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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 6:21-24

Final Greetings

21 So that you also may know how I am and what I am doing, Tychicus the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will tell you everything. 22 I have sent him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage your hearts.

23 Peace be to the brothers,[a] and love with faith, from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace be with all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with love incorruptible.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instructions to children, parents, bondservants and masters.

This week’s entry concludes my study of Ephesians. Again, as John MacArthur is preaching on Ephesians as I write in 2022, I have no commentary from him.

Paul tells the Ephesians that Tychicus, the beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord will inform them of the Apostle’s time in prison (verse 21).

Tychicus will also be delivering encouraging news as to how Paul is coping, so that the Ephesians will also be encouraged by the Apostle’s endurance for the faith (verse 22).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this is for their edification and for a more precise direction of prayers for Paul. Tychicus is delivering the letter, or epistle, to them (emphases mine):

He sent him with this epistle, that he might acquaint them with what other churches were informed of, namely, how he did, and what he did; how he was used by the Romans in his bonds, and how he behaved himself in his present circumstances. It is desirable to good ministers both that their Christian friends should know their state and that they should be acquainted with the condition of their friends; for by this means they may the better help each other in their prayers.—And that he might comfort their hearts, by giving such an account of his sufferings, of the cause of them, and of the temper of his mind and his behaviour under them, as might prevent their fainting at his tribulations and even minister matter of joy and thanksgiving unto them. He tells them that Tychicus was a beloved brother and faithful minister in the Lord. He was a sincere Christian, and so a brother in Christ: he was a faithful minister in the work of Christ, and he was very dear to Paul, which makes Paul’s love to these Christian Ephesians the more observable, in that he should now part with so good and dear a friend for their sakes, when his company and conversation must have been peculiarly delightful and serviceable to himself. But the faithful servants of Jesus Christ are wont to prefer the public good to their own private or personal interests.

Paul sends his wishes for peace and love imbued by faith from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 23).

The use of ‘peace’ implies divine peace, something which man cannot provide in its fullest depths:

His usual benediction was, Grace and peace; here it is, Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith. By peace we are to understand all manner of peace—peace with God, peace with conscience, peace among themselves: and all outward prosperity is included in the word; as if he had said, “I wish the continuance and increase of all happiness to you.” And love with faith.

Paul concludes by sending his prayers that peace be with all those who love Jesus Christ with love incorruptible (verse 24).

What a beautiful verse, especially the words ‘love incorruptible’.

Henry explains:

not only grace in the fountain, or the love and favour of God, but grace in the streams, the grace of the Spirit flowing from that divine principle, faith and love including all the rest. It is the continuance and increase of these that he desires for them, in whom they were already begun. It follows, from God the Father, etc. All Grace and blessings are derived to the saints from God, through the merit and intercession of Jesus Christ our Lord. The closing benediction is more extensive than the former; for in this he prays for all true believers at Ephesus, and every where else. It is the undoubted character of all the saints that they love our Lord Jesus Christ. Our love to Christ is not acceptable, unless it be in sincerity: indeed there is no such thing as love to Christ, whatever men may pretend, where there is not sincerity. The words may be read, Grace be with all those who love our Lord Jesus Christ in incorruption, who continue constant in their love to him, so as not to be corrupted out of it by any baits or seductions whatsoever, and whose love to him is uncorrupted by any opposite lust, or the love of any thing displeasing to him. Grace, that is, the favour of God, and all good (spiritual and temporal), that is, the product of it, are and shall be with all those who thus love our Lord Jesus Christ. And it is, or ought to be, the desire and prayer of every lover of Christ that it may be so with all his fellow-christians. Amen, so be it.

Paul’s final greetings and benedictions are always a joy to read. They express so much in so few words.

All being well, next week I will begin a study of Philippians.

Next time — Philippians 1:1-2

Bible GenevaThe 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.

Ephesians 6:1-9

Children and Parents

Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise), “that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.” Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Bondservants and Masters

Bondservants,[a] obey your earthly masters[b] with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master[c] and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

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Last week’s post discussed St Paul’s proscription of lewd and foolish behaviours. They bring no glory to the Lord and can bring His righteous wrath.

Regrettably, I have no commentary from John MacArthur because, at this time in 2022, he is currently preaching on Ephesians.

The first three chapters of Ephesians deal with the privileges that God gives Christians through their faith in Jesus.

The last three chapters deal with the responsibilities of Christians to each other and, ultimately, to the Lord.

In Ephesians 6, Paul begins with God-honouring guidance to families as well as to servants and employers.

He begins with children, exhorting them to obey their parents, as it is the right thing to do (verse 1). Jesus obeyed His Father in all things, most importantly, in His agonising death on the Cross for our sins.

Paul reminds the Ephesians that the Commandment to honour one’s father and mother is one that comes with a promise (verse 2), that life may go well with the child and that they might live long in the land (verse 3).

Paul cited Exodus 20:12:

12 “Honor your father and your mother, that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

The next chapter of Exodus contains judgement on this subject (Exodus 21:17):

17 “Whoever curses[a] his father or his mother shall be put to death.

‘Curse’ in that context also means ‘dishonours’ and ‘reviles’.

Jesus cited both verses in Matthew 15:4:

For God commanded, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever reviles father or mother must surely die.’

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers the following analysis (emphases mine):

I. The duty of children to their parents. Come, you children, hearken to me, I will teach you the fear of the Lord. The great duty of children is to obey their parents (v. 1), parents being the instruments of their being, God and nature having given them an authority to command, in subserviency to God; and, if children will be obedient to their pious parents, they will be in a fair way to be pious as they are. That obedience which God demands from their children, in their behalf, includes an inward reverence, as well as the outward expressions and acts. Obey in the Lord. Some take this as a limitation, and understand it thus: “as far as is consistent with your duty to God.” We must not disobey our heavenly Father in obedience to earthly parents; for our obligation to God is prior and superior to all others. I take it rather as a reason: “Children, obey your parents; for the Lord has commanded it: obey them therefore for the Lord’s sake, and with an eye to him.” Or it may be a particular specification of the general duty: “Obey your parents, especially in those things which relate to the Lord. Your parents teach you good manners, and therein you must obey them. They teach you what is for your health, and in this you must obey them: but the chief things in which you are to do it are the things pertaining to the Lord.” Religious parents charge their children to keep the ways of the Lord, Gen 18 19. They command them to be found in the way of their duty towards God, and to take heed of those sins most incident to their age; in these things especially they must see that they be obedient. There is a general reason given: For this is right, there is a natural equity in it, God has enjoined it, and it highly becomes Christians. It is the order of nature that parents command and children obey. Though this may seem a hard saying, yet it is duty, and it must be done by such as would please God and approve themselves to him. For the proof of this the apostle quotes the law of the fifth commandment, which Christ was so far from designing to abrogate and repeal that he came to confirm it, as appears by his vindicating it, Matt 15 4, etc. Honour thy father and mother (v. 2), which honour implies reverence, obedience, and relief and maintenance, if these be needed. The apostle adds, which is the first commandment with promise. Some little difficulty arises from this, which we should not overlook, because some who plead for the lawfulness of images bring this as a proof that we are not bound by the second commandment. But there is no manner of force in the argument. The second commandment has not a particular promise; but only a general declaration or assertion, which relates to the whole law of God’s keeping mercy for thousands. And then by this is not meant the first commandment of the decalogue that has a promise, for there is no other after it that has, and therefore it would be improper to say it is the first; but the meaning may be this: “This is a prime or chief commandment, and it has a promise; it is the first commandment in the second table, and it has a promise.” The promise is, That it may be well with thee, etc., v. 3. Observe, Whereas the promise in the commandment has reference to the land of Canaan, the apostle hereby shows that this and other promises which we have in the Old Testament relating to the land of Canaan are to be understood more generally. That you may not think that the Jews only, to whom God gave the land of Canaan, were bound by the fifth commandment, he here gives it a further sense, That it may be well with thee, etc. Outward prosperity and long life are blessings promised to those who keep this commandment. This is the way to have it well with us, and obedient children are often rewarded with outward prosperity. Not indeed that it is always so; there are instances of such children who meet with much affliction in this life: but ordinarily obedience is thus rewarded, and, where it is not, it is made up with something better. Observe, 1. The gospel has its temporal promises, as well as spiritual ones. 2. Although the authority of God be sufficient to engage us in our duty, yet we are allowed to have respect to the promised reward: and, 3. Though it contains some temporal advantage, even this may be considered as a motive and encouragement to our obedience.

Paul then tells fathers not to provoke their children to anger but bring them up in discipline and instruction in the Lord (verse 4).

Henry explains the importance of wisdom, reason and godliness in raising children:

II. The duty of parents: And you fathers, v. 4. Or, you parents, 1. “Do not provoke your children to wrath. Though God has given you power, you must not abuse that power, remembering that your children are, in a particular manner, pieces of yourselves, and therefore ought to be governed with great tenderness and love. Be not impatient with them, use no unreasonable severities and lay no rigid injunctions upon them. When you caution them, when you counsel them, when you reprove them, do it in such a manner as not to provoke them to wrath. In all such cases deal prudently and wisely with them, endeavouring to convince their judgments and to work upon their reason.” 2. “Bring them up well, in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, in the discipline of proper and of compassionate correction, and in the knowledge of that duty which God requires of them and by which they may become better acquainted with him. Give them a good education.” It is the great duty of parents to be careful in the education of their children: “Not only bring them up, as the brutes do, taking care to provide for them; but bring them up in nurture and admonition, in such a manner as is suitable to their reasonable natures. Nay, not only bring them up as men, in nurture and admonition, but as Christians, in the admonition of the Lord. Let them have a religious education. Instruct them to fear sinning; and inform them of, and excite them to, the whole of their duty towards God.”

Bondservants were slaves. Slaves in that era were often, although not always, treated well and many were reasonably educated. Some slaves were what we would consider as people with a profession, e.g. accountants.

Paul tells bondservants to obey their masters as if they were obeying Christ, with fear and trembling (verse 5).

Henry reminds us that, whether bondservant or free man, all believers have freedom in Christ:

The duty of servants. This also is summed up in one word, which is, obedience. He is largest on this article, as knowing there was the greatest need of it. These servants were generally slaves. Civil servitude is not inconsistent with Christian liberty. Those may be the Lord’s freemen who are slaves to men. Your masters according to the flesh (v. 5), that is, who have the command of your bodies, but not of your souls and consciences: God alone has dominion over these.” Now, with respect to servants, he exhorts, 1. That they obey with fear and trembling. They are to reverence those who are over them, fearing to displease them, and trembling lest they should justly incur their anger and indignation.

Servants are to obey their employers not with eye-service, i.e. when they are physically present, or with people-pleasing but as if they were serving Jesus Himself, doing God’s will from the heart (verse 6).

Henry says that considering our employers as Christ’s representatives can make our tasks easier:

4. They must not serve their masters with eye-service (v. 6)—that is, only when their master’s eye is upon them; but they must be as conscientious in the discharge of their duty, when they are absent and out of the way, because then their Master in heaven beholds them: and therefore they must not act as men-pleasers—as though they had no regard to the pleasing of God, and approving themselves to him, if they can impose upon their masters. Observe, A steady regard to the Lord Jesus Christ will make men faithful and sincere in every station of life. 5. What they do they must do cheerfully: Doing the will of God from the heart, serving their masters as God wills they should, not grudgingly, nor by constraint, but from a principle of love to them and their concerns.

Paul says we should do our work with a good will towards the Lord and not to man alone (verse 7).

Henry explains:

This is doing it with good-will (v. 7), which will make their service easy to themselves, pleasing to their masters, and acceptable to the Lord Christ. There should be good-will to their masters, good-will to the families they are in; and especially a readiness to do their duty to God. Observe, Service, performed with conscience, and from a regard to God, though it be to unrighteous masters, will be accounted by Christ as service done to himself.

Paul says that the Lord will reward any good work or service that people perform, regardless if they are slaves or free men (verse 8).

