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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

The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity — Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 18, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:30-37

9:30 They went on from there and passed through Galilee. He did not want anyone to know it;

9:31 for he was teaching his disciples, saying to them, “The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.”

9:32 But they did not understand what he was saying and were afraid to ask him.

9:33 Then they came to Capernaum; and when he was in the house he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the way?”

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In last week’s reading, Jesus and the disciples were in Caesarea Philippi.

They left there to pass through Galilee, although Jesus did not want anyone to know it because of their unbelief (verse 30). His ministry was finished there.

As such, He was using His remaining time to teach the Apostles privately, particularly to prepare them for His death and resurrection (verse 31). He always spoke of rising again, as in Mark 8:31:

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says of Galilee and His ministry:

He passed through Galilee with more expedition than usual, and would not that any man should know of it (Mark 9:30; Mark 9:30); because he had done many mighty and good works among them in vain, they shall not be invited to see them and have the benefit of them, as they have been. The time of his sufferings drew nigh, and therefore he was willing to be private awhile, and to converse only with his disciples, to prepare them for the approaching trial, Mark 9:31; Mark 9:31.

MacArthur tells us:

There will be a little more public ministry in Judea when He gets into the south, and Matthew and Luke tell us about that, Mark really doesn’t tell us about that. Mark jumps right through the teaching lessons here, right to the arrival in Jerusalem. But for Galilee, public ministry is really over. They have made their decision concerning Him, and it is confirmed by His absence.

He was teaching, verse 31 says, His disciples. You’ll find that again in chapter 10. It flows through the tenth chapter, one lesson after another, after another, after another, given to His disciples. He is preparing them for their future. Not only does He remind them all the time about His death and prepare them for that, as much as could be done, but He instructs them on matters related to the kingdom and life in the kingdom so they’ll be able to know and instruct others.

Although they knew that Jesus is Lord, they had a difficult time understanding that their long-awaited Messiah must die; it was something that made them afraid and reluctant to discuss (verse 32).

The Jews of that time had a well-developed idea of the Messiah. Death was not part of that concept, as MacArthur explains:

Now remember, they have said, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” They know He is the Messiah, the Christ. They also know He is the Son of God, God the Son, deity.

In spite of the fact that they know that that is the case, He tells them He’s going to die. They can’t process that. They can’t handle that. They can’t comprehend that. You remember in 1 Corinthians 1:23 and following, Paul says that the cross is to the Jews a stumbling block. Right? To the Jews, it is a stumbling block. It is a stumbling block to the Jews to whom Paul writes and identifies, but it was also a stumbling block to these Jews. A crucified Messiah didn’t make sense.

They now know He is the Messiah. They know He is the Son of God. They can’t – they don’t even know the cross is the way He will die, but death, the death of the Messiah, is unacceptable to them, and so he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. They just don’t process it …

They could understand that as long as He was alive that He had power over death, but if He’s dead, who’s going to raise Him? First of all, they can’t understand the theology of a dead Messiah and they can’t understand where the power is going to come from. They’re really overcome by fear.

Verse 32, “They didn’t understand the statement and they were afraid to ask Him.” They certainly didn’t like what they’d heard up to that point, and they really didn’t want any more information. They didn’t want any details. Matthew adds they were deeply grieved – deeply grieved. They were in pain. They were in sorrow. They were in sadness even to think about this and so they just rejected it, which is a defense mechanism that we do – don’t we? – when perhaps someone that we know about and we care for and love has some terrible disease or some terrible accident and we get the initial word about death and we say, “I can’t really believe it.”

When they arrived in Capernaum in Galilee and were in the house, Jesus asked them what they had been arguing about along the way (verse 33).

The disciples had been arguing about who among them was the greatest and who would receive honour in heaven; they were ashamed to admit it to Jesus, so they remained silent (verse 34).

Mark 9 opens with the Transfiguration, which Peter along with James and John — the two sons of Zebedee — witnessed. They had seen the awe of divine glory.

Therefore, it is not surprising that the discussion became contentious, with each disciple presenting his own case for preferment.

Jesus, being omniscient, knew what the argument was about, but, as Henry says, He wanted them to confess their pride:

He knew very well what the dispute was, but he would know it from them, and would have them to confess their fault and folly in itNothing could be more contrary to the two great laws of Christ’s kingdom, lessons of his school, and instructions of his example, which are humility and love, than desiring preferment in the world, and disputing about it. This ill temper he took all occasions to check, both because it arose from a mistaken notion of his kingdom, as if it were of this world, and because it tended so directly to be debasing of the honour, and the corrupting of the purity, of his gospel, and, he foresaw, would be so much the bane of the church.

MacArthur says the dispute would have been a long one:

They’d been walking for a long time, we don’t know exactly how long, but it would be a significant journey for miles, 20, 30 – who knows? – miles, up into Caesarea Philippi, coming all the way down to Capernaum. And on the way, they were having a discussion, it was a prolonged discussion. It was a heated discussion. It was, frankly, a really ugly discussion. They were hassling with each other all the way down the trail. It was an embarrassing discussion. And our Lord exposes that.

They didn’t want to admit what they were talking about, but it related to this whole idea of death and self-denial and taking up a cross and suffering and persecution because they’re still ambitious. They’re still self-seeking. They’re highly competitive. And they’re following sort of their lifelong models of self-glorification. Very hard to overcome this. The apostles were struggling with it – even preachers in the modern world struggle with this – and what they were struggling with was which of them (verse 34) was the greatest.

The next several verses, then, focus on humility.

MacArthur explains why humility is an alien concept to fallen man:

If I were to title this section and the lesson, I might call it, “The Virtue of Being Last” – “The Virtue of Being Last.” That title would seem offensive to the culture in which you and I live because everybody wants to be first – number one – that’s the whole idea. Humility is not viewed as a virtue in our culture, and it wasn’t viewed as a virtue in ancient pagan culture, either. And it’s not just a cultural issue. Humility is foreign to fallen DNA. Humility is alien to the human heart.

The human heart, every human heart, every fallen human heart, is a relentless worshiper of itself. It is the nature of man to be dominated by pride. In a bizarre, convoluted emphasis in our society to diagnose people’s ills because they lack self-esteem, our culture has poured gas on a fire. Nobody lacks self-esteem – that’s a lie. People are dominated by self-esteem, dominated by pride, it just comes in many forms. And in those forms, people manipulate the things around them and the people around them the way they want to manipulate them and using the means they use.

Nobody lacks self-esteem, everybody is consumed with himself or herself in one way or another. To then diagnose all human ills because people lack self-esteem is to really cry out for people to be more proud when they’re already dominated by deadly pride. It is alien, then, to human life to talk about being humble, to be content to be last. And so I say if we put a big banner out in front of the church and said we’re going to have a conference on how to be last, nobody would show. We wouldn’t attract a crowd at all.

Jesus wanted to correct the disciples’ lack of humility, so He told them that whoever wants to be first must be the least and the servant of all (verse 35). He would demonstrate that at the Last Supper by washing the Apostles’ feet.

However, at this time, His message did not sink in. It comes up again in Mark 10.

MacArthur says:

you come over to chapter 10, verse 35, Jesus again (in 33 and 34) talks about His death. Again, He brings up His death, which, of course, again, is the model of humility. And immediately after that, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to say, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” “What do you want me to do?” He said. “Just grant that we may sit one on your right and one on your left in your glory.”

I mean this – the brashness of this, this is mind-boggling. This was deep into the fabric of their fallenness and of their religion. Pride just devastates unity. They actually brought their mother with them to ask on their behalf. Pride destroys unity, and unity is critical.

Returning to today’s verses, Jesus reinforced His message by bringing a small child into their midst, taking it into His arms (verse 36).

He chose a small child for its innocence and lack of pride.

Jesus said to the disciples that anyone who welcomes such a child welcomes Him and anyone who welcomes Him welcomes not only Him but also God the Father (verse 37).

Henry rephrases this for our understanding:

He took a child in his arms, that had nothing of pride and ambition in it. “Look you,” saith he; “whosoever shall receive one like this child, receives me. Those of a humble, meek, mild disposition are such as I will own and countenance, and encourage every body else to do so too, and will take what is done to them as done to myself; and so will my Father too, for he who thus receiveth me, receiveth him that sent me, and it shall be placed to his account, and repaid with interest.”

