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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 2:5-11

Forgive the Sinner

Now if anyone has caused pain, he has caused it not to me, but in some measure—not to put it too severely—to all of you. For such a one, this punishment by the majority is enough, so you should rather turn to forgive and comfort him, or he may be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. So I beg you to reaffirm your love for him. For this is why I wrote, that I might test you and know whether you are obedient in everything. 10 Anyone whom you forgive, I also forgive. Indeed, what I have forgiven, if I have forgiven anything, has been for your sake in the presence of Christ, 11 so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s further reasons for not returning to Corinth yet; he wanted a joyful reunion, one where he did not have to censure them again.

Today’s verses are about a man whom the Corinthians excluded from their congregation for serious sin.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this person was the subject of 1 Corinthians 5, about which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 5:1-5 – incest, porneia, church discipline, indifference, sin

1 Corinthians 5:9-13 – church purity

However, John MacArthur disagrees (emphases mine below):

Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 5. Some would say this is the same man. I think not. I think this is a completely different issue here. But there was a man who was engaged in sexual sin. He was engaged in a sexual relationship with his father’s wife which perhaps is the way to indicate it’s his stepmother. It was an incestuous relationship. The church was not dealing with it. The church was arrogant, was not mourning over this. And so he tells them they’ve got to deal with it, they’ve got to bring it to the church.

MacArthur thinks that this man made false accusations about Paul:

The apostle Paul, you remember, had been falsely assaulted. His character, his virtue, his spiritual office and calling, his teaching, all of it had been assaulted by some false apostles who came to Corinth. They found willing ears among the Corinthians and they were able to raise a mutiny and a rebellion against Paul. In fact, when Paul made a visit to Corinth, most likely one member of the Corinthian church who is the object of this particular text, confronted him to the face and publicly and openly and shamelessly assaulted him, publicly discrediting this beloved apostle, this authority, this one who spoke for Christ.

Well, the man had to be dealt with because the – the authority of Paul was so crucial in the early church. You can understand why, because there was not yet the canon of the New Testament. And if people lost confidence in the apostles who spoke the Word of God by revelation, there would be no source for truth. The integrity, the credibility of Paul was crucial. It would be tantamount to the integrity and credibility of Scripture today. Undermining Paul’s life and ministry, undermining what he taught, in effect, would be to totally distort divine truth. And so when someone in the congregation stood up and attacked the integrity of Paul, it was no small issue. Not like today when someone could attack the integrity of an individual, like myself or some other minister, but still have to deal with Scripture.

In any event, Paul wants the congregation to forgive a man they excluded and accept him back into the fold.

Paul says that the man caused him no pain, although he did afflict the congregation (verse 5).

Paul says that the man’s exclusion has gone on long enough (verse 6).

Henry says that the man no doubt repented:

The desired effect was obtained, for the man was humbled, and they had shown the proof of their obedience to his [Paul’s] directions.

As such, Paul urges the Corinthians to forgive and comfort him, lest he be overwhelmed by deep sorrow (verse 7). In fact, he begs them to reaffirm their love for the man (verse 8).

If he were to be left alone to grieve endlessly over his sin without any succour or fellowship, he might lose his faith.

Henry explains:

He beseeches them to forgive him, that is, to release him from church-censures, for they could not remit the guilt or offence against God; and also to comfort him, for in many cases the comfort of penitents depends upon their reconciliation not only with God, but with men also, whom they have scandalized or injured. They must also confirm their love to him; that is, they should show that their reproofs and censures proceeded from love to his person, as well as hatred to his sin, and that their design was to reform, not to ruin him. Or thus: If his fall had weakened their love to him, that they could not take such satisfaction in him as formerly; yet, now that he was recovered by repentance, they must renew and confirm their love to him.

MacArthur says:

The law of Christ is the law of love, the law of love says you go to the brother who’s in the trespass and when he comes to repentance, you restore him in a spirit of gentleness, realizing you too could be in the same situation. You’re not harsh, you’re not unloving, you don’t browbeat him, you don’t put him under seven years of penance, or a lifetime of penance, you don’t make him do something to himself to flagellate himself to somehow expiate his sin, you accept his repentance. That’s enough, it’s the end of the issue.

He looks at the word ‘reaffirm’ in verse 8, indicating that the church in Corinth should publicly announce that the man be restored to the congregation:

“Reaffirm” is a very interesting word. The language that Paul chooses is very important. It is the word kyrōsai. It’s basically a technical term. It is a term to legally ratify something. It means to make formal conclusion, a matter of certainty. And it would probably involve, in this case, a public announcement. In other words, we – we saw from verse 6 that there was a public punishment inflicted by the majority. That is it reached the many, it reached the church. And the church did formal discipline. Now he is asking for the same kind of formality in concluding the matter by a formal reaffirmation of love. Frankly, unforgiveness is simply a lack of love, isn’t it?

Paul tells the Corinthians that he wants to test their obedience in everything (verse 9), meaning that they obeyed him in censuring the man, now they must forgive him.

MacArthur tells us what Paul meant:

I wanted to test you to find out whether you’re obedient in the difficult things. It’s difficult work to do it and it’s difficult unless your heart is right before God to forgive someone who has seriously offended you, isn’t it? That’s a spiritual ability. That’s not natural. That’s not endemic to the fallen human race to forgive.

Paul goes on to say that if the Corinthians forgive the man, then he will, too, and he does so for their sake, in the presence of Christ (verse 10).

Henry explains:

this he would do for their sakes, for love to them and for their advantage; and for Christ’s sake, or in his name, as his apostle, and in conformity to his doctrine and example, which are so full of kindness and tender mercy towards all those who truly repent.

Paul ends by saying that a lack of forgiveness is the Devil’s work; Paul and the Corinthians know about Satan’s designs (verse 11).

In other words, driving a repentant person to despair harms not only that person but the people doing it, allowing weakened faith for the man and a bad look for the Church, one of severity that could frighten potential converts.

Henry expands on that verse:

Not only was there danger lest Satan should get an advantage against the penitent, by driving him to despair; but against the churches also, and the apostles or ministers of Christ, by representing them as too rigid and severe, and so frightening people from coming among them. In this, as in other things, wisdom is profitable to direct, so to manage according as the case may be that the ministry may not be blamed, for indulging sin on the one hand, or for too great severity towards sinners on the other hand. Note, Satan is a subtle enemy, and uses many stratagems to deceive us; and we should not be ignorant of his devices: he is also a watchful adversary, ready to take all advantages against us, and we should be very cautious lest we give him any occasion so to do.

