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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Colossians 2:1-5

2 For I want you to know how great a struggle I have for you and for those at Laodicea and for all who have not seen me face to face, that their hearts may be encouraged, being knit together in love, to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. I say this in order that no one may delude you with plausible arguments. For though I am absent in body, yet I am with you in spirit, rejoicing to see your good order and the firmness of your faith in Christ.

———————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded my study of Paul’s letter to the Philippians.

This week, we begin looking at Paul’s letter to the Colossians. This was another letter that the Apostle wrote as a prisoner in Rome. It is dated AD 62.

As Matthew Henry says:

He was not idle in his confinement, and the word of God was not bound.

Paul never met the Colossians. Epaphras founded the church in Colossae (pron. ‘Co-loss-see’). Epaphras learned about Christ and the doctrine of the faith from Paul in Ephesus and took those truths back to his home city. It is likely that Timothy also ministered there.

Although Paul did not know the Colossians, he felt every ounce of love for them that he did for the congregations he knew personally.

The illustration of Colossae’s location in Asia Minor — today’s Turkey — comes from Bible Map, along with this description (emphases mine):

ko-los’-e (Kolossai, “punishment”; the King James Version Colosse): A city of Phrygia on the Lycus River, one of the branches of the Meander, and 3 miles from Mt. Cadmus, 8,013 ft. high. It stood at the head of a gorge where the two streams unite, and on the great highway traversing the country from Ephesus to the Euphrates valley, 13 miles from Hierapolis and 10 from Laodicea. Its history is chiefly associated with that of these two cities. Early, according to both Herodotus and Xenophon, it was a place of great importance. There Xerxes stopped 481 B.C. (Herodotus vii.30) and Cyrus the Younger marched 401 B.C. (Xen. Anab. i.2, 6). From Colossians 2:1 it is not likely that Paul visited the place in person; but its Christianization was due to the efforts of Epaphras and Timothy (Colossians 1:1, 7), and it was the home of Philemon and Epaphras. That a church was established there early is evident from Colossians 4:12, 13 Revelation 1:11; Revelation 3:14. As the neighboring cities, Hierapolis and Laodicea, increased in importance, Colosse declined. There were many Jews living there, and a chief article of commerce, for which the place was renowned, was the collossinus, a peculiar wool, probably of a purple color. In religion the people were specially lax, worshipping angels. Of them, Michael was the chief, and the protecting saint of the city. It is said that once he appeared to the people, saving the city in time of a flood. It was this belief in angels which called forth Paul’s epistle (Colossians 2:18). During the 7th and 8th centuries the place was overrun by the Saracens; in the 12th century the church was destroyed by the Turks and the city disappeared.The ruins of the church, the stone foundation of a large theater, and a necropolis with stones of a peculiar shape are still to be seen. During the Middle Ages the place bore the name of Chonae; it is now called Chonas.

Wikipedia has more information, excerpted below:

Despite a treacherously ambiguous cartography and history, Colossae has been clearly distinguished in modern research from nearby Chonai (Χῶναι), now called Honaz, with what remains of the buried ruins of Colossae (“the mound”) lying 3 km (1.9 mi) to the north of Honaz.[6][7][8]

The medieval poet Manuel Philes, incorrectly, imagined that the name “Colossae” was connected to the Colossus of Rhodes.[9] More recently, in an interpretation which ties Colossae to an Indo-European root that happens to be shared with the word kolossos, Jean-Pierre Vernant has connected the name to the idea of setting up a sacred space or shrine.[10] Another proposal relates the name to the Greek kolazo, “to punish”.[9] Others believe the name derives from the manufacture of its famous dyed wool, or colossinus.[11]

the wool of Colossae gave its name to colour colossinus.[14]

The town was known for its fusion of religious influences (syncretism), which included Jewish, Gnostic, and pagan influences that, in the first century AD, were described as an angel-cult.[17] This unorthodox cult venerated the archangel Michael, who is said to have caused a curative spring to gush from a fissure in the earth.[4] The worship of angels showed analogies with the cult of pre-Christian pagan deities like Zeus.[18][19] Saint Theodoret of Cyrrhus told about their surviving in Phrygia during the fourth century.[20]

… in the Epistle to Philemon Paul tells Philemon of his hope to visit Colossae upon being freed from prison.[26] Tradition also gives Philemon as the second bishop of the see.

The city was decimated by an earthquake in the 60s AD, and was rebuilt independent of the support of Rome.[27]

The Apostolic Constitutions list Philemon as a bishop of Colossae.[28] On the other hand, the Catholic Encyclopedia considers Philemon doubtful.[29]

The first historically documented bishop is Epiphanius,[when?] who was not personally at the Council of Chalcedon, but whose metropolitan bishop Nunechius of Laodicea, the capital of the Roman province of Phrygia Pacatiana, signed the acts on his behalf.[citation needed]

The city’s fame and renowned status continued into the Byzantine period, and in 858, it was distinguished as a Metropolitan See. The Byzantines also built the church of St. Michael in the vicinity of Colossae, one of the largest church buildings in the Middle East. Nevertheless, sources suggest that the town may have decreased in size or may even been completely abandoned due to Arab invasions in the seventh and eighth centuries, forcing the population to flee to resettle in the nearby city of Chonai (modern day Honaz).[11]

Colossae’s famous church was destroyed in 1192/3 during the Byzantine civil wars. It was a suffragan diocese of Laodicea in Phyrigia Pacatiane but was replaced in the Byzantine period by the Chonae settlement on higher ground.[4]

As of 2019, Colossae has never been excavated, as most archeological attention has been focused on nearby Laodicea and Hierapolis,[30] though plans are reported for an Australian-led expedition to the site. The present site exhibits a biconical acropolis almost 100 feet (30 m) high, and encompasses an area of almost 22 acres (8.9 ha). On the eastern slope there sits a theater which probably seated around 5,000 people, suggesting a total population of 25,000–30,000 people. The theater was probably built during the Roman period, and may be near an agora that abuts the cardo maximus, or the city’s main north-south road. Ceramic finds around the theater confirm the city’s early occupation in the third and second millennia BC.

The holiness and healing properties associated with the waters of Colossae during the Byzantine era continue to this day, particularly at a pool fed by the Lycus River at the Göz picnic grounds west of Colossae at the foot of Mt. Cadmus. Locals consider the water to be therapeutic.[32]

John MacArthur has more on the city’s topography, which was beneficial for raising sheep and producing wool:

from the Lycus River there were chalk deposits that were left. And some historians have said that they left amazing configurations all over the area where the water would spill out, and it would rise at flood time, and it would leave this chalk, and all kinds of strange formations that looked like monuments would result. Now, on the land where there wasn’t any chalk, the land was super fertile and they grew pasture there and had excellent, excellent pasture land for sheep, and it became the wool center of the ancient world. And they used the chalk, also, for making dyes. They would raise the sheep, get the wool, and then dye the wool right there.

MacArthur’s estimation of Colossae’s population is higher than those mentioned above:

It was a Gentile city, but there are estimates that in those three cities there could be as many as fifty thousand Jews, and the reason they estimate that is they found some papers about a tax that the Jewish community there was sending back to Jerusalem. And by the amount of the tax they can deduct how many Jews there would have been in order to give that amount, and they estimate about fifty thousand Jews. So, there would be a large Gentile population and a rather large Jewish population.

He gives us a timeline of Paul’s ministry and the founding of various churches in Asia Minor:

On Paul’s third missionary journey, he went to Ephesus. Ephesus was a great center of Asia Minor. And Paul went there on his third journey, and he stayed there for three years. Remember? During the three years that he was in Ephesus, he never visited Colossae, as far as we know, but people started coming to him from all over Asia Minor. And do you know that during those three years the church at Ephesus was founded, and all seven churches of Revelation 2-3 were founded. You have Ephesus, Laodicea, Smyrna, Philadelphia, Pergamum – all of those – Thyatira; all of those churches were founded during that time, and so was the church in Colossae, and so was the church in Hierapolis. They were all outgrowths of Paul’s ministry on his third missionary journey as he ministered there.

In Acts chapter 19, verse 10, it says – and this is part of his ministry there in Ephesus – “And this continued for the space of two years.” This was the first part of it, “so that all they who dwelt in Asia” – that’s Asia Minor, a province – “all that dwelt in Asia Minor heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.” Verse 26, when they wanted to throw him out, they said, “Morever you see and hear, that not alone in Ephesus, but almost throughout all Asia Minor, this Paul has persuaded and turned away many people, saying they are no gods which are made with hands.” So, it is the comment of Luke in verse 10, and it is the comment of his persecutors in verse 26 that his gospel had filled the whole of Asia Minor. From the vantage point of Ephesus people would come hear the gospel and go back. From Colossae came a group of people – Epaphras, Philemon, Apphia, Archippus. From Laodicea came Nymphas. All of them received Christ under the ministry of Paul. All of them went back to be used of God to begin churches. The most influential person in the beginning of those three churches in those cities was Epaphras.

Epaphras founded the churches in Colossae, Laodicea and Hieropolis. Today, we would call them a ‘tri-city area’.

After Paul’s three years of ministry in Ephesus ended:

He spent a winter in Greece writing, and then he started back to Jerusalem. He gathered the collections to take to the poor saints – went all the way back to Jerusalem.

He arrived at Jerusalem, and you remember the terrible trouble that happened? They threw him in jail. The next thing you knew he wound up in Caesarea in jail. He pleaded his case to Caesar and  they shipped him to Rome.

Epaphras went to Rome to seek Paul’s spiritual counsel about the Colossians, who were pure of heart but prone to heresy:

Here is a congregation of Gentiles, and they’ve got a smattering probably of Jewish believers, maybe, just a very little, and they’ve got a problem. There’s a heresy that’s beginning to creep into the congregation and Epaphras, their pastor, is really concerned. He makes a trip of a thousand to thirteen hundred miles, depending upon which way he took, to go to Rome and see Paul – and he pours his heart out to Paul. He says, in effect, “the people are super, Paul, but there’s an imminent danger; there’s a peril.” And Paul writes to them and says, “Hey, you are super people, but let me warn you about something.” Further on you’ll hear him say, “Don’t let anybody beguile you.” It wasn’t that they’d already been, it was that they were in danger of being beguiled. This is prevention.

You say, “Well, what is the heresy?” Well, it was a twofold heresy. First of all, it was coming from paganism. Those people were living on the verge of paganism all the time. You know, in that one region historians tell us that the deities such as Cybele, Men, Issus, Serapis, Helios, Selene, Demeter, and Artimus dominated the worship of the people. I mean, there were gods – you know, ad nauseam, plenty of them. And the basic evil that faced that church was a relapse into paganism. For the most part they were new Christians, and the pull of the darkness and the sensuality of the old life was strong.

… I call it sometimes, as I think it’s Hendriksen uses the term (William Hendriksen), “the cable of the past.” Life is like a cable; habit makes cables. A person weaves a thread every day until it becomes an unbreakable cable – and then you can’t cut it, and the cable of the past tends to pull. And there was the environment of the present that they were living in. It was hard to row against the current. And then they had their own undertow of passion pulling them. And so, Paul’s telling them, “Don’t go back, don’t go back.”

… And this false doctrine – let me give it to you very simply – this false doctrine basically had two features. We don’t know what brand it is. We don’t have any title for it. It really isn’t any particular system that we know about historically, but I’ll define it for you. This false doctrine that Satan was beginning to spread, or at least was going to try to spread in Colossae, had two basic features.

Number one: it included a false philosophy. Chapter 2, verse 8, “Beware, lest any man spoil you through philosophy.” Boy, a lot of people have been spoiled through philosophy. “And empty deceit.” Hmmm. This is interesting.

… Here’s what they were saying: the Greeks loved knowledge; oh did they love it. They literally gloated over what they knew, and the higher you got in knowledge, and the more difficult you were to understand, and the further you got spaced out with strange, weird understanding, the more snobbish you became. The heretics were saying this, they were saying: “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Now listen. “The simplicity of the gospel is not adequate.” Jesus Christ is not enough; you must have elaborate knowledge in addition to having Him. Salvation is – watch – Christ plus knowledge equals salvation. They claimed secret visions This guy’s pretending to see a vision, and he comes and says, “I have seen a vision. I have seen the supernatural.” And he assumes an air of deep insight into divinely revealed mysteries. And he prides himself on his superior knowledge, and this is what became later Gnosticism. From gnosis, “to know” – superior knowledge. It isn’t Gnosticism yet because Gnosticism isn’t really defined for many years after this. But here are the seeds of it, intellectual snobbery. Somebody was saying, “It isn’t enough to know Jesus. You can’t defeat the powers of the emanating demons, you can’t crack the barriers to get to the divine realm by Jesus alone – you’ve got to have superior knowledge.” And so, they were talking about weird philosophies, and they were intruding, verse 18 says, “into things they had seen and their fleshly mind was being puffed up.” Jesus isn’t adequate. You see Jesus, they believed, was one of the emanations

There’s a second factor in this heresy. The first one was false philosophy. The second was Judaistic ceremony, legalism. Now, you say, “Well, that’s a strange bedfellow for Greek philosophy.” You’re right, but it was there. Somehow this strange heresy was a combination of Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, or legalism. Look at chapter 2, verse 11. Some of them were saying you had to be circumcised to be saved. “In whom also you are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands,” he says. You don’t need a circumcision. What was this part of the heresy saying? Watch. Christ-plus-works-equals-salvation. The philosophy said, “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” This is Christ plus works. And God says, “Christ plus nothing equals salvation.” That’s the message of Colossians. Chapter 3 tells us a little more about – chapter 3, he says, “There is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision or uncircumcision.” Don’t get into that. That’s not an issue. There’s no need to even be concerned about that.

And so, they were concerned with things that there was no reason to be concerned with – none whatsoever. It even went so far as, for example, in chapter 2, verse 20, “If you’re dead with Christ from the rudiments of the world, why, as though living in the world, are you subject to ordinances, (Touch not; taste not; handle not…).” This is like asceticism, you know. They couldn’t do anything. “(Which are all to perish with the using;) after the commandments and doctrines of men. These things have indeed a shew of wisdom or self-imposed worship.” And so, he really says, “You don’t need those things – touch not; taste not; handle not” and all that. It’s pointless …

So, here they were, wrapped up in Greek philosophy and Jewish ceremonialism, these false teachers. And they were just beginning to attack the church at Colossae.

You say, “What a weird mixture. Where did it come from?” We don’t know. We don’t even know who these people were, but there is a, there’s precedent for this. There was a group of people in Israel called the Essenes. Have you ever heard of them? The three major groups among the Jews, the three major religious sects in Judaism: Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes. The Essenes were ascetics, and by that I mean they were far out. In fact, they believed that you shouldn’t have anything, that you should be totally deprived of everything. I mean, they were really far out. They were Gnostics. That’s interesting. They believed that the body was corruptible, that matter was corruptible, and spirit was good and imperishable.

So, they had that same philosophical strain. They saw the soul in the prison of the body, which was a Greek concept. It was their concept, and the reason the Greeks had it and they had it was the devil – the same devil, whether he’s working with the Greeks or with anybody else. They were super-strict legalists. They went way beyond the Pharisees. They were celibate. And they adopted children in order to propagate their theology. Some of them married, but if they did marry they gave their wife a three year probation period. I don’t know on what criteria they decided whether they should continue it after that or not. They hated riches. You know what Josephus says about them? Josephus says they worshiped angels. Isn’t that interesting? It’s amazing, but all of the things that this strange group of people did affecting the Colossian church are also characteristic of these people, the Essenes. The Essenes were vegetarians, super legalistic. That may well be that the influencing group behind the picture at Colossae was this group of Essenes, but whatever. They were saying, “Christ plus rules and laws equal salvation” – “Christ plus knowledge equals salvation.” Paul wants to say in Colossians, “Christ plus” – What? – “nothing equals salvation.”

They talked about Christ, but it was Christ plus some super-knowledge. They had not only all of the philosophy that was into their heresy in Colossae, but they had all of the Jewish legalism. What a mess. But the one attack was this: Satan had concerted all of this hodgepodge to attack – What? the sufficiency of – Whom? Christ. And that’s always where he attacks. And listen to Paul’s response in Colossians 2:9, “For in him dwelleth all the fullness of the Godhead bodily.” Listen to me, “and you are” – What? – “complete in him.” Isn’t that beautiful? There’s the answer. You want to know God? Christ is the image of God. You want knowledge? In Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. You want to be accepted by God? Worship Christ not angels or celestial intercessors. You want to fulfill God’s will? Don’t fool with the shadow. The substance is Christ. You want holiness? It doesn’t come from abusing your body. It comes from setting your affections on Him

Paul has one thing in mind in Colossians: Christ-sufficient.

MacArthur points out that things are very much the same today. New Age philosophy mixes with Christianity and produces syncretism. There are many different types of syncretism, vaudou being yet another, mixing the veneration of canonised saints with animal sacrifices and evil spells.

We also have the personal beliefs of celebrities and media personalities which we can read on a daily basis.

He says:

Let me take you to verse 8. “See to it that no one takes you captive” – chapter 2“See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy.” This is human opinion, the mind of man. There are no human solutions to spiritual problems. There are no human insights that take us places the Bible doesn’t or can’t. That is to say there is nothing necessary for life and godliness that is not delivered to us by the Word through the Spirit. We don’t need Christ plus insights into human wisdom, spiritual intuition. You can take all the philosophers the world has ever known, in ancient and modern times, all the authors, all the writers, all the playwrights, all the movie producers, all the talk show hosts, all the psychologists, sociologists, religious leaders, and you can take all their endless verbosity about truth and life and morality, and all their solutions to human problems and dilemmas, and they add nothing to what is already in Christ.

We don’t even have much classic philosophy anymore. New Age philosophy is not about thinking; it’s about feeling. Philosophy used to be a rational exercise. Now, in a postmodern world, it is an irrational exercise.

With that in mind, let’s look at Colossians 1, which is included in the Lectionary:

Greeting

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,

To the saints and faithful brothers[a] in Christ at Colossae:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father.

Thanksgiving and Prayer

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, when we pray for you, since we heard of your faith in Christ Jesus and of the love that you have for all the saints, because of the hope laid up for you in heaven. Of this you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel, which has come to you, as indeed in the whole world it is bearing fruit and increasing—as it also does among you, since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth, just as you learned it from Epaphras our beloved fellow servant.[b] He is a faithful minister of Christ on your[c] behalf and has made known to us your love in the Spirit.

And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11 being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12 giving thanks[d] to the Father, who has qualified you[e] to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13 He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The Preeminence of Christ

15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. 16 For by[f] him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. 17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be preeminent. 19 For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross.

21 And you, who once were alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, 22 he has now reconciled in his body of flesh by his death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before him, 23 if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope of the gospel that you heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation[g] under heaven, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.

