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Bible ourhomewithgodcomThe 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 Anglicised (ESVUK) with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Pray for Us

Finally, brothers,[a] pray for us, that the word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honoured,[b] as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one.[c] And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ.

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Last week’s post explored Paul’s discussion of the Antichrist, ‘the lawless one’, who will come one day, controlled by Satan. When Jesus returns, He will kill the Antichrist with ‘the breath of His mouth’, but not before unbelievers — the damned — are in thrall of what he does. This, Paul says, is because God has condemned them for refusing ‘to love the truth and so be saved’. Therefore, God punishes them with ‘a strong delusion’ so that they can do nothing but ‘believe what is false’.

Today’s verses are in the final chapter of 2 Thessalonians.

As he did from all of his churches, Paul sought the prayers of the Thessalonians for his continuing ministry.

John MacArthur describes this message from Paul to his friends in Thessalonica:

It’s very tender. It’s very personal. It is Paul saying this is what I expect from you, this is what I cherish in terms of your Christian conduct.

He asks them to pray for him and his associates Timothy and Silvanus (Silas) that the Word of the Lord — the Gospel message — may speed ahead and be honoured, as was the case with in Thessalonica (verse 1).

Matthew Henry points out the importance of prayer, especially for our absent friends, including the clergy (emphases mine):

I. The apostle desires the prayers of his friends: Finally, brethren, pray for us, v. 1. He always remembered them in his prayers, and would not have them forget him and his fellow-labourers, but bear them on their hearts at the throne of grace. Note, 1. This is one way by which the communion of saints is kept us, not only by their praying together, or with one another, but by their praying for one another when they are absent one from another. And thus those who are at great distance may meet together at the throne of grace; and thus those who are not capable of doing or receiving any other kindness may yet this way do and receive real and very great kindness. 2. It is the duty of people to pray for their ministers; and not only for their own pastors, but also for all good and faithful ministers. And, 3. Ministers need, and therefore should desire, the prayers of their people. How remarkable is the humility, and how engaging the example, of this great apostle, who was so mighty in prayer himself, and yet despised not the prayers of the meanest Christian, but desired an interest in them.

MacArthur says:

He desires that they be prayerful. “Finally, brethren,” verse 1, “pray for us.” The shepherd wants the prayers of his people. Now think about it for a moment. Paul was without equal as a gifted, powerful, competent, effective minister. He had immense natural abilities, brilliant, logical, persuasive, erudite, educated, trained, religious, spiritually minded, perceptive, experienced. He had it all. But all that natural ability and all that education and all that religious training and all that experience and all of that skill, highly developed through the years, was not the source of his great power and it was not the source of his usefulness. It was the power of God at work in him that transcended his natural giftedness; that made him the man that he was for divine purposes. He himself confessed in Colossians 1 verse 29, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.” He had no confidence in his flesh. And he knew that whatever success he had was not related to his natural giftedness or any of those things which had occurred in his life on the human level, but to the very power of God surging through him. He was dependent on the Lord entirely for every aspect of his ministry. He even said, “Nevertheless I live, yet not I but Christ lives in me.” He knew where his power source was.

And consequently there are frequent pleas for his people to pray for him. And those pleas underline and underscore how strongly he leaned on divine power. I sometimes think that those in ministry who are least naturally gifted … get the most prayer because people assume that naturally gifted people don’t need any. Nothing could be further from the truth. There may be greater temptation for those more gifted to trust in their own giftedness. There may be greater possibility for human ingenuity to take over for the power of God in the unusually gifted than in those who are more humbly gifted. Thus those with the greater gifts may be those with the greatest need for prayer.

Some translations use ‘glorified’ instead of ‘honoured’ in that verse.

Henry explains the prayer petition that Paul requests and applies it to us today:

Observe, further, what they are desired and directed to pray for; namely, (1.) For the success of the gospel ministry: That the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, v. 1. This was the great thing that Paul was most solicitous about. He was more solicitous that God’s name might be sanctified, his kingdom advanced, and his will done, than he was about his own daily bread. He desired that the word of the Lord might run (so it is in the original), that it might get ground, that the interest of religion in the world might go forward and not backward, and not only go forward, but go apace. All the forces of hell were then, and still are, more or less, raised and mustered to oppose the word of the Lord, to hinder its publication and success. We should pray, therefore, that oppositions may be removed, that so the gospel, may have free course to the ears, the hearts, and the consciences of men, that it may be glorified in the conviction and conversion of sinners, the confutation, of gainsayers, and the holy conversation of the saints. God, who magnified the law, and made it honourable, will glorify the gospel, and make that honourable, and so will glorify his own name; and good ministers and good Christians may very well be contented to be little, to be any thing, to be nothing, if Christ be magnified and his gospel be glorified … Note, If ministers have been successful in one place, they should desire to be successful in every place where they may preach the gospel.

MacArthur says that Paul has borrowed from Psalm 147:

Pray that God’s Word, he says, may spread rapidly.  The Greek verb trechō means literally “to run.”  Pray that the Word may run.  He’s borrowing this concept, shows his knowledge of the Old Testament, from Psalm 147:15 where it says, “God’s Word runs very swiftly.”  So he says pray that the Word will run like a powerful runner, like a strong runner moving unobstructed and unhindered, making rapid progress

Pray that the Word will go rapidly.  Pray that when I’m given opportunity I’ll open my mouth.  Pray that when I’m ready to open my mouth God will open a door so I can speak, and then when I get the opportunity, pray that I’ll say what needs to be said; always asking the church to pray for the success and the spread of the message.

In 2 Timothy 2:9 he reminded young Timothy the Word of God is not bound.  I might be; it isn’t.  Pray that it will move powerfully through the land.

And then he adds this, “And be glorified,” and be glorified.  What does that mean?  It simply means appreciated, honored, respected, extolled, admired.  He’s simply saying that it will be received with a proper response, that people will hear the gospel and they will affirm it to be the gospel, the saving truth.  He’s talking about acceptance.

Paul also wanted the Thessalonians to pray that he and his associates be delivered from wicked and evil men, for not all men have (the gift of) faith (verse 2).

MacArthur reminds us of the danger Paul constantly faced:

He also knew the meaning of persecution. He faced difficulty. He faced a solitary life. He faced danger constantly. He usually was self-supporting, usually had to preach to people who didn’t want to hear what he said in places where he never was invited to start with. Life for him was one unending challenge and the threat of death was imminent. He bore in his body the marks of Jesus Christ. He faced death on a daily basis. And he knew he couldn’t succeed in his own human flesh and he was dependent upon the power of the Lord and he knew that power was released through the prayers of his people.

He was experiencing trouble in Corinth, where he was writing this letter:

… as he writes this he’s in the city of Corinth. Things haven’t gone well. The 18th chapter of Acts records what was going on in the city of Corinth and as I said, it wasn’t good. There was a hostile reaction to the gospel. Chapter 18, verse 6 tells us the Jews resisted and blasphemed and he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads, I’m clean. From now on I go to the Gentiles.” He hit a stone wall there, not like Thessalonica, not like Galatia. And so he is in…in the context of that resistance as he writes. I believe that he wrote this letter some time after that initial resistance and he wants the gospel to break through, to really break through, and so he says, “Will you please pray that it will spread rapidly and be accepted?”

There’s a second thing he asks in verse 2.  “And that we may be delivered from perverse and evil men for not all have faith.” What is this?

First he asks for the success of the message.  Secondly: The safety of the messengers.  “That we may be delivered,” rhuomai, rescued, saved.  “Not for self-preservation alone, not for personal comfort or safety alone, but because if we’re not protected then the message won’t be heard.  Pray that the message will go forth successfully and the messengers will be unhindered.  Paul was always facing hostility.  We’ve already read about it in the book of Acts.  I can remind you at the end of Romans 15, he says, “Pray for me that I may be delivered from those who are disobedient,” disobedient to God. Pray for me that I’ll be able to carry on my ministry.

In Corinth, as I said, there was tremendous resistance. And perhaps after he wrote this letter it really blew sky-high because in Acts 18 verse 12 it says, “Gallio was proconsul of Achaia. The Jews with one accord rose up against Paul and brought him before the judgment seat.” The whole Jewish population were united in hostility against the gospel and they made an issue out of it. They even took, in verse 17, Sosthenes, the leader of the synagogue, began beating him in front of the judgment seat. A riot really ensued. Paul is in the context of this resistance and he’s pleading with them to pray for the success of the message and the safety of the messenger.

Now would you note also that he identifies who is dangerous: Perverse and evil men. “Perverse” literally is the word “out of place.” This is the only time in the New Testament it’s used of a person. It’s always used of some object that got lost, something that’s out of its proper place, something improper. Here it means some person who is out of his proper place, who is perverse, unrighteous; one writer says “morally insane.” And then he adds evil, malignant aggressive wickedness. Pray for us that we will be rescued from the threats and the power of morally insane, perverse, aggressively wicked people who want to shut our mouths so the message can’t be preached. Pray for us.

I would echo that. Pray for the success of the message as I preach and pray for safety and security for the messenger. Maybe the persecution isn’t the same today as it was then, but it’s still out there.

And then he adds a note of explanation, “For not all have faith.” The Thessalonians probably assumed that because they responded in such a wonderful way, because the Jews and the Gentiles together responded to the gospel, that this might be the norm. Now remember, Paul had just been with them a matter of really just a few months, weeks. And they probably thought their response would kind of be the pattern and he says to them, “Pray regarding this hostility because not all have faith.” It is possible to interpret that two ways. Some might say, “Not all have the faith,” the definite article being there, talking about the content of Christian faith. But I would take it that what he’s saying here is not all believe. Either way, it comes out the same. Not all are Christians and unbelievers are the ones who are hostile. No, everyone isn’t going to respond the way you did, so the beloved apostle calls for the intercession of the church so that the Word may move rapidly and triumphantly and the messengers will not be hindered by hostile unbelievers. That’s his prayer.

Henry has a practical application of the verse for us:

(2.) For the safety of gospel ministers. He asks their prayers, nor for preferment, but for preservation: That we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men, v. 2. Note, Those who are enemies to the preaching of the gospel, and persecutors of the faithful preachers of it, are unreasonable and wicked men. They act against all the rules and laws of reason and religion, and are guilty of the greatest absurdity and impiety. Not only in the principles of atheism and infidelity, but also in the practice of the vice and immorality, and especially in persecution, there is the greatest absurdity in the world, as well as impiety. There is need of the spiritual protection, as well as the assistance, of godly and faithful ministers, for these are as the standard-bearers, who are most struck at; and therefore all who wish well to the interest of Christ in the world should pray for them. For all men have not faith; that is, many do not believe the gospel; they will not embrace it themselves, and no wonder if such are restless and malicious in their endeavours to oppose the gospel, decry the ministry, and disgrace the ministers of the word; and too many have not common faith or honesty; there is no confidence that we can safely put in them, and we should pray to be delivered from those who have no conscience nor honour, who never regard what they say or do. We may sometimes be in as much or more danger from false and pretended friends as from open and avowed enemies.

Then Paul segues to the Thessalonians by saying, ‘But the Lord is faithful’, meaning to him and to them; the Lord will establish them (keep them steady) and guard them against the evil one, Satan (verse 3).

Henry explains:

1. What the good is which we may expect from the grace of God-establishment, and preservation from evil; and the best Christians stand in need of these benefits. (1.) That God would establish them. This the apostle had prayed for on their behalf ( ch. 2:17), and now he encourages them to expect this favour. We stand no longer than God holds us up; unless he hold up our goings in his paths, our feet will slide, and we shall fall. (2.) That God will keep them from evil. We have as much need of the grace of God for our perseverance to the end as for the beginning of the good work. The evil of sin is the greatest evil, but there are other evils which God will also preserve his saints from—the evil that is in the world, yea, from all evil, to his heavenly kingdom.

2. What encouragement we have to depend upon the grace of God: The Lord is faithful. He is faithful to his promises, and is the Lord who cannot lie, who will not alter the thing that has gone out of his mouth. When once the promise therefore is made, performance is sure and certain. He is faithful to his relation, a faithful God and a faithful friend; we may depend upon his filling up all the relations he stands in to his people. Let it be our care to be true and faithful in our promises, and to the relations we stand in to this faithful God.

MacArthur sees the verse as Paul’s exhortations to the Thessalonians to keep trusting God, regardless of what happens, e.g. persecution:

… he says, “This is what I want to happen in your life.” There’s a certain sense in which he feels at arm’s length, “and I can’t be there to insure it, but this is my desire for you.”  Verse 3: “But the Lord is faithful and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.”

What he’s saying to them is, look, no matter what happens, no matter how hostile they are, no matter how severe the persecution and trials and trouble, no matter what might happen, you know this, your Lord is faithful. Keep trusting.

Any pastor who is away from his people would want from the depths of heart that his people remain faithful to the God who is faithful to them.  In contrast to faithless men in verse 2 is a faithful Lord in verse 3.  And no matter what may come in trials and no matter what may come in persecutions, the Lord’s plan for you will come to pass, He is faithful.  Why Paul sure gave testimony to that at the end of his life in 2 Timothy 4:16, “At my first defense no one supported me, all deserted me but the Lord stood with me and strengthened me.”  Everybody else was gone, but He was there, He’s faithful.  I wish we had time to go through the Old Testament and the New to see how many times the Bible tells us the Lord is faithful. The Lord is faithful …

He will strengthen you, he says, he will strengthen you, stērizō. There’s that word from which we get steroids, make you strong, make you firm, establish youThat’s talking about the inside, strengthening your inner man, giving you an inner security.  He’ll build you up on the inside and protect you from the evil one on the outside.  He will fill you with internal strength and He will shield you from the evil one, most likely a reference to Satan.  It could be translated, “From the evil,” but it is better to see it as “The evil one, Satan.”

In the inside He’ll strengthen you.  On the outside He’ll shield you so that you’re never hit with satanic arrows that are going to destroy you and you have the internal strength to maintain your faith.  There is your great security, beloved.  No matter what comes or goes, a faithful Lord will strengthen you on the inside and guard you from attacks by the enemy on the outside.

I suppose Jude had it all when he said this, “He is able to keep you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy.”  He will strengthen you so you don’t fall.  He will protect you so Satan cannot destroy you.

Paul says that he has confidence in the Lord about the Thessalonians, that they are doing well and will do what he commands (verse 4), i.e. obey the Gospel message.

MacArthur reminds us that the Gospel is a command to obey God through obedience to Jesus Christ:

The pastor has spent his time teaching the Word of God, in a sense, commanding. Remember Paul said to Timothy, “Command and teach.” Teaching has the note of authority because we give you the Word of God. And Paul has the desire for his people that they maintain a pattern of obedience. Verse 4, “We have confidence,” and it’s a very positive approach to this exhortation, “we have confidence in the Lord,” not in your flesh, “but in the Lord concerning you, that you are doing and will continue to do what we command”

Were these personal commands by Paul? No, he was simply passing them on. They came from God. He’s essentially saying to them what he noted about them back in chapter 4 of his first letter. He said, “You ought to walk and please God just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more.” You’re already doing it. I want you to do it more. I want you to do it better. Here he says it again. You’re already doing it. I want you to continue to do it in the future.

Do what? Obey my commands. Scripture is command. Did you know that? It is command. Scripture in Psalm 19 is called, “the commandments of the Lord.” Jesus said in the Great Commission, “Teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you.” Do you know that even the gospel is a command to repent and believe? All injunctions are commands. And so he says I want to see your continued, sustained, ongoing obedience and I’m confident in the Lord that you will continue by His strength to obey as you have been obeying.

Paul concludes this section of his letter by praying that the Lord direct their hearts to the love of God and the steadfastness of Christ (verse 5).

Certainly, the Thessalonians were already experiencing that, but Paul wanted it to be enduring and ever-expanding.

Henry explains the beauty of the verse, which is one of blessing:

It is a prayer for spiritual blessings. Two things of the greatest importance the apostle prays for:—1. That their hearts may be brought into the love of God, to be in love with God as the most excellent and amiable Being, the best of all beings; and this is not only most reasonable and necessary in order to our happiness, but is our happiness itself; it is a great part of the happiness of heaven itself, where this love shall be made perfect. We can never attain to this unless God by his grace direct our hearts aright, for our love is apt to go astray after other things. Note, We sustain a great deal of damage by misplacing our affections; it is our sin and our misery that we place our affections upon wrong objects. If God directs our love aright upon himself, the rest of the affections will thereby be rectified. 2. That a patient waiting for Christ may be joined with this love of God. There is no true love of God without faith in Jesus Christ. We must wait for Christ, which supposes our faith in him, that we believe he came once in flesh and will come again in glory: and we must expect this second coming of Christ, and be careful to get ready for it; there must be a patient waiting, enduring with courage and constancy all that we may meet with in the mean time: and we have need of patience, and need of divine grace to exercise Christian patience, the patience of Christ (as some read the word), patience for Christ’s sake and after Christ’s example.

MacArthur says:

Paul’s expectation, because of the Lord’s faithfulness to His people, because they had an obedient inner man delighting in God’s command, was that they were going to be all right.  But he wanted them to continue spiritual growth.  And in a sense, that’s really what he’s saying in this verse.  “May the Lord direct your hearts.”  The word “direct” here means to make straight, “heart,” your inner person.

The word “direct” is used in 1 Thessalonians 3:11 of removing all the obstacles and hindrances out of the way and opening up a path.  May the Lord open up a path for you so that your inner man can move down that path.  He doesn’t want any static here, nothing stationary.  You aren’t there yet.  I want the Lord to open the path to clear the trail and to move your inner man down that path. To what?  Into the love of God.

Is that objective or subjective?  Are we talking about into God’s love for you, or your love for God?  And the answer is probably both.  I love that ambiguity in the epistles.  The Greek language provided the original writers a certain ambiguity that resulted in the fullness of the truth.  Down the path into God’s love for you and your love for Him … For you technicians that’s the objective and subjective genitive. And when you look at it, you can’t tell the difference in the original language and we feel that that’s because they’re both there. 

Go down the path deeper and deeper into God’s love for you which is going to cause you to love Him more and more. And secondly, he says, I want the Lord to lay out the path and push your inner being down the path into, notice it, the steadfastness or the patience of Christ. That can be either one; his patience with us or our patience in His strength through endurance. I want you to go down the path learning more and more how patient, how enduring Christ is over your sins and your problems and your struggles and even how greater you can understand His own endurance in His own struggles, and then consequently have a greater endurance of your own.

I want you to know more about God’s love so you can love Him more. I want you to know more about Christ’s endurance so you can endure more. I want you to grow spiritually in your love and in your endurance. That’s his point. You’re not there. I want you to advance in love and advance in patience under persecution as Christ did.

In other words, Paul wants them to pursue the lifelong process of sanctification, which they had already begun. He wants them to continue on that Christian journey, which should never be static.

MacArthur summarises the duty of congregations to their clergy:

What is the duty then of the people to the pastor? The sheep to their shepherd? To be prayerful on his behalf, that his message may succeed and that he may be safe in the proclamation of it. Their duty to him is to continue in their faithful trust in a faithful Lord who will never allow them to be weak on the inside and who will never allow them to be assaulted beyond what they are capable on the outside but will always be there to strengthen and protect them; and the duty to be obedient, to continue in the presence or absence of the shepherd to follow obediently the commands which he gave them from God …

So, with a growing love and a growing endurance of the difficulties of life, the pastor wants his congregation to obey, trusting in the faithfulness of the Lord and praying always for the shepherd. No pastor could ask more than that from his people, that they be prayerful, trusting, obedient and spiritually growing. That’s my desire for you, that God may be glorified in His church.

Next week’s verses conclude 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18

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John F MacArthurMy regular readers know that I have been writing about 2 Thessalonians over the past two weeks.

My January 8 post covered 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10, which is Paul’s brief yet stark description of the Second Coming.

In the two verses that follow, Paul wrote that he prayed for the enduring faith and love of the Thessalonians, some of whom were preoccupied by the prospect of the Second Coming, expecting it to be imminent:

11 To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfil every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, 12 so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

In 1992, John MacArthur preached a sermon on those verses, ‘Praying for the Right Things, Part 1’, which is an excellent examination of prayer.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

MacArthur contrasts Paul’s prayer with many of our own:

That is what I would call a prayer report from Paul.  It is not a prayer, though his letters have many prayers in them, but it is a report of how he prays He is telling the Thessalonians the nature of his prayer for them.  And as you look at that prayer and consider it, you come to the conclusion that he is praying for the right stuff Sadly, the prayers of most Christians are directed toward the wrong stuff. 

Most of the time, Christians pray in regard to themselves and those they love for somewhat shallow things.  The prayers are often misdirected and very shortsighted and, in fact, selfish.  Christians typically pray for health and happiness and success.  They pray for personal benefit.  They pray for comfort.  They pray for solutions to fix all of the little problems of life.  They pray for a healed body or a home or food or a job or a car, a husband, a wife, a promotion, more money.  Those things, while they certainly make up part of life, are very low on Paul’s priority list They’re also very low on the priority list of Jesus, who said basically take no thought for what you eat or drink or wear, knowing full well that God supplies all of those things.  Get on with seeking matters that relate to the kingdom of God.  Often we ask, says James, and receive not because we ask amiss for the sole purpose of consuming it on our own lusts.  So very often we not only pray for the wrong stuff but we pray for the wrong reason ..

I suppose at this particular point I could ask the question of you:  What do you pray for?  When it comes down to you and your life and your family and the people in your world, the people you love, your church, for what do you pray?  What do you desire for yourself?  What do you desire for your spouse?  What do you desire for your children?  What do you desire for the people that you love?  What do you desire for the people in your church?  What do you really want? 

If God showed up and said, “I want to give you three wishes.  Whatever you ask I will do,” what would they be?  What would you ask God for?  Do you have the right values?  Do you have the right priority list?  We live in a world, of course, that is skewed, a world that is deviated, a world that knows little of true value We live in a world where people pursue all the wrong stuff.  And that massive overpowering pursuit that is all around us encroaches on our lives and gets us caught up in the very pursuit of things which mean nothing or should mean nothing to us

The world is full of fools, fools who the hard way learn what is the right stuff and fools who never learn what is the right stuff.  We who know the Lord Jesus Christ and who have the Word of God need not be so foolish.  We need not waste our time endeavoring to get what is ultimately, after all, not even valuable.  We need to spend our time gaining what is priceless.  Three wishes Paul had for them:  worthiness, fulfillment, and powerful service.  Before we look at those requests and their implications, I want us to consider the text from the perspective of prayer.  Paul begins in verse 11 by saying, “To this end also we pray for you,” and he introduces us to his resource.  Whatever it was that he wanted for the Thessalonians, he knew he could obtain only by prayer.  He did not turn to human ingenuity.  He did not turn to some program.  He turned to God. 

MacArthur looks at Paul in his role as shepherd of that flock, even though he was in Corinth at the time when he wrote his letter:

As we think about this great text and before we look at the requests and the reasons for the requests in verse 12, we need to look at this matter of the resource, which is prayer.  “To this end also we pray for you always.”  Several things flow out of that.  First of all, obviously, that he prayed for them.  Secondly, that he prayed for them all the time, unceasingly, which, of course, was typical of Paul.  And thirdly, that in praying for them all the time he had a goal in mind, to this end or for this reason or for this purpose.  His prayers were very pointed.  They were very direct.  They were not generic.  They were not general.  They were specific.  And the three things that were the goal or the end or the purpose or the direction of his prayer were worthiness, fulfillment, and effective service.  That’s what he prayed for.  He sought for them the right stuff. 

