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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Philippians 1:19-20

19 for I know that through your prayers and the help of the Spirit of Jesus Christ this will turn out for my deliverance, 20 as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honored in my body, whether by life or by death.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s joy that the Good News was travelling quickly around Rome thanks to preachers who were doctrinally sound, even though some of those men bore ill will and jealousy towards the Apostle, hoping to see him languish in prison so that they could usurp his position as the best teacher of the Gospel story.

Comparing those preachers with those who taught out of love for Christ and for Paul, the Apostle wrote that he would rejoice either way (Philippians 1:19):

What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice. Yes, and I will rejoice,

Here he says that with the Philippians’ prayers and the help of the Spirit of Christ — the Holy Spirit — what he is experiencing will turn out well for his deliverance (verse 19).

John MacArthur tells us that Paul was confident of five things, which will become apparent as we look at these two verses.

First of all, Paul had confidence in the Lord (emphases mine):

Number one, he is confident in the precepts of the Lord, the precepts of the Lord, or the Lord’s Word – what the Lord has said Verse 19, “For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance.”  Stop right there.  Great statement.  I know – “Why are you rejoicing?”  “Because I know this: that this shall turn out for my deliverance.”  Now when he says, “For I know,” oida, he is really asserting what to him is an absolute knowledge “I know this; it’s unequivocal.  I know this; this is the knowledge of satisfied conviction.  I know,” he says, “that this—” Now what is this?  The present circumstance – the present trouble, the chains, the detractors, the imprisonment, all of the difficulties, adversities in his life and ministry, the whole scenario, the whole thing he’s going through.  He says, “I know that this present trouble shall turn out” – future tense; it’s going that direction – “shall turn out for my deliverance, for my deliverance.”

You say, “How do you know that?”  Well, because that was the promise of God He had received it first-hand, by the way, when he wrote down, “All things work together for good to them that” – What? – “love God and are the called according to His purpose” (Romans 8:28).  He knew that principle.  “For I know” – absolutely confident – “that this” – all this trouble – “shall” – future – “turn out for my deliverance.”

MacArthur explains what Paul meant by ‘deliverance’:

The word here is stria, which is the word for salvation And some of your Bibles may say “for my salvation.”  Well, what do you mean by that?  Well, that word can be translated “salvation”; it can be translated “deliverance”; it can be translated “well-being”; it can be translated “escape.”  What does it mean?  Some say it means ultimate salvation Some say he is simply saying, “I know that this present trouble is going to turn out for my eternal salvation, ultimately to be in the presence of the Lord, my soul salvation.”  He is confident that he will endure to the end and be fully, finally saved and glorified in the day of Christ, the day he sees Christ.  Some say, “No, it means his health, his well- being, his welfare, his benefit – that I’m going to benefit from this, that my well-being will be secured.”  Some say “vindication.”  Some say it means “vindication.”  Some commentators think he’s saying that, “I’ll be vindicated in court and that my trial, when it reaches its second phase” – the first phase had already been held when no one defended him, and he’s waiting for the second phase, namely the sentence – that he’s saying, “It’ll all work out for my vindication at my sentencing.”  Others say it means his release from prison Since the primary meaning is deliverance from death, that he’s saying, “All of this that’s going on is going to ultimately end up in my being released from prison.”

Well, which of those is right?  I would say that the truth is in all of those, and let me show you what I mean.  It is in my judgment fair to include in one way or another the whole of all of those things which I mentioned to you in this sense.  Paul believes – and here’s the key thought; you need to get it – Paul believes that his current distress is only temporary That’s really what he’s saying.  It’s temporary; that’s the point.  It isn’t going to last “I will be delivered from it.  Maybe I’ll be vindicated at my second phase of the trial.  Maybe I will be released from prison.  Maybe I will go to heaven to be with Jesus Christ, and therefore be delivered in the sense of ultimate salvation.  Maybe my well-being will be at last the issue.”  I don’t think he knows.  But what he is saying is, “I do know this that what I’m going through now is temporary, and the future holds my deliverance, whether it’s vindication in court, release from prison, well-being, or eternal heaven – I’ll be delivered out of this.”

Paul quotes Job verbatim in verse 19:

… this statement that he makes, “For I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance,” is a verbatim quote of Job 13:16, a verbatim quote of the Greek Old Testament, Job 13:16 – word for word.  Paul was a scholar in Scripture And obviously identified his own problems and his own struggle with that of Job He knew the story of Job. All the Jews know the story of Job.  And he knew that Job was a righteous man and that God put Job the righteous man in a situation of suffering, but Job knew because he knew God delivered the righteous that no matter what he went through God would deliver him out of it.  Job knew that even to the point of death where he said, “Though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I” – What? – “see God.”  He knew that one way or another, either temporally or eternally, God would deliver him.

Why?  Because God delivers the righteous.  That’s an Old Testament principle.  Job knew it because it was the truth about God, even before the Old Testament was written.  Paul knew it, and Paul is identifying with Job, who is a righteous man going through very difficult times who also said, “I know that this shall turn out for my deliverance.” And Paul quotes Job because he takes security in the precepts of the Lord, the truth of the Word of God He obviously viewed his present trouble like that of Job, and since Job was a faithful, righteous man, he was ultimately saved from his situation because God delivers the righteous. So Paul could quote the same thing, “I know that You will deliver me.”  Because He knew his heart, his conscience was clear This wasn’t the chastening of God or the punishment of God or the condemnation of God. So he is giving expression to the conviction that everything must work together for good to them that love God. And whether he was released from prison in this life, whether he was vindicated at his trial, or whether it worked out for his physical well-being, or whether he went to glory as a martyr, he would be delivered.

Personally I don’t think you can isolate it to his release from prison, because he says right here, “Whether by life or death.” So he didn’t know that he was going to live.  He wasn’t sure whether he would live or die, so he can’t say, “I know this will turn out for my release from prison,” or he wouldn’t have said, “Whether I live or die.”  He is simply saying God delivers the righteous. That’s a great principle – confident, then, in the precepts of the Lord.

In addition to his trust in the Lord, Paul also had confidence in the power of prayer, also evidenced in verse 19.

MacArthur has more on the power of prayer:

Secondly, he was confident in the prayers of the saints He was confident in the prayers of the saints.  He says, “Through your prayers” – what a wonderful statement.  Listen, he knew the Word of God would come to pass.  He believed in the sovereignty of God.  He believed in the eternal purposes of God laid down from before time began, but he also knew that God effected His work and brought His purposes to pass in concert with the prayers of the saints And so he says, “Through your prayers.”  One of the most wonderful truths of Scripture is that God works His purposes through the prayers of His people – and he says to the Philippians who loved him so dearly and to whom he was bonded in a very unique way, maybe unlike any other congregation, as we pointed out earlier – he knew he had their prayers, and he knew that the effectual, fervent prayer of righteous men produces much fruit and has great effect. And he knew that God working out His purpose through the faithful prayers of these people would bring his deliverance.  He believed in prayer.  He was confident in prayer.  And he called people to pray on his behalf; in Romans 15:30, “Now I urge you, brethren, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to strive together with me in your prayers to God for me.”  He says, “Please pray for me.”

In Ephesians chapter 6, as he draws to a conclusion the passage on the armor, he says, “Pray on my behalf, that utterance may be given to me in the opening of my mouth, to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains” (Ephesians 6:18-19).  “Pray for me.”  And there are other places we don’t have time to examine: 1 Thessalonians 5:25, “Brethren, pray for us.”  Beloved, he believed that God worked His purpose through the prayers of His people.  And so he said, “This will work out for my deliverance. My joy is fixed. My joy is fixed. My joy is fixed in the face of trouble, in the face of detractors, in the face of death.” Why, Paul?  Because the Word says God vindicates the righteous, and because the prayers of the saints are effective.

Paul also had confidence in the power of the Spirit.

MacArthur’s translation says ‘the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ’:

Thirdly, he was confident of the provision of the Spirit In verse 19, “And the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”  “I know this will turn out for my deliverance through your prayers and – implied – through the provision of the Spirit of Jesus Christ.”  And these are the three things that always work together: the Word, prayer, and the Spirit, right?  The Word, prayer, and the Spirit.  And they always work together for the benefit of the servants of God.

“The provision of the Spirit,” a wonderful statement. It means “the provision given by the Spirit,” not “the provision which is the Spirit,” although that certainly is true. I think the emphasis here is “the provision which the Spirit gives.”  In other words, the Spirit will grant to me whatever is necessary to sustain me The word provision,” by the way, epichorgias, means “help” or “supply.”  It can be translated “bountiful supply” here. It could be translated “full supply.”  I like “full resources,” “full resources.”  And the full resources of “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” That’s the Holy Spirit, who is called here “the Spirit of Jesus Christ.” Who is called in Romans 8 and 9 “the Spirit of Christ,” so that’s not an unfamiliar designation.  The Spirit can either be the Spirit of God or the Spirit of Christ within the Trinity.

So he is confident that the Holy Spirit – his indwelling teacher, interceder, guide, source of power – will provide what he needs Boy, what a tremendous confidence, tremendous confidence.  The Spirit is the provider.  Acts 1:8, Jesus said, “You’ll receive power after the Holy Spirit has come upon you.”  In John 14 Jesus said, “I’ll send you the Helper, the Comforter, and He’ll give you everything that you need. He’ll bring all the resources of God to you.”  That’s right, He’ll bring you all the resources of God.  And the fruit of the Spirit is even listed in Galatians 5, “Love, joy, peace, gentleness, goodness, faith, meekness, self-control” – whatever you need He’ll bring it to you.  If you need power, He brings you power.  He is the provider who brings the provision.  And every Christian possesses the Holy Spirit, and every Christian then has that resource, that provision.  He knew what Zechariah 4:6 says, “‘Not by might nor by power, but by My Spirit,’ says the Lord.”

So, Paul is confident in the presence of the Spirit.  By the way, that’s why everything works out together for good.  In Romans 8:28 it says, “All things work together for good to them that love God, and are called according to His purpose.”  But in the verse before it says, “We know not what to pray for as we ought, so the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered,” and that’s why everything works out together for good That doesn’t happen in a vacuum. That happens as a result of the provision of the Spirit of God, the supply of the Spirit of God, the intercession of the Spirit of God in an unutterable language between Himself and the Father.

Wow. I wish I’d had that lesson in Confirmation class. Even though Confirmation is all about the Holy Spirit, the Third Person of the Trinity was underemphasised. It is only now in my teatime years that I have begun to appreciate Him. It is a sad admission to make. I mention it because it is essential for those who are parents or in charge of children to make the power of the Holy Spirit abundantly clear to young people.

Another thing I would like to mention is the serendipity of today’s verses with the Year C Gospel reading for the Sixth Sunday after Trinity, July 24, 2022, in which Jesus taught the disciples how to pray — boldly. Note Luke 11:13, in which Jesus mentions the Holy Spirit:

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!

Also note Paul is confident that the Holy Spirit will provide his daily bread, so to speak. The Holy Spirit will ensure his survival, what he needs to stay alive.

Amazing. I love it when verses and themes coincide. It makes the Bible come alive.

Paul goes on to say that he has an eager expectation and hope that he will not be at all ashamed and that, with full courage now and always, he will honour Christ in his body, in life and in death (verse 20).

MacArthur explains:

Fourthly, he was confident in the promise of Christ, he was confident in the promise of Christ.  This is really implicit here rather than explicit … 

What he is saying there is simply this: “I’m confident in the promise of Christ, that if I’m faithful to Him, He’ll be exalted in me. That if I’m never ashamed of Him, He’ll never be ashamed of me” (Mark 8:38).  Jesus said, “If you confess Me before men I’ll confess you before My Father. But if you’re ashamed of Me before men, I’ll be ashamed of you before My Father.”

