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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 8:16-24

Commendation of Titus

16 But thanks be to God, who put into the heart of Titus the same earnest care I have for you. 17 For he not only accepted our appeal, but being himself very earnest he is going[a] to you of his own accord. 18 With him we are sending[b] the brother who is famous among all the churches for his preaching of the gospel. 19 And not only that, but he has been appointed by the churches to travel with us as we carry out this act of grace that is being ministered by us, for the glory of the Lord himself and to show our good will. 20 We take this course so that no one should blame us about this generous gift that is being administered by us, 21 for we aim at what is honorable not only in the Lord’s sight but also in the sight of man. 22 And with them we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found earnest in many matters, but who is now more earnest than ever because of his great confidence in you. 23 As for Titus, he is my partner and fellow worker for your benefit. And as for our brothers, they are messengers[c] of the churches, the glory of Christ. 24 So give proof before the churches of your love and of our boasting about you to these men.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s exhortation to the Corinthians to be as generous in giving to his fund for the church in Jerusalem as the churches in Macedonia were.

In today’s reading, Paul commends Titus to the Corinthians. Titus will be collecting their donations for the church in Jerusalem.

As false teachers in the church in Corinth were trying to besmirch Paul’s character in any and all ways possible, the Apostle is very careful in how he works with the congregation from a distance. Surely, some mischief maker will say that Paul is going to spend the money on himself or on something unworthy.

They already know and love Titus, because he has been delivering Paul’s letters to them. However, Paul wants to dot all the ‘i’s and cross all the ‘t’s to convey that everything regarding this fund is above board and acceptable.

As such, Paul thanks God for making Titus’s heart such that he cares for the Corinthians as much as he himself does (verse 16).

Paul adds that not only does Titus agree with the fundraising, he willingly wants to go to Corinth and collect the money himself (verse 17).

John MacArthur says (emphases mine):

You see, Paul was the leader, the dominating force, this hard-driving man, this great mind, this visionary, this man able to embrace the whole of the redemptive purposes of God, the plan of God doctrinally, and also to embrace the whole of the church. He was bigger than life, but Titus was more like them. We never hear him preach. We don’t have any of his sermons in Scripture. We don’t see him leading any meetings. He’s just always serving, serving, serving. They must have seen him not as some kind of a powerful entrepreneurial man, some kind of great mover, and shaker, and motivator, and mobilizer, but as a man who loved God, who loved them, a man who knew the truth.

And so, Paul happily says to them, “Titus agrees with the plan.” How important that is. The whole enterprise for the benefit of the Jewish poor and the Corinthian church was not just Paul’s passion, it was no one-man concern. Paul wants them to know that Titus, whom they knew so well, and whom they loved so deeply, was wholeheartedly in agreement.

Paul then describes Titus’s travelling companion in glowing terms as being famous for preaching the gospel among all the churches (verse 18).

Not only that, but the churches have agreed to appoint this man to travel with Paul and Titus in administering these donations — ‘this act of grace’ — for the Lord’s glory and as a sign of good will (verse 19).

Who is he?

Matthew Henry says it was Luke:

He commends another brother, who was sent with Titus. It is generally thought that this was Luke.

However, MacArthur disagrees:

I’ve heard people say it might be Tychicus, or it might be Trophimus. Some have said it probably is Luke, because it says “whose fame in the gospel has spread through all the churches” – and they think it’s probably a reference to Luke’s gospel. The problem with that is Luke’s Gospel was not in circulation yet when 1 Corinthians was written, so the people wouldn’t have known of Luke’s Gospel. So, it’s not Luke. We don’t know who it is. The name is not given. But they would know who it is.

MacArthur says they would know who the man was because he accompanied Titus when the latter was delivering one of Paul’s letters:

… he would be standing there with Titus when he delivered the letter. They would know him, and they would recognize him. He didn’t need to give his name because he was well known. It says, “He’s the brother whose fame in the things of the gospel has spread through all the churches.” He doesn’t name the man, and there’s no way to know who he was for us, but clearly the Corinthians knew him, and they knew him as a man who was famous for preaching the gospel. A distinguished preacher. Known and esteemed by all the churches. A prominent and unimpeachable brother who was sent with Titus to receive and transport the money.

Paul explains that he is sending these two men so that no one can cast aspersions on the donations (verse 20). Furthermore, he and they are aiming at what is honourable both in God’s sight and in man’s (verse 21).

Henry says:

He would not give occasion to any to accuse him of injustice or partiality in this affair, and thought it to be his duty, as it is the duty of all Christians, to provide for things honest, not only in the sight of the Lord, but also in the sight of men; that is, to act so prudently as to prevent, as far as we can, all unjust suspicions concerning us, and all occasions of scandalous imputations. Note, We live in a censorious world, and should cut off occasion from those who seek occasion to speak reproachfully. It is the crime of others if they reproach or censure us without occasion; and it is our imprudence at least if we give them any occasion, when there may not be a just cause for them so to do.

A third brother in the faith will also be going to Corinth, a man who has been tried and tested and whose earnestness is even greater than ever because of his confidence in the Corinthians (verse 22).

Henry says this man could have been Apollos:

He commends also another brother who was joined with the two former in this affair. This brother is thought to be Apollos. Whoever he was, he had approved himself diligent in many things; and therefore was fit to be employed in this affair.