The pattern of prayer for the shepherd is a prayer for the sanctification of his people, for the maturity of his people, for the growth of his people, for the development of his people spiritually, and that is that for which Paul prays.  Not only, of course, did he pray for them but he also taught them the Word of God.  That’s the twofold responsibility

There are brief times that we’re able to teach.  There are unlimited times that we’re able to pray.  And the prayer life of the shepherd is a constant thing.  He may not always be on his knees.  He may not always have his hands folded or his eyes closed, but there is seldom a waking moment when the shepherd doesn’t have the sheep on his heart, and being on his heart they are thus carried to the heart of God, and the prayer for sanctification is a way of life.  So we’re not surprised when Paul, in writing his epistles, stops at points to pray or inject a prayer report about how he’s been praying and will continue to pray for them.  So here he says, “I know this, I want you to be sanctified.  I want you to be worthy.  I want you to be fulfilled.  And I want you to serve with power.  And the resource that I tap for that is God.  I go to God.”  And here we’re introduced to a wonderful balance We know we must teach the people because they must obey the Word to be sanctified.  But we also know that it is God alone who can prompt that obedience.  That’s why when anything good happens in our life, who gets the credit?  God.  Because in our flesh, we can do no good thing. 

MacArthur discusses the spiritual tension that the true Christian experiences:

So there’s a wonderful tension there that must be maintained in our hearts and minds that basically says if I’m going to be a sanctified Christian moving along the path to Christlikeness, if I’m going to be growing in grace and in the knowledge of the Lord, if I’m going to be more and more holy, moving from level of glory to the next level of glory, changed by the Holy Spirit to be more and more conformed to Christ, if that process is going on in my life, it demands my obedience.  I must obey the Word and the Spirit.  But I also know that the only way that that can happen is when God empowers it to happen And so I’m caught, as it were, on the vortex of that same tension that exists so many, many places in the Word of God and the truth of the Christian faith. 

But I want to speak to that, if I might, this morning because I think it’s important.  There is a growing response among Christian people to the truth of God’s sovereignty, and I thank God for that.  The church is finally awakening to the fact that God is an absolutely and utterly sovereign God, that God controls all things by the word of His power, that God will do what He will do when He will do it the way He will do it because He has so ordained and because He is absolutely in charge and because He has the power to do it.  God has set in motion His perfect purpose from before the world began.  It is all set and established by His infinite mind and will operate according to His infinite power and purpose.  I’m glad the church has affirmed that.  But I also am concerned that in the affirmation of the absolute sovereignty of God, there come not a depreciating sense of responsibility on the part of the believer, either on the one hand to pray or to obey. 

Just as obedience is an element in which God works His sovereign purposes of salvation and sanctification, so prayer is a human element by which that purpose is effected.  That is a mystery which is not understood but is believed. 

MacArthur looks at the prayers of Jesus, who is all divine and all human — another holy mystery:

In Luke 22 – this is fascinating – Jesus says to Peter, “Simon, Simon,” – and He called him by his old name when he was acting like his old self – “Simon, Simon, behold:  Satan has demanded permission to sift you like wheat.”  “Satan wants to come after you.”  And the implication is, “And I’m giving him permission.”  But you could also fill in the white spaces, “I know you’re going to survive.”  Right?  He knew that.  He knew Peter wouldn’t totally lose his salvation and be plunged into Satanic power and end up in hell, He knew that.  “Satan wants to have you and he’s going to put you through a very sifting test, and I’m going to let him do it.”  And He knew exactly how it would turn out.  But look at verse 32:  “But I have” – what? – “prayed for you.” 

Do you know that the prayers of Jesus were even a part of the sovereign plan of God?  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, there’s no sense in me praying, I know how this whole deals going to come out.”  Jesus didn’t say, “Well, not only do I know how it’s going to come out, I’m controlling the whole deal, so why should I pray?”  Jesus, in His humanity, gives us an example of one though knowing perfectly the plan of God who yet prayed for that plan to be fulfilled.  He knew Peter would pass the test, survive, ultimately give his life in the cause of Christ as a faithful servant, die a martyr, without renouncing his faith.  Jesus knew all of that, He planned all that, He made that all happen, He effected that in Peter’s life, and yet He prayed for Peter right here.  If the Son joins in prayer along with the sovereign plan of the Father, then should we do less?  Prayer and sovereign power go together with pleading and human responsibility. 

MacArthur advises us how to pray, citing an example from Isaiah 38:

You want to pray for one another, this is how you pray.  These are the things you pray for because these are the things that concern God.  God doesn’t really care about the little nuances of life as much as He cares about the big, spiritual issues of life.  You see, the purpose of God by the Holy Spirit is to conform you more and more to the image of Jesus Christ The little things in life that come and go are incidental to that process.  They work with that process maybe one way or another.  And so God has a sovereign plan which He will sovereignly fulfill, but within that sovereign plan there is a place for prayer as we line up ourselves up with that plan and as we even become the means to activate that plan for the effectual prayer of a righteous man does avail much – it does avail much. 

And do we need to be reminded of that most fascinating illustration about Isaiah?  Isaiah went to Hezekiah.  “This is what the Lord says,” Isaiah told him, “Put your house in order because you’re going to die.  You’re not going to recover.”  Isaiah 38:1 Told him, “You’re not going to recover; you’re going to die.”  After that, the king wept bitterly, you remember, and he prayed about his impending doom.  Well, it was Isaiah, then, who hadn’t even gotten out of the king’s house after delivering the first message who was told by God, “Go back and tell Hezekiah this:  This is what the Lord the God of your father David says, I’ve heard your prayer, seen your tears, I will heal you, I’ll add fifteen years to your life.”  Amazing.  The prophet’s own account makes it very plain that had the king not prayed, if he hadn’t prayed, he would have died.  So somehow the instrumentality of prayer fits into the plan as does obedience, for if you don’t obey, you won’t be sanctified.  If you don’t obey the gospel you won’t be saved. 

We cannot, then, believe in the sovereignty of God, we cannot just believe in the teaching of the Word of God if it somehow strips us of the passion to pray.  Prayer, then, is the heart longing to unite with the holy purposes of God for their accomplishment

Paul then prays, “And to this end, that God may count you worthy of your calling, fulfill every desire for goodness and the work of faith with power,” those three things.  They are magnificent things.  Worthiness, that has to do with spiritual character.  That the Lord would make you the kind of person you ought to be.  Fulfillment, that God would then fulfill in your life circumstances every holy longing And then, finally, that whatever service you do would be done with power.  That’s what God’s after.  A worthy life, a fulfilled life, a powerful life.  That’s the right stuff to pray for.  When you pray for your spouse or you pray for your children or you pray for your friends or you pray for your church or you pray in behalf of your own spiritual life, you pray for those things: worthiness, fulfillment, power in service

MacArthur concludes:

Can you stay focused?  Can you stay at the speed God wants you to stay at, moving toward the goal He wants you to move at with all the stuff going on around you and be undistracted?  Can you stay with the right stuff?  That’s the challenge.  You can’t, on your own, and that’s why Paul prays that you be able to by the power of God.

MacArthur’s reflections add a whole new dimension to the purpose of and petitions in prayer, things to think about in the week ahead.

It’s hard to know where to begin with this year’s Christmas news, much of which is disappointing, to say the least.

That said, there is a bright Christmas message here, so please read on.

Scotland legislation latest

On Thursday, December 22, the Scottish Parliament — or Assembly, as I still call it — passed legislation for Gender Recognition Reform, specifically to grant Gender Recognition Certificates (GRCs).

The bill passed in the SNP-controlled government 86-39 with no abstentions. Only two Conservative MSPs voted for it. The rest were SNP (Scottish National Party), Scottish Greens (SNP coalition partners), Scottish Labour and Scottish Liberal Democrat MSPs.

The final contributions were largely made on the basis of feelings. Wednesday’s transcript shows that every Conservative motion proposing greater controls over who can apply for a GRC and under what conditions was defeated. Debate had also taken place on Tuesday in an attempt to rush this through before Christmas break.

The Scottish Parliament thought this so important that it even cancelled their annual Christmas carol service, which, this year, was to feature Ukrainian refugees living just outside of Edinburgh.

A pro-independence — though not a pro-SNP — Scot who lives in England, the Revd Stuart Campbell, summed up the legislation in one of his Wings Over Scotland posts, ‘On the hush-hush’ (emphases mine):

The last few days have been perhaps the most turbulent in the entire history of the modern Scottish Parliament. Proceedings have been suspended repeatedly, members of the public thrown out and threatened with arrest, filibusters attempted, carol services cancelled, tempers frayed and sittings going on until the wee small hours.

All of this has happened in the service of the policy that the SNP has made its flagship priority for the last two years and more – the destruction not only of women’s rights, but of the very CONCEPT of a woman

So you’d imagine the party would have been tweeting about it constantly, keeping its supporters informed about all the dramatic events and the progress of the bill, if only to reassure them that they were determined to get it passed before the Christmas break come what may …

But there wasn’t one solitary word about the thing it just spent three solid days forcing into law. And since it was a thing that most of its own voters, and indeed a huge majority of all Scots, were opposed to, readers might be forgiven for thinking that they just wanted it all kept as quiet as possible, as if they were ashamed.

We suspect, and very much hope, that their wish may not be granted.

The Revd Mr Campbell means that the Secretary of State for Scotland in Westminster might refuse to present the Bill for King’s Assent. Let’s hope so.

Another Wings over Scotland post explains what the Bill actually does:

… one of the most regressive, dangerous and frankly absurd pieces of legislation the modern world has ever seen. Last week, [First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s] government successfully managed to get the word ‘woman’ redefined from an adult human female to anyone to who has a piece of paper that says they are one.

Should obtaining this piece of paper involve a rigorous, measured process that takes psychological and criminal history into serious consideration and prioritises the safety of women and children, this would be permissible to the socially liberal. Alas though, the new GRA has shamelessly scrapped all safeguarding measures. For a man to legally become a woman now – and be entitled to access all female-only facilities, be it changing rooms or prisons, all he has to do is ‘live as’ a woman (whatever the hell that means) for three months followed by a three-month ‘reflection period’.

TRA-adjacent politicians have nowhere to hide with this now. They can no longer deny that sex-based rights will be grievously compromised and that predators and fetishists now have ease of access to women (and children’s) spaces, from bathrooms to sports teams.

In another post, Campbell linked to Tuesday’s proceedings where a Conservative MSP tried to raise an amendment calling for greater scrutiny of sex offenders wishing to change gender. Unfortunately, 64 SNP/Green/Lib Dem MSPs voted it down. In ‘The Disgraces of Scotland’, Campbell wrote:

The events marked simply and unquestionably the most shameful and contemptible moment in the history of the Scottish Parliament since 1707.

1707 was the year when the Act of Union was established between England and Scotland.

He also pointed out that voting down the amendment resulted in:

ceding the moral high ground to the Scottish Conservatives

Anyone who knows the Scots knows that anything Conservative is unpopular there. That said, the Scottish Conservatives are the official opposition party in Edinburgh.

It should be noted that anyone aged 16 1/2 and over can apply for a GRC. It would appear that no formal medical diagnosis will be required with this new legislation.

Campbell’s readers have much to say on the matter. Some say this is a deleterious influence from American pressure groups. Others say that women will be in great danger.

Both are likely possibilities.

None of the MSPs supporting the Bill thinks that women will have any problem with sex offenders or deviants. However, a British substack begs to differ. ‘This Never Happens’ is a lengthy catalogue of gender-changers around the world who have committed horrific crimes, many of a sexual nature. Another site with a similar catalogue can be found here.

It is ironic that a woman is in charge of Scotland and she has overseen this legislation. In fact, she has supported it from beginning to end.

Scotland, like Canada, was such a beautiful country once upon a time. When I say ‘beautiful’, I’m referring to people. Another spirit — the devil — is moving through both nations.

One positive outcome is that the Scottish Conservatives can use this legislation to their advantage during the next election cycle. Unlike the SNP, Scottish Labour and Scottish Lib Dems, they alone voted en masse against it, showing that they are the true defenders of women and girls.

An UnHerd columnist, Joan Smith, says that this will come soon to England, should Labour win the next general election:

The man sitting next to you on a tram in Edinburgh, or turning up for a women-only swimming session, may self-identify as a woman — and the law will support him every step of the way. Centuries-old assumptions about what is real, about what people see in front of them, are being overturned. And it’s coming to Westminster as well, if Sir Keir Starmer follows through on his proposal to ‘update’ the 2004 Gender Recognition Act.

We have less than two years before a Labour government comes to power, weighed down by promises to import the idiocy (I’m being polite here) of self-ID to the rest of the UK. Two years, in other words, to watch what happens when politicians reject biology, common sense and the imperative to protect women against male violence. 

In the meantime, prisons, hospitals and refuges outside Scotland will face the headache of what to do when a man with a Scottish Gender Recognition Certificate (GRC) — obtained with far fewer safeguards than elsewhere in the UK — demands access to women-only spaces. The prospect of expensive litigation is terrifying, but women’s organisations on both sides of the border are already preparing for the fight of their lives.

So crazed are MSPs by this ideology that on Tuesday evening they voted down an amendment that would have placed barriers in the way of convicted sex offenders who seek to apply for a GRC, complete with a new female name. They even rejected an amendment — proposed by Michelle Thomson, an SNP MSP who has waived anonymity to reveal her own experience of being raped when she was fourteen years old — that would have paused the process of acquiring a certificate for men charged with sexual offences.

This is an extremely troubling development. Let’s not forget that the SNP-Green government has pressed ahead with the legislation even after Lady Haldane’s judgment established last week that a GRC changes someone’s legal sex for the purposes of the 2010 Equality Act. Scottish women are now expected to accept that any man standing in front of them, waving a piece of paper, is a woman — even if they’re in court and the man is accused of raping them. 

It’s clear that a bill that was supposedly purely administrative has hugely expanded the number of individuals who can apply for a GRC, with catastrophic effects on women’s rights.

The rest of the UK is about to find out what it’s like living alongside a country in which observable sex no longer has any meaning. Welcome to Scotland, where the word ‘woman’ will now soon include any man who fancies it.

Conservatives in England and Wales can take heart from this for the general election in two years’ time, pointing to their colleagues north of the border. Who are the great defenders of women and girls? It certainly won’t be Labour.

Woman arrested for silent prayer

On December 6, a pro-life supporter from Worcestershire was arrested for praying silently in Birmingham in an exclusion zone around an abortion clinic.

Here is the video of her arrest:

A fundraiser is open for her:

BirminghamLive filed their report on Tuesday, December 20:

A woman has been charged with breaching an exclusion zone outside a Birmingham abortion clinic. Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, aged 45, from Malvern in Worcestershire, was arrested near the BPAS Robert Clinic in Kings Norton on December 6.

She was later charged with breaking a Public Space Protection Order, said by Birmingham City Council to have been introduced to ensure “people visiting and working there have clear access without fear of confrontation”. Vaughan-Spruce will appear at Birmingham Magistrates’ Court on February 2 next year.

A West Midlands Police spokesperson said: “Isabel Vaughan-Spruce, aged 45 from Geraldine Road, Malvern, was arrested on December 6 and subsequently charged on December 15 with four counts of failing to comply with a Public Space Protection Order (PSPO). She was bailed to appear at Birmingham Magistrates Court on February 2 2023.”

The police must feel threatened by prayer, especially that of the silent sort.

On Friday, December 23, UnHerd ‘s Mary Harrington gave her thoughts on the arrest:

It’s customary in these situations to decry the breach of liberal norms involved in arresting someone not for doing something wrong but merely thinking. But if, as I’ve suggested elsewhere, all politics is now post-liberal, that means it’s once again explicitly the case that state power is aligned with a widely-shared moral order

This is a drum I’ve been banging for a little while, for contra the fond imaginings of some liberals we never really stopped ordering power to sacred values. After all, it’s not really possible to have a functioning polity otherwise. This, I argued shortly before the pandemic, is why hate crime laws appeared a scant few years after the abolition of blasphemy laws: they are blasphemy laws. We’ve just updated what we considered blasphemous

…  Vaughan-Spruce’s arrest makes it clear that the zone surrounding an abortion centre is treated as sacred in a way that’s evidently no longer meaningfully the case (at least as far as the European court is concerned) of a church. She is an activist and director of March for Life UK, and has been previously arrested for protesting against abortion. But this in no way diminishes the growing sense that the activity being protected is also increasingly treated as sacred …

We have sacralised autonomy to such an extent that laws uphold women’s right to it, even at the cost of another radically dependent life. And the issue is growing ever more moralised, as evidenced by the fact that even thinking disapproving thoughts about this radical commitment to individual autonomy is now treated as blasphemous, in zones where its most extreme sacrifices are made

Wherever you stand on the practical issues surrounding abortion, this is indisputably a profound statement on the relative values we accord to freedom, care and dependency — one with profound ramifications for how we see the weak and helpless in any context. That the practice is taking on sacramental colouring, for a religion of atomisation, should give us all pause.

Indeed.

House of Lords Archbishop of Canterbury debate on asylum

On December 9, the House of Lords gave the Archbishop of Canterbury his annual debate. This year, the subject was the UK’s asylum and refugee policy.

I hope that readers will understand if I do not excerpt his speech here. They are free to read it for themselves.

We have taken in a record annual number of illegal migrants crossing the Channel this year, expected to be over 50,000.

We have also taken in large numbers of legitimate refugees and asylum seekers. We have also given visas to many thousands of legal migrants this year, particularly from Africa and Asia, namely India and Hong Kong.

UnHerd had a good analysis of what Welby said and our current predicament:

The Archbishop says he aims to support action that would “prevent small boats from crossing the channel”, but he also stresses that the UK is not taking many refugees and should take many more. 

Astonishingly, he dismisses the provision our country has made to welcome Hong Kong residents — well over 100,000 to date and many more to come — by saying “and that, by the way, is not asylum but financial visas”. It may not involve an application for asylum as such, but it clearly involves flight from oppression. Welby also draws the wrong conclusion from the fact that developing countries host many more refugees than developed countries. This is much cheaper than settlement in the West and makes return more likely. Developed countries should help pay the costs, and the UK leads the way in this regard.

The control Welby claims to support does not presently exist. The small boats cannot safely be turned around in the Channel and France will not accept their immediate return. The Rwanda plan is a rational (if imperfect) attempt to address the problem, removing asylum-seekers to a safe third country, where they will be protected, yet the Archbishop decries the plan on the grounds that it outsources our responsibilities. This makes no sense, for the UK not only accepts that Rwanda must comply with international standards, but also commits to funding the protection of those who prove to be refugees. Welby asserts that the plan has failed to deter. Indeed, because it has not yet been tried at all. 

The UK has good reason to resettle in safe third countries those who enter unlawfully on small boats, which would discourage others from (dangerous) unlawful entry and restore control of our borders. The historic tradition on which the Archbishop relies is alive and well in the provision our government has made, with wide public support, for temporary protection for Ukrainians escaping Russian aggression and for resettlement of the new Huguenots, the Hong Kong residents seeking to escape the oppressive reach of the Chinese Communist state

Lord Lilley — former Conservative MP Peter Lilley — posed the conundrum of loving one’s neighbour and not being able to accommodate everyone, especially those who arrive under false pretences:

This issue raises very difficult dilemmas for Christians. Being a very inadequate Christian myself, I take up the challenge from the most reverend Primate the Archbishop with trepidation: to try to formulate principles for governing our policy on asylum and migration. Not having direct access to the mind of God like the most reverend Primate the Archbishop, I seek those principles in the Bible.

I recall that our Lord said that the essence of Christianity is to love God and love our neighbour as ourselves. When asked who our neighbour is, he gave the parable of the good Samaritan, when a Samaritan helps a Jew—from which I deduce that our neighbour is not just the person next door to us and not necessarily a member of our own nation; it can be anyone. The first principle I therefore deduce is that, although charity begins at home, as a lot of my constituents used to tell me, it does not necessarily end at home. I am at one with the most reverend Primate the Archbishop on that.

Secondly, the Samaritan did what he practically could. We may be called on to help anyone we practically can, but we cannot help everyone. Again, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop recognised that and it is important that we recognise that our responsibilities are finite, in this respect.

Thirdly, when the Levite and the Jewish priest reached their destination, I have no doubt that they deplored how, owing to years of austerity, there had been insufficient spending on police and the health service to prevent the problem arising in the first place or to treat the person, instead of leaving it to the passing Samaritan. Therefore, my third principle is that, to be a good Samaritan, you have to give care, help and so on at your expense. We, as politicians, may have to take decisions on behalf of others but, in doing so, we should have consideration for the impact we are having on others and not imagine we are being virtuous when we do good at their expense.

The first principle is that charity begins at home, in how we treat people who have come to settle here. When I was a child, mass immigration into this country was just beginning. The parish in which I lived asked each family to link up with a migrant family, many of whom were lonely, isolated and, at worst, facing hostility. My family was linked up to a delightful Mauritian couple, whom we would invite to supper every few weeks. We became good friends. That was done by parishes across south London. I would love to hear from Bishops who have not yet spoken about what the churches are doing today to help integrate those who are here in our society and to be the good Samaritans to our neighbours from abroad.

But charity does not end at home. I pay tribute to those tens of thousands of people who opened their homes to families fleeing the bombing in Ukraine, while their menfolk remained to fight for their country. We should not imagine we are sharing in being good Samaritans if we throw open the doors of our country to everybody because, if we do that, we are doing good at others’ expense. We are, in effect, saying that migrants, be they legal or illegal, asylum seekers or otherwise, through housing benefit and social housing, will have access to rented and social homes. We all have our own homes, so we will not be affected. Therefore, more young people will have to wait at home or live in cramp bed-sitters for longer, because of what we, as legislators, think we are doing generously, without taking the impact on others into account.

The second principle is that our neighbour can be anyone, but it cannot be everyone. Millions of people want to come here. Look at the impact of the green card system the Americans operate, when they make 30,000 visas to the US available to certain countries and say, “Anyone can apply; there is a ballot.” Some 9% of the population of Albania applied when they heard about that being offered to them, as did 11% of the Armenian and 14% of the Liberian populations. These were only the people who heard about it and responded. The potential number who would like to come to America or Europe, if we open these so-called direct routes, would be enormous. Will we say to those who apply, at an embassy or some place abroad, that they would have the same legal rights, and opportunities to appeal or for judicial review if things are turned down? If so, potentially millions of people would join the queue. It would not shorten but lengthen it, so we have to restrict and to prioritise.

I submit to noble Lords that the priority should not be the boat people. They are not coming by boat from Basra, Somalia or Eritrea; they are coming from France, Belgium and Germany. Why are they coming here rather than staying in those safe countries? They are three or four times as likely to be rejected there. France, in the last year before the pandemic, forcibly repatriated 34,000 people. I find some strange double standards being applied here. There are no criticisms of France for being much stricter than us or of us for being much laxer than them, but one or the other must be the case.

I am coming to an end. If it is morally and legally right for the French to try to prevent people leaving their shores, and for us to pay and support the French in so doing, it should be morally and legally right for us to return them. If they cannot be returned, it is reasonable to try to deter them by saying, “If you come here, you will go to Rwanda. You always have the opportunity to stay in France.” I submit that we do not always consider these opportunities.

Later on, the Archbishop of York, the Right Revd Stephen Cottrell, spoke, an excerpt of which follows. The transcript hardly does his indignation justice. He ripped right into Lord Lilley:

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that everyone is our neighbour. Of course, we cannot take everybody, but that makes it even more important that we have a fair system for everyone.

Dehumanising language promotes fear. Threat of destitution is used as a deterrent. Children are treated as if they are adults. Yet in our own country, among our own people, in our churches, other faith groups and communities, some things have gone well, such as the Homes for Ukraine scheme, where many people have found a home, other family members have joined them, and people have been able to get work. This is really good.

But why has our response to people fleeing other conflicts been different? Currently, the definition of family in our asylum system would not allow someone to join their sibling even if they were the last remaining relative, and being able to work and contribute is a long way off. The tragedy of our system lies in its exceptionalism, meaning that people receive differential treatment usually because of their country of origin. That underpins the Nationality and Borders Act, and I fear that further legislative action will be the same.