And Paul is saying, “I have this earnest expectation and this hope that I will never be put to shame in anything, never. And I just move with all boldness so that Christ, as always, can be exalted in my body.”  He had this earnest expectation, this tremendous hope that he would never be shamed.  He had no fear of being disappointed by Christ He trusted His promise.  He trusted that Christ would never fail him, that Christ would never forsake him, that Christ would never leave him, that Christ would never abandon him, that Christ would never let go of him.  He trusted the words of Christ when he was converted, “You’re a chosen vessel; you’re a chosen vessel to represent Me.”  He knew the promise of Christ – to be with him, to strengthen him, to empower him, to serve through him.

And so he says in verse 20, “My earnest expectations” a very graphic word, apokaradokia. The “earnest expectation” is “to stretch your head.” That’s kind of the literal picture here – “concentrated eagerness”; “intense, fixed gaze,” straining with the neck as far as you can.  And then he adds the word “hope,” and the New English Bible translates it well: “my hope-filled, eager anticipation.”  He says, “I live in this eager anticipation that I’ll never be put to shame, I’ll never be shamed, not before the world, not before the courts of Caesar, not before God, because Christ will be exalted in my body – that’s His promise to me.  So with all boldness I go forward.”  That’s why he’s confident facing death.  “I’ll never be ashamed.  I’ll never be put to shame” …

And he says, “This is, I know this is the promise of God,” and I think he’s reaching back to the promise of our Lord that those who are not ashamed of Him will never have Him be ashamed of them.  In fact, in Isaiah 49:23 the Lord says this: “Those who hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame.” Maybe he had that in mind. Maybe he had that very verse in mind. “Those who hope or hopefully wait for Me will not be put to shame,” almost a parallel to that statement.  He says, “I’ve got the Word of the Lord on this thing. I’ll never be shamed, so I’ll preach and preach faithfully and not fear death.”  He never feared God because He knew God was on His side – never feared Him in the negative sense He never feared man because, what could man do to him?  The promise of Christ belonged to him. The promise of Christ was his that he would never be shamed or disappointed or disillusioned.  Listen to Romans 9:33 – wonderful statement taken out of Isaiah again – “And he who believes in Him will not be disappointed.”  Oh how wonderful, and that’s what he’s saying.

MacArthur discusses ‘whether by life or by death’:

… he adds this one phrase at the end of verse 20, “whether by life or by death,” and he introduces us to the fifth aspect of confidence He is confident in the plan of God. He doesn’t know what it is. It might be life; it might be death; but he’s confident in it – “whether by life or by death, I will boldly move on, for God’s plan is God’s plan, and I rejoice in it.” Confident in the plan of God.

He’s resigned to God’s plan He didn’t know whether he was going to live; he didn’t know whether he was going to die.  In fact, if he had a choice he’d die. Verse 23, he says, “I’m hard-pressed, I really have a desire to depart and be with Christ, for that’s very much better.  So if you really want to know what I’d like to do, I’d like to die.”  “But,” he says (verse 24), “to remain in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. So I know that I shall remain and continue with you for your progress and joy in the faith.”  He says, “My feeling is, the Lord’s going to let me live because you need me.  But for the time being,” he says, “I’d rather die if I had my choice, but whatever the plan is, I leave it with Him”

And he sums it up in this great statement in verse 21 This is the capstone, “For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain.”  That’s it.  That is the summum bonum of his life, “living is Christ, dying is gain.”  I live only to serve Him, only to commune with Him, only to love Him I have no concept of life other than that.  Now follow this thought.  He is saying, “I am totally wrapped up in Christ – loving Him, knowing Him, preaching Him, serving Him.  Christ is the raison d’etre, the reason for my being, the reason for my existence.”  He doesn’t mean Christ is the source of his life, though He is.  He doesn’t mean Christ lives in him, though He does.  He doesn’t mean Christ controls him, though He does.  He doesn’t mean that Christ wants him to submit to Him, though He does.  He simply means “living is Christ.”  Life is summed up as Christ “I’m filled with Christ.  I am occupied with Christ.  I trust Christ, love Christ, hope in Christ, obey Christ, preach Christ, follow Christ, fellowship with Christ, Christ is the center circumference of my life. It’s all Christ.  Christ and Christ alone is my inspiration, my direction, my meaning, my purpose – consumed, dominated by Christ.”

Matthew Henry’s commentary says this about verse 20:

Here observe, (1.) The great desire of every true Christian is that Christ may be magnified and glorified, that his name may be great, and his kingdom come. (2.) Those who truly desire that Christ may be magnified desire that he may be magnified in their body. They present their bodies a living sacrifice (Rom 12 1), and yield their members as instruments of righteousness unto God, Rom 6 13. They are willing to serve his designs, and be instrumental to his glory, with every member of their body, as well as faculty of their soul. (3.) It is much for the glory of Christ that we should serve him boldly and not be ashamed of him, with freedom and liberty of mind, and without discouragement: That in nothing I shall be ashamed, but that with all boldness Christ may be magnified. The boldness of Christians is the honour of Christ. (4.) Those who make Christ’s glory their desire and design may make it their expectation and hope. If it be truly aimed at, it shall certainly be attained. If in sincerity we pray, Father, glorify thy name, we may be sure of the same answer to that prayer which Christ had: I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again, John 12 28. (5.) Those who desire that Christ may be magnified in their bodies have a holy indifference whether it be by life or by death. They refer it to him which way he will make them serviceable to his glory, whether by their labours or sufferings, by their diligence or patience, by their living to his honour in working for him or dying to his honour in suffering for him.

What follows are the remaining verses of Philippians 1. Once again, he uses the words ‘standing firm’:

21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. 24 But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. 25 Convinced of this, I know that I will remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith, 26 so that in me you may have ample cause to glory in Christ Jesus, because of my coming to you again.

27 Only let your manner of life be worthy[h] of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28 and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. 29 For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, 30 engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.

Paul has more advice on how the Philippians — and we — should live a Christian life. More on that next week.

Next time — Philippians 2:14-18

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

Pentecost Sunday, the Church’s birthday, is on June 5, 2022.

Readings for Year C, along with my other posts about this important Church feast day, can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 14:8-17, (25-27)

14:8 Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and we will be satisfied.”

14:9 Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?

14:10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own; but the Father who dwells in me does his works.

14:11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves.

14:12 Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.

14:13 I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.

14:14 If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.

14:15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.

14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.

14:17 This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.

14:25 “I have said these things to you while I am still with you.

14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.

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.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is serendipitous that a similar message about prayer and divine peace was part of the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee Service of Thanksgiving, held on June 3.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson was invited to read the New Testament lesson, Philippians 4:4-9, which was St Paul’s closing exhortation (encouragement) to the church in Philippi:

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

The Gospel reading from John is taken from our Lord’s final discourse to the Apostles at the Last Supper, after Judas had left.

John is the only Gospel writer who told us what Jesus said to the Eleven. John 13-16 and our Lord’s prayers in John 17 are, to me, the most beautiful chapters in the New Testament.

To set the scene, the Apostles were anxious and confused when Jesus told them that He would be leaving them, that He would die imminently and rise again on the third day. Understandably, after three years with Him among them, they did not want to let go of that relationship. Yet, Jesus had to accomplish those things in obedience to God the Father. He also had to ascend to heaven, because that was the only way He could send the Holy Spirit to the Apostles, who would then pursue their own powerful ministries in His name.

He had told them about what would happen to Him during His ministry, but they did not understand.

Philip requested that Jesus show them the Father and they would be satisfied (verse 8).

This would appear to be an outrageous request, but Matthew Henry’s commentary says that it has some merit:

In the knowledge of God the understanding rests, and is at the summit of its ambition; in the knowledge of God as our Father the soul is satisfied; a sight of the Father is a heaven upon earth, fills us with joy unspeakable.

Yet:

As Philip speaks it here, it intimates that he was not satisfied with such a discovery of the Father as Christ thought fit to give them, but he would prescribe to him, and press upon him, something further and no less than some visible appearance of the glory of God, like that to Moses (Exodus 33:22), and to the elders of Israel, Exodus 24:9-11. “Let us see the Father with our bodily eyes, as we see thee, and it sufficeth us; we will trouble thee with no more questions, Whither goest thou?And so it manifests not only the weakness of his faith, but his ignorance of the gospel way of manifesting the Father, which is spiritual, and not sensible. Such a sight of God, he thinks, would suffice them, and yet those who did thus see him were not sufficed, but soon corrupted themselves, and made a graven image. Christ’s institutions have provided better for the confirmation of our faith than our own inventions would.

John MacArthur says:

their Christology was accurate, but not complete They didn’t get the whole thing.  And, furthermore, they didn’t understand the relationship between Him and the Holy Spirit.  He had told them that He did what He did by the power of the Holy Spirit, and to blaspheme Him was to blaspheme the Spirit who is doing the work through Him.  But they didn’t fully understand They were a little short on their Trinitarian theology …

I think he’s just saying, “Look, I don’t think we can do this thing by faith I really don’t think we can do this by faith.  God’s going to have to show up.  God is going to have to show up.  You’re handing us off here and we’re used to having You in our grip.”

I doubt that he’s a biblical scholar and that he threw those kind of things at our Lord.  This is just weak faith, and we know they had weak faith because Jesus kept calling them, “Oh, you of little faith.” 

“We want a vision of God.  We want a visible God.  We want a God we can touch, a God we can handle, or we’re going to have trouble believing.”  This is a preview of Thomas:  “If I don’t see, I won’t believe.”

Being omniscient, Jesus knew Philip would say that, but He must have been disappointed all the same.

Jesus replied, saying that, after all the time He was with them, how could they not know that seeing Him was seeing the Father (verse 9).

Henry reminds us that, early on, Philip said that Jesus was the Messiah:

He reproves him for two things: First, For not improving his acquaintance with Christ, as he might have done, to a clear and distinct knowledge of him: “Hast thou not known me, Philip, whom thou hast followed so long, and conversed with so much?” Philip, the first day he came to him, declared that he knew him to be the Messiah (John 1:45; John 1:45), and yet to this day did not know the Father in him. Many that have good knowledge in the scripture and divine things fall short of the attainments justly expected from them, for want of compounding the ideas they have, and going on to perfection. Many know Christ, who yet do not know what they might know of him, nor see what they should see in him. That which aggravated Philip’s dulness was that he had so long an opportunity of improvement: I have been so long time with thee. Note, The longer we enjoy the means of knowledge and grace, the more inexcusable we are if we be found defective in grace and knowledge. Christ expects that our proficiency should be in some measure according to our standing, that we should not be always babes. Let us thus reason with ourselves: “Have I been so long a hearer of sermons, a student in the scripture, a scholar in the school of Christ, and yet so weak in the knowledge of Christ, and so unskilful in the word of righteousness?Secondly, He reproves him for his infirmity in the prayer made, Show us the Father. Note, Herein appears much of the weakness of Christ’s disciples that they know not what to pray for as they ought (Romans 8:26), but often ask amiss (James 4:3), for that which either is not promised or is already bestowed in the sense of the promise, as here.

Jesus continued, asking Philip whether he believed that He was in God and God in Him; furthermore, what Jesus spoke were not His own words but those of the Father (verse 10).

There we have the importance of faith: believe that Christ is in God and that God is in Christ.