MacArthur says that forgiveness is at the heart of mercy:

you can work with the sinner, you can discipline the sin, but if you don’t ever come to the point of forgiveness, that too will tear the church to shreds. Forgiveness is what brings back the joy, the love, the mercy, the humility. What a treasure. That’s how a church should be known, should be known for its forgiveness. “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples if you have love one for another.”

MacArthur says that he waited for decades to preach about 2 Corinthians because of its complexity:

when I first started I was asked why have you waited so long to teach 2 Corinthians. And I don’t know what the answer is. At that particular point, in my mind I wasn’t sure.

But the longer I teach this the more I think the answer might be that God never wanted me to teach it until now because you almost need twenty-five or thirty years of experience in the ministry to feel this book. There’s so much depth here that is revealed from the heart of the apostle Paul as he unfolds his attitude toward life and ministry.

It’s not a book for the shallow minded. It’s not a book for the novice. It’s a book, really, to be fully grasped only by someone who has spent a number of years in ministry so that he can identify more closely with what it is that’s really going on in the heart of this great apostle. This book runs very deep and I find it probing extremely deeply into my own heart. And I thank God for every moment I’ve been able to spend, and there’s so much more yet to go as we move through all thirteen chapters.

Next week’s verses are positively poetic. I am really looking forward to writing about them.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 6:9-11

Or do you not know that the unrighteous[a] will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,[b] 10 nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. 11 And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

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Last week’s verses were about Paul’s censure of the Corinthians for going to civil courts to settle personal grievances, some of which were petty. He exhorted them to resolve their differences within their church community.

It is no surprise that today’s verses are not in the three-year Lectionary, although 1 Corinthians 12-20, condemning fornication, are in the readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year B, which happens to be today, January 17, 2021. Serendipitous, one might say.

Students of the three-year Lectionary know that the editors have been ever anxious not to offend.

A few years ago, I asked a fellow Anglican, who comes from a family of clergymen and who knows a lot about St Paul’s Epistles, about today’s verses with regard to church unions regardless of sexual persuasion. He said that Paul’s verses no longer apply, therefore, same-sex unions are okay in the Church of England and other denominations.

I replied that I am ever wary of people who say certain verses in Scripture no longer apply, unless there is a good explanation for it through scholarly hermeneutics. He told me I was dated and really should get up to speed on these things.

At this point, readers can take his word for it or they can read on … noting that not all of what is stated below is my opinion, but that of Scripture.

After Paul finishes with the subject of civil lawsuits, he goes on to list a number of serious sins, all of which are highly popular today (verses 9 and 10). We can substitute ‘wrongdoers’ for ‘unrighteous’ in verse 9.

As I’ve been reading through 1 Corinthians, Paul could have been writing it for us. Millions of Christians, myself included in a past life, are/were like the Corinthians. We can rationalise anything, because we live in an environment which thrives on and condones sinful behaviour. Respectability and godliness began going out the window at the end of the 1960s with a popular slogan, ‘Let it all hang out’. In the 1970s, another saying, ‘If it feels good, do it’, was all the rage.

Need I say more?

Like the Corinthians, many of us are ruled by carnal compulsion, which, if not corrected through repentance, leads to the road of perdition.

Matthew Henry, whose commentary was published in 1706, put it rather tersely (italics in the original, bold emphases mine):

Those who knew any thing of religion must know that heaven could never be intended for these. The scum of the earth are no ways fit to fill the heavenly mansions. Those who do the devil’s work can never receive God’s wages, at least no other than death, the just wages of sin, Romans 6:23.

John MacArthur wrote today’s sermon in 1975. He has lived all his life in southern California. I do wonder how he copes. Anyway, he introduced his sermon with these words:

I teach you the Word of God not just to teach it, but so that you’ll respond to it. We talk about the authority of the Word of God in order that you might come under that authority. The objective of the ministry then, as I see it, is to ring a people to a place of submission to the Word of God. Then you can solve every problem by simply introducing a biblical principle that deals with it and the people will conform to the principle.

So often I talk to ministers, and they don’t do that. They don’t teach the Word of God, and they don’t build into their people a submission to the Word of God. And then when a problem comes, and they offer a biblical solution, the people can’t relate to that. They assume it’s just another opinion, because they don’t have the mind of submissiveness to the Word of God.

That is so true.

In his wisdom, MacArthur begins not by censuring but by saying that God — through Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross — can forgive all our sins through our repentance. Therefore, because of that, we should forgive our brothers and sisters their sins against us:

there is nothing that you have ever done in your life that is outside the forgiveness of God, and that’s the standard. Right? You’re to forgive one another, even as God, for Christ’s sake, has forgiven you. When you come to Christ and believe in me and receive Jesus Christ, is there any sin at that point that is unforgivable? Absolutely not. It doesn’t matter what it was: whether it was a moral issue; whether you were the vilest, rottenest, lowest reprobate on the earth; whether it was a religious issue and you were the world’s worst false teacher; it doesn’t matter what it is, if you come and kneel at the cross to receive Christ, there is nothing that is unforgivable.

If you were a soldier who pounded a nail into the hand of Jesus Christ, if you were a soldier who rammed the spear into his side, if you were a mocker who spit in His face, that is all forgivable. All of it is forgivable. “And as Christ has forgiven you” – 1 John 2:12, “all your trespasses”that’s the standard by which you forgive one another. There is nothing that is unforgivable. Nothing. Now, that’s a high standard, isn’t it?

You say, “But you don’t know what he did to me.”

I don’t care. There is nothing. You don’t know what you did to God either, and He forgave that, and that’s the standard.

MacArthur gives us more insights on the Corinthians:

Now, sadly, the Corinthians were openly disobeying this principle. Look at 1 Corinthians chapter 6. This is a simple principle, frankly, people. It just really isn’t that tough. But the Corinthians were absolutely ignoring it. Instead of forgiving each other, every time somebody did something wrong, they’d sue them. And they were dragging them into court all the time over every petty little thing. They were gouging each other; they had a gross lack of life, bitterness, vengeance, recompense, self-seeking, unforgiving spirit, robbery; they were extorting and swindling each other. All of this going on within the church, just gouging each other. Instead of forgiving, every little thing became a case for the courts.