Paul’s Ministry to the Church

24 Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church, 25 of which I became a minister according to the stewardship from God that was given to me for you, to make the word of God fully known, 26 the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. 27 To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. 28 Him we proclaim, warning everyone and teaching everyone with all wisdom, that we may present everyone mature in Christ. 29 For this I toil, struggling with all his energy that he powerfully works within me.

In Colossians 2, Paul says he has a great struggle for the congregations in Colossae and Laodicea and for those he does not know personally (verse 1).

Henry says Paul’s struggle is one of agony:

Observe, 1. Paul’s care of the church was such as amounted to a conflict. He was in a sort of agony, and had a constant fear respecting what would become of them. Herein he was a follower of his Master, who was in an agony for us, and was heard in that he feared.

MacArthur says that Paul would have had to truly love the Lord to get to this point in feeling for strangers:

… a man of God must have that basic commitment that he really loves the church, that he first loves the Lord, and then that he loves the Lord’s people.

He, too, points to Paul’s agony:

Now because of his great love for the saints, he says, in verse 1 of chapter 2, “I would that you knew what great agōn, agony I have for you, and for them at Laodicea and for as many as have not seen my face in the flesh. Not just you, but anybody else. It’s obvious I love the people I’ve been with, but I love even the people who’ve never even seen me, those people who make up the church. And because of that, when I see the difficulty that you’re in, when I see the attack that you’re under in terms of false teaching, when I know the anxieties of living the Christian life and walking the walk, I have a great sense of agony and struggle and striving on your behalf.” And that comes because he loved them.

Paul truly wants their hearts to be encouraged, to be knit together in love, to reach those riches of full assurance in understanding and knowing the mystery of God in Jesus Christ (verse 2).

MacArthur’s translation uses ‘strengthened’ instead of ‘encouraged’, but he explains how both words can tie together and include ‘comforted’:

Now we translated that term “strengthened” rather than “comforted,” because we think that that is the more particular emphasis that the apostle is making here. The word means to comfort, to console, or to strengthen. It embodies all of that idea. It even means to grant endurance. So it’s a lot of things. But it seems to me that the sum of it all, and what Paul is really working on, is that their hearts would be strengthened

Now what he’s saying is, “I want your mind to be strengthened. I want strong minds.” Why? Because the mind is the first thing that Satan assails. You understand that? Satan assails the mind with lies. He is the father of – what? – of lies. He brings around false truth and false information, and assaults the mind with it; and that directs the behavior that responds. And so it is necessary to have a strong mind.

Now the term in the Bible “heart” generally is used to refer to the mind or the intellect. That’s its technical meaning. I would add though that there are times when heart is used in a general non-technical sense to refer to the totality of man’s inner being. But when it is used in its technical sense, it has reference to the mind, or the seat of knowledge, which is basically the beginner of action.

So it is necessary to have a powerful, fruitful Christian life to have a strong mind. And the way your mind is strengthened is by filling it with divine truth that can trigger a positive behavior pattern in your will; and then your emotions will be responding.

MacArthur has more on the biblical use of ‘heart’ as ‘mind’ in another sermon, which I’ll discuss more in tomorrow’s post:

What then does the heart picture? Not the emotions, but the mind. The intellect and the mind is made up of two things: the intellect and the will. That’s the heart in biblical terminology.

… the heart was the seat of thought. It was the seat of thinking. And so that the heart represents the mind that sets the pace, and the bowels [gut, as in instinct] represent the responding emotion …

But how did they get the heart out of the brain? Well, some have surmised that because when the brain is really functioning, the heart is really working, and they could feel it throbbing and pulsing. But that’s the way they did it. Real serious thinking, says a Hebrew, can be felt in the beat of the heart. So the heart thinks, and the bowels respond with emotion. That’s the way you are.

Now remember this. In the mind of the Hebrew, and in the Revelation of God, emotions never initiate, they always respond. The heart thinks, and the emotions respond. That is the divine pattern.

MacArthur discusses Paul’s notion of hearts being knit together in love:

… all of that theology, and all of that knowledge, and all of that brain power is balanced off by love. And so hastily, Paul says, “I pray that their hearts might be comforted,” – now watch the next line – “being knit together in love, being knit together in love.” He wants a one-mindedness of hearts, that are knit together in love. And as I said, this is the balancer to doctrine.

The word “knit,” or “knit together,” simply means to unite. But it really is a beautiful picture of the body of Christ, all of us being knit together in an indivisible kind of oneness. Your body is a combination of billions of cells, all knit together. You can’t pick any one of them apart, because they blend indiscriminately together. And that’s the thing that the apostle Paul is after. “As the cells of a body are indistinguishable because they’re lost in the mass, so should you be indistinguishable as you’re lost in the unity of love that exists among the brethren.”

The sense of the word here as it appears – and also it appears later on in chapter 2, verse 19, you’ll see it, “knit together again;” they’re talking about the body again being joined together and knit together – is the idea of all the parts being put together in a way that leaves them almost without any personal identity. And they’re held together, like atoms are held together in your body by, what we called a few weeks ago, nuclear glue, which is nothing more than a funny name for God. God holds it all together. So in the spiritual sense, we are to be united; and the nuclear glue, if you will, that holds us together, is being knit together in – what? – love. Love is the thing that ties believers together

We do not have to create unity, the Spirit has already created it. We just have to – what? – guard it. We have to guard that unity. You say, “How do you guard it?” By being a peacemaker. It is the unity of the Spirit that is guarded by the bond of peace, that is that you and I have a covenant that we will be at peace with each other. That’s the bond of peace, that you and I agree that we will not argue, that we will not fight, that we will not hassle, but that we will be at peace. We’re peacemakers; and we will keep, we will guard the unity the Spirit has already put there positionally. We will guard it, and allow its practical manifestation by being peacemakers.

Paul says that in Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (verse 3).

This verse relates to the end of verse 2. The more we understand the more we appreciate the riches (verse 2) and the treasures (verse 3) of the eternal truth in Christ.

MacArthur says that we arrive at this point through regular prayer and study of Scripture:

The unregenerate man does not have truth connected to conduct. His mind is a blank. Paul says, “I want you to have settled understanding. I want you to understand.” “Paul,” – you say – “what do you want me to understand?” “I want you to understand the will of God and all that’s involved in it”

What does God want you to understand? The revelation of God’s will.

And I’ll tell you; the more you study, the more your mind is filled; the more it begins to flow through you, in terms of operation, in terms of behavior; the more you understand how really rich you are. And you can enjoy the Christian life. And the things of the world mean less, and less, and less; and you find that the things you initially couldn’t let go of, you finally can let go, because you know where the true riches are.

And you can begin to do what Jesus says with confidence, “Lay up for yourselves” – what? – “treasure in heaven,” because you know now that’s where your confidence is. Because where your heart is, that’s where your treasure’s going to be. And until you have a heart that is settled, and assured, and confident in God, you’re going to hang on to some things in the world. But when your mind is confident, and your behavior roots that confidence, you’re going to have the kind of assurance that let’s you let go and trust the true riches.

You say, “How do you get that assurance? How do you get that confidence?” Well, you need to pray for it, I think. Praying just keeps you acknowledging the source of it.

MacArthur says that Paul is urging them to have convictions — strong principles — about their faith that they can articulate to themselves and to others. This is something we need as Christians even today:

He says, “All of this stuff comes from one source, so you’ve got to have a settled conviction about one thing,” – verse 2, he says – “the full assurance of understanding to the acknowledgement” – I’m going to read this the way it is in the Greek – “to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ; to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

Now listen to me. Paul says, “I want you to have a basic, settled, assured conviction; and the place that that thing has to start is that you have to be convinced that the mystery of God is Christ. Now listen. “What do you mean, Paul?” “You have to be convinced of the deity and all-sufficiency of Christ,” – is what he’s saying – “that the hidden God has manifested Himself in the revealed Christ.”

You see what he’s saying? “I want you to have absolute, unwavering assurance, and acknowledge that the mystery of God, that is, the hidden God, is revealed as Christ;” – what is that saying? That Christ is deity – “and that in Him are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” That is sufficiency. And why does he say this? Because those are the two things that the false teachers in Colossae were attacking: the deity of Christ, and His sufficiency to save.

And he says, “You have to start there. You have to have a settled conviction about the deity of Christ and His sufficiency.” And these people would come into Colossae attacking the deity of Jesus Christ. They were saying that Jesus was just one of those emanations … just a sort of an angelic being down the line, a good emanation, a good spirit, like many others. And they were saying, “It isn’t enough to come to Christ for salvation; He’s just one step on the ladder. You’ve got to have super wisdom, and you’ve got to go for some mysterious knowledge, and et cetera, et cetera.”

And Paul is saying, “Look, I don’t want you to fuss with that. I want you to have an absolute, settled assurance about the riches that you have. And the first thing that you have to be sure of is that this Christ is none other than the hidden God revealed. He is deity,” – number 2 in verse 3 – “that in Him is all sufficiency.” That’s his point: a settled conviction about Christ

Over the years, a lot of people have said to me, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Jesus.’

It seems to me that, in stopping church early in their teenage years, they never really came to a true understanding of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they got bored. However, anyone truly paying attention in church and in Sunday School learns that there is nothing boring or ambivalent about our Lord and Saviour.

Paul then makes a reference to the heretical philosophy the Colossians have been hearing. He says that he wants them to understand the mysteries of God in Christ in order not to be ‘deluded’ by ‘plausible arguments’ (verse 4).

The heretics were peddling plausible arguments. That is how heresy works. It is the work of the devil and, as such, seductive.

MacArthur says:

The heretics and the false teachers believed there was a great mass of divine knowledge necessary for salvation, and it was hidden in secret books; and the secret books were called apokruphos, and only those super-intellects could open them. And Paul says, “Baloney.” The only apokruphos where all of this stuff is hidden is Jesus Christ. And the day you opened your heart to Christ, God took the lid off the diamond mine, and just said, “Go ahead; take what you need. It’s all there.”

You don’t need the special books of the secret intellect …

… in verse 4, “And I’m saying this, lest any man should beguile you with enticing words.” Lightfoot translates it, “I wish to warn you against anyone who would lead you astray by specious arguments and persuasive rhetoric.” He’s saying, “I don’t want you to exchange proven riches for speculation.”

Boy, it’s sad when a Christian would come to a place where he’d listen to some of that garbage about Christ. “Well, I don’t know. I’ve always believed the other way.” See? Paul is saying, “Look, have a settled conviction. And I’m telling you this, lest anybody is going to beguile you with enticing words, clever phrases – and they’re clever, and their arguments are good.”

This is the basic attack of all false systems. They’ll deny two things. They’ll deny the deity of Christ – now mark it in your mind – they’ll all do it. They’ll deny the deity of Christ, and they’ll deny His sufficiency to save; one or the other, or both. They’ll come and say, “Oh, yes. Yeah, Christ saves, plus works.” Right? Or, “Oh, yes, Christ isn’t God.”

But these are the two things around which all that false stuff revolves. It is a denial of the deity of Christ and/or His sufficiency to save alone. And the cults are all brought to the bar of God right here and condemned, folks, all of them. Anything that reduces Christ to less than deity, or anything that adds anything to His saving sufficiency belongs in the beguiling activity of Satan.

Paul ends this section by saying that, although he isn’t with them in body, he is with them in spirit, rejoicing to see their good order — personal conduct — and the firmness of their faith in Christ (verse 5).

In MacArthur’s translation the final words are ‘your order and steadfastness’.

He says that Paul was using military terms:

Both of those words are military terms. The word “order,” taxis, is an interesting word. It means rank, and it means a single-file line of soldiers. “You’re still holding rank.” You know what happens when an army begins to lose the battle? The ranks begin to become depleted. They begin to shoot them down. This comes from way back. The army would do out in a phalanx, and they’d start shooting them down, and they’d be falling …

And then he uses another term, “steadfast,” stereōma. This again speaks of a solid front of soldiers, ready to stand the shock of attack. And it speaks of more of not the unbroken rank, but the solidarity. “Not only are you unbroken in your rank, but, man, you are standing firm. And when the shock of battle hits, boom, you’re going to stop it; and I rejoice. You’re obedient, you’re disciplined, you’re holding rank, and you’re going to stand the attack; and that makes me happy. Yet I warn.”

Next week’s post will look at Paul’s warning about asceticism, another system of works which cannot save.

Next time — Colossians 2:20-23

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Philippians 3:1-4a

Righteousness Through Faith in Christ

Finally, my brothers,[a] rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is no trouble to me and is safe for you.

Look out for the dogs, look out for the evildoers, look out for those who mutilate the flesh. For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God[b] and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh— though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also.

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Last week’s post was about Epaphroditus, a member of the Philippian congregation who went to Rome to minister to Paul and was returning home.

Philippians 3 begins with warnings to the congregation about false teachers, Judaizers in particular, but also the qualities of a true Christian.

This is a long post. John MacArthur preached five sermons on these four verses alone, so grab yourselves a snack and a cuppa.

Paul encourages the Philippians to rejoice in the Lord, adding that it is no trouble at all to repeat himself in writing that (verse 1).

‘Finally’ in that verse can also be taken as ‘furthermore’, because the Apostle has some things to add to what he has already said previously.

John MacArthur elaborates on that verse:

Paul says, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” We noted that that finally would better be translated “furthermore,” or “so then,” or “now then.” It is a transition, not a note that distinguishes the end, as 44 remaining verses might indicate to you. And he throws in this which is the basic theme of the epistle that comes through in every chapter, “Finally, my brethren, rejoice in the Lord.” He is simply punctuating here this theme of joy. He lays down this very simple principle that our rejoicing is connected to a relationship. Rejoice in the Lord. And as I said, that is a familiar theme. It’s in chapter 1 verse 4, chapter 2 verse 2, chapter 2 verses 17 and 18, verses 28 and 29, you’ll find it here in chapter 3 and again in chapter 4, you’ll find it in verses 4 and 10. So he is reminding them about joy. But here he adds for the first time the little phrase “in the Lord…in the Lord.” It is the sphere in which our joy exists. Only in Him is true joy found…nowhere else. And let me just speak to that issue, if I might, for a moment. Paul is not talking about happiness when he talks about joy and rejoicing. Happiness is from hap…hap is a circumstance, happenstance, happenings, happiness, all the same word group. That is to say happiness is an emotion or an exhilaration associated with certain events. It is not an emotion or an exhilaration associated with a relationship. It has to do with an event, a thing, a happening. So the kind of joy that Paul is talking about and calling for, and this by the way is a command, and the command implies the capability of obedience on the part of a believer which in itself is no doubt a test of true salvation. But he says…rejoice in the Lord…commanding us to joy. But it is not the kind of emotional outburst, good feeling, exhilaration that is associated with an event. It is the kind that is associated with a relationship. It doesn’t even say, “Rejoice because of what the Lord has given you…rejoice because of what the Lord will give you…rejoice because of what the Lord is giving you.” It doesn’t say, “Rejoice because of what the Lord has done for the people that you care about.” It says, “Rejoice in the Lord.”

It is the exhilaration in the relationship, perhaps the simplest human analogy to it would be the joy of a parent in a newborn baby. The baby gives nothing, in effect, the baby provides no stimulating events. In fact, most of the events connected with the baby are anything but stimulating. The baby provides no exciting gifts, makes no charitable contribution, does no particularly beneficial service but there is something about the relationship that literally exhilarates the soul. It is the same kind of emotion only in much greater and deeper proportion as that of falling in love. And it isn’t so much that your emotion and your exhilaration and your exuberance and that overwhelming sense of silly peace that you enjoy is related to what the one you love does for you as it is just the thought of the one you love. And extrapolating out of those irrepressible human joys that come out of relationship, we can magnify that concept in to what we ought to feel and ever rejoice in that we enjoy with the Lord Himself.

MacArthur tells us more about joy:

Now let me take it a step further. This kind of joy is not an emotion from a human level, it is produced by the Holy Spirit therefore it is a supernatural emotion. It is a supernatural emotion. You say, “Well what does it do? What does it feel like, this joy that we’re to have?” Well it produces a deep confidence in the future, built on trust. The relationship says my life is in God’s hands, my life is in Christ’s control, all is well. The hymn writer said, “It is well with my soul,” and it is so well with my soul that no matter what is going on around me, I have joy. It is the kind of joy that brings a silent sleep, a deep sleep, a quietness of life because it trusts, because it knows the sovereign God and the faithful Christ will accomplish all their good promise. It is a supernatural emotion that also could be described as the absence of any ultimate fear because what is there to fear when all is bound up in the relationship and the relationship is eternal. It is the kind of emotion that puts a melody in the heart that no matter how bad it is in the world, it’s almost as if we ride across the top of the bumps. It’s the kind of emotion that puts a song on the lips, a lightness to the step. It’s the kind of emotion that produces easy thanks for little things…small pleasures. It’s very different from happiness. It’s different from the happiness, for example, of good health because true joy persists in weakness, pain, illness and death. It is different from the fun of a party with its laughing friends and music because it persists in the dark when someone is all alone. It is different from the delight of a new house or a new car or a new dress or a new anything because it persists through the loss of everything. Why? Because it is the joy in the relationship and the relationship with Jesus Christ that we enjoy never changes…never changes. He is always present. He is ever close. He is ever loving. He is ever securing. He is ever strengthening. He is ever providing. And we trust Him. Rejoice in the Lord. Very different than happiness.

Paul cautions the Philippians to beware of the dogs, the evildoers and those who would mutilate the flesh (verse 2).

By ‘dogs’, Paul meant wild dogs.

MacArthur tells us:

“Beware of the dogs.” Boy, you just didn’t call people dogs in that world. Two words in the New Testament for dogs, both from the same root. One is kunarion, that means a little dog, a little pet dog. It’s a diminutive term, it’s used in Matthew 15:26 and 27, and Mark chapter 7 around verse 27. It means a little diminutive pet dog. The word here is kuon, that word does not mean a pet dog. That word is used of dogs that were not pets and most of the dogs in that culture were not pets. They were scavengers. And there are many many histories that you can read about that day and you can look it up in a biblical encyclopedia and find it. Dogs roamed the streets. Dogs were scrounges, they were scavengers. They roamed in packs. They hunted the garbage of the city. They were often rabid. They snarled. They were wild. Would literally prowl the ancient streets without an owner and without home, they would feed on the garbage, on the filth. They would fight one another. They would attack people. In some cases people would lose their lives because the dogs were diseased.

To show you something of the character of these kinds of dogs, do you remember the parable of the rich man and Lazarus? And you remember in that story that part of the torture of Lazarus was that he was sick and in his poverty he was lying in the street and it says the dogs were…what?…licking his sores, the filthy vile scroungy scavenger dogs of the street, unimaginably licking the sores of this poor beggar. In the book of Revelation when it wants to identify the people who are not allowed into the gate of the holy city, in Revelation 22:15 it says, “Outside are the dogs.” They are not the warm and fuzzy little diminutives that we have as pets. These dogs were very very different. They were the lowest of the low, the scavengers, the scoundrels, the useless filthy curs that moved in the streets and were a threat to people and children.