Two sentences in MacArthur’s sermon struck me:

God, who gives the rewards, gives grace to the humble, James 4:6. So pride will forfeit honor.

Here is a third:

How you treat another believer is how you treat Christ.

Those are thoughts to ponder in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity — Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 12, 2021.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 8:27-38

8:27 Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?”

8:28 And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

8:29 He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.”

8:30 And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Matthew Henry’s commentary puts the miracles of Jesus, His teachings and this reading in context for us:

We have read a great deal of the doctrine Christ preached, and the miracles he wrought, which were many, and strange, and well-attested, of various kinds, and wrought in several places, to the astonishment of the multitudes that were eye-witnesses of them. It is now time for us to pause a little, and to consider what these things mean; the wondrous works which Christ then forbade the publishing of, being recorded in these sacred writings, are thereby published to all the world, to us, to all ages; now what shall we think of them? Is the record of those things designed only for an amusement, or to furnish us with matter for discourse? No, certainly these things are written, that we may believe that Jesus is the Christ the Son of God (John 20:31); and this discourse which Christ had with his disciples, will assist us in making the necessary reflections upon the miracles of Christ, and a right use of them.

MacArthur says:

This is just a compelling passage. This is the high point of the entire Gospel of Mark. Everything prior leads up to it; everything after flows from it. This is the moment in time when the disciples settle the matter of the person of Jesus. This is the moment when they believe and are convinced and confess as to who His person is. He is the Christ, the Son of the living God, as Peter gives us in the full statement recorded in Matthew.

But there is still great confusion about not the person, but the plan. They affirm the person; they deny the plan. From the perspective of Peter and the disciples, the good news was the affirmation that they understood the person Jesus Christ to be the Messiah, the Son of the living God. To a hopeful Jew that is the ultimate revelation…

However, fast on the heels of that most glorious of all revelations, that most wondrous of all knowledge and conviction and confidence, comes the incomprehensible bad news that the Messiah is going to be killed. And I’m not sure after that they heard the part about the resurrection. Shocking news. So shocking that Peter goes from being a hero to being an antihero. So shocking that he goes from being a spokesman for God to being a spokesman for Satan. Such is the paradox of this hour. Two colliding revelations. He is Messiah, the One whose life will bring salvation and blessing to Israel and the world. Yet He will be killed by the people of Israel and the world.

As He was over two years into His ministry, Jesus used His remaining months to train and test the Apostles.

We pick up roughly where we left off last week, although Jesus performed two miracles which are not included in today’s reading. One was the Feeding of the Four Thousand and the other was an incremental healing of a blind man near Bethsaida. Some scholars say that the blind man’s healing was incremental because his faith was weak. Jesus drew him away from the crowd in private. Afterwards, when the man could see fully, Jesus told him to go home and not discuss his healing with his townspeople, many of whom were blind in unbelief, although the inference is that he could go elsewhere and speak of it.

Jesus and His disciples left Bethsaida for Caesarea Philippi; along the way, He asked them who people thought He was (verse 27).

MacArthur discusses the journey and Caesarea Philippi:

That would be 25 miles straight north of Bethsaida, which was very near the Sea of Galilee, called Fishing House, so we would assume its connection with fishing – that is, Bethsaida – straight north to Caesarea Philippi. That is on the – that’s the last outpost in Galilee. That’s the last outpost in Israel. It’s very near the ancient town of Dan.

And do you remember, back in Judges chapter 20 and in 1 Chronicles, when you wanted to know the length of the land of Israel, you would say that it went from Dan to Beersheba. Beersheba was the southernmost outpost on the border, and Dan was the northernmost outpost on the border. And Caesarea Philippi was up there on that northern border, mostly a Gentile city. It was mostly occupied by Gentiles, although officially it was in the territory of Galilee in Israel.

Originally, its name was Paneas. It had been named by the pagans who lived there once and dominated that city for the God Pan. Have you ever heard of a Pan flute? It is because, in Greek mythology, Pan is a half-man/half-goat who plays a flute. And supposedly, this mythical character was born in a cave in this vicinity, and so it came to be identified with that. There would have been a shrine to Pan still there, although his name had been replacedThis area fell into the hands of Philip the Tetrarch, and it was a political thing to do, when you got an area, to do deference to Caesar to keep him on your good side. So, he changed the name to Caesarea, which is a form of Caesar. It’s not to be confused, by the way, with the southern coastal Caesarea, west of Jerusalem. But, you know, naming cities after Caesar was something lots of folks wanted to do to curry political favor. This was, however, Caesarea Philippi connected with Philip the Tetrarch.

It is, as I said, a Gentile area. If you go 25 miles north of the Sea of Galilee, you get into the shadow of the foot of Mount Hermon which rises 9,000 feet up. And this area would have been one of the three headwaters for the water that flowed down into and made up the Jordan River. A place filled with idols because filled with Gentiles, because connected with idolatry in the past. A temple was there to Caesar Augustus. He was a mortal deity, if there is such a thing. Paneas was a mythical deity; he was a mortal deity.

The area was generally hostile to Judaism; it was generally hostile to Scripture. And so, that’s a good location for the Lord to clarify that not all religions are, after all, acceptable.

MacArthur posits that Jesus posed the question of His identity as a test:

Now look; they’ve had two-and-a-half years of school; it’s time for the exam. Two-and-a-half years they have been 24/7 with our Lord. Two-and-a-half years of divine revelation. Two-and-a-half years of thousands of miracles. Two-and-a-half years of the most profound teaching imaginable and unimaginable …

So, when we come to this passage, then, first comes the good news, and that is the confession. And it is launched by an exam. I love these kinds of exams. There are only two questions in this exam. I like a two-question exam, get right to the point. Two questions. Question number one, “He was questioning His disciples, saying to them” – and this is in conversation back and forth, ebb and flow – “‘Who do the people’” – hoi anthrōpoi – that’s a generic term – “‘Who do the people say that I am?’” Just another prophet? Who do they say I am, the people?

Jesus received the answer, which one would expect of onlookers who were astounded by His miracles yet could not quite grasp His teaching. People thought he was John the Baptist, Elijah or one of the prophets (verse 28).

Note that none said He was the Messiah.

MacArthur explains why:

Their messianic concept was highly developed.

they couldn’t get to the point where they saw Jesus as the Messiah because He didn’t fit that. He wasn’t a military leader. He wasn’t a conqueror. He wasn’t a destroyer of armies. He didn’t look like a king, act like a king. So, they come up short. John 3:1 to 2, “We know You are a teacher come from God, because nobody can do what You do except God be with him. So, we get that. We get it. You are a prophet from God.” And that’s what they’re all saying. That’s the popular view: John the Baptist, Jeremiah, Elijah. And I’m sure they threw in some others. That’s question number one on the test.

If we follow MacArthur’s line of reasoning, Jesus asked the second exam question, soliciting the opinion of the disciples as to who He is; Peter said the He is the Messiah (verse 29).

MacArthur says:

Peter confesses exactly what the gospels are demonstrating. He doesn’t have the gospels. He’s there; he lives it. So, he comes to the conclusion that any good, faithful gospel reader has to come to.

MacArthur warns us about the dangers of not reading the Bible to learn about Jesus:

they – the disciples – conclude exactly what John says the gospels were written to prove. John 20:31, “These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.” That’s why the four gospels were written, John 20:31. It comes at the end of the fourth gospel. They’re all written that you might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God.

… So, don’t give me any nonsense about you’re searching for the historical Jesus outside the gospels. That is a pretext for trying to destroy the Scriptures, and that is Satan’s game.

Jesus sternly told them not to say anything about His identity (verse 30). This is because His work was not finished.

This becomes clearer in verse 31 when he said that He must — note the use of the imperative — undergo great suffering, rejection by the religious and secular authorities, be killed, then, three days later, rise again.

Jesus spoke of those events openly, and Peter took Him aside to rebuke Him (verse 32).