But we could learn from what is happening in our communities. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, asked us directly about integration. I do not know where to begin. In hundreds of parishes and schools, and in other faith communities up and down our country, that is what we are doing—in English language classes, in befriending and in teaching people. I would be the first to admit that there are lots of things about the Church of England that could be better, but that is something that we are doing, alongside others, and it shows the best of British.

We need a system that will simply provide safe and legal routes for everyone to have equal opportunities to apply for asylum. All I am saying is that I think that would be good for us, as well as for the people who are fleeing unimaginable conflict and evil.

Finally, when it comes to being able to work, the Church of England, alongside the Refugee Council and the Government’s own Migration Advisory Committee, is a long-standing supporter of the Lift the Ban campaign.

I say all this—like many of us, I would wish to say more, but the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said most of it—as winter arrives, and it is cold, and a cost of living crisis will inevitably affect the British people’s capacity to be hospitable. I say simply that a functioning asylum system is not a threat to our social cohesion as some fear or predict, but a dysfunctional, unfair one is.

As every small child knows at this time of the year, as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned, Mary and Joseph came looking for somewhere to stay, but there was no room at the inn. Saying no, accusing those who are being hospitable of being naive, or passing the buck are easy, but saying yes, with a fair and equal system for everyone, opens up blessings for everyone.

A week later, Cottrell featured in an article in The Telegraph: ‘Forgive my “predictable leftie rant” on asylum, says Archbishop of York’.

It seems he knew he was out of order with Lord Lilley, who deserved the same courtesy as the peers agreeing with the Archbishop. It was good for Lord Lilley to speak politely on behalf of the British public.

Britons are paying upwards of £7 million a day just to house those crossing the Channel.

GB News’s Mark Steyn and his guest hosts have been covering the topic nearly every night:

Taxpayers are deeply upset, especially during our cost of living crisis, which is causing many to choose between food and fuel.

Combine that with taxpayers’ personal expenses for Net Zero, and we are heading for disaster:

Red Wall Conservative MP Jonathan Gullis tried unsuccessfully to raise a Private Member’s Bill to get illegal migrants to Rwanda sooner rather than later:

Hotels across England are being taken over by companies working for the Home Office to house the Channel-crossers:

Hospitality workers in those hotels are losing their jobs as the aforementioned companies install their own staff to manage them:

The December 22 show also featured the seemingly intractable problem:

Former Sun editor Kelvin MacKenzie then swung by to weigh in on how much migrants are costing Britons.

The Home Office — read ‘civil servants’ — must do something now.

It’s obvious people are watching GB News, because they beat BBC News for the first time ever on December 14:

Onwards and upwards!

House of Commons recess debate

On Tuesday, December 20, the House of Commons held its Christmas recess debate.

Normally, these are rather jolly affairs where MPs air wish lists for their constituencies for the New Year. However, this year’s contributions were rather grim, including those from Conservative MPs.

Once again, providentially, I tuned in at the right time to hear the member for Don Valley, Conservative MP Nick Fletcher. He closed his speech saying the following, the first part of which came as news to me:

Finally, Christian friends across the House tried to secure a Backbench debate on Christmas and Christianity, but by all accounts we were not successful. While I have this moment, I want to remind those in this place, and anyone who cares to watch, that although Christmas is celebrated in many ways across the world, the real reason is the birth of our saviour, Jesus Christ. He was sent as a saviour, and with the promise that whoever believes in him will have eternal life. I do not want anyone ever to forget that. Merry Christmas everybody.

Jim Shannon, a Democratic Unionist Party MP (i.e. from Northern Ireland), was one of the last MPs to speak. A devout Anglican — yes, they still exist — he gave a beautiful speech on the meaning of the season, most of which follows:

It is no secret that I love this time of year—I may have mentioned that a time or three in this House. There are so many things to love about Christmas: time with family; good food; fellowship; and, for me, the singing of an old Christmas carol as we gather in church. But the most wonderful thing about Christmas for me is the hope that it holds. I wish to speak this year about the Christ in Christmas, because, too often, we miss that. It would be good this year to focus on what Christmas is really all about. I ask Members to stick with me on this one.

The message of Christmas is not simply the nativity scene that is so beautifully portrayed in schools and churches throughout this country, but rather the hope that lies in the fact that the baby was born to provide a better future for each one of us in this House and across the world. What a message of hope that is; it is a message that each one of us needs. No matter who we are in the UK, life is tough. The past three years have been really, really tough—for those who wonder how to heat their homes; for those who have received bad news from their doctor; for those whose children have not caught up from the covid school closures; for those who mourn the loss of a loved one; for those who mourn the breakdown of a family unit; and for those who are alone and isolated. This life is not easy, and yet there is hope. That is because of the Christmas story. It is because Christ came to this world and took on the form of man so that redemption’s plan could be fulfilled. There is hope for each one of us to have that personal relationship with Christ that enables us to read the scriptures in the Bible and understand that the creator, God, stands by his promises.

I want to quote, if I may, from four Bible texts. To know that

“my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.”

That is from Philippians 4:19.

To trust that

“I am the Lord that heals you.”

To believe that

“all things are possible.”

That is Matthew 17:20.

We can be comforted by Psalm 147:3:

“He heals the brokenhearted, And binds up their wounds.”

Isaiah 41:10 says:

“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

The strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow come only when we understand who Christ is. One of my favourite Christmas passages is actually not the account of his birth, but the promise of who he is. We all know this:

“For to us a Child shall be born, to us a Son shall be given; And the government shall be upon His shoulder, And His name shall be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

In a world where our very foundation seems to be shifting, how awesome it is to know that this our God is only a prayer away. A group of people come to the House of Commons two or three times a week, and pray for Parliament. I have to say how important it is to have those prayers.

As we think of this passing year—something that many of us do—we think about what has happened and perhaps look forward to 2023 with renewed hope for the future. I think we should look forward with hope; we have to do that. We should always try to be positive. In this passing year, my mind goes to the loss of Her Majesty the Queen. Many of us felt that so deeply, and yet her passing also carried the message of hope, because of Christ. I quoted this when we had the tributes to Her Majesty. It is important, I think, to put it on the record again.

The wonderful message that the Queen gave in one of her cherished Christmas messages—this one was in 2014—was crystal clear:

“For me, the life of Jesus Christ, the prince of peace, whose birth we celebrate today, is an inspiration and an anchor in my life.”

That was Her Majesty talking.

“A role model of reconciliation and forgiveness, he stretched out his hands in love, acceptance and healing. Christ’s example has taught me to seek to respect and value all people of whatever faith or none.”

It is my firm belief that this true message of Christmas is what can bring hope and healing to a nation that can seem so fractured. When I look at the headlines, I sometimes despair, but that is also when I most enjoy my constituency work, and getting to see glimpses of community spirit and goodness that are done daily and yet are rarely reported. Her Majesty’s speech in 2016 reflected that, when she said:

“Billions of people now follow Christ’s teaching and find in him the guiding light for their lives. I am one of them because Christ’s example helps me to see the value of doing small things with great love, whoever does them and whatever they themselves believe.”

At that point, Conservative MP John Hayes intervened:

It is heart-warming and refreshing to hear the hon. Gentleman’s plain and confident affirmation of his faith, and our faith too. By the way he speaks, he encourages all of us to reflect on the Judeo-Christian foundations on which our society and our civilisation are built, and I just wanted to thank him for that.

Jim Shannon thanked John Hayes before continuing:

The right hon. Gentleman is most kind. I am giving just a slight reminder of what Christmas is about. I think we all realise that, but sometimes it is good to remind ourselves of it. The example of Christ is one of humility, coming to the earth as a vulnerable baby, and of purpose, as we see the gold given that symbolises royalty, the frankincense to highlight his deity and myrrh to symbolise his purposeful death to redeem us all.

I am a strong advocate in this House for freedom of religion or belief, as the Leader of the House knows. She is always very kind; every week, when I suggest something that should be highlighted, she always takes those things back to the Ministers responsible. I appreciate that very much, as do others in this House. I am proud to be associated with that wonderful cause, and as long as God spares me I will speak for the downtrodden of my own faith and others. I speak for all faiths, because that is who I am, and so do others in this House with the same belief.

At the same time, however, like Her late Majesty, I am proud to be a follower of Christ. At this time of year I simply want the House to know the hope that can be found in Christ, not simply at Christmas, but for a lifetime. The babe of Bethlehem was Christ on the cross and our redeemer at the resurrection, and that gives me hope and offers hope for those who accept him and it.

From the bottom of my heart, Mr Deputy Speaker, I thank you in particular, since you have presided over this speech and the past few hours. I thank Mr Speaker and all the other Deputy Speakers, with all the things that are happening to them, the Clerks and every staff member in this place for the tremendous job they do and the graceful spirit in which everything has been carried out in the last year. I thank right hon. and hon. Members, who are friends all—I say that honestly to everyone.

I thank my long-suffering wife, who is definitely long-suffering, and my mum—

At that point, Shannon broke down in tears.

Leader of the House Penny Mordaunt stepped in quickly and graciously while Shannon composed himself:

The hon. Gentleman has often summed up how people feel, particularly at this time of year. I know he has had losses over the past few years, and he always manages to sum up the feeling of this House. Many Members in this debate have spoken about constituents or family they have lost, and we appreciate his bringing up these issues, as I appreciate all Members’ doing so. There will be some people thinking about spending Christmas apart from family they are not able to see, or having suffered those losses. I thank him and we are all willing him strength as he continues his speech.

After a pause, Shannon resumed and concluded:

I thank the Leader of the House for that. I mentioned my long-suffering wife; we have been married 34 years, so she is very long-suffering, and that is probably a good thing, because we are still together. My mum is 91 years old and I suspect she is sitting watching the Parliament channel right now to see what her eldest son is up to and what he is saying, so again that is something.

I also thank my staff members. I told one of my Opposition colleagues last week that I live in a woman’s world, because I have six girls in my office who look after me and make sure I am right …

Lastly, I thank my Strangford constituents, who have stuck by me as a councillor, as a Member of the Legislative Assembly and as a Member of Parliament in this House. This is my 30th year of service in local government and elsewhere. They have been tremendously kind to me and I appreciate them. I want to put on record what a privilege it is to serve them in this House and to do my best for them.

I wish everyone a happy Christmas, and may everyone have a prosperous, peaceful and blessed new year, as we take the example of Christ and act with humility and purpose in this place to effect the change that we all want and that is so needed in our nation—this great United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, always better together.

Mr Deputy Speaker Nigel Evans said:

Your mother and wife will be as proud of you as we all are, Jim. [Hon. Members: “Hear, hear!] As a person of faith, I thank you very much for putting the Christ back into Christmas in your speech. We come now to the wind-ups.

When acknowledging MPs’ contributions in the debate, Penny Mordaunt said:

The hon. Member for Strangford (Jim Shannon) should never have to apologise for mentioning Christ in this place—especially at Christmas. We are in a place where the architecture is designed to turn our faces to God. I thank him for his Christmas message.

And, finally — best Christmas wishes to Mark Steyn

In closing, hearty Christmas wishes to Mark Steyn who is recovering from two successive heart attacks:

He is recovering in France but told viewers more on December 19. Incredibly, the first heart attack happened before he presented one of his nightly shows on the self-styled People’s Channel. He presented it anyway. Wow:

The GB News host suffered the first one “without recognising” the symptoms, before hosting his show on The People’s Channel.

Speaking on his current absence from GB News, Steyn said: “I’m too medicated to manage artful evasions.

“I had two heart attacks. Because I didn’t recognise the first one, as such, the second one was rather more severe.”

The experienced broadcaster spoke about the shocking ordeal, saying he “doesn’t look right”, looking back at images of himself presenting the Mark Steyn show during the first heart attack.

Speaking on SteynOnline, he said: “The good news is that the first one occurred when I was in London. If you get a chance to see that day’s Mark Steyn Show, with hindsight, I don’t look quite right in close-ups.

“By not recognising it as a heart attack, I deftly avoided being one of those stories we feature on the show every couple of nights about people in the UK calling emergency and being left in the street for 15 hours before an ambulance shows up.

“I had a second heart attack in France. With Audrey [his wife?] helping me in the ambulance, she told me I was 15 minutes from death.”

The presenter also revealed he would remain in France over Christmas and New Year as he is unable to leave medical care and return to New Hampshire.

GB News viewers will be sending Mark every best wish for a speedy recovery — and a healthy, happy New Year! We look forward to seeing him on the airwaves soon!

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 23, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:9-14

18:9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt:

18:10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector.

18:11 The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

18:12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.’

18:13 But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

18:14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading picks up from where we left off last Sunday. Jesus told a parable about a widow who cried for justice from an ungodly judge. He gave in and granted her justice only because he did not want to be beaten down (the Greek words used) by her wailing anymore. Jesus said how much more merciful God would be to those who cry out to Him:

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Of today’s parable, John MacArthur says:

There is no time indicator here. There is no transitional statement here so we don’t know exactly whether or not Jesus said this on the same occasion He was talking about the kingdom. Perhaps He did, perhaps He didn’t, but certainly in Luke’s inspired order of the text, this is the right discussion because we’ve just been talking about the kingdom and that Jesus is coming and you must be ready for His coming. And when He comes, there’s going to be separation and there’s going to be the death of the ungodly and carcasses are going to be everywhere. You want to be ready for the coming King. You want to be in His kingdom. And so that begs the question: How does one enter the kingdom? Who is in the kingdom and why? And so the parable fits in the flow of thought.

Regular readers of this column over the past few months will know that Jesus was in His final six months of public ministry. Luke 9 through Luke 19 documents His lessons to the disciples and to the Pharisees before He entered Jerusalem for the final time.

Jesus addressed this parable to the self-righteous who regarded others with contempt (verse 9).

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains:

He designed it for the conviction of some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. They were such as had, 1. A great conceit of themselves, and of their own goodness; they thought themselves as holy as they needed to be, and holier than all their neighbours, and such as might serve for examples to them all. But that was not all; 2. They had a confidence in themselves before God, and not only had a high opinion of their own righteousness, but depended upon the merit of it, whenever they addressed God, as their plea: They trusted in themselves as being righteous; they thought they had made God their debtor, and might demand any thing from him; and, 3. They despised others, and looked upon them with contempt, as not worthy to be compared with them. Now Christ by this parable would show such their folly, and that thereby they shut themselves out from acceptance with God. This is called a parable, though there be nothing of similitude in it; but it is rather a description of the different temper and language of those that proudly justify themselves, and those that humbly condemn themselves; and their different standing before God. It is matter of fact every day.

MacArthur says:

… in particular who did He have in mind? Who were the real leaders of this religion in Israel of trusting in yourself that you were righteous? The Pharisees, the scribes. Go back to chapter 16 verse 14. The Pharisees…says Jesus…First of all it says Luke. “The Pharisees who were lovers of money were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him and He said to them,” and here are the words of Jesus, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men. You make yourselves righteous in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts. That which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”

MacArthur would agree with Henry about self-righteouness continuing to be a matter of fact every day:

… the people believed that trusting in yourself to become righteous was the way that you gained a place in the kingdom of God and the way you would eventually get to heaven. The benchmark of their system: self-confidence in one’s ability to achieve righteousness by their own power and works trusting in their own righteousness. These are the Pharisees for sure. These are the people who followed the Pharisees. But these are also all the people of all time who have developed any kind of self-styled approach to God in which they believe they have the power to live a life that satisfies God, that somehow they are good enough to be acceptable to God, into His kingdom, into His goodness and into His heaven. These are all the people in the religion of human achievement. Basically that’s how people think in the world

The Pharisees were sickeningly self-righteous, or as Walter Liefeld says, “They are obnoxiously self-righteous.” And that’s why you have a further description of them at the end of verse 9.  Not only did they trust in themselves that they were righteous, but they viewed others with contempt.  They viewed others with contempt.  Contempt is the worst scorn that you can heap on somebody.  In Luke 23:11 the only two times this word is used in the gospels, once here in 18 and once again in 23:11, Herod with his soldiers after treating Jesus with contempt and mocking Him, dressed Him in a gorgeous robe and sent Him back to Pilate.  Scorn, ridicule, mockery, sarcasm, the lowest form and the most biting form of derision; the Pharisees were that way.  They looked at anybody below them outside their group with contempt.  The word, I think, is interesting enough to kind of break down, exoutheneō.  It comes from two words, as do many Greek terms, many of the verbs combining a preposition at the beginning.  Ek, out of, ouden, not, not even; out of not even anything, the nobodies, the nothings, the non-existents.  They viewed them as if they didn’t exist.  By the way, that same word is used by Peter in Acts 4 when he preached a sermon, and he said this about Jesus, “He is the stone which the builders rejected.” That’s the same verb.  Jesus was treated as if He was nothing, absolutely nothing.  By the way, the word is also used in 1 Corinthians 1 where the Lord has chosen the base things and the despised. The nothings and the nobodies God has chosen.

So, there’s in this self-righteousness, in this pride, a contempt for anybody beneath you.  The Jews, the law keepers were called the habarim and the lawbreakers were called the amharitz, the low-lifes.  And in the eyes of the Pharisee, he couldn’t get near to anybody who was an amharitz.  That was an absolutely unthinkable thing for him to do.  Kenneth Bailey writes, “In the eyes of a strict Pharisee, the most obvious candidate for the classification of amharitz would be a tax collector.  But there was a particular kind of uncleanness that was contracted by sitting, riding, or even leaning against something unclean. This uncleanness was called midras uncleanness. And for Pharisees, he writes, “The clothes of an amharitz count as suffering midras uncleanness.”  They didn’t get near any of the low-lifes and the riff-raffs that they disdained. Remember I told you earlier, not even so much as to teach them the law of God.

And so here we have these two men.  And they are at extreme polesAnd they’re going to be the ones that convey the message Jesus wants to convey to the people who think they can be good enough to get to heaven on their own.  The audience is really universal, a comprehensive audience.

Jesus began the parable by saying that two men went up to the temple to pray: a Pharisee and a tax collector (verse 10).

In old money, this parable was known as the one of the Pharisee and the publican. Publican in this context means tax collector, not someone who runs a pub.

Henry says that the custom of praying in the temple dated from the time of Solomon:

Two men went up into the temple (for the temple stood upon a hill) to pray. It was not the hour of public prayer, but they went thither to offer up their personal devotions, as was usual with good people at that time, when the temple was not only the place, but the medium of worship, and God had promised, in answer to Solomon’s request, that, whatever prayer was made in a right manner in or towards that house, it should therefore the rather be accepted.

MacArthur says an atonement sacrifice was offered twice a day, dating back to Leviticus:

What’s the scene here?  Two men went up to the temple to pray.  That happened twice a day, basically, every day, 9 A.M., 3 P.M., morning and evening sacrifice prescribed for the burnt offering which was laid out in the 1st chapter of Leviticus.  They were to go up and make an animal sacrifice, a blood sacrifice as a symbol of atonement.  That was a very, very important thing.  They were very, very fastidious people who made sure they showed up at 9 A.M. and at 3 P.M. every day, particularly Pharisees who were in the proximity and could do that.  Now the crowd would go up the steps at the prescribed time.  The sacrifices would be offered on the altar.  Following the sacrifices which would symbolically open the way to God because atonement had been made, incense would be burned symbolizing prayer.  Now because atonement has been made, prayers can be offered. And prayers would be offered.  There would come a priestly benediction upon the people who were faithful enough to be there as well, and that would be the typical scene.  When it says they went up to the temple to pray, “pray” would embody all the worship, all of the activities that went onThe temple, according to Matthew 21:13 by the mouth of Jesus Himself is a house of prayer.  Remember Jesus said, “My Father’s house is a house of prayer,” taking the language from Isaiah 56:7, “and you’ve turned it in to a den of thieves.”  A house of prayer: “Prayer” synonymous with worship, a house where you go to offer yourself and your petitions and your praise to God.  It was that time and the crowd ascended the long, steep steps up to the temple mount.  They went up, anabainō. They ascended up there to worship.  The two men are in the crowd and everybody would understand.  It’s a very familiar scene, every morning, every afternoon the same scene went on.

They’re going up there because an atonement is going to be made for sin.  Some are going up there feeling they need the benefits of that atonement.  Some are going up there to display themselves and they’re just looking for a crowd to gather for that purpose.  There would be a time when all of the people would gather around the altar as the sacrifice was being made, after which the incense being burned, people would then pray.  The Pharisee, very familiar to us, we don’t need to say any more about them, you know all there is to know: self-righteous, self-promoting, self-satisfied purveyors and protectors of the religion of human achievement.  Tax collector, also familiar; we’ve seen tax collectors already in four chapters. This is the fifth time.  We know they were the low-lifes of that society because they had purchased tax franchises from the Romans who were the idolaters, oppressors, thus desecrating themselves.  They then extorted money from their own people using strong-armed thugs and any intimidation, manipulation or criminal activity they could and were surrounded by the low-life, riff-raff of society.  So, they are shown going up together with the crowd, but they separate when they get there.

The Pharisee stood by himself, praying to God with an erroneous thanksgiving that he was not like other people he considered to be unclean and beneath himself: thieves, rogues, adulterers — ‘or even like this tax collector’ (verse 11).

Henry says:

Here is the Pharisee’s address to God (for a prayer I cannot call it) … he was wholly intent upon himself, had nothing in his eye but self, his own praise, and not God’s glory; or, standing in some conspicuous place, where he distinguished himself; or, setting himself with a great deal of state and formality, he prayed thus. 

MacArthur comes to the same conclusion:

Jesus even talks about in Matthew 6:5 standing in a posture of prayer but not doing it to be seen of men.  He says don’t be like the hypocrites who stand in order to be seen by men.  Well here’s one of those hypocrites.  Not wrong to stand but to stand to be seen by men. Again you go back to the issue of the heart.  Very likely he would take his place in a most visible location and nearest to the holy place that he could get to show his proximity to God.  He wants to be wherever God is believed or deemed to be, to give the unwashed around him a good look at a truly righteous man.  He takes his posture there.

The Pharisee said that he fasted twice a week and tithed a tenth of all his income (verse 12).

Henry offers this analysis:

The Pharisees and their disciples fasted twice a week, Monday and Thursday. Thus he glorified God with his body: yet that was not all; he gave tithes of all that he possessed, according to the law, and so glorified God with his worldly estate. Now all this was very well and commendable. Miserable is the condition of those who come short of the righteousness of this Pharisee: yet he was not accepted; and why was he not? (1.) His giving God thanks for this, though in itself a good thing, yet seems to be a mere formality. He does not say, By the grace of God I am what I am, as Paul did, but turns it off with a slight, God, I thank thee, which is intended but for a plausible introduction to a proud vainglorious ostentation of himself. (2.) He makes his boast of this, and dwells with delight upon this subject, as if all his business to the temple was to tell God Almighty how very good he was; and he is ready to say, with those hypocrites that we read of (Isa 58 3), Wherefore have we fasted, and thou seest not? (3.) He trusted to it as a righteousness, and not only mentioned it, but pleaded it, as if hereby he had merited at the hands of God, and made him his debtor. (4.) Here is not one word of prayer in all he saith. He went up to the temple to pray, but forgot his errand, was so full of himself and his own goodness that he thought he had need of nothing, no, not of the favour and grace of God, which, it would seem, he did not think worth asking.

