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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 16:1-4

The Collection for the Saints

16 Now concerning[a] the collection for the saints: as I directed the churches of Galatia, so you also are to do. On the first day of every week, each of you is to put something aside and store it up, as he may prosper, so that there will be no collecting when I come. And when I arrive, I will send those whom you accredit by letter to carry your gift to Jerusalem. If it seems advisable that I should go also, they will accompany me.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s teaching on the resurrection of the body in the eternal life to come.

In this last chapter of 1 Corinthians, Paul characteristically takes care of what I would call housekeeping: general, local directives along with his personal plans, ending with a benediction, a blessing.

Matthew Henry’s commentary notes that Paul wrote this in AD 57.

Paul is collecting a large sum of money from the other churches in Greece and Asia Minor to take to the poor converts in Jerusalem.

John MacArthur gives us a brief timeline (emphases mine):

He hasn’t gotten to Corinth yet; he hasn’t written the book of Romans yet, but by the time he gets to Corinth and pens it, he collects this stuff to take back to the Jews at Jerusalem.

And by the way, he had gathered money from Achaia, Macedonia, as well as Asia Minor, which would be Ephesus and some other cities that he had touched there. So, he had, apparently, a very, very substantial, large amount.

In that era, Jerusalem no longer had the splendour it had under Solomon. Ancient historians’ records indicate that it was a city of grinding poverty, with a steadily increasing population. Many Jews who came to the city for religious festivals stayed on afterwards, including those who converted at the first Pentecost and wanted to become part of the church. Furthermore, many converts did not have regular employment, as some of the local Jews did not want to hire Christians.

MacArthur says that Jerusalem received a goodly sum of money from donations by wealthy benefactors who came from abroad for religious feasts:

And none of those Jewish benefactors who were granting money to the city would want it to go to those who were confessing a crucified, rejected Messiah.

Early in Acts, we discover that the first converts in Jerusalem pooled together what they had for the church, including property. However, those resources were finite.

There was also a famine in the land. Times were desperate, indeed, hence Paul’s desire for a huge sum of money from the Gentile churches.

Paul was always one for uniformity. One could think of him as the Apostle who brought quality control into the Church. He was always about best practice in doctrine, worship, conduct and giving.

As such, he begins by writing about the collection for the saints in Jerusalem and instructs the Corinthians to follow the same directives that he gave the church in Galatia (verse 1).

Matthew Henry interprets that verse as being one of encouragement for the Corinthians:

Note, The good examples of other Christians and churches should excite in us a holy emulation. It is becoming a Christian not to bear to be outdone by a fellow-christian in any thing virtuous and praise-worthy, provided this consideration only makes him exert himself, not envy others; and the more advantages we have above others the more should we endeavour to exceed them. The church of Corinth should not be outdone in this service of love by the churches of Galatia, which do not appear to have been enriched with equal spiritual gifts nor outward ability.

Paul then tells the Corinthians how the collection should proceed in his absence. Recall that 1 Corinthians in its entirety is a response to questions from the congregation. 1 Corinthians 16 is also a chapter with answers to their questions.

Paul says that the Corinthians should collect all the money before he arrives, with congregants giving what they can week after week at Sunday worship (verse 2).

Henry’s approach to giving at Sunday worship is practical without being burdensome:

Indeed all our charity and benevolence should be free and cheerful, and for that reason should be made as easy to ourselves as may be. And what more likely way to make us easy in this matter than thus to lay by? We may cheerfully give when we know that we can spare, and that we have been laying by in store that we may.

This is the point of giving regularly at Sunday worship. Our donations go to the clergy, to the poor in the congregation, perhaps to the poor in a special mission project in another locale, and to the maintenance of the local church building as well as church programmes, such as Sunday School.

MacArthur says that the Greek word Paul used for ‘collection’ is ‘fellowship’:

… several times in the New Testament, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:13, and Romans 15:26 to be exact – when Paul refers to the collection, he calls it the koinōnia. He actually uses the word koinōnia to describe a collection. And the word koinōnia means – what? – fellowship. But to him, it is inseparable. You cannot share money without sharing fellowship.

Fellowship fosters unity among all churches, e.g. those in our denomination, such as poor congregations overseas:

Paul’s point here is that the church’s primary responsibility is to make sure that it funds its own needs. That’s basic.

