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Today’s commentary is a repost of St Paul’s verses on marriage, which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 7:1-16 – marriage, marriage to non-Christians

Paul discusses the reasons for marriage and preserving a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian.

Last week’s post on unrighteousness is here.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:17-19

Below are the readings for the Third Sunday after Epiphany, January 24, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

After having been in the belly of the whale for three days for refusing to preach to the Gentiles at Nineveh, Jonah was washed up on land. God gave him a second chance to carry out His command. A humbled Jonah obeyed this time. Matthew Henry’s commentary has an excellent exposition on Nineveh — it was the largest city in the Ancient World at that time, positively massive. It is unfortunate that the Lectionary editors left out the part where the king of the city helped greatly by declaring a royal decree to don not only sackcloth and ashes but also fast. He also abided by that decree. I have included the missing verses (highlighted in purple). The irony with this story is that God gave Israel many prophets, who were persecuted and ignored, yet, this pagan city and its king repented immediately with one visit from Jonah.

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

3:1 The word of the LORD came to Jonah a second time, saying,

3:2 “Get up, go to Nineveh, that great city, and proclaim to it the message that I tell you.”

3:3 So Jonah set out and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the LORD. Now Nineveh was an exceedingly large city, a three days’ walk across.

3:4 Jonah began to go into the city, going a day’s walk. And he cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!”

3:5 And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth.

The word reached[a] the king of Nineveh, and he arose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes.

And he issued a proclamation and published through Nineveh, “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Let neither man nor beast, herd nor flock, taste anything. Let them not feed or drink water,

but let man and beast be covered with sackcloth, and let them call out mightily to God. Let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands.

9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish.”

3:10 When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil ways, God changed his mind about the calamity that he had said he would bring upon them; and he did not do it.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David confidently proclaims his trust in the Lord.

Psalm 62:5-12

62:5 For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him.

62:6 He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be shaken.

62:7 On God rests my deliverance and my honor; my mighty rock, my refuge is in God.

62:8 Trust in him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Selah

62:9 Those of low estate are but a breath, those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are together lighter than a breath.

62:10 Put no confidence in extortion, and set no vain hopes on robbery; if riches increase, do not set your heart on them.

62:11 Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God,

62:12 and steadfast love belongs to you, O Lord. For you repay to all according to their work.

Epistle

1 Corinthians 7 is about Christian marriage. That said, Paul takes great pains to point out that marriage is but a temporal state and that we should always have our hearts and minds on the world to come, our home in Heaven.

1 Corinthians 7:29-31

7:29 I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none,

7:30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions,

7:31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

Gospel

Last week’s reading from John described how Jesus called Philip and Nathanael to be His disciples. In today’s reading from Mark, Jesus calls two more sets of brothers to join him: Simon Peter and Andrew as well as John (the Gospel writer) and James, the sons of Zebedee. John in verse 14 is John the Baptist.

Mark 1:14-20

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

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

1:16 As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen.

1:17 And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.”

1:18 And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

1:19 As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets.

1:20 Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

I still prefer ‘fishers of men’ (verse 17), which actually includes both sexes, but we are not allowed that usage anymore.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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.

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

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

Last week’s verses were about Paul’s censure of the Corinthians for going to civil courts to settle personal grievances, some of which were petty. He exhorted them to resolve their differences within their church community.

It is no surprise that today’s verses are not in the three-year Lectionary, although 1 Corinthians 12-20, condemning fornication, are in the readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, which happens to be today, January 17, 2021. Serendipitous, one might say.

Students of the three-year Lectionary know that the editors have been ever anxious not to offend.

A few years ago, I asked a fellow Anglican, who comes from a family of clergymen and who knows a lot about St Paul’s Epistles, about today’s verses with regard to church unions regardless of sexual persuasion. He said that Paul’s verses no longer apply, therefore, same-sex unions are okay in the Church of England and other denominations.

I replied that I am ever wary of people who say certain verses in Scripture no longer apply, unless there is a good explanation for it through scholarly hermeneutics. He told me I was dated and really should get up to speed on these things.

At this point, readers can take his word for it or they can read on … noting that not all of what is stated below is my opinion, but that of Scripture.

After Paul finishes with the subject of civil lawsuits, he goes on to list a number of serious sins, all of which are highly popular today (verses 9 and 10). We can substitute ‘wrongdoers’ for ‘unrighteous’ in verse 9.

As I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians, Paul could have been writing it for us. Millions of Christians, myself included in a past life, are/were like the Corinthians. We can rationalise anything, because we live in an environment which thrives on and condones sinful behaviour. Respectability and godliness began going out the window at the end of the 1960s with a popular slogan, ‘Let it all hang out’. In the 1970s, another saying, ‘If it feels good, do it’, was all the rage.

Need I say more?

Like the Corinthians, many of us are ruled by carnal compulsion, which, if not corrected through repentance, leads to the road of perdition.

Matthew Henry, whose commentary was published in 1706, put it rather tersely (italics in the original, bold emphases mine):

Those who knew any thing of religion must know that heaven could never be intended for these. The scum of the earth are no ways fit to fill the heavenly mansions. Those who do the devil’s work can never receive God’s wages, at least no other than death, the just wages of sin, Romans 6:23.

John MacArthur wrote today’s sermon in 1975. He has lived all his life in southern California. I do wonder how he copes. Anyway, he introduced his sermon with these words:

I teach you the Word of God not just to teach it, but so that you’ll respond to it. We talk about the authority of the Word of God in order that you might come under that authority. The objective of the ministry then, as I see it, is to ring a people to a place of submission to the Word of God. Then you can solve every problem by simply introducing a biblical principle that deals with it and the people will conform to the principle.

So often I talk to ministers, and they don’t do that. They don’t teach the Word of God, and they don’t build into their people a submission to the Word of God. And then when a problem comes, and they offer a biblical solution, the people can’t relate to that. They assume it’s just another opinion, because they don’t have the mind of submissiveness to the Word of God.

That is so true.

In his wisdom, MacArthur begins not by censuring but by saying that God — through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross — can forgive all our sins through our repentance. Therefore, because of that, we should forgive our brothers and sisters their sins against us:

there is nothing that you have ever done in your life that is outside the forgiveness of God, and that’s the standard. Right? You’re to forgive one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you. When you come to Christ and believe in me and receive Jesus Christ, is there any sin at that point that is unforgivable? Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter what it was: whether it was a moral issue; whether you were the vilest, rottenest, lowest reprobate on the earth; whether it was a religious issue and you were the world’s worst false teacher; it doesn’t matter what it is, if you come and kneel at the cross to receive Christ, there is nothing that is unforgivable.