Henry says that this should be encouraging, even when our temporal work situation is not:

6. Let faithful servants trust God for their wages, while they do their duty in his fear: Knowing that whatsoever good thing (v. 8), how poor and mean soever it may be, considered in itself,—the same shall he receive of the Lord, that is, by a metonymy, the reward of the same. Though his master on earth should neglect or abuse him, instead of rewarding him, he shall certainly be rewarded by the Lord Christ, whether he be bond or free, whether he be a poor bond-servant or a freeman or master. Christ regards not these differences of men at present; nor will he in the great and final judgment. You think, “A prince, or a magistrate, or a minister, that does his duty here, will be sure to receive his reward in heaven: but what capacity am I, a poor servant, in, of recommending myself to the favour of God.” Why, God will as certainly reward thee for the meanest drudgery that is done from a sense of duty and with an eye to himself. And what can be said more proper either to engage or to encourage servants to their duty?

Paul ends his instructions by encouraging masters to treat their servants honourably and not with threats; both master and servant share the same divine Master, Christ Jesus, with whom there is no partiality (verse 9).

Henry says that we will be judged according to how we treat those who work for us:

IV. The duty of masters: “And you masters, do the same things unto them (v. 9); that is, act after the same manner. Be just to them, as you expect they should be to you: show the like good-will and concern for them, and be careful herein to approve yourselves to God.” Observe, Masters are under as strict obligations to discharge their duty to their servants as servants are to be obedient and dutiful to them. “Forbearing threatening; anientesmoderating threatening, and remitting the evils with which you threaten them. Remember that your servants are made of the same mould with yourselves, and therefore be not tyrannical and imperious over them, knowing that your Master also is in heaven:” some copies read, both your and their Master. “You have a Master to obey who makes this your duty; and you and they are but fellow-servants in respect of Christ. You will be as punishable by him, for the neglect of your duty, or for acting contrary to it, as any others of meaner condition in the world. You are therefore to show favour to others, as ever you expect to find favour with him; and you will never be a match for him, though you may be too hard for your servants.” Neither is there respect of persons with him; a rich, a wealthy, and a dignified master, if he be unjust, imperious, and abusive, is not a jot the nearer being accepted of God for his riches, wealth, and honour. He will call masters and servants to an impartial account for their conduct one to another, and will neither spare the former because they are more advanced nor be severe towards the latter because they are inferior and mean in the world. If both masters and servants would consider their relation and obligation to God and the account they must shortly give to him, they would be more careful of their duty to each other. Thus the apostle concludes his exhortation to relative duties.

Paul’s next discourse is on spiritual warfare. The following verses will be familiar to many:

The Whole Armor of God

10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might. 11 Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil. 12 For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm. 14 Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace. 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints, 19 and also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel, 20 for which I am an ambassador in chains, that I may declare it boldly, as I ought to speak.

What a beautiful passage that is, containing Paul’s marvellous imagery of doing battle for the truth, against the worldly powers of evil.

Next week’s entry concludes Ephesians.

Next time — Ephesians 6:21-24

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 5:3-7

But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints. Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. Therefore do not become partners with them;

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Last week’s post examined Paul’s exhortation to the Ephesians to renounce walking in the way they had as unregenerated Gentiles, urging them instead to take off the ‘old self’ and put on a ‘new self’.

Careful readers will notice there is no commentary from John MacArthur. Coincidentally, he is at this very time in 2022 giving his sermons on Ephesians.

As such, unfortunate though it is, I will have to finish my exploration of Ephesians without his insight.

That said, I have only two more posts to follow on this letter.

Ephesians 5 continues Paul’s discourse on Christian duties concerning behaviour, which began in the preceding chapter. As we so often say, with privileges come responsibilities, and this is the pattern that Paul followed when writing, not only in this letter but also in his other manuscripts.

People say that Christians are goody two shoes, and this chapter goes some way in explaining why that is.

In the first three chapters, Paul laid out the blessed privileges of becoming a true member of the Church and the promise of eternal glory that comes with the afterlife.

We are to be obedient to God, just as Jesus obeyed Him, even to the horrific and humiliating death on the Cross for our sins and the sins of all mankind — past, present and future.

As saints, we are to refrain from sexual immorality, impurity and covetousness, because those do not befit us as Christians; even discussing them is forbidden (verse 3).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that foul acts emulate the world, which is at enmity with God (emphases mine below):

Filthy lusts must be suppressed, in order to the supporting of holy love. Walk in love, and shun fornication and all uncleanness. Fornication is folly committed between unmarried persons. All uncleanness includes all other sorts of filthy lusts, which were too common among the Gentiles. Or covetousness, which being thus connected, and mentioned as a thing which should not be once named, some understand it, in the chaste style of the scripture, of unnatural lust; while others take it in the more common sense, for an immoderate desire of gain or an insatiable love of riches, which is spiritual adultery; for by this the soul, which was espoused to God, goes astray from him, and embraces the bosom of a stranger, and therefore carnal worldlings are called adulterers: You adulterers and adulteresses, know you not that the friendship of the world is enmity with God? Now these sins must be dreaded and detested in the highest degree: Let it not be once named among you, never in a way of approbation nor without abhorrence, as becometh saints, holy persons, who are separated from the world, and dedicated unto God.

Interestingly, we have another bit of serendipity here, because my exegesis on the Epistle reading for Trinity Sunday — June 12, 2022, Lectionary Year C — discusses God’s loathing of sin, so much so that He deeply dislikes those who follow the world instead of Him. This is why Jesus told us to take the Gospel to the unconverted, urging them to repent of their sins and realising that, when they come to Him in faith, God forgives those sins.

We are also to stop joking crudely and talking foolishly, replacing that with thanksgiving to God for our many blessings (verse 4).

There is always a place for wit, but, as Henry explains, it should be amusing for all rather than offensive:

Neither filthiness (Ephesians 5:4; Ephesians 5:4), by which may be understood all wanton and unseemly gestures and behaviour; nor foolish talking, obscene and lewd discourse, or, more generally, such vain discourse as betrays much folly and indiscretion, and is far from edifying the hearers; nor jesting. The Greek word eutrapelia is the same which Aristotle, in his Ethics, makes a virtue: pleasantness of conversation. And there is no doubt an innocent and inoffensive jesting, which we cannot suppose the apostle here forbids. Some understand him of such scurrilous and abusive reflections as tend to expose others and to make them appear ridiculous. This is bad enough: but the context seems to restrain it to such pleasantry of discourse as is filthy and obscene, which he may also design by that corrupt, or putrid and rotten, communication that he speaks of, Ephesians 4:29; Ephesians 4:29. Of these things he says, They are not convenient. Indeed there is more than inconvenience, even a great deal of mischief, in them. They are so far from being profitable that they pollute and poison the hearers. But the meaning is, Those things do not become Christians, and are very unsuitable to their profession and character. Christians are allowed to be cheerful and pleasant; but they must be merry and wise. The apostle adds, But rather giving of thanks: so far let the Christian’s way of mirth be from that of obscene and profane wit, that he may delight his mind, and make himself cheerful, by a grateful remembrance of God’s goodness and mercy to him, and by blessing and praising him on account of these. Note, 1. We should take all occasions to render thanksgivings and praises to God for his kindness and favours to us. 2. A reflection on the grace and goodness of God to us, with a design to excite our thankfulness to him, is proper to refresh and delight the Christian’s mind, and to make him cheerful. Dr. Hammond thinks that eucharistia may signify gracious, pious, religious discourse in general, by way of opposition to what the apostle condemns. Our cheerfulness, instead of breaking out into what is vain and sinful, and a profanation of God’s name, should express itself as becomes Christians, and in what may tend to his glory. If men abounded more in good and pious expressions, they would not be so apt to utter ill and unbecoming words; for shall blessing and cursing, lewdness and thanksgivings, proceed out of the same mouth?

Paul says we may be certain that anyone who is sexually or morally impure or who is covetous — i.e. an idolater, someone who loves the world — cannot inherit the kingdom of Christ and God (verse 5).

Henry tells us:

1. He urges several arguments, As, (1.) Consider that these are sins which shut persons out of heaven: For this you know, &c., Ephesians 5:5; Ephesians 5:5. They knew it, being informed of it by the Christian religion. By a covetous man some understand a lewd lascivious libertine, who indulges himself in those vile lusts which were accounted the certain marks of a heathen and an idolater. Others understand it in the common acceptation of the word; and such a man is an idolater because there is spiritual idolatry in the love of this world. As the epicure makes a god of his belly, so the covetous man makes a god of his money, sets those affectations upon it, and places that hope, confidence, and delight, in worldly good, which should be reserved for God only. He serves mammon instead of God. Of these persons it is said that they have no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God; that is, the kingdom of Christ, who is God, or the kingdom which is God’s by nature, and Christ’s as he is Mediator, the kingdom which Christ has purchased and which God bestows. Heaven is here described as a kingdom (as frequently elsewhere) with respect to its eminency and glory, its fulness and sufficiency, c. In this kingdom the saints and servants of God have an inheritance for it is the inheritance of the saints in light. But those who are impenitent, and allow themselves either in the lusts of the flesh or the love of the world, are not Christians indeed, and so belong not to the kingdom of grace, nor shall they ever come to the kingdom of glory. Let us then be excited to be on our guard against those sins which would exclude and shut us out of heaven.

Paul cautions us against accepting flattery — empty words — because these lead to the wrath of God coming on the sons of disobedience (verse 6), i.e. unregenerated Gentiles.

Henry reminds us of the first instance of flattery, when Satan deceived Eve in the Garden of Eden:

(2.) These sins bring the wrath of God upon those who are guilty of them: “Let no man deceive you with vain words, c., Ephesians 5:6; Ephesians 5:6. Let none flatter you, as though such things were tolerable and to be allowed of in Christians, or as though they were not very provoking and offensive unto God, or as though you might indulge yourselves in them and yet escape with impunity. These are vain words.” Observe, Those who flatter themselves and others with hopes of impunity in sin do but put a cheat upon themselves and others. Thus Satan deceived our first parents with vain words when he said to them, You shall not surely die. They are vain words indeed; for those who trust to them will find themselves wretchedly imposed upon, for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience. By children of disobedience may be meant the Gentiles, who disbelieved, and refused to comply with, and to submit themselves to, the gospel: or, more generally, all obstinate sinners, who will not be reclaimed, but are given over to disobedience. Disobedience is the very malignity of sin. And it is by a usual Hebraism that such sinners are called children of disobedience; and such indeed they are from their childhood, going astray as soon as they are born. The wrath of God comes upon such because of their sins; sometimes in this world, but more especially in the next. And dare we make light of that which will lay us under the wrath of God? O no.

We are not to enter into close friendships or alliances with such people (verse 7), for fear that we may partake in their sins — and the punishment that lies ahead.

Henry offers this analysis:

“Do not partake with them in their sins, that you may not share in their punishment.” We partake with other men in their sins, not only when we live in the same sinful manner that they do, and consent and comply with their temptations and solicitations to sin, but when we encourage them in their sins, prompt them to sin, and do not prevent and hinder them, as far as it may be in our power to do so. 

Back in 2009, when I first started Forbidden Bible Verses, I used a set of Lectionary readings that the Episcopal Church in the United States stopped using some time later.

Huge portions had been omitted. The Episcopal Church since switched to using the standard Lectionary readings.

However, as I began writing this series before knowing that, I wrote about Ephesians 5:1-21, which explores the chapter further.

As I said when I began writing about the rest of Ephesians a few weeks ago in 2022, most of it is in the three-year Lectionary.

Paul concludes Ephesians 5 with his instructions on married life:

Wives and Husbands

22 Wives, submit to your own husbands, as to the Lord. 23 For the husband is the head of the wife even as Christ is the head of the church, his body, and is himself its Savior. 24 Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit in everything to their husbands.

25 Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, 26 that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word, 27 so that he might present the church to himself in splendor, without spot or wrinkle or any such thing, that she might be holy and without blemish.[a] 28 In the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. 29 For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church, 30 because we are members of his body. 31 “Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” 32 This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church. 33 However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband.

Paul’s instructions sound old fashioned to us today, but, when he wrote them, they were liberating compared to the way that Romans and Greeks treated their wives, which was sometimes brutal. Women were seen as property and not as full persons in their own right.

