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The Fifth Sunday after Trinity — Sixth Sunday after Pentecost — is July 4, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 6:1-13

6:1 He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him.

6:2 On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands!

6:3 Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

6:4 Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.”

6:5 And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them.

6:6 And he was amazed at their unbelief. Then he went about among the villages teaching.

6:7 He called the twelve and began to send them out two by two, and gave them authority over the unclean spirits.

6:8 He ordered them to take nothing for their journey except a staff; no bread, no bag, no money in their belts;

6:9 but to wear sandals and not to put on two tunics.

6:10 He said to them, “Wherever you enter a house, stay there until you leave the place.

6:11 If any place will not welcome you and they refuse to hear you, as you leave, shake off the dust that is on your feet as a testimony against them.”

6:12 So they went out and proclaimed that all should repent.

6:13 They cast out many demons, and anointed with oil many who were sick and cured them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

In today’s reading, we have two episodes in the ministry of Jesus: a visit to His hometown of Nazareth and His commission to the Apostles to preach and heal.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this was His second trip to Nazareth in His ministry. Luke’s account of His first visit said that the Nazarenes wanted to throw Jesus off a cliff:

He had been in danger of his life among them (Luke 4:29), and yet he came among them again; so strangely doth he wait to be gracious, and seek the salvation of his enemies.

MacArthur says that these trips to Nazareth illustrate the danger of unbelief:

We think about faith as powerful, don’t we? Faith moves mountains. But I want you to understand that unbelief is powerful as well. Unbelief is a great force. The power of unbelief is so great that it extends throughout all eternity. In fact, it has massive force, unbelief does.

Unbelief is the source of many of Western society’s maladies today. Many of our churches and clergy are contributing to unbelief and the havoc it wreaks.

In last week’s reading from Mark 5, Jesus was in Capernaum, His base at the time, healing the woman with the haemorrhage and raising Jairus’s daughter from the dead.

Now He was leaving Capernaum and returning to Nazareth, with His disciples accompanying Him (verse 1).

When He left Capernaum in Galilee, that was the end of His ministry there.

John MacArthur explains:

Now we need to note that at the end of verse 42 in chapter 5, the general response of the crowds around Galilee is summed up, “Immediately they were completely astounded.” That has to do with the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter from the dead. But it is also a kind of general summation statement of how Jesus was received in Galilee. Primarily the response was curiosity and astonishment. That does not equal faith, that does not equal repentance, therefore it doesn’t equal salvation. But there was interest and there was curiosity. There were lots of thrill seekers and people who wanted to be healed and delivered from demons, and who wanted to see the exhibitions of the great power of Jesus. And they were literally astounded as well at His teaching.

And we could say then the general attitude was one of superficial acceptance

Jesus went out from there, meaning Capernaum where He had based His Galilean ministry up to this point. This marks a crisis, by the way, in the history of Capernaum. At this point when He leaves, He never comes back to reestablish Himself there. It’s no more His home, no longer is the center of His Galilean ministry. Only occasionally does He visit there, and only in passing. Capernaum has heard enough and seen enough, plenty to be responsible for believing.

Furthermore, they don’t need more information. They don’t need more revelation. And, additionally, the growing power and hostility of the Pharisees and the scribes makes it dangerous for Him to go there. And then there’s the nearness of Herod’s residence in Tiberias not far away, which made it nearly impossible for Him to be in Capernaum. And furthermore, Capernaum was doomed.

Listen to Matthew 11: “He began to denounce the cities” – verse 20 – “in which most of His miracles were done, because they didn’t repent. ‘Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you Bethsaida! For if the miracles had occurred in Tyre and Sidon which occurred in you, they would have repented long ago in sack cloth and ashes. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.’ That is to say, it’ll be more tolerable in hell for idolatrous Gentiles than it will be for religious Jews who rejected Christ.

‘And you, Capernaum’ – verse 23 – ‘will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles that occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you, it’ll be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. In hell it would have been better for you to be a homosexual pervert living in Sodom than to be a synagogue-attending, self-righteous Jew living in Capernaum.’” That town is cursed.

On the Sabbath, Jesus preached in the synagogue in Nazareth, astounding the congregation with His wisdom; they also knew of His healing power (verse 2).

Henry surmises that Jesus would have preached sooner, during the week, had the Nazarenes shown up:

It seems, there was not such flocking to him there as in other places, so that he had no opportunity of preaching till they came together on the Sabbath day …

MacArthur says that, even on the Sabbath, not many showed up:

no large crowd appears there, no large crowd.

Although those gathered were amazed by what Jesus said, they identified him as being the carpenter ‘Son of Mary’ and naming His step-brothers and step-sisters (verse 3), a way of condemning Him once more. As such, they ‘took offence’, rejecting the messenger.

MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

End of verse 3: “They took offense at Him.” Skandalizō, they were scandalized by Him. It was an absolute blasphemy in their minds that He would claim to be God, the Son of God. This is scandalous. This is the same word you’ll find in 1 Corinthians 1 where the gospel is a stumbling block, a skandalon to the Jews.

Repeatedly the Scripture talks about how they stumbled over the reality of Jesus and over the gospel. This is adamant antagonism. This is the attitude of an unbeliever when pressed with the truth, when the truth is obvious and the truth is relevant. He tries to obscure the obvious, elevate the irrelevant, and then turn on the messenger.

MacArthur has much to say about this verse, beginning with the perspective of His family members:

He had no acceptance at all in His hometown, none, not even from His intimate family. His family’s attitude is conveyed to us back in Mark 3:21; they thought He’d lost His mind. They thought He was a maniac. For all that they knew, He grew up there for thirty years as a quiet carpenter, and now all of a sudden, He’s catapulted Himself on to the public scene. He hadn’t done miracles as such in Nazareth, but the word about the miracles was running rampant all over everywhere.

They were trying to process all of this with a great measure of skepticism and thought that He had lost His mind, and actually they found Him in verse 31: “His mother and brothers arrived, and standing outside sent word to Him and called Him.” The objective was to get Him out of the public situation He was in and save both the public from His madness and Himself as well. We read in John chapter 7 that His family did not believe in Him, His brothers did not believe in Him.

