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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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 6:6-10

Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment, for we brought nothing into the world, and[a] we cannot take anything out of the world. But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content. But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs.


Last week’s post discussed what false teachers do in their pride and arrogance: bringing about quarrels and fomenting discord.

Indeed, the churches in Ephesus and neighbouring towns had dangerous false teachers which had risen in their midst.

They also had people who were focussed on greed rather than contentment.

John MacArthur says:

Paul is correcting issues in the church at Ephesus where Timothy is now laboring. So when he brings up a subject, it is a subject that is being abused in the life of the church.

Paul tells Timothy that there is great gain to be had in godliness with contentment (verse 6).

Matthew Henry’s commentary gives us this interpretation (emphases mine):

if a man have but a little in this world, yet, if he have but enough to carry him through it, he needs desire no more, his godliness with that will be his great gain. For a little which a righteous man has is better than the riches of many wicked, Ps 37 16. We read it, godliness with contentment; godliness is itself great gain, it is profitable to all things; and, wherever there is true godliness, there will be contentment; but those have arrived at the highest pitch of contentment with their godliness are certainly the easiest happiest people in this world. Godliness with contentment, that is, Christian contentment (content must come from principles of godliness) is great gain; it is all the wealth in the world. He that is godly is sure to be happy in another world; and if withal he do by contentment accommodate himself to his condition in this world he has enough. Here we have, [1.] A Christian’s gain; it is godliness with contentment, this is the true way to gain, yea, it is gain itself. [2.] A Christian’s gain is great: it is not like the little gain of worldlings, who are so fond of a little worldly advantage. [3.] Godliness is ever accompanied with contentment in a great or less degree; all truly godly people have learned with Paul, in whatever state they are, to be therewith content, Phil 4 11. They are content with what God allots for them, well knowing that this is best for them. Let us all then endeavour after godliness with contentment.

MacArthur explains why Paul includes that thought in his letter to Timothy:

Well, Paul had just in verse 5 been talking about false teachers who are motivated by gain. He said they suppose that their kind of godliness, which is a fake godliness, is going to bring them material gain. That’s their motive. And then he transitions and says, “Well, godliness with contentment,” verse 6, “is great gain.” In other words, when I say that the false teacher who supposes that his godliness will bring gain is wrong, I don’t mean that true godliness isn’t great gain because it is. And that’s the transition and so he takes off in verse 6 to talk about it in a general sense and goes right on down to verse 10 to warn us all about the danger of loving money.

The false teachers and their inordinate love for money trigger the subject in a general sense from verses 6 to 10.

MacArthur says that even the great pagan thinkers of the day understood the value of contentment:

What is godliness? That’s that very familiar word used in the pastorals, eusebeia. It means reverence, piety, godliness, all those good things that I like to think of as God-likeness. Where there is true God-likeness with contentment, there is great gain. Now if all you want is money, you’ll never have that, because you’ll never be content. The genuine great gain comes from true godliness which is inseparably linked to contentment. The word autarkeias means self-sufficiency. It was used by the cynics and the stoics to speak of self-mastery, the person who was unflappable, the person who was not moved by circumstance, the person who lived immune to external distraction, oblivious to outside troubles, the person who had that most noble of human virtues, the ability not to control his environment but to properly react to it. That’s that idea of that word. It basically means to be sufficient, to seek nothing more, to be content with what you have. And it is a noble human trait, but Paul takes it further and takes that concept and that word and sanctifies it

The Greek philosopher Epicurus said “The secret of contentment is not to add to a man’s possessions but to take away from his desires.” That’s the issue. He is most rich who desires least. Right? You are rich when you are content. That’s riches. You have enough. Paul says it’s irrelevant to me. I know how to be abounding, that is to have an abundance; I know how to be abased, that is to have less than an abundance; I know how to be full; I know how to be empty; I know how to be rich and poor; and I don’t really care either way, because I am content to be in the will of God.

MacArthur refers to Matthew 6 in his sermon. These are our Lord’s words from the Sermon on the Mount which are relevant:

19 “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

24 “No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[f]

31 Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the Gentiles seek after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.

34 “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Paul reminds Timothy that we came into this world with nothing and we cannot take anything out of it (verse 7).

This is the King James Version, which puts it better:

7 For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

The addition of ‘it is certain’ adds more emphasis.

Paul says that, if we have food and clothing, we will — should — be content (verse 8).

Of these two verses, Henry says:

We had our beings, our bodies, our lives (which are more than meat, and which are more than raiment), when we came into the world, though we came naked, and brought nothing with us; may we not then be content while our beings and lives are continued to us, though we have not every thing we would have? We brought nothing with us into this world, and yet God provided for us, care was taken of us, we have been fed all our lives long unto this day; and therefore, when we are reduced to the greatest straits, we cannot be poorer than when we came into this world, and yet then we were provided for; therefore let us trust in God for the remaining part of our pilgrimageA shroud, a coffin, and a grave, are all that the richest man in the world can have from his thousands. Therefore why should we covet much? Why should we not be content with a little, because, how much soever we have, we must leave it behind us? Eccl 5 15, 16.

Both commentators cite Proverbs 30:8, which are sometimes said to be Agur‘s because he compiled the wise sayings of Solomon that comprise Proverbs 30.

Henry says:

Observe, If God give us the necessary supports of life, we ought to be content therewith, though we have not the ornaments and delights of it. If nature should be content with a little, grace should be content with less; though we have not dainty food, though we have not costly raiment, if we have but food and raiment convenient for us we ought to be content. This was Agur’s prayer: Give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with food convenient for me, Prov 30 8.

MacArthur says:

Proverbs 30 verse 8 says, “Give me neither poverty nor riches, feed me with the food that is my portion.” Give me exactly what You and Your sovereignty desire me to have. I don’t want too much; I don’t want too little. If I have too much I might be full and deny You and say, “Who is the Lord?” And if I had too little, I might be in want and steal and profane the name of my God. So God, don’t give me too much and don’t give me too little. Give me what You want me to have with a contented heart. That’s riches. That’s riches. That’s the kind of godliness that makes a person rich because it produces satisfaction. True godliness and true gain is unrelated to how much you have. It is only related to how much you want. And if you are content with what God gives, you’re rich – you’re rich.

He cites a Spanish proverb about exiting this mortal coil:

Not one thing did you bring in and not one thing will you take out. As a friend of mine says, “You have never seen a hearse pulling a U-Haul.” The Spanish proverb of past years was, “There are no pockets in a shroud.” Material possessions are bound by time and space.

He explains why Paul and Jesus say not to be anxious about material things, including money:

It obscures the simplicity of life. Verse 8 he says, “Having food and clothes” – and it’s possible the word for clothes could also embrace the idea of shelter. The word can refer to that. So if we take it in the broadest sense, having nourishment, clothing, shelter, the basic necessities of life – “let us be therewith satisfied.” Same word in the verb form used in verse 6. In other words, we need to be satisfied with the simplicity of life. Boy, life gets so complex. And the more money you have the more complex it gets. Right? And the less you can enjoy it because you sit around worrying all the time about what you’re going to do with all this money. Or you spend all your time racing around like a maniac from one place to another buying stuff you don’t need, stacking it on shelves and hang it in closets, putting it in the garage. It’s absolutely unbelievable how much we have that is useless. It doesn’t do anything. It doesn’t take us anywhere. It doesn’t provide anything. It’s just something to have. And it really is a barometer on the condition of the heart in so many cases.

Having enough money and possessions isn’t bad in itself, it’s our attitude towards both that is the issue.

MacArthur tells us:

it’s not that Paul’s condemning having possessions, he’s condemning the desire that rises out of discontent.

Nearly 40 years on from the time that MacArthur preached this sermon in 1987, Western society is stuck in the same rut. Add omnipresent mobile phones to the mix, and we are even worse off:

What we’ve done with all of our money is replace people with things, replace conversation with entertainment. And we have lost a tremendous dimension of the simplicity of life, the simple joys.

And somewhere in the back of all of our minds there’s this secret longing to go out in the woods, right, and just pack our little group and stay there. And what we’re saying is there is something wonderful about simplicity, about talking to people in your familypulling the earphones off the head of your teenager saying, “Speak, child, speak.” You know, move your lips in meaningful words. When is the last time you just sat down and thanked God for a simple meal. You can hardly even come up to thanking God for your meal because you’re so over indulged. Right? That’s a real loss, a real loss to lose that sense of thankfulness. So much is lost when we lose the simplicity of life. It’s a wistful thing to think about but I think most of us would long to go back to a simple kind of life, and take away a lot of the junk that’s cluttered up our world.

The substance of Christian experience should be relationships. My time in relationship to God, my time in relationship to people I love and family and friends, but that gets all clouded because the world goes so fast and pulls at me so strongly and demands that I purchase all the goodies that it drags by and somehow life gets so confused. Instead of being able to enjoy life, I’m trying to figure out how I can make my checks stretch to pay the bills for the stuff I can’t stand. But I bought it and so my whole demeanor and attitude is depressed because I’m in debt. You can see the compounding of all these – the loss of simple joys. Is it any wonder Jesus reduced it all to a very simple thing?

In Matthew 6 [Jesus] said, look, this is the way to live, a very simple way to live. “You can’t serve God and money,” He says in verse 24. So make your choice, “And don’t worry about your life, what you’ll eat, what you drink or your body, what you’ll wear.” And then He talks about how He takes care of the birds and the lilies and all of this, and He says you’re certainly worth more than all of these things. Your Father knows you have need. And then verse 33, “Seek first” – what? – “the kingdom and His righteousness and all these things shall be added to you.” If we could just get to the place where our whole consuming passion and affection is directed toward heaven, toward God, toward the kingdom, toward the work of the Lord and just pour all of our energy and all of our resources into that, that brings back that simple joy. The simplicity of life is to accept what God gives, not be covetous. Seek Him and His glory and not consume oneself with complexities that are not necessary, that just steal joy away.

Dining out too often is another problem as is not being able to enjoy a proper home life:

I have seen people who spend their money to eat. They go out and eat and they eat and they eat out and that becomes their fancy. And they literally cannot after a period of time eat at home. They’re controlled by this overpowering trap to go out and waste money eating, eating, eating, eating. And much of our eating today has little to do with food and a whole lot to do with entertainment and environment. I have seen people who are captive to the most bizarre and strange kind of sins. People who find it almost impossible to stay at home in the evening and have conversation with their family. They’re so compelled all the time to be moving around in the fast pace environment of the world they can’t sit still anymore. They become entrapped in that materialistic pursuit that basically is almost irrational.

Paul tells Timothy that those who desire to be rich — note, he does not say ‘those who are rich’ — fall into temptation, a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction (verse 9).

Again, I prefer the KJV because it has the word ‘perdition’:

9 But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.

Henry gives us this analysis:

It is not said, those that are rich, but those that will be rich, that is, that place their happiness in worldly wealth, that covet it inordinately, and are eager and violent in the pursuit of it. Those that are such fall into temptation and a snare, unavoidably; for, when the devil sees which way their lusts carry them, he will soon bait his hook accordingly …

(1.) The apostle supposes that, [1.] Some will be rich; that is, they are resolved upon it, nothing short of a great abundance will satisfy. [2.] Such will not be safe nor innocent, for they will be in danger of ruining themselves for ever; they fall into temptation, and a snare, etc. [3.] Worldly lusts are foolish and hurtful, for they drown men in destruction and perdition. [4.] It is good for us to consider the mischievousness of worldly fleshly lusts. They are foolish, and therefore we should be ashamed of them, hurtful, and therefore we should be afraid of them, especially considering to what degree they are hurtful, for they drown men in destruction and perdition.

MacArthur has more:

verse 9, money love is dangerous not only because of its nature, that is what inherent to it, but because of its effects – what it does to you. And again there are three things that I would draw to your attention. First of all, in verse 9, it leads to sinful entrapment. Verse 9, “But they that will be rich” – they that purpose to be rich. That they decide to be rich – boulomai. They that have a settled rational desire to be rich out of their mind, not out of their emotions, but they have decided they’re going to pursue it. To put it another way, they that are greedy. To put it another way, they that love money. They that approach life that way – “are falling” – present tense – “into temptation” – it’s kind of an over and over situation – “and a snare.” They’re continually in the process of falling into all kinds of sins that trap them – that trap them …

The greedy person is tempted initially to reach out for what he wants. He reaches out, steps into the trap, is caught in the trap of sin. That trap then begins to make a victim out of that person.

We know people like that. I think about the people who are now joining Gamblers Anonymous. They wanted money. And they started to gamble for money and it became so compulsive that it literally controls their life. I just read the article about that quarterback from Ohio State named Art Schlichter who totally destroyed his football career and his life by being unable to control the love of money and the tremendous compulsion to gamble. What happens with the love of money is you love it so much something allures you, you reach for that something, and you’re trapped in some complex situation. You become a victim of it. It’s a trap. And Satan sets the trap and holds you in it as long as he possibly can

And then secondly, not only does it lead to sinful entrapment, but it succumbs to harmful desires. Verse 9 he says, “And they also are falling into many foolish and harmful desires.” You get involved in the love of money and not only will you be trapped, but you’ll be controlled by your passion, controlled by your desire. He calls them foolish – epithumia – foolish evil impulses in the sense that they’re irrational. Here is this person like an animal caught in a trap thrashing all over the place trying to get free, totally irrational, moral sense is blurred, and the burning desire for self-fulfillment and more money, a senseless non-rational illogical animalistic kind of conduct. They become victims of their own lust. And James says in [Chapter] 4, you desire – [Chapter] 4 verse 1 and 2 – you desire to have and you can’t obtain, so you kill. You lust and you want; you can’t get, so you make war. In other words, all the violence that comes when your passions are restrained by circumstances.

So he says first of all the love of money is dangerous for the obvious reason that it takes you into a sinful trap and secondly that once you’re trapped in there you become a victim of illogical irrational animalistic desires which bring you harm. They are harmful – blaberos. It means injurious. You hurt yourself – the opposite of true happiness. Chasing money is not the way to happiness. It’s the way to being trapped in sin and being a victim of your lusts and a victim of your desires and totally a victim of these evil habits that control you. So loving money leads to sin. It leads to entrapment. It leads to control by lust that is irrational and only brings self-inflicted harm.

Then MacArthur comes to destruction and perdition:

And then the final effect, he says in verse 9, “Which drown men in destruction and perdition.” These lusts, these evil impulses ultimately drown men in judgment. The word drown means just that, to submerge, to drag to the bottom like a sunken ship. The picture is not of a partial devastation; it’s of a total devastation. That’s why he chose the word. They just go out of sight; they’re just gone. The word destruction – olethros – is used very often of the body, the destruction of the body, although it can also be used in a general sense of destruction as it is in 1 Thessalonians 5:3. The word perdition is used, I think, most times of the destruction of the soul. It’s used, for example, of the place where the false prophet and the beast are cast in Revelation 17:8. The hell of hells where souls go who do not know God. And what he’s saying is, if we can put those two together and make a little bit of a distinction, we can say that there’s a total devastation of body and soul, total judgment. The combination here has the sense at least of complete eternal irreversible loss. Love of money damns people. It plunges them into an ocean of eternal destruction. It totally destroys their life.

Paul ends this section by saying that the love of money — note, not money itself, but coveting it — is the root of all kinds of evils; it is through that craving that some have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs (verse 10).

For most of us, the KJV will resonate more:

10 For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Henry gives us another version of Paul’s verse — some people love money so much they will give up their faith for it, in vain:

What sins will not men be drawn to by the love of money? Particularly this was at the bottom of the apostasy of many from the faith of Christ; while they coveted money, they erred from the faith, they quitted their Christianity, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows. Observe, [1.] What is the root of all evil; the love of money: people may have money, and yet not love it; but, if they love it inordinately, it will push them on to all evil. [2.] Covetous persons will quit the faith, if that be the way to get money: Which while some coveted after, they have erred from the faith. Demas hath forsaken me, having loved this present world, 2 Tim 4 10. For the world was dearer to him than Christianity. Observe, Those that err from the faith pierce themselves with many sorrows; those that depart from God do but treasure up sorrows for themselves.

MacArthur gives us an example of such a covetous person, one who ended up committing suicide:

Who does he have in mind? Who are the some who did this? Well, I can think of one, he’s not named but he must have been in the thought of Paul. His name was – what? Judas, who having loved money erred from the faith. In proximity to Jesus Christ, one of His disciples, and yet he chose, over the Son of God, 30 pieces of silver – inconceivable stupidity. You think that was rational? You think it was smart to choose 30 pieces of silver over against the God of the universe?

… Certainly Judas was dissatisfied, grieving, disillusioned with a condemning conscience and an unfulfilled heart when he went out an hanged himself. He pierced himself through, believe me, with many, many griefs, and he will be pierced with them forever and ever in hell. That’s no way to live. So Paul says this is something that’s already been out there for you to see, some have tried to live after the love of money, they have erred from the true faith and they have literally skewered their souls forever.

MacArthur offers the following valuable advice, both materially and spiritually:

Now let me ask you a practical question at this point, see if we can’t make it practical in terms of application. How can you be content with the simplicity of life and stop desiring more things? How do you put an end to this? How do you put the brakes on? We are really moving fast, and we’re being blasted by all this media stuff to buy into everything. How do you stop it? Let me give you some principles that I’ve tried to apply in my own life. One, consciously realize that the Lord is the owner of everything you have. Consciously realize that the Lord is the owner of everything you have. So when you go to buy something ask yourself this, does the Lord need this? Does the Lord want this? Is this going to serve Him better? Is this going to bring Him glory? Is this going to enable His kingdom to advance? He is the conscious owner of everything I possess. So whatever is my desire, is this going to fit with His? Is this going to make my ministry more effective? Is this going to enable me to accomplish what I need to accomplish? Is this going to be able to be used as a way to show love to other people? Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. He is consciously the owner of everything I possess. That helps me in the decision process.

Secondly, cultivate a thankful heart. Cultivate a thankful heart. Whatever you have, whatever you don’t have, be thankful. Which is to say I recognize, God, that Your providence has put me exactly where I am with what I have and what I don’t have and I want You to know I’m really grateful. I’m really grateful. Thirdly, discern your needs from your wants. Discern your needs from your wants and be honest about that. If you just start asking yourself that. That will be a tremendous controlling factor on your next trip to the mall. What do you need? Tremendous, tremendously simple question that could put a tremendous amount of money into the kingdom of the Lord.

Another one, don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him, and that’s kind of what we said originally. Don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him. So you ask yourself, how will this enhance my ability to serve God? Another question that you want to ask yourself, am I spending less than I make? Please spend less than you make. You would be staggered to find out what a high percentage of people in America regularly spend more than they make and are in debt that they’ll never get out of in their life time. They’re total prisoners. They have no ability to be at all in charge of their resources. Spend less than you make; save what’s left. Save what’s left for some purpose which God may put upon your heart.

Consciously transfer the ownership of everything you have to Him; cultivate a thankful heart; discern your needs from your wants; don’t buy what you don’t need and can’t use to make you more effective in serving Him; spend less than you make; save what’s left and give sacrificially to the Lord. Give sacrificially to the Lord. That should be your highest joy. You should be coming in here so anxious for the offering that you can hardly stand it, just so that you have the privilege of giving to God. Laying up treasure in heaven for the work of the kingdom.

And things like this, practical little things like this, if you can get them working in your mind are going to prevent your life from becoming a complex struggle over money. The joy of life is not what you have. Listen, the joy of life is your relationships; it’s who you know and who you love. Just compare when you lose someone you love, you would have gladly traded everything or maybe – anything or everything, I should say, for the person you lost because people are so much more valuable. I think Jesus, when He speaks of the true riches, has in mind people. If you can’t handle money, why would He give you the true riches, He says. So the nature of money love makes it dangerous because it ignores the true gain, it focuses on the temporal, and it obscures the simplicity of life, the simple joys of being content with whatever you have and building your life around relationships and honoring God rather than the complexity of attaining riches.

In the verses that follow, Paul reminds Timothy of his sacred calling, the ministry.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:11-12


Trinity Sunday is June 4, 2023.

Readings for Year A and additional resources for this important feast day can be found here.

The icon on the left was painted by St Andrei Rublev. It is a rare Eastern Orthodox depiction of the Holy Trinity, using three angels to symbolise the Triune God. St Andrei used ‘The Hospitality of Abraham’ as his theme.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Matthew 28:16-20

28:16 Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.

28:17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.

28:18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.

28:19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,

28:20 and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Today’s reading is the Great Commission, recorded most fully in Matthew’s Gospel. These are the closing verses to his book. Some translations end it with the word ‘Amen’. Matthew’s objective was to prove that Jesus is the Messiah, and many Jewish people, having read it, have become Christians as a result.

A number of Christians believe that there should be no missionaries, because missionaries ‘force’ people to adopt Christianity and give up their own cultural norms. Objecting Christians believe that is wrong. Ironically, Africa is where the Church is strongest today: something for the objectors to ponder.

Today’s verses show that bringing fallen men and women to believe in Him is what Christ expects of all of us, no matter where we live.

John MacArthur elaborates on the Christian’s — and the Church’s — purpose:

Beloved, we have no different mission in the world than the incarnate Jesus Christ had: to fulfill the heart of God in winning the lost. That is our mission. To glorify God by bringing salvation to lost men and women.

… if fellowship was our purpose, God would have taken us to heaven. Teaching? If our purpose is that we may know doctrine and know knowledge, the best thing God could do is take us immediately to heaven, where we would know as we are known instantaneously, and all teaching ceases, because everybody knows everything they need to know. No. If the purpose of the church was teaching, we’d be gone. Well, what about praise? If God wanted perfect praise out of His church, He’d take them to heaven, too, because that’s where perfect praise occurs …

The point is this – and I want you to get it: there is only one reason we are here, and one reason alone, and that is that we may seek and save those who are lost. It is as the Father sent the Son that the Son sends us. If the Father wanted fellowship with the Son, He would have kept Him in heaven. If the Father wanted perfect knowledge with the Son, He would have kept Him in heaven. If the Father wanted the perfect praise that was His, He would have kept Him in heaven. He wouldn’t need to send Him to earth.

But if the Father wanted to redeem fallen men, He had to send Him to this earth. That’s the only reason we’re here. There is no other reason. Now, I hope that simplifies it for you. That’s it. So, when you evaluate your Christian commitment, and you evaluate how you’re using your life, ask yourself one question: am I involved in winning lost men and women to Jesus Christ? Is that where my time, and energy, and effort, and talent, and money is going, to do that? That’s the only reason you’re here.

So, unless you’re committed to the fact that we are here for the responsibility of winning a lost world to Jesus Christ, then you better reexamine why you are existing. Fellowship, teaching, praise, are not the mission of the church; they’re part of the preparation and the training for the mission. I mean, a great athlete does a lot of things in training, but the training is not to be confused with the competing and the winning. It is not to be confused with running the race. All the exercise and preparation you go through in your education is not to be confused with succeeding in your profession.

Furthermore, our heart must be in the right place, focussed on Christ — all the time:

The whole heart set on Christ; the whole affection set on Christ; the whole mind set on Christ. All the goals are set on Christ. He is all in all. He fills our thought and our intention, and we spend our days and our nights thinking not how can we make it better for ourselves, but how can we exalt His blessed name. Not how can we be more comfortable as Christians, but how can we win the lost no matter how discomforting it is to us. So, where’s your focus? Are you available? Are you a worshiper?

And by that I don’t mean stained glass windows and organ music and show up on Sunday. What I mean is that you focus your whole intent and purpose in life on Christ. I mean, it’s basic. It means being controlled by the Holy Spirit, who is the only one who can cause you to call Jesus Lord, 1 Corinthians 12:3 says. My life is controlled by the Spirit; all my assets, all my possessions, all my time, all my energy, all my talent, all my gifts. It not only means I’m controlled by the Spirit, but it means I’m centered on the Word, because the Word is where Christ is seen.

The Christ-centered life, the worshiping life, is a life that is yielded to the Spirit of God, and it is centered on the Word of God, and consequently, it is cleansed from sin. “Search me, O God, and know me: try me, and see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting,” says Psalm 139:23 and 24.

In this regard, MacArthur gives an example of how a pastor of his acquaintance answers requests for counselling. This was back in 1985, so feel free to substitute ‘credit card statement’ for ‘chequebook’ below:

Sam Erickson suggested to me that maybe the Lord hasn’t given us more money is because we’re such poor stewards of what He’s given us already.

I mean, where – where are we really setting the priorities? Sam was sharing with me that he has a technique that he always uses when people want counseling. He says people will call him and say, “Well, I have a spiritual problem, I have a burden; I want to talk to you” – he’s an elder in his church, chairman of the elders. And he says, “I always tell them the same thing. ‘I’ll be happy to talk with you. Bring your checkbook.’” And people will say, “My checkbook?” “Yes, your checkbook. I want to go over your checkbook with you first, before we talk about anything else.”

Well, the standard answer is, “Why do you want to do that?” And his answer is, “I want to see where your heart is, because Jesus said, ‘Where your treasure is, that’s where your heart is.’” I don’t think he does a lot of counseling. Where’s your heart? You want to know where your heart is? Look at your checkbook, look around your house. People think that they need to store up all their money for the future, they need to lay it all away, you know, build up all their assets, make all their investments, hoard all they possibly can, with the goal in mind of security in the future.

That is Satan’s lie to this generation of Christians. Now, I’m not saying you should be foolish. What I am saying is, there’s a world to be won for Christ, and who cares how comfortable it is for us? Misplaced priorities. Now, after you’re done checking through your checkbook, check through your calendar, and find out where you’re spending your time, and what occupies your mind. Well, we’re great at fellowship; fellowship stimulates us. We’re great at teaching; teaching sort of entertains us, and assists us in growth. And we’re great at praise that gives expression.

But we’re sure not so good at sacrificial living, or sacrificial giving to reach the lost. And, friends, I’m trying to say what Jesus said, and what the Scripture indicates, is that that’s the only reason we’re here; every other purpose could be better accomplished in heaven. Now, we’ve got to come to grips with this. The sad part is most Christians are content with the trivia of this life, to amass the junk of this life, to pad their own case, fill up their lives with all the accessories they can possibly enjoy, while the world is going to hell and we’re not there to reach them

Now, what is necessary for effective evangelism? If we’re going to make disciples of all nations, if we’re going to reach the world, what is necessary? First, what I’ve given you in this introduction must be understood. But now, I want you to look at five explicit or implicit elements

These are in the text of Matthew 28:16 to 20, and they are those things which are essential to effective fulfillment of the purpose for which the church exists: availability, worship, submission, obedience, and power

The eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had directed them (verse 16).

MacArthur continues on his theme:

availability. This is implied in verse 16, in a very, very wonderful way. By the way, someone once said, “The greatest ability is availability.” I like that. It doesn’t matter how talented you are if you’re not available. The greatest ability is availability, and we see that here.

There’s going to be a great commissioning on this day, and there are going to be people sent out into all the world with the promise of the presence and the power of the living Christ. But if you weren’t there, you weren’t going to be a part of that. The ones who were available were the ones who received the privilege.

Matthew Henry’s commentary discusses the journey from Jerusalem, where the Apostles and our Lord’s female disciples had been, to Galilee. It was a lengthy journey to make:

This evangelist passes over several other appearances of Christ, recorded by Luke and John, and hastens to this, which was of all other the most solemn, as being promised and appointed again and again before his death, and after his resurrection. Observe,

I. How the disciples attended his appearance, according to the appointment (v. 16); They went into Galilee, a long journey to go for one sight of Christ, but it was worth while. They had seen him several times at Jerusalem, and yet they went into Galilee, to see him there.