MacArthur says that we do not know who he was but the Corinthians would have known of him:

This is another one, and we don’t have his name either, but that would obviously be known to them as soon as he arrived. He describes him with some glowing terms, “Whom we have often tested” – that’s that word dokimazō which means to be approved after testing, like testing metals and having them come out proven. “We have tested him, and he has passed. We have found him diligent in many things, but now even more diligent because of his great confidence in you.”

Just to take the extra precaution, here’s another one. Again, no name is given, but a great commendation, “whom we have often tested and found diligent in many things.” What does that mean? Diligent, it’s zealous, passionate. He’s just a – he’s a zealous person. Just in general, he’s passionate; he’s devout. “But now even more diligent, more zealous than normal because of his great confidence in you.” Perhaps he had heard the wonderful report of Titus in response to the severe letter and the restoration of their relationship to Paul. He heard that the Corinthians indeed proved to be teachable, responsive, responsible, repentant and loyal. He’d heard such good things, and he was now so encouraged he wanted to be a part of the whole enterprise.

So, now you’ve got Titus, and you’ve got the brother whose fame spread through all the churches because of his preaching, and now you’ve got a brother many times tested and found zealous and now committed to this whole process as well, with a greater zeal. Very, very careful accountability.

Paul winds up his commendation, saying that Titus is his partner working for the benefit of the Corinthians and that the two brothers are messengers of the churches, the glory of Christ (verse 23).

MacArthur explains the words as written in Greek:

This is the summary of this little group, of this little financial committee. “As for Titus” – let’s go over it again – “he is my partner and fellow worker among you.” He’s my partner; he’s my koinōnos; he’s my close companion. “And he’s a fellow worker among you” – synergos; you know him; he’s been there; he’s worked with you, and you love him, and you know his character, and you know his heart. “As for our brethren” – these two brothers, the preacher and the man tested and proven – “they are messengers of the churches” – and again, that reminds us of back in verse 19, appointed by the churches – “they are messengers of the churches.”

I want to stop at that point and just make a couple of comments that are really very important. The word “messenger” here is apostolos, it’s apostles. They are apostles of the churches. What does that mean? Well, it’s a term used to refer to somebody who was officially authorized to be a representative. Likely the churches in mind here are the churches of Macedonia. Apostle or messenger is someone charged or commissioned with an official duty, and his role – listen – can only be understood by knowing who commissioned him and for what …

They were not commissioned by Christ to be witnesses of the resurrection and preach the gospel. They were commissioned by the churches to go with Paul and Titus to help secure the money and bring it all the way to Jerusalem.

So, they are messengers of the churches. So, you don’t include them with the apostles. They are official men commissioned by the churches, not Christ, and for the purpose of securing the money and taking it to Jerusalem.

But I want you to notice the caliber of men who were given to this task, the end of verse 23. This has got to be the single best, the single highest compliment ever given to a believer, “They are messengers of the churches, a glory to Christ.” Wouldn’t you like that on your epitaph? What more could be said? They are a glory to Christ. They bring glory to Christ by their holiness, by their virtue, by the excellencies of their spiritual commitment, by their obedience to the Word of God they bring honor to Christ. They are a glory to Christ. The best of men.

Paul ends by encouraging the Corinthians to give evidence of their love towards the churches and proof that these these men were correct in boasting about the congregation (verse 24).

MacArthur explains that verse’s message:

Therefore, give, and do it openly. Literally, the Greek says, “in the faces of the churches.” Let everybody see how generous you are; let everybody see how magnanimous you are; let them see the proof of your love.

You say you love? Prove it. “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends,” Jesus said. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you’re My disciples, if you have love one for another.” Let’s see your love. Put it on display for all the churches. This is the opportunity to give visible demonstration of our love for the saints, of your love for the Lord of the Church.

Paul has a bit more to say on this topic in 2 Corinthians 9.

Next time: 2 Corinthians 9:1-5

The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity — Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost — is October 17, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:35-45

10:35 James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to him and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”

10:36 And he said to them, “What is it you want me to do for you?”

10:37 And they said to him, “Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.”

10:38 But Jesus said to them, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?”

10:39 They replied, “We are able.” Then Jesus said to them, “The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized;

10:40 but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.”

10:41 When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John.

10:42 So Jesus called them and said to them, “You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.

10:43 But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant,

10:44 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.

10:45 For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This reading about pride and humility would have been more powerful had the Lectionary editors added the preceding verses, which follow last week’s reading, about the rich young ruler. It ended with Mark 10:31:

But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Here are verses 32-34, where, for a third time, Jesus tells His disciples what will happen to Him (also see John MacArthur’s sermon):

Jesus Foretells His Death a Third Time

32 And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them. And they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. And taking the twelve again, he began to tell them what was to happen to him, 33 saying, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles. 34 And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise.”

After hearing that, it is incredible that James and John, the sons of Zebedee, would have the utter brass neck to ask that He do whatever they ask of Him (verse 35). Well, early on, Jesus had called them the ‘sons of Boanerges’, the sons of Thunder:

a name signifying sons of thunder , given by our Lord to the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, probably on account of their fiery earnesty. (Mark 3:17) See (Luke 9:54; Mark 9:38) comp. Matt 20:20 etc.