Luke tells us about His earlier visit. You can turn to Luke chapter 4. He had an earlier visit. And by the way, that chapter 4, verses 16 to 30 of Luke, is one of the great texts in all the gospel record

And right away, somewhere at the beginning, He comes to Nazareth where He had been brought up. And as was His custom, He always did this, every Sabbath day He went to the synagogue. He was faithful to do that, to worship.

He entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and stood up to read. This was traditional. This is what the visiting rabbis were invited to do when they came to town. And He had such a reputation already building up, they wanted to hear about Him. Word had come from Judea during the first year, and now more word from Galilee. He opens up the book of the prophet Isaiah – we won’t go into the detail – He reads from it two messianic prophecies about the Spirit of the Lord being upon the Messiah. The Messiah arriving to preach the gospel and proclaim release to the captive, sight to the blind, and freedom to the oppressed, and proclaim the favorable year of the Lord. He then closed the book, gave it back to the attendant, sat down. Everybody was looking at Him. They were fixed on Him. And He said in verse 21, “Today the Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” Wow. And that’s only what He began to say. The rest was He told them He was the Messiah. He told them He was the Messiah.

Verse 22: “They were speaking well of Him” – how could they not? – “and wondering at the gracious words which were falling from His lips. But they were puzzled and said, ‘Is this not Joseph’s son?’ And Jesus says, ‘No doubt, you just want more magic, you just want more miracles.’ So you’re going to say to yourself, ‘Whatever was done at Capernaum, do it here.’ But He said, ‘I know your attitude.’ – verse 24, and here’s the first use of this axiom, this truism – ‘No prophet is welcome in his own hometown. All experts come from out of town.’” We all understand that.

And then as His sermon unfolds, He basically says, “I am the Messiah. I am here to preach the gospel to the poor, prisoners, blind, and oppressed – the people who are spiritually poor, spiritually in prisons, spiritually blind, spiritually oppressed.” In other words, “The people who know they’re trapped in sin and death, I’m here to preach the gospel.”

The implication is, “You’re not going to receive it, because you’re just like previous generations”

Well, the response in verse 28 was, “They were filled with rage at this indictment, leaving themselves to be righteous.” This was unacceptable. “They got up,” – in verse 29 – “drove Him out of the city, led Him to the brow of the hill on which their city had been built in order to throw Him down the cliff.” Wow. One sermon and they wanted Him dead. And these are the people who knew Him best, in a small village, His own family involved. They tried to kill Him after one sermon; but passing through their midst, He went His way.

So that was the attitude of Nazareth toward Him. And this is His second and last visit before us – and you can go back now to Mark. Nothing has changed with their attitude, except that at this time they don’t try to kill Him. This is about, however, final rejection, the final rejection of Nazareth. It’s kind of a microcosm of His final rejection in Jerusalem by the whole nation.

There are two other aspects of that verse which MacArthur covers admirably.

One is the reference to Him as the ‘Son of Mary’, meaning that, in their eyes, He is an illegitimate son, because they know that Joseph did not father Him:

Now when we think about Nazareth, we have all kinds of imagination as to what that place was like; and maybe I can help you with it a little bit. It is in its ancient configuration about sixty acres on a rocky hillside on the road to nowhere. The best guess is the town had about five hundred residents, not exactly a booming metropolis, about five hundred residents. It is so obscure that it is never mentioned in the Old Testament, never mentioned in the Jewish Mishnah, never mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, never mentioned by Josephus. And no church ever appeared there until the fourth century A.D. Our Lord returns to this little, small town for one final visit to the people who were most familiar with Him. If you grow up for thirty years in a town of five hundred, you know everybody, and everybody knows you

In Luke 4:22, He is referred to this way: “Is not this Joseph’s Son?” That’s how you referred to people in a respectable way. You referred to someone as the Son of the father. We still have that today, right? When you get married, you take the man’s name: “You are the son of” …

But here He is called Son of Mary.

Some have speculated maybe Joseph was dead. But even if Joseph was dead, you would still refer to Him genealogically as the son of Joseph. It’s very possible that they’re calling Him the Son of Mary, because they’re slandering Jesus for what they’ve come to believe is an illegitimate birth, an illegitimate birth.

The other aspect is their labelling of Him as a ‘carpenter’. Today, people would say, ‘He’s a common tradesman!’ MacArthur explains the word in Greek:

This is meant to be a demeaning expression. Carpenters is the word tektōn, tektōn. We get the word “tech” from that. We get “architect” from that, somebody who builds an arc, arch. It refers to a builder. The word tektōn could refer to a mason, a stone mason, a smith, somebody who worked with metal, a ship builder, a sculptor. Even physicians were referred to by that term. It’s a very, very broad term; and what would be best to say would be that He was a builder. A builder of what, we don’t know; but He was a builder.

The early church held that Joseph and Jesus were carpenters who made yokes and plows. That we find in A.D. 155, about a hundred years, of course, after the main part of the New Testament era; and this from Justin’s dialogue with Trypho where he refers to Jesus and Joseph as those who made yokes and plows. Well, that’s a tradition we really don’t know, but He was a builder; and from their perspective, He wasn’t a part of the elite, He wasn’t a part of the clergy. And so they focused on what is irrelevant

James we know about; he became the leader of the Jerusalem church, and eventually wrote the epistle of James. And Jude we know about, because he wrote the epistle of Jude. They were the half-brothers of Jesus. As far as Joses and Simon, we don’t know anything about them.

And then it mentions, “Are not His sisters here with us?” So there were sisters, plural. We don’t know exactly how many. Matthew says, “All His sisters,” which would take it beyond two, and make it three or more. So, you know, Mary may have had ten children, who knows? She was not a perpetual virgin, by the way. But they’re stuck on the idea that this is a nobody from a nowhere family, with a perhaps an illegitimate birth, who’s a common am haaretz, man of the dirt, man of the earth. This is typical of unbelief to focus on the irrelevant.

Jesus stated, once again, that prophets are accepted everywhere but in their hometowns — even by their own family and in their own house (verse 4).

What an indictment that is.

MacArthur says:

If Joseph was dead, He had only one person in that house who believed in Him. Not His brothers, not His sisters. They came to believe after the resurrection, according to the book of Acts. But at this time, they don’t. He was believed to be a prophet outside of town. You can look through the New Testament. Look up the word “prophet” and see how many times it’s used to refer to Christ. He is deemed a prophet again, and again, and again, and again, and again …

With that, Jesus could do no great miracles in Nazareth, other than laying hands on a few sick people and curing them (verse 5).