MacArthur says:

… the construction lends itself better to understand that he was actually directing his prayer in a self-congratulatory fashion. And that is fairly well indicated by the fact that in two verses he refers to himself five times. That’s pretty hard to do. You have to have short sentences and a lot of first person pronouns. This is a self-congratulatory prayer and the translation of the NAS is a good translation. “The Pharisee stood and was thus praying to himself.” He is parading himself. This is no prayer to God. He gives God no praise. He asks nothing from God, no mercy, no grace, no forgiveness, no help. But he does refer to God. “God,” because you’re supposed to, that’s the way all prayers are supposed to begin, “I thank you that I’m not like other people.” Wow. Well, what’s there to thank God for? You’ve done this on your own. This is sheer hypocrisy. This is an unequivocal confession to God of his worthiness, of his righteousness. Thanking God for what you are on your own? This is where self-righteousness leads you. I’m good enough. God, I thank You that I’m good enough. I’m good enough to have a relationship with You. I’m good enough to be here in Your temple. I’m good enough to be standing by this holy place. I’m good enough to be the paragon of religious righteousness and virtue. I’m good enough to stand here so all the low-lifes can see what a really godly man looks like.

MacArthur says that when the prayers began, the notionally unclean were separated and ushered out of the temple:

And he must have kept himself a little bit of distance away.  If he were to brush against any amharitz, he would be unclean.  And physical isolation for a Pharisee was a statement.  They stood aloof from others when they gather around the altar, they stood aloof from others at all time in society, they never had a dinner or a lunch at their house with anybody but another Pharisee, unless they invited somebody in which to trap Jesus.  According to the Mishnah, by the way, the Jewish law, at the time of the incense, after the sacrifice in the morning and evening service, prayers were made. And when the prayers began, according to Mishnah, there was a delegation of Jews that was responsible at the time of the beginning of the prayer, of the praying, to find the unclean people in the crowd and clear them away to the eastern gate, get all the unclean people out.  And maybe a Pharisee like this would wonder why there was even a tax collector in his vision who should have been ushered off and out the eastern gate.

MacArthur also has more on the Monday and Thursday fasting of that era:

Verse 12: “I fast twice a week.”  Impressive, huh?  By the way, the Old Testament only prescribed one fast, Day of Atonement, preparation for the Day of Atonement. Leviticus 16:31 called for a fast.  There are no other required fasts.  There were times of sorrow, times of penitence, times of mourning when people fasted and that was something you could choose to do.  But there was only one prescribed fast.  But as I said, these self-styled, self-righteous, external legalists like to invent rituals and ceremonies as all false religions do.  And they get more complicated and more complicated and more complicated and more symbolic and more symbolic in direct proportion to the absence of truth and reality.  And so they had developed a scheme of fasting on Monday and Thursday, Monday and Thursday.  Why Monday and Thursday?  Because those were the market days and the crowds were bigger, so you could go into the big crowd and throw a bunch of ashes on your head and look sad, and fast, spiritual impression would be made.  And why Monday and Thursday?  Some other writers say, well because it was a Monday, according to some rabbi, that Moses went up to Sinai and forty days later he came down on a Thursday. So Monday and Thursday.  Some other rabbi offers this explanation, “Because Monday and Thursday are equal distant from the Sabbath while being as far from each other as possible.”

Jesus condemned showy fasting:

Jesus condemned that, remember, in the 6th chapter in the Sermon on the Mount when He said, “Don’t fast like the hypocrites fast, in the public streets and in the corners, calling attention to yourself.” It’s talking exactly about this. People putting on external spiritual displays by ritualistic, ceremonial behavior by the clothing they wear, the garb, the way they dress as if this is the mark of real holiness.

The Pharisee’s tithes were in addition to the Old Testament tithes, something they invented, therefore, man-made:

Further he says, “I pay tithes of all that I get.”  Sounds like a good Baptist, but not really.  I pay tithes of all that I get.  The Old Testament laid down prescription for tithing, 10 percent of what you get goes to fund the national theocratic government, 10 percent goes to fund the national festivals and feasts on high holy days, and 10 percent every third year for the poor.  So it was three and a third a year, so about a 23 and a third percent tax, that’s what funded the theocratic kingdom of Israel.  Now that’s all the Lord required.  Then there was a half-shekel temple tax and that was it.  But again, they wanted to invent laws to appear righteous, so in Matthew 23:23 and Luke 11:42, I think it is, it says that they tithe of mint and anise and cumin.  Those are tiny little spices.  They tithed the tiny little seeds and leaves of the spices as a way to demonstrate their virtue, their holiness, their law-keeping.  They went beyond the law.

MacArthur gives us an actual prayer from the Pharisees’ era:

A Pharisaic prayer dating from about the time of Jesus goes like this, “I thank Thee, Jehovah, my God, that Thou hast assigned my lot with those who sit in the house of learning and not with those who sit in the street corners. I rise early and they rise early. I rise early to study the words of the Torah and they rise early to attend to things of no importance. I weary myself and they weary themselves. I weary myself and gain thereby while they weary themselves without gaining anything. I run and they run. I run toward the life of the age to come. And they run toward the pit of destruction.” That was self-righteousness in the Pharisaic mind.

Jesus said (verse 13) that the tax collector stood far off, would not look upward to heaven, but instead beat his breast saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

Henry discusses the tax collectors stance and gesture:

He expressed his repentance and humility in what he did; and his gesture, when he addressed himself to his devotions, was expressive of great seriousness and humility, and the proper clothing of a broken, penitent, and obedient heart. (1.) He stood afar off. The Pharisee stood, but crowded up as high as he could, to the upper end of the court; the publican kept at a distance under a sense of his unworthiness to draw near to God, and perhaps for fear of offending the Pharisee, whom he observed to look scornfully upon him, and of disturbing his devotions. Hereby he owned that God might justly behold him afar off, and send him into a state of eternal distance from him, and that it was a great favour that God was pleased to admit him thus nigh. (2.) He would not lift up so much as his eyes to heaven, much less his hands, as was usual in prayer. He did lift up his heart to God in the heavens, in holy desires, but, through prevailing shame and humiliation, he did not lift up his eyes in holy confidence and courage. His iniquities are gone over his head, as a heavy burden, so that he is not able to look up, Ps 40 12. The dejection of his looks is an indication of the dejection of his mind at the thought of sin. (3.) He smote upon his breast, in a holy indignation at himself for sin: “Thus would I smite this wicked heart of mine, the poisoned fountain out of which flow all the streams of sin, if I could come at it.” The sinner’s heart first smites him in a penitent rebuke, 2 Sam 24 10. David’s heart smote him. Sinner, what hast thou done? And then he smites his heart with penitent remorse: O wretched man that I am? Ephraim is said to smite upon his thigh, Jer 31 19. Great mourners are represented tabouring upon their breasts, Nah 2 7.

Henry analyses the publican’s prayer:

His prayer was short. Fear and shame hindered him from saying much; sighs and groans swallowed up his words; but what he said was to the purpose: God, be merciful to me a sinner. And blessed be God that we have this prayer upon record as an answered prayer, and that we are sure that he who prayed it went to his house justified; and so shall we, if we pray it, as he did, through Jesus Christ: “God, be merciful to me a sinner; the God of infinite mercy be merciful to me, for, if he be not, I am for ever undone, for ever miserable. God be merciful to me, for I have been cruel to myself.” (1.) He owns himself a sinner by nature, by practice, guilty before God. Behold, I am vile, what shall I answer thee? The Pharisee denies himself to be a sinner; none of his neighbours can charge him, and he sees no reason to charge himself, with any thing amiss; he is clean, he is pure from sin. But the publican gives himself no other character than that of a sinner, a convicted criminal at God’s bar. (2.) He has no dependence but upon the mercy of God, that, and that only, he relies upon. The Pharisee had insisted upon the merit of his fastings and tithes; but the poor publican disclaims all thought of merit, and flies to mercy as his city of refuge, and takes hold of the horn of that altar. “Justice condemns me; nothing will save me but mercy, mercy.” (3.) He earnestly prays for the benefit of that mercy: O God, be merciful, be propitious, to me; forgive my sins; be reconciled to me; take me into thy favour; receive me graciously; love me freely.” He comes as a beggar for an alms, when he is ready to perish for hunger. Probably he repeated this prayer with renewed affections, and perhaps said more to the same purport, made a particular confession of his sins, and mentioned the particular mercies he wanted, and waited upon God for; but still this was the burden of the song: God, be merciful to me a sinner.

MacArthur reminds us that the heart is the centre of evil:

An old Jewish commentary says, and I quote, “Why do the righteous beat on their heart as though to say all is there?  The righteous beat their heart because the heart is the source of all evil longing.”

This is a recognition of what our Lord taught, that it’s out of the heart that all evil comes You remember the words of our Lord Jesus, Mark 7:21 and Matthew 15:19, parallel passages.  Let me read you Matthew 15:19 and 20, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.”  He understands. This is a man who understands his own sinfulness. His location demonstrates it, his posture demonstrates it. His behavior demonstrates it.  He knows what’s in his heart.  He knows that what Jeremiah said is true, that the heart of man is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.  He is anguished over his guilt.  He is broken over his shame, his unworthiness.  He is crushed and humbled.  And it comes out in everything about him and even in his words.  He says, “God,” and he is truly talking to God. That’s not just doing what is expected, he is talking to God. “Be merciful to me, the sinner.”  Those are the words of a true penitent.  Start with the sinner, not a sinner; toh hamartōlō, definite article, the sinner.  Like Paul in 1 Timothy 1:15, “For I am the chief of sinners.”  This is an unequivocal confession of his extreme and supreme sinfulness and there’s no comparing him with others. He is the worst sinner.  And that is a legitimate response because of all the sinners in the world he knows he knows himself to be the worst because no sinner knows so much about himself as the individual himself.  He knows about other sinners, but he knows his own heart better than he knows anybody else.  “Who knows the spirit of a man but the spirit of the man that is within him?” says the Scripture.  He is the worst sinner in the world, as far as his personal knowledge is concerned.

MacArthur says that the Pharisee thought he himself was a sinner but that, unlike the publican, he had more right to be forgiven. As such, the Pharisee thought God would overlook his sins:

The Pharisee had faith in God. He believed in God. He believed in the true and living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He believed in the God who was the Savior God. He believed in the sacrificial system. He believed in atonement for sin. He believed in God’s forgiveness.

You say, “You mean he really did believe in God’s forgiveness?” Sure. A Pharisee didn’t believe that he never committed any sin ever in his entire life. He just believed that he had earned the right to be forgiven.

MacArthur cites a modern day example of this type of belief, that of the Mormons:

When I was meeting with some of the leaders of the Mormon church, we were having a conversation, one of the stunning statements they made to me and they wanted to affirm it again and again, is we believe salvation is all of grace, all of grace. And I said, “Okay, well then if I want to be sure to go to heaven, what do I need to do?” And they said, “Well, first of all you have to be baptized in this Mormon ritual, and then you have to join the Mormon church, and then you would have to adhere to…” and they started down this list.

I said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t sound like grace. That sounds like works.” And as I pressed the issue, it came around to this: Isn’t God gracious that He allows us to earn our salvation? … That’s the way religious people think. It isn’t that the world is full of people who don’t think they’ve ever done anything wrong. It’s just that they think they have not done as much wrong as they have done right. And so they’ve tipped the scales in their favor and God is going to forgive the stuff that they’ve done because they’ve earned it.

MacArthur discusses the publican’s prayer for God’s mercy in light of the atonement sacrifice:

The defining distinction here is that the first man has nothing for which to what?  Repent.  He’s like the rich young ruler. He says, “I’ve kept everything since my youth.  I can’t find anything I need to confess or repent of.”  That is the issue.  There is no possibility of salvation apart from this kind of repentance because this is the defining element.

Now notice what he says.  “Be merciful to me.”  The Greek is, very important phrase, hilaskomai, hilaskomai. Hileos tati is not to show mercy. That’s a different word.  If you go down to verse 38, Jesus meets a blind man in verse 38 of this chapter, and the blind man calls out and says, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” That is a true translation of eleēson me, different word, from the verb eleeō, which means to show mercy.  That’s exactly what that means, to show mercy.  Hilaskoimoi comes from the Greek verb hilaskomai, which means to propitiate, to appease, to make propitiation, to make satisfaction.  And every word attached to that verb root, hilas, whether it’s alasmos, halasterios, hilaos, they all have to do with the same idea.  This is what he said, “God, be propitious to me.  God, be appeased toward me.”

What is he saying?  He’s saying this, “God, please apply the atonement to me.”  He understood the theology of atonement.  He understood the wages of sin is death, the soul that sins it shall die.  He understood all the way back to the wonderful story of Abraham and Isaac that God would provide a sacrifice that would satisfy Himself and would satisfy His justice, a substitute.  He understood that the millions of animals that had been offered throughout all of Jewish history were symbolic of the fact that God could be appeased by a sacrifice, though none of those sacrifices ever gave the final appeasement to God. Otherwise they would have ceased.  He’s talking atonement language here.  This is not a general plea for mercy.  And this needs to be expressed clearly because sometimes when we present the gospel, all we want to do is say God loves you and has this wonderful purpose for your life and God wants you to have the joy and happiness and all of this and if you just ask Him, He’ll be merciful to you.

That’s not what he’s saying.  He is saying, “I am a wretched sinner.  I am unworthy to stand near you.  I am unworthy to look up toward you.  I am in profound agony and anguish over my wretchedness.  I need an atonement for my sins to be applied to me.”  That’s what he’s saying.  This is about sin and atonement.

This verb is only used two times in the New Testament, one here and the second use in Hebrews 2:17 where it says, concerning Jesus Christ, that He is a faithful high priest in things pertaining to God to make propitiation for the sins of His people, to make satisfaction, to satisfy the wrath of God, to satisfy the justice and holiness and vengeance of God.  And that’s what this man is crying for. Oh God, please apply the atonement to me, make atonement for me.  That very day a sacrifice had been made on that altar. He pleads that it would apply to him.  He understood the theology of substitution, imputation and atonement.  They knew that there would come one day a Son of David, a root out of Jesse, Isaiah 53, and He would bear our iniquities and He would die in our place.  That’s what Isaiah 53 says, “He was wounded for our transgressions, bruised for our iniquities.  And by His sacrifice we have peace with God.  Please, oh God, please make the atonement apply to me.  May Your anger with me over.”  That’s the plea of a penitent sinner.  “Oh God, cease being justifiably, righteously angry with me.  May Your justice be satisfied through atonement.”

One historian says this, “One can almost smell the pungent incense, hear the loud clash of ceremonial cymbals, see the great cloud of dense smoke rising from the burnt offering.  And the tax collector is there, stands afar off, anxious not to be seen, sensing his unworthiness to stand with the participants.  In brokenness he longs to be a part of it all.  He yearns that he might stand with the righteous.  In deep remorse he pounds his chest and cries out with repentance and hope, ‘Oh God, let it be for me.  Make an atonement for me, a sinner.'”  There in the temple, this humble man aware of his own sin and unworthiness, with no merit of his own to commend him, longs that the great dramatic atonement sacrifice might be applied to him.”

Jesus ended the parable by saying ‘I tell you’ — making it most emphatic on His authority — that the tax collector went home justified, not the Pharisee; those who exalt themselves will be humbled and those who humble themselves will be exalted (verse 14).

MacArthur explains why Jesus began that ending the way He did:

Jesus says, “I tell you.” Why does He say that? Why begin like that? Because He knows He couldn’t get this anywhere else in Judaism. He can’t quote a rabbi. He speaks with absolute authority, “I tell you.” Here is sound soteriology from incarnate God. “I tell you, this man went down to his house…” That’s not what the rabbis tell you, that’s not what the scribes tell you, that’s not what you have heard. “I tell you, this man went down to his house having been made just,” having been made righteous, having been made acceptable. And speaks of a completed condition, the verb form, a state of having been declared righteous and that’s permanent.

MacArthur says that our Lord’s statement about instantaneous and permanent divine justification of the publican would have shocked the legalists listening to Him:

This would draw gasps from the legalists. Think of it, Jesus, God in human flesh, the holy one, the perfect sinless one says that in one moment an extreme sinner can be pronounced instantly righteous without any works, without any merit, without any worthiness, without any law-keeping, without any moral achievement, religious achievement, spiritual accomplishment or ritual. No time lapse, no penance, no works, no ceremony, no sacrament, no meritorious activity whatsoever, nothing to do, instant declaration of justification on the spot, permanent. Wow! How can that be? Because the only righteousness that God will accept is perfect righteousness and since you can’t earn it, He gives it as a gift to the penitent who put their trust in Him. That’s the gospel. All the sinner ever does is receive the gift, coming in penitent trust, pleading for atonement to be made to satisfy the wrath of God against his sin.

Here is the broken-hearted, self-confessed sinner, humble, unworthy, trusting only in God’s atonement, pleading that God would apply it to him, who is instantaneously made perfect before God, as perfect as God, for the righteousness of God is credited to him. He’s the one who enters the spiritual and will be in the earthly and will live forever in the eternal kingdom, rather than the other. The self-righteous pride of the Pharisee and everybody like him only intensifies the alienation. His soliloquy up there just solidified his self-confidence and he went down even more wretched than when he went up. Atonement is worthless to the self-righteous.

So the listening crowd who heard Jesus say this and anybody who reads it is forced to reassess how a person enters the kingdom of God. It’s not by human morality, goodness, or religion, but by repentance and conviction of sin and a plea for an atoning sacrifice.

MacArthur says this is the only time that Jesus ever spoke of justification:

The work of our Lord is not mentioned because it’s not yet occurred.  But what is clear is this, that righteousness and justification is a gift from God apart from works that is only made possible through the application of an atoning sacrifice.  We leave it to Paul after the cross to teach the rich meaning of the atonement of Jesus Christ being that one and only sacrifice that satisfies God.  But isn’t it interesting that the starting point for Paul, the starting point for the New Testament understanding of righteousness through atonement is traceable back to this story which Jesus told?

When I wrote the book The Gospel According to Jesus and I rewrote a later edition and a newer edition of it, I wanted to include in that the doctrine of justificationThis is the only place in the teaching of Jesus where you have this explicit instruction.  It is here that the foundations for the teaching of Paul are found.  Christ becomes that sacrifice and it’s His death who’s applied… it’s applied to all in the past and all sins.  However, know this, that there is no salvation on this side of the cross apart from recognizing Christ and His work on the cross, for there is no salvation in any other name.

MacArthur then discusses the second half of verse 14, a truth mentioned throughout the Bible:

The Lord ends this amazing story with what I’ll call the central axiom. The audience, the analogy, the answer, the central axiom in verse 14, this is a truism, a proverb, “For everyone who exalts himself shall be humbled, but he who humbles himself shall be exalted.” “Exalted” here is a synonym for salvation, a synonym for righteousness. It’s used in an Old Testament sense. In the Old Testament, only God is truly exalted and only God can exalt men. Men can’t exalt themselves successfully to His level. So this refers to spiritual salvation, reconciliation, righteousness, justification, being in the kingdom. All efforts to doing that on your own are going to leave you humiliated. Everyone who exalts himself — that is, tries to save himself or make himself righteous — shall be humbled in the severest sense of the word, crushed in eternal loss and punishment. The path of self-exaltation ends up in eternal judgment. God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.

On the other hand, all who humble themselves, confessing they cannot do anything to save themselves, will be lifted high into eternal glory. The damned think they’re good. The saved know they’re wicked. The damned believe the kingdom of God is for those worthy of it. The saved know the kingdom of God is for those who know they’re unworthy of it. The damned believe eternal life is earned. The saved know it’s a gift. The damned seek God’s commendation. The saved seek His forgiveness.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Colossians 4:1-6

Masters, treat your bondservants[a] justly and fairly, knowing that you also have a Master in heaven.

Further Instructions

Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison— that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.

Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.

—————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction to wives, children and bondservants, similar to those he gave to the Ephesians.

N.B.: This is another long post, so do grab a cuppa and a snack.

For whatever reason, Paul gave his final instruction to bondservants’ masters at the beginning of Colossians 4, telling them to treat their slaves justly and fairly, being aware of the Master in heaven (verse 1).

John MacArthur says:

In other words, do unto others as you would have the Lord do unto you. Treat them fairly as God, you would hope, would treat you.

Matthew Henry’s commentary has more specifics, however, his was an era when more household servants abounded (emphases mine):

Here observe, 1. Justice is required of them: Give unto your servants that which is just and equal (v. 1), not only strict justice, but equity and kindness. Be faithful to your promises to them, and perform your agreements; not defrauding them of their dues, nor keeping back by fraud the hire of the labourers, Jam 5 4. Require no more of them than they are able to perform; and do not lay unreasonable burdens upon them, and beyond their strength. Provide for them what is fit, supply proper food and physic, and allow them such liberties as may fit them the better for cheerful service and make it the easier to them, and this though they be employed in the meanest and lowest offices, and of another country and a different religion from yourselves. 2. A good reason for this regard:Knowing that you also have a Master in heaven. You who are masters of others have a Master yourself, and are servants of another Lord. You are not lords of yourselves, and are accountable to one above you. Deal with your servants as you expect God should deal with you, and as those who believe they must give an account. You are both servants of the same Lord in the different relations in which you stand, and are equally accountable to him at last. Knowing that your Master also is in heaven, neither is there respect of persons with him,Eph 6 9.

MacArthur reminds us of the purpose of Paul’s letter to the Colossians:

Now, remember that the book of Colossians is a defense of the sufficiency of Christ False teachers had come into the city of Colossae and were trying to deny that Christ was sufficient.  They were trying to deny that all you needed was Jesus Christ, and they were saying, “No, you need Christ plus a certain human philosophy.  You need Christ plus the Mosaic Law.  You need Christ plus certain mystical relationships to angelic beings.  You need Christ plus a certain life of self-denial.”  And so they were really denying the sufficiency of Christ And in rebuttal to that, the great climax of the book comes in two passages.  One was alluded to earlier; it’s in the first chapter, where he discusses the sufficiency of Christ, who is the image of the invisible God, and by Him were all things made, and He has all power, and so forth and so on.  And the second great climactic statement is in chapter 2, verse 10, which says, “And you are complete in Him.” 

So the argument of the book, then, is that in spite of the errorists’ teaching, Christ is indeed sufficient.  Christ is all we need, and he establishes that in the first two chapters.  Now, having established that Christ is sufficient, he begins, then, in chapter 3 to show what it means to have that sufficiency in Christ If Christ is sufficient to redeem me, if He has given me new life, if He has given to me eternal life or resurrection life, what does that mean to me?  Well, such a new life, says Paul, demands a new lifestyle.  And so chapter 3 and chapter 4 discuss the new lifestyle of the new man in Christ ..

To that end, Paul gives the Colossians his final instructions.

MacArthur says that these verses pertain to Christian speech:

Now, in our text, Paul picks out four areas of the mouth, or related to it.  Four kinds of speech, here they come: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection Four distinct elements related to the mouth for the Christian lifestyle: the speech of prayer, the speech of proclamation, the speech of performance, and the speech of perfection ...

Paul encourages the Colossians to continue steadfastly in prayer, ensuring that they are careful to give thanks (verse 2).

Henry says that verse is connected to the first. In other words, masters should create a devout household with consistent prayer:

If this be considered as connected with the foregoing verse, then we may observe that it is part of the duty which masters owe their servants to pray with them, and to pray daily with them, or continue in prayer. They must not only do justly and kindly by them, but act a Christian and religious part, and be concerned for their souls as well as their bodies: “As parts of your charge, and under your influence, be concerned for the blessing of God upon them, as well as the success of your affairs in their hands.”

Henry explains why continuing in prayer, including thanksgiving, is so important:

And this is the duty of every one—to continue in prayer. “Keep up your constant times of prayer, without being diverted from it by other business; keep your hearts close to the duty, without wandering or deadness, and even to the end of it: Watching the same.Christians should lay hold of all opportunities for prayer, and choose the fittest seasons, which are least liable to disturbance from other things, and keep their minds lively in the duty, and in suitable frames.With thanksgiving, or solemn acknowledgment of the mercies received. Thanksgiving must have a part in every prayer.

