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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.”

———————————————————————————————–

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

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 15:1-3

The Example of Christ

15 We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. 2 Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. For Christ did not please himself, but as it is written, “The reproaches of those who reproached you fell on me.”

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Last week’s reading concluded Paul’s teaching about stronger and weaker brothers with regard to food and drink. Stronger brothers must refrain from discouraging weaker brothers in their faith. They must not cause their weaker church members to suffer pangs of conscience by forcing them to consume things that go against their personal beliefs. Instead, stronger brothers must find food that meets with the weaker brothers’ approval and avoid drink for this reason, if necessary.

Romans 15 builds on the care that stronger brothers must give to the weaker ones in more general terms. These are difficult to read and to hear because they require patience and understanding in practice. Yet, as the heading says, we must follow ‘the example of Christ’.

We must focus on the bigger picture of Christian unity by understanding our weaker brothers and helping them.

John MacArthur puts Paul’s concerns into perspective (emphases mine):

Paul realizes that one of the great dangers to unity in the church is the potential discord between strong and weak Christians. It is of grave concern to him because unity is of such grave concern to him. And we understand why now, don’t we? It is the passionate desire of the heart of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. And since this unity is so essential to God, Paul also finds it essential to teach the matter of unity as well. He knows that one of the great potential problems in the church is conflict between weak and strong Christians who can disrupt the unity of the church. So beginning in chapter 14, verse 1 and running all the way through chapter 15, verse 13, that entire section is all devoted to a discussion of the relationship between strong and weak Christians

A strong believer… It’s not talking so much about just spiritual growth, although that’s part of it. A strong believer is a believer who understands his liberty. He understands what he is free to do. For example, in that culture he understands he’s free to eat pork, even though the Mosaic law forbid it because in Christ that law is set aside. He’s free to do whatever he wants to do any day of the week. He isn’t bound by Sabbath law. He no longer has to be controlled and all of his life charted by the course of the tradition of the Jews, or by the Old Testament ritual and ceremonies. He no longer has to observe feasts and new moons and Sabbaths and dietary laws and clothing laws and all those external things. They’re all gone.

If he’s a Gentile, he knows that it doesn’t matter if he eats meat that was once offered to an idol because an idol is nothing anyway. He’s completely free to do that. Anything that is a thing, he is free to use, he is free to be blessed by. Things are not a problem. There’s nothing forbidden anymore in that sense.

So the strong believer, he can have a ham sandwich, he can eat a pork chop, he can eat meat offered to idols, he can take a long hike with his family on the Sabbath and it doesn’t bother his conscience at all. But a weak believer is one who, having come out of those kinds of backgrounds, doesn’t yet feel the liberty to do that. He may be a Jew who doesn’t feel the liberty to violate the Sabbath, he doesn’t feel the liberty to eat certain meats, he doesn’t feel the liberty to break some festival or feast day. Or maybe he’s a Gentile who doesn’t feel the liberty to eat meat that was once offered to an idol and is now sold in the marketplace. He can’t handle that because it conjures up all the past. And so he doesn’t understand that liberty and the problem in the church comes when the strong believers who understand their freedom flaunt that freedom to the abuse of a weak believer who does not yet understand that freedom. And consequently we devastate them, we grieve them, we make them stumble, we forfeit our witness, we pull down the work of God because they go backwards not forward in their spiritual growth when we flaunt our liberty.

So the injunction comes to the strong believer to set aside his liberty and bear with the weakness of the weak. And do so with love as a privilege. Now we know there are no religious taboos, we know that, we don’t have to fear that. We don’t have to pay any attention to old religious ceremonies. But some people are still bound by that. And we need to be patient until they can grow away from those taboos. And this is the attitude of consideration of others. And this is the first attitude that we must have if we are going to please someone else. We consider them before ourselves.

Therefore, Paul says we are obliged to ‘bear with’ the ‘failings of the weak’ rather than please ourselves (verse 1).

‘Bear with’ means more than ‘put up with’ or ‘tolerate’, as Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

We must consider these; not trample upon them, but encourage them, and bear with their infirmities. If through weakness they judge and censure us, and speak evil of us, we must bear with them, pity them, and not have our affections alienated from them. Alas! it is their weakness, they cannot help it. Thus Christ bore with his weak disciples, and apologised for them. But there is more in it; we must also bear their infirmities by sympathizing with them, concerning ourselves for them, ministering strength to them, as there is occasion. This is bearing one another’s burdens.

It is hard to do. It also requires seemingly endless patience. I have failed on many occasions and will likely fail on many more.

Paul exhorts us to build our neighbour up for his good (verse 2). That means to encourage him in good purposes, not sinful ones. This also means putting aside our own desires, which would be a much easier path to follow.

Henry says:

Christians should study to be pleasing. As we must not please ourselves in the use of our Christian liberty (which was allowed us, not for our own pleasure, but for the glory of God and the profit and edification of others), so we must please our neighbour … Please his neighbour, not in every thing, it is not an unlimited rule; but for his good, especially for the good of his soul: not please him by serving his wicked wills, and humouring him in a sinful way, or consenting to his enticements, or suffering sin upon him; this is a base way of pleasing our neighbour to the ruin of his soul: if we thus please men, we are not the servants of Christ; but please him for his good; not for our own secular good, or to make a prey of him, but for his spiritual good.–To edification, that is, not only for his profit, but for the profit of others, to edify the body of Christ, by studying to oblige one another. The closer the stones lie, and the better they are squared to fit one another, the stronger is the building.