And because they were so base and such filthy animals, the Jews had come to use the term “dog” as a title for Gentiles. In fact, the Talmud says the nations of the world are like dogs. The Gentiles were dogs, Gentile dogs, unclean, filthy, scrounging scavengers who savagedly attacked the truth and were dangerous.

And so, the Jews would see the Gentiles as dogs. The Judaizers trying to protect the Jewishness that was so precious to them would see even the Gentile Christians as dogs until they went through a circumcision. Jews called Gentiles dogs.

What is startling here is that Paul, a Jew, calls Jews dogs. That’s turning the table. That is a serious statement. You wonder sometimes why Paul was not popular. That statement would not make him popular…not popular. He is saying, in effect, beware of those people who self-righteously call other dogs but they’re the dogs. They accuse others of shamelessly attacking the truth and they are shamelessly attacking the truth. Are dogs unclean and filthy? So are they. Are dogs snarling and howling and vicious? So are they. Are dogs dangerous and able to wound and even kill? So are they. Stay away from them. Stay away from those dangerous filthy snarling howling wild attacking false teachers who parade themselves as if they are the virtuous ones, but they are deadly, they are dangerous, they are dirty. And he’s talking about people who are religious. He’s talking about people who say we must obey the law of God.

Listen, anybody who comes along in this time and day and says you have to baptized in water to be saved is a dangerous dog. Anybody who comes along in this day and says in order to be saved you’ve got to go through some certain kind of ceremony, you’ve got to say some certain kinds of prayers, you’ve got to go through some kind of a ritual is a dog, an unclean thing, a dangerous beast. Anyone who comes along to you and says it’s fine if you believe in Jesus but if you don’t acquiesce to a certain code of ethics and do your best to live by that code of ethics and perform those deeds which will please God you will never be saved is a dog. Beware.

As for evildoers, MacArthur explains:

They are evil workers. You see, the thing is they pride themselves on being workers of righteousness. That’s how he turns the table on them this time. Typically those who are involved in those kinds of external religions of works see themselves as the workers of what is good, that they please God, they’re earning His favor, they’re earning salvation. They’re the noble upholders of the ceremonies and the rituals of their religion … and they’ve done the good deeds and they’ve filled up all their agenda with those required things. And they’ve done all that good. And the fact of the matter is they are not good workers, they are…what?…they’re evil workers. Well, you say, “Why so?” Because it is the wickedness of all wickedness to think that you can earn anything with God. Why is that wicked? Because it is pride at its apex and pride is a…what?…sin. Unregenerate people, even religious people can’t do really what is good. Let me put it to you simply. Wicked people can do bad bad. Remember our discussion of that? Bad bad. You say, “What’s that?” They do bad things for bad reasons. You say, “What’s a bad thing?” Any kind of sin. They can do wicked things. And they do them with bad reasons, bad motives. They’re motivated by their wicked selfish self-centered nature. Now listen to this, unregenerate people can also do bad good. You say, “What do you mean by that?” Well it’s good in the sense that they can help the poor, they can relieve the widows, they can visit the prisoners, they can adopt orphans, they can do good. But it’s bad good because it’s motivated by pride rather than the glory of God. The best that the unregenerate can do is bad good. They can do bad bad or bad good. But only the redeemed can do good good…a good deed motivated to the glory of God.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant by mutilation:

Then finally he literally scorches them with the blowtorch of terms. He says, “Beware of the mutilation.” This is unbelievable. You talk about offensive, that is offensive. You see, they prided themselves on circumcision. The word for circumcision in the Greek is peritome, it means to cut around. Paul says you’re not the circumcision, you’re the katatome, you’re the mutilation, you’re the castration, that’s what you are. Boy! You think you’re circumcised? You think you fit God’s design in the symbolism of circumcision? Forget it, there’s nothing spiritual about it. All it was was physical mutilation. In Galatians 5:12 he says, “You say you’re circumcised? I would that you were castrated,” Galatians 5:12. Very strong. You see, we can’t just say to these people who add works to salvation, “Well, they’re close. Boy, they’re certainly lovely people. They certainly are nice. And they’re religious. And, you know, they’re trying their best to get to God.” They are dogs. Beware of them. They’re filthy. They’re unclean. They’re vicious. They are not workers of good. They are doing at best bad good, motivated by their own pride. And they go through their religious ceremonies and they are useless, they have nothing to do with their heart and their life and their relation to God. They’re simply external. It is merely a process of mutilation with no spiritual value, no inner cleansing, no spiritual change. Why? Because that’s all of grace and nothing more, right? Nothing more. And as soon as you stick anything else in there, all is lost.

In fact, these people called the mutilation who thought they could come to God through circumcision had to be told that their circumcision was of no more value than the gashings of the prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. You remember them? Up there with Elijah, cutting themselves, gashing and mutilating themselves, trying to please their deity…absolutely useless. So is circumcision. So is any external thing that does not reflect a transformed heart. He is not a Jew who is one outwardly. He is a Jew who is one…what?…inwardly. Romans 2:28, “For circumcision is of the heart.” What’s Paul’s message here? He’s saying…Look, we’re the true circumcision. How are we characterized? All internally. We worship in the Spirit of God, we glory in Christ Jesus. Who gets all the glory for our salvation? Christ. Our worship isn’t external, it’s…what?…it’s in the Spirit. He gets all the glory and how much confidence do we have in our flesh? None. That’s the difference. You see, they worship on the outside, they glory in their human achievement, their religious activity and they have a lot of confidence in the flesh. They think it can perform. So Paul leads us then to verse 3, and an understanding of the explicit qualities of the true Christian.

So what is it when these religionists do all of their ceremonies and all of their activities and by their own works try to attain the favor of God? It is bad good. It may appear good on the outside, it is bad on the inside because it is nothing but the expulsion of pride which believes that you can please God on your own. They are merit-mongers.

The Judaizers were among them. Evil workers trying to earn God’s favor. It doesn’t mean that they were doing evil deeds, they were working to please God but they were evil because it was all motivated by the false belief that they could be pleasing to God. What a deception of pride.

So Paul flips the table and says you’re evil workers, everything you do is wicked, everything you do is bad. Why? Because they did it out of the allusion of pride and pride is the driving sin of unregenerate man.

MacArthur explains that, in the Old Testament, God intended circumcision to be an outward sign for the Jewish people to use to become pure in heart. God wanted it to remind them of their sinful nature. Note that the male’s blood had to be shed when he was eight days old (emphases mine):

When God demanded that they circumcise the male, He was giving them a symbol that the…the outward part of man’s procreative organ was cleansed to remind them that man needed to be cleansed of sin at the deepest root of his being. That was the idea. Man needed to be cleansed of his sin through a spiritual surgery, at the very root of his nature. And that very graphic symbol was chosen because that is the procreative point at which man produces sinful man. So man in his natural condition is a sinner and he produces sinners, sinners, sinners, sinners and nothing but sinners. At the very point of his nature then he needs cleansing. And every time they circumcised a person and every time they circumcised a little eight-day-old male child, they were reminding themselves of the fact that man at his very base nature was a wicked sinner and desperately in need of a cleansing. It was an illustration of the sinfulness of man. And even the bloodshed that occurred in circumcision could symbolize the need for sacrifice to accomplish that cleansing. So there was even a picture of the pain and the sacrifice in the circumcision as well

Leviticus 26:41 talks about the circumcised heart. Deuteronomy 10:16, the circumcised heart. Deuteronomy 30 verse 6, the circumcised heart. Jeremiah 4:4, the circumcised heart. Ezekiel 44:7, the circumcised heart. That starts all the way back in Exodus 6…Leviticus, Deuteronomy, the Pentateuch already when God said, “I want an outward sign,” He was saying, “I also want an inward reality.” A circumcised foreskin can only be a sign of the need for a circumcised heart, a cleansed heart. But it wasn’t long after God instituted it that they had already begun to deteriorate and that’s why you have those passages where God says circumcise your hearts. That’s why those are there because already the thing began to deteriorate and all they were living by was the physical sign and disregarding the spiritual counterpart.

When the Judaizers came along after Paul left one of his new churches — this happened nearly all the time — they told the new Christians, many of whom were Gentiles, that the men needed circumcision, because only then could they obey the law. However, as we know, the New Covenant has done away with physical circumcision and focuses on a spiritual circumcision — one of the heart and mind with the help of divine grace and the workings of the Holy Spirit.

Paul says that ‘we’ — true Christians — are the circumcision, because we worship by the Spirit of God, glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh (verse 3) for salvation.

‘Confidence in the flesh’ means a works-based religious system, which is still very much active today.

MacArthur explains:

… not only is the true believer characterized by worship, by rejoicing in Christ, but thirdly by humility…humility. That’s the…that is the basic attitude of a genuine believer…“He puts no confidence in the flesh.” Very humble by the fallen condition of his human flesh. He doesn’t trust it. He doesn’t trust in it. He began in the Spirit and he will continue in the Spirit. He knows that all the good that comes to him and through him is by the power of God, he has no confidence in his flesh to please God. He knows it can’t. So there’s a humility there. There is not a pushing of one’s merit, of one’s achievement, but there’s humility.

How do you identify a true Christian? Look for one who worships from the heart that’s prompted by the Spirit. Look for one whose glory and joy and boast is all Christ. Look for one who when viewing himself is humble.

MacArthur elaborates on ‘glory’ in the Greek manuscript:

That…that verb in the Greek, “to glory,” kauchaomai basically means to boast but it has the idea of a rejoicing exultant, almost a hilarious kind of boasting. And what it’s saying here is that if you’re a true Christian all your boasting, all your rejoicing is going to be in Christ because all the credit belongs to Him. So you haven’t done anything to earn it.

He tells us what it means to ‘worship by the Spirit of God’:

Listen, the first thing is an overflowing heart of worship Ask yourself, does my heart long to glorify the Lord? Do I love to praise Him and worship Him? Is it my heart’s desire to serve Him? ... But the question you want to ask is what is my attitude toward God? Because if I’m a Christian the Spirit is in me and if the Spirit is in me, then He is prompting me to worship. And so I’ll have a heart of adoration and a heart of praise and a heart that longs to serve God from the inside out. So I have to look at my heart. And so when the Scripture says “examine yourselves,” it starts there in the heart. Oh yes, there will be a moral code by which you live. And there may have been a real event, there was for all of us a time when we were saved, even though we don’t know it. And we do have to know the facts. And service will be a part of our life but all of that will flow from the inside because we worship God prompted by the Spirit. It’s worship on a supernatural level, it’s not human, it’s spiritual, it’s energized by the Holy Spirit.

Then Paul refers to his Jewish heritage, saying that he has reason for confidence in the flesh also (verse 4a).

Let’s look at the whole verse:

though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more:

It is possible that the Judaizers talking to the Philippians might have thought Paul was a Gentile and therefore, the congregation needed education on the Old Testament laws.

Paul states that, as a Pharisee, he knew the system inside and out.

MacArthur says:

“Although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh.” The end of verse 3 says, “Christians, don’t put any confidence in the flesh, although I myself…that’s an emphatic form there…might have confidence even in the flesh.” I mean, it’s not that I don’t know what I’m talking about. Listen, if there was confidence in the flesh I might have it. I might have it. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more than anyone else. Literally to a higher degree. Certainly to a higher degree than most if not all of the Judaizers who were plaguing Philippi. So he is saying if there was anybody who should have confidence in the flesh legitimately, it would be me. And if anybody else has a mind to have confidence in the flesh, I have more reason to have it.

Now he’s not saying this to build his ego. He’s not saying this to convince people of his spiritual superiority. He is simply saying it for the sake of argument. He doesn’t really want to boast in his flesh. He doesn’t really have any confidence in his flesh. In 2 Corinthians read chapter 11 verse 16 through chapter 12 verse 1 some time and he uses the same argument of boasting there but he calls it foolish. It’s foolish to boast, I only do it for the sake of making a point, just for the sake of argument. He says, “If anybody might boast in the flesh it would be me because of my impeccable Jewish credentials, my religious credentials.”

You see, he knew what it was to be a Jew, to be a Jew in the highest sense of the term and yet he deliberately knowingly willingly abandoned it all for the sake of Jesus Christ. He counted it all as worthless. He sold it all to gain the true treasure, the true pearl, even Christ. Now in verses 4 to 7 he tells what was loss and in verses 8 to 11 what was gain. And in the middle is Christ. He says this is what was loss, verses 4 to 7, and this is what was gain in Christ. I gave up all this stuff and this is what I gained.

Here are the next several verses, which are in the Lectionary:

circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law,[c] blameless. But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

From that we see that obligatory works, circumcision and rituals are empty actions:

So he’s saying I was born into Jewishness, I was born into the Jewish faith. I followed the rituals from the very beginning. I started with the most essential rite and sacrament which they felt was absolutely necessary for salvation. So he said I look at that circumcision that you see as so vital to salvation and I’m telling you it’s rubbish…it’s rubbish. Because salvation is not by ritual, it is not by rite, it is not by ceremony, it is not by symbol, it is not by sacraments, it is not by masses, it is not by routines and rituals and washings and baptisms. I don’t care whether you’re talking about Jewish symbols and Jewish sacraments and Jewish ordinances and rituals and ceremonies or whether you’re talking about Roman Catholic ones, Roman Catholic rites and rituals, or whether you’re talking about Protestant baptism or Protestant sacraments or the Lord’s table or some other ritual, or whether you’re talking about lighting candles or praying through beads or praying certain formula prayers, ceremonies, rites and rituals don’t bring salvation. That’s what he’s saying. So I considered that truest Jewish rite of all rites, circumcision, as manure. As far as salvation is concerned it’s useless. It’s waste, it’s garbage, throw it out, it can’t help.

Secondly, he says salvation is not by race either. If anybody had a right to boast I might because not only was I circumcised the eighth day, but I am of the nation of Israel. The implication here is that some of the Judaizers probably were Gentiles converted later. They were circumcised later in life and they weren’t really of the nation Israel. They were proselytes. But Paul is saying, “I’m of the people of Israel” …

And I’ll tell you right now the Jews believed that if they were circumcised the eighth day and if they were of the pure line coming out of the loins of Jacob and coming through the twelve tribes that were the children of Jacob, they were therefore the chosen people of God who were the saved, the redeemed, the inheriters of eternal glory. Paul says…the fact of the matter is, that’s useless, that is absolutely useless.

No religious virtue is gained by birth. Understand that? There are people today who want to affirm household salvation. They twist the Philippian jailer’s story that he was saved and his whole household and they assumed that when a family…when parents are saved that the children born of those parents are in covenant relationship to God. And that’s why they engage in infant baptism which is a form of covenant identity. Infant baptism is how you identify a child as having been born into covenant identity, household salvation by virtue of parents. Not so…not so. Your religious family grants you no standing with God. The fact that you were born into a Christian nation grants you no standing with God. The fact that you were born into a Christian family grants you no standing with God, no salvation, it’s useless, it’s garbage, it’s rubbish.

As MacArthur says above, once we devote our hearts to God through His Son Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, whatever good we do comes from Him and our spontaneous actions will reflect that:

all of that will flow from the inside because we worship God prompted by the Spirit. It’s worship on a supernatural level, it’s not human, it’s spiritual, it’s energized by the Holy Spirit.

Paul has more on that, which will be the subject of next week’s post.

Next time — Philippians 3:15-16

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 5:7-12, 26

You were running well. Who hindered you from obeying the truth? This persuasion is not from him who calls you. A little leaven leavens the whole lump. 10 I have confidence in the Lord that you will take no other view, and the one who is troubling you will bear the penalty, whoever he is. 11 But if I, brothers,[a] still preach[b] circumcision, why am I still being persecuted? In that case the offense of the cross has been removed. 12 I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!

26 Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s telling the Galatians that if they accept circumcision they have to accept the whole of Mosaic law, thereby severing themselves from Christ. So he encourages them to live through the Holy Spirit by faith in the hope of God-given righteousness.

Paul is full of righteous anger at the Judaizers’ corruption of the Galatians’ Christian faith.

John MacArthur summarises the severity of what the Judaizers are attempting to do (emphases mine):

the issue here has to do with an aberrant form of Christianity, which is no different than a pagan religion, as we will dramatically see in this passage. And what Paul is attacking in this entire letter is the idea that you can tamper with the gospel of salvation

… It’s not an anti-Christian religion they taught. It’s not even Judaism itself that they taught. It is a distorted form of Christianity that says salvation comes by faith in Christ plus your works. It’s the combination …

Paul is writing Galatians in a state of righteous anger, the kind of righteous anger that I think is missing from much preaching today. And while we certainly do preach all that the Scripture declares, and that means the love and compassion of God, there is a place for righteous anger over the false doctrines that have found their way into Christianity and seduced people as they were attempting to seduce the Galatians.

Now in the opening of the fifth chapter Paul confronts these false teachers. In the first six verses we looked at last time he confronts their false doctrine, helps us to understand what it does, and then from verse 7 to 12 he looks at the character of false teachers, the very work that marks them. Now remember in the big picture, this whole letter is defending the gospel of salvation by faith alone. And the first two chapters he defended it by his own apostolic testimony. And then in chapters 3 and 4 he defended it from Old Testament Scripture, because it was always the way of salvation – by faith alone. And now in chapters 5 and 6 he defends the true gospel by the experience of the believers in Galatia and the work of the Holy Spirit which they had always seen manifest in their life.

So we’re in that section. But before he starts to talk about the work of the Spirit in their life, which is a manifestation that they have genuinely been saved by faith, he lays down an all out assault on false doctrine and false teachers. There is not a worse position for any human being to be in than to be a false teacher propagating lies from hell, lies that twist Scripture to pervert the true gospel, which then clouds the reality of the only way of salvation. So that’s what’s on his mind in these opening twelve verses

So Paul, first of all, then in this chapter goes after the false doctrine, and we saw that in verses 2 through 6. Now let’s come to verse 7, and I want you to understand this portion and the gravity of it as we go. And I’m going to keep reminding you, we’re talking here not about an agnostic, not about an atheist, not about a blatant God-hater, not about a Christ-hater and a Christ-denier, not about some religion that attacks Christianity, we’re talking about people who declare that they are the people of the true God, that they acknowledge Jesus Christ as their Savior, but they add works to faith. Such forms of Christianity abound.

Paul reminds the Galatians that they were running the Christian race well — a well-known metaphor of his — and asks them who hindered them from obeying the truth (verse 7).

There is much to look at in that verse.

First, Paul’s use of running.

MacArthur tells us:

Paul liked to use the metaphor of a race, very popular form of activity in the ancient world.

Matthew Henry gives us further insight on the metaphor:

Note, (1.) The life of a Christian is a race, wherein he must run, and hold on, if he would obtain the prize. (2.) It is not enough that we run in this race, by a profession of Christianity, but we must run well, by living up to that profession. Thus these Christians had done for awhile, but they had been obstructed in their progress, and were either turned out of the way or at least made to flag and falter in it.