1. Because he appointed them to do so. Though it seemed a needless thing to go into Galilee, to see him whom they might see at Jerusalem, especially when they must so soon come back again to Jerusalem, before his ascension, yet they had learned to obey Christ’s commands and not object against them. Note, Those who would maintain communion with Christ, must attend him there where he has appointed. Those who have met him in one ordinance, must attend him in another; those who have seen him at Jerusalem, must go to Galilee.

2. Because that was to be a public and general meeting. They had seen him themselves, and conversed with him in private, but that should not excuse their attendance in a solemn assembly, where many were to be gathered together to see him. Note, Our communion with God in secret must not supersede our attendance on public worship, as we have opportunity; for God loves the gates of Zion, and so must we. The place was a mountain in Galilee, probably the same mountain on which he was transfigured. There they met, for privacy, and perhaps to signify the exalted state into which he was entered, and his advances toward the upper world.

MacArthur runs through the timeline between the Last Supper and this journey to Galilee:

Back in chapter 26, verse 32, He said, “When I’m raised from the dead, I’ll go before you into Galilee.” After He was raised from the dead – notice verse 7 of chapter 28 – the angel said to the women, “He goes before you into Galilee: there you will see Him.” When Jesus appeared to those same women, later on in verse 10, Jesus said to them, “Go tell My brethren that they go into Galilee, and there shall they see Me.”

In other words, before and after the resurrection, Jesus said He would meet with His disciples in Galilee. He was calling together a great conclave there, for the purpose of commissioning them to reach the world. They were told, then, before His death and after His resurrection, that they were to be there. And no doubt, the word spread beyond the disciples to all the others who believed in Jesus Christ, and they were all gathered, as we shall see, on that mountain on that appointed day.

Now, we have no specific knowledge as to how Jesus communicated to them the time and the place, what day and what mountain. We don’t know. It just says here that they went away into Galilee, into the mountain, the Greek text says, the specific mountain, which Jesus had Himself appointed; the verb form indicating there that it was by His own discretion and His own will that He appointed a certain mountain to meet them. We don’t know how that message was conveyed to them, but it was.

Now, when did this happen? Obviously, it was after His resurrection. Obviously, the day of His resurrection, He met the women, He went on the road to Emmaus, saw a couple of other disciples, saw the disciples that night in the upper room, saw them eight days later again in the upper room, so it would be at least after that eighth day. Then, after that eighth day when the disciples had seen Him, they would need a certain amount of time to journey north into Galilee, maybe a week. When they come into Galilee, in John 21, we see them fishing, and it seems that they’d actually gone back to their old profession.

They were in a boat that may well have been Peter’s own boat, as if he were taking up his old trade, not really knowing what to expect in the future from the Lord, even though he had been told to go to Galilee and wait for the Lord to come. So, the disciples had time to go back, to sort of reestablish their fishing enterprise. They were down there in the boat. You remember Jesus came. They couldn’t catch anything. Jesus showed them that He had control over the fish. Called them to the shore, asked Peter if he loved Him three times, then commissioned them to serve and feed His sheep.

So, the Lord has had all of these several meetings: the first eight days in Jerusalem, maybe a week to go north – that would put it, maybe, at 15 days. Maybe three or four days to sort of settle into the fishing – maybe it’s 20 days later, by the time this happens. Now, we know, in Acts 1:3, it says that Jesus showed Himself alive by many infallible proofs over a period of 40 days, so it’s somewhere between 20 days, maybe, and 40 days that this occurs. It wouldn’t be at the end of the 40, because the last appearance was at the Mount of Olives, where He ascended, and the Mount of Olives is outside Jerusalem.

They would have had to have another few days to get back there. So maybe somewhere between 20 and 35 days after His resurrection, but still with time to return to Galilee and to see Him ascend, Jesus then calls together this group of people for this very special commissioning. Now, you say, “What group of people is this, specifically?” I believe it is the group of people indicated in 1 Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 6 and 7, where it says 500-plus brethren saw Him at one time.

Here is the gathering in Galilee with the 500 plus; that has been the consistent view of biblical teachers throughout the years, and I see that as being very accurate. Now, it only tells us in verse 16 that the eleven disciples were there, because, of course, they were central to the issue. They used to be called the twelve, but with the defection, apostasy, and death of Judas, who went to his own place, as Acts 1:25 says, they were now reduced to eleven, and they become known as the eleven.

But this sighting of Jesus here was not limited to them, because in chapter 28, verse 7, the angel said to the women, “He goes before you into Galilee: there shall you see Him. Lo, I have told you.” So, it was for the eleven, it was for the women, and presumably, it was for all the other believers and disciples in Galilee, who were to be commissioned for this responsibility of reaching the world. The 500 at one time who saw Him, as recorded in 1 Corinthians 15:6 and 7.

There’s no reason for Jesus to go all the way to Galilee to have a meeting with just the eleven disciples. He had met them twice in Jerusalem. If He wanted another meeting with them, He could have done it. The command here given, to go and make disciples of all nations, doesn’t know any hierarchy. That’s a command given to everybody, whether you’re an apostle or not. It fits all of those who love and follow Jesus Christ. And certainly, our Lord would have wanted to give this commission to the largest group possible.

And the largest group possible would be the 500 gathered in Galilee, because there were so many more believers in Galilee than in Jerusalem. You say, “How do you know that?” Because in Acts chapter 1, verse 15, when the believers in Jerusalem met to wait for the Holy Spirit, there were only 120 of them in the upper room. The number of disciples in Jerusalem was much smaller; the hostility was much greater, and the dominance of Christ’s ministry had occurred in Galilee, where the hearts were more open.

He came, in Matthew 4, as a light to the Gentiles, to the Galilean area known as Galilee of the Gentiles. He came to that region first of all to present His message, and so, the bulk of believers were there. Also, Galilee would be a fitting place, not only because of the number of believers, but because of the seclusion of it, away from the hostility of Jerusalem. And because there could be so easily found a place where they could have privacy, on the many hillsides around the sea. So, it provided the largest group of disciples, the greatest seclusion, the greatest safety.

And the right setting – because it was a place where many nations lived surrounding it – the right setting to tell people to go to reach all those nations with the gospel. And so, the eleven are there, and I believe the women were there, and I believe all the rest of the disciples of Jesus who believed in Him in the Galilee region were there, also. And they were in the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. We don’t know what mountain it was. It may have been the Mount of Transfiguration, it may have been that the mount of glory became the mount of resurrection, and the mount of commissioning.

It may have been the mount where He taught the Sermon on the Mount. It may have been the mountain where He fed the crowd, or the mountain that He went to so often to pray. Could have been any mountain. We really don’t know. But it becomes a sacred mountain because of what happens here, as over 500 of them, with all their weaknesses, and confusion, and doubts, and misgivings, and fears, and questions, and bewilderments, are gathered together. They’re not the greatest people in the world, they’re not the most capable, or the most brilliant; they’re not the most experienced; but they are there, and that is to be commended.

They are available. And that’s what I love about this verse. That means ready for service. Everything at this point focuses on the fact that they were there. Jesus said, “Be there,” and they were there. They’re reminiscent of the availability of Isaiah, who after the vision of God, in chapter 6, verses 1 to 7, says, “Here am I, Lord; send me. I may not be the best – I’m a man with a dirty mouth – but I don’t see anybody else volunteering I think Your choices are limited. Here am I, send me.”

When the assembled saw Him, they worshipped Him, but some doubted (verse 17).

Henry explains the doubt on the part of some:

Now was the time that he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once, 1 Cor 15 6. Some think that they saw him, at first, at some distance, above in the air, ephthe epanoHe was seen above, of five hundred brethren (so they read it); which gave occasion to some to doubt, till he came nearer (v. 18), and then they were satisfied.

MacArthur has more on the worship and the doubt:

There’s a second principle that I just want to mention – it doesn’t need to be elucidated at great length – and that is the attitude of worship that we see in verse 17. The first prerequisite or element in fulfilling this commission to make disciples is to be available; the second is to worship. And this is a question of focus; it’s a question of focus. It says in verse 17 – and this is absolutely marvelous, the way this verse appears – “And when they saw Him, they worshiped Him: but some doubted.”

I love that. I think that’s so honest. “And when they saw Him” – He appeared, all of a sudden, in the supernatural way in which He could transfer Himself from one place to another. He appeared, and in an instant, everyone saw Him in that supernatural appearance, and it created an instantly overwhelming effect, and they worshiped Him – proskuneō, to prostrate oneself in adoring worship. The risen Christ commanded their worship. They weren’t worshiping Him as some human dignitary, they weren’t worshiping Him as some earthly king.

They were worshiping Him as God, for it had been affirmed that He was indeed God, the Son of God. Even in His death, did not the centurion say, “Truly, this was the Son of God?” Did not Thomas say, “My Lord and My God,” as recorded in the twentieth chapter of John? This is more than homage to an earthly king. This is honor for God Himself in human flesh. They fall in adoring worship. They had worshiped once earlier; it’s referred to one other time that the disciples actually worshiped Him.

Remember that the people in Galilee had not seen Jesus in His post-resurrection glorified body. Combine that with the distance that some were from Him when He appeared, and you would have doubt:

He is risen from the dead. Not only is He a miracle worker, but He is the One who has conquered death, and they have seen Him, and touched Him. Chapter 28, verse 9, the women held His feet, and the disciples touched His body, and He was with them. He went out of the grave, right through the stone, He came in the room, right through the wall.

And yet He was able to be touched, and they knew they were dealing with a divine, glorious, supernatural person. And so, when He appeared, they worshiped Him. And then, I love this note: “But some doubted.” You say, “Matthew, you shouldn’t put that in there. We’re trying to make a case for the validity of the resurrection; why would you do that?” And that, again, is a reminder to us of the transparent honesty of the biblical writer, who is not trying to contrive a believable story by reporting it in a selective way.

He’s not collecting evidence that’s only going to make his case. The integrity of this is a great proof of the truthfulness of it. If men were trying to falsify and contrive a message about a resurrection, they wouldn’t throw in the very climactic point but some doubted unless it was true. And it was true, so it’s included; and that’s the integrity of Scripture. And we ask ourselves, first of all, “What kind of doubt was this?” Well, some suggest that the doubters were the eleven, because it says, “some doubted,” and the some must go back to verse 16, the eleven disciples who were there.

Well, it possibly could be that some doubted. It doesn’t say that some doubted that Jesus was alive, or that they doubted that He was raised from the dead. The indication is when they saw Him, they worshiped Him; but some doubted that it was Him. It wasn’t so much necessarily a question of the resurrection issue, but the doubt was that this was really Him. That could have happened among the disciples. Some of them may not have been able to clearly see His face.

Some of them, because He was appearing now in resurrection glory, and maybe revealing Himself in a way different than they had seen Him in the upper room, were really unable to be certain, and some of them were a little bit more hesitant to affirm this until they had surer evidence. But on the other hand, if the women were there, and including – included a group of, say, 489 plus the eleven, it could have been any of them. And keep this in mind – apart from the women and the disciples, none of those other people had ever seen Him after His resurrection.

So, this is the first time for them. So, we’re not surprised that now they’re going to have an experience they’ve never had. There’s a group that’s so large, 500 people, that not everybody’s going to be in the front of the group. Christ appears to them. They’re not sure that it’s Him. Maybe some of the disciples are not quite sure yet.

And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’ (verse 18).

The first important word in addressing the doubt is ‘came’ or, in other translations, ‘came nearer’. Everyone could see Him.

MacArthur says:

You say, “Well, how could they not be sure if He was there in their presence?” The answer comes in a very wonderful way at the beginning of verse 18, and it says, “And Jesus” – aorist active participle – “came nearer,” or approaching.

Which indicates to us the probable cause for their doubt, that Jesus in His appearance appeared at a distance. And it wasn’t until He came near them and began to speak that those who doubted would have their doubt erased. So, the doubts possibly could have come from those who were disciples, but as yet could not be sure that this was Jesus, because He was afar off. Or it could have come from those who had never ever seen Him in resurrection glory, and it wasn’t for them either until He was near that they could identify Him as the one they knew to be Jesus Christ.

But it’s so lovely, and so beautiful, that the writer includes this, because it’s so natural, and it’s so true, and it’s so uncontrived, and it’s such a convincing indicator of the validity of the scene itself. So, at first they doubted, but as He came near, all doubt was dispelled. Doubting the Son of God and worshiping the Son of God is mentioned in the same breath on one other incident that I mentioned earlier, in Matthew 14, when Jesus walked on the water, and seen at a distance, they doubted. When He came near, they believed, and they worshiped.

Henry points out our Lord’s understanding of their doubt:

Though there were those that doubted, yet, he did not therefore reject them; for he will not break the bruised reed. He did not stand at a distance, but came near, and gave them such convincing proofs of his resurrection, as turned the wavering scale, and made their faith to triumph over their doubts. He came, and spoke familiarly to them, as one friend speaks to another, that they might be fully satisfied in the commission he was about to give them.

Looking at our Lord’s statement about His authority over everything in heaven and on earth, MacArthur brings in the third element of evangelism:

It is not only an available heart, it is a worshiping heart. And then thirdly – and this is where we come to our lesson today – the third element of fulfilling the great commission we see in the passage is submission; submission. In verse 18, our Lord, when He does come near, speaks, and says, “All authority is given unto me in heaven and in earth.” And He makes a statement, frankly, that staggers my thoughts, and it reaches far beyond my ability to conceive or articulate. He is making a claim to consummate sovereign authority.

He has all authority. Now the word authority is the word exousia. It basically is a word that means privilege or right or power or authority. Essentially, you could define it as the freedom to do whatever you wish. It is freedom without limitation. Jesus Christ, with all authority, is free to do what He wants, when He wants, where He wants, with what He wants, to whomever He wants. It is absolute freedom of choice and action. That’s the essence of sovereign authority.

It is useful to think of this authority when we are asked to do something for our own church. Do we say ‘no’ for whatever reason and risk our Lord asking at His Second Coming why we refused? Or do we accept that lay ministry — whatever it is, even cleaning the church or the church kitchen — without reservation? That’s something to think about.

Henry elaborates on the source and power of Christ’s authority:

… here he tells us, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth; a very great word, and which none but he could say. Hereby he asserts his universal dominion as Mediator, which is the great foundation of the Christian religion. He has all power. Observe, (1.) Whence he hath this power. He did not assume it, or usurp it, but it was given him, he was legally entitled to it, and invested in it, by a grant from him who is the Fountain of all being, and consequently of all power. God set him King (Ps 2 6), inaugurated and enthroned him, Luke 1 32. As God, equal with the Father, all power was originally and essentially his; but as Mediator, as God-man, all power was given him; partly in recompence of his work (because he humbled himself, therefore God thus exalted him), and partly in pursuance of his design; he had this power given him over all flesh, that he might give eternal life to as many as were given him (John 17 2), for the more effectual carrying on and completing our salvation. This power he was now more signally invested in, upon his resurrection, Acts 13 3. He had power before, power to forgive sins (ch. 9 6); but now all power is given him. He is now going to receive for himself a kingdom (Luke 19 12), to sit down at the right hand, Ps 110 1. Having purchased it, nothing remains but to take possession; it is his own for ever. (2.) Where he has this power; in heaven and earth, comprehending the universe. Christ is the sole universal Monarch, he is Lord of all, Acts 10 36. He has all power in heaven. He has power of dominion over the angels, they are all his humble servants, Eph 1 20, 21. He has power of intercession with his Father, in the virtue of his satisfaction and atonement; he intercedes, not as a suppliant, but as a demandant; Father, I will. He has all power on earth too; having prevailed with God, by the sacrifice of atonement, he prevails with men, and deals with them as one having authority, by the ministry of reconciliation. He is indeed, in all causes and over all persons, supreme Moderator and Governor. By him kings reign. All souls are his, and to him every heart and knee must bow, and every tongue confess him to be the Lord. This our Lord Jesus tells them, not only to satisfy them of the authority he had to commission them, and to bring them out in the execution of their commission, but to take off the offence of the cross; they had no reason to be ashamed of Christ crucified, when they saw him thus glorified.

Then Jesus announced His Great Commission: to go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (verse 19).

The next time someone says there should be no missionaries, remind them of that verse. Christ calls all believers to be missionaries, in whatever way we can. We might not be the ones doing the baptising, but we can lead people to that great sacrament, which brings us into communion with the Holy Trinity, the Triune Godhead we honour this particular Sunday.

Henry explains the manner in which Christ gave that command:

Go ye therefore. This commission is given, (1.) To the apostles primarily, the chief ministers of state in Christ’s kingdom, the architects that laid the foundation of the church. Now those that had followed Christ in the regeneration, were set on thrones (Luke 22 30); Go ye. It is not only a word of command, like that, Son, go work, but a word of encouragement, Go, and fear not, have I not sent you? Go, and make a business of this work. They must not take state, and issue out summons to the nations to attend upon them; but they must go, and bring the gospel to their doors, Go ye. They had doted on Christ’s bodily presence, and hung upon that, and built all their joys and hopes upon that; but now Christ discharges them from further attendance on his person, and sends them abroad about other work. As an eagle stirs up her nest, flutters over her young, to excite them to fly (Deut 32 11), so Christ stirs up his disciples, to disperse themselves over all the world. (2.) It is given to their successors, the ministers of the gospel, whose business it is to transmit the gospel from age to age, to the end of the world in time, as it was theirs to transmit it from nation to nation, to the end of the world in place, and no less necessary.

MacArthur explains how we should receive the Great Commission:

His terms are He is Savior and Lord, and He calls for submission. His word and His commands are absolute. And that’s why in verse 19 it says, “Therefore.” Therefore – what do you mean, therefore? “Since I’m in charge, you are to do this. Make disciples of all nations.” Why? “Because I am in charge, and I say to do that.” There’s got to be a submissive spirit. And when you look for someone that you want to invest your life into, when I look for someone that I want to invest my life in, that I feel has spiritual potential, I look for someone with a submissive spirit.

Someone who is – to put it in another term – teachable. He is the sovereign Lord. This isn’t negotiable. The great commission, the mission of the church, then, is predicated on three attitudes: the attitude of availability, the attitude of worship, and the attitude of submission. Now, listen to me. Those three attitudes indicate a God-centered preoccupation of the heart. They indicate a Godward focus, that my heart is set toward God, that there is a willing, devoted heart. I love in the Old Testament, when it talks about a willing heart.

Exodus 25, Exodus 35, Judges 5, Judges 8, Nehemiah 11, Esther – or Ezra 1, Ezra 3 verse 5, other places. It talks about “the people had a willing heart, the people had a willing heart.” That’s the kind of heart you see here, a willing heart, available; a worshiping heart, a submissive heart, to do what He says. And that’s – that’s the antithesis of being caught up in the inane trivia of our modern world; of spending our lives, and our time, and our talent, and our energy, and our money, and our resources, on ourselves.

So, you look at your own life, and if you’re not desirous of fulfilling the great commission, it isn’t that you need a zap from God, and it isn’t that you need some direct place to go, it is that you need to look to the attitude of your heart, and ask, are you available? Am I really available? Am I really worshiping? Do I have a single focus in my life? Am I submissive, so that when I find a command of God, I eagerly obey it? Now, those are three foundational attitudes. He has all authority, and if He has all authority, that means He has authority that extends to everything …

And here, in verse 19, is where we have the command, “make disciples of all nations,” and it calls for obedience. How are you doing that? How are you doing that? How are you making disciples of the people around you? The people around the world? How are you doing it? Or are you doing it? It may seem to you unnatural or impossible, as it must have to them, but it was commanded.

He tells you how to do it, right here in verse 19, with three participles. The main verb is “making disciples of all nations.” The three participles are going, baptizing, teaching. That’s how you do it. Going, baptizing, teaching; that’s how you make a disciple. It isn’t just that they should believe, it is that they should believe and be taught.

It isn’t just that they are taught, it also encompasses their act of faith, which is symbolized in baptism. And neither of those can take place until you go to those people. The commission of the church is not to wait until the world shows up. The commission of the church is to go to the world, to go to them. Now let’s talk about that first participle, going, poreuthentes. Actually, in the Greek, it could be translated better having gone; having gone. It isn’t a command, go ye; that’s not a command in the Greek.

In the Authorized, they put it in the imperative mode, but in the Greek, it’s an assumption, having gone. I mean, it’s basic that if you’re going to make disciples of all nations, you’ve got to have gone; having gone is assumed.

MacArthur discusses baptism:

The first essential element of making disciples, then, is to go

The second element, the second participle that modifies the main verb, is baptizing – “baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.” Baptizō, a familiar term, means to immerse in water, to dip in water, and our Lord is saying, “When you go, you are to be baptizing.” Now, what import does this have? Why does He stress this? Because baptism was the outward sign of an inward act of faith in Christ. Baptism was synonymous with salvation, though baptism in no way saved.

It was the outward visible symbol of what had been done in the heart. And it was an overt act of obedience, by which a person could demonstrate the reality of the miracle of salvation. There’s no way that you can see someone being saved. I have never seen a salvation, have you? I wouldn’t – I wouldn’t be able to see it; it’s a supernatural spiritual transaction. I have never seen a salvation. All I have ever seen is the fruit of one, true? All I have ever seen is the result of one. And if I don’t see the result, then I have to question whether there was a salvation.

And in the early church, it was essential that salvation be demonstrated by the fruit of obedience, and that initial fruit of obedience was baptism, by which an individual testified to their union in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ, so beautifully symbolized in immersion. Now, the baptism of John the Baptist was different; it was a baptism of repentance, of a people repenting of their sin, to purify themselves inwardly, and show it. They were – show it by their outward baptism, to ready themselves for Messiah.

Jesus also baptized. John, of course, his baptism described in Matthew 3, Jesus’ baptism described in John 4:1 and 2. Jesus baptized, and it was also an outward symbol of a desire for a purified heart. But here is a new kind of baptism. For the first time, since Jesus died and rose again by now, people can be baptized as a demonstration of their identity with Christ in His death and resurrection

Baptism, then, was commanded as we see here, and that’s why it was done. Jesus said, “Baptize them.” Now, when you get into the book of Acts, and people are converted, and you see them being baptized, you know why. Because they were obedient to a command. Those who put their faith in Christ were to be baptized, but the command here is for those who preach the gospel to baptize, which means that in giving the gospel, beloved, we are to tell people that it is not just something you believe, and that’s it.

It is something you believe, and publicly confess in this act of baptism. And when you find someone who is reluctant to do that, you may have reason to question the genuineness of their faith, for Jesus said, “Him that confesses Me before men, him will I confess before My Father who is in heaven.” This is public confession. No one is saved by baptism itself. Water can’t save you. Any religious rite or act is impotent to save you. But this is an act of obedience. This is a symbol. And that is why the Scripture so repeatedly emphasizes baptism.

When you come to Christ, confess Him as Lord and Savior, believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, and demonstrate that in an act of obedient baptism, you are a disciple

MacArthur then discusses the baptismal formula that Christ gave versus others in the New Testament and says that even the others are valid:

Now, would you notice that He says baptism is in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit?

First of all, I need to say that that is not necessarily a formula for baptism; that’s a common way, and we often use that in our baptisms, “I baptize you in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.” And it’s a beautiful way to do that. There are, however, several occasions in the book of Acts where people are baptized in the name of the Lord, baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus, baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. In fact, there is no baptism in the book of Acts in which this formula is ever used. It only appears here.

Every baptism specifically where any formula is given, or any statement is made as to who the baptism is in or into, is the Lord, the Lord Jesus, Jesus Christ. Now, we conclude from that, then, really, that there’s no binding formula. People want to make a big case out of that, but there’s really no binding formula. To baptize someone in the name of Jesus Christ is simply to baptize them, sort of demonstrating and portraying and picturing their union with Jesus Christ, and that’s wonderful; and that says plenty.

Here, we just have the fullest statement possible. Baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, shows not only their union with Christ, but their unity with the whole Godhead. It’s a fuller, and richer, and more comprehensive statement. But, in no way should we construe that it is some kind of absolutely necessary formula, since there are other statements made in the book of Acts. The wonderful thing we do want to note, though, in the book of Acts, is that they were obedient to this, and everywhere the gospel was preached and everywhere people believed, people were being baptized.

Acts 2:41, Acts 8:38, Acts 9:18, the tenth chapter of Acts with Cornelius, verse 48, the sixteenth chapter of Acts, verse 33, the Philippian jailer and his family. You come into Acts 18:8, Acts 19:5, the followers of John the Baptist, over in Acts 22, I think around verse 10, baptisms, baptisms, baptisms, baptisms, always going on, always going on. And so, we’re not looking at some kind of ceremonial rite, in which conversion takes place by water, and there’s some special formula you have to say.

It’s just that our Lord has given us the richest possible statement of the comprehensive union that occurs when a saint comes to faith in Jesus Christ. We are one with the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; marvelous thought. That’s a great statement, also, because Christ puts Himself on a level with the other two members of the trinity, and those people who want to say that Jesus never claimed to be God have got some problems in that verse. He puts Himself on a level with the other two members of the trinity.

It’s a great verse, also, to prove the trinity. All three persons are there. And would you please notice this: it doesn’t say, “Baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the name of the Son, and the name of the Holy Spirit,” nor does it say, “In the names of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.” It is one name with three persons, the mystery of the trinity. The name means all that a person is and does, all that is bound up in that name. The name means all that God is as a trinity, all that God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are.

We are baptized in. And the word eis could mean into, it could mean unto, it could mean in. It’s just the idea that when we are baptized, we come into a union with the trinity through Jesus Christ. And as I said before, it symbolizes His death and resurrection. We have a full union with Jesus Christ. What a wonderful, glorious thought. And not only with Him, but with the Father, and with the Son, as well. Now, the point is this: becoming a disciple happens at salvation, and involves a full union with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, which is a transforming reality demonstrated by the beautiful ceremony of baptism.

Jesus ended by saying that the people gathered with Him were to teach others to obey everything that He commanded them, adding (verse 20), ‘And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age’.

That applies to us also, as MacArthur explains:

What are we called to do, then? While we’re going, or already having gone, we are to be bringing men to the Savior, baptizing them as an outward testimony of this inward union. And then, would you notice verse 20: “Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” It’s not only a converting ministry that we’re called to, but it’s a teaching ministry. Now, we have to follow up that new convert, who is now desirous of being obedient, and therefore desirous of learning what it is he is or she is to obey, by teaching all things – the whole counsel of God, in terms of Acts 20:27.

Oh, that’s such a marvelous thing. We’re to teach them all things the Lord has commanded, lifelong; lifelong commitment to obedience. I love that. You see, being a disciple is a question of obeying commands. You can’t be a disciple of Christ without an obedient heart. You can’t be a disciple of Christ without a desire to follow Him as your Lord. That’s the whole point of the rich young ruler, when He said to him, you know, “Take all you have, sell it, and give the money to the poor, and follow Me,” and the guy went away, and said, “Forget it. You’re not in charge of my life.” He couldn’t be converted.

Coming to Christ is saying, “You are in charge of my life. I submit. I want to be obedient.” And so, He says to those people gathered there, “You teach them all the things whatsoever I have commanded you.” And He’d commanded them a lot. And some of them would write it down. John 14:26, He told them, “I’ll send you the Holy Spirit. The Spirit will bring all things to your remembrance, whatever I have said.” And the Bible writers wrote it down. The Spirit of God gave it to all of us. We have the commands of Christ. We have the words of Christ. We have the teaching that He gave.