That allegorical last sentence puts it all together nicely: the strength of the Church as a body of people is based on unity, its members being like closely fitting stones.

Paul goes on to say that Christ did not please Himself but suffered reproaches, which He bore willingly (verse 3).

That verse paraphrases Psalm 69:9:

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.

There David is speaking about reproaches against God which have fallen on him. David is seen as a type of Christ. John 2:17 paraphrases the same verse in reference to Christ.

However, that verse also prophesies Christ, as MacArthur explains:

this is a Messianic Psalm. Much of it touches on the Messiah and His agony. Back in verse 4, “They that hate Me without a cause,” no doubt speaks of the hatred of the Lord Jesus Christ. “A stranger to My brethren,” verse 8 and “an alien to My mother’s children.” “He came unto His own and His own received Him not,” and so forth. It speaks about even the betrayal of Christ in this particular passage. It talks about His agony. It talks about, I believe, His trial in the garden, verse 16 down through maybe verse 20 or so. It talks in verse 21, they gave Me vinegar for My food and in My thirst…gall for My food and in My thirst they gave Me vinegar to drink. Now there were… There are many aspects of the Messiah here.

But one of them in verse 9 is that the reproaches that were given to God are also fallen on Him. In other words, in pleasing the Father, Christ receives reproach. That is slander, that is false accusation. That is to suffer insults. And He suffered the same insults God suffered because He represented God. Because men hate God, they hated the one who revealed God. Because they hated the holiness of God, they hated the holiness of Jesus Christ.

Now this willingness to please God even though it meant reproach and suffering and insult and slander and death is the key to the Christian’s attitude. Christ was willing to endure all of this, even the reproaches that fell on God Himself. He bore those reproaches for the sake of doing the Father’s will. He was really indifferent to His own deprivation. He was indifferent to His own pain. He was indifferent to His own agony. And He who bears all of this pain for the sake of pleasing the Father is our example. Rather than running out to please ourselves, we should follow the pattern of Christ and be willing to suffer anything in pleasing another. He set aside all of His divine rights to be subject to the Father and to suffer for the sake of sinners to bring us to God. Can we do less for a fellow Christian? Back to 1 John 2:6, “If we say we abide in Him, we ought to walk as He walked.” If you say you’re a Christian, you ought to have the attitude Christ had.

So, the right motives then are consideration for others, disregard of self and conformity to Christ

There is a lot of theology in these three verses.

Furthermore, there is a difficult instruction to obey in setting aside our own desires, always thinking of the next person. It’s a tall order.

Matthew Henry says that Scripture study and the wisdom of the Holy Spirit can help us, however:

What David had said in his own person Paul had just now applied to Christ. Now lest this should look like a straining of the scripture, he gives us this excellent rule in general, that all the scriptures of the Old Testament (much more those of the New) were written for our learning, and are not to be looked upon as of private interpretation. What happened to the Old-Testament saint happened to them for ensample; and the scriptures of the Old Testament have many fulfillings. The scriptures are left for a standing rule to us: they are written, that they might remain for our use and benefit. First, For our learning. There are many things to be learned out of the scriptures; and that is the best learning which is drawn from these fountains. Those are the most learned that are most mighty in the scriptures. We must therefore labour, not only to understand the literal meaning of the scripture, but to learn out of it that which will do us good; and we have need of help therefore not only to roll away the stone, but to draw out the water, for in many places the well is deep. Practical observations are more necessary than critical expositions. Secondly, That we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope. That hope which hath eternal life for its object is here proposed as the end of scripture-learning. The scripture was written that we might know what to hope for from God, and upon what grounds, and in what way. This should recommend the scripture to us that it is a special friend to Christian hope. Now the way of attaining this hope is through patience and comfort of the scripture. Patience and comfort suppose trouble and sorrow; such is the lot of the saints in this world; and, were it not so, we should have no occasion for patience and comfort. But both these befriend that hope which is the life of our souls. Patience works experience, and experience hope, which maketh not ashamed, Romans 5:3-5. The more patience we exercise under troubles the more hopefully we may look through our troubles; nothing more destructive to hope than impatience. And the comfort of the scriptures, that comfort which springs from the word of God (that is the surest and sweetest comfort) is likewise a great stay to hope, as it is an earnest in hand of the good hoped for. The Spirit, as a comforter, is the earnest of our inheritance.

MacArthur says the same thing:

In this brief justification for using the Old Testament Psalm, Paul gives the value of the Scripture, the value of the Scripture. Whatever things were written in earlier times is a reference to the Old Testament. “Holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit,” and so forth. You know it in 2 Peter 1:21, the Old Testament. Whatever was written in the Old Testament was written for our learning. Now listen carefully. Old Testament scripture was written for New Testament people. It is not a dead book. It is a book that is written for our learning. First Corinthians 10 verses 6 and 11 say it is to provide examples for us, examples for us, patterns for us. Paul said to Timothy, “All Scripture,” and he referred to the Old Testament, “is given by inspiration of God and is profitable.” And he listed some of the things it profits for, “That the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished to all good works.”

