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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 6:21-24

Final Greetings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

Next time — Philippians 1:1-2

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 6:1-9

Children and Parents

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

Bondservants and Masters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul cited Exodus 20:12:

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

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

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

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

Jesus cited both verses in Matthew 15:4:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Whole Armor of God

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

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

Next week’s entry concludes Ephesians.

Next time — Ephesians 6:21-24

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 5:3-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry offers this analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

Paul concludes Ephesians 5 with his instructions on married life:

Wives and Husbands

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

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

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

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

Paul follows this with instructions for children and servants.

Next time — Ephesians 6:1-9

Bible read me 4The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 4:17-24

The New Life

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

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

Of today’s verses, John MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

Unity in the Body of Christ

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

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

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

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

Henry interprets the verse succinctly:

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in Love

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

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

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

Next time — Ephesians 5:3-7

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 3:13

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

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

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

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

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

By Grace Through Faith

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

One in Christ

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

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

The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

Of course, the Gentiles persecuted him, too:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

So Paul’s task is to bring everyone together

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rest of Ephesians 3 follows:

Prayer for Spiritual Strength

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

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

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

Next time — Ephesians 4:17-24

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 1:1-2

Greeting

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

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

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

————————————————————————————–

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul wrote Ephesians from prison:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He describes the book in more detail:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry has a splendid analysis of the verse:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

MacArthur focuses on divine grace and divine peace:

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

MacArthur summarises the next set of verses:

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

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

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

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

Here is the rest of the chapter:

Spiritual Blessings in Christ

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

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

Thanksgiving and Prayer

15 For this reason, because I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love[f] toward all the saints, 16 I do not cease to give thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers, 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the working of his great might 20 that he worked in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21 far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. 22 And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

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

Next time — Ephesians 3:13

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 6:17-18

17 From now on let no one cause me trouble, for I bear on my body the marks of Jesus.

18 The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers. Amen.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s righteous anger with the Judaizers and his hope that the Galatians would return to the eternal truth of the Gospel that he had taught them.

Today’s post ends Galatians. Much of Chapters 5 and 6 will be read in 2022 — Year C — on the Second and Third Sundays after Trinity.

In today’s verses we have Paul’s farewell to the Galatians.

By now, he is weary of his flock, the Galatians, being led astray by false teachers, the Judaizers. So he expresses an imperative about no one causing him any further trouble as he bears the physical marks of Jesus for his preaching and teaching (verse 17).

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

Who’s he talking to? Everybody. Talking to the people in the church who are making his life miserable because they’re listening to the false teachers. He’s talking to the false teachers who are attacking him. But on what basis, Paul? Why should we leave you alone? “For I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus.” Whoa. “I bear on my body the brand-marks of Jesus”? What does that mean? “I have the scars for my service to Christ.”

You know, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11 when he was defending his apostleship, he defends it by saying, “I was beaten with rods, I was whipped, I was thrown in prison,” and he goes through this whole litany of things. “And these are the marks of Christ, these are the brand-marks of Christ. Don’t add any more suffering to me.”

He was stoned, by the way, in Galatia at Lystra; he had scars from that. “Look, I’m branded” – he says – “with the scars of an apostle.” Colossians 1:24, “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I do my share on behalf of His body, which is the church, in filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions.” What do you mean? “They can’t, they can’t hit Christ, He’s not here, so they hit me in His place. So I bear in my body the marks of Jesus. The reason I am beaten, the reason I am abused is not because of something I’ve done, it’s because of who I represent. These are my apostolic credentials. Don’t question my authority, I have the marks of Jesus.”

In the ancient world slaves were branded. In the ancient world criminals were branded as a mark of identification for life. In the ancient world soldiers were branded to demonstrate their allegiance. Religious devotees were branded. And people who were hated, vilified, social pariahs were branded.

Paul says, “I’m all of that. I’m a slave a Christ, a soldier of Christ, devoted to Him. I’m a criminal as far as the world is concerned, and I’m hated because I have Jesus branded on me.” Every scar he ever got was a brand, a brand for Christ. “These are the scars of Jesus. Don’t trouble me; I represent Him, and I have the scars to prove it.”