MacArthur makes these points about unbelief:

Unbelief obscures the obvious, it elevates the irrelevant, and it resents the messenger. And that resentment comes from hatred of the message. It attacks the messenger. And, of course, Christ lived that out , didn’t He? They killed Him because He was the messenger of the most wonderful message ever preached.

One final characteristic of unbelief: Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Unbelief spurns the supernatural. Verse 5: “He could do no miracle there except that He laid His hands on a few sick people and healed them.” He shut down the whole supernatural operation. Same thing is stated in Matthew 13:58.

Mark tells us that Jesus was ‘amazed’ by the unbelief in Nazareth, so He left to teach in other villages (verse 6).

MacArthur points out the use of the Greek word for ‘amazed’, or ‘wondered’ in some translations:

… verse 6, “He wondered at their unbelief.” “Wondered,” thaumazō is the Greek verb. It appears about thirty times in the New Testament usually to describe the people’s reaction to Him.

The Bible doesn’t say that Jesus wondered, or was astonished, or was amazed, except for two times: here, and on an occasion when He was amazed at the faith of a centurion – as recorded both by Matthew and Luke. The Bible tells us the people were constantly amazed at Him. They were astonished at Him. But only those two times was He amazed at them. Once with the centurion He was amazed at his faith. Here, He is amazed at the unbelief in His own hometown.

Now we proceed to the next episode in the ministry of Jesus, which was to send out the Apostles, two by two, giving them authority over unclean spirits, or demons (verse 7).

Henry says that this was so that one could give the other encouragement and moral support:

That Christ sent them forth by two and two; this Mark takes notice of. They went two and two to a place, that out of the mouth of two witnesses every word might be established; and that they might be company for one another when they were among strangers, and might strengthen the hands, and encourage the hearts, one of another; might help one another if any thing should be amiss, and keep one another in countenance. Every common soldier has his comrade; and it is an approved maxim, Two are better than one. Christ would thus teach his ministers to associate, and both lend and borrow help.

Jesus instructed them to be as humble as possible, as He Himself was: no food, no money, no bag, no material belongings except for a staff (verse 8). They are also to wear only one tunic and sandals (verse 9).

Henry adds that this time of mission was probably a short one:

they must go in the readiest plainest dress they could, and must not so much as have two coats; for their stay abroad would be short, they must return before winter, and what they wanted, those they preached to would cheerfully accommodate them with.

MacArthur provides us with context, pointing out that the crowds following Jesus were huge, so He decided to briefly invest the Apostles with His powers to help meet demand:

He is past the halfway point now in His ministry. He is headed to the cross. There are only a few months left in the Galilee ministry. There were three tours of Galilee; He is about to launch the third and final one, in the winter of the next to the last year of His life on earth. Up to this point, He has done it all: all the preaching, all the teaching, all the healing, all the deliverance from demons, all the raising of the dead, He has done. Everybody, in order to experience His teaching and experience His power, had to be where He was.

That made the crowds larger, and larger, and larger, and the larger they got, the more limiting and confining they became, and the harder it was to get to everyone. Galilee, as I said, only has a little time. In chapter 10 of Mark, and verse 1, Jesus goes to Judea, where He spent the last year of His ministry, Judea being the southern portion of the land of Israel. Not much time left, only time for one brief Galilean tour. The pressure of time, the tremendously increasing crowds, make it clear to Him that He needs to divide the responsibility.

He can multiply Himself twelve times, if He will delegate the truth and delegate the power to the apostles and send them out, so that this final opportunity, this final gracious extension of ministry, is vastly more pervasive, as they take up His place and His role from town to town and village to village. He has to diffuse the single nature of His ministry, diffuse the single crowd phenomenon, and take the message to the towns and villages in a multiplied fashion. It’s time now for these men, who have been in training by being with Him, day after day, 24/7, for months, for no doubt well over a year.

In Luke 10, He sent out more from His group of disciples:

Luke tells us, in the tenth chapter of Luke, that later on, He selected 70 more of His followers, and sent them out on a short-term mission, so He had a lot of disciples to choose from.

Jesus instructed the Apostles to lodge in only one house in every place they visited (verse 10).

He said that if a town or village rejected them, they were to shake the dust off their feet in that place upon leaving, thereby condemning it (verse 11). Shaking the dust off one’s feet as testimony against someone was an ancient Jewish practice against Gentiles that everyone would have understood. 

Henry says of the gesture:

Whosoever shall not receive you, or will not so much as hear you, depart thence (if one will not, another will), and shake off the dust under your feet, for a testimony against them. Let them know that they have had a fair offer of life and happiness made them, witness that dust; but that, since they have refused it, they cannot expect ever to have another; let them take up with their own dust, for so shall their doom be.” That dust, like the dust of Egypt (Exodus 9:9), shall turn into a plague to them; and their condemnation in the great day, will be more intolerable than that of Sodom: for the angels were sent to Sodom, and were abused there; yet that would not bring on so great a guilt and so great a ruin as the contempt and abuse of the apostles of Christ, who bring with them the offers of gospel grace.

MacArthur tells us:

The Gentiles were considered to be unclean; it had reached racist proportions. And when you went outside Israel, and you came back in, you stopped on the edge, and you took your sandals off, and you shook all the Gentile dirt into the Gentile land before you stepped into Israel. And then you shook your robe, because you’ve been kicking up Gentile dirt, and it would be all over you, from your head to your foot.

You shook out your hair, you shook out your robe, you shook out your feet; this was showing disdain for the Gentiles. You didn’t want to bring Gentile dirt, and contaminate the land of Israel. When you’ve been to a place, and you’ve been healing, and you’ve been validating the message that you preach, and you’ve been casting out demons, and perhaps you raised a dead person, and they reject you, you give a testimony, a martirition. You give – it became martyr when used in a Christian sense – you give a testimony to them.

Your testimony they will understand, because you’re going to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. You say to them, “You’re no better than a Gentile town, country. You’re unclean, and you’re under judgment.” In Matthew 10, which is the parallel – which is much, much more extensive instruction, and we’ll refer to that in a minute – says here – this is Matthew recording this: “in whatever city or village you enter, and inquire who’s worthy in it, stay at his house until you leave the city.” Check where you go first.

The Twelve went forth to proclaim repentance (verse 12).

