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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:28-31

28 Now you,[a] brothers, like Isaac, are children of promise. 29 But just as at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so also it is now. 30 But what does the Scripture say? “Cast out the slave woman and her son, for the son of the slave woman shall not inherit with the son of the free woman.” 31 So, brothers, we are not children of the slave but of the free woman.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s allegory of Hagar and Sarah, the former being a slave (her followers attached to Mosaic law) and the latter a free woman (Christians having freedom in Christ).

John MacArthur recaps Paul’s message for us and adds a similar insight from Hebrews (emphases mine):

Hagar, the slave, symbolizes the old covenant; the earthly, legalistic, Judaistic Jerusalem; the Ishmael mentality of law and bondage. Sarah, the free woman, symbolizes the new covenant, the heavenly Jerusalem, and the wonderful, wonderful blessing of faith and grace. We belong – we belong to the Jerusalem that is above.

I want to talk about that a little bit. So, would you turn to Hebrews chapter 12? Hebrews chapter 12. Because here – this is kind of spread out for us a little bit, Hebrews chapter 12, verse 18 – here the writer of Hebrews is really kind of further explaining this same kind of analogy. He’s saying to the believers, “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire, and to darkness and gloom and whirlwind” – that’s Sinai; you haven’t come to that – “and to the blast of a trumpet and the sound of words which sound was such that those who heard begged that no further word be spoken to them. For they couldn’t bear the command, ‘If even a beast touches the mountain, it’ll be stoned.’” And so terrible was the sight, that Moses said, ‘I am full of fear and trembling.’”

You haven’t come to Sinai; you’re not Sinai; you’re not Ishmael; you’re not Hagar; you’re not the present form of religion in this world.

“But you” – verse 22 – “have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to myriads of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the Judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood, which speaks better than the blood of Abel.”

Paul tells the Galatians, who have been in thrall to the Judaizers, that they (the Galatians) are like Isaac, children of promise (verse 28). Recall that Sarah was well past childbearing age when God opened her womb. He promised Abraham and Sarah an heir, and He kept that promise because of Abraham’s unwavering faith.

Paul is using this analogy to get the doctrine of justification by faith through grace firmly set in the Galatians’ minds and hearts.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

We Christians, who have accepted Christ, and rely upon him, and look for justification and salvation by him alone, as hereby we become the spiritual, though we are not the natural, seed of Abraham, so we are entitled to the promised inheritance and interested in the blessings of it.

MacArthur says of Christians:

We’re in the line of Sarah, Isaac, the Jerusalem that is above, faith, freedom. “And if the Son shall make you free, you will be free for real,” John 8:36 says.

Isaac’s birth was miraculous. It was miraculous. So is ours. The miracle of the new birth cannot be accomplished by human effort. You must be born from above.

Paul likens the state of the Galatians, at risk of persecution at the hands of the Judaizers, to that of Isaac, whom Ishmael mocked (verse 29). Ishmael was jealous that he was no longer Abraham’s heir.

Henry says:

lest these Christians should be stumbled at the opposition they might meet with from the Jews, who were so tenacious of their law as to be ready to persecute those who would not submit to it, he tells them that this was no more than what was pointed to in the type; for as then he that was born after the flesh persecuted him that was born after the Spirit, they must expect it would be so now.

Paul reminds the Galatians of Genesis 21, wherein God told Abraham to do as Sarah asked when she wanted Hagar to leave their home; the son of the slave shall not inherit with the son of the free woman (verse 30).

Here is the relevant passage, beginning with Isaac in verse 8:

God Protects Hagar and Ishmael

And the child grew and was weaned. And Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, laughing.[b] 10 So she said to Abraham, “Cast out this slave woman with her son, for the son of this slave woman shall not be heir with my son Isaac.” 11 And the thing was very displeasing to Abraham on account of his son. 12 But God said to Abraham, “Be not displeased because of the boy and because of your slave woman. Whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for through Isaac shall your offspring be named. 13 And I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring.” 14 So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beersheba.

15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the child under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot, for she said, “Let me not look on the death of the child.” And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. 17 And God heard the voice of the boy, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. 18 Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” 19 Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. 20 And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. 21 He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt.

However, upon Abraham’s death, both Isaac and Ishmael buried him (Genesis 25):

These are the days of the years of Abraham’s life, 175 years. Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. Isaac and Ishmael his sons buried him in the cave of Machpelah, in the field of Ephron the son of Zohar the Hittite, east of Mamre, 10 the field that Abraham purchased from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried, with Sarah his wife. 11 After the death of Abraham, God blessed Isaac his son. And Isaac settled at Beer-lahai-roi.

12 These are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s servant, bore to Abraham. 13 These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, named in the order of their birth: Nebaioth, the firstborn of Ishmael; and Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, 14 Mishma, Dumah, Massa, 15 Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. 16 These are the sons of Ishmael and these are their names, by their villages and by their encampments, twelve princes according to their tribes. 17 (These are the years of the life of Ishmael: 137 years. He breathed his last and died, and was gathered to his people.) 18 They settled from Havilah to Shur, which is opposite Egypt in the direction of Assyria. He settled[a] over against all his kinsmen.

Isaac’s wife Rebekah gave birth to Jacob and Esau:

24 When her days to give birth were completed, behold, there were twins in her womb. 25 The first came out red, all his body like a hairy cloak, so they called his name Esau. 26 Afterward his brother came out with his hand holding Esau’s heel, so his name was called Jacob.[d] Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them.

Returning to Paul’s analogy, he concludes by telling the Galatians that they are not children of the slave woman but of the free woman (verse 31), Sarah.

MacArthur interprets this verse for us:

Ishmael can’t inherit along with Isaac. People under the bondage cannot inherit with those that are free in Christ. Those who are trying to please God by the flesh and works cannot inherit with those who have come by grace and faith.

So, just know this, we’re not children of the bondwoman; we have nothing to do with them. Since that is true, here’s the final exhortation, verse 1, “It was for freedom” – from all that – “Christ set us free; therefore, keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” Don’t go back into that system from which you have been set free. This is the good news of salvation.

Anybody who comes along, tries to add any kind of externalism, any kind of ceremonialism to your freedom in Christ, you tell them, “I’m in the Sarah, Isaac, promise group, not the Hagar, Ishmael, law group. I’m not under bondage; Christ has set me free

Paul hasn’t finished with his discourse on freedom in Christ. More to come next week.

Next time — Galatians 5:2-6

Bible oldThe 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.

Galatians 4:21-27

Example of Hagar and Sarah

21 Tell me, you who desire to be under the law, do you not listen to the law? 22 For it is written that Abraham had two sons, one by a slave woman and one by a free woman. 23 But the son of the slave was born according to the flesh, while the son of the free woman was born through promise. 24 Now this may be interpreted allegorically: these women are two covenants. One is from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery; she is Hagar. 25 Now Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia;[a] she corresponds to the present Jerusalem, for she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written,

“Rejoice, O barren one who does not bear;
    break forth and cry aloud, you who are not in labor!
For the children of the desolate one will be more
    than those of the one who has a husband.”

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Galatians about the Judaizers’ flattery and his being ‘perplexed’ — frustrated — about their acceptance of those false teachers.

Paul uses the story of Hagar and Sarah to illustrate the difference between slavery under the old law and freedom in living God’s promise.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

… here’s the illustration. Ishmael was born to Hagar. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. Ishmael is an illustration of the flesh. The promise was clear: God is going to give a son. It’s going to have to be supernatural. They don’t want to wait on God, they’ll do it their way; so the flesh rejects the promise and tries to take by its own power what God gives.

One child is the child of the flesh, the other child is the child of the promise: that’s Isaac to Sarah. By the time he’s born Abraham’s 100, she’s 90. But God supernaturally creates that child in her womb. Ishmael was born according to the flesh; they did it on their terms their way. Isaac is born through the promise of God; Ishmael is born naturally, you might say. Isaac is born supernaturally. That’s why when he was born they named him “laughter,” which is what Isaac means, or “rejoicing,” or “gladness.”

Two sons then become the patterns for spiritual truth. Ishmael is a son born in the usual, natural way. But beyond that, not just the usual, natural way, but in the flesh in a sinful way, as if they could fulfill the will of God on their own sinful terms. Ishmael is a representative of all those who try to do it on their own. Ishmael is an illustration of those who want salvation by works. And Ishmael was born to a slave, was a slave, and produced a whole lineage of slaves. Ishmael symbolizes accomplishing what God wants by your own flesh and ending up in bondage.

Isaac, on the other side, was born as a result of Abraham’s faith in God. As a blessing on His faith, God miraculously enabled Abraham, though he was, Hebrews says, as good as dead in terms of childbearing capacity. He allowed Abraham to deposit his seed in his wife Sarah, and for that to lead to the birth of Isaac. Isaac then was the child of promise. Isaac was the result of the power of God. He was, you might say, Spirit-born. The Holy Spirit caused Isaac to come forth when it would have been impossible for Abraham and Sarah to have a child. Isaac represents then salvation by faith alone. Abraham believed God and God supernaturally fulfilled His will in Abraham.

Ishmael pictures all those who try to please God and accomplish God’s will by the flesh. It’s sinful, it’s useless, it creates bondage. Isaac symbolizes all those who do the will of God by faith in His promise. He does the work; He brings it to pass; He receives the glory.

Paul begins by asking the Galatians who want to live under Mosaic law if they have considered what that would actually be like had they heard it read (verse 21).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

if they would do this, they might soon see how little reason they had to trust in it.

Paul begins recounting the story in Genesis of Abraham’s two sons, one born by a slave woman and the second born by a free woman (verse 22).

Hagar’s Ishmael was born by the flesh while Isaac was a fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham and Sarah (verse 23).

Paul says that, allegorically, the women each represent one of two covenants God made with His people. The Old Covenant, made at Mount Sinai, represents Hagar, bearing children for slavery (verse 24).

Paul goes on to say that Hagar is Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the Jerusalem of the present, as the Jews, having rejected Christ, were still following the old law and were, as such, slaves (verse 25).

Henry confirms this historical point:

… Agar, represented that which was given from mount Sinai, and which gendereth to bondage, which, though it was a dispensation of grace, yet, in comparison of the gospel state, was a dispensation of bondage, and became more so to the Jews, through their mistake of the design of it, and expecting to be justified by the works of it. For this Agar is mount Sinai in Arabia (mount Sinai was then called Agar by the Arabians) …

Then Paul says that the ‘Jerusalem above’ is free and is the mother of Christians (verse 26).

In that verse, Paul refers to the spiritual Jerusalem, the heavenly Jerusalem.

To support his allegory, he cites Isaiah 54:1, in which the prophet quoted the Lord. When God’s people were released from Babylon, the women would be in labour and giving birth once more (verse 27).

MacArthur gives us the context:

This is an amazing approach by Paul. Isaiah 54:1 is long after Abraham, Isaac, Ishmael, Sarah, Sinai. Where does this fit? Isaiah’s writing to the captives in Babylon. The people of Israel have been taken captive into Babylon. And Isaiah writes to cheer them up. And this is in the section on salvation. And what he says to them in this verse – chapter 54, verse 1 – is that, “You’re desolate, you’re barren, you’re in exile, life is horrible. You know, you’ve hung your harps on the willow trees. You have no song to sing. All is sadness.” And Isaiah says, “Cheer up, rejoice, barren woman who doesn’t bear; break forth and shout you who are not even in labor; for more numerous are going to be the children of you who are now desolate, you who have no husband – more fruitful are you going to be than even those who are married and flourishing.”

What was that? That was a promise of the return to the land, “You’re going to be out of captivity; you’re going back to the land.” And when they got back to the land, the women began to flourish, and the nation began to reproduce and reproduce and reproduce, and the nation of Israel grew and grew and grew and grew. And the apostle Paul is using another scripture to say, “I promise you that when God says, ‘You will flourish,’ you will flourish.” God said it to the exiles in Babylon, and He fulfilled it. God said it to Sarah, and He fulfilled it by His power. By His power.

Paul also uses this illustration to say that false teachers hate the truth. The Judaizers hate that the Galatians have freedom in God through their faith in Christ.

MacArthur tells us:

Get this; Hagar hated Sarah. Hagar hated Isaac. We see that in Genesis 16. Then in Genesis 21:8 and 9, we see Ishmael hating Isaac. Ishmael thought for years that he was going to be the heir to the fortune. And then along comes the true heir, and he’s out.

And so, there was animosity, and Ishmael was a hater of Isaac, as Hagar was a hater of Sarah. So, persecution came then – mark it – the sons of Hagar, Sinai, the works, the flesh, false religion are always the persecutors of the truth. They will continue to persecute the children of Isaac and Sarah, the children of promise.

The greatest persecutor of the true church is false religion. Satan’s system of works ...

This is so amazing. So, we’ve got this false church persecuting the true church. We’ve got a war going on.

Paul’s allegory continues. More on that next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:28-31

Mothering Sunday is March 27, 2022, which is also Laetare Sunday, the joyful day in Lent:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

Some churches in the UK will be departing from the usual Lectionary lesson and read the latter part of 1 Samuel 1 instead.

Here is the whole chapter, the highly moving story of Hannah and her long-awaited son, Samuel (emphases mine below):

The Birth of Samuel

There was a certain man from Ramathaim, a Zuphite[a] from the hill country of Ephraim, whose name was Elkanah son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephraimite. He had two wives; one was called Hannah and the other Peninnah. Peninnah had children, but Hannah had none.

Year after year this man went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her, and the Lord had closed her womb. Because the Lord had closed Hannah’s womb, her rival kept provoking her in order to irritate her. This went on year after year. Whenever Hannah went up to the house of the Lord, her rival provoked her till she wept and would not eat. Her husband Elkanah would say to her, “Hannah, why are you weeping? Why don’t you eat? Why are you downhearted? Don’t I mean more to you than ten sons?”