MacArthur analyses what must have been going through the disciples’ minds:

How could they ever process this? I guess they didn’t think of Isaiah 53, “He would be wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities, and the chastisement of our peace would fall on Him, and by His stripes we would be healed.” Isaiah 53 lays it out: the suffering servant, the servant will suffer and die. And so, the bad news comes on the heels of the good news. And it’s the worst news imaginable. It’s incomprehensible. They can’t even process it. I don’t think they even heard the last part, “And after three days rise again.” He had said that before, early in His ministry, before these guys even were a part of His life, when He said, “Destroy this body, in three days I’ll raise it up.” Here He says it again …

Did they not know Isaiah 53 ends, in verses 10 to 12, that the Messiah will be glorified and exalted and lifted up after His substitutionary sacrificial death in which He dies as a substitute for transgressors? The resurrection is certain. It’s as certain as the crucifixion.

Jesus rebuked Peter in front of the disciples, calling him Satan and telling him that he is focusing on the human rather than the divine (verse 33).

Henry says the rebuke was public so that the other disciples could correct their own mistaken thinking:

He turned about, as one offended, and looked on his disciples, to see if the rest of them were of the same mind, and concurred with Peter in this, that, if they did, they might take the reproof to themselves, which he was now about to give to Peter; and he said, Get thee behind me, Satan.

MacArthur introduces the next four verses:

When we come to chapter 8, verses 34 to 38, we really come to the diamond for which the rest of the gospel is the setting. This is the jewel of the Gospel of Mark. If you could only hear one message in the Gospel of Mark, this would perhaps be the most important one that you could ever hear because it is the pinnacle of our Lord’s teaching, with regard to inviting sinners to come to Him.

Jesus called the crowd to join with the disciples to hear Him say that those who wished to follow Him would have to deny themselves and take up their own cross in order to do so (verse 34).

MacArthur says that this is in stark contrast to what we hear in church:

It doesn’t sound, perhaps, like any invitation you ever heard in a church. This invitation deals a death blow to man-centered, self-centered invitations. This is not an invitation to health, or wealth, or fulfillment, or prosperity, or healing, or a boosted self-image, or trouble-free living. This is an invitation to self-denial, cross bearing, and obedience. But this is the Lord’s invitation, and this is the one that we must give if we would be faithful.

Jesus went on to say that those who follow Him will lose their temporal lives for an eternal life for His sake and the sake of the Gospel (verse 35).

He asked what the point would be of gaining the whole world and deny Him only to lose one’s soul for eternity (verse 36). What would they have to offer in eternity for a worldly life (verse 37)?

Henry’s explanation of those verses includes a marvellous saying of an Anglican, Bishop Hooper, martyred during the reign of Mary ‘Bloody Mary’ Tudor:

For what shall it profit a man, if he should gain the whole world, and all the wealth, honour, and pleasure, in it, by denying Christ, and lose his own soul? True it is,” said Bishop Hooper, the night before he suffered martyrdom, “that life is sweet, and death is bitter, but eternal death is more bitter, and eternal life is more sweet. As the happiness of heaven with Christ, is enough to countervail the loss of life itself for Christ, so the gain of all the world in sin, is not sufficient to countervail the ruin of the soul by sin.

Jesus concluded with a stark warning, another one we rarely hear in church: those who are ashamed of Him in this perfidious and sinful world will face shame from Him when the final, glorious judgement day comes (verse 38).

The use of ‘adulterous’ applies to turning away from Him — and, by extension, God — to be comfortable in this life.

Henry provides this analysis:

Something like this we had, Matthew 10:33. But it is here expressed more fully. Note, [1.] The disadvantage that the cause of Christ labours under this world, is, that it is to be owned and professed in an adulterous and sinful generation; such the generation of mankind is, gone a whoring from God, in the impure embraces of the world and the flesh, lying in wickedness; some ages, some places, are more especially adulterous and sinful, as that was in which Christ lived; in such a generation the cause of Christ is opposed and run down, and those that own it, are exposed to reproach and contempt, and every where ridiculed and spoken against. [2.] There are many, who, though they cannot but own that the cause of Christ is a righteous cause, are ashamed of it, because of the reproach that attends the professing of it; they are ashamed of their relation to Christ, and ashamed of the credit they cannot but give to his words; they cannot bear to be frowned upon and despised, and therefore throw off their profession, and go down the stream of a prevailing apostasy. [3.] There is a day coming, when the cause of Christ will appear as bright and illustrious as now it appears mean and contemptible; when the Son of man comes in the glory of his Father with his holy angels, as the true Shechinah, the brightness of his Father’s glory, and the Lord of angels. [4.] Those that are ashamed of Christ in this world where he is despised, he will be ashamed of in that world where he is eternally adored. They shall not share with him in his glory then, that were not willing to share with him in his disgrace now.

Returning to Peter, after receiving the Holy Spirit on the first Pentecost, he understood our Lord’s teaching. MacArthur reminds us of the letter Peter wrote to his converts:

Peter learned; he really did. It would be good to close by looking at 1 Peter, just a couple of comments. First Peter 2:21, Peter writes, “You’ve been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps.” He suffered and so will you. “He committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth” – verse 22 – “and while being reviled, He didn’t revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously.” He’s writing to suffering believers who are being persecuted, and He’s saying, “This is the path to glory, and the model is your Savior.” This is Jesus’ path to glory; this is our path as well.

And then verse 24 shows He understood the substitutionary atonement of Christ, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness.” Ah, and he did now understand Isaiah 53, for he draws this final statement from it, “by His wounds you are healed.”

So, he understood the substitutionary atonement, and he understood the path to glory through suffering for even the Savior, as well as for all who follow the Savior. So, he says in chapter 4, verse 12, “Don’t be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you.” Don’t be surprised. Verse 13, “To the degree you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing.” Verse 19, “Those who suffer according to the will of God shall entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” Learn to suffer; it’s the path. It’s the path to glory.

Chapter 5, verse 10, “After you’ve suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.” And then here is a doxology that must have come from his own experience, “To Him be dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

Peter died in Rome along with his wife, martyrs both for His everlasting glory.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday in the life and love of Christ.

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

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity — Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 5, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:24-37

7:24 From there he set out and went away to the region of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know he was there. Yet he could not escape notice,

7:25 but a woman whose little daughter had an unclean spirit immediately heard about him, and she came and bowed down at his feet.

7:26 Now the woman was a Gentile, of Syrophoenician origin. She begged him to cast the demon out of her daughter.

7:27 He said to her, “Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.”

7:28 But she answered him, “Sir, even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

7:29 Then he said to her, “For saying that, you may go–the demon has left your daughter.”

7:30 So she went home, found the child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

7:31 Then he returned from the region of Tyre, and went by way of Sidon towards the Sea of Galilee, in the region of the Decapolis.

7:32 They brought to him a deaf man who had an impediment in his speech; and they begged him to lay his hand on him.

7:33 He took him aside in private, away from the crowd, and put his fingers into his ears, and he spat and touched his tongue.

7:34 Then looking up to heaven, he sighed and said to him, “Ephphatha,” that is, “Be opened.”

7:35 And immediately his ears were opened, his tongue was released, and he spoke plainly.

7:36 Then Jesus ordered them to tell no one; but the more he ordered them, the more zealously they proclaimed it.

7:37 They were astounded beyond measure, saying, “He has done everything well; he even makes the deaf to hear and the mute to speak.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The Lectionary continues with Mark 7, where we left off last week.