Henry tells us:

In Christ we behold more of the glory of God than Moses did at Mount Horeb.

Jesus repeated the importance of that belief in verse 11, adding that, at the very minimum, we should believe Christ is in God and God is in Him by virtue of His miracles.

Henry makes the following observations:

He doeth the works. Many words of power, and works of mercy, Christ did, and the Father did them in him; and the work of redemption in general was God’s own work

Note, Christ’s miracles are proofs of his divine mission, not only for the conviction of infidels, but for the confirmation of the faith of his own disciples, John 2:11; John 5:36; John 10:37.

Jesus continued impressing the importance of belief, saying that those who believe in Him — meaning the Apostles, in this context — would do works greater than His because He is going to the Father (verse 12).

Jesus was leading into announcing that He would send them the Holy Spirit to enable those great works to happen in order to build the Church.

Henry points out that this is not to belittle our Lord’s miracles at all. In fact, it strengthens them:

This does not weaken the argument Christ had taken from his works, to prove himself one with the Father (that others should do as great works), but rather strengthens it; for the miracles which the apostles wrought were wrought in his name, and by faith in him; and this magnifies his power more than any thing, that he not only wrought miracles himself, but gave power to others to do so too.

Jesus then emphasised the importance of prayer.

He said that He will do whatever is asked in His name, so that the Father is glorified in the Son (verse 13).

That does not include frivolous requests, but those which are worthy, as Henry explains:

Here is, (1.) Humility prescribed: You shall ask. Though they had quitted all for Christ, they could demand nothing of him as a debt, but must be humble supplicants, beg or starve, beg or perish. (2.) Liberty allowed: “Ask any thing, any thing that is good and proper for you; any thing, provided you know what you ask, you may ask; you may ask for assistance in your work, for a mouth and wisdom, for preservation out of the hands of your enemies, for power to work miracles when there is occasion, for the success of the ministry in the conversion of souls; ask to be informed, directed, vindicated.” Occasions vary, but they shall be welcome to the throne of grace upon every occasion.

It is also essential to pray those petitions in His name for the following reasons:

To ask in Christ’s name is, (1.) To plead his merit and intercession, and to depend upon that plea. The Old-Testament saints had an eye to this when they prayed for the Lord’s sake (Daniel 9:17), and for the sake of the anointed (Psalms 84:9), but Christ’s mediation is brought to a clearer light by the gospel, and so we are enabled more expressly to ask in his name. When Christ dictated the Lord’s prayer, this was not inserted, because they did not then so fully understand this matter as they did afterwards, when the Spirit was poured out. If we ask in our own name, we cannot expect to speed, for, being strangers, we have no name in heaven; being sinners, we have an ill name there; but Christ’s is a good name, well known in heaven, and very precious. (2.) It is to aim at his glory and to seek this as our highest end in all our prayers.

Our Lord said that He will do anything we ask in His name (verse 13).

Some might say that their prayers have not always been answered. Our ways are not the Lord’s. Unfortunately, each of us suffers loss during our lifetimes. Some say that those are our crosses to bear, as hard as that is to hear.

On the other hand, sometimes with relationships that didn’t work or job offers that didn’t materialise, God has a bigger and better plan for us. I can speak to that personally on both those fronts. He has made my life more fulfilling than I could have ever imagined. My prayers have been more than answered. So, I would encourage everyone to continue praying. Pray diligently. God will show the way through His Son and the Holy Spirit.

Returning to our text, Jesus said that if the Apostles loved Him, then they would keep His commandments (verse 15).

If they kept those commandments, He would send them another Advocate — the Holy Spirit — to be with them forever (verse 16).

Henry says this means that the triune God will be with us if we obey those commandments:

When Christ has given them precious promises, of the answer of their prayers and the coming of the Comforter, he lays down this as a limitation of the promises, “Provided you keep my commandments, from a principle of love to me.” Christ will not be an advocate for any but those that will be ruled and advised by him as their counsel. Follow the conduct of the Spirit, and you shall have the comfort of the Spirit.

MacArthur reminds us of our Lord’s perfect obedience to His Father:

Go to chapter 15.  John makes another statement that essentially says the same thing.  John 15:10, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in My love, just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love.”  How do you know that Jesus loved the Father?  How do you know Jesus loved the Father?  Because He what?  He obeyed the FatherThat’s the model; that’s the pattern.  That’s the model.

In chapter 15, He says, “No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave – ” verse 15 “ – doesn’t know what his master is doing; but I’ve called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I’ve made known to you.”  This is Jesus talking about His obedience to the Father:  “I showed you My obedience to the Father.”  That’s the true proof of love.

How serious was it?  Verse 13:  “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.”  He is the model of love.  He loved the Father enough to do the Father’s will, even when it meant laying down His life So a relationship with God basically manifests itself on the basis of love, demonstrated in obedience.

You’ll find the same emphasis made as well, chapter 17, verse 6:  “I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me out of the world.  They were Yours and You gave them to Me, and they have kept Your word.  They have kept Your word.”  This is always going to be John’s standard for manifesting true salvation.

Jesus then said that the world — unbelievers — cannot receive the Holy Spirit because it neither sees Him nor knows Him, but the Apostles would receive the Spirit because He abided with them and would be in them (verse 17).

MacArthur interprets the verse, using the Greek text:

It’s the word Paraclete That’s the transliteration in English Greek it’s Parakltos.  Kltos is a verb form of a verb kale which means to call, pará  means alongside like parallel – to call somebody alongside That’s what the word means, somebody called alongside.  Very, very general.

Called alongside for what?  For anything and everything that you would need.  Could be an intercessor, could be an advocate, could be a comforter, could be an encourager, could be a teacher, could be somebody to warn you – somebody called alongside, somebody with more wisdom, somebody with more truth, somebody with more power, somebody with more experience, somebody with more knowledge than you have Not somebody less than you, but somebody infinitely more than you on all levels of capability.

That’s the Helper I know in many Bibles it says the Comforter, but that’s such a very small sort of narrow understanding of what the role of the Holy Spirit is Certainly there’s that.  Certainly He’s there to comfort, and doesBut far beyond that, to help at every level where we need help

Állos is used here It means another of the exact same kind; and Jesus uses that:  “I will give you állos Parakltos I will give you another exactly like I am, which is to say that I’m going to send you a Helper exactly like the Helper that I have been,” and that defines for you the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

If verses 25 through 27 look familiar, they were read on the Sixth Sunday of Easter a few weeks ago. You can find the commentary here.

In closing, here are two important lessons for us in our Christian walk.

The first, MacArthur says, is an in-depth knowledge of Scripture. He is not wrong:

Your faith increases proportionately to your understanding of Scripture.  Scripture reveals God; and the more you see God revealed in Scripture, the greater your faith becomes, the stronger it becomes

The second, he says, is having a proper understanding of heaven, not only as a place but also a divine relationship with the Trinity:

Most people, when they think about heaven, they think about it as a place where certain activities take place; and that is true There will be, around the throne of God in heaven, activities.  One of them obviously will be praise, and worship, and adoration.  That will be going on all the time.  There will be in heaven other activities as well.  We will serve the Lord in heaven.  We will serve throughout eternity in ways that are unimaginable to us.

So it is true; heaven is a place, and heaven is a place where there will be activity.  But if that’s all you think about heaven, then you miss the main event, you miss the main point.  Heaven is primarily a fulfilled relationship When you think about heaven, I want you to think about it that way.  It is the full presence of the triune God; the full, glorious presence of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit We will be in the full, complete, transcendent relationship with the TrinityThat will define our existence.

So primarily – listen – heaven is a relationship It is a relationship.  It is communion.  It is fellowship at its purest and highest level.  That’s what heaven is.

All of our praise is response to the relationship All of our service is in view of the relationship.  We praise because of that relationship.  We serve because of that relationship.

The dominant reality is the relationship We will have a relationship with God that is absolutely perfect and complete, as full and complete as is possible in an eternally perfected human being.  This is what heaven is.  It is a relationship brought to its absolute perfect fulfillment.  It is defined as peace and joy because that is drawn out of that relationship That’s what your inheritance is.  To put it simply, heaven is the presence of the triune God Your inheritance is God; your inheritance is the Son; your inheritance is the Holy Spirit.  The triune God is your inheritance.

Pentecost Sunday is the final day of Eastertide. Next Sunday is Trinity Sunday and the season that follows is that of either Pentecost or Trinity. Catholics call the next few months of Sundays from now until Christ the King Sunday ‘Ordinary Time’. It’s terrible nomenclature, suggesting that we can ignore them. My church uses the season of Trinity, and so do I.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Pentecost, remembering that it is the Church’s birthday.

The Seventh Sunday of Easter is on May 29, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

This particular Sunday, which falls between the Ascension and Pentecost, is traditionally known as Exaudi Sunday.

For centuries, a number of theologians deemed it the saddest of the Church year, because Jesus ascended into Heaven and would no longer physically be with His disciples.

I wrote about the history behind Exaudi Sunday several years ago. Here is an excerpt:

Exaudi is Latin, from the verb exaudire (modern day equivalents are the French exaucer and the Italian esaudire). It has several meanings, among them: hear, understand and discern, as well as heed, obey and, where the Lord is concerned, grant. The French version of the Catholic Mass uses exaucer a lot, as do hymns: ‘grant us, Lord’.

Exaudi Sunday is so called because of the traditional Introit, taken from Psalm 17:1. The two first words in Latin are ‘Exaudi Domine’ — ‘Hear, Lord’.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

John 17:20-26

17:20 “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word,

17:21 that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me.

17:22 The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one,

17:23 I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

17:24 Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world.

17:25 “Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me.

17:26 I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

John 17 is comprised of our Lord’s three prayers before His arrest. He prays for God to glorify Him, then prays for His disciples, then — today’s reading — for all believers throughout history into the future.

On Ascension Day, this past Thursday, we heard Luke’s versions of the Ascension. The Gospel reading concluded his Gospel with Jesus blessing the disciples until they could see Him no more, and the Epistle is a fuller account from Acts 1 of that glorious event which meant that He could send the Holy Spirit to them at the first Pentecost.

Luke’s Gospel says that the Apostles rejoiced at the Ascension. They were finally beginning to understand the full import of what Jesus had told them throughout His ministry.

Yet, later on in the ensuing ten days, they might have wondered what would truly happen next. They might also have realised that they would never see Jesus again in their lifetime. Hence, Exaudi Sunday. We cannot know for certain.

As today’s reading opens, Jesus had just finished praying for His disciples. Therefore, He petitions His Father not only on their behalf but also those who will believe in the future through their word (verse 20), meaning those who heard the Apostles preach or read their Gospel accounts.

Matthew Henry’s commentary offers the following analysis:

Note, here, 1. Those, and those only, are interested in the mediation of Christ, that do, or shall, believe in him. This is that by which they are described, and it comprehends all the character and duty of a Christian. They that lived then, saw and believed, but they in after ages have not seen, and yet have believed. 2. It is through the word that souls are brought to believe on Christ, and it is for this end that Christ appointed the scriptures to be written, and a standing ministry to continue in the church, while the church stands, that is, while the world stands, for the raising up of a seed. 3. It is certainly and infallibly known to Christ who shall believe on him. He does not here pray at a venture, upon a contingency depending on the treacherous will of man, which pretends to be free, but by reason of sin is in bondage with its children; no, Christ knew very well whom he prayed for, the matter was reduced to a certainty by the divine prescience and purpose; he knew who were given him, who being ordained to eternal life, were entered in the Lamb’s book, and should undoubtedly believe, Acts 13:48. 4. Jesus Christ intercedes not only for great and eminent believers, but for the meanest and weakest; not for those only that are to be employed in the highest post of trust and honour in his kingdom, but for all, even those that in the eye of the world are inconsiderable. As the divine providence extends itself to the meanest creature, so does the divine grace to the meanest Christian. The good Shepherd has an eye even to the poor of the flock. 5. Jesus Christ in his mediation had an actual regard to those of the chosen remnant that were yet unborn, the people that should be created (Psalms 22:31), the other sheep which he must yet bring. Before they are formed in the womb he knows them (Jeremiah 1:5), and prayers are filed in heaven for them beforehand, by him who declareth the end from the beginning, and calleth things that are not as though they were.