Gentile women, therefore, would have found this liberating. Gentile men hearing this for the first time would have had pause for thought. The social and legal framework was very different in those times.

Paul follows this with instructions for children and servants.

Next time — Ephesians 6:1-9

Bible read me 4The 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.

Ephesians 4:17-24

The New Life

17 Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. 18 They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart. 19 They have become callous and have given themselves up to sensuality, greedy to practice every kind of impurity. 20 But that is not the way you learned Christ!— 21 assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus, 22 to put off your old self,[a] which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, 23 and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, 24 and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s imprisonment when he wrote this letter and his instruction to the Ephesians to not become despondent because of his own plight; he was suffering for their glory as new Christians.

The first three chapters of Ephesians focus on the divine mystery of the Church and our privilege to be members of the body of believers. The second three chapters address our responsibilities as Christians.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

We have gone through the former part of this epistle, which consists of several important doctrinal truths, contained in the three preceding chapters. We enter now on the latter part of it, in which we have the most weighty and serious exhortations that can be given. We may observe that in this, as in most others of Paul’s epistles, the former part is doctrinal, and fitted to inform the minds of men in the great truths and doctrines of the gospel, the latter is practical, and designed for the direction of their lives and manners, all Christians being bound to endeavour after soundness in the faith, and regularity in life and practice. In what has gone before we have heard of Christian privileges, which are the matter of our comfort. In what follows we shall hear of Christian duties, and what the Lord our God requires of us in consideration of such privileges vouchsafed to us. The best way to understand the mysteries and partake of the privileges of which we have read before is conscientiously to practise the duties prescribed to us in what follows: as, on the other hand, a serious consideration and belief of the doctrines that have been taught us in the foregoing chapters will be a good foundation on which to build the practice of the duties prescribed in those which are yet before us. Christian faith and Christian practice mutually befriend each other. In this chapter we have divers exhortations to important duties. I. One that is more general, Ephesians 4:1. II. An exhortation to mutual love, unity, and concord, with the proper means and motives to promote them, Ephesians 4:2-16. III. An exhortation to Christian purity and holiness of life; and that both more general (Ephesians 4:17-24) and in several particular instances, Ephesians 4:25-32.

Of today’s verses, John MacArthur tells us:

Now in the first part … verses 17 to 19, you have a description of the way things are. In fact, when Stephanie called me early in the week and said, “Can you give me a title for your sermon?” I said, “Here’s the title: ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’ ‘What Is Wrong with Everybody?’” Well, that’s basically described in verses 17 to 19. What salvation does is described in verses 22 to 24. But in between 17 to 19 (which describes the whole world in sin) and verses 22 to 24 (which describe the saints) is verses 20 and 21, and that speaks of salvation. Salvation is the dividing point

So verses 20 and 21 look at the work of God in salvation; and that is what transforms people from what they were, verses 17 to 19, to what they are in Christ, verses 22 to 24. The moment of your salvation is the transformation miracle. Not a process, not a process; it’s an event. It’s a divine, supernatural event in which you were transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, in which you ceased to be a member of the children of Satan, and you became a member of the family of God. It all happened in the moment of your salvation.

And, yes, his sermon is indeed called ‘What is wrong with everybody?’

Here are the opening verses of Ephesians 4. Verses 4 through 6 feature in one of the celebrant’s prayers in the Catholic Mass and the modern Anglican liturgy:

Unity in the Body of Christ

I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call— 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it says,

“When he ascended on high he led a host of captives,
    and he gave gifts to men.”[a]

(In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?[b] 10 He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.) 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds[c] and teachers,[d] 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood,[e] to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they must no longer walk in the ways of the Gentiles, in the futility of their minds (verse 17).

Henry interprets the verse succinctly:

Converted Gentiles must not live as unconverted Gentiles do. Though they live among them, they must not live like them.

Paul says that unconverted Gentiles are darkened — blinded — in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because they are ignorant; their ignorance comes from their own hardened hearts (verse 18).

In short, they love their sin too much to come to the light and truth that is Christ Jesus.

Henry explains:

They sat in darkness, and they loved it rather than light: and by their ignorance they were alienated from the life of God. They were estranged from, and had a dislike and aversion to, a life of holiness, which is not only that way of life which God requires and approves, and by which we live to him, but which resembles God himself, in his purity, righteousness, truth, and goodness. Their wilful ignorance was the cause of their estrangement from this life of God, which begins in light and knowledge. Gross and affected ignorance is destructive to religion and godliness. And what was the cause of their being thus ignorant? It was because of the blindness or the hardness of their heart. It was not because God did not make himself known to them by his works, but because they would not admit the instructive rays of the divine light. They were ignorant because they would be so. Their ignorance proceeded from their obstinacy and the hardness of their hearts, their resisting the light and rejecting all the means of illumination and knowledge.

The unconverted Gentiles have become callous in their behaviour and have given themselves up to sensuality, eager to satisfy themselves with every type of impurity (verse 19).

Henry gives us this analysis, which sounds a lot like today’s world:

They had no sense of their sin, nor of the misery and danger of their case by means of it; whereupon they gave themselves over unto lasciviousness. They indulged themselves in their filthy lusts; and, yielding themselves up to the dominion of these, they became the slaves and drudges of sin and the devil, working all uncleanness with greediness. They made it their common practice to commit all sorts of uncleanness, and even the most unnatural and monstrous sins, and that with insatiable desires. Observe, When men’s consciences are once seared, there are no bounds to their sins. When they set their hearts upon the gratification of their lusts, what can be expected but the most abominable sensuality and lewdness, and that their horrid enormities will abound?

MacArthur addresses verses 17 and 18, discussing our social malaise in the 21st century. Readers will be interested to know that he delivered this sermon on March 6, 2022, so it could not be more current:

What’s wrong with everybody? What’s wrong with everybody? Why is the world such an evil, chaotic, dark, demonic place? What’s wrong with everybody? I checked, this week, Journal of Psychology, and they agreed that everybody’s basically good. So you can wipe out that field.

What’s wrong with everybody is laid out here. This has to be understood. You’re different; you’re new. This is the testimony of Paul, by the way, according to verse 17, and also the testimony of the Lord. The Lord affirms this.

Now look at the word Gentiles—“You no longer walk . . . as the Gentiles.” That’s ethnē, ethnicities. Again, there’s only one race, and there are many ethnicities; only one human race in various shades of brown, depending on how much melanin you have or don’t have. But there is not only unity over the physical nature in humanity, there is unity over the spiritual nature of humanity: They are all sinners, the whole human race, the whole human race.

But because of the calling that we have received from God, because of the unity we have in the truth, because of the truth that is written and the truth incarnate in Christ, because of the privileges of being granted spiritual gifts, because we have been graced by God to be a part of the body of Christ, because of the presence of the Holy Spirit conforming us to Christ—everything he’s been talking about in the first part of chapter 4—because of the responsibility to speak the truth in love, we can’t live the way we used to live. You can be sucked back in; you can be drawn back in. It will never be the pattern of your life; it’ll never be the unbroken pattern of your life. But the corrupt world tries to seduce you, tries to pull you in; but you’ll never again become a slave of sin. You’ve been transformed. John said in 1 John, if anyone goes out from us, it only manifests they never were of us—because you’re a new creation, and that’s eternal. All ethnicities are hostile to God, all ethnicities, dominated by pride, greed, lust, selfish pleasure—the whole human race, including us before our conversion.

Paul then exclaims that that is not what the Ephesians learned about Christ (verse 20), assuming they have heard about Him and were taught in Him, as the truth resides in Jesus (verse 21).

MacArthur says:

It’s a mind game. It’s about the truth coming to the mind so that there’s understanding. If you’re a Christian, according to what we just saw in verses 20 and 21, you were reprogrammed. You learned Christ, you heard Him speak to you through His Word, and you learned your lesson by the power of the Holy Spirit, and you embraced the truth that’s in Jesus. And that totally transformed you.

But let’s talk about the way people are. First of all, verse 17, they’re selfish. They “walk”—meaning daily conduct—“in the futility of their mind.” Their thinking is so warped. And I think it’s the possessive pronoun here that we ought to focus on: “their” mind. This is what happens to sinful people: They think they are the source of truth. They don’t subject themselves to the truth of God. They reject the truth of God—again, Romans 1. So their mind is basically the purveyor of their philosophy, theology, and religion. And if you think you are the source of truth, you are insane.

But this is not new. Back in the Old Testament, “Everybody did that which was right in his own”—what?—“in his own eyes.” This is what people do; they worship themselves. And it’s futile, futile, although it’s based on the wretchedness of human pride. The word futile doesn’t mean pride or conceit, it means that which is useless, that which is worthless, empty, void, vain.

If you want to live a vain, empty, void, meaningless, useless, worthless life, then just live in your own head; just decide that everything that you can think of is the way reality is.

The imagery of the old self and the new self in the next three verses is splendid. Paul refers to our old wardrobe of sinful clothes and a wonderful set of new clothes of godliness.

Paul tells the Ephesians that they are to put (take) off their old self — ‘man’ in some translations — which refers to their unregenerated souls, which deceitful desires have corrupted (verse 22).

Henry says:

Here the apostle expresses himself in metaphors taken from garments. The principles, habits, and dispositions of the soul must be changed, before there can be a saving change of the life. There must be sanctification, which consists of these two things:– (1.) The old man must be put off. The corrupt nature is called a man, because, like the human body, it consists of divers parts, mutually supporting and strengthening one another. It is the old man, as old Adam, from whom we derive it. It is bred in the bone, and we brought it into the world with us. It is subtle as the old man; but in all God’s saints decaying and withering as an old man, and ready to pass away. It is said to be corrupt; for sin in the soul is the corruption of its faculties: and, where it is not mortified, it grows daily worse and worse, and so tends to destruction. According to the deceitful lusts. Sinful inclinations and desires are deceitful lusts: they promise men happiness, but render them more miserable, and if not subdued and mortified betray them into destruction. These therefore must be put off as an old garment that we should be ashamed to be seen in: they must be subdued and mortified. These lusts prevailed against them in their former conversation, that is, during their state of unregeneracy and heathenism.

Paul calls on the Ephesians to be renewed in the spirit of their regenerated minds (verse 23) and to put on a new self, created in the likeness of God in righteousness and holiness (verse 24).

Henry tells us:

(2.) The new man must be put on. It is not enough to shake off corrupt principles, but we must be actuated by gracious ones. We must embrace them, espouse them, and get them written on our hearts: it is not enough to cease to do evil, but we must learn to do well. “Be renewed in the spirit of your mind (Ephesians 4:23; Ephesians 4:23); that is, use the proper and prescribed means in order to have the mind, which is a spirit, renewed more and more.” And that you put on the new man, Ephesians 4:24; Ephesians 4:24. By the new man is meant the new nature, the new creature, which is actuated by a new principle, even regenerating grace, enabling a man to lead a new life, that life of righteousness and holiness which Christianity requires. This new man is created, or produced out of confusion and emptiness, by God’s almighty power, whose workmanship it is, truly excellent and beautiful. After God, in imitation of him, and in conformity to that grand exemplar and pattern. The loss of God’s image upon the soul was both the sinfulness and misery of man’s fallen state; and that resemblance which it bears to God is the beauty, the glory, and the happiness, of the new creature. In righteousness towards men, including all the duties of the second table [of the Ten Commandments]; and in holiness towards God, signifying a sincere obedience to the commands of the first table; true holiness in opposition to the outward and ceremonial holiness of the Jews. We are said to put on this new man when, in the use of all God’s appointed means, we are endeavouring after this divine nature, this new creature. This is the more general exhortation to purity and holiness of heart and life.

MacArthur further interpreted these verses in line with our world today. He explains the original Greek text:

People are just fools; they think they’re wise. And the universities are the places where all the deceived PhDs are, who are espousing things that they think are wise, when they are the leading fools. Colossians 2:18 describes this futility of mind as “inflated without cause by his fleshly mind.” Peter says, however, 1 Peter 1:18, we have been redeemed from the futile way of life.

So what’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish. They want to design their own standard of morality, invent their own religion. They want to be their own god. Secondly, Paul says, they’re consequently senseless: verse 18, “Being darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.” Darkened, excluded, ignorant, and hard-hearted. This makes you into a senseless brick.