Listen, the Old Testament is profitable, it is for our learning. And what does it teach us? That we through endurance, hupomon, endurance and encouragement from the Scriptures might have what? Hope. Hope. I believe that man needs hope more than he needs anything else. The goal of the Scripture is to give hope, hope for the future, hope for life eternal, hope for forgiveness from sin, meaning to life. God is called in Jeremiah 14:8 “The hope of Israel.” God is the giver of hope. Psalm 119 says at least three times, “I have hope in Thy Word.” Psalm 130, verse 5, the same thing, “I have hope in Thy Word.” The reason we have hope is because of what the Bible reveals. Is that not so? Would you have hope in life to come if you’d never read the Scripture? Would you have hope? No, no hope at all. That’s why in Ephesians 4 it says the Gentiles who have not the Scripture are without hope in the world. They are without hope in the world. Hope comes from the Word of God. Without it we have no hope. We don’t know about heaven. We don’t know about Christ and His Kingdom. We don’t know about the glorious reward that lies ahead. We don’t know that without the Scripture. There’s no revelation of that apart from Scripture.

But Scripture gives us hope. And this comes to us through two great spiritual realities, endurance and encouragement. Scripture tells us that we can endure any trial, that we can make it through any difficulty, any vicissitude, any struggle, any anxiety. And James, you remember chapter 5 there, verses 7 to 11, “Be patient therefore, brethren,” or be enduring, brethren, “to the coming of the Lord.” And he goes on to talk about the farmer waiting for the precious fruit of the earth has long patience for it until he received the early, latter rain, be also enduring, establish your hearts, the coming of the Lord is near. Now that comes from the confidence of the Scripture. Scripture tells us that we have a hope and that we have the power to endure. The teaching of the Word of God allows us to patiently endure in this life, waiting for the hope that is set before us. We could not patiently endure the trials of life if we didn’t know…if we had no word from God about how to endure, about how to be secure. If we didn’t know that we were secure, every time a trouble came along we might think we were thrown out of God’s kingdom. But Scripture tells us we’re secure and Scripture tells us we have the power to endure and Scripture tells us why we are to endure, to be strengthened, to develop patience so that patience, James 1 says, can have a perfecting work so that we can be more useful to God and more effective in winning others. So Scripture gives us endurance to the hope.

He mentions the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete:

And then along the way also encouragement, he says, paraklsis which is paraclete, one who comes alongside to encourage. It is the Word of God that not only tells us how to endure, but encourages us in the process.

So, the Scripture teaches endurance and the Scripture teaches patience. And those two things lead us to hold fast the hope that is in God and in Christ. We have that hope and that hope is anchored in the Word of God.

And Paul’s point here is simply that we need to learn from the Scriptures. We need to learn from the Scriptures. I think this is one thing that we can draw right into our little outline here and say that a biblical mindset is the key to right behavior to the weaker brother. We need to know that everything written in the Scripture is written for our learning. It’s all part of teaching us endurance and encouragement. Let me tell you something. One part of learning patience and encouragement is learning to tolerate weaker brothers. Those words are chosen carefully. We learn through that to be patient. We learn through that the encouragement of one who has to wait. And that’s what the Word of God provides.

Paul packed a lot of theology into three verses of instruction. He gives us much upon which to reflect during the week ahead.

Next time — Romans 15:14-21

bible-wornThe 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.

Romans 14:20-23

20 Do not, for the sake of food, destroy the work of God. Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for anyone to make another stumble by what he eats. 21 It is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that causes your brother to stumble.[a] 22 The faith that you have, keep between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who has no reason to pass judgment on himself for what he approves. 23 But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.[b]

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Last week’s reading concerned Paul’s advice to stronger Christians about serving certain foods to weaker converts in case the latter had a pang of conscience and perhaps lost their faith as a result.

John MacArthur explains it in the context of that era (emphases mine):

In 1 Corinthians … chapter 8 and verse 10, we have a very similar passage. Paul writing to the Corinthians, verse 8 says, “Food commends us not to God, neither if we eat are we the better, neither if we eat not are we the worse.” The whole issue here is meat offered to idols. As I mentioned earlier, a person would come to worship a pagan idol, put the meat on the altar. The priest would eat some of the meat, take the meat he didn’t need to eat, go back out the door of the temple and sell it on the marketplace. Some person comes along, buys it because it’s cheaper than anywhere else, serves it for dinner to a new Gentile convert who’s just come out of that pagan religion. He sits down, he says, “Hey, this is great meat, where did you buy it?” “Well, I bought it at the butcher shop of the temple of Diana.” And he is plunged into devastation, almost gags on the meat because all that does is remind him of all the vile orgiastic worship that went on in that pagan system, and he sees that meat as having been offered to an idol, tainted with the demonic reality that once was a portion of his life. He is greatly offended.

Now the real issue of meat is no issue at all. Meat is not the issue. It doesn’t matter to God if we eat it. It doesn’t matter to God if we don’t eat it. We’re no better if we do; we’re no better if we don’t. It’s a non-issue; but not to that person. So he says in verse 9, “Take heed, lest by any means this liberty of yours” you’re free to eat it “will become a stumbling block to them that are weak, for if any man see thee who hast knowledge “you’re a strong believer, you understand your freedom “sitting at the table in the idol’s temple,” and there may have been even a freedom to…, they may have had a snack bar in the back of the idol’s temple for all I know, “shall not the conscience of him who is weak be emboldened to eat those things offered to idols?”