Secondly, as to who is hindering, Paul clearly knows it is the Judaizers and perhaps one among them in particular. However, he wants the Galatians to think about those people or a person.

MacArthur says that Paul wants them to consider the following questions:

They’re passing themselves off as scholars of the Old Testament. They were very likely connected to the Pharisees. They are the kind of people who would let you think that they came from Jerusalem, that they have the authority of James, who was the leader of the Jerusalem church, that they bear some apostolic weight. “They have a credential or so to impress you. But let’s be honest; who are they really who hinder you? Who are they?

This holds true for us, too:

In the larger scheme of things today they may be religious leaders. They may wear robes. They may be priests, they may be patriarchs, they may be popes or cardinals or bishops, they may be pastors, they may be whatever. They may have titles, education. But who are they really?

Henry has much to say about this and why it is important for the Galatians — and all Christians experiencing hindrance — to reflect on the source of it:

He very well knew who they were, and what it was that hindered them; but he would have them to put the question to themselves, and seriously consider whether they had any good reason to hearken to those who gave them this disturbance, and whether what they offered was sufficient to justify them in their present conduct. Note, (1.) Many who set out fair in religion, and run well for awhile–run within the bounds appointed for the race, and run with zeal and alacrity too–are yet by some means or other hindered in their progress, or turned out of the way. (2.) It concerns those who have run well, but now begin either to turn out of the way or to tire in it, to enquire what it is that hinders them. Young converts must expect that Satan will be laying stumbling blocks in their way, and doing all he can to divert them from the course they are in; but, whenever they find themselves in danger of being turned out of it, they would do well to consider who it is that hinders them. Whoever they were that hindered these Christians, the apostle tells them that by hearkening to them they were kept from obeying the truth, and were thereby in danger of losing the benefit of what they had done in religion. The gospel which he had preached to them, and which they had embraced and professed, he assures them was the truth; it was therein only that the true way of justification and salvation was fully discovered, and, in order to their enjoying the advantage of it, it was necessary that they should obey it, that they should firmly adhere to it, and continue to govern their lives and hopes according to the directions of it. If therefore they should suffer themselves to be drawn away from it they must needs be guilty of the greatest weakness and folly.

Thirdly, is the issue of obeying the truth, which some of us might find an odd turn of phrase, yet, our commentators explain why it makes sense.

Henry says:

Note, [1.] The truth is not only to be believed, but to be obeyed, to be received not only in the light of it, but in the love and power of it. [2.] Those do not rightly obey the truth, who do not stedfastly adhere to it. [3.] There is the same reason for our obeying the truth that there was for our embracing it: and therefore those act very unreasonably who, when they have begun to run well in the Christian race, suffer themselves to be hindered, so as not to persevere in it.

MacArthur says much the same and delves further:

Now what does it mean to obey the truth? That is a key interpretive phrase in this section. To obey the truth essentially in the New Testament means “to believe the gospel.” It means “to believe the gospel.”

I don’t know if you’ve thought of it this way, but the gospel is a command. It is not a suggestion, it is not God sharing with you, it is God commanding you. I think we even as believers, when we go out to present the gospel would do well not to talk about sharing the gospel, but talk about commanding people to believe, because that’s what the gospel does: it calls for obedience.

In the sixth chapter of Acts we see an illustration of this: “The word of God kept spreading; the number of the disciples continued to increase greatly in Jerusalem. A great many of the priests were becoming obedient to the faith.” An act of confessing Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior is an act of obedience to the gospel, which is a command, which is a command.

In Romans chapter 2 this kind of language continues – just a few illustrations of it. Romans chapter 2 talks about those who are ungodly as “selfishly ambitious” – verse 8 – “and they do not obey the truth. They do not obey the truth, but rather obey unrighteousness. For them is coming wrath from God and indignation.”

In the sixth chapter of Romans, verse 17, Paul says, “Thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed. You actually became slaves of righteousness.” It is a call again to obedience and a call to slavery. You are called to be a slave of Christ and a slave of righteousness.

As Paul comes to the end of Romans, in the fifteenth chapter and the eighteenth verse we see this kind of language again: “I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles, obedience to the gospel command.”

At the end of Romans chapter 16, verse 26 say, “Now the gospel, the preaching of Christ, the mystery of the revelation of Christ is manifested, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the eternal God.” There’s the word “commandment.” “The gospel is a commandment of the eternal God, made known to all nations, leading to obedience of faith.” The gospel is a command.

And then we find on the other side, 2 Thessalonians 1:8, that, “God will send the Lord Jesus from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire,”2 Thessalonians 1:8“dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power,” destruction on those who do not obey the gospel. It is the obedience of faith. It is the obedience to the truth. It is the obedience to the gospel. Trusting in Christ is a command, it is a command.

Paul continues, saying that whatever the Galatians are being asked to do is not from him who calls them (verse 8).

Who is ‘him’ in that verse?

Henry says that it could be referring equally to God or Paul himself:

To convince them of their folly herein, he tells them that this persuasion did not come of him that called them, that is, either of God, by whose authority the gospel had been preached to them and they had been called into the fellowship of it, or of the apostle himself, who had been employed as the instrument of calling them hereunto. It could not come from God, for it was contrary to that way of justification and salvation which he had established; nor could they have received it from Paul himself; for, whatever some might pretend, he had all along been an opposer and not a preacher of circumcision, and, if in any instance he had submitted to it for the sake of peace, yet he had never pressed the use of it upon Christians, much less imposed it upon them as necessary to salvation. Since then this persuasion did not come of him that had called them, he leaves them to judge whence it must arise, and sufficiently intimates that it could be owing to none but Satan and his instruments, who by this means were endeavouring to overthrow their faith and obstruct the progress of the gospel, and therefore that the Galatians had every reason to reject it, and to continue stedfast in the truth which they had before embraced.

However, MacArthur thinks that Paul is referring to the doctrine of the effectual call, therefore, ‘him’ refers to God:

… notice verse 8: “This persuasion did not come from Him who calls you.” This is an effectual call, the call of God to salvation, the God who called you into salvation.

By the way, whenever you see anything about God calling in the Epistles of the New Testament it’s always the effectual, saving call, not just an open gospel call. It’s the call to salvation mentioned in Romans chapter 8, that whom He called He justified. It’s the call that awakens the dead sinner and regenerates him and gives him life. It’s that call. “The God who called you and gave you life is not the one who sent these teachers with this persuasion.”

Paul says that a little yeast leavens the whole lump of dough (verse 9). Occasionally, we see someone misusing that verse, as if it is something positive. It is not.

That expression is used more than once in Scripture and the message is always negative.

MacArthur explains:

This is tragic, verse 9: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” We all know what yeast is, right? And yeast is a picture in Scripture of permeation. It’s usually used of evil influence, permeating evil influence.

The Jews before the days of unleavened bread would remove every particle of leaven from their homes. Part of that feast was to recognize that they needed to get rid of the permeating influence of sin, and so this was a symbol of that. Leaven operated on the principle of fermentation, as you know, so it was a good illustration of moral and spiritual corruption. These false teachers contaminate the church, they corrupt the church.

By the way, this is a common proverb, verse 8, “A little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough.” Paul used it in 1 Corinthians 5:6. It’s the same thing: “A little leaven leavens the whole lump,” and he’s talking about again the influence of sin and the influence of evil and the evil of false doctrine in the church.

But it all really kind of began in the New Testament with the words of our Lord in Matthew 16; and again he was talking about the most religious Jewish people – the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Matthew 16:6, Jesus said, “Watch out and beware of the leaven of the Pharisees and Sadducees, of the leaven.” What did He mean by that? Well, down in verse 12, “They understood that He didn’t say to beware of the leaven of bread,” – not the bread itself – “but the teaching of the Pharisees and Sadducees.”

So it was our Lord who used the idea of leaven as a permeating evil influence, referring to the teaching of the Pharisees who were the most fastidious, legalistic Jews. And here the apostle Paul picks it up, as he does in 1 Corinthians 5. It’s similar to Paul’s words in 2 Timothy chapter 2, verse 17, where he says that the teaching of false doctrine eats like gangrene. It’s that same kind of corrupting, permeating influence. I suppose in the modern world where we now have a more comprehensive understanding of the pathology of disease, the Lord might have used, if He were saying it today, the cancer of the Pharisees and the cancer of the Sadducees – a symbol of invisible, permeating corruption.

Paul then adds a message of encouragement, saying that he has confidence in the Lord that the Galatians will maintain their faith in and obedience to the truth and that whoever is guilty of attempting to corrupt them will bear the penalty, ‘whoever he is’ (verse 10), implying that there is a dominant Judaizer among them.

Henry says:

possibly he may point to some one particular man who was more busy and forward than others, and might be the chief instrument of the disorder that was among them; and to this he imputes their defection or inconstancy more than to any thing in themselves. This may give us occasion to observe that, in reproving sin and error, we should always distinguish between the leaders and the led, such as set themselves to draw others thereinto and such as are drawn aside by them. Thus the apostle softens and alleviates the fault of these Christians, even while he is reproving them, that he might the better persuade them to return to, and stand fast in, the liberty wherewith Christ had made them free

MacArthur says that God will mete judgement and punishment to anyone preaching a false gospel:

When someone gets inside a church and tampers with the church the punishment is severe. When someone says they’re a believer, a true believer, and they introduce their error and their corruption to the church, the Lord is very serious in His response

So what is the impact of false teachers? They hinder the truth, they do not come from God, they contaminate the church, and they end in a face-to-face judgment with God.

Paul goes on to give the Galatians another matter for consideration: if he is preaching circumcision — as he must have been accused of doing — then why is he facing persecution, when, surely, if that were the case, the offence of the Cross is no more (verse 10)?

MacArthur explains that verse from the Jewish perspective of the day:

Paul was persecuted. He once persecuted the church. After his conversion he was persecuted, and the primary source of persecution of Paul came from the Jews. Yes, the Gentiles also persecuted him, but particularly the Jews persecuted Paul. They dogged his steps. The Judaizers doing what they were doing was a form of anti-Paul effort. It was a kind of persecution. They didn’t have the authority to inflict wounds on his body or make him a captive; they wouldn’t be able to do that unless he was back in Jerusalem in their country. But they were persecuting him by dogging his steps with false doctrine, trying to undermine everything he did.

But notice what he says there: “Brethren, if I still preach circumcision, why am I still persecuted?” Somebody must have said, “Well, Paul, wait a minute. You’re inconsistent, you preach circumcision.”

What in the world would they have in mind with that? Very simple. Back in the sixteenth chapter of the book of Acts … Paul came to meet a young man by the name of Timothy. Paul met Timothy, was impressed by Timothy’s righteous life, godliness; he was a believer in Christ. His father was a Gentile, but his mother was Jewish. Timothy had never been circumcised, but he was a believer in Christ.

Paul had him circumcised. Somebody probably told the Judaizers about that and said, “Look, you even preach circumcision.” And Paul is saying, “If you think I preach circumcision, why are you persecuting me, if that’s what you want and you think I’m doing it?” Well, of course they didn’t think that. They persecuted him because he didn’t preach it.

But then that brings up the issue of Timothy. Why did he do that? Very simple reason. Timothy was already a believer; it had nothing to do with salvation. But he would have had no access to synagogues. It would have been the natural thought of Jews that he had a Gentile father and he had a Jewish mother. Since he wasn’t circumcised, he must be a pagan, he must have taken his father’s religion. This would have made it difficult for Timothy to minister along with Paul. So Paul accommodates the Jewish expectation by having Timothy go through this surgery so that he will be accepted as one who has embraced Judaism like Paul, and together they can minister to the Jews. It was nothing more than that.

And it was obvious he didn’t preach that or do it any other time, or they wouldn’t persecute him for not preaching it. “If I preached circumcision, why am I still persecuted? Then the stumbling block of the cross has been abolished.” He’s saying this: “If I was preaching circumcision the Jews wouldn’t be stumbling over the cross.”

Now you have to understand what he means by that. The Jews had two problems with apostolic preaching. Problem number one was a crucified Messiah. That was a problem. That was a stumbling block to them, because they thought Messiah was going to come be a king, not a crucified victim of pagans, Romans. That was a problem.

But there was an even greater problem, and that was that Paul was saying, “We had no obligation as believers to adhere to the Mosaic ordinances.” That was a bigger problem. Those Judaizers knew it, because I told you, in chapter 6, the Judaizers believed in Christ and the cross, but they also wanted to embrace the whole Mosaic ritual so that their friends would accept them.

Paul would have been accepted if he had believed in a crucified Messiah, Jesus Christ, but held onto the trappings of Judaism if his message had been, “You have to believe in Jesus Christ crucified and adhere to the Mosaic law, and then you will be saved.” But Paul didn’t preach circumcision, he didn’t preach Mosaic law, and that’s why they were after him with such vicious passion.

Paul concludes this section with an outrageous statement, wishing that whoever is unsettling the Galatians would just emasculate themselves (verse 12). Wow.

MacArthur says that it was a way of saying that the Judaizers were nothing more than pagans — and that it was a message he hoped would filter back to them once the Galatians had received this letter:

Galatia was adjacent to Phrygia. Phrygia was known for the worship of Cybele … a pagan goddess. This was a dominant worship in the area; and the priests of Cybele and the very devout worshipers of Cybele had themselves castrated. They became eunuchs, eunuchs for the purpose of the worship of Cybele. This is sheer, gross paganism.

Why would Paul ever say this to these Jewish teachers? What he is saying is this: “If you accept circumcision and the Mosaic rituals and rules, you might as well go ahead and castrate yourself and become a full-blown pagan, because that’s what you are.” This shows you how extreme any deviation from the gospel is. “You are a full-fledged pagan. You might as well do the most severe things pagans do.”

I can’t imagine what happened when they read that verse. They would be devastated. The Judaizers when they heard it must have been infuriated. They saw themselves as God’s representatives; they were full-fledged pagans. There is no room for any alteration of the gospel of salvation by faith. Any deviation and you might as well become a eunuch in a pagan religion, because that’s what you are.

The rest of Galatians 5 and nearly all of Galatians 6 will be coming up in Year C’s readings in the summer of 2022. Those will be read on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

As such, our exploration of Galatians for today ends with the instruction for the Galatians not to become conceited, provocative and envious (verse 26).

Henry says that this refers back to Paul’s exhortation earlier in Galatians 5 to serve and love one another:

He had before been exhorting these Christians by love to serve one another (Galatians 5:13; Galatians 5:13), and had put them in mind of what would be the consequence if, instead of that, they did bite and devour one another, Galatians 5:15; Galatians 5:15. Now, as a means of engaging them to the one and preserving them from the other of these, he here cautions them against being desirous of vain-glory, or giving way to an undue affectation of the esteem and applause of men, because this, if it were indulged, would certainly lead them to provoke one another and to envy one another. As far as this temper prevails among Christians, they will be ready to slight and despise those whom they look upon as inferior to them, and to be put out of humour if they are denied that respect which they think is their due from them, and they will also be apt to envy those by whom their reputation is in any danger of being lessened: and thus a foundation is laid for those quarrels and contentions which, as they are inconsistent with that love which Christians ought to maintain towards each other, so they are greatly prejudicial to the honour and interest of religion itself. This therefore the apostle would have us by all means to watch against. Note, (1.) The glory which comes from men is vain-glory, which, instead of being desirous of, we should be dead to. (2.) An undue regard to the approbation and applause of men is one great ground of the unhappy strifes and contentions that exist among Christians.

We might wonder why were there Judaizers at all?

MacArthur surmises that they wanted to have a foot in each camp — Jewish and Christian — to avoid persecution:

And you might wonder why would they ever do such a thing; and the answer’s given you in chapter 6 of this letter, verse 12: “They desire to make a good showing in the flesh, and so they try to compel you to be circumcised, simply so that they will not be persecuted for the cross of Christ.”

They didn’t want the persecution that came on them when they said they believed in the cross of Christ. This is a critical point. They had believed in the cross of Christ, but they were not going to exclude their Judaistic works, because it was enough to bear the stigma of believing in a crucified Messiah without being accused of the Jews of abandoning your Judaism. If they did that, they would have been persecuted. It’s as if to say, the Jews could tolerate them believing in Jesus as the Messiah, even though it was a stumbling block to them if they continued to adhere to the law of Moses. So they were trying to hold on to their Jewish community by making this good showing in the flesh in addition to saying they believed in the cross.

Then verse 13, “Those who are circumcised do not even keep the law themselves, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.” They want to be able to say to their Jewish community, “No, no, no, we’re supportive of Judaism. No, no, this Christianity is just a branch of Judaism, and we still believe, you know, the law. The law has a place, it has the priority place.” They wanted to hold onto that for their own personal social benefit.

Next week’s post concludes this exploration of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 6:17-18

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:21-27

Example of Hagar and Sarah

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

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

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

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

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry confirms this historical point:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us the context:

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Galatians 4:28-31

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:17-20

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s physical ailment, probably related to his eyes, which brought him to Galatia to found the churches there. He hadn’t intended to go there, but he needed to stop for some time and tend to his illness. The Galatians received him warmly, indeed.

Paul is deeply concerned about the Galatians’ growing relationship with the Judaisers, who want the congregations to adopt Mosaic law and mix it in with their Christianity.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

The apostle is still carrying on the same design as in the Galatians 4:12-16, which was, to convince the Galatians of their sin and folly in departing from the truth of the gospel: having just before been expostulating with them about the change of their behaviour towards him who endeavoured to establish them in it, he here gives them the character of those false teachers who made it their business to draw them away from it, which if they would attend to, they might soon see how little reason they had to hearken to them

Paul tells the Galatians that ‘they’ — the Judaisers — are fawning over them for no good purpose; the Judaisers want to shut the door on the Galatians — the door to salvation — so that the congregations will be entirely dependent upon them (verse 17).

In today’s parlance, Paul would say that the Judaisers are pulling the Galatians into a psychologically and spiritually abusive relationship.

Henry rephrases the verse as follows:

… whatever opinion they might have of them, he tells them they were designing men, who were aiming to set up themselves, and who, under their specious pretences, were more consulting their own interest than theirs: They zealously affect you,” says he; “they show a mighty respect for you, and pretend a great deal of affection to you, but not well; they do it not with any good design, they are not sincere and upright in it, for they would exclude you, that you might affect them. That which they are chiefly aiming at is to engage your affections to them; and, in order to this, they are doing all they can to draw off your affections from me and from the truth, that so they may engross you to themselves.”

John MacArthur says that this verse is essential to keep in mind at all times with regard to religion, because it points to false teachers:

You ought to know that verse. That verse applies to all false religion and all false teachers. That is a defining verse.

“They eagerly seek you.” This is referring to the Judaizers teaching their Mosaic lies. “They court you, they make a fuss over you to win you, favor you.” “Eagerly seek” is to have a deep concern. They, these false teachers, aggressively went after the Galatians.