Lost in the foolishness of their own mind, they become senseless, and their senselessness is perpetuated until it becomes hardness. “Darkened in their understanding”—skotoō, it means “to darken or blind.” They are blind, and in their blindness they continue down a path of blindness that is defined next as being “excluded from the life of God,” which is another way of saying they are dead, they are dead.

They’re dead and blind, estranged from God, and it takes them down a path of the hardness of heart. “Hardness of heart,” pōrōsis in the Greek, from pōrōs, which meant a very, very hard stone or was used to describe the tissue that developed when bones were fused together and became very hard. It meant “to be hard without feeling.” “Same sun that melts the wax hardens the clay.” You hear the truth and resist the truth, and what should melt your heart hardens it. When sin is ignored, when conscience is silenced, when guilt and conviction are not permitted, the heart grows harder and harder and harder, conscience becomes scarred. And we are warned in Hebrews 3 and 4, “Don’t harden your heart. Don’t harden your heart.” It’s deadly, it’s deadly.

What’s wrong with everybody? They’re selfish, and they are senseless. Thirdly, they’re shameless. In verse 19, “They . . . become callous.” This means being past feeling. They don’t feel anything. In fact, their callousness is so severe that Philippians 3:19 says this—this is a stunning statement: “Their glory is in their shame.” “Their glory is in their shame.” They are shameless. “Their glory is in their shame.” They parade their shame. What they should be ashamed of is what they parade. This whole culture does that. The Internet is just full of it: people parading shame. What people should be ashamed of is their glory, their claim to fame. The verb here, apalgeō, means “to cease to feel pain.”

Selfishness leads to senselessness, and senselessness develops into shamelessness. Then you’re into verse 19: sensual. “They, having become callous,” or shameless, “have given themselves over to sensuality,” which releases “the practice of every kind of filthiness with greediness.” They literally hand themselves over. This is self-inflicted; they hand themselves over. So selfish, so senseless, so shameless, they hand themselves over to sensuality.

The word there for “sensuality” is aselgeia, and it means basically “an unrestrained life.” It’s a step beyond shame, which is a step beyond senselessness. This is the disposition of the soul where selfishness, senselessness, and shamelessness reach their ultimate expression. There’s no restraint; you flaunt everything.

Our culture is there, where people are proud of their perversions. They want to make sure nobody restrains them. They practice every kind of impurity, akatharsia, every kind of uncleanness, every kind of filthiness, and they do it “with greediness”; they can’t get enough filthiness. “Greediness” is pleonexia, which is the insatiable craving, the uncontrolled appetite, the unsatisfied passion. This is what’s wrong with everybody.

Here are the closing verses of Ephesians 4 and the first two verses of Ephesians 5, which are read in Year B on a Sunday in the season of Pentecost:

25 Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. 26 Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, 27 and give no opportunity to the devil. 28 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. 29 Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. 32 Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Walk in Love

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children. 2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Verse 30 is particularly apposite, as this post appears on Pentecost Sunday 2022.

Paul has more behaviours for the Ephesians — and us — to shun. More on those next week.

Next time — Ephesians 5:3-7

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.

Ephesians 3:13

13 So I ask you not to lose heart over what I am suffering for you, which is your glory.

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Last week’s post introduced Paul’s letter and greeting to the Ephesians.

Thankfully, most of Ephesians is in the three-year Lectionary, so I will write about it more in detail once I begin preparing exegeses of the Sunday Epistles.

For now, however, as this is such a beautiful book, I will post the text below, emphases mine.

Here is Ephesians 2, particularly meaningful as, in 2022, Pentecost Sunday is on June 5:

By Grace Through Faith

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body[a] and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.[b] 4 But[c] God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

One in Christ

11 Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called “the uncircumcision” by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands— 12 remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility 15 by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, 16 and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. 17 And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens,[d] but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by[e] the Spirit.

In the first part of Ephesians 3, Paul reveals the mystery of the Gospel, which is that Gentiles are equal heirs to the promise of eternal life through Christ Jesus:

The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

For this reason I, Paul, a prisoner of Christ Jesus on behalf of you Gentiles assuming that you have heard of the stewardship of God’s grace that was given to me for you, how the mystery was made known to me by revelation, as I have written briefly. When you read this, you can perceive my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to the sons of men in other generations as it has now been revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit. This mystery is[a] that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.

Of this gospel I was made a minister according to the gift of God’s grace, which was given me by the working of his power. To me, though I am the very least of all the saints, this grace was given, to preach to the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ, 9 and to bring to light for everyone what is the plan of the mystery hidden for ages in[b] God, who created all things, 10 so that through the church the manifold wisdom of God might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. 11 This was according to the eternal purpose that he has realized in Christ Jesus our Lord, 12 in whom we have boldness and access with confidence through our faith in him. 

Paul was in prison when he wrote this letter (Ephesians 3:1), as last week’s post explained. It is amazing that someone in prison would be determined to write a letter to a church congregation. Yet, Paul was that sort of Apostle, a bondservant to Christ, to whom he devoted his life. Because he devoted his life to our Lord, he was determined that the congregations of the churches he planted delve even deeper into doctrine, correcting some churches, e.g. the Corinthians and the Galatians, when necessary.

Coming to verse 13 now, Paul tells the Ephesians that they should not be afraid for him in his suffering, because he is doing it for their glory, meaning not only for their blessed conversion but also the life to come in eternity with Jesus.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

… seeing Paul while he was a prisoner employed himself in such prayers to God in behalf of the Ephesians, we should learn that no particular sufferings of our own should make us so solicitous about ourselves as to neglect the cases of others in our supplications and addresses to God. He speaks again of his sufferings: Wherefore I desire that you faint not at my tribulation for you, which is your glory,Ephesians 3:13; Ephesians 3:13. While he was in prison, he suffered much there; and, though it was upon their account that he suffered, yet he would not have them discouraged nor dismayed at this, seeing God had done such great things for them by his ministry. What a tender concern was here for these Ephesians! The apostle seems to have been more solicitous lest they should be discouraged and faint upon his tribulations than about what he himself endured; and, to prevent this, he tells them that his sufferings were their glory, and would be so far from being a real discouragement, if they duly considered the matter, that they ministered cause to them for glorying and for rejoicing, as this discovered the great esteem and regard which God bore to them, in that he not only sent his apostles to preach the gospel to them, but even to suffer for them, and to confirm the truths they delivered by the persecutions they underwent. Observe, Not only the faithful ministers of Christ themselves, but their people too, have some special cause for joy and glorying, when they suffer for the sake of dispensing the gospel.

John MacArthur explains why Paul felt so deeply for his congregations, even in prison:

You understand why Paul felt so deeply about this when you recognize that it cost him his freedom, and then it cost him his life. I mean, the whole episode that got him to prison—maybe as many as five years in prison by the time he writes Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon—the whole episode that got him to prison was that the Jews tried to kill him in a mob action in Jerusalem for preaching that Gentiles were acceptable to God. The Romans rescued him from the mob. And again, they were trying to kill him for saying God was bringing Gentiles into this new humanity called the church. That’s how disastrous such a thought was to Jewish people, and even Jewish believers. It cost him his freedom, and then it cost him his life when an executioner chopped his head off in prison in Rome.

Of course, the Gentiles persecuted him, too:

The great challenge for Paul was not just preaching the gospel to the Gentiles—and that was a challenge, believe me, because he was persecuted by the Gentiles for his message of the gospel. But I think an even greater challenge was getting the Jews and the Gentiles to accept each other, to accept each other in the body of Christ. And the reason I say that is because he deals with it in chapter 2, he deals with it in chapter 3, and then he deals with it in chapter 4. It’s as if he just cannot let go of this very difficult issue.

Of course, we today do not consider that welcoming Gentiles into the Church as equal partners with Jewish converts was any mystery, but it was revealed fully and actively in the New Testament. Paul’s letters were written before the Gospel accounts of Christ’s ministry, and this is why he puts special emphasis on the divine revelation he received not only in his Damascene conversion but also in the three years he spent in the desert in Nabatean Arabia before he began to evangelise.

MacArthur explains. It is serendipitous that he cites the Gospel for the day on which I am writing this, the Seventh Sunday of Easter (Year C), John 17, our Lord’s prayer for our unity in Him and the Father:

So the Old Testament was very clear that God is going to save the world; He’s going to save the nations—and He’s been doing that. That was supposed to be, of course, His plan and His purpose; and it was, even in the Old Testament. And the people of Israel were to be the instrument, the witness nation. They, as you clearly know, were unfaithful and apostate. The time came when they not only rejected God, not only followed idols, not only hated their neighbors instead of loving them, but they rejected the Messiah. And so on the day of Pentecost the Lord made a new covenant people, a new humanity: the church, the church of Jesus Christ. And we are now one.

And the imagery is a metaphor that’s not in the Old Testament. It’s—the church is called the body of Christ. That is the most integrated of all metaphors used to speak of people’s relationship to each other and to God. In the Old Testament the people of God are called subjects of a kingdom. They’re even identified as a bride to God who is the Bridegroom. They’re identified as a family. But never is Israel seen as a body. The intimacy and the organistic relationships that exist in the church are new in a fresh way, and that is because the Holy Spirit has come in a fullness to bring about this one new man.

Now, Jesus in His prayer in John 17 told us why this was so important, and it’s the very reason we exist. Listen to John 17:21; He’s praying to the Father, and He says, “[I pray] that they may all be one; even as You, Father, are in Me and I in You, that they also may be in Us, so that the world may believe that You sent Me.” So what’s at stake here? The world believing that God sent Christ. The whole of Christianity rises or falls on the fact that they are one.

And down in verse 23, He essentially repeats it: “I in them and You in Me, that they may be perfected in unity, so that the world may know that You sent Me, and loved them, even as You loved Me.” How is the world going to know that the gospel is true, that God, the God of the Bible, is the true and living God, the only God, and that Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of the world? How is the world going to know that? By the unity of the church.

That unity, MacArthur tells us, was Paul’s primary goal and one he gladly risked beatings, scourgings and prison for:

Paul is going to try to bring the Jew and the Gentile together when there has been nothing but animosity, nothing but animosity, and massive cultural differences, cultural differences by design that totally isolated the Jews, purposely, so they couldn’t easily interact with the Gentile because they would then be pulled more easily into idolatry. They had so many traditions that even today when we see one of those rare, anachronistic, orthodox Jews walking around, he looks like he’s from another era or another planet. But that adherence to that would have been similarly, completely odd throughout all of their history.

So Paul’s task is to bring everyone together

So Paul has made an issue out of this because in the formative time of his life and ministry, this was a very, very challenging task. Now he wants us to understand it; that’s what he says in verse 4. I’m saying more because I want you to understand it. Chapter 3 really began with him starting to pray, “For this reason I, Paul, prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles—” and then he just stops, and you have a parenthesis from verse 2 to 13. And he picks up the prayer in verse 14 again by saying the same thing, “For this reason I bow my knees before the Father.” It’s as if he says, “I’m ready to pray that you’ll understand this—oh, I don’t think I can do that yet; I have to tell you some more. You don’t know enough; you don’t know enough. That prayer can’t be answered unless you have further revelation.” So that’s why he unfolds this mystery in these opening thirteen verses.

Now we started last time with the first point, the prisoner of the mystery, the prisoner of the mystery; and this is really important. Paul introduces himself, “I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus.” In chapter 4, verse 1, “Therefore I, the prisoner of the Lord.” He is not talking about some spiritual relationship; he is a prisoner. He is in a prison. And as I said, he may have been there as much as five years. And the reason he’s in that prison is because the Romans rescued him from a mob of Jews in Jerusalem who were going to kill him, murder him on the spot. They took him into protective custody, and then they had him on their hands. They finally take him to prison in Rome, and in his imprisonment he writes this wonderful epistle.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul, as Saul, would have been the least likely man to promote Christian unity. Yet, God had a plan for him:

The Lord doesn’t pick somebody who had had some experience in conciliating Jews and Gentiles. You get that? No, He didn’t pick somebody who had showed he could broker a relationship. He picks a Jew who was killing Gentiles to be the reconciling minister. And in fact, he says, “I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions.” He says more about that in Philippians. He was fanatical, Pharisaical, fanatical Judaism. And God selects a fanatical Jew who hates Gentile[s], and who is as extreme a legalist as is possible, to be the one to preach that Jew and Gentile are one in Christ.