So, he says, “Hey, he can do that, so I’ll go over to the idol temple and have a snack.” And through that act, the weaker brother is devastated for whom Christ died. And he adds that line there, the same line in Romans chapter 14. It’s simply to point up that Christ went to great lengths to save this individual, how can you treat one whom Christ died to save with indifference? The implication here is if Christ loved that person enough to die for them, you ought to love them enough to be cautious about how you exercise your liberty in front of them. So, it’s the same issue there

Don’t devastate your brother. Don’t plunge them into deep spiritual loss. “Stumbling” seems to mean a sort of momentary stumble, a momentary fall. “Grieving” is the grief over a guilty conscience. But this one is a devastating thing, where the person very likely could be plunged right back into the whole milieu of pagan worship.

Therefore, Paul says that we are not to destroy God’s work (verse 20). God brought that person to believe that Christ is Lord, so we are not to destroy that person’s faith by serving something that goes against his beliefs, right or wrong. Present day examples include Seventh-Day Adventists — vegetarians — and Christians who do not eat pork because they view pigs as unclean. Those are strong personal beliefs and it would be inhospitable for us to offend our guests.

As such, Paul says that we should not eat meat or drink things that would offend our weaker brothers and sisters (verse 21). This is because we are united in the love we have for Christ and for each other. We need to continue building up our mutual faith, without food or drink standing in the way.

MacArthur tells us:

So, Paul says then, build up your brother, build him up in love. How? By not causing him to stumble, not causing him to grieve, and not causing him to be devastated by falling into sin because you’ve exercised your liberty in front of him and he cannot experience that without sin and a guilty conscience.

Paul advises stronger Christians to keep their beliefs about freedom to choose what to eat and drink to themselves in case they offend a weaker Christian (verse 22). We should be above reproach in that regard and not cause weaker guests of ours to feel forced to consume something they find offensive or dangerous (e.g. alcohol).

Paul concludes by saying that if we force our guests to eat or drink something that offends them, then we have sinned against them and God (verse 23).

Matthew Henry offers this commentary:

Paul had faith in these things: I am persuaded that there is nothing unclean of itself; but he had it to himself, so as not to use his liberty to the offence of others. How happy were it for the church if those that have a clearness in disputable things would be satisfied to have it to themselves before God, and not impose those things upon others, and make them terms of communions, than which nothing is more opposite to Christian liberty, nor more destructive both to the peace of churches and the peace of consciences. That healing method is not the less excellent for being common: in things necessary let there be unity, things unnecessary let there be liberty, and in both let there be charity, then all will be well quickly.–Have it to thyself before God. The end of such knowledge is that, being satisfied in our liberty, we may have a conscience void of offence towards God, and let that content us. That is the true comfort which we have before God. Those are right indeed that are so in God’s sight.

MacArthur says this is about setting our minds on higher — heavenly — things:

We want to fight about so many silly things and people who want to maintain their freedom don’t care what anyone else says and as a result of that, we miss the whole point of the kingdom. The kingdom is not meat and drink, the kingdom is not the things that you can do or not do, the discretionary things. The kingdom is — watch this one — righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. Frankly, in those three elements you have a comprehensive summary of the Christian life. You want to know what the Christian life is all about? You want to know what it’s like to be in the kingdom? First of all, it’s righteousness. The issue is righteous living, righteous living, holy living, a holy, obedient, God-honoring life conformed to God’s wonderful will. You see, my concern is not liberty, my concern is holiness. My concern is not my right to eat, my right to drink, my right to do this and do that and do the other thing, my concern is righteousness, holiness, integrity. And that’s what the watching world is looking for, that I might be filled with the fruits of righteousness, that I might have on the breastplate of righteousness, practical godliness.

Secondly, peace; the kingdom is all about demonstrating the tranquil relationships between people and God and people and people. It is our loving caring. It is our oneness. It is the tranquility of our relationships that have such a profound testimony. It is when the fruit of the Spirit, love, joy, peace, is manifest that the watching world sees something that they would like to possess. The essence of the kingdom is not our freedom to do this and do that and offend if we wish. The essence is holy living and tranquil relations with fellow believers. And righteousness means I seek to honor God, and peace means I seek to have harmony with my brother.

And then joy, joy comes to one who is right with God and at peace with his brother. Wouldn’t you say? Joy is the personal joy of knowing God, experiencing forgiveness, grace and mercy and love. It is the blessed, happy life of salvation, which rejoices in everything.

What we want the watching world to see is people who are righteous, people who are at peace and people whose lives are filled with joy. And that kind of environment is created by self-sacrificing love that does not necessarily exercise its liberty no matter how it offends somebody else. And what I’m saying to you is a message to the strong believers because most of you would fit into that category, to say this, we must move down to the weak brother and sister and honor and respect that weakness until we can by love nurture it to strength. And so there are things we are perfectly free to do that we choose not to do in order that we might demonstrate to a watching world that the kingdom is not a celebration of our rights, but it is righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. And when the world sees our lives marked by righteousness, when they see a person with real integrity, a person with real honesty, a person who speaks the truth, who is good and fair and just and virtuous, that is a loud testimony to the reality of Christianity because even in the fallenness of man there is enough of the imago Dei, the image of God residual in that mind to long for that which is unattainable to them. And when the world sees relationships of peace, it is so utterly foreign to them. Can you understand that? Because they live in a world of chaos. And when the world sees deep profound joy in the Holy Spirit, a settled happiness, they see the real heart of kingdom living. And that is the attractiveness that can bring them to Christ.

The theme of building each other up in our shared love of Christ continues next time.

Next time — Romans 15:1-3

Bible penngrovechurchofchristorgThe 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).