We can contrast Paul’s suffering with the lack of it in the Judaizers. They escaped persecution because they preached a false halfway house of Christianity: believe in Jesus, by all means, but also obey Mosaic law, especially circumcision. Such a heresy denies Christ as Redeemer.

The Judaizers preached that so that they could avoid persecution. Their own Jewish families and social circles would still accept them as long as they preached about Mosaic law.

They were emissaries of Satan, especially in persuading Gentiles who had become Christians to embrace the Old Covenant.

The Judaizers never suffered a moment of hardship because they had a foot in each camp. Furthermore, as Paul rightly points out, they could rejoice in every Gentile Christian male whom they persuaded to be circumcised (Galatians 6:13):

13 For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh.

Contrast that abominable approach with Paul’s, which is one of holiness (Galatians 6:14):

14 But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which[b] the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.

As such, Paul asserts his unquestionable authority as an Apostle, as Matthew Henry points out:

He had already suffered much in the cause of Christ, for he bore in his body the marks of the Lord Jesus, the scars of those wounds which he had sustained from persecuting enemies, for his steady adherence to him, and that doctrine of the gospel which he had received from him. As from this it appeared that he was firmly persuaded of the truth and importance of it, and that he was far from being a favourer of circumcision, as they had falsely reported him to be, so hereupon, with a becoming warmth and vehemence, suitable to his authority as an apostle and to the deep concern of mind he was under, he insists upon it that no man should henceforth trouble him, namely by opposing his doctrine or authority, or by any such calumnies and reproaches as had been cast upon him; for as, both from what he had said and what he had suffered, they appeared to be highly unjust and injurious, so also those were very unreasonable who either raised or received them. Note, (1.) It may justly be presumed that men are fully persuaded of those truths in the defence of which they are willing to suffer. And (2.) It is very unjust to charge those things upon others which are contrary not only to their profession, but their sufferings too.

As always, Paul ended his letter with a generous benediction — blessing — upon the Galatians, praying that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be upon their spirit, adding an Amen (verse 18), ‘so be it’.

Henry has a marvellous analysis of what Paul is praying for:

The apostle, having now finished what he intended to write for the conviction and recovery of the churches of Galatia, concludes the epistle with his apostolical benediction, Galatians 6:18; Galatians 6:18. He calls them his brethren, wherein he shows his great humility, and the tender affection he had for them, notwithstanding the ill treatment he had met with from them; and takes his leave of them with this very serious and affectionate prayer, that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be with their spirit. This was a usual farewell wish of the apostle’s, as we see, Romans 16:20; 1 Corinthians 16:23. And herein he prays that they might enjoy the favour of Christ, both in its special effects and its sensible evidences, that they might receive from him all that grace which was needful to guide them in their way, to strengthen them in their work, to establish them in their Christian course, and to encourage and comfort them under all the trials of life and the prospect of death itself. This is fitly called the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he is both the sole purchaser and the appointed dispenser of it; and though these churches had done enough to forfeit it, by suffering themselves to be drawn into an opinion and practice highly dishonourable to Christ, as well as dangerous to them, yet, out of his great concern for them, and knowing of what importance it was to them, he earnestly desires it on their behalf; yea, that it might be with their spirit, that they might continually experience the influences of it upon their souls, disposing and enabling them to act with sincerity and uprightness in religion. We need desire no more to make us happy than the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ. This the apostle begs for these Christians, and therein shows us what we are chiefly concerned to obtain; and, both for their and our encouragement to hope for it, he adds his Amen.

When I read these verses, I thought of the Gospel reading from John 13 for the Fifth Sunday of Easter, May 15, 2022, in which Jesus commanded the Apostles to love one another the way He had loved them:

13:34 I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.

13:35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Paul certainly exemplified Christlike love towards all the churches he planted during his ministry. It is not an easy love to give, because it involves a seemingly infinite amount of patience, fortitude and kindness. A Christlike love must, in imitation of our Lord, overlook weakness, slights and fickleness. We read in the Gospels how Jesus treated His disciples. He forgave their spiritual frailties and did not forsake them.