Matthew Henry’s commentary points out that, in Matthew 20, their mother petitioned on their behalf and they seconded it:

This story is much the same here as we had it Matthew 20:20. Only there they are said to have made their request by their mother, here they are said to make it themselves; she introduced them, and presented their petition, and then they seconded it, and assented to it.

Note, 1. As, on the one hand, there are some that do not use, so, on the other hand, there are some that abuse, the great encouragements Christ has given us in prayer. He hath said, Ask, and it shall be given you; and it is a commendable faith to ask for the great things he has promised; but it was a culpable presumption in these disciples to make such a boundless demand upon their Master; We would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall desire. We had much better leave it to him to do for us what he sees fit, and he will do more than we can desire, Ephesians 3:20.

So Jesus asked what it was they wanted Him to do for them (verse 36).

Henry says this was a way of putting them in check so that they might realise the folly of what they were doing:

He would have them go on with their suit, that they might be made ashamed of it.

They continued in their conceit and pride, asking that Jesus place one of them on His left and the other on His right in glory (verse 37).

Henry explains the two brothers’ reasoning:

James and John conclude, If Christ rise again, he must be a king, and if he be a king, his apostles must be peers, and one of these would willingly be the Primus par regni–The first peer of the realm, and the other next him, like Joseph in Pharaoh’s court, or Daniel in Darius’s.

John MacArthur has more:

Now as we look at this incident with James and John coming to Jesus and making their request, I want you to see how this breaks out into three characteristics of self-promotion, three characteristics of self-promotion, the path to greatness through self-promotion.

First of all, it’s motivated by self-ambition, or its defined by selfish ambition. Verse 35: “James and John, the two sons of Zebedee, came up to Jesus saying, ‘Teacher, we want You to do for us whatever we ask of You.’” James and John called the sons of thunder, they were brash, bold men. They were the inner circle. They were with Jesus intimately with Peter, the most intimate of all the disciples and apostles. They were close to Him on a regular daily basis, and they think they have gained some ground by that because of their intimacy, because of their participation in the transfiguration, because they have been privy to so many private conversations in times with Jesus. They are sure that they are certainly above and beyond the rest of the men, and so this has come to the place in their minds where they’re bold enough to ask for privilege in the coming kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why their mother petitioned on their behalf in Matthew’s version of the story:

Now this is important. Why would you bring your mother? Come on, be a man. What, you bring your mother? Well, it’s not just that they brought their mother, it’s who their mother was. When you study the crucifixion of Christ in the account of Matthew, Mark, and John, you see three women at the cross: Mary the mother of our Lord, Mary Magdalene, and a third woman. The third woman who is at the cross is identified in three different ways. Matthew calls her the mother of the sons of Zebedee; so it’s this woman, which means she hung in there. When the apostles had fled she hung in there, she was at the cross. So, strong faith there.

Matthew calls her the mother of Zebedee. Mark calls her Salome; so that was her name. John calls her the sister of Jesus’ mother. So their mother is Jesus’ aunt. So this is now a family deal. They’re going to play the family card here, okay. “Not only were we at the transfiguration, not only are we intimately involved with You in the inner circle, but Your mother is our mother’s sister. That’s got to be good for something big, really big.”

She bought into it. She didn’t ask for anything for herself, she didn’t ask if she could have a seat on the dais, she would find her proud fulfillment through her children, like unsuccessful people with bumper stickers, and others on the Internet. She comes worshiping proskuneō. She comes bowing low, and Mark – Matthew says she’s desiring a certain thing of Jesus, and what she’s desiring is exactly what they asked.

So they’re really – this is serious ambition. This is not just personal ambition, this is not whimsical ambition, this is family ambition. Everybody’s in on this deal; and they’re going to come and they’re going to gang up on Jesus thinking they have the right

There’s another feature of pride that rears its ugly head as well, and we could call it arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence, arrogant overconfidence. This is so much a part of people’s life and attitude today, it’s just absolutely everywhere. They say, “We want to sit one on Your right hand and one on Your left, in Your glory.”

Jesus tells James and John that they do not understand what they are asking; can they drink the cup that He will drink and can they be baptised with His baptism (verse 38).

MacArthur tells us what Jesus was saying. The cup was one of God’s wrath and the baptism was not one of water but being submerged in something profoundly horrible, akin to what we would call a baptism by fire:

“Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” That’s an Old Testament idiom for taking in something, draining it. And it’s the cup in Isaiah 31 of God’s fury: “Can you handle, can you handle all that is to come?” Jesus was going to drink the cup of God’s fury. Remember in the garden He said, Matthew 26, “Let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not My will, but Yours be done,” the cup of God’s wrath, He would drink it to the bottom. That was the image. Drinking the cup was literally imbibing it all in. It’s an Old Testament idiom meaning fully absorbing something, fully experiencing something, taking it all in.

Psalm 75, verse 8 talks about the ungodly drinking the cup of wrath. So that cup is very often associated with suffering. “Are you able to do that? Are you able to be baptized?” meaning not Christian baptism, but immersed into, plunged into, submerged. “Are you really able to go all the way under and suffer, to be, as it were, drowned in persecution, and ultimately martyrdom?” This is strong language. “Can you literally drink it all in and be submerged in it, because that’s what you’re really asking, because if you want the glory, the glory is the reward correspondent to the suffering.”