Now, notice also that it is not one local church funding only that local church, but one local assembly here in Corinth caring for the needs of another local assembly in Jerusalem so that the church, when it really is the church, and when it understands what it is universally, will meet its needs anywhere, not just selfishly pouring it on at its local point of existence. But the church is to meet its own needs.

MacArthur tells us why Sunday is the day for the church to collect donations at worship:

Now, the normal day for the church to meet was the first day. Did you know that? It always has been. In John chapter 20 is where it all started.

People say, “Well, how did we ever get away from the Sabbath, and how did we ever get on Sunday?”

Well, here it is, in John 20:19 it says, “The same day at evening” – this is Resurrection Day, when Jesus rose –being the first day of the week, when the doors were shut where the disciples were assembled for fear of the Jews, came Jesus and stood in the midst.” The first post-resurrection service was held on Resurrection Day, Sunday, the first day of the week. Well, that became such a great day, such a glorious day, Resurrection Day, that that became the standard day.

And you move over to the same chapter, the twenty-sixth verse, “And eight days later, again the disciples inside” – eight days later would be the next Sunday – “Thomas with them: then came Jesus.” The second service they ever had after Resurrection was also on a Sunday, and that became the pattern. And so, later on, as you move into the book of Acts, you see them gathering on that day.

Over in Acts chapter 20, for example, it says, “And we sailed away from Philippi. We came to Troas, and on the first day of the week, when he disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached to them.”

So, by the time you’re into Acts 20, it’s the pattern of the Church to meet on the first day of the week. And by the time you get to Revelation 1:10, that day has a name, and it’s called the Lord’s Day. The Lord’s Day. You might also be interested to know that the day of Pentecost, in which the Church was born, was a Sunday, the first day of the week. You might also be interested to know that the Church never did celebrate the Sabbath as such. In Colossians 2:16, Paul says, “Don’t let anybody bind you to a Sabbath.” In Romans 14, he says the same thing. And it is the only one of the Ten Commandments not repeated in the New Testament.

So, the Sabbath was set aside in favor of Resurrection Day. And the Church was to come together on the first day. And that’s why he says what he says here, “On the first day of the week let every one of you lay by him in store.”

Now you say, “Well, why? Why on the first day of the week?”

Because that’s the day of worship. And how you handle money is inextricably tied with the depth of your worship.

MacArthur explains how donations to the Jewish temple and pagan temples worked in ancient times. The treasuries he describes were, essentially, banks:

In the early years of the pagan temples in Greece and in the Roman world, the pagans would give their money and their offerings at the pagan temples. And all the pagan temples had what were known as thēsauros or treasure boxes. And people would come with their money and place it the thēsauros, the treasury of the temple. This was true in Judaism, wasn’t it? The temple treasury, don’t you read about that in the gospels? This was true in many pagan religions. In fact, it got to be so that the temple actually would come to the place where it would not only receive the gifts of the people, but it would even hold their money for them. So that temples – pagan temples became banks. The biggest banks in the Greek world were in temples. And the reason was because the people worshiped the gods they worshiped out of fear and nobody would rob the temple bank. Safest place to put a bank.

They actually had safe deposit boxes that you could have for your own deposit and so forth. So the idea in terms of the cultural background is of a treasury associated with the meeting place or the place of worship. The idea of the term simply means to set by yourself privately and devoting your own thinking and self-determination to the determining of whatever amount you’re going to give and to place it in the treasury. Now the use of the term treasury in that world would have commonly brought to their mind the treasury at the house of worship. So it seems best to see that the phrase is simply saying put your money in the treasury, and they would know that the treasury would be that which was common to their place of worship.

This is why churches have a treasurer, someone who can keep a good account of the donations and handle the congregation’s giving responsibly:

And that’s why, beloved, you want Godly people in responsibility in the church.

Like Henry, MacArthur says that the amount we give at worship is up to us but suggests that we be as generous as we are able to be:

That’s up to you. But do it every week and everybody do it. And David said, “I will not give the Lord that which cost me nothing.” Do it sacrificially. Do it magnanimously. And I’ll tell you a great truth people, when you start to give to God, God starts to return it. You know, it’s like planting seed. It is absolutely like planting seed. If we had time we could go across this room and we have testimonies. When I first taught these truths and within about a matter of six months or so we go $500,000.00 in gifts to begin to build this building. And I bet if we could have people stand up, they could tell how God has blessed those gifts since that time. Since they invested with Him. Giving to God is like planting seed.

