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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 5:3-7

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

Henry offers this analysis:

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

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

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

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

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

Paul concludes Ephesians 5 with his instructions on married life:

Wives and Husbands

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

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

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

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

Paul follows this with instructions for children and servants.

Next time — Ephesians 6:1-9

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Ephesians 4:17-24

The New Life

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

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

Of today’s verses, John MacArthur tells us:

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

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

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

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

Unity in the Body of Christ

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

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

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

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

Henry interprets the verse succinctly:

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

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry says:

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

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

Henry tells us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Walk in Love

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

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

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

Next time — Ephesians 5:3-7

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Galatians 4:17-20

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

————————————————————————————

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

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

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

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

Henry rephrases the verse as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

Henry rephrases Paul’s thought for us:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains this important aspect of Christianity:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is another word for sanctification? Holiness.

MacArthur says:

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

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

MacArthur explains the route towards sanctification:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

More on those verses next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:20-27

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur often laments the state of the Church today.

In May 1998, he gave a sermon on 2 Corinthians 13:1-2, which I cited in my post yesterday.

The sermon is called ‘The Pattern of Sanctification, Part 1: Church Discipline’.

Whilst discussing the first two verses of 2 Corinthians 13, he also gave an excellent exposition of everything that is wrong in the Church today. Excerpts follow, emphases mine below.

Since 1998, the following has exploded in churches around the Western world. Around the end of the 20th century, church growth rose to prominence. Moving on to the 21st century, the last decade saw a rise in home churches. Online church services surfaced during the pandemic and became normalised. The Church of England hierarchy wants more online services and fewer church buildings, retaining them only in community ‘hubs’. I do despair.

MacArthur points out the folly of it all:

Now, before we look at the text itself, I want to kind of get us into the importance of the subject and the importance of the attitude of the apostle Paul here by sharing with you perspective that I think exists in the Church today. Many people are concerned about the state of the Church. The condition of churches today have caused a myriad of seminars and conferences and books to be written. There are constant calls for renewal in the Church, for better understanding of the culture, for changing the style of the Church to fit the style of the ‘90s, replacing preaching of the Scripture with more interesting methodologies and technologies.

All across our country – in fact, all around the world there are these efforts being made to reinvent the Church. The fear is that the Church is not speaking to the time, people are not listening. The Church has somehow become irrelevant; it has become obsolete. Self-styled experts are saying that the future of the Church is in the balance, and the Church may not survive in the West if it doesn’t become culturally relevant, if it doesn’t learn how to package its message better, if it doesn’t target felt needs, if it doesn’t employ more popular and efficient communication devices that it currently uses.

All of this comes into focus in a new book that’s just been out a couple of weeks. It’s one of those books that you could pick up and read rather rapidly. I read it fairly rapidly; I couldn’t put it down. It just kept compelling me to read. It was sort of like enjoying the pain, actually. It was like there’s something redeeming in this self-flagellation that I’m going through, and I’m going to carry it all away to the end. The book pained me deeply, and every page added more to my pain, but I couldn’t put it down because I was so startled by what the book was saying.

It is a book that calls for the Church to do what I just said: reinvent itself. And it says, on the cover of the book, “Today’s Church is incapable of responding to the present moral crisis. It must reinvent itself or face virtual oblivion by mid twenty-first century.” End quote.

So, the book says that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, and put itself in better cultural relevance, it’s going to go out of existence in 50 years. That statement alone was overwhelming for me. Do you mean to tell me that the eternal God who determined in the counsels of the Trinity, before the foundation of the world, before time began, who He would redeem and how He would gather His own to Himself and bring them to eternal glory is somehow going to find His whole plan coming unglued in the next 50 years? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus Christ purchased with His own blood is somehow going to escape His purposes for redemption and atonement? Do you mean to tell me that the Church which Jesus said He would build, and the gates of Hades could not prevail against it is somehow going to become victimized by its own inept[itude]? That is a brash and irresponsible statement, to say that if the Church doesn’t reinvent itself, it’ll face oblivion by the mid twenty-first century.

The only thing that could possibly obliterate the Church on earth by then would be the end of the age and the return of Jesus Christ and the glorification of the Church. That’s a very irresponsible thing to say. And the author of the book fearing – and I think he probably genuinely fears that the Church might go out of existence – suggests that there are some ways to save the Church, and these are the suggestions. “Develop cyber churches, virtual churches on the Internet.

Secondly, develop house churches which appeal to people because they have low control, low authority, and operate without historical tradition, I might add, or theology.” “Eliminate congregational churches” – like this – “for more congenial, less confrontational, and more dispassionately interactive forums. Preachers must be replaced by presenters who have no notes and don’t hide behind pulpits, and who generate a more positive response for their listeners.

