You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘false teachers’ tag.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Timothy 1:18-20

18 This charge I entrust to you, Timothy, my child, in accordance with the prophecies previously made about you, that by them you may wage the good warfare, 19 holding faith and a good conscience. By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, 20 among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s enumeration of serious sins which the false teachers in Ephesus and surrounds likely committed. All the sins violated various of the Ten Commandments.

This reading is particularly apposite as we are in Lent, because we learn that ministry, indeed the Christian journey itself, involves spiritual warfare. I will be referring to other recent readings from the Lectionary to illustrate that point. Serendipity between the readings in this series and those from the Lectionary is a true blessing, making Scripture that much more meaningful.

Paul tells Timothy, his protégé in ministry, that the charge — command — that he has entrusted to him, ‘my child’, was done in accordance with the prophecies made about him that he may wage the good warfare (verse 18).

That verse is full of aspects about Paul, Timothy and spiritual warfare. John MacArthur devoted one sermon to that verse alone.

This is Matthew Henry’s analysis with a practical application (emphases mine):

Here is the charge he gives to Timothy to proceed in his work with resolution, v. 18. Observe here, The gospel is a charge committed to the ministers of it; it is committed to their trust, to see that it be duly applied according to the intent and meaning of it, and the design of its great Author. It seems, there had been prophecies before concerning Timothy, that he should be taken into the ministry, and should prove eminent in the work of the ministry; this encouraged Paul to commit this charge to him. Observe, 1. The ministry is a warfare, it is a good warfare against sin and Satan: and under the banner of the Lord Jesus, who is the Captain of our salvation (Heb 2 10), and in his cause, and against his enemies, ministers are in a particular manner engaged. 2. Ministers must war this good warfare, must execute their office diligently and courageously, notwithstanding oppositions and discouragements. 3. The prophecies which went before concerning Timothy are here mentioned as a motive to stir him up to a vigorous and conscientious discharge of his duty; so the good hopes that others have entertained concerning us should excite us to our duty: That thou by them mightest war a good warfare.

Even during Lent, sin and Satan are unpopular topics in church, so John MacArthur lays down a few home truths for us:

Now, the key phrase … is at the end of verse 18, “fight a good warfare” or “fight a noble warfare” … Paul is calling Timothy to the awareness that he is engaged in a war, and in so calling Timothy to that sensitivity, he calls the rest of us as well.  We are to understand that our calling is to fight a noble war against the forces of Satan.  In the first chapter, then, he speaks of this war and in the last chapter of this epistle, chapter 6 verse 12, he says, “Fight the good fight of faith.”  So beginning the epistle and ending the epistle, he reminds Timothy that he is indeed in a war against the forces of Satan. 

We … are engaged as an extension of a battle between God and Satan.  Satan having rebelled against God, set about to make war on God to attain his own selfish ends; he fell, not alone, drawing a third of the angels with him.  He now has a host of demons who, along with him, fight against God and the holy angels and men also, by virtue of whether they receive Christ or reject Him, take sides in the battle as wellSo there is a raging cosmic conflict between Satan and God which involves demons and angels and redeemed men and unredeemed men

Now, the sum of all of that for us is that like Timothy and like Paul and like all other believers, we are engaged in an intimate personal conflict with the supernatural enemy of God, and the sooner we understand that, the sooner we can prioritize our lives.  We wrestle not against flesh and blood, not a human enemy, but principalities and powers and the rulers of the darkness of this world and spiritual wickedness in the heavenlies.  All those are terms describing demonsWe are engaged with a supernatural enemy. 

No one understood that better than the apostle Paul who wrote this to Timothy, who wrote what I just quoted from Ephesians 6:12.  No one understood it better than he did who, in his own testimony, says in 2 Corinthians 12:7 that “there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me.”  Whatever that specifically might have been, he saw as a messenger of Satan to come against him, and so he realized the intimacy of that attack.  In 1 Thessalonians chapter 2, he also writes in verses 17 and 18:  “But we, brethren, being taken from you for a short time, in presence not in heart, endeavored to more abundantly to see your face with great desire, wherefore we would have come unto you, even I, Paul, once and again, but Satan hindered us.” 

There were false teachers in the church in Ephesus and those nearby who were in prominent positions as elders and pastors. Paul charged — commanded — Timothy to get rid of them in order to preserve the sanctity of the churches.

We saw this two weeks ago, when I wrote about 1 Timothy 1:3-7. Paul used the word charge — as in a military command — in verse 3:

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine,

MacArthur reminds us of other similar verses:

Timothy is under military obligation, and this is not new … I should say this is not isolated.  This is not isolated.  Chapter 5 verse 21, Paul says, using a different Greek term but the same meaning – 5:21 – “I command you” – speaking to Timothy – “before God and the Lord Jesus Christ and the elect angels that you observe these things.”  Now, that’s pretty strong stuff.  “I command you and I hold you accountable to God and Christ and the holy and elect angels.” 

Chapter 6 verse 12, he says fight the good fight and so forth, and then in verse 13, “I command you” – and here he does use the same word as in chapter 1.  “I command you in the sight of God who makes all things alive.”  Then verse 14, “That you keep this commandment without spot and unrebukable until the appearing of the Lord Jesus Christ.”  So he is commanding Timothy, like a general would command a colonel, he is commanding him to do this

Yet, Paul is gentle with Timothy when giving this command, calling him ‘my child’, for, spiritually, the 35-year-old certainly was his offspring.

Like anyone in the armed forces, someone fighting the spiritual forces of evil similarly has duties to perform. In that case, it involves the defence of Christ and the Gospel:

Duty. Now, when I say that word, immediately I realize there are many people who don’t understand that. Duty? That’s not a word we like to talk about. We don’t know anything about that today. In Christianity, we know about freedom. We know about spiritual success. We talk about joy and peace. We talk about fulfillment. We talk about sort of satisfaction from the spiritual end. Very indulgent but we know very little about duty – very little about duty – and that’s part of what’s been built into our culture and it’s found its way into the church. We are an undisciplined culture. We are an utterly self-indulgent culture, and so what we have gained in the church is a lot of people whose personal preoccupation is self-indulgence, and whatever makes them feel good and whatever they particularly want to do or don’t want to do governs their life. They know nothing of duty – very little of duty. We are not a duty-bound people in our thinking

Paul knew all about duty. “Woe is unto me if I preach not the gospel,” 1 Corinthians 9. “I am duty bound. I am under divine obligation to use my gift and fulfill my calling”

Every preacher is under command. When Paul said to Timothy in 2 Timothy chapter 4, “I command you” – this is 4:1 – “I command you before God and the Lord Jesus Christ who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom, preach the Word” …

And men don’t listen today. There were some, surely, in the Ephesian church that didn’t listen, and there are many today who won’t listen. Isaiah 6, God said to Isaiah, “They won’t listen. Their eyes will be blind. Their ears will be deaf. Their hearts will be fat and they won’t listen.” And it’s true. You preach your heart out and you preach your heart out and they don’t listen. In fact, preaching today is somewhat depreciated, especially if you just preach the Bible all the time. People accuse me and others who do that of being very narrow-minded. “Poor MacArthur, he has tunnel vision, he’s such a one-dimensional person”

But the command to Timothy was very simple. The command is to fight the noble war against the foes identified with Satan, and that’s going to be using the Word of God, and that’s why all the way through the epistle, he says you’ve got to nourish up in sound doctrine. So you have a command. In spite of what men say, in spite of what their faces look like, in spite of the fact they come along, shake your hand, say how nice you are, think you sound great, and don’t do what you say, you keep doing it, and you call for the duty that God would have you call for.

MacArthur also points out the significance of ‘entrust’:

Second thing.  The first one was a command, the second thing in his relationship to the church was a commission.  A commission.  Look what he says, this second main verb here, “This command I give” – really, the first verb, the first one is a substantive, it’s a noun, this command I entrust or commit to you.  Now, here he takes another dimension of this and he says not only do you have a command, but you have a commission.  “I entrust you with this.”  The word paratithēmi is a word for a deposit you put in a bank, it’s a valued deposit.  Paul gave to Timothy a valuable deposit.  What was it?  It was a deposit of truth.  It was a deposit of truth, which is more valuable than anything.  Second Timothy 2:2, “The things which you have heard from me among many witnesses, the same entrust to faithful men.”  “I entrusted it to you, you keep it and entrust it to others.”  He repeatedly told Timothy to keep care of that sacred trust. 

In addition to a command and a commission, Paul says that Timothy also had an obligation from prophecies to fulfil:

… we don’t know where this happened, but he says the prophecies – and then he uses an interesting verb, it means “leading the way to you.” Now, the fact that he says “prophecies leading the way to you” indicates to us that there probably were more than one and they were sequential along a path of time that kept directing attention to Timothy, and finally they culminated in chapter 4 of 1 Timothy and verse 14, “Neglect not the gift that’s in you, given you by prophecy.” In other words, God gave that gift to Timothy and then articulated that gift through the prophecies and then confirmed it by the laying on of hands on Timothy as an act of confirmation by the elders.