And that is what we are to teach other people. We are to teach them all of it; all of it. I love that. All things. There are not options. There – there’s just a great, grand host of teachings, to which we must submit. There’s no true discipleship apart from personal faith in Christ, and there’s no true discipleship apart from the desire for an obedient heart. That’s why the Bible talks about the obedience of faith. That’s why it says, in Hebrews 5:9, that the only people who really are people who have been redeemed – Hebrews 5:9 – the only ones whom Christ has really transformed – and I think this is so clear – it says, “are all them that obey Him.”

We find the specifics in the books following the Gospels. Some are difficult teachings to obey, especially in today’s world, which gets more bizarre by the day in distancing itself from biblical truth. Believers are called to be Christlike, to reject the world, to become dead to sin rather than dead in it. That comes from knowing Scripture, praying for more faith and grace and submitting to our Lord’s will for our lives.

May all reading this have a blessed Trinity Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Timothy 6:3-5

False Teachers and True Contentment

If anyone teaches a different doctrine and does not agree with the sound[a] words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness, he is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander, evil suspicions, and constant friction among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy about being a good employee. If you haven’t read it, it is truly a message to be shared with others, especially young people who do not like to work, something of a phenomenon in British society these days.

The second half of verse 2 appears in some versions, e.g. the ESVUK, connected with this section. Here it is:

Teach and urge these things.

John MacArthur explains why that is (emphases mine):

Go back to verse 2 at the end, “These things teach and exhort,” says Paul in ending verse 2. And what things does he have in mind? Everything that he has brought up in this epistle. It’s got to go back even beyond verses 1 and 2 which has to do with employment responsibility, to encompass the whole epistle. And that started in chapter 1 with a proper understanding of the law of God, with a proper understanding of the gospel, the saving gospel, with a proper understanding of the majesty of God in verse 17. It goes back to chapter 2 where Paul instructed about evangelistic praying, praying for the lost. It goes back to chapter 2 verses 9 to 15, the instruction on the role of a woman in the order of the church; chapter 3, principles to characterize church leaders and church deacons; chapter 4, you have there statements regarding false doctrine, and then you have the model of an effective ministry given, principles for proper ministry. Chapter 5 deals with how to treat older men and how to treat older women, particularly widows. And then how to treat younger widows. And then it discusses also how to treat the elders of the church. Then you come to chapter 6 and the matter of employment and how one is to work under both a believing and unbelieving boss.

And what Paul is saying at the end of verse 2 is all these things are to be taught and given by way of admonition and exhortation. In other words, teach the truth, teach the revealed truth of God in all these dimensions.

Paul says that there are those who teach a different doctrine and disagree with the sound — healthy — words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that accords with godliness (verse 3).

Paul begins that verse with ‘If’, and MacArthur gives us the construction in the original Greek:

he says in verse 3, “If anyone teaches differently” – differently than revelation, differently than what has been revealed through the inspiration of the Spirit of God in Scripture.

Now by the way, the ‘if’ here is a first‑class conditional in Greek, and that means that it assumes reality. If and it is true – if and it is true – could be translated “since.” Since some are teaching differently – it’s assumed that this is a reality. And it was a reality. Already from studying 1 Timothy we know that men had infiltrated the church teaching bizarre fables, endless genealogies, teaching questions rather than things that edified, vain jangling. They were desiring to be teachers of the law but didn’t know what they were talking about. They were shipwrecking the faith. They were teaching doctrines of demons spawned by seducing spirits. They were lying in hypocrisy. They were teaching areas of abstinence which were contrary to God’s truth. They were teaching knowledge falsely so called vain, profane babblings. False teaching was there.

And so when he says, “If anyone teach otherwise,” he is saying, “And I know they are.” That’s why he uses the construction of a first-class conditional. There is no specific teacher mentioned; there is no specific teaching, so we can say it’s a generic phrase. It’s a generic statement embracing all false teaching, all subversive doctrines, all subversive agents of Satan who have infiltrated the church to infect people … with the deadly virus of lying, false teaching. So it is generic enough not only to relate to everything Timothy would face but to relate to everything the church would face in any age, including today.

Matthew Henry’s commentary succinctly explains Christian doctrine:

Observe, The doctrine of our Lord Jesus is a doctrine according to godliness; it has a direct tendency to make people godly.

MacArthur tells us what is ungodly:

Paul is saying, “Look, if anyone teaches differently, that’s the mark.” That’s how you know them. It is, first of all then, what they affirm. You have to listen to what they say. Is it different than what you know Scripture says? Are they saying something different? The word is heterodidaskalei, a heterodox teaching rather than an orthodox teaching. That means a heresy, a false teaching, something that is different than the Scripture teaches. They don’t get their teaching out of the Word of God. They have something different than the Bible, some vision, some revelation, some psychological insight, some self-generated, self-spawned doctrine, some interpretation that is contrary to Scripture. Anything different than the sound true teaching of the Word of God revealed – marks a false teacher. It could be a teaching that denies that God is the only true God. It could be a teaching that denies that God is a spirit and turns God into an idol or a man. It could be a teaching that denies that God is a trinity or that denies some of the attributes or any of the attributes of God. It could be a teaching that denies that God is almighty, that God is sovereign, that God is the creator, that God has revealed Himself in history. It can be a teaching that denies His person, His attributes, or His works. And any such thing marks out one who has a virus that is deadly.

It could be error about Christ, error about His lineage, error about His virgin birth. Someone who teaches contrary to the sinless perfection of Christ, contrary to His substitutionary atoning death on the cross, contrary to His resurrection, contrary to His miraculous life and works, His perfect teaching, His Second Coming, His high priestly ministry of intercession, His eternal reign, any of that. Anyone who teaches differently than that. It could be a denial of the authenticity of Scripture, the inspiration of Scripture, the authority of Scripture, the inerrancy of Scripture. It could be a denial of the work and ministry and person of the Holy Spirit as revealed on the pages of holy Scripture. Any deviation from what the Bible teaches marks out the virus of false teaching that can in a deadly way infect people. Any area of truth twisted, perverted, or superseding Scripture is cause for us to take note.

The person teaching a false doctrine is puffed up with conceit and understands nothing; he has an unhealthy craving for controversy and for quarrels about words, which produce envy, dissension, slander and evil suspicions (verse 4).

Henry explains:

he that does not consent to the words of Christ is proud (v. 4) and contentious, ignorant, and does a great deal of mischief to the church, knowing nothing. Observe, Commonly those are most proud who know least; for with all their knowledge they do not know themselves.—But doting about questions. Those who fall off from the plain practical doctrines of Christianity fall in with controversies, which eat out the life and power of religion; they dote about questions and strifes of words, which do a great deal of mischief in the church, are the occasion of envy, strife, railings, evil surmisings. When men are not content with the words of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness, but will frame notions of their own and impose them, and that too in their own words, which man’s wisdom teaches, and not in the words which the Holy Ghost teaches ( 1 Cor 2 13), they sow the seeds of all mischief in the church.

This is why it is so important to truly understand Scripture.

MacArthur says:

If false teaching is contrary to Scripture, it is easily recognized by one who knows what Scripture teaches, one who, in the terms of 1 John 2, has become a spiritual young man, because the Word of God abides in you and you are strong and therefore you have overcome the wicked one. The wicked one plying his false teaching is overcome by one who is strong in the Word

That’s why the primary task of the shepherd is to feed the sheep, so that they begin to recognize what is their proper diet, and they don’t go out to eat the noxious deadly weeds that grow on the fringes of their pasture …

When you know good doctrine and your people know good doctrine, you’re protected. You’re protected from the deadly virus of error. And the only protecting antibiotic that we have against false teaching is the truth – the truth of God.

It is so sad that so few denominations do focus on the Bible these days, because those sheep are easily led astray. And Satan is cunning in his ways to work through his human agents in the Church.

MacArthur has more on the words about false teachers that Paul uses:

They affirm something different than Scripture, and they are not willing to consent to healthy words, the words of our Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a present tense. The false teacher is not presently in agreement with – the idea here is in their teaching they disagree with Scripture. They’re not in agreement with healthy words. That word in the Greek becomes the English word hygiene. They don’t give themselves to the hygienic words, the healthy words, the wholesome words, the beneficial words that are namely the words of our Lord Jesus Christ.

the words of our Lord Jesus Christ – really in the literature the Greek says, “The ones of our Lord Jesus Christ.” In other words, they do not commit themselves to the wholesome life-giving beneficial spiritually productive words that have come to us from our Lord Jesus Christ. And that does not simply refer to the very quotes of Jesus in the gospels but all the word that He has given to us as the author of Scripture using the Spirit of God in inspiration through the human writers. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ refers to any revelation given to us and particularly – most particularly – the New Testament revelation.

There is a danger with clerics who are not committed to the teachings of the Bible:

False teachers will be all over the place. They may talk about Jesus. They may talk about God. But the heart of their ministry will not be the Word of God. They add to that and they take away from that. And so they affirm things different than Scripture and they do not consent to what is in the Scripture. And you can mark them out. The Scripture is the beginning and the ending of God’s revelation, and all that we are to teach is contained within its pages …

The ultimate test of truth is resulting godliness. They do not agree with the teaching which is related to godliness. Truth always results in godliness when it is applied. The Word of God will produce healthy spiritual behavior. The Word of God will bring truth to bear on a life that results in godliness. That’s why 4:7 of 1 Timothy says, “Exercise yourself unto godliness” – exercise yourself unto godliness.

Now listen, error can never produce godliness. What do we mean by godliness? Reverence, piety, but simply to be like God, to be like Christ. False teaching, heresy, error cannot produce Christ-likeness. Only the truth of God can do that. Only the Word can produce godliness. Living holiness, living reverence, living God-likeness, living Christ-likeness is the fruit of truth. So the ultimate test of a teacher’s teaching is to take a look at his or her life.

… Take a look at their conduct. Do they take pleasure in wickedness, as Peter says they do? Are they given over to presumptuous self-willed lewdness as Peter also says, 2 Peter 2, in so many words? Are they given over to sinful life? Are the oriented to pride? When you see them do you see them concerned with prestige and recognition and power and popularity? And is there a certain sexual looseness in their behavior? Are they self‑centered, self‑indulgent, self‑gratifying? If so, those are the things not produced by truth but produced by lies.

Look at their creed. Listen to what they say. Are they calling for repentance? Are they calling for holiness? Are they calling for God-likeness and Christ-likeness? Are they telling people to abandon their self-indulgence? Are they calling for brokenness over sin? Or are they teaching teachings that accommodate the carnal mind and feed the fallenness of man? That’s the question. And so when you look to the identifying marks in the pathology of false teachers, first of all they say things different than Scripture. Secondly, they deny things the Scripture says. And thirdly, what they teach does not produce godliness. That’s how you mark them

I remember a professor who is well known to my family in a seminary, a very well-known seminary, who got into these kinds of speculations and these kinds of word games and became so totally frustrated that he went into an apartment one night, shut the windows, turned the gas on and gassed himself. Clouds with no water – raging seas foaming out nothing but shame – wandering stars. Their minds know nothing, and they engage themselves in useless speculations about words that only start battles, logomachias, semantic battles.

MacArthur explains what ‘puffed up’ means in Greek:

Verse 4, the first statement is simple, “He is” – what? – “proud.” What’s their attitude? Pride. Their mark is heresy and their attitude is pride. It’s the same word used in chapter 3 verse 6. It’s a very unique word. It’s the word tuphoō, which means to be enveloped in smoke or engulfed in smoke. It’s a perfect passive form, which means they’re in a settled state of being engulfed in their own smoke. In other words, they’re just pure smoke. They’re just a big puff of hot air. Arrogance is what that word implies. They are arrogant. False teachers inevitably are arrogant.

Such people engage in and encourage conflict — constant friction — among people who are depraved in mind and deprived of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain (verse 5), meaning making money.

Henry says:

We observe, 1. The words of our Lord Jesus Christ are wholesome words, they are the fittest to prevent or heal the church’s wounds, as well as to heal a wounded conscience; for Christ has the tongue of the learned, to speak a word in season to him that is weary, Isa 50 4. The words of Christ are the best to prevent ruptures in the church; for none who profess faith in him will dispute the aptness or authority of his words who is their Lord and teacher, and it has never gone well with the church since the words of men have claimed a regard equal to his words, and in some cases a much greater. 2. Whoever teaches otherwise, and does not consent to these wholesome words, he is proud, knowing nothing; for pride and ignorance commonly go together. 3. Paul sets a brand only on those who consent not to the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the doctrine which is according to godliness; they are proud, knowing nothing: other words more wholesome he knew not. 4. We learn the sad effects of doting about questions and strifes of words; of such doting about questions comes envy, strife, evil surmisings, and perverse disputings; when men leave the wholesome words of our Lord Jesus Christ, they will never agree in other words, either of their own or other men’s invention, but will perpetually wrangle and quarrel about them; and this will produce envy, when they see the words of others preferred to those they have adopted for their own; and this will be attended with jealousies and suspicions of one another, called here evil surmisings; then they will proceed to perverse disputings. 5. Such persons as are given to perverse disputings appear to be men of corrupt minds, and destitute of the truth; especially such as act in this manner for the sake of gain, which is all their godliness, supposing gain to be godliness, contrary to the apostle‘s judgment, who reckoned godliness great gain. 6. Good ministers and Christians will withdraw themselves from such. “Come out from among them, my people, and be ye separate,” says the Lord: from such withdraw thyself.

MacArthur cautions us to be wary of clerics who boast of multiple academic degrees or their new truth or revelation:

I don’t care how many PhD’s or how much training or preparation they have, they know nothing. It doesn’t say they don’t know much. It says they don’t know anything. They are pompous ignoramuses. They don’t know anything, but they are inflated about what they think they know. They parade their imagined intelligence, their imagined scholarship, their imagined superior understanding, their imagined deeper insights, their imagined religious acumen, and the truth is they don’t know anything. They’re fools. First Corinthians chapter 1 and 2, they are absolute fools. And the wisdom of the world, he says, is – what? – foolishness with God. They don’t have insight into any matter of spiritual truth.

They have the wisdom, of James, that is not from above, that is earthly, sensual, demoniacal. They don’t have any truth. People who come along, whether they’re liberal theologians or cultic leaders, like Brigham Young and Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy and Judge Rutherford and whoever else they are, whether they’re L. Ron Hubbard or whoever they are, they come along and espouse some great truth, and the fact of it is they’re absolutely ignorant. They know nothing, absolutely nothing. Because you can’t know anything apart from the revelation of God. That is anything about spiritual reality. They claim some new truth, some new insight. They claim to know things that no one else knows, and they pontificate in their pompous ignorance about all the solutions to everything, and they don’t know anything.

Beloved, it’s so wonderful that the Lord has chosen to hide these things from the “wise and the prudent” – in their own eyes – and reveal them unto babes. God has hidden these things from the prosperous, self-promoting minds of this world and given it to the common folks like us. Those of us who know the Word of God know far more than the most erudite educated people who deny it.

Another thing to be wary of is the authorship of books of the Bible, a very big thing. Look at any Wikipedia entry on canonical books and you will find a running controversy on authorship in many cases:

And it isn’t enough to accept the Bible, you take the first five books of the Bible and the Scripture says they were written by Moses and along come the critics and say, “Now wait a minute, we can’t have those books written by Moses. We have a better solution.” And they invented what was called the documentary hypothesis – words, words – the documentary hypothesis. You say what is the documentary hypothesis? That means Moses didn’t write the Pentateuch. Who did? JEP&D. Who are JEP&D? Every time you see Jehovah, that’s the J writer; every time you see Elohim, that’s the E writer; every time you see a priestly passage that’s the P writer; and Deuteronomy was written by the Deuteronomists. And these are unknown people who much later than the Bible claims got a whole lot of documents and did their little thing and mish-mashed it all together, and a bunch of redactors and editors came along and changed this and changed that and fixed this and fixed that. And that’s how we got the Bible.

And you say, where does it say that? Oh, it doesn’t say that. Well, then when the Bible claims that a certain person wrote the book, is that the truth? No, no, that’s not the truth. So we deny the Scripture. We postulate the documentary hypothesis. We have all these people trying to figure out how JEP&D could do all this, especially when you have JEP&D in the same verse. Are they just passing the quill back and forth?

You come into the New Testament, and then you’ve got people who want to deny the authorship of the epistles. I can take you book after book after book, on introduction to the New Testament, where the whole approach to the author is to deny that Paul wrote the Pauline books, James wrote his epistle, deny Peter wrote his and all the way through – deny, deny, deny and postulate some – some speculative issue that they themselves have developed. This is typical. You can go back to allegorism, where they were making things in the Bible mean mystical things that they didn’t mean at all. For example, the old rabbis used to say that in the name Abraham, you give numerical equivalence to the consonants and they add up to 318. And every time you see the word Abraham that means that he had 318 servants. That’s bizarre, absolutely bizarre. And that kind of stuff goes on and on.

MacArthur has more on the characteristics of false teachers:

The mark then? Heresy. The attitude? Pride. The mentality? Ignorance. The effects? Chaos. Number five, just briefly, the cause of false teachers. Now I don’t mean by that the supernatural cause, the Satanic or demonic cause, I mean the source within them. Look at verse 5 again, “These perverse disputings come from men of corrupt minds.” There’s your basic cause. What you have is an unregenerate mind. You have a mind that’s never been transformed. You have the mind that is at enmity with God; that Paul calls, in Romans 8 the, carnal mind is at enmity with God. It’s an enemy of God. It is that earthly wisdom James refers to that fights against God. Corrupt minds. Romans 1:28, Paul says a reprobate mind, given over to every evil thing. Their mental faculties no longer function normally in the moral or spiritual realm. They do not react normally to truth. They are natural men, 1 Corinthians 2:14, who cannot understand the things of God.

So the pathological source of their disease is a corrupt mind. The deadly virus of ignorant words comes out of an abnormal mind. They don’t understand God. They don’t understand truth. They can’t understand truth. Their minds are darkened, Ephesians 4 says. Their minds are alienated from God, Ephesians 4 says. Their minds are totally wicked. It says in Colossians 1:21, your mind is basically attached to wicked works.

So alienated minds, wicked minds, darkened minds, carnal minds, corrupt minds, that’s the source. They’ve never been transformed. They have not received what I love Colossians – or 1 Corinthians 2:16 says, “But you have received the mind of” – whom? – “of Christ.” They don’t have that mind. They don’t have that mind. They don’t have the renewed mind that Paul writes about. And that’s the source. You’re dealing with a corrupt mind. You’re dealing with a regenerate mind. They may have degrees coming out their ears. They may have religious involvement. They may be a part of a cult or an -ism or whatever it is but their mind is corrupt. And out of a corrupt mind come ignorant words. That’s the cause.

Number six, the condition of false teachers. What is the present pervasive condition? Verse 5 again, he says not only are they men of corrupt minds, but, “and destitute of the truth” – and destitute of the truth. This is their condition. Their present condition is they are bereft. The word destitute means – it comes from a verb that means to steal, rob, deprive. They have been deprived of the truth, or it could be a middle voice – they have deprived themselves of the truth. They have robbed themselves of the truth, or they have been robbed of the truth.

That is a very dangerous spiritual condition, because it can — and does — lead to apostasy, which can lead to eternal condemnation in the next life:

… they moved away from the truth on their own volition. It’s not saying they were ever saved. They had a Bible. They read the Bible. They knew the truth but they moved away from it. On the other hand, it could be a passive – someone took it away. Maybe they came under the influence of someone who pulled them away from it. We might warn folks to be careful who you listen to and what you read so that you’re not a victim of that.

These are people who once were in proximity to the truth. They once had contact with the truth, maybe nothing more than having the Word of God in hand – and that’s enough, having a Bible – but now they have been deprived of it, or they have deprived themselves of it. They have literally fallen into Hebrews 6, Hebrews 10, those who were once enlightened and now have abandoned that which they once knew. They have seen and known and now rejected. And so we say their condition is apostasy. Their condition is apostasy. Their effect is chaos. Their condition is apostasy. They have departed from the faith. Who have they been listening to? The father of all lies, John 8:44, Satan himself. They have departed from the truth. They have deviated from the truth. As it says in 2 Timothy 2:18, they have erred concerning the truth. They are “ever learning,” chapter 3 verse 7 of 2 Timothy, “but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It says in the next verse, “They resist the truth because they are men of corrupt minds” – here it is – “reprobate concerning the faith.” Corrupt minds, destitute of truth, reprobate concerning the faith, it all goes together. It all goes together. Their condition is one of apostasy. They have deviated from the truth.

MacArthur ends with a seventh characteristic of false teachers:

Seventh, what’s the prognosis of false teachers? What is their prognosis? This is implied in the statement “destitute of the truth,” and their prognosis is judgment. Anyone who is utterly devoid of truth, anyone who is bereft of truth is headed for judgment. In fact, in Hebrews 6 if you turn away from the truth, there’s no hope of ever coming back to salvation. In Hebrews chapter 10, if you trample under your feet the blood of the covenant, you are headed for a disastrous and eternal judgment. Peter says in 2 Peter 2 again, they bring on themselves swift destruction. He says their destruction shall not sleep, their judgment from long ago is not idle. And then he gives illustrations by saying, verse 4, if God didn’t spare the angels that sinned but cast them down to hell, and if God didn’t spare the old world before Noah but destroyed that world of the ungodly, and if God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah turning them into ashes, if God did all of that to those apostates, then you can expect He’ll do the same to these. And so he goes on then describing these apostates and what God is going to do to them.

Jude in his little epistle gets very direct. He says they are “of old,” verse 4, “ordained to condemnation.” And then he says about them in verse 15 that God is going to come, “And convict all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Judgment. The prognosis of false teachers is judgment, eternal hell, and the severest hell of all because they, having seen the truth, touched the truth, apostatized from it.

MacArthur concludes:

Do you know – are you aware – can you see with your two eyes the religious charlatans are a steady parade across your eyes in this society who are in it for the money? They’re everywhere – everywhere …

Let me review it very briefly, listen carefully. Stay away from people who teach contrary to Scripture. Stay away from those who deny the truth. Stay away from those who are not Christlike and godly in conduct. Stay away from and don’t listen to those attitude is arrogant, who are totally ignorant of the spiritual reality and truth and constantly theorize about useless speculation which generates word battles leading only to chaos, confusion, disorder, and disunity. Stay away from and don’t listen to those who spin their arrogant teaching out of corrupt minds which have forsaken the truth and are headed for eternal judgment. Stay clear of those who are desirous of personal enrichment at your expense … They’re infected. And the prognosis for them and those they infect is very, very sad.

This seems an apposite passage for Pentecost Sunday. Let us make use of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, particularly wisdom and discernment. Let us also make use of another, fortitude, that we may stand firm and resolute in faith.

I will feature an example of this type of cleric tomorrow.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:6-10

Pentecost2Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, is May 28, 2023.

Readings for Year A along with other resources for Pentecost can be found here.

There are two Gospel options in Year A. One is an extract — John 20:19-23 — from the Second Sunday of Easter, the Doubting Thomas reading, John 20:19-31.

The other option is from John 7, which follows. Emphases mine below:

John 7:37-39

7:37 On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me,

7:38 and let the one who believes in me drink. As the scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’”

7:39 Now he said this about the Spirit, which believers in him were to receive; for as yet there was no Spirit, because Jesus was not yet glorified.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This episode in our Lord’s ministry took place less than a year before His crucifixion.

It happened during the week-long Jewish feast of Sukkot, or Booths in the sense of tents or shelters. It is also known as the Feast of Tabernacles.

It commemorates God’s protection of and provision for the Israelites when they spent 40 years in the desert. Because it takes place in the early autumn, it is also a harvest feast and a time of great joy.

On the last day of the festival, the great day, while Jesus was standing there, he cried out that anyone who thirsts should come to Him and let those who believe drink, for Scripture has said, ‘Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water’ (verses 37, 38).

As is so often the case, there is much to examine in so few verses.

Matthew Henry’s commentary summarises what happened on the final day of Sukkot, the festival’s culmination:

… it was a custom of the Jews, which they received by tradition, the last day of the feast of tabernacles to have a solemnity, which they called Libatio aquæ—The pouring out of water. They fetched a golden vessel of water from the pool of Siloam, brought it into the temple with sound of trumpet and other ceremonies, and, upon the ascent to the altar, poured it out before the Lord with all possible expressions of joy.

John MacArthur has more:

At this feast, they celebrated the wilderness wanderings for 40 years when they lived in tents and booths and temporary housing that they moved as they migrated around the wilderness for those four decades.  During that period of time, God protected them, preserved them, gave them food and drink.  Finally, that ended with a generation dying and a few entering into the land of promise, the Canaan land, and the birth of the nation of Israel.

To commemorate God’s preservation of that nation during those years of wandering, God instituted in Leviticus 23, a feast, an annual feast of remembrance around the time of the Fall [autumn]

They were in that feast.  It’s a week-long, and now it’s the last day.  That’s very very important.  The last day.  Very significant.  Let me tell you why.  Every day of the feast, there was a ritual that was repeated.  As far as we can tell from history, it was repeated every day.  And this is what happened.  Based on Leviticus 23:40, the instruction is this: that the people, the worshippers who celebrate the feast are to take the fruit of good trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of thick trees, and willows of the brook – several different kinds of trees They are to get the branches.  That’s Leviticus 23.  They are to take the branches, and they are to use those branches to create booths to commemorate the wilderness wandering and the temporary housing remembering the goodness of God.  That had developed into a very very special kind of ritual. 

The Pharisees had instructed the people to all bring their branches, at each particular time of every day during the feast, to the main altar and to surround that altar and put up their boughs and their branches to create a kind of makeshift covering over the altar.  This was in the temple area.  Every day of the festival, thousands upon thousands, tens of thousands of people were there, and they would come, and they would create this covering of palm branches, willow branches, and other kinds of thick trees.  They would form this kind of covering around the altar.  The altar is then in the midst of this covering with all these people surrounding it – those holding the branches and those beyond.  The high priest would then go to the Pool of Siloam by prescription.  And he had a golden pitcher in his hand, and he would dip it in the water of the Pool of Siloam.  And he would come back, and he would pour the water out on the altar as a remembrance of God providing the waters for the people of Israel at Meribah out of the rock. 

And when he poured the water, historians tell us, the people were required – by the way, he came back through the water gate, which was so named because people brought water through it So he would come back through the water gate, and historians tell us the people recite Isaiah 12:3 Isaiah 12:3 says, “With joy, shall we draw water out of the wells of salvation.”  “With joy, shall we draw water out of the wells of salvation.” 

So the whole ceremony remembers the wilderness wandering.  It remembers the water provided there, but it’s all symbolic of God’s salvation, his deliverance of Israel temporarily during those 40 years – is merely a remembrance of God as a saving God who delivers his people and should remind them of soul salvation.  The water, then, comes to the altar in the hand of the priest.  It is poured out.  And when it is poured out, and the people have recited the passage from Isaiah, they were required then to sing the Hallel.  The Levitical choir would start the Hallel is sung 113-118.  Hallel from which we get “Hallelujah,” hymns of praise.  They would sing Psalms 113-118 So that’s the scene it was the most celebratory of all the Jewish feasts.

So the whole dramatic ceremony is a vivid thanksgiving for God’s salvation of his people and protection and preservation and deliverance of his people in the wilderness wandering and how he supplied water for them.  They also added to the celebration a prayer for more water that God would send rain.  Now what makes this especially important on the last day, is that on the last day, before pouring out the water, the people marched around the altar seven times.  Why?  To commemorate the march around what city?  The city of Jericho because that spelled the end of the wilderness wandering. 

Jesus, ever obedient to Jewish law, was present. He issued an open invitation to everyone there. He stood and cried out in issuing it.