Naively, the brothers asserted that they were able, so Jesus agreed that they would drink His cup and be baptised into His baptism (verse 40).

Of the two, John was present at the Crucifixion and stayed until the end, with Mary, the earthly mother of Jesus. Jesus commended John to Mary before He died. In fact, John was the only one of the twelve Apostles to be there. Judas killed himself that day and the other ten, James included, hid themselves away in fear.

James and John had no idea what they were affirming and what lay ahead for them. Jesus granted their request about drinking His cup and bearing His baptism, as MacArthur tells us:

“Jesus said to them,” – verse 39 – ‘The cup that I drink you shall drink; and you shall be baptized with the baptism with which I am baptized.’” That’s a prophecy, folks, that’s a prophecy. “Oh, the suffering? Yeah, you’ll have that. You will have that. Yes, you will drink the cup in full, and you will be submerged in suffering.”

For James, he’s the first martyr; for John, he’s the last martyr. James’ martyrdom – had his head cut off – came fast, soon, sudden, lightning quick. For John, his was a slow agonizing, disappointing death as an exile at the end of the century on the island of Patmos which was virtually a prison island. “You will, you will drink the cup.” Rejected, exiled, in John’s case; rejected, executed, in the case of James – the first and last who died because of the gospel.

Then Jesus said that He could not grant them a seat at His right hand or his left, because that status has already been prepared, and not by Him (verse 40). The implication here is that God determines who will sit right next to His Son in glory.

Mark tells us that the ten Apostles listening to this conversation became angry with the two brothers (verse 41).

MacArthur says this was not because they thought the two were prideful but because they got there before Peter and the rest did in asking the question about sitting next to Jesus in glory:

Ha, they got preempted; James and John got there first. They were furious not because they were spiritually offended, but they thought they were getting cut out of the deal. And this is the third aspect of this, and it is ugly competitiveness.

This argument about who will be first continued until the Last Supper, even though Jesus was constantly reminding them of the pre-eminence of service, such as in Mark 9:34-35:

9:34 But they were silent, for on the way they had argued with one another who was the greatest.

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

MacArthur says:

Look, they’re still arguing about this at the upper room. They just had a hard time humbling themselves.

Jesus called the Twelve together and reminded them of the Gentile tyrants who lord themselves over their subjects (verse 42).

He said it would not be that way for the Apostles, because greatness lies in service; the one who wishes to become great must be the other’s servant (verse 43).

Jesus went further, saying that whoever wishes to be first must be the slave to everyone else (verse 44). Talk about radical theology: there it is.

MacArthur discusses the Greek words for ‘servant’ and for ‘slave’:

Here’s the path: Be a servant. Be a servant. Diakonos is the word. “Table waiter” was its primary meaning. “Be a waiter.” Don’t be the person that everybody serves, be the person who serves everybody. Big difference, you know. The fancier the restaurant you go to, the bigger the gap between the people eating and the people serving. You be the server, not the one served. You be the table waiter. That’s what it is to be a servant.

There are six words in the New Testament for servant, all of them Greek words. All of them describe a function: oikonomos, a house servant; hupēretēs, an under-rower in a galley ship pulling oars down in the bottom of a big trireme ship. Be a servant. Be somebody who does something for someone else. You’re not served, you are serving. Be a servant. He doesn’t say, “Be an archōn, be a ruler.” He doesn’t say, “Be a timē, a dignified official.” He doesn’t say, “Be a telos, possessing a powerful office. He doesn’t say, “Be a hiereus, a priest.” The word is, “Be a waiter. Be a waiter. Give your life giving people what they need. Spend your life giving people what they need.”

And it doesn’t end there. Go down even from there, verse 44: “If you want to be first,” – prime – “then be the slave of all.” Wow! The slave of all? This is the word doulos about which you have heard much because of the book Slave. I cannot tell you, folks, how important it is that you read that book; it’ll change your entire understanding of what it means to be a Christian, slave. Slaves were inferior to servants. Servants did a job; slaves were owned, totally controlled. He’s saying, “Consider everybody a person to be served, and consider everyone to be your master.”

Jesus ended by telling them about His primary purpose: to serve and to give His life, ‘a ransom for many’ (verse 45). Notice that He said ‘many’ and not ‘all’. Not all will be saved, because God has already chosen whom He will save: past, present and future.

MacArthur says that Jesus was the slave of His Father:

The greatest service and the greatest slavery was exhibited in Christ, right? He didn’t come to be served. He’s not like other kings, He’s not like other rulers. We say He condescended. That’s one of the ways. He didn’t come like all kings to be served, He came to serve. He didn’t come merely to be Lord and Master, He came also be slave of His Father, and do His Father’s will. He came to be the servant – diakoneō is the verb – but to serve.

But it goes down from there. In giving His life He actually offered a level of obedience that could be deemed slavery. And that’s the language of Philippians. Listen to this: “Do nothing” – verse 3, Philippians 2 – “from selfishness or empty conceit.” This is the same kind of instruction coming from Paul that our Lord gave the apostles. “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind, regard one another as more important than yourselves.” That’s exactly what our Lord is saying.

And then, “Do not merely look out for your own personal interest, but the interest of others.” And here is the model: “Have this attitude in yourselves which was in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a doulos, the form of a slave. Humbled Himself to the point of death, even death on the cross.”

