really was preaching with a broken heart. He was a very distracted preacher. He was having a ministry in a place he didn’t want to be. His heart was so overwrought and burdened by the Corinthian situation that he had a very difficult time pouring himself into a ministry that was wide open to him. It was the discontent of his own heart that cut him off from that opportunity.

MacArthur continues:

All the churning of all of that in his own heart created the anxiety that debilitated him. He didn’t know the answer to the aching questions, and he had no freedom to minister. So he said, “I have no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus, my brother.” Without some kind of word from Titus, he was really useless, he was so troubled. And I’m sure he imagined the worst. So here we find this marvelous man in the pits.

So Paul left Troas for Macedonia.

Imagine the disappointment of the people of Troas:

he turned away from the open door, verse 13. Isn’t it amazing? “But taking my leave of them,” – them? Who is them? The church that he had planted there, the baby infant church, the believers and those who were eager yet to hear. “I turned my back on them, and went on to Macedonia.”

This was so unlike Paul, the epitome of apostolic resilience.

Paul normally prayed for — and received — divine guidance. However, in this instance, he says nothing of that. MacArthur asks:

You notice the absence of any prompting of the Holy Spirit here?

There is another question to be asked, which is, how did he know where Titus would be?

MacArthur explains:

You see, he knew the route that Titus would take. It was a five-day boat trip across the northeast corner of the Aegean Sea. He could leave Troas and be where he needed to be, and then get on the trail. And in ancient times when people traveled they made sure that everyone knew their travel plans, and they could be tracked, and they sent word ahead and left word behind about their movements. Paul set out then on a gloomy journey trying to intersect Titus; he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to know. He had to know.

Then Paul changes the tone.

The next three verses are some of the most marvellous in the New Testament. Note the change in language and the hope. Why did Paul use such poetic words?

The answer is in the title of this passage: ‘Triumph in Christ’, specifically ‘triumph’, which was an elaborate Roman procession to celebrate a general who had won a major victory.

A triumph involved fragrance from flowers and incense. The procession ended when those in it arrived at the emperor’s throne.

MacArthur gives us a splendid description:

The Romans had what was called a “Triumph;” that’s what they called it. A Triumph was when the Roman government and all of its people honored a great general.

The honor could be bestowed on a victorious Roman general only under certain conditions. Before he could win it, he must have been the actual commander-in-chief of all the troops in the field. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region completely pacified, and the victorious troops brought home. At least 5,000 of the enemy must have fallen in one engagement. A positive extension of the territory of the kingdom must have been gained and not just a disaster retrieved or some attack repelled. A victory must have been won over a foreign foe and it could not be in a civil war. And now and then, maybe once in a life time, a general might have that kind of Triumph given to him as his honor. In the actual Triumph, there would be a procession through the streets of Rome to the capital where an offering would be made to the gods.

First there would come the state officials, and there would come the senate in this great Triumph. Then there would come the trumpeters. Then there would come those carrying the spoils from the conquering, all the wealth and the treasures. Then there would come the white bull which was to be offered in a blood sacrifice to Jupiter. Then there would come the captives, the prisoners in chains who would be headed to prison and to death.

Then there would come the priests. The priests would be swinging censers full of incense that was smoldering and smoking, and the fragrance of the incense would fill the air all along the way. And in addition, women would line the street and throw garlands of flowers to be crushed under the hooves of the men on the horses, and thus the fragrance would mount. In the homes of the people, they might light incense lamps, so that the fragrance would fill the entire city.

Then there would come the general himself, and he would be riding a chariot pulled by four horses; and he would have a purple toga marked out with golden stars, and over it he would have another purple robe; it would be embroidered with golden palm leaves. In his hand he would have an ivory scepter crowned with an eagle. And all the people would shout, “Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph” …

The great emperor seated on the high throne at the capital at the end of the parade would smell the wafting fragrance. It was not only sweet to the victorious troops who had been the means by which the smell of victory had come to pass, but it was very sweet to the emperor himself.

Paul uses the triumph as a metaphor for evangelising for Christ, our leader in the procession. Paul gives thanks to God for Christ, who, through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Himself everywhere (verse 14).

MacArthur captures the eternal hope of that verse:

Don’t look at the circumstances. Don’t look at the difficulties. If you want to turn your discouragement into joy, look at your privileges. And you have the privilege of being led by the sovereign God who is involved in every detail of your life and ministry. Just the contemplation of the privilege of being led by the greatest Commander-in-Chief and being associated with the Lord Jesus Christ and being in the ranks of others who have served Him through the years also under His sovereign leadership should be enough to bring back the joy.

And then Paul gave thanks for a second thing: gave thanks for the privilege of promised victory in Christ. Not only the privilege of being associated with Jesus Christ under the sovereign leadership of God, but the privilege of promised victory with Jesus Christ. Look at it, verse 14: “God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ.” He’s not only always leading us, but He’s always leading us triumphantly. We’re always marching in the great parade. We can never lose. We follow the conquering Hero in the victory parade through life, not as captives, not as prisoners headed to judgment, but as co-conquerors in the great triumph over sin and death and hell.