John MacArthur points out:

He doesn’t pray for unbelievers.

Jesus prayed that believers would all be as one, a commingling — a communion — of us with God the Father and God the Son, so that the world will believe that God sent Jesus (verse 21) to redeem us.

This is a prayer of unity, Henry says:

The heart of Christ was much upon this. Some think that the oneness prayed for in John 17:11; John 17:11 has special reference to the disciples as ministers and apostles, that they might be one in their testimony to Christ; and that the harmony of the evangelists, and concurrence of the first preachers of the gospel, are owing to this prayer. Let them be not only of one heart, but of one mouth, speaking the same thing. The unity of the gospel ministers is both the beauty and strength of the gospel interest. But it is certain that the oneness prayed for in John 17:21; John 17:21 respects all believers. It is the prayer of Christ for all that are his, and we may be sure it is an answered prayer–that they all may be one, one in us (John 17:21; John 17:21) …

Jesus expanded on His petition, saying that He has passed on His God-given glory to believers so that they may be one corporate body as are the Father and the Son (verse 22).

He prays that as He and His Father are one, so may we be one also, witnessing to the fact that God sent Him to love us just as much as the Father loves the Son (verse 23).

Henry tells us that this can happen only with the presence of the Holy Spirit:

This is plainly implied in this–that they may be one in us. Union with the Father and Son is obtained and kept up only by the Holy Ghost. He that is joined to the Lord in one spirit,1 Corinthians 6:17. Let them all be stamped with the same image and superscription, and influenced by the same power.

Henry explains what this unity means:

That they all may be one, (1.) In judgment and sentiment; not in every little thing–this is neither possible nor needful, but in the great things of God, and in them, by the virtue of this prayer, they are all agreed–that God’s favour is better than life–that sin is the worst of evils, Christ the best of friends–that there is another life after this, and the like. (2.) In disposition and inclination. All that are sanctified have the same divine nature and image; they have all a new heart, and it is one heart. (3.) They are all one in their designs and aims. Every true Christian, as far as he is so, eyes the glory of God as his highest end, and the glory of heaven as his chief good. (4.) They are all one in their desires and prayers; though they differ in words and the manner of expressions, yet, having received the same spirit of adoption, and observing the same rule, they pray for the same things in effect. (5.) All one in love and affection. Every true Christian has that in him which inclines him to love all true Christians as such. That which Christ here prays for is that communion of saints which we profess to believe; the fellowship which all believers have with God, and their intimate union with all the saints in heaven and earth, 1 John 1:3. But this prayer of Christ will not have its complete answer till all the saints come to heaven, for then, and not till then, they shall be perfect in one, John 17:23; Ephesians 4:13.

Jesus added another petition, asking that those whom the Father has given Him be with Him in Heaven to see His glory, which the Father gave Him before the foundation of the world (verse 24).

MacArthur says:

Here is the ultimate; here is the ultimate: the Son prays for the Father to bring all His chosen sons to glory. Again, Jesus is praying us into heaven. We’re going to heaven; that’s a promise. The reason that promise is fulfilled, the means for that to be fulfilled, is the intercessory prayer of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Henry also says that this is the ultimate petition; the first three built up to this culmination:

He had prayed that God would preserve, sanctify, and unite them; and now he prays that he would crown all his gifts with their glorification. In this method we must pray, first for grace, and then for glory (Psalms 84:11); for in this method God gives. Far be it from the only wise God to come under the imputation either of that foolish builder who without a foundation built upon the sand, as he would if he should glorify any whom he has not first sanctified; or of that foolish builder who began to build and was not able to finish, as he would if he should sanctify any, and not glorify them.

Jesus then offered the closing verses of His prayer, first by addressing God as Righteous Father, then appealing on the believers’ behalf by saying that although we have not seen God, we know — unlike the rest of the world — that He sent His Son to us (verse 25).

Henry explains:

(1.) The title he gives to God: O righteous Father. When he prayed that they might be sanctified, he called him holy Father; when he prays that they may be glorified, he calls him righteous Father; for it is a crown of righteousness which the righteous Judge shall give. God’s righteousness was engaged for the giving out of all that good which the Father had promised and the Son had purchased.

(2.) The character he gives of the world that lay in wickedness: The world has not known thee. Note, Ignorance of God overspreads the world of mankind; this is the darkness they sit in. Now this is urged here, [1.] To show that these disciples need the aids of special grace, both because of the necessity of their work–they were to bring a world that knew not God to the knowledge of him; and also, because of the difficulty of their work–they must bring light to those that rebelled against the light; therefore keep them. [2.] To show that they were qualified for further peculiar favours, for they had that knowledge of God which the world had not.

(3.) The plea he insists upon for himself: But I have known thee. Christ knew the Father as no one else ever did; knew upon what grounds he went in his undertaking, knew his Father’s mind in every thing, and therefore, in this prayer, came to him with confidence, as we do to one we know. Christ is here suing out blessings for those that were his; pursuing this petition, when he had said, The world has not known thee, one would expect it should follow, but they have known thee; no, their knowledge was not to be boasted of, but I have known thee, which intimates that there is nothing in us to recommend us to God’s favour, but all our interest in him, and intercourse with him, result from, and depend upon, Christ’s interest and intercourse. We are unworthy, but he is worthy.

(4.) The plea he insists upon for his disciples: And they have known that thou hast sent me; and, [1.] Hereby they are distinguished from the unbelieving world. When multitudes to whom Christ was sent, and his grace offered, would not believe that God had sent him, these knew it, and believed it, and were not ashamed to own it. Note, To know and believe in Jesus Christ, in the midst of a world that persists in ignorance and infidelity, is highly pleasing to God, and shall certainly be crowned with distinguishing glory. Singular faith qualifies for singular favours. [2.] Hereby they are interested in the mediation of Christ, and partake of the benefit of his acquaintance with the Father: “I have known thee, immediately and perfectly; and these, though they have not so known thee, nor were capable of knowing thee so, yet have known that thou hast sent me, have known that which was required of them to know, have known the Creator in the Redeemer.” Knowing Christ as sent of God, they have, in him, known the Father, and are introduced to an acquaintance with him; therefore, “Father, look after them for my sake.”

Jesus closed His prayer by saying that He made His Father’s name known to believers and will continue to do so in order that the love God has shown Him will be in them and Jesus with them (verse 26).

Henry says that Jesus asked for communion between believers and God as well as their union in Him, the Son:

[1.] Communion with God: “Therefore I have given them the knowledge of thy name, of all that whereby thou hast made thyself known, that thy love, even that wherewith thou hast loved me, may be, not only towards them, but in them;that is, First, “Let them have the fruits of that love for their sanctification; let the Spirit of love, with which thou hast filled me, be in them. Christ declares his Father’s name to believers, that with that divine light darted into their minds a divine love may be shed abroad in their hearts, to be in them a commanding constraining principle of holiness, that they may partake of a divine nature. When God’s love to us comes to be in us, it is like the virtue which the loadstone gives the needle, inclining it to move towards the pole; it draws out the soul towards God in pious and devout affections, which are as the spirits of the divine life in the soul. Secondly, “Let them have the taste and relish of that love for their consolation; let them not only be interested in the love of God, by having God’s name declared to them, but, by a further declaration of it, let them have the comfort of that interest; that they may not only know God, but know that they know him, 1 John 2:3. It is the love of God thus shed abroad in the heart that fills it with joy, Romans 5:3; Romans 5:5. This God has provided for, that we may not only be satisfied with his loving kindness, but be satisfied of it; and so may live a life of complacency in God and communion with him; this we must pray for, this we must press after; if we have it, we must thank Christ for it; if we want it, we may thank ourselves.

[2.] Union with Christ in order hereunto: And I in them. There is no getting into the love of God but through Christ, nor can we keep ourselves in that love but by abiding in Christ, that is, having him to abide in us; nor can we have the sense and apprehension of that love but by our experience of the indwelling of Christ, that is, the Spirit of Christ in our hearts. It is Christ in us that is the only hope of glory that will not make us ashamed, Colossians 1:27. All our communion with God, the reception of his love to us with our return of love to him again, passes through the hands of the Lord Jesus, and the comfort of it is owing purely to him. Christ had said but a little before, I in them (John 17:23; John 17:23), and here it is repeated (though the sense was complete without it), and the prayer closed with it, to show how much the heart of Christ was sent upon it; all his petitions centre in this, and with this the prayers of Jesus, the Son of David, are ended: “I in them; let me have this, and I desire no more.” It is the glory of the Redeemer to dwell in the redeemed: it is his rest for ever, and he has desired it. Let us therefore make sure our union with Christ, and then take the comfort of his intercession. This prayer had an end, but that he ever lives to make.

MacArthur says that this prayer defines Heaven:

if you want to define heaven, you just got the definition. It’s all glory and all love, all glory and all love. God is love and eternally loved His Son – infinitely loved His Son, intimately loved His Son; and eternally, infinitely, and intimately loves all of His sons, all of us. And His eternal Son wants to bring us all to glory so that we can see the manifestation of how much the Father loves Him, and so that we can also experience it ourselves. God cannot love His Son any more than He does; He cannot love us any more than He does. His mediatorial work, to bring us to glory, is to bring us into that incomprehensible love; and He will get us there.

What a marvellous meditation to contemplate as we near Pentecost Sunday, which is one week away.

The Revd Giles Fraser is a past Canon at St Paul’s Cathedral and former Rector at the south London church of St Mary, Newington. He also writes for UnHerd and is author of Chosen.

He will soon be taking up a new post as Vicar of St Anne’s in Kew, West London.

Fortunately, Fraser was able to stay at St Mary’s for Easter, the Church’s greatest feast, celebrating Christ’s resurrection from the dead:

The object hanging over the altar is a pyx. It contains a consecrated host, representing the Body of Christ, as remembered from the Last Supper in the sacrament of Holy Communion:

The congregation bought a very special bottle of wine for him to consecrate at his last Communion service there. How fitting that the winemaker’s surname is Le Moine — Monk:

These were members of St Mary’s on Easter 2019:

St Mary’s held a farewell party for him on Easter Day, April 17, 2022:

Then it was off to St Anne’s in Kew Green. How wonderful to have a cricket pitch next door:

Fraser has met the vicar of St Luke’s, also in Kew:

One wonders if they discussed Brexit:

In lighter matters, St Anne’s new vicar is planning on learning the piano. He received many supportive comments to this tweet:

Note the sheet music: ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, one of the grandest of hymns.

Fraser posted his thoughts about changing parishes for UnHerd: ‘Have I abandoned my flock?’