That’s how it is with false religion, it is a seeking religion; they’re aggressive. False religion is spreading like wildfire over the world today.

Second Corinthians 11 says that Satan is disguised as an angel of light, and so are his emissaries and ambassadors. “And they’re going everywhere” – as Jesus put it in Matthew 23 – “making double sons of hell.” There are already sons of hell; and now when you get into this false religion you’re a double son of hell.

“They eagerly seek you, not commendably,” not honorably, not honestly, not with any commendable purpose like all false cults, false teachers, false religions. “All they want to do is shut you out so that you will seek them.” Why do they want you to seek them? Because they represent Satan’s kingdom, and they’re in it for the money. They do what they do for money; all false teachers do, according to Scripture.

“They want to shut you out. Literally, they want to exclude you from the benefits of true salvation, and walking with Christ, and living in the power of Christ. They want to exclude you from freedom in Christ. They want to bar the door, they want to put up a barrier, and then they want you to turn and seek them.”

Verse 18 is not without its sarcasm. Paul remembers the loyalty and devotion that the Galatians had towards him.

MacArthur says:

There’s some sarcasm in that. False teachers wanted money. They wanted converts to validate themselves and their false teaching, they wanted to make double sons of hell. They wanted money.

Henry rephrases Paul’s thought for us:

“Time was when you were zealously affected towards me; you once took me for a good man, and have now no reason to think otherwise of me; surely then it would become you to show the same regard to me, now that I am absent from you, which you did when I was present with you.”

Then we have the other, more affirmative, meaning of that verse. It is good to be fawned over, or to be zealous for, a good purpose, and not just when that particular person, Paul, is present.

However, that zeal, that fiery enthusiasm, must be a constant, as Henry says:

the apostle here furnishes us with a very good rule to direct and regulate us in the exercise of our zeal: there are two things which to this purpose he more especially recommends to us:– (1.) That it be exercised only upon that which is good; for zeal is then only good when it is in a good thing: those who are zealously affected to that which is evil will thereby only to do so much the more hurt. And, (2.) That herein it be constant and steady: it is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, like the heat of an ague-fit, but, like the natural heat of the body, constant. Happy would it be for the church of Christ if this rule were better observed among Christians!

Paul then compares himself to a mother in the throes of childbirth. He says that he is experiencing the same anguish until Christ is formed in them (verse 19).

MacArthur says that Paul is speaking of the doctrine of sanctification. The Galatians are of Christ, and Christ is in them. However, they are still spiritually immature. Christ is not yet perfectly formed in them.

MacArthur tells us that the doctrine of sanctification is largely absent from today’s theological discourse.

Personally, until now, I’ve only ever read about sanctification — and the spiritual assurance that comes from it — in Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermons.

MacArthur explains this important aspect of Christianity:

Sanctification is a marvelous word, it’s a familiar theological, biblical word that all Christians understand. But the doctrine of sanctification, the truth of sanctification has become unpopular in our time. There has been much, much talk about the doctrine of election, divine sovereign election, how God has chosen sinners before the foundation of the world to belong to Him and to enter into eternal heaven, and He wrote their name in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. We celebrate the doctrine of election. There has been much talk about the doctrine of justification, which is where God in time declares a sinner righteous by virtue of imputing to him the righteousness of Christ; and that is the experience of conversion, salvation, regeneration, new birth, new life. We are committed and we celebrate loudly the doctrines of election and justification, and we’re happy as well to celebrate the doctrine of glorification, that great reality that will be the culmination of God’s redemptive purpose when we are in heaven and we are like Christ, and we are in the midst of eternal joy and peace and bliss and worship and service.

Even in the contemporary church there is a lot said about the doctrine of election. There is a lot said about the doctrine of justification. And there is some said about the doctrine of glorification, although that doesn’t seem to be a priority as it should be. But the doctrine that has fallen into the greatest disuse is this doctrine of sanctification. And yet, sanctification is the applicable doctrine to our entire life as believers on earth.

Election is something that happened before creation; that was the work of God solely. Justification happened in a moment of time when God declared us righteous in Christ by faith. Glorification will occur in the future. And in between justification and glorification, we live our lives on this earth, and the doctrine that defines the character of our lives before God is the doctrine of sanctification.

What is sanctification? The word means “to be separated, to be separated.” It is the lifelong work of God in every believer to separate us from sin; that is sanctification. It is what the Holy Spirit is doing now in our lives. Nothing is more important for us to understand than this work of sanctification. And yet the truth of sanctification is treated with indifference commonly. It is ignored by many preachers, if not assaulted by many preachers. The same foolish teachers and their followers who are bewitched about the gospel of salvation by faith alone are often bewitched about the doctrine of sanctification. But beyond those who are bewitched there seem to be many who completely ignore this doctrine.

Again, the truth of sanctification is what defines the work of the Spirit in our lives from justification to glorification, which means from the moment of our salvation until we enter heaven. If there’s anything that we ought to know, understand, and be committed to it would be sanctification. And that is expressed in Paul’s words where he says, “I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you, filled out in you, so that you are like Christ. I settle for nothing less.”

MacArthur cites Ephesians 2:10, which, incidentally, is part of the traditional Anglican liturgy:

… please notice verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” – listen to this – “for good works,” – not because of good works, not by good works, but for good works – “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Sanctification is living a godly life. This should be our main preoccupation, because God has already accomplished the foregoing work in us — election, or predestination, and justification by faith through grace:

Now listen, the doctrine of election – sovereign election, predestination – does not only relate to justification. It does not only relate to justification and glorification, it relates also to sanctification. God has not just ordained that we be justified and one day glorified, He has ordained that we be sanctified. And that is what verse 10 is saying: “God prepared beforehand.” God prepared, we can say, before the foundation of the world certain good works that we would walk in.

The doctrine of election, the great truth of sovereign election, divine choice, encompasses our sanctification, not just our justification and our glorification. God has established a pattern of good works in which believers will walk by His sovereign will. And as our justification was accomplished by the Holy Spirit who gave us life, so our sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit who enables us to become more and more righteous, and less and less sinful. Nothing then is more important for us to understand than this great doctrine that is the defining work of God in us until we go to heaven. God has ordained this as much as He has ordained our justification and our glorification.

The good works God has prepared for us to walk in are the fruits of faith, because they often spring up spontaneously, without much conscious thought:

That is to say, God did not design to justify us and glorify us and be indifferent about what’s in the middle. He ordained that, and for that He ordained sanctification and manifest good works, that before the foundation of the world He determined we would walk in them, so that every true believer is being sanctified, has been justified, will be glorified, is being sanctified. That is a mark of a true believer. That’s why Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Manifest evidences of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work are those fruits.

Paul is intent on ensuring that the Galatians grow in Christ, which happens only through sanctification. By being ‘bewitched’ by the Judaisers, they are moving towards a false works-based salvation, which is still popular today. There is no such reality as a works-based salvation. No human can achieve that. That is not what the New Covenant promises. Only faith in Jesus Christ, by whom we know God the Father, brings salvation.

What is another word for sanctification? Holiness.

MacArthur says:

Now you notice that holiness is the synonym for sanctification. Holiness means “to be separate” also, as sanctification does, “separate from sin.” So the doctrine of sanctification, we could say, is the doctrine of holiness, or the doctrine of righteousness. It defines our earthly lives in Christ. It is the constant work of the Holy Spirit to separate us from sin.

You will see as you live your Christian life decreasing frequency of sin and the increasing frequency of holiness as you move from your justification to your glorification. As the believer is being sanctified, the seductions of the world, the desires of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life are replaced by love for God, love for Christ, love for the Word of God, love for obedience, longing for holiness, aspirations to give glory and honor only to the Lord with your life. This is, as justification is and glorification is, a mark of true Christians.

MacArthur explains the route towards sanctification:

Now the question would be asked, “How does it occur? If Paul is desiring that his people whom he loves and once gave birth to in a spiritual sense, if he’s in pain again for them to become like Christ, how does that happen? How does it occur? By what means do we become Christlike? Are we sanctified? Do we become holy? By what means does this happen?”

Well, first of all, it is again the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from means, which engage the believer. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from faith. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from obedience.

You say, “Well then do I need to read the commands more, go over them, maybe memorize all the command? Do I need to become more familiar with the commands?” That can’t hurt. “Do I need to develop more self-discipline? Maybe I need to have more accountability with people around me who can help me with discipline.” Certainly that’s good, but that is not what Scripture calls us to do.

If you are to keep His commandments in an increasingly more faithful way, this is not going to come out of sheer duty, but rather our Lord said this: “If you love Me you keep My commandments. Whoever keeps My commandments” – He said – “loves Me.”

This is not about duty, this is not about discipline, although it is a duty and there is a discipline; this is about love. So if you want to be more obedient, you must love Christ more. And if you want to love Christ more, you must know Christ better.

Why do we spend years and years and years going through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and all the rest of the books of the Bible that present Christ? Why are we always preaching on Christ? So that you can have a lot of information about Him, so that you can have a lot of data in your mind about Him? Not at all. So that you can know Him in the fullness of His glory, and as a result of that, love Him.

The unconverted don’t love Christ. And anyone who doesn’t love Christ is damned, Paul says. Believers are those who love Christ; and we are continually exhorted to love Him more. That’s not going to happen in a vacuum, that’s going to happen as you are exposed to who He is in the glorious revelation of Scripture. Sanctification, holiness, purity, righteous attitude, righteous words, righteous actions are the result of looking at the Lord Jesus Christ and loving Him more until you are literally becoming like Him.

… It is your vision of Christ that is the means the Spirit uses to sanctify you. Sanctification is Christlikeness. Christlikeness is loving obedience to God.

How many times in the Gospels was Jesus quoted as saying that He obeyed His Father and was carrying out His will, including dying on the Cross for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day? Many times. Christ was in perfect obedience to the Father. And we should strive to be the same way.

MacArthur says:

First of all, perfect love for His Father that manifested itself in perfect obedience. He said, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father shows Me. I only do what the Father wills. I only do what honors the Father.”

His perfect obedience out of perfect love for the Father is a manifestation of what it is to be fully sanctified. A fully sanctified person is one who loves God perfectly and obeys Him perfectly. Christ is our model.

Returning to Paul, the Apostle despairs over the Galatians, wishing he could be with them and be able to change his tone by finding out more about why they are following the Judaisers; for now, he is perplexed about them (verse 20).

Henry discusses Paul’s state of mind towards the Galatians at that time:

… he desired to be then present with them–that he would be glad of an opportunity of being among them, and conversing with them, and that thereupon he might find occasion to change his voice towards them; for at present he stood in doubt of them. He knew not well what to think of them. He was not so fully acquainted with their state as to know how to accommodate himself to them. He was full of fears and jealousies concerning them, which was the reason of his writing to them in such a manner as he had done; but he would be glad to find that matters were better with them than he feared, and that he might have occasion to commend them, instead of thus reproving and chiding them. Note, Though ministers too often find it necessary to reprove those they have to do with, yet this is no grateful work to them; they had much rather there were no occasion for it, and are always glad when they can see reason to change their voice towards them.

In order to further illustrate his theological points, Paul contrasts Abraham’s servant Hagar with his wife Sarah.

More on those verses next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:20-27

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 3:1-6

By Faith, or by Works of the Law?

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by[a] the flesh? Did you suffer[b] so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as Abraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness”?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s relating of the public rebuke he had to give to the Apostle Peter in Antioch for shunning the Gentile converts in favour of Judaizers who had infiltrated the congregation. Antioch was one of the Galatian churches.

In today’s passage, he is taking the Galatians to task for believing the highly erroneous message from these Judaizers that they need to be circumcised in order to be Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

What caused him to write this letter is false teachers had come into that area, and apparently gone from church to church proclaiming a false gospel. Paul is profoundly exercised over this. This is very early in his ministry, very early in his writings. He knows immediately, even though the churches are truly established, they are genuine believers, and they have had the influence of this great apostle – they are subject to false teaching. They will be assaulted, they will be attacked, and in some cases, they will fall victim to false teachers. And that is exactly what happened in Galatia.

So Paul writes this letter to deal with what’s going on in these Galatian churches. In the first two chapters, he defends his apostolic authority as the one called by Christ, taught by Christ, and sent by Christ. So he is the one they are to listen to, and not the false teachers who come from the kingdom of darkness, even though they profess to be Christians.

So the first two chapters deal with his apostolic authority. And then in chapters 3 and 4 he clarifies the truth of the gospel. That’s where we are now in chapters 3 and 4. He goes to the very careful, thoughtful defense of the true gospel of grace alone.

Now what the false teachers basically were saying was: grace was not enough, the cross is not enough, the Holy Spirit is not enough. “What God has wrought among you is not enough. You cannot enter the kingdom of God, you cannot enter heaven unless you are circumcised and adhere to the law of Moses.”

This was a convoluted, adulterated, corrupted gospel. They were adding works to grace and works to faith. Paul is so exercised about this that there is not at the beginning of this letter any commendation.

Paul calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ and asks who has ‘bewitched’ them, saying that they personally learned — from him — that Jesus was publicly crucified (verse 1).

One could easily write an essay on this verse alone, there is that much content to analyse.

Matthew Henry says of their spiritual foolishness:

He reproves them, and the reproof is very close and warm: he calls them foolish Galatians,Galatians 3:1; Galatians 3:1. Though as Christians they were Wisdom’s children, yet as corrupt Christians they were foolish children.

MacArthur says:

This is a powerful portion of Scripture. It is powerful because Paul embraces the Trinity – the Son, the Spirit, and the Father – and essentially says, “By foolishly being bewitched by a false gospel, or a false addition to the gospel, you have called into question the work of the Son and the Spirit and the Father.” In other words, “You have assaulted heaven at its heights.” This is an all-out attack on the Triune God.

The use of ‘bewitched’ is a singular one. It appears nowhere else in the New Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

This is the only place it is used. Is Paul saying that these Galatian believers were bewitched? Absolutely

There’s never a question in this letter about the spiritual condition of the Galatians; they are believers. Initially when the apostle Paul came, they received the gospel that he preached, they fully embraced it. Now they have become bewitched: true believers bewitched

Maybe you never thought about the fact that believers, true believers, can be bewitched. But every warning in the New Testament, every warning about false teachers and false doctrine is an assumption that believers can be bewitched. Every command to hold to the truth, guard the truth, rightly handle the word of truth is also based on the assumption of our susceptibility to bewitching. Yes, believers can be seduced into believing lies about the gospel.

Now the bewitching doesn’t come when someone says, “I don’t believe in God, and I don’t believe in the Bible. I don’t believe in Christ. I don’t believe in the gospel of grace. I don’t believe in the cross. I don’t believe in the resurrection.” That’s not bewitching; that’s not seductive – that’s obvious to us. The bewitching comes from those who acknowledge the gospel, accept the gospel, and then add works to the gospel

All those warnings, all those commands to faithfulness assume that we can become bewitched. And I would just go so far as to say, most churches in our society are bewitched. Most church leaders are bewitched. At the core, they may believe the true gospel, but they have allowed so many things to be added to the gospel or to corrupt the gospel that they are bewitched.

This isn’t just a problem in the pew. It is a problem in the pew, because it’s a problem in the pulpit. All too common for Christian leaders and pastors in places of great influence to become themselves bewitched about the gospel, even the gospel that saved them. The duty of the pastor is to guard the truth, is to preach the truth, is to fight for the truth, contend for the truth, and to protect his flock from the bewitching errors. We have to assume that bewitching. And it reaches high levels. You can’t even walk into a Christian bookstore and trust everything you find there. There are many bewitching things there.

There are indeed. I do not go into Christian bookstores for that very reason.

A little over a decade ago, I saw a lot of talk on Christian blogs about a book that touted living according to Leviticus. Many people commenting on it said it was wonderful and that their families felt purer for living according to Mosaic law whilst attending church regularly on Sundays.

That is a real life example of becoming bewitched by false teaching. Paul would have been appalled, yet it would have been familiar to him.

Thinking of that book and of these Judaizers, I can just imagine that they probably told the Galatians, ‘But if you just add these ceremonial laws to your life, you’ll be a much better, purer Christian’.

Wrong!

MacArthur tells us about the word ‘bewitched’ in Greek:

It’s from the Greek verb baskain. That in itself isn’t important, except that it’s the only time it’s ever used in the New Testament. Paul went for a word that isn’t used anywhere else. He never uses it anywhere else. He’s going outside of his normal vocabulary to find a word to describe this in a unique way. Never used anywhere else in the New Testament; and it’s always used in a bad sense.

What does it mean in the Greek language outside the Bible? The word meant “to charm,” “to fascinate,” but “to fascinate or charm in a misleading way.” Always has a bad connotation. It meant “to seek to do harm to someone by lies or deception or false promises.” It is even related to magic spells and sorcery, and the evil eye, and demonic power.

It’s a very, very serious word, and the Holy Spirit only used it once to describe not what’s happening to nonbelievers, but what has happened to believers. It’s as if they have been bewitched, not by sorcery, not by magic spells, but by false doctrine.

In the churches that Paul planted, false teachers came in after he left. We saw this in 1 and 2 Corinthians. The same thing also happened in Ephesus.

Satan is behind the bewitching, although he uses agents in the form of false teachers.

MacArthur says:

Now Satan only has two approaches, only two approaches. We see them in Matthew 13 in the words of our Lord. He can, first of all, snatch the gospel seed before it can go into the ground and be productive. And we see that in our Lord’s parable of the soils. Satan comes and snatches the seed away before anybody can understand it. That’s corrupting the gospel on the front end.

The second thing that Satan does is once the gospel has taken root and believers begin to grow and flourish, then Satan’s second approach is to sow tares among the wheat: false believers in a false gospel alongside true believers. And that is corrupting the gospel on the back end. He corrupts it on the front end by snatching it away, often through lack of understanding. He comes back, corrupting it on the back end by bringing into the church corrupt messages that produce corrupt tares among the wheat.

That’s what had happened in Galatia. The Word had come and gone into the soil. The seed had brought about life; that life was flourishing and growing. Satan shows up in the form of Jews from Jerusalem who come to demand that if you’re going to be saved and forgiven and into the kingdom of God and brought to heaven, you must maintain the Mosaic law and circumcision. This was sowing lies, and therefore, liars and tares among the wheat.

MacArthur gives us two televisual examples of bewitching:

It’s a bewitching that comes about because people want popularity, because they want acceptance. If you can go on Oprah, as one self-confessed evangelical did, and Oprah says to you, “Do I, or does a person have to believe in Jesus Christ to enter heaven?” and you say, “No,” you have been bewitched.

Larry King said to me one day, “I’m going to be okay. I’m going to be okay. When I die I’m going to be okay.” I said, “Really. Why do you say that?” He said, “Because a well-known evangelist told me, because I’m Jewish God’s going to take special care of me.” Who bewitched him?