Henry says that this is where good ministry begins (emphases in the original):

Note, The great design of the gospel preachers, and the great tendency of gospel preaching, should be, to bring people to repentance, to a new heart and a new way. They did not amuse people with curious speculations, but told them that they must repent of their sins, and turn to God.

They were able to cast out demons and cure the sick by anointing them with oil (verse 13).

MacArthur explains the significance of anointing with oil (emphases mine):

… oil – olive oil was used medicinally. Luke 10:34, that’s what the good Samaritan used, didn’t he? Pour oil on the suffering man. But in the Old Testament, olive oil was used symbolically by the Jews. Whenever there was anointing, it was a symbol of God’s presence; when a king was anointed, when a priest was anointed, it was symbolic of divine presence. So, I think maybe a good way to understand this would be that Jesus didn’t need to do this, because He didn’t need a symbolic divine presence; He was divine presence.

But since they were just men, they were deferring to the perceivable reality that this was an indication that their power came from God, and they used the symbol that people were used to, that was a symbol of the presence of God, the anointing of God. They knew that they weren’t the source of the power, they were just the channel of it. And by that simple symbol, they, in a familiar way, passed the glory back to the Lord Himself.

I hope this helps to better explain the ministries of Jesus and the Apostles.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

——————————————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 4:17-21

17 That is why I sent[a] you Timothy, my beloved and faithful child in the Lord, to remind you of my ways in Christ,[b] as I teach them everywhere in every church. 18 Some are arrogant, as though I were not coming to you. 19 But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I will find out not the talk of these arrogant people but their power. 20 For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power. 21 What do you wish? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s stern yet heartfelt plea to the Corinthians to follow his Christian example.

His reprimand continues throughout the chapter. Today’s verses are the conclusion.

Paul had sent Timothy to the Corinthians to help them improve their ways (verse 17). Timothy had not yet arrived, but he was en route.

Paul considered all the converts and helpers his spiritual children. Timothy was among their number.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

To render their regard to Timothy the greater, he gives them his character. He was his beloved son, a spiritual child of his, as well as themselves. Note, Spiritual brotherhood should engage affection as well as what is common and natural. The children of one father should have one heart. But he adds, “He is faithful in the Lord–trustworthy, as one that feared the Lord. He will be faithful in the particular office he has now received of the Lord, the particular errand on which he comes; not only from me, but from Christ. He knows what I have taught, and what my conversation has been in all places, and, you may depend upon it, he will make a faithful report.” Note, It is a great commendation of any minister that he is faithful in the Lord, faithful to his soul, to his light, to his trust from God; this must go a great way in procuring regard to his message with those that fear God.

The Corinthians were so full of pride that they thought they could get away with their various divisions within their church. So Paul warns them of their arrogance, saying that he could make a return visit to Corinth (verse 18).

Furthermore, he planned — if God willed it — a return visit to confront the ‘arrogant people’, the false teachers, in that congregation (verse 19).

The ‘power’ which Paul associates with the kingdom of God (verse 20) is the divine power of the Holy Spirit rather than human discourse. The Corinthians loved their discourse and their philosophy.

Henry explains:

He would bring the great pretenders among them to a trial, would know what they were, not by their rhetoric or philosophy, but by the authority and efficacy of what they taught, whether they could confirm it by miraculous operations, and whether it was accompanied with divine influences and saving effects on the minds of men. For, adds he, the kingdom of God is not in word, but in power. It is not set up, nor propagated, nor established, in the hearts of men, by plausible reasonings nor florid discourses, but by the external power of the Holy Spirit in miraculous operations at first, and the powerful influence of divine truth on the minds and manners of men. Note, It is a good way in the general to judge of a preacher’s doctrine, to see whether the effects of it upon men’s hearts to be truly divine. That is most likely to come from God which in its own nature is most fit, and in event is found to produce most likeness to God, to spread piety and virtue, to change men’s hearts and mend their manners.

Paul ends by laying down the law: he can visit them as an angry father would or in a spirit of kindness; it was up to them (verse 21).

MacArthur tells us:

And so he says, “Some of you are puffed up, you don’t think I’m coming, but I will come shortly” – then he throws this in – “if the Lord will.” He knew to throw that in because a lot of times when he planned to go somewhere, he never got there. “And I’ll find out then not the speech of them who are puffed up but the power.” “I’ll find out who’s talk and who’s real when I get there. You people talk a great game but I’m going to find out who’s real, not who’s just talking.”

Discipline is important. Paul says, “When I come there, I’m going to check some things out” …

So he says, “I’m going to come and find out which of you are all talk and which of you really manifest the power of God because the Kingdom of God is not word but power.” “This isn’t an issue of words. I’m going to come and find out who is genuine.” The man’s true character is determined not by his words but the divine power exhibited in his life because if he’s a member of the Kingdom of God, if God rules in his life, then there’s going to be power in his life, not just verbiage

Now watch – verse 21 – “What are you going to do about it? What are you going to do?” “Shall I come unto you with a rod” – if you don’t change, that’s what’s going to be – “or in love and the spirit of gentleness?” “How do you want me to come? I’m coming and I’m coming shortly and how do you want me to come?” Did you notice there’s no answer there in verse 21? Why isn’t there any answer? Who had to make the answer? Corinthians. Choice is yours. “I’ll come, and if it needs to be a rod, it’s going to be a rod, and some heads are going to roll. That’s right. “But I could come in love and gentleness, it’s up to you.”

Paul’s words sound harsh. There are few godly preachers who would use such words today, but he really did love the errant Corinthians. He wanted to make sure they were on the right Christian path.

MacArthur concludes his sermon with this:

And so the spiritual father unbares his heart. “I care about you,” he says. “I begot you. I love you. I seek to see a change in your evil behavior. I want the pattern of my life to be the example for you.” Paul cared about them, so much so that he was willing not only to teach them but to discipline them, to bring them into conformity to that pattern. That is as it should be. My prayer for us – for me, for you, for all of us – is that we would become in the fullest sense spiritual fathers.

MacArthur says we should be begetting disciples for Christ:

Wouldn’t that be exciting? Why aren’t we busy reproducing? There may be 10,000 instructors, all kinds of people that are teaching and giving input, not many fathers. A Christian who isn’t spiritually fathering somebody is a contradiction. My prayer for us is that we would all become spiritual fathers.