Henry explains our Lord’s intent in crying out:

Jesus stood and cried, which denotes, (1.) His great earnestness and importunity. His heart was upon it, to bring poor souls in to himself. The erection of his body and the elevation of his voice were indications of the intenseness of his mind. Love to souls will make preachers lively. (2.) His desire that all might take notice, and take hold of this invitation. He stood, and cried, that he might the better be heard; for this is what every one that hath ears is concerned to hear.

Henry discusses the importance of seizing the opportunity to pass a message onto a crowd:

Now on this day Christ published this gospel-call, because (1.) Much people were gathered together, and, if the invitation were given to many, it might be hoped that some would accept of it, Prov 1 20. Numerous assemblies give opportunity of doing the more good. (2.) The people were now returning to their homes, and he would give them this to carry away with them as his parting word. When a great congregation is to be dismissed, and is about to scatter, as here, it is affecting to think that in all probability they will never come all together again in this world, and therefore, if we can say or do any thing to help them to heaven, that must be the time. It is good to be lively at the close of an ordinance. Christ made this offer on the last day of the feast. [1.] To those who had turned a deaf ear to his preaching on the foregoing days of this sacred week; he will try them once more, and, if they will yet hear his voice, they shall live. [2.] To those who perhaps might never have such another offer made them, and therefore were concerned to accept of this; it would be half a year before there would be another feast, and in that time they would many of them be in their graves. Behold now is the accepted time.

Both commentators call our attention to the openness of His invitation.

Henry says:

The invitation itself is very general: If any man thirst, whoever he be, he is invited to Christ, be he high or low, rich or poor, young or old, bond or free, Jew or Gentile. It is also very gracious: “If any man thirst, let him come to me and drink. If any man desires to be truly and eternally happy, let him apply himself to me, and be ruled by me, and I will undertake to make him so.”

MacArthur says:

There will be another one in chapter 8.  There will be a number of invitations right on down to the very end of his ministry.  In fact, I doubt whether a day went by in his ministry in which he didn’t invite people to salvation, to the Kingdom, to the forgiveness of sin and eternal life.  There was likely not a day that he didn’t invite people to believe in him, to confess him as Lord and Savior, and receive the salvation that comes only through him. 

Earlier on, John’s Gospel gives us another of our Lord’s invitations to living water, which He made to the Samaritan woman at the well, John 4:5-42:

4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.”

4:11 The woman said to him, “Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water?

4:12 Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?”

4:13 Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again,

4:14 but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.”

MacArthur reminds us:

You will also remember in chapter 6 as he was speaking of himself as the “bread of life.”  He encouraged people to eat this bread and to drink as well.  In a land where water was scarce, a very dry land, water was a great commodity to express the work of salvation, the benefit of salvation to a thirsty soul So this is a striking invitation.  There was a context for the woman at the well.  There was a real well and real water, and he played off of that to talk about the water that will satisfy a soul.  And that soul will never thirst again.  Here again, there is a context for the analogy of water

MacArthur says that Jesus chose a powerful moment to issue His invitation here:

It is on that day, at that moment, when they are all celebrating the deliverance and the salvation of God – with that as a backdrop, and perhaps – can’t be certain – but perhaps, in the quiet moment when the festival reaches its apex and the priest takes the golden pitcher and pours the water, it is perhaps at that moment that Jesus says, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come and drink.  Let him come to me.”  Jesus dramatically captures the moment – turns it to himself.  He must have positioned himself in the right place. 

We read in verse 37 that he “cried out.”  There’s that ekrazen again that strong word for yelling at the top of his voice He wants to be heard.  And in the drama of that moment, no doubt, he picked a moment when everybody was sort of holding their breath at the drama of the celebration.  Jesus says, “‘You are thankful to God for water in the wilderness – water that satisfied the thirst of your forefathers.  Come to me for water that quenches your soul.’”  Your soul.  You understand again, in a land where there’s so little water, how much water symbolized satisfaction – a necessity for life.  So Jesus uses that analogy now for the third time really in the Gospel of John. 

MacArthur discusses the elements of this invitation and their importance:

In the words that he says at that moment, there are three actions: “thirst,” “come,” “drink.”  Three verbs.  They really generally correspond to what the Medieval Latin fathers used to call notitia, fiducia, and assensus, the three elements necessary for saving faith “Thirst,” that is the knowledge of the problem, the knowledge of the alienation, the knowledge of the deprivation, the knowledge of the condition and understanding of its implications, and including a knowledge of the source of water.  Then “come,” that’s fiducia.  That’s trust.  And then “drink,” that’s assent. 

Let’s kind of break those down a little bit.  It’s pretty simple.  The first tells of a recognized need: thirst.  Thirst.  Notice the general open invitation “If anyone is thirsty.”  “If anyone is thirsty.”  “If anyone is thirsty.”  The invitations of Jesus were always unlimited.  They were always universal.  They were always open-ended.  “‘If anyone is thirsty, come unto me all you who labor and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest.’”  God told of the world that he gave his only begotten son that “whosoever believes shall not perish but have everlasting life.”  Here again is another one of those invitations.  “If you are thirsty.”  Thirst is a craving.  Thirst is a conscious craving.  It’s something we know about.  It’s something we’re fully aware of.  We feel it, and the more thirst increases, the more anxious a person becomes.  In fact, there can actually be a kind of madness that sets in if you cannot get a drink as you become more and more seriously thirsty.

What’s he talking about?  He’s talking about a thirsty soul.  A longing for deliverance, longing for hope, longing for peace, longing for forgiveness, for salvation, for liberation from the power of sin.  If you are thirsting – anyone who is thirsting – anyone whose soul is parched, that’s where it all starts.  It starts with that craving.  Then the consciousness, the acute consciousness of that craving. 

People come to Christ because they’re thirsty.  Do you understand that?  Because their souls are empty That’s why when you do Evangelism, you don’t start with “come to Christ.”  You start with the recognition of the desperate situation the sinner is in and try to help him understand that.  So that’s where it all begins with thirst.  Like the Philippian jailer who said, “What must I do to be saved?”  That’s a thirsty soul crying out.

The second verb – the second action is “come.”  It signifies the approach to him.  “‘If any man will come after me” Luke 9:23.  Seeing him as the only source of soul satisfying, nourishing, living water.  Come.  Come to me.  Come to Christ.  It means, with all your heart and with all your will, you come to him.  If he were here, you would do it with your feet, but he’s not here; you do it with your heart and your mind If he were here, you would come and stand before him in your thirst.  And you would fall on your knees, and you would cry out for him to give you the living water as the only source. 

Spiritually speaking, it is to move toward Jesus Christ as the only source of your need.  Turn your back on the world.  Abandon your sin.  Abandon your self-confidence.  Cast your self at the feet of incarnate grace and truth in Christ.  That’s “come.”  No one else you can come to?  He is the way, the truth, and the life.  You come to him.  You come to him alone.  Let me remind you the only qualification is thirst – not morality, not religiosity, not good works, not being a benevolent person, not being “a basically good person.”  There is no qualification like that.  The only qualification is that you are thirsty.  And very often, benevolent, basically good people, religious people, moral people don’t feel the thirst.  That’s why when Jesus came, all the moral, religious people hated him.  And it was the sinners and tax collectors and outcasts that came.  It’s the thirsty that come.  Nowhere else to go but him?  He is the only one who can satisfy the soul. 

Thirdly, “drink.”  Drink means to appropriate – to appropriate.  A river flowing through the parched valley doesn’t do any good unless you drink.  Drinking means to take him, receive him, make him your own, embrace him.  As he said to the woman at the well in John 4:14, “‘Drink, and you’ll never thirst.’”  As he said in John 6, “‘You must eat and drink of me, my life, and my death.’”  A songwriter wrote, “I heard the voice of Jesus say, ‘Behold, I freely give the living water, thirsty one.  Stoop down, and drink, and live.  I came to Jesus and I drank of that life-giving stream.  My thirst was quenched.  My soul revived, and now I live in him.’”  That’s a sentiment that every Christian can understand.  I came; I drank; I took Christ in.

All of that is simply a way to break out what it means to believe. 

Then there is belief itself, which Jesus mentioned next (verse 38):

this may be the most remarkable part about this invitation Look at verse 38: “‘He who believes in me, as the Scripture said,’” and by the way, he collects from several verses in Isaiah and even makes reference to Ezekiel 37, a kind of composite statement, “‘as the Scripture said, from his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’”  Let me give you a simple analogy.  This water that flows to you when you come to Christ comes into your life doesn’t stay in you.  You’re not a bucket.  You’re not a reservoir.  It goes through you.  You are a fountain that becomes a river.  Really amazing statement.  Not only do we drink and have our soul thirst forever quenched, but we become the fountain and the river of living water to others as it flows from us

Verse 38 talks about the impact of a believer on the world.  It’s thrilling.  We receive soul-refreshing spiritual water, which is really an analogy for spiritual life, eternal life, with all of its elements and components meaning conversion, redemption, justification, sanctification, adoption, everything.  We receive all that – a constant spring of pure, cleansing water of life in us, sanctifying us, making us more like Christ But at the same time, and the real key here is, we become a fountain that turns into a river for the world The blessed one becomes the blessor.  The recipient of sovereign grace becomes the channel of sovereign grace.  And in not a trickle, but a gushing river. 

This is just an amazing statement about how much your life mattersWhen you think about who matters in society, Christians matter because they are a saver of life unto life.  They’re the fountain and river of living water that flows to the world.  The results and people being redeemed and taken to eternal glory.  That matters. 

Therefore, MacArthur says that these invitations are more than historical episodes from our Lord’s ministry. They raise questions for us as well:

… I want to talk just a little bit about the matter of this invitation to begin with.  Admiring Jesus, being impressed by Jesus, watching Jesus from afar, saying kind things about him is insufficient.  It puts a person, in the end, in the same Hell as the people who hated Jesus, who hate him now, who reject him, who were guilty of his death even in Jerusalem at the Crucifixion.  Admiring Jesus is not sufficient to grant eternal life.  Some kind of superficial commendation of Jesus is not enough.  The question is: what will you do with his invitations?  What will you do with his invitations? 

How were the people at the Sukkot celebration — and how are we — going to become that gushing river of water?

John explains that Jesus was speaking of the Holy Spirit, which believers then were to receive at the first Pentecost, although, when Jesus issued that invitation, the Spirit would not yet be with everyone, because our Lord had not yet been glorified (verse 39) through His death, resurrection and ascension.

Henry gives us this analysis:


(1.) It is promised to all that believe on Christ that they shall receive the Holy Ghost. Some received his miraculous gifts (Mark 16 17, 18); all receive his sanctifying graces. The gift of the Holy Ghost is one of the great blessings promised in the new covenant (Acts 2 39), and, if promised, no doubt performed to all that have an interest in that covenant.

(2.) The Spirit dwelling and working in believers is as a fountain of living running water, out of which plentiful streams flow, cooling and cleansing as water, mollifying and moistening as water, making them fruitful, and others joyful; see ch. 3 5. When the apostles spoke so fluently of the things of God, as the Spirit gave them utterance (Acts 2 4), and afterwards preached and wrote the gospel of Christ with such a flood of divine eloquence, then this was fulfilled, Out of his belly shall flow rivers.

(3.) This plentiful effusion of the Spirit was yet the matter of a promise; for the Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified. See here [1.] That Jesus was not yet glorified. It was certain that he should be glorified, and he was ever worthy of all honour; but he was as yet in a state of humiliation and contempt. He had never forfeited the glory he had before all worlds, nay, he had merited a further glory, and, besides his hereditary honours, might claim the achievement of a mediatorial crown; and yet all this is in reversion. Jesus is now upheld (Isa 42 1), is now satisfied (Isa 53 11), is now justified (1 Tim 3 16), but he is not yet glorified. And, if Christ must wait for his glory, let not us think it much to wait for ours. [2.] That the Holy Ghost was not yet given. oupo gar hen pneumafor the Holy Ghost was not yet. The Spirit of God was from eternity, for in the beginning he moved upon the face of the waters. He was in the Old-Testament prophets and saints, and Zacharias and Elisabeth were both filled with the Holy Ghost. This therefore must be understood of the eminent, plentiful, and general effusion of the Spirit which was promised, Joel 2 28, and accomplished, Acts 2 1, etc. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in that visible manner that was intended. If we compare the clear knowledge and strong grace of the disciples of Christ themselves, after the day of Pentecost, with their darkness and weakness before, we shall understand in what sense the Holy Ghost was not yet given; the earnests and first-fruits of the Spirit were given, but the full harvest was not yet come. That which is most properly called the dispensation of the Spirit did not yet commence. The Holy Ghost was not yet given in such rivers of living water as should issue forth to water the whole earth, even the Gentile world, not in the gifts of tongues, to which perhaps this promise principally refers. [3.] That the reason why the Holy Ghost was not given was because Jesus was not yet glorified. First, The death of Christ is sometimes called his glorification (ch. 13 31); for in his cross he conquered and triumphed. Now the gift of the Holy Ghost was purchased by the blood of Christ: this was the valuable consideration upon which the grant was grounded, and therefore till this price was paid (though many other gifts were bestowed upon its being secured to be paid) the Holy Ghost was not given. Secondly, There was not so much need of the Spirit, while Christ himself was here upon earth, as there was when he was gone, to supply the want of him. Thirdly, The giving of the Holy Ghost was to be both an answer to Christ’s intercession (ch. 14 16), and an act of his dominion; and therefore till he is glorified, and enters upon both these, the Holy Ghost is not given. Fourthly, The conversion of the Gentiles was the glorifying of Jesus. When certain Greeks began to enquire after Christ, he said, Now is the Son of man glorified, ch. 12 23. Now the time when the gospel should be propagated in the nations was not yet come, and therefore there was as yet no occasion for the gift of tongues, that river of living water. But observe, though the Holy Ghost was not yet given, yet he was promised; it was now the great promise of the Father, Acts 1 4. Though the gifts of Christ’s grace are long deferred, yet they are well secured: and, while we are waiting for the good promise, we have the promise to live upon, which shall speak and shall not lie.

MacArthur says:

verse 39 is a prophecy He spoke of the spirit “whom those who believed in him were to receive” for the Spirit was not yet given because Jesus was not yet glorified.  The Holy Spirit couldn’t come until Jesus was glorified, ascended into Heaven.  Then he sent the Holy Spirit, and … when the Holy Spirit came on the day of Pentecost – launched the church And then the river on the inside began to flow to the world.  And it happened instantaneously because immediately on the day of Pentecost, all those Galileans who didn’t know those multiple languages began to speak the wonderful works of God in all kinds of gentile languages as the river began to flow.

Rivers of blessing begin to pour out of those believers early in Pentecost.  Peter preaches, the river starts, and 3000 people are saved.  They preach again; another 4000 are saved Tens of thousands are being saved.  In Jerusalem, it extends to Samaria, and we’re still living the history today The river is unleashed on the world through the indwelling Holy Spirit.  Only the Holy Spirit can make the river flow.  He’s the power behind all witness – all witness.

MacArthur concludes:

So Jesus says, “‘For those of you who come to me and drink, you will not only be satisfied, but you will become a river of life to the world.’”  That happened seven and a half months later on the day of Pentecost.  That is the work of the Holy Spirit.  What an amazing invitation to say not only will you have your soul totally satisfied forever with a water that’ll cause you to never thirst again – satisfy you forever, but your life will take on eternal significance.  What an amazing invitation.  That’s why I say this is the golden invitation of the Gospel of John Rivers of water, not reserved for super saints or some kind of reservoir but, belonging to all believers all of whom become fountains that turn into rivers.  What an invitation.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Pentecost Sunday.

Eastertide finished the day before Pentecost. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday. After that, until the first Sunday of Advent, where vestments are worn, celebrants wear green to mark what some denominations call ‘Ordinary Time’. Others designate those Sundays as being ‘after Pentecost’ or ‘after Trinity’.

John F MacArthurIn his sermon on the first five verses of John 17, John MacArthur explains why the Gospel writer referred to Jesus Christ as the Word.

Excerpts from his 2015 sermon, ‘The Lord’s Greatest Prayer, Part 2’, follow, emphases mine.

As a point of reference, here are the first five verses of John 1 and verse 14:

The Word became flesh

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome[a] it.

14 The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Here are the first five verses of John 17, our Lord’s prayer — the only one we have — in the Garden of Gethsemane for Himself, for His disciples and for believers to come. These verses comprise the prayer for Himself:

Jesus prays to be glorified

17 After Jesus said this, he looked towards heaven and prayed:

‘Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

MacArthur addresses John’s Gospel, the objective of which is to show our Lord’s deity:

He is the head over all things. The Father literally gave to the Son all authority.

John has told us in chapter 5 that He has authority to judge. He has authority to judge, and He has authority to condemn, and He has authority to exalt. He will catapult the ungodly into eternal punishment, and He will exalt those who belong to Him into the heaven of heavens, and He will provide by His power resurrection bodies for both. He is the One who gives life …

Now we know that that authority that belonged to Him – that sovereign authority over all things, over the entire universe, and particularly over living things, including even spirit beings – that authority was set aside in His incarnation. And He literally came down; humbled Himself as a man, as a servant; became like a slave. He was basically mistreated by the contemporary Jewish authorities of His time. He was executed by the Roman authorities of His time. And He is the One who has authority over all creation, over all humanity, over all that exists, over all that lives. Authority belongs to Him. Authority belongs to Him for a very important reason, and that reason is stated for us back in John 1. Let’s go back to John 1.

That authority belongs to Him because of a statement in verse 4: “In Him was life.” “In Him was life.” That is the foundational identification of God. This is the foundational truth of Christianity. God, the eternal God, is the One who has given life to everything that exists. He didn’t receive life; in Him was life.

Before going into MacArthur’s discussion of Christ as the Word, a relevant passage in Acts 17 — Paul’s brief trip to Athens — tells us that the Greeks worshipped an unknown god, thought to have been the god of creation. As creation is an enduring mystery, this god had no physical attributes but was the greatest of them all:

22 Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: ‘People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: to an unknown god. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you.

24 ‘The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. 26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 “For in him we live and move and have our being.”[b] As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.”[c]

29 ‘Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone – an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent. 31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.’

32 When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, ‘We want to hear you again on this subject.’ 33 At that, Paul left the Council. 34 Some of the people became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

MacArthur tells us more about the ‘Word’ and the Greek ‘logos’, which means ‘word, reason or plan’:

“The Word,” meaning Christ, “was with God” in the beginning – “was God,” as evidenced by the fact that He has made everything that exists. Again, I say this is the definitive reality of Christianity.

“The Word” – Why isn’t He called the Lord Jesus Christ? Why does John use “the Word”? Because, among the Greeks there was this very obvious idea that there was an intelligent designer. There was a power; there was a cosmic force. There was massive energy somewhere in the universe, and it was highly intelligent because of the complexity of what it made. It was highly personal because there is personality among human beings. The Greeks were way ahead of the contemporary movement called “intelligent design,” which is a kind of contemporary answer to the foibles and follies of evolution …

Well, you would be one of the Greeks who would say there’s a cosmic force, and energy, and power, and intellect out there that is massive and way beyond us; and they actually called it logos, logos. And to the Jews, logos was the Word of God, the Old Testament; and God revealed Himself through His Word. So John just borrows that term from the Greeks and the Jews and said that “the cosmic force that you talk about, the intelligent designer that you recognize out there, that is the Word, the Word.”

And the Old Testament was God speaking, and now God has spoken through the Word. And then in [John 1] verse 14, he pulls that together by saying, “And the Word became flesh, and dwelt among us.” The abstract, intelligent mind, power, force that created the entire universe became a man – the Word of God, the Word of God spoken in the Old Testament. Hebrews 1, “God spoke in the past, but has in these last days spoken through His Son.” “The Word became flesh.” That’s Christianity.

Now, the word “became” is very important in verse 14: “The Word became flesh,” ginomai. What does that mean? It means that the Word was now something that it never was before – it “became.” God is immutable. God is pure, eternal being. God is not becoming anything. God does not change. He does not develop. He does not progress. He is eternal, pure being.

But all creatures are becoming. They’re in the process of becoming, changing. Even the incarnate Christ was in the womb, and then out of the womb an infant, and then a toddler, and then a child, and then a young adult, and then a full adult – “maturing in wisdom, and stature, and favor with God and man.” At that point, the second member of the Trinity, the Son of God, became something He never had been. He became something He never had been – He took on the fullness of humanity. He was always God, but He became man ... Charles Wesley’s wonderful words: “Veiled in flesh the Godhead see; hail the incarnate Deity, pleased as man with man to dwell; Jesus, our Immanuel [God with us].”

Eternally, God the Son – always God – became something He was not. He became a man “and dwelt among us.” He dwelt among us – not a vision; not an apparition; not some kind of esoteric, dream-like experience. He became a man. “He was made in the likeness of man” (Philippians 2). He partook of flesh and blood. He lived here for thirty-three years on earth, fully man. That Word, pure being, became a man. The rest of the gospel of John is to tell the story of His life through the lens particularly of His divinity.

This is why He says, “Glorify Me with the glory I had with You before the world began. Because of who I am, I am worthy to be restored to that glory.”

First of all, He speaks of His preexistence. Verse 1: “In the beginning was the Word.” Verse 2 says the same thing: “He was in the beginning with God.” What is “the beginning”? “The beginning” is “the beginning.” “The beginning” is Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

When “the beginning” began, He already was. Do you see it? “In the beginning was the Word.” Was already existing, “the Word” – not became the Word. He wasn’t part of the creation. He already existed when the creation was made – already in existence. He’s not a created being; He existed from all eternity

Let me make it simple for you. Something must be eternal – something; and not something, but someone. Someone with massive power, someone with massive complex intelligence must be eternal. I know it’s hard to think about things that are eternal. That’s really an impossibility for our feeble minds to grasp. But reason would tell you, to say nothing of divine revelation. Something has to always be there, because whatever wasn’t always there was made by something that was always there, and that something is none other than God. If you want to literally chop the bottom out of Christianity, just deny Genesis, just deny creation, just deny God as the Creator. That is not a small issue.

Since time began at creation, you go before creation. You’re beyond time. You’re into eternity where only God exists. So “in the beginning [time] the Word already was” eimi, the verb eimi, “being.” Had John used gínomai, then we would have to struggle with the fact that he seemed to be saying Jesus came into existence, which would make Him a created being. But John doesn’t tamper with his verbs.

And, of course, Jesus said things like this: “‘Before Abraham was, I Am.’” And He refers to Himself as the “I Am,” over and over in the gospel of John. The apostle Paul in Colossians says that “He is before all things. He was in the beginning with God.” When “the beginning” began, He was already there. This emphasizes preexistence. He didn’t become God in time. He’s not some emanation from God, some creation by God. He preexisted everything that exists. That puts Him into eternity. That puts Him into the Godhead. Only God is eternal.

Not only was He preexistent, but coexistent. Go back to verse 1. He was not only “with God,” but He “was God” – not only was “with God” at the creation, but He “was God.” He is preexistent; that is before anything else existed. When nothing existed, He existed. And He not only was there “with God,” He “was God.” This is a powerful, powerful statement.

The Greek expression means “face-to-face with God on an equal basis,” “face-to-face with God on an equal basis.” Literally, the Greek says Thes n ho Lgos, “God was the Word,” “God was the Word,” full deity, verse 14. His glory was the glory as of the prttokos from the Father, “full of grace and truth.” He had all the attributes of God because He “was God.”

So who is Jesus? He is God, preexisting all that exists, coexisting eternally with God as God. And then this remarkable third element of His nature: He is not only preexistent and coexistent with God, but He is self-existent, self-existent. Verse 3: “All things came into being through Him, and apart from Him nothing came into being that has come into being. In Him was life.” Really a defining, defining statement.

“All things that came into being, all things,” positive. Negative: “Nothing came into being that hasn’t come into being through Him.” Why? He was the possessor of life. Life came from Him. It wasn’t given to Him, it came from Him. He is the Creator. He is the Creator. Genesis, God is the Creator. Genesis, the Spirit is the Creator.

In John, the Son of God is equally the Creator. The triune God is the Creator, and nothing exists in the entire universe that God did not make: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Creator of everything that exists must necessarily be uncreated. Right? The Creator of everything that exists must necessarily be uncreated, and only the eternal God is uncreated, so Jesus is the eternal God. He is preexistent, He is coexistent, and He is self-existent.

Theologians call this the aseity of God, a-s-e-i-t-y, the aseity of God. Nothing gives Him life; nothing takes life from Him. He is life itself. That’s why when God gave His name, He said, “‘I Am that I Am.’” No past, no present – “‘I Am that I Am.’”

Now you know who Christ is. The proof is that in Him is life – a massive statement. Not bíos life, not biological life; z, spiritual life. He has the life in Himself.

I found that a remarkable explanation of Christ’s deity, and I hope you do, too.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Timothy 6:1-2

Let all who are under a yoke as slaves[a] regard their own masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled. Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful on the ground that they are brothers; rather they must serve all the better since those who benefit by their good service are believers and beloved.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy on the treatment of elders, or pastors, especially in matters of church discipline and discerning their suitability to become church leaders in the first place.

Today’s post focuses on Paul’s instructions to Timothy regarding slaves.

Slavery is a hot topic these days.

However, slavery in the eras of the Old and New Testaments was, in many cases, akin to regular employment, for reasons explained below.

The word ‘slave’ in Greek is ‘doulos’. However, a great number of slaves were bondservants, who were tied to their masters, often willingly.

Compelling Truth says that slaves of the Bible eras and even into the latter days of the Roman empire, in many cases, lived lives that had no comparison to slaves in the United States or the West Indies centuries ago. Many lived in what we would call working class or middle class circumstances. This is why the Bible had little to say about slavery (emphases mine):

Does this mean the Bible condoned or promoted slavery? Not necessarily. First, it is clear that the role of a bondservant was broader than views of modern slavery, which explains why some New Testament writing gave instructions for “how” to treat bondservants instead of only commanding their freedom.

In addition, Paul’s most personal letter, the letter to Philemon, offers the most direct discussion of slavery in the New Testament. When the runaway slave Onesimus became a Christian, Paul sent this letter with him to return to his master. Paul wrote, “For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord” (Philemon 1:15-16). He clearly noted that the bondservant and his owner were brothers and of equal status before God. Further, Paul told Philemon to “receive him as you would receive me” (Philemon 1:17). How would Philemon be expected to receive Paul? As a fellow believer, treated with respect. Paul indirectly suggests giving Onesimus his freedom (verse 18). Tradition records that Onesimus later became a church leader.

The bondservant was a common role in the New Testament period that ranged from slave to bonded laborer. Commands were given to Christians regarding proper treatment, with freedom recommended whenever possible (1 Corinthians 7:21). Most importantly, the image of the bondservant became one of great importance for Christians, who are called to live as bondservants of Christ Jesus.

This is what 1 Corinthians 7:21 says:

21 Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble you – although if you can gain your freedom, do so.

The Apostles, especially Paul, considered themselves bondservants of Christ. Our Lord Himself put a primary emphasis on service to others, notably when He washed the feet of the Twelve just before the Last Supper:

The New Testament also notes that Jews owned bondservants or slaves. Because bondservants existed as a known role in culture, Jesus included them as characters in His own parables (Matthew 25:14-30; Luke 12:41-48). In contrast with the cultural view, Jesus taught that the greatest was the “servant (doulos) of all” (Mark 9:35).

In many New Testament books, the word bondservant was used in reference to a person’s commitment to Jesus. Most of Paul’s letters begin by referring to himself as a servant of Christ Jesus. James and Jude, half-brothers of Jesus, both refer to themselves as Christ’s bondservants. The apostle Peter called himself a “servant and apostle” (2 Peter 1:1).