Romans 14:13-19

Do Not Cause Another to Stumble

13 Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother. 14 I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself, but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. 15 For if your brother is grieved by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love. By what you eat, do not destroy the one for whom Christ died. 16 So do not let what you regard as good be spoken of as evil. 17 For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. 18 Whoever thus serves Christ is acceptable to God and approved by men. 19 So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

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Last week’s reading from Romans 13 was about the responsibility we bear as Christians to our God-given authorities in government, good or bad.

That message can be hard to swallow, depending on who is governing us.

Today’s message from Paul is an equally difficult one. Paul advocates our cutting back on some things — e.g. food or drink — when in the company of others who do not share our preferences. This is to preserve the unity of the Church.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Paul talks about Christian liberty here, not in the sense of how it affects me, but in the sense of how it affects my brother and sister. And this is a very important dimension of understanding Christian liberty because it affects the church. So, Paul’s concern from verse 13 to 23 is for other Christians, how we are to build up other Christians without offending. And that calls for limiting our exercise of liberty. Don’t let anybody take your liberty. Don’t let anybody threaten your liberty. Don’t let anybody bind your conscience to things that are not in themselves evil. But at the same time, you don’t have to flaunt that liberty to prove you’re strong, right? You don’t want to do that because it may turn out to be bondage for your own sake and it may turn out to be unloving and divisive for the fellowship of believers

What you want to do is be sure that your conduct in the exercise of your liberty is not unloving, is not insensitive to other believers. If we can just make a positive out of that statement, we would say that the objective of Christian living in the church, the goal of a strong believer is to conduct himself in love toward a weaker brother. That’s the essence so that there’s no offense.

I find it odd that some Christians do not eat pork. For whatever reason, they consider pork to be unclean.

Yet, as Christians, we have the liberty to eat anything and everything that God created. Jesus came to fulfil the law and, as such, we enter into a New Covenant with God. Acts 10:9-16 tells us of Peter’s vision, where he was told that no food in and of itself is unclean. Understandably, he found that concept difficult initially.

Moving on to today’s reading, with the Romans, there was still a lot of meat sold that had been consecrated to pagan gods. There were also Jewish converts who found it difficult to begin eating foods that had been, for them, unclean according to Mosaic law.

Therefore, Paul wanted to make it clear that we should not allow our food preferences as ‘stronger brothers’ to upset the ‘weaker brothers’ who could not bring themselves to consume certain things. It is more important for the ‘stronger brothers’ to accommodate the ‘weaker’ ones by offering them foods they can enjoy eating without a pang of conscience.

As such, we should refrain from passing judgement on those who refuse to eat certain things (verse 13).

Paul was of the belief by faith in Jesus that all food was ‘clean’, yet, he recognised that other people were not of that persuasion (verse 14).

Paul said it would be an offence against our Lord to cause our guests to be upset with our food choices; we must build each other up in the love of Christ rather than divide them (verse 15).

MacArthur says:

Here he strongly emphasizes again that what he’s talking about are non-moral things that of themselves are not unclean and of themselves are not evil. And he says that in verse 14, “I know and I am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” I love that statement, “I know and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus.” It’s like saying I didn’t get this by hearsay, I got this directly from the source. “In my own personal intimate communion with the Lord Jesus Christ, He revealed this to me.” That is a unique privilege for a Scripture writer. “So I know and I’m persuaded by the Lord Jesus that there is nothing unclean of itself.” And you can stop there.

So, he says I’m not asking you to give up your liberty. I want you to enjoy your liberty and understand your liberty. I want you to know that this is not my opinion; I know this because I’ve been convinced by the Lord Jesus Himself. Even as he said in Galatians that his gospel did not come to him through human instrumentation but rather the Lord Himself had given it to him. He says, in effect, this is right from the Lord. You strong are right. Did you get that? The strong are right. That’s right, they’re right, they’re right. Sin does not reside in things like food, I don’t care what kind of food it is. It does not reside in what’s in a glass. It does not reside in film, or electronics or games or recreation or activities. It doesn’t reside in plants. It doesn’t reside in anything.

First Timothy 4:4 says that all things are to be received with thanksgiving, right? And don’t let anyone bring any of those devilish doctrines that tell you that we are to abstain from foods. Titus 1:15 says to the pure all things are what? Are pure. To the people who are defiled, everything is defiled because their conscience is defiled. Jesus Himself, back in Mark 7, I believe it’s verse 15, “There is nothing from outside of a man that enters into him that can defile him.” Isn’t that interesting? There is nothing outside of a man that entering into him can defile him. It’s the things that come out of him that defile him.

Coincidentally, the Gospel reading from Matthew 15 about what defiles a man is for today, August 16, 2020. Serendipity is a wonderful thing.

Paul goes on to advise that weaker Christians should not disparage our stronger habits when they are perfectly lawful in Scripture (verse 16). Our weaker friends have not yet come around to that realisation, so it is better to avoid offending them in order to promote our mutual harmony guided by the Holy Spirit (verse 17).

Paul means that we might be dissuading our weaker friends from pursuing Christianity more deeply because of our own actions in this regard.

MacArthur explains:

When a stronger brother comes along and somehow tempts by his liberty a weaker brother to violate his conscience, when that weaker brother violates that conscience, that weaker brother will have a painful, bitter sorrow in his own heart. He’ll feel guilty and instead of helping him grow in his spiritual life, it will push him back, because then he’ll be even more afraid of liberty, right? More afraid of it. It will be a greater threat to him.