If you were a soldier who pounded a nail into the hand of Jesus Christ, if you were a soldier who rammed the spear into his side, if you were a mocker who spit in His face, that is all forgivable. All of it is forgivable. “And as Christ has forgiven you” – 1 John 2:12, “all your trespasses”that’s the standard by which you forgive one another. There is nothing that is unforgivable. Nothing. Now, that’s a high standard, isn’t it?

You say, “But you don’t know what he did to me.”

I don’t care. There is nothing. You don’t know what you did to God either, and He forgave that, and that’s the standard.

MacArthur gives us more insights on the Corinthians:

Now, sadly, the Corinthians were openly disobeying this principle. Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 6. This is a simple principle, frankly, people. It just really isn’t that tough. But the Corinthians were absolutely ignoring it. Instead of forgiving each other, every time somebody did something wrong, they’d sue them. And they were dragging them into court all the time over every petty little thing. They were gouging each other; they had a gross lack of life, bitterness, vengeance, recompense, self-seeking, unforgiving spirit, robbery; they were extorting and swindling each other. All of this going on within the church, just gouging each other. Instead of forgiving, every little thing became a case for the courts.

And so, Paul writes 1 Corinthians chapter 6 to the beleaguered Corinthian church that has managed to manifest about every sin conceivable. And in 6, he deals with the sin of suing each other instead of forgiving each other. The New Testament principle is very clear, people; we are to forgive one another, and it couldn’t be more clear than that.

This ties in with today’s verses because the Corinthians, like many of today’s Christians (myself included, at one time), falsely distinguished between their salvation and their sinfulness. In other words, they thought that, because they were Christians and had freedom in Christ, they could sin in serious ways and they would still be redeemed.

Paul kicks that notion into touch.

MacArthur elaborates:

what he does here is really a potent thing. Look at verse 9, and we’ll start there. “Don’t you know” – he says – “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?”

Don’t you realize that you who are sons of the kingdom are on the opposite end of everything from the unregenerate? They don’t even inherit the kingdom. They’re not even a part of the same dimension. They’re not even in the same sphere. They don’t even exist in the same world. They don’t breathe the same air. They don’t have the capacities that you have. There are two completely different groups. The unrighteous do not inherit the kingdom of God. They have no part with you. You have no business acting like them, and you have no business taking your problems to them. How could those who are not even in the kingdom judge the subjects of the kingdom. Ridiculous. The unrighteous won’t have any part in the kingdom in the future; they don’t belong in God’s kingdom. Why do you go for them to give you judgment, and why are you behaving like those who aren’t in the kingdom when you are?

And then he gives this catalog that’s just potent. He says, “Be not deceived” – that is, don’t think your salvation and your lifestyle are two different things. Don’t be deceived. The kind of activities that the world does have no place with you. You can’t get away [with] that.

As for the sins Paul lists, MacArthur gives a flavour of the world in 1975. I was in school then. He’s got it spot on, no exaggeration. I remember it well:

here’s the world’s lifestyle. Number one, fornicators, sexually immoral. I don’t think anybody even has to make a comment about that today. Immorality is absolutely incredible. In some of the airports where I was stopping this week, you know, I would go in to get a magazine or to get some gum or something, and you know you can hardly walk in and out of the place without seeing this plethora of sex splattered all over the magazine rack. It’s just indulged to the point where you can’t believe that people are so tolerant. Fornicators, that’s characteristic of our world. Sexual immorality. And it’s always been that way, and today it seems more blatant than ever.

Then idolaters, false religion. I read all the time that the false systems of religion are growing more rapidly today than they ever have in their history. There are statistics to show that the cults are growing at an all-time rate. Idolatry. Worshipping false Gods and false religious systems.

Next, adulterers. Unfaithful in marriage. Wife swapping. Unfaithfulness. All of this kind of activity goes on incessantly in our world. No different than then.

That is what the 1960s sexual revolution, as it was called, ‘achieved’, for lack of a better word.

MacArthur has a fulsome description of another aspect of what the Bible considers to be sexual immorality and swapping gender roles. Parts of what he has to say were okay to express in 1975, less so now. Just to clarify, he is talking about the sin not the sinner in biblical terms. However, he offers a historical perspective from ancient times to the Bible to the Greek language to the present day:

Then you have a very interesting word, the word “effeminate.” Effeminate is only – that word malakos is only used once in the New Testament, and that’s right here. A very unusual word. And it has to do with perversion. And the best that we can understand what it means, it means this: to exchange one sexual role for another.

One of the characteristics of the ungodly is to exchange sexual roles. Now, it seems to be general enough to include almost anything. It could be something perhaps as simple as a transvestite, somebody who wears the clothes of the opposite sex, which is very common. Interesting, I read an article that said in the Southern California area, one out of every ten women that you see aren’t. Now, I don’t – I can’t verify those statistics, and I don’t know how they did when they made the test, but that’s what the thing said.

But it can go further than that. It can go to the place of sexual changes and all kinds of sexual aberrations. It can even include any kind of exchange, any kind of exchange of the roles of the sexes.

An interesting comment on this I find in Deuteronomy 22:5, that we’ve commented before in several of our discussions, but I would just point – you don’t need to look it up – Deuteronomy 22:5 says this, “The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man. Neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” God does not want anything that even smacks of an exchange of the roles of the sexes. This is forbidden. This is characteristic of unregenerate, unrighteous, ungodly people who are not a part of the kingdom of God. And it was a part of the society of that day. And I think even women’s lib and that kind of thing borders on this, where you are exchanging the roles.

You see, if you can start to do that, you can break it down, you make everybody dress alike, and then you take away the authority submission principle in the home, and you wipe out the family. You destroy the whole basis of a home. And you’ve destroyed the nation and the – and the pattern of passing on the revelation of God is really wiped out, because it’s to be passed from parents to children – and destroy the family and the chain of revelation can be broken at that point.

So, you know Satan wants to wipe out sex roles. They are illustrative – aren’t they? – of the church and Christ. And so, that illustration is muddied and destroyed, and away Satan goes to this area. And so, here, characteristic of unregenerate people, they are effeminate. That is they exchange their true identity sexually for the opposite role.

For the next two paragraphs, church membership of those of other sexual persuasions was a big deal in many conservative Protestant churches. However, at the same time — 1975 — the Catholic church my family and I belonged to had a young, gay, atheist organist. The nun who was in charge of pastoral care hired him. But I digress. MacArthur says:

Another word, it says in verse 9 at the end, “abusers of themselves with mankind,” which is a long phrase for homosexuals. You people are always today, in the church – you know, I just read where the Methodist Church has now decided that they’re going to admit homosexuals and all of this. This goes on all the time, just a rather incessant situation today of, “Oh, we’ve got to take these people in; they’re wonderful people; they just have a little different slant on things, and so forth and so on, and that we need to be very tolerant of them. It’s one of those things that doesn’t really matter; it’s only a biological factor, blah-blah; we have to minster to them and so forth and so on.”