“We must get rid of sermons, because one-sided communication is ineffective, and eliminate series and Bible exposition, because everybody’s attendance is sporadic, and people really get irritated coming in and out of series that they can’t consistently hear. So, we need to play to their sporadic attendance. And every sermon should be a unit in itself because most of the folks will miss the next two weeks before they decide to come back.”

You say, “Well, where did he get those ideas?”

They were the result of a survey. If you ask unbelievers outside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask unbelievers inside the Church what they want, you can get answers like that. If you ask believers in the Church, ignorant of Scripture, what they want, you can get answers like that. But if you were to survey biblically literate believers, you wouldn’t get answers like that.

So, who is it that determines the character of the Church? You go to the lowest possible source. Unbelievers outside the Church, unbelievers inside the Church, or ignorant believers in the Church. What is the hope of the Church? Is this really it, if we can just disband congregational churches and develop a virtual church on the Internet, will that solve our problem? Will that dramatically affect the Church’s ability to confront the moral crisis of our day, as if that were somehow our reason for existence? And it’s not. Ours is not a moral agenda. Ours is a spiritual one.

Would it be better if we had presenters instead of preachers, and we got rid of pulpits, and got rid of sermon notes, and sat on stools, would that be the difference? And just sort of told stories?

Would it be better if instead of somebody preparing to preach a sermon and giving forth an exposition of Scripture we had a pooling of everyone’s ideas? Would it be better if we never had any continuity in or sermons but had little units week in and week out? Would that really save the Church from virtual oblivion?

And by the way, are we the ones responsib[le for] sav[ing] the Church from going out of existence? Is that our job? That’s all the result of a survey. You see, that’s what people want. And what they want is what they should get. That’s the basic thesis behind all of that.

Now, if you ask me what the Church needs, I don’t need a survey. I just ask the Lord of the Church, and He’s revealed it in His Word. And what the Church really needs is more consistent, faithful, clear theological exposition of the mind of God through the pages of Scripture. What it needs is better preaching, better sermons – and I may get in trouble for saying this – fewer small churches with ungifted, untrained, and unskilled preachers.

The Word must dominate the Church and bear its God-intended power and authority over all who hear. You see, the only way that the Church will ever effectively counter the crisis of our time – moral crisis, spiritual crisis – is when the Word of God is working powerfully in the Church – listen to what I say – to produce not information, but “holiness.” There’s the operative word, folks. Write that down somewhere; that’s the theme of the message this morning.

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, “If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

When I was at Moody this week, I spoke, and I basically said to them, “You know, I’m going to preach the sermon I’ve prepared for my own church on Sunday.” I kind of tweaked it here and there a little bit. But I said to them what I’m going to say to you, because everybody’s talking about church growth and how to grow your church and have a successful church in a flourishing ministry and more folks and church growth is a begin thing. And I said to them, “It may surprise you to hear this, but I really believe the single greatest contributor to the impact of our church, to the growth of our church, to the ministries of our church, to the effect of our church – the single greatest factor that exists – has existed through the years of Grace Community Church – the single greatest contributor to the influence, and the strength, and the growth of our church has been” – and I paused, and it got real quiet, and I said – “church discipline.” And there was a pall over the meeting.

Church discipline. That is not normally considered a principle of church growth. Most people would assume, “If you want to kill a place, do that. Just start poking around in everybody’s life and they’ll split.” Not the people who love righteousness. Not the people who hate sin. Not the people who want to honor God. Not the people who care about obedience. And that’s the Church, isn’t it? That’s the true and redeemed Church.

It may surprise you to hear this. I believe that ignoring church discipline is the most visible and disastrous failure of the Church in our time. Because what it conveys is we aren’t really concerned about – what? – sin. The Lord of the Church is concerned about sin. The apostle Paul was concerned about sin. It left him with a constant, unrelenting ache in his heart.

The problem with the Church is not that it’s got bad methodology or bad technology. The problem with the Church is it’s lost its interest in holiness. It’s lost its interest in maintaining purity. Churches have become content to be fellowships of independent members with minimal accountability to God, and even less to each other

The absence of church discipline – and I mean it’s absolutely a foreign thing in churches – the absence of church discipline is a symptom of the moral decline, the theological indifference of the Church. It’s a symptom, I believe, of a shallow commitment to Scripture. It’s not as if the Bible is unclear on the subject. It couldn’t be more clear. It is a lack of reverence for the Lord of the Church. It is saying, “Well, I know you’re concerned about the holiness of the Church, but we’re really not. We have other things to be concerned about.” Church discipline is not an elective; it is not an option; it is a necessary an integral mark of true Christianity and life in the church.