MacArthur says:

First, the speech of prayer; a new lifestyle with a new man will mean a new mouth filled with a new kind of conversation … 

Prayer is the means by which the grateful soul pours out its spontaneous praise before the throne of God.  Prayer is the voice of the weeping soul calling on the sympathetic high priest in the time of need.  Prayer is the intercession of the concerned Christian, who calls on divine resources in behalf of another’s trouble.  Prayer is the simple conversation of the beloved child with the caring Father, as they talk of love ... Prayer is toward God.  Prayer is to be in line with the Holy Spirit … 

… basically what it’s saying here – and we’ve gone through this is to have a general God consciousness, so that you see everything that happens in reference to God You see, the accident that happened to our young man in the high school department, somebody came by, no doubt, and drove by and said, “Poor kid, he probably ought to be careful on a motorcycle.”  Or, “Boy, it’s too bad”. 

But somebody came by, and got out and went over because he was a Christian, and knelt down and prayed, and he saw it all different than anybody else saw it.  Because he had a God consciousness, and anything and everything became cause for communion with God.  God-consciousness means that if I see something bad, I pray for those involved.  If I see something good, I praise for Him who has brought it about.  You see, it’s that conscious flow of God-consciousness

I started chasing around that word “continue” in prayer, and the root word here, one word, kartere.  It’s a very interesting word.  It basically comes from a noun that means “strong” – strong.  The verb means to be steadfast, to endure, to hang in there That’s kartere, but the word used here is proskartere And anytime – and I’ve told you this before – you add a preposition to the front of a verb in Greek, you intensify the Greek verb.  So he’s saying if the word kartere means to be strong and steadfast, this means to be super strong, and super steadfast, and really hang in there.  It’s the idea of perseverance.

… It’s a strong commitment to something, where you are steadfast, and you endure, and you don’t bail out, and you don’t give up, and you don’t quit …

Regular readers of this column know that nothing pleases me more when Forbidden Bible Verses tie in with Sunday readings.

Today, we have not only one but two examples of such serendipity.

MacArthur calls our attention to Year C’s Gospel for the Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity, which I wrote about yesterday.

Of continuing steadfastly in prayer, he says:

Now that’s an exciting dimension of prayer.  Well, let me give you some illustrations.  You say, “MacArthur, I don’t know whether this fits in my theology.”  Well, let me do that for you, I’ll slide it right in there.  Luke 18 – Luke 18, this is the great joy the Bible teacher has, is just the freedom not to get locked in a box, because the Bible isn’t. 

You just get everything organized in one little corner, and all of a sudden something explodes at the very opposite end, and you’ve got to release a little bit there.  “He spoke a parable unto them to this end” – Well, what was Your purpose, Lord?  Why this parable?  “That men ought always to pray and not faint.”  The whole purpose of the parable, people, is to do exactly what Paul said.  It’s so that you’ll keep praying and not fall asleep, and not quit, and not just hold your list up before God.  He said, “There was in a city a judge, and he feared not God, nor man.  And there was a widow in the city; and she came to him, saying, ‘Avenge me of mine adversary.’”  Somebody did something wrong to me, I want to bring it into court and get a just disposition of this, and I want it to be avenged for the wrong. 

“And he wouldn’t for a while.”  The judge wouldn’t do it.  “But afterward he said within himself, ‘Though I fear not God, nor regard man; yet because this widow troubles me, I will avenge her, lest by her continual coming she wears me out.’”  Okay, okay – I’ve had it.  Now, you say, “Wait a minute, wait a minute, you mean that has a divine application?”  Sure, verse 6: “The Lord said, ‘Hear what the unjust judge said’” – you listen.  “Shall not God avenge His own elect, who cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?  I tell you, He will avenge them speedily.”  God is going to do things to make things right, to gain His own honor, and to give you the place of blessing, when you cry out to Him day and night.

That’s one reading.

The second is the alternative First Reading from Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestles with God and overcomes, thereby earning the name of Israel and divine blessing.

MacArthur continues:

Virginia Stem Owens wrote a most interesting article in a recent issue of Christianity Today, in which she said this – and I want to read you part of it because I think it’s so related to this.  She said: “This is not a cosmic teddy-bear we are cuddling up to,” speaking of God.  “As one of the children describes Him in C. S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, ‘He’s not a tame lion.’”  Jacques Ellul is convinced, he says, “that prayer for persons living in the technological age must be combat.  And not just combat with the evil one, with one’s society, or even one’s divided self, though it is all of these, but his combat with God.  We must struggle with Him just like Jacob did at Peniel, where he earned his name Israel; and Israel means ‘he who strives with God.’  We too must be prepared to say, ‘I will not let you go till You bless me.’”

Amazing.

MacArthur concludes on this point:

You say, “Well, what is all that trying to say?”  All that is trying to say something that’s true: prayer is a matter of struggling and grappling with God.  Prayer is a matter of proving to God the deepest concern of your heart. 

MacArthur cautions us about what we pray for, because we might just receive it — and not always in the way we expect:

Somebody told me this week, “You know, I get so much trouble in my life, just trouble all the time.”  And they said, “You know, I pray and I say, ‘God, all I want is Your will, and I just want to be what You want me to be.  O, Lord, make me what You want me to be.’  And all I ever get is trouble.” 

I said, “Yeah, that’s a dangerous prayer.  You say, ‘God, make me what You want me to be,’ and He says, ‘Okay – and it will be My way, and you may come away limping.’” 

That is a reference to Jacob’s limping away after his night-long wrestling match with God.

MacArthur has more on verse 2:

There’s a tension, I know, between claiming and persisting on God’s power, and God’s grace, and at the same time, waiting on His will.  But listen to this, it is resolved not by holding your persistence; it is resolved by accepting His answer.  That’s important.  Well, I kind of got wound up on that; I knew I would.  It’s a lot for continuing prayer, but that’s what he is saying; back to Colossians 4:2

“Continue in prayer” – and I like this – “watch in the same.”  You know, one thing you can’t do is pray without watching.  Now, you know what this simply means?  Just I mean the basic thing that it means?  Stay awake.  You can’t pray in your sleep; very difficult.  Matthew 26, there’s a good illustration of that.  The disciples fell asleep in prayer meeting.  Matthew 26 – it tells the story.  Jesus came into the garden, took with Him Peter, two sons of Zebedee, James and John, and they were there.  Jesus was praying.  Verse 40: “He came unto the disciples and He found them asleep.  And He said, ‘Peter, you couldn’t stay awake for one hour?’”  The word “watch” here means stay awake.  “You couldn’t stay awake one hour?

But the thought here is broader than that.  It isn’t just that; that’s very obvious.  But when he says, “Watch in the same,” I think he’s carrying over to what Peter said, in 1 Peter, chapter 4, and verse 7: “But the end of all things is at hand: be sober minded, and watch unto prayer.”  And what Peter means there is basically sober minded is the idea of knowing the priorities, and when he says, “watch unto prayer,” he means look for the things that you ought to be praying about 

MacArthur offers us a real-life illustration of that and how well it worked:

I hadn’t been at Grace Church very long when a man came up to me and he said, “I’d like to pray for you.”  And I said, “Well, wonderful; I sure would appreciate that.”  He said, “Yes.”  He took out a notebook, and he just opened it up, and he said, “Let’s see, why don’t you give me four things to pray for?” 

And I said, “Okay.”  “Oh, just a minute [mumbles]he wrote them all down He had this page divided in the middle, and he had all these request things on there, and he wrote it all down.  And then he walked away, and I thought, “A little strange.”  You know, that’s very uncommon.  So about two weeks later, I met him in the patio again; we were in the other building, there was another patio.  And he walked up to me, and he said, “Say,” he said, “by the way,” he said, “I’ve got these four requests, and I’ve been praying for two weeks.  Could you tell me what happened on those?”  And I said, “Yeah,” and he said, “Well, just a minute, uh-huh – what day was that?  Oh yes, uh-huh, the 12th of February.” 

He wrote the whole thing down on the right hand column.  And there was this big spiral notebook.  You know I had an occasion later on to be in his home, and I looked at his bookcase You want to hear something interesting?  There were 13 other books on the bookshelf all filled; this was number 14.  That’s what I call watching to see what you’re praying about You know, if you said to him, “Say there, Frank, do you believe God answers prayer?”  “Yeah, what kind would you like to know?  Uh-huh, we got – you know – I’ve got 485 of those, 796 of these” – see, that’s watching unto prayer You’ll never be persistent with God about something you’re not concerned about, and you’ll never get concerned about something until you know what something needs to be concerned about.  And we’ve got to watch.

That is very strange to read, because I am in a similar situation right now, praying for the well-being of someone I haven’t seen in years and might never see again, but I had an urge last year to begin praying for that person and have done so every day since with equal fervency. That’s never happened to me before.

MacArthur tells us why we should express thanksgiving in prayer:

Be thankful for your salvation, be thankful for your growth, be thankful for your fellowship, be thankful for your service.  And here he says, in verse 2, of chapter 4, “Be thankful.”  Be thankful that when you pray, you have the guarantee that God is going to answer in accord with what’s best for you.  Be thankful.  You know, no matter what happens in a prayer, you can be thankful.  When you’re praying – you know, I was trying to think, “Now, what am I thankful for when I pray?” 

Number one, the first thing I’m thankful for as I pray is God’s presence, because if it wasn’t there, it wouldn’t do me any good to pray.  So I thought, “No matter what He says or does – yes, no, maybe, wait, whatever – I’m thankful that He’s listening.  I’m thankful for His presence.”  The psalmist understood that.  Psalm 75:1: “Unto Thee, 0 God, do we give thanks.”  Why?  “That Thy name is near.”  I’m just thankful You’re there.  Whatever Your answer is, it’s just great to talk to You.

Second thing I thought of, I’m thankful not only for God’s presence, but I’m thankful for God’s provision.  You know there is no such thing as a prayer that doesn’t get answered?  He always provides an answer, always, always, always.  And I’m thankful for that.  He always provides my bread; He always provides a place to stay.  He always provides the needs of life, and that’s His promise, and I’m always thankful.  And maybe I’m asking for things beyond the needs, and I can be at the same time thankful that the needs I know are going to be met.  And as I pray, I’m not only thankful for His presence and His provision, but I’m thankful for His pardon.  Romans 6:17: “Thanks be unto God, that whereas we use to be the servants of sin, we’ve become the servants of righteousness.”  I’m thankful that He saved me.

And then I thought of a thing that kind of sums it all up.  I’m thankful for all those things, and all the things I showed you in Colossians, but I think the thing that’s just really exciting is I’m thankful for His promise I just – it excites me when I read 1 Corinthians 15:57.  “Thanks be to God, who always gives us” – what – “the victory.”  Man, that’s exciting.  I can pray, and no matter what the answer, no matter how God works, no matter whether I come away like Jacob, limping, no matter whether it costs me my life, or the life of somebody around me, I can come away and say, “The victory is mine,” always; because “All things are working together for” – what – “good.”  That’s God’s purpose for me.

Second Corinthians 2:14: “Thanks be unto God, who always causes us to triumph.”  You can’t lose in prayer.  You may not get what you ask for, but you won’t lose, because God knows that what He got you was better than what you asked for So no matter what happens, we’re thankful.  That never changes.  So Paul is telling us something very important about prayer.  He’s saying, “Look, pray.  And when I mean pray, I mean pray.  Get in there and wrestle with it.  Get in there and persist at it.  And keep banging until he gives you the bread.  Hold on till you’re blessed.” 

Then Paul asks for prayers for himself, not for his well-being but for preaching the Gospel message.

He asks the Colossians to pray for him in prison, that God may open a door for the word, that he may declare the mystery of Christ (verse 3).

He wrote of the mystery of Christ in Ephesians 3:

The Mystery of the Gospel Revealed

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

With that in mind, Henry says:

The people must pray particularly for their ministers, and bear them upon their hearts at all times at the throne of grace. As if he had said, “Do not forget us, whenever you pray for yourselves,” Eph 6 19; 1 Thess 5 25; Heb 13 18. That God would open to us a door of utterance, that is, either afford opportunity to preach the gospel (so he says, a great door and effectual is opened to me, 1 Cor 16 9), or else give me ability and courage, and enable me with freedom and faithfulness; so Eph 6 19, And for me, that utterance may be given to me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in bonds; that is, either the deepest doctrines of the gospel with plainness, of which Christ is the principal subject (he calls it the mystery of the gospel, Eph 6 19), or else he means the preaching of the gospel to the Gentile world, which he calls the mystery hidden from ages (ch. 1 26) and the mystery of Christ, Eph 3 4. For this he was now in bonds.

MacArthur says that Paul is moving on to his second type of Christian speech. After prayer, comes proclamation. Note that his translation is different to the ESV, but the message is the same:

Here is Paul in prison, still thankful.  So the mouth of the new man, then, has the speech of prayer coming from it.  It is strong prayer, persistent prayer, watchful prayer, and grateful prayer.  Let’s look at the second.  The second element of speech is the speech, not of prayer, but verse 3 and 4, the speech of proclamation – the speech of proclamation The new man’s mouth utters this – notice in verse 3 – and Paul links it up with prayer as a prayer request: “Praying also for us, that God would open to us a door of utterance, to speak the mystery of Christ, for which I am also in prison: That I might make it manifest, as I ought to speak.” 

Twice you see the word speak.  Once you see the word utterance.  Once you see the word manifest.  And here is the speech of proclamation.  Here is the apostle Paul saying, “Pray for me that I may open my mouth and proclaim.”  And by allusion here – not, of course, by a direct statement to us – we see that another element in the speech of the new man is the speech of proclamation.  Notice the phrase at the end of verse 3: “For which I am also in prison,” or “bonds” 

So we find the apostle Paul in that two year imprisonment when he writes the book of Colossians.  He uses his chains as a means to accomplish his ministry.  He gets a lot of letter-writing done, because he’s not doing much traveling.  And another thing he gets a lot of done is a lot of evangelizing of soldiers.  The soldiers that came and went were no doubt evangelized.  He says in Philippians 1:13he also wrote Philippians during the same two years “So that my bonds or my chains in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places.”  He says, “This is the greatest platform I’ve ever had.  They just keep sending me soldiers, I keep winning them to Christ and sending them back, and they keep winning others.” 

And crowds of people were coming to his own hired house, and he was preaching the gospel.  Philippians 4:22 says, “All the saints greet you, chiefly they that are of Caesar’s household.”  He had even won some of the people in Caesar’s household.  Now, if you were to go backwards again, to the last verse of the book of Acts, Acts 28:31, it says this; “During the two whole years, he was preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching those things which concerned the Lord Jesus Christ, with all confidence” – and this great statement – “no man forbidding him.”  For two years, with imprisonment as a platform, he preached and taught, and the prayer request in chapter 4 was answered, so that he had an open door, and nobody, during that whole time, ever forbid him to preach.  All the time of his bondage was a time of proclamation

He was always proclaiming.  The only time his voice was silent was when the axe cut his head off What a great lesson.

He also requested that the Colossians pray that he would be able to explain the mystery of Christ clearly (verse 4).

MacArthur explains:

I see two thoughts in that phrase “I ought to speak” – that’s the ought of doing it, and that’s the ought of speaking it the way it ought to be spoken I’m afraid sometimes that a good message proclaimed in a bad way will do just about as much as a bad message Paul wants prayer about his own motivation, to speak the way he should, and about doing it right, to speak the way he should speak about the gospel.

Paul’s teachings were always about Christ, doctrine and behaviour. He did not make false promises about Christ making us personally happy or making us rich or relieving us of all our problems. He spoke and wrote of faith and salvation, emphasising perseverance.

Paul closes this section with final words of advice for the Colossians.

He tells them to walk in wisdom with those who do not know Christ and making the best use of time when those opportunities occur (verse 5).

This is the third type of Christian speech, MacArthur says, that of perfomance:

The new man, then, is going to have the speech of prayer, and the speech of proclamation.  Thirdly, verse 5, the new man is going to have the speech of performance – the speech of performance.  Now, this departs from the mouth a little bit, but really is the most essential speech of all … 

The most important thing you say is not what you say, it’s what you are.  Is that right?  Because it’s what you are that gives credibility to what you say … Walk comes before talk Now he says, “Walk in wisdom.”  What is wisdom?  Properly evaluating circumstances and making godly decisions.  Walk with a carefully planned, consistent, Christian lifestyle.  And if you have any question about what that walk is, you can just look at the book of Ephesians, chapter 4, 5 and 6, and it will tell you all about it

You have been saved, you have been given wisdom; you need to be filled with that wisdom that you might walk in it.  You know, a Christian can walk like a fool.  And then when he tries to talk, nobody believes him – nobody hears, nobody listens.  We’ve been given wisdom.  Sometimes we turn our back on it

You want to be foolish?  Then work in the flesh.  Function in the flesh, operate in your own strength, or live for money.  There’s just a couple of ways that a Christian can play the part of a fool.

Another way is in James 3, where he says, “Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you?”  I’ll tell you who –“The one who shows out of a good life his works.”  You know how you can tell a wise man?  The way he behaves.  “But if you have bitter envy, strife” – hmm, that’s not wise.  That’s foolish – “confusion, every evil work.”  Oh, we see another way the Christian can play the fool – by envy, strife, division, confusion.  You see, these are just ways the Christian can play the fool in his lifestyle.  But Paul is saying here, “Don’t do that.  Walk in wisdom.”  And what is wisdom?  Right here, isn’t it?  Set your priorities according to the book.  Set your priorities according to God’s pattern.

Let me just give you four hints that will help you, four ways to get wisdom.  Number one: worship – worship.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of” – what – “wisdom,” Proverbs 9:10.  When you begin to really worship God, that’s wise.  That’s where wisdom begins.  Secondly, prayer.  James says, “If any man lack wisdom, let him” – what – “ask.”  Worship, ask; I’ll tell you another way.  Study.  You will gain God’s wisdom when you study God’s truth.  Colossians, chapter 2, verse 2: “That their hearts might be comforted, being knit together in love, and unto all riches of the full assurance of understanding, to the acknowledgement of the mystery of God, Christ; In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”  All right, it’s in Christ that all wisdom exists

Through the act of worshipping God, God imparts to us His wisdom.  Through prayer, through study, through instruction from godly teachers, that wisdom is available, that wisdom is to be maintained, and that wisdom is to issue in a wise lifestyle

So he says, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are on the outside.”  Non-Christians.  Believers are on the inside.  Now he says, “Redeeming the time” It is kairos, which means time only in terms of its opportunity.  It should translate “redeeming every opportunity.”  Psalm 90: “So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.”  It’s a matter of buying opportunity.

Finally, Paul tells the Colossians to be of gracious speech, seasoned with salt, so that they can respond to each person appropriately (verse 6).

MacArthur says that this is the fourth type of speech, that of perfection:

Remember what I read you earlier from Luke about the speech of Jesus?  He opened His mouth, and it was always gracious.  “Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer every man.”  Now, he’s not so much talking about preaching the gospel here.  He’s just talking about general conversation.  The mouth of a Christian should utter the speech of perfection.  Never out of the mouth of a Christian should come that stuff that I listed for you last week: lust, evil, deceit, cursing, oppression, lying, perversity, destruction, vanity, flattery, foolishness, babble, madness, verbosity, idle talk, false teaching, plotting, boasting, hatred, swearing, filthy talk, or gossip. 

That’s all characteristic of an unregenerate mouth, not a Christian.  Let your speech be always with grace.  Make gracious speech a habit, whether you’re being persecuted, whether it’s a stress situation, whether it’s difficulty, whether you’re before a worldly judge, whether you’ve been wronged.  Whether it’s with your wife, whether it’s with your child, your neighbor, whether you’re teaching a Bible study, whether you’re leading a class, whatever it is, let your speech be gracious.  You say, “Well, John, what do you mean talk with grace; do you mean speak the grace of God?”  That’s not primarily what it means.  It means let your mouth speak what is spiritual, what is wholesome.  What is fitting, what is kind, what is sensitive.  What is purposeful, what is complimenting, what is gentle, what is truthful, what is loving, what is thoughtful. 

Then the element of salt comes in, which may sting or soothe — or even add gentle wit:

Now, what do you mean, seasoned with salt?  Well, salt does a lot of things.  It stings, once in a while, when there’s a wound, right?  But after it does stinging, what does it do?  It heals.  Salt also prevents corruption.  And your speech should be a purifier that prevents corruption.  Your speech should act as a purifying, wholesome, cleansing influence, rescuing conversation from the filth that so often engulfs it.  Ephesians 4:29 says the very same thing.  Let your speech be gentle, gracious, thoughtful, but let it sting when it needs to.

When there’s a wound to be healed, let it go right to the sore.  And let it be that which is pure and beautiful to rescue a conversation from corruption.  The Greeks had another thought here.  They said the idea of salt was the idea of wit.  And wit is the ability to say just the right thing at just the right time.  And isn’t that what he’s saying?  “That you may know how you ought to answer every man.”  You’ve got just the right answer for just the right time, and just the right person.  The Greeks would translate this as Plutarch did, charm and witThe right word at the right time to the right person, the speech of perfection.  Never filthy communication, always answering every man who asks, a reason for the hope that is in you, 1 Peter 3

Paul then names several men who have helped him in his ministry. More will follow about them during the next few Sundays.

Next time — Colossians 4:7-9

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity is on October 16, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Luke 18:1-8

18:1 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart.

18:2 He said, “In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people.

18:3 In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, ‘Grant me justice against my opponent.’

18:4 For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,

18:5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.’”

18:6 And the Lord said, “Listen to what the unjust judge says.

18:7 And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them?

18:8 I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

We are nearing the end of our Lord’s lessons to His disciples and to the Jewish hierarchy, which began in Luke 9 and conclude in Luke 19.

The context for today’s reading is set in light of our Lord’s discourse in Luke 17 about His Second Coming.

This parable illustrates the need for perseverance and patience in God’s justice delivered through His Son Jesus Christ.

Jesus told a parable to His disciples about the importance of praying always and not losing heart (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

When we are praying for strength against our spiritual enemies, our lusts and corruptions, which are our worst enemies, we must continue instant in prayer, must pray and not faint, for we shall not seek God’s face in vain. So we must likewise in our prayers for the deliverance of the people of God out of the hands of their persecutors and oppressors.

Jesus said that in a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor respected the people (verse 2).

That means he was self-centred and corrupt.

John MacArthur says that this scenario would have been familiar to the disciples. The judge was a civil judge and not a religious one:

This is simply a city that Jesus fabricates in the story. But we can assume that since He’s talking to people in the land of Israel, it would be typical of a city in Israel. And what follows would be all too familiar to the people of Israel, for Israel, frankly, had much experience with widows and much experience with unjust judges. And here we meet such a judge, a judge who did not fear God and did not respect man.

And while that seems a rather simple characterization, it is a very well chosen characterization because you find such references to people in literature from ancient times outside the Bible and this kind of description is used to describe the most wicked person, someone who has absolutely no reverence for God and no interest in people, no concerns regarding the law of God, the will of God and completely indifferent to the needs of people and their just causes.  This man is ultimately and finally wicked.  There is no way to penetrate this man’s wickedness either from the viewpoint of the law of God or from the viewpoint of the need of man.  He is not moved by reverence or worship and he is not moved by compassion or sympathy.  He has no interest in the first commandment, loving God; no interest in the second commandment, loving his neighbor.  He is the most wicked man …

Now the kind of court that a judge like this would be a part of would be a civil court.   In towns and villages, or in large cities, these civil courts were in a lot of locations.  Every little town had to have one and a place like Jerusalem would have many of these civil courts.  This is not a position of national responsibility in a religious court where they were interpreting the religious things, or the traditions, or the law of the Old Testament. This is a civil court, but nonetheless the judge would have a very serious responsibility before God to uphold the law of God and to uphold sympathy and compassion toward people.  Any judge in Israel would be very familiar with Old Testament instruction regarding being a judge.  Second Chronicles chapter 19, Jehoshaphat is the king of Judah.  It says in verse 4, “Jehoshaphat lived in Jerusalem, went out again among the people from Beersheba to the hill country of Ephraim and brought them back to the Lord, the God of their fathers.  And he appointed judges in the land in all the fortified cities of Judah, city by city.  And he said to the judges, ‘Consider what you are doing for you do not judge for man but for the Lord who is with you when you render judgment.’  “Now then,” verse 7, 2 Chronicles 19:7, “let the fear of the Lord be upon you.  Be very careful what you do for the Lord our God will have no part in unrighteousness, or injustice, or partiality, or the taking of a bribe.”