It’s just wonderful to be a part of the triumphant parade, even if I just shot one guy over the corner and he was only barely wounded. It’s just wonderful to be associated with the victory, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is a conqueror, and in Him we are more than conquerors. And He came into the world, and He conquered sin and death and hell, and triumphantly He will march the redeemed troops into eternal glory, and you and I will be behind Him in His train as those who were with Him in the battle. And the issue is not how many we got, the issue is the triumph; and we’re swept up in the victory parade, we’re swept up in the glory moment.

Paul says that we are the aroma from Christ to God in equal measure to those who are alive in Him and to those who are condemned (verse 15).

For some, it is a fragrance of eternal death, and, for others, it is fragrance that gives eternal life; but who among us is able to convey the message alone (verse 16)?

Matthew Henry explains the effects of the Gospel on those who hear it:

The different success of the gospel, and its different effects upon several sorts of persons to whom it is preached. The success is different; for some are saved by it, while others perish under it. Nor is this to be wondered at, considering the different effects the gospel has. For, (1.) Unto some it is a savour of death unto death. Those who are willingly ignorant, and wilfully obstinate, disrelish the gospel, as men dislike an ill savour, and therefore they are blinded and hardened by it: it stirs up their corruptions, and exasperates their spirits. They reject the gospel, to their ruin, even to spiritual and eternal death. (2.) Unto others the gospel is a savour of life unto life. To humble and gracious souls the preaching of the word is most delightful and profitable. As it is sweeter than honey to the taste, so it is more grateful than the most precious odours to the senses, and much more profitable; for as it quickened them at first, when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life.

Henry also explores the sufficiency of the preacher of the Gospel. No one can do it alone. We require God’s help and grace to work through us:

Tis hikanos–who is worthy to be employed in such weighty work, a work of such vast importance, because of so great consequence? Who is able to perform such a difficult work, that requires so much skill and industry? The work is great and our strength is small; yea, of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. Note, If men did seriously consider what great things depend upon the preaching of the gospel, and how difficult the work of the ministry is, they would be very cautious how they enter upon it, and very careful to perform it well.

Paul returns to the false teachers in the Corinthian church, calling them ‘peddlers’ of the market stall type: hawkers. He contrasts such men with himself and Titus, who preach with earnestness and sincerity, commissioned by God, always aware that they speak of Christ under the watchful eye of the Father (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though many did corrupt the word of God, yet the apostle’s conscience witnessed to his fidelity. He did not mix his own notions with the doctrines and institutions of Christ; he durst not add to, nor diminish from, the word of God; he was faithful in dispensing the gospel, as he received it from the Lord, and had no secular turn to serve; his aim was to approve himself to God, remembering that his eye was always upon him; he therefore spoke and acted always as in the sight of God, and therefore in sincerity. Note, What we do in religion is not of God, does not come from God, will not reach to God, unless it be done in sincerity, as in the sight of God.

What a wonderful passage, taking us from sharing Paul’s despair to his triumph in Christ.

Thus ends 2 Corinthians 2.

Much of 2 Corinthians 3 is in the Lectionary, but a short passage discusses ministry further. It has the same theme of eternal glory in Christ Jesus.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Bible evangewomanblogspotcomThe 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.

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Forgive the Sinner

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further reasons for not returning to Corinth yet; he wanted a joyful reunion, one where he did not have to censure them again.

Today’s verses are about a man whom the Corinthians excluded from their congregation for serious sin.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

However, John MacArthur disagrees (emphases mine below):

Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Some would say this is the same man. I think not. I think this is a completely different issue here. But there was a man who was engaged in sexual sin. He was engaged in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife which perhaps is the way to indicate it’s his stepmother. It was an incestuous relationship. The church was not dealing with it. The church was arrogant, was not mourning over this. And so he tells them they’ve got to deal with it, they’ve got to bring it to the church.

MacArthur thinks that this man made false accusations about Paul:

The apostle Paul, you remember, had been falsely assaulted. His character, his virtue, his spiritual office and calling, his teaching, all of it had been assaulted by some false apostles who came to Corinth. They found willing ears among the Corinthians and they were able to raise a mutiny and a rebellion against Paul. In fact, when Paul made a visit to Corinth, most likely one member of the Corinthian church who is the object of this particular text, confronted him to the face and publicly and openly and shamelessly assaulted him, publicly discrediting this beloved apostle, this authority, this one who spoke for Christ.

Well, the man had to be dealt with because the – the authority of Paul was so crucial in the early church. You can understand why, because there was not yet the canon of the New Testament. And if people lost confidence in the apostles who spoke the Word of God by revelation, there would be no source for truth. The integrity, the credibility of Paul was crucial. It would be tantamount to the integrity and credibility of Scripture today. Undermining Paul’s life and ministry, undermining what he taught, in effect, would be to totally distort divine truth. And so when someone in the congregation stood up and attacked the integrity of Paul, it was no small issue. Not like today when someone could attack the integrity of an individual, like myself or some other minister, but still have to deal with Scripture.

In any event, Paul wants the congregation to forgive a man they excluded and accept him back into the fold.