And I say it again; the absence of church discipline is the most glaring evidence of the worldliness of the Church. And the worldliness of the Church is the reason for its impotence. And you can have all of the entertainment, and all the hoopla, and all the big crowds that you want and not impact the world. It’s the purity of the Church; it’s the holiness of the Church that is the cause of its power. The problem is the Church is unholy.

Even the idea of confession of sin is outdated in an age of moral relativism and moral ambiguity. The answer is not let’s break up the congregation and produce less accountability; let’s get down to house churches where we have less authority, less confrontation, more autonomy, more independence. The answer is not let’s have more compassion; let’s have a kinder, gentler church.

Albert Mohler, who’s the president of Southern Seminary, writes – and I quote – “Individuals now claim an enormous zone of personal privacy and moral autonomy. The congregation, redefined as a mere voluntary association, has no right to intrude into this space. Many congregations have forfeited any responsibility to confront even the most public sins of their members.” He says congregations are consumed with pragmatic methods of church growth and what he calls congregational engineering. And most churches just ignore the issues of sin.

Let us contrast that approach with that of St Paul:

Well, the apostle Paul wasn’t that way. We’re learning, at the end of the book here, about the faithful pastor’s concerns. What is it that concerns a faithful pastor? What is it that concerns Paul? Well, he’s giving us a summary of that, starting in chapter 12, verse 19, running all the way to chapter 13, verse 10. That whole section is a summation of what concerns Paul.

And we could sum it up in a word. He’s concerned with the spiritual well-being of his flock. That’s what he’s concerned about. Corinth was a challenge. The city was gross in terms of its wickedness. People who came to Christ in that city were coming out of very immoral backgrounds. They brought some of that garbage into the church. He had to write to them 1 Corinthians to confront a long litany of iniquities that they were still engaging in, even though they were in the church and calling themselves believers.

Having sorted out those problems in the writing of 1 Corinthians, it wasn’t long until false teachers had come, and along with false teachers came pride, and along with pride came more sin. And Paul could see the subsequent impotence of that unholy situation and the loss of testimony, the loss of evangelistic impact that would follow.

Paul knew that the problem in Corinth was not going to be whether they were culturally relevant or not. The false teachers criticized Paul for not having a relevant message, not taking into account the expectations of the Corinthians for what oratory ought to be because of what they were used to. They had criticized Paul because his person, his persona was unimpressive, and his speech was contemptible; he was a lousy communicator; he didn’t speak in the venue that people were used to hearing. He didn’t have all of the personal charm to woo the audience.

He had already addressed the issues that he didn’t speak with men’s wisdom, and he didn’t come in the wisdom of the world to achieve divine purposes. He already had laid it down that he was going to come and speak the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God, and he believed the Word of God was the power. And behind that came this conviction and commitment to the fact that the church had to be holy. And what Paul feared in his church was error and sin. Either one of those destroys the church. Theological error, theological ignorance or inequity devastates the church.

I can think of very few pastors who would pursue Paul’s route. Yet, it is the correct one for the Church.

There is the world, the slave to sin. And there is the Church, which teaches that the way to eternal life is through the repentance of sin, a turning around of ourselves and our worldly ways towards … holiness.

Do we notice how the more modern and relevant the Church becomes, the more people avoid it?

There is another problem and that is the use of churches as tools for evangelising. Evangelising is a necessary activity but, done properly, it takes place outside of the church service, not during it.

The church service is designed for worship of our Lord and the exposition of Scripture, not winning converts off the street.

How bad do things have to get before our clergy realise the error of their ways? Sadly, I fear this will drag on and on for decades.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 13:1-4

13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.

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In last week’s post, we saw how much Paul grieved over the state of the Corinthian church under the influence of the false teachers and the unrepentant souls in the congregation.

It is no wonder that Paul never married. He had a deep agape for all the churches he planted and he wanted them to be pure, a true Bride of Christ. He suffered a broken heart for the Corinthians but still wanted them to straighten themselves out for the Lord.

As we enter the last chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he will be making his third visit. He says that he will be exercising church discipline by asking two or three witnesses to be present before each charge of serious sin before a member of the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

… the apostle had told these Corinthians before, in his former epistle, and now he tells them, or writes to those who heretofore had sinned, and to all others, giving warning unto all before he came in person the third time, to exercise severity against scandalous offenders. Others think that the apostle had designed and prepared for his journey to Corinth twice already, but was providentially hindered, and now informs them of his intentions a third time to come to them. However this be, it is observable that he kept an account how often he endeavoured, and what pains he took with these Corinthians for their good: and we may be sure that an account is kept in heaven, and we must be reckoned with another day for the helps we have had for our souls, and how we have improved them.