And, of course, right here in L.A., we have a homosexual church, Metropolitan something Church … We’re not saying that this is unforgiveable, and we’re not saying that we don’t love these people. We’re saying this is a sin that God hates and that characterizes unregenerate people.

MacArthur discusses what went on at Sodom, and, contrary to what we read today, what went on there had nothing to do with ‘hospitality’, which is today’s modern theme about Sodom and Gomorrah:

The word that is used in the Bible is frequently connected with sodomy. 1 Timothy 1:10 talks about it. Sodomy. The word “sodomy” comes from Sodom. The sin of Sodom, which was destroyed, you know, by fire – the sin of Sodom was the sin of homosexuality. The people lusted after the angels that appeared at Lot’s house, and that became the first biblical illustration of homosexuality, that terrible perversion.

By the time of the writing of the Corinthian letter, homosexuality was so widespread that it was unbelievable. Fourteen out of the first 15 Roman emperors were homosexuals. Socrates was a homosexual. Plato was most likely a homosexual. He wrote his dialogue called “The Symposium on Love,” and the basis of it is homosexual love. Nero, who was reigning around this period, took a boy named Sporus and had him castrated and lived with him as wife. And when Nero died, Sporus was then passed on to Otho, who was the next emperor. So, this was just pattern of living in those days. This is characteristic of their former life.

I’ll continue with MacArthur’s sermon, because, in Henry’s era, people were still God-fearing, for the most part. Yes, there was sexual immorality, along with a depraved underground men’s movement that appeared in London during the subsequent Georgian era, but nothing that was mainstream.

Today, gays and lesbians can start their own families — as appropriate — by adoption, artificial insemination or surrogacy. Surrogacy is still very controversial in many countries. I have more of a problem with that than I do adoption or artificial insemination.

Personally, I would rather have gays and lesbians in the Church than outside of it. However, that goes against Paul’s teachings, too.

That said, never mind me. Let’s focus on Scripture here. 

Moving along, has anyone noticed how certain acts of theft, especially shoplifting, are no longer considered crimes? The police in Britain don’t even want to know. A few weeks ago, I read of a proposed law in Seattle whereby anything that is not a felony would be decriminalised. That’s pretty serious, because you could be maimed permanently in a mugging or have your house robbed and be ignored by the police. What are we coming to as a society?

MacArthur looks at theft and greed as it was 46 years ago:

verse 10 says they also are characterized as “thieves” – and the word here means petty theft; this is crime. It could refer to just kind of street crime. And then it – this is characteristic of today, there’s no need to even give you statistics on that, it’s apparent to everybody that crime keeps getting higher and higher and higher and higher statistically speaking.

And then it says the characteristic of the worlds is that they’re “greedy” or “covetous,” and I don’t know that any of us are unaware of this. We see it in the paper, people demanding more and more, more and more, more and more, never enough, never enough. It’s incredible the amount of money that people are demanding. Greed is just taking over our society

He looks at drunkenness. I’m surprised he did not tie drug abuse in with this, because, even in the 1970s, there were a lot of young people who said they didn’t drink but they definitely used drugs instead. I knew several. To them, drugs were better, ‘less addictive’, so they claimed:

“Drunkenness.” Some of you may have seen on television the other night the terrible story that they gave, a documentary about people beginning to be drunkards when they’re eight years old, alcoholic children. And all the way through life we just keep producing more and more of these kinds of people.

He goes on to the other sins:

And then he goes to talk about slanderers or “revilers,” people who abuse with the tongue. And our society is loaded with those kind of people. No question about that.

And then “extortioners,” swindlers, people who are rip-off artists, con artists, people who are able to swindle.

All of these things are categories in which the world is defined by the Word of God. We have a world full of those people.

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reprimand that contains hope, eternal hope (verse 11).

Paul tells the Corinthians that some of them came from these groups of sinners, but that since they found Christ, they have been symbolically washed in His blood and became sanctified. As such, they were justified in God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

Henry explains:

How glorious a change does grace make! It changes the vilest of men into saints and the children of God. Such were some of you, but you are not what you were. You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. Note, The wickedness of men before conversion is no bar to their regeneration and reconciliation to God. The blood of Christ, and the washing of regeneration, can purge away all guilt and defilement. Here is a rhetorical change of the natural order: You are sanctified, you are justified. Sanctification is mentioned before justification: and yet the name of Christ, by which we are justified, is placed before the Spirit of God, by whom we are sanctified. Our justification is owing to the merit of Christ; our sanctification to the operation of the Spirit: but both go together. Note, None are cleansed from the guilt of sin, and reconciled to God through Christ, but those who are also sanctified by his Spirit. All who are made righteous in the sight of God are made holy by the grace of God.

The last word goes to Henry, with a highly practical application of today’s verses:

Note, It is very much the concern of mankind that they do not cheat themselves in the matters of their souls. We cannot hope to sow to the flesh and yet reap everlasting life.

That is something to truly ponder and apply to our own lives.

It is much easier to live under the light yoke of holiness than the millstone of sin.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:1-16

Below are the readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, January 17, 2021.

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

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

In an era without prophets, the Lord called upon young Samuel, Eli’s student. Eli’s sons had blasphemed the Lord, and Eli had not punished their iniquity. The Lord told Samuel of the judgement He would pass upon Eli and his sons. Matthew Henry wrote a moving commentary on these verses, well worth reading for its insights.

1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)

3:1 Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the LORD under Eli. The word of the LORD was rare in those days; visions were not widespread.

3:2 At that time Eli, whose eyesight had begun to grow dim so that he could not see, was lying down in his room;

3:3 the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was.

3:4 Then the LORD called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!”

3:5 and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down.

3:6 The LORD called again, “Samuel!” Samuel got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.”

3:7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD, and the word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

3:8 The LORD called Samuel again, a third time. And he got up and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the LORD was calling the boy.

3:9 Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, ‘Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.'” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

3:10 Now the LORD came and stood there, calling as before, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”

3:11 Then the LORD said to Samuel, “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make both ears of anyone who hears of it tingle.

3:12 On that day I will fulfill against Eli all that I have spoken concerning his house, from beginning to end.

3:13 For I have told him that I am about to punish his house forever, for the iniquity that he knew, because his sons were blaspheming God, and he did not restrain them.

3:14 Therefore I swear to the house of Eli that the iniquity of Eli’s house shall not be expiated by sacrifice or offering forever.”

3:15 Samuel lay there until morning; then he opened the doors of the house of the LORD. Samuel was afraid to tell the vision to Eli.