Once when they had finished eating and drinking in Shiloh, Hannah stood up. Now Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord’s house. 10 In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. 11 And she made a vow, saying, “Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head.”

12 As she kept on praying to the Lord, Eli observed her mouth. 13 Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk 14 and said to her, “How long are you going to stay drunk? Put away your wine.”

15 “Not so, my lord,” Hannah replied, “I am a woman who is deeply troubled. I have not been drinking wine or beer; I was pouring out my soul to the Lord. 16 Do not take your servant for a wicked woman; I have been praying here out of my great anguish and grief.”

17 Eli answered, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant you what you have asked of him.”

18 She said, “May your servant find favor in your eyes.” Then she went her way and ate something, and her face was no longer downcast.

19 Early the next morning they arose and worshiped before the Lord and then went back to their home at Ramah. Elkanah made love to his wife Hannah, and the Lord remembered her. 20 So in the course of time Hannah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Samuel,[b] saying, “Because I asked the Lord for him.”

Hannah Dedicates Samuel

21 When her husband Elkanah went up with all his family to offer the annual sacrifice to the Lord and to fulfill his vow, 22 Hannah did not go. She said to her husband, “After the boy is weaned, I will take him and present him before the Lord, and he will live there always.”[c]

23 “Do what seems best to you,” her husband Elkanah told her. “Stay here until you have weaned him; only may the Lord make good his[d] word.” So the woman stayed at home and nursed her son until she had weaned him.

24 After he was weaned, she took the boy with her, young as he was, along with a three-year-old bull,[e] an ephah[f] of flour and a skin of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 25 When the bull had been sacrificed, they brought the boy to Eli, 26 and she said to him, “Pardon me, my lord. As surely as you live, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord. 27 I prayed for this child, and the Lord has granted me what I asked of him. 28 So now I give him to the Lord. For his whole life he will be given over to the Lord.” And he worshiped the Lord there.

Hannah vowed that Samuel would take a life-long Nazirite vow (verse 11):

… no razor will ever be used on his head …

The only other men in the Bible to do so were Samson and John the Baptist. Most Nazirite vows were short-term in nature.

John MacArthur explains the vow:

That last little part was a Nazarite vow, described in Numbers 6:3 to 6.  If a Jew wanted to take a vow of total consecration to God, he would not cut his hair, no concern for physical appearance, not drink the wine and the strong drink, abstaining from the banquetings and the celebrations and all of that, living an austere, consecrated, God-centered life. 

Commentary on Hannah’s story comes from John MacArthur’s 1987 sermon, ‘Hannah: A Godly Mother’.

Hannah truly had faith. Even though she was sterile, she believed the Lord would reverse her condition, which He did.

The name Hannah means ‘grace’. It befits this woman:

We meet her in 1 Samuel 1.  Hannah, her name speaks of her beauty; it means grace, and indeed she is the emblem of the grace of womanhood She became a mother by faith She first appears, as 1 Samuel opens, as a childless woman.  Then she becomes a mother, the mother of one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, Samuel.  And as you see the account of the birth of Samuel, you note the profile of a godly mother.

Incidentally, the name Anna is a form of Hannah.

This was not a propitious era for Israel, which was experiencing a time of turmoil:

As the book opens, it is the period of the Judges There is no king in Israel as yet It is a time of turmoil; it is a time of confusion It is a time when Israel is vulnerable to the Philistines It is a time when they are debauched morally It is a time when their religion has grown cold And it is a time for a great man to rise and take the leadership of the nation, a period of religious degeneracy, of political distress.  With the death of Samson the country was divided and leaderless The Philistines were hanging on the edge.  The priesthood was corrupt Moral scandals were rampant among the family of the priests The nation was weak.  The nation was impotent.  And the worst of all, chapter 3, verse 1 says, “word from the Lord was rare in those days, and visions were infrequent.”  God even had nothing to say.  The nation needed a great leader, a great man, and God needed a great woman to shape that great man.  And Samuel, one of the greatest men who ever walked the earth, was not only the product of the work of God, but the product of a godly mother And she gave to her nation and the world the greatest legacy a woman can ever give, a godly child.

MacArthur gives us his perspective on what denotes a godly mother:

As we are introduced to this story, I want us to note three things that profile a godly mother She had a right husband relationship, she had a right heavenly relationship, and she had a right home relationship Those three things stand out and profile her for us.

First of all, let’s consider her right husband relationship And may I say that this is, at the very outset, essential for you to understand.  The most important relationship in a family in raising godly children is not the relationship between the parents and the children, it’s the relationship between the mother and the father What you communicate to your children by your relationship dominates their thinking They are learning about human relationships from the two of you They are learning about virtue, they are learning about sin.  They are learning about love.  They are learning about forgiveness.  They’re learning about sympathy.  They’re learning about understanding.  They’re learning about compassion.  They’re learning about virtue.  They’re learning about honesty and integrity.  They’re watching, and far more important than your relationship to your child in the long run is the relationship you have to your spouse, that’s projected to your child.  And so at the very outset, the Word of God is clear to tell us the relationship between Hannah and Elkanah.

Now, first of all, let me say that it wasn’t a perfect relationship; so ladies, you want to start out by realizing you’re not married to a perfect man.  That’s a given.  I want you to understand what the Scripture says.  Hannah was married to a polygamist Now, I don’t know how that would sit with you as a woman, but I can guess.  And I can also tell you that it didn’t sit any better with Hannah than it does with you, to have a rival in the house, to have another wife in the house And worst of all, she is producing boys and girls and Hannah has none, and so she is the unfruitful, unproductive wife who cannot give to her husband that which her heart most longs to give.

He wasn’t a perfect man.  The very fact that he was a polygamist indicates his imperfection.  But understand this, this is a primitive time, and polygamy was a part of human culture; never God’s design, never.  God always designed one man, one woman, leaving their parents, joining together for life, and becoming one flesh, from Genesis on.  But human society was rife with polygamy, and when the truth of God came into human society, it was so pervasive, polygamy, that it took time to root it out

And so Elkanah created for Hannah a very difficult situation.  We don’t know the details, but it may well have been that he went on to marry Peninnah because of Hannah’s barrenness, and in order to produce a generation who could then possess his inheritance.  And so that would even make the pain deeper, because Peninnah came to do in that union what Hannah could not do.  Not a perfect relationship, but nonetheless a good one, a right one.  Let me show you why.

First of all, they shared worship Now, “this man,” Elkanah, verse 3 says, “would go up from his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice to the Lord of hosts in Shiloh.”  It doesn’t mean he went once a year, it meant that every year he went.  In Deuteronomy, chapter 16, verse 16, it explains the prescription; three times a year – yes, it was the Feast of Unleavened Bread, the Feast of Weeks, and the Feast of Booths The man had to go to the place of worship.  In this particular time, in 1 Samuel, the place of worship was at Shiloh, because that’s where the Ark of the Covenant was located before it was transferred to Jerusalem

Starting out, then, they had a shared worship; so vital.  How you worship communicates volumes of information to your children Are you faithful?  Are you faithful to come and meet with God’s redeemed people, week in and week out?  Are you faithful to make the Word of God the priority in your life?  Are you faithful that prayer should have a high place in your experience spiritually?  Are you faithful to live what you affirm that you believe?  In other words, the attitude of your spiritual devotion is communicating a Christianity to your children that they will have a hard time overcoming, if it in fact is less than it ought to be.

Secondly, they not only had a right relationship in their marriage because of worshiping together, but secondly, they shared love Notice verse 4, “And when the day came that Elkanah sacrificed” – one of those times when he took the trip to Shiloh – “he would give portions to Peninnah his wife and all her sons and her daughters, but to Hannah he would give a double portion, for he loved Hannah.”  Stop at that point.  He didn’t love Peninnah That’s the implication.  Peninnah was there to produce the children that Hannah couldn’t have Peninnah was there to create a future for his family, his inheritance.  But Hannah was the one he loved, and he made no attempt to hide that And when they went to offer their sacrifices, I don’t know if you know how that worked, but they would go to offer peace offerings, and they would offer the offering on the altar there.  The priest would take a small part, then most of it would come back to the family, and they’d have a feast And when passing out the feast, he would give a double portion to Hannah, because she was the one he loved.  This was a gesture in the East to an honored guest She was the one who had his heart.  And it was not just the love of emotion, it was the love of kindness, and the love of thoughtfulness, and the love of sacrifice, the love of honor.  He loved herAnd this love was her security

Men, if you don’t know it yet, you ought to know it; a woman’s security is in your love for her, not in your bank account, not in a fancy house, not in new furniture, not in a retirement plan.  A woman finds her security in your love, and it needs to be demonstrated so frequently that there’s never a question about it People wonder often why women tend to be suspicious of their husbands, and wondering if they might have some other attraction or be fooling around with some other person, and the reason is because it’s so deeply rooted in a woman that her security is in the love of her man.  And that’s the way it was with Elkanah and Hannah And she was secure in his love, because he took the time to demonstrate his love to her in very public ways, such as he had done at this feast in front of everyoneThey shared love, and thus she was secure in that love; and she needed that, believe me, when he had another wife …

They shared love … There is the absence of anxiety and frustration, so that the woman can give herself to the children, and not always feel that she’s got to be a beauty queen to win the affection of her husband.  Once the husband with his love wraps that woman up and secures her, then she can give herself away to her children, and not have to feel that she must always fight the uphill battle to attract her husband.

Thirdly, they shared another thing.  They shared feelings Shared worship, their relationship to God was a common one.  They shared love, and they shared feelings.  Look at verse 6.  “Her rival, however,” – that’s Peninnah – “would provoke her bitterly to irritate her because the Lord had closed her womb.”  It said that also at the end of verse 5, twice it says the Lord had closed her womb What it’s trying to say is this isn’t Hannah’s problem; the Lord did this The Lord closed her womb.  And this Peninnah would harass her, you know, that kind of thing, “Too bad you can’t have any children, Hannah,” just sticking the knife in And it happened year after year; “as often as she went up to the house of the Lord, she would provoke her so she wept and wouldn’t eat.” 

Here she goes to the big feast Elkanah is sympathetically, lovingly giving her a double portion She won’t eat anything, ’cause on the other side of the table, Peninnah’s really rubbing it in that she has no children The response – I would not want to be in Elkanah’s position, trying to pull these two women together.  But Elkanah, her husband, said to her, “Hannah, why do you weep?  And why do you not eat?  And why is your heart sad?  Am I not better to you than ten sons?”  They shared feelings.  Boy, he read her feelings and he didn’t pontificate, he asked a question.  Why are you doing this, Hannah?  Haven’t I been better than ten sons to you?He knew the conflict, and he knew the conflict was intensified from Peninnah’s side, and he knew that it was deep and painful and it was a hard, hard place for her to be And so he was tender, and sympathetic, and thoughtful, and he felt her feelings in his own heart.

She has a right husband relationshipThey share worship, the deepest dimension of human life They share love, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They share feelings, maybe the next deepest dimension of human life.  They have a deep relationship.  They move together in the presence of God, with one another, and over the issues of life that involve other people.

As devestated as she was about her sterility — which God had given her — she believed that He could reverse her condition. She never lost her faith. Not only did she pray and pray for a child, she also made a vow to the Lord. Many women would have been bitter and turned away from God, but not Hannah:

The high priest is in the temple.  She goes there.  She came into the temple greatly distressed.  Her soul was bitter, it literally says And she prayed to the Lord and wept bitterly She is just crushed – crushed.  And she made a promise, a vow.  “O Lord,” and she goes on to make her vow.  But notice this about this godly woman: she was a woman of prayer.  It’s a beautiful characteristic.  She understood that God was the source of children.  She understood that God alone could alter her sterility.  Her distinctive virtue was her faith, constant faith.  Verse 12, “It came about as she continued praying before the Lord” – constant.  She remained there.  She stayed there.  Her heart was broken She was pouring out her prayersThis is the spirit of true prayer

So she promised God, “I’ll give You this child, I just want to be fulfilled as a mother, I just want to raise a godly son to give back to Your glory.  And if You give him to me I’ll give him back.”  This is her promise, to present her child to God.  That’s the essence of a godly mother.  While praying for a child, she prays for that child not for a wrong reason but a right reason, to turn that child back to God, from where the child came.  That’s the essence of a godly mother – to give the child to God, to give the child to God.  My mother only had one son, and I am that son Before I was born she dedicated me to the Lord from birth, and told my father that she wanted a son who would preach the gospel That’s a wonderful legacy And that may not be what every son is to do, it is not what every son is to do, but every godly mother will give that child to the Lord for whatever he has; the same with a daughterSo Hannah made her promise.

We also find out more about Eli and his sons. Wasn’t it awful for Eli to accuse Hannah in her brokenness of being drunk?