John MacArthur says that it was an imperative for Paul to deal with ongoing sin in the church in Corinth. He had similar experiences elsewhere, too, Galatia being another example:

When it came to sin, for the sake of the sinning believer, Paul wanted to confront that sin … He sees the effect of what’s going on in the church crippling believers and cutting them off from God’s blessing. And he also sees its devastating impact in the community, because an unholy church has no power, no witness. You cannot convince a community of the transforming power of God if the church is characterized by sin and wickedness.

Paul was very confront[ational] with his churches. In Galatians chapter 1, you remember he writes the Galatians. In verse 6 he said, “I am amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” He confronts the fact that they had wandered off after Judaizing false teachers who were teaching them legalism. “I can’t believe you’ve done it; it’s not really another gospel at all. People are coming, distorting the gospel. I’m telling you” – in verse 8 “though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

The call for witnesses is in Deuteronomy as well as Numbers, and Christ spoke of it in Matthew 18. MacArthur expands on our Lord’s desire for a holy and pure Church:

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

He warns again that when he returns he will be harsh with the unrepentant, sparing no one (verse 2).

Henry says that, after a long period of patience, stronger measures are sometimes necessary, as God is our judge. Better to repent now than to experience His wrath later:

Note, Though it is God’s gracious method to bear long with sinners, yet he will not bear always; at length he will come, and will not spare those who remain obstinate and impenitent, notwithstanding all his methods to reclaim and reform them.

MacArthur explains the verb ‘to spare’ in Greek:

The verb here is pheisomai. It’s a very strong word. It’s used to describe a battle situation, and it means to spare the life of a captured enemy. You have every right to take his life, because he’s the enemy. To spare means not to kill him when you have the opportunity to do so and the right to do so. The idea is to have mercy on an enemy who deserves death.

Well, Paul says, “When I get there, I’m not going to have any mercy. When I get there, I’m not going to spare anybody; you’re going to get exactly what your sin calls for.” This is no idle threat. Paul’s going to do this; he’s going to deal with sin. And he wants the Corinthians to know that this is his concern.

Paul returns to the troubling reality that the Corinthians need further proof that Christ speaks through him, saying that our Lord is not weak in dealing with them but is, in fact, powerful among them — via sanctification (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets this verse and notes the thematic transitions from the end of 2 Corinthians 12:21 through 2 Corinthians 13:4:

So, verse 3 says, “Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me” – that’s the issue. They were saying, “We want some proof that it’s really Christ speaking in you; how do we know it’s not just your opinion? You’re just telling us what you want to tell us. You’re just saying what is your own view, and your own idea. How do we know? Give us some proof of the Christ who speaks in you.” That was the issue here. Now, remember, Paul had already indicated that his concern for his people was repentance, chapter 12, verses 20 and 21.

That was our first point in this little outline. And secondly, he was concerned for the discipline of his people, verses 1 and 2. And now, in verses 3 and 4, he’s concerned for the authority of his people. Any faithful pastor is concerned with these issues. He’s concerned about sin and repentance. He’s concerned about discipline, which is the purging and purifying of the church. And he’s concerned about making sure the people come under the authority of the truth. Those are the faithful pastor’s concerns.

And we come to this third one, this matter of authority, and Paul wants to address it. So, he says in verse 3, “You’re seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, huh? You haven’t had enough proof already?” Go back to verse 12, of chapter 12. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Well, they had a lot of proof; miracles that Paul had done there. That was proof enough. And there was even more proof. How about this?

“You’re saved. You’ve been justified. You’ve been regenerated. You’ve been converted. You’ve been transformed. You’ve been changed. You’ve been born again. You’ve been redeemed. Isn’t that indicative of the fact that the truth came through me, the saving truth? Not only that, you’re in the process of being sanctified, you’re in the process of growing, and maturing, and being nurtured, and becoming more like Christ. Isn’t that evidence?” They had evidence from signs. They had evidence from salvation. They had evidence from sanctification.

But they were so fickle they allowed themselves to get sucked into this false teacher’s effort, and to question things that they really had no reason to question. So, he says, “Okay, you want more proof of the Christ who speaks in me?” – go back to verse 2 – “If I come again I’ll not spare anyone.” That’s what he’s talking about. “I’ll not spare you, and that will give you more proof.” What does he mean? He means, “When I come, I’m going to take out the sword, if need be, of discipline, and I’m going to act in behalf of Christ in dealing with your sin.”

