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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 with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (‘Beware of False Prophets’, Parts 1 and 2).

Matthew 7:15-20

A Tree and Its Fruit

15 “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16 You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? 17 So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. 18 A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. 19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20 Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.

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These verses are part of the Sermon on the Mount, the content of which is in Matthew 5, 6 and 7.

This passage ties in with and follows on from last week’s, which concerns the narrow gate.

Jesus tells His audience to beware of false prophets (verse 15) who come in an agreeable appearance — sheep’s clothing — but who are, in reality,  ravenous wolves, evil and soul-destroying.

John MacArthur unpacks what our Lord means. ‘Beware’ is (emphases mine):

a severe word.  Literally, in the Greek it means, hold your mind back from.  Don’t ever expose your mind to the influence of a false prophet.  Don’t pay attention to, give heed to, follow, notice, devote yourself, don’t even put your mind in his vicinity.  They’re dangerous, they pervert the mind, they poison the soul.  You see, we see the results of what they do in 2 Peter: “Many people follow their pernicious ways.” 

He explains ‘sheep’s clothing':

The wool of the sheep, when it was sheared, was made into cloth for garments; the mark of a shepherd was he wore a wool cloak.  Israel is much like California; the evenings are very cold, even in the summer it cools down, and they needed that.  The idea is not that he comes dressed like a sheep; the idea is that he comes dressed like a what?  Shepherd, wearing the garment made from the sheep. Sheep’s clothing is just another term for wool.  And so as the false prophet wore the garment of the prophet, the false shepherd wears the garment of the shepherd.  It isn’t that we’re dealing with a sheep who’s infiltrated, it is that we’re dealing with a shepherd who has infiltrated. 

Britain’s left-wing Fabian Society has a stained glass window which has a wolf dressed in sheep’s clothing (image here, above the globe the men are forging). Admittedly, that is a secular image, yet they’re being honest about themselves! Avoid them and all their works, including the Labour Party and London School of Economics! But, I digress.

In verse 16, Jesus says that we will recognise them by their fruits and asks His audience, by way of simple illustration, whether grapes can be gathered from thornbushes or figs from thistles. It is impossible. He develops this further by discussing good and bad fruit (verse 17), the former coming from healthy trees and the latter from diseased ones (verse 18).

Diseased trees are cut down and burned (verse 19). In other words, false prophets will be eternally condemned.

Therefore, we can judge prophets — these days, clergy — by their fruits (verse 20). Those bearing bad fruit might be greedy or lustful.

Just as bad if not worse, and increasingly common these days, are those who lead us from the narrow gate. Are they preaching salvation? Are they telling us to repent? Are they encouraging us to examine our sin? Are they preaching Christ crucified? Are they presenting Christ biblically in their sermons? Are they teaching us about the doctrines of grace and mercy? If not, they are wolves.

Liberation theology, economic justice, environmental worship, syncretism (combining other deities with Christianity) and many more postmodern aberrations are signs of wolves.

We have many wolves in our midst, sometimes whole denominations full of errant clergy taught at seminaries which promote false, worldly, un-Christian, unbiblical teachings.

In many ways, many clergy of our era are rather similar to Christ’s era with self-righteous, false, dangerous Pharisees and scribes. Whilst the Jewish leaders of our Lord’s day prescribed legalism for everyone but had lax rules for themselves, our clergy teach us that anything goes. Both are equally bad. Our errant clergy are responsible for leading their flocks to eternal condemnation, unless those people pray for discernment and leave for another congregation with a true shepherd.

In closing, Matthew Henry has this advice for evaluating clergy:

What do they tend to do? What affections and practices will they lead those into, that embrace them? If the doctrine be of God, it will tend to promote serious piety, humility, charity, holiness, and love, with other Christian graces but if, on the contrary, the doctrines these prophets preach have a manifest tendency to make people proud, worldly, and contentious, to make them loose and careless in their conversations, unjust or uncharitable, factious or disturbers of the public peace if it indulge carnal liberty, and take people off from governing themselves and their families by the strict rules of the narrow way, we may conclude, that this persuasion comes not of him that calleth us, Galatians 5:8. This wisdom is from above, James 3:15. Faith and a good conscience are held together, 1 Timothy 1:19,3:9. Note, Doctrines of doubtful disputation must be tried by graces and duties of confessed certainty: those opinions come not from God that lead to sin: but if we cannot know them by their fruits, we must have recourse to the great touchstone, to the law, and to the testimony do they speak according to that rule?

It’s not a sin to walk away from a church with a false prophet — pastor — at its head. In fact, one is doing the right thing provided one continues to pray often and study Scripture during a search for godly preaching.

Ignore false teachers who say you must stay with their churches or you are condemned. They will try to intimidate members of the congregation who see through them. I once knew someone like that. Fortunately, he retired not long afterward. We now have a vicar who preaches and teaches the Word of God.

Next time: Matthew 7:28-29

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 7:12-14

The Golden Rule

12 “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy[a] that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.

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Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

‘So’ in verse 12 follows on from what Jesus said in verse 11, covered in last week’s post:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

It also ties in with His words in the first two verses of Matthew 7, which I also wrote about:

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.

Matthew Henry explains our Lord’s use of the Law and the Prophets in this context (emphases mine):

It is the summary of that second great commandment, which is one of the two, on which hang all the law and the prophets, Matthew 22:40. We have not this in so many words, either in the law or the prophets, but it is the concurring language of the whole. All that is there said concerning our duty towards our neighbour (and that is no little) may be reduced to this rule. Christ has here adopted it into this law so that both the Old Testament and the New agree in prescribing this to us, to do as we would be done by.

Whilst we often hear Matthew 7:12 quoted, even by secularists, we hear the next two verses much less often. It is easy to forget them in an era when everything goes in today’s churches.

Verses 13 and 14 are particularly crucial and pertinent to those notional Christians who say that everyone will be saved. That is not what Jesus says. He tells us to enter by the narrow gate. The broader way is easier and ‘leads to destruction’ — eternal condemnation.

Also worth noting is His statement that the way leading to life is ‘hard’ and ‘those who find it are few’.

Does that sound like ‘all are saved’?

A similar passage is Luke 13:22-30, which begins as follows. (Similar wording is also in Matthew 7:21-23, part of the three-year Lectionary readings.)

The Narrow Door

22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, 24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’

There is no excuse to be made for heresy, syncretism, sin, ‘lifestyle choices’ and whatever else today’s churches are wrongly advocating. Powerful, apostate clergy will be among those crying out for the Lord to open the door on Judgement Day and His response will be that He never knew them.

Laypeople would also do well to ensure they do not fall into the same fatal trap, in particular, telling their children that the Lord loves everyone and will save them. It isn’t going to happen.

Henry sums it up this way:

There are but two ways, right and wrong, good and evil the way to heaven, and the way to hell in the one of which we are all of us walking: no middle place hereafter, no middle way now: the distinction of the children of men into saints and sinners, godly and ungodly, will swallow up all to eternity.

Henry and John MacArthur explain more about the narrow gate. In the King James Version the words used are ‘strait’ — small, tight — and ‘narrow’.