Henry has similar exhortations:

Our prosperity and success are from God and not from ourselves; and he is to be owned in all and honoured with all. It is his bounty and blessing to which we owe all we have; and whatever we have is to be used, and employed, and improved, for him. His right to ourselves and all that is ours is to be owned and yielded to him. And what argument more proper to excite us to charity to the people and children of God than to consider all we have as his gift, as coming from him? Note, When God blesses and prospers us, we should be ready to relieve and comfort his needy servants; when his bounty flows forth upon us, we should not confine it to ourselves, but let it stream out to others. The good we receive from him should stir us up to do good to others, to resemble him in our beneficence; and therefore the more good we receive from God the more we should do good to others. They were to lay by as God had blessed them, in that proportion. The more they had, through God’s blessing, gained by their business or labour, their traffic or work, the more they were to lay by. Note, God expects that our beneficence to others should hold some proportion to his bounty to us.

Returning to Paul’s instructions, he told the Corinthians to decide who should make the journey to Jerusalem and accredit them by letter (verse 3).

Henry explains:

This would be a proper testimony of their respect and brotherly love to their distressed brethren, to send their gift by members of their own body, trusty and tenderhearted, who would have compassion on their suffering brethren, and a Christian concern for them, and not defraud them. It would argue that they were very hearty in this service, when they should send some of their own body on so long and hazardous a journey or voyage, to convey their liberality. Note, We should not only charitably relieve our poor fellow-christians but do it in such a way as will best signify our compassion to them and care of them.

Paul concludes by saying that, if the donation is substantial enough, he will accompany the accredited persons to Jerusalem (verse 4).

Henry says:

Note, Ministers are doing their proper business when they are promoting or helping in works of charity. Paul stirs up the Corinthians to gather for the relief of the churches in Judea, and he is ready to go with their messengers, to convey what is gathered; and he is still in the way of his duty, in the business of his office.

MacArthur adds:

Look at this, verse 4. This is really an insight into Paul. And he says, “Look if it’s suitable, I’ll go along with it.” In other words, listen, if you give enough so that I won’t be embarrassed, I’ll go along and accompany it. Isn’t that good? I’m not about to take a long trip to Jerusalem, though if you just give a little bit. So that’s just a nice little way for Paul to say you know, come on, stretch yourself a little. If it’s a suitable offering, I’ll even go.

Paul was finally able to take the large sum of money from the Gentile churches to Jerusalem in Acts 24. He must have been thrilled.

Acts 24:17 says:

17 Now after several years I came to bring alms to my nation and to present offerings.

He was put on trial and imprisoned for a few years at that point and ended up in Rome, at his request, for a proper trial. Although he was allowed to preach for a time, he ended up dying as a martyr for the faith.

Returning to 1 Corinthians 16, Paul laid out his travel plans, more about which next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 16:5-9

Britain’s coronavirus hero, Sir Captain Tom Moore, 100, died in hospital in England on Tuesday, February 2, 2021.

He entered hospital with pneumonia but, sadly, contracted coronavirus whilst there:

It proved fatal for the centenarian who tirelessly raised tens of millions of pounds for the NHS and, in the process, became a Guinness World Record fundraiser (see photo):

Bedford Hospital issued the following statement:

His family were more than satisfied with the care he received in Bedford Hospital.

Guido Fawkes posted their statement in its entirety:

It is with great sadness that we announce the death of our dear father, Captain Sir Tom Moore.

We are so grateful that we were with him during the last hours of his life; Hannah, Benjie and Georgia by his bedside and Lucy on FaceTime. We spent hours chatting to him, reminiscing about our childhood and our wonderful mother. We shared laughter and tears together.

The last year of our father’s life was nothing short of remarkable. He was rejuvenated and experienced things he’d only ever dreamed of.

Whilst he’d been in so many hearts for just a short time, he was an incredible father and grandfather, and he will stay alive in our hearts forever.

The care our father received from the NHS and carers over the last few weeks and years of his life has been extraordinary. They have been unfalteringly professional, kind and compassionate and have given us many more years with him than we ever would have imagined.