As for Paul’s statement that Christ is speaking in him, MacArthur says:

What a great statement: “The Christ who speaks in me.” And how does Christ speak in us? Not in an audible voice; He speaks in us when we proclaim His Word. Christ isn’t indicated to have given special words to Paul on every occasion. Once the Word of God was revealed, Paul preached it, and re-preached it, and re-preached it, and gave it to us. When you speak the Word of Christ, Christ speaks in you. So, you – that was the question. And that should be the question. That should always be the question

“And you’re going to see more when I come and don’t spare anybody, and apply Matthew 18 to all of you. And then you’ll see the Christ who speaks in me” – verse 3 – “and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” And he’s saying, “You already have seen that. He – He is not weak toward you. You know that, because you’re saved, and you’re being sanctified. He is mighty in you, and you know that. You’re experiencing it. Your lives have been changed and transformed. You know that, and you’ve seen the signs and wonders.

“You want more proof of how mighty Christ is? You want more proof of how powerful He is? Then I’ll give it to you, when I come against that unrepentant person, with the very same authority of the Word of Christ.” Beloved, always, there is power, when believers act in line with the truth of God’s Word. Christ is the Lord of the church, and He expresses authority in His church through His Word, proclaimed by gifted, and called, and faithful preachers and teachers.

Paul concludes this section by saying that Christ appeared weak on the Cross but He lives forevermore because of the power of God; similarly, Paul was weak so as to allow the Lord to work through him, and this would also be true in his exercising of church discipline (verse 4).

Compared to the false teachers, Paul lacked their charm, persona and physical attributes. He was a humble man but he took care to preach and teach the truth.

He wanted to be humble and weak, an empty vessel, so that Christ could work through him in everything he did.

MacArthur explains the power of humility which Paul employed to great effect, making way for the power of God. The ‘we’ refers to Paul, who could not abide saying ‘I’:

Well, he gives a tremendous analogy, brilliant analogy. Listen to this – verse 4, middle of the verse, start with the word for – “For we also are weak in Him.” “We admit it. I admit it. I’m weak. I’m weak, and I’m in Christ. I’m in Him. That is, I’m in Christ; saved, redeemed, belong to Him, but I’m weak. I admit it.” “Yet we shall live with Him.” What does that mean? What does it mean, “we shall live with Him?” Well, what it means is that he’s found spiritual life, and it’s eternal. He has found spiritual life, and it’s eternal spiritual life.

And he found it because of the power of God. God, in power, came into his weakness, and made him alive with spiritual life forever. And then it says, in verse 4, “God directed that same power through him toward you.” Wow. What’s he saying? He’s saying, “Well, my weakness didn’t stop the power of God, it facilitated it. Because there’s no other explanation for my life than that it was the power of God, because there’s no human explanation. I’m too week, too frail, too inept, too unimpressive, to have pulled it off myself.

“Whatever has happened has been the power of God, surging through my weakness.” Back to verse 9, of chapter 12, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God says, “Power is perfected in weakness.” Wow. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” That’s – that’s the principle. God said, “I’ll perfect My power through your weakness.” Paul said, “I’m happy to be weak, because in my weakness, God’s power came.”

It was in Paul’s weakness and brokenness that he was redeemed. It was when he was going to Damascus, a proud, confident, arrogant Jew, persecuting Christians, and he was crushed in the dirt, and shattered, and broken, and dismantled, and made blind, and halting, and stumbling, he fell before God. And in the midst of that weakness he was crushed into nothing, and through that weakness God saved him, and began to sanctify him, and he became the great, great preacher; the greatest preacher ever, next to the Lord Jesus Himself.

Brokenness can serve a great purpose in that it gives way to God’s power working in us. Jesus set the example.

MacArthur notes, with regret, that this notion of humility is no longer a message that most churches convey. However, it is essential, because Christ was broken on the Cross, yet He lives through the power of God:

And again, I say, the church doesn’t need less of this; it needs so much more of it. So, he says, “We’re weak in Him.” It’s true. “Yet we have received spiritual life which is eternal, because of the power of God that has come to us, and through us, is directed toward you.” “You’ve experienced it. You saw the miracles. You were saved. You’re sanctified. And you’re about to see some of it, too, if I find some sin there; you’ll see more of the power of God coming through.”

And then he gives this really wonderful, wonderful analogy, in the beginning of verse 4: “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God.” Well, I mean, that is the end of the discussion, right there. Who’s He? Jesus. “You’re saying I’m too weak to be powerful? Let me give you an analogy. I am weak; that’s why I’m powerful, and so was Jesus.” This is great. “Indeed He was crucified because of weakness” – or literally, it could be in the Greek, “He was crucified in weakness.”

The bottom line is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an unmistakable evidence of His weakness. I mean, He came into the world in the form of a servant, Philippians 2 says; He humbled Himself, came in the fashion of a man, became a servant. He lived a very humble life. But when He got to the cross, you really began to see His weakness. Through His life, you could see human weakness. He was weary. He was sad. He sorrowed. He was disappointed. He wept. But then He was betrayed, and then He was taken before a court of Jews in a mock trial, and blasphemed.