Paul says that the man caused him no pain, although he did afflict the congregation (verse 5).

Paul says that the man’s exclusion has gone on long enough (verse 6).

Henry says that the man no doubt repented:

The desired effect was obtained, for the man was humbled, and they had shown the proof of their obedience to his [Paul’s] directions.

As such, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort him, lest he be overwhelmed by deep sorrow (verse 7). In fact, he begs them to reaffirm their love for the man (verse 8).

If he were to be left alone to grieve endlessly over his sin without any succour or fellowship, he might lose his faith.

Henry explains:

He beseeches them to forgive him, that is, to release him from church-censures, for they could not remit the guilt or offence against God; and also to comfort him, for in many cases the comfort of penitents depends upon their reconciliation not only with God, but with men also, whom they have scandalized or injured. They must also confirm their love to him; that is, they should show that their reproofs and censures proceeded from love to his person, as well as hatred to his sin, and that their design was to reform, not to ruin him. Or thus: If his fall had weakened their love to him, that they could not take such satisfaction in him as formerly; yet, now that he was recovered by repentance, they must renew and confirm their love to him.

MacArthur says:

The law of Christ is the law of love, the law of love says you go to the brother who’s in the trespass and when he comes to repentance, you restore him in a spirit of gentleness, realizing you too could be in the same situation. You’re not harsh, you’re not unloving, you don’t browbeat him, you don’t put him under seven years of penance, or a lifetime of penance, you don’t make him do something to himself to flagellate himself to somehow expiate his sin, you accept his repentance. That’s enough, it’s the end of the issue.

He looks at the word ‘reaffirm’ in verse 8, indicating that the church in Corinth should publicly announce that the man be restored to the congregation:

“Reaffirm” is a very interesting word. The language that Paul chooses is very important. It is the word kyrōsai. It’s basically a technical term. It is a term to legally ratify something. It means to make formal conclusion, a matter of certainty. And it would probably involve, in this case, a public announcement. In other words, we – we saw from verse 6 that there was a public punishment inflicted by the majority. That is it reached the many, it reached the church. And the church did formal discipline. Now he is asking for the same kind of formality in concluding the matter by a formal reaffirmation of love. Frankly, unforgiveness is simply a lack of love, isn’t it?

Paul tells the Corinthians that he wants to test their obedience in everything (verse 9), meaning that they obeyed him in censuring the man, now they must forgive him.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant:

I wanted to test you to find out whether you’re obedient in the difficult things. It’s difficult work to do it and it’s difficult unless your heart is right before God to forgive someone who has seriously offended you, isn’t it? That’s a spiritual ability. That’s not natural. That’s not endemic to the fallen human race to forgive.

Paul goes on to say that if the Corinthians forgive the man, then he will, too, and he does so for their sake, in the presence of Christ (verse 10).

Henry explains:

this he would do for their sakes, for love to them and for their advantage; and for Christ’s sake, or in his name, as his apostle, and in conformity to his doctrine and example, which are so full of kindness and tender mercy towards all those who truly repent.

Paul ends by saying that a lack of forgiveness is the Devil’s work; Paul and the Corinthians know about Satan’s designs (verse 11).

In other words, driving a repentant person to despair harms not only that person but the people doing it, allowing weakened faith for the man and a bad look for the Church, one of severity that could frighten potential converts.

Henry expands on that verse:

Not only was there danger lest Satan should get an advantage against the penitent, by driving him to despair; but against the churches also, and the apostles or ministers of Christ, by representing them as too rigid and severe, and so frightening people from coming among them. In this, as in other things, wisdom is profitable to direct, so to manage according as the case may be that the ministry may not be blamed, for indulging sin on the one hand, or for too great severity towards sinners on the other hand. Note, Satan is a subtle enemy, and uses many stratagems to deceive us; and we should not be ignorant of his devices: he is also a watchful adversary, ready to take all advantages against us, and we should be very cautious lest we give him any occasion so to do.

MacArthur says that forgiveness is at the heart of mercy:

you can work with the sinner, you can discipline the sin, but if you don’t ever come to the point of forgiveness, that too will tear the church to shreds. Forgiveness is what brings back the joy, the love, the mercy, the humility. What a treasure. That’s how a church should be known, should be known for its forgiveness. “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples if you have love one for another.”

MacArthur says that he waited for decades to preach about 2 Corinthians because of its complexity:

when I first started I was asked why have you waited so long to teach 2 Corinthians. And I don’t know what the answer is. At that particular point, in my mind I wasn’t sure.

But the longer I teach this the more I think the answer might be that God never wanted me to teach it until now because you almost need twenty-five or thirty years of experience in the ministry to feel this book. There’s so much depth here that is revealed from the heart of the apostle Paul as he unfolds his attitude toward life and ministry.

It’s not a book for the shallow minded. It’s not a book for the novice. It’s a book, really, to be fully grasped only by someone who has spent a number of years in ministry so that he can identify more closely with what it is that’s really going on in the heart of this great apostle. This book runs very deep and I find it probing extremely deeply into my own heart. And I thank God for every moment I’ve been able to spend, and there’s so much more yet to go as we move through all thirteen chapters.