Everyone who was ever appointed to any judicial responsibility in Israel would know that passage very, very well.  But even in the Old Testament, in spite of the clear instruction of God, judges were corrupt.  Amos the prophet, chapter 5 verse 10, “They hate him who reproves him in the gate.  They abhor him who speaks with integrity.  Therefore because you impose heavy rent on the poor and exact a tribute of grain from them, though you have built houses of well-hewn stone, you will not live in them.  You have planted pleasant vineyards; you will not drink their wine, for I know your transgressions are many, your sins are great, you who distress the righteous and accept bribes and turn aside the poor in the gate.”  The gate is normally where the civil law was adjudicated.  These judges that Amos mentions are corrupt and will know the judgment of God.

But this kind of judicial corruption was not limited just to the Old Testament. It was also true in the time of our Lord Jesus.  Alfred Edersheim, who has written the classic Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah, the great history of that period of time, describes the judges in Jerusalem as being so corrupt that the people changed their title.  They were known as dayyaney gezeroth. That was the term used to describe a judge and his responsibility to deal with the prohibitions of the law.  The people called them dayyaney gezeloth. They changed one letter in the Hebrew which turned the expression “a judge dealing with the law” to “a judge who is a robber.” “Robber judges” became their title because they were so corrupt.  They did just exactly what the Bible said not to do, what God said not to do.  They showed partiality.  They were unjust and they took bribes.  The Talmud said they were so perverted in some occasions that they would actually pervert justice for one meal, for one meal.  And so, when our Lord says this is an unrighteous judge, adikia, meaning no sense of justice, dishonest and corrupt. He is defining what everybody would know by the description in verse 2, that he didn’t fear God and he didn’t respect man.

Let me look at that word “respect” for just a moment in verse 2, Entrepōmi, interesting verb, it means to be put to shame, to be put to shame.  In other words, this man had no shame.  Now remember the Middle Eastern culture then and even now is a shame-honor culture.  You do what brings you honor at all cost, you avoid all things that produce shame, you avoid shame like the plague.  That was typically the way life was lived.  And so the way to understand that expression “did not respect man” would be to understand it this way: He is not ashamed before people, he has no shame. He cannot be put to shame.  In fact, if you were to study Middle Eastern translations of this verse in Middle Eastern language, New Testament Syriac and Arabic, they never translate it any other way over the centuries than “he was not ashamed before people.”  He had no shame. He could not be shamed no matter what he did.  Good social behavior in those cultures basically was encouraged by an appeal to shame. 

In that city, a widow repeatedly approached him appealing for justice against the person who wronged her (verse 3).

Widows, then and now, were — and are — often in a precarious position if they have no male to help them fight their cause.

Henry says:

Note, Poor widows have often many adversaries, who barbarously take advantage of their weak and helpless state to invade their rights, and defraud them of what little they have; and magistrates are particularly charged, not only not to do violence to the widow (Jer 21 3), but to judge the fatherless, and plead for the widow (Isa 1 17), to be their patrons and protectors; then they are as gods, for God is so, Ps 68 5.

MacArthur tells us that a court of law was a man’s domain and that women were largely ignored. The Old Testament states that God’s people were to protect widows:

“There was a widow in that city and she kept coming to him saying, ‘Give me legal protection from my opponent.’”  Someone has defrauded her.  In fact, someone has so seriously defrauded her that she is destitute.  Not only is she destitute by virtue of the fact that she keeps coming and keeps coming and keeps coming, which is our Lord’s way of pointing out that she really was in a situation where she had to have what was rightfully hers, but we know that her destitution goes beyond the financial, she apparently has no man in her life, no man in her family, not a brother, not a brother-in-law, not a father, not a son, not a cousin, not a nephew, not any man who could come to plead her case, because courts belonged to men. They did not belong to women, they belonged exclusively to men.  Men came to court. Women did not come to court.  The courts belonged to the men.  The only time a woman would come to court was when there was no man to plead her case.  This woman is alone. She represents the destitute, the powerless, the helpless, the deprived, the lowly, the unknown, the unloved, the uncared for, the desperate.  And it’s wonderful to use the illustration of a widow because her case is clear-cut, as far as the Old Testament goes, if not on a legal basis, purely on the basis of mercy that he should have done something to care for her.   Exodus 22 verses 22 to 24 talks about the responsibility to show mercy to a widow.  Deuteronomy 24 verses 17 and 18, Isaiah 1:16 and 17, and many other places, widows were to be cared for. Their needs were to be met.  This judge is utterly indifferent to her on a sympathetic side, on the side of compassion, but apparently she had the law on her side as well because she is asking for legal protection.  She has been defrauded.  Property, money which was life to her has been taken from her.

By the way, as a footnote, there are a number of interesting widows that Luke focuses on both in his gospel and in the book of Acts as well.  They were an important part of the ancient world.  Corrupt judges, there were plenty of them; and there were even more needy widows.

The judge refused to entertain her plea for justice but later said to himself that, though he did not fear God or respect man (verse 4), he would grant her justice so that she would not wear him out by continually bothering him (verse 5).

Henry says:

bad as he was, would not suffer him to send her to prison for an affront upon the court.

MacArthur gives us this analysis:

His wickedness is obviously toxic, it is compounded because he is in the role of a judge and he renders his judgments in regard both to the law of God and the needs of people and since he is not moved by either, he is, as Jesus characterizes him, an unrighteous judge.  The word “unrighteous” would mean dishonest, corrupt, unjust.  Not only is he this evil but he knows it and he’s comfortable with it.  In verse 4 he said to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect men.” This is not simply a definition of the man that has been placed upon him by those that know him, he agrees with it in full.  Here is the worst possible human being in a very, very important position of responsibility whose disregard for God and man has massive implications in regard to all the people who come into his court

Well consistent with his utter disdain for the commandments of God and any sense of justice and his utter disinterest in showing compassion to anyone, even a lowly widow, verse 4 says, “And for a while he was unwilling.”  He was just outright indifferent.  He is the worst kind of human being who is then the worst judge imaginable.  Just as the prodigal son was the worst possible profligate sinner and the older brother was the worst possible hypocrite.  Jesus is into painting these extreme pictures in his stories with just a minimum of language.  But if you can fill in the gaps, the people would understand that.  But it says in verse 4, “Though he for a while was unwilling, but afterward he said to himself…” Now we get a soliloquy like the soliloquy of the prodigal son who came to his senses and talked to himself. So this man speaks to himself, “Even though I do not fear God nor respect man.” He’s a self-confessed wretch, he holds nothing back.  He has no noble motive.  He is first to admit he has no noble motive whatsoever. 

The woman’s appeals would have been loud, characteristic of a Middle Eastern culture of powerless women:

But he says, in spite of that, verse 5, “Yet because this woman bothers me.” In the Greek, “She causes me trouble, she is irritating me.”  Every day she’s there.  Every day she’s pleading her case.  It’s becoming very troublesome.  I will give her legal protection “lest by continually coming…” “Continually” is eis telos, sometimes translated in the Bible “forever.”  She will come forever if I don’t get rid of her and “she will wear me out.”

He has no regard for God.  He has no regard for man.  But he has regard for himself.  He cares not for what pleases God.  He cares not for what pleases men.  But he cares a lot for what pleases him and this does not please him.  This is an irritating, troubling harangue that he hears out of this widow every single day that is intrusive and interruptive.  And by the way, I like that little phrase, “She will wear me out.”  But it’s a little more benign than the Greek.  The Greek is a verb hupopiazo, which means it’s a boxing term and it means to strike someone with a full blow in the eye She is punching me silly day after day after day. She is beating me up.  Some translations would be, “to blacken the face,” to indicate the severity and the strength of the blows.  She’s giving me a black eye, she’s beating me.  It’s used in 1 Corinthians 9:27 where Paul says, “I buffet my body, I punch my body with a fierce blow to beat it into submission.”  This woman is not just troublesome, this woman is painful.  This is more than I can stand and she’s going to do it eis telos, forever, if I don’t get rid of her.  So the powerful and impervious judge is defeated by the weak widow through her persistence.

Now you need to know something else, a little bit more about the Middle Eastern culture.  Women were really powerless.  I guess that’s a good way to say it.  They were powerless in the male-dominated culture; still largely true in Middle Eastern culture today.  But they were respected and they were honored.  And while they had no power, they did have honor and they could get away with things that men couldn’t get away with.  I was reading one Middle Eastern scholar who said, “A woman could scream and complain at the top of her voice relentlessly and get away with it because women are to be honored and respected.  And if a man did the same thing, he would lose his life.”  And so, even today sometimes you see pictures in the Arabic world of women who are pleading their case by screaming and yelling and this would be the crying day and night kind of relentless approach of this woman that is characterized hereThe crying day and night comes in the explanation in verse 7 So she’s driving this man to destruction in his own mind.  He’s got to get rid of her.  And so he rules in her favor.  Go back to verse 5, “I will give her legal protection.” That simply means I will vindicate her.  I will vindicate her.  It’s got the word dikēo in it, from which we get the word dikaiōs, righteousness, justice.  I will execute justice, righteousness on her behalf.  I will vindicate her.  I will avenge her.  I will do justice to her because I cannot tolerate her…her harangue any longer.  So that’s the story. That’s the illustration.

Jesus called on the disciples to take heed of what the unjust judge said (verse 6).

It is interesting that both commentators use the same expression about this parable.

Henry says:

This parable has its key hanging at the door; the drift and design of it are prefixed. Christ spoke it with this intent, to teach us that men ought always to pray and not to faint, v. 1.

MacArthur says:

What’s the intention of this story? Go back to verse 1. Now He was telling them a parable to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart. So here we find that the key to the parable is hanging on the door. Before you even get inside to the parable, the key is out there. This is a parable designed by our Lord to show that at all times they ought to pray and not to lose heart.

Then Jesus implied that if the corrupt judge showed justice — left unsaid — how much more will the righteous, all-merciful God grant justice to those who cry out to Him day and night, asking if He will delay helping them (verse 7).

MacArthur explains:

This is a “much more than” kind of comparison, this is a “lesser and greater” kind of comparison.  This is extreme.  You have the most wicked, impervious, impenetrable, indifferent human being doing what is right for someone about whom he has no feeling or interest.  And if a judge who is like that will do what is right for someone for whom he has no affection, do you think God will not do what is right for those who are His eternal elect, who are loved by Him before the foundation of the world?  And who cry out to Him day and night pleading for His glory to come and for them to be glorified with Him?

The elect are represented by the widow.  We are, in a sense, helpless.  We are, in a sense, at the mercy of our judge.  But this judge is not like God.  This judge is the opposite of God.  He is as unlike God as you can get.  God always does what is right by His own law.  God is always compassionate, merciful, gracious, tender-hearted, and kind.  And God will do what He says He will do to bring about the glorious manifestation of His own children who are loved by Him from before the foundation of the world.  The wicked, unjust, unloving judge will do what is right. What will a righteous, loving, holy God do?

The answer: verse 7, “Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect?”  Literally, “Make the vindication,” make the vindication.  Again “the vindication” comes from that same verb, dikēo, which is related to the word group “justify.”  Will He not justify?  Will He not vindicate His elect, those whom He has chosen for salvation?  First Peter 2:23 says, “God is the one who judges righteously.”  Romans 12:19 says that, “God has said, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay.’”  Revelation 19:2, “True and righteous are His judgments.”  He will do what He has promised for His elect because His Word is at stake and He’s faithful to His Word, He’s faithful to His law, because He’s merciful, because He’s compassionate, and because He loves those whom He has eternally chosen.

Henry refers to earnest prayer as wrestling with God, which is what Jacob did and was blessed afterwards with the name Israel. That passage from Genesis 32 is one of today’s First Readings:

And herein we must be very urgent; we must cry with earnestness: we must cry day and night, as those that believe prayer will be heard at last; we must wrestle with God, as those that know how to value the blessing, and will have no nay. God’s praying people are told to give him no rest, Isa 62 6, 7.

Jesus concluded by saying that, contrary to the corrupt judge, God will quickly grant justice to the faithful, however, on that day of the Second Coming, will the Son of Man — Jesus — find faith on Earth when He returns (verse 8)?

MacArthur says:

He closes with a question, verse 8, “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?”  What does that mean?  Jesus is just pensively asking the question that when He does come, given that it’s going to be a long time, will there be anybody left persistent like this widow?  When He does come, and He will, will He find people praying for His return?  I kind of think that if He were to come now He would find a whole lot of people who call themselves Christians with very little interest in that.  Genuine Christianity never loses its grip on God, never loses its trust in Christ, never loses its hope.  But we get easily distracted, don’t we?  And the Lord is trying to nail this down in a practical way.  When He comes, will He find His people still crying day and night eagerly waiting for His return?  Will we love His appearing?  Will we be crying out “Maranatha”? First Corinthians 16:22, even come, Lord, come, Lord.  Or will it be like in Noah’s day with just a few, or Lot today with just a few?

We live in hope, beloved, we live in hope.  We…We are true Christians and we have been given a tremendous promise.  This is how it’s all going to end.  In the meantime we suffer and we’re rejected and persecuted and alienated and the gospel is resisted and Christ is dishonored and sometimes maybe we think it’s going on too long and too long.  We continue to pray and plead for the glory of Christ, the honor of Christ.  And when you live that way and pray that way and plead that way, it changes everything about your life.  How you view every part of your life.  Yes it’s been 2,000 [years]. But our hope burns shining bright, and our love for Christ is still true and pure and our confidence that He keeps His Word is fast and firm.  And so we pray persistently calling on Him to come, to glorify Himself, to vindicate Himself, to punish sinners, dethrone Satan, establish a righteous kingdom and peace on the earth, reign as King of kings and Lord of lords and create the eternal new heaven and the new earth. We say, “Even so, come, Lord Jesus,” and it ought to be on our lips day after day after day, says our Lord.  Live in that kind of anticipation until He comes.  And watch how it changes your life.

Henry mentioned Jacob’s earnest faith and the blessing he received.

I wrote more about the background of Genesis 32 a few years ago in ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son and brothers in Genesis’.

After he sold his birthright to Jacob for a mass of pottage, Esau wanted to kill him.

In Genesis 32, Jacob prayed fervently in this appeal to God:

And Jacob said, “O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O Lord who said to me, ‘Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,’ 10 I am not worthy of the least of all the deeds of steadfast love and all the faithfulness that you have shown to your servant, for with only my staff I crossed this Jordan, and now I have become two camps. 11 Please deliver me from the hand of my brother, from the hand of Esau, for I fear him, that he may come and attack me, the mothers with the children. 12 But you said, ‘I will surely do you good, and make your offspring as the sand of the sea, which cannot be numbered for multitude.’”

Today’s alternate First Reading tells us of Jacob’s wrestling with God and obtaining an enduring blessing for prevailing — overcoming:

Genesis 32:22-31

32:22 The same night he got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok.

32:23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had.

32:24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak.

32:25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.

32:26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.”

32:27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

32:28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.”

32:29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him.

32:30 So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”

32:31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

My follow-up post discussed God’s blessing to Jacob in his 12 sons, ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son relates to the lost tribes of Israel‘.

One day, Jesus will be seen by God’s people as the Messiah.

For now, we can meditate on the faith and perseverance that Jacob showed.

May all reading this enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Today’s post was supposed to be a comprehensive retrospective of what people around the world experienced this week in seeing Queen Elizabeth II being laid to rest.

However, I have information and reflections for more than one post.

Today’s will look at the religious aspects and history of Westminster and some Royal funeral traditions.

Westminster’s religious history

One thing I learned is that the area that is called Westminster, which we connect with the Abbey and the Palace (where the Houses of Parliament meet) was originally a monastery with a church on the site.

‘West’ refers to the location being to the west of where most people were settled long before the Norman Conquest in 1066.

The word ‘minster’ is the Anglicised version of the Latin ‘monasterii’, ‘monasterium’ and ‘monasteriensis’, dating back to 669.

My curiosity was piqued when I read the inscription of the four tall candlesticks immediately flanking the Queen’s catafalque. Unfortunately, I do not have the full wording, but ‘Westmonasterii’ and ‘Petri’ are on them, gold lettering on a red border, just underneath where the large, thick beeswax candles sit.

Then came the story of how the monastery became linked to St Peter, the fisherman who became a bold Apostle preaching Christ after the first Pentecost.

In 2017, Cambridge University Press published a paper by Bernhard W Scholz, Sulcard of Westminster: Prologus de construccione Westmonasterii.

An extract reads, in part (emphases mine):

Sulcard, a monk of Westminster in the eleventh century, is the author of the first history of his monastery, the unprinted Prologus de construccione Westmonasterii. In this brief tract he describes the foundation of Westminster in the days, as he claims, of King Æthelberht of Kent, and the patronage and endowment extended by various benefactors, notably Archbishop Dunstan of Canterbury and King Edward the Confessor. Sulcard also records the marvellous dedication of Westminster by St. Peter, patron of the church, and two other miracles worked in Westminster by the prince of the apostles.

Of the original church, replaced by the structure we know today, the Wikipedia entry for Westminster Abbey states:

According to a tradition first reported by Sulcard in about 1080, a church was founded at the site (then known as Thorn Ey (Thorn Island)) in the seventh century at the time of Mellitus, a Bishop of London. Construction of the present church began in 1245 on the orders of King Henry III.[5]

Here is where St Peter comes in. A tradition dedicated to him continues today:

A late tradition claims that Aldrich, a young fisherman on the River Thames, had a vision of Saint Peter near the site. This seems to have been quoted as the origin of the salmon that Thames fishermen offered to the abbey in later years, a custom still observed annually by the Fishmongers’ Company

Sulcard‘s entry reads:

The sole work which Sulcard is known to have produced is the so-called Prologus de Construccione Westmonasterii (“Prologue concerning the Building of Westminster”), dedicated to Abbot Vitalis of Bernay (c. 1076—?1085) and hence datable to about 1080.[2] It relates the history of the abbey, beginning in the time of Mellitus, bishop of London (604—17), with the foundation of its first church on what was then Thorney Island by a wealthy Londoner and his wife. It concludes with the dedication of a new church erected by King Edward the Confessor (r. 1042–1066) for the monastery. In the dedication to Vitalis, Sulcard writes that he intended his work to serve as a ‘commemorative book’ (codex memorialis) for his house. He was primarily interested in promoting the cult of St. Peter, the abbey’s patron saint, who is said to have miraculously appeared in the early 7th century to dedicate the church in person. Two copies of the history are extant, the earliest being a chartulary from Winchester (c. 1300), BL, Cotton MS Faustina A.iii, fols. 11r—16v. The other copy is in BL, Cotton MS Titus A.viii, fols. 2r–5v. The title is not contemporary, but derives from the heading in the former chartulary, to which it serves as a prologue.[3]

Apart from relating local traditions about St. Peter’s miraculous involvement, the narrative of Sulcard’s prologus is relatively free of embellishments.[1]

It does not appear that the monks had an easy time of it on Thorney Island:

Thorney Island was the eyot (or small island) on the Thames, upstream of medieval London, where Westminster Abbey and the Palace of Westminster (commonly known today as the Houses of Parliament) were built. It was formed by rivulets of the River Tyburn, which entered the Thames nearby. In Roman times, and presumably before, Thorney Island may have been part of a natural ford where Watling Street crossed the Thames,[1] of particular importance before the construction of London Bridge.

The name may be derived from the Anglo-Saxon Þorn-īeg, meaning “Thorn Island”. [2]

Thorney is described in a purported 8th century charter of King Offa of Mercia, which is kept in the Abbey muniments, as a “terrible place”. In the Spring of 893, Edward the Elder, son of Alfred the Great, forced invading Vikings to take refuge on Thorney Island.[3] Despite hardships and more Viking raids over the following centuries, the monks tamed the island until by the time of Edward the Confessor it was “A delightful place, surrounded by fertile land and green fields”. The abbey’s College Garden survives, a thousand years later, and may be the oldest garden in England.[4]

Since the Middle Ages, the level of the land has risen, the rivulets have been built over, and the Thames has been embanked, so that there is now no visible Thorney Island. The name is kept only by Thorney Street, at the back of the MI5 Security Service building; but a local heritage organisation established by June Stubbs in 1976 took the name The Thorney Island Society.

In 1831 the boundaries of the former island were described as the Chelsea Waterworks, the Grosvenor Canal, and the ornamental water in St James’s Park.[5]

Thorney Island is one of the places reputed to be the site of King Canute’s demonstration that he could not command the tides, because he built a palace at Westminster.

In 2000, the politician John Roper was created a Life peer and revived the name of Thorney in Parliament by taking the title Baron Roper of Thorney Island in the City of Westminster.[6]

Royal traditions at Westminster Hall

The Daily Mail has an excellent article on Westminster Hall’s history from 1087 to the present, beginning with William the Conqueror’s son, William II, or William Rufus.

The Queen’s lying in rest was another historic milestone. By September 15, just four days before her funeral, someone described it as a:

piece of history that will never be repeated.

Before the public viewing started, Westminster Abbey’s clergy and the Archbishop of Canterbury conducted a 20-minute service, accompanied by the Abbey choir.

Although the Hall is unconsecrated ground, it nonetheless felt as if it were a church.

The hundreds of thousands of people who filed past over four days, until 6:30 a.m. on the morning of Monday, September 19, 2022, also respected it as such. The continuing silence was overwhelming in its beauty.

Although there are traditions relating to monarchs long ago, the Westminster Hall visitation is a relatively new one, as The Telegraph‘s Tim Stanley tells us:

The modern lying-in-state was invented in 1910, for the funeral of Edward VII. No tickets were issued; rich and poor queued in torrential rain. As the doors opened at Westminster Hall, a work girl was heard to cry, “They’re givin’ ’im back to us!”

When the ceremony was repeated for George V in 1936, cynics sneered at its elitist “pomp”. The writer G K Chesterton advised them to open a history book. In aiming to modernise royalty by bringing George’s body closer to the people, he said, the court turned the clock back to the Middle Ages, to when kingship was more personal and tangible. The coffin of a medieval sovereign was generally topped with a waxwork effigy, so that even the lowliest subject could see what he looked like.

The body of a monarch was, in a sense, sacred, transformed by coronation into an instrument of God. But, like Doubting Thomas, we need to see to believe. Hence even as monarchy became more absolutist over time, better convinced of its divine rights, the principal actors still felt the need to put on a show.

France’s monarchy was even more open than ours. The public could watch Louis XIV and his family at Versailles:

Louis XIV, the Sun King of France, rose every morning, washed, shaved and dressed in front of an audience of around 100 people. Anyone could come to see him at Versailles; all you needed to get in w[ere] a hat and a sword, and the concierge did a nice sideline in selling both. Tourists could watch the royal family going to chapel, eating, even playing cards – you could say Versailles was the Center Parcs of its day, though reviews were scathing about the pickpocketing and the smell. The palace did not benefit from modern plumbing. People relieved themselves in the corridors. There’s a story that Marie Antoinette once stepped out for a walk and a woman in the window above emptied a chamberpot over her head.

Returning to Westminster Hall last week, Stanley says:

Let’s call it what it is: a pilgrimage. The body has been returned to the people; the people have come to see it, drawn by belief, by spectacle or raw instinct. When I entered Westminster Hall, I saw at once that it was a shrine, marked by candles and shrouded in silence. Phones were banned.