MacArthur says the state of being bewitched comes from a weakness in the heart and the mind:

It’s not just mental inability. It’s the sinful heart, neglect of the truth. It’s a mind issue, but it’s a heart issue. The mind is not applied, carefully examining the truth, because the heart is not diligently devoted to that truth. Paul says, “You’re foolish, and you have become bewitched.”

Turning to the second half of the verse, about how Paul (principally) presented Christ and the Crucifixion to the Galatians, MacArthur explains what the Apostle meant:

“This was openly declared to you. I preached the gospel to you, and you embraced me like I was an angel. You embraced me as if I was Christ Himself. It isn’t that you just could hear in your imagination the ringing of the hammers as He was nailed to the cross; it isn’t that you could just hear the cries of the mocking crowd, or the cries of Jesus from the cross, or in your mind’s eye, you could see the blood and sweat running down His body; it isn’t just that you saw the physical reality of His death. It was that you understood that it was a substitutionary sacrifice for you. You understood the significance of His death. You understood that He was dying in your place, that your sins were imputed to Him, so that His righteousness could be imputed to you. You understood the gospel of salvation. I preached Christ to you, fully to you, crucified to you, and therefore, risen again. And the reality was you believed, you believed. And miraculously you were transformed. And all those churches in Galatia are a result of the preaching of the gospel of a crucified Christ.

Now how can you, when you have seen Jesus Christ publicly portrayed crucified, go back to the Law? Are you saying that the cross was unnecessary and you must save yourself, or are you saying that the cross was insufficient, or that the death of Christ was a partial provision, and you have to make up the rest by your works? If you are saying that, you are blaspheming the Christ of the cross. But that’s what a works system does. When it requires something from you, then it’s not all of Christ. You have assaulted Christ.”

On that point, Paul asks the Galatians if they received the Holy Spirit through a works-based law or by hearing with faith (verse 2).

Henry offers this analysis:

He appeals to the experiences they had had of the working of the Spirit upon their souls (Galatians 3:2; Galatians 3:2); he puts them in mind that, upon their becoming Christians, they had received the Spirit, that many of them at least had been made partakers not only of the sanctifying influences, but of the miraculous gifts, of the Holy Spirit, which were eminent proofs of the truth of the Christian religion and the several doctrines of it, and especially of this, that justification is by Christ only, and not by the works of the law, which was one of the peculiar and fundamental principles of it. To convince them of the folly of their departing from this doctrine, he desires to know how they came by these gifts and graces: Was it by the works of the law, that is, the preaching of the necessity of these in order to justification? This they could not say, for that doctrine had not then been preached to them, nor had they, as Gentiles, any pretence to justification in that way. Or was it by the hearing of faith, that is, the preaching of the doctrine of faith in Christ as the only way of justification? This, if they would say the truth, they were obliged to own, and therefore must be very unreasonable if they should reject a doctrine of the good effects of which they had had such experience. Note, (1.) It is usually by the ministry of the gospel that the Spirit is communicated to persons. And, (2.) Those are very unwise who suffer themselves to be turned away from the ministry and doctrine which have been blessed to their spiritual advantage.

Paul calls the Galatians ‘foolish’ again, asking that, having the Spirit’s work active in them they now think that they can be perfected by the flesh (verse 3), i.e. via circumcision and other ceremonial rituals of the Old Covenant.

MacArthur explains that there is sometimes another false teaching which appears in the Church, a Gnostic one proclaiming that one has to have a special insight in order to receive the Holy Spirit:

That is another bewitching lie that floats around, that you can be a Christian without the Holy Spirit until you attain some level of spirituality. Every believer has the Holy Spirit. So the work of Christ was a finished work, not requiring anything from the Law; and the coming of the Holy Spirit was a complete work, not requiring anything from the Law either. He came by faith.

“Are you so foolish?” – verse 3 – “Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh?” In other words, “Is the work of Christ only partial and you have to add the important part? And is the presence of the Holy Spirit only partial and you have to add the important part; and in both cases, the important part is something your flesh produces? See this for what it is: Christ’s work is complete, the Holy Spirit’s presence is complete, the Law adds nothing to the work of Christ, the Law adds nothing to the work of the Holy Spirit.”

The word ‘suffer’ in verse 4 is better translated as ‘experience’. Paul asks if they experienced all that they did in their Christian conversion in vain, if indeed it was in vain (verse 4).

MacArthur reinterprets the verse as follows:

Did you suffer or better, “experience” – “so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit and works miracles among you, do it by the works of the Law, or by hearing with faith?”

Was that experience in vain? Was it for nothing? And now somehow, was that some kind of false feeling, an illusion, something that never really happened until you get circumcised, and keep the rituals and the ceremonies? What could Judaizers or what could anybody else add to Christ’s work on the cross? Answer – What? – nothing. Don’t be bewitched.

So far, Paul has discussed Christ and the Holy Spirit.

He then brings in God the Father — completing his references to the Holy Trinity — by asking if He, meaning God, supplies them with the presence of the Holy Spirit and the miracles among them by works of the law or by faith (verse 5).

MacArthur offers this analysis:

This is talking about the Father. How do you know that? Because in Luke 11:13, in John 14:16 and 26, twice, Jesus says, “When I go, the Father will send the Spirit.” So he says in verse 5, “So then, does He who provides you with the Spirit” – that’s the Father. The Father is the one who provides you with the Spirit; He is one of the gifts of the Father. And, by the way, the word “provides,” epichorge, root word chorge, means “bountifully,” “abundantly,” “super abundantly,” “lavishly.”

“So then, are you saying that the Father who lavishly provided you with the Spirit and works miracles among you,” – perhaps the apostolic miracles, but perhaps even more significantly, the miracle of regeneration done by God “are you saying that He does that by the works of the Law because you’ve earned it? Did God save you because of something you did? Did God come and miraculously transform you because of something you did, or simply by the hearing with faith?”

And we know the answer to this: The Son did a complete work on your behalf, the Spirit did a complete work on your behalf, and the Father did a complete work on your behalf. Nothing is left out. You didn’t receive salvation or the Holy Spirit or regeneration by anything you did, it was the full and perfect work of Christ, the full and perfect work of the Spirit, the full and perfect work of the Father.

“You’ve experienced that. You’ve experienced power of the gospel in your life. You’ve experienced the power of the Spirit in your life. You’ve experienced the power of the Father in your life. You’ve been living in that trinitarian power. And now all of a sudden, these bewitching Jews show up and tell you that all of this is inadequate.” That is a blasphemous assault on the Triune God. It diminishes the work of Christ on the cross, the work of the Holy Spirit in the believer, and the work of the Father in the miracle of regeneration. The whole Trinity and all that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit have to offer you is yours by faith and faith alone. “You foolish Galatians. Are you so bewitched?” “You are,” says Paul to the Colossians, “complete in Him.”

Then Paul brings in Abraham, saying that our father in faith believed in God’s promises to him during his lifetime and now, even beyond the grave, countless generations later; God counted Abraham’s faith as righteousness (verse 6).

Henry expands on our inheritance from Abraham, as God promised:

Abraham believed God, and that was accounted to him for righteousness (Galatians 3:6; Galatians 3:6); that is, his faith fastened upon the word and promise of God, and upon his believing he was owned and accepted of God as a righteous man: as on this account he is represented as the father of the faithful, so the apostle would have us to know that those who are of faith are the children of Abraham (Galatians 3:7; Galatians 3:7), not according to the flesh, but according to the promise; and, consequently, that they are justified in the same way that he was. Abraham was justified by faith, and so are they.

Paul has more to follow on Abraham. We’ll look at what he has to say next week.

Next time — Galatians 3:7-9

Bible read me 2The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 2:11-14

Paul Opposes Peter

11 But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. 12 For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party.[a] 13 And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. 14 But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

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Last week’s post discussed the affirmation from those leading the church in Jerusalem — Peter (Cephas), James (our Lord’s brother) and John — of Paul’s apostleship.

As was the case with Paul’s other church plants, as soon as he left, false teachers — often Judaizers — infiltrated the congregations spreading a false gospel.

The same happened in the churches of the region of Galatia: Lystra, Iconium, Derbe and Antioch.

Therefore, Paul must condemn them in no uncertain terms. This he does by discussing the Jerusalem Council and, in today’s verses, the damaging effect the Judaizers had upon Peter in Antioch.

Paul is determined to reinforce the doctrine of justification by faith through grace rather than a false works-based salvation through circumcision.

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

This is a polemical book. It is a fight. It is a defense of the true gospel against those who were purveyors of the false gospel.

Paul states bluntly that when Cephas came to Antioch, the church in Syria, he (Paul) opposed him to his face because he stood condemned (verse 11).

That’s a very strong statement and to those, like me, who admire Peter’s bold character even though he is flawed, it seems that Paul was being unnecessarily harsh.

Yet, as we find out — and Pauline apologists already know this — Peter had to be confronted in the most direct terms.

MacArthur explains why Paul calls Peter by the name of Cephas:

Peter is the Greek word; Cephas is the Aramaic

As to Paul’s stance towards Peter, Matthew Henry says that it was also for the benefit of the congregation in Antioch:

Notwithstanding Peter’s character, yet, when he observes him thus behaving himself to the great prejudice both of the truth of the gospel and the peace of the church, he is not afraid to reprove him for it. Paul adhered resolutely to his principles, when others faltered in theirs; he was as good a Jew as any of them (for he was a Hebrew of the Hebrews), but he would magnify his office as the apostle of the Gentiles, and therefore would not see them discouraged and trampled upon.

What was Peter’s role in Antioch?

Henry says that Peter was unlikely to have been the head of the church there, because, if he were, Paul would have treated him differently, which is not to say that he would have excused the Apostle’s sin:

Antioch was one of the chief churches of the Gentile Christians, as Jerusalem was of those Christians who turned from Judaism to the faith of Christ. There is no colour of reason for the supposition that Peter was bishop of Antioch. If he had, surely Paul would not have withstood him in his own church, as we here find he did; but, on the contrary, it is here spoken of as an occasional visit which he made thither. In their other meeting, there had been good harmony and agreement. Peter and the other apostles had both acknowledged Paul’s commission and approved his doctrine, and they parted very good friends. But in this Paul finds himself obliged to oppose Peter, for he was to be blamed, a plain evidence that he was not inferior to him

MacArthur says that Peter had been in Antioch for some time and was well known by the congregation. I would add that his strong personality contributed to the fact that he was viewed favourably there:

Peter had come to Antioch, Antioch of Syria where the first church was and where Paul and Barnabas were pastors, along with a group of other men mentioned in the twelfth chapter of Acts. Peter had come there, and he’d stayed a long time. Peter obviously must have been the center of attention. “Tell us about Jesus.” Can you imagine that? “Tell us about Him. Tell us, What was it like when you walked on water? Tell us all the things that we’ve heard.” Remember the gospels haven’t been written yet, and an eyewitness with Christ would have meant everything to these Gentile believers up in Antioch in a flourishing gospel church. Peter would have been some kind of icon, some kind of hero to them

Peter had done something that Paul saw as an attack on the gospel: the gospel of grace alone, faith alone, apart from works. And so he condemned him. This is an apostolic clash of massive proportions.

Paul says that before the Judaizers — ‘certain men came from James’ — Peter was happy eating with the Gentiles; however, after the Judaizers arrived, Peter drew back from the Gentiles because he feared the men from the ‘circumcision party’ (verse 12).

MacArthur explains that the men who ‘came from James’ were unlikely to have had his consent or commission to go to Antioch; it was a false claim:

I don’t think James sent these men. I think they said they were from James, and they had some connection to the Jerusalem church. At this time, that’s the mother church, that’s the church. So somehow they were associated with it. And prior to the arrival of these men who came from the Jerusalem church and said they had a connection with James, Peter used to eat with the Gentiles.

Peter’s withdrawal from associating with the Gentiles set a bad example for any Jewish converts, because all believers are one in Christ.

Henry says:

… when there came some Jewish Christians from Jerusalem, he grew more shy of the Gentiles, only to humour those of the circumcision and for fear of giving them offence, which doubtless was to the great grief and discouragement of the Gentile churches. Then he withdrew, and separated himself. His fault herein had a bad influence upon others, for the other Jews also dissembled with him; though before they might be better disposed, yet now, from his example, they took on them to scruple eating with the Gentiles, and pretended they could not in conscience do it, because they were not circumcised.

MacArthur says that, historically, Jews considered Gentiles to be unclean. He also tells us why it was so egregious for Peter to fall backwards into his old pattern of Jewish traditions:

Just as a normal rule of life, Jews didn’t eat with Gentiles. Forget Christianity, forget the gospel, forget the church; Jews didn’t do that. A Gentile was unclean; a Gentile home was unclean; a Gentile utensil was unclean. They couldn’t go near Gentiles. They couldn’t eat off the dish a Gentile offered them. And these were rabbinic standards that were iron-fisted laws. It was believed that all Gentile food was contaminated by being unclean, to say nothing of that which was not kosher, not according to the standards of the Mosaic dietary laws. So what you had was the Jews holding to their own dietary laws and a kind of developing racism toward Gentiles. We saw the racism even in the day of Jonah, where he didn’t want to see Gentiles repent. Jews resented, hated Gentiles; and they kept separate.

Peter was raised in that environment. He comes to Antioch; he’s in a Gentile church. And what does he do? He does what a Jew would never do. He used to eat with the Gentiles. What is that saying? That he knows that the lesson he learned in Acts 10, “Rise, Peter, kill and eat.” There’s nothing unclean anymore, nothing unclean anymore – the dietary laws are over. In Christ, the middle wall is broken down. Jew and Gentile are one, and Christ is neither Jew nor Greek. That’s all over with. That’s all over. He knows that.

He also knows that they are brothers and sisters in Christ. And when he eats with them, it’s not just a meal; it’s the love feast; it’s the Lord’s Table. He’s just living life with the Gentiles. He’s with them all the time. They’re being served the same food. He’s finding out what it is to eat all the stuff that Jews could never eat. He’s been liberated.

He is turning his back on the [???] halakhoth, the list of elder traditions that prescribed certain kinds of food. And the fact that you couldn’t eat certain kinds of meat. You couldn’t eat meat that was butchered by a Gentile, or that was, a part of it was offered to idols, or violated the laws of Moses, or had been in the hands of Gentiles, or served on Gentile plates, and all of that. And all of a sudden that’s not even an issue. Peter’s having a great time. He’s discovering all kinds of foods that he’d never eaten before, eating with Gentiles, his brothers and sisters in Christ, until certain men show up. And he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof. He pulled back.

They would have criticized him mercilessly for eating with those Gentiles. And they would have said this: “Not only are you not to eat with Gentiles, they’re not believers, because they haven’t been circumcised, and they don’t adhere to Mosaic rules. So you’re eating not only with Gentiles who are unclean, but you’re eating with nonbelievers.” And they obviously intimidated Peter.

“He began to withdraw and hold himself aloof” – and there’s no questioning the motive – “he was fearing the party of the circumcision.” That’s the Judaizers. “The party of the circumcision” they became known as. He was afraid of them. Good men, great men – for the sake of pride and self-protection, self-preservation, popularity – compromise. They compromise.

Paul says that the rest of the Jews in the church in Antioch copied Peter’s example, ‘hypocritically’; even worse, Barnabas, who had been present at the time the Jerusalem Council took place, went along with them (verse 13).

Henry warns us against spiritual weakness, when we are tempted to please men instead of God:

And (would you think it?) Barnabas himself, one of the apostles of the Gentiles, and one who had been instrumental in planting and watering the churches of the Gentiles, was carried away with their dissimulation. Here note, (1.) The weakness and inconstancy of the best of men, when left to themselves, and how apt they are to falter in their duty to God, out of an undue regard to the pleasing of men. And, (2.) The great force of bad examples, especially the examples of great men and good men, such as are in reputation for wisdom and honour.

MacArthur uses Peter as a common example of the path to sanctification:

Peter just can’t get out of his own shadow, can he? I mean it’s just a history of this guy doing this. He’s an illustration of how sanctification works. It’s not a straight line upward. It’s a few steps forward and a few steps back, and a few steps forward and a few steps back. And it’s where we all live, isn’t it?

How true!

Paul, by interrogating Peter on this sin, encapsulates the confusion and division that could damage the church in Antioch. In front of the congregation, Paul asks Peter how a Jew who can live like a Gentile can force a Gentile to live like a Jew (verse 14).

MacArthur says:

Peter became a hypocrite. He acted like he agreed with the Judaizers – devastating. And so did the rest of the Jews that were there, and so did Barnabas. And now what you have is a fracture in the whole church.

And what is this more than that? This is not about disunity; this is an assault on the gospel of faith, because now Peter is acting as if the Judaizers are right. “For that,” Paul says, “I opposed him to his face, because he was to be condemned.”

MacArthur has more on the composition of the congregation:

That’s a Gentile city and a Gentile church, of course. Some Jewish believers were there, but it was predominantly a Gentile church.

What Peter did was dangerous:

Without saying anything, he took sides with those who taught salvation by faith and works, without saying anything. He fractured the church. Overnight the church was in chaos because of his defection back to Judaism, as if the Judaizers were right, these enemies of the gospel whose message was cursed.

MacArthur explains why Paul had to condemn Peter publicly. Peter had turned his back on the Gentiles in public, therefore, a rebuke in front of the congregation was necessary:

Verse 14, let me read this to you. “When I was that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas” – and this is what he said to him when he opposed him to the face as it’s mentioned in verse 11; this is what he said – “I said to Cephas in the presence of all,” – in front of the entire church – ‘If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles – that’s what you’ve been doing, you’ve been living like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?’” Paul is profoundly exercised.

Verse 14 says, “I saw that they were not straightforward, ortho podeó, from which we get orthopedic. Ortho meaning straight, podeó is the verb from which the word “foot” comes. They weren’t walking straight. They were not walking straight about the truth of the gospel

Peter had believed that he could eat and fellowship with Gentiles; he had done it. He knew that since Acts 10 and his experience with Cornelius. He had no longer lived according to Jewish prescription. He had left that behind in the tenth chapter of Acts. Now he goes back to that in a hypocritical way and leads others to the same hypocrisy. He didn’t deal honestly with the truth of the gospel, he altered people’s perception of truth by his behavior. What an indictment.

Paul is furious about this, and so he opposes him to his face, but he does it – middle of verse 14 – in the presence of all. Consistent with what Paul wrote to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5: “An elder who sins, rebuke before all, that others may fear.” He confronts Peter in a public way.

Augustine said, “It is not advantageous to correct in secret an error which occurred publicly.” He’s right. You have to show public condemnation of a public sin; so he does that. It’s a lot better than pulling Peter aside and trying to fix him in private. He needed to be confronted in public, because that’s where his disaffection had occurred and led people into confusion.

They knew the gospel. This is a church. They’re saved by faith alone, they knew that. The Gentiles knew that; the Jewish believers knew that. That’s why Paul is so shocked. Back in chapter 1 he says, “I’m amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you for a different gospel. Why are you leaning that way?”