Sometimes, that is through preaching or teaching Scripture. Sometimes, it is through setting a godly example in all things. The Lord gives us various gifts, according to our ability. Let us put those gifts to good use through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 5:1-5

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 4:14-16

14 I do not write these things to make you ashamed, but to admonish you as my beloved children. 15 For though you have countless[a] guides in Christ, you do not have many fathers. For I became your father in Christ Jesus through the gospel. 16 I urge you, then, be imitators of me.

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Last week’s post featured Paul’s reproof of the errant Corinthians for their pride as their church leaders, principally Paul himself, were putting their lives at risk for Christ and His bride, the Church.

His correction of their behaviour continues throughout the rest of the chapter.

John MacArthur gives us a précis of Paul’s intentions for the Christians of Corinth (emphases mine):

He’s struggling against their weaknesses and their sins and trying to bring them into conformity to the truth of God. They’re Christian people for the most part but behaving as if they weren’t, and he’s very, very zealous and he’s very, very earnest as he writes this epistle to solve their problems. And while in the epistle he is dealing with their problems, such as the problem of division in the first section, the first four chapters, while he’s dealing with their problems, he is constantly explaining his relationship to them.

He’ll say, “I’m saying this because of this and this,” “I’m saying this because I am your servant,” or “I’m saying this because I am the slave of God and I want to carry out His orders,” or “I’m saying this because I’m a steward of God’s mysteries and I must tell you the truth.” And he uses many different metaphors in describing his own ministry so that 1 Corinthians not only becomes a letter dealing with problems in the church, but it becomes a letter that maps out the patterns of the ministry. For we see a church being attacked and we also see a minister attacking the problems in the church, so we get both sides of it.

And as we study the book, we’re going to see a lot about the church and we’re going to see a lot about the ministry in the church, the pastor, the teacher, the leader of the church, as well as things applicable to every Christian’s life. Now, already in 1 Corinthians we’ve been introduced to different metaphors to speak of the minister or the pastor or the apostle or the prophet, the one who leads the church. For example, in chapter 3, verse 5, he is called a servant. In chapter 4, verse 1, the minister is called a slave, a slave of Christ. In chapter 4, verse 1, again he is called a steward of the mysteries of God. And so already we’ve seen the pastor as a slave and a servant and a steward.

We found, too, that in chapter 3, verse 6, the metaphor of a farmer is used. He says, “I have planted and Apollos has watered.” So you not only have domestic metaphors like servant, slave, steward, but you have actually a farming metaphor in farmer and you have a building metaphor in verse 10 of chapter 3, he calls himself a wise master builder. So many metaphors in 1 Corinthians are used to describe the ministry, and all of them taken in a composite would give a tremendous study of what the pastor is, what the leader is, what the elder in the church is …

So you have domestic metaphors to speak of the ministry. You have agricultural metaphors, you have building metaphors, you have what you’d call political metaphors in the herald and the ambassador. There is also a legal metaphor used to describe the preacher. He is called a witness, somebody who gives testimony, somebody who witnesses to the truth, as it were, in a court.

Now, all of these metaphors describe the preacher, but there is one other metaphor that perhaps sums up in a very unique way the intimacy between the pastor and his people and that is in verse 15 of chapter 4. “Though you have ten thousand instructors in Christ, you have not many fathers, for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.” And this is the metaphor of a father. One way that God describes the relationship between a preacher and his converts, a pastor and his people, is the relationship between a father and his child, and therein lies the personal metaphor, the intimate metaphor. And that is the theme of our study for today.

Now remember, for the four chapters we’ve been studying, Paul has really been firing all barrels. He’s really unloaded on them against their carnality, against their pride, against their love of human wisdom, against their sectarian spirit, their splits and quarrels over whichever preacher they like the best. They were fractioned into division, and he’s really been wailing on them. And even at the end of the last passage we studied, he became very sarcastic. And when you get to the place of sarcasm, you’re really dealing in strong language.

Paul wants the Corinthians to know that he does not want to humiliate them but to correct their behaviour as a loving father would act towards his own children (verse 14).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

When the affections of a father mingle with the admonitions of a minister, it is to be hoped that they may at once melt and mend; but to lash like an enemy or executioner will provoke and render obstinate.

Paul then makes reference to their love of their many teachers — ‘countless guides in Christ’ — which has created the divisions among them (verse 15). He reminds them that he is their spiritual father, the one who brought them up in the faith.

Henry says:

They were made Christians by his ministry. He had laid the foundation of a church among them. Others could only build upon it. Whatever other teachers they had, he was their spiritual father. He first brought them off from pagan idolatry to the faith of the gospel and the worship of the true and living God. He was the instrument of their new birth, and therefore claimed the relation of a father to them, and felt the bowels of a father towards them. Note, There commonly is, and always ought to be, an endeared affection between faithful ministers and those they beget in Christ Jesus through the gospel. They should love like parents and children.

He urges them to imitate his example in the way he follows Christ (verse 16).

MacArthur says that Paul felt responsible for them in a loving way, in the manner that a father has for his own offspring:

And therein really lies the depth and the compassion of his heart. He was not indifferent to them. He was not just merely carrying out orders as a servant. He was sensitive to them as a father.

Paul did not have a wife and family of his own. However, his ministry produced countless spiritual children whom he fathered in the faith. He wanted them to imitate Christ’s example, and what better way then through imitating his own spiritual behaviours and taking on his scriptural beliefs.

MacArthur points out:

God does do the saving and God does have the Word of God as the instrument, but God does use the human agent.

For the Corinthians, Paul was that exemplary human agent.

Paul was not finished with his reproof of the Corinthians. There will be more to come next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 4:17-21

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 15:22-29

Paul’s Plan to Visit Rome

22 This is the reason why I have so often been hindered from coming to you. 23 But now, since I no longer have any room for work in these regions, and since I have longed for many years to come to you, 24 I hope to see you in passing as I go to Spain, and to be helped on my journey there by you, once I have enjoyed your company for a while. 25 At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem bringing aid to the saints. 26 For Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to make some contribution for the poor among the saints at Jerusalem. 27 For they were pleased to do it, and indeed they owe it to them. For if the Gentiles have come to share in their spiritual blessings, they ought also to be of service to them in material blessings. 28 When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them what has been collected,[a] I will leave for Spain by way of you. 29 I know that when I come to you I will come in the fullness of the blessing[b] of Christ.