Next week’s verses are positively poetic. I am really looking forward to writing about them.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Bible spine dwtx.orgThe 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.

2 Corinthians 2:1-4

For I made up my mind not to make another painful visit to you. For if I cause you pain, who is there to make me glad but the one whom I have pained? And I wrote as I did, so that when I came I might not suffer pain from those who should have made me rejoice, for I felt sure of all of you, that my joy would be the joy of you all. For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.

——————————————————————————–

In last week’s verses, Paul explained his reasons for delaying his return visit to Corinth.

Today’s verses are a prelude to next week’s, which concern a member of the Corinthian congregation who has been excluded for serious sin. Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

Paul says that he did not want to make another painful trip to Corinth (verse 1).

John MacArthur interprets this for us (emphases mine):

I just didn’t want another sad meeting. I – I just didn’t want that. I wasn’t going to come and go through all that pain all over again. I didn’t want you to have to do it, I didn’t want it. What I want is joy. What I want is rejoicing. I don’t like confrontation and pain. I don’t want to have sorrow anymore. I’m tired of having to confront. I’m tired of these letters I write. I’m tired of these meetings. I’m not an autocrat. I’m a helper. And I don’t want sorrow anymore so I didn’t come. That’s fair enough, isn’t it?

Paul says that if he causes the Corinthians pain, who else is there to make him happy except those same people he has pained (verse 2).

Henry says:

If he had made them sorry, that would have been a sorrow to himself, for there would have been none to have made him glad. But his desire was to have a cheerful meeting with them, and not to have it embittered by any unhappy occasion of disagreeing.

MacArthur says that what would make Paul happy is repentance, therefore, he would prefer to visit as and when that takes place:

… if I have to come and cause you sorrow, who makes me glad but the one whom I made sorrowful. If I come and make you sorrowful, the only thing that’s going to change that, the only thing that’s going to make me glad is repentance. That’s what he’s saying. If I cause sorrow by confronting sin, the only thing that will make me glad is repentance. So I might as well wait till repentance takes place.

Paul reinforces the idea of repentance by saying that he did not want to visit at a time when he should be pained by their behaviour, particularly of the excluded person, when he was looking forward to a happy reunion and taking joy in them all (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets that verse as follows:

the whole point in writing to you was so that when I come we’d have rejoicing. Deal with your sin. Purity was still an issue. He wasn’t so sensitive and so kind that he overlooked iniquity. Not at all …

I – I just want to wait and trust you that you’re going to get to the place where we’re just going to have joy.

Paul ends by saying that he was afflicted and anguished to the point of tears out of abundant love for them when he wrote his first letter — 1 Corinthians (verse 4).

Henry explains:

(1.) That he might not have sorrow from those of whom he ought to rejoice; and that he had written to them in confidence of their doing what was requisite, in order to their benefit and his comfort. The particular thing referred to, as appears by the 2 Corinthians 2:5-11, was the case of the incestuous person about whom he had written in the first epistle, 1 Corinthians 5:1-13; 1 Corinthians 5:1-13. Nor was the apostle disappointed in his expectation. (2.) He assures them that he did not design to grieve them, but to testify his love to them, and that he wrote to them with much anguish and affliction in his own heart, and with great affection to them. He had written with tears, that they might know his abundant love to them. Note, [1.] Even in reproofs, admonitions, and acts of discipline, faithful ministers show their love. [2.] Needful censures, and the exercise of church-discipline towards offenders, are a grief to tender-spirited ministers, and are administered with regret.

Recall that, in last week’s reading, Paul was also aggrieved by slanderous accusations from false teachers in the Corinthian church. Yet, he was an Apostle in every sense of the word.

MacArthur reminds us of other betrayals that Paul endured:

We – we understand what he meant when he said, “Be ye followers of me as I am of Christ.” What character. And so maligned and so falsely accused, so misrepresented, relentlessly attacked, and such a man of character.

And our hearts just grieve when we hear him say at the end of his life, “All who are in Asia have forsaken me.” When we hear him say, “At my first defense, no one stood by me.” When we hear him say, “I have no one like-minded whom I can send to you except for Timothy, for everybody’s concerned with his own things.” The greatest of servants and yet one who suffered most.

Yet, MacArthur says that this is the unfortunate aspect of ministry:

And ministry can be like that. It’s so hard to understand. His heart must have been broken as he tried to deal with the integrity of his own life and the accusations on the outside. Just did what the Savior did and committed himself to the faithful keeping of His Creator and God who knew his heart.

Next week, he discusses what should happen to the excluded member of the Corinthian congregation.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:5-11

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.

2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23-24

15 Because I was sure of this, I wanted to come to you first, so that you might have a second experience of grace. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia, and to come back to you from Macedonia and have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I vacillating when I wanted to do this? Do I make my plans according to the flesh, ready to say “Yes, yes” and “No, no” at the same time?

23 But I call God to witness against me—it was to spare you that I refrained from coming again to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, for you stand firm in your faith.