Now a weak Christian is grieved in verse 15. He says if your brother is grieved with your food, you’re not walking in love. Now how would a weak brother be grieved? Well, a weak brother would be grieved by just simply seeing a strong Christian do what he felt was wrong. Is that so? Sure. If you are strongly convinced that something is wrong, and I’m not talking about something sinful, but something that they do and you see these people do it, it’s going to grieve you. You’re going to be grieved over their liberty which you see as an offense.

But I think it’s even stronger than that in this context. I think what he’s saying again is back to the idea that this brother is not just grieved because you do it, he’s grieved because you’ve led him to do it, too, and it’s violated his conscience. By following your instruction or your example, he does what he believes is wrong and then has to live with the remorse and the guilt of his conscience. And he forfeits the peace and joy of his Christian walk. What is the point of that? What is the point of that?

So, you set your life in a path so as not to grieve people and cause them sorrow because they have followed you into something their conscience didn’t allow them to do. Now you know what this is telling us, folks. This says we’ve got to get close enough to each other to know where we are, right? We’ve got to know the hearts of the people around us so that we can be sure that we walk in love toward those people, in selfless self-denying agape. We never want to lead a believer to fall into sin. We never want to grieve a believer by having him violate his own conscience.

And the third of the six — … in verse 15, “Destroy not him with thy food for whom Christ died.” Don’t make him stumble, don’t grieve him, and certainly don’t destroy him. Now all I can tell you about the word “destroy,” apollumi, means to ruin, is that it’s a very strong word, very serious word. When you cause a believer to stumble or to be grieved, to violate his conscience, it can bring about a certain effect that is here discussed with a very strong word. Let me tell you a little about this word, this word apollumi. It is translated very frequently in the Scripture with the word “perish.” It can mean eternal damnation, unquestionably it can mean that.

Paul says that, as followers of Christ, we are brothers and sisters in faith, ‘acceptable to God and approved by men’ (verse 18). We mustn’t do anything to upset those who do not view liberty in food or drink the way we do. If we cause them offence or force them to violate their conscience, we could well be destroying their faith.

MacArthur says that, in acquiescing to our weaker friends, we hope by our good example to build them up to become stronger Christians:

What we want the watching world to see is people who are righteous, people who are at peace and people whose lives are filled with joy. And that kind of environment is created by self-sacrificing love that does not necessarily exercise its liberty no matter how it offends somebody else. And what I’m saying to you is a message to the strong believers because most of you would fit into that category, to say this, we must move down to the weak brother and sister and honor and respect that weakness until we can by love nurture it to strength.

Therefore, let us affirm each other’s faith, increasing our mutual peace, harmony and love (verse 19). Forget the small stuff — food and drink — and concentrate on the bigger picture: Christian love and the Church.

MacArthur says this requires humility on the part of stronger believers:

I’ll tell you what makes for peace. Humility, you know why humility produces peace? Because humility says I don’t care about my rights. Humility says I’m more concerned about yours than mine. Humility says the issue with me is you not me. Meekness, unselfishness and love, those are the things that make for peace. And those are the things that we should give attention to. We pursue those things

And secondly, not only are we to pursue the things that make for peace like humility and meekness and unselfishness and love, but also the things with which we can build each other up. The things that are going to bring about a spiritual strengthening, that are going to build edification into people. In fact, in 1 Corinthians 14:12 he says, “You’re all zealous of spiritual gifts, then seek the ones that excel to the edifying of the church.” Seek the things that are going to build them up, not cause them to stumble and grieve and be devastated and lose their testimony

When you cause a brother to be offended, you’re pulling down the work of God. Look at verse 20, “For food, don’t destroy the work of God.” And food is symbolic of any discretionary thing that you might have a right to do. Here he has the idea of the offending the Jew with food that wasn’t kosher or offending a Gentile with food that had been offered to idols. But it’s only symbolic of anything. Don’t with your food destroy the work of God.

Now do you realize that’s a marvelous statement? You know what that says about every believer, even a weak believer? That a weak believer is a what? A work of God. Ephesians 2:10: “For we are His (What?) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus.” I mean, God is at work in every Christian, even the weaker brother is a work of God, a work of God. Don’t pull down what God’s building up. And there’s some people who are so proud about their liberation, they find a weaker person who’s coming out of legalism for whatever reason, if it was pagan or if it was sort of cultural Christianity, and instead of building them up, they tear them down. And it is the work of God you’re tearing down. Present imperative here indicates to stop what you’re doing. So there must have been within that Roman assembly at least some information about the fact that these liberated brethren were tearing down what God was trying to build up. Discontinue that, he says. You’re not merely dealing with a man, you’re dealing with a man, verse 15, for whom Christ died. You’re dealing with a man who is part of the kingdom and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, verse 17. And now he says you’re dealing with one who is a work of God.

That makes me feel better about having to make separate vegetarian dishes for my occasional non-meat eating dinner guests, believers or not. I understand this passage much better after having read MacArthur’s sermons and Matthew Henry’s commentary.