Such a love also shows the world that we are followers of Christ, which leads to infinite, eternal blessings but is not without the possibility of serious temporal risk, as Paul found through his suffering and anguish for the Gospel.

Next week, I will begin a study of Ephesians, most of which is in the three-year Lectionary.

Next time — Ephesians 1:1-2

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 5:7-12, 26

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is much to look at in that verse.

First, Paul’s use of running.

MacArthur tells us:

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

Matthew Henry gives us further insight on the metaphor:

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

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

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

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

This holds true for us, too:

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

MacArthur says much the same and delves further:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is ‘him’ in that verse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We might wonder why were there Judaizers at all?

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

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

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

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

Next week’s post concludes this exploration of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 6:17-18

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 5:2-6

Look: I, Paul, say to you that if you accept circumcision, Christ will be of no advantage to you. I testify again to every man who accepts circumcision that he is obligated to keep the whole law. You are severed from Christ, you who would be justified[a] by the law; you have fallen away from grace. For through the Spirit, by faith, we ourselves eagerly wait for the hope of righteousness. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything, but only faith working through love.

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s allegory comparing Abraham’s Sarah to freedom and Hagar to slavery. It was his way of convincing the Galatians that the Judaizers promoting circumcision and Mosaic law were exhorting them to become slaves to the law, something which can only convict and condemn to hell. It can never save.

Galatians 5:1 is in the Lectionary (emphases mine below):

For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery.

That is one of Paul’s several verses encouraging converts to ‘stand firm’. He also used the word ‘endurance’ several times in his letters, conveying the idea that the Christian journey is beset with temptation from outsiders like the Judaizers, from the world, from Satan, from persecution, among other things.

John MacArthur says:

Now verse 1 begins with a very strong statement: “It was for freedom that Christ set us free;” – the implication is He set us free to stay free, He set us free to remain free – “therefore keep standing firm and do not be subject again to a yoke of slavery.” “You just got out of one slavery as a Gentile, you got out of the slavery to sin and the law and death and Satan; don’t go back again to a yoke of slavery. Keep standing firm in your freedom.”

Gentiles going back to Mosaic law they never even knew about, because they needed to work some part of their salvation on their own? In swinging back to the externals of the law of Moses they would be nullifying the work of God. “Therefore keep standing firm. Do not be entangled, enechō, or oppressed by a yoke of slavery. Don’t go back.”

Galatians 5 is a hard-hitting chapter, one of Paul’s strongest.

Paul tells the Galatians that if they submit to circumcision, then Christ is of no advantage to them (verse 2).

Note that he says ‘I, Paul’.

Then he says ‘I testify again’ that anyone who accepts circumcision is obliged to follow the whole of Mosaic law (verse 3).

He is referring to himself in that way to say that, he, born a Jew, raised as a Pharisee, knows of what he speaks.

MacArthur explains these two verses. In his translation, the word ‘look’ is ‘behold’, always a call to attention:

The false doctrine said you have to be circumcised or you can’t be saved. It’s a small thing; just acknowledge a minor surgical operation. This will open the door to the kingdom of God for you. And then follow the Mosaic prescriptions. Faith is not enough. Mosaic ritual, circumcision has righteous merit.

So Paul says this: “If you do this, you who are contemplating it, if you do this, here are the results. Number one,” – verse 2“Behold I, Paul, say to you that if you receive circumcision, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” That is a stunning statement. That’s why it says, “Behold,” because it’s shocking. “Behold” is an exclamation.

“I, Paul, I an apostle, and more than that a circumcised Jew, proud of my heritage, proud of my Judaism, living my entire life under the Mosaic restrictions. I, Paul, this Jewish patriot, I’m telling you, if you receive circumcision, Christ is of no benefit to you.”

This is the dilemma: it’s Christ or works, it’s all Christ or no Christ, it’s all faith or no salvation. “If you get yourselves circumcised” – and this indicates that they hadn’t yet gone this far – “if you do this, if you’ve come to the brink of salvation by faith and you turn and go the way of law, Christ is of no benefit. You’ve canceled Christ.” This is a severe danger. This is a shocking statement

Second effect, verse 3: “And I testify again,” – me, the circumcised lifelong Pharisee until my conversion, I lived in all of this – “I testify again to every man who receives circumcision, if you do that you have placed yourself under obligation to keep the whole law. I testify again, marturomai, “I affirm.” Literally could be translated, “I protest further, every one of you who lets himself be circumcised, you have just placed yourself under the law. If you’re going to be saved by law, then you’re responsible to keep all of it.”