And so, Paul writes 1 Corinthians chapter 6 to the beleaguered Corinthian church that has managed to manifest about every sin conceivable. And in 6, he deals with the sin of suing each other instead of forgiving each other. The New Testament principle is very clear, people; we are to forgive one another, and it couldn’t be more clear than that.

This ties in with today’s verses because the Corinthians, like many of today’s Christians (myself included, at one time), falsely distinguished between their salvation and their sinfulness. In other words, they thought that, because they were Christians and had freedom in Christ, they could sin in serious ways and they would still be redeemed.

Paul kicks that notion into touch.

MacArthur elaborates:

what he does here is really a potent thing. Look at verse 9, and we’ll start there. “Don’t you know” – he says – “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God?”

Don’t you realize that you who are sons of the kingdom are on the opposite end of everything from the unregenerate? They don’t even inherit the kingdom. They’re not even a part of the same dimension. They’re not even in the same sphere. They don’t even exist in the same world. They don’t breathe the same air. They don’t have the capacities that you have. There are two completely different groups. The unrighteous do not inherit the kingdom of God. They have no part with you. You have no business acting like them, and you have no business taking your problems to them. How could those who are not even in the kingdom judge the subjects of the kingdom. Ridiculous. The unrighteous won’t have any part in the kingdom in the future; they don’t belong in God’s kingdom. Why do you go for them to give you judgment, and why are you behaving like those who aren’t in the kingdom when you are?

And then he gives this catalog that’s just potent. He says, “Be not deceived” – that is, don’t think your salvation and your lifestyle are two different things. Don’t be deceived. The kind of activities that the world does have no place with you. You can’t get away [with] that.

As for the sins Paul lists, MacArthur gives a flavour of the world in 1975. I was in school then. He’s got it spot on, no exaggeration. I remember it well:

here’s the world’s lifestyle. Number one, fornicators, sexually immoral. I don’t think anybody even has to make a comment about that today. Immorality is absolutely incredible. In some of the airports where I was stopping this week, you know, I would go in to get a magazine or to get some gum or something, and you know you can hardly walk in and out of the place without seeing this plethora of sex splattered all over the magazine rack. It’s just indulged to the point where you can’t believe that people are so tolerant. Fornicators, that’s characteristic of our world. Sexual immorality. And it’s always been that way, and today it seems more blatant than ever.

Then idolaters, false religion. I read all the time that the false systems of religion are growing more rapidly today than they ever have in their history. There are statistics to show that the cults are growing at an all-time rate. Idolatry. Worshipping false Gods and false religious systems.

Next, adulterers. Unfaithful in marriage. Wife swapping. Unfaithfulness. All of this kind of activity goes on incessantly in our world. No different than then.

That is what the 1960s sexual revolution, as it was called, ‘achieved’, for lack of a better word.

MacArthur has a fulsome description of another aspect of what the Bible considers to be sexual immorality and swapping gender roles. Parts of what he has to say were okay to express in 1975, less so now. Just to clarify, he is talking about the sin not the sinner in biblical terms. However, he offers a historical perspective from ancient times to the Bible to the Greek language to the present day:

Then you have a very interesting word, the word “effeminate.” Effeminate is only – that word malakos is only used once in the New Testament, and that’s right here. A very unusual word. And it has to do with perversion. And the best that we can understand what it means, it means this: to exchange one sexual role for another.

One of the characteristics of the ungodly is to exchange sexual roles. Now, it seems to be general enough to include almost anything. It could be something perhaps as simple as a transvestite, somebody who wears the clothes of the opposite sex, which is very common. Interesting, I read an article that said in the Southern California area, one out of every ten women that you see aren’t. Now, I don’t – I can’t verify those statistics, and I don’t know how they did when they made the test, but that’s what the thing said.

But it can go further than that. It can go to the place of sexual changes and all kinds of sexual aberrations. It can even include any kind of exchange, any kind of exchange of the roles of the sexes.

An interesting comment on this I find in Deuteronomy 22:5, that we’ve commented before in several of our discussions, but I would just point – you don’t need to look it up – Deuteronomy 22:5 says this, “The woman shall not wear that which pertains unto a man. Neither shall a man put on a woman’s garment, for all that do so are abomination unto the Lord thy God.” God does not want anything that even smacks of an exchange of the roles of the sexes. This is forbidden. This is characteristic of unregenerate, unrighteous, ungodly people who are not a part of the kingdom of God. And it was a part of the society of that day. And I think even women’s lib and that kind of thing borders on this, where you are exchanging the roles.

You see, if you can start to do that, you can break it down, you make everybody dress alike, and then you take away the authority submission principle in the home, and you wipe out the family. You destroy the whole basis of a home. And you’ve destroyed the nation and the – and the pattern of passing on the revelation of God is really wiped out, because it’s to be passed from parents to children – and destroy the family and the chain of revelation can be broken at that point.

So, you know Satan wants to wipe out sex roles. They are illustrative – aren’t they? – of the church and Christ. And so, that illustration is muddied and destroyed, and away Satan goes to this area. And so, here, characteristic of unregenerate people, they are effeminate. That is they exchange their true identity sexually for the opposite role.

For the next two paragraphs, church membership of those of other sexual persuasions was a big deal in many conservative Protestant churches. However, at the same time — 1975 — the Catholic church my family and I belonged to had a young, gay, atheist organist. The nun who was in charge of pastoral care hired him. But I digress. MacArthur says:

Another word, it says in verse 9 at the end, “abusers of themselves with mankind,” which is a long phrase for homosexuals. You people are always today, in the church – you know, I just read where the Methodist Church has now decided that they’re going to admit homosexuals and all of this. This goes on all the time, just a rather incessant situation today of, “Oh, we’ve got to take these people in; they’re wonderful people; they just have a little different slant on things, and so forth and so on, and that we need to be very tolerant of them. It’s one of those things that doesn’t really matter; it’s only a biological factor, blah-blah; we have to minster to them and so forth and so on.”

And, of course, right here in L.A., we have a homosexual church, Metropolitan something Church … We’re not saying that this is unforgiveable, and we’re not saying that we don’t love these people. We’re saying this is a sin that God hates and that characterizes unregenerate people.