Over the past few days our father spoke a great deal about the last 12 months and how proud he felt at being able to leave behind the growing legacy of his Foundation.

We politely ask for privacy at this time so we can grieve quietly as a family and remember the wonderful 100 years our father had.

Thank you.

Sir Captain Tom Moore received many warm tributes:

It was on July 17, 2020, that the Queen bestowed a socially-distanced knighthood upon him at Windsor Castle.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson issued a statement expressing his condolences:

The British Army posted a short video remembering one of their most energetic veterans:

The Royal Navy issued a final naval wish:

The Royal Air Force expressed condolences:

The Ministry of Defence also issued a statement:

The Americans also expressed their condolences:

I found out about Captain Sir Tom Moore’s death on BBC Parliament:

Last Spring, the 99-year-old veteran raised money for the NHS by walking around his garden 100 times in anticipation of his upcoming birthday. He had no idea how his efforts would capture the nation’s imagination:

He far surpassed his initial £1000 goal tens of millions of times over:

He completed his 100th lap of his garden well in time for his birthday (click on tweet to see video):

When he turned 100, he received a memorable flypast from pilots based at RAF Coningsby. It featured a Hawker Hurricane and a Spitfire of the Royal Air Force’s Battle of Britain Memorial Flight (click on tweet to see video):

On VE Day last year, ITV showed a documentary of Sir Captain Tom’s memories of his wartime service in Burma.

When Dame Vera Lynn died last year, he said that her beautiful songs kept up his morale:

On New Year’s Eve in London, he was celebrated in the capital’s fireworks display:

Now he can rejoin his beloved Pamela, who predeceased him:

In closing, here is Captain Sir Tom Moore reading from his book, One Hundred Steps, with his grandson. Note how he wanted everything to be perfect, a lesson many of us can learn, myself included:

As he was so fond of saying:

Tomorrow will be a good day.

Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him. May his soul and all the souls of the faithful departed, through the mercy of God, rest in peace. Amen.

While I was catching up on Joe Biden news, I happened across a video from Brian Kilmeade from Fox News who interviewed American entrepreneur Dave Portnoy.

Portnoy has instituted The Barstool Fund, named after his own clothing business, Barstool Sports, to help businesses struggling during the coronavirus crisis.

Portnoy started the fund himself and since then, Americans — especially millionaires and celebrities — have been donating to it.

Portnoy has no extra staff to administer the fund, by the way. Currently, it has approximately $30 million to donate.

When applying, a business owner sends in a video of himself explaining the business travails he has encountered over the past year. Including views of the business in the video helps.

Portnoy then decides where to give the money and says, ‘Once you’re in you’re in … You’re put on a monthly plan.’ The business owner asks for what he needs and Portnoy supplies the funding.

Here is Brian Kilmeade’s video from January 22, which includes Parts 1 and 2:

Portnoy only started his fund in December 2020.

Part 2 shows him with the owner of Johny’s sandwich bar in New York City. The proprietor lost his father around the time Portnoy set up the Barstool Fund. The proprietor found out about the fund on Christmas Eve and sent in a video with his request for help.

On Christmas Day, Portnoy rang him to give him some very good news. Since then, after having been closed for five months, Johny’s now has an outdoor dining area.

It’s heartening to know that people can pull together to help each other and give each other real hope during such a depressing time.

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

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

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

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

Boxing Day – a history

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

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

St Stephen, the first martyr

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

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

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

Because of coronavirus lockdowns, the world’s hospitality industry is being destroyed, including restaurants.

On May 3, 2020, the New York Post published two stories of interest on how Manhattan’s top chefs are stepping outside of the box to cook for others.

‘Out-of-work chefs are leaving NYC to cook for billionaires’ tells us that they have sought alternative employment during the continuing lockdown (emphases mine):

Out-of-work chefs from Jean-Georges, Daniel, Eleven Madison Park, Per Se and Gramercy Tavern are being poached by talent agents and even real estate brokers to work for wealthy families since the coronavirus shutdowns have eviscerated the restaurant industry, sources said. The supply of quality chefs is so abundant that some wealthy people say they’re getting cold called about the latest candidate.

“I received a call out of the blue asking if we wanted to hire a top chef who had worked for Jean-George’s,” one billionaire real estate developer told Side Dish.