And what happened to Him? “For this reason God highly exalted Him.” He made the greatest sacrifice, so He was the most exalted. “God gave Him a name above” – what? – “every name.” So, He got the highest name because He made the greatest sacrifice. That’s the principle. The greater the sacrifice, the more the glory. The greatest sacrifice gets the greatest glory. That’s Christ; That’s the model, that’s the pattern.

We are slaves to sin. We cannot help it. Sin is in our nature and sin is our master.

Through His horrifying and humiliating death, Jesus paid our ransom in blood to God the Father, the only efficacious propitiation for our sin. We are redeemed in God’s eyes, and He welcomes us into His kingdom.

MacArthur discusses ‘ransom for many’:

You want greatness in the kingdom? It’s correlated to your selfless serving slavery on behalf of others in sacrifice. And what was the actual service that Christ rendered? End of verse 45: “He gave His life” – we know that; why? – “a ransom for many, a ransom for many.” Lutron is the Greek word; it means “the price paid for the release of a slave,” the price paid for the release of a slave. Only used here and in Matthew 20; parallel account. He gave His life as the price paid for the release of a slave.

To whom was the ransom paid? To God. To God. God is the judge who had to be satisfiedGod is the executioner who had to be appeased, propitiated. This has now today, gratefully and thankfully, become the dominant theme in our understanding of the gospel, that Jesus is the ransom, Jesus is the substitute. Jesus dies a vicarious, substitutionary death on behalf of sinners. That’s what it says. He gave His life to pay the price in full. The price of sin had to be paid to God, to His divine justice; His justice had to be satisfied. The price that Christ paid satisfied God, propitiated His anger, settled His justice. He did it for many. I love the, kind of, Hebraic way of saying this: “for many,” in exchange for many.

What does that mean? What’s the emphasis there? Why does the word “many” appear? Because it’s juxtaposed with “Son of Man.” The ransomed bought by the sacrificial death of Christ are the many in contrast to the one Son of Man. One Son of Man pays the ransom for many.

Somehow I doubt whether any clergy are going to discuss serving or slavery in their Sunday sermons about this reading.

Let us put away our pride and instead embrace humble service.

Blessings to everyone for a good week ahead.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Encouragement to Give Generously

We want you to know, brothers,[a] about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord, begging us earnestly for the favor[b] of taking part in the relief of the saints— and this, not as we expected, but they gave themselves first to the Lord and then by the will of God to us. Accordingly, we urged Titus that as he had started, so he should complete among you this act of grace. But as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you[c]—see that you excel in this act of grace also.

————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction to not associate with unbelievers in a profound way because it is akin to linking Christ with Satan.

The first verses of 2 Corinthians 8 concern the donation he has been collecting from the Gentile churches for the poor church of Jerusalem, including Judea.

Acts 4 tells us that, after the first Pentecost, the members of the church in Jerusalem pooled together all their resources — money, property sales and so forth — for their mutual benefit. Many pilgrims to Jerusalem who witnessed the first Pentecost never returned to their Gentile homelands. The church there was spiritually dynamic, with the Apostles having been invested with the gifts of preaching and healing, so miracles were taking place regularly. Who would not want to stay and witness these joyful experiences?

However, money is a finite resource, and what started out as a financially healthy church became an impoverished one. The Christian converts could not find work, either, with Jerusalem being the capital of Judaism. The Jews did not want followers of Jesus working for them.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

It wasn’t very many years until the rich weren’t rich, until it was just a whole bunch of poor people because they had all given it away.  It was so overwhelming for them, then, to try to sustain the needs of that church as persecution elevated and escalated And as pilgrims now stayed and couldn’t find work, of course, that Paul took upon himself the burden He understood it.  He even classifies himself in 2 Corinthians 6:10 as one of the poor. 

And, occasionally, in his life that’s how it was and he was dependent on the gifts of others many times in his life when he was not able to work.  So when he began his third missionary journey, he determined that he was going to collect money for the poor in Jerusalem because they had no more resources left So as he goes on his third missionary journey, this high priority of collecting the money is on his heart He wants to collect it from the Gentile churches and take it back to the poor in Jerusalem.

Furthermore, Jerusalem and the rest of the Roman empire outside of Rome was impoverished. The taxes the Romans collected were largely spent on Rome:

The economy of Jerusalem and the area around Jerusalem, the area of Palestine was as poor as any part of the Roman Empire And don’t for a minute think that the Roman Empire was wealthy.  Rome was fine, but the Empire was poor, very poor.  And it was made even poorer by the Romans who managed to extract everything out of all of the territories they occupied for their own aggrandizement.  

Paul’s plan was to create Christian unity between Gentile and Jew:

It wasn’t only economics; it was also spiritual love that he wanted demonstrated Do you remember that in Ephesians chapter 2, Paul said that the Jew and the Gentile were separated by a wall, but in Christ the wall had come down and they had been made one new man in Christ Well, racial bitterness and racial animosity and racial hatred run real deep, even in converted people.  Even in converted people.  And there was still lots of latent hostility between Jew and Gentile

And Paul knew there needed to be a real reconciliation and that what had happened spiritually needed to happen personally And so he knew that if he could collect money from Gentile churches and bring it as a love gift to the Jews in Jerusalem, it would go a long way to elicit a mutual affection It would express the spiritual unity of the church which is the true body of Christ It would also afford tangible evidence to a watching world that that middle wall of partition had been shattered and the Jew and the Gentile had come together It would also be a dramatic setback to the Judaizers and it would be a dramatic setback for the Hellenizers, both of which wanted to perpetuate the division.