MacArthur discusses what went on at Sodom, and, contrary to what we read today, what went on there had nothing to do with ‘hospitality’, which is today’s modern theme about Sodom and Gomorrah:

The word that is used in the Bible is frequently connected with sodomy. 1 Timothy 1:10 talks about it. Sodomy. The word “sodomy” comes from Sodom. The sin of Sodom, which was destroyed, you know, by fire – the sin of Sodom was the sin of homosexuality. The people lusted after the angels that appeared at Lot’s house, and that became the first biblical illustration of homosexuality, that terrible perversion.

By the time of the writing of the Corinthian letter, homosexuality was so widespread that it was unbelievable. Fourteen out of the first 15 Roman emperors were homosexuals. Socrates was a homosexual. Plato was most likely a homosexual. He wrote his dialogue called “The Symposium on Love,” and the basis of it is homosexual love. Nero, who was reigning around this period, took a boy named Sporus and had him castrated and lived with him as wife. And when Nero died, Sporus was then passed on to Otho, who was the next emperor. So, this was just pattern of living in those days. This is characteristic of their former life.

I’ll continue with MacArthur’s sermon, because, in Henry’s era, people were still God-fearing, for the most part. Yes, there was sexual immorality, along with a depraved underground men’s movement that appeared in London during the subsequent Georgian era, but nothing that was mainstream.

Today, gays and lesbians can start their own families — as appropriate — by adoption, artificial insemination or surrogacy. Surrogacy is still very controversial in many countries. I have more of a problem with that than I do adoption or artificial insemination.

Personally, I would rather have gays and lesbians in the Church than outside of it. However, that goes against Paul’s teachings, too.

That said, never mind me. Let’s focus on Scripture here. 

Moving along, has anyone noticed how certain acts of theft, especially shoplifting, are no longer considered crimes? The police in Britain don’t even want to know. A few weeks ago, I read of a proposed law in Seattle whereby anything that is not a felony would be decriminalised. That’s pretty serious, because you could be maimed permanently in a mugging or have your house robbed and be ignored by the police. What are we coming to as a society?

MacArthur looks at theft and greed as it was 46 years ago:

verse 10 says they also are characterized as “thieves” – and the word here means petty theft; this is crime. It could refer to just kind of street crime. And then it – this is characteristic of today, there’s no need to even give you statistics on that, it’s apparent to everybody that crime keeps getting higher and higher and higher and higher statistically speaking.

And then it says the characteristic of the worlds is that they’re “greedy” or “covetous,” and I don’t know that any of us are unaware of this. We see it in the paper, people demanding more and more, more and more, more and more, never enough, never enough. It’s incredible the amount of money that people are demanding. Greed is just taking over our society

He looks at drunkenness. I’m surprised he did not tie drug abuse in with this, because, even in the 1970s, there were a lot of young people who said they didn’t drink but they definitely used drugs instead. I knew several. To them, drugs were better, ‘less addictive’, so they claimed:

“Drunkenness.” Some of you may have seen on television the other night the terrible story that they gave, a documentary about people beginning to be drunkards when they’re eight years old, alcoholic children. And all the way through life we just keep producing more and more of these kinds of people.

He goes on to the other sins:

And then he goes to talk about slanderers or “revilers,” people who abuse with the tongue. And our society is loaded with those kind of people. No question about that.

And then “extortioners,” swindlers, people who are rip-off artists, con artists, people who are able to swindle.

All of these things are categories in which the world is defined by the Word of God. We have a world full of those people.

Paul ends this section of his letter with a reprimand that contains hope, eternal hope (verse 11).

Paul tells the Corinthians that some of them came from these groups of sinners, but that since they found Christ, they have been symbolically washed in His blood and became sanctified. As such, they were justified in God through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

Henry explains:

How glorious a change does grace make! It changes the vilest of men into saints and the children of God. Such were some of you, but you are not what you were. You are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified in the name of Christ, and by the Spirit of our God. Note, The wickedness of men before conversion is no bar to their regeneration and reconciliation to God. The blood of Christ, and the washing of regeneration, can purge away all guilt and defilement. Here is a rhetorical change of the natural order: You are sanctified, you are justified. Sanctification is mentioned before justification: and yet the name of Christ, by which we are justified, is placed before the Spirit of God, by whom we are sanctified. Our justification is owing to the merit of Christ; our sanctification to the operation of the Spirit: but both go together. Note, None are cleansed from the guilt of sin, and reconciled to God through Christ, but those who are also sanctified by his Spirit. All who are made righteous in the sight of God are made holy by the grace of God.

The last word goes to Henry, with a highly practical application of today’s verses:

Note, It is very much the concern of mankind that they do not cheat themselves in the matters of their souls. We cannot hope to sow to the flesh and yet reap everlasting life.

That is something to truly ponder and apply to our own lives.

It is much easier to live under the light yoke of holiness than the millstone of sin.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:1-16

It is Good Friday 2020 and, incredibly, the doors to most of our churches around the world are locked.

The same holds true for other houses of worship.

It happened easily and quickly.

All it took was a pandemic, media panic and speedy draconian emergency legislation.

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Now on to Good Friday.

CranachWeimarAltarCyberbrethren

The painting above is by the Renaissance artists Lucas Cranach the Elder and Lucas Cranach the Younger, father and son. Lucas Cranach the Younger finished the painting in 1555. It is the centre altar painting in Sts Peter and Paul (Lutheran) Church in Weimar, Germany. Read more about it below:

Meditations on the Cross

Here are my past posts, which might be helpful in understanding the Crucifixion:

Readings for Good Friday

The greatest reality show ends with a popular vote

Barabbas: an inspiration for liberation theology?

Reflections on the Crucifixion

Good Friday: in whom can we trust? (John 18:12-27)

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the false views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the true views

Martin Luther’s ‘How to Contemplate Christ’s Sufferings’: the comfort

Good Friday: the horror of the Crucifixion (John MacArthur)

Easter: the drama and glory of the Resurrection (John MacArthur, explains Jesus’s relatively short time on the cross)

Biblically focussed clergy, such as John MacArthur, often tell us how much God hates sin.

Yet, most of us, myself included, struggle to understand how much God hates sin.

One thing I learned from writing about the Book of Hebrews was that God hates sin so much that, from the beginning, He commanded that blood sacrifices be made for it. Under the Old Covenant, God’s chosen people had to sacrifice animals time and time again. Yet, all of those were insufficient.