And then He was blasphemed by the Idumeans, and then He was blasphemed by the Romans, in a mock of a trial before Pilate. And then He was treated with disdain and abuse, and spit on, and punched, and poked, and laughed at. And then He was crucified, and then He died. And that is weakness. The supreme evidence of His weakness is His death. And Paul says, “Indeed, that’s true” – indeed meaning truly, that’s true – “He was crucified because of weakness, yet He is alive because of the power of God.”

What’s that refer to? Resurrection, right? The resurrection. God raised Him from the dead. Romans 1:4 tells us God raised Him from the dead. The Lord Jesus was weak. He was so weak that His enemies defeated and executed Him in the most debasing, humiliating, and shameful manner possible. His human nature was so weak that it was fully susceptible to death. Yet He lives. Once weak in death, He was made alive in power, and He came out of that grave on the third day, His resurrection being the most monumental evidence and revelation of His power.

So, Jesus is the pattern. He was weak, weak all the way to death, and yet He is alive because of the power of God, which raised Him from the dead. So Paul. He’s weak. He’s in fear and trembling. He suffers a lot. He lives with sorrow, pain, and disappointment. He’s been beaten, and battered, and rejected. Humanly, he’s not welcome. He’s not ranked among the great preachers or speakers and orators of his day. He says, “We’re weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.”

Like Christ, it was Paul’s weakness that God used to make him strong. The power of God came into his life, transformed him, and surged through his life to transform the Corinthians.

Next week’s post concludes 2 Corinthians, part of which is in the Lectionary.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, 14

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Hebrews 12:12-17

12 Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, 13 and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. 14 Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord. 15 See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled; 16 that no one is sexually immoral or unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. 17 For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.

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Last week’s post discussed the previous set of verses, difficult to digest in some ways, about discipline from God. I suggested that we liken God to a divine coach, strengthening us through our trials the way an athletics coach would build up his charges’ strength through rigorous exercise.

The author of Hebrews is encouraging the new converts from Judaism to be strong and persevere with the faith, no matter what trials befall them. They lost their families and friends because of their Christian faith. Not surprisingly, they were faltering.

There were also Hebrews who were attending Christian worship services but had not fully committed themselves as followers of Christ. The author of Hebrews wanted them to make that commitment.

John MacArthur explains that the author’s intent was to save both groups from apostasy (emphases mine):

Sprinkled among these believing Jews were some who hadn’t even yet been saved. And they had identified superficially as professing Christians with this Jewish community of believers, and they were there in name only, not in truth. And they were in danger of turning around and going back to apostate, to be apostates, to apostatize if you want the verb. They were in danger of saying, “Oh, this is ridiculous. I’ve seen enough of this; I’m going back to Judaism.” And had they done that, they would have been locked in unbelief forever because they would have rejected against full information. And that’s what apostasy is.

These verses are addressed to faltering believers. Therefore, the author exhorts them to get themselves in position for the endurance that faith demands (verse 12), an analogy used elsewhere in the Bible, including the Old Testament:

What he’s really saying in athletic metaphor is get your second wind. Sure, the outward man is perishing, but what did Isaiah say? “But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their” – what? – “their strength. They shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint.” That’s a promise of God.

These converts, like any other Christian throughout history, needed to be stronger spiritually. Poor spiritual positioning could cause them to become spiritually lame, when they should be healed (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the running analogy based on his own personal experience at school. The upper case ‘He’ below refers to the Holy Spirit, who inspired the author of Hebrews along with every other author of the Bible:

You know, if you’re an athlete, and you’re going to train for a track meet, you’re going to discipline yourself or you’re not going to be any good in the track meet. Can you imagine a guy coming out to run a mile who’s never worked out? You see, the discipline isn’t meant to slow him down; the discipline is meant to speed him up. It’s meant to make him faster in the race. And God brings things into our lives in order that He might speed us, not slow us down.

You know, in any kind of a race, you can always tell when a guy gets tired. I ran enough track to know this. And you can always tell two things automatically happen. I know this from my – I’m telling you, personal experience; this has happened to me many, many times. The first thing that happens to a good runner, when he gets tired, is his arms drop. One of the first things you learn in running is the motion of your arms is very important and very strategic to the movement of your body. And the rhythm is all – all needs to be in congruity. It has to be going together. And you can always tell when a guy gets tired, because his arms start dropping, and that breaks his rhythm. You see, your arms are powerful enough to pull you into your stride. And any good runner works very diligently on the motion of his arms. And as he gets tired, his arms begin to drop, and then he begins to lose the drive.