John MacArthur provides context for today’s readings. Jesus is now far away from Capernaum and is in Gentile territory. MacArthur also gives us an insight into the audience for Mark’s Gospel:

Now remember that Mark is in Rome when he writes this Gospel. Mark is writing from Rome, and he’s writing an account of the life and death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ for Gentile readers, primarily. Obviously it extended to everyone, but his primary goal is to write for the Gentile world. It is then important to Mark that he communicates in his Gospel that salvation extends to the whole world. You wouldn’t get that message if you just talked to the Jews of New Testament times. They viewed Gentiles as outcasts

But that was not the attitude of our Lord and nor was that what the Old Testament promised. For example, in the book of Isaiah it comes very clear to us that there is only one God for the whole world – only one God for the entire world. Isaiah 42 says, “Thus says God the LORD, who created the heavens and stretched them out, who spread out the earth and its offspring, who gives breath to the people on it and spirit to those who walk in it.” This is God, the only God …

In Isaiah 45 verse 5, “I am the LORD; there is no other. Besides Me there is no God.” There is only one God – only one God, no other gods, all the idols of the world are not gods …

Salvation has always intended to be to the world. If you ask the question, “Then why in John 4 did Jesus say, ‘Salvation is of the Jews?’” Why in Matthew 10 verses 5 and 6 did Jesus say, “I have not come but for the lost sheep of the house of Israel?” The answer is that Israel was never intended to be the end of God’s saving purpose but the means to the end. The reason our Lord came to Israel was to bring salvation to Israel so that Israel could be the means to Gentile salvation. And while the nation rejected, there were enough who believed – the Twelve, the 120, the 500 in Galilee – who then took the gospel on the heels of the Great Commission to the ends of the earth. We’re a part of the fruit of that. Aren’t we? We’re the Gentiles who make up the church, along with those Jews who have come to embrace their Messiah. We’re the fruit of that early generation of believers who were the means. And the first evangelists were Jewish. The early church was Jewish, three thousand converted on the Day of Pentecost, thousands more as the weeks rolled on, who began to extend the gospel and fulfill the Great Commission

We get a glimpse of that here in the story in Mark 7 verses 24 to 30. Here Jesus leaves Israel and He goes on a very long foray deep into Gentile territory. He’s into the last year of His ministry. The gospel ministry in Galilee has been going on for over a year. There are not a lot of believers. Most have rejected, the Pharisees and Sadducees hate Him. They’re looking to kill Him. There will be a national rejection and a cry for His death soon to come. But there will be enough Jews in the kingdom to carry the message to the world.

Jesus — and the Twelve — went to the region of Tyre, where He entered a house and wanted to go in without anyone noticing, yet He could not escape being seen (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us about Tyre:

The region of Tyre would be in the country known as Phoenicia. Phoenicia has two famous cities, Tyre and Sidon. This account of Mark is paralleled in Matthew 15 verses 21 to 28, and Matthew says, “Tyre and Sidon.” They’re two coastal cities, twenty miles apart – famous, famous cities, famous in history, famous in the Old Testament, as I told you, quoted in Psalm 87, famous because of the conquering of Alexander the Great. They are the main cities in Gentile country, Phoenicia, north and west of Galilee, pressing against the Mediterranean coast.

This was not a day trip:

He went to Tyre and He was there a while. We don’t know how long. And then He went 20 miles and Tyre was 50 miles away from Capernaum, Galilee – Sea of Galilee area. Then He went 20 miles north and He went through Sidon, the sister city. We don’t know how long He was there. And then He followed the highway east back across the mountains of Lebanon, a very circuitous route, even going further north than Sidon, and going through the mountains and then down to the south, east of the Sea of Galilee and then back toward the Sea of Galilee in the middle of Decapolis which didn’t begin until the southern part of the Sea of Galilee, was a Gentile area called Decapolis, a Greek word for ten cities. This is a very long trip. He would have walked at least – if He just took a direct route – 120 to 150 miles. It took weeks, maybe months.

There are no great teaching events in Tyre. There are no great teaching events in Sidon. In all the weeks that He was trekking through the challenging trails of the mountains of Lebanon, there is no indication that anything happened. He had with Him His Twelve Apostles. The assumption is, the rejection of Galilee is fixed, now it’s time to turn to these men and train them. He’s already reached the point where He only explains the parables to them, not the crowds. Now it’s time to intensify their training.

A woman whose daughter had an unclean spirit — a demon — heard He was there, so she sought Him and bowed down at his feet (verse 25).

She humbled herself before Him, as we all should.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Note, Those that would obtain mercy from Christ, must throw themselves at his feet; must refer themselves to him, humble themselves before him, and give up themselves to be ruled by him. Christ never put any from him, that fell at his feet

She was a Syrophonecian, a Gentile, and begged Him to cast the demon out of her daughter (verse 26).

In using an analogy of feeding children first, then dogs, Jesus replied that He came to save the children of Israel first (verse 27).

Henry said that He replied in such a way in order to test her faith:

Where Christ knows the faith of poor supplicants to be strong, he sometimes delights to try it, and put it to the stretch.

Yet, He knew that He would be going into Gentile areas after His own rejected Him:

Let the children first be filled, intimates that there was mercy in reserve for the Gentiles, and not far off; for the Jews began already to be surfeited with the gospel of Christ, and some of them had desired him to depart out of their coasts. The children begin to play with their meat, and their leavings, their loathings, would be a feast for the Gentiles. The apostles went by this rule, Let the children first be filled, let the Jews have the first offer; and if their full souls loathe this honeycomb, Lo, we turn to the Gentiles!

The woman pointed out that even dogs ate the crumbs that fell from the dining table (verse 28).

She meant that she did not require a full loaf, just one crumb — one healing — from Him would suffice for her.

Henry offers this analysis, positing that she might have heard of the miracle of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which had happened not long before:

This she speaks, not as undervaluing the mercy, or making light of it in itself, but magnifying the abundance or miraculous cures with which she heard the Jews were feasted, in comparison with which a single cure was but as a crumb. Gentiles do not come in crowds, as the Jews do; I come alone. Perhaps she had heard of Christ’s feeding five thousand lately at once, after which, even when they had gathered up the fragments, there could not but be some crumbs left for the dogs.

MacArthur thinks that the woman might even had seen Jesus in Galilee. This would be feasible, as there was a lot of travel and mixing between Jew and Gentile, although not in a deep sense of friendship and marriage. They knew of each other’s religions and customs:

She’s certainly very familiar with Jesus. She not only knows what He’s capable of doing, she even knows who He is. My guess is that she had been there in Galilee, probably for a long enough time to really be sure about this person Jesus. She had been there, in those crowds.

You remember that it tells us in the New Testament that if the miracles that were done in Capernaum had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented. Well this is one of the ladies that would have repented because she did repent. Not because of what she saw in Tyre and Sidon, but because of what she must have seen in Capernaum. So Jesus goes into Gentile territory. This is a preview of what is to come when the gospel goes to the ends of the earth. This is a personal affirmation from Jesus that salvation belongs outside Israel.

This woman understood her place — as a dog — in the eyes of the Jews:

Matthew says she was a Canaanite. Bad enough to be a Gentile, worse to be a Canaanite, because the Canaanites were cursed by God and they were supposed to be exterminated. There shouldn’t be any Canaanites left. So she’s vestiges of a cursed race and a Syrophoenician. Humm, what does that mean?

Well Phoenicia was the name of the country, but under a Roman general, Ptolemy, who ruled there for a while, he had annexed Phoenicia to Syria. So Syria and Phoenicia became one, and she was a Syrophoenician. Her influences were all to be rejected by the Jews. First of all, she was a woman, that was bad enough. And then she was a Canaanite, the general category of Gentile, of course. But being a Syrophoenician identified her, of course, with the Romans. She was therefore as a Canaanite corrupted by Baal worship and as somebody in a Romans-influenced culture, corrupted doubly by the gods of the Romans. And in the city of Tyre, of course, that’s where Jezebel lived, and that’s where Baal worship originated. But they also had the Roman gods and there’s some evidence that they worshiped a god named Astarte. Astarte was the goddess of beauty and the moon goddess, and Astarte is a Greek name for Ashtoreth. And you will remember that Baal and Ashtoreth were worshiped by Israel of old. So they made a transition from Baal and Ashtoreth to the Astarte version, so they were just engulfed in idolatry. The Jews had been cleansed of idolatry when they came back from the Babylonian captivity.

Jesus acknowledged the woman’s faith by healing her daughter (verse 29).

The woman returned home to find her little girl lying on the bed, the demon gone (verse 30).

MacArthur says that the girl was probably somewhere between the ages of seven and ten and that the demon caused her to act in immoral ways:

This is a little girl. This is a young girl, an unmarried girl under the age of twelve, thirteen, when people got married. Who knows? Eight, nine, ten, seven – who knows? A demon-possessed child. Horrific experience for a mother. I think much more common in the world today than we understand or that demons want us to understand …

The unclean aspect would probably mean that the demon was manifesting itself in some kind of immoral conduct in a child. Horrible, horrible situation, and her heart is grieved and broken, and she has nowhere to turn. Do you think she had gone through whatever ceremonies her idol gods required? Probably. Do you think she had tried to appeal to whatever deities she had been taught existed? Sure. Whatever she had done in the past, she had lost all confidence in them. She is now doing what 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says the Thessalonians did, “They turned from idols to the living God.” Whenever you talk about idols and the living God, it’s because there’s a contrast between a living God and dead idols. Read Isaiah 44 and watch how foolish it is to make a god out of a piece of wood.