MacArthur explains why Paul was so concerned that Timothy deal with the false teachers urgently:

Now, just to remind you of what the issues were, let me remind you of basically two things.  They were attacking the truth; that is, they were attacking sound doctrine, and they were attacking godliness.  Notice, for example, in chapter 2, it seems as though they were even attacking the person of Christ by what Paul says to Timothy in verse 5 of chapter 2.  “There is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time.  For this I am ordained a preacher and an apostle, I speak the truth in Christ and lie not, a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity.” 

Now, apparently, from that we can ascertain that there was some kind of an attack on the mediatorship of Christ, some kind of attack on the sufficiency of Christ, some kind of attack on the work of Jesus Christ.  We find it again indicated in chapter 3 verse 16.  He says it is without controversy that the mystery of godliness is a great mystery.  It is unarguable that the mystery of God in human flesh, which is what he means, the mystery of God coming in human flesh is a profound mystery, it is a great mystery, and this is that mystery.  God was manifest in the flesh, justified in the Spirit, seen of angels, preached unto the nations, believed on in the world, and received up into glory, and there he sort of chronicles the life and work of Christ and again seems to be saying, “Look, this is difficult but this is the truth, the incarnation of God in Christ”

Furthermore, it was not only an attack on Christ but an attack also on the saving gospel of Christ.  Back in chapter 1, instead of the gospel, instead of true doctrine, in verse 4 it says these false teachers were teaching fables or Jewish myths, endless genealogies, which don’t do anything but serve to raise questions rather than answers, they bring no godly edification at all, they’re not according to the true faith.  Verse 5, they don’t have a good conscience and unfeigned faith.  They are a turning aside, they are a swerving.  He further says they not only pervert the gospel but they pervert the law.  Verse 7, they think themselves to be teachers of the law; the truth is they have no idea what they’re saying or what they’re affirming so dogmatically.  So they were attacking the saving gospel of Christ.

Paul affirms (verse 15) that Christ Jesus came to save sinners, something these men twisted or denied:

15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.

MacArthur says:

It is consistent with false teachers, false elders, false pastors, false prophets and apostates that they attack the person, the work, and the preaching and teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will do that because they are energized by Satan, and Satan’s attack is against God and His Christ, and so it comes in the mouth of false teachers. They are not just well-meaning souls who have slipped a little in their understanding; they are agents of Satan.

Let’s go back to verse 5, where the word ‘charge’ also appears. Paul was always intent on having a clear conscience in all things and we see how that fits in with love, a pure heart and true faith:

The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.

MacArthur says that the men were attacking not only doctrine but holy living. Both had a severe effect on some members of the congregation:

Now, the second thing that we see in 1 Timothy is not only an attack on the truth about Christ and His work but an attack on the virtue of life; that is, godly living and biblical morality.  Back in chapter 1 verse 5, it says that they are not those who experience love and a pure heart and a good conscience and faith unfeigned.  They don’t have any integrity of character.  They’re not pure.  Their consciences are not clear, and a clear conscience is the result of a pure life, a pure heart.  But they’ve turned aside from those things, and they may well be being described in verses 9 and 10 as lawless, disobedient, ungodly sinners, unholy profaned murderers of fathers and mothers, man slayers, fornicators, homosexuals, kidnappers, liars, perjurers, and so forth. 

Their morality matched their doctrine.  It was as in error as was their theology.  They, like those of whom we read in verse 19, had shipwrecked the faith.  They, in verse 20, had blasphemed – that is to speak evil of the true God.  In chapter 2, we find from verses 8 to 10 that women had substituted outward adornment for inward godliness, and verse 10 says they would rather provide godliness with good works than outward array … 

… Now remember, I told you that “godliness” is a key word in the pastoral epistles

Chapter 5, we find the same thing in verse 11.  There were younger widows who were wanton against Christ.  Verse 12, they threw away their first faith.  Verse 13, they were idle, they were going around from house to house instead of staying in their own homes and doing what they were called as women of God to do.  They were tattlers – or tale bearers – busybodies, speaking things they shouldn’t.  And verse 15, some already turned aside after Satan, and that has to do with their behavior.  And even some of the leaders, of course, were leading in this and that’s why they needed to be disciplined as he goes on to speak of that in chapter 5.

Chapter 6 verse 1 speaks of the name of God not being blasphemed nor His doctrine being blasphemed, which indicates that there were some blasphemous things going on.  There were all kinds of arguments – verse 4 – disputes, envy, strife, railing, evil suspicions, perverse disputings of men of corrupt minds destitute of the truth, supposing that money is godliness.  But godliness with contentment is great gain.  In other words, they had perverted doctrine and purity of life.  That’s the point, and that’s where the attack was coming.  So you have two things, error and evil – error and evil – and Timothy is called to confront this at high places. 

MacArthur says that most of us think that false teachers have good intentions and that they are just misguided. He tells us that nothing could be further from the truth:

Now, let me say something as we draw this together.  Sound teaching and pure living go together.  There is an inseparable link between truth and morality, between right belief and right behavior, and I’m going to say something, I want you to write it down and keep it in mind.  Theological error – get this – theological error has its roots in moral rather than intellectual soil.  Theological error has its roots in moral rather than intellectual soil.  The point is this:  When people teach wrong doctrine, it is not that they do not understand, it is that they are the base evil – evil – and they have a theology to accommodate their evil

Don’t you for a moment imagine that a false teacher, a liberal, a cultist, an occultist  or anyone who teaches falsely around the things of God is some kind of poor, well-meaning, nice person who went astray; they are in error because their hearts are evil, and they will not submit their evil to the cleansing work of Christ and the true gospel, so they invent an accommodating error.  And the reason these theologians come along and want to vote on what Jesus said is not because they cannot intellectually know the veracity of Scripture, it is because there are things in the Bible they will not submit to, and in order to avoid unnecessary submission, they will eliminate them. It’s that simple. 

And so you have the call upon the heart of anyone who is called to ministry to retain true doctrine and true purity of life. 

This is why Paul says that waging the good warfare involves holding faith and a good conscience and that, by rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith (verse 19).

My exploration of 1 Timothy 1:3-7 discusses the role of a clear conscience and a pure heart. MacArthur says a pure heart creates a clear conscience, but I think a clear conscience creates a pure heart. It’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg argument: which comes first, a pure heart or a clear conscience?

Paul mentions two men in Ephesus who made ‘shipwreck of their faith’: Hymenaeus and Alexander. He handed them over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme (verse 20).

Let’s go into the identity of the two men.

Of them, Henry merely says:

who had made a profession of the Christian religion, but had quitted that profession …

MacArthur has more, but not a lot:

Hymenaeus, who is also mentioned … in 2 Timothy 2:17, we don’t know anything about him, he’s just mentioned twice.  The other one is Alexander.  There is an Alexander mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:14-15 There is an Alexander mentioned in Acts 19:33-34 There is no reason to believe they are the same because the name was as common as the name John is today – a very, very common name.  What we have here, then, are two pastors, self-righteous egotists who wanted to be prominent teachers of the law but didn’t know anything about what they were speaking of, substituting myths and genealogies and fables and human reason for God’s revelation and living ugly, ungodly lives.

The Wikipedia entry for Hymanaeus says that he professed faith in Christ but did not repent from evil. This is what he believed:

The conclusion is that the new man cannot spiritually die anymore, even if doing evil in the flesh. To wit, There is now no more condemnation for unrighteous, while doing unrighteousness. [5] The deliverance of Christ and grace is not from sinning with the flesh, but is only from judgment and condemnation for doing so. It, therefore, overthrows the faith by increased ungodliness, as though the new man has become ‘untouchable’ in heaven. There is no more need to abstain from fornication, so far as being accepted of the Lord. There is no need to keep the new man from filthiness of the flesh, because the new man is already forever resurrected from the dead: The resurrection is past. It is a kind of New Age Christianity

Alexander‘s entry says that he and Hymanaeus followed a false teacher by the name of Philetus, who promoted a sort of pre-Gnosticism:

The doctrine of these three heretical teachers, Hymenaeus, Alexander and Philetus, was one of the early forms of Gnosticism. It held that matter was originally and essentially evil; that for this reason the body was not an essential part of human nature; and that the only resurrection was that of each man as he awoke from the death of sin’s penalty. That thus in the case of everyone who was set free from the consequences of wrongdoing, “the resurrection was past already,” and that the body did not participate in the blessedness of the future life, but that salvation consisted in the soul’s complete deliverance from all contact with a material world and a material body.

So pernicious were these teachings of incipient Gnosticism in the Christian church that, according to Paul, they quickly spread “like gangrene.” The denial of the future resurrection of the body involved also the denial of the bodily resurrection of Christ, and even the fact of the incarnation.