The second thing that always happens to a runner, when he gets tired, is his knees begin to wobble. Now any of you guys that have run track, you know this; you know what it’s like to say, “Go, leg, go,” and it doesn’t. Right? And your knees are just going like this. Well, I can – I can remember so many times running a 440 and coming around to the 380 mark, with 60 yards to go, and saying, “Go, knees, go,” and they just – you just have to go – “Mmm” – like this, and just put one out in front of the other, almost forcing each leg individually.

And so, this is a very graphic illustration that He has here. The arms begin to droop, the rhythm is lost, and pretty soon he’s fighting against the growing numbness in his legs. And you know what happens then? If he begins to concentrate on the numbness in his legs, he’s finished. There’s only one thing that a runner can do at that point, and that is to look at the goal line. To look at that goal line and tell himself, “I am going to make that goal.” It’s the only thing he can do.

So, it is with a Christian. There may come times in the Christian life when your arms begin to droop, and your knees begin to wobble, and you don’t know if you can get one in front of the other one again, where you don’t look at your wobbly knees, and you don’t start looking at your drooping arms, and you just look at that finish line. And better than any guy who ever ran a race, you have the about guaranteed condition that you’re going to be the victor. And with that in the back of your mind, you fire on.

The author says that the converts must not only strive to make peace with everyone but also be holy, because without holiness, none of us will ever see God in the life to come (verse 14). Both of those are very difficult to do, especially when we spend so much time in the world of work and leisure outside the home. Temptations are everywhere.

Matthew Henry says:

Observe, First, It is the duty of Christians, even when in a suffering state, to follow peace with all men, yea, even with those who may be instrumental in their sufferings. This is a hard lesson, and a high attainment, but it is what Christ has called his people to. Sufferings are apt to sour the spirit and sharpen the passions; but the children of God must follow peace with all men. Secondly, Peace and holiness are connected together; there can be no true peace without holiness. There may be prudence and discreet forbearance, and a show of friendship and good-will to all; but this true Christian peaceableness is never found separate from holiness. We must not, under pretence of living peaceably with all men, leave the ways of holiness, but cultivate peace in a way of holiness. Thirdly, Without holiness no man shall see the Lord. The vision of God our Saviour in heaven is reserved as the reward of holiness, and the stress of our salvation is laid upon our holiness, though a placid peaceable disposition contributes much to our meetness for heaven.

This is why God gives us trials and tribulations, so that we endure them and come out as stronger Christians.

The author continues, exhorting the converts to make sure that everyone can obtain God’s grace. He also tells them not become bitter people, because bitterness takes root all too easily (verse 15). This verse concerns our personal behaviour and the example we must set as Christians.

MacArthur says that everyone who encounters us is affected in some way by the example we set. MacArthur tells us:

Christians, so often this is true – isn’t it? – when you say, “When I sin, it’s only my business.” No, it’s not. When you fall, somebody’s watching.

And our example to others will give either a good or a bad impression to them of Christianity.

MacArthur relates a true story about a father who was fond of strong drink and his young son:

I always think of the story my dad used to tell about the father who went out to get drunk again, and he was walking through the snow to the bar. And he hadn’t gone very far from his house, and he thought something was following him. And he turned around, and here was his little boy, six years old, stretching as far as he could to make sure he put his feet in his dad’s footsteps in the snow. And his dad said, “Where are you going?”

He says, “I’m just following your footsteps, Dad.” And as the story goes, his dad went home and broke down and cried, and some – through some other instrumentation, God sent somebody, and that man became saved and later told that story.

Therefore:

Well, you know, somebody’s walking along, just putting their feet right in the spot you’ve made. And if you’re wobbling around, knocking into everybody’s lane you’re going to mess up a lot of Christians. Make our paths straight, stay in your own lane. Run a smooth, clear, straight path. The Greek word here is a smooth, straight path. Now there’s a – this again is an Old Testament concept. I’m thinking it’s Proverbs 4 – I might be wrong – 25, yes, “Let thine eyes look right on” – that’s good; you didn’t know that was in the Bible, did you? – “Let thing eyes look right on, and let thine eyelids look” – straight ahead – “straight before thee. Ponder the path of thy feet, and let all thy ways be established. Turn not to the right hand nor to the left: remove thy foot from evil.” Make a straight path and go. Don’t wander from side to side, looking over the edge, seeing what the world’s doing. You’re going to mess up some other Christians.

Now, I like the term that is used here for paths, trochias in the Greek, and it means the track left by wheels. You know, the cart would go down in a straight line; it would leave tracks. And the point is that you’re not only running, you’re leaving a track. Isn’t that a beautiful thing? You’re leaving a pattern for somebody to follow. And there’s – somewhere back there are Christians who are either going like this after your life or like this. See? Knowing over other Christians while they follow you.

