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Bible readingThe 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.

Colossians 2:1-5

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

———————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

This week, we begin looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This was another letter that the Apostle wrote as a prisoner in Rome. It is dated AD 62.

As Matthew Henry says:

He was not idle in his confinement, and the word of God was not bound.

Paul never met the Colossians. Epaphras founded the church in Colossae (pron. ‘Co-loss-see’). Epaphras learned about Christ and the doctrine of the faith from Paul in Ephesus and took those truths back to his home city. It is likely that Timothy also ministered there.

Although Paul did not know the Colossians, he felt every ounce of love for them that he did for the congregations he knew personally.

The illustration of Colossae’s location in Asia Minor — today’s Turkey — comes from Bible Map, along with this description (emphases mine):

ko-los’-e (Kolossai, “punishment”; the King James Version Colosse): A city of Phrygia on the Lycus River, one of the branches of the Meander, and 3 miles from Mt. Cadmus, 8,013 ft. high. It stood at the head of a gorge where the two streams unite, and on the great highway traversing the country from Ephesus to the Euphrates valley, 13 miles from Hierapolis and 10 from Laodicea. Its history is chiefly associated with that of these two cities. Early, according to both Herodotus and Xenophon, it was a place of great importance. There Xerxes stopped 481 B.C. (Herodotus vii.30) and Cyrus the Younger marched 401 B.C. (Xen. Anab. i.2, 6). From Colossians 2:1 it is not likely that Paul visited the place in person; but its Christianization was due to the efforts of Epaphras and Timothy (Colossians 1:1, 7), and it was the home of Philemon and Epaphras. That a church was established there early is evident from Colossians 4:12, 13 Revelation 1:11; Revelation 3:14. As the neighboring cities, Hierapolis and Laodicea, increased in importance, Colosse declined. There were many Jews living there, and a chief article of commerce, for which the place was renowned, was the collossinus, a peculiar wool, probably of a purple color. In religion the people were specially lax, worshipping angels. Of them, Michael was the chief, and the protecting saint of the city. It is said that once he appeared to the people, saving the city in time of a flood. It was this belief in angels which called forth Paul’s epistle (Colossians 2:18). During the 7th and 8th centuries the place was overrun by the Saracens; in the 12th century the church was destroyed by the Turks and the city disappeared.The ruins of the church, the stone foundation of a large theater, and a necropolis with stones of a peculiar shape are still to be seen. During the Middle Ages the place bore the name of Chonae; it is now called Chonas.

Wikipedia has more information, excerpted below:

Despite a treacherously ambiguous cartography and history, Colossae has been clearly distinguished in modern research from nearby Chonai (Χῶναι), now called Honaz, with what remains of the buried ruins of Colossae (“the mound”) lying 3 km (1.9 mi) to the north of Honaz.[6][7][8]

The medieval poet Manuel Philes, incorrectly, imagined that the name “Colossae” was connected to the Colossus of Rhodes.[9] More recently, in an interpretation which ties Colossae to an Indo-European root that happens to be shared with the word kolossos, Jean-Pierre Vernant has connected the name to the idea of setting up a sacred space or shrine.[10] Another proposal relates the name to the Greek kolazo, “to punish”.[9] Others believe the name derives from the manufacture of its famous dyed wool, or colossinus.[11]

the wool of Colossae gave its name to colour colossinus.[14]

The town was known for its fusion of religious influences (syncretism), which included Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan influences that, in the first century AD, were described as an angel-cult.[17] This unorthodox cult venerated the archangel Michael, who is said to have caused a curative spring to gush from a fissure in the earth.[4] The worship of angels showed analogies with the cult of pre-Christian pagan deities like Zeus.[18][19] Saint Theodoret of Cyrrhus told about their surviving in Phrygia during the fourth century.[20]

… in the Epistle to Philemon Paul tells Philemon of his hope to visit Colossae upon being freed from prison.[26] Tradition also gives Philemon as the second bishop of the see.

The city was decimated by an earthquake in the 60s AD, and was rebuilt independent of the support of Rome.[27]

The Apostolic Constitutions list Philemon as a bishop of Colossae.[28] On the other hand, the Catholic Encyclopedia considers Philemon doubtful.[29]

The first historically documented bishop is Epiphanius,[when?] who was not personally at the Council of Chalcedon, but whose metropolitan bishop Nunechius of Laodicea, the capital of the Roman province of Phrygia Pacatiana, signed the acts on his behalf.[citation needed]

The city’s fame and renowned status continued into the Byzantine period, and in 858, it was distinguished as a Metropolitan See. The Byzantines also built the church of St. Michael in the vicinity of Colossae, one of the largest church buildings in the Middle East. Nevertheless, sources suggest that the town may have decreased in size or may even been completely abandoned due to Arab invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries, forcing the population to flee to resettle in the nearby city of Chonai (modern day Honaz).[11]

Colossae’s famous church was destroyed in 1192/3 during the Byzantine civil wars. It was a suffragan diocese of Laodicea in Phyrigia Pacatiane but was replaced in the Byzantine period by the Chonae settlement on higher ground.[4]

As of 2019, Colossae has never been excavated, as most archeological attention has been focused on nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis,[30] though plans are reported for an Australian-led expedition to the site. The present site exhibits a biconical acropolis almost 100 feet (30 m) high, and encompasses an area of almost 22 acres (8.9 ha). On the eastern slope there sits a theater which probably seated around 5,000 people, suggesting a total population of 25,000–30,000 people. The theater was probably built during the Roman period, and may be near an agora that abuts the cardo maximus, or the city’s main north-south road. Ceramic finds around the theater confirm the city’s early occupation in the third and second millennia BC.

The holiness and healing properties associated with the waters of Colossae during the Byzantine era continue to this day, particularly at a pool fed by the Lycus River at the Göz picnic grounds west of Colossae at the foot of Mt. Cadmus. Locals consider the water to be therapeutic.[32]

John MacArthur has more on the city’s topography, which was beneficial for raising sheep and producing wool:

from the Lycus River there were chalk deposits that were left. And some historians have said that they left amazing configurations all over the area where the water would spill out, and it would rise at flood time, and it would leave this chalk, and all kinds of strange formations that looked like monuments would result. Now, on the land where there wasn’t any chalk, the land was super fertile and they grew pasture there and had excellent, excellent pasture land for sheep, and it became the wool center of the ancient world. And they used the chalk, also, for making dyes. They would raise the sheep, get the wool, and then dye the wool right there.

MacArthur’s estimation of Colossae’s population is higher than those mentioned above:

It was a Gentile city, but there are estimates that in those three cities there could be as many as fifty thousand Jews, and the reason they estimate that is they found some papers about a tax that the Jewish community there was sending back to Jerusalem. And by the amount of the tax they can deduct how many Jews there would have been in order to give that amount, and they estimate about fifty thousand Jews. So, there would be a large Gentile population and a rather large Jewish population.

He gives us a timeline of Paul’s ministry and the founding of various churches in Asia Minor:

On Paul’s third missionary journey, he went to Ephesus. Ephesus was a great center of Asia Minor. And Paul went there on his third journey, and he stayed there for three years. Remember? During the three years that he was in Ephesus, he never visited Colossae, as far as we know, but people started coming to him from all over Asia Minor. And do you know that during those three years the church at Ephesus was founded, and all seven churches of Revelation 2-3 were founded. You have Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Pergamum – all of those – Thyatira; all of those churches were founded during that time, and so was the church in Colossae, and so was the church in Hierapolis. They were all outgrowths of Paul’s ministry on his third missionary journey as he ministered there.

In Acts chapter 19, verse 10, it says – and this is part of his ministry there in Ephesus – “And this continued for the space of two years.” This was the first part of it, “so that all they who dwelt in Asia” – that’s Asia Minor, a province – “all that dwelt in Asia Minor heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Verse 26, when they wanted to throw him out, they said, “Morever you see and hear, that not alone in Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia Minor, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying they are no gods which are made with hands.” So, it is the comment of Luke in verse 10, and it is the comment of his persecutors in verse 26 that his gospel had filled the whole of Asia Minor. From the vantage point of Ephesus people would come hear the gospel and go back. From Colossae came a group of people – Epaphras, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus. From Laodicea came Nymphas. All of them received Christ under the ministry of Paul. All of them went back to be used of God to begin churches. The most influential person in the beginning of those three churches in those cities was Epaphras.

Epaphras founded the churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hieropolis. Today, we would call them a ‘tri-city area’.

After Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus ended:

He spent a winter in Greece writing, and then he started back to Jerusalem. He gathered the collections to take to the poor saints – went all the way back to Jerusalem.

He arrived at Jerusalem, and you remember the terrible trouble that happened? They threw him in jail. The next thing you knew he wound up in Caesarea in jail. He pleaded his case to Caesar and  they shipped him to Rome.

Epaphras went to Rome to seek Paul’s spiritual counsel about the Colossians, who were pure of heart but prone to heresy:

Here is a congregation of Gentiles, and they’ve got a smattering probably of Jewish believers, maybe, just a very little, and they’ve got a problem. There’s a heresy that’s beginning to creep into the congregation and Epaphras, their pastor, is really concerned. He makes a trip of a thousand to thirteen hundred miles, depending upon which way he took, to go to Rome and see Paul – and he pours his heart out to Paul. He says, in effect, “the people are super, Paul, but there’s an imminent danger; there’s a peril.” And Paul writes to them and says, “Hey, you are super people, but let me warn you about something.” Further on you’ll hear him say, “Don’t let anybody beguile you.” It wasn’t that they’d already been, it was that they were in danger of being beguiled. This is prevention.

You say, “Well, what is the heresy?” Well, it was a twofold heresy. First of all, it was coming from paganism. Those people were living on the verge of paganism all the time. You know, in that one region historians tell us that the deities such as Cybele, Men, Issus, Serapis, Helios, Selene, Demeter, and Artimus dominated the worship of the people. I mean, there were gods – you know, ad nauseam, plenty of them. And the basic evil that faced that church was a relapse into paganism. For the most part they were new Christians, and the pull of the darkness and the sensuality of the old life was strong.

… I call it sometimes, as I think it’s Hendriksen uses the term (William Hendriksen), “the cable of the past.” Life is like a cable; habit makes cables. A person weaves a thread every day until it becomes an unbreakable cable – and then you can’t cut it, and the cable of the past tends to pull. And there was the environment of the present that they were living in. It was hard to row against the current. And then they had their own undertow of passion pulling them. And so, Paul’s telling them, “Don’t go back, don’t go back.”

… And this false doctrine – let me give it to you very simply – this false doctrine basically had two features. We don’t know what brand it is. We don’t have any title for it. It really isn’t any particular system that we know about historically, but I’ll define it for you. This false doctrine that Satan was beginning to spread, or at least was going to try to spread in Colossae, had two basic features.

Number one: it included a false philosophy. Chapter 2, verse 8, “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy.” Boy, a lot of people have been spoiled through philosophy. “And empty deceit.” Hmmm. This is interesting.

… Here’s what they were saying: the Greeks loved knowledge; oh did they love it. They literally gloated over what they knew, and the higher you got in knowledge, and the more difficult you were to understand, and the further you got spaced out with strange, weird understanding, the more snobbish you became. The heretics were saying this, they were saying: “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Now listen. “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Jesus Christ is not enough; you must have elaborate knowledge in addition to having Him. Salvation is – watch – Christ plus knowledge equals salvation. They claimed secret visions This guy’s pretending to see a vision, and he comes and says, “I have seen a vision. I have seen the supernatural.” And he assumes an air of deep insight into divinely revealed mysteries. And he prides himself on his superior knowledge, and this is what became later Gnosticism. From gnosis, “to know” – superior knowledge. It isn’t Gnosticism yet because Gnosticism isn’t really defined for many years after this. But here are the seeds of it, intellectual snobbery. Somebody was saying, “It isn’t enough to know Jesus. You can’t defeat the powers of the emanating demons, you can’t crack the barriers to get to the divine realm by Jesus alone – you’ve got to have superior knowledge.” And so, they were talking about weird philosophies, and they were intruding, verse 18 says, “into things they had seen and their fleshly mind was being puffed up.” Jesus isn’t adequate. You see Jesus, they believed, was one of the emanations

There’s a second factor in this heresy. The first one was false philosophy. The second was Judaistic ceremony, legalism. Now, you say, “Well, that’s a strange bedfellow for Greek philosophy.” You’re right, but it was there. Somehow this strange heresy was a combination of Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, or legalism. Look at chapter 2, verse 11. Some of them were saying you had to be circumcised to be saved. “In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands,” he says. You don’t need a circumcision. What was this part of the heresy saying? Watch. Christ-plus-works-equals-salvation. The philosophy said, “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” This is Christ plus works. And God says, “Christ plus nothing equals salvation.” That’s the message of Colossians. Chapter 3 tells us a little more about – chapter 3, he says, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision.” Don’t get into that. That’s not an issue. There’s no need to even be concerned about that.

And so, they were concerned with things that there was no reason to be concerned with – none whatsoever. It even went so far as, for example, in chapter 2, verse 20, “If you’re dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not…).” This is like asceticism, you know. They couldn’t do anything. “(Which are all to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men. These things have indeed a shew of wisdom or self-imposed worship.” And so, he really says, “You don’t need those things – touch not; taste not; handle not” and all that. It’s pointless …

So, here they were, wrapped up in Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, these false teachers. And they were just beginning to attack the church at Colossae.

You say, “What a weird mixture. Where did it come from?” We don’t know. We don’t even know who these people were, but there is a, there’s precedent for this. There was a group of people in Israel called the Essenes. Have you ever heard of them? The three major groups among the Jews, the three major religious sects in Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The Essenes were ascetics, and by that I mean they were far out. In fact, they believed that you shouldn’t have anything, that you should be totally deprived of everything. I mean, they were really far out. They were Gnostics. That’s interesting. They believed that the body was corruptible, that matter was corruptible, and spirit was good and imperishable.

So, they had that same philosophical strain. They saw the soul in the prison of the body, which was a Greek concept. It was their concept, and the reason the Greeks had it and they had it was the devil – the same devil, whether he’s working with the Greeks or with anybody else. They were super-strict legalists. They went way beyond the Pharisees. They were celibate. And they adopted children in order to propagate their theology. Some of them married, but if they did marry they gave their wife a three year probation period. I don’t know on what criteria they decided whether they should continue it after that or not. They hated riches. You know what Josephus says about them? Josephus says they worshiped angels. Isn’t that interesting? It’s amazing, but all of the things that this strange group of people did affecting the Colossian church are also characteristic of these people, the Essenes. The Essenes were vegetarians, super legalistic. That may well be that the influencing group behind the picture at Colossae was this group of Essenes, but whatever. They were saying, “Christ plus rules and laws equal salvation” – “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” Paul wants to say in Colossians, “Christ plus” – What? – “nothing equals salvation.”

They talked about Christ, but it was Christ plus some super-knowledge. They had not only all of the philosophy that was into their heresy in Colossae, but they had all of the Jewish legalism. What a mess. But the one attack was this: Satan had concerted all of this hodgepodge to attack – What? the sufficiency of – Whom? Christ. And that’s always where he attacks. And listen to Paul’s response in Colossians 2:9, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Listen to me, “and you are” – What? – “complete in him.” Isn’t that beautiful? There’s the answer. You want to know God? Christ is the image of God. You want knowledge? In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You want to be accepted by God? Worship Christ not angels or celestial intercessors. You want to fulfill God’s will? Don’t fool with the shadow. The substance is Christ. You want holiness? It doesn’t come from abusing your body. It comes from setting your affections on Him

Paul has one thing in mind in Colossians: Christ-sufficient.

MacArthur points out that things are very much the same today. New Age philosophy mixes with Christianity and produces syncretism. There are many different types of syncretism, vaudou being yet another, mixing the veneration of canonised saints with animal sacrifices and evil spells.

We also have the personal beliefs of celebrities and media personalities which we can read on a daily basis.

He says:

Let me take you to verse 8. “See to it that no one takes you captive” – chapter 2“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy.” This is human opinion, the mind of man. There are no human solutions to spiritual problems. There are no human insights that take us places the Bible doesn’t or can’t. That is to say there is nothing necessary for life and godliness that is not delivered to us by the Word through the Spirit. We don’t need Christ plus insights into human wisdom, spiritual intuition. You can take all the philosophers the world has ever known, in ancient and modern times, all the authors, all the writers, all the playwrights, all the movie producers, all the talk show hosts, all the psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, and you can take all their endless verbosity about truth and life and morality, and all their solutions to human problems and dilemmas, and they add nothing to what is already in Christ.

We don’t even have much classic philosophy anymore. New Age philosophy is not about thinking; it’s about feeling. Philosophy used to be a rational exercise. Now, in a postmodern world, it is an irrational exercise.

With that in mind, let’s look at Colossians 1, which is included in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers[a] in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.[b] He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Preeminence of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation[g] under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Paul’s Ministry to the Church

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

In Colossians 2, Paul says he has a great struggle for the congregations in Colossae and Laodicea and for those he does not know personally (verse 1).

Henry says Paul’s struggle is one of agony:

Observe, 1. Paul’s care of the church was such as amounted to a conflict. He was in a sort of agony, and had a constant fear respecting what would become of them. Herein he was a follower of his Master, who was in an agony for us, and was heard in that he feared.

MacArthur says that Paul would have had to truly love the Lord to get to this point in feeling for strangers:

… a man of God must have that basic commitment that he really loves the church, that he first loves the Lord, and then that he loves the Lord’s people.

He, too, points to Paul’s agony:

Now because of his great love for the saints, he says, in verse 1 of chapter 2, “I would that you knew what great agōn, agony I have for you, and for them at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. Not just you, but anybody else. It’s obvious I love the people I’ve been with, but I love even the people who’ve never even seen me, those people who make up the church. And because of that, when I see the difficulty that you’re in, when I see the attack that you’re under in terms of false teaching, when I know the anxieties of living the Christian life and walking the walk, I have a great sense of agony and struggle and striving on your behalf.” And that comes because he loved them.

Paul truly wants their hearts to be encouraged, to be knit together in love, to reach those riches of full assurance in understanding and knowing the mystery of God in Jesus Christ (verse 2).

MacArthur’s translation uses ‘strengthened’ instead of ‘encouraged’, but he explains how both words can tie together and include ‘comforted’:

Now we translated that term “strengthened” rather than “comforted,” because we think that that is the more particular emphasis that the apostle is making here. The word means to comfort, to console, or to strengthen. It embodies all of that idea. It even means to grant endurance. So it’s a lot of things. But it seems to me that the sum of it all, and what Paul is really working on, is that their hearts would be strengthened

Now what he’s saying is, “I want your mind to be strengthened. I want strong minds.” Why? Because the mind is the first thing that Satan assails. You understand that? Satan assails the mind with lies. He is the father of – what? – of lies. He brings around false truth and false information, and assaults the mind with it; and that directs the behavior that responds. And so it is necessary to have a strong mind.

Now the term in the Bible “heart” generally is used to refer to the mind or the intellect. That’s its technical meaning. I would add though that there are times when heart is used in a general non-technical sense to refer to the totality of man’s inner being. But when it is used in its technical sense, it has reference to the mind, or the seat of knowledge, which is basically the beginner of action.

So it is necessary to have a powerful, fruitful Christian life to have a strong mind. And the way your mind is strengthened is by filling it with divine truth that can trigger a positive behavior pattern in your will; and then your emotions will be responding.

MacArthur has more on the biblical use of ‘heart’ as ‘mind’ in another sermon, which I’ll discuss more in tomorrow’s post:

What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

… the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels [gut, as in instinct] represent the responding emotion …

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s notion of hearts being knit together in love:

… all of that theology, and all of that knowledge, and all of that brain power is balanced off by love. And so hastily, Paul says, “I pray that their hearts might be comforted,” – now watch the next line – “being knit together in love, being knit together in love.” He wants a one-mindedness of hearts, that are knit together in love. And as I said, this is the balancer to doctrine.

The word “knit,” or “knit together,” simply means to unite. But it really is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ, all of us being knit together in an indivisible kind of oneness. Your body is a combination of billions of cells, all knit together. You can’t pick any one of them apart, because they blend indiscriminately together. And that’s the thing that the apostle Paul is after. “As the cells of a body are indistinguishable because they’re lost in the mass, so should you be indistinguishable as you’re lost in the unity of love that exists among the brethren.”

The sense of the word here as it appears – and also it appears later on in chapter 2, verse 19, you’ll see it, “knit together again;” they’re talking about the body again being joined together and knit together – is the idea of all the parts being put together in a way that leaves them almost without any personal identity. And they’re held together, like atoms are held together in your body by, what we called a few weeks ago, nuclear glue, which is nothing more than a funny name for God. God holds it all together. So in the spiritual sense, we are to be united; and the nuclear glue, if you will, that holds us together, is being knit together in – what? – love. Love is the thing that ties believers together

We do not have to create unity, the Spirit has already created it. We just have to – what? – guard it. We have to guard that unity. You say, “How do you guard it?” By being a peacemaker. It is the unity of the Spirit that is guarded by the bond of peace, that is that you and I have a covenant that we will be at peace with each other. That’s the bond of peace, that you and I agree that we will not argue, that we will not fight, that we will not hassle, but that we will be at peace. We’re peacemakers; and we will keep, we will guard the unity the Spirit has already put there positionally. We will guard it, and allow its practical manifestation by being peacemakers.

Paul says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (verse 3).

This verse relates to the end of verse 2. The more we understand the more we appreciate the riches (verse 2) and the treasures (verse 3) of the eternal truth in Christ.

MacArthur says that we arrive at this point through regular prayer and study of Scripture:

The unregenerate man does not have truth connected to conduct. His mind is a blank. Paul says, “I want you to have settled understanding. I want you to understand.” “Paul,” – you say – “what do you want me to understand?” “I want you to understand the will of God and all that’s involved in it”

What does God want you to understand? The revelation of God’s will.

And I’ll tell you; the more you study, the more your mind is filled; the more it begins to flow through you, in terms of operation, in terms of behavior; the more you understand how really rich you are. And you can enjoy the Christian life. And the things of the world mean less, and less, and less; and you find that the things you initially couldn’t let go of, you finally can let go, because you know where the true riches are.

And you can begin to do what Jesus says with confidence, “Lay up for yourselves” – what? – “treasure in heaven,” because you know now that’s where your confidence is. Because where your heart is, that’s where your treasure’s going to be. And until you have a heart that is settled, and assured, and confident in God, you’re going to hang on to some things in the world. But when your mind is confident, and your behavior roots that confidence, you’re going to have the kind of assurance that let’s you let go and trust the true riches.

You say, “How do you get that assurance? How do you get that confidence?” Well, you need to pray for it, I think. Praying just keeps you acknowledging the source of it.

MacArthur says that Paul is urging them to have convictions — strong principles — about their faith that they can articulate to themselves and to others. This is something we need as Christians even today:

He says, “All of this stuff comes from one source, so you’ve got to have a settled conviction about one thing,” – verse 2, he says – “the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement” – I’m going to read this the way it is in the Greek – “to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ; to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Now listen to me. Paul says, “I want you to have a basic, settled, assured conviction; and the place that that thing has to start is that you have to be convinced that the mystery of God is Christ. Now listen. “What do you mean, Paul?” “You have to be convinced of the deity and all-sufficiency of Christ,” – is what he’s saying – “that the hidden God has manifested Himself in the revealed Christ.”

You see what he’s saying? “I want you to have absolute, unwavering assurance, and acknowledge that the mystery of God, that is, the hidden God, is revealed as Christ;” – what is that saying? That Christ is deity – “and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” That is sufficiency. And why does he say this? Because those are the two things that the false teachers in Colossae were attacking: the deity of Christ, and His sufficiency to save.

And he says, “You have to start there. You have to have a settled conviction about the deity of Christ and His sufficiency.” And these people would come into Colossae attacking the deity of Jesus Christ. They were saying that Jesus was just one of those emanations … just a sort of an angelic being down the line, a good emanation, a good spirit, like many others. And they were saying, “It isn’t enough to come to Christ for salvation; He’s just one step on the ladder. You’ve got to have super wisdom, and you’ve got to go for some mysterious knowledge, and et cetera, et cetera.”

And Paul is saying, “Look, I don’t want you to fuss with that. I want you to have an absolute, settled assurance about the riches that you have. And the first thing that you have to be sure of is that this Christ is none other than the hidden God revealed. He is deity,” – number 2 in verse 3 – “that in Him is all sufficiency.” That’s his point: a settled conviction about Christ

Over the years, a lot of people have said to me, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Jesus.’

It seems to me that, in stopping church early in their teenage years, they never really came to a true understanding of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they got bored. However, anyone truly paying attention in church and in Sunday School learns that there is nothing boring or ambivalent about our Lord and Saviour.

Paul then makes a reference to the heretical philosophy the Colossians have been hearing. He says that he wants them to understand the mysteries of God in Christ in order not to be ‘deluded’ by ‘plausible arguments’ (verse 4).

The heretics were peddling plausible arguments. That is how heresy works. It is the work of the devil and, as such, seductive.

MacArthur says:

The heretics and the false teachers believed there was a great mass of divine knowledge necessary for salvation, and it was hidden in secret books; and the secret books were called apokruphos, and only those super-intellects could open them. And Paul says, “Baloney.” The only apokruphos where all of this stuff is hidden is Jesus Christ. And the day you opened your heart to Christ, God took the lid off the diamond mine, and just said, “Go ahead; take what you need. It’s all there.”

You don’t need the special books of the secret intellect …

… in verse 4, “And I’m saying this, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” Lightfoot translates it, “I wish to warn you against anyone who would lead you astray by specious arguments and persuasive rhetoric.” He’s saying, “I don’t want you to exchange proven riches for speculation.”

Boy, it’s sad when a Christian would come to a place where he’d listen to some of that garbage about Christ. “Well, I don’t know. I’ve always believed the other way.” See? Paul is saying, “Look, have a settled conviction. And I’m telling you this, lest anybody is going to beguile you with enticing words, clever phrases – and they’re clever, and their arguments are good.”

This is the basic attack of all false systems. They’ll deny two things. They’ll deny the deity of Christ – now mark it in your mind – they’ll all do it. They’ll deny the deity of Christ, and they’ll deny His sufficiency to save; one or the other, or both. They’ll come and say, “Oh, yes. Yeah, Christ saves, plus works.” Right? Or, “Oh, yes, Christ isn’t God.”

But these are the two things around which all that false stuff revolves. It is a denial of the deity of Christ and/or His sufficiency to save alone. And the cults are all brought to the bar of God right here and condemned, folks, all of them. Anything that reduces Christ to less than deity, or anything that adds anything to His saving sufficiency belongs in the beguiling activity of Satan.

Paul ends this section by saying that, although he isn’t with them in body, he is with them in spirit, rejoicing to see their good order — personal conduct — and the firmness of their faith in Christ (verse 5).

In MacArthur’s translation the final words are ‘your order and steadfastness’.

He says that Paul was using military terms:

Both of those words are military terms. The word “order,” taxis, is an interesting word. It means rank, and it means a single-file line of soldiers. “You’re still holding rank.” You know what happens when an army begins to lose the battle? The ranks begin to become depleted. They begin to shoot them down. This comes from way back. The army would do out in a phalanx, and they’d start shooting them down, and they’d be falling …

And then he uses another term, “steadfast,” stereōma. This again speaks of a solid front of soldiers, ready to stand the shock of attack. And it speaks of more of not the unbroken rank, but the solidarity. “Not only are you unbroken in your rank, but, man, you are standing firm. And when the shock of battle hits, boom, you’re going to stop it; and I rejoice. You’re obedient, you’re disciplined, you’re holding rank, and you’re going to stand the attack; and that makes me happy. Yet I warn.”