It is a deeply moving account of faith, a church family and the challenges that ministry presents.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

He describes his final Easter at St Mary, Newington, damaged by the Germans in the Second World War:

When I celebrate Mass here for the final time, I need to remind myself that I am not abandoning people, because it’s not all about me. The only real job of a priest is to point beyond him or herself to that God who, I believe, is the only true ground of lasting hope. In a funny way, I suspect my departure has helped focus that for some of the congregation …

On Easter Sunday, as dawn breaks over South London, I will light a fire in the crumbling remains of my old church, substantially redesigned by the Luftwaffe, yet unbowed. I will take that fire into church and the first of the day’s baptisms will begin. Clouds of incense will pick up the light now streaming in through the window. The fire will be shared as everyone’s candles are lit. I will cry. Hugs will be shared. The victory over death will be proclaimed.

Later, we will feast on Jollof rice, which is a kind of sacrament of community round these parts. That seems a perfect way to say goodbye. We will always be family.

That morning, Fraser baptised two adults and two children. Easter Sunday is the traditional day for group baptisms.

He had this to say about the sacrament, which involves sprinkling of water, symbolic of full immersion:

like learning to swim, faith also involves the prospect of drowning. Baptism isn’t a little bit of genteel water sprinkling. The imagery is one of death and rebirth. It’s a simulated drowning. The old person is destroyed; the new one rises from the waters. Like Neo being unplugged from the Matrix and being reborn into a new reality. Evangelicals are not wrong when they speak of being born again. You can’t fully plan for what that involves. At some level, you just have to take the plunge.

He discussed moving out, discarding old belongings, comparing it to a type of death, rather apposite for Holy Week, the culmination of which is Good Friday:

I have been the priest at St Mary, Newington for ten years. This Sunday, I am moving on. A new parish awaits. The skip is full of stuff I remember buying with much excitement, but now looks like pointless trash; the salvation promised by advertising and the shopping centre is so short-lived. And now the removal vans have been — and trashed more of our apparently precious belongings — there are further trips to the local tip, which is rather poignantly located next to the crematorium.

This is where things come when they have stopped working: our fridges and our bodies. The tip and the crem are Good Friday places. This is the wasteland, the valley of the shadow of death. Perhaps one day we should gather here, rather than in a lovely church, to experience the full existential desolation of the crucifixion. Golgotha, the site of the crucifixion, was itself a rubbish dump. A place of human landfill. This is where our dreams come to die.

I have never been especially threatened by atheism. For one thing, atheism is good for business: it helps maintain the tension. Indifference is the real enemy. But also because atheism is assigned a pivotal place in the Christian narrative. The period between 3pm on Friday and dawn on Sunday symbolises my own atheistic imaginings. When He is murdered by the Romans, all the expectation and excitement of Jesus-following is shown up as a terrible, embarrassing mistake. We were conned. He wasn’t the new King after all. Might is right. Oh, I get atheism all right. It’s an essential part of the cycle of Holy Week.

Then he discusses the Resurrection:

A wander around Kew Gardens, right next to my new church, reveals the natural world coming back to glorious life after the dead of winter. It’s a wholly natural expression of deep Christian instinct: that there is life beyond death. That even death cannot keep life down.

The resurrection of Jesus is not magic. Not “a conjuring trick with bones”, as the great Bishop David Jenkins once put it.

By the way, Jenkins’s full quote was ‘Well, it’s certainly much more than just a conjuring trick with bones’.

Fraser continues:

It’s an acknowledgement that a life rooted in the eternal will not remain under the heel of perpetual nothingness. Agreed, this is not an empirical statement. I have stepped outside what can be demonstrated naturally. The God I describe is beyond time and space, the author of all things, not one thing among others.

“Blah,” go the atheists. But upon this “blah” I hang my whole life. The God who is there in the person of Jesus is the same one in whom everything moves and has their being. It’s not that physical death doesn’t happen. It’s just that it doesn’t mean what nihilists believe it means. Hope exists because God exists.

He expressed his concerns about leaving his congregation at St Mary, Newington, and remembered his arrival ten years ago. He left St Paul’s under a cloud, having run into trouble after hosting Occupy London on the Cathedral grounds:

As I leave my old parish, I feel a terrible sense of abandoning my people. It was hard to start with. Ten years ago, I was parachuted in by the Bishop who took pity on me after my resignation from St Paul’s Cathedral. Like all parishes, they wanted St Francis of Assisi with an MBA. What they got was a broken spirit, in hiding from the world. And to start with, many of them didn’t much care for what they got.

I don’t blame them really. I was a mess. Some of them left the church. But slowly we rebuilt and we bonded. Now they are my family, the water of baptism being thicker than the blood of biological relatedness. We have been through everything together: bereavements, deep disappointments, some of the happiest parties you can ever imagine, then the emotional desolation of lockdown. During my ten years here, some of the post-war estates have been demolished and new more expensive and private developments have taken their place. As gentrification spread, our congregation has become much younger and whiter …

Our new church intake looks very different. Apart from being younger and whiter, they were not raised in the faith. There were fewer infant baptisms for this generation. Here, faith is a choice not an inheritance. “I wish my parents had done this for me,” said one of the new baptismal candidates. I understand this. Becoming a Christian is much harder to do as an act of choice, more fraught with anxiety.

The generation raised under the aegis of liberalism have to bear the weight of their own choices. This is problematic because to be in a church is to be a part of a family. The idea that you choose your family, choose to be baptised, seems to introduce a strange contractual aspect to this relationship, like taking out a mobile phone contract. I wonder if those “wanting more” in baptism preparation are, on some level, asking me for the small print. Is that how they see the Bible, I wonder? I hope I have helped to disabuse them of this idea.

He says that he doesn’t have all the answers to people’s problems, however, the church is where we bring the problems we cannot solve:

I don’t have answers to many of the problems that people bring into this church. I can’t solve the deep poverty that many experience, nor the broken relationships, nor the desperate sense that the world is not responsive to everyone’s deepest needs. I am there to carry them, and they carry me. The church is where you can bring all the stuff that is impossible to solve. And there are advantages to this — it means that we are not frightened of all the stuff that cannot be remedied. We can carry failure. And we can only do this because, as I said before, hope exists because God exists.

I wish Giles Fraser well in Kew, with his ministry — and his piano lessons. I have a feeling he will really enjoy his new assignment and new pastime.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 5:7-12, 26

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

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

——————————————————————————————

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There is much to look at in that verse.

First, Paul’s use of running.

MacArthur tells us:

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

Matthew Henry gives us further insight on the metaphor:

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

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

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

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

This holds true for us, too:

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

MacArthur says much the same and delves further:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who is ‘him’ in that verse?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We might wonder why were there Judaizers at all?

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

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

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

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

Next week’s post concludes this exploration of Galatians.

Next time — Galatians 6:17-18

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:21-27

Example of Hagar and Sarah

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

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

———————————————————————————–

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

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

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry confirms this historical point:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur gives us the context:

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

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

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

MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Galatians 4:28-31

330px-john_donne_by_isaac_oliverLast week, I profiled John Donne, who made an incredible personal journey from a handsome rake to devoted husband and father to the Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Most of us remember his poetry from English Literature class.

Although digital collections of his sermons exist, only one — and a partial one at that — is in an easily accessed format categorised by Scripture. Thank you, BibleHub.

John’s Gospel has the most detailed account of Jesus’s final teaching at the Last Supper, which we remember on Maundy Thursday.

John Donne was inspired to write an entire sermon on John 14:20 alone. Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

First, let’s look at John 14 in its entirety. Jesus spoke these words while He and the Apostles were in the upper room at the Last Supper. Judas Iscariot had already left. The Judas referred to in verse 22 is Jude Thaddeus, who wrote the shortest book in the Bible, Jude:

I Am the Way, and the Truth, and the Life

14 “Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God;[a] believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?[b] And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”[c] Thomas said to him, “Lord, we do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?” Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you had known me, you would have known my Father also.[d] From now on you do know him and have seen him.”

Philip said to him, “Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’? 10 Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me? The words that I say to you I do not speak on my own authority, but the Father who dwells in me does his works. 11 Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me, or else believe on account of the works themselves.

12 “Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father. 13 Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 If you ask me[e] anything in my name, I will do it.

Jesus Promises the Holy Spirit

15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper,[f] to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be[g] in you.

18 “I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. 19 Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. 20 In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you. 21 Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I will love him and manifest myself to him.” 22 Judas (not Iscariot) said to him, “Lord, how is it that you will manifest yourself to us, and not to the world?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. 24 Whoever does not love me does not keep my words. And the word that you hear is not mine but the Father’s who sent me.

25 “These things I have spoken to you while I am still with you. 26 But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. 28 You heard me say to you, ‘I am going away, and I will come to you.’ If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I. 29 And now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe. 30 I will no longer talk much with you, for the ruler of this world is coming. He has no claim on me, 31 but I do as the Father has commanded me, so that the world may know that I love the Father. Rise, let us go from here.

John Donne’s sermon on John 14:20 is called ‘Christ’s Legacy’. Most of it follows below:

I. THE LEGACY ITSELF: Knowledge. “Ye shall know.” God delivered the Jews to some extent from ignorance by the law, which was their schoolmaster. But in the gospel we are graduates, and know as a matter of history and experience what was only previously known in prophecy and type, in the manifestation of Christ, and the presence of the Spirit

II. THE TIME WHEN THIS LEGACY ACCRUES TO US. “At that day.”

1. The word itself affords cheerfulness. When God inflicted the greatest plague on Egypt it was at midnight; and when He would intimate both deaths at once He says, “Thou fool, this night,” etc. Against all supply of knowledge He calls him fool; against all sense of comfort in the day He threatens night.

2. It was a certain day: “That” — and soon. For after Christ had made His will at this supper, and given strength to His will by His death, and proved His will by His resurrection, and left the Church possessed of His estate by His ascension, within ten days after that He poured out this legacy of knowledge.

3. On that day the Holy Ghost came as a wind to note a powerful working; filled them, to note the abundance; and gave them utterance, to infer the communication of their knowledge to others. But He was poured forth for the benefit of all. The prophets, high as their calling was, saw nothing without the Spirit; with the Spirit simple man understands the prophets.

III. OUR PORTION IN THIS LEGACY — the measure of the knowledge of those mysteries which we are to receive. When Felix the Manichaean would prove to that was the Holy Spirit who should teach all truth, because Manes [Mani] taught many things of which men were ignorant concerning the frame and nature of the heavens, Augustine answered, “The Holy Ghost makes us Christians, not mathematicians.” This knowledge is to know the end and the way — heaven and Christ. Now, in all our journeys, a moderate pace brings a man most surely to his journey’s end, and so does a sober knowledge in the mysteries of religion. Therefore, the Holy Ghost did not give the apostles all kind of knowledge, but knowledge enough for their present work, and so with us. The points of knowledge necessary for our salvation are three.

1. The mystery of the Trinity. “I am in My Father.” tells us that the principal use of knowledge is to know the Trinity. For to know that there is one God, natural reason serves our turn. But to know that the Son is in the Father I need the Scriptures, and the light of the Holy Spirit on the Scriptures, for Jews and Arians have the Bible too. But consider that Christ says, “ye shall know,” not “ye shall know how”. It is enough for a happy subject to enjoy the sweetness of a peaceable government, though he knows not the ways by which his prince governs, so it is enough for a Christian to enjoy the working of God’s grace, though he inquire not into God’s unrevealed decrees. When the Church asked how the body of Christ was in the sacrament we see what an inconvenient answer it fell upon. Make much of that knowledge with which the Spirit hath trusted you, and believe the rest. No man knows how his soul came into him, yet no man doubts that he has a soul.

2. The mystery of the Incarnation — “Ye in Me.” For since the devil has taken manhood in one lump in Adam, Christ to deliver us as entirely took all mankind upon Him. So that the same pretence that the devil hath against us, “You are mine, for you sinned in Adam,” we have also for our discharge, we are delivered, for we paid our debt in Christ.