——————————————————————————————

In last week’s verses, Paul defended himself against false accusations by saying that he and Timothy had acted in holiness and with godly sincerity.

In today’s verses, he explains his travel plans, as he wanted to return to Corinth.

However, the false teachers at the church in Corinth told the congregation that Paul was vacillating in his decision to visit them.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

He was being attacked on the issue of his integrity. That is to say that you couldn’t trust him, he wasn’t truthful. That was the attack. And, of course, that – that is a very, very important thing if you’re going to discredit him. If you can get people to believe he lies, doesn’t tell the truth and isn’t trustworthy, has no integrity, then you can discredit him entirely.

Recapping last week’s verses, MacArthur says:

in verses 12 to 14 he had already given a general defense of his life on the basis of a clear conscience. He said his proud confidence was the fact that his conscience affirmed that he was living in holiness and godly sincerity. So he went to the highest human court which is conscience. Conscience from the human level knows more about us than anybody else, and his conscience was clear. So he gave a general defense of his life from conscience side.

He also hoped that he and Timothy could boast in a godly way of the Corinthians and they of him.

Because he was sure of that, he wanted to visit the Corinthians first so that they could experience divine grace a second time (verse 15). Some translations use ‘blessing’ instead of ‘grace’, which makes the meaning clearer. That blessing would come through his preaching and teaching.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by that wording with regard to his intended visit:

the purpose of it, according to verse 15, was that they might receive a charis, a grace, a favor, a benefit, a benediction, a spiritual blessing. And he frankly says my intention was to come to you and give you double blessing in this confidence – at the beginning of the verse. What confidence? The confidence expressed in verse 14, that – that you are as proud of us as we are of you. In other words, that we have a real relationship. It was on the assumption that we really have a relationship, that there really is trust and there really is love, and there really is care and that there’s something that we mutually hold with respect and pride toward one another, a godly pride. And it was based on that assumption, that I’m as important to you as you are to me, that I made my plans. It was born out of loyalty, not selfishness.

Paul says that his intention was to visit Corinth on his way to Macedonia and on the way back, after which he would be going to Judea (verse 16). He was going to Judea with a donation for the poor church in Jerusalem, to which he hoped the Corinthians would contribute as had the other churches in Asia Minor and Macedonia.

However, the first visit did not take place. Paul wrote this letter from Ephesus. And that circumstance was ammunition for his accusers.

He asks whether he has been vacillating (verse 17). He says that he has not been vacillating:

18 As surely as God is faithful, our word to you has not been Yes and No. 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, whom we proclaimed among you, Silvanus and Timothy and I, was not Yes and No, but in him it is always Yes. 20 For all the promises of God find their Yes in him. That is why it is through him that we utter our Amen to God for his glory. 21 And it is God who establishes us with you in Christ, and has anointed us, 22 and who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.[d]

He said that to indicate that he had good reason for altering his travel plans.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He was not to be accused of levity and inconstancy, nor a contradiction between his words and intentions. Note, Good men should be careful to preserve the reputation of sincerity and constancy; they should not resolve but upon mature deliberation, and they will not change their resolves but for weighty reasons.

Paul then uses an oath to express his sincere reason for not going to Corinth as originally intended; it was to spare the Corinthians of his righteous anger with them (verse 23). Instead, he chose to absent himself and show kindness to them in that way.

Henry says:

He knew there were things amiss among them, and such as deserved censure, but was desirous to show tenderness. He assures them that this is the true reason, after this very solemn manner: I call God for a record upon my soul–a way of speaking not justifiable where used in trivial matters; but this was very justifiable in the apostle, for his necessary vindication, and for the credit and usefulness of his ministry, which was struck at by his opposers.

Paul emphasises that he, Timothy and Silvanus (Silas, Acts 15:22) have no intention of lording themselves over the faith of the Corinthians but want to work with them in their joy as they stand firm in their faith (verse 24).

Paul continues on that train of thought in the first verses of 2 Corinthians 2.

As for what happened with Paul’s visit to Corinth, MacArthur says:

By the way, the two visits that he intended to make eventually became one long visit. First Corinthians 16:7, he hoped that he would come and see them not just in passing but to remain for some time. He really wanted to spend time with them and he would spend time with them, it was just this little triviality of whether he made two visits.

Paul was a man of his word.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:1-4

Bible oldThe 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.

2 Corinthians 1:12-14

Paul’s Change of Plans

12 For our boast is this, the testimony of our conscience, that we behaved in the world with simplicity[a] and godly sincerity, not by earthly wisdom but by the grace of God, and supremely so toward you. 13 For we are not writing to you anything other than what you read and understand and I hope you will fully understand— 14 just as you did partially understand us—that on the day of our Lord Jesus you will boast of us as we will boast of you.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s verses were about the severity of Paul and his companions’ persecution in or around Ephesus.

Today’s are about Paul’s preoccupation with the false teachers in Corinth who were denigrating him with no basis in fact. Paul’s change of plans will be the subject of next week’s verses.