Henry gives us this solemn advice:

Thou pleadest that it is thy own meat, and thou mayest do what thou wilt with it; but remember that, though the meat is thine, the brother offended by it is Christ’s, and a part of his purchase. While thou destroyest thy brother thou art helping forward the devil’s design, for he is the great destroyer; and, as much as in thee lies, thou art crossing the design of Christ, for he is the great Saviour, and dost not only offend thy brother, but offend Christ; for the work of salvation is that which his heart is upon. But are any destroyed for whom Christ died? If we understand it of the sufficiency and general intendment of Christ’s death, which was to save all upon gospel terms, no doubt but multitudes are. If of the particular determination of the efficacy of his death to the elect, then, though none that were given to Christ shall perish (John 6:39), yet thou mayest, as much as is in thy power, destroy such. No thanks to thee if they be not destroyed; by doing that which has a tendency to it, thou dost manifest a great opposition to Christ.

This theme continues next week.

Next time — Romans 14:20-23

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 11:25-28

The Mystery of Israel’s Salvation

25 Lest you be wise in your own sight, I do not want you to be unaware of this mystery, brothers:[a] a partial hardening has come upon Israel, until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. 26 And in this way all Israel will be saved, as it is written,

“The Deliverer will come from Zion,
    he will banish ungodliness from Jacob”;
27 “and this will be my covenant with them
    when I take away their sins.”

28 As regards the gospel, they are enemies for your sake. But as regards election, they are beloved for the sake of their forefathers.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning to the Gentiles not to be proud about having been grafted on to the branches of the Church, which he described as an olive tree. The Church — the cultivated olive tree, onto which the Gentiles, the wild olive branch, are grafted — is still intended to be for the Jewish people.

Paul tells the Gentiles not to feel superior over the Jews because the day will come when God will lift His judgement on Israel (verse 25). That will happen once the Gospel has reached all the Gentiles.

Paul calls this a ‘mystery’.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

In other words, God is not finished with that people. It’s only until a certain event takes place. And we are not to be ignorant of that. It’s an essential purpose in the mind of God

And so, Paul with great joy has now arrived at the moment where he will present the single, most hopeful truth that he carried in his heart. It has been a mystery. Notice it in verse 25, he calls it that. “I don’t want you to be ignorant of this mystery.” That is to say it has been hidden in the past. It has been hidden. We know that’s what a mystery is, something hidden in the past and now revealed. Don’t be ignorant of it. Certainly don’t be foolishly wise in your own conceit. In other words, thinking too highly of yourselves, making an undue estimate of your knowledge and importance, not based on fact but based on your own self-conceit, based on being a quote/unquote “know-it-all.” This mystery God will reveal; don’t be a fool and be ignorant of it …

A mystery is something that’s been hidden in the past and is now revealed in the Scripture. And what was hidden in the past was that Israel would be set aside, cut off from blessing, Gentiles grafted in, ultimately Gentiles cut off, and Israel grafted back in to the place of blessing. That mystery we are not to be ignorant of. That mystery has now been revealed through the apostle Paul. And what is the mystery specifically? It’s given right in the verse, the two-part mystery, that blindness in part is happened to Israel. The mystery is that the Jews would not believe. And the word “blindness,” by the way, is really the word “hardened.” It’s the word hardened, resistant. Blindness in part; notice he puts that “in part” in there? Why? Because their blindness was what? Partial. We’ve been saying it all along. That doesn’t mean that the individuals were partly blind; it’s not talking about the degree of blindness. What it means is that the nation was partly blind, that is, there were some who were not blind. There was always a what? A believing remnant, a believing remnant.

So, he says blindness in part is happened to Israel. And that was the point of the first ten verses of chapter 11, to show that their blindness was only partial and God had a remnant. Secondly, it was not only partial it was what? Passing. And that’s how the second feature is given, only until the fullness of the Gentiles be come in. “Until” indicates time. “Fullness” indicates number of completion. And so, only until a certain time and a certain completion; therefore it’s only temporary. So the mystery was that Israel was set aside partially and temporarily. The Jew in the Old Testament never saw that. He saw the nation Israel going along as the blessed people of God and someday the Messiah would come and establish His kingdom. He didn’t see their total rejection and their being cut off the place of blessing and a new country or a new nation or a new people, a new ethnos being grafted in, the church, and then becoming the source of witness in the world. And then they being cut off by apostasy and the Jew being grafted back in when the fullness of the Gentiles had come in. And that’s the mystery that Paul is unfolding.

Ultimately:

It is a warning against Gentile pride and anti-Semitism.

Paul states that all of Israel will be saved (verse 26). He paraphrases Isaiah 59:20-21

20 “And a Redeemer will come to Zion,
    to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,” declares the Lord.

21 “And as for me, this is my covenant with them,” says the Lord: “My Spirit that is upon you, and my words that I have put in your mouth, shall not depart out of your mouth, or out of the mouth of your offspring, or out of the mouth of your children’s offspring,” says the Lord, “from this time forth and forevermore.”