3. The assurance of this grows from the third part of our knowledge the mystery of our redemption, in our sanctification. “I in you.” This last is the best. To know that Christ is in the Father may serve me to convince another who denies the Trinity; to know we are in Christ may show that we are more honoured than angels. But what worth is this if I know not that Christ is in me. How then is this? Here the question is lawful, for it has been revealed. It is by our obedience to His inspiration, and by our reverent use of His sacrament, when the Spirit visits us with effectual grace, and Christ marries Himself to our souls.

What stood out for me were four things:

First, Donne clearly understood Paul’s epistles about the shortcomings of the law in the Old Covenant. It could not — and cannot — save. Note that Donne calls the law the Jews’ ‘schoolmaster’. How true.

Secondly, the Holy Spirit is available to all, not just a select few. Furthermore, St Augustine said that the primary purpose of the Spirit is to help us to live a Christian life. Donne makes it easy to grasp by saying that the Spirit enables simple man to understand the prophets. One does not need a university degree to understand the Bible.

Thirdly, if the devil tempts us by telling us we are doomed, we should keep in mind that Christ paid our debt in full. We are no longer slaves to sin.

Finally, Christians are not required to understand how the holy mysteries work, only to believe, through the workings of the Holy Spirit, that they exist, e.g. the Triune God, one in three Persons. Donne wisely noted the ancient controversy in the Church that took place over what happens during the consecration of bread and wine, still a contentious subject today.

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Readings, exegeses and other observations about Wednesday of Holy Week, or Spy Wednesday, as it is traditionally known, follow:

Readings for Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday

Judas offers his services

More on Spy Wednesday

Wednesday of Holy Week — Spy Wednesday (2017, Henry and MacArthur on Judas: bad hombre)

The first part of this series was yesterday’s post: … from the sublime John Donne.

Today’s entry looks at the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, who has been in that post since 2013. He is the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury.

There could not be a greater contrast with John Donne, who was followed all over London by people who wanted to hear him preach.

It is unlikely that people would follow Welby around the capital.

In 2015, he told Michael Gove MP, who interviewed him for The Spectator‘s Christmas issue that year (emphases mine):

I suppose I struggle with a sense that I’m the wrong person for the job. An imposter syndrome, that’s the phrase I’m looking for.

He was not concerned about the severe decline in Church of England (CofE) worship over the past few decades:

Church attendance in this country has fallen hugely both in absolute terms and as a proportion of the population. The number of Christians around the world has risen hugely since the nineteenth century and continues to rise at an extraordinary rate: it is over two billion now. So we’re seeing a change in the pattern of where the church is: the Anglican Communion is essentially global, as much for a sub-Saharan woman and not just someone in a church in England.

You can find a vast range of churches in the Church of England with examples of growth and examples of decline. Sometimes it is simply circumstances: populations move. Sometimes it’s that people feel the church is not welcoming, there is not an ethos which makes them look outwards to those around them. Where they grow it will usually be because they relate extraordinarily well to their communities and that the circumstances are there, there is a clear spirituality, there is a clear sense of what they are about.

Although Welby is pleased with the proliferation of the social gospel at the expense of evangelism, this is where he and others before him have been going wrong:

This is one of the most interesting changes from the 50s and 60s and 70s, where social gospel was for one part of the church and evangelism for another. The two are absolutely inextricable now.

Yes, and most Sunday sermons from CofE priests sound as if they came from The Guardian‘s op-ed pages. Therefore, why not simply stay in bed and read a newspaper? Oh, wait, they already do.

In 2022, he told the BBC’s Michael Buerk in an interview for the Radio Times (‘There’s an end to darkness’, 19-25 February 2022, pp 19-23):

‘None of us want to see the thing go down on our watch’, he says. He talks of ‘bad moments’ when he has a sense of ‘oh, my goodness, am I going to be the one who they’ll say finished the Church of England off?’ He pauses. ‘Then I realise it’s God’s problem, not mine.’

Wow. Welby, along with other clerics, will be held accountable on that fateful day of the Last Judgement. They are supposed to evangelise, as Jesus Himself instructed the Apostles in the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20):

The Great Commission

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Perhaps Welby thinks that applied only to the eleven remaining Apostles at that time. If so, how sad.

In December 2019, he gave an interview to the Big Issue before the general election that year, when Boris’s ‘Get Brexit done’ slogan won an 80-seat majority for the Conservatives.

Days after the election, the BBC carried highlights from that interview. Welby said:

“I’m not saying we are in a crisis”, he said. “I’m just saying the direction of travel is not what we want.”

He batted away a question about Prince Andrew:

Archbishop Welby was also asked about the controversy involving the Duke of York’s ties to Jeffrey Epstein.

He refused to comment on any particular member of the Royal Family, but said it was wrong to expect them to be “superhuman saints”.

He intimated that those who voted Conservative were consumed by fear:

The interview – which was conducted before last Thursday’s general election – concluded with the Archbishop quoting from the First Letter of John in the New Testament, which says that “perfect love casts out fear”.

He said that people should reject fear and, instead, accept that love of God which – he said – “changes the world dramatically”.

Brexit was largely a huge no-no for CofE clergy, from the top to the bottom. Pewsitters, on the other hand, wanted to leave the EU, as The Economist reported in April 2019:

Justin Welby’s dilemma over Brexit is all the more difficult because he was a declared Remain voter in the June 2016 referendum, while 66% of self-identified Anglicans opted for Brexit.

Yet, there were still some clergy who wanted to part from Brussels, including a former Dean of St Paul’s Cathedral, the Revd Giles Fraser:

Giles Fraser, an Anglican cleric who is a prominent figure on the religious and intellectual left, is a convinced supporter of leaving what he sees as the capitalist European club. “The emotional core of Brexit, and the reason I remain a passionate Brexiter, despite all its problems, is that it seeks to collapse the distance between power and ordinary people,” he wrote recently.

True!

This was Welby’s prayer as the UK exited the EU for good at the end of January 2020. I agree with the reply:

Yes, that’s the eternal essential, not Brexit. However, the prayer shows where Welby’s priorities lie. They do not appear to be with evangelism.

We had just left the EU when coronavirus hit.

This could have been a huge moment for the CofE. Had John Donne been Archbishop of Canterbury, no doubt he would have recognised this.

But Justin Welby thought otherwise and went along with the decision to close Anglican churches, a closure that even forbade priests from entering their own churches for a moment of private prayer or even cleaning for several weeks. Many vicars were distraught.

Welby issued the closure tweet one week before lockdown:

Welby told the Radio Times this year (p. 23):

If I had the time again, I would be more cautious about closing the churches. At the time, we were being told the virus can stay on surfaces for ages and that it could kill 30 per cent of the people who caught it.

It wasn’t just me. It’s not a dictatorship. I am not the Pope. But I had an influence and I’m not sure I got that right.

No, he definitely did not get that right. People were bereft. They would have loved to actually enter a church and worship in person, even if socially distanced and even without Communion. Morning Prayer services would have sufficed for the first few months. Masks were not mandated until the first lockdown was lifted.

Sure, there were Zoom services later in the Spring …

… when participants were erroneously told to consecrate their own piece of bread and sip of wine for Holy Communion. That is not a tenet of the CofE.

Welby could have called for a National Day of Prayer, but he didn’t:

What happened in June 2020 was startling. It was as if the pandemic never happened. Here he was, responding to an American issue. Once more, I agree with the reply:

If Welby wants to feel guilty for physical characteristics that God gave him, then, by so doing, he disgraces God, who chose him to be created as he is.

On June 8, he wanted to create a collective sin, when what he accuses the majority of Britons of has been rare in recent decades. His job is to preach the Gospel, not identity politics:

At the end of June 2020, Welby pledged that the CofE would review its monuments in place at Canterbury Cathedral and Westminster Abbey. Readers will not be surprised to find that I agree with the replies:

The following day, Welby tweeted again. A layman has a better perspective than he does:

On June 28, The Telegraph‘s Nick Timothy wrote an excellent editorial on Welby’s pronouncements, far more numerous than any he ever made on the pandemic, which was still very much a concern in Britain. Churches continued to be closed.

Nick Timothy shows he understands Christian theology better than Welby:

Nobody personifies the madness of our times, and the moral cowardice of our leaders, like the Archbishop of Canterbury.

On Friday, under pressure from precisely nobody, Justin Welby climbed atop his chosen pulpit – an interview on BBC Radio 4 – and announced a review of statues and commemorative names in Anglican churches and buildings. “Some will have to come down,” he said, and “some names will have to change.”

Welby seems to believe Britain, and all white people, carry collective sin specific to them. He recently invited us to pray for “white Christians [to] repent of our own prejudices”. On Friday, he said: “For this country and for this country in the world, there’s got to be a generosity … there’s got to be that new life which is always on offer.” Britain, and specifically Britain, he believes, must repent its unique sins to be born again.

When a Black Lives Matter activist called for statues of Jesus to be pulled down because they portrayed Him as a white European, Welby had the chance to draw the line. Jesus is depicted in different ways the world over, the Archbishop explained. He might have gone on to say that the significance of Jesus is spiritual, not political or racial, that Jesus was God made flesh, and that we are all made in God’s own image. Instead, he agreed that the depiction of Christ in Western countries should change and criticised the “sense that God is white”. Jesus was “Middle Eastern, not white,” he later reiterated, studiously avoiding the more accurate description that Jesus was a Jew. But then Middle Eastern Jews, or Israelis as we also call them, are these days an unfashionable minority to defend.

In this strange fusion between a belief in collective national or racial guilt and Christian forgiveness, Welby articulated a new – and utterly incoherent – account of forgiveness and mercy. “There can be forgiveness [of those from the past we commemorate],” he said, “but only if there’s justice: if we change the way we behave now.”

There is, of course, an unanswerable Christian case for treating all our fellow beings with respect and love. There is still racism in our society, and great disparities in the experiences of people from different ethnic backgrounds, just as there is for people from different class backgrounds. There is a Christian case for seeking to address all such disadvantages. But there is no such case for the conditional forgiveness he proposes.

The Bible tells us “a son will not bear the iniquity of the father, and a father will not bear the iniquity of the son.” We are responsible before God for the trespasses we commit, but not for the trespasses of others. And just as God will forgive us, so we should forgive others. “Pardon, and you will be pardoned,” Saint Luke tells us. There is no biblical justification for making the forgiveness of one generation conditional on the actions of another, just as there is no biblical justification for a presupposition of collective national or racial guilt.

Whether you are a Christian or not, this departure from scripture is profoundly worrying. Christianity’s promise of redemption, and the idea that we are each accountable for our own sins, has shaped our civilisation. We are members of families and communities large and small, but we are more than just featureless components of some greater group identity. This is one reason why we have equal political and civil rights, and stand equal before the law.

Our Christian heritage – and our associated history of bloody religious conflict – also inspired another important Western principle. The realisation that clashes between different values, beliefs and interests are inevitable gave rise to the essential liberal idea of pluralism. We should accept and tolerate difference, while agreeing laws and processes to mediate clashes, guaranteeing rights for minorities, and protecting the norms, traditions and institutions that foster a common, unifying identity to build trust and reciprocity.