For unemployed chefs, it’s often the only way for them to make money doing what they love at a time when sit-down dining is prohibited by the state lockdown.

One of them is Ian Tenzer, 29, formerly a sous-chef at three-star Michelin restaurant Eleven Madison Park, named the world’s best restaurant in 2017, more about which below. He told the newspaper:

I was laid off six weeks ago. It just wasn’t possible to stay, no matter how much the chef wanted to keep us. I can’t stand not working. I miss being in the kitchen.

Working as a private chef has always been a part of the industry I had thought about working in and, at this point in my career, it’s a good choice economically and professionally.

Even so, he misses the camaraderie that being part of a brigade brings:

When you work in a restaurant, you are part of a team. There are peers you look up to and others you teach. The team becomes your family and you learn to love everyone. That’s the hardest part about leaving [the restaurant job].

On the other hand, salaries are often significantly better, as the article explains:

Indeed, chefs who choose to work in private homes stand to get a 20 percent to 30 percent pay raise, as well as other perks including better hours, sources said. Sous chefs at top restaurants can earn between $120,000 and $200,000 a year working full-time for a family, compared to closer to $100,000 working at a restaurant.

Personal chefs also commonly earn discretionary bonuses, especially if they are being asked to shelter in place with their families during the COVID-19 pandemic, says David Youdovin, chief executive of Hire Society, which helps individuals recruit private staff.

“The vast majority of restaurant chefs are grossly underpaid, and seldom receive benefits,” and now clients are being “very generous and accommodating,” Youdovin said.

Of course, some families are nicer than others:

One drawback is that you never know what kind of family you’ll get, chefs said. Some families are “lovely, adventurous and curious,” but others can be quite the opposite. They can be rude and “even physically and verbally abusive. I have heard horror stories,” said one chef who asked to remain unnamed.

At least two upmarket estate agents, also out of work during lockdown, have been placing chefs with families:

Brokers Dolly and Jenny Lenz, who deal in high-end real estate, say they have sourced two top chefs for two different families who have rented Hamptons estates to wait out the crisis. People quarantining in rental homes are often looking to hire chefs, nannies and housekeepers to shelter in place with them during this time, Dolly Lenz said.

As going to someone’s house for a traditional interview is verboten at the moment, food is dropped off and interviews are done online via video conference:

… chefs are preparing tastings in their own homes and then dropping them off at their prospective employer’s front door.

This social-distancing measure, along with virtual interviews by Zoom or FaceTime, are making it tough for both the chefs and families to determine if they are making a good match, Youdovin said.

Goodness knows when restaurants will regain normality. Even where they are open in Europe, social distancing remains in place in many countries. That means having a full complement of tables is impossible and could be for months to come.

With that in mind, Ian Tenzer’s former employer, Eleven Madison Park, has a new outreach policy: ‘Eleven Madison Park chef will keep feeding needy New Yorkers’.

It revolves around ‘family meals’, a term restaurants use for the lunches and/or dinners they provide to their staff.

Head chef Daniel Humm began feeding the city’s hungry before the coronavirus outbreak and is now feeding many more:

Humm, whose three-starred Michelin restaurant was named the world’s best in 2017, is amping up his role at a non-profit, Rethink Food NYC, to become its top chef and inaugural partner as it expands nationally.

Before COVID-19, Rethink turned restaurant waste into meals, feeding 15,000 people a week. The non-profit now serves 25,000 meals a day.

Post COVID-19, restaurant staff at Eleven Madison will make extra “family meals” for Rethink to feed needy New Yorkers.

If every restaurant does this, we could end hunger,” said Matt Jozwiak, Rethink Food NYC’s executive director and founder, who formerly worked at Humm’s Michelin-rated restaurant.

Currently, Humm has turned Eleven Madison Park into a food commissary to help make meals for Rethink to distribute during the crisis.

Yes, if every restaurant did that, they really could end hunger.

I get tired of watching restaurant reality shows and documentaries with all their waste. Hell’s Kitchen, Masterchef: I’m looking at you. The other night, I watched a 2018 French documentary on TF1 about upmarket caterers. A top pastry chef told his staff to throw out a vat of hazelnut caramel syrup because it had one burnt hazelnut in it. Madness. Fine for him, but it could have been given to a homeless mission in Paris, which could have used it for a week in their desserts.