Henry states:

First, That the gate is strait. Conversion and regeneration are the gate, by which we enter into this way, in which we begin a life of faith and serious godliness out of a state of sin into a state of grace we must pass, by the new birth, John 3:3,5. This is a strait gate, hard to find, and hard to get through like a passage between two rocks, 1 Samuel 14:4. There must be a new heart, and a new spirit, and old things must pass away. The bent of the soul must be changed, corrupt habits and customs broken off what we have been doing all our days must be undone again. We must swim against the stream much opposition must be struggled with, and broken through, from without, and from within. It is easier to set a man against all the world than against himself, and yet this must be in conversion. It is a strait gate, for we must stoop, or we cannot go in at it we must become as little children high thoughts must be brought down nay, we must strip, must deny ourselves, put off the world, put off the old man we must be willing to forsake all for our interest in Christ. The gate is strait to all, but to some straiter than others as to the rich, to some that have been long prejudiced against religion ...

Secondly, That the way is narrow. We are not in heaven as soon as we have got through the strait gate, nor in Canaan as soon as we have got through the Red Sea no, we must go through a wilderness, must travel a narrow way, hedged in by the divine law, which is exceedingly broad, and that makes the way narrow[;] self must be denied, the body kept under, corruptions mortified, that are as a right eye and a right hand daily temptations must be resisted duties must be done that are against our inclination. We must endure hardness, must wrestle and be in an agony, must watch in all things, and walk with care and circumspection. We must go through much tribulation. It is hodos tethlimmenean afflicted way, a way hedged about with thorns blessed be God, it is not hedged up. The bodies we carry about with us, and the corruptions remaining in us, make the way of our duty difficult but, as the understanding and will grow more and more sound, it will open and enlarge, and grow more and more pleasant.

Thirdly, The gate being so strait and the way so narrow, it is not strange that there are but few that find it, and choose it. Many pass it by, through carelessness they will not be at the pains to find it they are well as they are, and see no need to change their way. Others look upon it, but shun it they like not to be so limited and restrained. Those that are going to heaven are but few, compared to those that are going to hell a remnant, a little flock, like the grape-gleanings of the vintage as the eight that were saved in the ark

John MacArthur likens this small, narrow way to a turnstile, through which only one person can enter at any time. This reinforces the idea that families and groups will not be saved, rather individuals. He says that Jesus was speaking of the Pharisees and the Jewish people of His time:

… many commentators would say that the best expression of this in a contemporary way would be a turnstile.  One of those things which you have to go through all alone; the metal is very close and there’s a little arm there that you push, and you go through.  Now, I know our family, when we go to the zoo, or we go to get on a train somewhere, or go somewhere on an airplane, every once in a while you’ve got to go through something like that, a turnstile. 

And everybody is in a big hurry, and we always realize when we get there that we can’t all go through together, can we, children?  We must go through one at a time.  That’s the way it is with a narrow gate.  You don’t come to the kingdom of Christ in groups.  The Jews believed hey, we’re in the kingdom, we’re all on the road together, we all came through together, based on Abrahamic heritage, based on Jewish ancestry, based on circumcision, we’re all here together.  And I think there are people who think that they’re on the right road to heaven, they got on when they got to church.  They came to church, we’re all in the church and the whole church got on together.  There are no groups coming through the turnstile, folks

You go through all alone.  Salvation is individual.  People have never been saved in pairs.  Oh, when one believes it may influence another to believe, but everyone’s salvation is exclusive and intensely personal.  It admits only one at a time.  And that’s kind of hard, you know.  Because all our life is spent rushing around with the crowd.  All of our life is spent doing whatever everybody else does, being a part of the group, being a part of the gang, being a part of the system around us, being accepted.  And all of a sudden, Christ says, “You’re going to have to come, and you’re going to have to come through this deal all by yourself.”  And to a Pharisee, that meant you’re going to have to say goodbye to those people and that system, and step out alone.

There’s a price to pay, a real price.  It isn’t enough to claim your Abrahamic ancestry, it isn’t enough to go back to your circumcision, it isn’t enough to say, “I was born in a Christian family; I’ve been in the church all my life.”  You don’t come into the Kingdom in groups.  You come in an individual act of faith.  You must enter, you must enter the narrow gate, you must enter alone.  Listen to this one: you must enter with great difficulty – with great difficulty … 

He acknowledges that this encourages unbelievers to be hostile to Christianity. It is interesting to note that he preached on Matthew’s Gospel in the 1970s. Even then, there was hostile opposition:

People say, “You know, Christianity doesn’t give room for anybody else.”  That’s exactly right.  We don’t do that because we’re selfish, or because we’re proud, or because we’re egotistical; we do that because that’s what God said

If God said there were 48 ways to salvation, I’d preach all 48 of them.  But there aren’t.  “Neither is there salvation in any other, for there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be” – what – “saved.”  None other name.  Jesus – Acts 4:12.  “I am the bread of life – I am the way the truth and the life – I am the door – anyone who comes in any other way is a thief and a robber,” John 10.  “There is,” I Timothy 2, “one Mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus.”  Only one, no other name, Christ and Christ alone, it is that narrow, it is that prescribed.  There are no alternatives.  You must enter.  By an act of the will, an act of faith, you have to enter on God’s terms through God’s prescribed gate; and Christ is that gate.  He is that way.  And holy God has the right to determine the basis of salvation, and He has determined that it is Jesus Christ and Him alone, and that’s the way it is

For this reason — and because many cannot give up their attachement to the world — it is hard to accept our Lord’s teachings. MacArthur cited one pertinent example:

A West Indian who had chosen Islam over Christianity said this: “My reason is that Islam is a noble, broad path.  There is room for a man and his sins on it, and the way of Christ is far too narrow.” 

Hmm. It seems to me that man knew very little about Christianity before he converted to Islam. Whilst he was right in saying Christ’s way is very narrow, he misunderstood the concept of abundant divine grace and mercy with regard to our sins. However, Christ, with His love and forgiveness, makes no allowance for sin.

In closing, MacArthur has good observations about the Sermon on the Mount, which many people misinterpret:

Let me suggest to you there are two things you cannot do with the Sermon on the Mount.  One of them is you cannot stand back and admire it.  Jesus is not interested in bouquets for His ethics.  Jesus is not interested in folks who want to just admire the virtues of the ethical statement of the Sermon on the Mount.  Jesus wants a decision about your destiny.  I believe there is a second thing you can’t do with the Sermon on the Mount, and that is to push it into some prophetic tomorrow.  I don’t think Jesus is suggesting that this is for some far future era. 

I think He is demanding a decision now, in this time …  What Jesus demanded was a choice, an act, an ultimate decision, to be made at that time and that moment, on the basis of what He had just said.  A deliberate choice has to be made.  Christ came to bring a kingdom.  He was a king.  He was the King.  He was the King of kings.  And He came with a kingdom that was unique, and special, and separate, and different from all the kingdoms of the world

The Sermon on the Mount is much more than ethics; it is about following Christ our Lord, the eternal King of Kings.

Next time: Matthew 7:15-20

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 7:7-11

Ask, and It Will Be Given

“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? 10 Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? 11 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!

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Our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount continues (Matthew 5, 6 and 7).