Now this principle is also under attack. The more our society boasts of diversity and inclusion, the more it becomes illiberal and intolerant. Businesses, public services, universities and other important institutions are engaged in an organised hypocrisy, closing down debate, sacking people with the wrong opinions, and participating knowingly in a politically correct doublethink …

Such nonsense and nihilism is possible because through ignorance and cowardice our leaders have allowed the pillars that support our society – built up through time by thinkers and statesmen upon foundations laid in part by Christianity – to crumble. Time will tell if we are worthy of our inheritance, but one thing we do know. A civilisation that ceases to believe in itself is doomed to self-destruction.

The next day, The Telegraph published several letters in which readers expressed their disapproval with Welby. The first three are from Scotland:

SIR – Nick Timothy (Comment, June 29) rightly points to the most recent example of the divisive leadership of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, in his response to the Black Lives Matter protests.

The Archbishop has often talked of “reconciliation”, but his latest comments seem to continue a trend of the divisiveness of his leadership in a whole range of matters, from Brexit to Covid-19.

It’s a terrible shame: the Church has missed a multitude of opportunities to be an institution that can unite the population.

———–

SIR – About 25 years ago, as a white, middle-aged, middle-class, mildly overweight woman, I had the supreme privilege of training for ordination under the authority of Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

I wish the Archbishop of Canterbury would seek advice from him about the kind of discourse that leads to real truth and reconciliation, and forgiveness and justice. Each life matters.

———–

SIR – Regarding church memorials, if we wiped from history everyone who has done great things but might have done something politically incorrect in the past, the list would have to include Moses (murder), Jacob (deceit), Rahab, an ancestor of Jesus (prostitution), and King David (adultery and murder).

———–

SIR – The Archbishop of Canterbury, instead of worrying about the colour of Jesus’s skin, should perhaps be concerned about how Jesus would react to being charged £12 to enter Canterbury Cathedral, the House of God, and having to exit via the shop.

———–

SIR – In his haste to jump on a bandwagon, the Archbishop of Canterbury contradicts himself. He says the Church is guilty of portraying Jesus as a white European, but he celebrates his portrayal as black, Chinese, Middle Eastern and Fijian.

Is not the portrayal of Jesus as white in Europe the same kind of legitimate cultural contextualisation as his portrayal differently in other societies? Unless we confine ourselves to depicting Jesus as a first-century Middle Eastern Jew (whatever that might have been) we are bound to portray him in the various ways he has been throughout history. And it cannot be otherwise since he is the Saviour of people from all nations.

Later in 2020, the Government and scientific advisers put us on track for a winter lockdown, which started early in the New Year. This time, Welby proposed that churches be allowed to remain open, with coronavirus measures in place:

On February 27, 2022, Welby admitted he was not very good at attracting more worshippers to Anglican churches in Britain.

Now, John MacArthur considers unbelievers to be his ‘mission field’, which is very true. So, one would think that the spiritual head of a denomination with millions of members the world over would think the same.

Not so. The Daily Mail reported on Welby’s interview with an atheist on Radio 4:

The Archbishop of Canterbury has accepted responsibility for failing to attract more worshippers into the Church of England, with numbers hitting record lows in recent years.

In a BBC radio interview being broadcast today, Justin Welby makes his admission to Dr Susan Blackmore, a psychologist and atheist, after she expressed doubts about whether she would ever convert to a faith.

The Most Rev Welby, 66, said: ‘As you can tell from numbers in the Church of England, I don’t persuade many people.’

He almost wears that admission as a badge of honour. It’s ridiculous and heinous in equal measure.

He has an odd sense of his relationship with God:

The Archbishop also said there were times when even he questioned God.

He described one encounter with a warlord, whom he did not identify, as the only time he had come face to face with evil.

A warlord?

Anyway:

Asked how he coped with those situations, he said: ‘I go back to the Psalms, the Psalms of protest and lament, and say to God, “This is all wrong. What do you think you are up to?”‘

He told Michael Buerk more about his spirituality and devotions in the Radio Times interview.

He never mentioned Jesus Christ, not once.

He began speaking in tongues while he was at Eton (p. 23). Note that this is not the type of speaking in tongues that the Book of Acts describes — foreign languages understood not by the speaker but by listeners — just mere ululating:

… in what he describes as both a process and a moment of awareness, he says he opened his heart to a God he ‘didn’t even know existed’.

From that moment, Welby began speaking ‘in tongues’, producing a stream of sounds, often involuntarily, that have no obvious meaning, but which Pentecostalists, in particular, regard as a sign of the Holy Spirit.

The Archbishop continues to do so to this day, which has raised eyebrows in the more conservative ranks of his church. He plays it down. ‘It’s unduly controversial, and not really as interesting as it sounds.

‘I get up very early in the morning and, after making a cup of tea, I go into my study, read the Bible, and speak in tongues. I don’t pray in a language I know. I do it quietly — it’s before six in the morning, remember — with no sense of ecstasy or excitement at all. I’d rather be in bed.

‘It helps me focus’, he says, perhaps defensively. ‘It’s not something that leads me dancing or clapping, or waving a tambourine.’

He gave few details on his journey from Eton to Cambridge to being an oil company executive to the Church, other than to say that his bishop at the time told him:

There’s no place for you in the Church of England.

The bishop was not wrong.

Yet, Welby ‘persisted’ and, somehow, reached the heady heights of Lambeth Palace in London, the Archbishop of Canterbury’s official residence:

I’ve been surprised to be here every single day of the nine years I have been doing the job.

So have millions of us.

Most of the interview has some political bent to it, and he told Michael Buerk that he allows Boris Johnson to jog in the Lambeth Palace garden, which is near Downing Street.

Buerk tried to press him on the matter:

‘It’s such a live party-political issue, it’s not for me to step into it too much,’ he maintains. I say I thought having a moral view on public life was what he was paid for. ‘Not exactly,’ he replies, a little sharply. ‘I am paid to talk about God.’

Really? Interesting response. Where does talking about Jesus fit into his job description?

Strangely, perhaps, he is also on antidepressants. I still do not understand how so many clergy can be depressed.

I can appreciate that Welby is still grieving over the death of his seven-month-old daughter Johanna who was killed in a car crash in 1983, but, surely, over the years, a closer relationship with God would help him to reconcile that in his mind.

Welby told Buerk that consolation (p. 21):

eventually came from friends, which he regards as coming from God anyway, even if indirectly. ‘There’s an end to darkness. There’s light but you might be surprised by how it comes,’ he says.

Indeed, the Archbishop makes no secret of his lifelong battle with depression: ‘Only last week, I really messed up something in a way that really left me down for several days.’

In the past, Welby says he would have denied it was a problem. But dark moods, which he likens to what Churchill called his ‘Black Dog’, made him feel ‘hopeless’.

He’s open about it now, though. ‘I’m on daily antidepressants, which work quite well, but it is a struggle. Certain things trigger it, principally about myself, and sometimes it comes out of the blue. But it’s a lot better than it used to be,’ he says.

The other major disappointment for him was finding out that the man he thought was his father — Gavin Welby — wasn’t (pp 21, 23):

DNA tests have shown that his biological father was actually Churchill’s private secretary, Sir Anthony Montague Browne.

Welby’s mother, Jane Portal, had been Churchill’s personal secretary. She came from a long line of well-connected, prominent people.

I am sorry that Justin Welby is such a tortured soul. I’m even sorrier that he feels the need to project his insecurities on most of the Anglicans in Britain.

I hope that his relationship with God and Jesus Christ, in particular, improves.

May the Lord grant us a better Archbishop of Canterbury someday. We haven’t had a good one in decades.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:8-11

Paul’s Concern for the Galatians

Formerly, when you did not know God, you were enslaved to those that by nature are not gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more? 10 You observe days and months and seasons and years! 11 I am afraid I may have labored over you in vain.

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Last week’s post discussed what Paul called enslavement to ‘the elementary principles of the world’, meaning law for the Jews and idolatry for the Gentiles.

The New Covenant, which Christ introduced, does away with the law and brings in redemption, to which believers are heirs. God’s plan was to bring the Jewish church to maturity by abolishing Mosaic law and bringing His Chosen to a belief in Christ, the Messiah.

These verses are in the Lectionary, but they will help bridge the gap between last week’s reading and today’s (emphases mine):

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!” So you are no longer a slave, but a son, and if a son, then an heir through God.

However, Judaisers had come from Jerusalem to persuade the Galatians, most of whom were Gentiles, that they could be proper Christians only if they obeyed Mosaic law. That is another gospel, and plainly incorrect.

Paul tells the Galatians that, before they knew God, they were enslaved to idols (verse 8).

Matthew Henry elaborates on this enslavement:

He reminds them of their past state and behaviour, and what they were before the gospel was preached to them. Then they knew not God; they were grossly ignorant of the true God, and the way wherein he is to be worshipped: and at that time they were under the worst of slaveries, for they did service to those which by nature were no gods, they were employed in a great number of superstitious and idolatrous services to those who, though they were accounted gods, were yet really no gods, but mere creatures, and perhaps of their own making, and therefore were utterly unable to hear and help them. Note, 1. Those who are ignorant of the true God cannot but be inclined to false gods. Those who forsook the God who made the world, rather than be without gods, worshipped such as they themselves made. 2. Religious worship is due to none but to him who is by nature God; for, when the apostle blames the doing service to such as by nature were no gods, he plainly shows that he only who is by nature God is the proper object of our religious worship.

Paul asks them how, now that they know God and He knows them, they can revert to the ‘weak and worthless elementary principles of the world’ (verse 9).

Paul is at a loss to understand. Most of them are Gentiles, so they would not have known Jewish law, therefore, why embrace it? Mosaic law was only a forerunner of the Messiah. It was never intended to be in place permanently. Christ’s payment for our sins, however, will last forever.

He chides them further by telling them they are celebrating festivals under Mosaic law, observing days and months, seasons and years (verse 10).

Henry explains:

they had never been under the law of Moses, as the Jews had been; and therefore on this account they were more inexcusable than the Jews themselves, who might be supposed to have some fondness for that which had been of such long standing among them. Besides, what they suffered themselves to be brought into bondage to were but weak and beggarly elements, such things as had no power in them to cleanse the soul, nor to afford any solid satisfaction to the mind, and which were only designed for that state of pupillage under which the church had been, but which had now come to a period; and therefore their weakness and folly were the more aggravated, in submitting to them, and in symbolizing with the Jews in observing their various festivals, here signified by days, and months, and times, and years.

Paul laments that the time, prayers and effort he spent on them were in vain (verse 11).

Henry discusses Paul’s despondency. Unfortunately, this is a sad part of ministry. Ultimately, the person who turns away from faith in Christ will have to account for it:

Hereupon he expresses his fears concerning them, lest he had bestowed on them labour in vain. He had been at a great deal of pains about them, in preaching the gospel to them, and endeavouring to confirm them in the faith and liberty of it; but now they were giving up these, and thereby rendering his labour among them fruitless and ineffectual, and with the thoughts of this he could not but be deeply affected. Note, 1. A great deal of the labour of faithful ministers is labour in vain; and, when it is so, it cannot but be a great grief to those who desire the salvation of souls. Note, 2. The labour of ministers is in vain upon those who begin in the Spirit and end in the flesh, who, though they seem to set out well, yet afterwards turn aside from the way of the gospel. Note, 3. Those will have a great deal to answer for upon whom the faithful ministers of Jesus Christ bestow labour in vain.

Paul is despondent because the Galatians are adopted sons of God, heirs to His everlasting kingdom, but they want to embrace legalism.

John MacArthur explains how believers are God’s heirs and why it is such a privilege:

The law couldn’t save. The law couldn’t bring forgiveness. The law couldn’t remove the sentence of death and hell.