Now how does he convince Paul to do this? It wasn’t easy, verse 15, “But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb”—he knows he was ordained from his mother’s womb to this—“and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood.” Why? Well who would he go to?

When he finally does get to Jerusalem a number of years later, they don’t like the idea that Gentiles are to be accepted into the body of Christ even then. So who’s going to come and be an ally to him? No one necessarily. So what do you do? He said, “I didn’t go to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me. I didn’t even go to the apostles because the message would probably not be understandable to them. I went away to Arabia”—Nabataean Arabia, east and south from the land of Israel—“and returned once more to Damascus. Then”—verse 18—“three years later I went to Jerusalem.” Oh.

How long did it take for Paul to get this through his thick skull? Apparently three years before he was going to test-drive this in Jerusalem. This is just too extreme, too extreme. So he’s converted; he goes to Arabia; at some point he comes back to Damascus. Three years of divine revelation from Christ to transform this killer of Gentile Christians into one who’s the apostle to the Gentiles and has the responsibility to bring Jew and Gentile together in the church.

So back to verse 3 of Ephesians 3, “By revelation was made known to me the mystery, as I wrote in brief. By referring to this, when you read you can understand my insight into the mystery of Christ.” “The Lord gave me insight”—sunesis—“the Lord gave me understanding over all that period of time, that the mystery of Christ was to be the message to preach, which in other generations,” verse 5, “was known.” And the ministry of Paul is to preach Christ to the Gentiles, and to the Jew and Gentiles, that there is one body of Jew and Gentile, one in Christ.

Now that’s the prisoner of the mystery. At least let me give you a second point: the planning of the mystery, verses 5 and 6, the planning of the mystery. And this is pretty evident by now. What is a mystery of Christ? It is that “which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.”

So a mystery is not something that is intended to be obscure or oblique. A mystery, specifically the term mustērion in the New Testament, refers to something hidden in the past and revealed in the new. Other generations it wasn’t made known; now it is revealed. And he said it was “revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit.” By the revelation of the Spirit, all Scripture is given by inspiration of God. All divine revelation comes by the agency of the Holy Spirit.

And it came to the apostles. Now “apostles” in the sense here, as you would obviously know it, of the twelve—minus Judas, plus Matthias, plus Paul—these are chosen men, and there was a criteria for that choice. Listen to 1 Corinthians 9:1; Paul says, “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” What was the qualification for an apostle? He had to have seen Christ and seen the risen Christ. And Paul had that experience on the Damascus Road and a couple of other times as well.

So this revelation has been revealed to Paul, and not only to Paul but to the holy apostles as well. The other apostles had come to understand this, but it was Paul’s unique responsibility to go to the Gentiles. And the apostles were then to proclaim this. John gives us a wonderful picture of that, 1 John 1, verses 1 to 3. Here’s John giving us kind of a rundown on the apostles’ ministry. He’s speaking in the plural for himself and the other apostles: “What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the Word of Life.” The Word of Life is Christ

So John is telling us, basically coming back behind Paul and bolstering Paul’s purpose, we all were called to this: We were all called to proclaim Christ. But Paul particularly had this responsibility of bringing Jew and Gentile together. And that’s what verse 6 is saying: “to be specific, that the Gentiles are fellow heirs and fellow members of the body, and fellow partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” Just an incredibly difficult task.

At some point in the future, God will fulfil His promise to Israel as they, too, convert in great numbers (Romans 11:25-28):

God is not through with Israel; He’s going to go back and save Israel. He is now calling out His church, but His promises to Israel cannot be revoked because the gifts and callings of God are not subject to change.

So when the church is complete and the fullness of the Gentiles has come in, the Lord will then turn to the salvation of Israel, as He promised. In the future they will look on the One they’ve pierced, and they will mourn for Him as an only son—meaning they’ll see Christ for who He was—and salvation will come to Israel, and all Israel will be saved. But at the front end, this was a profoundly difficult ministry. And it cost Paul his life, a price he was willing to pay, because his stewardship was given to him by God.

The rest of Ephesians 3 follows:

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family[c] in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

20 Now to him who is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think, according to the power at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

In Ephesians 4, Paul begins a focus on Christian behaviours, telling the Ephesians how they can ‘put on a new self’ through spiritual renewal in the likeness of God.

Next time — Ephesians 4:17-24

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.

Ephesians 1:1-2

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,

To the saints who are in Ephesus, and are faithful[a] in Christ Jesus:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

————————————————————————————–

Today’s post begins a brief exploration of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.

It will be brief, because most of its six chapters are in the Lectionary. As such, I will include the content of the chapters in each post, because it is such a beautiful letter about the Church.

Both Matthew Henry and John MacArthur say that this letter is a handbook for the Church. Also, Paul was divinely inspired to reveal certain mysteries about the Gospel and God’s plan for the Church.

Furthermore, both commentators say that whether Paul actually addressed the book specifically to the Ephesians is in question. Some early commentaries omitted mentioning the church in Ephesus and had a blank space instead, suggesting it could have also been sent elsewhere. It could be argued that this letter was intended to apply to all the churches in Asia Minor.

Henry‘s commentary tells us how it was seen to be attached to Ephesus (emphases mine):

SOME think that this epistle to the Ephesians was a circular letter sent to several churches, and that the copy directed to the Ephesians happened to be taken into the canon, and so it came to bear that particular inscription. And they have been induced the rather to think this because it is the only one of all Paul’s epistles that has nothing in it peculiarly adapted to the state or case of that particular church; but it has much of common concernment to all Christians, and especially to all who, having been Gentiles in times past, were converted to Christianity. But then it may be observed, on the other hand, that the epistle is expressly inscribed (Ephesians 1:1) to the saints which are at Ephesus; and in the close of it he tells them that he had sent Tychicus unto them, whom, in 2 Timothy 4:12, he says he had sent to Ephesus.

Paul wrote Ephesians from prison:

It is an epistle that bears date out of a prison: and some have observed that what this apostle wrote when he was a prisoner had the greatest relish and savour in it of the things of God. When his tribulations did abound, his consolations and experiences did much more abound, whence we may observe that the afflictive exercises of God’s people, and particularly of his ministers, often tend to the advantage of others as well as to their own.

In addition to revealing mysteries of the Gospel and laying out a pattern for the Church, it is also theologically rich:

The apostle’s design is to settle and establish the Ephesians in the truth, and further to acquaint them with the mystery of the gospel, in order to it. In the former part he represents the great privilege of the Ephesians, who, having been in time past idolatrous heathens, were now converted to Christianity and received into covenant with God, which he illustrates from a view of their deplorable state before their conversion, Ephesians 1:1-3; Ephesians 1:1-3. In the latter part (which we have in the Ephesians 4:1-6) he instructs them in the principal duties of religion, both personal and relative, and exhorts and quickens them to the faithful discharge of them. Zanchy [Italian Reformer Girolamo Zanchi, 1516-1590] observes that we have here an epitome of the whole Christian doctrine, and of almost all the chief heads of divinity.

In 1978, John MacArthur said that he used Ephesians as a guide to modelling the principles of his own Grace Community Church, founded in 1969:

All that I had ever dreamed a church could be came to crystallization in my mind as I studied Ephesians. It formed, for me, the whole pattern of the church: what it is, how it operates, everything just came together in the study of Ephesians.

The result of that study was I wrote a book entitled The Church, the Body of Christ. Those months that we spent studying Ephesians eight years ago – seven or eight years ago – were the months that formed the character of Grace Church in terms of its present dimensions of ministry.

Grace Community Church is a church built on the principles of the book of Ephesians. In those days, I suppose we maybe had 400 or 500 people who studied with us all the way through the book. And now, at this point, we’ve got 5,000 people, and so the elders felt there were a whole lot of folks who ought to know what Grace Church is built on. And so, we’re going to study the book of Ephesians together.

I’m so excited about this because it’s a book that I absolutely love. I’ve taught it many, many times in other situations, and the riches of this book are unlimited. Really, more than any other book in the Bible, I feel this book was the catalyst that launched Grace Church. And, people, if you’re a part of Grace Church, you are a part of something that is indeed unusual, a church that has gone from 500 to 5,000 people in 9 years, a church where so many ministries have developed. It’s just really an incredible thing, and it isn’t due to one individual; it’s due to the will of God, but it’s due also to an understanding of the principles of the book of Ephesians, a very vital book.

When I think about how God has expanded this ministry, it just boggles my mind. We were talking the other day that the receipts, over the last two weeks, that have been given to Grace Church by you, God’s people, for the ministry here are more than the entire year’s giving of 1969. It’s incredible what God has done.

He describes the book in more detail:

If you get a handle on the book of Ephesians, you – some people have called it the bank of the believer. This is your spiritual checkbook, and every time you write a check out of this bank, your funds are non-diminished. In other words, you can write checks on all the riches of God as often as you want, for as much as you want and never diminish the account. Isn’t that nice? That’s the book of Ephesians. It’s a book about riches. It’s a book about fullnesses. It’s a book about being filled with things. It’s a book about inheritance. It’s a book that just tells us what we own in Christ. Some have called it the treasure house of the Bible

You can draw out all you want, all the time, and never diminish your account. But you don’t know that unless you understand the principles in the book of Ephesians.

So, you want to get the book of Ephesians and get it down good. It’ll absolutely revolutionize your lifeIt will teach you who you are, how rich you are, and how you are to use those riches for God’s glory

God is unloading all of His riches in the book of Ephesians. The word “grace” is used 12 times, and the word “grace” means God’s unmerited, undeserved kindness and favor. Grace is behind all of this lavishness that God pours out. So, the word “grace” is used 12 times. The word “glory” is used eight times. The word “inheritance” is used four times. The word “riches” is used five times. The words “fullness” and “filled” are used seven times. And the key to everything is because we are in Christ that all the fullness of the riches of the inheritance of the glory of His grace is ours. Do you see?

Because we are one with Christ in His Church, because we are redeemed, this incredible fullness is ours. Maybe the sum of it all is in chapter 3, “That you might be filled with all the fullness of God.” It’s just an incredible thought. That literally the believer can be filled with all the fullness of God Himself; that we would know the unsearchable riches of Christ; that we would be able to do exceeding abundantly above all we could ask or think according to the power that works in us.

You see, it’s all such magnanimous, grandiose concepts: fullness, riches, inheritance, wealth, resources – all in the book of Ephesians. There are enough resources in heaven to cover all past debts, present liabilities, and future needs and still not diminish your account. That’s God’s plan

So, the guarantee for the believer in all of this is where it says it’s in Christ. And as secure as Christ is in the plan of God and in the love of the father, and as available as the resources of God are to Christ, so available are they to you. See? Because in our union with Christ, we become, according to Romans 8, joint – what? – heirs. And as Hebrews says, “He is not ashamed to call us brother.” And, “He that is joined to the spirit” – 1 Corinthians 6:17 – or “joined to the Lord,” rather – “is one spirit,” so that we have what He has. We possess what He possesses; all His riches are at our disposal.

Peter calls it an inheritance that’s laid away incorruptible and undefiled, reserved in heaven for us. That’s Ephesians. Now, it’s all in Christ. It’s all because we’re in Christ. And if you’re not in Christ, you’re poor; you’re destitute; you’re a pauper; you’re a beggar. If you’re in Christ, you’re rich beyond all wild imagination. It’s all based on Him. It’s not anything we did; it’s not anything we earned. It’s all His.

So, this is your bankbook. This is the treasure house. This is where you check out your resources. And in the first – now watch it – in the first three chapters, he tells you what they are, and in the last three, he tells you how to use them. You’ve got to get it all. You’ve got to stay with us for the whole thing. You can’t spend them if you don’t know what they are; and if you know what they are, you got to know how to spend them.