The importance of these New Testament authors referring to themselves as bondservants should not be overlooked. Despite proclaiming a message of freedom from sin in Jesus Christ, these writers were dedicated to Jesus as their one master. Further, their service to the Lord was not one they could consider leaving. Just as a bondservant was more than an employee who could leave for another job, these Christians were servants who could never leave their master for another.

John MacArthur preached a whole sermon on slavery in connection with these verses. I will go into it in more detail but let’s start with this:

Now when you go to the New Testament or the Old Testament, you have to understand this. It was a very workable system. It was a very manageable system. And when you think of slavery, don’t think of half-naked people in ratty clothes and chains dangling around their ankles. And don’t think of people who are being whipped in the back or smacked with sticks or were working seven days a week and sixteen hours a day. Think of people who are treated graciously who are a part of a family who have contracted to offer their skills and services for a period of time. And where there was an abuse, there was an abuse in the heart. And that can happen in any situation.

MacArthur says that there were abuses, especially during Roman times, but that did not mean that every slave was treated cruelly:

There were abuses in the Greco-Roman world. Particularly the Romans were abusive from time to time. They did not permit some slaves to marry ever. They had conjugal rights with women and when they gave birth to children, the children became more slaves. They in many ways treated slaves as if they were animals, having no more rights than a beast of burden. There were abuses particularly in the Roman area. There were [fewer] abuses than that typically in Palestine where slavery was a little bit more minimal. But surely there were abuses. And there are abuses of any kind of economic or social system of employment.

MacArthur also says:

Now with all that in mind you understand why, don’t you, in the Old Testament there’s no cry to end slavery. And in the New Testament there’s no cry to end slavery either because the system itself is only a system. And when good hearted people participate in it, it works fine – it works fine. There were abuses of that system. Let me tell you something, folks, we don’t have a slavery system in the United States, but we’ve got a lot of abuses in our system, too. There are a lot of unhappy employers; there are a lot of miserable workers. And I said at the very beginning, 70 percent of the people in the labor force of the United States hate their job for whatever reason. So the abuse factor is the issue; the evil heartedness is the issue. And listen carefully, that is why that when the preachers and teachers of the Old Testament went out, they went to speak a message to change the heart. And when Jesus came and the apostles and prophets went out, they spoke a message to change the heart, because it isn’t the form of the system; it is the heart. That’s the issue.

And the abuses come because the hearts aren’t right. And so what we preach is not, “Let’s overthrow the system.” What we preach is, “Let’s transform the heart.” So we’re not interested in political or economic or social revolution; we are interested in proclaiming the gospel and creating a spiritual revolution. And I believe that slavery was ultimately abolished in America as a direct result of the transformed hearts of people who were impacted in the great revivals of this nation.

There’s more to come about how slavery worked in the ancient world and why no one objected to it.

Slavery encompassed a wide ranging group from cooks to manservants to skilled workmen to accountants to property managers. Many slaves could contract short- or long-term arrangements with their masters. They also earned more money and had better working conditions than a day labourer or a soldier.

As such, this can be considered akin to our modern, Western employment arrangements.

MacArthur points out that professional athletes earning big money are also bondservants in a way:

… it’s very little different than people today who sign long-term contracts with any employer. I think about that every time I see one of these high-priced athletes sign a five-year contract. What he’s basically doing is becoming an indentured servant. What he’s doing is becoming a slave under contract in bondage to the one with whom he covenanted that contract.

In the ancient world, even outside the Roman empire, wherever one went, there were slaves.

MacArthur explains that sometimes slaves came collectively, through conquest, or individually during times of peace. People considered slavery to be a mutually beneficial arrangement for slave and master:

… in understanding the biblical teaching about slavery and masters, we need to divorce ourselves from that kind of thing which is racially discriminatory and which is, for the most part, abusive and structures itself into social stratas that are wrong and not pleasing to God at all. And we need to get a whole new understanding of the social structure of servants and masters that we find in the New Testament. So that’s what I want you to do. Put that other stuff aside and try to understand it in its proper biblical frame of reference. All right?

Now slavery in the biblical sense has its roots deep in the Old Testament, deep in the Middle East. And I want to just talk about that for a moment. Slaves were primarily domestic employees of a family. And they worked sometimes, as I said, out in the field, but for the most part they belonged to the household. They were, for example, cooks and household managers. You would have a doulos who managed your household. He was your bookkeeper. He was your inventory controller. He was the one who decided how to use your resources. And he would be one who had contracted to come into your service and in exchange for his long-term submission to you, you gave him his housing, his clothing, his food, and a proper amount of money for living expenses and personal things.

You might be interested to know that in the ancient times in the Middle East, artisans were doulos, were slaves or servants. Teachers were slaves. When you wanted someone to come and teach your children and raise them in the things of wisdom and knowledge, you would bring in a servant to do that. Not unlike early America. You remember in the colonization of America the term indentured servant. People in Europe were literally contracting to sell their services to a family over here in the New World for say seven, ten, fifteen years. They would come over based upon the fact that they were guaranteed employment. They would be cared for by the family. And when those years ran out, they would be free to then pursue their own career and their own objectives in the New World.

Now slaves in those ancient times were acquired in many different ways. One was they were the captives from conquest. In fact, the people of Israel knew what it was to be servants to conquering nations. They were servants to the Phoenicians, the Philistines, the Syrians, the Babylonians, and the Romans. And there were other nations who in being conquered by Israel were servants to them as well. In fact in ancient times, it was thought to be a very humanitarian option to conquer a people and them make them servants. In effect, that’s what the Babylonians did with Daniel and his friends. Right? And Daniel, in the role of being a servant, rose to become the prime minister of the whole Babylonian Empire and even the Medo-Persian Empire that succeeded it.

So rather than killing the enemy you conquered, you would keep them and put them in the role of serving you. That solved a lot of problems. One, it provided for you servants. Two, it provided for them their needs. Three, it brought them into your culture. And four, if it was Jewish, it brought them into the knowledge of your God and your religion and the truth of revelation. So you find an illustration of this – for example, Numbers chapter 31, Deuteronomy chapter 20, and 2 Chronicles chapter 28. All three of those show how a conquered people are brought in to serve the conqueror with a view to teaching them, to providing for them, to showing humanitarianism to them and to, in the case of Israel, exposing them to the truth of their God. So the first way that people became servants was through being captive in war.

Secondly, people were brought into this role of doulos through purchase. You could be a foreigner, for example, and you could be purchased. For example, let’s say a guy from another country comes into Israel, and he’s looking for employment. A land owner can buy his services, and he can take him in. He then sells himself to that individual. By the way, there was a death penalty, according to Exodus 21:16 and Deuteronomy 24:7, for kidnapping and selling a free man. But a man who was already a doulos or a slave or who sought to be, could be bought and sold, according to Leviticus 25:44 to 46.

Furthermore, a father might sell his daughter. In Exodus 21:7 and Nehemiah 5, a father can sell his daughter to work in a home. It wasn’t a bad thing or an evil thing to do. You literally contracted with someone to employ your daughter over a period of time, and your daughter went to work for that family. Not uncommonly, when she reached marriage age, she would marry the master of the house or one of the sons of the master of the house. And so in that sense it was a very good thing for both families.

A widow, according to 2 Kings 4:1, might sell her children into the employment of someone in order to pay off her husband’s debts which he being dead could no longer pay. And in Leviticus 25:39 and following and Deuteronomy 15:12 to 17, people sold themselves into employment. Literally went and contracted for their services with someone and became slaves in that sense. Children were also sold under conditional contracts, according to Exodus 21. A very interesting case in Nehemiah 5, the first part of the chapter, apparently a father had used his children as collateral for a loan. And when he defaulted on the loan, he had to put his children into service in order to pay back what he had borrowed.

So self-sale was not uncommon. And people could employ people who were willing to be bought, and there were people whom one owner would sell to another owner. There were people who desired to serve life-long with a master, and there were people who desired to serve short time. And there was within the slavery system the ability to contract and negotiate whatever it was that you both agreed on. According to Leviticus 25, interestingly enough, the Old Testament said fifty years is maximum for any service – 50 years. That’s for any non-Jew, any of the Gentile people that came into service, 50-year limit. For a Jew, get this, 6 years. And the reason, I think, is very obvious. When a Gentile come into the service of a Jew, he was exposed to all the truth of God, and so God wanted them to remain there as long as possible and so made the 50-year limit. It could be negotiated shorter than that, but that would be the limit. For a Jew, it was only six years. And that way the Jew had less time forced upon him, perhaps, in any individual or given contract situation. By the way, you can find that in Exodus 21:2 to 4 and Deuteronomy 15:12, the limit of six years was set upon a Jew.

Now another way that people went into slavery was through debt. If you incurred a debt you couldn’t pay back, you might have to go to work for someone to work off the debt. And you became the slave until the debt was eliminated. A thief, for example, a thief who could not pay what he had taken was placed into slavery to the one he had robbed, or the court would put him in slavery with someone else, and he would work off all that he needed to work off, or he would earn enough in his work to give back to someone that he had stolen from. Some slaves were received as gifts. In Genesis chapter 29, Leah received her slave, Zilpah, as a gift. Her personal attendant, this other young lady, was given her as a gift.

And then non-Hebrew slaves were passed on from generation to generation within a family so that you could actually inherit a slave or a servant, according to Leviticus 25:46. There was the more prolonged contract for those who were the original inhabitants of Canaan rather than the short six years for the Jews. And then you could be born into that situation if your parents were under contract as slaves to someone. So you get a little picture. There were a lot of people who were moving in and out of this kind of relationship in the society of the Middle East.

Slaves had many rights, at least in the Jewish world. Some also loved their masters so much they pledged their service for life:

In fact, they were so concerned about the legal rights of those who were the working force that the Old Testament is loaded with the rights and privileges of those who were slaves. Exodus 21, Leviticus 25, Deuteronomy 15 are good starting points to understand this. But let me just give you a brief review.

First of all, they could not as Jews be more than six years in bondage to any one master. They could renew their contract as long as they wanted, or they could say I want to serve him for life, and they would lean him against a door post and punch a hole in their ear and hang an earring or something in there so they would be for life identified as a willing servant of the one whom they had taken for their master. So if they were under contract to a master, that master had to take care of their housing, had to take care of their food, had to take care of their clothing, had to pay them on top of that, had to support their wife and all their children. That was necessary.

Now if the man came to the end of his six years and wanted to leave, he could take his wife and all of his kids. The guy would lose a lot of workers. Unless he had come into his service single and married someone who was already in service to that family, he couldn’t just marry the person and then at the end of his time take them all out. Obviously if that was permitted, people who wanted out of their contracts would find somebody to marry them, break the contract, and that wouldn’t work at all. So you couldn’t take one with you unless you brought her in or unless her time was up also. She was to remain and you had to leave alone if her time was not up.

Furthermore, they had tremendous religious rights within the covenant of Israel, even Gentiles once they identified as servants of a Jewish household had to go under certain vows and they were allowed to enjoy the sabbath rest just like the rest of the people and to enjoy the Passover as well. They had civil rights. If they were injured, they were immediately to be freed. If you poked their eye out or if you broke a tooth or any kind of bodily harm to a slave, they were free – any cruelty, any premeditated injury. If you premeditated the murder of a slave, you were sentenced to the death penalty. So they had rights and they had privileges. They had social rights. They could marry. They could have as many children as they could have and they could have a lot. And when they left they could all go free. And while they stayed the house owner had to support them all.

They had economic rights. They could acquire property and slaves could also have slaves. So you had an enterprising slave who subcontracted to his own slaves the duties that he himself didn’t want to do or whatever. They were given protective rights. Foreign slaves coming and seeking asylum in Israel, according to Deuteronomy 23:15 and 16, were given asylum and protection. The state of Israel even hired state slaves which would be like civil service employees, according to Joshua 16:10 and Judges 1:28, and hundreds of them manned the duties of the temple. They were supported by the state of Israel.

Now in general then, these were household domestic people. They were really members of the family. In fact in Exodus 20:17 they are grouped with women and children. They were as much a part of the family as the women and the children. And as the father, the head of the family, cared for the women and the children, he would also care for the servants or the slaves. They were to be treated with the same love and the same kindness. By the way, Paul says in Galatians 4:1 that a child was no better than a slave. They had rights; they had privileges. And they enjoyed a very good life, for the most part

So nowhere in the Old Testament and nowhere in the New Testament does it say that slaves are to leave their masters and masters are to release their slaves …  That’s not even an issue. If attitudes are right, that’s what matters.

There was one job a master could not ask of a Jewish slave — washing feet:

… if you had a Jewish slave, he was never to be asked to do the most disreputable task which was washing feet, because that would be publicly branding him as a slave, and it was important to protect his dignity. So they would invariably find a Gentile to do the foot washing. That’s what makes the washing of the feet of the disciples by Jesus such a remarkable act of humility. It was more than a Jew would ever be asked to do in the most abject humility.

MacArthur has more on what was, by and large, a good life:

By law, on the other hand, the slave was equal to the oldest son in the family and he had a right to the same treatment that the master gave his oldest son. He had a right to good clothes, good food, a good place at the table with the family, and a good bed. He could acquire possessions. He could buy things. He could find things and keep things. He could receive gifts, and he could shorten his time of service by making payments. He could marry and his master had to take care of his whole family. The six-year rule still prevailed. He could stay or leave for a better opportunity at the end of the six years. That’s a very reasonable rule. I imagine every employer would like, if he finds a good employee, to sign him up for that length of time so he doesn’t have to worry about turn over. But it also gave an out if the situation wasn’t all that it ought to be.

In fact, Jewish slaves were so protected that an old Jewish saying was, “Whoever buys a Jewish slave, buys himself a master.” They had it good. And all glimpses of slaves in the gospel record of the New Testament are in a positive light and they show a high level of respect and treatment. In fact, the centurion was burdened and wanted Jesus to heal his slave, because he was dear to his heart.

Slaves in Palestine were even paid their full wage up front:

Palestine also had many Gentile slaves. Some of them were certainly abused, as perhaps some of the Jewish ones were. But the average slave cost about two thousand times the daily wage – two thousand times the daily wage. They were expensive. And when you brought one in for six years, you gave him the money for the full six years up front. At the signing of the contract he was completely compensated. Now in general the treatment was so good that people sought this rather than being a day laborer.

Roman slaves were also treated rather well:

Turning with me for a moment to the Greco-Roman world where Paul is writing to Ephesus, what kind of situation was there? We’ve seen the Old Testament, the Middle East and Palestine, but what about Ephesus and other places? It was very much the same. In the third century B.C., slavery was very bad, very abusive. But from the third to the first century, most historians believe there was a humanitarian movement in the Roman world. And by the time you come to the first century, there is a very much better treatment of slaves than in the second and third century before Christ. The Romans were freeing them all the time and most historians believe there was a great freedom movement generated by the Roman government at the time of Christ. For example, as early as from 81 to 49 B.C., before Christ, the record shows, this is a study by a man named Tenney Frank, titled “Economic Survey of Ancient Rome.” The study shows that there were released in the city of Rome in that 30-year period 500,000 slaves and the population of Rome is estimated at 870,000 people. That’s a large number of slaves being released. In a three-year period, 46 to 44 B.C., Caesar is supposed to have sent out 80,000 poor people and slaves to colonize other parts of the Roman Empire. They also freed slaves because every time you freed a slave there was a five percent value tax that the guy who freed the slave had to pay, and so the more slaves were freed, the more money came into the government coffers, and so that helped them decide to do that, too.

But there doesn’t seem to be the abuse. You go a little earlier than that and you see these people who were abused in their roles of slaves. Now let’s say this for sure. There were some abuses, as there are today in the United States, some employment abuses. That’s obvious because men are sinful. But the slaves in the Roman Empire were for the most part better off than their free man counterparts. I’ll give you an idea why. The typical scene is again portrayed by Tenney Frank in his survey, “Economic Survey of Ancient Rome.” And this is kind of the scenario he paints. The free man who just sold himself to whoever to do whatever work could be done was paid one denarius a day. Okay? One denarius a day. Compare that say with the soldiers of Julius Caesar. The archeological records say they were paid 225 denarii a year, which would be less than one a day but they were given all their food, all their shelter, all their booty, and Caesar Augustus gave them a 3,000 denarii bonus on the twentieth year of their service. One of Caesar’s scribes received one denarius a day. So just a day laborer, a soldier would be around one denarius a day.

Diocletian, in fact, set the wages at one half to one denarius. And let’s assume that a free man worked six days a week. Okay? I’m painting a little picture. He works six days a week at one denarius a day, he’s going to get 330 denarii a year. A hundred and eighty four of that would go for his food. They have figured that out. Five to ten of it would go for clothing, and that would be very poor, very ragged clothing. Ninety denarii at least would go for his room, that adds to 279 and leaves him about 35 denarii left for everything else for a full year.

Compare that, for example, with a slave. He received all his food and the best of food that the house had to offer. And the house would have had to have some decent food or it couldn’t have employed domestic servants. The best of clothing, the best of places to stay, and it is estimated that most of the slaves of ancient times stayed on the top floor of the house, inside the house. And they would have received their housing, their clothing, their food plus 60 denarii a year spending money, which is double what the other man who is a free man would have had if indeed he had worked every day through the year. So it was to his advantage if he could find somebody that would take him on, to say nothing of the fact that he would then have to feed, clothe all his family. Whereas the day laborer would have to feed, clothe himself and all his family on those wages. So you can see the benefit was really in behalf of the man who could find a way to contract himself to work as a slave.

Now on to today’s verses.

MacArthur explains why Paul would have written guidance for slaves:

Now remember, Timothy is in Ephesus. Right? Paul has come out of his imprisonment. In the time that he has been away, the Ephesian church has really fallen on hard times. It has declined tragically. Paul was its founder. Paul was its original pastor. Paul is the one who ordained and trained the original elders. The church had all the best beginnings. It was used to found other churches in Asia Minor – modern Turkey. It was a tremendously blessed and powerful church. But by now the leadership has [become] corrupted. The people have bought into ungodly behavior. All kinds of tragic things are happening. It has filtered down to the life style of the people so that in the work place they are denying and blaspheming the testimony of God. And it is to that issue that Paul encourages Timothy to speak.

Let me give you the simple picture here. In verse 1 we have the relationship between an employee and a non-Christian employer. In verse 2, the relationship between an employee and a Christian employer.

Paul says that all under the yoke of slavery should regard their masters as worthy of all honour, so that the name of God and the teaching may not be reviled (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, even with employers who fall short are still worthy of our respect, otherwise we do God — and Christ — a disservice and we are no better than unbelievers. In fact, we might be worse than unbelievers:

They must respect their masters, count them worthy of all honour (because they are their masters), of all the respect, observance, compliance, and obedience, that are justly expected from servants to their masters. Not that they were to think that of them which they were not; but as their masters they must count them worthy of all that honour which was fit for them to receive, that the name of God be not blasphemed. If servants that embraced the Christian religion should grow insolent and disobedient to their masters, the doctrine of Christ would be reflected on for their sakes, as if it had made men worse livers than they had been before they received the gospel. Observe, If the professors of religion misbehave themselves, the name of God and his doctrine are in danger of being blasphemed by those who seek occasion to speak evil of that worthy name by which we are called. And this is a good reason why we should all conduct ourselves well, that we may prevent the occasion which many seek, and will be very apt to lay hold of, to speak ill of religion for our sakes … for Jesus Christ did not come to dissolve the bond of civil relation, but to strengthen it

Paul says that those with believing masters must not be disrespectful because they are brothers in a spiritual sense; as such, the servant should be that much better, doing so in love, because of his superior’s Christian faith, therefore, Timothy should teach and urge these things (verse 2).

Henry tells us:

They must think themselves the more obliged to serve them because the faith and love that bespeak men Christians oblige them to do good; and that is all wherein their service consists. Observe, It is a great encouragement to us in doing our duty to our relations if we have reason to think they are faithful and beloved, and partakers of the benefit, that is, of the benefit of Christianity. Again, Believing masters and servants are brethren, and partakers of the benefit; for in Christ Jesus there is neither bond nor free, for you are all one in Christ Jesus, Gal 3 28. Timothy is appointed to teach and exhort these things. Ministers must preach not only the general duties of all, but the duties of particular relations.

So what does this mean for us, we who are in an employer-employee relationship?

Interestingly, MacArthur preached these two sermons in 1987, at a time when some Americans began to become disgruntled with the daily grind. Nearly 40 years later, the same negative attitudes persist. Admittedly, I will be the first to say what a blessing retirement is, and I understand the sentiment fully.

MacArthur brings these verses into a present-day context:

Not uncommon even today. A Christian who is working under a non-Christian tends to feel superior. In fact, even intolerantly superior, even belligerently superior. And after all, he’s headed for hell and you’re headed for heaven. After all you’re elect and he’s non-elect. And you’re going to make sure you try to keep it that way. And it’s very easy for a person who is spiritually blessed to feel himself superior to a person who is spiritually bankrupt. And his attitude of superiority begins to project itself in the way he responds to and the way he lacks respect for and the way he serves or does not serve his employer. It’s easy for that resentment to build up and if the guy does things you don’t like, says things you don’t like and you just don’t get along very well, that tendency toward a feeling of superiority is compounded.

I read recently about some company that was putting on some kind of health preparedness course and was taking systematically all their workers through all different kinds of diseases in order to help them to recognize them so they didn’t bring some infectious disease into the work place. It was a large area with a lot of people in close contact. And the instructor was asking one person, “What’s the first thing you’d do if you found you had rabies?” Without hesitating the employee responded, “I’d bite my boss.” And I think there are a lot of employees who can really relate to that sentiment. That’s just really how it is out there. As Christians we can be irritated by the unbeliever who doesn’t understand us, who doesn’t understand our ethics, who doesn’t understand equity, who doesn’t understand compassion or all of the spiritual things that we understand. And we become, by being a problem to him, a discredit to Christ, because if we are a problem to him, then the only Christ he may see is us and Christ becomes a problem to him.

On the other hand, let’s assume that a Christian employee works for a Christian employer. You say, “Boy, I wish I had a Christian boss. Boy, wouldn’t that be paradise? Wouldn’t that be perfect if I just had a Christian employer?” But there’s a tension there as well. The attitude of a Christian employee who is sinful and fleshy and expressing a belligerent or disobedient spirit may come out in the sense that he feels equal to his employer and so he overrides the normal channels of authority. In other words, because my boss is a Christian and I’m a Christian, I’m privileged. As one employee said to me recently, “I don’t go with any of that protocol stuff. You know, I know the boss and he and I are close because we’re Christians. I go right to him and bypass everybody else.”

Well, your privilege, sir, is probably a serious discredit to the cause of Christ. Right? Because all the rest of the people who can’t do that resent you because of your openness and the inability that they have to enjoy that same thing. You can feel privileged over all the rest because you have this commonality in Christ. You could even feel that that’s an excuse for poor work and after all, you’re a brother in Christ. The worst he can do is come and give you step one discipline, and you’ve still got two to go. And if you repent on the first shot, you’re in.

You might even think to yourself, “That because we’re equal in Christ and because the Spirit dwells in me, I ought to tell him how he ought to run this company. The Holy Spirit’s been talking to me lately and giving me all the input.” Or you might even feel that you could get away with inadequate service without any negative consequence, or you might even feel that you can let your break time and your lunch time leak a little, because you’re studying the Bible, or even better yet listening to Grace to You, and it happen to go on a little past the end of your break time.

I mean, you understand the picture. Don’t you? I mean, let’s face it, in our sinfulness, working for an unsaved employer can create problems for us – an intolerant superiority. But listen, having a Christian employer isn’t going to necessarily change that, or a Christian boss or supervisor or manager, because there’s still going to be a tension there for us to assume that in Christ we have just destroyed all normal social order, and that’s not true.

That is what was happening in Ephesus:

Their ungodliness, their lack of eusebeia – uses that word a lot of times in these epistles – their lack of godliness, their lack of holiness, their lack of understanding correct doctrine, their lack of having been taught properly had filtered all the way down so that they were not conducting themselves right before their non-Christian or their Christian employers. And so consequently in these brief two verses the Apostle Paul sums up the basics of attitudes necessary for a conscientious Christian employee.

Today, in England, we have an estimated 5 million people out of work and on benefit. Supposedly, our population is 60 million, so that is a noticeable percentage of people being idle. Many of them got used to the pandemic furlough and realised they can get by on less, hence benefits.

We also have had endless strikes over the past year.

MacArthur takes issue with that, too:

As soon as you perceive your employment as self-serving, then you will fight against everything you do – everything you do will be self-serving, self-indulgence. That’s why people strike all the time. They don’t care about the employment situation from the viewpoint of the employer. They don’t certainly care about the attitude they project very often. All they care about is the demands that they have for themselves. Now there are times when inequities do occur and equity can be brought out even from the negative thing of a strike or whatever. But it does for the most part demonstrate the selfishness and the self-gratification mode in which most people work.

MacArthur reminds us of our obligation to work for a living — for the benefit of others:

You are called into your employment. And there you are called to serve men. You’re not called to serve yourself. Boy, we have lost that, as I said earlier. We think we have a job for one reason and that’s to make money to do what we want for our own selves. But the biblical approach to work would say, “No, we have a job on the human level to serve someone else. That my employment is my way of lovingly serving another person for the common good.”

God called us to work. Even when Adam and Eve were still in the Garden of Eden, God wanted Adam to work:

Just to set your thinking a little bit, in Genesis chapter 2 we read this in verse 15, “And the Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to till it and to keep it.” The Fall of man didn’t come until chapter 3. In chapter 2, God designed man to work. Man was created to be a worker. He was created to work. Work is not part of the curse, sweat is part of the curse. It is the intensity of work necessary to earn the bread that implies the curse, but work is a blessing. Man was created to work.

In conclusion:

Your job is where God has placed you. That’s His will. Do it from your heart and do it unto Him. You’re serving men but in serving them best you serve God.

You always have to have that perspective. We’re advancing the kingdom. I’m here not to fulfill my own desires, not to make money, to indulge myself, not to get a bigger car, bigger house, bigger boat, more money, more savings, more security, whatever it is. My task in life is to serve the advance of the kingdom of God. So on my job I don’t lose my testimony in trying to get a raise, because my objective in life is not more money. My objective in life is to advance the kingdom of God so under no conditions would I ever lose my testimony. Right? …

Let me tell you something. When you go to receive your reward in glory, you will be rewarded not just for what you did at the church. I don’t think people understand thatthe Lord will reward you on the basis of how you perform that job within His will, because that is your calling and there’s no such thing as a secular job. That’s a sacred service offered to God. Your eternal reward will be related to your attitude and performance on your job. Does that frighten you? You say, “There go a few crowns.” I can understand that.

… You think you have to fill out job performance things for your boss, wait till you get to heaven. God is keeping account of your job performance. As I said at the very beginning, this is the most crucial arena in the world for Christianity to be lived out

You are serving others but only insofar as you’re serving God. It would be fair, I believe, and the Puritans used to do this, to begin to call your job your calling. And to begin to see your calling as your ministry. And to begin to approach it as the arena in which God has placed you for the advancement of His eternal kingdom and glory. Got that? Boy, that ought to give you a whole new shot when you hit the bricks tomorrow. It’s a whole different approach and I believe – I believe, beloved, with all my heart that if we began to live godly lives and work with an attitude and a diligence that the Lord is asking of us here, that we would begin to see a harvest of salvation among the people around us, because this is where Christianity becomes believable. How wonderful would be the benefit, and then in eternity that which the Lord has deemed to give to those faithful servants by way of reward, which we could enjoy cast back at His pierced feet, who has Himself by His Spirit energized any and every good thing we have ever done.