Paul also wanted the Corinthians to continue to build their donations to this fund, something they had already started a year earlier. He refers to the ‘grace of God’ — the donations — from the churches in Macedonia (verse 1). More on this follows.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says:

The apostle takes occasion from the good example of the churches of Macedonia, that is, of Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, and others in the region of Macedonia, to exhort the Corinthians and the Christians in Achaia to the good work of charity

He certainly means the charitable gifts of these churches, which are called the grace or gifts of God, either because they were very large, or rather because their charity to the poor saints did proceed from God as the author, and was accompanied with true love to God, which also was manifested this way. The grace of God must be owned as the root and fountain of all the good that is in us, or done by us, at any time; and it is great grace and favour from God, and bestowed on us, if we are made useful to others, and are forward to any good work.

Paul says that, despite severe affliction affecting those churches — similarly poor and persecuted — their joyfulness, poverty notwithstanding, produced a wealth of generosity (verse 2).

Henry says:

(1.) They were but in a low condition, and themselves in distress, yet they contributed to the relief of others. They were in great tribulation and deep poverty,2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:2. It was a time of great affliction with them, as may be seen, Acts 18:17. The Christians in these parts met with ill treatment, which had reduced them to deep poverty; yet, as they had abundance of joy in the midst of tribulation, they abounded in their liberality; they gave out of a little, trusting in God to provide for them, and make it up to them. (2.) They gave very largely, with the riches of liberality (2 Corinthians 8:2; 2 Corinthians 8:2), that is, as liberally as if they had been rich.

Paul says he can testify that they gave willingly, within their means and beyond their means (verse 3).

MacArthur says this was because the grace of God was at work in them:

The primary motive of their generosity was not human kindness.  The primary motive was not human philanthropy.  It wasn’t a desire to sort of satisfy their conscience.  It wasn’t a desire to do well, to share the milk of human kindness.  What motivated them was the grace of God at work in their hearts producing this generosity And listen, this kind of giving which we will see the Macedonians did is not normal It is not just human giving

It is prompted by something far beyond anything that you can find in the noble character of the human heart made in the image of God.  And I would agree that though man is fallen there are still vestiges of the image of God in him, and there is still a knowledge of right and wrong and still a conscience excusing or accusing.  Man can still do something that is humanly good, but at its highest level, human good will not reach the proportions of that goodness and that righteousness prompted by the transforming grace of God And that is true in giving as well.

MacArthur also points out that there is no New Covenant mandate to give a certain percentage of what we have:

God does not expect you to give what you don’t have.  He expects you to give what you have.  That’s all God asks is that you give according to your ability Giving is to be proportionate

This sets no fixed amount It sets no fixed percentage It isn’t a tenth.  It isn’t 15 percent.  It isn’t 5 percent.  It indicates no fixed figure.  It simply says they gave according to their ability.  And everybody certainly was different.

MacArthur says that it was the Corinthians who inspired the Macedonians to donate so generously:

It was the zeal of the Corinthians that stirred up the Macedonians originally Now, remember what we have here.  As Paul is writing 2 Corinthians, we told you that it is a year that has passed since he first told the … Corinthians about giving.  He mentions that. 

A year ago he had told the Corinthians about giving and they had started to give.  We saw that right there in chapter 8.  They had already begun to give as much as a year before.  Apparently, it was their initial interest in responding to Paul and giving that the Macedonians heard about.  When Paul told the Macedonians about the generosity of the Corinthians, it stirred up the Macedonians to want to give

So we could suggest then that the Macedonians were following the example of the Corinthians, who started a year before, and that the Corinthian generosity, initially motivated the Macedonians and then they just ran with it.  And maybe Paul never really overtly asked them to give knowing how poor they were They volunteered it.  Based upon the pattern of the Corinthians, they wanted to get involved

That would fit with verse 4. Not only did they give, Paul says they begged to give, considering it a privilege — favour — to help relieve the plight of the saints in Jerusalem.

MacArthur says:

That, too, might indicate that Paul was reluctant to ask them for anything because they had so little but they were begging to be able to participate.  They volunteered It was right out of their hearts.  They were freely, voluntarily, willingly giving from the heart.

The Macedonians, Paul observes, gave in an unexpected manner: giving themselves unto the Lord first, then, by God’s will to Paul (verse 5) and perhaps Titus and Timothy.

Henry gives us a practical application for our own use:

This, it seems, exceeded the expectation of the apostle; it was more than he hoped for, to see such warm and pious affections shining in these Macedonians, and this good work performed with so much devotion and solemnity. They solemnly, jointly, and unanimously, made a fresh surrender of themselves, and all they had, unto the Lord Jesus Christ. They had done this before, and now they do it again upon this occasion; sanctifying their contributions to God’s honour, by first giving themselves to the Lord. Note, [1.] We should give ourselves to God; we cannot bestow ourselves better. [2.] When we give ourselves to the Lord, we then give him all we have, to be called for and disposed of according to his will. [3.] Whatever we use or lay out for God, it is only giving to him what is his own. [4.] What we give or bestow for charitable uses will not be accepted of God, nor turn to our advantage, unless we first give ourselves to the Lord.