3:16 But Eli called Samuel and said, “Samuel, my son.” He said, “Here I am.”

3:17 Eli said, “What was it that he told you? Do not hide it from me. May God do so to you and more also, if you hide anything from me of all that he told you.”

3:18 So Samuel told him everything and hid nothing from him. Then he said, “It is the LORD; let him do what seems good to him.”

3:19 As Samuel grew up, the LORD was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground.

3:20 And all Israel from Dan to Beer-sheba knew that Samuel was a trustworthy prophet of the LORD.

Psalm

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Jewish scholars consider this to be David’s finest Psalm. It is about God’s omniscience. It is also a celebration of human life (verses 13 and 16). Henry counsels that if we apply our hearts and our faith when we recite this Psalm, we will benefit our personal holiness and comfort, thanks to divine grace.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

139:1 O LORD, you have searched me and known me.

139:2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.

139:3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.

139:4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O LORD, you know it completely.

139:5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.

139:6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.

139:13 For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.

139:14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.

139:15 My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.

139:16 Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.

139:17 How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!

139:18 I try to count them — they are more than the sand; I come to the end — I am still with you.

Epistle

Here we have a rare occasion of the Lectionary editors allowing a reading warning against fornication. It is a rare occurrence, because it is apparent to those who know the Lectionary that no offensive verses should be included in church readings. Serendipitously, 1 Corinthians 6 appears in my Forbidden Bible Verses post for tomorrow, January 17, 2021.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

6:12 “All things are lawful for me,” but not all things are beneficial. “All things are lawful for me,” but I will not be dominated by anything.

6:13 “Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food,” and God will destroy both one and the other. The body is meant not for fornication but for the Lord, and the Lord for the body.

6:14 And God raised the Lord and will also raise us by his power.

6:15 Do you not know that your bodies are members of Christ? Should I therefore take the members of Christ and make them members of a prostitute? Never!

6:16 Do you not know that whoever is united to a prostitute becomes one body with her? For it is said, “The two shall be one flesh.”

6:17 But anyone united to the Lord becomes one spirit with him.

6:18 Shun fornication! Every sin that a person commits is outside the body; but the fornicator sins against the body itself.

6:19 Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, which you have from God, and that you are not your own?

6:20 For you were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body.

Gospel

Jesus chooses His disciples. Note Nathanael’s reaction (verse 46): ‘Can any good come out of Nazareth?’ Our Lord Jesus was born and lived in the world in the humblest of circumstances, including His home town.

John 1:43-51

1:43 The next day Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.”

1:44 Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

1:45 Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.”

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

1:47 When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

1:48 Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

1:49 Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

1:50 Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”

1:51 And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Three of these readings are on the theme of ‘Call me, Lord’ and spiritual readiness, into which the Epistle from Paul ties nicely.

A good celebrant should be able to tie all four together into a cohesive and powerful sermon.

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Lawsuits Against Believers

When one of you has a grievance against another, does he dare go to law before the unrighteous instead of the saints? Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if the world is to be judged by you, are you incompetent to try trivial cases? Do you not know that we are to judge angels? How much more, then, matters pertaining to this life! So if you have such cases, why do you lay them before those who have no standing in the church? 5 I say this to your shame. Can it be that there is no one among you wise enough to settle a dispute between the brothers, but brother goes to law against brother, and that before unbelievers? To have lawsuits at all with one another is already a defeat for you. Why not rather suffer wrong? Why not rather be defrauded? But you yourselves wrong and defraud—even your own brothers![a]

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s conclusion on church discipline in order to keep the congregation pure.

In this week’s verses, Paul rebukes the Corinthians for taking out vexatious and trivial lawsuits against each other in secular courts rather than try and resolve their differences in Christian love and wisdom.

The Corinthians were troubled and troublesome people. It is not surprising, considering that they lived in a city known throughout the Ancient World for its iniquity.

Paul was keen to get the Corinthian church back on track.

In 1 Corinthians 6, he begins by chiding them for suing each other.

He asks why the Corinthians go to civil courts to resolve their differences rather than seek reconciliation within their church community (verse 1). He rewords the same question in verse 2.

John MacArthur explains the gravity of their situation (emphases mine):

Now, the problem in the church at Corinth was that Christians were suing each other. Now, the Corinthian church, to which Paul wrote this letter, had a lot of problems. The letter was written as kind of a problem solver.

He deals with problems of their divergence of human philosophies resulting in their inability to get along together, problems such as incest, somebody having a sexual relationship with his father’s wife, problems of pagan worship, problems of drunkenness, all kinds of problems that the Corinthians had, and each chapter deals with a different one of them. Well, one of the problems they had was the problem of suing each other. They were very busy taking each other to court and really, their motives became very impure. It got to the place where they were even doing it in order to rob each other.

By contrast, the Jews, who were widespread even during that time, were known for settling their differences within their own congregations. They did not take each other to a civil court:

the Jews did not ordinarily go to law in a public law court. That just wasn’t something they did. And if they ever had a problem – and in every city where there were Jews, there was usually a Jewish synagogue. If you had eleven men, you could have a synagogue, and they would start one, and so the synagogue would become kind of the court, and the deciding process would be carried on right within that little framework of the Jewish family, and they never would take their problems into the pagan world.

They were trying to show the world their unity. They were trying to show the world their love. They were trying to settle their own problems, and they also felt that God’s Word, the revelation of God, the law of God, the Old Testament, had all the answers to the problems of their life. It had answers to all the family problems, all the problems on a social level, cultural and economic level, and why would they need to go to a pagan court?

And it was an interesting thing, too, that the Roman and the Greek world accommodated this Jewish attitude. They allowed them the right to decide their own cases. In fact, even in the case of Jesus Christ, you know, it was their own decision to do what they wanted with Jesus Christ. They had that right, short of the right of execution, to decide their own cases, and the Romans and the Greeks were very tolerant in that regard. And Roman law was somewhat advanced and – and very, very tolerant in allowing the Jews to do what they wanted in terms of their own decisions.

What is interesting about this, too, is that it translated over into Christianity because the Romans and the Greeks saw Christianity as a form of Judaism, and since they saw it as a form of Judaism, they allowed Christians the same rights they’d always allowed Jews; that is, they could decide their own issues. So there was absolutely no reason for them to wind up in a pagan court. They had no reason to go there because the courts would’ve accepted the decisions they had made in their own community and granted them sanction by the government. So it was ridiculous for them to even wind up in court, but here they were, always going to court.

But that was not enough for the Corinthians:

… the reason primarily was they didn’t want to settle it in their own community because they couldn’t get what they wanted and they wanted to gouge each other. So they wanted to drag it into a pagan court and see if they can get more money out of it or more whatever they were after. And in addition to that, in the community in which they lived, particularly in Athens, the law system and the process of litigation was so much a part of life that it became the chief entertainment.