Wow. This is a message to be spread far and wide.

Paul goes on to discuss the false teachers in Ephesus one final time in 1 Timothy.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:3-5

The Seventh Sunday of Easter is May 20, 2023.

This particular Sunday, which comes just after Ascension Day, this past Thursday, is also known as Exaudi Sunday, more about which here. Exaudi Sunday is the last Sunday in Eastertide, which ends on the day before Pentecost.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 17:1-11

17:1 After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,

17:2 since you have given him authority over all people, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him.

17:3 And this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

17:4 I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

17:5 So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed.

17:6 “I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.

17:7 Now they know that everything you have given me is from you;

17:8 for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me.

17:9 I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours.

17:10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

17:11 And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 17 is the only record we have of any of our Lord’s prayers. He prayed often, but this is the one time we have details of what He asked of His Father.

In the first five verses, He prays that He might be glorified. In verses 6-19, He prays for the disciples. In verses 20-26, He prays for all believers then and now.

Theologians and Reformers who have studied this chapter in depth say it is one of the most powerful in the Bible. I have put certain words — those of predestination, or election — in bold to emphasise that God gives His chosen faithful to Christ, who looks after them and their souls.

John MacArthur says:

Here, we see our great High Priest. This is His mediatorial work, as the mediator between God and man. This prayer belongs to us as a gift from heaven so that we now know the content of our great High Priest’s intercession for us

It is a prayer for glory. It is a prayer that the Father would bring Him to glory, and bring the disciples to glory, and bring all of us to glory. It is that interceding prayer that holds us until we stand before Him in heaven. It is this intercession that is the reason why nothing will ever separate us from the love of God, which is ours in Christ Jesus.

After Jesus had spoken these words — referring to John 13-16, at and after the Last Supper — He looked up to heaven and said (verse 1), ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’.

In several places in John’s Gospel, we read that our Lord’s hour had not yet come. Now it had come and was upon Him. He was in the Garden of Gethsemane awaiting His arrest, trial, scourging and death on the cross for our redemption.

Matthew Henry’s commentary makes the following observations:

1. The time when he prayed this prayer; when he had spoken these words, had given the foregoing farewell to his disciples, he prayed this prayer in their hearing; so that, (1.) It was a prayer after a sermon; when he had spoken from God to them, he turned to speak to God for them. Note, Those we preach to we must pray for(2.) It was a prayer after sacrament; after Christ and his disciples had eaten the passover and the Lord’s supper together, and he had given them a suitable exhortation, he closed the solemnity with this prayer, that God would preserve the good impressions of the ordinance upon them. (3.) It was a family-prayer. Christ’s disciples were his family, and, to set a good example before the masters of families, he not only, as the son of Abraham, taught his household (Gen 18 19), but, as a son of David, blessed his household (2 Sam 6 20), prayed for them and with them. (4.) It was a parting prayer. When we and our friends are parting, it is good to part with prayer, Acts 20 36. Christ was parting by death, and that parting should be sanctified and sweetened by prayer. Dying Jacob blessed the twelve patriarchs, dying Moses the twelve tribes, and so, here, dying Jesus the twelve apostles. (5.) It was a prayer that was a preface to his sacrifice, which he was now about to offer on earth, specifying the favours and blessings designed to be purchased by the merit of his death for those that were his; like a deed leading the uses of a fine, and directing to what intents and purposes it shall be levied. Christ prayed then as a priest now offering sacrifice, in the virtue of which all prayers were to be made. (6.) It was a prayer that was a specimen of his intercession, which he ever lives to make for us within the veil. Not that in his exalted state he addresses himself to his Father by way of humble petition, as when he was on earth. No, his intercession in heaven is a presenting of his merit to his Father

This is how the Father answered the Son’s prayer for glorification on what we know as Good Friday, at the Resurrection and afterwards:

The Father glorified the Son upon earth, First, Even in his sufferings, by the signs and wonders which attended them. When they that came to take him were thunder-struck with a word,— when Judas confessed him innocent, and sealed that confession with his own guilty blood,—when the judge’s [Pilate’s] wife asleep, and the judge himself awake, pronounced him righteous,—when the sun was darkened, and the veil of the temple rent, then the Father not only justified, but glorified the Son. Nay, Secondly, Even by his sufferings; when he was crucified, he was magnified, he was glorified, ch. 13 31. It was in his cross that he conquered Satan and death; his thorns were a crown, and Pilate in the inscription over his head wrote more than he thought. But, Thirdly, Much more after his sufferings. The Father glorified the Son when he raised him from the dead, showed him openly to chosen witnesses, and poured out the Spirit to support and plead his cause, and to set up his kingdom among men, then he glorified him. This he here prays for, and insists upon.

Henry says that we may also pray that we glorify God in our lives:

It being our chief end to glorify God, other things must be sought and attended to in subordination and subserviency to the Lord. “Do this and the other for thy servant, that thy servant may glorify thee. Give me health, that I may glorify thee with my body; success, that I may glorify thee with my estate,” etc. Hallowed be thy name must be our first petition

Jesus continued, referring to Himself in the third person, saying that the Father has given Him authority over all people and — mentioning election — He has the power to give eternal life to all those the Father has given Him (verse 2).

Henry discusses our Lord’s supreme power over all things and all beings:

Now see here the power of the Mediator.

a. The origin of his power: Thou hast given him power; he has it from God, to whom all power belongs ...

b. The extent of his power: He has power over all flesh. (a.) Over all mankind. He has power in and over the world of spirits, the powers of the upper and unseen world are subject to him (1 Peter 3 22); but, being now mediating between God and man, he here pleads his power over all flesh. They were men whom he was to subdue and save; out of that race he had a remnant given him, and therefore all that rank of beings was put under his feet. (b.) Over mankind considered as corrupt and fallen, for so he is called flesh, Gen 6 3. If he had not in this sense been flesh, he had not needed a Redeemer. Over this sinful race the Lord Jesus has all power; and all judgment, concerning them, is committed to him; power to bind or loose, acquit or condemn; power on earth to forgive sins or not. Christ, as Mediator, has the government of the whole world put into his hand; he is king of nations, has power even over those that know him not, nor obey his gospel; whom he does not rule, he over-rules, Ps 22 28; 72 8; Matt 28 18; ch. 3 35.

c. The grand intention and design of this power: That he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him. Here is the mystery of our salvation laid open.

(a.) Here is the Father making over the elect to the Redeemer, and giving them to him as his charge and trust; as the crown and recompence of his undertaking. He has a sovereign power over all the fallen race, but a peculiar interest in the chosen remnant; all things were put under his feet, but they were delivered into his hand.

(b.) Here is the Son undertaking to secure the happiness of those that were given him, that he would give eternal life to them. See how great the authority of the Redeemer is. He has lives and crowns to give, eternal lives that never die, immortal crowns that never fade. Now consider how great the Lord Jesus is, who has such preferments in his gift; and how gracious he is in giving eternal life to those whom he undertakes to save. [a.] He sanctifies them in this world, gives them the spiritual life which is eternal life in the bud and embryo, ch. 4 14. Grace in the soul is heaven in that soul. [b.] He will glorify them in the other world; their happiness shall be completed in the vision and fruition of God. This only is mentioned, because it supposes all the other parts of his undertaking, teaching them, satisfying for them, sanctifying them, and preparing them for that eternal life; and indeed all the other were in order to this; we are called to his kingdom and glory, and begotten to the inheritance. What is last in execution was first in intention, and that is eternal life.

(c.) Here is the subserviency of the Redeemer’s universal dominion to this: He has power over all flesh, on purpose that he might give eternal life to the select number. Note, Christ’s dominion over the children of men is in order to the salvation of the children of God. All things are for their sakes, 2 Cor 4 15. All Christ’s laws, ordinances, and promises, which are given to all, are designed effectually to convey spiritual life, and secure eternal life, to all that were given to Christ; he is head over all things to the church. The administration of the kingdoms of providence and grace are put into the same hand, that all things may be made to concur for good to the called.

Jesus said that eternal life is knowing the only true God and Himself, whom the Father has sent (verse 3).

Henry explains:

The knowledge of God and Christ leads to life eternal; this is the way in which Christ gives eternal life, by the knowledge of him that has called us (2 Peter 1 3), and this is the way in which we come to receive it. The Christian religion shows us the way to heaven, First, By directing us to God, as the author and felicity of our being; for Christ died to bring us to God. To know him as our Creator, and to love him, obey him, submit to him, and trust in him, as our owner ruler, and benefactor,—to devote ourselves to him as our sovereign Lord, depend upon him as our chief good, and direct all to his praise as our highest end,—this is life eternal. God is here called the only true God, to distinguish him from the false gods of the heathen, which were counterfeits and pretenders, not from the person of the Son, of whom it is expressly said that he is the true God and eternal life (1 John 5 20), and who in this text is proposed as the object of the same religious regard with the Father. It is certain there is but one only living and true God and the God we adore is he. He is the true God, and not a mere name or notion; the only true God, and all that ever set up as rivals with him are vanity and a lie; the service of him is the only true religion. Secondly, By directing us to Jesus Christ, as the Mediator between God and man: Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent … We are therefore concerned to know Christ as our Redeemer, by whom alone we can now have access to God; it is life eternal to believe in Christ; and this he has undertaken to give to as many as were given him. See ch. 6 39, 40. Those that are acquainted with God and Christ are already in the suburbs of life eternal.

Jesus said to His Father that He glorified Him on earth by finishing the work that God gave Him to do (verse 4).

Henry says:

This is here recorded, First, For the honour of Christ, that his life upon earth did in all respects fully answer the end of his coming into the world. Note, 1. Our Lord Jesus had work given him to do by him that sent him; he came not into the world to live at ease, but to go about doing good, and to fulfill all righteousness. His Father gave him his work, his work in the vineyard, both appointed him to it and assisted him in it. 2. The work that was given him to do he finished. Though he had not, as yet, gone through the last part of his undertaking, yet he was so near being made perfect through sufferings that he might say, I have finished it; it was as good as done, he was giving it its finishing stroke eteleiosaI have finished. The word signifies his performing every part of his undertaking in the most complete and perfect manner. 3. Herein he glorified his Father; he pleased him, he praised him Secondly, It is recorded for example to all, that we may follow his example. 1. We must make it our business to do the work God has appointed us to do, according to our capacity and the sphere of our activity; we must each of us do all the good we can in this world. 2. We must aim at the glory of God in all. We must glorify him on the earth, which he has given unto the children of men, demanding only this quit-rent; on the earth, where we are in a state of probation and preparation for eternity. 3. We must persevere herein to the end of our days; we must not sit down till we have finished our work, and accomplished as a hireling our day. Thirdly, It is recorded for encouragement to all those that rest upon him. If he has finished the work that was given him to do, then he is a complete Saviour, and did not do his work by the halves. And he that finished his work for us will finish it in us to the day of Christ.

Jesus ended the prayer for Himself by praying that God would restore Him to glory, the glory He had in His Father’s presence before the world existed (verse 5).

MacArthur tells us:

Somebody might say, “Well, praying for Himself?” Yes, yes … I glorified You on the earth, having accomplished the work which You have given Me to do. Now, Father, glorify Me together with Yourself, with the glory which I had with You before the world was.” That’s the nature of His prayer. It is a prayer, first of all, for His own glory. So that, having been glorified, He can then bring many sons to glory.

Somebody might suggest that there’s a selfishness in this. Jesus praying for Himself seems self-seeking; that’s because we are fallen creatures full of sin, and we understand that we have no right to ask for glory on our own merit. But Christ was not asking for something He didn’t deserve. In fact, He says, “Father, glorify You Son.” And in verse 5 says, “Just glorify Me with the glory I had with You before the world began. Just take me back to the eternal glory, which is always mine by right. It is a prayer for the glory that belongs to Him, the intrinsic glory which is His by virtue of who He is. First He says, “Father, Father.” And He repeats that down in verse 5, and verse 21, and verse 24: “Father, Father.”

Then Jesus began the prayer for His disciples, again mentioning predestination, or election.

He said that He had made the Father’s name known to those He had given Him from the world, emphasising that God gave those people — His own — to Him and that they have kept His word (verse 6).

MacArthur points out the majesty and mystery of salvation, a divine act:

All life comes from Christ – all life, including eternal life. He is the giver of eternal life. All life comes from Him. Biological life comes from Him. Spiritual life comes from Him. Eternal life comes from Him. And He says, “I give that eternal life, that is what I do, to all whom You have given Me. All that You have given Me, I give eternal life.”

I just need to stop there for a minute and say that phrase “all whom You have given Me” appears seven times in this prayer. That is a defining statement regarding believers, you and me, and all believers since the work of Christ was applied. All believers – listen – have been given to Christ from the Father.

We’ve said things about that through the years. It’s a stunning, stunning reality. What is the Father doing? The Father is gathering a bride for His Son. Through all of redemptive history, all of human history, the Father is gathering people who will make up the one bride for His Son. That’s why when you get to the end of the book of Revelation, you go to heaven. It’s a bridal city, and there’s a great bridal festival, and the whole city is adorned for a wedding. When all the saints of all the ages are gathered together in heaven, it is a marriage.

All of redemptive history is the Father gathering a bride for His Son because He loves His Son, and He wants His Son to have a bride who will serve Him forever, love Him forever, honor Him forever, glorify Him forever, and even reflect His character, so that – listen – salvation is not a whimsical thing that is designed by people, or that is even determined by individuals. If you are a believer, it is because God gave you to Christ, and He gave you because He chose you, and He chose you before the foundation of the world, the Bible says, and He wrote your name down. Seven times it refers to believers as those whom the Father gives the Son. It is completely wrong to think that that decision is left to us.

Jesus said that the disciples knew that everything given to Him comes from the Father (verse 7).

Henry rephrases the verse for us:

“They are of thee, their being is of thee as the God of nature, their well-being is of thee as the God of grace; they are all of thee, and therefore, Father, I bring them all to thee, that they may be all for thee.”

Jesus elaborated, saying that the words God gave to Him He passed on to the disciples; the disciples received those words and know in truth that Jesus came from the Father and believed that the Father sent Him to them (verse 8).

Henry says that Jesus affirmed the disciples’ faith, as imperfect as it was. Jesus knew they believed:

See here, First, What it is to believe; it is to know surely, to know that it is so of a truth. The disciples were very weak and defective in knowledge; yet Christ, who knew them better than they knew themselves, passes his word for them that they did believe. Note, We may know surely that which we neither do nor can know fully; may know the certainty of the things which are not seen, though we cannot particularly describe the nature of them. We walk by faith, which knows surely, not yet by sight, which knows clearly. Secondly, What it is we are to believe: that Jesus Christ came out from God, as he is the Son of God, in his person the image of the invisible God and therefore all the doctrines of Christ are to be received as divine truths, all his commands obeyed as divine laws, and all his promises depended upon as divine securities.

Jesus then prayed specifically for His elect, the disciples in this instance, rather than the world at large, because the disciples belonged to the Father (verse 9).

Henry explains:

I. Whom he did not pray for (v. 9): I pray not for the world. Note, There is a world of people that Jesus Christ did not pray for. It is not meant of the world of mankind general (he prays for that here, v. 21, That the world may believe that thou hast sent me); nor is it meant of the Gentiles, in distinction from the Jews; but the world is here opposed to the elect, who are given to Christ out of the world. Take the world for a heap of unwinnowed corn in the floor, and God loves it, Christ prays for it, and dies for it, for a blessing is in it; but, the Lord perfectly knowing those that are his, he eyes particularly those that were given him out of the world, extracts them; and then take the world for the remaining heap of rejected, worthless chaff, and Christ neither prays for it, nor dies for it, but abandons it, and the wind drives it away. These are called the world, because they are governed by the spirit of this world, and have their portion in it; for these Christ does not pray; not but that there are some things which he intercedes with God for on their behalf, as the dresser for the reprieve of the barren tree; but he does not pray for them in this prayer, that have not part nor lot in the blessings here prayed for. He does not say, I pray against the world, as Elias made intercession against Israel; but, I pray not for them, I pass them by, and leave them to themselves; they are not written in the Lamb’s book of life, and therefore not in the breast-plate of the great high-priest. And miserable is the condition of such, as it was of those whom the prophet was forbidden to pray for, and more so, Jer 7 16. We that know not who are chosen, and who are passed by, must pray for all men, 1 Tim 2 1, 4. While there is life, there is hope, and room for prayer. See 1 Sam 12 23.

II. Whom he did pray for; not for angels, but for the children of men. 1. He prays for those that were given him, meaning primarily the disciples that had attended him in this regeneration; but it is doubtless to be extended further, to all who come under the same character, who receive and believe the words of Christ, v. 6, 8. 2. He prays for all that should believe on him (v. 20), and it is not only the petitions that follow, but those also which went before, that must be construed to extend to all believers, in every place and every age; for he has a concern for them all, and calls things that are not as though they were.

Then Jesus spoke of His own deity, saying that all of His souls are God’s and that all of God’s souls are His and that He (Jesus) has been glorified in them (verse 10).

MacArthur says that was something only Jesus could say:

“All things that are Mine are Yours, and Yours are Mine.” Now, that is a staggering statement. That is a staggering statement. I can understand, “They’re Yours; You gave them to Me.” But, “All things that are Mine are Yours, and all things that are Yours are Mine”? That is a very, very significant statement.

What does our Lord mean by that? Well, Martin Luther said that kind of a statement is so serious that it needs consideration.

Luther wrote this: “Everyone may say this: ‘All I have is God’s.’ You can say that. That is much different than saying, ‘All that’s God’s is mine.’” Luther said, “This is much greater to turn it around and say, ‘All that is Thine is mine.’ There is no creature able to say that before God: ‘All that is Yours is mine.’ That leaves nothing out. You’re saying you’re God.” That’s exactly what He was saying, exactly.

“Father, hear this prayer because they are true believers. Hear this prayer because they are Yours. Hear this prayer because they’re Mine, and I have been glorified in them.” What a transformation of sinners, from Satan’s kingdom of darkness: “I have been glorified in them.”

He’s not talking about heaven, He’s saying, “Already My glory is in them. Already My glory is shining through them already. They’re Mine; they’re Yours. They have obeyed. My glory is shining through them by their obedience, by their love. They are Mine.”

Jesus was already anticipating His ascension to heaven, saying that He was no longer in the world and that He was going to His Father; He asked His Father to protect those whom He had been given — the elect — so that they might be one as the Father and Son are one (verse 11).

MacArthur explains the verse and what Jesus was asking for the disciples:

“I am no longer in the world.” He’s anticipating His exodus, His own leaving. About six weeks away at this time, He would ascend into heaven and He would be gone. In just a few hours, He would be under the wrath of God. They need to be guarded while He is suffering for sin, and they need to be guarded after He’s gone, “because – ” as verse 11 says “ – they themselves are in the world.”

“I’m out of the world; they’re in it.” What is the world? It’s the system of sin that dominates this realm. It’s the corruption, the demonic power, the human power of sin that literally controls the world, under the leadership of Satan and his demons. That’s the world …

So our Lord then, beginning in verse 11, starts to ask for some specific things by way of our protection. Number One: Spiritual security. Spiritual security. “They’re in the world – ” He says “ – and I come to You.” And He’s talking, obviously, about His ascension. “I come to You. Holy Father, keep them, keep them, keep them”

He says, “Father, Holy Father, keep them in Your name, keep them in Your name, consistent with who You are, and even beyond that, not because they deserve it, but because they belong to You. They are Yours. They are Your sons and daughters. They are Your children. They carry Your name – sons of God. They belong to You, a name which You have given Me. They’re in My name too: sons of God, Christians. They’re Yours and they’re Mine; keep them”

Just briefly, He secondly prays for our spiritual unity. This is just briefly stated in verse 11, and it’ll come up again at the end of the chapter. We’ll just look at it here. Back in verse 11, the end of the verse, “Keep them in Your name, the name which You have given Me, that they may be one even as We are, that they may be one even as We are.”

It is that we may be one even as the Trinity is one.

Salvation – listen – is not just a ticket to heaven. It is not just forgiveness of sins. It is not just escape from punishment. It is God, listen, pulling us into the eternal life of the Trinity. All of us who are justified literally are pulled into the life of the Trinity. We are in the Father; we are in the Son; we are in the Spirit. The Father is in us; the Son is in us; the Spirit is in us.

We’ve seen that all through this section of John. The indivisible unity of the Trinity engulfs us and we are one with Christ.

God answered our Lord’s prayer for the disciples’ protection immediately:

When in chapter 18, they come to arrest Jesus, they want also to arrest the disciples. The Lord never lets that happen; He protects them from that, because theoretically, it could have destroyed their faith. But He will never let anything that could do that happen …

And then when He comes back to heaven, the Father needs to continue to guard them, which He promises to do through the Holy Spirit, whom He gives to every believer.

Year C’s Exaudi Sunday reading covers the end of John 17, verses 20-26: our Lord’s prayer for believers. My exegesis can be found here.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

Next Sunday is Pentecost, the Church’s birthday, when we celebrate the arrival of the Holy Spirit on the disciples, as Jesus promised.

Ascension Day is Thursday, May 18, 2023.

Readings can be found here.

I also have exegeses on the First Reading and the Gospel.

The painting of the Ascension is by Francisco Camilo (1610-1671).

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

Ephesians 1:15-23

1:15 I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason

1:16 I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.

1:17 I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,

1:18 so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,

1:19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.

1:20 God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places,

1:21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come.

1:22 And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church,

1:23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

The preceding verses in Ephesians 1 are as follows:

Praise for spiritual blessings in Christ

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he[b] predestined us for adoption to sonship[c] through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he[d] made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

11 In him we were also chosen,[e] having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, 12 in order that we, who were the first to put our hope in Christ, might be for the praise of his glory. 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.

Paul says that he has heard of the Ephesians’ faith in Christ and love for their fellow saints and, for this reason (verse 15), he incessantly gives thanks for them as he remembers them in his prayers (verse 16).

John MacArthur explains ‘for this reason’ in verse 15:

What is the reason? The reason is because of the incomparable blessings of Christ listed from verses 3 through 14. Now if you weren’t here when we went through that, you can download the messages. It’s beyond comprehension how rich the blessings and the promises are in Christ that have been granted to every true believer—on the basis that we have, as verse 3 says, been “blessed . . . with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.” On the basis that “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world.” On the basis that He chose us “that we would” one day eternally “be holy and blameless before Him” because “in love He predestined us to adoption as sons”; because, in verse 7, “we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses”; because “in all wisdom and insight He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His purpose,” verse 10, of “summing up everything in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth.” That is, He’s even given us the end of history—it all resolves in Christ because, verse 11, “we have obtained an inheritance,” to which we were “predestined according to His [divine] purpose,” because “having believed,” verse 13, we “were sealed . . . with the Holy Spirit of promise.” And nothing can ever alter that future fulfillment, because, because—because of all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Paul continues to pray for the Ephesians because of those blessings and that inheritance:

Faith in Christ, and love to the saints, will be attended with all other graces. Love to the saints, as such, and because they are such, must include love to God. Those who love saints, as such, love all saints, how weak in grace, how mean in the world, how fretful and peevish soever, some of them may be. Another inducement to pray for them was because they had received the earnest of the inheritance: this we may observe from the words being connected with the preceding ones by the particle wherefore. “Perhaps you will think that, having received the earnest, it should follow, therefore you are happy enough, and need take no further care: you need not pray for yourselves, nor I for you.” No, quite the contrary. Wherefore—I cease not to give thanks for you, making mention of you in my prayers, v. 16.

Paul tells them what he is praying for: that God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Father of glory, may give them a spirit of wisdom and revelation as they come to know him (verse 17).

Henry’s analysis of this verse is superb. In his era, ‘experimental’ and ‘experimentally’ meant ‘experienced’ and ‘experientially’:

Observe, Even the best of Christians need to be prayed for: and, while we hear well of our Christian friends, we should think ourselves obliged to intercede with God for them, that they may abound and increase yet more and more. Now what is it that Paul prays for in behalf of the Ephesians? Not that they might be freed from persecution; nor that they might possess the riches, honours, or pleasures of the world; but the great thing he prays for is the illumination of their understandings, and that their knowledge might increase and abound: he means it of a practical and experimental knowledge. The graces and comforts of the Spirit are communicated to the soul by the enlightening of the understanding. In this way he gains and keeps possession. Satan takes a contrary way: he gets possession by the senses and passions, Christ by the understanding. Observe,

I. Whence this knowledge must come from the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, v. 17. The Lord is a God of knowledge, and there is no sound saving knowledge but what comes from him; and therefore to him we must look for it, who is the God of our Lord Jesus Christ (see v. 3) and the Father of glory. It is a Hebraism. God is infinitely glorious in himself all glory is due to him from his creatures, and he is the author of all that glory with which his saints are or shall be invested. Now he gives knowledge by giving the Spirit of knowledge; for the Spirit of God is the teacher of the saints, the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. We have the revelation of the Spirit in the word: but will that avail us, if we have not the wisdom of the Spirit in the heart? If the same Spirit who indited the sacred scriptures do not take the veil from off our hearts, and enable us to understand and improve them, we shall be never the better.—In the knowledge of him, or for the acknowledgment of him; not only a speculative knowledge of Christ, and of what relates to him, but an acknowledgment of Christ’s authority by an obedient conformity to him, which must be by the help of the Spirit of wisdom and revelation.

That is Paul’s prayer in order that the Ephesians, with the eyes of their hearts enlightened, may know the hope to which our Lord calls them and know the riches of His glorious inheritance among the saints (verse 18).

Henry continues:

This knowledge is first in the understanding. He prays that the eyes of their understanding may be enlightened, v. 18. Observe, Those who have their eyes opened, and have some understanding in the things of God, have need to be more and more enlightened, and to have their knowledge more clear, and distinct, and experimental. Christians should not think it enough to have warm affections, but they should labour to have clear understandings; they should be ambitious of being knowing Christians, and judicious Christians.

II. What it is that he more particularly desire they should grow in the knowledge of. 1. The hope of his calling, v. 18. Christianity is our calling. God has called us to it, and on that account it is said to be his calling. There is a hope in this calling; for those who deal with God deal upon trust. And it is a desirable thing to know what this hope of our calling is, to have such an acquaintance with the immense privileges of God’s people, and the expectations they have from God, and with respect to the heavenly world, as to be quickened thereby to the utmost diligence and patience in the Christian course. We ought to labour after, and pray earnestly for, a clearer insight into, and a fuller acquaintance with, the great objects of a Christian’s hopes. 2. The riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints. Besides the heavenly inheritance prepared for the saints, there is a present inheritance in the saints; for grace is glory begun, and holiness is happiness in the bud. There is a glory in this inheritance, riches of glory, rendering the Christian more excellent and more truly honourable than all about him: and it is desirable to know this experimentally, to be acquainted with the principles, pleasures, and powers, of the spiritual and divine life. It may be understood of the glorious inheritance in or among the saints in heaven, where God does, as it were, lay forth all his riches, to make them happy and glorious, and where all that the saints are in possession of is transcendently glorious, as the knowledge that can be attained of this upon earth is very desirable, and must be exceedingly entertaining and delightful. Let us endeavour then, by reading, contemplation, and prayer, to know as much of heaven as we can, that we may be desiring and longing to be there.

MacArthur says:

Human wisdom is infantile compared to divine wisdom …

Think like a Christian. Think like Christ. Think biblically. Don’t be kidnapped by lies.