Some restaurateurs say that insurance companies restrict giving away food before serving for reasons of health safety. Perhaps insurers should let up on that policy in a reasonable way: documented mutual consent between a donor restaurant and a recipient organisation.

At any rate, it’s encouraging to see some good is coming out of the coronavirus crisis.

Ash Wednesday is February 26, 2020.

These are the readings for the first day in Lent:

Readings for Ash Wednesday

In the Gospel reading, Jesus tells us how to practice piety and self denial through fasting: keep it quiet and never boast about it. Verses 19 through 21 will also be familiar to many.

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

6:1 “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.

6:2 “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:3 But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing,

6:4 so that your alms may be done in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:5 “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:6 But whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:16 “And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.

6:17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face,

6:18 so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal;

6:20 but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal.

6:21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Our Lord addressed these verses to the scribes and the Pharisees, who made much public display of their notional devotion to God.

Yet, they were so hard-hearted that they rejected Jesus to the end, with all their hearts and all their minds.

Of these verses, Matthew Henry’s commentary counsels (emphases mine):

As we must do better than the scribes and Pharisees in avoiding heart-sins, heart-adultery, and heart-murder, so likewise in maintaining and keeping up heart-religion, doing what we do from an inward, vital principle, that we may be approved of God, not that we may be applauded of men; that is, we must watch against hypocrisy, which was the leaven of the Pharisees, as well as against their doctrine, Luke 12:1. Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting, are three great Christian duties–the three foundations of the law, say the Arabians: by them we do homage and service to God with our three principal interests; by prayer with our souls, by fasting with our bodies, by alms-giving with our estates. Thus we must not only depart from evil, but do good, and do it well, and so dwell for evermore …

Take heed of hypocrisy, for if it reign in you, it will ruin you. It is the dead fly that spoils the whole box of precious ointment.

Prayer, fasting and almsgiving done openly, with ostentation and/or public announcement, has its own reward on Earth, in front of other sinful people. Those who do such things are not pleasing God. God will not honour such actions.

Henry explains, referring to the Greek in the original text:

they have their reward here, and have none to hope for hereafter. Apechousi ton misthon. It signifies a receipt in full. What rewards the godly have in this life are but in part of payment; there is more behind, much more; but hypocrites have their all in this world, so shall their doom be; themselves have decided it. The world is but for provision to the saints, it is their spending-money; but it is pay to hypocrites, it is their portion.

The reason for doing these things in very public places is to impress others. God, on the other hand, remains distinctly unimpressed with such open expressions. Henry gives us the reasons for the Jewish hierarchy’s seeking out the most public places for their most ostentatious prayer displays and why God disapproves. It is not entirely wrong to do these things in the open, but when we become prideful and seek out more of the same, it becomes sinful:

Their pride in choosing these public places, which is expressed in two things: [1.] They love to pray there. They did not love prayer for its own sake, but they loved it when it gave them an opportunity of making themselves noticed. Circumstances may be such, that our good deeds must needs be done openly, so as to fall under the observation of others, and be commended by them; but the sin and danger is when we love it, and are pleased with it, because it feeds the proud humour.

With regard to the scribes and Pharisees:

[2.] It is that they may be seen of men; not that God might accept them, but that men might admire and applaud them; and that they might easily get the estates of widows and orphans into their hands (who would not trust such devout, praying men?) and that, when they had them, they might devour them without being suspected (Matthew 23:14); and effectually carry on their public designs to enslave the people.

Henry says that the public forum is not the place for ostentatious devotion. Therefore, in church, we must be circumspect and not stand out. Furthermore, we make a mistake if the only time we pray is in church:

we must avoid every thing that tends to make our personal devotion remarkable, as they that caused their voice to be heard on high, Isaiah 58:4. Public places are not proper for private solemn prayer.

Furthermore:

Personal prayer is here supposed to be the duty and practice of all Christ’s disciples.