Let me tell you why. In Athens, there were suits and law problems going on continuously. In fact, one historian said everybody in the city of Athens was a lawyer, more or less. I’ll show you why. Let’s say you had a problem with a guy and you wanted to settle it. The first process you followed was known as private arbitration. A private arbitrator was given to you, a private arbitrator was given to him, and a neutral third party was chosen, and those three people were supposed to resolve the problem.

If those three people couldn’t come to any agreement and couldn’t solve the problem, then your case was turned over to a court known as the Forty, and the Forty would appoint another arbitrator. There were certain public arbitrators, not private, now, but public like a public defender. Everybody 60 years old, for the duration of his 60th year, served the community as a public arbitrator. And so if you couldn’t get your thing settled by private arbitration, then public arbitrators were assigned to your case.

Now, if that didn’t do it, there was a multiple-jury court in Athens made up of 201 people for small cases, and we have records of anywhere from 1,000 to 6,000 people for big cases. You could have a jury of 6,000 people in your court case. Talk about a hung jury. How’d you like to try to convince all them? Well, it was a majority situation but the idea simply being this: that with juries that big, and with the process this involved, everybody got into it.

Everybody in his 60th year, knowing he’d have to be a public arbitrator, would have some sense of knowledge about the courtroom process, and all the jurors in those large juries were 30 years and older, so by the time you hit 30, you’d be involved in all of that. Law was a big deal and as I said, everybody was more or less a lawyer. If you weren’t really in on the case, you were in on it in terms of sharing your opinion, discussion, and everything else because it was so much a way of life.

Well, here are these people in the Corinthian system. They are so used to doing this kind of a thing as a process of life, they get saved, they become Christians, they enter the church, and just like they did with everything else, they dragged that whole deal into the church, too. They dragged their philosophies into the church. They dragged their immoralities into the church. They dragged their litigation attitudes into the church. The whole style of life that they used to have just kept coming into the church with them. They never really knew how to make the break.

Paul was looking ahead to the afterlife by reminding them by asking about saints being able to judge angels (verse 3). Therefore, he says, the same principle should apply in this temporal life.

MacArthur explains:

there’s no article. Doesn’t say “the” angels or which angels or what kind of angels, just says angels, and that gives it a qualitative sense. Angels as beings. In other words, he’s saying we’re going to be put above superior beings. We’re going to be placed above the angels.

Now, there are two kinds of angels, good ones and bad ones. Evil angels and holy angels. Does this mean we’re going to judge the evil angels? Well, there is going to be a judgment of evil angels. There’s no doubt about that. 2 Peter 2:4 says that “God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them to hell, delivered them to chains to be reserved unto judgment.” Says the same thing in Jude verse 6. “The angels who kept not there first estate, he reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment.”

So there’s going to be a judgment of evil angels. Will we be a part of that? Could be. Doesn’t say which angels here, but it might be that we’ll be co-reigning with Christ and judging – ruling over – fallen angels. Now, others say, “No, it means good angels. It means good angels because if it meant bad angels, it probably would say that, so it probably means good angels.” Well, that could be. If it means good angels, what are we going to judge them for? They didn’t do anything.

Well, then you’d have to say, “Well, the word ‘judge’ is used synonymously with the word ‘rule’” and that’s true. To judge in Israel and to rule in Israel meant the same thing in the Old Testament, so maybe he’s just saying generally we’re going to rule over them. You say, “Which view do you take?” Well, I’m sort of a theological packrat, so I’ll take both, and I’ll assume that what he’s saying here is he’s collecting everything up and saying, “You’re going to rule the world, and you’re going to rule angels. You may be in on the judgment of evil ones, and you will certainly be part of the rule of the good ones.”

Just think about it. In heaven someday, we’ll have a position to rule over angels. And, of course, their submission to us will be voluntary. Now, I don’t understand all the implications of that. I just – I just kind of feel that’s kind of interesting to think about. But if we can judge the world someday with the equipment that we have in the power of the Spirit of God and the knowledge of His Word, and if we can judge angels, then we ought to be able to settle our own matters down here. That’s a fairly good argument, isn’t it? That’s what he’s arguing here.

Paul asks whether believers should be placing their grievances before a civil authority, those who have no standing in the church (verse 4).

MacArthur interprets that verse for us:

the least esteemed Christian is better equipped to handle a family matter within the framework of Christianity than the most competent pagan judge.

Paul points out that they should be ashamed of going to a civil court to resolve matters that could be done within the context of the church family (verses 5, 6).

Matthew Henry offers this analysis:

It is a shame that little quarrels should grow to such a head among Christians, that they cannot be determined by arbitration of the brethren …

Note, Christians should never engage in law-suits till all other remedies have been tried in vain. Prudent Christians should prevent, if possible, their disputes, and not courts of judicature decide them, especially in matters of no great importance.

Paul criticises the Corinthians for suing each other, calling such behaviour a ‘defeat’ for them (verse 7). Clearly, they were not showing Christian love for their neighbour. Furthermore, they were demonstrating that lack of love before the pagan world.

Paul goes further, asking them if it were not better for them to be defrauded rather than to engage in unloving behaviour.

MacArthur points out that even pagans believed it was worth being defrauded from time to time, quoting Plato:

… even a – a non-Christian like Plato said this – Plato said, “The really good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.” The truly good man will always choose to suffer wrong rather than to do wrong.

Now listen, I’ll apply that to this. Even the pagan man knew that. It’s a sin to sue a Christian. It’s better to suffer wrong than to sue a Christian, right? It’s better. You say, “But he took a lot of money.” It’s better to suffer wrong than to sue a Christian. You never sue a Christian. That’s wrong.

For a Christian with the love of Christ in his heart, he would rather suffer insult, injury, loss, damage, rather than inflict it on somebody else, especially a brother. Vengeance, for a Christian, is absolutely absurd. It is absolutely absurd. A Christian does not order his acts by recompense, by a desire for revenge. A Christian orders his acts by love and forgiveness, doesn’t he? And a Christian will seek peace at any cost. Paul says, “I can’t believe it. Suing each other.”

Paul ends this series of questions with a sharp statement about the Corinthians’ preference for doing wrong and defrauding each other rather than loving their brethren (verse 8).

Henry explains:

It is utterly a fault to wrong and defraud any; but it is an aggravation of this fault to defraud our Christian brethren. The ties of mutual love ought to be stronger between them than between others. And love worketh no ill to his neighbour, Rom. 13:10. Those who love the brotherhood can never, under the influence of this principle, hurt or injure them.

Paul has much more to say to the Christians of Corinth. This is but the tip of the iceberg.