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Last week’s post covered Paul’s last teaching in the Book of Romans: the pleasure in the fulfilment of the obligation he had in bringing Gentiles to the Church.

He says that this is why he has not been able to visit the church in Rome sooner; his obligations were elsewhere in other lands (verse 22). And, as he had told the Romans 15:14, they were good and knowledgeable enough to teach each other and build each other up in faith.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that the Christians in Rome felt a similar heartfelt desire for Paul to visit them (emphases mine):

It should seem that Paul’s company was very much desired at Rome. He was a man that had as many friends and as many enemies as most men ever had: he passed through evil report and good report. No doubt they had heard much of him at Rome, and longed to see him. Should the apostle of the Gentiles be a stranger at Rome, the metropolis of the Gentile world? Why as to this he excuses it that he had not come yet, he promises to come shortly, and gives a good reason why he could not come now.

Furthermore, he had no desire to visit the great monuments, structures or great thinkers in the heart of the Roman Empire. He wanted to meet his brothers and sisters in faith, humble as they all were, Paul included. Paul was but a humble tent-maker.

Henry elaborates:

He assures them that he had a great desire to see them; not to see Rome, though it was now in its greatest pomp and splendour, nor to see the emperor’s court, nor to converse with the philosophers and learned men that were then at Rome, though such conversation must needs be very desirable to so great a scholar as Paul was, but to come unto you (Romans 15:3), a company of poor despised saints in Rome, hated of the world, but loving God, and beloved of him. These were the men that Paul was ambitious of an acquaintance with at Rome; they were the excellent ones in whom he delighted, Psalms 16:3. And he had a special desire to see them, because of the great character they had in all the churches for faith and holiness; they were men that excelled in virtue, and therefore Paul was so desirous to come to them.

Paul knew that his desires were dependent upon God’s will:

This desire Paul had had for many years, and yet could never compass it. The providence of God wisely overrules the purposes and desires of men. God’s dearest servants are not always gratified in every thing that they have a mind to. Yet all that delight in God have the desire of their heart fulfilled (Psalms 37:4), though all the desires in their heart be not humoured.

That is a difficult lesson to grasp. We feel it these days in our troubled times, whether it be the heavy weight of the coronavirus pandemic on our lives, the seemingly endless protests or the US presidential election in November. We all want a measure of relief from any or all of those. And, yes, it seems as if the will of Providence has a bearing on any relief of all of those. We must pray for patience and, as Paul and the other Apostles wrote so often, endure.

It is not an easy yoke to bear.

Let us look where Paul had travelled by that time. Whereas Jesus stayed within the nucleus of the Jews, His Father’s people, in order to let them know He was the Messiah, Paul made an incredible three-mission journey all over Asia Minor and what we know as Greece to bring the Gospel to the people, including the Gentiles.

John MacArthur discusses this:

He went all the way from Jerusalem to Illyricum, and that’s in excess of a thousand miles, maybe as much as 1,400 miles if you drew a line. He covered a lot of territory, but you might be interested to know that all three of his missionary tours – he took three missionary journeys – all three of his missionary tours basically covered the same area. He kept going back and strengthening, going back and strengthening. Each time he’d go back, he’d extend it a little further. He’d go back again, extend it a little further; go back again, extend it a little further – strengthening and extending, strengthening and extending. And finally, the reason he got as far as he did was because of his imprisonment, really, which took him all the way to Rome. But he had great precision in terms of his ministry from the very beginning.

If you go back to the ninth chapter of Acts, you’re going to find in verse 6 he says, trembling and with tremendous fear because he’s just been knocked to the dirt on the way to Damascus, and now he’s blind – and trembling and with great fear, he says, “Lord, what do you want me to do? What do you want me to do? Give me direction. Give me some orders.”

And the Lord said to him, “Arise, get up, go to the city and you’ll find out.” And he went into the city, and that’s when he met Ananias, who was God’s instrument. And in verse 15, “The Lord said to him, ‘Go your way. Ananias, you can leave him; he’s a chosen vessel to me, and here’s his calling: to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.’” So, he had a very specific calling. And he had a great sense of that calling.

… from chapter 22 of Acts … chapter 22, verse 21 – “And He reciting his testimony, ‘Depart! For I will send thee far from here unto the Gentiles.’He had this sense of mission that was very precise. In the chapter in which he gives his testimony later in the book of Acts, that being chapter 26, in verse 15 he says – reciting his testimony, he says on the Damascus Road, “I said, ‘Who art Thou, Lord?’

“He said, ‘I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand on your feet; I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, of those things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the people, from the Gentiles unto whom now I send you. And here’s your mission, to pen the eyes of the Gentiles, turn them from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to God” – that is an evangelism ministry – “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, inheritance among them who are sanctified by faith that is in Me.’”

So, he had great sense of precision and direction from God in his ministry. He articulates this back in the twentieth chapter of Acts in a discussion with the Ephesian elders at Miletus. And he is very, very committed to the task that God has given him. Particularly I want you to notice verse 22. He says, “I’m going to Jerusalem, even though I’m bound in my spirit” – my spirit is captive to this mission – “I don’t know what’s going to fall on me there; I don’t know what’s going to happen,” he says, “except the Holy Spirit keeps telling me in every single city that I’m going to get put in chains and I’m going to be afflicted. So, I know it’s going to be difficult, but I’m going; I’m moving; I’m on my way.” Why? “Because none of these outward physical circumstances move me for the simple reason that I do not count my life dear unto myself. I’m not concerned with my own self-preservation. The only thing I want to do is finish my course with joy and the ministry which I have received of the Lord Jesus, which is to testify the gospel of the grace of God.

“And now, behold, I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, shall see my face no more. But I can testify to you this day that I am pure from the blood of all men. For I have not failed to declare to you all the counsel of God.” In other words, “I’m going to keep doing what I’ve always done, and that is to do exactly what God called me to do.”

In Colossians 1, he reiterates the fact that God had made him a minister, and God had set him in motion. In Galatians chapter 2, verse 7 and verse 8, you get the same impression, that he was sent to the Gentiles and the testimony of Scripture is that he was mighty in his ministry to the Gentiles. So, Paul knew precision.

The Church has never had a greater church planter.