So, the first three chapters, the theology of the rich believer; the practice in chapters 4 to 6. And there are other things that are involved, but that’s just the main thing. Now, let me go a step further and turn the corner a little bit in your thinking. Just kind of file that category of riches related to Ephesians, and I want to talk about another dimension. It not only talks about our riches, but it talks about the whole idea that all this is ours because we’re in the Church. Okay? It’s all ours because we’re in the Church …

Now, the book, then, discusses the Church. It discusses what the Church is, how the Church functions, how we function in the Church, and it discusses the riches of the Church

The book of Ephesians presents the mystery of the Church. The mystery of the Church … it’s been revealed to Paul.

And what was it? That the Gentiles are fellow heirs of the same body, partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. In other words, the hidden secret of the past was revealed to Paul. And what was it? It was that the Gentile and the Jew would be in one body in the Church. Now, stay with that; we’re going to expand it a little bit.

Let’s talk about how God reveals things. This will help you to understand this. There are three ways, basically, that I want to mention to you. Number one, there are some things God never tells anybody. Okay? God has some secrets that He never reveals to anybody any time. These are secrets. You just don’t know them; I don’t know them; nobody knows them. God doesn’t reveal them. Deuteronomy 29:29 tells about these things. It says this, “The secret things belong unto the Lord our God: but the things which are revealed belong unto us and our children forever”

Second category. God has some secrets that He reveals to special people all through history

In Psalm 25:14, it says this, “The secret of the Lord is with them that fear Him; and He will show them His covenant.” Proverbs 3:32 says, “His secret is with the righteous.” Amos 3:7, “He reveals His secrets unto His servants.” So, the righteous, the servants, the people of God, those that fear Him, they know His truth. Now, who are they? Believers. You and me. The fact of the matter is there are some things that nobody knows. The second part is there are some things that only believers know. We know things the unsaved don’t know. Right? …

There’s a third category I want you to get. There are some things which God keeps secret from everybody, for a period of time, and finally reveals to His special people in the New Testament. All right? Now don’t get lost. Point one, God keeps some secrets permanently. Point two, He reveals some things to all His people through all history. Point three, He keeps some secrets through history until the New Testament and reveals them only to the New Testament people.

Do you know we know things that the Old Testament saints didn’t know? That’s right. The New Testament wasn’t written yet. The New Testament is new truth for a new age, sacred secrets revealed by God. In fact, the Old Testament saints used to look to try to see what things meant. Read it in Peter’s epistle. He says they were searching what this thing was they were writing. Do you know that the angels long to understand some of the things that we know such as the meaning of salvation? There are some things that God has kept secret through all history and finally just revealed in the New Testament. Now, these are the mysteries. These are the mustērion, the Greek word

Now, by the way, the man who was given, for the most part, the job of revealing the mysteries was Paul the apostle. He was the mystery man. He was the one to whom God revealed the sacred secrets that had been hidden from the Old Testament saints.

So, these are the mysteries. So, when you see the word “mystery” in chapter 3, verse 3, it simply means a spiritual truth never before revealed but now revealed in the New Testament. New truth for a new age …

So, when Jesus talked, He talked in a way, when He was on earth, that His people would understand it, and the unbelieving would not, and He talked in parables. Right? So, they said to Him … “Why do you speak in parables?” And He said, “Because it is given unto you to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given.” Again, the mysteries are something hidden that God reveals to His special people in the New Testament age …

Where does He reign now? In the heart of the believer. He is enthroned. In the kingdom, will there be peace? Yes. In the heart of the believer, is there peace that passes understanding? Yes. In the kingdom, Christ will dispense salvation. He has dispensed it in our lives now. In the kingdom there will be joy and happiness and blessing, and things will flourish, and so do they in the life of an obedient believer now. You see?

At this point, it is worth noting that yesterday’s Gospel reading — for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (Year C) — pertains to this, particularly these verses from John 14, when Jesus was giving His final discourse to the Apostles after the Last Supper:

14:23 Jesus answered him, “Those who love me will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them.

14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.

Let us now move on to Ephesians 1, keeping those verses in mind. This is serendipitous.

Paul calls himself an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God and greets the congregation as saints who are faithful in Him (verse 1).

Henry has a splendid analysis of the verse:

Here is, 1. The title St. Paul takes to himself, as belonging to him–Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ, c. He reckoned it a great honour to be employed by Christ, as one of his messengers to the sons of men. The apostles were prime officers in the Christian church, being extraordinary ministers appointed for a time only. They were furnished by their great Lord with extraordinary gifts and the immediate assistance of the Spirit, that they might be fitted for publishing and spreading the gospel and for governing the church in its infant state. Such a one Paul was, and that not by the will of man conferring that office upon him, nor by his own intrusion into it but by the will of God, very expressly and plainly intimated to him, he being immediately called (as the other apostles were) by Christ himself to the work. Every faithful minister of Christ (though his call and office are not of so extraordinary a nature) may, with our apostle, reflect on it as an honour and comfort to himself that he is what he is by the will of God. 2. The persons to whom this epistle is sent: To the saints who are at Ephesus, that is, to the Christians who were members of the church at Ephesus, the metropolis of Asia. He calls them saints, for such they were in profession, such they were bound to be in truth and reality, and many of them were such. All Christians must be saints; and, if they come not under that character on earth, they will never be saints in glory. He calls them the faithful in Christ Jesus, believers in him, and firm and constant in their adherence to him and to his truths and ways.

As ever, Paul stamps his apostolic authority on his work. MacArthur explains why he did so:

… this is the single credential that he lays out: “an apostle of Christ Jesus.” Even though he stood outside the twelve—he was maybe overshadowed by them in some sense—he wants us to understand that he is a legitimate apostle. He does this with no vanity, no self-glory. In fact, he says, “I am what I am by the grace of God.” He says, “We have received grace and apostleship,” Romans 1:5.

But what do we know about his apostolic calling? When he called himself an apostle, four things were in view; let’s look at them just briefly. First, his apostolic call. That is to say, it had to be directly from the Lord. An apostle was one called directly by the Lord Himself—as he was, on the Damascus Road. Only fourteen men were ever given this call: the twelve; Judas is out, Mathias is in, that makes the thirteenth; and Paul is the fourteenth. He had a divine calling. His life was interrupted on the Damascus Road; certainly the most dramatic calling of any apostle by Christ Himself—even the risen, exalted, ascended Christ.

The second thing that characterizes an apostle is that the notion of his identity is wrapped up in the One he represents. He belonged to Christ. He frequently refers to himself as a slave of Christ. This life was not his own; he was the possession of Christ, bought and paid for on the cross, so that he would say, “For me, to live is Christ.”

Now apostle means “sent one.” So here is one who has received a unique call personally from Christ, who belongs to Christ as a slave, for the sole purpose of fulfilling, thirdly, a commission. Apostolos means a sent one. His commission, in particular, was to the Gentiles.

The fourth element of it simply is to understand that he had power. An apostle is given delegated authority; he can speak for the one he represents. Even in the Jewish setting, the Sanhedrin was a supreme court of the Jews; and in matters of religion, they had authority over every Jew in the world. And when the Sanhedrin came to a decision about anything, and that decision as given then to the public, it was carried out by a messenger called an apostolos and taken to those who needed to hear it. When such an apostle of the Sanhedrin went out, he didn’t go with his own message or his own authority—behind him was the authority of the supreme court of Israel.

So it was with Paul. He had authority granted to him by Christ. That authority was validated by signs and wonders and miraculous things, as God validated him as a true apostle by supernatural signs. Not only is he an apostle, but he is “an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God.” This is double authority, from the Father and the Son. God sovereignly directed the work, specially equipped the apostle called the apostle, as did Christ Himself.

Again, although many translations mention the congregation at Ephesus, that was not the case in the earliest manuscripts:

“At Ephesus”—though this letter is directed to the Ephesians, and I think that’s legitimately to whom Paul wrote it, there are no personal aspects in this letter. There are no references to local people or local events or local issues in this church. And in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank where it says, “who are at Ephesus”—“who are at blank.” Where did such manuscripts come from, and why did that occur? We can’t be certain, but many scholars believe that this was such a general letter that it was circulated to all the churches, not only in Ephesus and close by, but all through Asia Minor—the seven churches that are listed in the book of Revelation chapters 2 and 3. In Colossians, in fact, Paul refers to a letter from Laodicea. Some feel this might be that letter; we can’t know that. But nonetheless, in some ancient manuscripts there’s a blank there so that any church could fill its own name in, and it would be appropriate to them.

MacArthur gives us more information about Paul’s imprisonment, which Henry dates as AD 61, and the other letters that he wrote during that time:

It’s written from Rome. Paul is a prisoner during his third missionary tour. It’s carried by Tychicus and Onesimus, along with Colossians and Philemon, to the churches and to Philemon.

MacArthur says that calling the congregation saints refers not only to their justification by faith through grace but also sanctification on their Christian journey:

to show you that, 1 Corinthians chapter 1. And you might say of all the people who didn’t act saintly, the Corinthians probably headed the list. But listen to how he begins 1 Corinthians: “Paul, called as an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, and Sosthenes our brother, to the church of God which is at Corinth”—that’s the whole church at Corinth—“to those who have been sanctified in Christ Jesus, saints by calling.” If you’re a saint, you’re not only justified, you’re in the process of being sanctified. And the Corinthians seem like some of the least sanctified saints—and yet that is how Paul describes them

There are plenty of scriptures that indicate there’s no such thing as justification without sanctification. One more comes to mind. Acts 26:18, Paul says his commission is to the Gentiles, to whom the Lord is sending him—verse 18, “to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God”—that’s conversion, and—“ that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.” When you put your faith in Christ, you’re not only justified, you’re sanctified; not perfectly sanctified, but you’re on the path of sanctification.

So that, if you are a saint, you also can be designated faithful. That’s why those go together: “to the saints who are faithful.” What does that mean? Pistos, who are believers, who believe in Christ Jesus.

There [was] a movement years ago that I basically took on in The Gospel According to Jesus that said you could be a Christian and completely lose your faith, be an unbelieving believer. Not possible. True believers are justified and sanctified. They are saints who are faithful in Christ Jesus.

So Paul is writing this letter to those saints and faithful believers.

Paul wishes the Ephesians grace and peace from God the Father and His Son Jesus Christ (verse 2).

Henry explains:

The apostolical benediction: Grace be to you, c. This is the token in every epistle and it expresses the apostle’s good-will to his friends, and a real desire of their welfare. By grace we are to understand the free and undeserved love and favour of God, and those graces of the Spirit which proceed from it; by peace all other blessings, spiritual and temporal, the fruits and product of the former. No peace without grace. No peace, nor grace, but from God the Father, and from the Lord Jesus Christ. These peculiar blessings proceed from God, not as a Creator, but as a Father by special relation: and they come from our Lord Jesus Christ, who, having purchased them for his people, has a right to bestow them upon them. Indeed the saints, and the faithful in Christ Jesus, had already received grace and peace; but the increase of these is very desirable, and the best saints stand in need of fresh supplies of the graces of the Spirit, and cannot but desire to improve and grow: and therefore they should pray, each one for himself and all for one another, that such blessings may still abound unto them.

MacArthur focuses on divine grace and divine peace:

First, grace—charis, the kindness of God toward undeserving sinners. Peace, eirēnē. Peace means peace with God, the peace of God, peace with each other. Those are the first blessings: grace and peace. Grace is the fountain; peace is the stream that flows from that fountain.

MacArthur summarises the next set of verses:

In verses 3 through 14, Paul gives one long sentence listing all the spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ: election, sanctification, foreordination, adoption, acceptance, redemption, forgiveness, enrichment, enlightenment, inheritance, sealing, promise, on and on and on. Everything that is ours is laid out in that opening chapter. And, of course, from there you go through the whole treasure house of God’s provision for His people: the treasures of grace, the treasures of glory, the treasures of Christ. In this chapter, running down through verse 14, you will see the work of the Father, you will see the work of the Son, and you’ll see the work of the Spirit. And all of it has one purpose: verse 6, “to the praise of the glory of His grace”; verse 12, “to the praise of His glory”; verse 14, “to the praise of His glory.”