Next time: 1 Corinthians 6:9-11

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 5:9-13

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people— 10 not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. 11 But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who bears the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler—not even to eat with such a one. 12 For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church[a] whom you are to judge? 13 God judges[b] those outside. “Purge the evil person from among you.”

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My previous post discussed the first five verses of 1 Corinthians 5 wherein Paul said that church discipline was necessary to keep the congregation holy. Those guilty of sexual sin needed to be excluded from the congregation until they had repented.

Paul reprises this in verse 9. It is a sin to have a sexually immoral person in the congregation. Paul mentions ‘my letter’, which Matthew Henry’s commentary says could refer to a previous letter of his or this particular one (emphases mine below):

Some think this was an epistle written to them before, which is lost. Yet we have lost nothing by it, the Christian revelation being entire in those books of scripture which have come down to us, which are all that were intended by God for the general use of Christians, or he could and would in his providence have preserved more of the writings of inspired men. Some think it is to be understood of this very epistle, that he had written this advice before he had full information of their whole case, but thought it needful now to be more particular.

Paul then writes something interesting, clarifying that exclusion pertains to someone in the congregation but not from the world in general, because one would then need to leave the world altogether (verse 10). What is our purpose? To spread the Good News in whatever way we are able. Therefore, we must have contact with the world as it is.

John MacArthur explains:

You’ve got to get in the world, let your light shine in the world. You’re to be in the middle of the system. You’re to be contacting it, up against it, hearing what it’s thinking, seeing what it’s doing, and winning the people that are in it and loving them in the love of Jesus Christ without conforming to them

MacArthur points out that Paul names all the major sins in verse 10:

notice he classifies the sinners of the world in three primary categories: fornicators – or immoral – covetous – and extortioner ties right in with covetous – and idolaters. If you notice those three sins, you pretty well sum up the whole of human philosophy. Immorality is hedonism, covetousness is materialism, and idolatry is religionism, and it’s pretty well all there.

The sin of fornication is the sin against the body. Covetousness and extortion is the sin against others where you regard people as objects to be exploited, and the sin of idolatry is a sin against God where you allow something to substitute for God. So here you have all of the sins possible, against self, against others, against God. All of the kinds of philosophies, whether they be hedonism, the libertarian philosophy of the expression of the body, or covetousness, materialism, idolatry, religionism, it’s all there.

Verse 11, in which Paul tells the Corinthians not to associate with such people, might appear to contradict the previous verse. However, Paul is speaking of those in the Church, not the wider world. We know because he clarifies it with the words ‘anyone who bears the name of brother’.

Paul says that he is in no position to judge those outside the Church (verse 12). However, inside the church, judgement is another matter.

MacArthur says:

“What have I to do with outsiders?” Nothing. The literal way to translate the last part of verse 12 is this: “Is it not those within the church you are to judge?” Is it not those within the church you are to judge? And the answer is yes.

Now you say, “John, does this mean that everybody in the church has to be perfect?” No. No, because then there wouldn’t be a church. People always say, “Well, I don’t go to church. There’s so many imperfect people there.” The church never claimed to be the society of the perfection. The church is a hospital with people who at least know they’re sick, and they’re there because they seek to be what God wants them to be, and that’s all God’s asking. He’s not asking for perfection; He’s asking for the desire for it.

Think of it this way. Imagine a hospital had doctors and nurses who practised poor hygiene and infected patients causing them to become sicker and maybe die. That is an intolerable situation, wouldn’t you say? Think of the purity of the Church in the same way as you would a hospital. We should want the best of spiritual care in a church in the same way we would expect hygienic physical care in a hospital. High standards, all the time.

Paul concludes by saying that God is the only one capable of judging those outside the Church (verse 13).

MacArthur thinks that these verses must have had a huge impact on the Corinthians:

that must have hit like an absolute bomb in the Corinthian assembly when that was read. You know why? Every one of those sins can be found in 1 Corinthians. They were immoral, right here in chapter 5, that was the start. They were covetous, chapter 10:24, he tells them to quit being greedy for things and seek other people’s wealth. They were also idolatrous in chapter 10, 20, and 21. They were going to the assembly of the believers, and they were going to worship at the pagan temple, and they were having fellowship with demons.

Not only that, they were slanderers. They had these little factions, and one group was slandering another group. Even when Paul sends Timothy in 16:11, he tells them, “Now, you be easy on Timothy, and don’t speak evil of him” because this is what they were doing. They were drunkards. In 11:21, it says they would come to the Lord’s supper and get drunk at the Lord’s supper. They were extortioners, according to chapter 6. They were taking each other to court and they were taking money from each other, and it caused all kinds of conflicts and problems. Every single one of those sins that are mentioned there was characteristic of the Corinthian assembly.

And he says, “Look, you find all those people and put them out.” You know, they probably would have had a handful of people left if they’d really done it. You say, “Isn’t that the opposite of church growth?” That’s really part of it if your growth is on the right basis. You can’t just accept everybody who calls himself a Christian, no matter what he does.

We expect the world to be imperfect. However, the Church should be synonymous with purity. These days, we have some work to do in that regard. Pray for our clergy and for our people.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 6:1-8

Below are the readings for the Second Sunday after Christmas Day, January 3, 2021.

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

This is the last call for Christmas carols for the season.

There are Catholic alternatives in today’s readings, specified below.

Emphases are mine.

First reading

Jeremiah encourages God’s people to be hopeful in awaiting deliverance from captivity.

Jeremiah 31:7-14

31:7 For thus says the LORD: Sing aloud with gladness for Jacob, and raise shouts for the chief of the nations; proclaim, give praise, and say, “Save, O LORD, your people, the remnant of Israel.”

31:8 See, I am going to bring them from the land of the north, and gather them from the farthest parts of the earth, among them the blind and the lame, those with child and those in labor, together; a great company, they shall return here.

31:9 With weeping they shall come, and with consolations I will lead them back, I will let them walk by brooks of water, in a straight path in which they shall not stumble; for I have become a father to Israel, and Ephraim is my firstborn.

31:10 Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd a flock.”

31:11 For the LORD has ransomed Jacob, and has redeemed him from hands too strong for him.

31:12 They shall come and sing aloud on the height of Zion, and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the LORD, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again.

31:13 Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy, I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.

31:14 I will give the priests their fill of fatness, and my people shall be satisfied with my bounty, says the LORD.

First reading — Catholic alternative

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.

Sirach 24:1-12

24:1 Wisdom praises herself, and tells of her glory in the midst of her people.

24:2 In the assembly of the Most High she opens her mouth, and in the presence of his hosts she tells of her glory:

24:3 “I came forth from the mouth of the Most High, and covered the earth like a mist.