The next thing we see about Hannah was her purity.  Eli was the high priest, but I’ve got to tell you, he was really a lousy high priest And nothing could be said about his discernment, either.  “It came about when she was praying continually before the Lord, Eli was watching her mouth.”  Sitting off on a – he was a big, fat manIn fact, when his sons died, he was so shook he fell over, and landed on his neck and broke it and killed himself So Eli was sitting there watching her, and she was in there pouring out her heart and weeping and crying.  And she was speaking in her heart.  She wasn’t speaking out loud, it says in verse 13, only her lips were moving.  Have you ever had that experience where you’re really talking in your heart but your lips are moving, though not a sound was heard?  So Eli thought she was drunk Isn’t he discerning?  Now, I don’t know anything about my discernment as relative to other people, or to Eli’s, but I’ll tell you, I think I know the difference between a drunk and a woman broken in prayer

So Eli decided to play the spiritual role “How long will you make yourself drunk?  Put away your wine from you,” he says to her.  And Hannah is so gracious, and answered and said, “No, my lord, I’m a woman oppressed in spirit I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but I have poured out my soul before the Lord.  You misjudge me.  Do not consider your maidservant as a worthless woman.”  That tells us a little bit about drinking wine or strong drink and its relationship to worthlessness regarding women.  That’s an Old Testament attitude.  “Don’t consider me like that.  I have spoken until now out of my great concern and my provocation.”  Then Eli, hearing such a lucid answer, answered and said, “Go in peace, and may the God of Israel grant your petition that you’ve asked of Him.”  It’s sort of a mild apology But he mistook her for being drunk.  “Don’t think your maidservant a worthless woman” – literally, a son of Belial, profitless.  A common term, by the way, in the Old Testament, associated with idolatry, Deuteronomy 13; rebellion, 1 Samuel 2; lewd, sensuous acts in Judges 19 and 20; a term used to speak of arrogance and stupidity in 1 Samuel 25, and even murder in 1 Kings 21 “Don’t think that I’m in that group.  I’m not that kind of person.”  She was a virtuous woman, like the woman of Proverbs 12:4 and 31:10, she was a woman of virtue.  She was a godly woman, she was a pure woman …

… the rest of chapter 2 into chapter 3 into chapter 4 is the sad, pathetic tragedy of the family of Eli His sons were fornicators They died, and he himself fell over, as I said, and died.  It was a tragic, ugly scene.  And the commentary of Scripture on Eli was that he could not restrain his sons from doing evil; and his wife is never mentioned I don’t know what part, if any, she had, but she was a long way from what Hannah was in producing godly Samuel

MacArthur explains why Hannah was able to enjoy eating after she was so upset in prayer:

I’ll tell you why: because she had patient faith.  She had patient faith She gave it to God, what else could she do?  She wasn’t about to remain frustrated.  This is true faith True faith doesn’t pray, “O God, here’s my problem, here’s my problem,” walk away in utter frustration.  That’s really doubt.  Faith says, “Here it is, God,” and walks away, and is no longer sad.  That’s trust.  “I trust You.”  Very much the mark of a godly mother, one who totally trusts God – she casts her burden on God, and that’s the end of it.  She walks away.  She eats.  She is no longer sad.

Samuel was a little boy — older than a toddler — when Hannah dedicated him to the Lord:

“For she said to her husband, ‘I will not go up until the child is weaned.’”  Now wait a minute.  That’s a couple of years, Hannah.  Three years?  I don’t know exactly how long Hannah nursed little Samuel, but several years surely “I won’t go.”  It was only about a two or three week trip, at the longest, to go up there and be there for a week, traveling there, traveling back.  It’s less than 200 miles from one end of Palestine to the other.  She wouldn’t go, she wouldn’t go at all.  Why?  She was dedicated to the child.  When God gave the child, she was dedicated to the child

Samuel means heard by God And boy, once that child came, Hannah said, “This is the child of my passion, this is the child of my vow; I will not forsake my time with this child I won’t leave this child for several weeks.  I won’t take this little child along and make it uncomfortable,” because they would necessarily walk The child needs sleep, and the child needs the gentleness of home, the quietness of a nursing environment … 

And she dedicates the weaned child to God So verse 24, “When she had weaned him, she took him up with her, along with a three-year- old bull, and one ephah of flour, and a jug of wine, and brought him to the house of the Lord in Shiloh, although the child was young.  They slaughtered the bull and brought the boy to Eli, and she said, ‘O my lord, as your soul lives, my lord, I am the woman who stood here beside you praying to the Lord.  For this boy I prayed, and the Lord has given me my petition which I asked of Him So I have also dedicated him to the Lord; as long as he lives he is dedicated to the Lord.’  And he worshiped the Lord there.”

Samuel’s story begins in 1 Samuel 2:

Look at chapter 2, verse 18:  “Now Samuel was ministering before the Lord, as a boy wearing a linen ephod.”  In other words, he was girded like a priest would be, dressed as a little boy His whole life was ministering before the Lord.  “And his mother would make him a little robe,” verse 19, “and bring it to him from year to year when she would come up with her husband to offer the yearly sacrifice Then Eli would bless Elkanah and his wife and say, ‘May the Lord give you children from this woman in place of the one she dedicated to the Lord.’  And they went to their own home.  The Lord visited Hannah; and she conceived and gave birth to three sons and two daughters And the boy Samuel grew before the Lord.”

She never really let go of her responsibility; every time she came, she came with a new little robe for her growing Samuel That’s the result of godly mothering And that’s the insight that you never stop being Mother, no matter how old they become God blessed her. To be a godly mother involves a right husband relationship, a right heavenly relationship, and a right home relationship Hannah had all of that.  God honored it, and she gives us a model to follow.

In closing, may I wish all mothers celebrating in a few days’ time a happy — and blessed — Mothering Sunday.

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.

Galatians 3:7-9

Know then that it is those of faith who are the sons of Abraham. And the Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify[a] the Gentiles by faith, preached the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “In you shall all the nations be blessed.” So then, those who are of faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith.

——————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s taking the Galatians to task for being ‘bewitched’ by Judaizers claiming that Gentile converts to Christianity had to be circumcised.

Paul introduced Abraham in verse 6:

Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith—just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

Abraham believed God’s promise to him first. The circumcision of our father in faith did not occur until 14 years later. More on this follows below.

John MacArthur sets the tone for today’s three verses:

So in verses 6 to 9, we have Paul’s positive proof that Old Testament salvation is by faith alone, positive proof that Old Testament salvation is by faith alone, and the positive proof is Abraham. They want Abraham to defend their works system. He’s going to take Abraham and defend faith alone using Abraham. He’s going to beat them at their own game by an accurate understanding of Abraham, such as we read in the fourth chapter of Romans

Paul says that anyone who believes in God — ‘those of faith’ — are the sons of Abraham (verse 7).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that circumcision — ‘according to the flesh’ — does not enter into it:

… not according to the flesh, but according to the promise; and, consequently, that they are justified in the same way that he was. Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they.

Paul goes on to cite the promise that God made to Abraham, which is in Genesis 12:3; Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by their faith (verse 8).

Henry says (emphases mine):

Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they. To confirm this, the apostle acquaints us that the promise made to Abraham (Genesis 12:3), In thee shall all nations be blessed, had a reference hereunto, Galatians 3:8; Galatians 3:8. The scripture is said to foresee, because he that indited the scripture did foresee, that God would justify the heathen world in the way of faith; and therefore in Abraham, that is, in the seed of Abraham, which is Christ, not the Jews only, but the Gentiles also, should be blessed; not only blessed in the seed of Abraham, but blessed as Abraham was, being justified as he was.

Paul concludes that believers are blessed along with Abraham, ‘the man of faith’ (verse 9).

Henry explains:

It was through faith in the promise of God that he was blessed, and it is only in the same way that others obtain this privilege.

John MacArthur’s sermon provides an excellent explanation of why the Jews held Abraham in such esteem — and rightly so — yet were so mistaken in their rejection of Jesus as the Messiah.

First, he says that Paul clearly includes believing Gentiles as Abraham’s children in faith:

… he gives Abraham that title, “the believer,” which becomes the title for all New Testament people of faith.

Then MacArthur summarises Paul’s impression of Judaism at the time and salvation, which is individual and not collective, as in a whole nation:

Now this is so very, very important. All the Jews leaned on Abraham, and they saw Abraham as circumcised, and they saw Abraham as a law-keeper. There’s some serious problems with that, if you remember what we read in Romans 4. But let’s go back and follow the pattern of the story, back to Genesis chapter 12 where it all began. Genesis chapter 12.

God is going to call out a people for Himself, a people to whom He will give His divine revelation, a people who will embody the prophets, a people who will be His witness nation in the world. That’s their purpose. It is not simply that He designed to save the nation spiritually ...

And this is crystal clear in the second chapter of Romans, because it says there, “He is not a Jew who is one outwardly, but he is a Jew who is one inwardly.” And it repeats it again in Romans 9, verses 6 through 8: “Not all Israel is Israel.”

The temporal nation of Israel was under the protection of God as a nation to be a witness for Him, but that did not grant them personal salvation. And salvation is always personal, it is always internal, and it is always spiritual. It is never national; it is never external; it is never physical. God is going to call out a people to whom He will give His revelation, who are to be His witness. He is the one true and living God, and they are to represent Him in a world of many gods, polytheistic nations.

MacArthur takes us through Abraham’s story. He was called Abram in the beginning:

So the Lord said to Abram, in chapter 12 of Genesis, verse 1, “Go forth from your country.” He lived in Ur of the Chaldees. “Go from your country, from your relatives, from your father’s house, to a land which I will show you. I’ll make you a great nation. I will bless you, make your name great, so you shall be a blessing.” I mean, that was the whole point, to bless them, so they could bless the world.

“I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. In you all the families, all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” And Abram was 75 years old when he followed the command of God and left Haran with his wife Sarah. God says, “I am going to call you, and from your loins produce a great nation that will bless the entire world.”

Over in chapter 15, very important, God is still speaking to Abram. Abram is a believer now in the true God. He is a believer in the true God. Verse 22 of chapter 14, “I have sworn to the Lord God Most High, possessor of heaven and earth.” He is a true believer in the true God. He has abandoned all the gods of his ancient family.

God comes to him again in chapter 15, and tells him not to be afraid. “I am a shield to you. Your reward shall be very great.” He’s been told he’s going to be the father of nations; he doesn’t even have one child.

“O Lord God,” – verse 2 – “what will You give me, I’m childless? The heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus.” That was his main servant; and if there was no son, then the inheritance could pass to the son of the most intimate servant. “I don’t have a child.” Verse 3: “You’ve given no offspring to me; one born in my house is my heir.”

“Then the word of the Lord came to him: ‘This man will not be your heir; but one who will come forth from your own body, he shall be your heir.’ And He took him outside and said, ‘Look toward the heavens, and count the stars, if you’re able to count them.’ And He said to him, ‘So shall your descendants be.’ Then he believed in the Lord. Then he believed in the Lord.”

This is a massive, massive promise against all reality and probability. This is an old man married to an old lady; they can’t have children. And he has no offspring, and he believes that the Lord is going to give him children like the sand of the sea or the stars of heaven. “He believed in the Lord;” – here’s the key verse – “and he reckoned it to him and righteousness.” Wow. It was Abraham’s faith that caused God to credit him with divine righteousness.

Abraham serves a dual purpose, for Jews and for Gentiles:

There is salvation by faith. Abraham is the prototype of faith. He’s not the first person who believed. “By faith Enoch,” Hebrews 11. “By faith Noah,” Hebrews 11. But then it’s, “By faith Abraham,” and Abraham becomes a kind of father of faith to all succeeding generations of believers. He’s not only physically the father of Jewish people, spiritually he’s the prototype, in a sense, the father of all who believe God through human history. So God gives him a nation physically, but also through that nation comes a Messiah, and through that Messiah comes a world family by faith. That’s inherent in the promise of Genesis chapter 12.

Sarah, Abraham’s wife, thought that God would want them to use their own initiative on creating the heir that God promised them:

So Sarah makes the suggestion that he make one of the servants in the house pregnant. And she got pregnant and bore Ishmael, who fathered the Arab people. That was a pain that keeps on throughout all of human history, as the Arab-Israeli conflict goes back to Hagar and Ishmael.

Isaac, Sarah and Abraham’s son, was still years away, but God plans things in His own time and we must be patient. When Isaac arrived, so did God’s command of circumcision:

Eighty-six years old now. Ten years at least have past; there’s no child. Then the child comes, and the child is born. And Abraham is ninety-nine years old – chapter 17, verse 1. And when he’s ninety-nine years old, the Lord comes to him. And the Lord, down in verse 9, says, “You have your child; the promise is now being fulfilled. Here’s what I want you to do. You shall keep My covenant, you and your descendants after you throughout your generations.

“This is My covenant, which you shall keep, between Me and you and your descendants after you: every male among you shall be circumcised. And you shall be circumcised in the flesh of your foreskin; it’ll be a sign of the covenant between Me and you. Every male among you who is eight days old shall be circumcised throughout your generations, a servant who is born in the house or who is bought for money from any foreigner, who is not of your descendants. A servant who’s born in your house or bought with your money shall surely be circumcised; thus shall My covenant be in your flesh for an everlasting covenant. But an uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, that person shall be cut off from his people.”

This command to circumcise came several years after Abraham was justified by faith:

Important thing to note is, at least fourteen years after Genesis 15:6, he believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, Abraham was circumcised as an old man. Salvation didn’t come to him because of circumcision.

Mosaic law came centuries later:

Let me add another very important footnote. The law wasn’t given for hundreds of years after Abraham, so he certainly wasn’t saved by observing the law and ceremony of Moses. There was no law. There was no circumcision when Abraham was reckoned as righteous. And that is precisely Paul’s point.

God’s objective with circumcision was to keep the nation of Israel as disease-free as possible physically but also to introduce a spiritual element of cleansing:

Throughout history, Jewish women have had the lowest rate of diseases, transmittable diseases, because circumcision eliminates the possibility of things being introduced into a woman’s body by the folds of the foreskin. So God was protecting them from diseases, as He promised He will in Exodus.

But more than that, that was a symbol of the fact that they needed to be cleansed at a profoundly personal level. And that’s why the Old Testament says in Deuteronomy 10 and Jeremiah 4, “Circumcise your hearts. Cut away that part of you, which is the residence of your disease. Circumcise your hearts.”