I wrote about selected ‘forbidden’ passages as follows:

Matthew 5:25-26 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, anger, sin, holding grudges, improper worship because of interpersonal conflict

Matthew 5:31-32 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, adultery, divorce, marriage

Matthew 6:7-15 – Sermon on the Mount, Lord’s Prayer, Jesus, prayer

Matthew 6:22-23 – Sermon on the Mount, Jesus, the eye as lamp of the body

Matthew 7:1-6 – Sermon on the Mount, judging others, speck v log in eye, hypocrisy

Jesus continues His discourse by telling us that, if we ask and seek things from God, He will provide them (verses 7, 8). However, John MacArthur explains that this is not automatic nor applicable to everyone (emphases mine):

asking — you have to be a child of God to receive, and an obedient child of God, and a selfless child of God. And, finally, you have to submit it all to His will. I John 5:14 and 15, “In whatever we ask, we know we receive of Him if we ask according to His will.” That’s not a blank check. It’s just that when the conditions are right — you’re His child, you’re His obedient child, you’re His unselfish child, and you ask according to His will, in order that He may be glorified — He’ll do it.

When we do not receive what we ask for, it is possible — and this often becomes apparent later — that better things lie ahead. We shouldn’t try to force situations.

MacArthur gives us an example of seeking:

Ask is very simple. A child does that. There’s no involvement in it. There’s no participation in it. You just ask. Seek is stronger than an asking. There’s a participation in it. At least you’re moving your eyes. Knock, you’re banging away. There’s a greater participation. So that even though we know everything comes from the Lord, that does not assume that we are not actively, aggressively, perseveringly involved in its fulfillment.

I mean, I don’t just sit at my office and say, “Lord, I want to preach a great sermon Sunday. Please, I ask you, give me a great sermon.” No, what I do is I ask the Lord all week for that, and then I seek that by going through the Word of God and reading and reading. And then I begin banging on the Lord, in a sense, by saying, “Lord, I’m struggling with this thing and I want to understand it,” and this one this morning, which isn’t so hot, anyway, I rewrote three times. And on and on you go, struggling with it. But the point is, I realize that God is the only one who can produce through me, but at the same time, I’ve got to be involved in that.

Matthew Henry has a marvellous exposition of these two verses:

Here is a precept in three words to the same purport, Ask, Seek, Knock (Matthew 7:7) that is, in one word, “Pray pray often pray with sincerity and seriousness pray, and pray again make conscience of prayer, and be constant in it make a business of prayer, and be earnest in it. Ask, as a beggar asks alms.” Those that would be rich in grace, must betake themselves to the poor trade of begging, and they shall find it a thriving trade. “Ask represent your wants and burthens to God, and refer yourselves to him for support and supply, according to his promise. Ask as a traveller asks the way to pray is to enquire of God, Ezekiel 36:37. Seek, as for a thing of value that we have lost, or as the merchantman that seeks goodly pearls. Seek by prayer, Daniel 9:3. Knock, as he that desires to enter into the house knocks at the door.” We would be admitted to converse with God, would be taken into his love, and favour, and kingdom sin has shut and barred the door against us by prayer, we knock Lord, Lord, open to us. Christ knocks at our door (Revelation 3:20; Song of Solomon 5:2) and allows us to knock at his, which is a favour we do not allow to common beggars. Seeking and knocking imply something more than asking and praying. 1. We must not only ask but seek we must second our prayers with our endeavors we must, in the use of the appointed means, seek for that which we ask for, else we tempt God. When the dresser of the vineyard asked for a year’s respite for the barren fig-tree, he added, I will dig about it, Luke 13:7,8. God gives knowledge and grace to those that search the scriptures, and wait at Wisdom’s gates and power against sin to those that avoid the occasions of it. 2. We must not only ask, but knock we must come to God’s door, must ask importunately not only pray, but plead and wrestle with God we must seek diligently we must continue knocking must persevere in prayer, and in the use of means must endure to the end in the duty.

In verse 9, Jesus makes this more easily understood by discussing the parent-child relationship. Does a parent give his child a tooth-breaking stone instead of bread or a serpent instead of fish (verse 10)? Of course not, unless he or she is perverse or completely unhinged. Instinctively, a parent wants to feed his children. They are his flesh and blood.

Good parents love their children and want the best for them. With that in mind, our Lord then says that God will care even more deeply for our needs and desires (verse 11). He says ‘you then, who are evil’, meaning prone to sin by nature. God, who is perfect in everything, especially love, will provide even more if only we ask, seek and knock.

Henry unpacks this for us:

First, God is more knowing[;] parents are often foolishly fond, but God is wise, infinitely so he knows what we need, what we desire, and what is fit for us. Secondly, God is more kind. If all the compassions of all the tender fathers in the world were crowded into the bowels of one, yet compared with the tender mercies of our God, they would be but as a candle to the sun, or a drop to the ocean. God is more rich, and more ready to give to his children than the fathers of our flesh can be for he is the Father of our spirits, an ever-loving, ever-living Father.

MacArthur takes this a step further:

And the point is this. If evil, unregenerate, sinful fathers give their kids the basics of life, don’t you think God’ll do that? And the idea that I see here is that God is the absolute giving Father, who gives to all what they need, knowing full well they could never give back to Him anything, in kind or measure. And if that’s the way He is, then isn’t that the way we, His children, should be toward others? See?

We will see in the next passage!

Next time: Matthew 7:12-14

 

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 7:1-6

Judging Others

7 “Judge not, that you be not judged. 2 For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye.

“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.

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Matthew 7 is the third and final chapter containing the text of the Sermon on the Mount.

It opens with our Lord’s instruction not to judge others, because we, too, can be judged — accused — of various faults (verse 1). The vehemence with which we judge others will be applied to us in this life and the next (verse 2).

Sadly, too many ‘judges’ really do think they are blameless. In reality, they have many faults but are in denial. Some of them appear to be sociopaths or narcissists.

So, then, how are we to judge? Jesus said (John 7:24, another Forbidden Bible Verse):

Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.

In that instance, He was criticising the Pharisees who made superficial and wrong judgements. In Luke 16:15, yet another Forbidden Bible Verse, we read:

And he said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God.

Sometimes we do the same when we judge hastily on appearances or speech alone. May we be charitable and discerning with others.

Before we judge with righteousness, we are to examine and rectify our own faults first (verses 3, 4), lest we act in a hypocritical manner (verse 5). Matthew Henry explains (emphases mine):

I must first reform myself, that I may thereby help to reform my brother, and may qualify myself to reprove him. Note, Those who blame others, ought to be blameless and harmless themselves. Those who are reprovers in the gate, reprovers by office, magistrates and ministers, are concerned to walk circumspectly, and to be very regular in their conversation: an elder must have a good report, 1 Timothy 3:2,7. The snuffers of the sanctuary were to be of pure gold.

In verse 6, Jesus tells us to use discretion when evangelising, informally or formally, lest it makes people hostile to the Gospel, the Church — and us. Henry says:

This may be considered, either, (1.) As a rule to the disciples in preaching the gospel not that they must not preach it to any one who were wicked and profane (Christ himself preached to publicans and sinners), but the reference is to such as they found obstinate after the gospel was preached to them, such as blasphemed it, and persecuted the preachers of it let them not spend much time among such, for it would be lost labour, but let them turn to others, Acts 13:41. So Dr. Whitby. Or, (2.) As a rule to all in giving reproof. Our zeal against sin must be guided by discretion, and we must not go about to give instructions, counsels, and rebukes, much less comforts, to hardened scorners, to whom it will certainly do no good, but who will be exasperated and enraged at us. Throw a pearl to a swine, and he will resent it, as if you threw a stone at him reproofs will be called reproaches, as they were (Luke 11:45; Jeremiah 6:10), therefore give not to dogs and swine (unclean creatures) holy things.