Next week’s post will look at Paul’s warning about asceticism, another system of works which cannot save.

Next time — Colossians 2:20-23

The Fifteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 25, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 16:19-31

16:19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day.

16:20 And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores,

16:21 who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores.

16:22 The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.

16:23 In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side.

16:24 He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’

16:25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.

16:26 Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’

16:27 He said, ‘Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house–

16:28 for I have five brothers–that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’

16:29 Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’

16:30 He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’

16:31 He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Luke 9 through Luke 19 is all about our Lord’s teachings in the final six months of His ministry.

We are in the latter part of those lessons.

Today’s post is another long one. It explores why people go to hell and the nature of hell.

Before exploring this parable in detail, please note that this Sunday’s readings, perhaps apart from the one from Jeremiah, all tie together in denouncing the love of riches and luxury.

Today’s parable was our Lord’s warning to the Pharisees about self-righteousness and the need for repentance.

John MacArthur says:

Hell is full of surprised people.  That’s really what this story is about — a man who was shocked to find himself in hell Equally shocking to those who listen to the story was the idea that the other man was in heaven.  This was contrary to all of their expectations.

MacArthur explains about the ancient Jewish tradition of believing in a type of prosperity religion. The Pharisees also subscribed to it. In short, the faithful were blessed with wealth while the poor and infirm were cursed:

This story is about a rich man.  He’s the main character.  He’s a religious man.  He would be understood in the context of this story, as Jesus is telling it, to be a man who had been blessed by God.  They had their own sort of prosperity religion in those days, and…and they saw the poor people as cursed and the rich people as blessed.  That’s the view of the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel.  So this is a man who has been singularly blessed by God.  He is a man who lives life to the max, who enjoys the best that life can bring limitlessly, who surely expects to go to heaven but ends up in hell.  And then there is that other man, that despicable, poor man, who, by very evidence of his life is being cursed by God, who ends up when he dies in heaven.  That’s why you could call this story “The Great Reversal.”

And just exactly to whom is this story directed?  Well, it is directed, first of all, at the moment, at the time to the Pharisees again, verse 14“The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things, and He said to them.”  This section is a section of Jesus speaking to the Pharisees; 17:1, he turns to speak to His disciples.  So for the moment, this story is directed at the Pharisees, as have been a number of our Lord’s stories, including the amazing three stories He told in the 15th chapter about the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the tale of two sons In fact, the Pharisees are the ones who have declared their loyalty to the law and the prophets, referred to in verse 16.  They had declared their adherence to and obedience to Moses and the prophets.  They were the religious leaders of Israel.  They were the ones who considered themselves blessed and, according to verse 14, they were lovers of money.  They had a convenient theology that accommodated their wealth prosperity view.  The more money you had, the more you were blessed by God.  Loving money, pursuing money, is like loving God and pursuing blessing.  That was their view.  The truth is, verse 15, “They were detestable in the sight of God,” because they did, in fact, love money and did not, in fact, obey Moses and the prophets.

So the story is directed at the Pharisees.  Their hero in the story is the rich man. He’s the symbol of a God-blessed life in Israel.  On the other hand, they would treat the poor man the same way the rich man did, for they were famous for disdaining outcasts And, by the way, the Pharisees also believed in life after death.  The Pharisees believed in judgment, and the Pharisees believed in heaven, and the Pharisees believed in hell.  And none of them expected that they would end up in hell

And so Jesus is really giving them another jolt.  He’s giving another shock to them in this story.  It is directed at those people who are false religionists.  But you have to understand that this kind of jolt and this kind of shock to their system and the system of anybody who comfortably thinks he or she is going to heaven because they are religious, when, in fact, they’re going to hell, is not an outrageous act.  It is, on the other hand, a very compassionate and a very merciful act.  Warning people of reality is the…the most compassionate, loving, gracious, kind thing that you can do.  Warning self-righteous, religious people that they’re going to end up unintentionally in hell is the most important thing we can do. And that’s exactly what Jesus did.  Hell is full of people who went there unintentionally, from their perspective.  The rich man no more expected to find himself in eternal torment than the Pharisees did when they arrived there.  They were among those who gained the world and lost their soul.

MacArthur discusses how Jesus constructed this story:

You have a poor man and a rich man.  The poor man then becomes rich; and the rich man becomes poor; and the poor man becomes richer than the rich man ever was; and the rich man becomes poorer than the poor man ever was.  You have a poor man on the outside of the house, and you have a rich man on the inside.  Then comes death, and you have a poor man on the inside and a rich man on the outside.  You have a poor man with no food, and a rich man with all the food he can possibly need; and then you have a poor man at the great heavenly banquet, and a rich man with absolutely nothing.  You have a poor man with needs and a rich man with no needs; and then you have a poor man with no needs, and a rich man with needs.  You have a poor man who desires everything.  You have a rich man who desires nothing. And then you have a rich man who will never have his desires fulfilled, and a poor man who has all his desires fulfilled.

You have a poor man who suffers and a rich man who is satisfied; and then you have a rich man who suffers, and a poor man who’s satisfied.  You have a poor man who’s tormented, and a rich man who’s happy; and then you have a poor man who’s happy, and a rich man who’s tormented.  You have a poor man who is humiliated, a rich man who’s honored.  Then you have a rich man who is humiliated, and a poor man who is honored.  You have a poor man who wants a crumb, a rich man who feasts; and then you have a poor man who’s at a feast, and a rich man who wants a drop of water.  You have a poor man who seeks help, a rich man who gives none.  Then you have a rich man who seeks help, and a poor man who gives none.  Then you have a poor man who is a nobody, a rich man who is well-known; and then you have a poor man who has a name, and a rich man who has none.  You have a poor man who has no dignity in death, not even a burial.  You have a rich man who has dignity in death.  Then you have a poor man who has dignity after death, and a rich man who has no dignity after death, not even a name.  You have a poor man with no hope, and a rich man with all hope.  Then you have a rich man with no hope, and a poor man who has hope realized.

Jesus began His parable by introducing the rich man as being someone who dressed in purple and fine linen and who dined sumptuously every day (verse 19).

Before I go further, this story is often referred to as ‘Dives and Lazarus’. ‘Dives’ is Latin for ‘rich’. It is not a name, only an adjective.

Matthew Henry points out that it is not a sin to have riches, but it is when those riches consume one’s life:

It is no sin to be rich, no sin to wear purple and fine linen, nor to keep a plentiful table, if a man’s estate will afford it. Not are we told that he got his estate by fraud, oppression, or extortion, no, nor that he was drunk, or made others drunk; but, [1.] Christ would hereby show that a man may have a great deal of the wealth, and pomp, and pleasure of this world, and yet lie and perish for ever under God’s wrath and curse. We cannot infer from men’s living great either that God loves them in giving them so much, or that they love God for giving them so much; happiness consists not in these things. [2.] That plenty and pleasure are a very dangerous and to many a fatal temptation to luxury, and sensuality, and forgetfulness of God and another world. This man might have been happy if he had not had great possessions and enjoyments. [3.] That the indulgence of the body, and the ease and pleasure of that, are the ruin of many a soul, and the interests of it. It is true, eating good meat and wearing good clothes are lawful; but it is true that they often become the food and fuel of pride and luxury, and so turn into sin to us. [4.] That feasting ourselves and our friends, and, at the same time, forgetting the distresses of the poor and afflicted, are very provoking to God and damning to the soul. The sin of this rich man was not so much his dress or his diet, but his providing only for himself.

MacArthur describes the man further:

“There was a rich man.”  How rich?  Extravagantly rich.  Luxuriously rich.  And by the way, again, I remind, he would be respected immediately He would be envied immediately, honored.  He would be viewed as blessed by God.  That’s why he was so rich.  In Israel, his business had been touched by God; and he would be a hero to the money-loving Pharisees.  So he would also be a man who would assume, and everybody would assume, that God had blessed his life; and…and that’s why he was as wealthy as he was.  So it wouldn’t be just the religious leaders who would think that.  Anybody would think that, even in general, even today, would look at him.  He’s a religious man.  He’s in Israel.  He’s a part of the society.  Look what God has done to bless his life.

How rich was he?  Well, “He habitually dressed in purple and fine linen.”  Imperfect tense, “habitually,” it means exactly that.  It is an imperfect verb that means this was his regular way of dressing.  He didn’t have a casual day, apparently. He just put it all on every day. And what did he wear?  It might not sound like a lot to us, but he dressed in purple and fine linen.  Now, let me tell you a little bit about this…this purple, first of all.  The outer garment that the people wore in those days if they were wealthy enough was made out of wool; and wool was, for the elite, fulled.  You’ve heard of fulled, F U L L E D, woolIt was placed into a basin, and then it was mingled with clay, and the process, a very time consuming, laborious, hands-on, manual labor to full that wool in clay, produced a kind of white that was almost blazing, brilliant, shining white.  Very expensive process done for the elite.  They had whiter clothes than everybody else, and it wasn’t because of their detergent.  It was because of this process the wool was put through.

And then if you wanted to really make it luxurious, you had it dyed with a Tyrian purple dye.  That’s from Tyre, which is on the north coast of Israel; and this dye came from a shellfish called a murex Obviously, you had to go get the shellfish, and then extract the dye, and it was the most expensive dye.  You remember Lydia in the book of Acts was a seller of this purple dye; and this dye was used to dye the robe purple, which was considered the highest degree of opulence This is the robe of royalty, the purple robe.

Underneath this robe was fine linen.  The normal tunic would be made of fine linen.  Probably a reference to the finest linen of the day, which is probably still the finest cotton in the day, and that’s Egyptian cotton Linen here referring to something made out of cotton.  Egyptian cotton was the most expensive and the best and the highest thread count, and you ladies know all about that So it signified…It signified that this is the finest clothing that somebody could wear, and he wore it every day.  He came out in splendor every day.

Not only was he dressed that way, but he was euphrain He was joyously living It means to be glad to enjoy oneself.  It is the verb used in Luke 12.  I think it’s verse 19, where it says, the…the man who built the bigger barn said, “Let’s eat, drink, and be merry.”  So he lived a merry life He lived a joyous life.  He lived to the max.  He was the party guy, and it was a very luxurious, opulent kind of party.  It is described as splendor.  Actually an adverb; he lived splendidly; and, again, all the language is over the top here; and he lived like that every day.  I mean, for him, every day would be like the feast that the father in Luke 15 gave to the prodigal who came back Every day would be a killing of a fatted calf kind of event.

Extreme riches, extreme self-indulgence, lavish lifestyle, ostentatious display; he’s got it all.  He is the definition of what it means to be filthy rich, which is a term devised by poor people.

At the rich man’s gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, who was covered with sores (verse 20).

Henry and MacArthur both say that, in Hebrew, Lazarus is Eleazar, which means, as Henry says:

the help of God, which they must fly to that are destitute of other helps. This poor man was reduced to the last extremity, as miserable, as to outward things, as you can lightly suppose a man to be in this world.

MacArthur says:

Lazarus is the Greek form of the Hebrew Elazar, or Eliazar.  It means “whom the Lord saved, whom the Lord helped.”  Very common name, by the way, in Israel, and a wonderful name for this man; because it tells us how he ended up in heaven.

Anyone familiar with Ohio might remember the Lazarus department stores, which eventually merged with Macy’s. As a child, I had trouble reconciling department stores with the men named Lazarus in the New Testament. It was only later that I found out Lazarus was the family name of the brothers who founded the department store chain.

This brings me to another point. Both men named Lazarus in the New Testament are canonised saints. This Lazarus is unique to Luke’s Gospel. The Lazarus here is not Mary and Martha’s brother from Bethany. The feast day of this Lazarus is June 21 and that of Lazarus of Bethany is December 17.

Henry describes Lazarus further:

(1.) His body was full of sores, like Job. To be sick and weak in body is a great affliction; but sores are more painful to the patient, and more loathsome to those about him.

(2.) He was forced to beg his bread, and to take up with such scraps as he could get at rich people’s doors. He was so sore and lame that he could not go himself, but was carried by some compassionate hand or other, and laid at the rich man’s gate. Note, Those that are not able to help the poor with their purses should help them with their pains; those that cannot lend them a penny should lend them a hand; those that have not themselves wherewithal to give to them should either bring them, or go for them, to those that have. Lazarus, in his distress, had nothing of his own to subsist on, no relation to go to, nor did the parish take care of him. It is an instance of the degeneracy of the Jewish church at this time that such a godly man as Lazarus was should be suffered to perish for want of necessary food.

MacArthur takes a less charitable view than Henry and says that Lazarus was practically tossed at the rich man’s gate:

… verse 20, “A certain poor man,” ptchos in the Greek, meaning extreme poverty Galatians 4:9, “beggarly, worthless,” could be translated pitiful Could be translated inferior.  It’s not just he had a little.  He had nothing.  Destitution.  This the absolute 180 extreme.  The man has nothing, and it says, he’s also laid his gate, the gate of the rich man, covered with sores, covered with sores.  This is to have ulcers, oozing, open lesions. This same word is used in the book of Revelation to describe the horrible judgment of God when the angel pours out the first bowl of wrath in the final judgment.  It becomes a loathsome and malignant sore, Revelation 16:2, on the men who had the mark of the beast and who worshipped his image.  Verse 11: “They blaspheme the God of Heaven because of their pain and their sores.”  It is an ugly kind of sore.  Where did the sores come from?  We don’t really have a diagnosis of that, but I can give you a pretty good guess; because, if you go back to the verse, it says, “The poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate.”  That’s not a good translation.  That sounds like come…somebody came and just kind of delicately laid him down.  That is not a delicate word.  That’s the word ball.  It means to throw, throw or throw down.

What happens here is you’ve got a man who is thrown down at the gate to the rich man’s house, which indicates that he probably was paralyzed, couldn’t move.  The sores may well have come from the inability of the man to move, as people who can’t move in a bed or can’t move in a wheelchair develop sores at all points of pressure.

Jesus said that Lazarus wanted only what fell from the rich man’s table — crumbs — yet only the dogs came to lick his sores (verse 21).

Henry points out how patient Lazarus was and how cold-hearted well-fed people are towards hunger:

He desired to be fed with the crumbs, v. 21. He did not look for a mess from off his table, though he ought to have had one, one of the best; but would be thankful for the crumbs from under the table, the broken meat which was the rich man’s leavings; nay, the leavings of his dogs. The poor use entreaties, and must be content with such as they can get. Now this is taken notice of to show, First, What was the distress, and what the disposition, of the poor man. He was poor, but he was poor in spirit, contentedly poor. He did not lie at the rich man’s gate complaining, and bawling, and making a noise, but silently and modestly desiring to be fed with the crumbs. This miserable man was a good man, and in favour with God. Note, It is often the lot of some of the dearest of God’s saints and servants to be greatly afflicted in this world, while wicked people prosper, and have abundance; see Ps 73 7, 10, 14. Here is a child of wrath and an heir of hell sitting in the house, faring sumptuously; and a child of love and an heir of heaven lying at the gate, perishing for hunger. And is men’s spiritual state to be judged of then by their outward condition? Secondly, What was the temper of the rich man towards him. We are not told that he abused him, or forbade him his gate, or did him any harm, but it is intimated that he slighted him; he had no concern for him, took no care about him. Here was a real object of charity, and a very moving one, which spoke for itself; it was presented to him at his own gate. The poor man had a good character and good conduct, and every thing that could recommend him. A little thing would be a great kindness to him, and yet he took no cognizance of his case, did not order him to be taken in and lodged in the barn, or some of the out-buildings, but let him lie there. Note, It is not enough not to oppress and trample upon the poor; we shall be found unfaithful stewards of our Lord’s goods, in the great day, if we do not succour and relieve them. The reason given for the most fearful doom is, I was hungry, and you gave me no meat. I wonder how those rich people who have read the gospel of Christ, and way that they believe it, can be so unconcerned as they often are in the necessities and miseries of the poor and afflicted.

MacArthur explains how a goodly portion of bread ended up on the floor after a meal in that era:

Jaconias Jeremias writes…and he tells us about this. . .a very gifted historian, done a lot of great work around that time of the year…he says…that time of human history: “Guests at a meal used pieces of bread to clean their hands.”  Now, let me tell you what the…how the picture works.  In those days, you might have a little fruit and a little vegetable or whatever, but they ate with their hands.  There weren’t any knives and forks and all that.  So you basically ate with your hands as…as most of the world has done for most of its history; and, typically, you took bread — bread being a staple — and you dipped it in some kind of stew or thick soup or whatever; and you ate that way.  You ate the bread, like at the Last Supper, dipped in a sop, remember?

OK?  So that’s what you did.  Well, I mean it’s a little messy; and they didn’t have paper napkins; and I guess they could’ve used cloth if they had to; but they had a really good method for cleaning up the mess on their hands.  They used the bread that was a little more stale.  Now, there would be some bread on the table that was to be dipped.  Then there would be other bread that was to then be used to mop up your…your hands.  Now, the bread had the capability of absorbing the sop, and you ate it that way; and it also the capability of absorbing what was dripping all over your hands; and so they would use the bread to clean their hands and then throw it under the table.

The dogs who licked the poor man’s sores were not pets of the rich man. They were the scavengers — wild dogs — that roamed the streets then.

MacArthur says:

These dogs are always presented in the Bible as scavengers, mongrels, sort of semi-wild, not domesticated, ugly.  Was just the way it was in the world at that time.  They roamed the cities.  They roamed the periphery of the cities eating the garbage, and they came in, and in these open courtyards where meals would be held, they would clean up the bread that had been thrown there. And so the rich man has this big feast.  The people are eating, taking the bread they needed to, cleaning, throwing it under there.  The dogs were coming and eating it; and the poor man would’ve given anything if he could have moved himself under the table with the dogs, to get some of that dirty bread.  That’s how desperate this man was.

Dogs are always pictured as dirty.  Second Peter 2:22 says, “The dogs lick up their own vomit.” He wanted to get down there with the dogs and eat the dirty bread.  It reminds me of another man in the 15th chapter, the prodigal who wound up eating with what?  Pigs.  Such a humiliated situation.  So destitute.  He’s road kill, really.  He’s being treated as if he’s dead by the rich man. That’s how the Pharisees would treat him, too.

Then, one day, the poor man died and angels carried him off to rest with Abraham; the rich man also died and was buried (verse 22).

Note how Jesus framed that sentence. The poor man was lifted up to glory with Abraham, by angels, no less. The rich man ended up in the ground.

MacArthur says the Pharisees would have found that shocking:

The poor man died; and, immediately, he’s carried away by angels. That’s stunning. That is shocking. That is unthinkable; and then he is taken by the angels to the side of Abraham. The angels take his body from the licking mongrels and they take him and place him beside Abraham. First of all, the fact that angels are doing this is a jolt to the Pharisees who are hearing the story, because they view this man as cursed by God

So the shock is this man is in heaven. The next shock is he’s not just in heaven, he’s taken by the angels to heaven. The next shock is he’s not just taken by the angels to heaven, but he’s not on the periphery. He’s not at the back of the room or the back of the crowd looking over everybody’s head and between their heads to see who’s sitting up at the main table. He’s sitting next to Abraham. Wow. This is just way out there. A…a broadside on their theological assumptions.

Henry reminds us that death comes for the rich and the poor alike. Some rich people believe they are invincible.

This is why our late Queen nurtured her personal faith so carefully and why she took the time to evangelise in her Christmas messages — and, most importantly, in her two televised funeral services, seen by four million people around the globe just this past Monday, September 19, 2022:

Death is the common lot of rich and poor, godly and ungodly; there they meet together. One dieth in his full strength, and another in the bitterness of his soul; but they shall lie down alike in the dust, Job 21 26. Death favours not either the rich man for his riches or the poor man for his poverty. Saints die, that they may bring their sorrows to an end, and may enter upon their joys. Sinners die, that they may go to give up their account. It concerns both rich and poor to prepare for death, for it waits for them both. Mors sceptra ligonibus æquat—Death blends the sceptre with the spade.

———æquo pulsat pede pauperum tabernas, Regumque turres. With equal pace, impartial fate Knocks at the palace, as the cottage gate.

Jesus purposely took some liberties with this parable as He said that, while being tormented, the rich man saw Abraham from a distance with Lazarus by his side (verse 23). That would not happen in reality.

MacArthur tells us:

Nobody in hell could see into heaven, because nobody in hell would ever know the heavenly experience. Nobody in hell is omniscient, so they wouldn’t be able to see in heaven, look around till they found Abraham. They wouldn’t know who Abraham was. Nobody in hell can have a conversation with somebody in heaven; but for the sake of the story, to make a point, because it does reveal the essence of the suffering in hell

MacArthur says we can be sure the man is in hell, as his translation uses the term Hades:

in the New Testament, Hades clearly refers to hell, with only one exception, and that is Acts chapter 2 verses 27 and 31, which is a quote from Psalm 16; and there it has a vague meaning of just the grave; but that’s because it’s quoting an Old Testament passage. Every other usage of the word Hades in the New Testament refers to the abode of the damned. It is never, in the New Testament, the abode of the redeemed, of believers. And so it is synonymous then with hell.

Some might ask about Gehenna.

MacArthur says:

Gehenna is a word referring to the Valley of Hinnom, the city dump that was burning all the time.  It became a metaphor for hell — the never, ever extinguished fire.  The fiery hell of Matthew 5:22 that Jesus spoke about.  The hell of Matthew 5:29 and Matthew 5:30, and there are many other references to it. 

The rich man called out, ‘Father Abraham’, a reference that would not have been lost on the Pharisees, and he asked him to send Lazarus with a fingertip of water to cool his tongue, for he was in agony in the flames (verse 24).

MacArthur tells us something vital about hell:

One thing about hell, you get a fully active conscience. I’m not going to develop all that. You get a fully active conscience, so that the true wretchedness of who you are is completely dominant in your thinking. All that illusion about how good you are, all those illusions about your self-worth and…and your basic, innate goodness gone. There is a full realization of the sinner’s wretchedness in hell. A fully informed, acutely aware and sensitive conscience becomes the tormenter. He doesn’t say, “How did I end up here?” That question’s never asked in hell. He doesn’t say, “Did I really deserve this?” He doesn’t say, “Don’t you think this is a little extreme?” He doesn’t say any of that.

Note that the man still thought so little of Lazarus, as if he were the lowliest servant:

he looks in his own mind at the person he would consider to be the most wretched person who ever got into heaven, and he picks him, and it’s Lazarus. That’ll tell you that hell didn’t remediate him. He viewed Lazarus exactly the way he always did; and he also thought somebody that lowly ought to serve him. He never got heaven’s assessment of Lazarus, because people in hell don’t have heaven’s assessment of anything

He’s tortured.  The metaphor is thirst and water, but the point is relief.  He wouldn’t give Lazarus a crumb, but he wants Lazarus to give him a drip.  “Dip your finger in water, drip it on my tongue.”  Minimal.  Any tiny, small bit of relief dripping off the end of Lazarus’ finger.  He’s not asking for a barrel, not asking for a bucket.  He’s not asking for the heavenly pipeline to be extended to hell, so there’s a constant flow.  The souls of the damned know they’re doomed to suffer.  They know they are suffering justly.  All they ask for in the lips of this man are small moments of relief in this eternal, unending horror.  “I am in agony,” odunaō, to be in great pain.  “I am in great pain.”  Real water’s not going to sooth the eternally tortured soul.  That’s not the point.  The message is the desperation for just the smallest moment of relief.  This is consistent with the image of hell.

You read the New Testament, you read even the Old Testament, Isaiah 66:24 talks about the fires of hell.  You go through the New Testament … The gospels and the writers of the New Testament describe hell as a fiery place, and its fire is the fire of torture and tormentIt’s also described as darkness, outer darkness, like being lost in the most infinite corner of space under horrible torture and pain, a place of weeping, wailing, teeth-grinding agony.

… A fire that burns forever, but never purifies. A fire that burns forever in an everlasting darkness that only punishes.

Abraham replied, addressing him as ‘Child’ — some translations say ‘Son’ — and not in a good way. This is the way a parent addresses a poorly behaved child or a law enforcement officer addresses a criminal.

Abraham reminded the rich man that he received his reward with good things on earth, whereas Lazarus received evil things. In the afterlife, Lazarus was in comfort and the rich man in agony (verse 25).

Henry says that Abraham represents Christ in this parable:

Abraham in this description represents Christ, for to him all judgment is committed, and it is his mind that Abraham here speaks. Those that now slight Christ will shortly make their court to him, Lord, Lord …

He puts him in mind of what had been both his own condition and the condition of Lazarus, in their life-time: Son, remember; this is a cutting word. The memories of damned souls will be their tormentors, and conscience will then be awakened and stirred up to do its office, which here they would not suffer it to do. Nothing will bring more oil to the flames of hell than Son, remember.

Abraham went on to say that a great chasm has been fixed between heaven and hell and that no one in one place can reach the other (verse 26).

Still considering Lazarus to be the lowest of the low, the rich man asked Abraham to send him to his father’s house (verse 27), to his five brothers to warn them so that they do not end up in the same place of torment (verse 28).

Abraham denied that request, too, telling him that his brothers have Moses and the prophets: ‘they should listen to them’ (verse 29).

MacArthur gives us a brief set of Old Testament verses to illustrate that point:

Psalm 3:8, “Salvation belongs to the Lord.”  Isaiah 43:3, “I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.”  God says, “I am your Savior.  I am your only Savior.”  “Truly,” says Isaiah 45:15, “Truly Thou art a God who hides Himself.  Oh God of Israel, Savior.  Israel has been saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.”  God is the Savior.  “Turn to Me.  Turn to Me,” verse 22, “all ends of the earth and be saved.  I am God, and there is no other.  There is no other God besides Me, a righteous God, and a Savior.”  There’s none except Me.  This is total abandonment to God who alone is the Savior; no one else, and you give up everything.

Listen to Isaiah 55:6“Seek the Lord while He may be found.  Call upon Him while He’s near.  Let the wicked forsake His way, the unrighteous man his thoughts; and let him return to Lord, and He will have compassion on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.” It’s about forsaking everything and embracing the God who is the Savior.

Now, in conclusion, does that sound any different than the New Testament?  It’s not one bit different.  All those components are components of New Testament salvation.  The only difference is we’ve seen the reality of the coming King and Sacrifice. If they believed Moses and the prophets, that would’ve been enough.

The rich man went on with a third request, asking for a sign sent to his brothers — someone from the dead — who will cause them to repent (verse 30).

That request is very much in line with those from the Pharisees. They saw miracles but wanted to kill Jesus. They wanted Him to perform a sign just for them. Our Lord did not grant it.

Abraham replied to the request in the negative, saying that if the five brothers do not listen to Moses and the prophets, they will not be convinced if someone rises from the dead (verse 31).

The man ended up in hell because he did not repent (verse 30).

MacArthur tells us how that man and his brothers could have found the way to repentance:

You must recognize your sinfulness, and the Old Testament commands that you repent. That is, you turn from your sin and turn toward God, realizing that God is gracious and offers grace to those who repent, that God is willing to forgive sin. He is a God of forgiveness by nature, who has no pleasure in the damnation of the wicked; and how do you appropriate that gift? Not by works, not by religious ceremony, but by faith. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness; and that God will justify you. That is, He will declare you righteous, not because you are righteous; but He will credit His righteousness to you, the great doctrine of justification. Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness. It was his faith, even though he was unrighteous, that God accepted; and then gave Abraham, credited to his account, God’s own righteousness.