Abraham also believed in the life to come when he obeyed God in setting Isaac up for death:

And then, an even more dramatic test of his faith comes in the twenty-second chapter of Genesis. Isaac is with Abraham. They go up the mountain, Mount Moriah, to offer a sacrifice; and God says to Abraham, “Isaac is the sacrifice. Put him on the altar and kill him.” And Abraham lifts the knife. Why would he do that? Because he believed this, Hebrews 11 says: he believed that if Isaac died, God would raise him from the dead.

Hebrews chapter 11 says that explicitly. He trusted God to such a degree, that he believed he and Sarah, as old and barren, would have a massive family that would stretch across the earth; and that if need be to fulfill that when all there was was one son Isaac, God would raise him from the dead. That’s all God wanted to show was his faith; and he pulled his knife back and provided a ram, which was a picture of the sacrifice of Christ to come.

Abraham was not fully righteous, but he believed God and obeyed His commands:

Righteousness came to Abraham from God because he believed. Was he righteous? No, he was not righteous, and demonstrably not righteous when he went in and got his servant pregnant. But God justifies the ungodly whose faith is credited as righteousness.

MacArthur gives us another Scriptural view on Abraham’s justification by faith from Psalm 32 as cited in Romans 4:

And then he quotes, Paul does, from Romans, in Romans chapter 4 from Psalm 32, that God forgives the lawless, covers the sins of the sinful … and He does it by faith. And then Paul asks the question, in Romans 4: “Was he circumcised or uncircumcised? Well, he was uncircumcised. The law: Did he obey the law?” There was no law.” I can’t tell you how foundational this is, folks. This is the biblical argument that you cannot add any works to salvation by faith alone.

MacArthur then looks at John the Baptist’s ministry. John the Baptist told the Jews they must be baptised, something that only Gentiles converting to Judaism did. The Jews replied that they did not need to be baptised because Abraham was their father:

Now the Jews thought Abraham was enough. Very early, Matthew chapter 3, John the Baptist comes preaching to the Jews, and he’s telling them basically that they’re no better than pagans, because he says, “You need to have a baptism. You need to be baptized; I’m here to baptize you.” And the only people that were baptized in their world were Gentiles who wanted to become proselytes to Judaism. So it was a proselyte baptism.

So John the Baptist is saying, “You need to be baptized,” which is saying, “You’re no better than Gentiles. You’re no better than Gentiles. You’re not ready for the coming of the Messiah,” John the Baptist, the forerunner of the Messiah. “You’re not ready for his coming. You need to acknowledge your sinfulness, repent of your sin like a pagan, and publicly be baptized.”

In fact, John said to the Pharisees and the Sadducees, the elite religious leaders, “You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?”

And then John the Baptist said this: “And do not suppose that you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham for our father.’ For I say to you, that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham. The axe is already laid at the root of the trees; and you’re going to be cut down and thrown into the fire.” ... They were trusting in their Abrahamic ancestry.

MacArthur then explores the rebuke of Jesus to the Jews in John 8:

The most powerful dialog between Jesus and the Jews on that subject is in John 8 – you might want to turn to it. In John 8, Jesus is talking to the Jews, and He tells them they don’t know the truth, they don’t know the gospel. They don’t know the truth about God, they don’t know the truth about salvation.

But He says, in verse 32, “If you listen to Me, you’ll know the truth, and the truth will make you free, free from the search from the truth, and free from judgment and wrath. So they answered Him,” – this was their response to Jesus – ‘We are Abraham’s descendants, have never been enslaved to anyone. We don’t need to be set free, we’ve never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that You say, ‘You will become free?’ ‘Truly,’ Jesus said to them, ‘truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave of sin. You’re all slaves of sin. You’re all slaves of sin, all of you. And only when you believe the truth can you be set free.’”

Now, remember, Abraham believed God. He believed that God’s word was true, he believed God was trustworthy; and when he believed God, it was counted to him for righteousness. He believed all that God had said. Jesus is saying to these Jews, “You do not believe the truth. You don’t believe the truth. You are slaves of sin. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free for real. I know you are Abraham’s descendants; yet you seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. If you were really Abraham’s children, you wouldn’t try to kill Me. I speak for God. Abraham believed God when God spoke. I’m speaking for God, and you want to kill Me. If you were Abraham’s children, you would believe the truth about God.”

Verse 38: “I speak the things which I have seen with My Father; therefore you also do the things which you heard from your father.” He hasn’t identified who their father is yet.

“They answered and said to Him, ‘Abraham is our father.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you are Abraham’s children, do the deeds of Abraham.’” And what did Abraham do to be justified? He what? He believed. “So believe when God speaks, and I am speaking for God.”

“You’re seeking” – verse 40 – “to kill Me, a man who has told you the truth, which I heard from God; this Abraham did not do. Abraham believed the truth from God. You don’t; you want to kill Me.”

“And then He says,” in verse 41 – ‘You’re doing the deeds of your father.’ They said to Him, ‘We’re not born of fornication;’ – which is a slur against Him, accusing Him of being a bastard child – ‘we have one father: God.’ Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love Me, for I proceeded forth and have come from God. I haven’t come on My own initiative, but He sent Me.

“Why do you not understand I’m saying? It’s because you can’t hear My word.’ – here it comes – ‘You are of your father the devil, and you want to do the desires of your father. He was a murderer from the beginning, doesn’t stand in the truth because there’s no truth in him. Whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature. He’s a liar and the father of lies. Because I speak the truth, you do not believe Me.’” That’s the issue.

Abraham believed, and it was accounted to him for righteousness. The Jewish people did not believe, and they were pronounced to be doomed to divine wrath. Their attitude was that righteousness was some debt God owed them because they were the children of Abraham. But Abraham’s salvation was graciously granted to him by faith, and not by works, and not by circumcision, and not by keeping the law. “And you are not the sons of Abraham.”

In John 8:56, later in the eighth chapter, our Lord said, “Abraham your father.” Really important statement. “Abraham your father was extremely glad to see My day, and when he saw it he rejoiced.” Abraham didn’t know who Christ would be specifically, but he knew God was going to provide a sacrifice. God was going to provide an acceptable offering. He knew God was going to fulfill His promise of an atonement for sin, which would satisfy the justice of God, and by which God could reckon righteousness to a believer.

Abraham died in faith, never saw the promise. All those in Hebrews 11 died in faith, never saw the promise; but they all believed the promise was to come. “Abraham saw My day and rejoiced.”

MacArthur concludes, returning to Galatians 3:9:

So, as Abraham believed God and it was counted to him for righteousness, so through Abraham will come the line of the Messiah. Through the Messiah will come the sacrifice to provide that salvation to all who believe. And then the salvation will stretch to the world; all the nations will be blessed. And Abraham will be the father, in a prototypical sense, of all who believe.

Verse 9 sums it up: “So then those who are of faith are blessed with Abraham,” – I love this – “the believer, the believer.” That becomes the New Testament word to identify Christians: the believer. It’s always faith, faith alone. God asks nothing more of us. Faith is not a righteous work, faith is an empty hand receiving righteousness.

Paul continues this theme in the verses that follow. More to come next week.

Next time — Galatians 3:10-14

Over the New Year, a few tweets from Anglican priests caught my eye.

The first is from the Revd William Pearson-Gee, vicar of Buckingham Parish Church, whose sermon about not closing church for coronavirus went viral on Sunday, December 19, 2021:

He has the following suggestions for 2022, which will serve us better than easily-broken resolutions:

The Revd Steve Collier encourages us to put away fear and embrace living:

As far as coronavirus is concerned, Mr Pearson-Gee would like a focus on meaningful data rather than scary statistics:

He was bemused by a panicked mother who drove her child from Kent to Milan for the vaccine:

On the deeply sad news that 400 Anglican churches have closed in England over the past decade alone, he made an unintentional yet inspired typo. He meant to say ‘conversation’:

I am pretty sure that the Church of England hierarchy is responsible for a number of those closures, as they advocate for online church and only a hub of actual buildings. Philistines! The laity are fighting back. We’ll see who wins.

At least Mr Pearson-Gee’s church is doing well:

People know that they need more human contact rather than online participation.

The Revd David Horrocks of Barkham Church in Wokingham

… pointed out the late Revd John Stott‘s prediction 40 years ago about this sort of thing:

Stott also warned about the effect of television on children:

In closing, why do we persevere with our faith? Because our Lord and Saviour did. He set the example:

Jonathan Edwards, who was a Congregationalist, can teach us a few eternal truths from long ago. It’s all in the Bible.

More’s the pity that the Church of England isn’t more rigorous in its seminary curriculum. At least Mr Horrocks reads a lot of solid theology books, such as this one by a Presbyterian, Sinclair Ferguson, in his own time:

There is a remnant of Anglican clergy who are truly devoted to Jesus Christ and, through Him, God the Father. We read so much about the irritating hierarchy and so little about the good local priests leading their flocks to light and truth.

I will pray that they continue to be faithful servants.

For at least ten years the Christians living in the Holy Land have been persecuted.

Over Christmas 2021, articles and interviews surfaced about their plight. Sadly, this is not new, but it does show how impossible a resolution to this situation seems.

In July 2011, The Sunday Times reported that the then-Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams was launching an appeal for Christians suffering in the Holy Land (emphases mine below):

The Archbishop of Canterbury Dr Rowan Williams yesterday launched an appeal for “suffering” Christians in the Holy Land, calling for Anglicans to do more to help with community projects and job creation.

Dr Rowan Williams told the General Synod in York: “I returned from a visit to the Holy Land last year with a very, very strong sense that we had to do more to express our solidarity with the Christian communities there …

He said he hoped that Anglicans and others would give generously to help build a fund for projects that would contribute to the sustainability of the most vulnerable Christian communities, especially on the West Bank

He launched the appeal prior to a joint conference on Christians in the Holy Land with England’s Catholic Archbishop — now Cardinal — Vincent Nichols :

Dr Williams’ appeal came ahead of a conference on Christians in the Holy Land which he and the Archbishop of Westminster Vincent Nichols are jointly hosting at Lambeth Palace in London next week.

In a video presentation to explain his appeal Dr Williams warns that the rate of Christian emigration from the Holy Land had reached the point of “haemorrhage”

Archbishop Vincent Nichols says: “People are leaving, Christians are leaving, and we want to say the Christian presence in the Holy Land is important to its balance, to its — not just its historical reality but to its presence and future viability.”

In January 2018, Patriarch Theophilos III, the Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, wrote an article for The Guardian, ‘Christians are at risk of being driven out of the Holy Land’.

The Patriarch is from the Holy Land and says that socio-political tension has been part of the problem:

Much attention has been paid recently to political decisions recognising Jerusalem in one light or another. The media attention highlights the seemingly intractable political struggle here. But as well as the threat to the political status quo, there is a threat also to the religious status quo, a threat instigated by radical settlers in and around Jerusalem, the heart of Christianity. And one group that has always been a pillar of society in the Holy Land – Christians – seems to have been rendered invisible in this standoff

Now various sides want to claim the Holy Land, including Jerusalem, as the exclusive possession of only one people. This treats with contempt the mechanism that has maintained peace and our multi-religious landscape for generations.

A delegation of Christians had travelled to the UK only a short time before to discuss the seriousness of their plight:

Recently Christian communities from the Holy Land came to the UK to seek support for our plight in the face of legal and land threats to the Christian church in the Holy Land. We were moved that church leaders from across the UK came to our support. In meetings with Prince Charles and government ministers, as well as with church leaders, we highlighted a proposed “church lands” bill signed by 40 members of Israel’s Knesset that would restrict the rights of churches to deal independently with their own land. We also discussed threats to church land around the Jaffa gate of the Old City of Jerusalem.

Cardinal Nichols was also there:

The UK’s Catholic Cardinal Vincent Nichols summed up the view of many when he told us that the proposed bill represented “an intolerable infringement of the status quo and the legitimate rights of the churches, and should be recognised for what it is: an attack on the property rights of the Christian community”.

‘Radical settlers’ added to the tension:

In addition to the church lands bill, one of the foremost threats to Christians in the Holy Land is the unacceptable activities of radical settler groups, which are attempting to establish control over properties around the Jaffa gate. The properties in question are in the heart of Jerusalem’s Christian quarter, the seat of all the patriarchates and headquarters of the churches, and less than 500m from the Church of the Holy Sepulchre

If the settler groups were to gain control of the properties, they would be able to pursue their aggressive campaign of removing non-Jews from the City and from these strategic centres at the heart of the Christian quarter, threatening the very presence of Christians in the Holy Land.

The Patriarch explains that the holy places are sacred because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one:

The Christian understanding of holy places is that all people have claims to the sanctity of their holy places, because holiness is a divine characteristic, not a human one. No party should ever be able to make an exclusive claim over a holy place – in this case, over the holy city of Jerusalem.

We shall continue the fight for this cause because it is right and because it is our basic pastoral duty.

Incidentally, in neighbouring Syria, in 2019, the Jerusalem Post featured a contrasting news story and a podcast: ‘Muslims convert to Christianity in Syrian town once besieged by ISIS’.

This took place in the town of Kobani:

A community of Syrians who converted to Christianity from Islam is growing in Kobani, a town besieged by Islamic State for months, and where the tide turned against the militants four years ago.

The converts say the experience of war and the onslaught of a group claiming to fight for Islam pushed them towards their new faith. After a number of families converted, the Syrian-Turkish border town’s first evangelical church opened last year.

Islamic State militants were beaten back by U.S. air strikes and Kurdish fighters at Kobani in early 2015, in a reversal of fortune after taking over swaths of Iraq and Syria. After years of fighting, U.S.-backed forces fully ended the group’s control over populated territory last month …

Christianity is one of the region’s minority faiths that was persecuted by Islamic State.