Or today’s trendy crystals, for that matter …

Our Lord’s ministry took Him and the Twelve from the region of Tyre to that of Sidon, the other principal city, which was towards the Sea of Galilee in the region of the Decapolis — ‘ten cities’ (verse 31).

MacArthur describes the journey:

He’s now moving directly north. Sidon is twenty miles north of Tyre, straight up the coast. There is no record that He taught there. There’s no record that He healed anybody there. There’s no record that He had any public presence there. It’s possible, because in John 21:25 it says that if all the things He did were written down, the books of the world couldn’t contain them. We can assume that He had a divine purpose in going from Tyre to Sidon. We just don’t have a record of what that was. But again, John says more is left out of the record even with four Gospels than is included. This again is important for Him because after going to Tyre, it says that He moves from there, according to verse 31, through Sidon to the Sea of Galilee within the region of Decapolis.

Now Decapolis is on the east of the Sea of Galilee and the south end. It’s called Decapolis because it is a region with ten cities, Hellenized, Greek-influenced cities, pagan cities, heathen cities, non-Jewish cities, but it is from the lower part of the eastern side of the Sea of Galilee and south from there. So He’s all the way to the northwest and He ends up all the way in the southeast of Galilee. And He takes that complete circuitous trip going way further north than one would need to go to get to the area of Decapolis for the purpose of extending the time in order that He might teach the Twelve personally. He visits on His journey outlying areas of Galilee, Bethsaida, Caesarea Philippi, way, way up on the north border between Israel and Lebanon, twenty-five miles north of the lake.

There the people brought before Him a man who had a speech impediment and asked Him to heal him by laying a hand on him (verse 32).

MacArthur explains the importance of this request and says that this story appears in Mark’s Gospel alone:

Believe me, they had never seen anything like this from any or all of their deities combined. They recognize that the God of Israel is a God of a completely different nature than theirs. Now it is in that context that we come to Mark 7, because it is in that context that this miracle takes place. This is one of those who was thrown at His feet by friends and family, a deaf mute. And again, this is one of three accounts in Mark’s Gospel that appear nowhere else in the other three Gospels.

In both Gentile and Jewish cultures, life was very difficult for the deaf because they could not make themselves understood. Blind people could at least speak but the deaf were often considered insane because of their indistinct verbal communication:

Even in Israel – and this is a sad reality – but even in Israel, deaf mutes were categorized with the insane because the rabbis said, we have no way of knowing what they understand. They were not granted normal human rights. And in the Gentile world, it was worse. Who knows what life was like for this man or for all the others. The Jews would also heap on the person the fact that if they had that kind of malady they were under the curse of God and the judgment of God, and it would be viewed by the Pharisees and Sadducees as unclean because they were under divine judgment. We don’t know what perspective all the Gentiles had, depending on what deities they worshiped, but these would be people who in any culture were outcasts, treated with disdain. Because it was virtually impossible to communicate with them, it was assumed that they had these limiting capacities mentally.

Jesus took the man away from the crowd and did four things He normally did not do when performing a healing miracle.

He put His fingers into the man’s ears, He spat, He touched his tongue (verse 33) and, looking up to heaven, He sighed on him, saying, ‘Ephphatha’ — ‘Be opened’ (verse 34).

Immediately, the man could hear, his tongue functioned normally and he could speak clearly (verse 35).

Henry gives us a lengthy analysis of these actions, all meant to convey divine healing power:

2. He used more significant actions, in the doing of this cure, than usual. (1.) He put his fingers into his ears, as if he would syringe them, and fetch out that which stopped them up. (2.) He spit upon his own finger, and then touched his tongue, as if he would moisten his mouth, and so loosen that with which his tongue was tied; these were no causes that could in the least contribute to his cure, but only signs of the exerting of that power which Christ had in himself to cure him, for the encouraging of his faith, and theirs that brought him. The application was all from himself, it was his own fingers that he put into his ears, and his own spittle that he put upon his tongue; for he alone heals.

3. He looked up to heaven, to give his Father the praise of what he did; for he sought his praise, and did his will, and, as Mediator, acted in dependence on him, and with an eye to him. Thus he signified that it was by a divine power, a power he had as the Lord from heaven, and brought with him thence, that he did this; for the hearing ear and the seeing eye the Lord has made, and can remake even both of them. He also hereby directed his patient who could see, though he could not hear, to look up to heaven for relief. Moses with his stammering tongue is directed to look that way (Exodus 4:11); Who hath made man’s mouth? Or who maketh the dumb or deaf, or the seeing or the blind? Have not I the Lord?

4. He sighed; not as if he found any difficulty in working this miracle, or obtaining power to do it from his father; but thus he expressed his pity for the miseries of human life, and his sympathy with the afflicted in their afflictions, as one that was himself touched with the feeling of their infirmities. And as to this man, he sighed, not because he was loth to do him this kindness, or did it with reluctancy; but because of the many temptations which he would be exposed to, and the sins he would be in danger of, the tongue-sins, after the restoring of his speech to him, which before he was free from. He had better be tongue-tied still, unless he have grace to keep his mouth as with a bridle,Psalms 39:1.

5. He said, Ephphatha; that is, Be opened. This was nothing that looked like spell or charm, such as they used, who had familiar spirits, who peeped and muttered,Isaiah 8:19. Christ speaks as one having authority, and power went along with the word. Be opened, served both parts of the cure; “Let the ears be opened, let the lips be opened, let him hear and speak freely, and let the restraint be taken off;” and the effect was answerable (Mark 7:35; Mark 7:35); Straightway his ears were opened, and the string of his tongue was loosed, and all was well: and happy he who, as soon as he had his hearing and speech, had the blessed Jesus so near him to converse with.

MacArthur looks at the command ‘Ephphatha’ and the fact that the man could speak when he never before heard any language:

Verse 34, “He said to him, ‘Ephphatha,’ that is ‘be opened.’” That’s probably an Aramaic statement – verb. Some think it might be a Hebrew, but the weight of evidence is on Aramaic, which would have been the language Jesus spoke every day. Ephphatha – be opened.” The response was instant, absolutely instant. With a word out of His mouth, one verb, ephphatha, the power came. Verse 35 says, “His ears were opened and the impediment” – the bond, the desmos, it’s the word for chains that chain a prisoner, the chain of his tongue – “was broken and he began speaking plainly.” In an instant he could hear perfectly and he could speak plainly.

Do you understand the extent of this? To hear is one thing. To be able to know that what you’re hearing is language when you’ve never heard language is another miracle. Right? There’s no speech therapy here. He doesn’t have to go to language class to learn Aramaic or Greek. He has full facility in the language that he’s never heard. To hear it and understand it and speak it plainly. The word plainly in the Greek is orthōs from which we get orthopedics. It means to straighten things out. Correctly would be the right translation, to put something back to the correct alignment. He heard and spoke perfectly. No therapy, no learning curve, nobody had to teach him how to form the letters, form the words, nobody had to teach him what the words were. He received an instant facility in the language to hear it and speak it implanted in his brain. It’s really stunning. No recovery period, but then there never is in Jesus’ miracles. There’s no progression here. He couldn’t hear; now he hears. He couldn’t speak, and now he speaks. And he hears perfectly and he speaks perfectly. This is staggering. The man unable to speak is now enabled to speak.

And then we come to a third point. He is unable not to speak. Now that he can speak, he can’t hold it back.

Jesus told the crowd not to tell anyone of the miracle, but they could not contain themselves, even when He repeatedly ordered them to again (verse 36).

MacArthur says that this is because Jesus did not want to be known solely as a miracle worker but as our Redeemer. His authorship of our redemption — crucifixion and resurrection — had not yet been accomplished but was to come. At this point, His ministry could be at risk of spinning out of control, so He had to rein the crowd in:

Don’t spread the message that I’m a healer and a miracle worker. That’s not the whole story. It would be like you having one part of the gospel story that Jesus was born of a virgin, came into the world, did miracles and healed people, and preached the kingdom of God, and that’s the story. That’s not the story, because it doesn’t include – what? – the cross, and it doesn’t include the resurrection. That’s the full story. So He says this again.