Note that our Lord never preached to Herod Antipas. Paul stopped preaching to the Jews after they blasphemed and ridiculed him in Acts 18. He told them he would focus on preaching to the Gentiles instead.

John MacArthur explains:

This is a tremendous truth, people. We have to learn in our ministry to be discriminating. You don’t say everything to everybody. Paul even said to the Corinthians, “I could not speak unto you certain things because you were carnal. I wouldn’t waste them on your misunderstandings. I wouldn’t waste them on your sinfulness.” Jesus to His disciples could only reveal certain things, and He had to hide other things. And to the world it says, “And He hid them from them and revealed other things unto the babes.” Jesus didn’t say everything to everybody. When Jesus rose from the dead He never one time appeared to an unbeliever. Never once.

In closing, we know the Old Testament’s injunctions against swine. However, MacArthur describes the status of dogs in Jesus’s time:

Dogs in those days were not the little nice smelling, painted nails, rhinestone collars, funny little sweater things that flip flop around the houses today. They were not the little lap dog, pet dog things that we spend a fortune on and all. Dogs in those days, apart from the dogs that worked with the flocks, and, of course, in Job it talks about the dog of the flocks, it would be a trained dog that worked with the sheep, but the dogs in the cities were a mongrel, ugly big bunch of dogs that scavenged around the city and ate the garbage, and they were a horrible, ugly bunch of wild dogs.

The Jews believed them to be filthy. The Old Testament talks about that. Unclean. The Psalms say they threaten, they howl, they snarl, they are a greedy, shameless group. They are called contemptible in I Samuel. Dogs were an ugly kind of a being. They weren’t anything like we have today, except for those that worked with the sheep. They would be pariahs, savage, mongrels. Lived in the garbage heaps. And holy things were not to be thrown to the dogs.

Final word: I’m surprised that these verses are not in the three-year Lectionary. (It is in the two-year one.) A clergyperson could get a number of sermons out of this passage which would be most helpful to many churchgoers.

Next time: Matthew 7:7-11

Holy Spirit as dove stained glassSunday, May 24, 2015, is Pentecost Sunday, traditionally called Whit Sunday.

In the UK, the last Monday in May is Whitsun Bank Holiday. This year is one of those infrequent times when the Church feast coincides with that very weekend.

Pentecost is considered as being the Church’s birthday. The original group of Apostles and disciples were equipped with the gifts of the Holy Spirit, enabling them to preach, teach and heal in the name of Christ. The Church was able to expand during this Apostolic Age, embracing not only Jews but also Gentiles. Although the Apostolic Age ended when the original group left this mortal coil, we, too, receive the same gifts from the Holy Spirit which continue to operate in a quieter though still powerful way. My post from 2010 explains more.

Students of the New Testament know that the Holy Spirit did not come by accident. At the Last Supper, our Lord promised His followers a Helper to enable them to continue His work. My 2012 post has a Lutheran perspective on Pentecost from Martin Luther as well as Pastors Larry Peters and Johnold Strey.

My 2013 post features a Reformed explanation of Pentecost, highlighting a sermon by the Revd P G Mathew, formerly of India. Dr Mathew worked as a scientist before ordination. He is a Reformed (Calvinist) clergyman with three graduate degrees in theology and serves as pastor of Grace Valley Christian Center in Davis, California.

Mathew has another sermon which is apposite for Pentecost, ‘Christ’s Great Commission’. It is particularly apposite for those who feel that our Lord is distant. In the following excerpts, Mathew explains why this is far from the truth (emphases mine):

In John 14:18 Jesus promised his disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans”–meaning as those who are homeless, defenseless, fatherless, and motherless. This is true. He will be with us by his Holy Spirit, and he will be with us always. He will be with us every moment of every day all our days until the end of the age. This means that when we are young he is with us; when we are old he is with us; when we are weak he is with us; when we are strong he is with us; when we are sick he is with us; when we are healthy he is with us; when we are poor he is with us; when we are rich he is with us; when we are attacked he is with us; when we are hated he is with us; when we are beaten he is with us; when we are stoned, as Stephen was, he is with us; when we are martyred he will be with us. He gives grace, doesn’t he? Though we go through the flood and the fire, God will be with us, all the days of our lives …

In Hebrews 13:5 God says “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Then the writer to the Hebrews says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (v. 8). To St. Paul this Christ said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect through weakness” (2 Cor. 12:9). And Paul drew this tremendous conclusion: “When I am weak, then I am strong” (v. 10). In Philippians 4:13 he declared , “I can do everything through who give me the strength.”

God has given us peace in Christ. He said, “I am with you always”–to bless us, to keep us and to give us peace. And in Luke 24:52 it says the disciples who were timid, fearful, and hiding now returned to Jerusalem with great joy as a result of this blessing. They hid no longer. They went into the temple to praise and worship God. The Lord blessed them and gave them peace. He gave them courage and boldness. Soon afterwards they received the Holy Spirit in order to fulfill the great commission beginning in Jerusalem and going to the ends of the earth. [Evangelist] William Carey was right–the Lord expects the commission to continue until he comes again.

Let us, therefore, use the gifts of the Holy Spirit to further the Gospel, through words when we can and through impeccable example when we cannot.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 6:22-23

22 “The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light, 23 but if your eye is bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!

—————————————————————

The text of Matthew 5 – 7 comprises the whole of the Sermon on the Mount.

The first 18 verses of Matthew 6 address the way we are to worship and practice our religion. Our Lord said:

“Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 6:1)

He told us how to pray with the Lord’s Prayer and how to fast:

17 But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, 18 that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. (Matthew 6:17-18)

The second half of the chapter records Jesus’s instruction about treasure and anxiety as to our daily needs. It ends as follows:

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 [heathens] 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.  (Matthew 6:31-34)

With regard to the verses on treasure, they begin with:

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.

and end as follows:

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]

Today’s Forbidden Bible Verses lie between the two.

Our Lord told His audience that the eye illuminates and informs the state of the body (verse 22). A healthy eye indicates a healthy body. In the KJV, the word ‘single’ is used for ‘healthy’. ‘Single’ does not mean one-eyed, it means a fully working, normal eye.

Matthew Henry explains (emphases in bold mine):

now if this eye be single, if it make a true and right judgment, and discern things that differ, especially in the great concern of laying up the treasure so as to choose aright in that, it will rightly guide the affections and actions, which will all be full of the light of grace and comfort but if this be evil and corrupt, and instead of leading the inferior powers, is led, and bribed, and biassed by them, if this be erroneous and misinformed, the heart and life must needs be full of darkness, and the whole conversation corrupt.

How we view the world informs our hearts and our minds.

On the other hand, if our eye is unhealthy, we do not understand the world or God’s purpose properly (verse 23). John MacArthur says it is a metaphor for spiritual illness:

if your eye is dark it is black, there’s no light that comes in you perceive nothing. And that’s the way it is with the heart, if your heart is toward God it lights your entire spiritual being, if your heart is toward the material things, toward the treasure of the world the blinds come down of your spiritual perception and you do not see, spiritually as you ought. Tremendous principle. He takes a physical illustration and He says that the eye is like a window, if that window is clean and clear the light floods the body, if the window is blacked out no light enters. This is a spiritual metaphor.