Henry has more on personal prayer:

Note, Secret prayer is to be performed in retirement, that we may be unobserved, and so may avoid ostentation; undisturbed, and so may avoid distraction; unheard, and so may use greater freedom; yet if the circumstances be such that we cannot possibly avoid being taken notice of, we must not therefore neglect the duty, lest the omission be a greater scandal than the observation of it …

Note, In secret prayer we must have an eye to God, as present in all places; he is there in thy closet when no one else is there; there especially nigh to thee in what thou callest upon him for. By secret prayer we give God the glory of his universal presence (Acts 17:24), and may take to ourselves the comfort of it.

Scripture cautions against repetition in prayer, yet, Henry explains that this is only when our minds wander as we repeat the same words over and over. Repetition, when done with reverence and thought, is acceptable:

It is not all repetition in prayer that is here condemned, but vain repetitions. Christ himself prayed, saying the same words (Matthew 26:44), out of more than ordinary fervour and zeal, Luke 22:44. So Daniel, Daniel 9:18,19. And there is a very elegant repetition of the same words, Psalms 136:1-26. It may be of use both to express our own affections, and to excite the affections of othersthe barren and dry going over of the same things again and again, merely to drill out the prayer to such a length, and to make a show of affection when really there is none; these are the vain repetitions here condemned. When we would fain say much, but cannot say much to the purpose; this is displeasing to God and all wise men.

As for fasting, it should be accompanied by prayer. Otherwise, it has no spiritual value. It’s just a diet.

Fasting does not mean gorging at night, either.

Henry, very much an Anglican clergyman whose theology aligned with Calvinism, lamented the loss of the centuries-old godly practice of fasting. This would have been in the late 17th and early 18th century. Fasting, accompanied by prayer, curbs the urges of the flesh for more food and focusses our minds on higher things:

We are here cautioned against hypocrisy in fasting, as before in almsgiving, and in prayer.

I. It is here supposed that religious fasting is a duty required of the disciples of Christ, when God, in his providence, calls to it, and when the case of their own souls upon any account requires it; when the bridegroom is taken away, then shall they fast, Matthew 9:15. Fasting is here put last, because it is not so much a duty for its own sake, as a means to dispose us for other duties. Prayer comes in between almsgiving and fasting, as being the life and soul of both. Christ here speaks especially of private fasts, such as particular persons prescribe to themselves, as free-will offerings, commonly used among the pious Jews; some fasted one day, some two, every week; others seldomer, as they saw cause. On those days they did not eat till sun-set, and then very sparingly. It was not the Pharisee’s fasting twice in the week, but his boasting of it, that Christ condemned, Luke 18:12. It is a laudable practice, and we have reason to lament it, that is so generally neglected among Christians. Anna was much in fasting, Luke 2:37. Cornelius fasted and prayed, Acts 10:30. The primitive Christians were much in it, see Acts 13:3,14:23. Private fasting is supposed, 1 Corinthians 7:5. It is an act of self-denial, and mortification of the flesh, a holy revenge upon ourselves, and humiliation under the hand of God. The most grown Christians must hereby own, they are so far from having any thing to be proud of, that they are unworthy of their daily bread. It is a means to curb the flesh and the desires of it, and to make us more lively in religious exercises, as fulness of bread is apt to make us drowsy. Paul was in fastings often, and so he kept under this body, and brought it into subjection.

Henry summarises the biblical way to fast:

We are directed how to manage a private fast; we must keep it in private, Matthew 6:17,18. He does not tell us how often we must fast; circumstances vary, and wisdom is profitable therein to direct; the Spirit in the word has left that to the Spirit in the heart; but take this for a rule, whenever you undertake this duty, study therein to approve yourselves to God, and not to recommend yourselves to the good opinion of men; humility must evermore attend upon our humiliation. Christ does not direct to abate any thing of the reality of the fast; he does not say,”take a little meat, or a little drink, or a little cordial;” no, “let the body suffer, but lay aside the show and appearance of it; appear with thy ordinary countenance, guise, and dress; and while thou deniest thyself thy bodily refreshments, do it so as that it may not be taken notice of, no, not by those that are nearest to thee; look pleasant, anoint thine head and wash thy face, as thou dost on ordinary days, on purpose to conceal thy devotion; and thou shalt be no loser in the praise of it at last; for though it be not of men, it shall be of God. Fasting is the humbling of the soul (Psalms 35:13), that is the inside of the duty; let that therefore be thy principal care, and as to the outside of it, covet not to let it be seen. If we be sincere in our solemn fasts, and humble, and trust God’s omniscience for our witness, and his goodness for our reward, we shall find, both that he did see in secret, and will reward openly. Religious fasts, if rightly kept, will shortly be recompensed with an everlasting feast. Our acceptance with God in our private fasts should make us dead, both to the applause of men (we must not do the duty in hopes of this), and to the censures of men too (we must not decline the duty for fear of them). David’s fasting was turned to his reproach, Psalms 69:10; and yet, Matthew 6:13, As for me, let them say what they will of me, my prayer is unto thee in an acceptable time.