Everything that happens in the life of the church is to the praise of His glory. It is all for His glory—and particularly, the praise of the glory of His grace, praise of the glory of His grace, as we saw in verse 6.

Henry tells us to look at the rest of the chapter as a combination of praises and prayers:

… though it may seem somewhat peculiar in a letter, yet the Spirit of God saw fit that his discourse of divine things in this chapter should be cast into prayers and praises, which, as they are solemn addresses to God, so they convey weighty instructions to others. Prayer may preach; and praise may do so too.

Here is the rest of the chapter:

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us[b] for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight making known[c] to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee[d] of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it,[e] to the praise of his glory.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[f] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 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 one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

Next week, I will look at Ephesians 2 and the first part of Ephesians 3.

Next time — Ephesians 3:13

What follows are the readings for the Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost — Twelfth Sunday after Trinity — August 26, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings continue from 1 Kings and Solomon’s reign after succeeding his father David. God enabled Solomon to build the first temple, which lasted approximately 350 years until the Babylonians destroyed it. The destruction was a divine judgement on God’s chosen people. 2 Chronicles 7 — here and here — gives more information about the magnificence of the temple and God’s instruction to Solomon to remain faithful to Him.

1 Kings 8:(1,6,10-11), 22-30, 41-43

8:1 Then Solomon assembled the elders of Israel and all the heads of the tribes, the leaders of the ancestral houses of the Israelites, before King Solomon in Jerusalem, to bring up the ark of the covenant of the LORD out of the city of David, which is Zion.

8:6 Then the priests brought the ark of the covenant of the LORD to its place, in the inner sanctuary of the house, in the most holy place, underneath the wings of the cherubim.

8:10 And when the priests came out of the holy place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD,

8:11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud; for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.

8:22 Then Solomon stood before the altar of the LORD in the presence of all the assembly of Israel, and spread out his hands to heaven.

8:23 He said, “O LORD, God of Israel, there is no God like you in heaven above or on earth beneath, keeping covenant and steadfast love for your servants who walk before you with all their heart,

8:24 the covenant that you kept for your servant my father David as you declared to him; you promised with your mouth and have this day fulfilled with your hand.

8:25 Therefore, O LORD, God of Israel, keep for your servant my father David that which you promised him, saying, ‘There shall never fail you a successor before me to sit on the throne of Israel, if only your children look to their way, to walk before me as you have walked before me.’

8:26 Therefore, O God of Israel, let your word be confirmed, which you promised to your servant my father David.

8:27 “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built!

8:28 Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O LORD my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today;

8:29 that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place.

8:30 Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.

8:41 “Likewise when a foreigner, who is not of your people Israel, comes from a distant land because of your name

8:42 –for they shall hear of your great name, your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm–when a foreigner comes and prays toward this house,

8:43 then hear in heaven your dwelling place, and do according to all that the foreigner calls to you, so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and so that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.

Psalm

The Psalm is about God’s pleasing dwelling place and the happiness of His faithful.

Psalm 84

84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD of hosts!

84:2 My soul longs, indeed it faints for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh sing for joy to the living God.

84:3 Even the sparrow finds a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may lay her young, at your altars, O LORD of hosts, my King and my God.

84:4 Happy are those who live in your house, ever singing your praise. Selah

84:5 Happy are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.

84:6 As they go through the valley of Baca they make it a place of springs; the early rain also covers it with pools.

84:7 They go from strength to strength; the God of gods will be seen in Zion.

84:8 O LORD God of hosts, hear my prayer; give ear, O God of Jacob! Selah

84:9 Behold our shield, O God; look on the face of your anointed.

84:10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than live in the tents of wickedness.

84:11 For the LORD God is a sun and shield; he bestows favor and honor. No good thing does the LORD withhold from those who walk uprightly.

84:12 O LORD of hosts, happy is everyone who trusts in you.

First reading

Joshua tells the Israelites to remain faithful to God, who mercifully watched over them from Abraham’s time to the deliverance from bondage in Egypt to the present. This was Joshua’s final message to the tribes of Israel. He died soon afterwards.

Joshua 24:1-2a, 14-18

24:1 Then Joshua gathered all the tribes of Israel to Shechem, and summoned the elders, the heads, the judges, and the officers of Israel; and they presented themselves before God.

24:2a And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors–Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor–lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.

24:14 “Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.

24:15 Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the River or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living; but as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

24:16 Then the people answered, “Far be it from us that we should forsake the LORD to serve other gods;

24:17 for it is the LORD our God who brought us and our ancestors up from the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, and who did those great signs in our sight. He protected us along all the way that we went, and among all the peoples through whom we passed;

24:18 and the LORD drove out before us all the peoples, the Amorites who lived in the land. Therefore we also will serve the LORD, for he is our God.

Psalm

The Psalm acknowledges the mercy God shows to His faithful.

Psalm 34:15-22

34:15 The eyes of the LORD are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their cry.

34:16 The face of the LORD is against evildoers, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.

34:17 When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears, and rescues them from all their troubles.

34:18 The LORD is near to the brokenhearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.

34:19 Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD rescues them from them all.

34:20 He keeps all their bones; not one of them will be broken.

34:21 Evil brings death to the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

34:22 The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

Epistle

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians contains many familiar and powerful verses about faith.

Ephesians 6:10-20

6:10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power.

6:11 Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.

6:12 For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

6:13 Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.

6:14 Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.

6:15 As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.

6:16 With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.

6:17 Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

6:18 Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.

6:19 Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel,

6:20 for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Gospel

This passage concludes Jesus’s words to the crowd in Capernaum whom He had fed the day before (the Feeding of the Five Thousand). I am happy to see that the 2005 version of the Lectionary that the Vanderbilt Divinity Library uses includes the difficult verse, John 6:66:

Some traditions use versions of the Revised Common Lectionary that differ slightly from the version on this RCL website. Differences between lectionary selections in your denomination’s published materials and what appears on this site may be a result of variations in adoption of the RCL by your denomination.

I have highlighted verse 66 in purple.

John 6:56-69

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sometimes we need reminding that a) Jesus always knew who the believers were during his earthly ministry, b) only God the Father can give people faith in Jesus and c) He lost many followers that day.

What follows are the readings for the Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 2 Samuel continue. To bring those of us less learned in the Old Testament up to date in the story of David (see last week’s reading), the child that David had sired when he lay with Bathsheba when she was still married to Uriah the Hittite died after seven days. The two had married after Uriah’s engineered death on the battlefield. She became pregnant again and gave birth to one of the most famous men in biblical history, Solomon (2 Samuel 12).

David had older children, among them two sons — Ammon (his firstborn) and Absalom — and a daughter, Tamar. Ammon committed incest with Tamar, taking her by force, despite her attempting to resist his advances (2 Samuel 13). Absalom took the distraught Tamar into his house. Whilst David, when he found out, was furious with Ammon, he did nothing to punish him. Absalom, meanwhile, loathed his brother for what he had done to their sister.

To avenge his sister’s rape, Absalom arranged for his servants to get Ammon drunk and then murder him. Jonadab, David’s nephew, explained to him (David) the reason for the murder. While David was finding out from Jonadab what had happened, Absalom left to go into exile for three years. David, no longer having Ammon, missed Absalom terribly.

David asked Joab, whom he deeply trusted, to bring Absalom back home, out of exile (2 Samuel 14). However, David told Joab to instruct Absalom not to come in contact with him (David). Consequently, Absalom did not see his father in Jerusalem for two years. He was a very handsome young man, with a head full of abundant hair. During his time away from his father, Absalom had three sons and a daughter, whom he named after his sister Tamar.

One day, Absalom sent for Joab, as he wanted to see his father David. However, Joab ignored Absalom’s two requests. To get his attention, Absalom told his (Absalom’s) two servants to set Joab’s field of barley on fire. The field was next to one of Absalom’s. Joab finally agreed to take the request to David. David summoned Absalom and forgave him for setting up the murder of Ammon.

Absalom then assumed the role of being guardian and gatekeeper for (law)suits that David was supposed to judge (2 Samuel 15). He sent everyone home as they approached the city gates, saying that no one was available to hear their cases. As such, he became a hero to the Israelites.

Four years later, Absalom asked David’s permission to visit Hebron, as he said he wanted to fulfil an obligation he had made to the Lord. David duly granted his permission, and Absalom left. However, Absalom’s goal was to make himself king of Hebron, effectively usurping his father. David left in pursuit, accompanied by his officials, the people of the city and most of his household (some had to stay behind).

David, through careful plotting, managed to foil Absalom’s coup via one of the co-conspirators, Ahithophel (2 Samuel 16 and 17). A battle later resulted in the forest of Ephraim and Absalom died. Now on to this Sunday’s reading:

2 Samuel 18:5-9, 15, 31-33

18:5 The king ordered Joab and Abishai and Ittai, saying, “Deal gently for my sake with the young man Absalom.” And all the people heard when the king gave orders to all the commanders concerning Absalom.

18:6 So the army went out into the field against Israel; and the battle was fought in the forest of Ephraim.

18:7 The men of Israel were defeated there by the servants of David, and the slaughter there was great on that day, twenty thousand men.

18:8 The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.

18:9 Absalom happened to meet the servants of David. Absalom was riding on his mule, and the mule went under the thick branches of a great oak. His head caught fast in the oak, and he was left hanging between heaven and earth, while the mule that was under him went on.

18:15 And ten young men, Joab’s armor-bearers, surrounded Absalom and struck him, and killed him.

18:31 Then the Cushite came; and the Cushite said, “Good tidings for my lord the king! For the LORD has vindicated you this day, delivering you from the power of all who rose up against you.”

18:32 The king said to the Cushite, “Is it well with the young man Absalom?” The Cushite answered, “May the enemies of my lord the king, and all who rise up to do you harm, be like that young man.”

18:33 The king was deeply moved, and went up to the chamber over the gate, and wept; and as he went, he said, “O my son Absalom, my son, my son Absalom! Would I had died instead of you, O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Psalm

The Psalm reflects hope in the Lord during times of desolation:

Psalm 130

130:1 Out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD.

130:2 Lord, hear my voice! Let your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications!

130:3 If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?

130:4 But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.

130:5 I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope;

130:6 my soul waits for the Lord more than those who watch for the morning, more than those who watch for the morning.

130:7 O Israel, hope in the LORD! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is great power to redeem.

130:8 It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.

First reading

These second choices of first readings are from various books in the Old Testament. In this passage, the prophet Elijah is distraught, having been forced into the wilderness by the unrepentant among God’s chosen people who refused to listen to him. Yet, the Lord was with Elijah:

1 Kings 19:4-8

19:4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness, and came and sat down under a solitary broom tree. He asked that he might die: “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”

19:5 Then he lay down under the broom tree and fell asleep. Suddenly an angel touched him and said to him, “Get up and eat.”

19:6 He looked, and there at his head was a cake baked on hot stones, and a jar of water. He ate and drank, and lay down again.

19:7 The angel of the LORD came a second time, touched him, and said, “Get up and eat, otherwise the journey will be too much for you.”

19:8 He got up, and ate and drank; then he went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.

Psalm

The Psalm reflects the gratitude we feel when God is with us and delivers us from trying, isolating circumstances:

Psalm 34:1-8

34:1 I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.

34:2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

34:3 O magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together.

34:4 I sought the LORD, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

34:5 Look to him, and be radiant; so your faces shall never be ashamed.

34:6 This poor soul cried, and was heard by the LORD, and was saved from every trouble.

34:7 The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

34:8 O taste and see that the LORD is good; happy are those who take refuge in him.

Epistle

The reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians concerns Christian behaviour, focussing on showing brotherly love and pursuing truth:

Ephesians 4:25-5:2

4:25 So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.

4:26 Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,

4:27 and do not make room for the devil.

4:28 Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy.

4:29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

4:30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption.

4:31 Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice,

4:32 and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

5:1 Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children,

5:2 and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Gospel

The Gospel reading continues with Jesus’s words in Capernaum, the day after the Feeding of the Five Thousand:

John 6:35, 41-51

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

6:41 Then the Jews began to complain about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.”

6:42 They were saying, “Is not this Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I have come down from heaven’?”

6:43 Jesus answered them, “Do not complain among yourselves.