Then God sent His Son Jesus Christ to Earth for the one, holy and perfect sacrifice for the sins of the whole world: past, present and future. The Crucifixion brought about the New Covenant, a ‘better’ covenant, as the Book of Hebrews tells us.

In Hebrews 9:16-23, the book’s anonymous author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, says that the sacrifices under the Old Covenant were but ‘copies’ of ‘the heavenly’ sacrifice that Jesus made on the Cross (emphases mine):

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

Hebrews 10 explains the sufficiency of our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us, citing Jeremiah 31:33-34:

12 But when Christ[b] had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, 13 waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. 14 For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified.

15 And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying,

16 “This is the covenant that I will make with them
    after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts,
    and write them on their minds,”

17 then he adds,

“I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.”

18 Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.

Therefore, we should be grateful for Christ’s perfect sacrifice for us, which reconciled us with God once and for all.

We can have assurance in our Christian faith, the promise of which is eternal life:

19 Therefore, brothers,[c] since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, 20 by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

You can read more about Hebrews 10 in my post from 2016:

Epistle for Good Friday Year C — Hebrews 10:16-25

May we remember that our Lord’s ultimate sacrifice for us is the reason that we profess the Christian faith.

He then rose from the dead to bring us to eternal life. We look forward to celebrating the Resurrection on Easter Sunday, even though we will be at home alone, instead of with our friends at church.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 10:1-3

Christ’s Sacrifice Once for All

10 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near. Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.

——————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s entry discussed the necessity of blood sacrifice for sin in God’s covenants, the ultimate and all-sufficient one being the Crucifixion.

The Old Covenant was ‘but a shadow of the good things to come’ with Christ’s perfect sacrifice, which brought with it the forgiveness of sins (verse 1). The Old Covenant could never bring redemption, as animal sacrifices had to be offered annually on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

John MacArthur encapsulates the Old Covenant as follows:

It was only, in effect, a man saying, “Okay, God, I believe you. Okay, God, I want to worship you, so I’ll obey you and I’ll offer a sacrifice.” And God was saying, “On the basis of your works, in response to your faith, I accept that.”

The author of Hebrews goes on to say that if animal sacrifices could have taken away a sense of guilt — ‘consciousness of sins’ — then they would have stopped being offered (verse 2).

Yet, he says, that was not the case, because sacrifices had to take place every year on that day (verse 3).

MacArthur says that guilt became a permanent mainstay of the Old Covenant, and, rightly so, for that time. He also thinks that ‘conscience of sin’ is a better phrasing than ‘consciousness of sin’ (emphases mine):

Instead of being able to look at the sacrifice and say, “Wow, I’m forgiven,” they kept looking at the sacrifice and said, “Oh, yeah, I’m not. I’m just as sick as I’ve always been. And I’ve got to go down there again with another lamb. And I’m not getting any better.”

And so, you see, rather than the old covenant removing sin, it just stood as a constant reminder that sin was not removed. The sacrifice of animals is powerless to remove sin. To purify a man, to free a man from the conscience of guilt that binds his mind, they cannot do it. All they can do is go on reminding a man that he is uncured and that he’s a sinner at the mercy of God, and he’s not free to enter into God’s presence at all because he’s not holy. So far from erasing sin, they only underlined it.

Now, the conscience of sin, let me just say a word about this. The conscience of sin has to do with guilt. There’s a certain amount of guilt that comes with sin. It’s just a system built into you, just like pain is built into you. Where pain reacts to bodily injury, guilt reacts to the injury of your soul by disobedience to God, and it’s a warning system. And they never, in the Old Testament, ever were relieved from the tension of guilt.

Although Jewish people today talk with satisfaction about their guilt for that reason, so do Catholics. Guilt is a badge of honour for both groups.

I remember growing up as a Catholic and being told that after receiving Communion we were in a state of grace — until our next sin. Well, one could sin before one got in one’s car to return home from church, meaning that one’s state of grace had vanished in a trice and could not be restored until one received Communion again.

MacArthur even mentions that in his sermon in a brief comment on Mass:

Now, that, to me, is nothing more than a constant reminder that they’re not forgiven. That’s a throwback to the old economy. We only need Jesus Christ to be crucified once. We don’t have to re-crucify Him all the time because then we’re doing exactly what the Old Testament said … “You can only be forgiven a week at a time,” and that’s wrong. That’s wrong.

Having spent half my life now as a Protestant, I could not agree more.

MacArthur says:

“My little children, your sins are forgiven forever for His name’s sake.” That’s in the new covenant. The Son of God paid the debt in full. He removed sin and He removed judgment and with it, He removed the fear of judgment. I don’t live in mortal fear of seeing God, I live in great anticipation because my sins are covered.

The next part of Hebrews 10 — from verses 4 to 25, all in the Lectionary — explains that Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross replaced the old system and inaugurated the New Covenant, whereby our sins are forgiven. There is no longer any need to pursue the old rituals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

now, under the gospel, the atonement is perfect, and not to be repeated; and the sinner, once pardoned, is ever pardoned as to his state, and only needs to renew his repentance and faith, that he may have a comfortable sense of a continued pardon.

That sentence is a good lead-in to next weekend’s post.

In closing, guilt accomplishes nothing for the Christian unless it brings about repentance — turning away from sin. Repentance is a life-long process, but as long as one is trying, praying for the grace to do so and gradually doing away with sin, then it’s all to the good. We will all die as sinners, but as long as we die in faith with less sin on our souls, we will have fought the good fight.

Next time — Hebrews 10:26-31

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 9:16-23

16 For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. 17 For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive. 18 Therefore not even the first covenant was inaugurated without blood. 19 For when every commandment of the law had been declared by Moses to all the people, he took the blood of calves and goats, with water and scarlet wool and hyssop, and sprinkled both the book itself and all the people, 20 saying, “This is the blood of the covenant that God commanded for you.” 21 And in the same way he sprinkled with the blood both the tent and all the vessels used in worship. 22 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.

23 Thus it was necessary for the copies of the heavenly things to be purified with these rites, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.

—————————————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed the rituals of the Levite priests, which God had ordained, as well as a passage from Hebrews 9 that appears in the Lectionary, ending with this verse (emphases mine below):

15 Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant.[h]

One can only receive an inheritance if there is a will (testament), the person promising said inheritance dies (verse 17) and the death is established (verse 16).