There is also Alexander the Coppersmith, who features in 2 Timothy 4:14:

Some scholars identify him with the Alexander of Acts 19:33, the Alexander of 1 Timothy 1:20, (whom, along with Hymenaeus, Paul “handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”), or both. Others suggest, however, that he is called “the coppersmith” in order to distinguish him from others of the same name.[2]

Turning the men over to Satan was, in this case, Paul’s way of correcting their mindset.

Henry says that this was a form of church discipline. Furthermore, he says that those who make a shipwreck of their faith are hardly likely to stick with Satan for very long, either. Henry also tells us what blaspheming is:

Paul had delivered them to Satan, had declared them to belong to the kingdom of Satan, and, as some think, had, by an extraordinary power, delivered them to be terrified or tormented by Satan, that they might learn not to blaspheme not to contradict or revile the doctrine of Christ and the good ways of the Lord. Observe, The primary design of the highest censure in the primitive church was to prevent further sin and to reclaim the sinner. In this case it was for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit might be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus, 1 Cor 5 5. Observe, (1.) Those who love the service and work of Satan are justly delivered over to the power of Satan: Whom I have delivered over to Satan. (2.) God can, if he please, work by contraries: Hymeneus and Alexander are delivered to Satan, that they may learn not to blaspheme, when one would rather think they would learn of Satan to blaspheme the more. (3.) Those who have put away a good conscience, and made shipwreck of faith, will not stick at any thing, blasphemy not excepted. (4.) Therefore let us hold faith and a good conscience, if we would keep clear of blasphemy; for, if we once let go our hold of these, we do not know where we shall stop.

MacArthur says that Paul’s Greek word for ‘learn’ in verse 20 means physical punishment:

the word “learn,” paideu, is to train through punishment – to train through punishment.  It’s a very significant word.  It is used in Luke 23 verses 16 and 22, it’s translated “chastise,” and it speaks about the scourgings that were given Christ.  It is to train or to punish someone with the afflicting of physical blows

Paul talks about – 1 Corinthians 11 … the communion service and how some were weak and sickly and some slept.  And he says when we are judged, when the Lord takes our life, when he lets the devil kill us or make us sick, we are chastened of the Lord That’s that same word.  We are trained through suffering, just like you have to train a child with physical pain.  And that’s what is going to happen to these people.  That word is used repeatedly in the New Testament to speak of training through punishment, training through suffering.  It’s used in 2 Corinthians 6:9, it says, “As chastened and yet not killed.”  In other words, we get beat around physically, although short of death, again indicating its use that way In Hebrews 12, it’s used in verse 6, 7, and 10.  When the Lord chastens, He chastens through punishment, suffering. 

MacArthur’s definition of blasphemy ties in with Henry’s:

Now, the point is this:  You cannot see this word “that they may learn” without understanding that it carries the idea of physically inflicted punishment.  I don’t know what disease they got, I don’t know what disaster came into their life, I don’t know whether it meant their death, but they were turned over to Satan to be punished as a lesson that you can’t blaspheme – a lesson to them and a lesson to everybody else.  “Blaspheme” means to slander God, to ridicule God.  To blaspheme the worthy name by which you’re called, James 2:7 says.  In the last days, 2 Timothy 3:2 says, there will be blasphemers.  But blasphemers, those who ridicule God, who slander God, are in grave danger

Now, you say, “What do you mean by that?”  Anything that you do that disobeys God is blasphemy.  Anything you say that speaks evil against God is blasphemy.  And any blasphemy needs discipline.  And you or I or anyone who does something against the Will and the purpose of God, who acts in an unholy way, who slanders God’s character, slanders God’s person, or who denies or disobeys God’s Word is a blasphemer to one degree or another and therefore susceptible to having to be taught through physically inflicted punishment such lessons as might be necessary to call us away from that

Handing someone over to the devil can be for good or bad.

The Book of Job, one of the most difficult in the Bible, in my opinion, is, according to MacArthur, God’s way of showing Satan that, a believer’s faith is unshakeable. Recall that God allowed Satan to plague Job and his environment, with limits. Even so, it must have been awful, to say the least:

And in all this, Job did not sin, nor charge God with some kind of folly.  You say, “What’s the point?”  The point is this:  God made a point to the devil and to the whole world of people who’ve ever read that account, and the point is this: that true saving faith is not dependent on positive circumstances That’s the point.  What a point.  See, the devil thought, “Well, these people follow You because You give them all the stuff.”  And what the Lord is saying is:  “I’ll tell you this, that when I redeem a life and when I transform a life and when a soul is converted and when a man truly loves Me, that love is not built on circumstances.”  And in a sense, Job is just almost superfluous to the point here.  God is making a point with Satan, and to make the point He uses Job, and the point is to show the strength and the continuity and the unwavering character of true saving faith, true love for God.  Tremendous. 

I hear all the time out of the book of Job that Job is to teach us how to deal with suffering.  Job, the whole point of Job is to show the character of a godly man, and the character of a godly man is that he loves God and worships God not because of what God has done in giving him things, but because of a pure devotion alone.  He trusted God

This is incredible.  God is making a monumental point about the nature of true salvation, about the nature of true godliness, about the nature of a really upright heart The person who really loves God is not the person who loves God because of what he gets, but the person who loves God because of who he is.  That’s the point.  And you say, “Well, it wasn’t very fair to make Job the illustration just to make a point.”  Oh?  You’ve got to see beyond just the life of one individual to the fact that God was making a point for all eternity He has the sovereign right to do that

The end result was that God heaped even more blessings upon Job for his unwavering faith throughout.

In today’s readings for the First Sunday in Lent (Year A), we have the fall of Adam and Eve as well as the temptation of Christ. Ironically, the first took place in the Garden of Eden and the second in desolate wilderness. Of the two, MacArthur says:

it’s not the circumstances that cause the fall, it’s the character of the individual.

The Holy Spirit directed Jesus to the wilderness, the desert, in order to prove to Satan that he could not overcome our Lord.

MacArthur gives several scriptural examples of people being handed over to Satan and sums them up as being either for refining or judgement:

Several things to remember, then, as we sum it up.  To be delivered to Satan may be for God’s sake, like Job, for God’s sake, for God to make His point.  It may be for my own sake, like Paul [the spiritual thorn that afflicted him], that I may maintain humility and dependence.  It may be for others’ sake, like Peter [in denying Christ three times before His death, then repenting], that I might be able to instruct others It may be for the sake of God’s desire to reward and give a crown of life [the persecuted in  Revelation 6 and 7] It may be to produce great praise when such is over.  But on the other hand, it may be for chastening’s sake, like in the case of an incestuous brother in Corinth, or Ananias and Sapphira [who cheated the church in Jerusalem] It may be for chastening’s sake unto death, as in the case of the church at Thyatira, committing fornication and listening to false doctrine.  It may be also for final judgment’s sake, such as in the case of Saul or Judas or Hymenaeus and Alexander. 

MacArthur concludes:

Now, what is the remedy?  What is – how do you avoid the chastening part and the judgment part?  By receiving the truth and the holiness of God in Christ And that’s really the message.  All of that was to lead to this.  It may be that God wants to turn me over to Satan.  It may be that for His own purposes, He wants me to suffer some inflicted wound from Satan to one degree or another, in one way or another in my life.  My only prayer is that it will be for His glory and my good and the strengthening and advancing of His Kingdom, not for punishment and not for chastening.  And that if it need be that I have to suffer some messenger of Satan, if I have, like Peter, to be turned over for a period of time, I can only pray that out of it God will gain the greater glory and I’ll be a more faithful servant, and that makes it a welcome turning over if that’s God’s design, as opposed to being turned over to be physically punished for blasphemy.  So as believers, we seek to avoid that by the pursuit of a holy life. 

What an apposite message for Lent. If there is something to focus on from now until Easter, this is it.

In 1 Timothy 2, Paul discusses women’s conduct.

Next time — 1 Timothy 2:8-15


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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Timothy 1:8-11

Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it lawfully, understanding this, that the law is not laid down for the just but for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers, 10 the sexually immoral, men who practise homosexuality, enslavers,[a] liars, perjurers, and whatever else is contrary to sound[b] doctrine, 11 in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which I have been entrusted.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning to Timothy about false teachers, who were in the churches in Ephesus and surrounds.

Timothy, who was 35 at the time Paul wrote this letter, was reluctant to stand up against the false teachers, because he feared he would not be as sophisticated a speaker as they were. Paul is impressing upon him the importance of doing so urgently.

John MacArthur says that Paul listed the sins in today’s verses because they probably pertained to the false teachers (emphases mine):

you get the idea that behind this is this lingering thought that’s probably giving this whole list because these are the things that are characteristic of these false teachers. Believe me, we go right back to Matthew 7, a false teacher talks good but lives bad … I’m always appalled when these kinds of things manifest themselves in people that we have believed for a long time to be the servants of God.