Alone at the coffin, some bowed, some curtsied, some crossed themselves. These ritual gestures, observed Chesterton back in 1936, are “not only more serious but more spontaneous” than the “ghastly mummery of saying a few words” … The poverty of the 21st-century imagination betrays the dead and the living. Tradition honours with awe, and it provides those left behind with the language and actions to articulate the inexpressible.

The person who willingly submits to the ritual of the lying-in-state, argued Chesterton, “may not be an exceptional person but at least he understands what is meant by an exceptional occasion.” By contrast, the bright spark who stands above it all forfeits the wisdom of the crowd, and by rejecting history, discards a part of themselves, too – so that they are ignorant even of their own identity. Worse, they are without hope. If you believe, as we are encouraged to believe today, that death is it, the funeral is a “goodbye” that can’t even be heard by the deceased. But if you believe, as the late Queen did, that there is a life after this one, then the rite is a demonstration of faith that things will continue.

To inhabit a tradition means not only to participate in it but to pass it on. Its survival is a tribute to the perseverance of life itself. We will be told that all we’ve seen is old hat; we’ll be told that even if it was grand, Queen Elizabeth was its last shout. Well, they’ve said that a million times before, and yet here we are lining the streets, or crowding around the television, bearing witness to an ancient institution that has the audacity to claim its origin from King Solomon.

Bemusement? It renders clarity. Despair? It offers hope.

I will return to faith in a moment.

Also writing for The Telegraph, Christopher Howse described the ‘sacred mysteries’ surrounding royal ceremonies:

The lying-in-state of Queen Elizabeth, her coffin covered by the royal standard upon which rested the Imperial State Crown, made an argument hard to reduce to words. It argued for a constitutional monarchy and the ancient conventions surrounding it. Millions of people this week have quietly taken part in recognising that reality.

In religion, an old saw says: lex orandi lex credendi – the law of prayer is the law of belief. In other words, prayers and liturgy express implicit meanings behind them. Perform the rites and you learn what you believe.

Something similar operates in state ceremonial. I know that traditions are reinvented, and that the lying-in-state in Westminster Hall is little over a century old. But it incorporates remarkably old elements. In the Imperial State Crown, for example, is the sapphire of St Edward, said to have been part of the coronation ring of King Edward the Confessor, who came to the throne in 1042.

It is not too soon now … to consider the coronation of King Charles. There is antiquity here too, the inheritance of which should not be thrown away. The motet Zadok the Priest, for example, has been sung at every coronation since 973, for King Edgar. The words are based on the First Book of Kings (1:38): “Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king. And all the people rejoiced and said: God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King!”

… Some of my fears have been assuaged by the words of King Charles. He had once spoken of being the defender of faiths, rather than the faith of the Church of England implied by the abbreviations found on our coinage: FID DEF – fidei defensor. In his first address on coming to the throne, King Charles called the Church of England “the church in which my own faith is so deeply rooted”.

The Coronation takes place within the service of Holy Communion (even if films from 1953 omit images of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh receiving the Sacrament, as they did).

And, no matter what, we are better off with an established church in England than without one, precisely for these reasons:

Sometimes I find the Church of England annoying. Who doesn’t? But I’d rather have it as the Established Church than not … as the godly anointing of the head of state and supreme governor of the Church of England, the Coronation must retain the Christian elements that define it.

The only noise we heard was during the changing of the guard, which took place every 20 minutes. Unless one does it as a job, i.e. in front of one of the palaces, it is difficult to stand completely still in one place for much longer.

Lucy Denyer wrote an article for The Telegraph describing what an honour it was for her to see her husband as part of that guard:

My husband is – imperceptibly, infinitesimally – swaying. Backwards and forwards he goes, gently, so, so gently. Blink and you’d miss it; to all intents and purposes he is standing stock still, eyes front, unsmiling, upright. You’d only catch the tiny movement if you were looking very intently.

The rocking – forwards and backwards from the heel to the ball of the foot – keeps the blood flowing; stops him passing out. Watch really carefully and they’re all at it. 

The Queen herself also did that when standing for long periods of time. It does work.

She, too, commented on the silence:

Inside, under the bright lights hanging from the mediaeval beams, it is silent, bar the tapping of feet, the discreet click of an official photographer’s lens and once, the wail of a baby.

Suddenly comes the bang of sword on stone, the signal for the guard to change. It is precisely 12:20am and the four on the corners swing their swords in a graceful arc in perfect time, before making their careful way down the steps of the dais on which the late Queen’s catafalque stands …

My husband tells me afterwards that all he could think of, at this point, was not to trip, fall – and become a global meme.

She discussed the power of ritual and solemnity of a vigil:

A vigil can at once be grand or simple, awe-inspiring or strangely intimate – or all of those things – and Queen Elizabeth II’s is no exception. Ignore the velvet ropes and the electric lights – and the anoraks, trainers and clutched plastic bags – and this could be a moment from another time; it is timeless.

Soothing, too; the endless river of people filing by the coffin. Most slow, some bow, others curtsey, some blow kisses. Many linger after they have passed by, reluctant to leave this sanctuary that it has taken them so long to reach. Exhaustion is etched on faces; there is the odd dazed-looking child stumbling along between its parents.

Among this stream of awkward humanity, the officers on guard stand in marked contrast – statues, doing their duty. They have been practicing all week: their entrances and exits, their synchronised sword drills run through at home in spare half hours with umbrellas. Standing orders have been dusted off, breastplates refitted, helmets adjusted, boots polished. I have seen the pomp and ceremony hundreds of times, yet never carried out so silently; there is no shouting of orders in here.

The sword bangs once more; it is time to leave. On top of the coffin, the Black Prince’s Ruby suddenly flashes red. I pause, bow my head, say a prayer of thanks – for Her Majesty’s life, but also, in her death, to have been able to see this, to watch my husband carry out this enormous honour.

Returning to Windsor — and to God

After the Queen’s committal at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, Tim Stanley wrote a moving tribute for The Telegraph:

The Committal was a homecoming. To Windsor and to God.

This is one of England’s holiest spots, burial site of kings, church of the Order of the Garter, it once hosted a splinter of Christ’s cross. Its slender pillars are like the trunks of ash trees. 

Beneath its canopy of silver lattice, the coffin was borne to the quire and rested at the catafalque, to a setting of Psalm 121: “I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills.”

Then the choir sang the Russian contakion of the departed, also performed at the Duke’s funeral, a nod to the family’s Orthodox heritage. Absent a eulogy, it was the music that expressed Her Majesty’s character and convictions, including a motet arranged by Sir William Henry Harris who, it is believed, taught the young Princess Elizabeth how to play the piano. As a child, she could often be found in the organ loft listening to him play for the services down below, especially at Christmas.

The words by John Donne crystallised the message of the readings: “Bring us, O Lord God… into the house and gate of Heaven”, where there shall be no darkness “but one equal light”, no noise “but one equal music” and one “equal eternity”.

Put another way, Elizabeth II lived as a queen but, in death, she is a soul equal to any other, returned to God. In an age of atheism, when Christians are persecuted across the world, it’s remarkable that perhaps history’s largest ever TV audience was given over to a statement of unafraid Christian belief – and over the course of the Committal, one cleric after another expressed the vision of their church with utter clarity.

There is the reality of mortality, as described by the Dean of Windsor in Psalm 103: “The days of man are but grass… As soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone.”

There is the certainty of life after death, as stated in the prayers: “We rejoice at thy gracious promise to all thy servants, living and departed, that we shall rise again at the coming of our Saviour Jesus Christ.” And there is the vision of triumph at the end of times, as the Dean quoted from Revelation: “There shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying.”

This passage was read at the funerals of the Queen’s grandparents and father, casting us back over an unbroken line of succession.

There was no qualification in any of these words, no Thought for the Day “some might say, others will feel differently”, but instead pure hope rooted in unshakable faith. The Queen has died, but her story does not end. That’s true for the monarchy, as well

Finally, the coffin lowered into the ground as the Dean continued: “Go forth upon thy journey from this world, O Christian soul.” The Garter King of Arms proclaimed the late Queen’s titles; a bagpiper played a lament from the North Quire Aisle, slowly walking into the distance, till the figure and his tune became a ghost in the ash forest. You might say that physically we were in England, but spiritually we were in Balmoral.

And the congregation awoke from its reverie into a new era …

Later, of course, the family would say a very private farewell to Queen Elizabeth, and she would be laid next to her beloved husband – concluding a set of rites that, like Russian dolls, grew smaller and more precious in form

For the public, the emotional journey to this moment was intense. Over 10 days, the lying in state allowed us to participate in the Queen’s farewell and, let’s be honest, make it a little bit about us. How British were the queues, we said, how democratic the whole thing.

But at the Abbey and the Chapel, we saw what this was really all about: namely the late Queen, her precious traditions and the principles they exist to pass on. Ultimately, the Committal articulated love – for country, for family, for horses and dogs, all the things that make a life worth living.

The Church of England is preoccupied by church growth programmes.

They do not need that at all.

What they need is a continuous replay of the Queen’s four days in Westminster Hall, her funeral at Westminster Abbey and her committal service at St George’s Chapel.

My message to Anglican clerics is: build it and they will come.

————————————————-

It is not too late to send the Royal Family a message of condolence:

My better half and I were in London yesterday. Friends told us that floral tributes were still being laid in the relevant parks and at Windsor Castle.

It is good to see that mourners are still remembering our late monarch, especially as the Royal Family now have a chance to grieve in private for the next few days.

May God bless them on that difficult journey.

Long live the King.

Reflections on the Queen continue next week.

Shall we not call our late Queen Elizabeth the Good?

While everyone has been calling her Elizabeth the Great, historian David Starkey was right to point out last week on GB News that ‘the Great’ belongs to rulers who won great wars.

Our Queen has also been referred to as Elizabeth the Dutiful and Elizabeth the Faithful.

Yet, it seems we should find a monosyllabic word.

Therefore, Elizabeth the Good seems fitting.

Someone on GB News suggested that very briefly, and only once. It is a good suggestion.

Yesterday’s post was about the Queen’s state funeral in London, the first since Winston Churchill’s in 1965.

Monday, September 19 concluded with her committal service at St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle.

The funeral cortege left London for Windsor, where the public viewing area was full of mourners. You could hear a pin drop.

The procession was smaller and made its way up the Long Walk to the castle.

The Queen’s favourite pony stood quietly on the side to watch his mistress pass by one last time. Her two corgis were nearby and able to watch it. They were very well behaved. Do animals sense death? It would seem so.

Prince Andrew is now the keeper of the corgis.

The Times reported (emphases mine):

The Queen’s corgis waited in the Quadrant at Windsor Castle as the funeral procession made its way to St George’s Chapel.

Muick and Sandy — one on a red lead and one on a blue lead — were brought out on to the steps by two pages in red tailcoats for the arrival of the Queen’s coffin.

Emma, the Queen’s fell pony, was standing in a gap in the floral tributes lining the Long Walk as the procession moved towards the castle. Emma was among the Queen’s favourites and is said to be still going strong at 24 years old.

The two corgis will now be looked after by the Duke of York and his ex-wife Sarah, Duchess of York.

Muick (pron. ‘Mick’) is named for one of Prince Philip’s favourite places in Scotland, Loch Muick.

This video shows the crowds, the procession and her favourite animals:

The pallbearers carefully carried the Queen’s casket, which, as it is lined with lead, weighs around 700 pounds. An even procession upwards mandates that all the pallbearers be the same height. The officer in charge gave them instructions on negotiating the steps of St George’s Chapel as they progressed:

Around 800 invited mourners filled the chapel. That said, this was a more private service for those who live and work on the estate as well as for foreign royals, other dignitaries and for members of the military.

The Order of Service for the Committal is here:

The service began at 4:08 p.m., eight minutes later than scheduled. The procession in London took slightly longer than anticipated.

Senior members of the Royal Family, including young Prince George and Prince Charlotte, processed behind the casket in the chapel.

The full service is below. Access it via their tweet:

My far better half preferred the Committal Service to the one in the Abbey because it dealt with her instruments of state and her being lowered into the vault at the end.

I immediately noted the more modern English used in the prayers and the spoken readings.

Highlights of the service follow.

The pallbearers brought the Queen’s casket up in front of the altar, over the lift that would take her down into the vault at the end. This also happened at Prince Philip’s funeral:

The minister from Crathie Kirk near Balmoral joined the Chapel clergy and the Archbishop of Canterbury:

The service will be conducted by the Right Reverend David Connor, Dean of Windsor, with prayers said by the Rector of Sandringham, the Minister of Crathie Kirk and the Chaplain of Windsor Great Park and the blessing pronounced by the Lord Archbishop of Canterbury, The Most Reverend Justin Welby.

The Choir of St George’s Chapel will sing during the Service, conducted by Director of Music James Vivian.

The choir sang Psalm 121:

I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills: from whence cometh my help.
My help cometh even from the Lord: who hath made heaven and earth.
He will not suffer thy foot to be moved:
and he that keepeth thee will not sleep.
Behold, he that keepeth Israel: shall neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord himself is thy keeper: the Lord is thy defence upon thy right hand;
So that the sun shall not burn thee by day: neither the moon by night.
The Lord shall preserve thee from all evil:
yea, it is even he that shall keep thy soul.
The Lord shall preserve thy going out, and thy coming in:
from this time forth for evermore.

Then the choir sang The Russian Kontakion for the Departed, also sung at Prince Philip’s funeral in 2021. He had been raised Greek Orthodox.

The musical arrangement was the Kiev Melody, in a nod to Ukraine.

These are the lyrics:

Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy Saints:
where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting.
Thou only art immortal, the Creator and Maker of man:
And we are mortal, formed of the earth, and unto earth shall we return:
For so thou didst ordain, when thou createdst me, saying,
Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
All we go down to the dust; and, weeping o’er the grave we make our song:
Alleluya, alleluya, alleluya.
Give rest, O Christ, to thy servant with thy Saints:
Where sorrow and pain are no more; neither sighing but life everlasting.

The Dean of Windsor recited the Bidding Prayer:

We have come together to commit into the hands of God the soul of his servant Queen Elizabeth. Here, in St George’s Chapel, where she so often worshipped, we are bound to call to mind someone whose uncomplicated yet profound Christian Faith bore so much fruit. Fruit, in a life of unstinting service to the Nation, the Commonwealth and the wider world, but also (and especially to be remembered in this place) in kindness, concern and reassuring care for her family and friends and neighbours. In the midst of our rapidly changing and frequently troubled world, her calm and dignified presence has given us confidence to face the future, as she did, with courage and with hope. As, with grateful hearts, we reflect on these and all the many other ways in which her long life has been a blessing to us, we pray that God will give us grace to honour her memory by following her example, and that, with our sister Elizabeth, at the last, we shall know the joys of life eternal.

The Dean of Windsor, who is also the Register of the Most Noble Order of the Garter, for it is at St George’s Chapel where the Garter ceremonies are conducted, read Revelation 21.1-7:

I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I, John, saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.

The minister of Crathie Kirk participated in the clergy prayers. These included one for the Royal Family and another for the Queen and her fellow Companions of the Order of the Garter:

Lord God Almighty, King of creation, bless our King and all Members of the Royal Family. May godliness be their guidance, may sanctity be their strength, may peace on earth be the fruit of their labours, and their joy in heaven thine eternal gift; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God save our gracious Sovereign and all the Companions, living and departed, of the Most Honourable and Noble Order of the Garter. Amen.

The choir sang the prayer from John Donne that was also part of the Westminster Abbey service.

Then the drama began. I cannot think of a better word, so, please excuse me.

The Telegraph describes how the Queen’s instruments of state were ceremonially removed from her coffin and placed on the altar. This was written beforehand, hence the future tense:

Queen Elizabeth II will finally part company with the Imperial State Crown, orb and sceptre as the final hymn is sung at her committal ceremony, in what is likely to be one of the most moving moments of today’s funeral

They will only be removed in the final moments before the public sees its last images of the monarch’s coffin.

Before the final hymn is sung in St George’s Chapel during the ceremony that begins at 4pm today, Mark Appleby, the Crown Jeweller, will remove the crown, orb and sceptre from the coffin, with the help of the Bargemaster and the Serjeants-at-Arms – royal servants who guard the regalia during state occasions. They will pass them one by one to the Dean of Windsor, who will place them on the high altar.

While the crown represents the sovereign’s power over her subjects, the orb, made up of a cross above a globe, represents Christ’s earthly dominion and symbolises the monarch’s status as God’s mortal representative. The sceptre, which holds the world’s largest cut diamond, the Cullinan I, represents equity and mercy. They will be presented to the King at his coronation in 2023.

They are now back safely at the Tower of London.

Watching this ceremony, I was reminded of 1 Timothy 6:7:

For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.

Each instrument of state had its own purple cushion on the altar. The orb has a golden spike on the bottom to keep it anchored. Its cushion is specially designed with a metal recipient in the centre.

King Charles then had a role to play. He was sitting where the Queen used to sit.

He rose and stood before his mother’s coffin to:

place a military flag on top of the coffin which, according to the Army, will be placed inside her coffin before she is interred.

The Grenadier Guards Queen’s Company Camp Colour – a small flag which normally adorns the Company Captain’s bunk designating his place of work – is unique to each sovereign and ceases to be used when they die

The Grenadier Guards are the most senior of the Foot Guards regiments, and the Queen was their Colonel in Chief.

The full-sized version of the flag was draped at the foot of the Queen’s coffin as she lay in state.

After that took place, the King took his place and the Lord Chamberlain, the Royal household’s most senior member, broke his wand of office and placed it on top of the coffin. The wand is designed such that there is a break point in the middle, surrounded by metal on either side.

The Lord Chamberlain broke his wand because, with the Queen’s death, his work has now ended — unless the King decides to reappoint him.

Here are photos of the instruments of state, King and the Lord Chamberlain:

The Queen’s coffin was then lowered into the vault (see the 1:42:00 point in the Royal Family video). The complete lowering is never shown to the public.

While that took place, the Dean of Windsor recited Psalm 103:13-17 in traditional language:

Like as a father pitieth his own children:
even so is the Lord merciful unto them that fear him.
For he knoweth whereof we are made:
he remembereth that we are but dust.
The days of man are but as grass:
for he flourisheth as a flower of the field.
For as soon as the wind goeth over it, it is gone:
and the place thereof shall know it no more.
But the merciful goodness of the Lord endureth for ever and ever
upon them that fear him:
and his righteousness upon children’s children.

He then recited a committal prayer, again in traditional language:

Go forth upon thy journey from this world,
O Christian soul;
In the name of God the Father Almighty who created thee;
In the name of Jesus Christ who suffered for thee;
In the name of the Holy Spirit who strengtheneth thee.
In communion with the blessèd saints,
and aided by Angels and Archangels,
and all the armies of the heavenly host,
may thy portion this day be in peace,
and thy dwelling in the heavenly Jerusalem.
Amen.

Then, the Queen’s Piper, Pipe Major James M. Banks — the one who played the lament at Westminster Abbey — appeared in a side aisle to play another lament.

As he was ending, viewers could see him pass the doorway near the altar and vanish as the pipes faded away into silence.

You won’t want to miss this:

The service was about to end but not before the Dean prayed for the King:

Let us humbly beseech Almighty God to bless with long life, health and honour, and all worldly happiness the Most High, Most Mighty and Most Excellent Monarch, our Sovereign Lord, now, by the Grace of God, of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and of His other Realms and Territories King, Head of the Commonwealth, Defender of the Faith, and Sovereign of the Most Noble Order of the Garter. God Save The King.

The Archbishop of Canterbury gave the blessing:

Go forth into the world in peace;
Be of good courage, hold fast that which is good,
render to no one evil for evil; strengthen the fainthearted,
support the weak, help the afflicted, honour all people,
love and serve the Lord, rejoicing in the power of the Holy Spirit;
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be among you and remain with you always. Amen.

The congregation sang one verse of the National Anthem.

They then processed out in order:

All remain standing as The King and The Queen Consort, preceded by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York and accompanied by the Dean of Windsor, move to the Galilee Porch. At the Galilee Porch the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Windsor take their leave.

Other members of the Royal Family, escorted by the Canons of Windsor, move to the Galilee Porch, where the Canons, the Archbishop of York, the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Dean of Windsor take their leave.

Members of Foreign Royal Families, Governors Generals and Realm Prime Ministers, escorted by Gentlemen Ushers, move to the West Doors.

The Choir and Succentor leave the Quire by way of the Organ Screen. The Clergy leave by way of the North Quire Gate. The Congregation sits.

His Majesty’s Body Guard of the Honourable Corps of Gentlemen at Arms and The King’s Body Guard of the Yeomen of the Guard move by way of the Centre Aisle, the North Nave Aisle and the North Quire Aisle to the Cloisters.

The Congregation will be asked by the Stewards and the Ushers to leave the Chapel.

However, the day was not yet finished for the Queen’s children.

At 7:30 p.m., they returned to enter the tiny King George VI Memorial Chapel, which holds only six people maximum, to inter their beloved mother and father:

whose coffins will be moved from the royal vault to be interred alongside the Queen’s parents and her sister Princess Margaret.

According to Royal experts, George VI often said to his wife and daughters before the Queen married, ‘It’s only the four of us’.

Here is a family portrait of them with the Duke of Edinburgh:

With the interment came the end of Operation London Bridge, which went brilliantly. It is likely to have been the first and the last occasion of its kind.

Well, the Queen was the first and last of her kind, too:

The Royal Family have another week of mourning. Until now, they have had no chance to grieve privately:

Visitors to Royal palaces should be aware that some exhibitions and tours will be closed, some for the rest of the year:

In closing, many of us will feel like this corgi, rather bereft:

My next post will analyse the significance of the funeral services and the past two weeks.

The Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity is on September 18, 2022.

Readings for Year C can be found here.

As Queen Elizabeth II will be buried on Monday, September 19, and as Charles III is our new King, today’s exegesis will be on the Epistle, which is relevant to monarchs and others in authority.

May our beloved monarch rest in peace and rise in glory.

Long live the King.

The Epistle is as follows (emphases mine):

1 Timothy 2:1-7

2:1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone,

2:2 for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity.

2:3 This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior,

2:4 who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2:5 For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human,

2:6 who gave himself a ransom for all–this was attested at the right time.

2:7 For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Paul wrote this letter to Timothy to help him come to grips with the issues besetting the church in Ephesus.

John MacArthur explains that the attitude of the congregation was becoming rather exclusive:

If we read through the epistle and if we examine it as we have in the past for the errors that are here, we will be reminded that there were Jews apparently in the church at Ephesus who were claiming that only law-keeping Jews or those who were sort of proselytes to the keeping of the law could be accepted by God. There was a Judaizing element, and that’s apparent in chapter 1 from verse 7 through 11. There were those who were advocating law keeping as the means of salvation. And that was an exclusiveness that said salvation isn’t for everybody. It’s for those who come within the framework of maintaining the Jewish law.

Also, we note that in this Ephesian assembly there was the Gentile exclusivism that grew out of that old philosophy that later became known as gnosticism, which philosophy said salvation only belongs to the elite initiated exclusive people who have reached a level of knowledge, who have tuned in to the various mediators and sub-gods and eons and angelic beings that line up between man and God. So the Jewish people would be saying salvation’s only for those who keep the Jewish law. And the Gentiles might be saying salvation’s only for those who are in the know, who are the gnostics, the ones who know – it’s from the Greek verb to know – who are in the know, that elite group of people who have ascended to another level in some mystical experience with spirits which they believe to be good spirits, which Paul points out to be demons.

So there was an exclusivism that had come to be in the church at Ephesus. Because of this, there was severe error in the doctrine of salvation which becomes the final note of the whole epistle, where he closes out in verse 21 of chapter 6 by saying they have erred concerning the faith. The greatest error was an error in the matter of the extent of salvation. One group saying it’s only for those Jews who are in the know in terms of the Jewish law. The others, it’s only for that one small group of people who are in the know in terms of mystical understanding. Everybody else is left out.