John MacArthur elaborates further on the use of the word ‘testament’, which appears in older translations:

Now, the word “testament” here is … diathēkē. The common Greek word for a covenant was sunthēkē, which means an agreement between equals. Diathēkē means somebody makes the rules up here and you either take it or leave it. And that’s the word that’s always used with God’s covenants because He always calls all the shots and men either take it or leave it. You don’t bargain with God and say, “If you’ll adjust your covenant a little bit your way, I’ll adjust a little my way.” God’s truth is absolute.

And the best way to illustrate the use of the word diathēkē is the fact that it’s used to speak of a will. A will is not a bargain between two people; a will is something made out by one person, and the other person either takes it or leaves it. And so he is saying here, God has promised an inheritance and that inheritance depends upon the death of the one who made it in order for it to be received. That’s a simple truth. And that’s really all he’s saying. A will cannot operate until the one who made it dies; therefore, Jesus had to die. He had to die to release the legacy of God to men.

The kingdom of heaven is bequeathed to all believers. Such is God’s will and testament. And Jesus’ death released it to our possession. And some of it is ours now, and it will be ours in its fullness when we go to be with Him.

The author goes on to describe the blood used in the sacrifices under the law of the Old Covenant. Even before there was a tabernacle, God commanded Moses to sprinkle blood on the people as a temporary purification (verses 19, 20). He also sprinkled blood on the tent as well as on the vessels used for worship (verse 21).

MacArthur traces the use of blood in God’s covenants from the beginning, with Abraham:

You’ll remember that in Genesis, that’s what happened. When God gave Abraham the covenant, God knocked him out with a divine anesthetic after he had slaughtered those animals, cut them in half, and laid the bloody pieces on two sides, and taken a turtledove and killed it on one side and another – I think it was a pigeon, and put it on the other side, and then God passed between the bloody pieces. In other words, even the Abrahamic covenant was sealed by blood. So this is what happened in the Mosaic case, and that’s what the author of Hebrews is saying

Now, you see, here, the whole thing is ratified by blood. That was God’s standard. This is what He required. Now go back to Hebrews 9, and you understand what it means in verse 19. “For when Moses had spoken every precept to all the people according to the law, he took the blood of calves and goats, water, scarlet wool, hyssop, and sprinkled the book, and all the people.” This was Moses’ act of ratifying the covenant.

Ultimately, every sacrifice required blood, because without it there was no forgiveness of sins under either the Old or the New Covenant (verse 22).

MacArthur says that we must not get upset or sentimental about the blood shed, particularly by our Lord on the Cross, because it is the death — especially His death — that matters:

this was God, by sign and symbol, always showing the wages of sin is what? Death. Constantly. And there’s no sense in getting teary-eyed and mystical about blood. And we sing hymns, “There’s power in the blood,” et cetera, and we don’t want to get preoccupied with blood. The only importance the blood of Jesus has is that it showed He died. There is no saving in that blood itself.

We cannot say that the very blood of Jesus, His physical blood, is what atones for sin. It is His death that atones for sin. His bloodshed was an act of death. And so we do not want to become preoccupied with fantasizing about some mystical blood that’s floating around somewhere, it is by His sacrificial offering of Himself. It is by His death that we are redeemed. Bloodshed is only the picture of His death.

This is why God required blood sacrifices:

And so always, in the ratification of a covenant, blood was shed, because in every covenant that God made with man, He knew there would be violation. Right? Sin. And that sin could only be taken care of by death. Therefore, initially, God showed the importance of a sacrificial system by making that the initial ratification of a covenant. So when Jesus died and shed His blood, this is no big thing. This is nothing for Israel to get all bent out of shape about. This ought to be good proof that God was instituting a new covenant, which had to be ratified by blood.

Therefore, the sacrifices under Mosaic law were but copies of the heavenly sacrifice to come through Christ Jesus (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Jesus is superior to any goat, bull, ram, or sheep, infinitely. If it was necessary that the copy had to have sacrifices, how much more necessary that the reality had to have a sacrifice? Not only just a sacrifice, but better sacrifice. All the blood of the old covenant was nothing but a picture of the shed blood of Jesus. And the death of Jesus Christ is that which satisfies God.

God was so satisfied with what Jesus did that He highly exalted Him and gave Him a name above every name. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow, things in the earth and under the earth. God exalted Him and lifted Him up to the highest place He could lift Him to, His own right hand, because of what He had done, He was so satisfied. God is satisfied with Jesus.

MacArthur explains, citing a verse from Matthew that appears in consecration prayers in Communion services in older denominations:

… do you remember the startling words of Jesus in Matthew 26:28, when He, at the table with the disciples that last night before His death, picked up the cup and said, “This is my blood of the” – what? – “new covenant, which is shed for you.” And there, He was just doing a takeoff on Exodus chapter 24. He was to be the ratifier of the new covenant, and it would come through His blood. The shedding of the blood of Jesus Christ, His atoning death, is the confirming sign of the new covenant.

This next point is so important. It’s about why Jesus had to die, which puzzled me for years, especially as a child, so, please, if you have young ones, do remember this answer. Every child wants to know why Jesus had to die on the Cross. Couldn’t God have let Him live forever and ever among us? No, He could not:

And so the blood was a token of both covenants, and the point of the writer is so well made. Why did Jesus have to die? Number one, He had a will to give and He had to die to free His will. Number two, always, always, always, forgiveness is based on blood. A covenant is ratified by blood. And Jesus brought a new covenant with forgiveness; therefore, He had to die

You can’t enter into God’s presence by being good. You can’t enter into God’s presence by being a fine citizen. You can’t enter into God’s presence by going through religious m[otion]s. You can’t enter into God’s presence by reading the Bible, by going to church, by being a member, by thinking sweet thoughts about God. The only way you’ll ever enter into God’s presence and into participation in the new covenant is by the death of Jesus Christ and your faith and belief in His shed blood on the cross in your behalf. That’s the only way. That’s the only access.

God set the rules. “The soul that sins, it shall die.” And then God, in grace, moved right back in and provided a death substitute. Jesus’ death is the only thing that satisfies God, you see. Because He requires death. And all over the Old Testament, He splattered blood in order that they might be constantly made aware of the fact that bloodshed was the only expiation for sin. Forgiveness is a costly, costly thing.