Just recently received a phone call. A church had two pastors, a senior pastor and assistant pastor, and the congregation found out that both of them had been having affairs with different women through the church for a long time. Well, the fruit was made manifest. I don’t know what kind of facade they wore; I know they came to the Shepherd’s Conference here a couple of times and were upset that they couldn’t get as much personal time from us to bring up some issues that they were concerned about as they wanted, and they were unduly demanding. And I remember our impression was that their attitude didn’t demonstrate what we thought would be the attitude of a man of God. Nonetheless, we accepted what we could see at face value and now the truth is known. So that’s not an uncommon situation, sad to say, sad to say.

Paul says we know that the law is good, if we use it lawfully (verse 8).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains that false teachers misuse the law in one way or another:

The law is good, if a man use it lawfully. The Jews used it unlawfully, as an engine to divide the church, a cover to the malicious opposition they made to the gospel of Christ; they set it up for justification, and so used it unlawfully. We must not therefore think to set it aside, but use it lawfully, for the restraint of sin. The abuse which some have made of the law does not take away the use of it; but, when a divine appointment has been abused, call it back to its right use and take away the abuses, for the law is still very useful as a rule of life; though we are not under it as under a covenant of works, yet it is good to teach us what is sin and what is duty.

MacArthur gives ways in which false teaching and misuse of the law occurs:

They had no idea what they were talking about and there are so many, many like that, even today, who pretend to be teachers of the law and if you listen and know the Word of God, you know they have no idea what they’re talking about. But they pass themselves off as those who teach the Word of God. Furthermore, these people continually and confidently affirm or assert with dogmatism; that’s what diabebaioomai means; they’re very dogmatic about their ignorance. The point is to remember not what heresy they taught, that isn’t even given to us, but to remember that they must be understood for what they do.

And then quickly almost as a reaction, Paul wants to defend the law, because the tragedy you see of a false teacher is that in his mouth is the Word of God perverted. And unless you’re careful when you throw away the false teacher, you can wind up losing confidence in the word that he spoke, and some of the word that he spoke may have been true when the Scripture was truly represented. The point is you don’t want to throw the baby out with the dirty bathwater, obviously. So Paul hastens immediately to say in verse 8, “We know that the law is good, and by condemning one who wants to be a teacher of the law, we’re not condemning the law. We can condemn that motive and we can condemn that abysmal ignorance of the law and we can condemn that stupid dogmatism that asserts things it doesn’t even realize aren’t true,” and I tell you I hear that so often today. People speaking dogmatically about things they are absolutely in ignorance of. But he hurries to say, “We do not say then that the law is no good. The law is good if the law is used rightly, or lawfully.” The law has a right use. It has a right place, but they’re not using it right. They’re using it as a means of salvation. They’re setting the standard up of salvation by the law, and that is always what appeals to men who are proud because their pride is manifest in the illusion that they’re good enough by themselves to please God. That’s the epitome of pride. Pride says, “I don’t need a savior. Why do I need a savior? I can attain unto God’s standard by myself.”

Paul says that, with this in mind, the law is laid down not for the just — the righteous — but for the lawless and disobedient (verse 9). Notice here he begins running through sins against the Ten Commandments. First, the sins against God: the ungodly, the unholy and profane. Secondly, he lists the violations of the Commandments that govern our relationships: for those who strike their fathers and mothers, for murderers (verse 9), the sexually immoral, men who practice homosexuality, enslavers, liars, perjurers and whatever else goes against sound doctrine (verse 10).

Henry analyses the verses as follows and says some scholars say this is why we have civil laws against those violations against the person:

It is not made for a righteous man, that is, it is not made for those who observe it; for, if we could keep the law, righteousness would be by the law (Gal 3 21): but it is made for wicked persons, to restrain them, to check them, and to put a stop to vice and profaneness. It is the grace of God that changes men’s hearts; but the terrors of the law may be of use to tie their hands and restrain their tongues. A righteous man does not want those restraints which are necessary for the wicked; or at least the law is not made primarily and principally for the righteous, but for sinners of all sorts, whether in a greater or less measure, v. 9, 10. In this black roll of sinners, he particularly mentions breaches of the second table, duties which we owe to our neighbour; against the fifth and sixth commandments, murderers of fathers and mothers, and manslayers; against the seventh, whoremongers, and those that defile themselves with mankind; against the eighth, men-stealers; against the ninth, liars and perjured persons; and then he closes his account with this, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. Some understand this as an institution of a power in the civil magistrate to make laws against such notorious sinners as are specified, and to see those laws put in execution.

MacArthur addresses the first part of verse 9:

He says the law is good if you use is lawfully. Well how do you use it lawfully? Verse 9, “You have to know this, that the law is not made for a righteous man.” And literally it says in the Greek, “that law.” It’s anarthrous, without the definite article. That law, law in general and certainly encompasses the mosaic law, law is not made for righteous men; that’s obvious. Law is made to condemn what? Sinners. You see the law is good but you can’t treat it like gospel.

Listen carefully, “The law is good but the law alone is not good news.” Did you get that? The law is good but the law alone is not good news. The law alone is bad news, because Romans 3:19-20 says, “Every mouth is stopped when brought before the law of God and the whole world guilty before God, and by the deeds of the flesh will no flesh be justified in his sight.” So what the law does is condemn everybody. What the law does is pronounce judgment damnation on everybody. What the law does is send everybody to hell because you’ve broken God’s law, and there’s none righteous, no, not one. There’s none that understands, no not one. There’s none that fulfills God’s standard, nobody. The Jews thought they did, but in Romans 10 Paul says the reason they thought they did was they were ignorant of God’s righteousness, and they went about to establish their own righteousness. The point is they thought God was less righteous than he was; they thought they were more righteous than they were, so they met. That was a lie. They were ignorant of how righteous God really is. The law is not for people who are righteous, but this is what they were going on, they were parading around as if they were righteous keepers of the law. The law isn’t for the righteous. In fact, as long as you think you’re righteous, you’re not going to be ever saved. You’re never going to see the true use of the law, because the law is not for righteous people. The law is for the lawless and disobedient, for the ungodly and for sinners, for unholy and for profane, for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers, for manslayers, for fornicators, for homosexuals, for kidnappers, for liars, for pervert persons, and if there be any other thing that is contrary to sound doctrine. That’s what the law is for. The law is to crush sinners. The law is to show who we really are.

MacArthur then elaborates on the sins listed in verses 9 and 10:

The first group, and he really gets his cues here out of the decalage, the ten commandments of Exodus 20, because he runs right through the ten commandments. And the first three pairs, lawless, disobedient, ungodly sinners, unholy, profane, those are pairs and they all refer to the first part of the ten commandments, which has to do with our relationship to God. The idea that we don’t have any other gods before us, that we worship the true god, that we make no graven images, that we remember that he is the only one to be adored and worshipped and all of that. Those refer to that. Starting then with the murderers of fathers and mothers and manslayers and fornicators and homosexuals and kidnappers and liars, he moves through the second half of the ten commandments which have to do with our relationship to other men in society.

Let me show you just briefly what these mean because I don’t think his intention is for us to stop and digress on all these. But you need to know this: These first three couplets that deal basically with the first half of the ten commandments are put together with a negative and a positive result. The first negative is lawless; the positive result is disobedience. Someone who is lawless, that is someone who has no commitment to any law, someone who has no standard is going to be insubordinate. If you don’t believe in the law, you’re not going to pay any attention. So the lawless are disobedient. The negative they are lawless; the positive effect is they are disobedient. The next negative is they are ungodly; they are irreverent. They are without regard for anything that is sacred. They don’t care at all about God or about what is true of God or about what is right. And because they are ungodly, that leads to the positive effect of being sinners. The ungodly then go out and commit sin. They live without any regard for God because they don’t have any regard for God, so that’s how they live. The third negative is unholy, and unholy basically means indifferent to what is right. They’re indifferent to God, indifferent to the duty that they are to render to God. And because they are indifferent to their duty, they turn out to be profane, bebēlos. That is they trample on what is sacred.

So you have a person who is lawless and you’ll have disobedience. You’ll have a person who is ungodly and you’ll have sinfulness. You have a person who’s unholy and you’ll have a life of trampling on everything that is sacred. We could summarize by saying then that the law was made for people who are disobedient, impure, and irreverent. What for? To show them they were. When you put your life against the law of God, you see that you are indeed lawless, disobedient, ungodly, sinful, unholy and profane. And all of that has to do with a defying of God and the duty one has to render to God. It is a sinner attacking God.