6:44 No one can come to me unless drawn by the Father who sent me; and I will raise that person up on the last day.

6:45 It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught by God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to me.

6:46 Not that anyone has seen the Father except the one who is from God; he has seen the Father.

6:47 Very truly, I tell you, whoever believes has eternal life.

6:48 I am the bread of life.

6:49 Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died.

6:50 This is the bread that comes down from heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.

6:51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

These words lost Jesus many disciples (John 6:66). Later, in private with His Apostles, He also said that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

What follows are the readings for the Tenth Sunday after Pentecost, August 5, 2018.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

Readings from 2 Samuel continue. The story of David and Bathsheba progresses. David had her husband Uriah the Hittite killed in battle, so that he could take Bathsheba, who was carrying his child, for a wife. Through the words of the Lord, the prophet Nathan told David how seriously he had sinned.

2 Samuel 11:26 – 12:13a

11:26 When the wife of Uriah heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.

11:27 When the mourning was over, David sent and brought her to his house, and she became his wife, and bore him a son. But the thing that David had done displeased the LORD,

12:1 and the LORD sent Nathan to David. He came to him, and said to him, “There were two men in a certain city, the one rich and the other poor.

12:2 The rich man had very many flocks and herds;

12:3 but the poor man had nothing but one little ewe lamb, which he had bought. He brought it up, and it grew up with him and with his children; it used to eat of his meager fare, and drink from his cup, and lie in his bosom, and it was like a daughter to him.

12:4 Now there came a traveler to the rich man, and he was loath to take one of his own flock or herd to prepare for the wayfarer who had come to him, but he took the poor man’s lamb, and prepared that for the guest who had come to him.”

12:5 Then David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man. He said to Nathan, “As the LORD lives, the man who has done this deserves to die;

12:6 he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.”

12:7 Nathan said to David, “You are the man! Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: I anointed you king over Israel, and I rescued you from the hand of Saul;

12:8 I gave you your master’s house, and your master’s wives into your bosom, and gave you the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would have added as much more.

12:9 Why have you despised the word of the LORD, to do what is evil in his sight? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and have taken his wife to be your wife, and have killed him with the sword of the Ammonites.

12:10 Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, for you have despised me, and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.

12:11 Thus says the LORD: I will raise up trouble against you from within your own house; and I will take your wives before your eyes, and give them to your neighbor, and he shall lie with your wives in the sight of this very sun.

12:12 For you did it secretly; but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.”

12:13a David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the LORD.”

Psalm

The Psalm will be familiar to many, with the sinner’s prayerful request to be purged and cleansed of all sin. Note the reference to Original Sin in verse 5: we are all born with sin.

Psalm 51:1-12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

51:11 Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me.

51:12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit.

First reading

The second choice of first readings go to various books in the Old Testament. Today’s is the well-known story of the Lord’s provision of manna from Heaven for the complaining Israelites. This ties in well with today’s Gospel.

Exodus 16:2-4, 9-15

16:2 The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness.

16:3 The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the LORD in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

16:4 Then the LORD said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not.

16:9 Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the LORD, for he has heard your complaining.'”

16:10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the LORD appeared in the cloud.

16:11 The LORD spoke to Moses and said,

16:12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the LORD your God.'”

16:13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.

16:14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.

16:15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the LORD has given you to eat.

Psalm

The Psalm recalls the Lord’s merciful provision of manna for His people in the desert.

Psalm 78:23-29

78:23 Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;

78:24 he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.

78:25 Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.

78:26 He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;

78:27 he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;

78:28 he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.

78:29 And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.

Epistle

Readings from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians continue. The following verses, especially 4 through 6, will be most familiar. This is Christianity, concisely expressed and writ large.

Ephesians 4:1-16

4:1 I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,

4:2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,

4:3 making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

4:4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,

4:5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism,

4:6 one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.

4:7 But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift.

4:8 Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.”

4:9 (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth?

4:10 He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)

4:11 The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,

4:12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,

4:13 until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.

4:14 We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.

4:15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

4:16 from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Gospel

This ties in well with the aforementioned account from Exodus about manna. Jesus had fed the Five Thousand hours earlier. This is a continuation in Capernaum the next day. Note His rebuke to the people in verses 26 and 27. He also brings up the manna God provided the Israelites and says that He is the ‘bread of life’. This lost him many disciples (John 6:66) and also mentioned that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

John 6:24-35

6:24 So when the crowd saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they themselves got into the boats and went to Capernaum looking for Jesus.

6:25 When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, “Rabbi, when did you come here?”

6:26 Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves.

6:27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.”

6:28 Then they said to him, “What must we do to perform the works of God?”

6:29 Jesus answered them, “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.”

6:30 So they said to him, “What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing?

6:31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.'”

6:32 Then Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven.

6:33 For the bread of God is that which comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

6:34 They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.”

6:35 Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

I jolly well hope that excellent sermons will enlighten churchgoers around the world on this particular Sunday. These are highly important readings upon which to reflect. John 6 is one of my favourite chapters in the New Testament. Jesus spoke many ‘home truths’ that day.

What follows are the readings for the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost, the Eighth Sunday after Trinity.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary cycle.

There are two sets of first readings, each with an accompanying Psalm from which the celebrant can choose. I have given the second selection blue subheadings below. Emphases mine throughout.

First reading

While David sent his troops out to battle against the Ammonites, he remained in Jerusalem in the lap of luxury. This idleness brought him into serious sin through sleeping with Uriah the Hittite’s wife Bathsheba. She became pregnant. Uriah returned at David’s request. David encouraged Uriah to go home to Bathsheba, so that it would appear that he had impregnated her. Uriah, being loyal to God and to his mission, refused to go. David got Uriah drunk, but, still, he refused to go home. David sent Uriah to deliver a letter to Joab, leading the battle against the Ammonites, to put Uriah in the front line so that he would be killed. Otherwise, in time, Uriah would have figured out the David was the father of Bathsheba’s child. Uriah’s death is recorded later in the chapter.

Adultery is dangerous business.

2 Samuel 11:1-15

11:1 In the spring of the year, the time when kings go out to battle, David sent Joab with his officers and all Israel with him; they ravaged the Ammonites, and besieged Rabbah. But David remained at Jerusalem.

11:2 It happened, late one afternoon, when David rose from his couch and was walking about on the roof of the king’s house, that he saw from the roof a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful.

11:3 David sent someone to inquire about the woman. It was reported, “This is Bathsheba daughter of Eliam, the wife of Uriah the Hittite.”

11:4 So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. (Now she was purifying herself after her period.) Then she returned to her house.

11:5 The woman conceived; and she sent and told David, “I am pregnant.”

11:6 So David sent word to Joab, “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” And Joab sent Uriah to David.

11:7 When Uriah came to him, David asked how Joab and the people fared, and how the war was going.

11:8 Then David said to Uriah, “Go down to your house, and wash your feet.” Uriah went out of the king’s house, and there followed him a present from the king.

11:9 But Uriah slept at the entrance of the king’s house with all the servants of his lord, and did not go down to his house.

11:10 When they told David, “Uriah did not go down to his house,” David said to Uriah, “You have just come from a journey. Why did you not go down to your house?”

11:11 Uriah said to David, “The ark and Israel and Judah remain in booths; and my lord Joab and the servants of my lord are camping in the open field; shall I then go to my house, to eat and to drink, and to lie with my wife? As you live, and as your soul lives, I will not do such a thing.”

11:12 Then David said to Uriah, “Remain here today also, and tomorrow I will send you back.” So Uriah remained in Jerusalem that day. On the next day,

11:13 David invited him to eat and drink in his presence and made him drunk; and in the evening he went out to lie on his couch with the servants of his lord, but he did not go down to his house.

11:14 In the morning David wrote a letter to Joab, and sent it by the hand of Uriah.

11:15 In the letter he wrote, “Set Uriah in the forefront of the hardest fighting, and then draw back from him, so that he may be struck down and die.”

Psalm

The Psalm warns against foolishness in denying God and also warns against sin. However, God will deliver the righteous.

Psalm 14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First reading

This reading goes well with today’s Gospel account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand.

Elisha had served three kings and done the Lord’s work during a time of divine judgement through famine. The Lord worked through Elisha to keep the people fed during this time. The verses preceding the passage below describe how the prophet made contaminated food clean by adding grain. Today’s passage describes how he was able to feed 100 people on small amounts of food — the first fruits of the harvest, meant for the ritual offering — with the result that all felt they had consumed an entire meal, even though there were leftovers, as the Lord had ordained.

This is analogous to Christ’s miracle of multiplying loaves and fishes. It also presages the spiritual nourishment we have through Christ Jesus.

2 Kings 4:42-44

4:42 A man came from Baal-shalishah, bringing food from the first fruits to the man of God: twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. Elisha said, “Give it to the people and let them eat.”

4:43 But his servant said, “How can I set this before a hundred people?” So he repeated, “Give it to the people and let them eat, for thus says the LORD, ‘They shall eat and have some left.'”

4:44 He set it before them, they ate, and had some left, according to the word of the LORD.

Psalm

The accompanying Psalm points to God satisfying the needs of His creation through His infinite mercy.

Psalm 145:10-18

145:10 All your works shall give thanks to you, O LORD, and all your faithful shall bless you.

145:11 They shall speak of the glory of your kingdom, and tell of your power,

145:12 to make known to all people your mighty deeds, and the glorious splendor of your kingdom.

145:13 Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and your dominion endures throughout all generations. The LORD is faithful in all his words, and gracious in all his deeds.

145:14 The LORD upholds all who are falling, and raises up all who are bowed down.

145:15 The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season.

145:16 You open your hand, satisfying the desire of every living thing.

145:17 The LORD is just in all his ways, and kind in all his doings.

145:18 The LORD is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth.

Epistle

Readings continue from Paul’s letters to the Ephesians. Here, Paul ends with a prayer to God to keep the Christians in Ephesus strong in their faith in His Son Jesus Christ.

Older translations of verse 14 make this relationship clear, which would have been Paul’s objective for the Ephesians:

14 For this cause I bow my knees unto the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

Ephesians 3:14-21

3:14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father,

3:15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name.

3:16 I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit,

3:17 and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.

3:18 I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,

3:19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

3:20 Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine,

3:21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen.

Gospel

The Gospel readings switch from Mark to John. This is John’s account of the Feeding of the Five Thousand, which is Christ’s miraculous fulfilment of what God demonstrated through Elisha in the reading from 2 Kings above and the aforementioned verses from Psalm 145.

John 6:1-21

6:1 After this Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee, also called the Sea of Tiberias.

6:2 A large crowd kept following him, because they saw the signs that he was doing for the sick.

6:3 Jesus went up the mountain and sat down there with his disciples.

6:4 Now the Passover, the festival of the Jews, was near.

6:5 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?”

6:6 He said this to test him, for he himself knew what he was going to do.

6:7 Philip answered him, “Six months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each of them to get a little.”

6:8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said to him,

6:9 “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

6:10 Jesus said, “Make the people sit down.” Now there was a great deal of grass in the place; so they sat down, about five thousand in all.

6:11 Then Jesus took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated; so also the fish, as much as they wanted.

6:12 When they were satisfied, he told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over, so that nothing may be lost.”

6:13 So they gathered them up, and from the fragments of the five barley loaves, left by those who had eaten, they filled twelve baskets.

6:14 When the people saw the sign that he had done, they began to say, “This is indeed the prophet who is to come into the world.”

6:15 When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king, he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.

6:16 When evening came, his disciples went down to the sea,

6:17 got into a boat, and started across the sea to Capernaum. It was now dark, and Jesus had not yet come to them.

6:18 The sea became rough because a strong wind was blowing.

6:19 When they had rowed about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the sea and coming near the boat, and they were terrified.

6:20 But he said to them, “It is I; do not be afraid.”

6:21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the land toward which they were going.

This is what happened next, but not many Christians know how Jesus rebuked the people who had followed Him to Capernaum for wanting another miraculous meal.

Instead, He referred to Himself as ‘living bread’, which will be in next week’s Gospel.

He lost many disciples that day (John 6:66) and also mentioned that one of the Twelve would betray Him (John 6:70-71).

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