Matthew Henry points out:

He was so far from being a preacher of circumcision (as some might report him to be) that he looked upon it as a matter of the greatest consequence that they did not submit to it.

Yet, faith plus works is a common belief in churches, even those where the official denominational doctrine forbids such a belief or action.

MacArthur says:

There is no hybrid salvation. If you accept circumcision, thinking it necessary for your salvation, you just forfeited Christ. Romans 11:6, “If it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works, or grace is no more grace.” It’s either grace or works – all of Christ or none of Christ.

You say, “But there’s so many people who profess Christ, claim Christ, acknowledge Christ, and think their works contribute to their salvation.” They have no connection to Christ. He is meaningless to them no matter what they say.

Faith and works cannot go together. This is basic to the doctrine of salvation. It is impossible to say, “I want to receive Christ, thereby acknowledging that I cannot do anything to save myself,” and then go do something that I think helps to save myself. You have to choose. If you add anything to Christ you lose Christ.

I know we like to say, “Well, you know, there’s lots of people and lots of forms of Christianity; and they go to church, and they believe in Christ, and they believe in God, and all of this. And isn’t is just a minor deal that they’re trusting in their works, their infant baptism, their adult baptism, or their adherence to rituals, and sometimes their moral conduct?” No. If you are depending on anything other than Christ, you have no benefit from Christ. If you submit to circumcision, you have canceled Christ. Christ is everything.

Paul goes further, saying that those who want to be justified by the law — Mosaic law, in this instance — have severed themselves from Christ and have fallen away from grace (verse 4).

MacArthur notes the hard-hitting bluntness of the verse:

That is just amazing. You say, “Well, can’t you believe in some in your baptism, in your works, and the things that you do, the rituals that you go to, and your morality, and also believe in Christ?” No, no. If you’re counting on any of that for your salvation you are severed from Christ. That is a violent word, a violent word. You are cut off from Him.

Henry’s commentary tells us that Jesus will not save everyone for that very reason:

Note, (1.) Though Jesus Christ is able to save to the uttermost, yet there are multitudes whom he will profit nothing. (2.) All those who seek to be justified by the law do thereby render Christ of no effect to them. By building their hopes on the works of the law, they forfeit all their hopes from him; for he will not be the Saviour of any who will not own and rely upon him as their only Saviour.

Paul then mentions that the key to spiritual freedom — freedom from the condemnation by law, which is impossible for any person to keep — is the Holy Spirit, which enables us by faith to await the hope of righteousness (verse 5), which only God can give.

Note that Paul uses the pronoun ‘we’ in that verse, meaning himself and the Galatians, who were once true believers but are now wavering.

MacArthur ties this verse in with the preceding ones and offers further analysis:

If you try to invent any hybrid gospel, Christ profits you nothing, you’re a debtor to the whole law, you’re severed from Christ, you’re fallen from grace. And a final, verse 5, you’re excluded from righteousness. The very thing you seek will never be yours.

Verse 5, notice the change in pronouns: “For we, we.” Now he’s speaking to believers, including himself. “For we through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting for the hope of righteousness.” We have to wait for the hope of righteousness, because it’s a gift from God, we, literally as to ourselves. It is through the Spirit, by faith, that we eagerly await the hoped for righteousness. We’re not trying to earn it, we’re waiting for it. And in our sanctification the Lord gives it to us as a grace gift. And one day in our glorification He’ll give it to us perfectly.

“We through the Spirit, by faith, are waiting.” I love the fact that he used the verb “waiting.” This is something God has to do for us and in us, and is doing it by His Holy Spirit. If you follow the path of any works, you have lost the very thing you hoped for: righteousness. It comes only by waiting, in faith, on the work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul concludes this section by saying that circumcision or the lack of it has nothing to do with salvation; only faith working through love counts (verse 6).

What a beautiful verse that is.