Critics view the new converts with suspicion, accusing them of seeking personal gain such as financial help from Christian organizations working in the region, jobs and enhanced prospects of emigration to European countries.

The newly-converted Christians of Kobani deny those accusations. They say their conversion was a matter of faith.

“After the war with Islamic State people were looking for the right path, and distancing themselves from Islam,” said Omar Firas, the founder of Kobani’s evangelical church. “People were scared and felt lost.”

Firas works for a Christian aid group at a nearby camp for displaced people that helped set up the church …

The church’s current pastor, Zani Bakr, 34, arrived last year from Afrin, a town in northern Syria. He converted in 2007.

That is a most positive step for the Good News.

Returning to Jerusalem, on Sunday, December 19, 2021, the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, and Hosam Naoum, the Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, co-authored an article for The Sunday Times: ‘Let us pray for the Christians being driven from the Holy Land’.

The two men say that the radical settlers have increased their persecution of Christians in the Holy Land:

Last week church leaders in Jerusalem raised an unprecedented and urgent alarm call. In a joint statement they said Christians throughout the Holy Land had become the target of frequent and sustained attacks by fringe radical groups.

They described “countless incidents” of physical and verbal assaults against priests and other clergy, and attacks on Christian churches. They spoke of holy sites being regularly vandalised and desecrated, and the ongoing intimidation of local Christians as they go about their worship and daily lives.

The Romanian Orthodox monastery in Jerusalem was vandalised during Lent in March this year, the fourth attack in a month. During Advent last December, someone lit a fire in the Church of All Nations in the Garden of Gethsemane, the place where Jesus prayed the night before he was crucified. It is usually a place of pilgrimage for Christians from around the world, and the vandals are thought to have taken advantage of the lack of visitors due to the pandemic.

These tactics are being used by such radical groups “in a systematic attempt to drive the Christian community out of Jerusalem and other parts of the Holy Land”, the Jerusalem church leaders said in their statement.

That is why, when you speak to Palestinian Christians in Jerusalem today, you will often hear this cry: “In 15 years’ time, there’ll be none of us left!”

This crisis takes place against a century-long decline in the Christian population in the Holy Land. In 1922, at the end of the Ottoman era, the number of Christians in the Holy Land was estimated at 73,000; about 10 per cent of the population. In 2019, Christians constituted less than 2 per cent of the population of the Holy Land: a massive drop in less than 100 years.

Elsewhere, in Jaffa, for example, there is good news, but not in Jerusalem:

In Israel, the overall number of Christians has risen. The imminent reopening of St Peter’s Anglican Church in Jaffa, which has been closed for more than 70 years, is encouraging. But in east Jerusalem, the central place for pilgrimage and the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre — where Christ is believed to have been crucified — there is a steady decline. Church leaders believe that there are now fewer than 2,000 Christians left in the Old City of Jerusalem

Christians in Israel enjoy democratic and religious freedoms that are a beacon in the region. But the escalation of physical and verbal abuse of Christian clergy, and the vandalism of holy sites by fringe radical groups, are a concerted attempt to intimidate and drive them away. Meanwhile, the growth of settler communities and travel restrictions brought about by the West Bank separation wall have deepened the isolation of Christian villages and curtailed economic and social possibilities.

All of these factors have contributed to a steady stream of Palestinian Christians leaving the Holy Land to seek lives and livelihoods elsewhere — a historic tragedy unfolding in real time.

What can be done?

This trend can be reversed — but action must be taken fast. We encourage governments and authorities in the region to listen to church leaders in their midst: to engage in the practical conversations that will lead to vital Christian culture and heritage being guarded and sustained. The time for action is now.

On Christmas Eve, Tom Harwood of GB News interviewed His Grace Bishop Dr Munib Younan from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Palestine and Jordan:

He pleaded for the radicals to ‘be brought to justice’ and asked what Jerusalem would be like without its Christian community. He says that the city belongs to three faiths: Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

He said that love is at the heart of the Christian message and that those who are persecuted should pray for their attackers. He added that Christ died on the Cross to give us life and life abundantly.

He ended by saying that everyone has to work together to resolve this ongoing and desperate situation.

On Wednesday, 29 December, Janine di Giovanni, a journalist and Senior Fellow at Yale University’s Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, wrote about this subject in a broader sense for The Telegraph: ‘We need to talk about the persecution of Christians in the Middle East’.

She has reported from the Middle East for three decades and says:

I can tell you first hand, as a human rights reporter who spent three decades working in the Middle East, the situation there is urgent and it threatens to disrupt the entire demographic of the area. I made it my mission to work with embattled Christians, aiding them in their plight and trying to get the message out to the wider world: they are in peril. And so, I began in-depth field work on the most vulnerable Christian communities. I focused on four areas where I felt the risk was most prominent: Iraq, Syria, Egypt, and the minute group of Christians in the Gaza Strip. Their numbers are dwindling rapidly.

Social scientists estimate that some of them – such as the Iraqi Christians whose populations have plummeted from close to 1.5 million to an estimated 100,000 in 40 years – are in danger of extinction. It is unthinkable to me that Christianity in its birthplace, the land of the prophets where St. Thomas or Jonah had wandered, might disappear. Everywhere I went as a war reporter in my long career – Africa, Asia, the Balkans, Afghanistan – I always found a church. No matter where I was, these visits drew me back into a safe place where I found solace and freedom from gripping fear.

Even Kabul had a tiny Catholic chapel, Our Lady of Divine Providence, at the Italian Embassy, opened in 2002 after the fall of the Taliban. But unlike the Christians in the Middle East – whose ancestry can stretch back to the prophets two millenn[ia] ago – the tiny population of Afghan Christians were nearly all converts. Nonetheless, this month, Father Giovanni Scalese, the leader of that community, who has since fled, issued a plea that Christians need no “obstacles to religious freedom.” Their situation is bad in Afghanistan, but even worse in the Middle East.

During lockdown, she began writing a book — The Vanishing: The Twilight of Christianity in the Middle East — based on journals of interviews that she has kept since the 1990s. Her article recounts some of what Christians are experiencing in that part of the world. It’s a harrowing read.

However, one place stood out for her:

it was the 800 Christian inhabitants of Gaza who perhaps touched me the most. Gaza was mostly Christian until the fourth Century. Today, the mainly Greek Orthodox Christians – but also Catholics, Lutherans Baptists – are sandwiched between Hamas, which is at war with the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, and also with the Israelis.

The lives of these Christians (as all civilians in Gaza) are perhaps the most hellish on a day-to-day basis: the lack of electricity, fresh water and health services, the fear of more bombing and their inability to visit family in Bethlehem and Jerusalem during the holidays. They are isolated and abandoned. Last summer, I returned, my first trip since Covid – and the situation was the worst I had seen in 30 years.

Nonetheless, faith and love characterise the persecuted:

But faith somehow continues, even in these embattled communities. Throughout the hundreds of interviews I did for The Vanishing, there was one theme that was consistent: love. Whether it was Father Mario da Silva, an inspirational Portuguese priest who had left a comfortable posting in The Vatican to work in Gaza, or a family celebrating its existence after encountering Isil on a mountaintop near Mosul. These people continued to pray, to believe, to gain inner strength from something they could not see or even at times understand: their profound belief in God.

Their faith, in many ways, was more powerful than any of the forces that tried to destroy them.

Christians know that persecution is to be expected, but we can pray that God relieves believers in the Middle East of this daily scourge, a seemingly intractable — and tragic — situation.

Yesterday’s post recapped the horrific murder of Sir David Amess MP on October 15, 2021.

Today’s will cover more about this much admired man’s personal character and political causes.

Posthumous victory: Southend-on-Sea now a city

I was delighted to learn at dinner time last night that the Queen granted Southend-on-Sea city status. Sir David must have mentioned Southend at least once a week in Parliament. He had long campaigned for it and made 115 references to it. Here he is with his two French bulldogs, one of which is Vivienne. He was due to participate with her in the Westminster Dog of the Year charity event on October 28:

The GB News article says that Prime Minister Boris Johnson made the announcement to MPs on Monday, October 18 (emphases mine):

The Prime Minister has notified the House of Commons that the Queen has agreed to confer city status upon Southend in tribute to Sir David Amess who was recently killed.

MPs cheered in the Commons as the Prime Minister announced Southend “will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves”.

Mr Johnson said: “As it is only a short time since Sir David last put that very case to me in this chamber, I am happy to announce that Her Majesty has agreed that Southend will be accorded the city status it so clearly deserves …

That ‘short time’ was probably last Thursday, October 14:

In a three-hour debate on Monday, preceding a service of remembrance at St Margaret’s, the Parliamentary church next to Westminster Abbey, Boris noted that Amess was never an MP interested in climbing the greasy pole to a Cabinet or party leadership position:

“That Sir David spent almost 40 years in this House, but not one day in ministerial office, tells everything about where his priorities lay.”

Boris Johnson, opening tributes to Sir David Amess, told the House of Commons: “The passing of 72 hours has done little to numb the shock and sadness we all felt when we heard of the tragic and senseless death of Sir David Amess.

This House has lost a steadfast servant, we’ve lost a dear friend and colleague, and Julia and her children have lost a loving husband and devoted father.

“Nothing I or anyone else can say can lessen the pain, the grief, the anger they must feel at this darkest of times.”

Returning to Southend-on-Sea, having city status will help to increase its profile and encourage outside investment, as the leader of the city’s council explains below. Incidentally, having a cathedral, the traditional marker of an English city, is no longer necessary. City status is now a symbolic designation:

On Friday night, this Southend business owner said that Amess was dedicated to making his town a city:

Everything I know about Southend I learned from David Amess’s contributions in the House of Commons:

‘Community man’

There are MPs and there are MPs.

Sir David was the type of MP who will be sorely missed by his constituents, who called him a ‘community man’. GB News interviewed several over the weekend, some of whom were in tears or close to it, including men, such as this Leigh-on-Sea councillor:

This councillor from Southend says that Sir David, whose mother lived to the age of 104, used to throw parties for constituents over 100 years old. He also used to ask about local issues in Southend and resolve them with the help of councillors:

Another councillor remembers that Sir David would check on certain constituents to see if they had transport for important meetings, probably related to issues of theirs he was dealing with as an MP. The man says that Sir David would personally drive those constituents to the places they needed to go. And, yes, there were right to life issues he campaigned for:

The Chairman of Leigh-on-Sea council recalls Sir David’s selflessness:

This lady from Leigh-on-Sea, the Essex town where Sir David was stabbed to death (17 times), discusses his dedication to his constituency. Like many other people, she had the pleasure of meeting him at work in nearby Southend:

As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, a man interviewed (at 2:35 in the next video) said that people used to see Amess in the local Lidl, where he took time to chat with fellow shoppers. The man said that he did not vote for him but said that the MP was always available and accessible to everyone:

Vigil Mass

On Friday evening, the Revd Jeffrey Woolnough conducted a vigil Mass at St Peter’s Catholic Church in Eastwood, Leigh-on-Sea.

This is the church the Amess family attend.

The video below has a few photos from the Mass. Starting at the 40-second point, notice how traditional it is. The priest stands with his back to the people, as in days of yore. He also wears a short chasuble that is very pre-Vatican II, a fiddleback. How fortunate for the Amess family to have found such a church:

At 1:50 in the video above, two ladies expressed their grief on Friday night following the vigil Mass. One of them said that Amess ‘knew everybody’. As was the case with other people GB News interviewed, one of ladies said that people used to see him in the supermarket.

GB News was on hand to cover the Mass:

 

A service at Saint Peter’s Church in Eastwood Lane, close to where Sir David was killed, was held on Friday evening to remember him – where he was described by a priest as “Mr Southend”.

The church fell silent as Father Jeffrey Woolnaugh paid tribute to the Conservative MP and invited his constituents to remember him.

He placed a photograph of Sir David at the front of the church, and said: “This liturgy is one I was not expecting to lead today.

“The whole world grieves. In this Mass we pray for the repose of the soul of dear David.

“Have you ever known Sir David Amess without that happy smile on his face? Because the greeting he would always give you was that happy smile.

He carried that great east London spirit of having no fear and being able to talk to people and the level they’re at. Not all politicians, I would say, are good at that.”

Around 80 people attended the service and listened as Father Woolnough recounted his own memories of Sir David.

He said: “When you can speak to your MP and you can talk and get on like a house on fire, that’s when you can talk to them later about things that are important to your area.

“What can we say? He died doing the thing he loved, meeting his constituents, his local people.”

Father Woolnough added that his constituents could “count on” Sir David, and said: “He was always available. We don’t have the words tonight.

“Dear Sir David, rest well.”

The priest also said that Amess’s smile is ingrained on everyone’s hearts:

On Saturday night, a secular candlelit vigil took place near where Sir David was murdered. The Daily Mail has many moving photographs of the gathering.

Biography

Most Britons think that all Conservatives were born with a silver spoon in their mouths.

Not so.

David Amess was born in humble circumstances in London’s East End.

The Telegraph recounted his life:

David Anthony Andrew Amess was born on March 26 1952 in working-class Plaistow, East London, to James Amess, an electrician, and Maud, née Martin, a dressmaker. As Amess recalled, “we were very poor and lived in a small terraced house with no bathroom, an outside toilet and a tin bath hanging on the wall”. In 2014 he would compile and publish a pamphlet, Party of Opportunity, containing short biographies of Tory MPs with working-class origins.

David’s mother was a Roman Catholic who brought him up in the faith and he remained a staunch Catholic throughout his life, his commitment reflected in his opposition to abortion and to the broadening of LGBT rights. “Confession,” he once said, “is very important to me.”