In this, as in so many other parts of the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord is criticising the Pharisees’ practices. MacArthur tells us:

Now for the Pharisees, their heart was in the earth. They were phonies everyway you cut it, their morality was totally external, that’s what chapter 5 was saying. Their humility was nonexistent, instead of being salt and light they were part of the corruption and and the darkness. Instead of believing in the law of God they defied the law of God and substituted for it their own tradition. Instead of having a really internal heart set of principles they had nothing but an external code of sort of semi-spiritual ethics. Instead of having genuine worship they had a false standard and it was pure hypocrisy. Everything about them was outside, external, self-centered, and self‑motivated. And in contrast to that the Lord is saying, you must have a right heart. That’s why in chapter 5 verse 20 the key verse in all the Sermon on the Mount He says, “Your righteousness must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.'” Theirs is an external righteousness without a right heart, and what I want is a right heart. So your heart and your treasure go together and both need to be toward heaven. What our Lord is speaking of here is a single minded devotion to God and His causes that is undistracted by the world.

MacArthur says that Jesus gives us three messages about treasure.

The first concerns two treasuries. In this case, we are to resist the urge to pile up possessions which can deteriorate or be stolen. We should be providing for ourselves, our families and the future in self-sufficiency as well as exercising charity towards God’s people:

It is not wrong to accumulate money, it is not wrong to accumulate possessions which are then invested in divine causes and in God’s purposes, and God’s purposes are to care for our family and to care for our extended family in the church and to care for even those who are not of the family of God but have need, and to care for the causes of God around the world, and to invest in souls, those things are needful uses of what God gives us. But to stockpile selfishly accumulating with greed and covetousness, piles and piles of things treasuring up for ourselves on earth these commodities is that which our Lord says not to do

The second — today’s verses — is two visions: one with light or one with darkness. The word ‘single’ (‘healthy’) comes from the Greek word haplous, which means generous. We have seen charity appeals which read, ‘Please give generously’. We have also seen instructions for topical creams which say, ‘Apply liberally’. MacArthur unpacks ‘single’ for us:

It is a word that means generous or liberal. He is saying then, if your eye or your heart, because the eye is illustrating the heart, if your heart is generous your whole spiritual life will be flooded with spiritual understanding ... 

Verse 23, “If your eye is evil, your whole body’s full of darkness.” And there you’re introduced to the evil eye, you’ve heard that phrase, haven’t you? Gave ’em an evil eye.

You know what the evil eye is? That’s a Jewish colloquialism, to mean grudgingly. For example in Deuteronomy 15:9 it talks about when you have a slave and it’s coming to the Jubilee Year and he is to be freed, that you have an evil eye toward him. That is you are ungenerous, stingy and you grudge him that freedom. In Proverbs 23:6 it says, “Eat not the bread of him who has an evil eye.”

The third involves the impossibility of serving two masters. ‘Serve’ in this context comes from the Greek doulos, implying slavery. Yes, we can work two jobs with no problem. However, in our Lord’s time, everyone understood the concept of bond slaves — bondservants — who were bound to one master. They could work for no other:

To be a bond slave, to be the property of a master was to be constantly, totally, entirely, 100% devoted to obedience to that one master, it would be utterly impossible to express that to two different masters.

That’s the illustration used in Romans 6 when it says, “Now that we have come to Christ, we must yield ourselves servants to him.” Because we are His slaves, we are no longer the slave of sin. God can only be served beloved with entire and exclusive devotion, He can only be served with single mindedness and if you try to split it with money you will either hate one or the other.

To conclude on the eye, Henry offers this analysis:

The eye, that is, the aims and intentions by the eye we set our end before us, the mark we shoot at, the place we go to, we keep that in view, and direct our motion accordingly in every thing we do in religion there is something or other that we have in our eye now if our eye be single, if we aim honestly, fix right ends, and move rightly towards them, if we aim purely and only at the glory of God, seek his honor and favour, and direct all entirely to him, then the eye is single[.] Paul’s was so when he said, To me to live is Christ and if we be right here, the whole body will be full of light, all the actions will be regular and gracious, pleasing to God and comfortable to ourselves but if this eye be evil, if, instead of aiming only at the glory of God, and our acceptance with him, we look aside at the applause of men, and while we profess to honour God, contrive to honour ourselves, and seek our own things under colour of seeking the things of Christ, this spoils all, the whole conversation will be perverse and unsteady, and the foundations being thus out of course, there can be nothing but confusion and every evil work in the superstructure … The hypocrite soars like the kite [bird], with his eye upon the prey below, which he is ready to come down to when he has a fair opportunity the true Christian soars like the lark, higher and higher, forgetting the things that are beneath.

However, the metaphor of bad eyesight — poor spirituality — affects not only those accumulating material goods but those who are eager to see them stolen or redistributed. To the latter, materialism is as all-consuming as it is to owner of ostentatious bling. Coveting others’ goods violates the Tenth Commandment (Exodus 20:17):

“You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.”

Next time: Matthew 7:1-6

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur (Divorce and Remarriage, Parts 1, 2 and 3).

Matthew 5:31-32

Divorce

31 “It was also said, ‘Whoever divorces his wife, let him give her a certificate of divorce.’ 32 But I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except on the ground of sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.

——————————————————————

Matthew 5, 6 and 7 recount Jesus’s entire Sermon on the Mount. We often stop at the Beatitudes, but the three chapters have difficult verses, many of which we ignore in our own notionally Christian lives.

Our Lord’s objective was to pierce the self-righteousness of the Jewish leadership and impress upon those who heard Him preach that the ordinary Jews were not to imitate the hierarchy’s example. They invented a number of get-out clauses for their own sinful convenience.

Last week’s post looked at Matthew 5:25-26, verses which urge us to come to an arrangement with those who accuse us of wrongdoing. Where we can mend the relationship, Jesus urges us to do so rather than risk a judgement by a court — or an eternal one by Him on the Last Day. We are to resist anger, grudges and bitterness.

Today’s passage is preceded by His condemnation of lust and adultery:

Lust

27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

The message is not so much to remove our right eye or hand — traditionally considered by the Jews to be the most powerful body parts — but to pray for the divine grace and Spirit-inspired fortitude to avoid temptation.

Today’s two verses are found elsewhere in the New Testament. I wrote about Mark 10:10-12 in 2012 and Luke 16:18 in 2014. Both of those posts discuss the rampant divorce, particularly among the Jewish leaders, which had been escalating throughout the Old Testament era to Jesus’s day.

From the beginning, God made a covenant with Israel, the precursor of Christ’s with His Bride, the Church. Nothing could break the Old Covenant, despite God’s punishments of His people; in the end, after repentance, He forgave them and showed them mercy. In the Christian era, despite false teaching and apostasy, nothing shall ultimately come between Christ and the Church.

The covenant started with the creation and union of Adam and Eve. John MacArthur explains how this works in a context of couples, which they then marred with Original Sin, the tensions of which exist today (emphases mine):

Now prior to the fall marriage was pure bliss, the man was the head, the woman was the help meet. The man’s headship was a loving, caring provision of understanding. The woman’s being a help meet was a loving, caring submissiveness to the one who was given as her leader. It was beautiful, her heart was totally devoted to him, his heart was totally devoted to her, and according to Genesis 1:27 and 28, they ruled together, they ruled together. But that ended …

… literally what happened was in the fall man was elevated to rule in the house, to rule in the home. He’d had a soft kind of dominance before, held had a loving, caring approach before but now he is set in a place of ruling with authority. [‘Mashal’] is a different word than the word for rule in Genesis 1:28, completely different word, completely different concept. A new dimension of his rule has come about. The woman then is made immediately subordinate to the man.