Paul explains that, as Titus began the collection in Corinth, he should complete this act of grace, meaning the donation (verse 6). That would have meant during the previous year, when Titus was first there.

MacArthur says now that the Corinthians are improving their behaviour as a congregation, Paul feels more comfortable in the reminder about the donation:

The relationship has been restored now and Paul wants to reaffirm his emphasis on the giving Through the restoration and reconciliation, Paul feels the freedom now Even though the relationship, admittedly, is still fragile, as we’ll find out in later chapters, he wants to reaffirm the pastoral authority over their need to follow the Macedonian example and continue their giving Get back on track with your giving.

Then, even though he has corrected them severely via letter, he commends them by saying they ‘excel’ in many things, therefore, they should excel equally in this act of grace (verse 7).

MacArthur expands on Paul’s compliment:

In verse 7, he says, “But just as you abound in everything, in faith and utterance and knowledge and in all earnestness and in the love we inspired in you, see that you abound in this gracious work also.”  It’s not giving in a vacuum.  It’s not giving in isolation.  It’s not giving contrary to what’s in your heart.  This kind of giving is in perfect harmony with other Christian virtues.  You find me a heart filled with faith and utterance and knowledge and earnestness and love and I’ll show you a generous heart It’s in combination; it’s a network.

He says, “Just as you abound in everything”  Now, that’s a very complimentary statement to these vacillating Corinthians But back in chapter 1, verse 4, he said…chapter 1 of 1 Corinthians, verse 4, “I thank my God always concerning you for the grace of God which was given you in Christ Jesus that everything you were enriched in Him.”  He says, “From the beginning you had everything that the grace of God could give.  You had it all.  God gave it all to you.” 

Here he says, “I’m starting to see it abound in you just as you abound in everything, faith…”  What is that?  Strong trust in God, a saving, securing, sanctifying trust in the Lord.  And “utterance.”  What is that?  It’s the Greek word logos It really means doctrine.  It’s used for the word of truth, the word of righteousness, the word of Christ, sound word.  You have doctrine You have faith.  And then knowledge.  You have understanding of how doctrine applies, how divine truth applies.  And you have earnestness There’s that word spoud We’ve seen it earlier in chapter 7.  It means eagerness, it means energy, vigor, diligence, spiritual passion.

And he adds, “You have love, agape, the love we inspired in you.”  How did he inspire it?  By example, by teaching, by preaching.  “You abound in these things, in faith and doctrine and knowledge and passion and love; see that you abound in this gracious work also.”  See that your giving is in concert and harmony with these other Christian virtues You overflow in these others, overflow in this one.  It should go right along with everything else.

In closing, MacArthur touches on the reason for the lack of giving in churches:

A little footnote here.  Whenever people in a church become disillusioned about their leaders, their giving drops And it happened in Corinth and it happens today.  It always happens.  It’s happened in our church when people have spread lies and rumors and untruths about leadership in this church.  It has an immediate effect on people’s giving because where they have confusion and chaos or anxiety or distrust at the level of leadership, they are hard-pressed to be generous

I can confirm that is true. Many years ago, we had a vicar whose faith I wondered about. In the pulpit, he sometimes sounded as if he were agnostic, possibly atheistic. Outside of Sunday contributions, I stopped giving regularly to the annual fund drive. Since then, we have had better vicars, and I have resumed my annual contribution.

Next week’s post will be about Paul’s commendation of Titus to the Corinthians.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 7:16-24

The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity — Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 10, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:17-31

10:17 As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before him, and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

10:18 Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone.

10:19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder; You shall not commit adultery; You shall not steal; You shall not bear false witness; You shall not defraud; Honor your father and mother.'”

10:20 He said to him, “Teacher, I have kept all these since my youth.”

10:21 Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.”

10:22 When he heard this, he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions.

10:23 Then Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it will be for those who have wealth to enter the kingdom of God!”

10:24 And the disciples were perplexed at these words. But Jesus said to them again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God!

10:25 It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

10:26 They were greatly astounded and said to one another, “Then who can be saved?”

10:27 Jesus looked at them and said, “For mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God all things are possible.”

10:28 Peter began to say to him, “Look, we have left everything and followed you.”

10:29 Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news,

10:30 who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age–houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields with persecutions–and in the age to come eternal life.

10:31 But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

This is a long read, so grab a cuppa and a snack.

We pick up where we left off last week.

Jesus is in the last phase of His ministry and is in Peraea.

John MacArthur says:

He’s on the east side of the Jordan River, down in the south. He is in the last days of His ministry in a place called Peraea, the region east of the Jordan, been ministering there. He’s headed for Jerusalem for the final time to die and rise again. Verse 32 of this chapter says they were on the road going to Jerusalem. They first arrive in Jericho and then up the hill to Jerusalem. So it’s at the end of His ministry, the end of this brief ministry in the region called Peraea. We don’t know any more detail than that about the location.

There are two themes in this reading. Verses 17-23 deal with what is considered ‘good’, and verses 24-31 address what is humanly impossible.

I have had problems in the past with verses 17-23, because it seems that Jesus was harsh with this young man.