He attended St Antony’s Junior School, Forest Gate, where he was “often in classes of 50, and the teachers still gave us excellent tuition and kept order to a high standard”, and St Bonaventure’s Grammar School, Newham, where he remembered being “quite bossy and pushy” and was rumoured to have once hit a fellow pupil over the head with a bicycle pump.

Until the age of five, Amess said, he had the nickname of “Double Dutch” on account of a bad stutter: he could not make the sounds “st” or “the” and saw a speech therapist for three years, which also had the effect of virtually eliminating his Cockney accent.

He had a varied career prior to entering politics:

He took a degree in Economics and Government at Bournemouth College of Technology. Then, after 18 months’ teaching at a primary school (“I specialised in teaching children who were described as ESN”), and a short stint as an underwriter, he became a recruitment consultant.

One wonders if he met his wife Julia while he was an underwriter:

In 1983 he married Julia Arnold, a former underwriter, who survives him with their four daughters and a son.

Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister during Amess’s early years in politics:

A dedicated Thatcherite, Amess contested the safe Labour seat of Newham North West in 1979, and in 1982 became a councillor in the London borough of Redbridge.

During those years, Essex went from electing Labour MPs to Conservative ones. The county is still Conservative-dominated in Parliament.

In the 1980s and 1990s, the media coined expressions for Essex voters, many of whose families had been moved out of London after the Second World War had ended. The next generation of voters became known collectively as ‘Basildon man’ and ‘white van man’.

Amess rode the crest of that wave, as The Sun‘s Trevor Kavanagh explains:

Basildon was the first constituency he served, beginning in 1983:

When the incumbent Tory MP for Basildon, the Right-wing Harvey Proctor, moved to safer Billericay for the 1983 general election, Amess was chosen to fill his shoes and was duly elected. Three years later he stood down from the council to concentrate on his Westminster seat.

Basildon was regarded as a bellwether seat, and when Amess won it again in 1992, albeit with a tiny majority, it provided the first indication that despite the pundits, and the triumphalism of Labour’s leader Neil Kinnock, the Tories were on course for a fourth successive election victory. He would later describe his campaign in a short pamphlet entitled 1992: Against All Odds! (2012).

Boundary changes prior to the 1997 general election meant that Basildon was almost certain to go Labour, so Amess decided to look elsewhere, and in 1995 was selected to fight Southend West after the retirement of Paul Channon. Returned to Westminster again, he held the seat until his death.

Amess focused on his constituents, first and foremost:

Assiduous and likeable, Amess built a strong personal following by concentrating on constituency issues: the Guardian’s Andrew Rawnsley once suggested that the secret of his electoral success was that “he never completed a sentence without mentioning his constituency”.

This was also reflected away from Parliament:

Amess … was a lifelong supporter of West Ham United, and also followed Basildon United …

Even after he left Basildon, he still returned to visit, as this former Basildon councillor remembers:

He had many accomplishments with regard to charity, earning him a knighthood. He:

was knighted in 2015 and received several awards for his contributions in parliament, including the Animal Welfare and Environment Champion award of the 2011 Dods Charity Champion Awards, and the “Outstanding Achievement Award” at the same event the following year, in recognition of his lifetime commitment to charitable work.

This was how the newly knighted Sir David celebrated:

He did not always follow the Conservative line in Parliament:

he incurred the wrath of many fellow Conservatives by consistently voting to ban foxhunting and hare coursing (though he was in favour of capital punishment), and supporting numerous other animal welfare campaigns.

Many MPs will remember his staunch support of Brexit, however.

They will also remember him for supporting animal causes and an end to fuel poverty:

The most significant of these were the Protection Against Cruel Tethering Act (1988), and the Warm Homes and Energy Conservation Act (2000) …

The animal-related Act, supported by the NFU, banned the tethering of “any horse, ass or mule under such conditions or in such manner as to cause that animal unnecessary suffering”.

The second piece of legislation, following on from the death of a constituent from cold, required the Secretary of State to “publish and implement a strategy for reducing fuel poverty”. The measure was credited with pushing fuel poverty to near the top of the political agenda, contributing to a dramatic fall in the problem in England from 5.1 million households in 1996 to 1.2 million in 2004.

Another cause that Amess supported, thanks to a Leigh-on-Sea constituent, Carla Cressy, was that of endometriosis. 

The Telegraph has the story:

“I first approached Sir David Amess when I’d just found out I had endometriosis five years ago,” says Carla Cressy, 30, an accounts manager from Leigh-on-Sea. “I didn’t know much about it, and realised there was very little awareness, support and education around it. He’s my local MP so I visited him at his surgery. I had no expectations of what would happen. I just knew I wanted to share my story with him, about how I’d suffered with endometriosis for an entire decade before I was diagnosed.

He was so lovely – genuinely concerned and upset about what I’d been through. He said we need to do something about it, and he then really did. He went above and beyond to champion this community like a beacon of light. It was incredible. I am devastated that he’s gone.”

This is what happened:

“Sir David recognised the significant impact endometriosis could have, and really wanted to make a difference to help those with the disease,” says Emma Cox, CEO of Endometriosis UK, a charity that was working closely with an All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) that Sir David set up in 2018 to raise awareness in Parliament of the condition …

One of Sir David’s goals when he created the APPG was for the government to provide education on endometriosis in schools. It’s something the group achieved over a year later, meaning menstrual wellbeing is now included on the English curriculum. “We made so much progress together,” says Cressy, who worked closely with Sir David on the campaign. “He really has changed so many lives, including my own.”

One of Sir David’s upcoming tasks, had he lived, was to ask for further research funding, as a Labour MP explains:

“He really wanted that debate,” says Labour MP Emma Hardy, vice-chair of the APPG on endometriosis. “We’d published a report last year, collecting evidence from women around the country with their experience of endometriosis, and Sir David wanted to draw attention to our recommendations.”

Their key goals are to reduce the time it takes for people to be diagnosed, ensure GPs have enough information to make them aware of the condition, raise public awareness, and fund more research into non-invasive ways of diagnosis …

“The main thing that comes from women is not being listened to, not being believed, taking ages to be diagnosed and then when they are, there’s not much change. Sir David wanted to change that. Endometriosis isn’t party politics, but he was really passionate about trying to do something about this condition. I don’t want him to be remembered as the person this tragedy happened to, but the person who worked so hard to improve the lives of people with endometriosis. We can’t replace him, but I hope we can find another Conservative MP to champion his work and continue with the APPG.”

This GB News video covers Sir David’s public life from the time he entered politics:

MPs paid respects

On Friday afternoon, Union flags were lowered to half-mast over government buildings, including No. 10:

On Saturday morning, prominent Conservative and Labour MPs laid flowers near the Methodist church hall where Sir David was murdered:

Government whips have reminded MPs that there is an Employee Assistance Programme for anyone among them who wants counselling after Sir David’s senseless murder.

Everyone, regardless of party affiliation, was deeply sorry to lose this man:

This was because he befriended MPs from both sides of the aisle and found ways to work constructively with them:

One of the things I found moving in watching and reading these tributes was the recollection made by more than one MP, regardless of party affiliation, on his befriending of new Parliamentarians. He introduced himself, asked how they were getting on and enquired if they had any issues with which he could help.

Conservative MPs

These are some of the Conservative MPs’ tributes, beginning with Boris’s:

Long-time friend David Davis paid tribute to Amess’s career of service, rather than ambition:

Stuart Anderson remembers Amess helping him settle into the job:

Andrew Rosindell, another Essex MP, lamented the loss of his oldest friend in the Commons:

Another long-time friend, David Jones, called him ‘frankly irreplaceable’:

I agree with Mike Wood. Forthcoming Adjournment debates will never be the same. That said, Southend is now a city:

The folks running PARLY agree on the adjournment debates, during which Sir David addressed more issues than Southend:

Labour

Party leader Sir Keir Starmer emphasised Amess’s Christian faith and the fact that he was well liked across the House:

Hilary Benn remembered Amess’s dogged campaigning and dedication:

Siobhain McDonagh will forever connect Amess with Southend, and who can blame her?

Steve McCabe will remember Amess’s cheerful nature:

John Cryer was a former neighbour:

Liberal Democrat

The most moving tribute, however, came from Lembit Öpik, a former Liberal Democrat MP, who spoke to Mark Dolan on GB News Saturday night:

The former MP was so moved that he had to sit down and recover after that interview. Mark Dolan’s producer was with him during that time.

Conclusion

It was serendipitous that the Gospel reading for Sunday, October 17, was about service (Mark 10:35-45):

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

What apposite verses for Sir David Amess, who gave his all in service to his constituents.

May his place in Heaven be an exalted one.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The Temple of the Living God

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?[a] Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

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Last week’s post concerned the greater glory of the New Covenant compared with the Old Covenant, which is no more.

In today’s reading, Paul addresses the Corinthians’ syncretic (false) religion combining Christianity with idolatry.

John MacArthur describes their situation, exacerbated by false teachers (emphases mine):

When a person becomes a believer they are transported out of one world into another And shuttling back and forth is absolutely unacceptable And that is precisely what the Corinthians were trying to do.  Having named the name of Christ, identified with Him, come into the church, they were still hanging on to their own idolatry, their old pagan ways

Corinth was dominated above the city by an acropolis, a high mountain on top of which was the temple to the false deities which engaged itself in pagan ritual and worship and priestess prostitution This temple not only was the center of that religion, but from it disseminated its religious viewpoints and ideologies through the entire culture of Corinth It was a part of everything in life Holidays, festivals, celebrations and so forth.  And it was a constant pull to the Corinthians to fall back into those old patterns And they did

Additionally, the false teachers had come in and they had brought a quasi-Christian syncretism and eclectic religion which took Christianity, a little bit of Jewish legalism and some pagan religion, and melted it all together and offered it as the truth And that compromise had found its way into the Corinthian church and found an audience and some of them were listening and believing and accepting it.  You see, the false teachers wanted to make Christianity more popular, less demanding, less distinct, less narrow, less offensive, less different, less exclusive so they’d get more people in on it, so they could get more money, which is always what false teachers want

And so here is the Corinthian church, new and fresh and being assaulted by pagan religion around it You couldn’t separate the social life from the religion You couldn’t separate the historical life of that village in terms of its patterns from the religion.  And that village that became a city bore all of the signs of the religion that moved in its growth.  It was a full-blown pagan system down to the very core And it was hard to sort it out

To be involved at all in the life of the culture was to be involved in the paganism, unless you made a very clean break The Corinthians didn’t do it And as I said, then add to that the confusion of the false teachers

It’s very much like modern Christianity today, by the way, that seeks to blend Christianity with popular culture, wants to make Christianity more popular, less different, more palatable, less offensive, less narrow, less exclusive.  And the result of it is that true Christianity and the purity of God’s Word gets corrupted by compromise, and the church can become useless and shameful and blasphemous in mocking the truth

With that in mind, Paul instructs the Corinthians to have nothing to do with unbelievers, asking what partnership righteousness has with lawlessness or light with darkness (verse 14).

The answer is none; the two are mutually exclusive, as MacArthur says:

The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive. 

They cannot work together in common partnership; they cannot fellowship together They are not in harmony with one another One is old; the other is new.  One is earthly; the other is heavenly.  One is deadly; the other is life giving.  One is wicked; the other holyOne is built on lies; the other is all truthOne perishes and the other lives eternally.

Paul then is making it clear that believers can’t live in both worlds Certainly, John said this in his first epistle, 1 John, when he clearly identified this disparity between the two worlds with these familiar words, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Mutually exclusive worldsYou can’t be in both at the same time.

MacArthur explains that lawlessness in the Bible is used to describe unbelievers:

Question number one, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?”  Partnership is metoch It’s the only place it’s used in the New Testament, it’s really a synonym for the word Koinonia, which means partnership It means a common sharing together, the common engagement in a common effort And obviously righteousness and lawlessness can’t join hands in the same enterprise Righteousness is that which pleases and honors God Lawlessness is that which displeases and dishonors God Righteousness is doing what is right.  Lawlessness is doing what is wrong. 

Believers are classified in the Bible as righteous The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us ... God has covered us with the righteousness of Christ which includes the forgiveness of sins.  On the other hand, unbelievers are lawless, unrighteous.  Their sins are not forgiven.  There is no possible partnership for those two very opposite categories.

What about unbelievers?  In what way are they lawless?  Well it simply means they do not abide by God’s law They violate it, they rebel against it, and they disobey it And the Bible characterizes unbelievers as lawless They will be damned to eternal punishment because they are lawless, because they are unrighteous, because they violate God’s law and there is no possible cure for that violation because they do not come to the Savior who alone provides forgiveness.  So they die, as Jesus said, in their sins and are punished eternally

Jesus classifies them that way For example, in Matthew 7:23 He says to those who claim to know Him, “I never knew you, depart from Me – ” and here’s His characterization of those to be judged – “you who practice lawlessness.”  The pattern of their life is an ongoing, constant, uninterrupted, violation of God’s law, God’s command, God’s will and God’s Word. 

Therefore, Paul’s primary purpose of that verse is to make it clear that the unrighteous should not be involved with leadership positions in church.

MacArthur has more. He gave this sermon in 1995:

What we’re talking about here is any linking together with an unbeliever in any religious or spiritual enterprise That’s what we’re talking about.  We’re not talking about mutual funds; you can rest easy.  We’re not talking about you should quit your job cause you work with non-believers We’re not talking about Christians pulling out of the school because he doesn’t have a Christian teacher We’re not talking about leaving your neighborhood We’re not talking about any of that.  We’re talking about a spiritual enterprise, worship, ministry, evangelism.