People say, oh there’s too much male chauvinism in the world, and they’re exactly right and this is why. Because of the curse and because woman led in the sin God set man over her to control her, to subdue her as it were, to be her head. And frankly without Jesus Christ it can be very abusive, I agree, sinful man has been chauvinistic, I’m the first one to agree, only in Christ, only in the Spirit can a right kind of headship be restored and that’s the meaning of Ephesians chapter 5. Only in Christ, apart from that there will be oppressiveness. On the other hand, man is installed in this case as a ruler and woman, it says, her desire shall be to her husband.

In Moses’s time, adultery began to become a problem. In fact, so much so that he allowed a bill of divorce, which in the Jewish religion is called a get. Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

From this, we understand three things: divorce is permitted because of a wife’s  ‘indecency’, remarriage can lead to another divorce and excessive adultery would have led to defiling the land God gave to His chosen people.

Although stoning was allowed and took place in cases of adultery, as time passed, it was done less and less.

A certificate of divorce became the norm. Note that it had to be written out. This was to eliminate impulsive decisions taken in anger. A husband couldn’t tell his wife he was divorcing her, he actually had to be able to write such a statement. Most men could not write in that era and, for this reason, divorces were relatively rare.

On the other hand, the Jewish leaders, being educated, were able to add new meanings to the word ‘indecency’. From an original context of adultery, it came to encompass anything which displeased the husband: his wife’s looks, her ability to cook, her family and so on. Although the leaders presented themselves as following every aspect of the law, they created various means of twisting it to fit their own appetites. By the time our Lord began His ministry, divorces among the Jewish elite were frequent.

Therefore, although Jesus acknowledged that divorce is allowed (verse 25), He said that improper divorce is akin to adultery (verse 26). It may be driven by lust for another, fornication. Ultimately, remarriage often involves marrying a woman to whom a man has no right.

Matthew Henry explains:

He reduced the ordinance of marriage to its primitive institution: They two shall be one flesh, not to be easily separated, and therefore divorce is not to be allowed, except in case of adultery, which breaks the marriage covenant but he that puts away his wife upon any other pretence, causeth her to commit adultery, and him also that shall marry her when she is thus divorced. Note, Those who lead others into temptation to sin, or leave them in it, or expose them to it, make themselves guilty of their sin, and will be accountable for it. This is one way of being partaker with adulterers Psalm 50:18.

Thinking about divorce today, our reasons for undertaking it are similar to the Jewish hierarchy’s, especially the notion of ‘irreconcilable differences’.

MacArthur sums it up this way:

the point that the Lord is making is just know when you go in you’re going in on the right terms with a commitment to stay there. Because divorce proliferates adultery.

Jesus elaborates on this in Matthew 19, which we will look at in due course, as it is also not in the Lectionary. It seems its compilers and editors did not wish to offend our delicate sensibilities. Matthew 19:3-9:

And Pharisees came up to him and tested him by asking, “Is it lawful to divorce one’s wife for any cause?” He answered, “Have you not read that he who created them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

The message for us is to take marriage seriously. It would be a mistake to marry for sexual attraction alone, although that seems to be an overriding reason for many couples. We need to look at long-term compatibility and pragmatism: cooking, housekeeping, cleanliness, managing money, child-rearing, restraining impulses (anger), avoiding addiction (gambling, drink, drugs) and so on.

The Catholic Church has a lengthy pre-marital course lasting several weeks. This used to be called Pre-Cana and now goes under another name. I knew a couple who attended it in the 1980s. They were shocked at how ill-matched and ill-prepared some of the other couples in their class were. It was not unusual for couples to argue during the courses. Some engagements were broken as issues regarding children, money and gambling came to light. 

I am not sure how strict certain Catholic parishes are on these pre-marital classes now. I know of a couple who were able to claim an excused absence for several of them. After a few years of marriage, they recently divorced. The husband ran off with another woman.

This is only one example of many proving our Lord’s point about divorce.

Regarding the marital covenant and the parallel with God’s covenant with His people, the Old Testament has examples of how serious this is. He will reject our praises and worship. Could this be one reason why our churches are emptying? MacArthur cites Malachi 2:

Judah Profaned the Covenant

10 Have we not all one Father? Has not one God created us? Why then are we faithless to one another, profaning the covenant of our fathers? 11 Judah has been faithless, and abomination has been committed in Israel and in Jerusalem. For Judah has profaned the sanctuary of the Lord, which he loves, and has married the daughter of a foreign god. 12 May the Lord cut off from the tents of Jacob any descendant[e] of the man who does this, who )brings an offering to the Lord of hosts!

13 And this second thing you do. You cover the Lord‘s altar with tears, with weeping and groaning because he no longer regards the offering or accepts it with favor from your hand. 14 But you say, “Why does he not?” Because the Lord was witness between you and the wife of your youth, to whom you have been faithless, though she is your companion and your wife by covenant. 15 Did he not make them one, with a portion of the Spirit in their union?[f] And what was the one God[g] seeking?[h] Godly offspring. So guard yourselves[i] in your spirit, and let none of you be faithless to the wife of your youth. 16 “For the man who does not love his wife but divorces her,[j] says the Lord, the God of Israel, covers[k] his garment with violence, says the Lord of hosts. So guard yourselves in your spirit, and do not be faithless.”

The Book of Hosea tells the story of an adulterous marriage with eventual reconciliation. Hosea 1:2-11:

Hosea’s Wife and Children

When the Lord first spoke through Hosea, the Lord said to Hosea, “Go, take to yourself a wife of whoredom and have children of whoredom, for the land commits great whoredom by forsaking the Lord. So he went and took Gomer, the daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son.

And the Lord said to him, “Call his name Jezreel, for in just a little while I will punish the house of Jehu for the blood of Jezreel, and I will put an end to the kingdom of the house of Israel. And on that day I will break the bow of Israel in the Valley of Jezreel.”

She conceived again and bore a daughter. And the Lord said to him, “Call her name No Mercy,[a] for I will no more have mercy on the house of Israel, to forgive them at all. But I will have mercy on the house of Judah, and I will save them by the Lord their God. I will not save them by bow or by sword or by war or by horses or by horsemen.”

When she had weaned No Mercy, she conceived and bore a son. And the Lord said, “Call his name Not My People,[b] for you are not my people, and I am not your God.”[c]

10 [d] Yet (P)the number of the children of Israel shall be like the sand of the sea, which cannot be measured or numbered. And in the place where it was said to them, “You are not my people,” it shall be said to them, “Children[e] of the living God.” 11 And the children of Judah and the children of Israel shall be gathered together, and they shall appoint for themselves one head. And they shall go up from the land, for great shall be the day of Jezreel.

MacArthur explains:

Hosea is to become a dramatization; he is going to enact in his life a great drama to illustrate great spiritual truth. Now here’s what Hosea was to do, Hosea was to marry a woman, a woman by the name of Gomer, and having married her, discover that she had become a prostitute or a harlot. And in spite of that he was to be faithful to his vow, no matter what the pain, no matter what the unfaithfulness, no matter what the excruciating agony, no matter what the price he was to be faithful to his harlot, prostitute, debauched, vile wife, no matter what she did, why? Because this was a pageant to demonstrate how faithful God would be to His wayward wife, Israel. And it sets for us the standard of relationship in a marriage as it is the image for God’s relationship to His people ...