In closing, MacArthur discusses the differing notions of hell between our society and in the Bible:

it is critical for us to understand the literal reality of hell, and to accept the warning of Scripture. Hell has really disappeared from the vocabulary of many preachers.  Hell is denied by many in favor of universal salvation or everlasting nonexistence called soul sleep where people die and just go out of existence forever.  That’s a popular view among those who call themselves Christians.  Hell is denied by many.  It is preached by few, because it makes people uncomfortable.  That is true.  Hell has been reduced to a swear word, used by unbelievers not believers.  It has been reduced to a trivial verbal epithet that we sling around when wanting to express our anger.  Unbelievers flippantly and frequently tell people to go to hell. And while unbelievers don’t seem to have any hesitation to talk about hell and to verbally threaten people with it, at the same time the church is reluctant to warn people not to go to hell, supposedly out of love and compassion and concern and a desire to be acceptable.

So while unbelievers have the word “hell” on their lips frequently, believers have it on theirs rarely; and that is certainly what Satan would want.  Trivialize and make nothing but an epithet out of hell, words that you sling around that have no meaning, and silence the church about the truth of it. But it is the fearfulness of hell; it is the horror of hell that is exactly the point of its revelation.  The purpose of telling us about hell and describing it with such detail and so repeatedly in the Scripture is to produce in sinners fear, terror, and panicThat’s what it’s for.  It’s to contribute to the way in which they anticipate their eternity.  It is to frighten them, to horrify them so as to produce a terror of spending forever there that drives them in the direction of repentance and faith in the gospel.

Now, the leading preacher of hell of all people, the leading preacher of hell ever is the Savior of sinners, the Lord Jesus ChristThe most references to hell are in the four gospels and they come out of His mouth.  It is Jesus who teaches us about hell.  Clearly, the epistles are the…the ground in which we will find the clearest foundation for our understanding of hell.  Not just there.  The writer of Hebrews refers to it.  The apostle Peter refers to it.  The apostle John refers to it.  The apostle Paul refers to it.  Even Jude refers to it.  All the writers of the New Testament pick up on the issue of hell.

This punishment is defined by the word aiōnios, which is the word eternal or everlasting; and there are people who would like to redefine that word aiōnios and say, “Well, it doesn’t really mean forever.”  But if you do that with hell, you’ve just done it with heaven, because the same word is used to describe that.  If there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven; and I’ll go one beyond that.  The same word is used to describe God. And so, if there is not an everlasting hell, then there is not an everlasting heaven, nor is there an everlasting God.

It is clear that God is eternal; and, therefore, that heaven is eternal, and so is hell.  This is what is on the heart of the Lord Jesus when He talks to the Pharisees, the religious leaders of Israel, and tells them the story in Luke 16:19 to 31.  He makes it up as He did His parables.  He invents the story.  The only difference between this and any other parable is He has a name for one of the characters; and there’s a reason for that; but the story really has one purpose.  It is to warn of hell. It’s a story about a man who was surprised to end up in hell.

If you know someone who needs a discussion about hell, do not wait. It is essential in order for them to be saved. Teach them what Jesus says about hell. My prayers go with you in that effort.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Philippians 4:21-23

Final Greetings

21 Greet every saint in Christ Jesus. The brothers who are with me greet you. 22 All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

23 The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

———————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s gratitude to the Philippians for their gifts to him over the years.

We have now reached the conclusion of Philippians and Paul’s benediction.

John MacArthur sets the scene for us (emphases mine):

So as the dear Apostle Paul watches the candle flicker, probably at night, and realizes that the darkness of night is soon to fall and waits the morning dawn when he hands the scroll, as it were, to Epaphroditus and he says, “Epaphroditus, the letter is done, you can now return to Philippi and give it to the leaders of the church,” as he waits to send off that dictated letter which an amanuensis or secretary has taken down, just before he is finished in the flickering of that last evening, he picks the stylus up himself and with his own hand it is very likely that verses 20, 21, 22 and 23 were written.

You say, “Well what makes you think that? The word of the Apostle Paul to the Thessalonians. The Apostle Paul in writing the final words of 2 Thessalonians said this, “I, Paul,” chapter 3 verse 17, “write this greeting with my own hand and this is a distinguishing mark in every letter, this is the way I write.” You wouldn’t write a letter without signing it to authenticate it, neither would Paul. And he says in that verse, “In all the letters I write, I always take up the pen and authenticate this.” You can understand how important that would be, right? People could be sending all kinds of letters and saying they were from Paul, it was vital that the true Word of God through that instrument be validated by his own inimitable inscription. And we know from Galatians 6:11 that he wrote with large letters. There’s reason to assume a rather large clumsy letters were his common way to sign off which would be very difficult to counterfeit. And so he picks up the stylus from his secretary, or amanuensis, and pens this final word. And as he does he introduces to us this lovely theme of sainthood.

Paul tells the Philippians to greet every saint in Christ Jesus and says that the brothers with him greet them also (verse 21).

The greeting Paul speaks of is more than saying ‘hello’. It suggests affectionate fellowship.

MacArthur says:

The simple verb translated “greet” or “salute,” although that has so many military connotations we don’t use it anymore, the simple verb means to say “hello” but not just in a vacuum, it implies a note of affection and a desire for one’s well being. And here we could assume that Paul is saying affectionately, “I want you to express to all the saints how much I desire their spiritual well being. Share my love and passion for their spiritual development.” That’s really what’s on his heart. It says I care, I care about you.

Would you notice he says “greet every saint.” He doesn’t say greet all the saints in sort of the collective way. Instead of using the collective “all” he uses the individualistic word “every.” And here he is noting for us that every saint is worthy of Paul’s concern, Paul’s care, Paul’s affection and Paul’s wishes for spiritual well being. Now this is a monumental and unique element of the Christian faith that we are to love one another the same. We are to consider others better than ourselves. There is no stratification in the body of Christ. There are to be no favorites. God is not a respecter of…what?…of persons. We are not to elevate some over the other. And what Paul shows us here that is…in his affectionate desire for the spiritual well being of the saints he included everybody. This is his heart. This is what he was after in chapter 2 when he said to them, “If there’s any encouragement in Christ, any comfort of love, any fellowship of the Spirit, any affection and compassion, please make my joy complete.” Why? “By having the same mind, loving everyone the same way, being united in Spirit, having one purpose, not being proud but humble, regarding one another as more important than yourself and not looking on your own things but the things of other,” namely, having the mind of Christ, the mind of humility. That’s fellowship.

That is not always how fellowship works in reality, but that is how it should work and what we should strive for.

MacArthur says that this instruction of greeting is meant for the church leaders:

Now the injunction here in verse 21 is directed at the church leaders who will get the letter. And when he says, “Greet every saint in Christ Jesus,” he is telling the pastors and elders and deacons to go greet the people on his behalf individually, assuring them of his love and his desire for their spiritual well being. This is the way it is with Christ. He had a heart for the individual. I remember Mark 5:31 where out of the midst of the multitude He felt the little lady who touched His garment. He always had that sense of being touchable. So it is in the church. There’s no stratification, there’s no elevation. We’re all commonly saints. None of us is superior to or inferior to the other, we are what we are by the grace of God, 1 Corinthians 15:10 says, and only because of His grace.

MacArthur explains who the brothers are in that verse:

Now I want you to know that while he was a prisoner in Rome for this time writing this letter, he had some pretty formidable folks coming to see him. He calls them the brethren who are with me and they send you the same desire for spiritual well being and affection and they’re the ones with me. These are his specific coworkers, as opposed to all the rest that he mentions in verse 22. And doing a little bit of background on this you find out who they were…quite an amazing group of people.

For example, we know that during his imprisonment Timothy was with him because he refers to him in the letter clear back in chapter 1 verse 1, then in chapter 2 verse 19. Timothy was his protege, his son in the faith, a very gifted, great, godly man, thirty years the junior of Paul but nonetheless a very unique and gifted man. There was also Epaphroditus, that godly saint who had come from Philippi, he too was with Paul, and you know the character of that man, it’s mentioned at the end of chapter 2. He was such a devout Christian that he came close to death for the work of Christ, risking his own life just to serve Paul. That is a sacrificial man.

So Timothy was there, and Epaphroditus was there. Chapter 1 and verse 14 also indicates to us that there were some other brethren who were courageously preaching the Word of God without fear, so there were a group of other preachers there, evangelizers. In addition to that it’s very likely that Tychicus and Aristarchus were there, well known and noble Christians. There are many who would tell us that Luke was there and Mark was there. If we compare all the data we have, and that’s a formidable duo, namely the two who wrote the two gospels, Mark and Luke. And some have suggested it’s very likely Onesimus was there, the runaway slave who ran into Paul and was converted to Christ, who went back then to serve Philemon. Others would say a man named Jesus Justus was there. And then there are some unnamed brethren who were there with him.

The point that I want you to see is very interesting, it’s this. That as high up the ladders of stratification as they might be, these gentlemen are only described as the brethren. And again we pull them down from any supposed rank and we talk again about the commonality of sainthood. Timothy may have been unusually gifted, and certainly was. Epaphroditus may have been a noble Christian soul, and certainly he was. And among the preachers at Rome, there were unquestionably some extremely gifted men. And no one would argue about the spiritual qualifications of Tychicus and Aristarchus, given that they had spent a lot of time with Paul. And who would question Mark and Luke’s character? But as formidable as they were, they need only be associated with such sort of non-descript and troublesome characters as Onesimus. And they are all pulled together in one term “brethren.” You see, the fellowship of saints is a common bond without strata ... There isn’t any stratification here. This is the common identity, the brethren who are saints, those others who love Christ. The fact that they were gifted in different ways doesn’t make them any superior at all. In fact, Paul when identifying himself said, “I am the least of all Apostles,” and in another epistle he said, “I am the chief of sinners.”

Paul goes on to say that all the saints greet the Philippians, especially those in Caesar’s household (verse 22).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

He sends salutations from those who were at Rome: “The brethren who are with me salute you; the ministers, and all the saints here, send their affectionate remembrances to you. Chiefly those who are of Cæsar’s household; the Christian converts who belonged to the emperor’s court.” Observe, (1.) There were saints in Cæsar’s household. Though Paul was imprisoned at Rome, for preaching the gospel, by the emperor’s command, yet there were some Christians in his own family. The gospel early obtained among some of the rich and great. Perhaps the apostle fared the better, and received some favour, by means of his friends at court. (2.) Chiefly those, etc. Observe, They, being bred at court, were more complaisant than the rest. See what an ornament to religion sanctified civility is.

MacArthur points out the unifying nature of the greeting:

further opening up to us the window on fellowship, in verse 22 he says, “All the saints greet you,” and he just wraps his arms around the whole Roman church, all the people in Rome that were Christians…the wider circle of Christians, they send their love and their affection and their wishes for spiritual well being and growth.

Beloved, that’s the heart of Christian fellowship. We’re all saints, none superior to the other, though differently gifted and at points in our life differently faithful. But we are all one brotherhood, we are all one fellowship, we are all one body in Christ. And the less comely members, Paul says to the Corinthians, are not less significant, but are perhaps in many cases more significant, as the less beautiful members of your body are more significant than those ones which receive all the kudos. And so we find here that the fellowship of saints is a very simple thing, it is the sharing of common love and the desire for spiritual well being. The Christian singer is not a soloist, he’s a member of a choir. The Christian soldier is not solitary figure, he’s a member of an army. The Christian scholar is not a privately tutored leaner, he’s a part of a class and a school. The Christian son is not just a lonely child, he’s a member of a family. The Christian runner is not an individual performer, he is a part of a team. That’s the fellowship.

Catholics and Anglicans do not normally refer to each other as saints. That is something we leave to other denominations.

MacArthur defines what a saint is in Paul’s context, one which many Protestant denominations use:

Saints are not some group of people exist in isolation, as cold as the stone that marks them out. They’re common possessors of the eternal life of God who share their love with each other.

So sainthood is characterized then by being separated from sin unto God for holy purposes through faith in Christ. The worship of saints is godward praise in response to truth and blessing. The fellowship of saints is a loving and non-discriminating mutual care.

Number four, the joy of saints. Paul opens a window to that for us in verse 22 and I think he must have had a gleam in his eye as he penned this with his own stylus. He says in verse 22, “All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.” And I just think he loved to say that. Why? Well this is the joy of the saints. You say, “What is the joy of the saints?” I’ll tell you what the joy of the saints is. In Luke 15 Jesus told a story about a lady who lost a coin, looked all day, found the coin, called her friends and rejoiced.

Then He told a story about a man who had sheep, lost a sheep, found the sheep, called his friends and they rejoiced. Then He told a story about a man who lost a son, found the son, called his friends, had a feast, they rejoiced. And through that fifteenth chapter of Luke the Scripture says that when a soul is saved there is joy in heaven. The theme of Luke 15 is the joy of heaven over the salvation of a soul. And may I say to you that that’s not the only place where there’s joy when a soul is saved. What is the joy of the saints on earth? The greatest, highest joy we have, isn’t it, is to see someone come to Christ.

We had the first two of those parables in the Gospel from Luke 15 in the Year C readings on September 10, 2022, the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity.

The final element of sainthood is realising, as Paul did, that — even though we still sin — we still live in Christ:

Listen, He’s the theme of this whole letter, did you get that? The name of Christ is mentioned 40 times in these four chapters, one every couple of verses, He’s the heart of the whole thing. He is central to it. Paul began by describing himself as a slave of Jesus Christ. He addresses the Christians as saints in Jesus Christ. When referring to his imprisonment he says my bonds are in Jesus Christ. When he speaks about life he says for to me to live is Christ. When he speaks about death he says for me to die is Christ. When he exhorts people to godly conduct, it is to be like Christ. When he calls for proper attitudes, it is to have the mind of Christ. When he speaks of choices and desires and hopes, he says they are to be built on trust in Christ. When he speaks about joy it is the joy of Christ. When he speaks about strength it is the strength of Christ. When he calls for power and knowledge and fellowship, it is the knowledge of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of His sufferings that he longs for. And when he looks for eternal hope and glory, he says I am looking for Christ. And when it’s spiritual steadfastness he needs, it is in Christ. And when it is sufficiency he wants, it is in Christ. It is Christ, Christ, Christ, Christ

Our whole life is Christ, beloved. If you get nothing else, get that out of Philippians. Called by Christ, saved by Christ, to have the mind of Christ, to serve the way Christ served, to become like Christ. That’s the message. To be like the beloved Redeemer. We are saints, not yet all we should be, but moving to become like the one who called us saints.

MacArthur tells us of Paul’s mention of Caesar’s household in verse 22, which would have included a lot of employees, just as the British Royal Family has. By contrast, the Caesar at that time was the perverse Nero, who hated Christians:

Paul knows what joy this will bring when he says, “Especially those of Caesar’s household.” Why so? Because Nero was the Caesar and everybody knows what Nero thought about Christ and Christians. Nero had fancied himself a god, a competing deity, a competing lord and demanded that the people in the Roman Empire worship him. Now the household of Caesar would not just have been his own family, the household of Caesar is a word to indicate all who were in his direct employ. And if you study history you find it’s a very interesting group. You can do reading on it yourself. You will find it included courtiers, princes and higher ups in his personal court, judges. It included cooks, food preparers, tasters who tasted the food to make sure he didn’t get poisoned. Musicians, custodians, builders, people who attended to his stables, it included soldiers and those who led them, it included people who managed his financial affairs. All of those people who were in any sense a part of the direct system, they would have been by our definition today government workers, a large group of people. And I believe that because Caesar and his whole enterprise was the direct counterpart to Christ, that there was some special exhilaration in the heart of Paul when somebody in Caesar’s household became a Christian…when they turned their backs on emperor worship and embraced the true Christ.

Now to whom is he referring? Who are these who got saved? Well, two groups. First of all, those who had come to Christ in Caesar’s household since Paul had become a prisoner. Paul being the instrument of God that he was, you can be sure that the Roman soldiers who had been chained to him heard the gospel. In fact, if you have any question about it, I remind you of chapter 1 verse 13 which says that since his imprisonment, the gospel of Christ had become known throughout the whole Praetorian Guard and to everybody else. The Praetorian Guard or the Roman soldiers were exposed to Paul…it’s one thing to be chained to Paul, to guard him, it’s something else to have Paul chained to you. Talk about not being able to get away. And the result was people were coming to Christ in the Praetorian Guard. So some of those in Caesar’s household that you can rejoice over are converted soldiers and others who heard the Word, too, who were part of serving the Caesar.

But there’s something else here as well. There’s no reason to assume that it doesn’t also include people who were Christians before Paul’s imprisonment. The gospel had already come to Rome and many had come to know Christ.

MacArthur gives us a list of names we have already seen in our studies of Paul’s letters. These come thanks to the Victorian New Testament scholar, the Revd J B Lightfoot, not to be confused with the Revd Dr John Lightfoot whom Matthew Henry cites. I have not read that they were related:

J.B. Lightfoot, that great New Testament scholar, has a marvelous treatment of this whole idea of the Christians in Caesar’s household. And studying all kinds of lists that have been discovered archaeologically that give us names of Caesar’s household, and they’ve found them in archaeological digs, he has taken all the names on all those lists that have been discovered, gone over those names to see if he can recognize any of them, and found amazingly many parallels on the list of government workers with the list of names in Romans chapter 16. You remember when Paul was writing the epistle to the Romans and the sixteenth chapter he commends many, many people who helped him. Many of those names appear on the lists of Caesar’s household. In fact, Lightfoot concludes that Romans 16 should studied that way and that it’s pretty clear that people like Ampliatus, Apelles, Stachys, Rufus, Hermes, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, at least, and maybe others, were very, very much a part of Caesar’s household. So you have some people being converted out of Caesar’s household while Paul was a prisoner. You have some who were already Christians before that. And now Paul just loves to say, gathering up both groups, all the Christians in Caesar’s house send their love. How wonderful, how thrilling that the household of Caesar, the enemy of Christ had yielded up many souls to the conquering Christ. The crucified Galilean had already begun to rule the governments of the world spiritually. Surprising joy, surprising joy.

You can read more about them and others in my posts on Romans 16:

Romans 16:7-10 – Andronicus and Junia (Junias), Ampliatus, Urbanus, Stachys, Apelles, those of the household of Aristobulus

Romans 16:11-13 – Herodion, those ‘in the Lord’ in the household of Narcissus, Tryphaena and Tryphosa, Persis, Rufus and Rufus’s mother

Romans 16:14-16Asyncritus, Phlegon, Hermes, Patrobas, Hermas, Philologus, and the brothers who are with them; also, Julia, Nereus and his sister, and Olympas

Paul concludes by commending the grace of Jesus Christ to the Philippians’ spirit (verse 23).

We need divine grace daily, the way we need water and food. We cannot live in Christ without His grace.

MacArthur elaborates:

You want to hear something, you didn’t deserve to be saved and you don’t deserve to be kept saved. Do you understand that? You are no more worthy of your salvation now than you were then. And so you are sustained by grace just as you were saved by grace. It is grace by which our whole life exists. That’s why Paul says in Romans 5:2, “This grace in which we stand.” We live in it. Our life is governed by grace, guided by grace, kept by grace, strengthened by grace, sanctified by grace, enabled by grace. Listen, if God only gave us now that we’re Christians what we deserve, we’d still be damned to hell. It is the constant grace of forgiveness, the grace of enabling strength, the grace of comfort, the grace of peace, the grace of joy, the grace of boldness, the grace of revelation and instruction. We are dependent on all of it all the time.

He started out in chapter 1 verse 2 wishing them grace. He ends up wishing them grace and again comes full circle. He says the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. What do you mean by that? Your spirit, your person, your inner man, the real you…may you know the fullness of grace, that purifying, beautifying, sanctifying grace.

What an uplifting note on which to end this study of Philippians.

Next week, I will introduce Paul’s letter to the Colossians. It, too, is a short letter, and most of it is in the Lectionary. We will see some familiar themes and names over the next few weeks.

Next time — Colossians 2:1-5

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 18, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

As Queen Elizabeth II will be buried on Monday, September 19, and as Charles III is our new King, today’s exegesis will be on the Epistle, which is relevant to monarchs and others in authority.

May our beloved monarch rest in peace and rise in glory.

Long live the King.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.

2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to help him come to grips with the issues besetting the church in Ephesus.

John MacArthur explains that the attitude of the congregation was becoming rather exclusive:

If we read through the epistle and if we examine it as we have in the past for the errors that are here, we will be reminded that there were Jews apparently in the church at Ephesus who were claiming that only law-keeping Jews or those who were sort of proselytes to the keeping of the law could be accepted by God. There was a Judaizing element, and that’s apparent in chapter 1 from verse 7 through 11. There were those who were advocating law keeping as the means of salvation. And that was an exclusiveness that said salvation isn’t for everybody. It’s for those who come within the framework of maintaining the Jewish law.

Also, we note that in this Ephesian assembly there was the Gentile exclusivism that grew out of that old philosophy that later became known as gnosticism, which philosophy said salvation only belongs to the elite initiated exclusive people who have reached a level of knowledge, who have tuned in to the various mediators and sub-gods and eons and angelic beings that line up between man and God. So the Jewish people would be saying salvation’s only for those who keep the Jewish law. And the Gentiles might be saying salvation’s only for those who are in the know, who are the gnostics, the ones who know – it’s from the Greek verb to know – who are in the know, that elite group of people who have ascended to another level in some mystical experience with spirits which they believe to be good spirits, which Paul points out to be demons.

So there was an exclusivism that had come to be in the church at Ephesus. Because of this, there was severe error in the doctrine of salvation which becomes the final note of the whole epistle, where he closes out in verse 21 of chapter 6 by saying they have erred concerning the faith. The greatest error was an error in the matter of the extent of salvation. One group saying it’s only for those Jews who are in the know in terms of the Jewish law. The others, it’s only for that one small group of people who are in the know in terms of mystical understanding. Everybody else is left out.

Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to make sure, as a priority, that the Ephesians’ prayers are for everyone — including those outside the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Timothy must take care that this be done. Paul does not send him any prescribed form of prayer, as we have reason to think he would if he had intended that ministers should be tied to that way of praying; but, in general, that they should make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks: supplications for the averting of evil, prayers for the obtaining of good, intercessions for others, and thanksgivings for mercies already received. Paul thought it enough to give them general heads; they, having the scripture to direct them in prayer and the Spirit of prayer poured out upon them, needed not any further directions … There must be prayers for ourselves in the first place; this is implied here. We must also pray for all men, for the world of mankind in general, for particular persons who need or desire our prayers. See how far the Christian religion was from being a sect, when it taught men this diffusive charity, to pray, not only for those of their own way, but for all men.

MacArthur has more about what Paul is urging Timothy to do:

Because you have a charge, because you have a commission, because all of this has been confirmed in the church through the prophets as we saw, because all of this is set on your shoulders, therefore, Timothy, get at it. And here’s what I urge you, and then he uses this phrase “first of all.” Here’s what I urge you first of all. And you might ask the question I asked, why is this first? I’ll tell you why. What is the primary objective of the church? What are we in the world for? Listen, if the primary objective of the church is fellowship, where would we be? In heaven cause we’d have perfect fellowship there and none of you could mess it up. If the primary objective of the church was knowledge of the Word of God, we might as well go to heaven. We’ll have perfect knowledge there, and I won’t be able to mess it up with anything that I might say that isn’t quite accurate.

No, see, the purpose of the church in the world today is to reach the lost. And so the priority begins at that point.

Paul includes as ‘everyone’ kings and all who are in positions of authority so that people may lead quiet and peacable lives in all godliness and dignity (verse 2).

Henry explains:

Pray for kings (v. 2); though the kings at this time were heathens, enemies to Christianity, and persecutors of Christians, yet they must pray for them, because it is for the public good that there should be civil government, and proper persons entrusted with the administration of it, for whom therefore we ought to pray, yea, though we ourselves suffer under them. For kings, and all that are in authority, that is, inferior magistrates: we must pray for them, and we must give thanks for them, pray for their welfare and for the welfare of their kingdoms, and therefore must not plot against them, that in the peace thereof we may have peace, and give thanks for them and for the benefit we have under their government, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Here see what we must desire for kings, that God will so turn their hearts, and direct them and make use of them, that we under them may lead a quiet and peaceable life. He does not say, “that we may get preferments under them, grow rich, and be in honour and power under them;” no, the summit of the ambition of a good Christian is to lead a quiet and peaceable life, to get through the world unmolested in a low private station. We should desire that we and others may lead a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, implying that we cannot expect to be kept quiet and peaceable unless we keep in all godliness and honesty. Let us mind our duty, and then we may expect to be taken under the protection both of God and the government. In all godliness and honesty. Here we have our duty as Christians summed up in two words: godliness, that is, the right worshipping of God; and honesty, that is, a good conduct towards all men. These two must go together; we are not truly honest if we are not godly, and do not render to God his due; and we are not truly godly if we are not honest, for God hates robbery for burnt-offering … 4. All men, yea, kings themselves, and those who are in authority, are to be prayed for. They want our prayers, for they have many difficulties to encounter, many snares to which their exalted stations expose them. 5. In praying for our governors, we take the most likely course to lead a peaceable and quiet life. The Jews at Babylon were commanded to seek the peace of the city whither the Lord had caused them to be carried captives, and to pray to the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof they should have peace, Jer 29 7. 6. If we would lead a peaceable and quiet life, we must live in all godliness and honesty; we must do our duty to God and man.

MacArthur also lays importance on leading quiet Christian lives for everyone’s benefit:

Now I want to expand on this because I don’t think this is a well understood thought. In 1 Thessalonians we have a similar word, chapter 4 verse 11, where Paul says, “That we are to study” – that is to be diligent – “to be quiet.” We are not to be rabble rousers. If we are known for anything, we are known for our quiet demeanor. We do not make disturbances. We do not disrupt society as such, that is not our intent, that is not our overt effort. “We are to be quiet,” he says, “do your own business, work with your own hands as we commanded you in order that you may walk honestly toward them that are outside” – the unbelievers. They ought to see us as quiet diligent faithful people. Second Thessalonians 3 also speaks to the same matter. We hear, he says in verse 11 that, “There are some who walk among you disorderly, working not at all.” They’re indigent; they are unemployed; they don’t do as they ought. “They’re busybodies. Command them and exhort them by the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.”

Now listen, beloved, the church, Paul is saying, is never to be the political agitator. It is never to be seen as the perceivable enemy to national security or national peace. That is not our role. We are to seek to make all the people around us whatever their viewpoint politically, whatever their viewpoint philosophically, we are to seek to make them friends by praying for them rather than enemies by hating them and rejecting them. And sometimes that’s difficult, because when we’re raised in a very clearly defined Christian environment, we tend not only to hate the evil system, but we tend to see all the people in it as our enemies. And so we grow bitter against those who deny the life that we believe is so right. The church even today, I’m sure, in the United States is seen by many as an agitating political force endeavoring to disrupt things in our country.

Now I want you to understand what the Scripture is saying in light of that. Christians are to be model citizens. That doesn’t mean we’re indifferent or apathetic or don’t have an opinion. But we are to be model citizens in every way. We are to be a blessing and a benediction to everyone around us. We are to pray for the salvation of everyone. And if they know us, they should know the church not as a strong political lobby group, not as a powerful group with money moving through society for its own ends. They are to know us as quiet peace-loving people who are constantly committed to praying for the salvation of those who are outside.

We are to submit to the authority over us and more than just submit to it, we are to pray for the salvation of those very people. If we do that, if the church in this country was just banded together in spirit, covenanting together to pray for the lost in our nation and to pray for our rulers and pray for our leaders and not engage in power kind of efforts and power kind of moves and power kind of politics to overturn things and eliminate people and get rid of people, but rather pray for their salvation, we would never be accused or even suspected of disloyalty. Nor would anybody miss the point of our existence. And we would be more likely to be allowed to worship and evangelize without fear or restriction and thus to live our lives in a quiet and tranquil way.