This was not the case earlier in Gerasa, where the Gadarene swine miracle took place. The man whom Jesus rid of demons was the first missionary to Decapolis. Jesus wanted him to tell the people who He was:

… back in chapter 5 when Jesus was in Gadara, Gerasa which is also in Gentile territory over in the same area, and He healed the man who had the legion of demons, He said to him, “Go home to your people and report to them what great things the Lord has done for you and how He had mercy on you. And the man went away and began to proclaim in Decapolis what great things Jesus had done for him and everyone was amazed.” He tells that man to tell everybody. He tells this man to tell nobody. What’s the difference here? How do we explain that?

We explain that because the maniac was the first missionary to Decapolis. There had never been anybody to talk about Jesus there before. And it needed to be established who He was and what He could do and His power. But now it’s reached epic proportions, massive crowds.

The crowd’s astonishment knew no bounds and they marvelled at His perfection in healing the deaf and the mute (verse 37).

Henry explains their sense of astonishment:

… they that told it, and they that heard it, were beyond measure astonished, hyperperissos–more than above measure; they were exceedingly affected with it, and this was said by every body, it was the common verdict, He hath done all things well (Mark 7:37; Mark 7:37); whereas there were those that hated and persecuted him as an evil-doer, they are ready to witness for him, not only that he has done no evil, but that he has done a great deal of good, and has done it well, modestly and humbly, and very devoutly, and all gratis, without money and without price, which added much to the lustre of his good works. He maketh both the deaf to hear, and the dumb to speak; and that is well, it is well for them, it is well for their relations, to whom they had been a burthen; and therefore they are inexcusable who speak ill of him.

MacArthur says that the only time ‘hyperperissos’ is used is in the New Testament:

The word for utterly astonished, one word in Greek, huperperissōs – huperperissōs. It’s used only here in the New Testament. It is a compound word, very, very strong. It means above all measure, over the top, superabundantly amazed and astonished. They had their minds blown in the vernacular. They’re just completely amazed. They can’t contain it. They cannot keep this in. So they spread it everywhere.

I hope there will be good sermons on this reading on Sunday. Henry and MacArthur’s respective commentaries have made me see these two miracles in a new light.

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

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity — the Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 29, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

7:1 Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him,

7:2 they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.

7:3 (For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders;

7:4 and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.)

7:5 So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?”

7:6 He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me;

7:7 in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’

7:8 You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”

7:14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand:

7:15 there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”

7:21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder,

7:22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly.

7:23 All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in the ministry of Jesus comes after the events of John 6, which concluded last week.

John MacArthur explains:

We have just come from some events in the ministry of Jesus that mark the peak of His popularity. A sort of peak event is described in [Mark’s] chapter 6, the feeding of the, let’s say, twenty-five thousand people. Jesus created fish and crackers out of His own hands, fed them all, and they collected twelve baskets to feed the twelve apostles. It is a miracle of power, creative power, and a miracle of amazing precision. Just exactly enough and twelve left over to feed the apostles.

This massive miracle stunned the crowd. And according to John – all four gospels record that miracle. According to John’s gospel, they were so overwhelmed by this that they wanted to make Him the king by force. This is the apex of His popularity. He refuses that shallow, superficial, self-interested effort to make Him king so that they could continue to benefit from His powers without necessarily believing His message. He refused that. And He said, “I would rather talk about the bread of life, spiritual things far more important than these physical things.”

They wanted nothing to do with that. In that same chapter in John, it tells the story of them wanting to make Him a king, ends with the comment that many of His disciples left Him and walked no more with Him. They went away when He told them the issues that He was concerned about were spiritual and not material. They were materialists. They were religious materialists. Their religion was superficial, not from the heart. Superficial religion doesn’t change the heart. They were materialists at heart and they were supernaturalists in their ceremonies. But in any case, they did not love God nor worship Him from the heart. They didn’t hate their own sin, they didn’t embrace Jesus as the Redeemer and the Savior

His popularity then begins to fade, and the work of the scribes and Pharisees to discredit Him is beginning to gain momentum. In fact, we know the timing of this because John 6 says it was around the Passover that He fed that crowd, probably preliminary to the Passover. So we know it’s a year now from His death. The Galilean ministry is coming to its end. During that last year of ministry, He spends His time training the twelve.

Well, here a conflict occurs that probably happened a lot – a lot. We can’t assume that this a rare occasion but more likely this is a common occasion. Maybe the issue shifted a little bit. Maybe it was on this issue as well other times, but He was in constant conflict with the leaders of Israel embodied in the scribes and Pharisees.

The Pharisees and some of the scribes came from Jerusalem to gather around Jesus (verse 1).

MacArthur surmises that the Galilean leaders wanted support from the temple:

Very prestigious group, no doubt requested by Galilean counterparts who needed some help to discredit Jesus and wanted the experts from Jerusalem to show up. They are legalistic, self-righteous, external, hypocritical, phony, religious members of the establishment. They are of their father, the devil, full of hate for the truth, hate for the Son of God, purveyors of lies. They are the darkness and they hate the light. They come from Jerusalem, which means they have more prestige than anybody else. They want Jesus dead, and they’re looking for more ways to make sure that can happen, things for which to indict Him. And the battle intensifies. This is a head-on collision between true and heart religion and false and external religion.

The leaders from Jerusalem pointed out that our Lord’s disciples had not washed their hands before eating (verse 2).

The Jews had many traditions about hand washing (verse 3), including under what circumstances and what implements (verse 4).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that these traditions had added to the hygiene requirements specified in Scripture and enforced them as vigorously:

There were many cases in which, by the law of Moses, washings were appointed; but they added to them, and enforced the observation of their own impositions as much as of God’s institutions.

MacArthur tells us how these traditions originated and developed. One rule for washing one’s hands included a ritual involving the fist:

They were not nearly so concerned about Scripture as they were their tradition. They had made their tradition equal to the Scripture.

… It all started – Moses gave the oral law at Sinai and then the law of God was written down, the Pentateuch being the primary law, and the rest of the Old Testament came. The Jews were concerned about the holiness of the law in external ways and they wanted to protect the law.

So when the law was handed down, there were some of the leaders of the great synagogue at Jerusalem who said, “We need to build a fence around the law. We need to make sure that that law is kept. And in order to make sure that law is kept, let’s put a fence around it away from it, and if people stop at the fence, then they’ll never get close to violating the law.” So the fence consisted of generation after generation of rituals and rules and ceremonies and behaviors of all kind, prohibitions, precepts to protect, supposedly, the law of God. And that’s the accusation. Not that Jesus broke the law, but that He violated the traditions.

When the Jews came back from captivity, they did want to protect the law. They wanted to keep the law. Remember Ezra? Ezra studied the law and observed the law and taught the law, and you remember he got up and read the law, and there was a great revival. The law was recovered when they came back at the end of the seven-year captivity. And so Ezra was the first of a group of men known as scribes, and their job was to study the law and explain the law so that people would know what the law was and they would be able to avoid violating God’s holy law.

Well, hypocrisy was already everywhere soon after Israel came back, and so they decided that in order to assure that people wouldn’t break the law, they’d just put up more and more and more and more and more barriers. A massive amount of material developed, I mean massive, called the Tradition of the Elders. In fact, 200 A.D., not long after the life of our Lord, Rabbi Jehuda pulled together all of this material, and it was an eclectic array of material, some of it sort of authoritative teaching by rabbis, some of it scribbled notes by students. It was all kinds of material, good, bad, and indifferent, ranging from things that were stupid and foolish and crazy to things that were more sensible. This mass of material was all collected together, put in one form, and it was called the Mishnah and that means “to repeat.” It represented the total accumulated content of Jewish tradition. It contains the decisions of wise men and the musings of idiots and everything in between. But the idea was to elucidate and interpret the law. The material is full of books, tracts, treatises, headings, chapters, paragraphs.

For example, Mark tells us they had all kinds of laws about the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots. Actually, there are thirty chapters in the Mishnah about the ceremonial ritual cleansing of pots and pans. Come on, thirty chapters? Because it wasn’t about sanitation, it’s about ceremonial ritual cleansing. So it takes thirty chapters for you to follow the minutia and the prescription of this kind of ritualistic cleaning of a pot or a pan.