Now I do not believe for a moment that God forced her into her harlotries to be an illustration. I believe God worked in His sovereignty with her own will. But the heart of the story is that dear Hosea was to be faithful and forgiving no matter what she did. In fact as we go into the story we find out that when she went into harlotry he actually paid her bills, because he felt so bound by the vow he had made when he married her, he followed her around paying her bills.

Ultimately, Gomer failed in her adulterous pursuits, and Hosea persevered in preserving his marriage:

here in a sense is a husband who is chastening and judging all the while and supporting, so that she stays alive.

And you see exactly this in God’s relation to Israel. God on the one hand is judging and chastening and dealing with Israel, on the other hand God is the very life of the nation, right? You look at Israel today, and God is chastening the land of Israel and yet at the same time God is the sustenance of that people. And so Hosea works with this ambivalence, a wife who is a prostitute and a harlot, and he wants so much for her to be judged and he wants so much for her to be condemned in this so she’ll return and yet he, he goes along because of the vow that he has to her as a husband and he makes sure her needs are met. Incredible commitment …

The point is God’s unchanging love for Israel is based on the permanent promise He made which is based upon His character. And so even though Israel became a harlot, God said I’ll bring her back, even though she bore children of harlotry God said I’ll change their names. And so it was that Hosea was to live the illustration of an adulterous wife to be brought back, to be brought back to a place of blessing.

In closing, I wanted to bring to light research MacArthur cited in his sermons. He wrote and preached them in 1978. Even then, the damage divorce brings was becoming crystal clear.

Armand Nicholi, MD, a psychiatrist who is also on the faculty of Harvard Medical School, looked at the effect divorce and parental absence had on families. His research appeared in a 1978 edition of Christianity Today. He warned:

Certain trends prevalent today will incapacitate the family, destroy its integrity and cause its members to suffer such crippling emotional conflicts that they will become an intolerable burden to society. If any one factor influences the character development and emotional stability an individual, it is the quality of the relationship he or she experiences as a child with both parents.

And:

Conversely if people suffering from severe non-organic emotional illness have one experience in common, it is the absence of a parent through death, divorce, etc. A parent’s inaccessibility either physically, emotionally or both can profoundly influence a child’s emotional health.

Moving around was also problematic, and some of this was driven by divorce. Nicholi’s research published in 1978 revealed that:

50% of the U. S. population lived at a different address 5 years ago. Consequently young people have no sense of roots, have no concept of extended friendships.

Nicholi saw the 1970s reality and correctly predicted a stark future:

The trend toward quick and easy divorce, and the ever increasing divorce rate subjects more and more children to physically and emotionally absent parents. The divorce rate has risen 700% in this century, and it continues to rise. There is now one divorce for every 1.8 marriages. Over 1 million children a year are involved in divorce cases, and 13 million children under 18 now have one or both parents missing.

First, the quality of family life will continue to deteriorate, producing a society with a higher incidence of mental illness than ever before. 95% of our hospital beds will be taken up by mentally ill people. This illness will be characterized primarily by a lack of self-control. We can expect the assassination of people in authority to be frequent occurrences. Crimes of violence will increase, even those within the family, the suicide rate will rise. As sexuality becomes more unlimited more separated from family and emotionally commitment the deadening effect will cause more bizarre experimenting and widespread perversion.

We’re seeing and living this out today.

Our Lord is perfect in all things, including His exhortations about marriage and divorce. Why do we continue to ignore Him?

Next time: Matthew 6:7-15

 

My sincere thanks to reader John J Flanagan, who has kindly taken the time to discuss his experiences in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod (LCMS).

His guest post follows. Please feel free to comment or ask him questions to which he can respond directly.

———————————————————————

What are the differences between the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC) and the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod (LCMS)?

I freely admit I am not an expert and certainly not a theologian, but I would refer interested parties to read for themselves the websites and Q&A sections on this topic posted at both the OPC and the LCMS websites.

I was a member of an OPC church for a few years, and eventually returned to the LCMS. Prior to that I was on a spiritual journey after 40 years as a Catholic, looking for the truth of God and His word first in the Bible, than checking out various denominations, like Baptists, non-denominational, Reformed, and OPC and PCA. I had been a member of an LCMS congregation as well, but I felt so confused by the varying interpretations each denomination had that I could not be sure in which church I belonged.

The OPC is a solid and faithful church, in my view, but I do not agree with all of the doctrines taught. First, the positives: Sola Scriptura, noting as the Bible declares that we are saved by grace alone, through faith alone, and by Christ alone, apart from any works. The OPC believes in infant Baptism, as do Lutherans. End times: Lutherans are amillennial, however, while most OPC ministers are amillennial, some are Post Millennial. The OPC tends to regard communion as a memorial or symbol but Christ is present by His spirit, while Lutherans believe Christ is bodily present at the sacrament. The OPC and LCMS also views Baptism differently, in the sense that Lutherans believe one is regenerated or born again, while God does not necessarily regenerate a person being Baptized, although it is within His sovereignty to do so.
The OPC views Law and Grace differently than Lutherans. The Reformed view is that the Law is designed to suppress wickedness and promote righteousness, whereas, the Lutheran view is that the Law leads us to Christ and repentance.

This is a thumbnail sketch. I have often been struggling with varying interpretations that sincere and God loving Christians apply to the same scriptural verses. It can be confusing, but I have found that Lutheranism explains scripture better, in my view, and the OPC and Reformed lean heavily on the Westminster Confessions. In any case, I suppose Our Lord will determine which church reflects the most accurate interpretation of these things.

Those of you interested in understanding the various denominational teachings should read further materials, but the first and primary way to do that is to keep your hand on the Bible as you read, and pray for wisdom.

I must add that the OPC is, of course, Calvinistic. It follows the five points of Calvinism, also believing in double predestination, which Luther rejected. Other differences, like the Presbyterian form of government, the simplicity of the worship service, rejection of icons, set it apart from Lutheran traditions. The OPC has about 300 churches and about 30,000 members. On the plus side, they rejected post modernism long ago, and split from the very liberal Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA), as later did the group which formed the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). But having looked at this as closely as I am able, in my humble opinion, the LCMS is where I shall remain, and I pray that we remain faithful in the years to come.

My previous post cautioned parents on notional children’s classics.

This post, also inspired by the 11-17 April 2015 issue of the Radio Times, discusses children’s dictionaries, specifically the 2007 edition of the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

Having recovered from the UK’s Book Trust salami slicing of children’s books, I had hoped for lighter fare. Then, I ran across the article ‘Wild words’ (pp. 146-147) by Robert Macfarlane, Cambridge Fellow and author of a new book Landmarks, which explores the richness of British nature terminology.

Macfarlane tells us that the Oxford Junior Dictionary no longer contains the words for commonly found flora and fauna, including acorn, adder, ash, beech, ivy, kingfisher, lark and too many others to list here (p. 147).

He cites the then-editor of the dictionary, Vineeta Gupta, who said that children do not need these words so much anymore as we are living in a technological society, not a rural one.