Then Paul moves to the second table of the ten commandments, the dealing with men’s relationship to men. And he starts out with the fifth commandment, alluding to it when he says the fifth commandment says honor your father and mother and so forth. He says here the law is made for murderers of fathers and murderers of mothers and murderers period, homicidal people. First of all, this involves the fifth commandment which says honor your parents. The fifth commandment is broadened in the next chapter, Exodus 21, verse 15 to talk about the fact that even if a person only hits their parent, if you strike your parent you are to receive the death penalty. So that fifth commandment is in view there. The law was made for people who break the fifth commandment by not honoring their parents. All the way from dishonor to murder and everything in between is encompassed in that fifth commandment to which Paul alludes. Then the word manslayers, which is the word for homicide literally means murder, not manslaughter, which we use to refer to accidental death, but murderer refers to the sixth commandment, which is thou shalt not murder. And then the law in verse 10 is also made for fornicators, sexual sinners and homosexuals, arsenokoitēs. The word coital comes from the back part of that word and it has two words in the Greek, male and marriage bed, males in the marriage bed. Now there can’t be any misunderstanding of what he’s talking about. Male coital homosexuality is a violation of the seventh commandment of God, which is the commandment of sexual purity, which allows no sexual relationship out of the marriage of one man and one woman. And the law was written to expose those people as vile, condemned sinners.

And then the eighth commandment has to do with stealing, and in light of stealing he mentions kidnappers because in his day one of the most prominent ways that men showed their depravity in stealing was in stealing children. Stealing children was a common problem because they were in need of slaves and children were easy prey to steal, take away and use as slaves. In Exodus 21:16, Deuteronomy 24:7 gives the ultimate penalty for those who do that under the law of God. Then he mentions the liars and perjurers that are also referred to in the ninth commandment. You can see then that he’s moving right through the commandments, and he’s saying the law was made for those people to show them their evil, to show them they were violating the law of God.

As for Ephesus and the neighbouring churches:

And it may well have been that what Paul is saying in this list is more than just a list out of the ten commandments. It may be because it does take the ten commandments and sort of direct them in a specific area, it may well be that that specific area had something to do with the leaders of that church. It could have been that some of them had killed their parents. It could have been that some of them had stolen children to be slaves. It could have been that some of them were homosexuals. It could have been that some of them were liars who had perjured themselves and so forth and so on. And he says, “That’s what the law is for,” and he may be indicting them in a rather sort of subtle way but indicting them. And he says, “Just in case anything is left out, any other thing contrary to sound doctrine the law comes to expose.”

The law comes and says you’re a sinner and you need to know that, because the second part of the gospel is there is a Savior. So Paul says, “The law comes for sinners,” and he lists all these. And then somebody might say, “Well I’m not in that list, I’m okay,” so he just says, “And any other thing contrary to sound doctrine.” The word sound is an interesting word, hugiainō. We get out word hygienic from it. It means healthy, wholesome, promoting life and health. And the kind of teaching Paul advocates is the kind that produces spiritual life and spiritual growth and spiritual health. So he says, “The law is to expose and condemn and crush the sinner.” And then he lists a few kinds of sinners and then throws everybody in as any other thing contrary to healthy, life-promoting teaching.

Paul says that sound doctrine is in accordance with the gospel of the glory of the blessed God with which he has been entrusted (verse 11).

Henry elaborates on what Paul’s intended to say in that verse:

He shows the glory and grace of the gospel. Paul’s epithets are expressive and significant; and frequently every one is a sentence: as here (v. 11), According to the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Let us learn hence, 1. To call God blessed God, infinitely happy in the enjoyment of himself and his own perfections. 2. To call the gospel the glorious gospel, for so it is: much of the glory of God appears in the works of creation and providence, but much more in the gospel, where it shines in the face of Jesus Christ. Paul reckoned it a great honour put upon him, and a great favour done him, that this glorious gospel was committed to his trust; that is, the preaching of it, for the framing of it is not committed to any man or company of men in the world. The settling of the terms of salvation in the gospel of Christ is God’s own work; but the publishing of it to the world is committed to the apostles and ministers. Note here, (1.) The ministry is a trust, for the gospel was committed unto this apostle; it is an office of trust as well as of power, and the former more than the latter; for this reason ministers are called stewards, 1 Cor 4 1. (2.) It is a glorious trust, because the gospel committed to them is a glorious gospel; it is a trust of very great importance. God’s glory is very much concerned in it. Lord, what a trust is committed to us! How much grace do we want, to be found faithful in this great trust!

MacArthur explains how the Gospel fits in with the law:

What he’s saying is that this definition of the law is part of the gospel. This definition of the law is according to the gospel. What is the gospel? The gospel goes like this: Man is a sinner, a sinner of such depth and profundity that he cannot redeem himself. But Jesus Christ came into the world, God in human flesh, died on the cross, was raised the third day for our justification, and by faith in him and the grace of God we can be forgiven of our sin. That is the gospel. So to rightly define the law is part of the gospel; that’s why he then says, “This is according to the glorious gospel.” The good news, first of all, is bad, but it’s the gospel. The gospel says that man is a sinner. The first part of the gospel is that you’re lost without Christ, with unforgiven sin for which you will be damned forever in an eternal hell. So when somebody comes along and covers up the message of sin, that’s not any help. You don’t want to hide the law. People say, “Well we don’t want to talk about that.” We have to talk about that. That’s the gospel. That’s according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God.

… And I’m always amazed at the people who want to emasculate the law part of the gospel. They want to strip out the sin part of the gospel because they think they have a better gospel than the glorious gospel of the blessed God. Glorious, that is to say the gospel demonstrates his glory. Listen, God’s glory is his attributes, and part of his attributes are a hatred of sin, right? Part of his attributes are wrath and judgment and condemnation and holiness. And if you strip all that other stuff out and make God into a benign Santa Claus, that’s not the glorious God. That’s not the glorious gospel. He doesn’t reveal himself. You have to see his holy hatred of sin. You have to see his condemning justice, because that’s part of his essential being. And then you understand his grace and mercy and love as well.

So it is called the glorious gospel because it is the gospel through which God’s glory is revealed. The wonderful gospel, you start with the law that damns men to hell and you end up with the glory of the Christian in forgiveness, and everything in there is a revelation of God’s attributes. You see his attributes of wrath and judgment and righteousness and holiness, condemnation, hatred against sin and all that, and you see his wisdom and you see his love and you see his mercy and his grace and his power. All that God is comes together to be revealed in the gospel. That’s why it is the gospel of his glory, the gospel revealing his glory or the essence of who he is.

MacArthur explains the words ‘blessed God’:

He is the blessed God. What does he mean by that? It doesn’t mean that he’s the God we bless; it means that he’s the God who is the source of blessing. He is blessed in his own person.

In chapter 6, verse 15, speaking of the Lord Jesus Christ, Paul says that he is the blessed and only potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords. He is blessed, not in the sense that we bless God, but in the sense that he inherently is blessed. He has essential blessedness, essential happiness, essential perfection, which he then can manifest to us. Paul says, “This is the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust, which was given to me.” And he didn’t receive it Galatians 2:7 says from men but from Christ himself, and he wanted to be a faithful steward of it. First Corinthians 4:1 and 2, he wanted to be a faithful servant to give out the mysteries that God had given him. Chapter 9 of 1 Corinthians he says, “Woe is unto me if I don’t preach this gospel.” He says in Romans 1, “I’m a debtor to preach it. I’m ready to preach it. I’m not ashamed to preach it.” See he was under a divine commission from the Damascus Road on. So he says, “Look, the effect of these men is to preach a message that is not according to sound doctrine and not according to the glorious gospel of the blessed God which was committed to my trust. So we can’t allow this.”

MacArthur helpfully tells us how to spot a false teacher:

Every one of us has this responsibility in the church. What do you look for? Let me go back through these four things and note them very carefully in your mind. When you want to listen carefully to find out if someone might be a false teacher, first of all, listen for their understanding of the Scripture to see if there may be error there. Is it sound? Is it biblical? Is it legitimate? Don’t look at their personality. Don’t look at the religious trappings that are around them. Don’t necessarily look at their associations, although that may tell you some things if the associations are negative. But listen to what they say and do what 1 John 4 says, “Test them against the revelation of God.” What is their approach to Scripture? Are they into all kinds of things beyond the Scripture? Are they saying things that you don’t find verses [for], though they sound good?

Secondly, what is their objective or goal? Is it spiritual? Do you see them as people whose primary goal in life is to produce a group of people who consummately love God? Or do they seem to go after self-love, self-aggrandizement, possessiveness, materialism, personal happiness? What is their objective? Is it love for God and for everyone else, or is it an appeal to personal glory, personal gain? Is their objective holiness, a pure heart? Does that come ringing through the message, the purity of the heart? Good conscience, faith without hypocrisy? Does it ring with a genuiness?