Paul readily acknowledged that his work was done in the regions that he had visited (verse 23) — some more than once — therefore, it was time to move on to the furthest reach of the Empire, Spain, via Rome, where he hoped to meet the church members there (verse 24). He hoped that they would give him further resolve to travel on to what he thought would be his final destination in evangelising for Christ. Historians record that he was martyred with Peter in Rome.

Paul had ‘hope’ he would meet the Christians residing in Rome. He knew from past experience not to take anything for granted. The Holy Trinity ordains so much in our lives.

MacArthur reminds us of Acts 16 and the Holy Spirit’s intervention:

… let’s look at chapter 16 for a moment and get a view of how providence may work. In Acts 16, verse 6, “And when they had gone through Phrygia and the region of Galatia” – this is Paul and his traveling companions – “they were forbidden by the Holy Spirit to preach the word in Asia.” Now, how did he do that? How did the Holy Spirit forbid them? It doesn’t say. It doesn’t say it was miraculous. It doesn’t say they heard a voice out of heaven. Somehow the Holy Spirit didn’t allow them to go to Asia. So, “They came to Mysia and attempted to go to Bithynia, but the Spirit wouldn’t allow that either.” How did that happen? We don’t know. “And so, they passed by Mysia and came to Troas. And there a vision appeared to Paul,” and he knew what the Spirit wanted. The direction was go over across the water to Macedonia, and that was the Macedonian call. But here is God ordering the circumstances to bring about His own will.

There Paul met the purple fabric merchant Lydia — the first convert in Europe — and was later imprisoned for a short while.

Henry points out:

Observe how doubtfully he speaks: I trust to see you: not, “I am resolved I will,” but, “I hope I shall.” We must purpose all our purposes and make all our promises in like manner with a submission to the divine providence; not boasting ourselves of to-morrow, because we know not what a day may bring forth, Proverbs 27:1,Jam+4:13-15.

As has been so often said, ‘Life is what happens when you make other plans’.

If you think that was merely about Paul, MacArthur has a personal anecdote to tell about his ministry and his marriage in 1985, when he gave this sermon. He knew the way to San Jose — just as in the old song — but he could not get there because of bad weather.

The rapidity of airport check-in back then will bring tears to the eyes of those of us old enough to remember:

I was supposed to fly to San Jose a week ago, to speak to a youth rally at Mount Herman on a Friday night – the Friday night after Thanksgiving. And so, my son, Matt, took me by the airport and dropped me off because it was only ten minutes till the flight, and I was just going to go in and get on the plane and leave. And he took off, and I walked in, and there was a sign that said, “San Jose flight cancelled.” That was the only flight, at that time, that was cancelled, though the weather got bad in the north, I guess, and they began to cancel a whole lot of flights.

So, I’m standing there, realizing that there are people coming from all over every place to this rally to hear me speak, and I’m supposed to be flying in. And somebody, at that time, is already on their way to the airport because it’s about a 55-minute flight. There’s nothing I can do, and I don’t even have a ride home. So, there I am.

And in the providence of God, they were having a sale in the shop, and I bought my wife’s birthday present, which was really providential at 50 percent off. If you ask her, she’ll show it to you after the service tonight; she’s wearing it. But that was providential, as God would have it, because it’s something she needed greatly; she lost the last one I got her. But anyway, we won’t go into that. I’m digging a hole for myself; you’ll have to help me out. No.

So, anyway, I’m standing there in the airport, and I called, and we tried everything we could possibly conceive to get me to San Jose. There was a flight leaving later, but it was overbooked, and there was a long standby waiting list, and it would get me there not in time to drive all the way down anyway.

And so, we were trying to get a hold of people and so forth and so on, and there was nothing I could do. So, I went home – and everyone said, “Why are you here?” – which was a little bit of a surprise. We had a wonderful evening and a wonderful day. And the Lord, perhaps, provided that day for my family.

But anyway, I went through the next couple of days and a couple of days later, a young man came up to me and said, “By the way, you didn’t get to San Jose, did you?”

And I said, “No. How did you know?”

He said, “I was there in anticipation of hearing you speak.” But he said, “I want to set your heart at ease.” He said, “Another person was there also who had come to hear you speak, who was speaking there in the area over the weekend, and when he walked in the back door, they informed him that he had been elected to take your place. And so, without any preparation, he got up and spoke. And I want you to know that that was of God because the message he gave was directly to my heart, and the Spirit of God used it to change my life. So,” he said, “I just want you to know that the Lord is in control.”

Well, I was really thankful to hear that. I mean I don’t believe for a minute that I’m necessary to what God wants to do, and it’s just as wonderful not to be somewhere as it is to be there if the Lord’s God something else in mind. But that’s how God works providence.

Yet, MacArthur cautions us about leaving planning aside, the ‘let go and let God’ theory, which was only beginning to become an idea when he preached his sermon. No. We must be prepared:

Trusting in the providence of God is no excuse for a lack of planning, or a lack of purpose, or a lack of direction, or a lack of goals. There are those people who want to sit back and say, “Well, we’re just going to let the Holy Spirit lead.” That’s a poor excuse for laziness. Let me tell you something; I believe in the leading of the Holy Spirit, but effective ministry just doesn’t happen without very careful planning and strategizing. “Man makes his plans” – Proverbs 16 says – “but God directs his steps.” But man makes his plans. I mean we spend a lot of time around here planning. Things happen because we plan.

So, Paul reveals his plan. Look at it in verse 23. Now he says, “But now, having no more place in these parts” – that is to say, “I have evangelized this far; I’ve evangelized from Jerusalem to Illyricum and there’s no sense in staying around. The church is growing. There are others who can carry on the ministry. There are elders ordained in the various places; the work will go on. There are no more regions where Christ is not at least named in this area. I have” – as verse 19 says – “fully preached the gospel of Christ all around about Jerusalem to Illyricum.”

“And since this is thoroughly covered” – and I love that idea; he wasn’t going to move on till he’d done the work where he was – great principle, if I can say it to you that are in seminary, learn it and learn it well: thoroughness before breadth, depth before breadth; it is not the breadth of a ministry, it is the depth of a ministry; not how much ground did you cover, but how fully did you cover the ground you covered; not how far did you reach, and not how many, but how complete and how effective.

Paul then draws himself back to his circumstances at the time and tells the Romans that he is taking charitable contributions to the church in Jerusalem (verse 25) from the Gentile Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (verse 26). The people there were much wealthier there than the converts in Jerusalem. 