A Daily Telegraph article from 2008 has her quote in full. She had also dropped words relating to Christianity (emphases mine):

When you look back at older versions of dictionaries, there were lots of examples of flowers for instance. That was because many children lived in semi-rural environments and saw the seasons. Nowadays, the environment has changed. We are also much more multicultural. People don’t go to Church as often as before. Our understanding of religion is within multiculturalism, which is why some words such as “Pentecost” or “Whitsun” would have been in 20 years ago but not now.

I couldn’t disagree more.

Nor could mother-of-four Lisa Saunders from Northern Ireland who, the Telegraph says:

painstakingly compared entries from the junior dictionaries, aimed at children aged seven or over, dating from 1978, 1995, 2000, 2002, 2003 and 2007, said she was “horrified” by the vast number of words that have been removed, most since 2003.

“The Christian faith still has a strong following,” she said. “To eradicate so many words associated with the Christianity will have a big effect on the numerous primary schools who use it.”

Ms Saunders realised words were being removed when she was helping her son with his homework and discovered that “moss” and “fern”, which were in editions up until 2003, were no longer listed.

“I decide to take a closer look and compare the new version to the other editions,” said the mother of four from Co Down, Northern Ireland. “I was completely horrified by the vast number of words which have been removed. We know that language moves on and we can’t be fuddy-duddy about it but you don’t cull hundreds of important words in order to get in a different set of ICT words.”

Message to Oxford Dictionaries staff: Britain has plenty of mosses, ferns, acorns, kingfishers and tons of ivy, never mind the rest of the plants and animals named by the words you omitted. Then there is the matter of Christianity (deleted words emboldened in the next sentence). We still have plenty of vicars; we still celebrate Pentecost which some of us call Whitsun; we go to churches named after saints; some of us were taught by nuns and nearly every church or chapel service includes a psalm. Furthermore, most children today will already know the meanings of the new IT-friendly words: blog, cut and paste, MP3 player and voice mail, among others.

In 2009, Wildlife Promise picked Oxford University Press (OUP) up on the omission of so many words describing the natural world. They tell us that OUP has no intention of reinstating them:

Oxford University Press released an official statement: The dictionary “is not designed for children to use as they progress higher up the school years, and should be regarded as an introduction to language and the practice of using dictionaries.” The words included in it, the statement continues, are selected based on the “language children will commonly come across at home and at school.” The books also must include words “covering the main religious faiths” and must now pay special attention to computer-related words. These concerns, says the company, must be balanced with keeping the book small enough to be accessible for children between the ages of 8 and 11.

Digging around, I found more people who, happily, are just as upset about the nature omissions, although not the Christian terms. Even in 2015, they are asking OUP to reinstate the words for flora and fauna which are commonly seen not only in Britain but elsewhere in the world.

Authors Margaret Atwood and Michael Morpurgo are two of 28 writers who addressed an open letter to OUP in January 2015:

“We base this plea on two considerations. Firstly, the belief that nature and culture have been linked from the beginnings of our history,” reads the letter.

Secondly, childhood is undergoing profound change; some of this is negative; and the rapid decline in children’s connections to nature is a major problem.”

“There is a shocking, proven connection between the decline in natural play and the decline in children’s well-being,” they write, adding that obesity and anti-social behaviour are some consequences.

“We recognize the need to introduce new words and to make room for them and do not intend to comment in detail on the choice of words added. However, it is worrying that in contrast to those taken out, many are associated with the interior, solitary childhoods of today.”

Laurence Rose of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds told Huffington Post Canada that, when he complained about the omission of names for still-common birds, the OUP responded as follows (summarised):

All of the words that were reportedly removed from the 2007 version of the Oxford Junior Dictionary, geared towards seven-year-old readers, are included in the Primary Dictionary, intended for those eight years old and up, according to the statement.

Odd that, having one dictionary for seven-year-olds and another for eight-year-olds. However, that is one solution: buy the Primary Dictionary rather than the Junior edition.

Back to Robert Macfarlane now. His book Landmarks introduces all of us to words we’ve probably not heard of before from all British dialects. The Guardian‘s review says:

Is there another book – fiction or nonfiction – so generous in its nature, that has in its very structure the matrices of other writing and study and poetry fixed intricately into its threads and lines like webs within webs or currents within streams within rivers within seas? Landmarks may be single-minded in its pursuit of the exact, the particular, but in its articulation it sounds a chord of voices – of communities, writers, literatures – that may include the reader’s own.

This comes from the idea of placing at the end of every section a swath of words cut and lifted from dictionaries and phrase books, from common usage, idiolect, slang and poetry. Words for stones and rubble, chucky, clitter, and fedspar; for ice, pipkrares and shuckle; for hill and gully and livestock and branches and leaves and weathers and, in “Ways of Walking”, for a certain kind of mud – muxy rout and slunk. These glossaries are both summaries and a way ahead, where words are like “migrant birds, arriving from distant places… or strangers let into the home”, that they may enliven us with their meanings and stories and give back so much that has been culled.

The Telegraph says:

The languages of forestry, mountaineering, archaeology and geology mix with the coinages of poets. Gerard Manley Hopkins is a prominent contributor: his “wimpling”, the action of wind on a bird’s wing, is joined by “shadowtackle”, shifting patterns of light and shade on woodland floors, caused, Macfarlane says, “by the light filtering-action of the canopy in the wind”.

Landmarks presents hundreds of words and phrases for weather and natural phenomena, and for working and playing in the countryside. Suppose you jump into a lake or pond and muck about. If you are in Shetland you are “bumbelling”. In other parts of Scotland you are “dooking”, in Galloway you are “jabblin” or “puddling”, in Northern Ireland you “skite”, and in Kent you “squashle”.

If few readers are likely to memorise 50 terms related to peat and turf, none will forget that in North Yorkshire steams rising from a wet moor under bright sun are called “summer geese”. Macfarlane is beguiled by a fiery light produced by sun on hoar frost, called an “ammil”, at least in Devon, but his purpose is anything but whimsical. “We have become experts in analysing what nature can do for us, but lack a language for what it can do to us,” he writes.

In the Radio Times, Macfarlane elaborates on ammil, which is the

thin glittering film of ice that lacquers leaves and twigs when freeze follows thaw

and the Shetlandic term pirr means

a light breath of wind, such as will make a cat’s paw on the water

whereas, to someone from Exmoor, zwer is

the sound made by a covey of partridges taking flight

whilst, in Sussex, smeuse is

the gap in the base of a hedge made by the regular passage of a small animal.

What a lovely book written by not only a naturalist but also someone who truly loves the English language.

It’s reassuring to know in the natural world ‘there’s a name for that’.

Yes, darling, it’s a buttercup. And that, over there, is a bluebell.

Bible read me 2Incredibly, this gem came from an atheist commenting on a Telegraph article about Good Friday:

I would encourage all Christians to not just read their Bibles (and so few of you do) but also to learn more about the historicity of your God and the scriptures written on his behalf. This comment is not meant to challenge your faith by the way – simply that I, regardless of my atheism, have found it to be a fascinating exploration and I suspect that many Christians would be similarly interested.

Yes, Christians do owe it to themselves — and their offspring — to read Holy Scripture regularly in order to find out more about our religious heritage and God our Father’s plan for humanity’s redemption.

Yes, the Bible is a fascinating history.

Yes, Christians would be ‘similarly interested’ if they read it.

So, why don’t we?

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