Thirdly, what about their motives? Do they demonstrate a selfless motive? Can you see in them humility and meekness and selflessness? Or does it appear along the way that while they’re helping people, they are getting very wealthy, very prosperous, and are manifesting surpassing attitudes of self-indulgence at the expense of the people supposedly to whom they minister? And what about their effect? What about their effect? Do their followers understand clearly the gospel of Jesus Christ? Do they understand the right use of law and the right definition of the glorious gospel of the blessed God? Do they really understand that? …

So you have the test. Look for their error in doctrine. Look for the objectives and the goals of their ministry. Check their motives out. Take a look at their followers and see what the effect is. And you’ll understand the urgency with which we have to deal with false teachers.

The following verses are in the Lectionary and are a beautiful statement of Paul’s gratitude for being saved. The first part of verse 15 (up to ‘of whom I am the foremost’) is part of the Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer Communion liturgy, which the priest recites:

Christ Jesus Came to Save Sinners

12 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, 13 though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. 16 But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. 17 To the King of ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever.[d] Amen.

Next week, we find out about two men who had made, in Paul’s words, ‘shipwreck of their faith’.

Next time — 1 Timothy 1:18-20

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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

1 Timothy 1:3-7

Warning Against False Teachers

As I urged you when I was going to Macedonia, remain at Ephesus so that you may charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine, nor to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies, which promote speculations rather than the stewardship[a] from God that is by faith. The aim of our charge is love that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Certain persons, by swerving from these, have wandered away into vain discussion, desiring to be teachers of the law, without understanding either what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions.


Last week’s post introduced Paul’s first letter to Timothy, their close bond in the ministry and the false teachers that had intruded on the churches in Ephesus and surrounds.

At this time, likely AD 64, Timothy had been with Paul for 20 years, having joined him at the age of 15.

John MacArthur provides us with a summary of the timeline (emphases mine):

Paul has left for Macedonia to visit the Philippians, and Timothy is left with a very difficult assignment, trying to get rid of false spiritual leaders, in the church at Ephesus, and perhaps in the sister churches in that area. Now, as I mentioned to you a week ago, this letter cannot fit into the chronology of the book of Acts. The book of Acts ends with Paul in prison in Rome, and chapter 28, it is believed that he then was released from that imprisonment, and upon the release from that imprisonment, he journeyed by ship to Ephesus.

On the way, he visited Colossae. He had promised Philemon – in verse 22 of that letter to Philemon – that he would come there, and he did, no doubt. And then he went from Colossae to Ephesus, Timothy coming from Philippi to Ephesus. They met there, they dealt with Hymenaeus and Alexander, they surveyed the situation. Paul left Timothy there, and he himself went on to Philippi, to do the work that God would have him do there, as indicated in Philippians 2:24. So, Timothy is now there. Paul has just gone to Philippi.

He’s not gone long, but that he writes back this epistle, because he knows Timothy has a very difficult task, and he wants to strengthen Timothy’s courage. He wants to strengthen his authority with the people, who also will hear this letter. And so, it’s a letter of great importance, as it deals with the elimination of false teachers in the congregation of that church and the others surrounding it.

Paul, adamant that Timothy stay in Ephesus — ‘As I urged you’ — reminds him of his purpose there; he is to charge certain persons not to teach any different doctrine (verse 3), other than the one that the Apostle received from our Lord.

We have ‘urged’ in this translation. Older Bibles use ‘besought’, which is the past tense of ‘beseech’, which implies strong, yet pleading, begging. Old prayers often say, ‘We beseech thee, O Lord’.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Paul tells Timothy what was the end of his appointing him to this office: I besought thee to abide at Ephesus. Timothy had a mind to go with Paul, was loth to go from under his wing, but Paul would have it so; it was necessary for the public service: I besought thee, says he. Though he might assume an authority to command him, yet for love’s sake he chose rather to beseech him.

MacArthur explains Timothy’s hesitance in staying alone in Ephesus:

He starts in verse 3 by saying, “I besought,” and that’s a word of exhortation, a word of some strength – “it’s important that you stay, I’m pleading with you to stay.”

Which may indicate that Timothy was looking happily for some new assignment, because this was not an easy one. Here was a young man, Timothy, of the age of about 35. He had been with Paul for 20 years. He was a true replica of Paul, as it says in verse 2: “My genuine son in the faith.” But even so, he had a certain timidity about his character. He was somewhat intimidated by those who would despise his youth. He found it, no doubt, difficult to deal on the level of intellectualism that these errorists were dealing on.

He was not really, in the sense of polemics and apologetics, able to handle their arguments at their level, and he may have felt a little bit inadequate for the task. Furthermore, it wasn’t easy to displace church leaders. It would be one thing if you were working with the people in – in the pew, in the laity, but to be dealing with these leaders and false teachers was a very difficult task. And it may well have been that Paul anticipated that, and that’s why he says, “I beseech you to stay there. I want you to stay.”

Paul had already gotten things started.

We will see that later in the chapter.

MacArthur looks at Paul’s use of the word ‘command’:

he is really kind of emphasizing the fact that Timothy has apostolic authority, and he wants him to command those people to stop. You don’t deal lightly with false teaching. You don’t deal lightly with false teachers. You don’t deal lightly with error in the church. It must be dealt with immediately and firmly, and so, he gives him what is a military command. Paraggellō basically is a word that carries the idea of a military command. It’s not one you have an option to respond or not to respond to; it’s one which demands a response from an inferior to an order given by a superior.

Paul commands Timothy to forbid not only any teaching that goes against proper Christian doctrine but also any devotion to myths or endless genealogies which promote speculations rather than the well-ordered plan — ‘stewardship’ — from God that is by faith (verse 4).

Both Jews and Gentiles were guilty of detracting from the true Gospel.

Henry says:

Observe, 1. Ministers must not only be charged to preach the true doctrine of the gospel, but charged to preach no other doctrine. If an angel from heaven preach any other doctrine, let him be anathema, Gal 1 8. 2. In the times of the apostles there were attempts made to corrupt Christianity (we are not as many, who corrupt the word, 2 Cor 2 17), otherwise this charge to Timothy might have been spared. 3. He must not only see to it that he did not preach any other doctrine, but he must charge others that they might not add any thing of their own to the gospel, or take any thing from it, but that they preach it pure and uncorrupt. He must also take care to prevent their regarding fables, and endless genealogies, and strifes of words. This is often repeated in these two epistles (as ch. 4 7; 6 4; 2 Tim 2 23), as well as in the epistle to Titus. As among the Jews there were some who brought Judaism into Christianity; so among the Gentiles there were some who brought paganism into Christianity. “Take heed of these,” says he, “watch against them, or they will be the corrupting and ruining of religion among you, for they minister questions rather than edifying.

MacArthur goes into more detail. He brings up the worship of Artemis, an opposition to which Timothy was later martyred in AD 96, as I mentioned last week:

he’s writing in case he can’t come – and, of course, he never did – to strengthen Timothy’s hand. Just a brief reminder that Ephesus was a key city. It was a provincial capital of that province of Asia – Asia Minor. It was somewhat declining economically, because the river that ran through Ephesus was depositing silt on the shoreline there at the sea.

And consequently, it was pushing the city back inland because of the silt deposit, and it was losing some of its economic capability in trade. But it remained to be a significant city, due primarily to the Temple of Diana – or Artemis. This particular pagan cult was a fertility cult, in which worship was expressed by sensual and orgiastic fertility rites of an indescribable nature. And in the middle of that place is this church, that Paul so passionately cares about, and to which he had sent Timothy, or left Timothy, for this ministry.

Notice that he uses the word some – “command some” – certain individuals, is the idea here. It seems to indicate that there were only a few of them, but they were having a rather wide influence … We ask the question, why are their names not mentioned?

And I suppose the answer is, the Lord didn’t want to give them any publicity, on the one hand. On the other hand, the Lord didn’t want to list some names and leave someone out, who then, by being left out, would feel himself rather impervious to any censure. There is no hint, either, that they were outsiders, like those in Galatia and those in Corinth, who had come to pollute the assembly there. In fact, I’m convinced that the some – the certain individuals – were very likely elders, in the church at Ephesus and some of the surrounding churches.

They were those in the highest level. They were pastors, who were false teachers. Now, the reason I’m – I tend to feel that way is just because of the – the flow of this particular epistle. For example, in describing them, it says in verse 7, that they had presumed themselves to be teachers. And we all know, from further looks at this epistle, that teaching was the unique role of the elder, or bishop, or pastor. In chapter 3, verse 2, at the end of the verse, it says in describing a bishop or overseer – who also would be a pastor, an elder; same person, just describing different facets of that man – he is to be skilled in teaching – didaktikos, a skilled teacher.

MacArthur gives us a grammatical note about verses 3 and 4:

It is interesting to note that verses 3 and 4, though they are a complete thought, lack the grammatical structure to be a legitimate sentence.

It is elliptical. He starts out with a clause beginning with as, but he never resolves it. And so, in the Authorized, in italics, the last two words of verse 4 are so do, because the editor feels he’s got to complete the sentence. And we understand that Paul, at this point, is not concerned with grammar, which is a hint about the exercised heart that he is expressing over this issue of dealing with Timothy in regard to the false teachers. He is not too concerned about grammar at this point.