This next point is also important to remember. We sometimes take Jesus’s death and God’s forgiveness for granted:

I often think to myself how lightly I take the forgiveness of God. Come to the end of a day and I stick my head on my pillow and I say, “God, I did this today.” And I usually try to recite the things I did that I know He knows about, and I’m sure He knows about all of them, so I don’t try to hide them anymore. And I recite the things I did that I didn’t think were pleasing to Him, and I say, “Thanks for forgiving me,” and I’m asleep in a couple of minutes. And then, you know, I begin to think sometimes as I study the Word of God, you know, for the cost that it took to purchase my forgiveness, how glibly and how cheaply do I consider it. The infinite cost that God went to to forgive my sins. And I’m so ready to sin, in the back of my mind, knowing that it’s forgiven. What sick abuse that is of the sweet grace of a loving God.

That’s why Paul, in Romans chapter 6, faces the question, “Shall we sin that grace may abound?” And he throws his hands up in the air and says, “God forbid. How shall we that are dead to sin live any longer in it?” Would we stomp all over God’s grace? Consider the cost of your forgiveness, dear one. God is such a bound God, bound to His own character, He cannot break the moral laws of His nature. He cannot violate the moral laws of His universe, and He built into His universe the fact that sin demands death and finally, He’s the one that had to pay the price. And He paid it.

Forgiveness isn’t just God looking down and saying, “Oh, it’s all right. I like you a lot, and I’ll just let it go.” It’s the costliest thing in the universe. Without bloodshed, there is no forgiveness of sins. If you are forgiven, it is because somebody died.

I know that this is not the cheeriest subject matter just after Christmas, however, perhaps this point from MacArthur will help:

the death of Jesus Christ purchased forgiveness. He recognized that God was the one that had to be satisfied, and He offered His blood, and thus revealed God’s love and mercy and forgiveness for all who believe.

The final verses of Hebrews 9 are read on one of the Sundays after Pentecost in Year B. The last verse is particularly beautiful:

24 For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. 25 Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, 26 for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. 27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

On that day, we will know the joy that the saints from the Old Testament experienced. Their entry to heaven from Hades (Sheol) was made possible only by Jesus’s death on the Cross, as MacArthur explains:

We believe that Jesus, when He died, went down into Sheol, gathered the Old Testament saints, their spirits, and ushered them into the presence of God, so that they had to be waiting until perfect sacrifice was made on the one final day of atonement and then were ushered into the presence of God. The Old Testament saints, then, who were called, could not inherit their promises until sins were done away. That’s what it says at the end of verse 15. They were under the first testament, but it was only by His death that they were able to inherit their promises. The first covenant couldn’t bring them to God’s presence.

Now … it says at the end of verse 15, “the eternal inheritance.” What is that? Well, it certainly has to be salvation. It has to be all that salvation is, and it came to them in the fullest sense, total access to God. Perfection, in the sense it’s used in Hebrews, came when Jesus died.

they could not have full access until that final sacrifice was made, which truly satisfied God. In the past, God overlooked sin until Jesus could bear it away.

The author continues to discuss sacrifices, the imperfect and the perfect, in Hebrews 10.

Next time — Hebrews 10:1-3

Bible GenevaContinuing a study of the passages from Luke’s Gospel which have been omitted from the three-year Lectionary for public worship, today’s post is part of my ongoing series Forbidden Bible Verses, also essential to understanding Scripture.

The following Bible passages have been excluded from the three-year Lectionary used by many Catholic and Protestant churches around the world.

Do some clergy using the Lectionary want us understand Holy Scripture in its entirety? You decide.

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

Luke 17:1-4

Temptations to Sin

1 And he said to his disciples, “Temptations to sin[a] are sure to come, but woe to the one through whom they come! 2It would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck and he were cast into the sea than that he should cause one of these little ones to sin.[b] Pay attention to yourselves! If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him, and if he sins against you seven times in the day, and turns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.”

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These first four verses of Luke 17 give us important lessons about sin, forgiveness and humility.

Jesus urged His disciples to disregard the Pharisees’ system of legalism and hypocrisy. The Pharisees talked about divine law and imposed an onerous burden on ordinary Jews, however, with the help of their colleagues the religious lawyers, found numerous loopholes for their own religious observance. Their elitist system allowed them to ignore the spiritual health of what they might have called ‘the lesser orders’ and possibly caused countless souls to be condemned for eternity.

Yet, as John MacArthur tells us, even the Old Testament pointed to salvation through imputed righteousness not meritorious works. He explains (emphases mine):

Genesis 15:6. Abraham or Abram believed God, and it was imputed to him as righteousness. Because he believed, God credited His own righteousness, completely alien to all of us, to Abraham. Psalm 103:17, “The loving kindness of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting…listen to this…and His righteousness to children’s children.” He just keeps giving His righteousness to every generation of people who believe in Him.

How were you saved in the Old Testament? You were saved in the Old Testament by believing in God as sovereign Creator, all-holy Judge, understanding, therefore, your own sinfulness and repenting of it before God. Acknowledging the fact that salvation could come only on the basis of sovereign grace, because it couldn’t be earned. Embracing the fact that God is a forgiving God by nature. You come to Him offering nothing but your faith, no works whatsoever, realizing that if you were ever to enter into the presence of God and be considered righteous, it’s going to have to be because some alien righteousness is credited to your account. God will accept you on that basis until He can make you fully righteous in His presence.

Furthermore, as God forgives our sins, our responsibility is to forgive others. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:9-13) says:

forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.

In the first verse of Luke 17, Jesus speaks against the Pharisees’ condemnation of Him and His ministry. It is also a warning to unbelievers and believers today. If we cause others to disregard Christ as our Saviour through our words and actions, we, too, will be condemned.