24:4 I dwelt in the highest heavens, and my throne was in a pillar of cloud.

24:5 Alone I compassed the vault of heaven and traversed the depths of the abyss.

24:6 Over waves of the sea, over all the earth, and over every people and nation I have held sway.”

24:7 Among all these I sought a resting place; in whose territory should I abide?

24:8 “Then the Creator of all things gave me a command, and my Creator chose the place for my tent. He said, ‘Make your dwelling in Jacob, and in Israel receive your inheritance.’

24:9 Before the ages, in the beginning, he created me, and for all the ages I shall not cease to be.

24:10 In the holy tent I ministered before him, and so I was established in Zion.

24:11 Thus in the beloved city he gave me a resting place, and in Jerusalem was my domain.

24:12 I took root in an honored people, in the portion of the Lord, his heritage.

Psalm

This is another of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s commentary says that David could have written it after building and fortifying Jerusalem.

Psalm 147:12-20

147:12 Praise the LORD, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion!

147:13 For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you.

147:14 He grants peace within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.

147:15 He sends out his command to the earth; his word runs swiftly.

147:16 He gives snow like wool; he scatters frost like ashes.

147:17 He hurls down hail like crumbs– who can stand before his cold?

147:18 He sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.

147:19 He declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel.

147:20 He has not dealt thus with any other nation; they do not know his ordinances. Praise the LORD!

Psalm — alternative Catholic reading

This passage from Wisdom recalls God’s mercy in releasing His people from captivity in Egypt and the wisdom that was with them.

Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21

10:15 A holy people and blameless race wisdom delivered from a nation of oppressors,

10:16 She entered the soul of a servant of the Lord, and withstood dread kings with wonders and signs.

10:17 She gave to holy people the reward of their labors; she guided them along a marvelous way, and became a shelter to them by day, and a starry flame through the night.

10:18 She brought them over the Red Sea, and led them through deep waters;

10:19 but she drowned their enemies, and cast them up from the depth of the sea.

10:20 Therefore the righteous plundered the ungodly; they sang hymns, O Lord, to your holy name, and praised with one accord your defending hand;

20:21 for wisdom opened the mouths of those who were mute, and made the tongues of infants speak clearly.

Epistle

Paul reminds the Ephesians that, through Christ Jesus, they are the adopted sons of God. Note the importance of wisdom as a component of faith.

Ephesians 1:3-14

1:3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

1:4 just as he chose us in Christ before the foundation of the world to be holy and blameless before him in love.

1:5 He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will,

1:6 to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved.

1:7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace

1:8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and insight

1:9 he has made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure that he set forth in Christ,

1:10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

1:11 In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will,

1:12 so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.

1:13 In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

1:14 this is the pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God’s own people, to the praise of his glory.

Gospel

We have a reprise of the Christmas Day reading from John 1. Note the mention of the New Covenant in verse 17, freeing us from ceremonial law. A commentary is in the following post:

Christmas Day — John 1:1-14 (with commentary from Matthew Poole)

John 1:(1-9), 10-18

1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

1:2 He was in the beginning with God.

1:3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being

1:4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

1:5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

1:6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John.

1:7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him.

1:8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

1:9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him.

1:11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

1:12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

1:13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

1:14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

1:15 (John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.'”)

1:16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

1:17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

1:18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

May we recall these moving, powerful verses throughout the year, when the anticipation and joy of the Christmas season are distant. Jesus, the Light of the world, is always with us, living and reigning forever-more.

I am always on the lookout for obscure paintings of shepherds to illustrate the Christmas story.

Thanks to someone who posted it on another site, here is The Shepherds and The Angel, oil on copper, which the Danish artist Carl H Bloch painted in 1879:

Shepherds and the Angel Carl H Bloch Denmark

That painting was posted in the comments to an excellent post elsewhere about a place called Migdal Eder, which translates to ‘tower of the flock’.

The post refers to the original article, ‘The Tower of the Flock’, by Dr. Juergen Buehler. He wrote it in 2012.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

We are all familiar with the angels’ and the shepherds’ role in the Christmas story, as detailed in Luke 2. An angel, followed by many more, appeared to the shepherds to say:

Do not be afraid, for behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be the sign to you: You will find a Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths, lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:10-12)

It was a first declaration of the euangelion, the Good News of the redemptive Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is remarkable to see that this first declaration made to Israelites outside the immediate family of Jesus was not given to the religious or political rulers of Israel but to shepherds keeping their flocks.

The shepherds’ fields outside Bethlehem, to this day, play a central role in the Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land.

How did Jesus describe Himself during His earthly ministry? As the Good Shepherd.

The Bible makes many references to the Lord’s elevation of the lowly. This was a great manifestation of it, to be sure.

Dr Buehler writes that one of the earliest historians of the Church and great Bible scholar, Eusebius, linked the fields just outside of Bethlehem that the shepherds were in to a biblical location, Migdal Eder:

The church historian Eusebius linked these fields to a unique biblical location called Migdal Eder, which translated means the “tower of the flock”.

The first time Migdal Eder is mentioned in the Bible is in the account of Rachel, who died after giving birth to Benjamin, the youngest son of Jacob. “Then Israel [Jacob] journeyed and pitched his tent beyond the tower of Eder”, records Genesis 35:21.

This area on the outskirts of Bethlehem is also mentioned in the Talmudic writings. According to the Talmud, all cattle found in the area surrounding Jerusalem “as far as Migdal Eder” were deemed to be holy and consecrated and could only be used for sacrifices in the Temple, in particular for the peace and Passover sacrifices. There was thus a special, consecrated circle around the city of Jerusalem.

This means the shepherds in the fields of Bethlehem who first heard the Good News from the angels were not ordinary shepherds but served the sacrificial system of the Temple. These men served the Mosaic covenant, a foreshadowing of the new covenant. And these men were now confronted with the reality of the eternal light to which their ministry had been pointing all these centuries. It was declaring a new era of salvation!

There is another mention of Migdal Eder in the Bible:

The Hebrew prophet Micah also refers to Migdal Eder. “And you, O tower of the flock, the stronghold of the daughter of Zion, to you shall it come, even the former dominion shall come, the kingdom of the daughter of Jerusalem.” (Micah 4:8)

Long ago, Jewish scholars wrote learned studies of Scripture, creating what is known as the Midrash. Based on Micah’s prophecy, the Migdal Eder would figure significantly in the story of the Messiah:

Based on that prophecy, prominent Jewish writers concluded in the Midrash that from all of the places in Israel, it would be the Migdal Eder where the arrival of the Messiah would be declared first.

That means when the angels appeared that night to the shepherds in the fields outside Bethlehem, it was not just a declaration of the Good News to simple shepherds. It was a powerful prophetic sign to all of Israel. The news of that night must have spread like wildfire through the surrounding villages.