Paul tells Timothy that God finds this exhortation right and acceptable (verse 3) because He wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

MacArthur gives us his analysis of verse 3, referring to the Greek manuscript:

This is a powerful, powerful truth. We are to pray for the lost, one, because it’s good; it’s right; it’s morally excellent. Two, it is consistent with God’s will. We are to pray for the lost because it is consistent with God’s will. Notice verse 3, “This is good and” – here it comes – “acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who wills all men to be saved. It is the will of God that men be saved. It’s consistent with His will.

The word acceptable, which is also used in a similar phrase in chapter 5 verse 4, has the idea – it’s a very rich word. It’s not just to receive – dechomai. It’s apodechomai. It means to applaud, it means to gladly receive, to accept with satisfaction, to heartily welcome. It’s a very warm word. It is to say the Lord gladly anxiously eagerly with applause and satisfaction and joy receives this. This is what He wants, the salvation of the world. So praying for all the world is really gladly received by God. He applauds that kind of praying. He accepts it heartily because it is consistent with His character.

And what do you mean by that? Well notice it in verse 3, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our” – creator. Is that what it says? No, “God our” – what? – “Savior.” It’s consistent with who He is. It’s consistent with His nature, with His character.

MacArthur wisely clarifies the diference between these verses and John 17, where Jesus did not pray for the world. He did pray for the world but not for the sinful world’s success:

Let’s look at John 17:9, and I thought of this and I brought it in because I didn’t want anybody finding that verse and saying, “Wait, this confuses me.” Why in John 17:9 does Jesus say to the Father in His high priestly prayer, “I pray for them” – that is for the disciples, those who You have given to Me, My own disciples – “I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me, for they are Thine”? And somebody would say, well Jesus didn’t pray for the whole world. He says right here I don’t pray for the world. And you know something? That’s right – in this particular case, He said, “I don’t pray for the world.”

What did He mean by that? Well that’s the whole point. Does that mean God doesn’t love the world? Well in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Now the whole point of the verse is He gave His only begotten Son to fulfill His love, so God loves the whole world. First John 2:2 says He is the covering for our sin and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. So God loves the whole world, gave a Savior to the whole world, a covering for sin is offered to the whole world, why does He say, “I pray not for the world?” And isn’t Jesus’ mission to go to the whole world? Didn’t He say preach the gospel to every creature? Yes. Why in verse 9 does He say, “I pray not for the world?”

That’s very simple. What He is saying here is I’m not praying for the world’s success as the world. You understand that? The cosmos, the evil Satanic system. What He means is, I’m not praying that the world succeed. I’m praying for the disciples to succeed in winning the world, not for the world to succeed in stopping them. He can’t pray for His own and pray for the world which is the enemy.

MacArthur discusses God’s desire to save and mankind’s coming to the knowledge of the truth in verse 4:

The word knowledge here is epignōsis. It means a deep full rich and complete knowledge and that is the knowledge of true salvation. It is used four times in these pastoral epistles. In 2 Timothy 3:7 it talks about people who have a form of godliness but no reality who are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth – same word. And in Titus 1:1, comparing faith and knowledge, both elements of salvation, again he refers to the knowledge of the truth. So what he is saying here is, it is God’s will that all men be saved and salvation comes through the true deep knowledge of saving truth, the gospel, the work of Christ.

And this may be an answer to some Jews who were saying God willed the damnation of heretics. There were Jews who believed that God willed the damnation of Gentiles in general. And then there was that gnostic/pre-gnostic view that God must have willed the damnation of all the non-elite, the people who never attained mystical knowledge. And he takes issue with that. And he says, “Listen, God wills because He is by nature a Savior that all men would be saved through coming to the full knowledge of saving truth in Jesus Christ.”

And I want to close by talking about the word will and I want you to listen carefully. What kind of will is this? Because somebody looks at this verse and says, oh, God will have all men to be saved. I’ll tell you one thing, God gets what He wants. He’s in charge. Therefore universalism is taught. That is that ultimately everybody will be saved because that’s God’s will. It says so right here. Other people say, no, no, no, no. The Bible teaches hell and the Bible teaches that people are going to be there forever, so some people aren’t going to go to heaven. Therefore when it says God will have all men to be saved. It doesn’t mean all men, just means some men. Because after all, God’s got to get what He wants and He can’t save everybody because hell’s there and some people are there. So He’s got to save all the people that He wants to save. Therefore He doesn’t want to save all people. All doesn’t mean all; it must means some.

Paul says that there is one God and also one mediator between God and mankind: Christ Jesus, Himself human (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

… here we get into a profound argument on the part of Paul, the third element in his reason for evangelistic praying is that it is reflective of God’s nature as one God. It is reflective of God’s nature as one God. Notice verse 5, “For there is one God” – or, “For God is one.” There’s only one God … As it says in 1 Corinthians 8, an idol is zero. An idol is nothing. If you want to spend your life worshiping nothing, that’s your privilege. But that’s folly. God is one. There’s only one God. In Isaiah 44:6 God said it as clearly as it could be said, “I am the first and I am the last, and beside Me there’s no other.” That covers the ground.

And that’s why you see Mark 12:29 to 31 says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one, therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Why? You can give all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength to God, because there’s nobody else to give it to. There’s only one. So you love that one God with all the capacity you have to love and worship.

Now this unity of God, the Lord our God is one, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6 is the central truth in all the Old Testament Scripture. As over against the polytheism of the nations surrounding Israel – many gods, many God’s – Israel stood for one God. Now this is Paul’s point. There’s only one God. What do you mean by that? What he means is if there were many gods then there would be many ways of salvation. Right? And isn’t that what the people in the world teach today? Sure. I mean, the world says, “Well, there’s a god for these people and these people and as long as you’re sincere, it’s going to be okay. Every god has his way, every god has his means of salvation.” So if there are many gods, then there are many ways of salvation. And if that’s true, there’s no need for evangelism. Right? You don’t need evangelism. Everybody’s got their own way; leave them alone. They’ll come home wagging their tails behind them. It will all work out in the end.

But Paul says since there is only one God and one Savior God, then that one God stands in the same relationship to all men in relationship to Salvation. If there is one God and that one God is the Savior and that one God desires all men to be saved, then He is the God of all in whom all must believe if all are to be saved, therefore we must pray for all. Since the God of all men wants all men to be saved, prayer for all men is consistent with His nature. The foundation then, beloved, of the universality of the gospel is bound up in the oneness of God. Listen to Romans 3 as Paul begins to delineate the gospel in verse 29, he said, “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the nations? Yes, of the nations also. Seeing He is one God” – there’s only one God. Therefore all men must come to the same God, therefore all men must hear the same way, and therefore we must pray for all men. There’s only one God. And it is the unity of God that justifies the universal scope of evangelism.

Of Jesus Christ as Mediator, MacArthur explains:

There is not only one God, but there is “one mediator between God and men.” And the Greek text says “man” – no article – “man Christ Jesus.” A better way to translate that to get the intent of the Greek would be, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus Himself man.” Now here we find the consistency with the person of Christ. How many mediators are there? One. So we can’t say, “Well, there are lots of ways to heaven,” like the Bahai people say, lots of doors; you can go this way, that way; you can follow this leader, that leader, this leader. No, there’s only one. And we’re back to the same thing. One God, one mediator, one way of salvation, therefore we pray for the whole world. God wants the whole world saved and the only way they can be saved is through that one mediator to that one God.

In Job chapter 9 we are introduced to the concept of a mediator as Job cries out in the midst of his distress. And he says in verse 32 in wanting to communicate with God, he says, “For He is not a man as I am that I should answer Him and we should come together in judgment.” He says I don’t know how to get to God. He’s not a man. I can’t just communicate with Him. We can’t sit down and work this thing out. And then in verse 33, “Neither is there any mediator between us.” He uses the word daysman, which is a word for an arbiter or an umpire or a mediator. “There’s no mediator between us” – listen to this – “that might lay his hand on both of us.” And here was Job in the middle of his distress crying out, “Where is somebody who can put his hand on God and his hand on me and bring us together?” Well, that cry is answered in Christ. Isn’t it? Christ is that mesitēs, that mediator, that go between, that one who intervenes between two for the purpose of restoring peace and friendship or of ratifying a covenant, making a promise, forming a compact. And there’s only one mediator. Listen to that, only one.

There is only one mediator, just one that is the daysman who puts His hand on both God and man and brings them together. And it is Christ Jesus, man Himself – or Himself man. And the word for man here is the word anthrōpos. We get anthropology from it. It is the generic word for man. Anēr is the word for male … But here is the generic word. He became man. He was God always. He became man. He is the perfect God-man. As such He takes God and man and brings them together. And so Christ Jesus is that mediator.

The Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer has the following intercession in the liturgy for Holy Communion. It follows the first five verses of today’s reading. Of course, the priest is now praying for King Charles, but, until two Sundays ago, the prayer went as follows:

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth.

Almighty and everliving God, who by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks, for all men: We humbly beseech thee most mercifully [*to accept our alms and oblations, and] to receive these our prayers, which we offer unto thy Divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant, that all they that do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity, and godly love. We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops and Curates, that they may both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments: And to all thy people give thy heavenly grace; and specially to this congregation here present; that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear, and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And we most humbly beseech thee of thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succour all them, who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom: Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ‘s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

One can see how this prayer fulfils Paul’s instruction to Timothy.

Paul impresses upon Timothy the work of Christ’s crucifixion, a ransom for all, attested at the right time (verse 6).

I prefer the King James Version which says ‘due time’ and makes more sense:

Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Henry says:

As the mercy of God extends itself to all his works, so the mediation of Christ extends itself thus far to all the children of men that he paid a price sufficient for the salvation of all mankind; he brought mankind to stand upon new terms with God, so that they are not now under the law as a covenant of works, but as a rule of life. They are under grace; not under the covenant of innocence, but under a new covenant: He gave himself a ransom. Observe, The death of Christ was a ransom, a counter-price. We deserved to have died. Christ died for us, to save us from death and hell; he gave himself a ransom voluntarily, a ransom for all; so that all mankind are put in a better condition than that of devils. He died to work out a common salvation: in order hereunto, he put himself into the office of Mediator between God and man. A mediator supposes a controversy. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is a Mediator who undertakes to make peace, to bring God and man together, in the nature of an umpire or arbitrator, a days-man who lays his hand upon u both, Job 9 33. He is a ransom that was to be testified in due time; that is, in the Old-Testament times, his sufferings and the glory that should follow were spoken of as things to be revealed in the last times, 1 Pet 1 10, 11.

MacArthur explains substutionary atonement, i.e. Christ dying so that we would not have to endure eternal death:

Go back again to verse 6. Speaking of Christ Jesus who was man as well as God and brought God and man together, it says, “Who gave” – and that word is loaded with content. He gave. John 10:18, Jesus said, “No man takes My life from Me, I” – what? – I lay it down by Myself” – voluntarily. “Who gave” – and what did He give? – “Himself.” Not a portion of Himself, not something He possessed, not something He owned, not something He really didn’t need, He gave everything. That’s the totality of it. Christ Jesus voluntarily gave totally Himself, “as a ransom for all.”

Now the word ransom here is just loaded with meaning. It is not the simple word for ransom, which is lutron. It is antilutron and there’s a huper preposition connected with it in the phrase. And it just fills up the meaning. It’s not a simple word for ransom where somebody’s kidnapped, you go pay a ransom, you get him back. It is the idea of a substitutionary ransom. You put yourself there and free that person by your own enslavement. It is as if a father was receiving a note about a kidnapped child and the note demanded that he go and become the kidnapped person for the freedom of his beloved child. Christ becomes the victim that we might be set free. So it is more than the simple word ransom which means the priced pay for the release of a slave. It is the idea of an exchange. Christ exchanged His life for our lives. He died our death. He bore our sin. He took our place. He gave Himself totally as a substitutionary payment for our sin.

For whom did He do this? He was a ransom for all. Would you just circle that? That’s the point here. Did Christ die for a few? He died for all. That’s what it says. And that’s Paul’s key idea. He is not here, by the way, intending to give a complex treatment on the theology of the atonement. He is not here trying to emphasize all that could be said about the substitutionary ransom of Jesus Christ. His point here is the all. What he wants you to understand is that Christ who is the one mediator came to do a work on the cross in behalf of man and God that would provide a ransom for all men.

Paul puts his stamp of authority on these verses by saying that he was appointed for this work as a herald and apostle, confirming that he is telling the truth and that he is a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and in truth (verse 7).

MacArthur addresses this verse as follows:

In other words, he’s saying what in the world am I doing if this thing isn’t for everybody?

The word preacher is from the verb form kērussō. It has to do with a herald, a proclaimer, a public speaker. In those days they didn’t watch television, didn’t read books, didn’t have newspapers. Basically if you had an announcement, you went into the city square and you made your announcement. It was the time of hot communication. It was a time when you verbalized. The herald went around and made all the announcements the people needed to have and communication was out in the open and people preached in the open and they taught in the open and philosophers spoke in the open and opinions were given in the open. And Paul became one of those open-air preachers, one of those public heralds proclaiming the gospel of Christ. And what he is saying is, why I was ordained by God to go out and publicly proclaim a gospel that if limited belies my very calling. And then I was called not only to be a herald but an apostle. And the word there is – has reference to one being sent as a messenger. Here I am an apostle to the nations, here I am a messenger from city to city and nation to nation, publicly heralding the gospel of Christ. What am I doing if this isn’t applicable to everybody?

He says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not.” You know that I’ve been called as a herald to publicly proclaim. You know I’ve been called as a messenger to extend the truth of saving grace as far and wide as God allows me. As a herald I speak publicly. As a missionary I reach all I can reach. And you know this is the truth and I’m not lying. You know that’s my calling, he’s saying. You know that’s my ordination. And there may be a little bit of rebuttal in his saying that because there might be some in the church that would sort of take issue with the strength of his conclusions here and he reminds them that he’s speaking the truth.

And then he says in the end of verse 7 also, “I am a teacher of the nations in faith” – that is the faith, content – “and verity” – that is sincerity of heart. I’m one who teaches with right content and a right heart of sincerity. And I’m a teacher of the nations. The word the nations is key – ought to underline that. That’s the key idea. I’ve been sent to the nations, to the nations of the world. And I’m supposed to publicly proclaim to all of these people that Jesus saves and that Christ is a ransom for all and call them to salvation. How can I do that if that’s not true? There’s an integrity problem here, he says. I mean, I’ve been ordained for this. In fulfilling the Great Commission, Mark 16:15, to preach the gospel to every creature. Paul says with the faith, the content, and a sincere heart, I go out to speak the truth.

And beloved, I really believe this is a powerful, powerful statement on the mission responsibility of the church for the world. We are called to world missions. Why? Because it is the will of God that all men be saved. Why? Because there’s only one God for them all, and there’s only one mediator for them all who died for them all. And we are called as preachers and missionaries to reach them all. And how could we ever believe for a moment that we were saying something that isn’t true if He did not die for all and if God did not will that all be saved? Then we ought to say that. But we can’t because we know better. And so there is a powerful argument for the universal proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

In closing, MacArthur offers this observation:

I am amazed how readily we pray for physical problems and how hesitantly we pray for salvation. And physical problems are not really the significant issue.

That is so true. Perhaps in our era we find it presumptuous to pray for someone’s salvation. It seems intrusive. On the other hand, praying for someone’s recovery from a malady makes more sense. We can empathise with their physical pain because pain is tangible. We don’t want people to suffer.

Yet, MacArthur is correct in saying that physical problems are not the main issue in our lives. Salvation is. Therefore, we should pray for each other’s salvation, because that lasts for eternity, whereas bodily pain is temporary, disappearing before or at the time we die.

May all 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.

Philippians 4:14-20

14 Yet it was kind of you to share[a] my trouble. 15 And you Philippians yourselves know that in the beginning of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church entered into partnership with me in giving and receiving, except you only. 16 Even in Thessalonica you sent me help for my needs once and again. 17 Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that increases to your credit.[b] 18 I have received full payment, and more. I am well supplied, having received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God. 19 And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. 20 To our God and Father be glory forever and ever. Amen.

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In last week’s reading, Paul, in discussing the Philippians’ gift to him, said he had learned how to be content, regardless of the circumstances.

In these verses, he says that their gift is pleasing to God.

Lest he give the impression that he was ungrateful, Paul says that he appreciates their concern for his well being (verse 14).

‘Yet’ appears as ‘Nevertheless’ in some translations.

John MacArthur explains the significance of the verse (emphases mine):

Look at verse 14.  It starts with the word “nevertheless.”  And that’s a very important transition for Paul because what he has said up to now might send the wrong message back to the Philippians Remember the picture?  Paul is a prisoner, incarcerated in some kind of apartment in Rome, chained to a Roman soldier.  He is in a very difficult situation physically.  Must have been enduring meager subsistence.  Has great need.  We don’t know what all of his physical needs were at that time, but we can understand the basic needs of life.  And in the middle of that need, the word comes to the Philippian church that he is in fact having need, and need that is not being met And so, the Philippians out of love send a man by the name of Epaphroditus who takes with him supplies for Paul, food and clothing perhaps, and money.  And Epaphroditus comes all the way to Rome from Philippi to deliver this to Paul.  It is a generous gift.  It is a sacrificial gift.  You can be sure that the Philippians were basically poor.  Keep that in mind.  They were poor.  They were a church in Macedonia.  And Paul, in 2 Corinthians chapter 8, comments on the poverty of the Macedonian churches.  They were a poor people.  They did not have much.  What they did have, they sacrificially sent to the apostle Paul.

And so, he has just received that gift from Epaphroditus in recent days.  Epaphroditus has stayed and ministered to him.  Now, Epaphroditus is going back and with him is going this letter.  And so, they’re going to read things like this.  They’re going to read verse 11, “I don’t have any wants.  I’ve learned to be content.”  They’re going to read verse 12, “I know how to get along with humble means and I know how to learn the secret of going hungry and of suffering need.”  They’re going to read verse 13 that says that he can endure anything because of the strength of the Spirit within him.  And they’re going to conclude, if he stops at that point, “This guy didn’t need anything we sent him.  We made a terrible mistake.  We made this major sacrificial act of giving and he writes back and says, I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it, God would provide in His own time, I’m committed to the sovereign providence of God, I’m satisfied with very little, I live above my circumstances and I’m sustained by divine power.”  And if that was the end of the epistle, they would have felt very bad, and it wouldn’t exactly have been a thank you note.

So, he says, “In spite of all of that, nevertheless,” in spite of the fact that I’m content, in spite of the fact that I’m strengthened by Christ, in spite of the fact that I trust the providence of God, in spite of the fact I live above my circumstances, you have done well.  You did a noble thing.”  Kalos, you did something that was beautiful in its character, something that was good in the noble sense.  You did a right thing.  You did a lovely thing.  You did a beautiful thing.  In what?  “In sharing with me in my affliction,” my thlipsis, my pain, pressure, tribulation, trouble.  And by the way, his stress was no imaginary thing.  This was a real difficult situation he was in, very real.  And he said, “You did a noble thing when you shared with me, when you partnered up along with me, when you joined me in a partnership, by your giving so generously.  You really did a noble thing.”

Even though the Philippians had not sent him anything in ten years, he remembered their first gift once he had left their region of Macedonia, when they were the only church to partner with him in giving and receiving (verse 15).

Matthew Henry points out that the first gift would have been unsolicited, from their hearts:

They not only maintained him comfortably while he was with them, but when he departed from Macedonia they sent tokens of their kindness after him; and this when no other church did so. None besides sent after him of their carnal things, in consideration of what they had reaped of his spiritual things. In works of charity, we are ready to ask what other people do. But the church of the Philippians never considered that. It redounded so much the more to their honour that they were the only church who were thus just and generous.

Paul remembers the other gifts they sent him while he was in Thessalonica (verse 16).

Henry says:

You sent once and again. Many people make it an excuse for their charity that they have given once; why should the charge come upon them again? But the Philippians sent once and again; they often relieved and refreshed him in his necessities. He makes this mention of their former kindness, not only out of gratitude, but for their encouragement.

Then Paul writes about the Philippians storing up treasure in heaven with their gifts.

He says he is not seeking a gift from them but is interested in the fruit that increases to their credit — blessings on earth and in the world to come (verse 17).

Henry interprets the verse as follows:

“I desire fruit that may abound to your account, that is, that you may be enabled to make such a good use of your worldly possessions that you may give an account of them with joy.” It is not with any design to draw more from you, but to encourage you to such an exercise of beneficence as will meet with a glorious reward hereafter.

MacArthur says:

… he is saying, “I’m so glad you gave it not because I want the gift but because I want to see it go on your spiritual account.”

You see, this is what he had been praying for.  I read you chapter 1 verse 9, that their love would abound more and more.  And chapter 2, of course, that they would continue to manifest that attitude of looking not on their own things but on the things of others and considering others more important than themselves.  I want that fruit, that karpon, that profit that goes on your account.  It is what Jesus called treasure in what?  Heaven.  It’s laying up treasure in heaven.  It goes on your spiritual account.

Here was a man who was content because, you see, he wasn’t concerned with consuming.  He wasn’t concerned with what he got.  He was deeply concerned with the spiritual blessings that came to others.  Do you rejoice more in the blessing that comes to others than you do in that which comes to you?  Are you content to be without as long as someone else is blessed?  This is the heart of Paul.  He is interested not in accruing benefits in his own life, but in accruing eternal dividends to the life of the people he loved That’s from the heart.  He was so thrilled because it would benefit them so much.  That was his joy.

Paul then says the Philippians’ latest gift which Epaphroditus delivered has been payment in full and more, comparing it to a fragrant sacrifice which is acceptable and pleasing to God (verse 18).

MacArthur offers this analysis, including the Greek from the original manuscript:

Three verbs in a row here.  And these verbs are all increasingly emphatic And they are all verbs which can be used in a banking context The first one where he says, “I have received everything in full,” is a technical, commercial term meaning to receive a sum and give a receipt for it He is saying, in effect, you have sent me more than I needed, I have a full reception of what you sent, and I am now receipting you for it Then, he says, “Not only have I received everything in full, I have an abundance,” perisseu, it means to abound in a surplus of material things I’m just overflowing with everything you sent me.  And then, he thirdly says, “And I am amply supplied,” plro, I am filled up completely So, he just sort of completely intensifies the idea with the use of those three verbs which all express full complete satisfaction.  So, he says, “Frankly, I’m overwhelmed.  I am overwhelmed with what I have received from Epaphroditus in what you sent.  I’m overwhelmed.  I have plenty.  I have everything I could ever ask for.”

So, he’s not without gratitude But his satisfaction comes not because of what he got, but because of the Philippians loving sacrificial generosity, because it accrued to their spiritual account.  And that is what thrilled his heart.  And at the end of verse 18 he says it, “What you gave me was a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice well pleasing to God.”  What he is really saying is: you didn’t give it to me; you gave it to God.  And it was a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice well pleasing to God. 

And that, by the way, is sacrificial language taken out of the Old Testament.  In the Old Testament sacrificial system, a sacrifice was to provide a fragrant aroma to God.  It was to be an acceptable and only an acceptable sacrifice and the heart attitude of the one giving it was to be pleasing to God You can go all the way back to Genesis 8:20 and 21, Exodus 29:18, Leviticus chapter 1 verses 9, 13, 17; you can go in to Ezekiel chapter 20 verse 41.  You can go many places in the Old Testament and God will say, “I want an acceptable sacrifice, I want a heart that is well-pleasing to Me, I want a fragrant aroma.”  And He said, “I want you to offer what you offer with Me in mind as a pure act and a true act of worship.”  And here in the New Covenant Paul is saying just as that was required and received in the Old, so it is required and received in the New, only now it’s not an animal.  It is still fragrant, acceptable, pleasing to God.

Then Paul boldly announces that his God will supply every need of the Philippians according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus (verse 19).

Now there was a man of faith.

MacArthur says:

I believe that in the context here, “all your needs” means material needs, earthly needs which had been to some degree sacrificed by the Philippians, and would be replenished amply by God in response to the sacrifice.  If you sow bountifully with God, if you put treasure in heaven bountifully, you will reap what?  Bountifully.  If you give, it will be given to you.  If you give to the poor man, Paul, you lend to the Lord, and the Lord will supply.  It’s the same principle.  If you scatter abroad, the Lord will increase you.  Same principle.  The Macedonians had given sacrificially.  The Philippians, a part of that Macedonian group, maybe the ones Paul mostly had in mind, had given sacrificially, and God would not remain in their debt.  Their needs would be met.

Back in Proverbs, another verse comes into my mind, Proverbs 3:9, “Honor the Lord from your wealth and from the first of all your produce, so your barns will be filled with plenty and your vats will overflow with new wine.”  If you want God’s blessing on your earthly enterprise, then put your treasure in His hands

To what extent will He supply?  You say, “What if He gives me back only spiritual blessings and I die of hunger?”  No, no, He’ll supply all your needs.  And to what extent?  According to His riches.  Not out of His riches … When God gives to you He doesn’t give you a pittance out of; He gives you according to His riches, His glorious riches.  The riches in glory that belong to Him, in His eternal kingdom that are yours in Christ Jesus.  What a statement.

If you’re in Christ, the riches of God in glory in Christ are yours.  Great truth.  That’s why we take no thought for what we eat, drink, or wear and seek first His what?  His kingdom and everything else He takes care of.  Glorious.  God is so good and no gift given to God will make a Christian poorer.  Did you hear that?  It can only make you richer.  It cannot make you poorer; it can only make you richer.  That’s where your faith to believe the Word of God is tested.

Paul closes this section with a doxology, giving praise to the glory of God the Father, which will last forever and ever (verse 20).

MacArthur says that Paul would have been thrilled writing that verse after the preceding ones because it ties everything together in eternal truth:

Let me tell you something about doxologies. As in this case, doxologies are responses of praise to great truth. Did you hear that? A doxology is the fitting response to doctrine, to truth. And this outburst of doxology in verse 20, this outburst of praise flows from the Apostle’s exuberant joy over the whole letter which has literally expounded the heretofore unheard truth of God. And I believe though Paul wrote it with his own pen, writing it under the inspiration of the Spirit of God, he probably experienced an exhilaration that could exceed any exhilaration that we could even feel. What we learn here is that worship as always is the fitting response to doctrine. Truth should produce joyous praise, glory to God.

Now the heart of the doxology is that little phrase “be the glory…be the glory.” That simply means divine honor, divine praise, divine adoration. That’s what a doxology is. It gives glory to God. It adores Him, honors Him, respects Him, fears Him, worships Him, praises Him. It is a fitting response to truth. And all the marvelous truth that has been flowing through this epistle is culminated in verse 19, isn’t it? “And my God shall supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” Just the overwhelming realization that all your needs are met in Christ releases, as it were, the pent up thrill and out comes the exuberant Spirit-inspired praise of verse 20. A similar outburst of doxological praise occurs at another high point in Paul’s letters. Turn with me to Romans chapter 11, Romans chapters 1 through 11 provide for us the greatest doctrinal treatise in all of Scripture, the monumental discussion of the significance of the coming, the death and the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And as Paul has gone through 11 chapters of this doctrine, 11 chapters of this profound truth, he can no longer contain himself. And in verse 33 of chapter 11 as he comes to the end of the doctrinal section of Romans, it’s as if the lid blows off and he just exuberantly pours out these words, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God, how unsearchable are His judgments and unfathomable His ways, for who has known the mind of the Lord, or who became His counselor, or who has first given to Him that it might be paid back to Him again? For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things, to Him be the glory forever. Amen.”