And so, continuance, beloved, isn’t just for your sake; it’s for whoever’s looking at you. It’s so that you can provoke each other to love and good works that you’re to run a straight path. It affects other people.

The author tells his audience not to engage in sexual immorality or to be unholy, like Esau, who sold his birthright for a bowl of stew (verses 16, 17). Esau could find no peace after that.

Henry explains the seriousness of Esau’s sin. God passed judgement on him and gave him no inner peace for his foolishness. Henry also picks up on this as a way for the author of Hebrews to warn about apostasy:

The apostle backs the caution with an awful example, and that is, that of Esau, who though born within the pale of the church, and having the birthright as the eldest son, and so entitled to the privilege of being prophet, priest, and king, in his family, was so profane as to despise these sacred privileges, and to sell his birthright for a morsel of meat. Where observe, First, Esau’s sin. He profanely despised and sold the birthright, and all the advantages attending it. So do apostates, who to avoid persecution, and enjoy sensual ease and pleasure, though they bore the character of the children of God, and had a visible right to the blessing and inheritance, give up all pretensions thereto. Secondly, Esau’s punishment, which was suitable to his sin. His conscience was convinced of his sin and folly, when it was too late: He would afterwards have inherited the blessing, &c. His punishment lay in two things: 1. He was condemned by his own conscience; he now saw that the blessing he had made so light of was worth the having, worth the seeking, though with much carefulness and many tears. 2. He was rejected of God: He found no place of repentance in God or in his father; the blessing was given to another, even to him to whom he sold it for a mess of pottage. Esau, in his great wickedness, had made the bargain, and God in his righteous judgment, ratified and confirmed it, and would not suffer Isaac to reverse it.

The Jewish converts were in danger of throwing away the birthright they had been given when they became Christians. The worst thing that a Christian can do is to spit in the face of that birthright, denying Jesus Christ and God the Father only to embrace the world and sin.

Henry explains:

We may hence learn, [1.] That apostasy from Christ is the fruit of preferring the gratification of the flesh to the blessing of God and the heavenly inheritance. [2.] Sinners will not always have such mean thoughts of the divine blessing and inheritance as now they have. The time is coming when they will think no pains too great, no cares no tears too much, to obtain the lost blessing. [3.] When the day of grace is over (as sometimes it may be in this life), they will find no place for repentance: they cannot repent aright of their sin; and God will not repent of the sentence he has passed upon them for their sin. And therefore, as the design of all, Christians should never give up their title, and hope of their Father’s blessing and inheritance, and expose themselves to his irrevocable wrath and curse, by deserting their holy religion, to avoid suffering, which, though this may be persecution as far as wicked men are concerned in it, is only a rod of correction and chastisement in the hand of their heavenly Father, to bring them near to himself in conformity and communion. This is the force of the apostle’s arguing from the nature of the sufferings of the people of God even when they suffer for righteousness’ sake; and the reasoning is very strong.

This is the second half of Hebrews 12, designed to put a holy fear into the converts. This passage is in the Lectionary and read on one of the Sundays in the season after Pentecost:

A Kingdom That Cannot Be Shaken

18 For you have not come to what may be touched, a blazing fire and darkness and gloom and a tempest 19 and the sound of a trumpet and a voice whose words made the hearers beg that no further messages be spoken to them. 20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.” 21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.” 22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, 23 and to the assembly[a] of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

People don’t believe that. It’s an analogy, they say. Or they say that it was true at the time it was written, but no longer.

No. If Scripture says that God is a consuming fire — and similar phrasing occurs throughout the Bible — then, we should take it on board as truth.

In closing, returning to verse 15, we need to watch out for others, too, lest they stumble. MacArthur explains the Holy Spirit’s intention in that verse:

Here’s a guy who comes to the church, sees Christianity, sticks around, sticks around sticks around — falls away into apostasy. Hebrews chapter 6, classic definition. Now He says, “Hey, people, take the oversight; don’t let that happen. Don’t let that guy go.”

You say, “Well, I don’t want to say anything. I-I-”

That’s the stupidest remark you could ever make. Ridiculous you don’t want to say anything.

“Don’t want to offend.”

Offend! Offend! Go offend! Wow, the cross itself is an offense, and let’s do a little offending. I mean if a guy’s going to go to hell just because we’re afraid to offend him, that’s the worst offense imaginable. And these people – you know, grace is available. He says, “They’re going to – grace is available, but they’re going to fall back from grace.” He says, “You take the oversight, and you watch and don’t let it happen to them.”

There is much to consider in these six verses. We have great responsibilities as Christians. This is why God is continuously training us to be better, holier people. He wants us to persevere in patience, with our eyes on the reward to come in Heaven.

Next time — Hebrews 13:9-14

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