Henry says:

Note, 1. No external privileges nor profession will avail to our acceptance with God, without a sincere faith in our Lord Jesus. 2. Faith, where it is true, is a working grace: it works by love, love to God and love to our brethren; and faith, thus working by love, is all in all in our Christianity.

MacArthur describes the connection between faith and salvation:

The whole law is fulfilled by faith and love, believing God, loving God. It’s all gone internal; it’s all gone inside. It’s faith working through love. Our hearts are literally drawn to God in trust; that’s what faith is. We live trusting God, and we live loving God, and as a result, loving those around us as well.

MacArthur illustrates how sanctification plays its part:

It’s a working faith. It’s a living faith. It’s a growing faith. It’s an increasing faith. It’s a growing love. It’s an increasing love. It’s a multiplying love, as we wait and the Spirit in grace does His work in us.

When did I really have time to do a deep dive into the Bible? When I became semi-retired. I finally had the time to explore Scripture, which has answered so many of my decades-old questions.

My prayer life has also improved enormously.

This is not to suggest waiting for retirement to start reading Scripture and praying more often, far from it. However, time does bring us a great gift in this regard. Part of the reason for writing this series is to give bite-size portions of the Bible that working people might not have time to explore for themselves.

Another insight I gained yesterday was from putting together an exploration of John 21:1-19, which showed the difference between John, Peter and the other Apostles.

It answered a question I had for many years about the makeup of church congregations. Do you notice the varied personalities and talents therein? When I was younger, I often wished there were more Petrine and Pauline personalities.

However, Matthew Henry explains that we all bring different gifts to our congregations, just as the Apostles did to the early Church. His discourse is most enlightening:

Now here we may observe, (1.) How variously God dispenses his gifts. Some excel, as Peter and John; are very eminent in gifts and graces, and are thereby distinguished from their brethren; others are but ordinary disciples, that mind their duty, and are faithful to him, but do nothing to make themselves remarkable; and yet both the one and the other, the eminent and the obscure, shall sit down together with Christ in glory; nay, and perhaps the last shall be first. Of those that do excel, some, like John, are eminently contemplative, have great gifts of knowledge, and serve the church with them; others, like Peter, are eminently active and courageous, are strong, and do exploits, and are thus very serviceable to their generation. Some are useful as the church’s eyes, others as the church’s hands, and all for the good of the body. (2.) What a great deal of difference there may be between some good people and others in the way of their honouring Christ, and yet both accepted of him. Some serve Christ more in acts of devotion, and extraordinary expressions of a religious zeal; and they do well, to the Lord they do it. Peter ought not to be censured for casting himself into the sea, but commended for his zeal and the strength of his affection; and so must those be who, in love to Christ, quit the world, with Mary, to sit at his feet. But others serve Christ more in the affairs of the world. They continue in that ship, drag the net, and bring the fish to shore, as the other disciples here; and such ought not to be censured as worldly, for they, in their place, are as truly serving Christ as the other, even in serving tables. If all the disciples had done as Peter did, what had become of their fish and their nets? And yet if Peter had done as they did we had wanted this instance of holy zeal. Christ was well pleased with both, and so must we be. (3.) That there are several ways of bringing Christ’s disciples to shore to him from off the sea of this world. Some are brought to him by a violent death, as the martyrs, who threw themselves into the sea, in their zeal for Christ; others are brought to him by a natural death, dragging the net, which is less terrible; but both meet at length on the safe and quiet shore with Christ.

I sat at church this morning, noting how many different personalities who serve our congregation faithfully every week: the introverted bachelor, the meticulous grandmother, the congenial yet discerning churchwarden — the list goes on. No doubt it is the same for other churchgoers reading this. Everyone brings his own God-given gifts to our local churches in different ways and in different capacities all for our Lord’s glory and for our spiritual edification. Our churches could not run without them.

But I digress.

Paul’s righteous anger increases next week towards the Galatians and the Judaizers.

Next time — Galatians 5:7-12, 26

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:28-31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary tells us:

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

MacArthur says of Christians:

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

God Protects Hagar and Ishmael

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur interprets this verse for us:

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

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

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

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

Next time — Galatians 5:2-6

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