Some detractors from the Bible say that the New Testament is all over the place in terms of doctrine. I’m nearly finished with my study of it and learned a lot. To say that the doctrine varies indicates more about the people saying that than it does the actual content, Gospel after Gospel, epistle after epistle. The doctrine does not vary in the slightest. It is obvious that critics of the New Testament have never read it thoroughly — and yet they are very persuasive in our society, just like false teachers since the dawn of the Church.

Ephesus had a similar problem, only with a twisting of Scripture and belief. Also recall that these men, wherever they were in the various churches Paul had planted, were skilled in oratory and impressive in appearance.

Of true doctrine, MacArthur says:

“Command them to stop teaching other than the truth.” Teaching teaching of a different kind, that conflicts with the revealed truth. So, no doubt, they were using the role of pastor. They were using the role of elder. They had prominence in the church. And they were using the Word of God – probably the Old Testament, most significantly – and using that as their base, and mingling with it teaching inconsistent with the Old Testament, and, to be sure, teaching inconsistent with the gospel of the New Testament.

Therefore, they had changed, twisted, and perverted the whole nature of Christian truth. Now, they had a standard. I mean, it’s 30 years after the day of Pentecost, and even on the day of Pentecost, it says that Peter preached and 3,000 were saved, and Acts 2:42 says, “And they continued steadfastly in the apostles’” – what? – “doctrine.” They knew that the substance of revealed truth, come through the apostles, and the apostles’ doctrine, was the basis of what was true. And these, no doubt, had departed from that. They had violated it.

That’s why, in 2 Timothy 2, Timothy is reminded to “teach only those things that you’ve heard from me among faithful men, among many witnesses, commit those things to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.” But they had deviated from the truth, and they were teaching error.

MacArthur elaborates on what was probably being falsely taught in and around Ephesus. Remember that those who grew up in Greek society (even though we are in the Roman period here), Jews and Gentiles, were always looking out for something new and exciting:

Now, we get a little more into what their error was, in verse 4. If we’re going to understand their error, we need look to verse 4, and we’ll see how he begins to discuss it.

“Neither give heed” – which means to turn your mind over to, or to occupy yourself with – “command them not to teach any other doctrine, nor to give their minds over to fables and endless genealogies.” It’s the word muthos – fable, myth we get from it. Legends, and fables, and fanciful stories, that are concocted and manufactured by men and seducing spirits, which would be called, as chapter 4 calls them, doctrines of demons. They were making up things. They were very much like the Athenians, who are described, in Acts 17:21, in a rather general description that gives us insight.

It says, “All the Athenians and strangers who were there” – in the city of Athens – “spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell, or hear some new thing.” They were preoccupied with some new thing philosophically, and apparently here, these were introducing new things to tantalize the people in Ephesus. And these legends, these man-made or demonically-designed, contrived lies and falsehoods, were being passed off as divine truth. It’s very hard for us to specifically identify these. In fact, we can’t identify what the legends were, because we don’t have that information revealed.

We don’t know what they were reading into the genealogies, or how they were interpolating those. We really don’t have specifics. It is enough to know that what was being taught was contrary to the truth. It isn’t necessary for us to know all the details about the error. But it is highly likely that we can sort of systematize it, by just flowing a bit through the epistles. For example, we find this, in verse 4: “They were giving themselves to myths and endless genealogies.” Verse 7 tells us something else: these who were doing this were “desiring to be teachers of the law.”

So, somehow, these myths and genealogies were connected to Old Testament law, which leads us to believe that there was a Jewish orientation in this false teaching. Chapter 4 tells us that these seducing spirits and doctrines of devils were filled with hypocrisy and lies. Part of it had to do, in verse 3, with forbidding to marry. They were advocating celibacy, and they were also commanding people to abstain from food. So, there was a certain sort of monkish quality, what we call asceticism or self-deprivation, a certain monastic approach, that true spirituality was found through legends, and genealogies, and secretive interpretations of the law.

And through all of these kinds of abstinences, where you don’t get married, and you don’t eat certain things, and by your self-deprivation and indulgence in these fanciful things, you will attain to the standard of divine acceptance. Chapter 4, also verse 7, further identifies this as “profane and old wives’ fables” – myths told by little old ladies, that do nothing but bring about ungodliness, is the intent there …

They have, it says, swerved, turned aside, made shipwreck of their faith, fallen away from the faith, consent not to sound words, erred concerning the faith, erred concerning the truth, turned away from the truth, and are reprobate from the faith. Now, I want you to notice the effect of this error, in verse 4. “They minister speculations.” They provide speculations. In other words, instead of truth, they just question, question, question, and that creates confusion. They stir up useless questionings.

People love nothing more than to speculate about something, don’t they?

Now on to God’s stewardship:

Now, watch this: “rather than the plan of God, which is by faith.” Now, the word here, that you see maybe as edifying, if you have an Authorized, is really the word oikonomia, which Paul uses in 1 Corinthians 9:17, Ephesians 3, a couple of times. It means stewardship, or administration, or dispensation. But it has to do with a modus operandi, it has to do with a means of operation, and connected with theou, the term God, it is the operation of God, or the plan of God, or, if I may add this, the saving plan of God.

What they are teaching stirs up questions, useless speculation, rather than the plan of God, which is by faith. In other words, it strikes a blow at the gospel of saving faith. Therefore, we conclude that it is a system of works righteousness. It is a legalism. Some kind of Judaizing chaos, mingled with pagan Gentile philosophy, that, in effect, negated the salvation by grace through faith, which was the apostolic message and the gospel of Christ. So, what is the effect? The effect is to attack the gospel.

Paul tells Timothy that the aim of his charge — command — is love that comes from a pure — holy — heart, a good conscience and a sincere faith (verse 5).

What is a pure heart and how can we transform our own? The Beatitudes have the answer. We read them only two weeks ago at the end of January 2023 in the Year A Lectionary on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, Matthew 5:1-12. Verse 8 says:

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Of that verse, Henry’s commentary tells us:

This is the most comprehensive of all the beatitudes; here holiness and happiness are fully described and put together.

MacArthur explains how one Beatitude builds upon another:

… out of your total sense of sinfulness, you fall meek before an absolutely holy God You couldn’t be anything else but humble.  And in your humility, all you can do is cry out and hunger and thirst for a righteousness which you can’t attain and yet you’ve got to have And you cry that God would give it And then what happens?  He gives you mercy and that’s the next Beatitude and you become one of those who are merciful And once you have been granted mercy and once God by His mercy has cleansed your heart because you hungered for His righteousness, then and then alone do you become pure in heart, and only when you are pure in heart could you ever be a peacemaker

Returning to Paul’s letter to Timothy, MacArthur continues on false teaching and true doctrine and what the Apostle is saying in verse 5:

The religion of divine accomplishment is the Christian gospel. Every other religion in the world, in one way or another, fits into the category of human achievement. And wherever false doctrine comes to strike a blow at the gospel, it will always offer the fact that man, in and of himself, somehow attains unto the level of pleasing God. And these people, who came with their Jewish legends and fables, who tried to interpret the law, which they didn’t even understand, were, no doubt, coming across with some kind of legalistic approach.

Some kind of self-denying approach, some legend-involved genealogically-confused philosophy, that was imposed upon the grid of Scripture, so that everything became chaotic …

Verse 5, Paul says to Timothy, “Now the telos – the end, the objective – “the goal of the commandment I’m giving you is love.”

I want to see in the church what God wants to see in the church, and what God wants to see in the church is love. Jesus said that men would know them by their love, and it’s essential that the church be marked as those who “love the Lord their God with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love their neighbor as their self,” as Matthew 22:37 and following says is the great commandment. We are to be marked out by love. “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us, and gave Himself for us.”

And then he goes on to say, “And if we belong to God, we’ll be marked by – by love, because God is love,” 1 John 4:7 and 8. So, the pervasive characteristic of Christians is that they are marked by love. The word is agapē – it’s that love of choice, that love of will, that self-denying, self-sacrificing love, that says “I live my life for the benefit of God” – that’s my love toward Him. “I live my life for the benefit of you” – that’s my love toward you. “I live my life for the benefit of the lost” – that’s my love toward them.

That’s not emotion, that’s a – a love of choice; that’s the highest, that’s the most wonderful kind of love. “The purpose that I’m giving you, Timothy, is to create love there.” And I’ll promise you one thing, that’s not the goal of false teachers. The goal of the commandment is love. And what is it that brings love? It is a pure heart, and a good conscience, and unfeigned or unhypocritical faith. The concept of a pure heart is a magnificent Old Testament concept; a rich Old Testament concept

And when the heart is made pure by the washing of regeneration, when the heart is single in its devotion through faith in Christ, when it is, as Romans 6:17 says, an obedient heart, then it is a pure heart. And a pure heart is one devoted to God with an undivided allegiance, because it’s been washed and cleansed by Christ. And out of a pure heart comes love, and a good conscience – good – agathos – perfect, as to produce pleasure and satisfaction and a sense of well-being. The conscience is your self-judging faculty; it’s your self-judging faculty.