Peter is not overtly saying, “I don’t believe the true gospel.” He’s just acting like what the Judaizers are teaching is true. This is a very dangerous compromise. Anytime those who preach the true gospel affirm or embrace anyone who teaches a false gospel, confusion reigns. “Come out from among them and be separate. Light has no fellowship with darkness; Christ with Belial.”

“Peter, you can’t do this. Everyone in Antioch knows you’re in the habit of living like a Gentile since the tenth chapter of Acts; and you’ve done it here. And they all know that you preach the gospel of grace, and you affirm the gospel of grace and faith alone. And now you’re playing right into the hands of the Judaizers, and you’re acting as if they’re right by lining up with them.” This threatens the integrity of the gospel. This is always about the gospel. This is a serious breach. So, with that, we come to verse 15.

The rest of the chapter is in the Lectionary, but it is worth reading because it is about justification — or righteousness — by faith through grace:

Justified by Faith

15 We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; 16 yet we know that a person is not justified[b] by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, so we also have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law, because by works of the law no one will be justified.

17 But if, in our endeavor to be justified in Christ, we too were found to be sinners, is Christ then a servant of sin? Certainly not! 18 For if I rebuild what I tore down, I prove myself to be a transgressor. 19 For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. 21 I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness[c] were through the law, then Christ died for no purpose.

Paul has much more to say on this doctrine, and he rebukes the Galatians for falling away from it.

Next time — Galatians 3:1-6

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.

2 Corinthians 12:14-18

14 Here for the third time I am ready to come to you. And I will not be a burden, for I seek not what is yours but you. For children are not obligated to save up for their parents, but parents for their children. 15 I will most gladly spend and be spent for your souls. If I love you more, am I to be loved less? 16 But granting that I myself did not burden you, I was crafty, you say, and got the better of you by deceit. 17 Did I take advantage of you through any of those whom I sent to you? 18 I urged Titus to go, and sent the brother with him. Did Titus take advantage of you? Did we not act in the same spirit? Did we not take the same steps?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further justification of his conduct in ministry, contrasting himself with the false teachers — ‘super-apostles’ — who were attacking his character.

He says that he plans to visit the Corinthians for a third time and says that, as a parent would, he does not seek their money but them for their own sakes, out of love (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

He spared their purses, and did not covet their money: I seek not yours but you. He sought not to enrich himself, but to save their souls: he did not desire to make a property of them to himself, but to gain them over to Christ, whose servant he was.

Paul says that he will give whatever he has of himself to save their souls; as such, he asks whether he should be loved any less for his efforts (verse 15). To be sure, the Corinthians were not loving or appreciating Paul nearly as much as they should have done. In fact, the super-apostles were turning them against the true Apostle.

Henry interprets this verse as follows:

2. He would gladly spend and be spent for them (2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15); that is, he was willing to take pains and to suffer loss for their good. He would spend his time, his parts, his strength, his interest, his all, to do them service; nay, so spend as to be spent, and be like a candle, which consumes itself to give light to others. 3. He did not abate in his love to them, notwithstanding their unkindness and ingratitude to him; and therefore was contented and glad to take pains with them, though the more abundantly he loved them the less he was loved, 2 Corinthians 12:15; 2 Corinthians 12:15. This is applicable to other relations: if others be wanting in their duty to us it does not follow therefore that we may neglect our duty to them.

Paul then says that he never took money from them to build up their church — something the false teachers were doing — yet, somehow the Corinthians believed the accusations that Paul was crafty and deceiving them (verse 16).

Paul asks if he or anyone he sent in his place took advantage of the Corinthians (verse 17).

Henry says:

If it should be objected by any that though he did not himself burden them, yet, being crafty, he caught them with guile, that is, he sent those among them who pillaged them, and afterwards he shared with them in the profit: “This was not so,” says the apostle; “I did not make a gain of you myself, nor by any of those whom I sent; nor did Titus, nor any others–We walked by the same spirit and in the same steps.” They all agreed in this matter to do them all the good they could, without being burdensome to them, to promote the gospel among them and make it as easy to them as possible.

Paul says that he urged Titus to go to the Corinthians and sent another godly man to accompany him; Paul asks the congregation if Titus took advantage of them or if he and his companion did not act in the same spirit as Paul (verse 18).

John MacArthur tells us:

Paul looked for some outside person, outside his own little group of friends, who was appointed by the churches so there would be no question about collusion here

Paul says, “I’ve covered those bases. You know the facts. You know I never took anything from you; you know Titus never defrauded you, and you know he came with a brother widely known and famous among the entire church for his preaching. And you now there was another brother sent as appointed by the churches as well. And you know we did all this so no suspicion could be grounded in any reality whatsoever.”

Titus went to teach the Corinthians but also to begin collecting for the poor church in Jerusalem:

Titus went, beginning the collection. A year later, 1 Corinthians was written, encouraging them to keep the collection going. Titus went back after 1 Corinthians, brought the severe letter, encouraged them to keep it going. He goes back with this letter, and he’s there again for the third time. They knew Titus, and they knew the men that were with him. And they were all trustworthy. More lies by the false teachers, more deception, more untruth, more assault.

Paul says in verse 18, “Did we not conduct ourselves in the same spirit and walk I the same steps?” Was there any difference in any of us? Weren’t we all the same? Didn’t we all treat you exactly the same? We were beyond legitimate accusation. We were beyond any justified suspicion. You know there was no deceit in our ministry. There was no cunning craftiness; there was only honesty; there was only integrity. Beloved, this is characteristic of a true man of God.

Poor Paul. He must have been exhausted having to defend himself to such an extent when he was so careful to be above reproach in everything he did. Everything he did, he did for Christ.

Paul’s self-defence continues next week.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:19-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 12:1, 11-13

Paul’s Visions and His Thorn

12 I must go on boasting. Though there is nothing to be gained by it, I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.

Concern for the Corinthian Church

11 I have been a fool! You forced me to it, for I ought to have been commended by you. For I was not at all inferior to these super-apostles, even though I am nothing. 12 The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with utmost patience, with signs and wonders and mighty works. 13 For in what were you less favored than the rest of the churches, except that I myself did not burden you? Forgive me this wrong!

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s preference for boasting of his weakness in order to demonstrate that God was working through him to preach the Good News; Paul gave a concrete example of persecution in Damascus.

From 2 Corinthians 10 to 2 Corinthians 13, Paul defends himself against the vile accusations, of which there were many, that the false teachers in that church were making against him.

He begins in this chapter by saying that he will go on boasting, though it serves little purpose, this time about the visions and revelations of the Lord (verse 1).

John MacArthur explains that Paul says they are unhelpful to the Corinthians because they could lead to self-aggrandising and because they cannot be verified. What Paul wants his converts to do is to focus on the Word of God (emphases mine below):

He just hates to do this, “Boasting is necessary” – he says again – “I have to do this, though it’s not helpful; it’s not helpful, but I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.”

Now, let me stop you right there; let me tell you something. Paul said, “I’ve had visions, and I’ve had revelations, and I know these false apostles haven’t. But you know something, folks? I’m only talking about these things because you’ve made it necessary for me to do this, but it’s not helpful.”

Boy, I’ll tell you, somebody ought to get a grip on that verse. “Visions and revelations of the Lord, which really happened to me, are not helpful for me to talk about.” That’s what that “not profitable” means. “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God” – 2 Timothy 3:16 – “and is profitable.”

“But talking about visions and revelations is not profitable. It’s not profitable to me to talk about them. I have had them. It is not profitable for me to talk about them because they tend to build my pride. They become temptations to pride.” It’s not profitable for me to talk about them to you, because they can’t help you, because they were personal visions and revelations given to me. They can’t help the Church either.

That’s why, when Paul left Ephesus in Acts 20, he commended them not to visions and revelations, but to the word of his grace which is able to build you up. Right? This is what builds you up.

He says, “Look, you have forced me to talk about visions and revelations. It is not helpful. It is not helpful.” In fact, the word means useless. “It is useless.” It’s useless. Why? It just messes with my pride. It was personal for me; it was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. It was personal for me; it has no bearing on you. What has a bearing on you is the Word of God.

Paul then describes ‘a man in Christ’ who sees the ‘third heaven’, i.e. paradise. That man was Paul himself.

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us this about the third heaven:

It was certainly a very extraordinary honour done him: in some sense he was caught up into the third heaven, the heaven of the blessed, above the aërial heaven, in which the fowls fly, above the starry heaven, which is adorned with those glorious orbs: it was into the third heaven, where God most eminently manifests his glory. We are not capable of knowing all, nor is it fit we should know very much, of the particulars of that glorious place and state; it is our duty and interest to give diligence to make sure to ourselves a mansion there; and, if that be cleared up to us, then we should long to be removed thither, to abide there for ever. This third heaven is called paradise (2 Corinthians 12:4; 2 Corinthians 12:4), in allusion to the earthly paradise out of which Adam was driven for his transgression; it is called the paradise of God (Revelation 2:7), signifying to us that by Christ we are restored to all the joys and honours we lost by sin, yea, to much better.

These verses are in the Lectionary. As such, they will not be discussed in detail in this post, however, note that Paul humbly speaks of himself in the third person. After this revelation, Satan then torments Paul, whether physically or spiritually with ‘a thorn’. Our Lord responds by saying that His grace is sufficient, His power made perfect in Paul’s weakness:

I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows. And I know that this man was caught up into paradise—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses— though if I should wish to boast, I would not be a fool, for I would be speaking the truth; but I refrain from it, so that no one may think more of me than he sees in me or hears from me. So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations,[a] a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

MacArthur says that Paul never spoke or wrote of this experience until now, having been compelled to do so:

Such extrabiblical experience is not helpful to him or anybody else at this point. At the time it happened, God meant it for him. It’s unnecessary to supplement the teaching of the Word. By the way, the only revelation we need, in addition to Scripture, is the revelation of Jesus Christ at His second coming. That’s the only revelation we need.

And nonetheless, for the sake of his argument here, this is what he says, “I will go on to visions and revelations of the Lord.” Now, all visions that he actually had would include a revelation, but not all revelations would be in the form of a vision. So, he had visions and revelations. And I don’t want to go through all of them, but you can read Acts 9; Acts 13, 16, 18, 20, 22, 23, 27, and it refers to visions and revelations. And he had numerous ones

But he says, “Let me give you the – let me give you the supreme of all the visions. And he had seen the Lord on the Damascus Road, and he had seen the Lord come to him when he was in jail. And some incredible things, when he was in Jerusalem – and some incredible things were going to happen to that man – visions and revelations.

But here’s the one he chooses, verse 2. By the way, he received his gospel by revelation, not in a vision form, but by revelation. So, God had directly spoken to him. God had given him visions and given him direct revelations. But he says, in verse 2, “Let me pick the best one. I know a man” – and there again is his humility. Most people would say, “I went to heaven, folks. I went to heaven.” He speaks in the third person, though. He says, “I know a man in Christ” – that’s a Christian who is in Christ – “I know a Christian who fourteen years ago” – what? Do you want to know something? He’s just breaking 14 years of silence. Since he went to heaven, he had never mentioned it for 14 years. It’s not helpful. It’s useless. What good is it for me to say to you, “I went to heaven?” That doesn’t help me; that just feeds my pride. That doesn’t help you; it just makes you feel like you got left out. Well, it doesn’t help anybody.

Paul says that the Corinthians have forced him to become a fool by revealing this episode, adding that they should have been defending him to the false teachers; he refers to them sarcastically as ‘super-apostles’ when they are nothing of the sort, and says he is ‘nothing’ (verse 11).

Paul means that he lacks their verve and panache which have seduced the Corinthians. Yet, Paul was the true Apostle who planted their church and instilled pure teaching among them.

MacArthur analyses this verse as follows:

This whole idea of having to defend himself is a kind of folly to him. Only fools brag. Bragging is characteristic of fools. And he’s been forced to have to speak about his superiority, and he really doesn’t like it. He would rather speak about his failures and his weaknesses and his suffering and all of that; he’s comfortable doing that. He’s comfortable talking about himself as a nothing and a nobody and a cracked pot, an earthen vessel, nothing more than that. He is a former blasphemer, a persecutor and injurious, a killer of Christians. He is a chief of sinners, and he’s content to talk about that, because then he can put the power of God on display. But he really does not like to talk about his superiority as an apostle.

And so, there’s a kind of foolishness in having to do it, but he’s been forced to it. Verse 11, “I have become foolish; you yourselves compelled me.” In chapter 11, verse 1, verse 16, verse 17, verse 21; chapter 12, verse 6 – and here again, for about the fifth or sixth time, he – it’s the sixth time, I guess – he says, “It’s foolish to do this, but you have forced me to do it. I really don’t have a choice; for the sake of preserving the gospel and the truth, and honoring Christ, and keeping you away from destructive error, you have forced me into this. You’ve compelled me to do it.”

The seriousness of what was at stake is indicated in chapter 11, verse 3, “I am afraid lest, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, your minds should be led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” – I’m afraid Satan’s going to deceive you like he did Eve and lead you away from Christ into error, and that is what is at stake, and that is why, of necessity, I’ve had to do this foolish boasting.

And then he indicts them a little, in the middle of the verse, “I should” – “Actually” – he says – “in truth I should have been commended by you” – you ought to be the one rising to my defense. It didn’t happen.

Paul reminds the Corinthians that he is the true Apostle, the one who performed signs, wonders and mighty works with utmost patience (verse 12).

He mentions these because they witnessed them. More importantly, they showed the power of God at work through Paul, the self-described ‘nobody’.

MacArthur tells us why we should ignore evangelists who claim to be doing the same things today. It is not possible:

Now we’re talking about what was visible, what was repeatable, what did occur and was very clearly the power of God at work. They saw miracles. They saw things that caused them to be astonished and were signs pointing to Paul as a true apostle. Now, this is a very important verse. There are people going all across the country, all across the world, claiming to do signs, wonders, and miracles, are there not? They’ve been around for years and years. They set up tents in cities, and they do their basic gimmick there. They have churches; they get today – the big tent today is television. They set up their programs on television; they fill statements, bring in cameras, and ply their craft and their art there. They claim to be the workers of signs and wonders and miracles. This is everywhere today. And this is confusing to many people, not only Christian people but non-Christian people are equally confused by it. And while it may draw huge crowds because it plays on people’s desperation, and it plays on doubt, looking for proof, and it plays on people’s fascination with the supernatural and with the miraculous, and the excitement, and all that’s there, and the emotional highs.

Christ gave His Apostles — Paul included — the power to heal and to work miracles to the glory of God.

MacArthur explains the marks of a true Apostle:

How do you – how do you identify an apostle? Well, an apostle had to have seen the risen Christ. Is that not true? Acts chapter 1 makes it very clear that someone who’s going to be chosen to fill the position of Judas, who of course was a suicide – had committed suicide after his terrible betrayal of Christ, somebody was going to be permitted to take his place in the Twelve, and it turned out to be Matthiashad to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have been an eyewitness of the resurrection, had to have had a direct call from the Lord Jesus Christ, be appointed by the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, which was done by a miraculous, superintending of the casting of lots by which Matthias was selected by the Lord Himself. The apostle Paul saw the Lord on the Damascus Road and several other times and was personally called out of darkness into light and called to be an apostle by Christ Himself.

So, we could say one of the signs of an apostle was that he had seen the risen Christ and been directly and personally called by Christ to this office. There are a number of other remarkable characteristics and elements of apostleship. The apostles were also marked out – they had the benchmark of a plenary knowledgeplenary means a comprehensive or whole knowledge – complete knowledge – they had a plenary knowledge of the gospel derived by direct revelation from Jesus Christ.

The 12 apostles didn’t read the gospel from anybody that had written it down. They got it directly from Jesus Christ. He explained to them why He came. He explained to them that He had to die. He explained to them that He would rise again. He explained to the that He would go to heaven. He explained to them that He would return and establish His kingdom on the earth. Jesus explained it all to them with His own lips during His time on earth, including His post-resurrection 40 days, when He filled in all the remaining teaching about the kingdom.

And so it was with the apostle Paul, that he tells the Galatians He received His gospel from no man, but from the Lord Jesus directly. Remember after his conversion he was taken out in the desert? And he was given the message of Jesus Christ and the clarity of the gospel directly in a three-year period at that time from the Lord. It was characteristic of an apostle to have had a plenary, complete knowledge of the gospel derived by immediate revelation from Jesus Christ. And that was true of the apostle Paul.

It was also characteristic of apostles that they were inspired to write down revelation. They were inspired by God to write down revelation. And that inspiration was the Holy Spirit rendering that apostle infallible in the communication of that revelation.

When John wrote his Gospel, and when he wrote his epistles, and when he wrote Revelation, he wrote it infallibly. When Peter wrote his epistles, he wrote them infallibly. And even the associates of the apostles – like Mark, who wrote the Gospel of Mark – wrote it infallibly. When Matthew wrote Matthew, it was infallible. When Luke, the associate of Paul, wrote his Gospel, it was infallibly superintended. So, the writers were either apostles or those very intimately linked to the apostles, and they were superintended by God as to infallibility when they received this revelation.

It is also true that there were external protections placed upon the life of the apostle during ministry. And Paul certainly could give testimony to that as the Lord protected him and looked over him and delivered him from many, many things that could have taken his life.

Another sign of an apostle was utter and absolute fidelity to the truth of God and conformity to the authenticated standard of truth. The “apostles’ doctrine” would be the term used in the book of Acts for it. The apostles were true to that doctrine delivered to them.

Another mark of an apostle benchmark authenticating insignia of an apostle was success in preaching the gospel. They were empowered to successfully preach the gospel. So, we could say that when you look at the life of Paul, you would see all of that: someone who had seen the risen Christ; someone who had been directly called into this apostleship by Christ; one who had directly received his revelation of the knowledge of the gospel from Jesus Himself; one who had been protected to become supernaturally infallible, as it were, when he was the instrument of writing Scripture; one who had been protected from death and delivered from all kinds of difficulty in the ongoing care of his ministry; one who was faithful to the truth as it was laid down, the standard of faith through the apostles; and one who was successful in his preaching ministry; and certainly, in Paul’s case, to the founding of many, many churches. That’s the big picture.

But what Paul really wants us to focus on is narrowing that down. Back to verse 12, “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance. I went – I persevered in all of my ministry, but particularly by signs and wonders and miracles” – what he really wants you to look at is the signs and wonders and powers, the word being dunamis again – “as credentials.” He’s referring specifically to the supernatural deeds done through him. How could they question this? Because he says, “They were performed” – in verse 12 – “among you. You were there; you saw them.”