Well, there’s one whole volume on rinsing your hands ceremonially, and that may be where the fist comes in. I’m not sure just how that worked. Well, it was discovered that the Mishnah needed clarity, the Mishnah needed supplementation, and so commentaries were written explaining the Mishnah and they were called Gemara. At first they were oral, and then they began to be collected. Gemara means complete. So you have the Mishnah and then explaining the Mishnah, you have the Gemara. The rabbinical school at Jerusalem then took the Mishnah and the Gemara and put them both together and came up with the Talmud. Have you heard that word? That’s all of that stuff. And then the rabbis at Babylon wrote their own Talmud four times larger than the Jerusalem Talmud. Now, no wonder Jesus said, “You bind heavy burdens on people, they can’t even carry them.” How could you eve get through that stuff?

Then they didn’t have enough, so then came the Midrash. The Midrash was all the rabbinic commentary on the books of the Bible. So you had this mass of material that totally covered up the actual Scripture

With this in mind, such as it was at the time of this confrontation, the Pharisees and scribes asked Jesus why His disciples were not obeying tradition and washing their hands before eating (verse 5).

Jesus responded, referencing Isaiah’s words about the Jews of that time honouring God with their lips only and not their hearts (verse 6).

Henry elaborates:

They honour me with their lips, they pretend it is for the glory of God that they impose those things, to distinguish themselves from the heathen; but really their heart is far from God, and is governed by nothing but ambition and covetousness. They would be thought hereby to appropriate themselves as a holy people to the Lord their God, when really it is the furthest thing in their thought. They rested in the outside of all their religious exercises, and their hearts were not right with God in them, and this was worshipping God in vain; for neither was he pleased with such sham-devotions, nor were they profited by them.

MacArthur points out:

They didn’t say to Jesus, “You broke the law of God.” They said, “You” – what? – “You violated the tradition.” This is the point of attack …

Jesus said that their worship was in vain because they were placing human precepts — traditions — above Scripture, as if they were the law that God gave to Moses (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

After condemning them from the text of Isaiah 29, “You honor me with your lips, your heart is far from me,” this is empty worship, He says, “You neglect the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.”

After addressing the leaders from Jerusalem, Jesus turned to the crowd and called them to listen carefully to what He had to say (verse 14).

He said that nothing entering a person can defile him, only what comes out of that person’s mouth can defile him (verse 15).

MacArthur explains the word ‘defile’:

… you have a form of the word “defile” from the verb koinoō. It means to be dirty, to be unclean, to be impure, to be corrupt, to be defiled, used often in the New Testament, very frequently in the New Testament. Even more frequently, the Hebrew counterpart of that word chalal in the Old Testament used probably over 225 times. Why? Because impurity and purity is a biblical issue, because it’s an issue with God. Throughout Scripture we are told to be able to distinguish between what is impure and what is pure. So it’s a common theme and, therefore, it’s a common word.

Jesus listed the many sins that defile: fornication, theft, murder (verse 21), adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly (verse 22).

Jesus said that these sins come from within a person and defile him (verse 23).

These are incredibly widespread sins today. Many people make excuses for themselves as they commit them. Even worse, our lawmakers and social experts make excuses for people committing them.

We question a monogamous relationship. I heard a television discussion on that subject on Friday, along with advocates for polyamory.

Our laws are not being enforced. Shoplifting is punishable in Britain these days with a mere fine. Police do not want to investigate larger thefts of private property. They are too busy.

People who steal or cheat ‘cannot help themselves’ because of a difficult childhood. Judges are lenient.

Yet, we are bound up in pharasaical preoccupations with eating ‘clean’ foods, smoking bans and a new temperance movement. Our bodies have to look good, as if we were all celebrities.

The truth is that many ‘clean’ living people are but whited sepulchres on the inside. They look good, but they ignore God at their peril.

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

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity — Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is August 22, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 6:56-69

6:56 Those who eat my flesh and drink my blood abide in me, and I in them.

6:57 Just as the living Father sent me, and I live because of the Father, so whoever eats me will live because of me.

6:58 This is the bread that came down from heaven, not like that which your ancestors ate, and they died. But the one who eats this bread will live forever.”

6:59 He said these things while he was teaching in the synagogue at Capernaum.

6:60 When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?”

6:61 But Jesus, being aware that his disciples were complaining about it, said to them, “Does this offend you?

6:62 Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before?

6:63 It is the spirit that gives life; the flesh is useless. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.

6:64 But among you there are some who do not believe.” For Jesus knew from the first who were the ones that did not believe, and who was the one that would betray him.

6:65 And he said, “For this reason I have told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted by the Father.”

6:66 Because of this many of his disciples turned back and no longer went about with him.

6:67 So Jesus asked the twelve, “Do you also wish to go away?”

6:68 Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life.

6:69 We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is the dramatic conclusion to John 6. We see the wheat separated from the chaff, the sheep from the goats (stubborn unbelievers).

The first three verses were covered in last week’s exegesis.

Jesus spoke these words in the synagogue at Capernaum (verse 59).

Many of His notional disciples heard the words of Jesus and said they found His teaching about being the bread of life from heaven ‘difficult’ (verse 60), or ‘hard’ in Greek. They found it offensive.

John MacArthur explains:

Sklros, find that word in medical language It means stiff, dried out, inflexible, hard.  Consequently in the figurative sense, this word is used as a word for harsh, unpleasant.  It’s objectionable It’s offensiveIt’s not hard to understand It’s hard to accept that Jesus is the only way, that this man is from heaven, that he is the messiah, and the messiah will shed his blood Really, it’s this that caused me a number of years ago to write a book called Hard to Believe It’s hard to believe.  The message is inflexible

MacArthur adds that this teaching of Jesus, among others, is why CNN stopped inviting him on their shows (e.g. Larry King). MacArthur talked about what He said rather than what He did:

I wrote another book, thinking about this, called The Jesus You Can’t Ignore.  I wish more people would read that book because that’s the Jesus they ignore.  It’s the Jesus that speaks that they – by the way, that’s why you don’t see me on CNN anymore Because I don’t talk about the works of Jesus I talk about the words of Jesus It’s not that they don’t understand it.  It’s that they do understand it, and it’s offensive.  It’s offensive. 

Jesus was aware of the false disciples’ resistance and and asked if they found what He said offensive (verse 61).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that fallen man creates stumbling blocks preventing him from understanding the eternal truth. This is problematic, because our Lord might just leave us to our own devices, in this case, the sin of unbelief:

See how people by their own wilful mistakes create offences to themselves: they take offence where there is none given, and even make it where there is nothing to make it of. Note, We may justly wonder that so much offence should be taken at the doctrine of Christ for so little cause. Christ speaks of it here with wonder: “Doth this offend you?” Now, in answer to those who condemned his doctrine as intricate and obscure (Si non vis intelligi, debes negligiIf you are unwilling to be understood, you ought to be neglected) …

Henry says that Jesus would have explained further if only these disciples asked Him humbly to do so:

Now, when they found it a hard saying, if they had humbly begged of Christ to have declared unto them this parable, he would have opened it, and their understandings too; for the meek will he teach his way. But they were not willing to have Christ’s sayings explained to them, because they would not lose this pretence for rejecting them–that they were hard sayings.

This lack of humility from ‘intelligent’ men is common to all who reject Jesus, contrasting them with the believers:

Thus the scoffers at religion are ready to undertake that all the intelligent part of mankind concur with them. They conclude with great assurance that no man of sense will admit the doctrine of Christ, nor any man of spirit submit to his laws. Because they cannot bear to be so tutored, so tied up, themselves, they think none else can: Who can hear it? Thanks be to God, thousands have heard these sayings of Christ, and have found them not only easy, but pleasant, as their necessary food.

Jesus asked a further question, referring to His Ascension: if these disciples found this teaching of the bread of life from heaven difficult, how much more so would they find His return to His heavenly home (verse 62).

MacArthur reminds us that only the faithful witnessed the Ascension. The unbelievers were not there:

Verse 62.  “What then if you see the son of man ascending to where he was before?”  What if you saw me go back to heaven?  Could you then believe that I had come from heaven?

And by the way, if you did believe that I actually came from heaven, then you would believe my words So that became the issue What if you saw the ascension?  Sadly, they walked away before it happened The faithful were there when he ascended Right?  Acts 1 …  When they saw him go back into heaven, two angels appeared on the mount, and then Jesus went up into the clouds and went back into heaven They had no question about where he’d come from when they saw him go back So would you believe if you saw me go back?