Note that Paul never collected funds for himself but for the faithful elsewhere. He never forgot the various churches that he either planted (e.g. Asia Minor) or visited (Jerusalem).

Therefore, Paul’s call was to Jerusalem at that point, not Rome, regardless of his heart’s desire.

MacArthur explains that there was a great famine in the region around Jerusalem at the time. Think coronavirus — loss of work and food. Perhaps we are not hungry, but many are suffering because of this political drama. It is milder than Jerusalem’s crisis and worth putting into perspective when one reads the following:

if you read in the book of Acts carefully you will find that there was a great famine. It’s recorded in chapter 11 and into chapter 12. There was a great famine in Jerusalem. And because of the influx into the city of these Christians, because of the presence of those that were saved on the day of Pentecost and never went home, because of the hatred of many Jews toward Jesus and His followers which generated persecution and dispossession of homes and the loss of jobs and even imprisonment — they were throwing them in to prison in Acts chapter 8, they were breathing out threatening and slaughter against them — so the Christians had a very difficult time in earning a living.

Many of them couldn’t get a job. Many of the fathers of the homes were put in prison and so, there was nothing to supply for the wife and children. There was a great need because of the poverty there. And so, in light of that need the apostle Paul had arranged for a collection. He had arranged to take an offering and take it back to the poor saints.

Paul says that the people from the churches of Macedonia and Achaia were rightfully happy to donate to the converts in Jerusalem, because they shared mutually not only in spiritual blessings coming from a belief in Christ as Saviour but also in the material blessings that a united church of believers brings (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us that Paul brought with him to Jerusalem the leaders of those churches to demonstrate Christian unity:

when he went back with the money he also took representatives of all those churches so when he came back to Jerusalem finally – finally, he not only had a large amount of money for the poor but he had representatives from all the Gentile churches there with the money. And you have to understand that with Paul it wasn’t just a question of the money, it wasn’t simply making a certain contribution for the poor among the saints or, literally, the poor of the saints who were at Jerusalem.

It was a way to conciliate two factions in the church. You had a Jewish church in Jerusalem, you had a Gentile church in the rest of the world and everybody at that time knew Jew and Gentile had very little relationship. And so, in an act that was not only meant to relieve some distress by virtue of the money but also to demonstrate the unity of the church, Paul was committed to taking this money, along with the Gentile representatives who gave it, so that there might be conciliation.

MacArthur also explains the meaning of the word ‘contribution’ in Greek:

The word “contribution,” by the way, a very important word, verse 26, the word is koinōnia. It is the word for fellowship. It is the word for fellowship. And sharing money is so essential a part of fellowship that three times in referring to this collection Paul uses the word koinōnia. Romans 15:26 right here, 2 Corinthians 8:4, 2 Corinthians 9:14, he calls the collection fellowship, common sharing. This is to be the priority. Now listen, I believe that Paul in his mind knew that, ultimately, the evangelization of the world would be hard pressed to succeed unless there was unity in the church. And he was committed to the strengthening of the base church, that it might be strong and have its needs met before he went out to reach the world. Very important.

In older translations, e.g. the King James Version, ‘contribution’ is translated as ‘fruit’, which has even more significance. A contribution seems abstract. Fruit seems more tangible.

Henry has more:

He calls the alms fruit, for it is one of the fruits of righteousness; it sprang from a root of grace in the givers, and redounded to the benefit and comfort of the receivers. And his sealing it intimates his great care about it, that what was given might be kept entire, and not embezzled, but disposed of according to the design of the givers. Paul was very solicitous to approve himself faithful in the management of this matter: an excellent pattern for ministers to write after, that the ministry may in nothing be blamed.

In verse 28, Paul is more determined than ever to evangelise Spain, travelling by Rome: ‘I will leave for Spain by way of you’ (verse 28).

Regardless of the outcome of his desires, Paul knew that God would bless him one way or another (verse 29).

MacArthur tells us:

Verse 29, “I’m sure,” – he says – “when I come to you I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of the gospel of Christ.” Now what an assurance that is.

He says I’m going to come in spiritual prosperity. When I come to you I’m going to come with blessing. In spite of difficulties, in spite of trials, I’m going to come in blessing. By the way, that last phrase “of the gospel” is not in the better manuscripts and so the verse would read, “I shall come in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” I know when I come to you I’m going to be blessed.

You say, “Well how did he know that?” Because that’s the way it always was with him. Some people — mark this — by virtue of an obedient spiritual life always live in the place of blessing. No matter what negative circumstance they may have, they enjoy the blessing of God. He has enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ throughout his ministry so he says, and I love this. “I am” – look at it, verse 29 – “I am sure.” I am sure …

You say, “How does he know that? How has he enjoyed the fullness of the things of Christ?” Because of obedience, because of obedience. Now he says, notice again verse 29, “I’m sure that when I come to you,” — Now he didn’t know whether he was going to come and the fact that he said that doesn’t mean it necessarily had to come to pass. The fact that he was coming is not inspired, the fact that he thought he might come is inspired. He was planning to come, whether he came or not. But he said, – “When I do come” – obviously within the will of God – “I know one thing, I’ll be blessed.”

I mean, that’s the way to live, isn’t it? To me, that’s the only way to live. To be able to say, “Well I don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow but I know one thing, I’ll be blessed. I don’t know where I’ll be a couple of years from now, but I know one thing, I’ll be in the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” How can you promise yourself that? Because the key to that is an obedient life. Now that is true positive thinking, not the cheap substitute we hear about today.

True positive thinking says, “I live in submission to Christ, I live in obedience to His Word so I know wherever I am I’ll enjoy the fullness of the blessing of Christ.” Marvelous way to live. By the way, as it turned out, he did get to Rome. That’s right, only he got there as a prisoner. But this still came true. He got there as a prisoner, and even as a prisoner he wrote the Philippians. And in writing to the Philippians, chapter 1, he talks about the difficulties, chains, and some people are criticizing him and so forth and so on.

Wow. These two commentaries took my breath away. Paul, although not one of the original Twelve, was no less an Apostle than any of them (bar Judas, of course).

I know that many of my readers are aware of Paul’s importance. Yet, in a historical context, his ministry is brought to life for others amongst us.

Those of us who are Gentiles have so much for which to be grateful, thanks to Paul’s ministry, guided by Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit for the glory of God.

Next time — Romans 15:30-32

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