And frankly, it responds to your mind. Whatever’s in your mind’s going to activate your conscience. Your mind is the engine; your conscience is the flywheel, and whatever is in your mind will activate your conscience. And if you have a pure heart, you’re going to have a pure conscience; in what sense? Your conscience will not accuse you, right? Your conscience will not damn you. Your conscience will not condemn you. Because if you have a pure conscience, there’s nothing to condemn. The self-judging faculty is going to say, “All is well,” and your conscience is going to provide for you peace, and joy, and freedom from guilt, because your heart is pure.

And that’s what Paul means, in Acts 24:16, when he says, “I always want to have a conscience void of offense toward God.” Certainly, don’t want to have a conscience like these false teachers, right? What kind of conscience do they have? First Timothy 4:2: they have one that’s seared, like with a hot iron, scarred. And then, thirdly, he says this love comes out of true faith; genuine faith, not the hypocritical faith that false teachers manifest. True faith; faith that has no pretense. Let me tell you about a false teacher, all right?

A false teacher has a dirty heart, because it’s never been cleansed by the true gospel: faith in Christ. A false teacher has a guilty conscience, because an impure heart triggers a guilty conscience. Unless that conscience has reached the point where it is so scarred with scar tissue, that it’s lost its sensitivity, like in 1 Timothy 4:2. And a false teacher has a hypocritical faith; he is, at all things, a phony. He wears a mask. He is insincere. And that kind of life will never produce the love of God, true?

Of the false teachers, Paul says that they have ‘swerved’ — in older translations the word is ‘jangled’ — from the truth and have wandered into vain discussion (verse 6).

MacArthur says:

… verse 6 says, irrelevant noise – “vain jangling.” Perverted hearts, scarred consciences, hypocritical faith, will never produce love.

… And all it is, is a lot of noise. Unfortunately – and tragically – it is often damning noise.

Paul says that the persons of whom he speaks desire to be teachers of the law without understanding what they are saying or the things about which they make confident assertions (verse 7).

Henry encapsulates verses 6 and 7 for us and ends on a rare sarcastic note:

Now some who set up for teachers of the law swerved from the very end of the commandment: they set up for disputers, but their disputes proved vain jangling; they set up for teachers, but they pretended to teach others what they themselves did not understand. If the church be corrupted by such teachers, we must not think it strange, for we see from the beginning it was so. Observe, [1.] When persons, especially ministers, swerve from the great law of charity—the end of the commandment, they will turn aside to vain jangling; when a man misses his end and scope, it is no wonder that every step he takes is out of the way. [2.] Jangling, especially in religion, is vain; it is unprofitable and useless as to all that is good, and it is very pernicious and hurtful: and yet many people’s religion consists of little else but vain jangling. [3.] Those who deal much in vain jangling are fond and ambitious to be teachers of others; they desire (that is, they affect) the office of teaching. [4.] It is too common for men to intrude into the office of the ministry when they are very ignorant of those things about which they are ton speak: they understand neither what they say nor whereof they affirm; and by such learned ignorance, no doubt, they edify their hearers very much!

MacArthur reminds us that false teachers are after money and prestige, which comes from a huge ego, which is in itself sinful:

“But,” verse 6, “these have swerved and turned aside from that unto empty talk.” Their goal is wrong. Their teaching is wrong because it’s the wrong gospel. Their goal is wrong because it’s the wrong objective. What is their objective? Filthy lucre. They want to get rich; they want money. They want money. They’re in it for what they can get; they want to make merchandise out of their subjects. That’s the goal of false teachers, and everything they do destroys the possibility of a pure heart. They’re defiled. Their message is defiled. The doctrine they teach, chapter 4 says, is the doctrine of demons that comes from seducing spirits, and they have departed from the faith. Well you’re not going to have a pure heart if you depart from the faith, listen to seducing spirits and teach doctrines of demons. They couldn’t possibly have a good conscience because verse 2 of chapter 4 says their conscience are seared with a heart iron. Their consciences are scarred, cauterized, nor do they have unfeigned faith because verse 2 says they speak lies and hypocrisy. So chapter 4, verses 1 and 2 is a direct contrast to the right and proper goals of verse 5 in chapter 1. These lying hypocrites, these impure defiled men with a defiled conscience have turned from the right goal of love and they’ve made their own goal, their own pleasure, and their own gain.

Look at their goal. I wish we had time to go through the whole New Testament and see how he seems always, whoever the Bible writer is the Holy Spirit through him seems always to pinpoint the characteristic bottom-line goal of false teachers as to amass to themselves, people, and money for their own gain. The motives are all wrong, and of course their teaching brings the opposite of love for God and love for fellow men, because it’s all built on love for self, love for self.

MacArthur moves on to the nub of verse 7:

The third thing and where we would like you to look for a moment in verse 7 is to understand their motives. What’s behind this? What is their motive? What are they really after? They have a strong motive, by the way. They have a strong desire, but it isn’t the right desire. Verse 7 says, “Desiring to be teachers of the law,” and we’ll stop at that point. They have a consuming desire to be law teachers, to be law teachers; that’s their desire. You say, “Is something wrong with that?” Yes. They don’t know what they’re talking about the rest of the verse says; they don’t know what they’re being dogmatic about. They don’t understand the law of God. They want to be teachers. It isn’t that they want to know the law. It isn’t that they want to know God. It isn’t that they care about the people. It is that they want the prestige of being recognized as a teacher of the law. They were seeking a rabbinic office. They were in the church wanting the prestige and the prominence and all the baggage that went with the rabbi in the Jewish culture. They wanted that. They weren’t content with teaching people the truth; they wanted, like Diotrephes, the preeminence. They wanted, like it says in Matthew chapter 23 when Jesus indicts the Pharisees, they wanted the chief seats. “They love,” he says in verse 6, “the uppermost places at feasts and the chief seats in the synagogues and the greetings in the marketplace. And they love to be called rabbi, rabbi, teacher, teacher.” It was all preeminence. They wanted to wear those fancy robes and that ecclesiastical garb and they sought that prominent and preeminence. They wanted the applause of men. They wanted to collect the offering. They wanted to be teachers. This is just the opposite of a true motive. James 3:1 says, “Stop being so many teachers, for theirs is the greater condemnation.” The one who really understands the whole of teacher understands that it’s not a place for proud people. These were proud people. Chapter 6, verse 3 says that they do not consent to wholesome words, even the words of Jesus, and verse says they’re proud. They were proud, that was the issue, the opposite of the character of a true teacher.

By contrast, a truly holy man, one with a pure heart, will question his worthiness to be a religious teacher:

Martin Lloyd Jones whose life has been a great inspiration to me and whose books and biography I have read said that teaching the Word is such an awesome task that a godly man, “shrinks from it. Nothing but the overwhelming sense of being called in compulsion should ever lead anyone to preach.” The deep sense of unworthiness and fear of such an awesome responsibility is the potential for true usefulness

John Stott put it this way, “I cannot help wondering if this may not be why there are so few preachers who God is using today. There are plenty of popular preachers but not many powerful ones who preach in the power of the Spirit. Is it because the cost of such preaching is too great? It seems that the only preaching God honors through which his wisdom and power are expressed is the preaching of a man who is willing in himself to be both a weakling and a fool. God not only chooses weak and foolish people to save but weak and foolish preachers for whom to save them, or at least preachers who are content to be weak and seem foolish in the eyes of the world. And we are not always willing to pay that price. We are constantly tempted to covet a reputation as men of learning or men of influence to seek honor in academic circles and compromise our old-fashioned message in order to do so and to cultivate personal charm or forcefulness so as to sway people committed to our care.”

It takes humility to be a servant of God and a compulsion of the call of God.

Next week, we will read familiar verses with themes that resonate throughout the epistles of the New Testament.

Next time — 1 Timothy1:8-11

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:


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

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.


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.


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.”


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.


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”?


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’.


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?”


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

© Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 2009-2023. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? If you wish to borrow, 1) please use the link from the post, 2) give credit to Churchmouse and Churchmouse Campanologist, 3) copy only selected paragraphs from the post — not all of it.
PLAGIARISERS will be named and shamed.
First case: June 2-3, 2011 — resolved

Creative Commons License
Churchmouse Campanologist by Churchmouse is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 UK: England & Wales License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 1,546 other subscribers


Calendar of posts

March 2023
262728293031 - The internets fastest growing blog directory
Powered by WebRing.
This site is a member of WebRing.
To browse visit Here.

Blog Stats

  • 1,707,573 hits