In Episcopal churches, the Doxology — ‘Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow’ — is often sung when the collection plate is taken to the altar. We can better understand why, having read about sacrificial giving.

Returning to contentment, MacArthur gives us its characteristics, by way of an anecdote at the beginning of his sermon. It’s about a man he knew by the name of Thaddeus who had suffered two major heart attacks, a short time apart. He and MacArthur kept in touch by telephone. Throughout, Thaddeus was more concerned for MacArthur’s ministry than he was for his own recovery:

I thought to myself as I looked back on my times with Thaddeus, he always said to me, “John, I am perfectly content.  John, I have perfect peace.  I am not a bit concerned about any of this.  I’m always concerned about you.”  And while I was going through this particular study of the secret of contentment, I was interacting almost daily with a contented man who was content in the midst of the direst circumstances that one could imagine in this life And in the middle of it all, he was at peace and totally satisfied.  He had learned what Paul learned: he had learned to be content.

And one of the manifestations of that contentment in his life was total unselfishness and a preoccupation with the well-being of other people.  Much more concerned about that than anything else.  And that’s the last point in our outline here, fittingly, as we consider the characteristics of spiritual contentment.

You remember we began by looking at verse 10, and we discussed the fact that contentment in life begins when you have confidence in the sovereign providence of God.  In other words, when you believe that God is sovereignly ordering every detail of life, that leads to contentment.  Then, in verse 11, we noticed that to be content you must be satisfied with little.  When basic needs are met, you must be satisfied.  Paul was; that’s the mark of contentment.

The third point we noted was in verse 12: independence from circumstances.  Contentment means that I’m not a victim of my circumstances.  I am comfortable, satisfied, at peace and content in an unalterable and eternal relationship with the living Christ that rises infinitely above the mundane circumstances.  The fourth principle which we dealt with last time was that contentment is marked by being sustained through divine power In other words, knowing the power of the Holy Spirit in the inner man Paul had that kind of contentment.  He expressed it in verse 13 as the contentment that comes when you are enabled in everything by the one in you who strengthens you, namely the Spirit of God.  So, contentment then, comes to one who has confidence in God’s sovereign providence, who has satisfaction with little, who has independence from circumstances, and strength coming from a divine source.

Now, finally, fifthly, contentment belongs to those who are preoccupied with the well-being of others This is absolutely essential to contentment.  If Paul could say, “I’ve learned to be content,” then he must have been a man who was more concerned about others than himself.  I’ll promise you this: if you live for yourself, you will never be content.  Contentment begins to be a reality when you have no concern about how it is with you, but are only concerned with how it is with others.  Then, you can be content in your own situation

And that is the attitude of Christ who didn’t look out for His own interest or He would have stayed in heaven, but looked out for the interest of wicked, sinful, fallen men, thus He left heaven to meet their need.

This has been of grave concern to Paul.  He prayed for this.  He exhorted toward this.  He is concerned that the Philippians understand that they are to live for others rather than for themselves.  I’ll say it again: contentment belongs to a person who is not demanding that everything in life fit their personal agenda, who is more concerned with others than self that’s Paul’s final point.

Next week’s post will be my final one on Philippians. From there, we go to Colossians.

Next time — Philippians 4:21-23

The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 11, 2022.

My previous entry for this Sunday was for the readings for the Feast of the Holy Cross.

The standard readings for Year C and the exegesis on Luke 15:1-10 follow.

Emphases mine below.

First reading

The Lord passes judgement on His people for their sins by way of an invasion by Nebuchadnezzar and the Chaldeans.

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

4:11 At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse–

4:12 a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

4:22 “For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.”

4:23 I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.

4:24 I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.

4:25 I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.

4:26 I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.

4:27 For thus says the LORD: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

4:28 Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black; for I have spoken, I have purposed; I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm

In this Psalm, David recognises the sin inherent in mankind and prays in joyful expectation that God will deliver Israel.

Psalm 14

14:1 Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.

14:2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God.

14:3 They have all gone astray, they are all alike perverse; there is no one who does good, no, not one.

14:4 Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the LORD?

14:5 There they shall be in great terror, for God is with the company of the righteous.

14:6 You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.

14:7 O that deliverance for Israel would come from Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, Jacob will rejoice; Israel will be glad.

First reading – alternate

The Lord is exceedingly angry at the calf-worshipping Israelites, but Moses implores Him to relent on a fierce judgement.

Exodus 32:7-14

32:7 The LORD said to Moses, “Go down at once! Your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have acted perversely;

32:8 they have been quick to turn aside from the way that I commanded them; they have cast for themselves an image of a calf, and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it, and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'”

32:9 The LORD said to Moses, “I have seen this people, how stiff-necked they are.

32:10 Now let me alone, so that my wrath may burn hot against them and I may consume them; and of you I will make a great nation.”

32:11 But Moses implored the LORD his God, and said, “O LORD, why does your wrath burn hot against your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt with great power and with a mighty hand?

32:12 Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out to kill them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce wrath; change your mind and do not bring disaster on your people.

32:13 Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, your servants, how you swore to them by your own self, saying to them, ‘I will multiply your descendants like the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have promised I will give to your descendants, and they shall inherit it forever.'”

32:14 And the LORD changed his mind about the disaster that he planned to bring on his people.

Psalm – alternate

This penitential Psalm which David wrote will be familiar to many and confirms the doctrine of Original Sin (verse 5).

Psalm 51:1-10

51:1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

51:2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin.

51:3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

51:4 Against you, you alone, have I sinned, and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are justified in your sentence and blameless when you pass judgment.

51:5 Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.

51:6 You desire truth in the inward being; therefore teach me wisdom in my secret heart.

51:7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

51:8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have crushed rejoice.

51:9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

51:10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me.

Epistle

Paul expresses his gratitude for being saved from his sins by faith through grace in Christ Jesus. Verse 15 is regularly recited in the Anglican 1662 Book of Common prayer Communion liturgy.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service,

1:13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief,

1:14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

1:15 The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the foremost.

1:16 But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life.

1:17 To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

Through these short parables, Jesus tells the Pharisees that He came to save sinners, the spiritually lost.

Luke 15:1-10

15:1 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.

15:2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

15:3 So he told them this parable:

15:4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?

15:5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.

15:6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’

15:7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

15:8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it?

15:9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’

15:10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Before going into the Gospel, the rest of today’s readings have a common theme of sin and salvation.

Unknowingly, John MacArthur, whose church does not follow the Lectionary, referred to this theme by mentioning Psalm 51, today’s alternate Psalm:

You remember in Psalm 51, David coming out of his terrible sin, asked God to restore to him the joy of his salvation. God rejoices. God experiences joy. And if you ask yourself in one of those moments when you’re musing about why things are the way they are in the world and why there was a Fall and why there is salvation and why God is redeeming people through human history, you could ultimately come to the point: because it gives Him such joy. God delights in the recovery of sinners. And God shares that delight with all the holy angels and all the redeemed and glorified saints. And part of eternal rejoicing in heaven is going to be this endless chorus of hallelujahs because we have been redeemed. God finds His joy in the recovery of lost sinners.

MacArthur also reflects on God’s patience mixed in with judgement over the Israelites, as we see in our reading from Exodus. MacArthur discusses Deuteronomy in the same context:

Go back in the Old Testament to the book of Deuteronomy, the last of the five books of Moses, and the 30th chapter. God has not been reluctant to share with us the source of His joy. In the prior chapters in Deuteronomy, God told the children of Israel, who had now come into the land, that if they were obedient, they would be blessed and if they were disobedient, they would be cursed. And God knew which they would choose. And so in chapter 30 He writes, “So it shall be when all of these things have come upon you,” and by the way, these are the writings of Moses, but the words of the Lord God Himself, “so it shall be when all of these things have come upon you, the blessing and the curse which I have set before you, and you call them to mind in all nations where the Lord your God has banished you…” He’s saying, some day when you wake up and take a look at the curses that you have endured and, verse 2, “and you return to the Lord your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons, then the Lord your God will restore you from captivity and have compassion on you and will gather you again from all the peoples where the Lord your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are at the ends of the earth, from there the Lord your God will gather you, and from there He will bring you back. The Lord your God will bring you into the land which your fathers possessed and you shall possess it and He will prosper you and multiply you more than your fathers. Moreover, the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants, to love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, so that you may live.” And He’s talking about spiritual life and salvation and regeneration and a new creation. Verse 8 says, “And you will again obey the Lord and observe His commandments which I command you this day.” And then listen to verse 9. “Then the Lord your God will prosper you abundantly in all the work of your hand, in the offspring of your body…the offspring of your cattle…the produce of your ground.” Why? “For the Lord will again rejoice over you for good just as He rejoiced over your fathers if you obey the Lord your God to keep His commandments and His statutes which are written in the book of the law, if you turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and soul.” We’re not talking about external religion, we’re not talking about superficiality, we’re not talking about a reinstitution of ceremony; we’re talking about a transformation and salvation. What brings the Lord joy? It is the recovery of the lost. It is the salvation of sinners.

Now on to today’s reading.

As I have mentioned over the past few weeks, Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teachings appear in Luke 9 and continue through Luke 19. We are now in Luke 15. These teaching accounts represent what Jesus did during the final six months of His ministry.

MacArthur describes the atmosphere that Jesus encountered at this time:

Now, as we come to chapter 15, Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem He’s been moving that direction since chapter 9 verse 51.  He is headed toward Jerusalem very soon.  And there the hurricane of hatred will hit Him with its full force.  Its winds are increasing in intensity.  They are being propelled by the breath of the Pharisees and scribes whose hostility continues to increase.  And their hostility is collecting hostility among the people they’re influencing. 

Two weeks ago, on the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity, we had a story from Luke 14:1, 7-14 about our Lord’s breaking bread with Pharisees who witnessed His healing of a man with dropsy (oedema). Jesus then went on to talk about not grabbing the best seat at the table, lest the host ask one to take a lesser seat.

Today, Luke recounts that Jesus is again involved with a pharisaical controversy about dining, this time with tax collectors and sinners. Pharisees, the self-righteous, do not understand that He came to save lost souls.

Luke tells us that tax collectors and sinners were gathering to hear Jesus teach (verse 1).

Matthew Henry explains the deeply rooted hostility that the Jews had towards their own who became tax collectors, i.e. part of the Roman system. Matthew the Apostle was one such man:

Great multitudes of Jews went with him (ch. 14 25), with such an assurance of admission into the kingdom of God that he found it requisite to say that to them which would shake their vain hopes. Here multitudes of publicans and sinners drew near to him, with a humble modest fear of being rejected by him, and to them he found it requisite to give encouragement, especially because there were some haughty supercilious people that frowned upon them. The publicans, who collected the tribute paid to the Romans, were perhaps some of them bad men, but they were all industriously put into an ill name, because of the prejudices of the Jewish nation against their office. They are sometimes ranked with harlots (Matt 21 32); here and elsewhere with sinners, such as were openly vicious, that traded with harlots, known rakes.

The Pharisees and the scribes, the latter of whom were religious lawyers, grumbled — complained — saying that Jesus welcomed sinners and ate with them (verse 2).

MacArthur explained how the Pharisees viewed a meal, which they took only with their own:

Let me tell you how bad this was.  If a Pharisee…you had to hire…a Pharisee would hire somebody to clean his house or to grind flour.  That would be somebody among the common people, the Am HaAretz.  And the rabbinic law says that if you hire an Am HaAretz to grind your flour, you have a lady in there grinding flour in your house, if she’s in your house grinding flour, as soon as she stops grinding, your house is unclean.  As long as she’s grinding, it’s clean.  As soon as she stops, it’s unclean.  Now, if you have two ladies grinding flour and one stops and the other keeps going, the house is not unclean, but anything the first lady can touch is unclean.  This was developed and actually codified in A.D. 200 in the Mishnah, but was traditional through the years before.  You say, well, where in the world did they get these ideas?  Where did they get this from?  Well, they got it from their own self-righteousness and then they looked in the Scriptures to find verses that they could twist and pervert.  Here’s one, for example, that they loved to use. Psalm 1, “How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, nor stand in the path of sinners.”  I mean, they completely perverted that.  They loved to take Proverbs 1, familiar words, where verse 15 says, “My son, do not walk in the way with them.  Keep your feet from their path.”  They do wickedness.  They do evil.  It was just a twisting of Scripture.  They loved to use Isaiah 52:11“Touch nothing unclean.  Go out of the midst…purify yourselves.”  They pushed that to the absolute extreme.  And it showed up everywhere but, in particular, where they ate.  Now, eating for them started out complex.  They had to have all this kind of kosher diet.  And they had taken what the Old Testament indicated was to be a proper Jewish diet and they had expanded it and embellished it.  And it got to the point where — this is an interesting thing — they couldn’t eat food that hadn’t been tithedThey couldn’t eat ten beans; they could only eat nine and one had to be given to the priest at the temple.  I mean, it got down to the…You know, Jesus said, you tithe the mint and the anise and the cumin and all those little herbs.  Sure, because they couldn’t eat anything that didn’t get tithed.  That’s how ridiculously legalistic they were.  The Babylonian Talmud lists things unbecoming to a holy Jew and one is to recline at a table with an Am HaAretz, a lowlife.  Here’s one that just blew my mind.  Pharisees and scribes could not sit on opposite sides of a dining room, you know, at some event or some restaurant or some occasion.  They couldn’t sit on the opposite side of the dining room if anywhere in the dining room, even on the far opposite side, if somebody on the opposite side was eating meat and somebody else was eating cheese.  Now, you remember that in the kosher diet you don’t mix milk and meat.  And that comes from the Old Testament law about not boiling a calf in its own milk.  So one guy could eat all the cheese he wanted.  Another guy could eat all the meat he wanted.  That wasn’t the issue.  You got one guy eating meat and one guy eating cheese.  But a Pharisee would have to get up and leave, because if he saw one guy eating meat and one guy eating cheese, they would mix in his mind and he would be guilty of defilement for having mixed milk with meat.  Now, that’s what they were thinking.  The rabbinic law said you cannot even mix milk and meat in your mind.  You couldn’t touch the clothes of an Am HaAretz.  You couldn’t sell anything to one.  You couldn’t be a guest of one in their homes.  You couldn’t have one for a guest.  They were not ever together.  You say, well, didn’t the Jews give alms?  Didn’t they give money to the poor?  Sure.  They would send food to the poor; they wouldn’t eat with them.  So here comes Jesus.  He doesn’t care about any of that.  He just receives the people who want to hear what He has to say.  He doesn’t care about their stupid legalism.  And they’re just irate.  And so it says in verse 2, “Both the Pharisees and the scribes began to grumble.”  That is an onomatopoeic word in Greek.  Diagogguzō, bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl-bl.  You know, an onomatopoeic word is a word that sounds like its meaning.  Mumble, mumble, murmur, murmur, they send this murmur around.  This man receives sinners and eats with them.  He doesn’t just socialize; he eats.  But the operative word there is receives. 

MacArthur elaborates and gives us the Greek word for ‘welcome’ or ‘receive’ in verse 2:

In this text, that hostility again surfaces and it’s in verses 1 and 2.  All the tax gatherers and the sinners were coming near to listen to Him.  And “both the Pharisees and the scribes began to murmur” or grumble, “saying, ‘This man receives sinners and eats with them.'”  That was an outrage to them.  As the self-appointed righteous of Israel they were the final court on everybody.  They were the self-appointed judges of everybody.  They rendered all the verdicts.  It was Jesus condemning them when He said, “Judge not.”  Who made you the judge?  But they were the self-appointed judges of everyone including Jesus.  And their judgment was Jesus was doing what no person who represents God would ever do, hanging around the unrighteous, the wicked.  Their regular criticism was always associated with the fact that He is spending His time with the unscrupulous and despised collaborators with Rome who bought tax franchises and extorted money out of the Jewish people, therefore traitors to their people and their religion and their God, in their view.  They were equally, if not more outraged that He ate with sinners.  “Sinners” is a word used 13 times by Luke, always with the same meaning.  It means moral lawbreakers: adulterers, prostitutes, the scum, the riff-raff.  For them, Jesus’ association with these kinds of people was all they needed to convince everybody else that He was not of God.  And the language in verse 2 is interesting.  “This man receives sinners,” they said.  Not dechomai, the simple word, “to receive,” but prosdechomai, which is the kind of reception that’s intensified that you would have for somebody who’s a member of your family.  In fact, it’s that very word that Paul uses in Romans 16:1, 2, “I commend to you our sister, Phoebe, a servant of the church at Cenchrea. Receive her in the Lord.”  Embrace her as a sister in Christ.  Jesus doesn’t just allow them around; He embraces them.  He puts His arms around them.  He pulls them in like they were family.  Ahhh, this is proof-positive whose family He belongs to.  Then He eats with them And this is most outrageous because in the ancient Near East and Middle East, eating with somebody was a sign of approval and affirmation, particularly if you were a rabbi or a Pharisee or a spiritual leader The rabbis used to say they ate with people and whenever they ate with anybody, they conveyed to that person affirmation and spiritual blessing.  So Jesus eating with sinners was a way to give approval to them in their view.  And so here they are again making the same chronic complaint against Jesus completely misunderstanding the heart of God for sinners. 

Knowing what the Pharisees and scribes were saying, Jesus opened with a parable (verse 3), the first of two.

Of the parables Jesus told here and of the Prodigal Son which immediately follows today’s reading, MacArthur says:

And Jesus answers their murmurings with three stories.  The first two are prologue and the main story starts in verse 11, the one that we know as, “The Prodigal Son,” the longest parable Jesus ever taught and really full and rich as we will see.  But He opens up His response to them with a little prologue from verses 4 to 10 in which He tells two simple stories …

In all these parables I think our Lord hits the high point. These are the richest parables. This is the pinnacle. And I will give you this; they are gospel parables. OK? They are invitations to salvation. They really are. They’re about salvation. And just telling a story about salvation, about being lost, being found, being restored and being celebrated by God, the angels and the redeemed, just telling that story in itself is an invitation for others to participate in that great reality.

In telling the first parable, Jesus asked which one of the scribes and Pharisees, having 100 sheep and losing one does not leave the other 99 in the wilderness and search for the lost one until he finds it (verse 4).

Jesus knew that they would find it insulting to have to imagine themselves as shepherds, the lowest of the low.

MacArthur explains:

Shepherds, you remember, were the lowest people. They were the lowest of the Am Ha’Aretz, the people of the earth, the earthy people, the lowlife, the scum, the unacceptable, the outcasts, the unclean in the society of the Jews.  Of all the legitimate labors, they were at the bottom.  That’s what made the appearance of the angels to announce the arrival of Messiah to shepherds so astonishing, rather than to the religious elite.  Jesus was always doing what He needed to do to humble because God gives grace to the humble.  And He was always striking at the self-righteous pride of the false leaders of Israel.  And so what He says to them is so interesting.  “What man among you, if he has 100 sheep and has lost one of them…”  This is offensive to them because He speaks to them as if they were the shepherd in the story.  Which one of you?  That in itself was an offense because they would then have to think of themselves as shepherds.  They didn’t want any pollution on their bodies and so they stayed away from these kinds of people.  But they also, as I pointed out last time, didn’t like any pollution in their minds.  And the very thought of putting them in the role of a shepherd would be very offensive to them.  No law-abiding Jew, no Jew of any respectability, no Jew who was a Pharisee or a scribe would ever become a shepherd, nor would any Pharisee or scribe even like to think of himself hypothetically as if he were a shepherd.  That would be demeaning and unclean in their minds.

Even though the Old Testament made reference to shepherds, Moses having been one himself, over time, the occupation was seen as being dirty:

But even though they would still give honor to God and see a connection there and still give honor to Moses, their great leader, they actually despised shepherds, real shepherds who lived with sheep, the dirtiest of all animals. And they had established in Jewish society that anybody who was a shepherd was unclean. According to Jeremias, a historian, they were believed to be dishonest. Basically, as a lot, they were dishonest. They were thieves. They encroached on land that wasn’t theirs to feed their sheep. Because they took a role that put them at the lowest level, they tended to be the lowest level of people who had the least expectation for themselves and they tended to live up to their reputation. And, certainly, no Pharisee would ever, ever be a shepherd, nor would he like to even conceive of himself in a hypothetical sense as a shepherd. But they can’t help that because Jesus has put them in the story by the rhetorical question. And so, now, whether they are offended or not, they’re in the story and they’re going to have to deal with the ethical issue that arises. What man among you, if you were the shepherd, and you had a 100 sheep and lost one of them …

Jesus said that when the sheep is found, the man who found it puts it around his shoulders and rejoices (verse 5).

Even the scribes and Pharisees understood enough about rural life to know that when a sheep goes missing, a shepherd goes out to find it, which was an arduous task, as MacArthur says:

You go and you find that lost sheep. Lost sheep get the attention of the shepherd. Lost sheep, by the way, are in grave danger. Sheep are stupid. They are defenseless. Do you know a sheep has no self-defense mechanism? None, zero. If they fall over on their side, they can’t get up by themselves. They are hopeless and helpless. So the sheep that’s wandered off would be in danger from predators, in danger from a fall, from exhaustion, from dehydration. The land is rugged. It is demanding. Rocks are everywhere. All kinds of potential issues could beset that lost sheep. We’re told by people who work with sheep in the Middle East that when sheep become afraid — and they do, they get very nervous and very fearful — they lie down and die. That’s right. They can’t get up. They become so despondent and discouraged. The Pharisees knew all that. And they knew the shepherd had to go and do whatever was necessary. It wouldn’t be easy. Sheep look a lot like rocks. A dirty sheep is about the same color as rocks in the land of Israel and there are so many of those the rabbi said when God distributed the rocks He made a mistake and dumped them all in Israel. So the Pharisees and the scribes would buy into the story and they would understand the necessity of the action that the shepherd took.

Jesus finished the parable by saying that the man who found his lost sheep would naturally call his friends and neighbours together to rejoice with him (verse 6).

MacArthur elaborates on the value of sheep, managed at that time by a village co-operative and shepherds from that village:

And everybody would understand that, too. He’s found the sheep. The sheep has value. The sheep provides wool. Wool provides clothing. And sheep provide wool year after year after year after year to clothe. And so he finds the sheep helplessly, hopelessly, perhaps, nearly lifelessly, lying somewhere. And he picks it up and puts it on the back of his neck and rejoices, even though he knows the hard part is ahead. It’s one thing to look for the sheep; it’s something else, having found the sheep, to go back over the same track, carrying the sheep. But he’s rejoicing as he starts the hard part, going back home where the rest of the flock has, by now, been taken, which means it’s night. And he has to go back, as it were, in the darkness.

… He has some private joy going on on the way back. But verse 6 says, “When he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep which was lost!'” … After an … arduous and demanding journey over the rugged land bearing the full weight of that sheep, he’s finally home. The Pharisees and scribes would, of course, know the scene well. They lived all over the land and the villages and towns. And they would know he did the right thing. And they would also understand his joy and they would also understand the celebration when he came back. The family and the village would have been waiting, wondering if he would find the sheep and in what condition he would find the sheep. The old men in the village, typically, we are told, would sit somewhere in the center of the village at the end of the day and rehearse all the stories and tell all the tales and speak of the things that happened that day as people commonly do even today. These would be people who shared in the ownership of the flock, perhaps. And they wanted to hear that the sheep was found. That was the news they longed to hear. And so it would become a wonderful event of joy in the village when the shepherd showed up with the sheep.

Henry gives us the spiritual application of this parable:

there is a particular care to be taken of this lost sheep; and though he has a hundred sheep, a considerable flock, yet he will not lose that one, but he goes after it, and shows abundance of care, [1.] In finding it out. He follows it, enquiring after it, and looking about for it, until he finds it. God follows backsliding sinners with the calls of his word and the strivings of his Spirit, until at length they are wrought upon to think of returning. [2.] In bringing it home. Though he finds it weary, and perhaps worried and worn away with its wanderings, and not able to bear being driven home, yet he does not leave it to perish, and say, It is not wroth carrying home; but lays it on his shoulders, and, with a great deal of tenderness and labour, brings it to the fold. This is very applicable to the great work of our redemption. Mankind were gone astray, Isa 53 6. The value of the whole race to God was not so much as that of one sheep to him that had a hundred; what loss would it have been to God if they had all been left to perish? There is a world of holy angels that are as the ninety-nine sheep, a noble flock; yet God sends his Son to seek and save that which was lost, ch. 19 10. Christ is said to gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, denoting his pity and tenderness towards poor sinners; here he is said to bear them upon his shoulders, denoting the power wherewith he supports and bears them up; those can never perish whom he carries upon his shoulders.

Jesus concluded by saying that there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who need no repentance (verse 7).

MacArthur tells us that Jesus was calling out the scribes and Pharisees for their self-righteousness:

That last line is pure sarcasm. Of course, we couldn’t be talking about you, because you don’t need to repent. The sinner who repents is like the sheep: helpless, understands his helplessness, danger, weakness, need, desperation, and recognizes only a hope for life and a hope for rescue and trusts himself into the arms of the Great Shepherd, and rests fully on His back until He brings him home. That’s in stark contrast to the ninety-nine righteous persons who don’t need to repent. They’re already holy. What a privilege it is for us to participate in the divine recovery process. The Pharisees and the scribes had nothing to do with the purposes of God, nothing to do with the work of God. They were deluded into thinking they needed no repentance. They are the ninety-nine who are the self-righteous, self-made legalists who know nothing of God. They are saying with the Pharisee in Luke 18, I thank you that I am not like these vile lowlifes. On the other hand, there are those who are lost and they know they’re lost. They’re desperate. They’re carried home. And then an amazing thing: They become the tools and the instruments and the means by which the Great Shepherd continues to rescue other lost sheep.

Also:

What hypocrites the scribes and Pharisees were! They know nothing of God. They know nothing of shepherding. Quickly, with that application, the whole story would recycle in their minds. And they would be exposed and indicted and the knife would go in and it would go in deep. Applauding an outcast shepherd for doing what is the rightful duty of a shepherd to save the life of an unclean, stupid animal while condemning the Great Shepherd for rescuing unclean sinners. The sad reality is, of course, in Israel, as everywhere, like people, like priests. They had no shepherds. They had no leaders. They knew nothing of the heart of God, nothing of divine shepherding. In fact, they were so far from God that when He sent His own Great Shepherd, they killed Him.

Jesus then began His second parable, about a woman who, in attempting to find a lost coin among her ten silver coins, lights a lamp, sweeps the house and searches carefully for it (verse 8).