Now, what was this miracle power that the apostles had? Well, all you have to do is go back to chapter 10 of Matthew, and it tells you right there. When Jesus called the apostles, the Twelve, and then later Paul, He gave them authority over unclean spirits to cast them out. He gave them miracle powers, supernatural power over Satan’s kingdom of demons. And they could cast demons out. They had power over the kingdom of darkness. Secondly, to heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. Bottom line, healing power with no limitations. None. They could heal every kind of disease and every kind of sickness. And their healing was always the same: immediate, complete, instantaneous healing. So, they had power over the kingdom of darkness, and they could cast demons out. They could cast them out of anybody. In fact, ever demon casting that occurred in the New Testament record of the gospels by the apostles, demons were cast out of non-believers. Non-believers. There wasn’t some Christian formula going on or some Christian exorcism. They were just commanded to come out of unbelievers because the apostles had power over demons. And, of course, they had power over sickness as well.

Now, the apostle Paul also had this same power, and he demonstrated it in Corinth. If you go back to Acts 18, where it tells about the founding of the Corinthian church, none of the miracles are recorded there. It doesn’t tell us about any of the miracles because the main emphasis, of course, of the text was to discuss the founding of the church and the preaching of the truth, to which the miracles pointed, but the miracles are not discussed there.

Paul, still rankling at the fact that the Corinthians were not defending his reputation, asks how they were less favoured than the other congregations he had put together except that he did not demand any money off them; he sarcastically asks them to forgive him that wrong (verse 13).

The false teachers criticised Paul for not asking for money, something they were doing.

One would think that the Corinthians would have been only too happy not to have been asked for money. Personally, I would have been delighted. That would have signified that Paul was the real deal, teaching, preaching and healing because he loved the Lord so much that he wanted people to come to faith at no obligation.

MacArthur says:

In other words, he says, “Look, you saw the miracles, the signs, the wonders, the mighty miracles that were done there. So how is it that you can buy into the lie that you had an inferior ministry from a sub-apostle? You weren’t cheated. All the churches that Paul founded were founded with God’s truth and God’s power.”

Then he turns the corner. He says, “The only thing that you didn’t get was a bill,” – verse 13 – “except that I myself didn’t become a burden to you. I just didn’t charge you; that’s the only thing you didn’t get. You got all the power; you got the signs, the wonders, the miracles; you got the truth. I came and I preached the true gospel to you. The only thing you didn’t get was a bill.” Paul had determined from the start not to burden the Corinthians with paying his support and the support of those who traveled with him.

Perhaps it was a poor church to start with. Perhaps he wanted – and I think this is more primary – he wanted to avoid the stigma that was attached to false teachers who were all in it for the money, and got as much money out of everybody as they could. And Paul knew he could be easily lumped with all the rest of the false teachers if he operated the way they operated. And even though he, according to 1 Corinthians 9:13 to 15, had told the Corinthians in his first letter that he had a right to be supported if he preached the gospel, and that every soldier fights because he’s paid, and every farmer expects to take in the crop, and so should every preacher expect support – he made that clear – even though he had a right to that, he had disdained that right, because he didn’t want to make the gospel chargeable, he did not want to be subject to any unjust criticism, and he didn’t want to get lumped in with the false teachers.

I hope that John MacArthur’s signs of a true Apostle make it clear that, despite what televangelists and even seminary professors say, there is no miraculous healing going on today.

It is probably a good idea not to frequent the average Christian bookshop for that very reason. It is likely to have a number of best-sellers about miraculous healing and reasons why it should continue. Stay away from these snake-oil salesmen. Focus on the Bible instead.

In the next instalment, Paul discusses his plan to return to Corinth.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 12:14-18

Bible and crossThe 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 11:22-29

22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they offspring of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ? I am a better one—I am talking like a madman—with far greater labors, far more imprisonments, with countless beatings, and often near death. 24 Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; 26 on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers; 27 in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, often without food,[a] in cold and exposure. 28 And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. 29 Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is made to fall, and I am not indignant?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s humble boasting, which he needed to do in order to defend his godly character against the accusations of the false teachers in Corinth. Paul also took issue with the fact that the Corinthians fell into a spiritual and psychological enslavement from their teaching.

He now compares and contrasts himself with the false teachers.

Evidently, they were Jews, because he asks if they were Hebrews and Israelites, answering that he was also a Hebrew and an Israelite (verse 22).

John MacArthur explains the distinction between those two terms (emphases mine):

he starts with his equality. Verse 22 then puts him on an equal footing with them in terms of heritage. Look at it: “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.”

It may well have been, by the way, that the false apostles were questioning this. It may well have been that they had spread some lies about Paul not having the right racial credentials. In fact, they may have said that since he was born in Tarsus he really didn’t fit. All the original twelve apostles were Jews, therefore they were all Israelites, they were descendants from Jacob. They were all children of Abraham, because, of course, Jacob came from Abraham. So they were all descendants of Abraham, they were all Israelites. And they were all Hebrews. That is to say they were of the nationality of the Hebrews, and they spoke the language which is called Hebrew.

So they would be classified then as Jews and Palestinian Jews, as opposed to Greek Jews that spoke Greek or something else. They were all true Jews, Palestinian Jews. And with the exception of Judas, by the way, they were all Galileans. They all came from the northern part of Palestine known as Galilee, which was the more rural part, being north of the great metropolis of Jerusalem.

So all the apostles were Jews, all of them were Palestinian Jews; and with the exception of Judas who was certainly disqualified as an apostle, all of them were Galilean Jews. Any one then claiming to be an apostle would have to show that he was a Jew, and that he was a true Jew, a Palestinian Jew. The false apostles may have been accusing Paul of not fitting the qualifications of being an apostle because he was born in Tarsus, which is a Gentile city, and therefore indicating he did not belong. Tarsus, by the way, was in Cilicia, which is along the northern part of the Mediterranean where modern Turkey exists today. It’s outside Palestine, and therefore they may have been accusing him of being an intruder into the apostolic realm since he didn’t have a birthright credential.

Well, Paul wants to answer that. It is right, true apostles are ethnically pure, Aramaic and Hebrew-speaking Jews of Palestine rather than Greek-speaking Jews of the dispersion. But Paul is going to answer that question, and here’s how he does it. “Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” It’s really three ways of saying the same thing, although we could break it up a little bit.

Hebrews sort of refers to the Jewish people ethnically and linguistically. They are the Hebrew people who basically are associated with the Hebrew language. The root of that is probably from Eber. In the genealogy of Genesis 11, verses 15 to 17, as you go through the genealogy of the Jewish people, there is a person there by the name of Eber of whom Abraham is a descendant. Eber probably is the one who contributed Hebrew, which was the name given first to Abraham in Genesis 14:13. So it probably goes back to the fact that he was a descendant from Eber.

Foreigners used it of the Jews; they called them Hebrews, descendants of Eber. And the Jews also used it of themselves; you’ll find that in Genesis 40, and Genesis 43. Both the Jews used it, and others used it of them as well. They accepted it as a moniker which stuck.

Paul, born in Tarsus, however, was still a Hebrew in every sense. In Philippians 3:5 he calls himself “a Hebrew of Hebrews,” which means when it came to nationality and it came to ethnicity and it came to linguistics, he was every bit a Hebrew. He knew Aramaic, he lived his whole [formative] life in Palestine, and he followed all the Hebrew traditions to the very letter, fastidious to the max, even being a Pharisee. This apparently was an issue in his life, because he mentions it in Acts 22 and verse 3, “I am a Jew.” He was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect it says. “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city,” – meaning Jerusalem – “educated under Gamaliel,” – who was the premier teacher of the Jewish law of his day – “strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you are all today.” So he says, “Look,: – he has been teaching in Hebrew – “I am a Jew. I was born outside of Palestine, but I’ve been brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, educated strictly as a Pharisee according to the law, zealous for God,” et cetera …

So, obviously, he was born in Cilicia. But very early, very early as a very young child came to Jerusalem

And then he says, “Are they Israelites?” That refers, perhaps, to their descent from Jacob, which speaks of their social life, their religious life; and he followed that as well. He was in every sense an Israelite. He was faithful to the society, to the religion of the Jews.

And then he says, “Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I.” He was here referring to his covenant identification. Socially, religiously, covenantally, linguistically, nationally, ethnically; every way you cut it, he was equal to them. He was within the Jewish culture, following all the Israelite habits of society and religion. He was a part of the theocratic kingdom, he took his identity with God’s chosen people in the promised land that God had pledged to Abraham, and he was enjoying the covenant privileges and the covenant promises and blessings of God promised to Abraham in Genesis chapter 12. So in every area – ethnicity, language, religion, society, theology, covenant promise – he says, “I am equal. I am equal.” That’s his whole point here in that verse where he says, “I the same,” or, “So am I,” in the English.

In the next five verses, Paul explains why he is superior to the false teachers.

He asks whether they are servants of Christ and says he is a better one, having laboured harder and endured brutal forms of physical persecution (verse 23).

MacArthur reminds us that this is what Jesus prophesied to the Twelve:

Jesus made it very clear to the apostles that there was going to be a life of suffering. They were going to be before courts and judges and trials and kings, incarcerations and beatings. They were going to suffer immensely; they were going to be hated, and resisted, and resented. And that is the nature of the issue of ministry, because what you’re doing in ministry is you’re taking the truth into the midst of lies, you’re taking the message of God into the kingdom of darkness run by Satan, and that creates a hostile reaction.

Paul says he speaks as if he were insane.

MacArthur explains:

No false apostle is a true servant of Christ, this is just for the sake of argument. There’s a bit of sarcasm in it. And he can’t just leave it at that, he has to add, “I speak as if insane.” What an insanity to even suggest this for the sake of argument. “But are they servants of Christ? I far more. It’s insane to even think of it.”

By the way, the word “insane” is a stronger word than the word “fool.” The word “fool” used in verse 17 and used again in verse 21, fool or foolishness, aphrōn, aphrosunē comes from phroneō which means “to think.” The word for “insane” is paraphroneō, which literally means “to be beside yourself,” para meaning “to be beside” or “alongside,” “to be beside your mind.” The word phroneō, “to think” or “referring to the mind,” “To be out of your mind,” that’s where it comes from, or “to be beside yourself,” which is another way of saying, “You’re insane.” Paul says, “I’m a madman to even suggest that they’re servants of Christ; but for the sake of argument I have to say it. And I more so.”

He then discusses his persecutions.

He says he was flogged five times by the Jews, with 39 lashes each time (verse 24).

Those floggings took place in synagogues.

MacArthur describes how the master of the synagogue carried it out according to the Mishnah:

The victim would put his two hands wide, and they would be attached to pillars or posts on either side, so they’d be stretched like this. The chest and back would be bared to the waist. Behind the man would be a large stone on the ground, elevating the master of the synagogue who would inflict the blows, so that he had leverage and could reach clear across the shoulders so that he could whip the chest as well, and he would be able to keep his footing on that stone. An instrument of a thick strap of cowhide split into three six-inch strands and then thickened somehow was used in this whipping. One-third of the blows had to be delivered on the chest, and two-thirds of the blows on the back and the shoulders. And it was required by the Mishnah that the master use one hand – and this was his trade, so he was good at it – use one hand and hit every one of the hits with all his might.

And the Mishnah provided that if the victim died, the scourger bore no guilt. Forty was the limit of blows to create these welts and sometimes cuts on the body. But the traditional way of the Jews was to stop at thirty-nine in case they might have muffed up on the count. They didn’t want to break the law in their fastidiousness, so they stopped at thirty-nine. Fastidious about the law, they were busy beating the prophets this way, according to Matthew chapter 23, verse 34, Jesus said, “You beat the prophets like this.”

They beat all the wrong people; and here they are beating the apostle of Jesus Christ, Paul himself. All those permanent welts and scars all over his body that he got from those – what would it be? – a hundred and ninety-five lashes, leaving scars all over his body, were what he was meaning in Galatians 6:17 when he said, “I bear in my body the marks of Jesus Christ.” They would all be trophies of his devotion to Jesus Christ. If anybody asked him if he was sold out to Christ, he’d just take off his tunic; that would be enough.

Paul goes on to describe his other ordeals: beatings with rods, a stoning, three shipwrecks and 24 hours of floating adrift at sea (verse 25).

MacArthur gives us more information:

In verse 25, he says, “I was beaten with rods three times.” This is what the Romans did; they got these flexible sticks, rough sticks, flexible sticks, and they just bound them all together and they used it as a whip – like a whip, but it would inflict a blow for each stick that touched the skin. That’s what happened to him in Acts 16 at the Philippian jail. Verse 22 says he was beaten with rods. That’s what they did to him there. That was one of the three times. And you’re talking about five times he had been lashed, three times he had been beaten with rods, and this is before he wrote 2 Corinthians; and he still has more ministry after that. This is just up to this point.

And he adds also in verse 25, “Once I was stoned.” That was at Lystra – you can read about it in Acts 14:19 – he was stoned. They were so made at him for preaching the gospel; and this wasn’t a Jewish anger, this was a Gentile environment. They took him out of the city and they stoned him. What they would do in stoning a person was drop him off of an edge like this, down below, and then they would just get on top and just smash down large boulders to crush him.

And it says in Acts 14:19, that they supposed he was dead, they surmised he was dead. He probably was not dead, because the verb “supposing” usually in the New Testament means “to surmise something that is not true.” And if he was dead, then he would have had to be raised from the dead, because he got up and went on preaching, as you know. And resurrection wouldn’t be minimized. No resurrection in the book of Acts is presented ambiguously …

So all we can say was, he was stoned, but didn’t die; and he was left for dead. They literally tried to crush his life out. Came within, perhaps, a few breaths of dying under the bloody crushing, but he survived.

Then he says, “Three times I was shipwrecked.” Now the best we can add them up – take my word for it – probably took about twenty voyages, about nine of them before he wrote 2 Corinthians, and nine or ten of them afterwards. We know the ones that he took before 2 Corinthians; they’re recorded in the book of Acts chapter 9, 11, 13; chapter 14, 16, 17, and 18. You see he’s going here and there in these ships. And out of those nine voyages, and maybe some others that he took, he had three shipwrecks. Shipwrecks were very common in those days. And he had those shipwrecks.

By the way, that does not include the shipwreck in Acts 27 which was much later in his life, and a number of other, probably at least nine or ten more journeys by ship that he took after he wrote 2 Corinthians which would add up to the twenty. Just in the first half of that he had had three shipwrecks. So, you know, there’s about a thirty-three-and-a-third percent you get on a ship you’re going to have a shipwreck. I mean, that’s pretty bad odds.

But the man had to go where he had to go, because he was under mandate from God. And one of those shipwrecks, he says, “I spent a night and a day in the deep.” What does he mean? He means that for twenty-four hours he was hanging on to a piece of wreckage in the middle of the sea before he was rescued. Acts doesn’t tell us about that. In fact, it doesn’t tell us about a lot of things; this is just a summation. It’s just a brief summation of what the man went through.

Paul then discusses the continual dangers he had encountered, dangers from people as well as the natural environment (verse 26).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that, wherever he was, danger was present:

… he was exposed to perils of all sorts. If he journeyed by land, or voyaged by sea, he was in perils of robbers, or enemies of some sort; the Jews, his own countrymen, sought to kill him, or do him a mischief; the heathen, to whom he was sent, were not more kind to him, for among them he was in peril. If he was in the city, or in the wilderness, still he was in peril. He was in peril not only among avowed enemies, but among those also who called themselves brethren, but were false brethren, 2 Corinthians 11:26; 2 Corinthians 11:26.

Paul then writes about his lack of basic necessities: sleep, food, drink and clothing (verse 27).

MacArthur says:

The reason he stayed up all night is because he had to work. All-day ministry, all-day preaching, and then he had to work all night in order to support himself. He had to work all night to earn his living and the living of all who traveled with him. They were sleepless nights because they were nights of labor. In fact, sometimes he even preached all night

He also found it difficult even working all night, preaching, traveling, staying out of danger. He found it difficult to make enough to sustain himself. So he says in verse 27, “In spite of all of his work, in spite of many sleepless nights of labor, he had experienced hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. There were times when he didn’t have enough to eat, he didn’t have enough to drink, he didn’t have enough to keep him warm, and he didn’t even have a place to stay. Inadequate food. That even happened when he was at Corinth. He mentions it chapter 11, verse 9, “When I was present with you and in need, I didn’t even tell you about it.”

When he says “often without food,” he’s not talking about spiritual fasting … So, this is not some kind of spiritual fast; this is a man who just doesn’t have enough money or a place to purchase food.

And he’s cold. The end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:13, he tells Timothy to go find Crispus and get his coat and bring it to him. How did Crispus get it? Well, he probably needed it, and so he left it with him. But he needs his coat. It’s not like he has a wardrobe. He’s here, and his coat’s there; and it’s the only coat he has. “Please, could you bring it? I’m cold.” It was eking out a bare existence. Frankly, this is enough to embarrass us today who suffer so little for the ministry and the gospel. We might hide our faces in shame. But note this: when you’re looking at the purest and truest apostle, he’s going to be measured by his power against the kingdom of darkness, and that’s going to be demonstrated by the level of persecution and suffering a man endures.

Then Paul says that, apart from all the other things — hardships that he won’t even go into, probably because there were so many — he was anxious about all the churches he had planted (verse 28).

Henry says that such anxiety consumed him, which was why he mentioned it last:

He mentions this last, as if this lay the heaviest upon him, and as if he could better bear all the persecutions of his enemies than the scandals that were to be found in the churches he had the oversight of.

Continuing on that thought, Paul says that he suffers along with members of his congregations, sharing in their weakness and suffering (verse 29).

Henry says:

There was not a weak Christian with whom he did not sympathize, nor any one scandalized, but he was affected therewith.

Of Paul, Henry concludes:

See what little reason we have to be in love with the pomp and plenty of this world, when this blessed apostle, one of the best of men that ever lived, excepting Jesus Christ, felt so much hardship in it. Nor was he ashamed of all this, but, on the contrary, it was what he accounted his honour; and therefore, much against the grain as it was with him to glory Note, Sufferings for righteousness’ sake will, the most of any thing, redound to our honour.

Of persecution, MacArthur says:

This man got exactly what he should have expected to get from the world around him, just exactly what His Savior got, His Lord got, right? And that was the mark of his true apostleship. You say you’re a servant of Jesus Christ; show me your scars, show me the hostility, show me the rejection, show me the alienation, show me what it’s meant in your family. You took a stand for a spiritual scriptural principle even in the Christian family and your family didn’t like it; that’s a scar. You proclaimed Jesus Christ in an unbelieving environment and you suffered for it. Maybe you didn’t get a promotion. Maybe you got alienated. Maybe you didn’t get the grade you should have gotten in a class because you wrote a paper that advocated what the Bible teaches about a certain issue, not what the professor things. That’s a scar.

These are more civil times, I suppose, in some way; although they’re fast becoming rather uncivilized, it appears. We may all be finding that out in the next quarter of a century, or less. But Paul says, “I’m an apostle, far more than you, and here are my scars to prove it.” You cannot live a life uncompromisingly confronting the kingdom of darkness and not have some scars to show. And those are your badge of authenticity.

There is much to digest in this reading. Persecution is still with us, alive and well.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 11:30-33

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