This is why people in the vicinity marvelled at the news:

Luke records: “Now when they had seen Him, they made widely known the saying which was told them concerning this Child. And all those who heard it marveled at those things which were told them by the shepherds.” (Luke 2:17-18)

Buehler gives us several lessons from this regarding Christ’s earthly birth:

1) First, it is always beneficial for the Church to see that Jesus did not arrive into a vacuum, but was born into an entirely Jewish context. When Christ came in the flesh, he was born first-and-foremost to the Jewish people but would then also bring his favour and good pleasure to all men. Even though the celebration of Christ’s birth has become a feast marked almost exclusively by the gentile Church, it is important for us to see it in its historic and biblical context – as a message intended to give hope to Israel. As Zacharias prophesies at the birth of John the Baptist, this all happened to “perform the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember His holy covenant, the oath which He swore to our father Abraham…” (Luke 1:72f).

2) Second, already from the moment Jesus entered the world the ultimate reason for his arrival was alluded to. These were the shepherds who took care of the sheep and cattle offered in the Temple – in particular the Passover sacrifices. And it was they who were confronted with the announcement that the ultimate sacrifice, which would carry away not only the sins of Israel but of the whole world, was born. Just thirty three years later, no further sacrifice was to be needed, as all those who believe in him have been “sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10).

3) The angelic announcement gave these simple shepherds a profound revelation of who this Messiah would be. He was proclaimed to be both King (born in the city of David) and Priest. That he was both Christ and Lord, the son of man but also the son of God. He would be the saviour of humanity but also the shepherd of all those who would follow his voice.

The shepherds visited the Christ Child then proclaimed the Good News:

… the mere knowledge of this news is not enough. They needed to act upon it and they did. They went personally to see that child and then proclaimed his birth wherever they could.

We should carry forth that same enthusiasm in proclaiming the same Good News today. Let us evangelise in whatever way we can, not only during the Christmas season but beyond:

Let us follow the example of the shepherds of Bethlehem and rededicate our lives afresh to that great saviour who was born in Bethlehem. He is the shepherd of our souls (1 Peter 2:25) who died for our sins and who redeems us to reign and rule with him for eternity! This is Good News indeed!

Migdal Eder is yet another scriptural and historical key pointing the way to the Messiah, our blessed Saviour, the Good Shepherd: Jesus Christ.

Forbidden Bible Verses will appear next Sunday.

Below are the readings for the First Sunday after Christmas Day, December 27, 2020.

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

During this particular festive season, there are two Sundays after Christmas Day. That doesn’t happen very often. Therefore, if you enjoy Christmas carols, get to church, coronavirus restrictions permitting.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies God’s deliverance of His people but also the fulfilment of the promise of salvation through Jesus Christ. Gentiles — ‘the nations’ — will also be saved. In the version of the Bible that Matthew Henry used, Isaiah 62:2 reads as follows:

And the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness, and all kings thy glory: and thou shalt be called by a new name, which the mouth of the LORD shall name.

Now on to the reading:

Isaiah 61:10-62:3

61:10 I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

61:11 For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

62:1 For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

62:2 The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

62:3 You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s exposition on it is nothing less than stunning and well worth reading, especially during the Christmas season.

Psalm 148

148:1 Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights!

148:2 Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!

148:3 Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars!

148:4 Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

148:5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.

148:6 He established them forever and ever; he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.

148:7 Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps,

148:8 fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!

148:9 Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars!

148:10 Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!

148:11 Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth!

148:12 Young men and women alike, old and young together!

148:13 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; his glory is above earth and heaven.

148:14 He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!

Epistle

Paul tells the Galatians that those who follow Jesus are no longer ‘slaves’ to Mosaic law but adopted children of God. Various judaizers beset the Galatians with worries about legalism, saying that they must obey Mosaic law even as Christians. Paul’s verses are a beautiful summary of the Christmas story.

Galatians 4:4-7

4:4 But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,

4:5 in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.

4:6 And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

4:7 So you are no longer a slave but a child, and if a child then also an heir, through God.

Gospel

Perhaps I am getting old, but the more I read the account of Simeon and Anna seeing the Christ Child at the temple, the more moving it becomes. One cannot imagine what they must have experienced at that moment. Both were elderly. Both devoted their lives to God. The Holy Spirit told Simeon that he would not die until he saw the Messiah. When Simeon says ‘dismissing’ in verse 29, he means that he can now pass from this life ‘in peace’. This took place 40 days after Mary gave birth and had her ritual bath allowing her to resume public worship. The Anglican Communion has a similar ceremony, without the ritual bath, in the Churching of Women. My post makes reference to this chapter in Luke’s Gospel:

The Churching of Women — misogynist or not?

Luke 2:22-40

2:22 When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, they brought him up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord

2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),

2:24 and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

2:25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him.

2:26 It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

2:27 Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law,

2:28 Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying,

2:29 “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word;

2:30 for my eyes have seen your salvation,

2:31 which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples,

2:32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.”

2:33 And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

2:34 Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed

2:35 so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

2:36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage,

2:37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day.

2:38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

2:39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth.

2:40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Contrast Simeon and Anna’s godly reactions to the judgemental bile and wilful hatred that the Sanhedrin — the notional spiritual shepherds of the Jews — heaped upon Jesus during His ministry. Jesus — all divine, all human — knew from the beginning everything that would happen. His inner experience amongst mankind is impossible to put into words.

I hope everyone had a good Christmas, despite the circumstances in various countries this year.

May I wish those who observe it in the UK and the Commonwealth a happy Boxing Day.

In Ireland, December 26 is observed as St Stephen’s Day.

You can read a history of both Boxing Day and St Stephen’s Day below:

Boxing Day – a history

St Stephen was the Church’s first martyr. His trial and death comprise Acts 7. Some might be surprised to find in the first few verses of Acts 8 that Saul of Tarsus — later St Paul the Apostle — was instrumental in Stephen’s death.

This post has two interesting videos about Stephen’s life and the example he has set for all Christians:

St Stephen, the first martyr

The next post has expositions from Acts 7 and Acts 8:1-3 about Stephen’s final hours. The post also explains the charity that made Boxing Day a long standing tradition. It ends with an exploration of the Christmas carol Good King Wenceslas about the Bohemian monarch’s dispensing charity ‘on the feast of Stephen’ in severe winter weather as well as the his alarming martyrdom:

December 26 — St Stephen’s Day, Boxing Day and more

I plan to post again on Christmas on Sunday. Monday is a public holiday here in the UK and Ireland because Boxing/St Stephen’s Day falls on a Saturday. The last time this happened was in 2015. Being able to extend Christmas is always a bonus.

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