MacArthur tells us how offensive it is for the Pharisees and scribes to imagine themselves not only as a woman but a poor one, too:

Jesus loved to assault their foolish pride.  And this, if anything, is worse.  Now He makes them act in their minds as if they are not a shepherd but a…a woman.  Oh, horror of all horrors.  He says to them, “Or what woman.” Yikes!  This would be viewed as an absolute, outright insult to address Pharisees and scribes and ask them to put themselves in a woman’s place to evaluate how a woman would think and how she would behave.  Shepherds were unclean and women were un-respected.  In fact, in the Middle Eastern culture, it was an insult to compare a male audience to a woman Here again, Jesus just sweeps away their foolish pride; does it mercifully since God only gives grace to the humble, and sooner or later they’re going to have to be humbled if they’re ever going to come into His kingdom.  And by the way, while the Pharisees didn’t want to be compared to a woman, for sure, God doesn’t mind being compared to a woman.  We think of God in male terms and, of course, that’s the way He presents Himself, as a Father, the masculine identity, the masculine pronoun.  But there are many times in the Word of God when God presents Himself as analogous to a woman.  And I’ll give you one that just combines both of them.  Listen to Psalm 23.  “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  Well, we understand that.  That’s a male kind of analogy.  But this Psalm also says, “Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”  Can I tell you something about ancient culture?  The men didn’t set the table and fix the meal.  In Psalm 23, God is both the Shepherd who leads His sheep and God is the woman who prepares the meal.  It shouldn’t surprise us that in the 13th chapter of Luke and the 34th verse, Jesus, speaking as God says, “How often I wanted to gather your children together like a hen gathers her brood.”  That’s a picture of a mother hen.  That’s a picture of a mother hen picturing a mother picturing Jesus.  I wanted to gather you like a mother gathers her children.  And there are numerous other occasions in Scripture where God is represented as analogous to the conduct, the behavior of a woman.  But women, in this period of time, in the time that Jesus was on the earth from about 200 B. C. to 200 A.D., 400 years in there, weren’t even taught the law of God That’s how much disdain there was for women.  The Pharisees led that parade.  They got up every day and several times said, “I thank you, oh God, that I’m not a woman.  They wouldn’t be a shepherd and they certainly wouldn’t be a woman.  So Jesus said to them, “What if you were a shepherd and what if you were a woman?  What would you do?”  And He pushes them into the mental place to have to think like a shepherd and think like a woman and, thus, they are intellectually being defiled.  They…They would be outraged by this but they couldn’t avoid it.  Jesus distressed and disturbed their prejudices greatly.

The woman’s house would have been basic:

… the setting, again, is village life.  Can I just take you back?  You’re in a little Middle Eastern village in the land of Israel, a little dirt road.  And along the little dirt road in a small little village there’s some…some little earth brick houses made out of bricks with mud and straw and the little houses are along the road and the little road down the middle.  That was the little village.  They would know this very, very well.  The picture is of a simple people, a poor people who face a serious matter in the story.  This woman has a big problem.  She loses something of great value.  They didn’t have a lot of money.  In fact, they didn’t use money the way we use money today.  They lived in a bartering society as many people have throughout history and some even do today.  They swapped this or that for what they needed, even their own service and their own labor.  And so money was not distributed and dispensed at the pace that it is for us.  And a little bit of money, relatively, could go a long way

Picture your little village, okay.  A dusty road somewhere in Judea, Israel, a little village, a little home with four walls, a little low doorway, no windows, maybe a slit above eye level to let the smoke out from the fire inside and maybe cause a little ventilation, floors made out of dirt, in some parts of Israel, black basalt dirt and the floor is hard and yet dusty on the surface.  There are cracks, there’s dust, there’s debris.  This woman is in this little house and she’s lost one of her ten silver coins.  These silver coins would be about 4.3 grams of silver.  The Greeks called them a drachma and the Romans called them a denarius and they would be a day’s wage.

Therefore, when the woman finds her lost silver coin, she calls her friends and neighbours over to rejoice with her (verse 9).

MacArthur says these friends and neighbours would have been women:

Here, the word “friend,” philos, and the word “neighbor,” geitnas, are both in the feminine She calls her lady friends.  She calls her lady friends.  That was pretty typical.  Men stayed with men in that culture and women with women.  They were very close in the little village.  They all knew each other.  Everybody’s suffering would be everybody’s suffering and everybody’s joy would be everybody’s joy.  And so she calls her lady friends together and they have this wonderful little party because she has found what she lost And the point to the Pharisees is, you understand that, right.  This is perfectly clear.  Of course they would buy into the story.  They would buy into the ethical response of the woman.  She did exactly what she should have done.  It’s what I would have done if I were a woman, horror of horrors.

Jesus concluded by saying that there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents (verse 10).

God’s angels, of course, are holy, yet they share in His joy over the repentance of a lost, miserable sinner, as should we.

Henry explains the power of God’s grace in conversion:

Not but that it is best not to go astray; but the grace of God, both in the power and the pity of that grace, is more manifested in the reducing of great sinners than in the conducting of those that never went astray. And many times those that have been great sinners before their conversion prove more eminently and zealously good after, of which Paul is an instance, and therefore in him God was greatly glorified, Gal 1 24. They to whom much is forgiven will love much. It is spoken after the manner of men. We are moved with a more sensible joy for the recovery of what we had lost than for the continuance of what we had always enjoyed, for health out of sickness than for health without sickness. It is as life from the dead. A constant course of religion may in itself be more valuable, and yet a sudden return from an evil course and way of sin may yield a more surprising pleasure. Now if there is such joy in heaven, for the conversion of sinners, then the Pharisees were very much strangers to a heavenly spirit, who did all they could to hinder it and were grieved at it, and who were exasperated at Christ when he was doing a piece of work that was of all others most grateful to Heaven.

In closing, did you know that the cross was not the earliest Christian symbol? It was, in fact, a shepherd with a sheep around his shoulders.

MacArthur gives us the history and says these are still widely available in artisan shops in Israel:

in early Christianity believers didn’t use a cross. Once in awhile they used a sign of a fish but that was more in the Gentile world. Early Christians used the image of a shepherd with a sheep on his neck. That was the earliest Christian symbol, beautiful. In fact, if you’ve ever been to Israel and you’ve gone to all those little stores they take you to where they’ve got all kinds of things carved out of olive wood. You find that one thing appears there perhaps as much or more than anything else and it is little wooden carvings of shepherd…of a shepherd with a sheep around his neck. In fact, as I was thinking this through this week, I looked above me and there’s a little shelf over my little window in my desk where I study and sure enough there was one of those shepherd with an oversized sheep around his neck. People in that day, probably, only weighed about 130 pounds, maybe. That was the early symbol because the early church understood the meaning here of being carried by Christ back to the Father’s presence. And in ancient art…one of the things…if you follow that through a little bit…in ancient art, these were very, very common. Next time, if you get an opportunity to go to Israel, look around and you’ll find them. In fact, we might start a trend. Forget wearing a cross and start wearing a shepherd with a sheep around his neck. People are going to say, what is that? And you’re going to say, He found me when I was lost and He carried me to the Father. But in ancient art they did an interesting thing and I saw some of the imagery of this. Whenever they would do this, very frequently they would make the sheep disproportionately large. And when I first saw things like that through the years I thought, well, that’s kind of out of whack. You know, I’m not into extreme things. I like art to look like reality. And I used to wonder about why…why did they make a sheep almost as large as the man? And the point was they were exaggerating that. They created a disproportionately large sheep deliberately to convey the extraordinary difficulty and effort and sacrifice of the Good Shepherd in bringing us home. Well, that’s pretty magnificent stuff but as magnificent as it is, it’s still not the main point of the story. It doesn’t say, I tell you in the same way, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance because of the work of a…He’s not rejoicing because only of the work of Christ. He’s not rejoicing only because a sinner is delivered from sin. The whole joy of heaven is predicated on the fact that God is filled with joy. Sure, it all fits together, but our joy should come from God’s joy. Why do I evangelize? Satisfy the work of Christ, yes, to bring joy to the sinner. But even beyond that, the transcendent motivation for our evangelism is that we can be instruments in the joy of God. You know, that is just such an overwhelming thought to me because, as a Christian, you’re the same way that I am, I know. You spend most of your time grieving, because you disappoint God. Right? I mean, it gets old. And the older you get, the longer is your track record of disappointments. Something to be said for being young, you don’t have as many failures to deal with. You think God must be unhappy with me. I must make God sad every day. But here, I can participate in the joy of God and I can not only make God rejoice, but all of Heaven rejoice if I allow myself to be an instrument through which the Great Shepherd recovers the lost. What a glorious way to view your life. This is the Great Commission.

May everyone reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Incidentally, this is the first Sunday in 70 years that we will not be praying for the Queen as sovereign in church. I will be saying an extra prayer for all clergy in the UK and the Commonwealth who need to remember saying ‘Charles’, the ‘King’ and use all the masculine pronouns. Old habits die hard.

Let us rejoice for the long, quiet and godly tenure we enjoyed under the reign of Queen Elizabeth II. God truly blessed us. May she rest in peace with her Lord.

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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.

Philippians 4:10-13

God’s Provision

10 I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at length you have revived your concern for me. You were indeed concerned for me, but you had no opportunity. 11 Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. 12 I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

—————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed spiritual maturity and standing firm in the truth of God and His Son Jesus Christ.

These are the concluding verses of Philippians 3 (emphases mine):

17 Brothers, join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us. 18 For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ. 19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things. 20 But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, 21 who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself.

Then we have the first nine verses of Philippians 4:

Therefore, my brothers,[a] whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, stand firm thus in the Lord, my beloved.

Exhortation, Encouragement, and Prayer

I entreat Euodia and I entreat Syntyche to agree in the Lord. Yes, I ask you also, true companion,[b] help these women, who have labored[c] side by side with me in the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice. Let your reasonableness[d] be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. What you have learned[e] and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you.

As we have seen over the past few weeks, the theme of Philippians is joy in the Lord.

Paul suffered greatly for the Gospel, yet, throughout, he rejoiced in the Lord and put all his trust in Him.

He says he rejoiced upon hearing ‘at length’ about the Philippians’ revived concern for him, understanding that they had no prior opportunity to express their concern (verse 10).

Matthew Henry’s commentary takes issue with their neglect of their teacher but advises that we, too, should show Paul’s generosity in forgiving our friends who neglect us:

How could they lack opportunity, if they had been resolved upon it? They might have sent a messenger on purpose. But the apostle is willing to suppose, in favour of them, that they would have done it if a fair opportunity had offered. How contrary is this to the behaviour of many to their friends, by whom neglects which really are excusable are resented very heinously, when Paul excused that which he had reason enough to resent.

We can understand why Henry takes issue with them when John MacArthur tells us that Paul had left Philippi ten years previously:

Ten years have passed since the last Philippian gift was sent to him, ten years since he arrived in Philippi, ten years since he preached the gospel there, ten years since he was thrown in jail, ten years since the earthquake released all the prisoners, ten years since the Philippian jailer was converted to Christ and all of his household, ten years since he moved from there to Thessalonica and the Philippians gave him some support, ten years since he left Macedonia for Achaia, the cities of Athens and Corinth and the Philippians sent him another gift after he had left.  Ten years since the last expression of their love He was the founder of their church, they had a love bond, but for ten years there had been no support. That was all right with Paul.  He understood that. 

Then Epaphroditus showed up with a gift from the congregation:

And he says I know it wasn’t because you weren’t concerned, it was because you lacked what?  Opportunity, the end of the verse.  You just didn’t have the opportunity The word is kairos, it means the season You never had a time, an opportunity, not chronological time You never had that moment when it could happen.  We don’t know why that is true We don’t know why they hadn’t done it.  We don’t know whether it was their poverty, or whether it was the fact that they didn’t know what Paul’s needs were, or couldn’t locate Paul.  But for some reason they had not sent to him any support for well-nigh ten years and he simply says to them, well, you didn’t have an opportunity to do that.  I don’t hold that against you.  I don’t reprimand you for that.  I understand.  You had no opportunity for that until recently.  And he says, “But I rejoiced,” when?  Well, when Epaphroditus came after ten years with a gift from the Philippians, that was a happy moment.  “I rejoiced in the Lord greatly,” he says. 

Paul notes they ‘revived’ their concern for them. MacArthur looks at the word in the Greek:

His joy was extensive as this expression of love came, “That now at last after all this long wait,” is implied in the at last, “you have revived your concern for me.” That’s a beautiful word, that word “revived;” it’s a horticultural term that means to bloom again Your love has flowered again Your love has bloomed again.  It’s always been there but it just didn’t have an opportunity to bloom because blooms are seasonal and you haven’t had the season Oh, he says in verse 10, “You were concerned,” and the implication is all along, I know you were concerned about me, I don’t want you to misunderstand me, I know you were concerned.  But you just never had an opportunity.

Henry says the same thing:

… now at the last their care of him flourished again (v. 10), like a tree in the spring, which seemed all the winter to be quite dead.

The next three verses are about Paul’s contentment in all circumstances.

Paul makes it clear that he has not been in need, for he is content in whatever situation in which he finds himself (verse 11).

MacArthur says:

Paul has an amazing contentment.  And it built on the idea that there never was given an opportunity.  In other words, God never providentially made it possible.  There is a quiet calm in that kind of faith.  If I believe that God is sovereign, and He is, if I believe that God orders all circumstances to accomplish His own holy purpose, then I can be content in anything because everything is under control.  Discontent comes when we want to control everything.  That usually is a direct result of a failure to understand that everything is already under control, and somebody better than you is running it.  God.  See, Paul was fully confident that God was in charge and would order the events to meet his needs.

MacArthur defines ‘content’:

By the way, let me comment at least briefly on the word “content.”  It’s a marvelous word.  It goes way back to the Greek term which meant to be self-sufficient, to be satisfied, to have enoughThe term actually indicates a certain independence, a certain lack of necessity for aid or help.  In fact, it was used in some places outside the Scripture to refer to a person who supported himself without anyone’s aid.  Paul is saying, “I have learned to be satisfied, I’ve learned to be sufficient in myself, and yet not in myself as myself, but in myself as indwelt by Christ.”  He had come to spiritual contentment

Paul says that he knows what it is like to be brought low and what it is to abound, or flourish; in any and every circumstance he has learned the secret of facing plenty and also facing hunger and need (verse 12).

MacArthur discusses ‘secret’:

This is a fascinating verb; it is a verb that is used to speak of being initiated into the mystery religions, of being initiated into the pagan cults which held certain secrets for only the initiated to know.  Paul borrows that word and says, “I have been initiated into the secrets of contentment, I have learned the secret of living a contented life.”  Truly the peace of God, in verse 7, was his portion Truly, the God of peace in verse 9 was his portion Truly, he was experiencing verse 6, he was anxious for nothing He was content, he was satisfied, he was adequate, he had enough, he was sufficient. 

MacArthur explains what Paul means by the secret of contentment:

Strand number one, confidence in God’s providence, confidence in God’s providence.  Look at verse 10, “But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed you were concerned, but you lacked opportunity”

… He could do without and waiting on the Lord be content.  He knew it was all in God’s hands, and if God gave a proper season, and a proper time, and a proper opportunity, then those things that should be expressed would be expressed There was no panic in heart; there was no need to manipulate people.  There was no turning of the screws, as it were, to get what he thought he wanted or needed out of someone.  He was certain that God, in due time, would order the circumstances so that his need would be met.  He knew that there was nothing really between he and the Philippians that was at all negative, and so he didn’t feel any responsibility to resolve conflict.  He just waited patiently until the Lord made it happen …

Let me give you a second principle, a second strand in the fabric of contentment.  Paul was content, number one, because of confidence in the providence of God; number two, because of satisfaction with little, of satisfaction with little.  Look at verse 11 This is a quick kind of disclaimer after verse 10.  He says, “Not that I speak from want,” in other words, “Oh I rejoiced when your gift came, I rejoiced so much when it came,” not that I needed it, “not that I’m speaking out of my own want.  For I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.” 

Well, what is this telling us?  This is telling us that he was satisfied with little.  He had bare subsistence.  His need was deep and great, but he didn’t acknowledge any discontent.  He was so at peace with the providence of a sovereign God that he was content.  He was so satisfied with very little that it didn’t matter that he was a prisoner, in the sense that it took his contentment, it didn’t.  It didn’t matter that he was chained to a Roman soldier, that he ate with bare subsistence, that he stayed in a place that was greatly lacking in comfort.  That didn’t really touch his contentment; he was satisfied with little …

When he says, “Not that I speak from want,” what he means is, “I really don’t have any needs that aren’t met.”  Maybe they aren’t met as fully as I would want them to be met but they’re met.  He is so sensitive to this that it’s amazing to me.  When he wrote 1 Corinthians, he says in chapter 9 to the Corinthians, he says, “Look,” he says, “I have a right to live of the gospel because I preach the gospel,” which means to make my living off of preaching I should be supported by churches.  He talks about soldiers being supported when they fight wars, and why shouldn’t preachers be supported when they preach messages, and he says I have a right to that.  But he says, “Look, I’m not going to take anything from you ‘cause I don’t want to charge you for what I do.”  So, he says, I work with my own hands, I don’t want to make the gospel chargeable to you; I don’t want to cloud your thinking about my motives, so I work

“I have learned,” emphatic I, “I have learned,” points to the fact that this lesson is in the bag, folks, I’ve got this one down, “to be content, to be satisfied, to be self-sufficient in Christ in whatever circumstances I am.”  The word “content,” by the way, is the same word in 2 Corinthians 9:8 translated sufficiency.  I’m sufficient, I’m self-contained, I have no needs that aren’t met.  He’s not denying difficulty.  He’s not denying hard circumstances.  He is simply content in God’s providential care and he is satisfied with very, very little

Paul knew that the chief end of man was not to meet his needs, but the chief end of man was to worship and enjoy God.  Paul knew that it was not the meeting of human need that was the issue, but it was living to the glory of the God who created him that was the issue.  And so, he was content with very little of this earth stuff, only what he really needed.  And that was enough to satisfy him  

Let me give you a third strand A third strand in the fabric of contentment we’ll call independence from circumstances, independence from circumstances.  Now, he already alluded to it in verse 11 when he said, “In whatsoever circumstances I am, I’ve learned to be content.”  Now, he wants to expand on that in verse 12, so he says, “I know how to get along with humble means.  I also know how to live in prosperity, in any and every circumstances.”  That’s the key idea.  “I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need, or lack.”

So, what is he saying here?  He’s saying, look, the third element that you see coming out of his heart here in this contentment is that he was independent of circumstances.  He says “in whatever circumstance,” in verse 11, and then in verse 12, “in any and every circumstance, I’m the same.  I’m the same.”  It’s the part of contentment that is utterly indifferent and independent of all circumstances.  Beloved, let me tell you, the one thing that steals our contentment most frequently is bad circumstances.  Right?  And we crumble, and we lose our contentment in the sense of sufficiency, satisfaction and peace because we are victimized by circumstances.

What does Paul say?  “I know how.”  He says it twice in this verse, “I know how,” and a little later, “I also know how.  I know how, I’ve learned it.”  He says, “I’ve got the secret, folks, I’m living it here, I know how.”  What do you know how to do, Paul?  “I know how, one, to get along with humble means.”  What do you mean by that, Paul?  “I mean, I’m talking about physical things.”  He’s talking here about food, clothing, daily necessities.  I know how to get along with humble means, poverty is what he has in mind.  I know how to be poor.  I know how to have very, very little of daily sustenance.  And this is very, very basic, just the basic needs of life.  Then, he says, “Also, I also know how to live in prosperity,” or to overflow, perisseu, to abound, to be filled.  And he’s talking again about earthly goods and earthly supplies.

“Hey, I can get along with poverty; I can get along with prosperity.  In any and every circumstance I’ve learned the secret.”  And then, he goes on.  What secret?  “The secret of being filled.”  Well, that’s an interesting word, chortaz, it was used of foddering animals It’s used of feeding and fattening animals.  Hey, I know what it is to have a big meal.  I know what it is to eat well.  I know what it is to eat sumptuously.  I know what it is to be well fed.  And I also know what it is to what?  To be going hungry.  He had times of great deprivation.  He had times when he didn’t have enough food to eat.  He knew that.  He experienced that.  And then, he closes verse 12 by saying, “And I know what it’s like to have abundance, and I know what it’s like to suffer lack.  But the point is: in everything I’m content because I live independent from the circumstances.”

However, lest he give the impression that he does it all by himself, he gives ‘him’ — Christ — the credit for getting him through all circumstances (verse 13).

MacArthur introduces Christ as being the fourth — and most important — element in contentment:

Let me take you to a fourth pointThis matter of contentment demands not only a confidence in God’s sovereign providence, a satisfaction with little, and an independence of circumstance; but, fourthly, Paul was content because he was sustained by divine power, he was sustained by divine power.  And he experienced that.  You could even make it, he experienced divine power.  Notice verse 13, “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  Some manuscripts say “Christ;” there are manuscripts on both sides of that issue.  The better manuscripts seem to use the word “Him,” but, of course, it refers to Christ, I’m only saying that because some of your Bibles may say Christ.  Whether it says Christ or Him, it’s referring to Christ.  Paul says I am sustained by Christ who strengthens me.

You see, he had learned that no matter how difficult it was in the material world, there was a spiritual undergirding Our adequacy and our sufficiency comes from being attached to the adequate and the sufficient one.  We are not really self-sufficient, we are Christ-sufficient It is because we are linked to His life and linked to His power in us that we have sufficiency Paul is saying, “Look, I can do all things through Him who strengthens me.”  What does he mean by that?  Well, he means I’m connected to Christ.  And because I’m connected to Christ, that is the life of Christ in the soul of man, He lives in me, the life which I live is His life living in me, Galatians 2:20; because of that, I have a supernatural divine strength for every situation.

Now, he does not mean, and I want you to listen carefully to this, he does not mean that I can go forever without eating.  He does not mean that I can go forever without drinking, or I can forever without sleeping, or I can be battered with 5,000 stripes and still survive.  He does not mean that.  He knows that if he doesn’t have food eventually, he will die.  If he doesn’t have something to drink eventually, he will die.  And if he is continually pummeled, he will die.  There is a limit to the physical extremities which he can endure.  I mean, that would be true in any case, obviously.  But what he is saying is when I have come to the end of my own resources, then I experience the power of Christ to sustain me until a provision is made.

Now, I believe he is talking here about the material world when he says, “I can do all things.”  He could have said, “I can endure all things.”  He uses a Greek verb that means to be strong, or to have strength.  He is saying, “I am strong enough to go through anything because of Him who infuses His strength into me.”  He does not mean that I could live forever with no food.  He’s not talking about a miraculous provision in that sense.  What he is simply saying is in those exigencies of life, those extremities of life where I have no more human resources, I am infused with the strength of Christ.  The Bible says, “To him who has no might, He increases strength.”  And Isaiah says in chapter 40, that great and familiar 31st verse, “That when we would faint and grow weary, we automatically feel the power of God and mount up as wings as eagles.”  He’s talking about coming to the bottom, as it were, of human resources and finding there the strength of Christ. 

Henry has a note on the Greek in the original manuscript:

here he transfers all the praise to Christ. “What do I talk of knowing how to be abased, and how to abound? It is only through Christ who strengthens me that I can do it, not in my own strength.” So we are required to be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might (Eph 6 10), and to be strong in the grace which is in Christ Jesus (2 Tim 2 1); and we are strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man, Eph 3 16. The word in the original is a participle of the present tense, en to endynamounti me Christo, and denotes a present and continued act; as if he had said, “Through Christ, who is strengthening me, and does continually strengthen me; it is by his constant and renewed strength I am enabled to act in every thing; I wholly depend upon him for all my spiritual power.”

We Europeans are approaching what could be a highly expensive winter with the huge increase in energy prices coming this autumn.

Will we be content with colder homes? One wonders.

Perhaps we can take a leaf out of Paul’s letter to the Philippians and bear it in mind prayerfully as our hour of need approaches.

May we, too, be content thanks to the power of Christ, regardless of circumstances.

Next time — Philippians 4:14-19

The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity is on September 4, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 14:25-33

14:25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them,

14:26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple.

14:27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not first sit down and estimate the cost, to see whether he has enough to complete it?

14:29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it will begin to ridicule him,

14:30 saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

14:31 Or what king, going out to wage war against another king, will not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to oppose the one who comes against him with twenty thousand?

14:32 If he cannot, then, while the other is still far away, he sends a delegation and asks for the terms of peace.

14:33 So therefore, none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are in the middle of Luke’s episodes of our Lord’s teachings. These began in Luke 9 and continue through most of Luke 19.

Last week, we had His lesson on humility to the Pharisee and his guests where He had gone to share a sabbath meal. It was a foresight into the kingdom of God.

Today’s reading is about the gravity of discipleship. It is not to be taken lightly.

Luke tells us that large crowds were travelling with Jesus when He turned around to speak to them (verse 25).

Matthew Henry’s commentary asks us to note the contrast in the lesson taught with last week’s:

See how Christ in his doctrine suited himself to those to whom he spoke, and gave every one his portion of meat. To Pharisees he preached humility and charity. He is in these verses directing his discourse to the multitudes that crowded after him, and seemed zealous in following him; and his exhortation to them is to understand the terms of discipleship, before they undertook the profession of it, and to consider what they did.

John MacArthur calls this lesson ‘extreme’ in its seriousness:

we find ourselves in the 14th chapter of Luke at a time in the life of our Lord when He is moving from town to town and village to village and He is preaching to the people, doing miracles, healing. Always, He is calling people to follow Him, to become His disciples, to come after Him. And in paragraph after paragraph we hear the words of Jesus. In this particular one we have a very strong call to discipleship. And it is an example of how Jesus always called people to follow Him. In fact, the words that He gives here are found in many other places in the four gospels, very similar words or almost exactly the same words, so we know this to be a constant pattern in His teaching. And His calls are extreme by any measure.

Henry says that many people thought Jesus was an earthly Messiah who would bless Israel and give them an easy, prosperous life over the Romans.

However, they were mistaken:

There went great multitudes with him, many for love and more for company, for where there are many there will be more …

He takes it for granted that they had a mind to be his disciples, that they might be qualified for preferment in his kingdom. They expected that he should say, “If any man come to me, and be my disciple, he shall have wealth and honour in abundance; let me alone to make him a great man.” But he tells them quite the contrary.

He said that those who come to Him who do not hate — dislike, not despise — their family members or their own lives in preferment to Him cannot be His disciples (verse 26).

The word for ‘hate’ is not a cruel or hostile one. Students of the Old Testament know that ‘hate’ was used in the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis.

MacArthur explains:

Is He talking about emotional hate, psychological hate?  Is He talking about a bitter, angry, hostile attitude? That would be contrary to everything we know about the fact that Jesus said we’re to love one another.  No.  You have to understand that this is a kind of Hebraistic expression.  You remember, Jesus also said this:  “No man can serve two masters. He will love the one and hate the other.”  It’s a way to indicate preference or loving one more and loving one less.  And that’s precisely what Jesus said in Matthew 10:37 when He said almost the same thing, only He said there if anyone loves father, mother more than Me or wife or husband more than Me or brother, sister more than Me, he cannot be My disciple.  So when you compare that passage, this is simply a way to speak of preference, loving one more and another less.  It’s what He said as well in the Old Testament repeated in the New, “Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated.”  It does not mean that God literally, emotionally hated and despised Esau.  It meant that His priority, His covenant, His promise, His love in that sense with all of the implications was given to Jacob and not to Esau; Jacob, then being the preferred one.  The Old Testament also says if a man has two wives, he’ll love one and hate the other and all it means is not that he will actually love one and despise the other emotionally but rather one will be preferred over the other.  And that is what Jesus is saying here.  You have to understand this, that while your priority may have been in time past the relationships around you and you did what those around you wanted you to do, your family, those that were intimately in your lifes…in your life, they were the ones who basically charted your course, because those relationships meant so much to you, those are all sublimated…those are all subordinated.  From now on, you love Me with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  What honors Me, what pleases Me, what I desire, what I will, what I command as the Lord of your life takes precedent over all other demands and relationships.  He also said at the end of verse 26, this is not just true of the people around you; this is true of your own self viewYou have to hate your own life.  What does that mean?  That you have some kind of morbid, suicidal attitude?  That you’re somewhat masochistic or self-destructive?  No.  What it means is that you consider yourself and your will and your ambition and your desire and your purposes as minor, miniscule, unimportant compared to your desire to do what honors your Lord.  When you come to Me, Jesus says, you’re not just adding Me to your life.  I’m not just decoration.  I’m not just the topping.  I’m going to take over.  You will receive eternal life.  You will receive a place in heaven.  You will receive blessing in time and unlimited and inexplicable blessing throughout eternity.  Your sins will all be forgivenGrace, peace, joy, fulfillment forever will be yoursBut for that gift I want to take control of your life so that I may truly fulfill it, truly satisfy it and truly use it for My glory and your good.  That’s why Romans 8:28 says, “All things work together for good to those that love God.”  Why?  Because God is working what is best for time and eternity in and through those who are His own.  You’re willing then to subordinate all relationships to the lordship of Christ.  You’re willing to subordinate your own life.  Literally, it’s a kind of death.  It’s a kind of death.  You lose your life to find it.  You die to live.