… and Psalm 14:7 (verse 27) …

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

… as well as Psalm 53:6 (verse 27):

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Matthew Henry elaborates on Paul’s choice of those verses:

… we may observe, [1.] The coming of Christ promised: There shall come out of Zion the deliverer. Jesus Christ is the great deliverer, which supposes mankind in a state of misery and danger. In Isaiah it is, the Redeemer shall come to Zion. There he is called the Redeemer; here the deliverer; he delivers in a way of redemption, by a price. There he is said to come to Zion, because when the prophet prophesied he was yet to come into the world, and Zion was his first head-quarters. Thither he came, there he took up his residence: but, when the apostle wrote this, he had come, he had been in Zion; and he is speaking of the fruits of his appearing, which shall come out of Zion; thence, as from the spring, issued forth those streams of living water which in the everlasting gospel watered the nations. Out of Zion went forth the law, Isaiah 2:3. Compare Luke 24:47. [2.] The end and purpose of this coming: He shall turn away ungodliness from Jacob. Christ’s errand into the world was to turn away ungodliness, to turn away the guilt by the purchase of pardoning mercy, and to turn away the power by the pouring out of renewing grace, to save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:21), to separate between us and our sins, that iniquity might not be our ruin, and that it might not be our ruler. Especially to turn it away from Jacob, which is that for the sake of which he quotes the text, as a proof of the great kindness God intended for the seed of Jacob. What greater kindness could he do them than to turn away ungodliness from them, to take away that which comes between them and all happiness, take away sin, and then make way for all good? This is the blessing that Christ was sent to bestow upon the world, and to tender it to the Jews in the first place (Acts 3:26), to turn people from their iniquities. In Isaiah it is, The Redeemer shall come to Zion, and unto those that turn from transgression in Jacob, which shown who in Zion were to have a share in and to reap benefit by the deliverance promised, those and those only that leave their sins and turn to God; to them Christ comes as a Redeemer, but as an avenger to those that persist in impenitence. See Deuteronomy 30:2,3. Those that turn from sin will be owned as the true citizens of Zion (Ephesians 2:19), the right Jacob, Psalms 24:4,6. Putting both these readings together, we learn that none have an interest in Christ but those that turn from their sins, nor can any turn from their sins but by the strength of the grace of Christ.–For this is my covenant with them–this, that the deliverer shall come to them–this, that my Spirit shall not depart from them, as it follows, Isaiah 59:21. God’s gracious intentions concerning Israel were made the matter of a covenant, which the God that cannot lie could not but be true and faithful to. They were the children of the covenant, Acts 3:25. The apostle adds, When I shall take away their sins, which some think refers to Isaiah 27:9, or only to the foregoing words, to turn away ungodliness. Pardon of sin is laid as the foundation of all the blessings of the new covenant (Hebrews 8:12): For I will be merciful. Now from all this he infers that certainly God had great mercy in store for that people, something answerable to the extent of these rich promises: and he proves his inference (Romans 11:29) by this truth: For the gifts and callings of God are without repentance. Repentance is sometimes taken for a change of mind, and so God never repents, for he is in one mind and who can turn him? Sometimes for a change of way, and that is here understood, intimating the constancy and unchangeableness of that love of God which is founded in election. Those gifts and callings are immutable; whom he so loves, he loves to the end. We find God repenting that he had given man a being (Genesis 6:6, It repented the Lord that he had made man), and repenting that he had given a man honour and power (1 Samuel 15:11, It repenteth me that I have set up Saul to be king); but we never find God repenting that he had given a man grace, or effectually called him; those gifts and callings are without repentance.

Paul tells the Gentiles that while the unbelieving Jews are their spiritual ‘enemies’, the Jews as a whole are still the elect, because of the covenant that God made with their forefathers (verse 28).

MacArthur explains:

In other words, when He elected the people Israel and gave promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, He bound Himself to keep that promise. Elect is simply to choose. He chose them, made the promise to their fathers and now will fulfill that. So in terms of election they are still His beloved, even though at the present they are enemies. Israel is in a very peculiar position. And don’t you sense in your heart the same feeling? I don’t know how you are but when I look at Israel, when I look at the Jewish people, I have that same sense of dichotomy, that they are the beloved enemy of God. Enemies concerning the gospel but beloved concerning the election of God, promised to the fathers to be fulfilled in the future. And so while for the moment there is a hopelessness as we see their enemy profile dominating, we look to the future when their beloved profile will totally dominate in the moment and time of their salvation.

MacArthur surmises that not every Jew will believe when the time comes, but more will believe than not:

Now may I hasten, having said that, to say this, that when we say “all” we mean the nation Israel, but that does not mean every single individual Jew alive at that time will be saved. There will be some rejecters. But the great mass of them will believe and the small group will be those who refuse to believe. And we know that because of the twentieth chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel. And in verse 33 of that twentieth chapter, “As I live, says the Lord God, surely with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out will I rule over you, I will bring you out from the peoples and gather you out of the countries in which you are scattered with a mighty hand and with an outstretched arm and with fury poured out. I will bring you into the wilderness of the peoples and there will I enter into judgment with you face to face; as I entered into judgment with your fathers in the wilderness in the land of Egypt, so will I enter into judgment with you, says the Lord God. I will cause you to pass under the rod, and I will bring you into the bond of the covenant.” He’ll examine every individual, bring them into the covenant. “And I will purge out from among you the rebels and them that transgress against Me.”

So, in that day when God reaches out to redeem His re-gathered people, everyone will pass under the rod and the vast majority will believe and embrace the Messiah and be saved, but the rebels there will be and they will be purged out. So it is a thrilling thing to realize that the time of the salvation of the nation Israel in general is indeed coming to pass. It has to be so. It has to be so.

Paul concludes by saying that God will lift His judgement on the Jews, redeeming them, because He has mercy:

29 For the gifts and the calling of God are irrevocable. 30 For just as you were at one time disobedient to God but now have received mercy because of their disobedience, 31 so they too have now been disobedient in order that by the mercy shown to you they also may now[e] receive mercy. 32 For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.

33 Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

God keeps His promises.

Next time — Romans 13:1-7

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