Certainly, some people have problems gaining weight. Therefore, fasting would not be recommended for them.

However, for the rest of us, some physical self-denial, accompanied by prayer, would not go amiss.

It is hard to think of a better Gospel to lead us into Lent. For anyone observing this season, I pray that you be abundantly blessed in all your undertakings, especially those further enabling the Christian journey.

Hello, everyone!

Christmas is nearly here, and I have a few items to share of both a secular and a religious nature.

O Antiphon for Christmas Eve

First, the final O Antiphon, the one for Christmas Eve, is Matthew 1:18-23, detailed in the following two posts:

Christmas Eve — Matthew 1:18-25 (with commentary from Albert Barnes)

The Christmas story in Matthew’s Gospel (hermeneutics)

The Christmas 1968 Bible reading from space

On Christmas Eve 1968, Apollo 8 orbited the moon. Listen to the astronauts on board read from Genesis:

The Christmas message from Outer Space

‘Twas the Night before Christmas’ — a delightful reading

Children might need a distraction while grown-ups are preparing for Christmas.

What better than listening to a reading of ‘Twas the Night before Christmas’?

Britain’s Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has done a cracking job of reading the story in his remarkable baritone:

Those who listened to it loved it. This is just one of the many compliments on his voice:

Christmas traditions — religious or not?

The trend over recent years, possibly a reactionary one, is that certain Christmas traditions that have evolved since the 19th century are either too secular or too pagan.

That said, some of these traditions can be said to have religious overtones.

The history of the candy cane is an intriguing one and one that could be used in Sunday School for its symbolism about Jesus:

Candy canes: useful for a Nativity lesson in Sunday School

There is a religious reason why we give each other gifts at this time of year. We recall John the Baptist’s ministry in preparing the way for our Lord:

John the Baptist, charity and Advent

He advocated giving as one way of preparing. Luke’s Gospel records John the Baptist’s words about charity (Luke 3:10-11):

10 And the crowds asked him, “What then shall we do?” 11 And he answered them, “Whoever has two tunics is to share with him who has none, and whoever has food is to do likewise.”

This is how seasonal giving developed over time:

Christmas gifts — a history

As far as greenery is concerned, St Boniface transformed the fir tree into a Christian symbol in Germany during the early 8th century:

The Christmas tree — a history

Christmas cards were highly secular and of a facetious nature. They did not become religious until much later:

Bizarre Christmas cards from the 19th century

Louis Prang, a Prussian who emigrated to the United States, made Christmas cards popular there, beginning in 1873. Hallmark did not come along until 1910:

Louis Prang — father of the American Christmas card

I hope these give everyone a few spiritual talking points along with some fun during the countdown to Christmas!

Charity towards all is a central tenet of Christianity.

Jesus said (Matthew 25:40):

And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[a] you did it to me.’

Christians pioneered hospitals across Europe in the Middle Ages.

The earliest European universities were also Christian.

Sunday School began in Britain as a means of educating poor children in the three Rs as well as the Bible.

Until the mid-20th century, Christian organisations and religious orders provided charity, which now, in many cases in the West, has been taken over by State-run programmes, e.g. welfare.

Therefore, I am happy to report the following statistic from the United Kingdom. Although few Britons go to a Sunday service these days, local churches play an important part in the nation’s well-being.

Personally, where caring for others is concerned, I would much rather see churches involved than the State. Churches provide help rather than a lifestyle, although, admittedly, many attending these programmes could well be on some form of benefit:

The next two items come from Surrey, a county just south of London:

The next tweets are about church-oriented support for children nationwide:

Of course, charity from churches has its detractors:

It is good to know that churches are still helping the young, the vulnerable and the needy — no questions asked.

What’s wrong with that?

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