It was six months before His death that Jesus delivered this lesson on discipleship. No one, other than He, knew that the Crucifixion was looming. Yet, He told the people that whoever does not carry the cross and follow Him cannot be His disciple (verse 27).

Henry intimates that, even if we are not called to do so, we must be prepared for such an eventuality:

He must bear his cross, and come after Christ; that is, he must bear it in the way of his duty, whenever it lies in that way. He must bear it when Christ calls him to it, and in bearing it he must have an eye to Christ, and fetch encouragements from him, and live in hope of a recompence with him.

MacArthur agrees that this is not a figurative expression and that this is the most serious consideration we can ever make in our lives:

The price for following Jesus in those days and in history in many places and even today in parts of the world, you name the name of Jesus Christ, it could cost you your life. The cross here is simply a symbol of death. It was a torture instrument used to execute people. It’s not a mystical idea. It’s a very concrete way to express martyrdom. Are you willing to give your life? Are you willing, not only to give up your desires, your ambitions, your dreams, your hopes, all the things that you think are your well-crafted purposes and plans, abandoning them to My sovereign authority, subordinating them to My will, but even to the point where it could cost you your life? Are you willing to say with the apostle Paul, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain”? Are you willing to say that? Are you so eager to have your sins forgiven and the hope of eternal life that if it cost you even your life in this world, that’s a small price to pay?

Jesus then cited two practical examples to illustrate His lesson.

The first was about the building of a tower, probably a manned watchtower to guard farmed fields. Who would not do an estimate first and seriously consider whether he has enough money to complete it (verse 28)?

Henry says that the same holds true of our commitment to Christ, but he begins with a practical material calculation, which was as true then as it is now:

he must be sure to count upon a great deal more than his workmen will tell him it will cost.

[2.] Those that intend to build this tower must sit down and count the cost. Let them consider that it will cost them the mortifying of their sins, even the most beloved lusts; it will cost them a life of self-denial and watchfulness, and a constant course of holy duties; it may, perhaps, cost them their reputation among men, their estates and liberties, and all that is dear to them in this world, even life itself. And if it should cost us all this, what is it in comparison with what it cost Christ to purchase the advantages of religion for us, which come to us without money and without price? [3.] Many that begin to build this tower do not go on with it, nor persevere in it, and it is their folly; they have not courage and resolution, have not a rooted fixed principle, and so bring nothing to pass. It is true, we have none of us in ourselves sufficient to finish this tower, but Christ hath said, My grace is sufficient for thee, and that grace shall not be wanting to any of us, if we seek for it and make use of it. [4.] Nothing is more shameful than for those that have begun well in religion to break off; every one will justly mock him, as having lost all his labour hitherto for want of perseverance. We lose the things we have wrought (2 John 8), and all we have done and suffered is in vain, Gal 3 4.

MacArthur gives us an insight into Middle Eastern culture which would have resonated with our Lord’s audience:

Now, you’ve got to understand, the ancient Near East is an honor-shame culture. You just don’t do things that bring shame on yourself. It’s very important to protect your honor. And the point is, when you’re going to do something as formidable as build a tower…this isn’t the little shack, this isn’t something alongside the house or an addition. We’re talking about a tower. It might have been a watchtower, because in ancient days, enemies attacked by burning fields, sowing tares in the fields and so towers were often built in these great estates from which the people could protect their land. They were used sometimes as great grain storage places like we have silos today. This would be a rather large enterprise, not just a minimal kind of enterprise, but this man is going to build a big tower and everybody in the community is going to know it. And nobody would do that if he was going to wind up with nothing but a foundation and everybody laughing at him … When you’re going to build a tower, he says in verse 28, you’re going to sit down and you’re going to calculate the cost to see if you have enough to complete it. Otherwise you’re left with a half-finished building and a permanent monument to your stupidity. That’s a big issue in an honor-shame environment. You want to make sure…here’s the operative word…that you can finish, that you can complete it.

Otherwise, Jesus said, when the man can afford to lay only a foundation and not finish the tower, all who see it will begin to ridicule him (verse 29); they will say, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish’ (verse 30).

MacArthur points out that ‘this fellow’ or ‘this man’ is derogatory in the original Greek:

In fact, in verse 30, the expression “this man” in the original Greek is derogatory. It could be translated “this fellow,” a kind of a scorn or ridiculing approach. Began to build and wasn’t able to finish…That is a huge element of dishonor in the thinking of the ancient Near East.

There is another Greek element to this:

And verse 30, you don’t want people to say you were not able to finish.  The two times the word “finish” is used, verses 29 and 30, it uses the word ekteleō. Teleō is to finish.  Teleō…Jesus said tetelestai, which is a form of that, on the cross: “It is finished.”  It’s a pretty…pretty final word.  But when you add an ek to it, you compound its intensity, to really finish, to finish to the very last component.  You don’t want your life exposed to ridicule.  So what’s Jesus saying?  He’s saying, look don’t come to Me on some emotional level.  Don’t come to Me because you’re feeling some disappointment, you’re feeling some confusion in your life, you have been left in the lurch in some relationship and you’re looking for a skyhook.  Don’t come to Me to pacify you over some temporary matter.  Don’t come to Me with any kind of superficiality.  I’m telling you, you must, first of all, be willing to abandon all the priorities of the past that have dominated your life so that it is a kind of dying in order to live.  And you’ve got to assess the legitimacy and the integrity of the expression that you’re making at this point to be sure you really have what it takes to finish this.  Are you…Are you just responding to a moment’s emotion? 

Henry says:

Begin low, and lay the foundation deep, lay it on the rock, and make sure work, and then aim as high as heaven.

One cannot say fairer than that in either a practical or spiritual sense.

The second practical example Jesus laid before the crowd was that of a king about to wage war. Would he not consider that if he has 10,000 troops he might not wish to go to war with an opponent who has twice as many troops (verse 31)? He will send a delegation to negotiate peace instead (verse 32).

Henry says that this is not unlike the consideration of spiritual warfare in our Christian journey:

Note, [1.] The state of a Christian in this world is a military state. Is not the Christian life a warfare? We have many passes in our way, that must be disputed with dint of sword; nay, we must fight every step we go, so restless are our spiritual enemies in their opposition. [2.] We ought to consider whether we can endure the hardness which a good soldier of Jesus Christ must expect and count upon, before we enlist ourselves under Christ’s banner; whether we are able to encounter the forces of hell and earth, which come against us twenty thousand strong. [3.] Of the two it is better to make the best terms we can with the world than pretend to renounce it and afterwards, when tribulation and persecution arise because of the word, to return to it.

MacArthur points out that no ruler will go to war if he thinks he will lose. He will try to negotiate a peace:

… if he comes up with the conclusion that he can’t win, verse 32 says, while the other is still far away, he’s going to send a delegation and ask terms of peace. He’s going to send a delegation and say: “Look, we know you can defeat us so what do you want? There’s no sense in spilling all this blood to get to the same end that we could get to by negotiating. So we lose a little of our freedom. So we have an occupation. At least we’re alive.” No king would go to battle and put himself and all those who were following him in danger if there was a way to negotiate a peace.

Then comes our Lord’s often misunderstood conclusion: no one can be His disciple unless they give up all their possessions (verse 33).

Henry says that, if we love our possessions more than anything else, it is not a good idea to pretend to become a disciple of Jesus:

That young man that could not find in his heart to part with his possessions for Christ did better to go away from Christ sorrowing than to have staid with him dissembling.

MacArthur explains the Greek used in this verse:

“No one of you can be My disciple who will or does not give up all his own possessions.”  In what sense do you give them up?  Well, how do you become a Christian?  By selling everything you have and giving it away and becoming a beggar?  Is that what He’s talking about?  Maybe there’s some help with the Greek here.  The original language in verse 33, “give up,” apotassō, say good-bye to.  That’s exactly what it means, to say good-bye to.  In what sense?  Well, it’s not calling for socialism. It’s not calling for you to sell your house, sell your car, sell all your possessions in your house and go out on the street and beg.  That’s not what it’s saying.  What it’s calling for is thisYou become a steward of everything and an owner of nothing.  What you’re saying is: I don’t have any relationships that aren’t subordinated to your lordship I don’t have any self-interests that aren’t subordinated to your lordship.  It doesn’t mean that I ignore my family, cease loving my family.  I want to love my family and maybe love my family more.  It doesn’t mean that I stop my education; that I stop moving down a path to do whatever I can do and to be the best I can be in whatever field I choose to the honor of the Lord.  It doesn’t mean that I unload everything I have.  It just means that all of that is subordinated to what God wants for me.  I hold to nothing in this world, not the relationships, not my self-interests and not the stuff, not my money and my possessions.  I am a steward of all of it and I want to discharge that stewardship before God.  I want to take care of my relationships.  I want to take care of my family.  I want to love them.  I want to take care of my life.  I want to be disciplined.  I want to be healthy.  I want to be useful to the Lord in a physical sense.  I want to make my mind and my body all that it can be to serve Him.  And I…and I want to use whatever He’s given me, a house and a car and a bank account for the glory of His kingdom.  But all of it is subject to His sovereign design.  That’s all He’s saying.  He’s saying: What would you be willing to give up … And if you had plans and ambitions in certain things and I asked you to do other than that and My Spirit directed you to give your life in some service over here, would you be willing to do that?  And even if I asked you to die in the cause, would you do that?  And if I asked you to take everything you have like He asked the rich young ruler in Luke 18, if I asked you to take everything you have, sell it all and give it to the poor, would you be willing to do that?  It isn’t that you’re going to have to do that.  I don’t know what God’s purposes are.  God hasn’t stripped me of everything and He hasn’t stripped all of us of everything.  But I do understand unequivocally that I am a steward of everything and an owner of nothing.  And my priority is this: to love the Lord my God, to love my Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength beyond any love I have for my family, for myself, or for anything in this world.  This is what Jesus is asking.  He’s not asking you to sort of tack Him onto all your stuff and all your self-interests and all your relationships …  Becoming Christ’s disciple demands an abandonment of past priorities.  Everything changes.  It is a whole new life view.  The apostle Paul, Philippians 3:8, says, I looked at it all.  When I saw Christ, I looked at everything in my past and, boy, there were some wonderful things.  And I counted it manure…that’s what he said…compared to Christ.  And he said I ran to Christ to receive a righteousness not my own.  And now all I want, he said in Philippians 3, is to know Him.

MacArthur concludes in a condemnation of the prayer call and the false prosperity theology:

Jesus doesn’t say, hey, just pray the prayer; don’t worry about it — which would be a typical way to approach it. He says don’t even think of this until you know that what is going on in your heart will carry you to its completion. Step back. So when you evangelize somebody and you give them the gospel, you say, now that you understand the gospel, you understand the objective facts of the gospel, Jesus, God in human flesh, lives a sinless life, virgin-born, lives a sinless life, dies a substitutionary death for sinners, raised…is raised from the dead, ascends to the Father, intercedes for us, comes again, you give them the whole layout of the gospel, salvation by grace alone, faith alone and Christ alone, now you know all that? Yes, yes, I know that. Do you believe that? I think I believe that. Oh, good, pray this prayer. No. Let’s back up a little bit. Now, do you understand that He’s saying you’re going to need to love Him as Lord and He’s going to take the priority over your family, over yourself, and over all your stuff? You become an owner of nothing, even relationships, even your own life, everything you possess. You become a steward of everything. At the discretion that God prompts, it is used for His glory and it may even cost you your life. Step back. Don’t be in a hurry here. And assess whether you really have what it takes to build this tower, whether you’ve really assessed what this is going to cost you. That’s all these little stories are intended to say, that when you come against something that is formidable and has massive implications for you or for all the people around you; for you, in the case of the tower, for everybody that is around you, in the case of the king; this has massive implications. You better back up and make sure you have assessed your present powers. And is this faith the real deal? Is this repentance the real repentance? Jesus is halting people. He’s putting the brakes on … You have nothing to fear in saying to someone, “I want you to think about this, I want you to consider the cost carefully.” You have nothing to fear. What you’re doing is stopping people from superficial, non-saving delusion. You’re backing them off and saying, let’s find out whether this is really the work of the Spirit of God and what is happening in your life is not a momentary, emotional thing, but what is happening in your life is the true, regenerating work of the Holy Spirit producing an unrelenting repentance and an undying faith that will go through every barrier. You do all the important things in life by calculating carefully. This is the most important thing you’ll ever do. This is more important than any tower you’ll ever build, more important than any enemy you’ll ever meet. And so the Lord says, you want to be My disciple, do you? Well, you have to abandon your past priorities and you have to assess your present powers.

Following Christ is a serious commitment and not one to be taken lightly.

God is not our butler, nor is His Son. We serve God through His Son.

It is not about our needs or desires, it is about the divine will working through our lives.

May all 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.

Philippians 3:15-16

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Philippians about the Judaizers who wanted them to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law. He called the false teachers dogs and evildoers who mutilate the flesh.

John MacArthur recaps the verses that immediately follow (emphases mine):

… so you had then in verses 4 through 11 an insight into the heart attitude of Paul at the time of his conversion when he discounted all of those things once precious, put them all aside to embrace Christ.

In verses 8 through 11 then he began to recite what he gained in Christ. Verses 4 through 7, what was loss, verses 8 through 11 what was gained. And what did he gain in Christ? Remember there were five things. He gained the knowledge of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of Christ and the glory of Christ. Frankly, quite an amazing list of spiritual benedictions.

Then come the verses that precede today’s:

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is talking about the process of sanctification, the natural urge to become a better Christian by following a holy example.

A lot of us, myself included for many years, think that because we are saved that our Christian walk can go on as it is. I was in a period of spiritual stasis for decades. I went to church, prayed during the week and volunteered now and again. What more did I need to do?

It was only when I started my blog and began doing a deep dive into Scripture that I realised I had much more to achieve spiritually.

Paul, as great an Apostle as he was, viewed himself as spiritually imperfect. So what must we mere mortals be, we who cannot hold a candle to Paul’s lived Christian example.

Paul viewed sanctification as a type of marathon, one that he would run until he took his last breath as a martyr.

MacArthur, who was on his high school’s track team, points out Paul’s metaphors:

I think it is obvious to any student of the New Testament and any student of the letters of the Apostle Paul that he must have loved athletics, as many of us do. And the reason I say that is because he so often uses athletic analogies, or athletic metaphors to illustrate spiritual truth. One of his athletic analogies is that of a runner, running a race. The runner to him is the picture of the Christian, the race is the Christian life. And frequently in his writings he alludes to this running metaphor, this…this picture of maximum effort as the Christian moves along toward the finish line. That is essentially the underlying picture of the passage before us …

Now obviously the heart of this passage is the very familiar fourteenth verse, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The theme here then is pursuing the prize. The analogy is that of a runner who is running to win in order that he might gain the prize. The spiritual point here is the matter of pursuing the spiritual prize. If you will, Paul is talking about Christian effort toward growth. Now he has just given his personal testimony of the experience of his own conversion from his viewpoint from verses 4 to 11.

MacArthur explains why Paul says he is not perfect. It is in order to contrast his spiritual state with that of the Judaizers, who no doubt claimed perfection in this regard:

It is … quite possible that the Judaizers, the Jewish teachers who were plaguing the Philippian church, were telling the Philippians that spiritual perfection was available if they would be circumcized and keep the law. It is also true that there were heretics floating around at that time who believed you could reach a certain level of knowledge in which you attained perfection. So to answer the Gnostics who thought they had reached that level, to answer the Judaizers who thought they had reached that level through circumcision and law keeping and to answer anybody else who might assume that because he had the knowledge, the righteousness, the power, the fellowship and the glory of Christ he was therefore perfect, he quickly in verse 12 launches into a passage which is a total disclaimer of any spiritual perfection. That’s his intent in this passage. He wants us to know that he is not perfect. He has not reached moral perfection, he has not reached spiritual perfection even though he is a new creation, even though he has a new heart and a new disposition which desires strongly holy things, even though he had union with Jesus Christ and a new mind, the mind of Christ, even though he has new standing before God and is accepted by God and entitled to heaven and has the righteousness of Christ covering him, even though he has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the power of God, even though he has promised future glory and indwelling glory in that Spirit, he has not arrived…he is not perfect. He is still temptable. He is still the possessor of his unredeemed flesh. He is still a sinner.

Thus, any thought of perfection must be set aside in favor of pursuing the perfection that every believer must recognize he doesn’t have. That’s the point. He had already been placed in Christ, already accepted by God, already gifted with all of these tremendous things and yet he was not perfect. He had not arrived.

St Peter also recognised that spiritual progress is a process:

Peter understood it when Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:18, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He was saying the same thing Paul is saying here. There’s a growing process. When you’re saved yes you receive the knowledge of Christ, yes you receive the righteousness of Christ positionally imputed to your account, yes you receive the power of Christ in your life, yes you receive the fellowship of Christ in communion with Him, yes you receive the glory of Christ but not in perfection. And so there must be growth. There must be the pursuit of the goal. There must be the running of the race. That’s his point. The pressing toward the mark.

At some point, a Christian realises the need for the process of sanctification:

Having been born into the family of God you are born with a hunger, in fact in many cases an almost insatiable hunger. There is a built-in desire and drive and longing for growth.

But apart from that there are some very important reasons why you should grow, reasons why you should pursue the prize and run the race. First of all, it glorifies God. And that’s what a Christian is supposed to do with his life is bring glory to God. Secondly, it verifies regeneration. It makes demonstrable the fact that you are truly changed because you’re in the progress of making it visible that your life is being changed. Thirdly, it adorns the truth. It lets you literally wear the truth of God so others can see it. Fourthly, it grants you assurance. When there is spiritual progress in your life there is the sense that you belong to God because you can see His work and your calling and election become sure. Not only that it preserves you from the sorrows and the tragedies of spiritual weakness which are not enjoyable to any believer any time.

Furthermore, pursuing the prize, running the race, seeking the goal protects the cause of Christ from reproach because when you live a godly life and you pursue the goal, your life is consistent with the character of Christ and the character He upholds in Scripture and thus you’re not a reproach to Him. Seventh, when you pursue the prize and run the race and grow spiritually it produces joy and usefulness in your life and thus you can minister capably to the church. And finally, it enhances your witness to the lost world

Now, let me add another footnote here. The Apostle Paul is trying to show the readers in Philippi that because he is a Christian does not mean he has attained perfection. But beyond that, I believe he is trying to teach all of us and all generations that perfection in this life is a goal, not an achievement. It is something you pursue but never reach.

Paul exhorts — encourages — the Philippians by saying that those who are mature enough in the faith will think the way he does and God will reveal that way to those who think differently (verse 15).

Paul’s wish is that all the Philippians should hold true to what he and they attained (verse 16) in the Gospel.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry split out verses 15 and 16, so he must have found them important enough to do so.

His commentary says:

The apostle, having proposed himself as an example, urges the Philippians to follow it. Let the same mind be in us which was in blessed Paul. We see here how he was minded; let us be like-minded, and set our hearts upon Christ and heaven, as he did. 1. He shows that this was the thing wherein all good Christians were agreed, to make Christ all in all, and set their hearts upon another world. This is that whereto we have all attained. However good Christians may differ in their sentiments about other things, this is what they are agreed in, that Christ is a Christian’s all, that to win Christ and to be found in him involve our happiness both here and hereafter. And therefore let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. Having made Christ our all, to us to live must be Christ. Let us agree to press towards the mark, and make heaven our end. 2. That this is a good reason why Christians who differ in smaller matters should yet bear with one another, because they are agreed in the main matter:If in any thing you be otherwise minded—if you differ from one another, and are not of the same judgment as to meats and days, and other matters of the Jewish law—yet you must not judge one another, while you all meet now in Christ as your centre, and hope to meet shortly in heaven as your home. As for other matters of difference, lay no great stress upon them, God shall reveal even this unto you. Whatever it is wherein you differ, you must wait till God give you a better understanding, which he will do in his due time. In the mean time, as far as you have attained, you must go together in the ways of God, join together in all the great things in which you are agreed, and wait for further light in the minor things wherein you differ.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 15 has some sarcasm in it directed at the Judaizers:

I’m so grateful for this verse, it gets overlooked a lot, verse 15, but it’s very important to me. Verse 15, “Let us therefore as many as are perfect have this attitude and if anything…if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.”

Now follow this thought here, very important. You say, “Why would Paul throw that word perfect in there? That just confuses the clarity of the text.” I’ll tell you why. I think it’s sarcastic. And again I think in this polemic against the Judaizers, he’s dealing with the fact that the Judaizers were talking that they were…talking to the Philippians as if they were perfect, saying, “You know, we’ve reached perfection.” So there’s a sort of sarcasm in there that bites a little bit at the claims of the Judaizers. But he says, “As many of us who are the truly perfect need to have this attitude.”

He feels that and every pastor would. My prayer for you is that you’d have that attitude. That if you’re a true Christian, your desire would be to pursue the prize, that you’d see your own need, that you’d make maximum effort, that you’d have focused concentration, that you be motivated by the great prize and that you would pursue with all your might that prize. By the way, that phrase “have this attitude” literally in the Greek means to think this way, or be intent on this, or set one’s mind on this. On what? Pursuing the prize

But, Paul’s not stupid. So look what else he says. “But if in anything you have a different attitude.” Do you think that’s a remote possibility? Sure. The church is full of people who aren’t interested in pursuing the prize. They’re interested in looking at the past. They’re content with where they are. And so they want to spend the rest of their life justifying the level of their attainment and convincing everybody around them that they’re really very spiritual. Instead of recognizing their need, instead of making a maximum effort with focused concentration and motivation, they just are content with where they are and they want to spend their life justifying where they are. Or they’re so hung up on the past they can’t move. Paul says, “Look, if any of this stuff you have a different attitude, you don’t see the importance of pursuing in this way, or you believe you’ve already arrived wherever you would like to be you’ve settled there, or some of you even believe that now that you’re saved you can live any old wretched way you want like those described in verses 17 to 21 who were supposedly Christians, whose end was destruction and their God was appetite, if you think anything other than what I’ve said about pursuing the prize, and you won’t listen to me,” look what he says, “Then God will reveal that also to you.” He simply says I have to leave you to God. If you’re ever going to get the message and you won’t get it from me, then you’ll have to get it from God.

Every pastor does that, I’ve done that. I do that. “Lord, I’ve poured out my heart, I’ve said all I can say, and I know there are people who continue to live non-committed lives and all I can say is, Lord, I can’t do it, You’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to reveal Yourself.” The word “reveal” is apokalupto, to unveil. You’re going to have to open their minds and unveil reality to them. And you know how the Lord usually does it? Through…what?…trials, suffering, chastening, things like that. Through some special circumstance of life that plunges us instantly back to spiritual reality.

MacArthur looks at the Greek words used in verse 16:

Look at verse 16, “However,” that really means nevertheless, or better, one more thing. It’s often used at the end of a paragraph to express a final thought. “One more thing, by the way, let us keep living by that same to which we have attained.”

In other words, look, keep moving along the path that has brought you to where you are in your spiritual progress. That’s the idea. You’ll be interested to know that the verb here is translated “keep living.” It actually means to follow in line, to line up. It’s what it means. So what he is saying is, spiritually stay in line and keep moving from where you have arrived by the same standard or principle that got you were you are. Fall in step. It’s used of armies marching in battle order, stay in line, stay in step, be consistent, keep moving. Wherever you are spiritually by the same principles that got you there, keep moving ahead. Consistency, conformity, live up to the level of your present understanding and by the principles that brought you there, keep moving ahead, stay in line, hold the principle tightly and move down the track. Stay in your lane, if you will, and move as fast as you can from where you are. Whatever strength and energy got you where you are, use it to move ahead. If we were talking about the runner metaphor, we would say you’ve run this far in your lane with great effort, it’s gotten you so far, keep that same effort up in that same lane until you hit the finish. Pursuing the prize.

MacArthur explains what the process of perfection, or sanctification, involves:

Whatever we achieve spiritually begins with dissatisfaction. I am not pleased with where I am in my spiritual life. I am not content with my spiritual condition. If you are content, you have reached a very dangerous point. It is a point at which you will find yourself insensitive to sin and defending yourself when you ought to be admitting your weakness and pursuing spiritual strength.

I can personally vouch for that.

This is how the sanctification process starts:

And, beloved, that’s where it starts, with an awareness that you’re not there, an awareness that you haven’t arrived, that you’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to perfect in your life and a lot to yield over to the power of the Spirit of God and a lot more to know than you already know. And if you have gotten to the place where you feel satisfied, that’s a very dangerous place to be…very dangerous. If you’ve had enough prayer and enough church and enough teaching of the Word of God and enough of the Bible and enough of Christian fellowship to satisfy you, you are in a very dangerous condition. For if not theological perfectionism, you have arrived at a sort of pragmatic perfectionism where you’re as perfect as you care to be and that assumes that you’re as perfect as God cares you to be when the truth is if you’re not pursuing the prize with all your might, you’re misjudging your present condition. Awareness of the need to pursue a better condition is where all spiritual progress starts. You start out of blessed discontent, blessed dissatisfaction, a recognition you’re not what you ought to be.

Number two principle, if you’re going to pursue the prize effectively you must give maximum effort to pursue that better condition. First to know you need it, secondly to pursue it. There must be maximum effort to pursue that better condition. Look at verse 12 again, so he says, “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I press on, dioko, I run, I follow after, I pursue, I chase. It’s used of a sprinter and the word means aggressive energetic endeavor. He says I’m running after this thing with all my might. There’s no quietism here. There’s no crucify yourself, let go and let God kind of theology here. This is the straining of every spiritual muscle, this is running to win, 1 Corinthians 9. This is pursuing the prize with all your might. This is fighting the good fight, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7. This is running the race to win, Hebrews 12:1 and 2, laying aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us and looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who is the one before us. Paul’s saying I run, I pursue, I chase, I haven’t arrived, maximum effort.

And, beloved, that’s what it takes. It takes maximum effort using the means of grace provided to you by God to pursue spiritual perfection. You say, “Well, what’s he after?” Now follow, marvelous, verse 12, “I am pursuing in order that I may lay hold of…” Oh, he’s after a prize, he’s after something specific. That’s right. He wants to get a hold of something. The verb means to seize or grasp. I’m after something. “What are you running after, Paul?” Well, here it is, “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Now that is a fascinating statement. You see what he’s saying? He’s saying I’m pursuing the prize so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. “What do you mean by that, Paul?” I mean that I’m pursuing the very thing that was the reason Christ pursued me. Did you get that? In other words, my goal in life is consistent with Christ’s goal for my salvation. He saved me for a purpose that purpose of His in saving me has become my purpose in my spiritual progress. You see? That’s a very, very significant truth. The reason Christ redeemed me has become the goal of my life. My will is now His will, I want for me what He wanted for me and saved me to accomplish.