Religious cooperation between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light is ridiculous Why would we want to give Satan access?  You say, “Is this…is this a problem?”  Is this a problem?  This is Satan’s number one ploy.  I remember when I was a student in college I was first confronted with the fact that huge massive evangelistic endeavors were being held in America And the committees were made up of Christians and non-Christians, people who believed the Bible and people who denied the Bible and were theological liberals And I wasn’t particularly profound, believe me, at that age .. But it was in those years and I was asking, “How can they do that?  I don’t understand how you can bring unbelievers and believers together in a common spiritual enterprise.”  It doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, why would you invite Satan in?

We still have that today Satan still endeavors to encroach.  Recently we had the Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles And right around the time of the Promise Keepers, I picked up the Los Angeles Times and found that the Cardinal…the Catholic Cardinal had affirmed everything about the Promise Keepers and encouraged all the parish priests to take all their men That was followed in an article, I think a day later, by the local Mormon bishop who said that he was encouraging all the Mormons to go What does that say about Promise Keepers?  Nothing.  What it says about Satan is everything That’s always been his approach He doesn’t want to fight it; he wants to what?  He wants to join it

If we are married to unbelievers, we should not divorce them, because God hates divorce.

However, Christians looking for a spouse should be careful, nonetheless.

MacArthur relates this true story:

I’ll never forget a young man with whom I had a close association in seminary, one of the most tragic things.  We were dear friends We participated in all kinds of activities together.  He was headed to the ministry, as I was.  We graduated from Talbot Seminary the same year.  He married a Buddhist It wasn’t long until there was a Buddhist altar in his house It wasn’t long until he had abandoned the faith One wife.  You know, whenever I see men who are notably in the mainstream of the church and evangelicalism, and all of a sudden they seem to fall off into some serious deviation or error, I always want to ask, “What is the wife like?”  Certainly in many, many cases, if not most, that’s where Satan’s subtleties enter in.

Paul goes on to ask what accord Christ has with Belial, or Satan, and what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever (verse 15).

The answer, again, is absolutely none.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states another important consideration about a forming a close relationship with an unbeliever:

Believers are made light in the Lord, but unbelievers are in darkness; and what comfortable communion can these have together? Christ and Belial are contrary one to the other; they have opposite interests and designs, so that it is impossible there should be any concord or agreement between them. It is absurd, therefore, to think of enlisting under both; and, if the believer has part with an infidel, he does what in him lies to bring Christ and Belial together.

What a terrifying way to lay out the truth of the matter.

The next three verses — 16 through 18 — are a summary of four verses from the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

“Just as God said I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”  And by the way, that mosaic of Old Testament texts is the blending together of statements made in Leviticus 26:11 and 12, Jeremiah 24:7 and Ezekiel 37 and 27 He is just taking what is the Old Testament teaching and sort of pulling it together in a mosaic and summarizing it, and saying God says He will dwell in His people and walk among them and be their God and they’ll belong to Him.  We are the temple of the living God. 

Paul asks what agreement the temple of God has with idols, stating that we are the temple of the living God, as He said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

I love the fact that He is called the living God as over against the dead idols That’s a common expression with Paul in contrast to dead idols.  He uses it in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians and 1 Timothy.  Any joining to unbelievers is putting idols in the temple of God, or putting the temple of God in an idol temple It is blatantly, overtly, intolerably sacrilegious And he confirms it with that little phrase, “Just as God said.”  And if you do that, you are openly, flagrantly assaulting what God has said. 

Paul continues his scriptural summary, saying that the Lord says to be separate from unbelievers and touch no unclean thing (verse 17), a reference to idols. Then He will welcome us.

Henry has another stern warning:

There is a great deal of danger in communicating with unbelievers and idolators, danger of being defiled and of being rejected; therefore the exhortation is (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 6:17) to come out from among them, and keep at a due distance, to be separate, as one would avoid the society of those who have the leprosy or the plague, for fear of taking infection, and not to touch the unclean thing, lest we be defiled. Who can touch pitch, and not be defiled by it? We must take care not to defile ourselves by converse with those who defile themselves with sin; so is the will of God, as we ever hope to be received, and not rejected, by him.

Paul concludes, saying that, if we do these things, the Lord Almighty will be our Father and we will be His sons and daughters (verse 18).

Henry asks:

is there a greater honour or happiness than this? How ungrateful a thing then must it be if those who have this dignity and felicity should degrade and debase themselves by mingling with unbelievers! Do we thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise?

Here’s a question that many will probably want an answer to: can we take unbelievers to church?

MacArthur says that we definitely can do so:

You say, “Do you mean unbelievers shouldn’t come to church?”  No, I don’t mean that.  I pray God that they will, and when they do that they’ll be saved What I mean is church isn’t to be designed to make pagans feel comfortable That is not its purpose.  They should be starkly held to accountability for their sins when they enter into the place of worship And they should feel uncomfortable and disconcerted.

So, what can we do about unbelievers we know and love?

Pray, pray and pray again that God draws them to Himself through Jesus Christ. I have been praying for months for someone I know to come to the faith. I will continue to do so. It is a long-term project of mine.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

In 2021, the Fourth Sunday in Lent is March 14.

This is also Laetare Sunday, one of joy and hope for the risen Christ.

In the United Kingdom, Laetare Sunday is also Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day. You can read about the history behind this in the following posts:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 3:14-21

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is important to put these verses into context. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors did not think it appropriate to add the preceding 13 verses:

You Must Be Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g]

Nicodemus was a religious ruler, a Pharisee: very learned in Scripture and Mosaic law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy.

He went to see Jesus at night either because he was too busy to meet him during the day, or, more likely, because he did not want to incur the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

Jesus compares Himself to the staff with the brass serpent on it that God told Moses to raise in order to end the plague of fiery serpents that He had visited upon the Israelites (verse 14). Those who looked upon the brass serpent were cured. Those who refused to look at it died.

Those who believe in Jesus will never die (verse 15).

That serpent on the pole was a figurative representation of Christ on the Cross.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains this in full:

The Son of man is lifted up, as the serpent of brass was by Moses, which cured the stung Israelites. 1. It was a serpent of brass that cured them. Brass is bright we read of Christ’s feet shining like brass, Revelation 1:15. It is durable Christ is the same. It was made in the shape of a fiery serpent, and yet had no poison, no sting, fitly representing Christ, who was made sin for us and yet knew no sin was made in the likeness of sinful flesh and yet not sinful as harmless as a serpent of brass. The serpent was a cursed creature Christ was made a curse. That which cured them reminded them of their plague so in Christ sin is set before us most fiery and formidable. 2. It was lifted up upon a pole, and so must the Son of man be lifted up thus it behoved him, Luke 24:26,46. No remedy now. Christ is lifted up, (1.) In his crucifixion. He was lifted up upon the cross. His death is called his being lifted up, John 12:32,33. He was lifted up as a spectacle, as a mark, lifted up between heaven and earth, as if he had been unworthy of either and abandoned by both. (2.) In his exaltation. He was lifted up to the Father’s right hand, to give repentance and remission he was lifted up to the cross, to be further lifted up to the crown. (3.) In the publishing and preaching of his everlasting gospel, Revelation 14:6. The serpent was lifted up that all the thousands of Israel might see it. Christ in the gospel is exhibited to us, evidently set forth Christ is lifted up as an ensign, Isaiah 11:10. 3. It was lifted up by Moses. Christ was made under the law of Moses, and Moses testified of him. 4. Being thus lifted up, it was appointed for the cure of those that were bitten by fiery serpents. He that sent the plague provided the remedy. None could redeem and save us but he whose justice had condemned us. It was God himself that found the ransom, and the efficacy of it depends upon his appointment. The fiery serpents were sent to punish them for their tempting Christ (so the apostle saith, 1 Corinthians 10:9), and yet they were healed by virtue derived from him. He whom we have offended is our peace.

John MacArthur offers us a practical application of those two verses:

But there’s more to this than just being lifted up in His death. It means that you give Him all your attention. You elevate Him above all others, over all others, as the preeminent one and you look to Him in faith and Him alone for salvation.

The bitten Jews were healed from the poison by a look of faith. They had to believe I’m going to go where that thing is. I’m going to go there, I’m going to look, and if they would do that, they would be healed. And so it is that all God asks of us is to look at His Son, lift Him up. The Jews who were bitten didn’t have to do anything. There were no works. Nothing for which to atone. No restitution, nothing; just look and you have life. What a beautiful analogy. And I know when it happened it was in the plan of God that it would be the analogy of the simplicity of salvation by faith–Christ lifted up; we look at Him and that’s enough, we have life.

And here’s the heart of the heavenly message that Jesus brought down. Verse 15, “So that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Whoever believes will have eternal life. That’s all the sinner can do. Belief, belief–that’s the heart of the gospel.

Jesus sums everything up in verse 16, one of the most famous in the New Testament:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

God did not send Jesus to lead a temporal kingdom or to bring social justice. God sent Jesus to save us from being enslaved by sin and bring us to everlasting life in the world to come, with Him.

Let’s go back to the earlier verses in the chapter where Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born again of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur explains:

Simply stated, What contribution did you make to your physical birth? What? None. You didn’t make a contribution and that’s why the Lord chose this. And nor will you make a contribution to your spiritual birth. So the first thing Jesus says to Nicodemus is—and this stops him dead in his legalistic tracks—something has to happen to you from above and you have no part in it. Try that on the next time you evangelize somebody. You need something you can’t do. You need something you can’t participate in. You need something you can’t contribute to. You need heaven to come down. And oh, by the way, unless you’re born from above, born again, unless you’re born of the Spirit, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God. And by the way, the Spirit comes and goes when He wills, and you can’t call Him and you can’t dismiss Him. And this is the doctrine of divine calling, the effectual call, the efficient call. This is what some call irresistible grace. This is the calling that identifies the church as the called. It’s divine.

All of this speaks of an incomprehensible love that God has for mankind. We will never be able to comprehend this during our temporal lives.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that God does not wish to condemn the world but to save it (verse 17), although those who do not believe in Jesus will be condemned forever (verse 18).

Henry makes this observation of the believer:

The cross perhaps lies heavy upon him, but he is saved from the curse: condemned by the world, it may be, but not condemned with the world, Romans 8:1,1 Corinthians 11:32.

He has much to say about unbelievers, whom God condemns in this life and the next:

Observe, [1.] How great the sin of unbelievers is it is aggravated from the dignity of the person they slight they believe not in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, who is infinitely true, and deserves to be believed, infinitely good, and deserves to be embraced. God sent one to save us that was dearest to himself and shall not he be dearest to us? Shall we not believe on his name who has a name above every name? [2.] How great the misery of unbelievers is: they are condemned already which bespeaks, First, A certain condemnation. They are as sure to be condemned in the judgment of the great day as if they were condemned already. Secondly, A present condemnation. The curse has already taken hold of them the wrath of God now fastens upon them. They are condemned already, for their own hearts condemn them. Thirdly, A condemnation grounded upon their former guilt: He is condemned already, for he lies open to the law for all his sins the obligation of the law is in full force, power, and virtue, against him, because he is not by faith interested in the gospel defeasance he is condemned already, because he has not believed. Unbelief may truly be called the great damning sin, because it leaves us under the guilt of all our other sins it is a sin against the remedy, against our appeal.

Jesus explains God’s judgement to Nicodemus: when people turn away from the light of Christ it is because they prefer the darkness of evil (verse 19). He adds that such people do not want divine light to expose their evil deeds of darkness (verse 20).

It is still hard for me to believe that unbelievers could actively reject Christ, but MacArthur explains why people are enslaved to sin:

There’s one reason people don’t believe in Christ, one reason. They love their sin. They don’t want to come near Christ ’cause He shines a light on their sin, exposes their sin. Sinners love sin. It’s not ignorance. It’s not lacking the basic faculties of reason. It’s not misunderstanding. Sinners prefer moral darkness. They’re like bugs that run for the dark when you pick the rock up. They love their corruption. They delight in their evil and love darkness, hate light, don’t want to come to the light because if they come to the light they’ll be exposed for what they are. So they resent the truth, they resent the Scripture, they resent the church, they resent Christians, they run from us. It’s strong—it’s a strong, dominating compulsion in a fallen heart. If you look at John 7:7 it says, “The world cannot hate you,” Jesus talking, “but it hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” They hate Christ because He exposes their sin. That eventually gets passed down to us.

And how. We live in a time of Christian censorship which, in some cases, extends to active persecution.

Jesus ends his discourse by saying that those who do what is right come to the light so that it is clear that God is working through them (verse 21).

MacArthur tells us:

… if you’re one of those who practices the truth, the light comes on and you take a look at your life in the light and you say, “What’s going on in me is wrought by God.” And there’s confidence and assurance and joy in that. We come to the light, we love the light, we welcome the communion with Christ. And there’s no fear; there’s complete acceptance and security and joy and protection and love. Boy, what a…what a…what a message Nicodemus got that day and he never even asked a question. He just got his heart read.

MacArthur gave this sermon in 2013, when Rick Warren’s book on ‘purpose’ in the Church was popular. MacArthur rightly says that notion is false:

Stop saying, “Do you want purpose in your life? Jesus will give you purpose.” Stop that. Stop saying Jesus will make you happy, give you a better life, solve your problems, make you better, make you richer—stop. That produces false converts because that sheds no light on the sinner’s wretchedness. That uncovers nothing. That exposes nothing. That’s a lie. What you want to do is shine the light of the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ as brightly as you can on the sinner and see if the sinner runs. That has no value to people, that kind of stuff—produces nothing but false converts. The issue is to confront sin in all its horror and all its ugliness and they will seal their sentence by rejecting Christ because they love their iniquity. Or by the grace of God they will run to the truth, verse 21, “He who practices the truth comes to the light so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

MacArthur has more advice on evangelising:

So when you talk to people, I think it’s sometimes okay to say, “You know, you’re a lawbreaker, you’ve broken this law, broken that law, broken the Ten Commandments, fine. That’s all forgivable.” Sooner or later in the conversation, and may I suggest sooner rather than later, you need to address people about what they think concerning Jesus Christ and cut to the chase and say, “If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and Savior, and Lord, you will die in your sins and go to hell. That is the one unforgivable sin”

What you’re going to say when you stand before God is this, “I refuse to believe in Jesus Christ,” and that’s the issue. And that will be the issue. You have been judged already—you’re condemned and sentenced. And if you continue in unbelief, you will perish.