He gave these sermons in 2021 and gives examples of the lies we were hearing at the time:

In the United States 99.9 percent of the population survives COVID; that’s a fact. You can’t mesh that up with the behavior they’re requiring. How about this one: “Get vaccinated.” And you’re saying to yourself, “Well, let’s see, they lied about Russia. The FBI lies. CIA lies. The National Health Organization lies. The World Health Organization lies. The CDC lies. The director of all of this lies, because he says something different every time he opens his mouth. The politicians lie. They lied about an incident in Chicago. They’re just lies and lies and lies and lies and lies.” And then they say to you, “Be vaccinated; it’s good for you.” I know why people aren’t getting vaccinated—because people don’t believe they’re being told the truth. It’s simple. It’s just the old Aesop’s fable about the boy who cried, “Wolf, wolf, wolf, wolf,” there never was a wolf. And when there was a wolf, nobody showed up.

You can’t keep lying and then expect people to believe you. You have to think critically and thoughtfully and carefully. You have to realize, CDC reports death rate from the normal flu last year was 99 percent lower. Oh, really. What happened to the flu? Where did it go? It went into the COVID statistic.

Paul also desires that the Ephesians know the immeasurable power of His greatness for those who believe, according to the working of His great power (verse 19).

Henry explains by way of discussing conversion:

The practical belief of the all-sufficiency of God, and of the omnipotence of divine grace, is absolutely necessary to a close and steady walking with him. It is a desirable thing to know experimentally the mighty power of that grace beginning and carrying on the work of faith in our souls. It is a difficult thing to bring a soul to believe in Christ, and to venture its all upon his righteousness, and upon the hope of eternal life. It is nothing less than an almighty power that will work this in us.

Paul says that God put this power to work in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places (verse 20). There Paul speaks of the Resurrection and the Ascension.

Henry says:

That indeed was the great proof of the truth of the gospel to the world: but the transcript of that in ourselves (our sanctification, and rising from the death of sin, in conformity to Christ’s resurrection) is the great proof to us. Though this cannot prove the truth of the gospel to another who knows nothing of the matter (there the resurrection of Christ is the proof), yet to be able to speak experimentally, as the Samaritans, “We have heard him ourselves, we have felt a mighty change in our hearts,” will make us able to say, with the fullest satisfaction, Now we believe, and are sure, that this is the Christ, the Son of God. Many understand the apostle here as speaking of that exceeding greatness of power which God will exert for raising the bodies of believers to eternal life, even the same mighty power which he wrought in Christ when he raised him, etc. And how desirable a thing must it be to become at length acquainted with that power, by being raised out of the grave thereby unto eternal life!

MacArthur says:

You not only understand the greatness of His plan, but you understand the “greatness of His power,” power “in accordance with the working of the strength of His might.” There are four words here that describe His power: the word “power,” the word “working,” the word “strength,” and the word “might.” He has the power. He has the energy, energeia, His “working.” He has the strength. He has the might.

This is the good news. He not only has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan. How do we know that? How do we know He can get us out of this world to glory? How do we know that it can come to pass? Answer, verse 20—He put all of His power on display in Christ “when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places.” If He did it for Christ, He can do it for you. The resurrection of Christ and the ascension of Christ demonstrates the power of God to bring you through death out the other side into His presence, even as He did for His own beloved Son. He has a plan, and He has the power to execute that plan.

Paul continues, saying that Christ is far above any earthly power and dominion, and above every name, not only now but in the age to come (verse 21).

MacArthur explains:

You say, “Well maybe somebody might come along and thwart that plan. What about the devil? Can the devil come along and stop the plan?” And that leads us to the third point: The greatness of His plan, the greatness of His power, the greatness of His person. This is critical. Nobody is going to thwart that plan. Why? Verse 21, because Christ is “far above all.” Notice that—“Far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come.” For now and as long as time exists, even on into the millennial kingdom to come, He far exceeds all rule, all authority, all power, all dominion, possessed by any persons. That’s what it means, those people who are named—these are persons.

There is no person who has the power, and there’s no person, secondly, who has the authority. No one can usurp His authority. All persons are subject to Him now and into the future.

With unsurpassed excellence and authority, Christ has put all things under His feet and has made Himself the head over all things for the Church (verse 22).

MacArthur reiterates the message:

Verse 22, all things are subject to Him, “He put all things in subjection under His feet.” There is no person, there is no thing. Sounds like Romans 8, doesn’t it? What’s going to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus?—and Paul lays out a litany of things. No—no persons, no things.

He has a plan, He has the power to execute that plan, and He is the person who is the absolute Sovereign—and that is summed up in verse 22: He has “put all things . . . under His feet, and gave Him as head over all things.” This is amazing. Another way to say that is, “He gave them a name above every name, and the name is Lord.”

Paul ends the chapter by saying that the Church is His body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (verse 23).

MacArthur says that there is no intermediary between the Church and Christ. He is the head and He gives us everything of Himself:

… isn’t it amazing that the One who is head over all things, God gave to the church as the head. He didn’t give us angels, He didn’t give us a committee of godly men; He gave us the head of the universe as head of the church. And we are His body; and as “His body, the fullness of Him who fills all in all.” This is just overwhelming.

He lives in us. The one who has the universal, eternal, redemptive plan has the power to execute that plan, and is the person superior to all other persons and all other things; the One who is head over all things, ruler over everything, is ruler in His church. And not only does He rule His church, but He lives in His church. We are His body, and He fills us with His fullness. There’s so much doctrine and so much theology in this. This is the message we need to preach: It’s about Jesus Christ, who is absolutely everything, and the only hope of salvation and the only deliverance from judgment.

MacArthur is convinced we are under divine judgement in the West. That means there is nothing we can do except to become better Christians:

The folly of all follies in a situation like this is to think there’s anything you can do in the human realm to stop the divine judgment of God. That’s not possible. This is God judging, and He laid it out in detail. We are under judgment at a severe level, the most severe level revealed in Scripture, short of final, global judgment yet to come in the end of the age, and eternal judgment in hell. What is wrong in this country is not fixable; this is God bringing judgment. The good news is that He protects His people in the judgment, that His cover is over us. We are in the shelter of His protection. We are saved from the wrath to come, and we are protected in the current judgment.

But I just want you to understand that the church has one great responsibility in the midst of this judgment. It’s not to try to fix what’s wrong in society. That same chapter, Romans 1, gives us our mandate. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel [of Christ], for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew and the Gentile.” Our responsibility is to preach the gospel—not to be ashamed of the gospel but to preach the gospel, which is the only answer. The only hope is Christ, and the only appropriate response to Christ is to embrace Him as Lord and Savior, and to embrace His glorious gospel.

I guess what I’m saying to you is don’t expect it to get better. But it raises the stakes for what we as believers in the world are called to do. And while so many churches, so many churches, ranging from the liberal churches to the even evangelical churches, are caught up in trying to fix what’s wrong in the world—everything is a result of judgment, even the racial hostility, the insanity of teaching people to hate and living on vengeance and revenge. All of these kinds of things are part and parcel of what happens to a culture when God lets them go. They go to an insanity where nothing makes sense. That’s where we are.

For us, we know the truth because we have the mind of Christ in the Word of God. And our responsibility is not somehow to figure out how to fix the world, but how to proclaim the gospel that can deliver people from the world, from the kingdom of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. The church needs to focus on the person of Christ; and sadly it’s all over the place on social issues, which cannot be fixed, first of all, because people are sinful. And what’s wrong in the world, in society, is a reflection of sin. And secondly, because that sin is compounded when God removes normal, divine restraint, and it becomes a judgment. So the judgment is that sinners get what they want, and it gets worse and worse and worse.

The church has one calling in the midst of this, and that is to be the church. It should dawn on people about now, if it hasn’t already, that for the church to reach the world it can’t keep trying to be like the world. It amazes me that you have the world cultivating hate and trying to put it in elementary schools and all of that. And then you have evangelical churches feeling like they need to adapt to the issues of the world and filling churches with the same kind of deceptive ideologies. And all it does is rip and shred and tear. You have to see those things for what they are. They’re not fixable; they’re a reflection of fallen sinfulness, a reflection of a nation that has abandoned God, and a reflection of divine judgment itself.

So what do we do in a time like this? Well we have very clear calling, as I said, to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The church needs to become Christ-centered. For the church to reach the world, it has to stop trying to be like the world, because why would you want to identify with a society under judgment? Understand that what’s going wrong in our society is divine judgment. We have to be the church. We have to be the haven; we have to be the eye of the hurricane; we have to be the safe place. We have to be the place where Christ is exalted and the Word of God is proclaimed, truth is known and believed and lived and taught. We have the mind of Christ, and it’s in the pages of Scripture.

Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, will be with us in ten days’ time. Paul’s words give us much to contemplate between now and then.

Bible croppedThe 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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 5:17-25

17 Let the elders who rule well be considered worthy of double honour, especially those who labour in preaching and teaching. 18 For the Scripture says, “You shall not muzzle an ox when it treads out the grain”, and, “The labourer deserves his wages.” 19 Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 20 As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. 21 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. 22 Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure. 23 (No longer drink only water, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments.) 24 The sins of some men are conspicuous, going before them to judgement, but the sins of others appear later. 25 So also good works are conspicuous, and even those that are not cannot remain hidden.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to Timothy about the roles of older and younger widows.

In today’s verses, Paul turns his attention to pastors, or elders. These days ‘elder’ normally refers to a layman who assists in pastoral care and teaching, possibly preaching. However, most of Paul’s context for ‘elder’ here seems to refer to the head of an individual church.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains (emphases mine):

Observe, The presbytery ruled, and the same that ruled were those who laboured in the word and doctrine: they had not one to preach to them and another to rule them, but the work was done by one and the same person. Some have imagined that by the elders that rule well the apostle means lay-elders, who were employed in ruling but not in teaching, who were concerned in church-government, but did not meddle with the administration of the word and sacraments; and I confess this is the plainest text of scripture that can be found to countenance such an opinion. But it seem a little strange that mere ruling elders should be accounted worthy of double honour, when the apostle preferred preaching to baptizing, and much more would he prefer it to ruling the church; and it is more strange that the apostle should take no notice of them when he treats of church-officers; but, as it is hinted before, they had not, in the primitive church, one to preach to them and another to rule them, but ruling and teaching were performed by the same persons, only some might labour more in the word and doctrine than others.

John MacArthur tells us why these verses are so important in the Church today. He preached all three of the sermons cited here in 1987, by the way:

Our Lord Jesus only founded one organization while He was here on earth and that was His church. That is the only organization, organism, institution the Lord Jesus founded and the only one He promised to bless. He said, “I will build My church.” It is His church that is the fullness of His plan for this world. The church designed by God and initiated by the Spirit of God, made possible by the work of Christ, is designed to be the channel of the saving gospel to the world. In a sense, the church has replaced Israel. God called out the nation Israel in order to be a peculiar people, a people of His own who would be the channel of saving truth to the rest of the world. As you know, Israel was unfaithful, Israel became apostate, the channel was blocked, and God carved out a new channel so the river of salvation could continue to flow to the world and that new channel is the church. We are called by God then not to receive but to channel the truth through us to a waiting world.

The church by design is to have a purity and a power that can penetrate the kingdom of darkness and take men and women captive to the kingdom of light. The church is to be the living body of Christ, the visible form of Christ in the world to reveal His attractive glory and thus draw men to Himself. The church is to be the perfect model and example of godly virtue in the face of an ungodly world in order to draw men out of their sin unto His righteousness.

… The church’s ability then to be this, the church’s ability to establish a pure powerful testimony to radiate Christ’s glory, to manifest godly modeling and patterning of virtue is largely dependent on one crucial area, and that is the area of leadership. No church really rises higher than its leadership. As Hosea put it, “Like people, like priest.” The character of the people of God is in great measure dependent on the character of those who lead them …

Tragically, the church has seen much of the same thing happen in its midst that Israel saw as well. There has been a defection among leaders from the biblical pattern and the biblical standard and the biblical perspective and the biblical role and function of leadership. And I believe the issue facing the church today really most significantly is an issue of leadership. And as the Apostle Paul writes to Timothy here and calls for the restoration of a biblical eldership, I think he speaks to us a message desperately needed by the church today

It wasn’t any different in Timothy’s day. He had been left in Ephesus to set in order the things that were wrong in the church at Ephesus, a church where Paul had ministered so wonderfully for three years, a church he himself had founded, a church with great foundations which had drifted away, the leadership of which had become corrupt. And this church at Ephesus, where Timothy is when Paul writes, was also desperately in need of restoring a biblical pastorate or a biblical eldership, as the church today is in need of the same.

Paul tells Timothy that the elders — the pastors — who rule well should be considered worthy of double honour, especially if they labour in preaching and in teaching (verse 17).

MacArthur homes in on the word ‘honour’:

The key word here is the word honor. You might just sort of mark that in your mind, or in your text. That’s what he’s really saying. This verse calls for honor to be given to pastor-elders in the church. Those who serve the church, leading the church, as it were, fathering the church by way of example and leadership, feeding and teaching in the church are to be given honor.

This is not a new concept in the Scripture. It has appeared in other places. A couple of books earlier in the New Testament Canon we read in 1 Thessalonians 5:12, “We beseech you, brethren, to know them who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you.” That would be your pastors, your elders. “And to esteem them very highly in love for their work’s sake.” Those who are over you in the Lord who minister among you, you should know them, you should love them, you should esteem them for the work which they render …

Now I want to just remind you that the term “elder” is a general term referring to those in leadership in the church. They can be called shepherd, pastor – same word. They can be called overseer, as in chapter 3 verse 1 they are referred to, or elder. The term pastor refers primarily to the shepherding function, the term overseer to the authority and the leadership responsibility, and the term elder has to do with their role in maturity as a father or as the senior member of the congregation, senior members I should say, since there are many. There’s no such thing, by the way, as a senior pastor. There’s no such thing as a senior pastor and his staff … So the pastor, overseer, elder as we know is the same person, one in the same. One emphasizes the feeding responsibility, one emphasizes the leading responsibility, one emphasizes the maturity of his position in leadership …

So we’re assuming then elder here, or elders, as it’s always in the plural – except when Peter refers to himself as an elder and when John twice refers to himself as an elder. Every other time it’s a plurality, because the assumption is the church will be led by a plurality of godly elders. So we see then here that when it says, “Let the elders that rule well be counted worthy of double honor,” it means elders who are qualified. If a man is qualified to be an elder, he is qualified then to receive honor. We could say then generally that underlying this verse is the idea that elders are worthy of honor. Okay? Elders are worthy of honor.

Now what do we mean by honor? Well the word is timē. Basically it means respect or regard. It’s so used in chapter 6 verse 1, “But as many servants as are under the yoke count their own masters worthy of all honor.” That doesn’t mean a servant is supposed to pay his master. It means he’s supposed to give him respect. So the word timē can relate to respect or regard. But also it can relate to remuneration, that is money. Back in chapter 5 we used it that way in verse 3 as Paul had that in mind, “Honor widows that are really widows.” And what we saw there inherent in the word honor is the idea of financial support. It includes, along with respect and high regard, the idea of remuneration, salary, whatever.

In fact, in our English language we have a word that tells us that, it’s the word honorarium. Honorarium is a form of the word honor which relates to giving someone money. When I go out and speak sometimes people will give me an honorarium. When I fill out my income tax every year I put down a category called honoraria, which has to do with people who showed me a certain amount of regard in a financial way. And so the word, meaning that originally, has come down in the English form to mean that even today in some regard.

So when we read about honoring these elders, we are talking not only about respect, but also talking about remuneration. In fact, the word timē is translated in several places in the New Testament by the word price. So it is not a word disassociated from money. You will find it so translated, for example, in Matthew 27:6 and 9, Acts 4:34, 1 Corinthians 6:20. So what Paul is saying is give honor, but let that honor have within it remuneration, if need be.

By the way, honor in the Old Testament – I just thought of that – also contains that same idea. For example, in Proverbs 3:9 it says, “Honor the LORD with your substance.” What does that mean? That means honor the Lord with your respect and your regard as demonstrated by giving Him your money. And then it further says, “With the firstfruits of all your increase.” So there honor carries the idea of giving money to God in an offering. Also in verse 31 of Proverbs 14 it says, “The one who honors the poor by having mercy on him,” it refers to one honoring the poor through mercy that has the idea of giving them something to supply their needs.

You say, if Paul meant that why didn’t he just say money? Well because money is such a crass expression, he would rather deal with the motive behind the money than just deal with the money. How much nicer is it to say, “Here’s your money, fella?” You wouldn’t appreciate that. If someone could say to you, “We want to honor you with this gift,” there’s a big difference in that expression. And Paul was want to do that almost on every occasion. In fact, you’re hard pressed to ever find Paul actually talk about money.

Let me give you just a little insight into that. In writing to the Romans and the Corinthians, he referred to money on one occasion as service. In writing to the Corinthians, the Galatians and the Philippians, he referred to money as fellowship. He referred to it again to the Corinthians as grace. In 2 Corinthians chapters 8 and 9 he called it liberality. In 2 Corinthians 8:20 he called it bounty. In 2 Corinthians 9:5 he called it blessing. In 2 Corinthians 9:8 he called it a good work. In Galatians 6:6 he called money good things. In Philippians 4 he called it a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice. In 2 Corinthians 9:10 he called it a seed; in the same verse he called it a harvest of your righteousness. In Philippians 4:17 he called it a gift, and here he calls it honor

Notice the little phrase double honor. What does that mean? Well, it basically means generous ample pay, generous ample respect. The intent here is to show a difference between general category of pastors and a unique category of pastors who rule with great excellence and who work very hard in the preaching and the teaching. They are worthy of double honor. Double honor assumes as its comparative honor. So we say honor for elders, double honor for excellent hard-working elders. That’s the idea. The Spirit of God knows that among those who serve the church there will be a great group of faithful men who will serve the Lord with blessing, but there will also be a group of men who will serve the Lord with a greater effort and a greater commitment and a greater excellence and they are worthy of a greater acknowledgement of honor from the congregations they serve. It’s not a mathematical equation here to figure out what the normal elder gets and double it. It’s the idea of ample, generous support, remuneration and respect. All elders are worthy of it, some are worthy of more.

Proistēmi, the verb, means to stand first. They’re first in order in terms of leadership. It is a word used to speak of the father and the husband in the family. He is the leader; he is the one who stands first; he is the protector, the provider. So the elder is the one who leads, who stands first, given the task of leading the church. It’s a tremendous responsibility, beloved, by the way, for all the privilege that is there, you’re really overwhelmed by the accountability …

But the emphasis is not on the verb ruling, the emphasis is on the adverb – well. And that adverb means with excellence – the elder, the pastor who leads with excellence …  It is bound up in quality leadership. It is bound up in godliness in the life. It is bound up in teaching and explanation of Scripture and exhortation, setting a model and example and pattern that others can follow.

Henry says of the work of an elder, or pastor:

Here we have, 1. The work of ministers; it consists principally in two things: ruling well and labouring in the word and doctrine. This was the main business of elders or presbyters in the days of the apostles. 2. The honour due to those who were not idle, but laborious in this work; they were worthy of double honour, esteem, and maintenance.

Paul goes on to explain, quoting Deuteronomy 25:4 that says the ox treading the grain shall not be muzzled and one from Luke, whose Gospel was written three or four years before Paul penned this letter, that the labourer deserves his wages (verse 18).

Henry says:

We hence learn, (1.) God, both under the law, and now under the gospel, has taken care that his ministers be well provided for. Does God take care for oxen, and will he not take care of his own servants? The ox only treads out the corn of which they make the bread that perishes; but ministers break the bread of life which endures for ever. (2.) The comfortable subsistence of ministers, as it is God’s appointment that those who preach the gospel should live of the gospel ( 1 Cor 9 14), so it is their just due, as much as the reward of the labourer; and those who would have ministers starved, or not comfortably provided for, God will require it of them another day.

MacArthur has more:

If God says in Deuteronomy 25 verse 4, you’re supposed to let the ox that treads the grain eat, don’t you think He cares about the one who provides your spiritual food as the ox provides your physical food? And isn’t a man more valuable than an ox? And isn’t a preacher more valuable than anyone?

Admittedly, Paul did not always ask for remuneration himself, depending on the circumstances of the places where he planted churches:

There was some exigencies in Corinth; there were some reasons why he didn’t want to be chargeable to them … They were a tough bunch to work with, and he didn’t need anything that might cause more criticism of his ministry. He was being very harsh with them, as it was. He didn’t want them accusing him of a money motive.

… you can defer from that support for whatever reason you might have. For example, in writing to 1 Thessalonians – writing to the Thessalonians in the first letter, he says, verse 9 of chapter 2, “You remember, brethren, our labor and travail, laboring night and day because we would not be chargeable unto any of you, we preached unto you the gospel of God.” We didn’t want to be chargeable, so we worked night and day. He had to work his ministry all day, and he had to earn his living all night. But he did that because he chose to do it to make the gospel more palatable to them.

Back to the ox and on to Luke’s labourer:

The picture here is very vivid. The Deuteronomic law said that if you’re going to have an ox grinding out grain and that ox is providing food for you, then let the ox eat. Don’t muzzle his mouth while he’s doing that, let him eat as he goes

And then he also quotes from another Scripture, “The laborer is worthy of his” – misthos – “his wages.” It’s not a reward; it’s not a gift; it’s his wages. And he moves from an ox to a man. He moves up one level from an animal to a servant. And he says, “The Scripture also says, the laborer is worthy of his misthos.” You know what Scripture that is? Most interesting – Luke 10:7. Here is Paul calling Luke Scripture. Here is Paul, a New Testament writer affirming that another New Testament writer and a dear friend, Luke, is Scripture. This is the testimony to New Testament Scripture.

By the way, the only times that Paul quotes from the gospels, one is here and one is 1 Corinthians 11:24 and 25, both times he quotes from Luke. This is verbatim Luke 10:7. And he probably quoted from Luke because Luke was his dear friend. Luke was written probably in the year 60 A.D. when Paul was in his Roman imprisonment. It is about 63 A.D. as he writes here, so Luke’s gospel has been around for three years. The early church recognized the canonicity and authenticity and authority of New Testament Scripture even before the writers had died. And so here is Paul affirming Luke’s gospel as Scripture. He would have had several years to be exposed to it and read it. And he is saying there is something said there that is analogous to the same truth and that is that a man who works ought to be paid. An animal who works ought to be paid. A man who works ought to be paid. If you pay your animal who helps you eat, if you pay your servant who helps you eat, then you ought to pay your teacher, your pastor, your elder.

When things go wrong with an elder, allow a complaint — a charge against him — only if two or three witnesses come forth with evidence (verse 19).

In other words, be discerning and adopt the principles Jesus laid out in Matthew 18, which, by the way, are also in the Old Testament.

MacArthur explains:

To put it simply, one of the best ways you can protect your pastors and elders is with a deaf ear to accusation. It’s that simple. When a man is placed into spiritual leadership, he has to anticipate that hateful, jealous, sinful people will falsely accuse him to try to ruin his ministry. And people can and often will say anything and everything. This is standard behavior with reference to spiritual leaders. I went back in the Old Testament this week, just kind of tracking through some of the leaders of the Old Testament period and found that one after another of the great heroes of the faith in the Old Testament were beset by false accusation. It was standard fare. I think particularly of Joseph, Moses, David, Jeremiah, Nehemiah and many others as well. You come in to the New Testament, Christ was crucified under false accusation, Paul under false accusation, defending himself again and again and again in his epistles

If Satan can’t cause a man to fall into sin, if Satan can’t cause a man to stumble into evil, then Satan may cause some who more willingly will stumble into evil to become a coterie of false accusers, with a net effect of which is to discredit the man as if he himself had sinned. You understand that? And so the insulation of the man of God against that is a deaf congregation in the sense of hearing accusation. Very important.

Notice back in verse 19 again, against the elder or pastor you are not to entertain any kind of formal public accusation. The word but should be translated ‘except when,’ and the word before has the force of ‘by the authority of’ two or three witnesses. The only time you ever even entertain it – doesn’t mean it’s true – but the only time you would ever even entertain it would be when it comes to you with a force of two or three confirming witnesses. In other words, it isn’t one person who has some kind of act of aggression against the man of God …

Now the intent of two or three witnesses is simply confirmation. It goes all the way back to Deuteronomy 19:15 where no accusation against a person is to be upheld apart from two or three confirming credible witnesses. Matthew chapter 18, you remember when – we have an outline of how to discipline a fellow Christian. If you find one in sin you go to him; if he doesn’t hear and repent then you take two or three witnesses in order that they might confirm that sin and confirm either his repentant or failure to be repentant attitude. So two or three witnesses involved in an accusation situation is an old approach. It’s simply the confirmation of viable witnesses. And so we are never to receive any accusation against a pastor, we’re not even to entertain it or to investigate it or to look into it, we are to shun it, to shut it off, to end it unless it has been confirmed by two or three significant and credible witnesses. Pastor-elders are never to be at the mercy of frivolous evil accusers. And they’re not to be having to go around to their people justifying themselves to people who are eager or willing to believe such lies.

Paul tells Timothy that those who persist in sin — the unrepentant — should be rebuked publicly, so that the rest stand in fear (verse 20).

This sounds harsh, but MacArthur explains why this has to be done in public:

Would you please notice here that we don’t have a lot of steps of discipline. It just says rebuke before all. When an accusation has been made – it’s been confirmed in the mouth of two or three witnesses and investigated – if it indeed is proven to be true, he is to be publicly rebuked. The word rebuke, elegchō, means to expose, to bring to open conviction, to correct, to reprove. And the idea is public, before all. There’s no exegetical base for limiting the all to just the elders, the other elders. There’s no contextual base for limiting it to just the elders. If it says all, it means all. If it was intended to be kept from the congregation it would have said be sure the congregation doesn’t find out. But when it says rebuke before all it means exactly that. And there is no either exegetical or contextual reason to limit the all in any way. It simply means one who is found to be sinning is to be exposed before everyone. There’s nowhere to hide.

Once a pastor-elder’s guilt is established, he is to be publicly exposed. The sin of one in that position is more serious and to be punished more severely because its implications are greater. If you’re the model of spiritual life, if you’re the model of godliness, if you’re supposed to be the example and you do not live the example that pleases God, then the culpability is very severe …

If the man has been found to be in a pattern of sin, then he is disqualified by 1 Timothy chapter 3. He’s no longer blameless so he’s out of the ministry anyway, and he is to be publicly rebuked for his sin, because there has to be some explanation about why he’s out. Understood? And when that isn’t done, let me tell you, confusion reigns supreme. When you try to sneak some pastor or elder out the back door and not explain to the people why he’s leaving, all you’re going to do is create problem upon problem upon problem.