Jesus told the assembled that our flesh is useless; instead the Spirit gives us life and the teachings of Jesus are both Spirit and life (verse 63).

MacArthur says:

It all comes down to this.  Believing what he said.  Right?  Believing his words.  Faith comes by hearing We’re begotten again by the word of truth The word in us itself is the power of God unto salvation In the 12th Chapter of John, Verse 49, “For I didn’t speak of my own initiative, but the father himself who has sent me has given me a commandment as to what to say and what to speak I know that his commandment is eternal life.  Therefore, the things I speak I speak just as the father has told me.  Life comes by the spirit through the words that come from the father through the son.”

Then Jesus said that there were those present who did not believe — and also His betrayer — which He knew from the start because of His divine nature (verse 64).

MacArthur says:

The horrible word in Verse 64 is really not just a word, but a phrase, “Who do not believe.”  Unbelief is the great tragedy of all tragedies It’s the worst word in the theological vocabulary Unbelief.  It doesn’t say they didn’t understand.  Salvation is not a question of intelligence It’s a question of faithBelieving.  Believing. 

Again, as in John 6:37 and John 6:44, Jesus said that no one can come to Him except through the Father (verse 65). This is proof that we cannot determine in the first instance whether we can be His followers. God Himself determines that happy circumstance. That said, once called, we have a duty to heed His Son’s words and follow His ordinances.

Henry tells us:

There he had said that none could come to him, except the Father draw him; here he saith, except it be given him of my Father, which shows that God draws souls by giving them grace and strength, and a heart to come, without which, such is the moral impotency of man, in his fallen state, that he cannot come.

When Jesus said that God gave Him the souls to save, many disciples turned away and no longer followed Him (verse 66).

MacArthur says that the false disciples loved the miracles but hated the teachings:

Well, Verse 66 is the final word on these false disciples As the result of this, many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore.  And what was it they refused?  Not the works of Jesus, but what?  The words.

He says that this is common to ministry today, including his own:

The notable statement in this section is in verse 66 where it says that many of his disciples withdrew and were not walking with him anymore.  And the original language indicates this is the final decision They were over it, whatever it was that drew them to him

I can’t comprehend the pain that our Lord suffered over the defection of these disciples, these students of his who turned their back finally and went away, but I do know in some small measure this difficult reality in ministry Biblical ministry, gospel ministry, certainly pastoral ministry has a sadness to it that never goes away, and frankly, it accumulates the longer you do it, and it is the heartbreaking reality that people come, and people hear, and people stay, and sometimes people actually profess, and then they turn their backs on the Lord Jesus Christ and eternal life and plunge back into their sin and leave.

I’ve seen it constantly in all the years of ministry, both here and beyond.  It’s not rare.  It’s not rare.  Normal is what it is It’s the nature of ministry to see people who come and hear and stay for some measure of time, and leave and turn their backs on the gospel.  It is the most painful of all spiritual experiences It is the most discouraging of all.  Not just because you don’t get a return on the investment you made.  Not because they forsake the preacher.  Not because they forsake the people, but because they forsake the Lord The only hope of salvation, the only hope of heaven.

Jesus must have been grieving as He asked the Twelve if they also wished to desert Him (verse 67).

Henry says that the question Jesus posed was more complex than it may appear. The departing false disciples did not really know Him as well as the Apostles:

He saith nothing to those who went back. If the unbelieving depart, let them depart; it was no great loss of those whom he never had; lightly come, lightly go; but he takes this occasion to speak to the twelve, to confirm them, and by trying their stedfastness the more to fix them: Will you also go away? (1.) “It is at your choice whether you will or no; if you will forsake me, now is the time, when so many do: it is an hour of temptation; if you will go back, go now.” Note, Christ will detain none with him against their wills; his soldiers are volunteers, not pressed men. The twelve had now had time enough to try how they liked Christ and his doctrine, and that none of them might afterwards say that they were trepanned into discipleship, and if it were to do again they would not do it, he here allows them a power of revocation, and leaves them at their liberty; as Joshua 25:15; Ruth 1:15. (2.) “It is at your peril if you do go away.” If there was any secret inclination in the heart of any of them to depart from him, he stops it with this awakening question, Wilt you also go away? Think not that you hang at as loose an end as they did, and may go away as easily as they could. They have not been so intimate with me as you have been, nor received so many favours from me; they are gone, but will you also go? Remember your character, and say, Whatever others do, we will never go away. Should such a man as I flee?Nehemiah 6:11. Note, The nearer we have been to Christ and the longer we have been with him, the more engagements we have laid ourselves under to him, the greater will be our sin if we desert him. (3.) “I have reason to think you will not. Will you go away? No, I have faster hold of you than so; I hope better things of you (Hebrews 6:9), for you are they that have continued with me,Luke 22:28. When the apostasy of some is a grief to the Lord Jesus, the constancy of others is so much the more his honour, and he is pleased with it accordingly. Christ and believers know one another too well to part upon every displeasure.

When reading this today, it occurred to me how many blessings Jesus has given me through my lifetime, from childhood onward. Anyone who is thinking of deserting Him after many years of doctrine and churchgoing should reflect on their lives beforehand. I would reckon that many would drop to their knees in thanksgiving to Him and abandon such an dreadful idea.

Returning to the question Jesus asked, one cannot fault Peter’s better moments of spontaneity, such as his declaration of faith in verses 68 and 69. One can imagine that his words emerged immediately and boldly.

MacArthur says that Peter used one of the Jewish terms of faith in God:

Isaiah uses this term for God more than any other Old Testament writer It’s his favorite name for God, the holy one of Israel.  The Jews knew that phrase So when Peter says, “You are the holy one of God who is the holy one of Israel,” they were affirming his equality with God They had believed the necessary truth about his person, and they were willing even eventually to swallow the necessity of his death.

MacArthur asks us to consider where we stand in faith:

We believe.  We’re not going anywhere.  We want your words.  I know why people leave They don’t like the words I know why people stay They say with David, “Oh, how I love your law.  Your words are my delight.”  They can’t hear enough. What group are you in?  That’s the question Lord, we thank you that you have given us such a potent picture in scripture of this matter of true and false discipleship.  Wheat and tares

Regrettably, the Lectionary editors omitted the closing verses from this chapter, John 6:70-71, so important that they must be included here, because they involve Judas:

70 Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the twelve? And yet one of you is a devil.” 71 He spoke of Judas the son of Simon Iscariot, for he, one of the twelve, was going to betray him.

Henry says that Judas did not look any different to the other Apostles and that Jesus had invested him with the same spiritual gifts of preaching and healing that He temporarily gave the others:

Many that are seeming saints are real devils. Judas had as fair an outside as many of the apostles; his venom was, like that of the serpent, covered with a fine skin. He cast out devils, and appeared an enemy to the devil’s kingdom, and yet was himself a devil all the while. Not only he will be one shortly, but he is one now. It is strange, and to be wondered at; Christ speaks of it with wonder: Have not I? It is sad, and to be lamented, that ever Christianity should be made a cloak to diabolism

In the most select societies on this side heaven it is no new thing to meet with those that are corrupt. Of the twelve that were chosen to an intimate conversation with an incarnate Deity, as great an honour and privilege as ever men were chosen to, one was an incarnate devil. The historian lays an emphasis upon this, that Judas was one of the twelve that were so dignified and distinguished. Let us not reject and unchurch the twelve because one of them is a devil, nor say that they are all cheats and hypocrites because one of them was so; let those that are so bear the blame, and not those who, while they are undiscovered, incorporate with them. There is a society within the veil into which no unclean thing shall enter, a church of first-born, in which are no false brethren.

MacArthur reminds us of Judas’s death:

He figured finally after three wasted years, he’d get as much cash as he could and sold Jesus out for the price of a slave The guilt was so profound, he hanged himself Plunged into an eternity that is incalculable.  The Bible says he went to his own place, the place prepared for the devil and the angels and apostates and unbelievers.

One presumes that the Lectionary editors did not want to offend or frighten anyone by going all the way to the conclusion of John 6. Yet, our Lord, knowing what would happen during His final Passover, must have been wracked with tension and sadness. He is all human — able to feel pain and strong emotion. He is also all divine, which includes omniscience, the ability to know all men’s hearts. It is, indeed, a holy mystery.

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