John MacArthur describes their slander (emphases mine):

Paul is writing this epistle to defend himself against the assault of some false apostles. These false apostles had come to Corinth, his beloved Corinth. They were tearing his church up. These lying false apostles were trying to turn the church against Paul. They really wanted to teach satanic doctrine and so they had to undermine Paul who was the paragon of truth. They had to destroy the Corinthians’ trust in Paul, so they began to attack his virtuous character, his integrity, his credibility, tried to undermine his authority, then take his place and replace the truth of God with their satanic error.

The whole epistle – actually, the last of four letters that he wrote to Corinth, two of them in the Scripture, two of them are not. But the whole letter is really written to give a defense of his integrity against this outrageous attackthey were accusing him of embezzling money, doing what he did for sexual favors from women, lying about his statistics and his ministry effectiveness, teaching error, you name it. And throughout this letter of 2 Corinthians he will deal with the various elements of their attack, their assault.

Referring to himself and probably Timothy, Paul begins with an honest ‘boast’ of the testimony of their consciences that they have acted in simplicity — holiness — and godly sincerity, and very much so towards the Corinthians, not through their own abilities but through the grace of God (verse 12).

In 2 Corinthians 1:11, he asked the Corinthians to pray for him and his companions who had been persecuted.

MacArthur says that verse 12 is another way of saying:

we’re really worthy of your prayers, not your criticism. We’re worthy of your intercession, not your abuse. Why? Because our conscience is clear.

MacArthur offers this analysis of the verse and use of ‘boast’:

What do you mean our proud confidence? That sounds a little much, doesn’t it? Kauchēsis in the Greek, a very much used word by Paul. It’s used about 60 times, a little less than 60 times, maybe 55 or so times in the New Testament. Twenty-nine of those here in 2 Corinthians. And it means boasting. It means proud confidence. It means glorying. But it can be negative or positive.

If it’s used negatively, it refers to an unwarranted boast, an unwarranted confidence, a boast in one’s own achievements and merits. If, on the other hand, it is used positively, it refers to a legitimate confidence in what God has done through one’s life. There’s nothing wrong with that, is there? There’s nothing wrong with a proud confidence not in what I’ve done but what in He’s done – in what He’s done

He and Timothy could boast of what God had done through them. It wasn’t bragging, but the legitimate testimony of the Lord’s power in their life and they had a clear conscience. The testimony of our conscience. The word “testimony” means witness. It means evidence. The basis, the ground, the witness, the reason, the evidence for my confidence is my conscience.

Matthew Henry points out the importance of God’s grace:

Concerning the principle they acted from in all their conversation, both in the world and towards these Corinthians; and that was not fleshly wisdom, nor carnal politics and worldly views, but it was the grace of God, a vital gracious principle in their hearts, that cometh from God, and tendeth to God. Then will our conversation be well ordered when we live and act under the influence and command of such a gracious principle in the heart.

MacArthur explains ‘simplicity’ and ‘sincerity’ in the original Greek:

… here his conscience says that he is conducting himself in holiness and godly sincerity. Holiness, a unique word that means sanctity. There is a lesser attested reading – and some Bibles pick it up – called “simplicity.” Sometimes you see the word “simplicity” here. It may even be in your edition. That’s not as good a choice as the original word, hagiotēs, which basically means sanctity, or holiness. The idea is moral purity in contrast to the immorality and the corruption of which he was being accused by the false apostles who lived like that.

And then he mentions godly sincerity. The word “sincerity” is a marvelous word. In the English, sincere comes from two Latin terms, sine cera, which means “without wax.” And that connects up with the idea of the Greek word eilikrinēs, and that word means “to be tested by the sun.” heilē is sun, krinō is to judge, or to examine. To say that someone was tested by the sun simply meant they were held up to the light for inspection.

if you were to purchase a pot, you would take it and hold it up to the sun because unscrupulous potters would – would have a crack in their pot after it was fired, and they’d want to sell it anyway. So they’d fill it with wax and, of course, as soon as you heated it the wax would melt and everything would run out of the pot. It was useless. And so you held the pot up to the sun and moved it around to see the sun shine through, and it would reveal the wax. You wanted to make sure it was eilikrinēs, tested by the sun and proven to be of high quality, that it was without wax.

And Paul is saying that about his life. There aren’t any flaws being covered up. There’s nothing that’s covered. You can take me out and hold me up to the sun and you’re not going to find any wax. A godly, personal sincerity or integrity went along with purity of life. He was not immoral. He was moral. He was a pure, godly man. He was a man who could be taken out in the – in the sunlight and tested. There were no skeletons in his closet.

Paul says that he and Timothy are not writing to the Corinthians anything they do not already know and understand (verse 13).

MacArthur says:

both the word “read” and “understand” are forms of ginōskō, with prepositions on the front of them which have to do with knowledge. You could read it this way: We write nothing else to you than what you know and I hope you will know deeply or understand deeply until the end just as you also partially did understand us.

What’s the point here? This is a sweeping testimony of answering the second category of accusation against him for his supposed relationships. Did Paul use people? Did he have foul personal selfish motives? Did he fake loving them in order to take advantage of them? Was he a deceiving manipulator? This is exactly what they were saying. Over in chapter 7 verse 2, he says, “Make room for us in your hearts, we wronged no one.” We corrupted no one, we took advantage of no one. That was what they were saying. And so, he answers that several places.