Therefore, Paul urges Timothy to make sure, as a priority, that the Ephesians’ prayers are for everyone — including those outside the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

Timothy must take care that this be done. Paul does not send him any prescribed form of prayer, as we have reason to think he would if he had intended that ministers should be tied to that way of praying; but, in general, that they should make supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks: supplications for the averting of evil, prayers for the obtaining of good, intercessions for others, and thanksgivings for mercies already received. Paul thought it enough to give them general heads; they, having the scripture to direct them in prayer and the Spirit of prayer poured out upon them, needed not any further directions … There must be prayers for ourselves in the first place; this is implied here. We must also pray for all men, for the world of mankind in general, for particular persons who need or desire our prayers. See how far the Christian religion was from being a sect, when it taught men this diffusive charity, to pray, not only for those of their own way, but for all men.

MacArthur has more about what Paul is urging Timothy to do:

Because you have a charge, because you have a commission, because all of this has been confirmed in the church through the prophets as we saw, because all of this is set on your shoulders, therefore, Timothy, get at it. And here’s what I urge you, and then he uses this phrase “first of all.” Here’s what I urge you first of all. And you might ask the question I asked, why is this first? I’ll tell you why. What is the primary objective of the church? What are we in the world for? Listen, if the primary objective of the church is fellowship, where would we be? In heaven cause we’d have perfect fellowship there and none of you could mess it up. If the primary objective of the church was knowledge of the Word of God, we might as well go to heaven. We’ll have perfect knowledge there, and I won’t be able to mess it up with anything that I might say that isn’t quite accurate.

No, see, the purpose of the church in the world today is to reach the lost. And so the priority begins at that point.

Paul includes as ‘everyone’ kings and all who are in positions of authority so that people may lead quiet and peacable lives in all godliness and dignity (verse 2).

Henry explains:

Pray for kings (v. 2); though the kings at this time were heathens, enemies to Christianity, and persecutors of Christians, yet they must pray for them, because it is for the public good that there should be civil government, and proper persons entrusted with the administration of it, for whom therefore we ought to pray, yea, though we ourselves suffer under them. For kings, and all that are in authority, that is, inferior magistrates: we must pray for them, and we must give thanks for them, pray for their welfare and for the welfare of their kingdoms, and therefore must not plot against them, that in the peace thereof we may have peace, and give thanks for them and for the benefit we have under their government, that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty. Here see what we must desire for kings, that God will so turn their hearts, and direct them and make use of them, that we under them may lead a quiet and peaceable life. He does not say, “that we may get preferments under them, grow rich, and be in honour and power under them;” no, the summit of the ambition of a good Christian is to lead a quiet and peaceable life, to get through the world unmolested in a low private station. We should desire that we and others may lead a peaceable life in all godliness and honesty, implying that we cannot expect to be kept quiet and peaceable unless we keep in all godliness and honesty. Let us mind our duty, and then we may expect to be taken under the protection both of God and the government. In all godliness and honesty. Here we have our duty as Christians summed up in two words: godliness, that is, the right worshipping of God; and honesty, that is, a good conduct towards all men. These two must go together; we are not truly honest if we are not godly, and do not render to God his due; and we are not truly godly if we are not honest, for God hates robbery for burnt-offering … 4. All men, yea, kings themselves, and those who are in authority, are to be prayed for. They want our prayers, for they have many difficulties to encounter, many snares to which their exalted stations expose them. 5. In praying for our governors, we take the most likely course to lead a peaceable and quiet life. The Jews at Babylon were commanded to seek the peace of the city whither the Lord had caused them to be carried captives, and to pray to the Lord for it; for in the peace thereof they should have peace, Jer 29 7. 6. If we would lead a peaceable and quiet life, we must live in all godliness and honesty; we must do our duty to God and man.

MacArthur also lays importance on leading quiet Christian lives for everyone’s benefit:

Now I want to expand on this because I don’t think this is a well understood thought. In 1 Thessalonians we have a similar word, chapter 4 verse 11, where Paul says, “That we are to study” – that is to be diligent – “to be quiet.” We are not to be rabble rousers. If we are known for anything, we are known for our quiet demeanor. We do not make disturbances. We do not disrupt society as such, that is not our intent, that is not our overt effort. “We are to be quiet,” he says, “do your own business, work with your own hands as we commanded you in order that you may walk honestly toward them that are outside” – the unbelievers. They ought to see us as quiet diligent faithful people. Second Thessalonians 3 also speaks to the same matter. We hear, he says in verse 11 that, “There are some who walk among you disorderly, working not at all.” They’re indigent; they are unemployed; they don’t do as they ought. “They’re busybodies. Command them and exhort them by the Lord Jesus Christ that with quietness they work and eat their own bread.”

Now listen, beloved, the church, Paul is saying, is never to be the political agitator. It is never to be seen as the perceivable enemy to national security or national peace. That is not our role. We are to seek to make all the people around us whatever their viewpoint politically, whatever their viewpoint philosophically, we are to seek to make them friends by praying for them rather than enemies by hating them and rejecting them. And sometimes that’s difficult, because when we’re raised in a very clearly defined Christian environment, we tend not only to hate the evil system, but we tend to see all the people in it as our enemies. And so we grow bitter against those who deny the life that we believe is so right. The church even today, I’m sure, in the United States is seen by many as an agitating political force endeavoring to disrupt things in our country.

Now I want you to understand what the Scripture is saying in light of that. Christians are to be model citizens. That doesn’t mean we’re indifferent or apathetic or don’t have an opinion. But we are to be model citizens in every way. We are to be a blessing and a benediction to everyone around us. We are to pray for the salvation of everyone. And if they know us, they should know the church not as a strong political lobby group, not as a powerful group with money moving through society for its own ends. They are to know us as quiet peace-loving people who are constantly committed to praying for the salvation of those who are outside.

We are to submit to the authority over us and more than just submit to it, we are to pray for the salvation of those very people. If we do that, if the church in this country was just banded together in spirit, covenanting together to pray for the lost in our nation and to pray for our rulers and pray for our leaders and not engage in power kind of efforts and power kind of moves and power kind of politics to overturn things and eliminate people and get rid of people, but rather pray for their salvation, we would never be accused or even suspected of disloyalty. Nor would anybody miss the point of our existence. And we would be more likely to be allowed to worship and evangelize without fear or restriction and thus to live our lives in a quiet and tranquil way.

Paul tells Timothy that God finds this exhortation right and acceptable (verse 3) because He wants everyone to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (verse 4).

MacArthur gives us his analysis of verse 3, referring to the Greek manuscript:

This is a powerful, powerful truth. We are to pray for the lost, one, because it’s good; it’s right; it’s morally excellent. Two, it is consistent with God’s will. We are to pray for the lost because it is consistent with God’s will. Notice verse 3, “This is good and” – here it comes – “acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” It is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior who wills all men to be saved. It is the will of God that men be saved. It’s consistent with His will.

The word acceptable, which is also used in a similar phrase in chapter 5 verse 4, has the idea – it’s a very rich word. It’s not just to receive – dechomai. It’s apodechomai. It means to applaud, it means to gladly receive, to accept with satisfaction, to heartily welcome. It’s a very warm word. It is to say the Lord gladly anxiously eagerly with applause and satisfaction and joy receives this. This is what He wants, the salvation of the world. So praying for all the world is really gladly received by God. He applauds that kind of praying. He accepts it heartily because it is consistent with His character.

And what do you mean by that? Well notice it in verse 3, “This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our” – creator. Is that what it says? No, “God our” – what? – “Savior.” It’s consistent with who He is. It’s consistent with His nature, with His character.

MacArthur wisely clarifies the diference between these verses and John 17, where Jesus did not pray for the world. He did pray for the world but not for the sinful world’s success:

Let’s look at John 17:9, and I thought of this and I brought it in because I didn’t want anybody finding that verse and saying, “Wait, this confuses me.” Why in John 17:9 does Jesus say to the Father in His high priestly prayer, “I pray for them” – that is for the disciples, those who You have given to Me, My own disciples – “I pray not for the world, but for them whom Thou hast given Me, for they are Thine”? And somebody would say, well Jesus didn’t pray for the whole world. He says right here I don’t pray for the world. And you know something? That’s right – in this particular case, He said, “I don’t pray for the world.”

What did He mean by that? Well that’s the whole point. Does that mean God doesn’t love the world? Well in John 3:16, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” Now the whole point of the verse is He gave His only begotten Son to fulfill His love, so God loves the whole world. First John 2:2 says He is the covering for our sin and not for ours only but for the sins of the whole world. So God loves the whole world, gave a Savior to the whole world, a covering for sin is offered to the whole world, why does He say, “I pray not for the world?” And isn’t Jesus’ mission to go to the whole world? Didn’t He say preach the gospel to every creature? Yes. Why in verse 9 does He say, “I pray not for the world?”

That’s very simple. What He is saying here is I’m not praying for the world’s success as the world. You understand that? The cosmos, the evil Satanic system. What He means is, I’m not praying that the world succeed. I’m praying for the disciples to succeed in winning the world, not for the world to succeed in stopping them. He can’t pray for His own and pray for the world which is the enemy.

MacArthur discusses God’s desire to save and mankind’s coming to the knowledge of the truth in verse 4:

The word knowledge here is epignōsis. It means a deep full rich and complete knowledge and that is the knowledge of true salvation. It is used four times in these pastoral epistles. In 2 Timothy 3:7 it talks about people who have a form of godliness but no reality who are ever learning but never able to come to the knowledge of the truth – same word. And in Titus 1:1, comparing faith and knowledge, both elements of salvation, again he refers to the knowledge of the truth. So what he is saying here is, it is God’s will that all men be saved and salvation comes through the true deep knowledge of saving truth, the gospel, the work of Christ.

And this may be an answer to some Jews who were saying God willed the damnation of heretics. There were Jews who believed that God willed the damnation of Gentiles in general. And then there was that gnostic/pre-gnostic view that God must have willed the damnation of all the non-elite, the people who never attained mystical knowledge. And he takes issue with that. And he says, “Listen, God wills because He is by nature a Savior that all men would be saved through coming to the full knowledge of saving truth in Jesus Christ.”

And I want to close by talking about the word will and I want you to listen carefully. What kind of will is this? Because somebody looks at this verse and says, oh, God will have all men to be saved. I’ll tell you one thing, God gets what He wants. He’s in charge. Therefore universalism is taught. That is that ultimately everybody will be saved because that’s God’s will. It says so right here. Other people say, no, no, no, no. The Bible teaches hell and the Bible teaches that people are going to be there forever, so some people aren’t going to go to heaven. Therefore when it says God will have all men to be saved. It doesn’t mean all men, just means some men. Because after all, God’s got to get what He wants and He can’t save everybody because hell’s there and some people are there. So He’s got to save all the people that He wants to save. Therefore He doesn’t want to save all people. All doesn’t mean all; it must means some.

Paul says that there is one God and also one mediator between God and mankind: Christ Jesus, Himself human (verse 5).

MacArthur says:

… here we get into a profound argument on the part of Paul, the third element in his reason for evangelistic praying is that it is reflective of God’s nature as one God. It is reflective of God’s nature as one God. Notice verse 5, “For there is one God” – or, “For God is one.” There’s only one God … As it says in 1 Corinthians 8, an idol is zero. An idol is nothing. If you want to spend your life worshiping nothing, that’s your privilege. But that’s folly. God is one. There’s only one God. In Isaiah 44:6 God said it as clearly as it could be said, “I am the first and I am the last, and beside Me there’s no other.” That covers the ground.

And that’s why you see Mark 12:29 to 31 says, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one, therefore you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.” Why? You can give all your heart, all your mind, all your soul, all your strength to God, because there’s nobody else to give it to. There’s only one. So you love that one God with all the capacity you have to love and worship.

Now this unity of God, the Lord our God is one, the Shema of Deuteronomy 6 is the central truth in all the Old Testament Scripture. As over against the polytheism of the nations surrounding Israel – many gods, many God’s – Israel stood for one God. Now this is Paul’s point. There’s only one God. What do you mean by that? What he means is if there were many gods then there would be many ways of salvation. Right? And isn’t that what the people in the world teach today? Sure. I mean, the world says, “Well, there’s a god for these people and these people and as long as you’re sincere, it’s going to be okay. Every god has his way, every god has his means of salvation.” So if there are many gods, then there are many ways of salvation. And if that’s true, there’s no need for evangelism. Right? You don’t need evangelism. Everybody’s got their own way; leave them alone. They’ll come home wagging their tails behind them. It will all work out in the end.

But Paul says since there is only one God and one Savior God, then that one God stands in the same relationship to all men in relationship to Salvation. If there is one God and that one God is the Savior and that one God desires all men to be saved, then He is the God of all in whom all must believe if all are to be saved, therefore we must pray for all. Since the God of all men wants all men to be saved, prayer for all men is consistent with His nature. The foundation then, beloved, of the universality of the gospel is bound up in the oneness of God. Listen to Romans 3 as Paul begins to delineate the gospel in verse 29, he said, “Is He the God of the Jews only? Is He not also of the nations? Yes, of the nations also. Seeing He is one God” – there’s only one God. Therefore all men must come to the same God, therefore all men must hear the same way, and therefore we must pray for all men. There’s only one God. And it is the unity of God that justifies the universal scope of evangelism.

Of Jesus Christ as Mediator, MacArthur explains:

There is not only one God, but there is “one mediator between God and men.” And the Greek text says “man” – no article – “man Christ Jesus.” A better way to translate that to get the intent of the Greek would be, “There is one God and one mediator between God and man, Christ Jesus Himself man.” Now here we find the consistency with the person of Christ. How many mediators are there? One. So we can’t say, “Well, there are lots of ways to heaven,” like the Bahai people say, lots of doors; you can go this way, that way; you can follow this leader, that leader, this leader. No, there’s only one. And we’re back to the same thing. One God, one mediator, one way of salvation, therefore we pray for the whole world. God wants the whole world saved and the only way they can be saved is through that one mediator to that one God.

In Job chapter 9 we are introduced to the concept of a mediator as Job cries out in the midst of his distress. And he says in verse 32 in wanting to communicate with God, he says, “For He is not a man as I am that I should answer Him and we should come together in judgment.” He says I don’t know how to get to God. He’s not a man. I can’t just communicate with Him. We can’t sit down and work this thing out. And then in verse 33, “Neither is there any mediator between us.” He uses the word daysman, which is a word for an arbiter or an umpire or a mediator. “There’s no mediator between us” – listen to this – “that might lay his hand on both of us.” And here was Job in the middle of his distress crying out, “Where is somebody who can put his hand on God and his hand on me and bring us together?” Well, that cry is answered in Christ. Isn’t it? Christ is that mesitēs, that mediator, that go between, that one who intervenes between two for the purpose of restoring peace and friendship or of ratifying a covenant, making a promise, forming a compact. And there’s only one mediator. Listen to that, only one.

There is only one mediator, just one that is the daysman who puts His hand on both God and man and brings them together. And it is Christ Jesus, man Himself – or Himself man. And the word for man here is the word anthrōpos. We get anthropology from it. It is the generic word for man. Anēr is the word for male … But here is the generic word. He became man. He was God always. He became man. He is the perfect God-man. As such He takes God and man and brings them together. And so Christ Jesus is that mediator.

The Anglican 1662 Book of Common Prayer has the following intercession in the liturgy for Holy Communion. It follows the first five verses of today’s reading. Of course, the priest is now praying for King Charles, but, until two Sundays ago, the prayer went as follows:

Let us pray for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant here in earth.

Almighty and everliving God, who by thy holy Apostle hast taught us to make prayers and supplications, and to give thanks, for all men: We humbly beseech thee most mercifully [*to accept our alms and oblations, and] to receive these our prayers, which we offer unto thy Divine Majesty; beseeching thee to inspire continually the universal Church with the spirit of truth, unity, and concord: And grant, that all they that do confess thy holy Name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity, and godly love. We beseech thee also to save and defend all Christian Kings, Princes, and Governors; and specially thy servant ELIZABETH our Queen; that under her we may be godly and quietly governed: And grant unto her whole Council, and to all that are put in authority under her, that they may truly and indifferently minister justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue. Give grace, O heavenly Father, to all Bishops and Curates, that they may both by their life and doctrine set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments: And to all thy people give thy heavenly grace; and specially to this congregation here present; that, with meek heart and due reverence, they may hear, and receive thy holy Word; truly serving thee in holiness and righteousness all the days of their life. And we most humbly beseech thee of thy goodness, O Lord, to comfort and succour all them, who in this transitory life are in trouble, sorrow, need, sickness, or any other adversity. And we also bless thy holy Name for all thy servants departed this life in thy faith and fear; beseeching thee to give us grace so to follow their good examples, that with them we may be partakers of thy heavenly kingdom: Grant this, O Father, for Jesus Christ‘s sake, our only Mediator and Advocate. Amen.

One can see how this prayer fulfils Paul’s instruction to Timothy.

Paul impresses upon Timothy the work of Christ’s crucifixion, a ransom for all, attested at the right time (verse 6).

I prefer the King James Version which says ‘due time’ and makes more sense:

Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

Henry says:

As the mercy of God extends itself to all his works, so the mediation of Christ extends itself thus far to all the children of men that he paid a price sufficient for the salvation of all mankind; he brought mankind to stand upon new terms with God, so that they are not now under the law as a covenant of works, but as a rule of life. They are under grace; not under the covenant of innocence, but under a new covenant: He gave himself a ransom. Observe, The death of Christ was a ransom, a counter-price. We deserved to have died. Christ died for us, to save us from death and hell; he gave himself a ransom voluntarily, a ransom for all; so that all mankind are put in a better condition than that of devils. He died to work out a common salvation: in order hereunto, he put himself into the office of Mediator between God and man. A mediator supposes a controversy. Sin had made a quarrel between us and God; Jesus Christ is a Mediator who undertakes to make peace, to bring God and man together, in the nature of an umpire or arbitrator, a days-man who lays his hand upon u both, Job 9 33. He is a ransom that was to be testified in due time; that is, in the Old-Testament times, his sufferings and the glory that should follow were spoken of as things to be revealed in the last times, 1 Pet 1 10, 11.

MacArthur explains substutionary atonement, i.e. Christ dying so that we would not have to endure eternal death:

Go back again to verse 6. Speaking of Christ Jesus who was man as well as God and brought God and man together, it says, “Who gave” – and that word is loaded with content. He gave. John 10:18, Jesus said, “No man takes My life from Me, I” – what? – I lay it down by Myself” – voluntarily. “Who gave” – and what did He give? – “Himself.” Not a portion of Himself, not something He possessed, not something He owned, not something He really didn’t need, He gave everything. That’s the totality of it. Christ Jesus voluntarily gave totally Himself, “as a ransom for all.”

Now the word ransom here is just loaded with meaning. It is not the simple word for ransom, which is lutron. It is antilutron and there’s a huper preposition connected with it in the phrase. And it just fills up the meaning. It’s not a simple word for ransom where somebody’s kidnapped, you go pay a ransom, you get him back. It is the idea of a substitutionary ransom. You put yourself there and free that person by your own enslavement. It is as if a father was receiving a note about a kidnapped child and the note demanded that he go and become the kidnapped person for the freedom of his beloved child. Christ becomes the victim that we might be set free. So it is more than the simple word ransom which means the priced pay for the release of a slave. It is the idea of an exchange. Christ exchanged His life for our lives. He died our death. He bore our sin. He took our place. He gave Himself totally as a substitutionary payment for our sin.

For whom did He do this? He was a ransom for all. Would you just circle that? That’s the point here. Did Christ die for a few? He died for all. That’s what it says. And that’s Paul’s key idea. He is not here, by the way, intending to give a complex treatment on the theology of the atonement. He is not here trying to emphasize all that could be said about the substitutionary ransom of Jesus Christ. His point here is the all. What he wants you to understand is that Christ who is the one mediator came to do a work on the cross in behalf of man and God that would provide a ransom for all men.

Paul puts his stamp of authority on these verses by saying that he was appointed for this work as a herald and apostle, confirming that he is telling the truth and that he is a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and in truth (verse 7).

MacArthur addresses this verse as follows:

In other words, he’s saying what in the world am I doing if this thing isn’t for everybody?

The word preacher is from the verb form kērussō. It has to do with a herald, a proclaimer, a public speaker. In those days they didn’t watch television, didn’t read books, didn’t have newspapers. Basically if you had an announcement, you went into the city square and you made your announcement. It was the time of hot communication. It was a time when you verbalized. The herald went around and made all the announcements the people needed to have and communication was out in the open and people preached in the open and they taught in the open and philosophers spoke in the open and opinions were given in the open. And Paul became one of those open-air preachers, one of those public heralds proclaiming the gospel of Christ. And what he is saying is, why I was ordained by God to go out and publicly proclaim a gospel that if limited belies my very calling. And then I was called not only to be a herald but an apostle. And the word there is – has reference to one being sent as a messenger. Here I am an apostle to the nations, here I am a messenger from city to city and nation to nation, publicly heralding the gospel of Christ. What am I doing if this isn’t applicable to everybody?

He says, “I speak the truth in Christ, I lie not.” You know that I’ve been called as a herald to publicly proclaim. You know I’ve been called as a messenger to extend the truth of saving grace as far and wide as God allows me. As a herald I speak publicly. As a missionary I reach all I can reach. And you know this is the truth and I’m not lying. You know that’s my calling, he’s saying. You know that’s my ordination. And there may be a little bit of rebuttal in his saying that because there might be some in the church that would sort of take issue with the strength of his conclusions here and he reminds them that he’s speaking the truth.

And then he says in the end of verse 7 also, “I am a teacher of the nations in faith” – that is the faith, content – “and verity” – that is sincerity of heart. I’m one who teaches with right content and a right heart of sincerity. And I’m a teacher of the nations. The word the nations is key – ought to underline that. That’s the key idea. I’ve been sent to the nations, to the nations of the world. And I’m supposed to publicly proclaim to all of these people that Jesus saves and that Christ is a ransom for all and call them to salvation. How can I do that if that’s not true? There’s an integrity problem here, he says. I mean, I’ve been ordained for this. In fulfilling the Great Commission, Mark 16:15, to preach the gospel to every creature. Paul says with the faith, the content, and a sincere heart, I go out to speak the truth.

And beloved, I really believe this is a powerful, powerful statement on the mission responsibility of the church for the world. We are called to world missions. Why? Because it is the will of God that all men be saved. Why? Because there’s only one God for them all, and there’s only one mediator for them all who died for them all. And we are called as preachers and missionaries to reach them all. And how could we ever believe for a moment that we were saying something that isn’t true if He did not die for all and if God did not will that all be saved? Then we ought to say that. But we can’t because we know better. And so there is a powerful argument for the universal proclamation of the saving gospel of Jesus Christ.

In closing, MacArthur offers this observation:

I am amazed how readily we pray for physical problems and how hesitantly we pray for salvation. And physical problems are not really the significant issue.

That is so true. Perhaps in our era we find it presumptuous to pray for someone’s salvation. It seems intrusive. On the other hand, praying for someone’s recovery from a malady makes more sense. We can empathise with their physical pain because pain is tangible. We don’t want people to suffer.

Yet, MacArthur is correct in saying that physical problems are not the main issue in our lives. Salvation is. Therefore, we should pray for each other’s salvation, because that lasts for eternity, whereas bodily pain is temporary, disappearing before or at the time we die.

May all reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Philippians 1:19-20

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains what Paul meant by ‘deliverance’:

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

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

Paul quotes Job verbatim in verse 19:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur has more on the power of prayer:

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

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

Paul also had confidence in the power of the Spirit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur explains:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur discusses ‘whether by life or by death’:

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

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

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

Matthew Henry’s commentary says this about verse 20:

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

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

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

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

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

Next time — Philippians 2:14-18

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