What the law couldn’t do, weak as it was to the flesh – it wasn’t the law’s fault, it’s holy, just and good; but the flesh is weak – God did, sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh. And as an offering for sin He condemned sin in the flesh so that the requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us. He not only became accursed for us, but He fulfilled in His death; but in His life He fulfilled the law for us. So our sins are imputed to Him in His death, and His perfect life is imputed to us by faith.

He sent His Son. Why? Verse 5, “so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” He wanted to redeem us, buy us back from our bondage, pay the price.

The word “under” appears a lot here. Have you noticed that? “Under law,” once in chapter 3, once in chapter 4. “Under a curse,” chapter 3. “Under sin,” chapter 3. “Under elemental things,” chapter 4. Even, “Under a tutor.” This describes the life of someone before Christ, under the law, under sin, under elemental things of basic religion, under a curse. All of this reflects our bondage.

Our Lord, it says, was born under the law, but He kept it perfectly. That’s His active righteousness, His active obedience. And then He died in our place, and that’s His passive righteous obedience. “And He did it to redeem us,” – buy us from the bondage of sin – “that we might” – here it comes at the end of verse 5 – “that we might receive the adoption as sons.” This is such an honorable privilege.

MacArthur tells us why Paul uses the notion of adoption. We had another family before God adopted us, thanks to His Son’s perfect and sufficient sacrifice:

… let’s talk about adoption. What’s our former family? “You’re of your father the devil,” John 8. Sons of disobedience, sons of wrath. Our home is the world system. We’re in bondage to sin and death and hell. Our father is the devil; that’s our family. This is the universal human condition. But God displayed His glory through love and grace toward us. And chapter 3, verse 26 says, “You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus.”

And then as we read in verse 5, He came to redeem us, that we might receive the adoption as sons.” We were regenerated, given life, we were declared righteous; and now God says, “I am moving you from the family of Satan into My own family, and I’m placing you in My family, and so intrinsically into My family that I am placing you in union with My Son, in union with My Son.”

John 1:12, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the authority to become the children of God.” We have authority as the children of God.

I’m always drawn to 1 John chapter 3. Listen to verse 1: “See how great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we would be called children of God. How great a love the Father has bestowed on us, that we will be called children of God.” Yes, we were actually born anew so that we are new creations with new life. But we were also doubly put into God’s family by then being chosen and adopted and taken out of the kingdom of darkness.

In order to appreciate the notion of adoption, it is important to keep in mind that, in Roman times, it was very different to today’s practice.

Today, people adopt babies and young children from charities. It is seen as a charitable act.

It was quite the opposite in the Roman empire. Adoption in that era was a sign of social status and was for adult men only, not women or children.

MacArthur explains the whys and wherefores of Roman adoption:

In the ancient Roman world they did not adopt children. They adopted adults, and they adopted male adults. Very rarely was a female adopted. That is why when Paul talks about adoption he talks about sons, because adoption was done with male, adult young men. Rarely does anyone in our society adopt an adult. There wouldn’t be any compelling reason to do that basically in our society.

But let me tell you a little bit about Roman adoption – almost always an adult male twenty years of age and up, even into the thirties. They were adopted into wealthy families, families of status, families with an estate, families of prominence, and virtually all those kinds of families did adoptions. Even if they had children, even if they had sons, they would adopt. If they had no sons, obviously they would adopt in order to have an heir. But if they had sons that they didn’t think were suited for the future of the family, they would adopt another son.

And by the way, there was a power in ancient Rome called patria potestas, which essentially says “the father’s power.” And a father could disown a born child. More frequently than not, it would be a girl. But the father could also disown a son. He could also sell a son for adoption. He could also kill a son for whatever reason he wanted.

So the father had absolute power over his children. And if he had no sons or if he had sons that he didn’t want to become the heirs of his estate, he would adopt. They were chosen, not as babies, because many babies didn’t survive childhood. You wouldn’t go through all the adoption to have a baby that would die. And furthermore, you didn’t know what kind of a young man this baby would become.

So they waited until they were in their twenties or thirties and they could see their leadership potential, their mental skills, their physical strength, their wisdom. They were looking for someone who would be the next patria familias, “father of the family.” The father wanted someone to take over the estate. The purpose was really singular: to bring an heir into the family who was worthy of this estate and could guarantee the future of that estate going forward.

And this would happen either because they had no son, or they had no son they felt was qualified. And there were families who had more sons than they needed. They would have sons to carry on their line, and they would be happy to have one of their sons adopted by one of these patrician families – very often adopted out of the plebeian, the common families.

In Roman times, the head of the family was both a manager of the family’s estate – a bookkeeper and a financial caretaker for the family’s fortune, and a priest, who basically ran the family religion – whatever gods they worshiped, whatever household gods, whatever forms of worship were part of that heritage were his responsibility. He was patria familias, “the family father.” And so when they adopted young men they were looking for an heir who could step into that role – very, very important: be the keeper of the family’s fortune and the keeper of the family’s reputation in the future. Poor, again, less noble parents who had such desirable sons would gladly make those sons available to a noble family for a price, for a price. And the price could be very high. It was an honor, by the way, not a dishonor. It was an honorable act to give your son to one of the patrician families, one of the families of the senators, the people who were elite.

Keep this in mind. Somebody might say, “Well, wait a minute. If you’ve got a really bright, sharp young son, maybe he could take the family he’s in and elevate that family and move that family up the social ladder to make them one of the elite families.” Couldn’t happen; didn’t happen. There was an elite class of patricians in the Roman world that was essentially unapproachable and unavailable to the rest of the plebeian society. So if you wanted to advance your capable son, this would be a great way to do that, and maybe the only way to elevate him.

It wasn’t secret. It was very public. It was very official. In fact, it was so official that at a high level it required senate confirmation, senate confirmation. A lot was involved. You’re talking about wealthy families with estates and reputations. Many of them senators. Many of them, by the way, emperors in Rome.

So this had senate involvement. It was a long drawn out, very official, very formal ceremony, like a wedding. It was that public. It was that kind of celebration. And like a wedding when the bride gives herself to the husband, she doesn’t intend to never speak to her family again. She doesn’t intend to forget her family, even though they cleave together and create a union all their own; they continue to be connected to the family that was their birth family. They create a new family, but they have a connection to the family of the past in some way.

That was true in adoption. It was not a complete forsaking of your family, so that the family in the future would in some ways be able to enjoy something of the success of the adopted son as they stayed connected in some way with him. However, he would take the father’s name, the new father’s name, and he would bear that name for the rest of his life. He would get all of the rights and privileges of that family. In fact, he would be the heir of everything that family possessed, and he would bear the name of his new father.

Adoption – here’s a definition: “The condition of a son, chosen and given to a father and family to which he doesn’t naturally belong, to formally and legally declare a son who is not a son by birth, but a son by choice, granting him complete rights and inheritance.” That’s Roman adoption.

There were four results of this adoption. Number one: You had a new father. You had a new father. Number two: You were heir to his estate. And that’s the primary reason for this adoption. And if you were adopted to become the primary heir, and the couple had more sons, those sons could never supplant the adopted son who was declared the heir. They could share in the inheritance like co-heirs, but that adopted son would be the ultimate heir.

Third thing: all the adopted son’s previous debts and responsibility were wiped out. If he owed anything to anyone anywhere, that was all gone. They erased his past life, except the connection with his family. It was as if he had never lived before. Everything was set aside; everything was erased. He is now legally and absolutely the son and heir of his new father, and there is no past life to take into account.

The fourth element is: he would have to be purchased with a high price, which is one of the reasons that poor families would make this overture of a son that was desired by a wealthy family. So the results were significant.

One other thing to say – according to the Roman-Syrian law book, I found an interesting quote there on this subject. It says, and I quote, “A man cannot disown an adopted son,” end quote. So once you were adopted, it was permanent.

Does this make our adoption as sons of God more meaningful?

MacArthur continues:

So much care was taken about who was adopted. The adopted son – listen – then is more secure in his inheritance than a born son. The adopted son is more secure in his inheritance than a born son. A born son could be disowned, sold, adopted out, or even killed, as I said earlier.

This is such a noble event that nine of the Caesars were adopted. Julius Caesar had no children, so he adopted Augustus. Augustus had no sons, so he adopted Tiberius. Nine Caesars, nine emperors were adopted from other families into the royal line. So this is a very richly textured picture of what Christian believers experience in being adopted into God’s family.

And if you look at it in the breadth of that, you begin to see what the Galatians would have understood, and what Paul intended them to understand, that what happens when God adopts us into His family is, first of all, we are in another family. We are comparatively in an impoverished family. We are in a family with no future, no hope of ever achieving what that new family possesses. We are chosen; we are chosen. We are then purchased. We are then given the name of the new family. We then become heirs of everything that that father possesses; and that can never change. That’s adoption. And we say, “Abba! Father!”

We have a new Father, and we’re so intimately connected to Him that we say, “Papa. Daddy.” It’s that intense a relationship. And we have all the rights and privileges, so that Jesus says in John 1:12, to those who believed in Him, He gave “the authority to be called sons of God.” It is a position of authority In heaven we will sit with Him on His throne. We will be, as we have read in Romans 8, “heirs and joint heirs with Christ” of all that God possesses.

The adoption ceremony in the Roman empire also had to have witnesses. We believers also have a witness, the Holy Spirit:

By the way, in the adoption ceremony, according to one source, there were seven witnesses, seven witnesses. Why would you have witnesses of the adoption? To establish the legality of it and testimony to it, in case in the future other children of that wealthy family would contest to that adoption and say, “Wait a minute.” When the estate starts getting passed out and they are overlooked, there could well be conflict in the family.

And so one source says there were seven witnesses required, which fascinates me, because we have in our text, if you’ll look down at verse 6, “Because,” verse 5, “we have received the adoption as sons,” verse 6, “because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts.” And what is the Spirit sent into our hearts to do? Romans 8 says, “To witness that we are the sons of God.”

The Holy Spirit is the witness that we are the sons of God. And according to Isaiah 11:2, the Holy Spirit is the sevenfold spirit. In Isaiah 11:2 there are seven features of the Holy Spirit. They are demonstrated in the menorah with its seven flames. The fullness of the Spirit is a sevenfold fullness. And so the fullness of the sevenfold Spirit is God’s witness to the legality of our adoption that can never be contested, because of the witness of the Holy Spirit.

We have seen the preparation for our sonship in the early verses: the realization of our sonship, verses 4 and 5, when we become adopted as sons; the confirmation of our sonship, verse 6, receiving the Spirit in our hearts who witnesses with our spirit that we are the sons of God. All of this is built on this incredibly rich picture of Roman adoption.

Now we come to the consummation of sonship in verse 7, the consummation of sonship. “Therefore you are no longer a slave.” And by the way, slaves could be adopted; both slaves and free men could be adopted. Slaves, by the way, were not all the kind of slaves you might think. Many of them were highly educated; many of them were professionally skilled people. That was just their social status.

“You are no longer a slave, but a son;” – and here it comes – “if a son, if a son, then an heir through God.” The point of adoption was to give the estate to that adopted son. It was that he would be the heir through God, dia, by the immediate agency of God. God is choosing an heir.

Think of your salvation that way. He chose you before the foundation of the world to be an heir of everything that He possesses. This is the magnanimous nature of the grace and love of God. This is astonishing, astonishing.

That is what our adoption by God means. It is an immense privilege, more than we can possibly appreciate or understand.

I hope that this gives us renewed appreciation of our spiritual state as believers in Christ Jesus and of our inheritance to come in eternity.

Next time — Galatians 4:12-16

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