Paul says that he hopes that on the day of judgement, the Corinthians will boast of him and Timothy the way the two evangelists boast of them (verse 14).

The word ‘partially’ is used in that verse, which MacArthur explains:

In other words, there’s continuing information. When I taught you, when I wrote you, you read, you understood what I said. It was partial, that is there was more to reveal. And as I’ve written more and said more, it’s unfolded and you’ve continued to understand, and I hope you’ll understand perfectly. I want you to have the deep knowledge of what the Lord says to you and I want you to know that’s all there is, folks. That’s all there is. There isn’t anything else. And my relationship to you is that honest. I just want you to understand the things I write and the things I say. That’s all.

As for the boasting, Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he has a deep spiritual affection for them, which he hopes is reciprocated.

MacArthur tells us:

They should be so proud that they can’t wait till the day when they’re both together in the presence of Jesus Christ and they can embrace each other in eternal and perfect friendship. It should be for them an honor to be associated with Paul, as it was for him to be in a – to be in association with them. He loved them. He rejoiced in them. He wanted them to feel the same toward him, particularly at that moment when the Lord Jesus came. I want to be as proud of what God has done – I want you to be as proud of what God has done through me for you as I am of what God has done through you for me, particularly in the day of the Lord Jesus.

That’s the day when we face Christ. That’s the judgment seat of Christ. That’s the day when God will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts and then each man’s praise will come to him from God, 1 Corinthians 4:5. The day when the Lord takes His own and gives them their eternal reward, the day when everything becomes clear. And he’s saying I just want you to feel about me the way I’ll feel about you. The point that I want to make is that he was looking forward to the coming of Christ. A man doesn’t do that if his relationships aren’t right.

Paul was anticipating the coming of Christ because he knew it would be joy for him and he wanted it to be joy for them. And he knew his attitude was right and his heart was right and the joy would be his, and he wanted theirs to be right so that the full joy would be theirs. His conscience was clear with the Lord. His conscience was clear with them. His conscience was clear with himself. He had no fear of any earthly accusation and he had no fear even of the return of Jesus Christ. That’s how clear his conscience was.

MacArthur has a long sermon on the conscience, something which the Church has been downplaying in favour of psychology.

He begins with the story of a jet that crashed into a mountain in Spain in 1984. When investigators played back the recording in the black box, they heard the plane’s automatic warning system work as expected, but the pilot ignored it, just as people sometimes do with their conscience:

… several minutes before the fatal impact, a shrill computerized synthesized voice from the plane’s automatic warning system told the crew repeatedly in English, “Pull up, pull up, pull up.” The pilot inexplicably snapped back, “Shut up, Gringo,” and switched the system off. Minutes later, the plane smashed into the side of a mountain and everyone died. That’s a perfect parable of the way modern people treat the warning messages of their conscience. The conscience is there by God’s designed, built into the fabric of every human being as a warning system.

Everyone has a conscience and even a secularist can obey his in the correct way. It is God-given:

God designed the conscience into the very framework of the human soul. The conscience is the ability to sense in your own heart if there is sin there, if there is something wrong there, if there is guilt and shame. That is a great gift from God. Like the gift of pain which – which warns you that you are hurting your body so you don’t kill yourself, the gift of conscience warns you that you are killing your soul. The conscience is the soul reflecting on itself. Both the Greek term, suneidēsis and the English one “conscience,” have the idea of knowing yourself, having an internal sense about the reality of your spiritual condition.

In Romans chapter 2, let me show you two verses, verses 14 and 15, “For when the Gentiles who do not have the law” – that is the written law of God, the pagans without the written law of God – “do instinctively the things of the law, these not having the law are a law to themselves.” The point is, they may not have the written law but they have innately built into them a sense of right and wrong and a sense of morality. And, instinctively, there is a soul-warning system that produces guilt when there is sin and iniquity. In fact, verse 15 says, “Their conscience bears witness and it either accuses them or defends them.” Conscience either affirms that you’re doing right, or it accuses and warns that you’re doing wrong.

However, many churches today adopt popular psychology which tells us to ignore the conscience and, should something go wrong for us, that our shortcomings are not our fault:

We live in a culture today that is systematically endeavoring to silence conscience, to eliminate guilt, to eliminate shame, and to tell you your problem isn’t sin, and your problem isn’t guilt, and your problem isn’t shame. Your problem is somebody did something to you for which you’re not responsible. You’re really not to blame at all. Or, you just have a lack of self-esteem

This tragic sad legacy that we have today in contemporary Christian counseling that is trying to silence conscience is deadly. The apostle Paul spoke so very often of conscience. Looking intently at the Council in Acts – Acts 23:1, he said, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day.” Wow. He was very sensitive to his conscience, to that voice within him. In Acts 24:16 he says, “In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience, both before God and before men.” Writing to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:5, Paul said, “The goal of our instruction is love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith”

And I’ll tell you there is a damaging, destructive, deadly force in the church today in this self-esteem stuff that is endeavoring to silence conscience and eliminate guilt and eliminate shame. And people are going to continue to crash and burn from the highest points to the lowest, from the pulpit to the pew. No believer has a right to violate the conscience. Then Paul – remember this? 1 Corinthians 8 and 9 and Romans 14 says not only do you have no right to violate your own conscience but you don’t have a right to violate what? Somebody else’s conscience. Be sensitive to those things which would offend others.