… Now why were you saved? Why did God choose you and then save you? In order to make you like what? His Son. What’s the goal of your Christian life then? It’s the same thing for which you were saved, He saved you to make you like His Son and that purpose for which He saves you becomes the purpose for which you live. You see? That’s what we’re all about. We’re all in a life-long pursuit of Christ’s likeness. And you may think that you have arrived at some point of spiritual perfection, but I think if you put yourself against Christ you’re going to be a little more realistic. Christ’s likeness is the goal. Christ’s likeness is the issue here. And it is that for which we were redeemed that we might be made like His Son. That’s the point …

Third principle, in pursuing the prize it is required that there be focused concentration to pursue that better condition. Not only maximum effort but focused concentration. Any athlete knows that when you’re running in a race you have to fix your eyes on something ahead of you. You cannot watch your feet or you’ll fall on your face. You cannot watch the people around you or you will trip or somebody will pass you on the other side. Your focus is straight forward on the goal that is ahead. And that is precisely what he is saying here. In making maximum effort there’s a concentration point beyond you upon which you focus

And that takes us to the positive in verse 13, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. Let’s go, let’s move. The word here, “reaching forward,” I love it, epekteinomi, ektenes, means to stretch a muscle to its limit, epek is double prepositions added to it, it means to…I don’t know what…stretch stretch, out after would be ek out, ep after…out after. I mean, your extreme effort is in view here. This is a runner stretching every muscle to reach what is in front of him, the prize. Focused concentration, nothing with the past, just looking at the goal, moving as fast as possible

Paul saw it at the end of his life when he wrote his last letter and he said, “I have finished the course and I’m waiting for the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” What is the crown of righteousness? It’s the crown which is righteousness. What kind of righteousness? Perfection. I’m waiting for perfection which God’s going to give me the day I see Him. That’s the prize.

Number five, this too is a very important principle. In pursuing the prize we must recognize divine resources to pursue that better condition

MacArthur concludes by telling us how to pursue sanctification:

Now, what are the ingredients that help us do that? Four of them, one is the Word. As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow, constantly in the Word, constantly in the Word will keep you consistent, it will keep you on track. It will keep you moving, it will keep you pursuing the prize.

Number two is prayer…prayer. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians illustrates this point when he says, “We night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face and complete what is lacking in your faith.” We’re praying that your faith will be complete. Stay in the Word, be in prayer.

Third principle, follow an example. Look at verse 17, the following verse in our text, “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Find somebody to pattern your life after It takes the Word, it takes prayer, it takes a model to follow and one more thing. It takes trials. First Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered a while, the Lord make you perfect.” James 1, “Trials have their perfect work.”

So, in the pursuit of the prize, the Word, prayer, following a spiritual model, you move along and God brings enough trials in to your life to perfect you, to knock the dross off so that you’re pure.

I hope this helps to explain the process of spiritual perfection.

May all reading this be blessed in their Christian journey.

Next time — Philippians 4:10-13

The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity is on August 28, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 14:1, 7-14

14:1 On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees to eat a meal on the sabbath, they were watching him closely.

14:7 When he noticed how the guests chose the places of honor, he told them a parable.

14:8 “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not sit down at the place of honor, in case someone more distinguished than you has been invited by your host;

14:9 and the host who invited both of you may come and say to you, ‘Give this person your place,’ and then in disgrace you would start to take the lowest place.

14:10 But when you are invited, go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher’; then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at the table with you.

14:11 For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.”

14:12 He said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

14:13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

14:14 And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This post is long; as last week’s explained how synagogues developed, this week’s discusses how the Pharisees came to be so powerful.

We are in the middle of Luke’s accounts of our Lord’s teaching the disciples and others with whom He came in contact. These lessons began in Luke 9 and extend to Luke 19. We are in the last six months of His ministry.

Luke 14 begins with an account of Jesus going to the house of a leader of the Pharisees for a meal on the sabbath; He was being watched closely (verse 1).

The King James Version and other translations say ‘eat bread’ rather than ‘eat a meal’.

John MacArthur explains:

It says “to eat bread” and the reason they ate bread on the Sabbath is because you couldn’t cook anything and so the bread would have to be made the day before Couldn’t do any work on the Sabbath.  That meant you couldn’t cook anything and they would probably have something you could dip the bread in and it was pretty much what the meal was all about.

Even today, some devout Jews ensure that cooking, normally a stew that can stay warm, is done before the sabbath. Some Jews employ a shabbos goy, a Gentile who serves them and takes care of basic needs on the Sabbath, like turning on the lights when it gets dark. It is said that this custom is falling out of use, thanks to electronic timers. A number of famous men were shabbos goys, including Harry S Truman and Barack Obama.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Pharisee did not have good intentions in inviting Jesus to his home:

The Pharisee that invited him, it should seem, did it with a design to pick some quarrel with him; if it were so, Christ knew it, and yet went, for he knew himself a match for the most subtle of them, and knew how to order his steps with an eye to his observers. Those that are watched had need to be wary. It is, as Dr. Hammond observes, contrary to all laws of hospitality to seek advantage against one that you invited to be your guest, for such a one you have taken under your protection. These lawyers and Pharisees, like the fowler that lies in wait to ensnare the birds, held their peace, and acted very silently.

In last week’s reading from Luke 13, Jesus healed the bent over woman in the synagogue on the sabbath, so they knew He performed miracles which they considered to be work. Jesus rightly accused His critics of hypocrisy and turned their man-made rules on them, saying that they had no problem untying their ox or donkey on the sabbath to give them water.

Our Lord’s opponents were put to shame as the congregation rejoiced at His healing the woman, who had been suffering for 18 years from an evil spirit that caused her to be bent over.

MacArthur recaps the end of Luke 13, which provides further context for today’s reading:

He is moving, although not in a direct line, from town and village around the area of Judea, ultimately headed to that final Passover in Jerusalem …

Chapter 13 ends with a judgment pronunciation Verse 34, Jesus says, “Oh Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those sent to her, how often I wanted to gather your children together just as a hen gathers her brood under her wings and you would not have it.  Behold your house is left to you, desolate.  And I say to you, you shall not see me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.’”  It’s over for you, He says.  I tried to gather you often.  You would not. You are the city that kills the prophets, stones the messengers of God and, of course, they would kill Him as well.

Regular readers of these exegeses and Forbidden Bible Verses know how spiritually blind the Jewish leaders were and how determined they were to kill Jesus.

MacArthur explains how the Pharisees came to be so powerful and why most Jews obeyed them:

They were, of course, sinful and they loved their sin.  And they were in darkness and they chose their darkness, but they were confirmed in this condition by their religion, which made the bondage so strong And the ones who wrapped them in this bondage were none other than their religious leaders.  The Bible warns from front to back about false teachers and the deadly, eternally destructive impact they have on people.  Satan, himself, is disguised as an angel of light, purveying false religion in order to capture men’s souls.  All his messengers are angels of light says the Bible.  They come offering light; they bring only darkness and death.

Hosea put it this way, “Like people, like priest.”  People are like their leaders The Jews had rejected the Messiah.  They had rejected their Lord, their Redeemer, their Savior, the Son of God and consequently they forfeited salvation and they forfeited an entrance into the kingdom of heaven and they forfeited eternal life, missing forever what they had for centuries waited for.  Now how did they get so deep into a religious system that they could come to the conclusion that their very Messiah, Redeemer and the Son of God was an agent of Satan meant to distract them away from the truth and thus they needed to eliminate Him?

How could they be so wrong?  The answer is they were led astray by their trusted leaders, who had wrapped them up in the chains of a system of religion that doomed them to hell.  And who were these leaders?  Well, they’re Pharisees … 

They were good.  They were moral.  They were fastidious about God’s law.  They were religious, extremely religious, extremely moral, extremely on the outside righteous The people were sure they were the favorites of God and knew the way to heaven This is very informational historically, but it’s much more than that.  It’s very applicational in terms of our world today because the assumption today is that it’s the good people who can be sure they’re going to heaven You hear this all the time.  The good people are going to go to heaven, particularly the good religious people.  I mean, if you’re good you’ll probably get there, but if you’re good and religious you’re a shoe-in

These people were well intentioned. They were driven by their religious beliefs.  And the Son of God came into conflict with them.  They were the fastidious architects of popular Judaism, which dominated the thinking of the people at the time of Jesus and before and after.  And when Jesus came and told them that the system was not of God and that it would not usher them into the kingdom of God, he became their archenemy.  The truth of the matter is that those religious leaders, as zealous as they were, as passionate, as loyal to their system as they were, as careful as they were, were driving people away from the kingdom of God

… You have to understand this was a very, very compelling system Let me give you a little background.  Pharisees were devout.  They were religious.  If you saw one in the street, you hailed him.  They loved to be called father and teacher and rabbi and master.  And they cultivated that.  They cultivated it everywhere they went.  They expected people to revere them and honor them And they were easily identifiable, for they enlarged all the apparatus that they wore, whether it was the phylacteries on their arms or their heads or the tassels on their garments, they were clearly Pharisees and when people came across a Pharisee, they were expected to revere them.

And when there was an occasion to have a meal, they wanted the top seats.  They put themselves in places of prominence and demanded that people recognize their devotion and their extreme righteousness They are a classic illustration of how damning the most serious kind of religion can be, even Judaism.  And they illustrate for us why our Lord Jesus turned from Israel to the Gentiles

The Pharisees might have had good intentions in mind centuries before, as they championed a religious revival in opposition to paganism from the Greeks and then the Romans. However, they became too powerful in all the wrong ways:

As Greek and Roman culture began to seep into the land of Israel, they became concerned that the people were buying into these idolatrous fashions, these pagan superstitions, these ideas, these philosophies that were very seductive.  And so at a time in the history of Judaism when the Jews were being most influenced by the Greeks, first of all, and then by the Romans, the Pharisees began to collect themselves.  The term simply means separatists.

They were separatists. They wanted to separate from the culture, the world that was encroaching upon them and pull back into the purity of Judaism They became especially prominent in the period between the Old and the New Testament around 160 B.C. that we know as Maccabean Period This was at a time when the Greeks were dominating the land and Greek culture and Greek immorality and Greek thought and Greek religion was seeping in.  It was at that time that this movement began.  They were really a return to the…to the Old Testament.  It was a back to the Bible movement.  It was a fundamentalist movement.  It was a restoration movement.  It was a recovery.  Perhaps the two most notable of them would be Rabbi Hillel and Rabbi Shammai Both lived in the decades just prior to ChristThey had a great influence.

So that their particular legacy shows up in some of the discussions and debates that Jesus has. And when He’s debating with some of these Pharisees, He knows that some of them are Hillelites and some of them are Shammaiites because of how they view the Old Testament These men had an immense effect.  So you have it about 160 B.C. right through the time of Christ.  These two rabbis being the dominant ones and their influence continued in two schools of thought that lasted for a couple of centuries after Christ.  But during the time of Jesus, these Pharisees were the recognized leaders of religion among the people.  They were a middle class movement, and they were laymen.

Whereas the Sadducees ran the temple in Jerusalem, the Pharisees ensured they were among the people in local synagogues:

They were not those that ran the temple, the Sadducees.  They were the religious liberals They were the elite They were the ones who denied angels, denied the resurrection, denied the spiritual realm And so they had cut themselves off.  They…the Sadducees were the religious elite, they compromised with Rome They were the politicians.  They went to bed with the Romans which caused them to be disrespected by the people And they basically ran the temple operation, the ritual, the sacrifices, the great festivals that occurred there, but the Pharisees were a grass-roots movement They were a middle class movement.  They were lay people, they were not priests, and they had a strategy.  If we want to bring the people back to the word of God, if we want to bring the people back to the law of God, if we want to separate from the world, the only way to do it is to have influence at every local point.

And they did.  They basically dominated the synagogues.  There’s one temple in Jerusalem The Sadducees oversee that That’s ritual and ceremony, but in every city and village and town all throughout the land of Israel, there were synagogues.  There were synagogues and in every community and neighborhood there was a synagogue, synagogues, a gathering place.  They were born really out of the Babylonian captivity when they didn’t have a temple and they gathered and when they came back to the land, they still had that idea of gathering together in smaller groups.  And so the Pharisees began to take over at the local level and to communicate their teachings at that level in every community Some of them rose to very prominent positions and became members of the Sanhedrin, the ruling body of Israel

This is how they influenced the ordinary Jew of the day:

As Jewish society had moved toward worldliness and secularism and paganism and materialism and idolatry, these were the fighting fundamentalists who called the people to be faithful to Scripture and in order to help them be faithful to Scripture, they created all kinds of additional laws and rules and regulations to put big fences and insulation around them In other words, worrying that you might break a law that God gave, they made five other laws so you couldn’t even get close to breaking that law.

But everything they taught centered on their revering the law of God.  Synagogues, as I said, really invented religious education on a local level.  They took Judaism to the people and the people bought it They were the influencers of Judaism at the time of the Lord.  They took Judaism out of the hands of the priests, who were just the ritualists in one sense.  Although the scattered priests certainly did function in the synagogue, the Pharisees were the dominant force.  They made the law accessible to the people.  You know, they did in a sense what the Reformation did They moved…They moved the religion from being sacerdotal, sacramental, ritual, and ceremony into the hands of the people.

They took the Scriptures to the people and taught and explained it.  And they were against any corrupted form for Judaism such as Sadducees, and Zealots and even the Essenes Summing it up, they were characterized by strong doctrine; strong doctrine.  When they engaged in questions with Jesus, they were questions about doctrine Which is the greatest commandment?  Their questions were doctrinal questions.  In fact, they were so committed to the teaching of the law of God and its doctrine, that in Matthew 23, where Jesus denounces them, He begins by saying, “The scribes and Pharisees have seated themselves in the chair of Moses.”

They’ve taken the posture, the authoritative posture regarding the law; they are strong on the law. Therefore all they tell you, do and observe.  When they tell you what Moses said, when they tell you the law of Moses, you observe it You do it.  Their doctrine was strong and Jesus’ theology was closer to theirs than anybody else’s Not only were they strong in doctrine, but committed to scriptural authority They didn’t equivocate on the inspiration and inerrancy of Scripture.  In fact, every time a synagogue meeting occurred, somebody read the word of God.  It was taken out, it was unrolled, it was handed to someone, it was read and then the teacher sat down, the rabbi sat down, and explained it.  That’s what they did.  It was about the authority of the word of God.  They were also committed to moral living.  Strong doctrine, scriptural authority and moral living; they had a righteousness They had a level of morality Paul says according to his own life measuring it against the law of God, he was blameless, at least externally.

… They prayed, they prayed daily, they prayed routinely through the day many times They were engaged in evangelism: According to Matthew 23:15, they went across land and across sea to find one convert. In the end they made him more a son of hell than themselves But they were aggressive in evangelism.  They were fasting as the one in Luke 18 claimsThey were charitable That same Pharisee said he gives a tithe of everything he possesses away So here you have the good people; the good religious people; the good, religious people worshiping the true God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the creator God of Israel They are rejecting paganism They are rejecting superstition.  They are rejecting false religion, immorality.  They’re strong on the family They are the guardians of the faith They see themselves as the protectors of the truth. 

And this gets very visceral I mean this gets right down into your soul.  When you see yourself as a protector of the truth and along comes someone assaulting what you think is the truth That’s why, like the apostle Paul, you go out and you catch these Christians who you think are assaulting your truth and you throw them in prison and you kill them if need be to protect the honor of God and the law of God and the true religion.

A few Pharisees believed Jesus was the Messiah, men like Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, but most despised Jesus because He was pouring ice cold water on all their strongly held rules and beliefs. They were false teachers, and Jesus called them out as such:

For the most part, they despised Jesus.  Back in chapter 11 of Luke and verse 53, when He left there the scribes and the Pharisees — scribes again are their scholars who undermine their system — the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects plotting against Him, to catch Him in something He might say.  They were hostile, they were hateful, and they were after Him.  Jesus called them blind, Matthew 23He called them snakes He called them sons of hell and He calls them hypocrites But they were religious and devout and zealous and moral and studious and serious and vigilant and protecting Scripture They were charitable.  They were righteous.  All those things; and it meant absolutely nothing, absolutely nothing.

As for the Pharisee who hosted the sabbath meal, we know nothing more, but MacArthur gives us a few possibilities:

The word “leader” or “ruler” means a prominent Pharisee, maybe the ruler of a synagogue maybe even more prominent than that, higher than that, maybe a member of the Sanhedrin, we don’t know.  But they loved to have meals.  They loved to have dinners and that was a part of life in the ancient Near East and they did it all the time and they were times of hospitality and times of fellowship and of course, for these guys it was a time for them to get with their cronies and to re-enforce and reaffirm themselves in the eyes of the people So they would only invite those people that would elevate them.  So this would be a meeting of the rich and the elite scribes and Pharisees.

For whatever reason, the Lectionary excludes Luke 14:2-6, which I wrote about a few years ago in Forbidden Bible Verses:

Luke 14:2-6 – Jesus, miracle, man with dropsy, oedema, Pharisees

Whilst being a guest at the house of a leader of the Pharisees, Jesus healed a man of dropsy — oedema.

Once again, He questions the Jewish hierarchy on the validity of healing — working — on the Sabbath. They have no answer.

I do not know what harm it would have done churchgoers to hear five more verses from Luke, but that’s the Lectionary for you.

We do not know what relationship the man with oedema had with the Pharisee.

Henry says that they could have been relatives:

probably he was some relation of the Pharisee’s, that now lodged in his house, which is more likely than that he should be an invited guest at the table.

MacArthur thinks that the Pharisee purposely brought the man in to see if Jesus would heal him, which would have constituted work on the sabbath, in his eyes:

It’s pretty clear what the set-up was Drop him right in front of Jesus.  Why?  So Jesus could heal him.  Isn’t it amazing?  Do a miracle so we can for sure not believe in you.  This is like counter intuitive.  This is like backwards.  But there he is right in front of Jesus.  They know exactly how Jesus feels about their ridiculous laws.  They know exactly what He is capable of doing and they want Him to break their law.  Therein lies something of their duplicity and hypocrisy.  They’re supposed to try to keep people from breaking the law.  They want Jesus to break the law by healing the man.

MacArthur says that the man with dropsy was unlikely to have been a guest at the meal because everyone would have considered him unclean and suffering from divine judgement:

Dropsy is edema Dropsy was water retention.  Accumulation of serous fluids in a tissue and in the body cavity, bloatingIn itself it’s not a disease, but a symptom of a disease It could be a number of things, serious compromises in the liver or the kidneys or the heart or all three.  It’s kind of a bloating, indicates perhaps congestive heart failure It could be liver disease Alcoholism was a reality in ancient days and alcoholism can fill the abdomen with gallons of fluid.  When pumped out they will return.

But the point I think you need to know is that in Jewish rabbinical view somebody who had this condition was seen as a vile sinner and they thought that this was related to sexual sin, that this betrayed the judgment of God upon a person for their immorality, or that it was a serious uncleanness because it was related to the body’s failure to eliminate In either case, this is either a wicked, immoral man or a very unclean man.  Serious uncleanness related to this condition …

Verse 4: “He took hold of him and healed him and sent him away.”  That verb took hold of him really strong, very, very strong verb, [???] epilombano. It’s used in Acts, I think it’s chapter 19 or chapter 16, verse 19 and in that particular passage it says, “They seized Paul and Silas and dragged them to jail.”  Very strong word, it’s used in the gospels of Jesus taking hold of a child and setting them in the midst.  He literally wrapped this man up, this bloated man with sick organs manifest in this edemic condition.  Why did He do that?  He did it without hesitation.  He did it forcefully.  He did it unmistakably.  He did it defiantly.  Instead of keeping His distance in healing the man out of compassion in such a way as it might not be clear what had happened, He just grabs the man, seizes him, crushes him in His arms as if to squeeze the fluid out and gives him a new heart, and a new liver, and a new anything else he needed, and creates in the man a whole new set of internal organs.

And then He says, “You can go.”  That’s an interesting little note.  “And sent him away.”  We know that if He sent him away, He knew he wasn’t supposed to be there He wasn’t one of the guests The purpose for which you came is done, now go home.  And truthfully that was the kind thing to do, right?  Because if He said, “Stay for lunch,” the guy’s going to be sitting there saying I need to tell my wife what happened.  Can I get out of here?  Right?  I’ve got to tell my family what happened.  I don’t want any lunch, let me out of here.  So it’s as if Jesus says I understand you want to go.  Go.

And that’s betraying the fact that the man was never a guest for any purpose other than this.  And so He healed him, instantly, completely.  Miracles, by the way, are rare in this section of Luke.  Jesus spends most of His time teaching and preaching.  There’s just a few…Just a couple of miracles really from here on out.  The simplicity of the text is staggering.  The ease with which He creates, no effort, no fanfare, this is the power of God.  And at that moment Pharisees had what they wanted, they thought.  A healing violating the Sabbath, forget the healing idea, He violated the Sabbath.  And He did it to an unclean, sinful man under divine judgment.  What a law breaker He is.  What a law breaker.

When Jesus noted how the guests chose their places at table, He told them a parable (verse 7).

Naturally, they would have been scrambling for the best seats.

MacArthur tells us about dining at table in that era:

Now, if I can just give you a little bit of a background in terms of Jewish history.

In later years, they wrote a lot about this.  Typically the table would be in the middle.  It would be a long table And around the table would be people seated in a U-shaped fashion There was only one head of the table and then down both sides to the far end It could be a long table or a series of tables so that it could be a long way.  The host would sit in the middle at the head of the table and then in importance the guests would sit on his right and his left and then it would begin to flow all the way down to the least important people being way down at the other end.

That’s pretty much how it still is at important events.  The places of honor were not marked with a sign.  They were determined by the host.  But the nearer you were to the host, the more honor you had … 

By the way, they had interesting seats in those days…a little reading about that…called triclinium; it seated three people It was a couch and it seated three people on each couch.  So there’d be one couch at the head with the host in the middle and the most important dignitaries on either said And then those couches would go along.  They reclined on their elbow and ate at leisure as you know.

Eating in a partially propped up position was thought to aid digestion.

In His parable Jesus used the example of a wedding banquet, possibly out of courtesy, so that it did hit not home too much for those assembled; He advised them not to sit too close to the host in case someone more deserving came along (verse 8) and the host asked them to move down in disgrace to the lowest place (verse 9).

Jesus said that a guest should take the lowest place so that, when the host comes along, he might be moved up to a better place and be honoured in front of everyone (verse 10).

He ended by saying that those who exalt themselves will be humbled but those who are humble will be exalted (verse 11).

MacArthur says that Jesus was not giving etiquette lessons but reminding them of Scripture and, more importantly, talking about the kingdom of God:

These guys were experts in the Old Testament They were experts in the law of God.  They probably remember Proverbs 25:7.  “It is better for it to be said to you come up here than that you should be put lower in the presence of the prince whom your eyes have seen.”  Just built on that Proverbs 25:6-7.  It’s a lot better to be told to come to the front than to be told to go to the back.  Is that all it’s about?  No, it’s way more than that.  This is all about the kingdom of God.  This is all about clamoring for the chief place in the kingdom of God, rushing in a display of pride and arrogance to the front only to be told by God, get out of that seat.

Then Jesus addressed his host, the Pharisee, by saying that, when he gives a luncheon or a dinner, he should not always invite those who can repay the favour (verse 12).

Henry explains:

This does not prohibit the entertaining of such; there may be occasion for it, for the cultivating of friendship among relations and neighbours. But, (1.) “Do not make a common custom of it; spend as little as thou canst that way, that thou mayest not disable thyself to lay out in a much better way, in almsgiving. Thou wilt find it very expensive and troublesome; one feast for the rich will make a great many meals for the poor.” Solomon saith, He that giveth to the rich shall surely come to want, Prov 22 16. “Give” (saith Pliny, Epist.) “to thy friends, but let it be to thy poor friends, not to those that need thee not.” (2.) “Be not proud of it.” Many make feasts only to make a show, as Ahasuerus did (Esth 1 3, 4), and it is no reputation to them, they think, if they have not persons of quality to dine with them, and thus rob their families, to please their fancies. (3.) “Aim not at being paid again in your own coin.” This is that which our Saviour blames in making such entertainments: “You commonly do it in hopes that you will be invited by them, and so a recompence will be made you; you will be gratified with such dainties and varieties as you treat your friends with, and this will feed your sensuality and luxury, and you will be no real gainer at last.”

This happens all the time. Whom do we entertain? People who can return the favour.

Jesus told the Pharisee to invite instead the poor, the crippled, the lame and the blind (verse 13).

The Pharisee must have found that shocking, because they did not associate with whom they would have considered as the ‘lower orders’, even able-bodied people.

Yet, we see at the end of this story that the penny began to drop, that at least one guest understood what Jesus was saying.

Jesus ended by saying that inviting those less well off to table expressly because they cannot return the favour will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous (verse 14).

Henry has a marvellous analysis:

There will be a resurrection of the just, a future state of the just. There is a state of happiness reserved for them in the other world; and we may be sure that the charitable will be remembered in the resurrection of the just, for alms are righteousness. Works of charity perhaps may not be rewarded in this world, for the things of this world are not the best things, and therefore God does not pay the best men in those things; but they shall in no wise lose their reward; they shall be recompensed in the resurrection. It will be found that the longest voyages make the richest returns, and that the charitable will be no losers, but unspeakable gainers, by having their recompense adjourned till the resurrection.

I do wish that the Lectionary compilers had included verse 15, which ties everything together and shows that Jesus succeeded in getting His point across:

15 When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”

That’s important, especially as a lot of churchgoers don’t really bother to listen to the readings that closely.

MacArthur tells us how the meal ended:

I don’t think it was what they had planned. It’s what they got.  And it doesn’t get any better.  Doesn’t get any better.  While they’re having lunch over in verse 15, the statement is made, “Blessed is everyone who shall eat bread in the kingdom of God.”  But down in verse 24, Jesus says, “I tell you none of those men who were invited shall taste of my dinner.”  By the time this lunch is over, they’ve been told they aren’t coming to the big banquet in the kingdom of God You can be devout, you can be dutiful, you can be outwardly good, you can be serious about God, you can be a defender of your religion, you can be a fundamentalist.  You can be a protector of God’s will.  You can be the best of the best of people and you can reject Jesus Christ and your life is a blasphemy to God It is a slander to His name and you are left in spiritual death and eternal judgment.

And they are the great illustration of that.  They had no signs of the life of God in them They lacked compassion.  They lacked mercy.  They lacked kindness.  They loved money.  They were spiritually proud.  They were hypocrites.  They were self-righteous.  And they sought to kill the very Son of the living God Folks, there’s only one way to heaven and that’s through faith in Jesus Christ No other religion will get you there, but they will all keep you from getting there Reject Jesus Christ and there never will be a place for you among the forgiven in God’s eternal heaven. 

And, after the destruction of the temple in AD 70, MacArthur tells us what happened:

With the destruction of the temple in 70 A.D. and the destruction of the city, the Sadducees disappeared from history, because they basically were concentrated in the temple They were concentrated in the leadership of the nation and when the temple was destroyed and Jerusalem was destroyed it was the end for them.  That left one other somewhat well-known group called the Zealots They were the terroristsThey went around stabbing Romans as we know.

They had a revolt in the year 135 A.D., and it was called the Bar Kokhba revolt It was crushed and the Zealots were eliminatedThe Pharisees then, in the second century, became the dominant Jewish leadership. The dominant viewpoint of Judaism was a Pharisaic viewpoint.  They codified that in writings called the Mishnah You may have heard of the Mishnah.  It is the written compilation of the oral law, the oral rituals and the oral tradition.  They finally wrote it all down.  The Mishnah when it was all written down in that second century sealed their leadership.

Sadducees were gone, Pharisees were gone, the Essenes [ascetics] were gone and Pharisaism is synonymous with historic Judaism From the second century on, Pharisaism is Judaism, and today Orthodox Judaism is the vestiges of Pharisaism

It is a cautionary history, one that bears thinking about when contemplating the consequences of self-righteous unbelief.

Let us therefore pray for more faith and more humility.

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