One classic illustration of this, a church, a familiar and wonderful church that I know of had a man on their staff. They were moving him from one office to another and digging out some of the stuff in his closet they found a copy of every issue of Playboy magazine since the first one. The board met on this and felt it would be too devastating to the church and the man and his family if they said anything, so he quietly left town. The pastor suffered repercussions for years and years of people who despised the pastor for pushing this man out of the church with no good reason. And being under instructions never to tell anybody why the man left, he suffered all the slings and arrows of the hate of people who blamed him for something he couldn’t talk about. Furthermore, the man that was expelled from the church went somewhere else. And to this day has a high-profile ministry, I don’t think anybody knows what went on

Rebuking in public restrains other people’s sin:

You say, but that’s – boy, that’s pretty painful for the man. That’s right. But it’s also a pretty good restraint on the others. That’s what it says. Look at verse 20, you do this in order “that others also may fear.” Other elders – other elders. For that matter, other people in the congregation who could be also disciplined for their sin. But the other here is really directly tied to the elders. When an elder is publicly disgraced for his sin, a pastor is publicly disgraced for his sin, that’s going to put a healthy fear in the heart of others …

Others is the word loipoi, loipos really, and it means the rest. So what he’s saying is those that sin are publicly exposed in order that the rest – the rest in what sense? – the rest among any class being discussed, and that has to relate this word to elders. The class being discussed is sinning elders. The rest of the sinning elders will fear. They will be in a healthy respectful concern over being disgraced publicly and losing their ministry. Obviously a public rebuke would affect them, and it would affect everybody, so it would extend to the whole congregation

Hopefully he could stay in the same congregation, be loved, nurtured, restored to a place of usefulness to the Lord. But it’s doubtful that he could ever be a pastor and an elder again, depending, of course, on the nature of the sin and its extent. But there needs to be an acknowledgement that the two-edged sword of ministry is yes you have honor, and yes you have remuneration, and respect and protection, but when you fall into sin there is also the demand made that you be publicly exposed.

Then Paul becomes adamant, charging — commanding — in the presence of God, of Christ Jesus and the elect angels, that Timothy keeps to these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality (verse 21).

MacArthur surmises that Paul said this to push Timothy into cleaning out the bad influences at the top in Ephesus:

So just in case you’re tempted to do nothing, verse 21 comes like a thunderbolt. “I charge you,” he says to Timothy, knowing that Timothy is somewhat timid and a little bit intimidated since he is the Lone Ranger in the midst of the whole bunch of false leaders. He says, “I charge you” – I thoroughly admonish you, is what that means. I solemnly earnestly declare to you – “before God” – who is the judge of all the earth – “and Christ Jesus” – to whom all judgment is given – “and the elect angels” – who are the instruments and agents of judgment. Boy, this is a heavy-duty group here. “I admonish you before God and Christ Jesus and the elect angels that you observe” – to keep. It means to keep – “these things without” – watch this – “without preference and without partiality.” He says, I’m telling you to do this and I’m telling you to do it because God is watching, Christ Jesus is watching, and the holy angels are watching. And I call you to do this in front of God the eternal judge of the earth; in front of Christ to whom all judgment is given; in front of the elect angels, that is the holy angels, the unfallen angels, who are both spectators of the church and agents in judgment; and I call you before the holiest of the holies of heaven to do this.

Why? God is concerned with the purity of the church. Christ is concerned with the purity of the church. The holy angels are concerned with the purity of the church. The elect angels, those who were chosen to eternal glory and holiness, along with serving God are waiting to see your obedience. That’s the issue. They’re waiting to see your obedience …

It’s to be done without prejudice, prokrimatos, without preferential treatment. In other words, you shouldn’t say, well, you know, such a nice guy. Everybody likes him.” On the other hand, it shouldn’t be done with partiality. That means, “I can’t stand the guy. Let’s really dump it on him.” It’s done without trying to protect someone you prefer and without trying to expose someone you don’t prefer. It’s to be done with accuracy and integrity, unprejudiced and impartial, but it’s to be done and it’s to be done because all of heaven is watching that it be done. That’s pretty strong stuff. I don’t know – I don’t know any way to say any stronger than the way Paul said it under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that when you find a pastor who sins, all of the holy beings of heaven demand that you do a public exposure. That’s hard.

You remember back in Matthew 18 when the discipline pattern was given there for how we confront each other with sin. It said, “Don’t be afraid to do this,” in effect, “because what’s being done on earth has already been done in heaven, and where two or three of you are witnessing to that sin, there am I, says Christ, in your midst.” So heaven is making the judgment that discipline needs to be done. Christ wants to enact that discipline. And that’s why you ought to go ahead and do it in Matthew 18. Here he says you ought to go ahead and do it because all of holy heaven is waiting for you to do it. Are you going to protect the holiness of God or are you going to protect the reputation of an earthly organization?

Paul then transitions into ordination and Timothy’s own behaviour by saying he should not be too eager to ordain an elder (pastor) through the laying on of hands — how ordination is still done to welcome others into that holy fellowship; the Apostle adds that Timothy must keep himself pure and not enter into others’ sins (verse 22).

Ordaining the wrong type of man makes one equally guilty of that sin.

Henry says:

Observe, We have great need to watch over ourselves at all times, that we do not make ourselves partakers of other men’s sins. “Keep thyself pure, not only from doing the like thyself, but from countenancing it, or being any way accessary to it, in others.” Here is, 1. A caution against the rash ordination of ministers, or absolution of those who have been under church-censures: Lay hands suddenly on no man. 2. Those who are rash, either in the one case or the other, will make themselves partakers in other men’s sins. 3. We must keep ourselves pure, if we will be pure; the grace of God makes and keeps us pure, but it is by our own endeavours.

MacArthur describes the pre-ordination process at his own church, which is daunting but necessary. I wonder how many seminarians elsewhere could do the following. Not many. Consider all of the following highlighted:

I want you to know in our church in order for a man to be ordained at Grace Church there’s a very long and arduous process that they go through. In fact, a week ago I was reading the syllabus which we put together some years ago and have refined, a very thick syllabus which the men have to really master before they can be considered for ministry. That syllabus has only to do with biblical knowledge. They, for example, must be able to tell…to basically outline every book of the Bible, on their feet without notes when asked in a testing situation. They should be able to be given two to three hundred chapters in the Bible and just by naming the chapter they can tell you the importance and significance of that key chapter. They can be given certain sections of Scripture, or even verses of Scripture which they must know not only what the content is but what it means. They have to not only know the major points of theology but be able to defend them reasonably and defend them biblically with chapters and verses to support them. Not only that, they have a whole list of issues and questions and situations that occur in the church that they must be able to give a biblical resolution for. And then they have a multi-year profile where they have to be visible under other elders, to prove their spiritual character. And when all of those years of accumulating that biblical knowledge and functioning in biblical ministry prove them to be worthwhile, then they go through another process of examination and are finally, if proven to be worthy, ordained. And the reason is because we don’t want to do this hastily.

Paul then gives Timothy health advice, advising him to drink some wine now and then to help with his digestion and frequent ailments (verse 23).

Henry explains that this has a biblical precedent. Note also that most water had to be purified in those days. That purification took place with the addition of alcohol:

It seems Timothy was a mortified man to the pleasures of sense; he drank water, and he was a man of no strong constitution of body, and for this reason Paul advises him to use wine for the helping of his stomach and the recruiting of his nature. Observe, It is a little wine, for ministers must not be given to much wine; so much as may be for the health of the body, not so as to distemper it, for God has made wine to rejoice man’s heart. Note, (1.) It is the will of God that people should take all due care of their bodies. As we are not to make them our masters, so neither our slaves; but to use them so that they may be most fit and helpful to us in the service of God. (2.) Wine is most proper for sickly and weak people, whose stomachs are often out of order, and who labour under infirmities. Give strong drink to him that is ready to perish, and wine to those that are of heavy hearts, Prov 31 6. (3.) Wine should be used as a help, and not a hindrance, to our work and usefulness.

Paul reminds Timothy that some men’s sins appear early on, going before them to judgement — church discipline — however, other men’s sins come later, hence the need for lengthy evaluation (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

So Timothy will be able in the proper kind of judgment, in the proper kind of evaluation and assessment environment to know who these men are. So the problem is resolved in some cases because the man’s sins come first. The problem is resolved in other cases because under proper scrutiny and assessment the man’s sins are revealed, careful investigation can bring them out.

Paul ends the chapter on a positive note, saying that good works are also conspicuous and cannot be hidden (verse 25).

MacArthur reminds us of the first chapters of Revelation, which begin with our Lord’s assessment of the seven churches:

I think the church today assumes that Jesus Christ is in the midst of the church as sort of a mil[que]toast personality, patting everybody on the head and letting them get away with murder, that Jesus is a pal, that Jesus is a buddy, that Jesus’ main agenda for the church is to make you happy, that Jesus’ primary concern is that you feel good about yourself, or that you have a sort of a satisfied ego trip, or that you not be uncomfortable, that Jesus’ main idea in the church is to stroke you and just tolerate you. But if you really want to see what Jesus is concerned about in his church, you need to go for a moment to Revelation chapter 1. Will you turn there for a moment and let’s just see what it is that concerns the Lord Jesus Christ about his church and why he would be watching to make sure the church rebuked sin among its leaders.

John in chapter 1 has a vision of Christ. And Christ identifies Himself in verse 11 as the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last. Tells John to write these letters to the seven churches that are located in Asia Minor which letters take up chapters two and three. Now these seven churches in Asia Minor, I believe, are representative of all kinds of churches in all eras of church history. Each of these seven churches has some distinctives about it that are characteristic of churches in all periods of time. And so in a very sense you have in a microcosm of Asia Minor in the first century a picture of the church. And among those churches Christ moves in ministry in this incredible vision beginning in verse 12. “I turned to see the voice that spoke to me and I turned and I saw seven golden lampstands.” Seven being a number indicating completeness, golden having to do with the costliness, the precious character, the value of the church. And each lampstand with a light representing one of the seven churches, Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea.

So, here is a picture of Christ moving among these seven churches which are in a symbolic microcosm, a picture of Christ moving in His church in all times. Verse 13, “In the midst of these seven lampstands, one like the Son of Man.” Here is Christ, moving in His church …

… And the idea is He’s moving to maintain the purity of His church and to act against its sin. He is seen in His church not as a pal, not as a buddy, not as the popular Jesus of today who wants you healthy, wealthy and happy, who wants to sanctify your ego trip, who wants to make you feel good about yourself, He is there to penetrate, discover sin and stamp it out …

And as a footnote, what should be our attitude? Do we gloat over the sinning one and push ourselves up the ladder of esteem a little higher because it wasn’t us? Do we feel bad about them but good about ourselves? What is the attitude of one who finds a sinning pastor, a sinning elder and publicly rebukes that person? I submit to you that it is an attitude of sorrow. It is an attitude of sadness.

… It’s not just the sadness of compassion, it’s the sadness of the very role of leadership being so stained which causes all of us to suffer.

And so we are then aware very clearly from this passage of a tremendous responsibility. First to honor, second to protect, and thirdly, and this is the negative side of being a pastor or elder, to rebuke publicly when there is need for that.

Paul closes his first letter in Chapter 6 with more advice for Timothy.

Next time — 1 Timothy 6:1-2

The Sixth Sunday of Easter is May 14, 2023.

Readings for Year A can be found here.

The Gospel is as follows (emphases mine):

John 14:15-21

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:18 “I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.

14:19 In a little while the world will no longer see me, but you will see me; because I live, you also will live.

14:20 On that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.

14:21 They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me; and those who love me will be loved by my Father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading continues where we left off last week, the Fifth Sunday of Easter (Year A): John 14:1-14.

This is part of our Lord’s Upper Room Discourse which took place after Jesus banished Judas for betrayal and after the Last Supper.

John MacArthur describes the panic and desolation that the remaining eleven Apostles were experiencing:

He has been very clear, “I am leaving.  I am leaving.”

This sets panic into their hearts.  Remember, they have forsaken all to follow Him.  They’ve dropped their nets, if you will.  They’ve left their enterprises.  They’ve followed Jesus around for a three-year period, from town-to-town and village-to-village.  He has been the source of everything for them.  He has been everything, and now He is leaving.

“Where is the messianic kingdom?  Where are the fulfillments of all the promises given to the prophets?  It hasn’t happened; none of it has happened.  And now You’re leaving?  What’s going on?  Not only are You leaving, but You haven’t accomplished what we all assumed You would accomplish, establishing the kingdom with all the promises to Abraham and David, and through the prophets fulfilled.  Where is the kingdom?  How can You be the Messiah?”

This is so overwhelming that they are distraught.  In fact, chapter 14, verse 1, literally says, “Stop letting your heart be troubled.”  This is trouble like they hadn’t known before.  This is a kind of panic that has set in that Jesus is leaving.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

It was not expedient that Christ should be with them for ever, for they who were designed for public service, must not always live a college-life; they must disperse …

Jesus tells the remaining Apostles that if they love Him, they will keep His commandments (verse 15).

Jesus Himself set the pattern for obedience. During His earthly ministry, He did what the Father asked, including being scourged mercilessly then being crucified for our sins.

In my early years of blogging, an older Christian commented that he had problems with obedience, therefore, that went out the window in his faith journey.

However, obeying our Lord is not like obeying a teacher or a boss, although we are obliged to obey them, too, unless they ask us to do something sinful. Obeying our Lord is obeying the One who is in heaven, our Saviour and our Hope.

MacArthur reminds us that Jesus put a lot of emphasis on obedience:

“If you love Me, you’ll keep my commandments.”

“Why is that here?”  It’s here because it defines for whom these promises are given To whom does He make such promises – promises that, “You’ll do greater works than these because I go to the Father,” promises that, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do,” that He’s made in the previous passage, promises that the Trinity is going to come and take up residence?  To whom does He make such promises?  Answer:  “Those who love Me and keep my commandments.”

That is the prevailing Johannine definition of a Christian.  You will see this in John’s writings everywhere.  For example, if you just drop down to verse 21:  “He who has My commandments and keeps them, obeys them, is the one who loves Me.”  Or you could look at verse 23:  “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word.”  And then verse 24:  “He who does not love Me, does not keep My words.”

All right, let’s just make it simple.  How can you tell a true Christian?  A true Christian loves and obeys.  Sum it up: a true Christian loves and obeys.  It’s not about a profession.  “Many will say unto Me, ‘Lord, Lord, I did this; I did that; I did the other thing.’  I will say to them, ‘Depart from Me, I never knew you.’”

How do you know a true Christian?  A true Christian loves the Lord, and consequently obeys.  Love is the motive and obedience is the action.  This is the consistent, prevailing truth.

Go to chapter 15.  John makes another statement that essentially says the same thing.  John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  How do you know that Jesus loved the Father?  How do you know Jesus loved the Father?  Because He what?  He obeyed the Father.  That’s the model; that’s the pattern.  That’s the model

Look at 1 John for a moment and I’ll show you just a couple of parallels there; again, the same apostle John writing.  This is an emphasis that the Holy Spirit had him make.  Verse 3, 1 John 2:3, “By this we know that we have come to know Him.”  How do you know that you know Him?  How do you know that you know the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous?  If we keep His commandments.

“The one who says, ‘I have come to know Him,’ and doesn’t keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected.  By this we know we are in Him.”  Again, it’s love and obedience.  It’s always love and obedience.  John makes this point again, and again, and again.

Chapter 4 is no different.  John speaks to the same issue in chapter 4, verse 19:  “We love, because He first loved us.  If someone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he’s a liar.”  So if you say you love God and you don’t obey His commandments, you’re a liar.  If you say you love God and you hate your brother, you’re a liar, because hating your brother is a violation of the second commandment:  “You love your neighbor as yourself.”

It’s always the emphasis that John makes.  Everyone who loves God, obeys; and obedience starts with obeying the first commandment:  “Love the Lord your God, and then the second, your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus then gave His promise: He would ask the Father to give them another Advocate to be with them forever (verse 16), the Holy Spirit.

Henry tells us that this is the great promise of the New Testament for all time:

1. It is promised that they shall have another comforter. This is the great New-Testament promise (Acts 1 4), as that of the Messiah was of the Old Testament; a promise adapted to the present distress of the disciples, who were in sorrow, and needed a comforter. Observe here,

(1.) The blessing promised: allon parakleton. The word is used only here in these discourses of Christ’s, and 1 John 2 1, where we translate it an advocate ... the Greek word Paraclete; we read, Acts 9 31, of the paraklesis tou hagiou pneumatos, the comfort of the Holy Ghost, including his whole office as a paraclete. [1.] You shall have another advocate. The office of the Spirit was to be Christ’s advocate with them and others, to plead his cause, and take care of his concerns, on earth; to be vicarius Christi—Christ’s Vicar, as one of the ancients call him; and to be their advocate with their opposers. When Christ was with them he spoke for them as there was occasion; but now that he is leaving them they shall not be run down, the Spirit of the Father shall speak in them, Matt 10 19, 20. And the cause cannot miscarry that is pleaded by such an advocate. [2.] You shall have another master or teacher, another exhorter. While they had Christ with them he excited and exhorted them to their duty; but now that he is going he leaves one with them that shall do this as effectually, though silently. Jansenius thinks the most proper word to render it by is a patron, one that shall both instruct and protect you. [3.] Another comforter. Christ was expected as the consolation of Israel. One of the names of the Messiah among the Jews was Menahem—the Comforter. The Targum calls the days of the Messiah the years of consolation. Christ comforted his disciples when he was with them, and now that he was leaving them in their greatest need he promises them another.

(2.) The giver of this blessing: The Father shall give him, my Father and your Father; it includes both. The same that gave the Son to be our Saviour will give his Spirit to be our comforter, pursuant to the same design. The Son is said to send the Comforter (ch. 15 26), but the Father is the prime agent.

(3.) How this blessing is procured—by the intercession of the Lord Jesus: I will pray the Father. He said (v. 14) I will do it; here he saith, I will pray for it, to show not only that he is both God and man, but that he is both king and priest. As priest he is ordained for men to make intercession, as king he is authorized by the Father to execute judgment. When Christ saith, I will pray the Father, it does not suppose that the Father is unwilling, or must be importuned to it, but only that the gift of the Spirit is a fruit of Christ’s mediation, purchased by his merit, and taken out by his intercession.

(4.) The continuance of this blessing: That he may abide with you for ever. That is, [1.] “With you, as long as you live. You shall never know the want of a comforter, nor lament his departure, as you are now lamenting mine.” Note, It should support us under the loss of those comforts which were designed us for a time that there are everlasting consolations provided for us … [2.] “With your successors, when you are gone, to the end of time; your successors in Christianity, in the ministry.” [3.] If we take for ever in its utmost extent, the promise will be accomplished in those consolations of God which will be the eternal joy of all the saints, pleasures for ever.

Jesus said that this Advocate is the Spirit of truth whom the world — unbelievers — cannot receive because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but the Apostles knew Him because He was living in them and He would continue to live in them (verse 17).

MacArthur explains more about the Holy Spirit:

So what our Lord says is, “Not that I’m going to give you more instructions, it’s not that I’m going to give you more duties, it’s not that I’m going to give you more responsibilities.  I’m going to ask the Father and He’s going to give you the Helper so that you have the internal resident power of God to do what has been commanded.”  It’s personal:  “I will give you,” personal, individual, relational.  “I will give you the Helper.  I will ask the Father.”

… the word Paraclete That’s the transliteration in English.  Greek it’s Parakltos.  Kltos is a verb form of a verb kale which means to call, pará  means alongside like parallel – to call somebody alongside.  That’s what the word means, somebody called alongside.  Very, very general.

Now notice this:  “I will ask the Father and He’ll give you another.”  In the Greek language, there are two words for another.  In English, there’s just one.  If I say, “Another something,” that doesn’t tell you anything about it.  It’s just other than the one that you have in mind.  No, it’s another person; or, no, it’s another event, or whatever.  You don’t have anything in the word “another” that tells you anything.

That’s not true in Greek.  In Greek, there’s a word heteros Heteros means another, but it means another of a different kind from which we get heterodox or heterogeneous.  It means it’s different; another of a different kind.

For example, another Jesus is heteros Isous In Galatians 1, “If anybody preaches another Jesus, let him be damned.”  So that word means another of a different kind.

Then they have the word állosÁllos is used here.  It means another of the exact same kind; and Jesus uses that:  “I will give you állos Parakltos I will give you another exactly like I am, which is to say that I’m going to send you a Helper exactly like the Helper that I have been,” and that defines for you the ministry of the Holy Spirit …

And then verse 17:  “He is the Spirit of truth.”  Of course, He is, because God is truth.  And Jesus said earlier in the chapter, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.  He will be what I was to you; and I am the truth, and He is the truth; and everything He tells you will be the truth.  By the way, whom the world cannot receive because it doesn’t see Him or know Him.  But you know Him because He abides with you and will be in you.”  So much to say about that.

Let me have you focus on this:  “He abides, but you will know Him.  You already know Him.  The world doesn’t know Him.  The world doesn’t know Him, but you know Him because He abides with you.”

What is that about?  How did the Holy Spirit abide with them?  Listen, in the person of Christ, in the person of Christ.  That is the primary point of that statement.  “He abides with you.”

Who was it that gave life in the womb of Mary?  It was the Holy Spirit, right, who conceived in her womb.  It was the Holy Spirit who moved in the fetus in the womb.  It was the Holy Spirit who was at the baptism of Jesus, and descended from heaven, and rested upon Him.  And the Holy Spirit led Him into ministry, and the Holy Spirit led Him into the wilderness to be tempted, and the Holy Spirit empowered Him and enabled Him; and Jesus committed all the credit for His ministry to the Holy Spirit.

You remember how Matthew 12, the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders said He does what He does by the power of whom?  Beelzebub, the Devil, hell.  That’s proof that the world cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it doesn’t see Him or know Him.  The Holy Spirit was there three years, working through Christ, and they couldn’t recognize the Holy Spirit at all, and they attributed His work to the Devil.

That’s how blind the world is.  “But you know Him because He abides with you.  The Holy Spirit’s been here, doing His work in Me.”  That’s why Jesus said to those who said He did what He did by the power of Satan, “You have blasphemed, not Me; you’ve blasphemed the Holy Spirit.”

“The Spirit of truth has been with you in Me.  It is better for Me to go so that He can move from being with you in Me to being in you.”  What an incredible promise.  What an astonishing reality that is: stunning.

Now why is He called the Spirit of truth?  Because He’s going to have an initial task.  He’s called the Spirit of truth.  Why?  Just quickly in the last few minutes, verse 26:  “The Paraclete, the Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in My name,” here’s why He’s called the Spirit of truth, “He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.”  He’s called the Spirit of truth because He is going to bring the truth to them.

MacArthur discusses the Bible, which is inspired by the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth:

All Scripture is God-breathed through the Spirit, not from any human mind.  So if you attack the inerrancy of Scripture, you have made an assault on the Trinity, you have assaulted the Trinity.  The God of truth revealed His truth perfectly in His Son.  His Son then sent the Spirit to reveal His truth perfectly in the Scripture.

Jesus told the Apostles that He would not leave them orphaned; He was coming to them (verse 18).

Henry explains the multiple meanings here:

I will come to you, erchomaiI do come; that is, (1.) “I will come speedily to you at my resurrection, I will not be long away, but will be with you again in a little time.” He had often said, The third day I will rise again. (2.) “I will be coming daily to you in my Spirit;” in the tokens of his love, and visits of his grace, he is still coming. (3.) “I will come certainly at the end of time; surely I will come quickly to introduce you into the joy of your Lord.” Note, The consideration of Christ’s coming to us saves us from being comfortless in his removals from us; for, if he depart for a season, it is that we may receive him for ever. Let this moderate our grief, The Lord is at hand.

Jesus said that, in a short while, meaning after His death and resurrection, the world — unbelievers — would no longer see Him, but the Apostles and disciples would see Him; because He lives, they (and we) will live (verse 19).

Henry says:

After his death, the world saw him no more, for, though he rose to life, he never showed himself to all the people, Acts 10 41. The malignant world thought they had seen enough of him, and cried, Away with him; crucify him; and so shall their doom be; they shall see him no more. Those only that see Christ with an eye of faith shall see him for ever. The world sees him no more till his second coming; but his disciples have communion with him in his absence

Note, The life of Christians is bound up in the life of Christ; as sure and as long as he lives, those that by faith are united to him shall live also; they shall live spiritually, a divine life in communion with God. This life is hid with Christ; if the head and root live, the members and branches live also. They shall live eternally; their bodies shall rise in the virtue of Christ’s resurrection; it will be well with them in the world to come. It cannot but be well with all that are his, Isa 26 19.

Jesus said that ‘on that day’ we will know that He is in His Father, we are in the Lord and He is in us (verse 20).

Henry tells us:

Note, First, Union with Christ is the life of believers; and their relation to him, and to God through him, is their felicity. Secondly, The knowledge of this union is their unspeakable joy and satisfaction; they were now in Christ, and he in them, but he speaks of it as a further act of grace that they should know it, and have the comfort of it. An interest in Christ and the knowledge of it are sometimes separated.

Jesus returned to the importance of obedience, saying that those who have received His commandments and keep them are those who love Him; and those who love Him will be loved by the Father, and our Lord will love them and reveal Himself to them (verse 21).

Henry says:

By this Christ shows that the kind things he here said to his disciples were intended not for those only that were now his followers, but for all that should believe in him through their word.

In closing, MacArthur says this about heaven and our relationship with the Holy Trinity:

… heaven is a place, and heaven is a place where there will be activity But if that’s all you think about heaven, then you miss the main event, you miss the main point.  Heaven is primarily a fulfilled relationship.  When you think about heaven, I want you to think about it that way.  It is the full presence of the triune God; the full, glorious presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  We will be in the full, complete, transcendent relationship with the Trinity.  That will define our existence.

So primarily – listen – heaven is a relationship.  It is a relationship.  It is communion.  It is fellowship at its purest and highest level.  That’s what heaven is.

All of our praise is response to the relationship.  All of our service is in view of the relationship.  We praise because of that relationship.  We serve because of that relationship.

The dominant reality is the relationship.  We will have a relationship with God that is absolutely perfect and complete, as full and complete as is possible in an eternally perfected human being.  This is what heaven is.  It is a relationship brought to its absolute perfect fulfillment.  It is defined as peace and joy because that is drawn out of that relationship.  That’s what your inheritance is.  To put it simply, heaven is the presence of the triune God.  Your inheritance is God; your inheritance is the Son; your inheritance is the Holy Spirit.  The triune God is your inheritance.

Now, why am I pressing this?  Because in the text before us in John 14, our Lord promises to grant to us a preview of this full presence, a preview of this full presence.  We now, as believers, possess a down payment on the full presence of the Trinity that we will experience in heaven.  Now, again, I can’t go beyond saying that because we can’t comprehend what that would be like But we do know this: we in the current form that we are in, in this current form, we are not fitted for that kind of full relationship.  We need a different body because this one can’t function in eternity.  This is a dying body.  From the day that you were born, you began to die.  It’s only a question of when you do.

Life is really death.  It’s just a constant, inexorable movement toward leaving this world.  These are bodies that die; and along the way, they are troubled, and sick, and injured, and wounded, and inept, and inadequate, and disabled, and et cetera, et cetera.  We struggle not only with the physical part of our bodies, but the mental part as well.  We have limits to our understanding, our capacity.

We struggle emotionally.  We struggle in terms of sin and temptation.  So we not only need a different outside, we need a different inside.  If we’re going to be in the full Trinitarian presence of God forever, in perfect righteousness, joy, and peace, we’ve got to swap this for another one.  That is the promise of Scripture, that when a believer dies, there is a complete transformation; that believer’s spirit enters heaven And one day, there will be a resurrection of a new and glorified body like the resurrection body of Christ, to join that spirit and to become that eternal being to enjoy the full presence of the triune God So when you think about heaven, think about a relationship: perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Father; perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Son; perfect, fulfilling relationship with the Holy Spirit.

Now all of that to say this: in the text in front of you, our Lord promises to give His disciples, including us, a preview of this full presence – a down payment, if you will – on the eternal heavenly celestial communion with God, and give it to us here and now, here and now, so that as a believer right now, you are in complete communion – to the degree that it’s possible in the form we’re in – you’re in complete, personal communion with the Trinity.

I don’t know if you think of your Christian life that way, but that is reality, and we don’t feel that He’s far off from us, but that He’s nearWe are called upon to call on Him.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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