To get the best out of our conscience, we would do well to study the Bible and pray frequently, developing our relationship with our Lord:

… if you want to get the most out of your conscience, you have to inform your conscience at the highest level, and that means you submit yourself to the Word of God. And as you fill your life with the Word of God, the standard keeps going up and up and up. Whatever moral law you know innately by virtue of your humanity is only a start.

As you take in the Word of God and you learn more about the Scripture and more about the Word of God, your knowledge begins to give a higher standard and a higher standard and a higher standard and your conscience will hold you to that high standard. To reject the voice of conscience is to court spiritual disaster. You cannot reject the voice of conscience with impunity. It’s a sad and tragic thing when a whole society of people endeavor to do that

When you violate that, conscience will warn you. When you violate the standard, it will condemn you. It will trigger feelings of shame, anguish, regret, consternation, anxiety, and even disgrace. Sometimes it will make you weep, make you fall on your face and plead with God for forgiveness. And that’s as it should be. That’s a fully functioning conscience reacting to the full knowledge of God’s truth. On the other hand, when we know God’s truth and we obey it, conscience will commend us, conscience will bring us joy, it will affirm us. It will grant us peace and gladness and contentment.

Ignoring our conscience repeatedly can turn it off but leave us in danger:

after constant violation of a conscience, the conscience finally falls silent. You throw the switch and you’re left flying blind; you’ll crash and burn. The annoying warning signals may be gone, but the danger is – is certainly not gone.

He says that the conscience is like a skylight:

To give you an illustration, the conscience functions like a skylight, not a lamp. It doesn’t produce its own light. It just lets light in. Its in – its – its effectiveness is determined by the amount of pure light we expose to it and how clean we keep it. You keep yourself under the pure light, keep the conscience clean, the pure light shines through. That’s why the apostle Paul speaks in 1 Timothy 3:9 about a clear conscience, the skylight through which the light of truth can pass. And he warned in 1 Corinthians 8:7, again in Titus 1:15, that you should never allow anything to defile or muddy your conscience.

It functions in the same way as a physical stimulus does in the body:

To look at it another way, the conscience is like the nerves on the end of your – your fingertips. Its sensitivity to external stimuli can be damaged by the buildup of callouses and so wounded for so long that it’s virtually impervious to any feeling. Paul wrote of the dangers of that in 1 Corinthians 8:10, the calloused conscience. He wrote about the wounded conscience. And then in writing to Timothy, 1 Timothy 4:2, the seared conscience, covered over with scar tissue and without any feeling. Learning the Word, meditating on the Word day and night is the beginning. And then listen to your conscience. You can trust it. It’s there as a gift from God. And if it’s properly informed as to truth, it will give you the right information. Don’t yell at it and switch it off or you’ll crash.

The believer experiences an additional benefit, the assurance of forgiveness:

Your conscience when you’re saved becomes sanctified. Faith tells the conscience he’s forgiven, she’s forgiven – it doesn’t matter. To borrow the words of God Himself, “I’ve removed your sins as far as the east is from the west, buried them in the depths of the sea, and remember them no more.” The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses the conscience so that it no longer accuses, but it tells us we’re pardoned, we’re forgiven. That’s a marvelous gift.

He also has a bit about hell:

Jesus came to save us from sin. And that’s got to be our message. And if people don’t listen to conscience – listen to this – don’t listen to conscience in time, they will listen to it in eternity. No one’s conscience will be silent in hell. In fact, I – I would go so far as to say the single greatest torment in hell will be from conscience. In hell the sinner’s conscience will turn on him with fury and remind him that he alone is responsible for the agonies that he is suffering eternally

As John Flavel wrote in the seventeenth century, “Conscience which should have been the sinner’s curb here on earth becomes the whip that must lash his soul in hell. Neither is there any faculty or power belonging to the soul of man so fit and able to do it as his own conscience. That which was the seat and center of all guilt now becomes the seat and center of all torment.”

Conscience will make the sinner acutely aware that he deliberately, freely and gladly chose the life style that led him to hell, that he is there because of his willfulness and obstinacy …

In other words, conscience accuses him rightly and justly. As if this were not horrifying enough, the castigation of conscience will be uninterrupted. The sinner will have, according to Revelation 14, no rest day or night. As never before he will discover the truth of God’s Word, “There is no peace for the wicked.” How frightening. Non-Christian and Christian alike, listen to your conscience.

That has to be one of the best descriptions of hell I’ve ever read.

Choose the Lord’s ways and pray for His grace as well as His forgiveness.

Next week, Paul explains his change in travel plans.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 1:15-17, 23-24

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