That can include all manner of sin which detracts from the Christian message. MacArthur says that the Greek word used there was skandalon, from which we get ‘scandal’, which originally referred to a baited trap:

When the animal grabs the bait, the stick is released, the trap is closed, the animal is caught. That’s a skandalon, it’s a trap. We know we live in a world of traps. We know we live in a world where people are going to be offended. God’s little ones, God’s children, believers, are going to be offended. And by offended, trapped, harmed, hindered. That’s what it’s talking about. The world is full of stumbling blocks. They’re all over the place, to seduce us directly into error, to seduce us into heresy and false understanding of the Scriptures, false understanding of God and Christ, to seduce us in false understandings of how we are to live our Christian lives. And there are scandalous temptations laid out there to directly or indirectly drive us toward sin. There are all kinds of bad examples and there are all kinds of things that lead us away from righteousness. The world is just filled with them and we, of all generations, are exposed to them in a way that prior generations have not been. There was a time, you know, in the world when you had to see the sinner do the sin to see sin. And now you can see the sinner sin at home pumped into your house on your TV. You can read the ugly details of the sinner and his sin in a book or a magazine or a paper or other media exposure. But there was a time when you had to see the sinner sin to know the sin occurred, but now you can experience it constantly in a barrage of images. It’s a different world and there are all kinds of seductions to evil. It’s inevitable that they come.

Our Lord tells us that it would be better to be drowned with a heavy stone around our neck than to cause others to sin (verse 2). Divine punishment will be that severe. MacArthur explains:

The one who sets the offense in motion is guilty before God…guilty before God. It’s a serious thing and God considers it a serious thing … It’s better to stop him now by an execution than to let him keep doing this because if he is a non-believer, he is only going to incur greater damnation, a hotter hell. If he’s a believer, he is only inviting greater chastening and forfeiture of eternal reward. Better that he be dead. Better that he die a horrific death now than to continue to offend and therefore accumulate ongoing damnation.

Why did Jesus choose drowning in this warning? Because it was a Roman import. The Jews were not only terrified of this method of punishment but also considered it as one for Gentiles. Therefore, Jesus’s words have added impact. MacArthur notes:

The Romans did that. The Jews did not do that. In fact, the rabbis taught that drowning was for Gentiles, not for Jews at all.

In verse 3, Jesus says the right thing to do is to call a sinner’s attention to his transgressions. If he acknowledges that he regrets them and turns his behaviour around — repents — then we are to forgive him (or her!). MacArthur says that Jesus speaks of persistent, serious sin:

So we beware of offending and we beware of being indifferent to the sins of others. The Pharisees, they didn’t care about the sinners … We don’t lead people into sin, we lead them out of it. And that starts with rebuke …

Matthew gives the process. The process, is if your brother sins you go to him. If he repents, you gain your brother. It’s over. If he doesn’t repent, you take two or three with you so that you can confront his sin again and confirm his response. If he still doesn’t repent, you tell the church and the whole church goes to call that person back. That’s a concern that holy people have for the debilitating sins that find their way into the lives of the fellowship. This is done out of love. You that are spiritual restore such a one in love…Galatians 6. We don’t sit by and watch some sinner go off into a pattern of sin without caring.

However, MacArthur warns that our Lord did not intend us to turn into nagging busybodies:

Not every sin is to be confronted, please. Love covers a multitude of sins. We don’t want this to go berzerk. It’s those sinful patterns, it’s those sins that are destructive, long-term pattern. It doesn’t mean that every time you say a thoughtless word, or every time you fail to do something you ought to have done, or you have a slip up here or there, somebody has to set confrontation in motion. No … I’ve giving my wife‘s testimony. She couldn’t live with me if she had to confront every failure in my life. This would be a rather dominating feature of life. Love covers. You couldn’t do that with a dear friend, you couldn’t do that even with your children, or children with parents. You couldn’t do that in the fellowship. But there are some sins that effect the life in a turning sense that send it in a new direction and impact the church, and those have to be dealt with. And for those kinds of things, forgiveness becomes conditional. And that’s what he’s talking about. It’s those kinds of sins that you rebuke that must be repented of.

Jesus concludes His brief discourse by saying that if someone sins against us multiple times — even in one day — and says that he repents each time, we are to forgive him each time (verse 4). MacArthur explains that if we do not forgive, God will not completely forgive us, even if we are eternally saved:

Until a believer forgives, he remains in a temporal sense unforgiven. While in an eternal sense we are forgiven, that’s in our justification, in a temporal sense we can be in a condition of being unforgiven in our sanctification. In one sense, all my sins are forgiven because Christ paid the penalty in full. But in another sense, as I go through this world and sin, God will not continually forgive me on a parental level, on a temporal level which opens up blessing and joy to me unless I am forgiving others.

No doubt a number of us have a nemesis in our families or at work or both. They’re draining influences. Our spirits fall a bit every time we encounter them. They might hold grudges against us and we against them. These can last for months or years. Alternatively, we might be angry with a certain institution, e.g. church, employer, political party.

This negative energy, MacArthur says, might well be preventing us from reaching peace of mind in our lives. On this subject, he has an interesting observation, which could well be true:

I think there are Christian people who have had their sins forgiven on an eternal sense, but on a temporal sense, they’re not enjoying the rich fellowship that they should with God and they’re undergoing discipline from Him because they don’t forgive others. They carry around bitterness. I think the emptiness in people’s lives, even those who are Christians, depression, dullness, lack of joy is often due to withheld blessing, withheld forgiveness, guilt and chastening from God.

Offline, I know many churchgoers and clergy who have no end of emotional or psychological problems. My better half often asks, ‘How can a churchgoer or clergyman be clinically depressed?’ MacArthur posits that reason, which seems plausible.

Our modern society is an unforgiving one, even though we believers are always talking about peace, unity and reconciliation. (We had more of all three in the old days when we weren’t talking about them all the time.)

Yet, we look in our hearts and are angry.

We are often calm on the outside, but what’s going on inside?

Some Anglicans are angry because we don’t have female bishops in most of the Anglican Communion. Some leftist churchmen are angry because we don’t have a ‘fair and just’ way of life in a fallen world. Traditionalists and modernists scoff or rail at each other’s interpretation of Christianity. Those are just a few church-oriented examples. The list is endless.

We would do well to pray for grace to forgive others and, in turn, be divinely forgiven. This is why I advocate prayer and Bible reading over a primary focus on things that will never be resolved in this world.

That doesn’t mean we should not try to improve the Church and the secular realm. However, if we turn our attention more to our everyday blessings — and learn to forgive others — we would find this task easier.

As Matthew Henry’s commentary for the first few verses of Luke 17 says:

That we have all need to get our faith strengthened, because, as that grace grows, all other graces grow. The more firmly we believe the doctrine of Christ, and the more confidently we rely upon the grace of Christ, the better it will be with us every way

Next time: Luke 17:20-27

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