What can we do? Pray for unbelievers, known and unknown. Unbelievers can also pray for faith — and more faith — through divine grace.

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday (sadly, the second one under coronavirus lockdown).

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 2:13-16

13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.[a]

14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. 15 The spiritual person judges all things, but is himself to be judged by no one. 16 “For who has understood the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

—————————————————————————————————–

Today, having finished a study of Romans, we begin exploring the Lectionary verses omitted from 1 Corinthians.

I have included today’s verses, even though they are optional in the Epistle read on the Fifth Sunday of Epiphany in Year A. One wonders how often these important verses are included in the Epistle read in churches on that day.

The church in Corinth, which Paul founded, had particular challenges because of the cosmopolitan mindset of that city. The people of Corinth were similar to the residents of many major cities of our time. They were noted for their promiscuity, lax morality and litigious tendencies.

John MacArthur’s Grace To You (GTY) site has an introduction to 1 Corinthians, excerpted below (emphases mine).

The early Church fathers authenticated this letter — epistle — as belonging to Paul:

… the epistle was written by the Apostle Paul, whose authorship cannot be seriously questioned. Pauline authorship has been universally accepted by the church since the first century, when 1 Corinthians was penned. Internally, the apostle claimed to have written the epistle (1:1, 13; 3:4–6; 4:15; 16:21). Externally, this correspondence has been acknowledged as genuine since A.D. 95 by Clement of Rome, who was writing to the Corinthian church. Other early Christian leaders who authenticated Paul as author include Ignatius (ca. A.D. 110), Polycarp (ca. A.D. 135), and Tertullian (ca. A.D. 200).

Here is the timeline:

This epistle was most likely written in the first half of A.D. 55 from Ephesus (16:8, 9, 19) while Paul was on his third missionary journey. The apostle intended to remain on at Ephesus to complete his 3 year stay (Acts 20:31) until Pentecost (May/June) A.D. 55 (16:8). Then he hoped to winter (A.D. 55–56) at Corinth (16:6; Acts 20:2). His departure for Corinth was anticipated even as he wrote (4:19; 11:34; 16:8).

As Acts 18 is not in the Lectionary, you can read more in my posts below:

Acts 18:1-4 — Paul, Corinth, Aquila, Priscilla

Acts 18:5-11: Paul, Corinth, Silas, Timothy, election, predestination

Acts 18:12-17 – St Paul, Corinth, Gallio, Sosthenes, tribunal

Acts 18:18-23 — Paul, Priscilla and Aquila, Ephesus, Syria, Nazirite vow, churches in Syria, Galatia and Phyrgia

Acts 18:24-28 – Apollos, Priscilla and Aquila, Ephesus, Achaia

Corinth was a thriving city by any standard:

The city of Corinth was located in southern Greece, in what was the Roman province of Achaia, ca. 45 miles W from Athens. This lower part, the Peloponnesus, is connected to the rest of Greece by a 4-mile-wide isthmus, which is bounded on the E by the Saronic Gulf and on the W by the Gulf of Corinth. Corinth is near the middle of the isthmus and is prominently situated on a high plateau. For many centuries, all N-S land traffic in that area had to pass through or near this ancient city. Since travel by sea around the Peloponnesus involved a 250 mile voyage that was dangerous and obviously time consuming, most captains carried their ships on skids or rollers across the isthmus directly past Corinth. Corinth understandably prospered as a major trade city, not only for most of Greece but for much of the Mediterranean area, including North Africa, Italy, and Asia Minor. A canal across the isthmus was begun by the emperor Nero during the first century A.D., but was not completed until near the end of the nineteenth century.

In addition to its flourishing trade, Corinth was well known for hosting the Isthmian games, which attracted great audiences from near and far.

Morally, the Corinthians stood out as being debauched people:

Even by the pagan standards of its own culture, Corinth became so morally corrupt that its very name became synonymous with debauchery and moral depravity. To “corinthianize” came to represent gross immorality and drunken debauchery. In 6:9, 10, Paul lists some of the specific sins for which the city was noted and which formerly had characterized many believers in the church there. Tragically, some of the worst sins were still found among some church members. One of those sins, incest, was condemned even by most pagan Gentiles (5:1).

Matthew Henry’s introduction makes a similar observation:

It was in a particular manner noted for fornication, insomuch that a Corinthian woman was a proverbial phrase for a strumpet, and korinthiazein, korinthiasesthai–to play the Corinthian, is to play the whore, or indulge whorish inclinations.

The city had an acropolis — ‘a high city’ — which the Corinthians used both for defence and for worship. The acropolis had a temple dedicated to Aphrodite, the goddess of love. At night, the temple’s priestesses offered their services to men in the city. GTY‘s introduction tells us:

Some 1, 000 priestesses, who were “religious” prostitutes, lived and worked there and came down into the city in the evening to offer their services to male citizens and foreign visitors.

Acts 18 tells us how Paul founded the church in Corinth:

The church in Corinth was founded by Paul on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1ff.). As usual, his ministry began in the synagogue, where he was assisted by two Jewish believers, Priscilla and Aquila, with whom he lived for a while and who were fellow tradesmen. Soon after, Silas and Timothy joined them and Paul began preaching even more intensely in the synagogue. When most of the Jews resisted the gospel, he left the synagogue, but not before Crispus, the leader of the synagogue, his family, and many other Corinthians were converted (Acts 18:5–8).

After ministering in Corinth for over a year and a half (Acts 18:11), Paul was brought before a Roman tribunal by some of the Jewish leaders. Because the charges were strictly religious and not civil, the proconsul, Gallio, dismissed the case. Shortly thereafter, Paul took Priscilla and Aquila with him to Ephesus. From there he returned to Israel (vv. 18–22).

Unable to fully break with the culture from which it came, the church at Corinth was exceptionally factional, showing its carnality and immaturity. After the gifted Apollos had ministered in the church for some time, a group of his admirers established a clique and had little to do with the rest of the church. Another group developed that was loyal to Paul, another claimed special allegiance to Peter (Cephas), and still another to Christ alone (see 1:10–13; 3:1–9).

Both commentators agree that Paul wrote this epistle to the Corinthians to correct their faults, both spiritual and moral. Henry has this take, which includes their penchant for adult incest because of a false teacher in their midst:

Some time after he left them he wrote this epistle to them, to water what he had planted and rectify some gross disorders which during his absence had been introduced, partly from the interest some false teacher or teachers had obtained amongst them, and partly from the leaven of their old maxims and manners, that had not been thoroughly purged out by the Christian principles they had entertained. And it is but too visible how much their wealth had helped to corrupt their manners, from the several faults for which the apostle reprehends them. Pride, avarice, luxury, lust (the natural offspring of a carnal and corrupt mind), are all fed and prompted by outward affluence. And with all these either the body of this people or some particular persons among them are here charged by the apostle. Their pride discovered itself in their parties and factions, and the notorious disorders they committed in the exercise of their spiritual gifts. And this vice was not wholly fed by their wealth, but by the insight they had into the Greek learning and philosophy. Some of the ancients tell us that the city abounded with rhetoricians and philosophers. And these were men naturally vain, full of self-conceit, and apt to despise the plain doctrine of the gospel, because it did not feed the curiosity of an inquisitive and disputing temper, nor please the ear with artful speeches and a flow of fine words. Their avarice was manifest in their law-suits and litigations … before heathen judges. Their luxury appeared in more instances than one, in their dress, in their debauching themselves even at the Lord’s table, when the rich, who were most faulty on this account, were guilty also of a very proud and criminal contempt of their poor brethren. Their lust broke out in a most flagrant and infamous instance, such as had not been named among the Gentiles, not spoken of without detestation–that a man should have his father’s wife, either as his wife, or so as to commit fornication with her. This indeed seems to be the fault of a particular person; but the whole church were to blame that they had his crime in no greater abhorrence, that they could endure one of such very corrupt morals and of so flagitious a behaviour among them. But their participation in his sin was yet greater, if, as some of the ancients tell us, they were puffed up on behalf of the great learning and eloquence of this incestuous person.

The abhorrent false teaching about incest was the main reason why Paul insisted the faithful implement a system of church discipline (1 Corinthians 5), verses which are notably not in the Lectionary.

The Corinthians were in a very bad way.

In addition to addressing their immorality, Paul calls for church unity around Christ, not various factions (1 Corinthians 1). He also gives them several lessons on doctrine, reverence and godly living.

In 1 Corinthians 2, Paul tells them that wisdom comes not from man, i.e. philosophy, but from God.

The context to today’s passage can be seen in the two preceding verses:

11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God.

One also does not need to be a towering genius to understand God’s wisdom or to be edified by it. This is why gnosticism was declared a heresy; it relies on unnecessary esoteric ‘knowledge’ and interpretations of the Gospel.

Paul tells the Corinthians that Christians receive their wisdom from the Holy Spirit rather than mankind (verse 13). Only the Holy Spirit can enable us to understand God’s wisdom. Furthermore, only those filled with the Spirit can understand God’s spiritual truth.

MacArthur explains:

The poor, the uneducated, simple people, for the most part, have always in history constituted the make-up of the church. The reason is they stand then collectively as a testimonial as a rebuke against the world. As the Gentiles stand to make Israel jealous, so do the foolish, the simple stand as redeemed people to make the wise of this world jealous.

As we saw last time, the simplest person without any education who knows God knows more than the greatest philosopher in the world who doesn’t know God. And what a rebuke that is to human wisdom.

Also:

As soon as you became Christian, the first thing you received was wisdom. Who are the truly wise in this world but those who know God. Who are the truly wise in this world but those who know salvation. We are the wise, and we stand as a testimony for all time that God took simple, humble people who didn’t know enough to do anything to redeem themselves, to transform themselves, who didn’t even have the mind and the mental abilities of the best of the world, and He made us the wisest in existence; and His is the glory.

Because only those whom the Spirit has enlightened can understand God’s truth, that truth appears as ‘folly’ — foolishness — to others (verse 14). Is this not something we are surrounded by today? So many people puff themselves up because of their earthly knowledge, particularly when it comes to technology and other scientific endeavours. The vast majority of them openly ridicule a belief in God. They deride us as fools or chumps.

Paul refers frequently to unbelievers as ‘natural’, meaning of an unspiritual, carnal nature, interested merely in self-gratification.

Henry tells us that the ‘natural man’ was very much in vogue in Paul’s era. Natural men viewed each other as being wise, hence the popularity of human philosophy:

The natural man, that is, the wise man of the world (1 Corinthians 1:19,20), the wise man after the flesh, or according to the flesh (1 Corinthians 2:26), one who hath the wisdom of the world, man’s wisdom (1 Corinthians 2:4-6), a man, as some of the ancients, that would learn all truth by his own ratiocinations, receive nothing by faith, nor own any need of supernatural assistance. This was very much the character of the pretenders to philosophy and the Grecian learning and wisdom in that day. Such a man receives not the things of the Spirit of God. Revelation is not with him a principle of science; he looks upon it as delirium and dotage, the extravagant thought of some deluded dreamer. It is no way to wisdom among the famous masters of the world; and for that reason he can have no knowledge of things revealed, because they are only spiritually discerned, or made known by the revelation of the Spirit, which is a principle of science or knowledge that he will not admit.

It is the same in our time.

Paul goes on to say that the spiritual person can judge all things but can be judged by no one (verse 15). Substitute ‘discern’ and ‘discerned’ for a better context.

Those enlightened by the Spirit can discern not only worldly but also spiritual things. The natural man cannot discern the spiritual. Therefore, he is incapable of understanding those whom the Spirit governs.

Henry says:

In short, he who founds all his knowledge upon principles of science, and the mere light of reason, can never be a judge of the truth or falsehood of what is received by revelation.

I highlighted ‘all’ because philosophy and science certainly have their place. St Thomas Aquinas, who lived during the Middle Ages, is undoubtedly the greatest Christian philosopher. This is because the Spirit governed his mind. Some of our greatest scientists from the age of Enlightenment through to the 19th century were Christian. Gregor Mendel, an Augustinian monk who lived during the 19th century, is the father of genetics. Thanks to his painstaking experiments with pea plants, he discovered dominant and recessive genes, which he called ‘factors’. Of course, farmers had known since the dawn of time how to cross-breed plants and animals successfully, but they did not know the rules as to why. Mendel’s extensive work firmly established those rules.

But I digress.

In verse 16, Paul cites Isaiah 40:13. One can substitute ‘directed’ for ‘measured’ below:

Who has measured[a] the Spirit of the Lord,
    or what man shows him his counsel?

Man is incapable of measuring or directing the Triune God, however, as Paul affirms, believers have the mind of Christ. The Spirit governs our minds.

Henry explains:

Very few have known any thing of the mind of God by a natural power. But, adds the apostle, we have the mind of Christ; and the mind of Christ is the mind of God. He is God, and the principal messenger and prophet of God. And the apostles were empowered by his Spirit to make known his mind to us. And in the holy scriptures the mind of Christ, and the mind of God in Christ, are fully revealed to us. Observe, It is the great privilege of Christians that they have the mind of Christ revealed to them by his Spirit.

What a marvellous thought on which to end.

This theme continues in next week’s reading, which is not in the Lectionary.

Next time –1 Corinthians 4:6-7

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