If you are of the same mind, this is MacArthur‘s explanation for our Lord’s reaction. The young man’s:

idol was property, money, possessions, and self. He was, therefore, a blasphemer of God. He was a breaker of the back half of the Ten Commandments and the front half. Every time he used the name God, it was in a blasphemous way in vain. Every time he went to the synagogue or the temple on a Sabbath day, it was with hypocrisy because his true God was money. He wanted eternal life but only in addition to what he really worshiped. He had another god. In the end, it was himself.

And what the lesson here is that if you want anything more than salvation, if you want anything more than eternal life, if you want anything more than Christ, if you want anything more than God, you lose everything – you lose everything. He went away sorrowful, it says. He went away saddened. He went away grieving because he owned much property. So he exchanged his eternity for time. That’s a sad story – a sad story. He wanted eternal life but he wanted it as an addition, not as a complete substitution for everything else in life.

As Jesus (and the disciples) set out on a journey, a man ran up and knelt before Him, addressing Him as ‘good teacher’ and asking what he must do to inherit eternal life (verse 17).

There is much to look at in that verse, as Matthew and Luke also tell the same story. The man was a young ruler, therefore, a senior layman in a synagogue. That sort of position normally went to an older man by dint of increased religious knowledge and application. The fact that this man achieved so much for his age means that the elders in the synagogue held him in very high esteem. Therefore, so did everyone else.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that this could have been a potentially hopeful encounter for the young man:

I. Here is a hopeful meeting between Christ and a young man; such he is said to be (Matthew 19:20; Matthew 19:22), and a ruler (Luke 18:18), a person of quality. Some circumstances here are, which we had not in Matthew, which makes his address to Christ very promising.

People in his elevated position would not run, yet he did:

1. He came running to Christ, which was an indication of his humility; he laid aside the gravity and grandeur of a ruler, when he came to Christ: thus too he manifested his earnestness and importunity; he ran as one in haste, and longing to be in conversation with Christ. He had now an opportunity of consulting this great Prophet, in the things that belonged to his peace, and he would not let slip the opportunity.

2. He came to him when he was in the way, in the midst of company: he did not insist upon a private conference with him by night, as Nicodemus did, though like him he was a ruler, but when he shall find him without, will embrace that opportunity of advising with him, and not be ashamed,Song of Solomon 8:1.

3. He kneeled to him, in token of the great value and veneration he had for him, as a teacher come from God, and his earnest desire to be taught by him. He bowed the knee to the Lord Jesus, as one that would not only do obeisance to him now, but would yield obedience to him always; he bowed the knee, as one that meant to bow the soul to him.

4. His address to him was serious and weighty; Good Master, what shall I do, that I may inherit eternal life? Eternal life was an article of his creed, though then denied by the Sadducees, a prevailing party: he asks, What shall he do now that he may be happy for ever. Most men enquire for good to be had in this world (Psalms 4:6), any good; he asks for good to be done in this world, in order to the enjoyment of the greatest good in the other world; not, Who will make us to see good? But, “Who will make us to do good?He enquires for happiness in the way of duty; the summum bonum–chief good which Solomon was in quest of, was that good for the sons of men which they do should do,Ecclesiastes 2:3.

However, Jesus responded, focusing on the word ‘good’, saying that no one is ‘good’ except God alone (verse 18). How did the young ruler know Jesus was good when He was a total stranger to him?

MacArthur explains ‘good’ in Greek:

“Good teacher.” Good teacher. He acknowledges Jesus as not only a legitimate teacher, not a teacher to be rejected, but as a good teacher, agathe didaskale, agathe. That’s the word agathos from which we get the old name Agatha. Agathos means good internally, virtuous. Kalos, the other word for good, means looking good, good in form. This means good to the core, virtuous, beneficent. This is a deep kind of inherent goodness.

MacArthur then goes into the reaction from Jesus, which revolves around the word ‘good’:

Now, as you look at that, you say, “Well, you know, it seems like everything is in the right place here. Where is the problem here?” Amazingly, it comes up where you wouldn’t expect it. The problem shows up in one word. That word is in verse 17, and it’s the word “good.” It’s the word “good.” You know, if there’s any word that the world doesn’t understand, it’s that word. Good. Stop anybody on the street and say, “Are you a good person?” What are they going to say? “Of course, I’m a good person” …

Now remember, he thought he was good and everybody he associated with good and the whole synagogue crowd was good and everybody was good. And so he’s loose with the word. Thinks he’s commending Jesus by using that word for Him. That’s the problem. And if you understand that that word is the problem, then you begin to understand Jesus’ answer. “Good teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”…

If somebody comes running up to you and says, “What do I do to take possession of eternal life?” You say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ – believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Well, Jesus didn’t say that. He did not say that because there’s something else that has to be confronted here. Faith, essential. But something else is essential as well and it is repentance – repentance. The gospel hangs over this account but it never enters. You can feel it because you know it, but Jesus never says it. It looms in the shadow of this event. It is never uttered. No word of faith ever appears. No comment about believing is ever stated because the issue here is sin and the law and repentance first.

And our Lord makes that clear in one profound statement. “Why do you call me good?” Why are you throwing that word around? You don’t know me. I am a total stranger. Why are you calling me good? He used the word casually. It was a word he used concerning himself and most of the people in his world …

Now, as a Jewish religious leader, he should have known the Psalms – should have known the Psalms. And if he knew the Psalms, he would know that the Psalms say this: “There is none righteous, no not one.” There is none who is good. There is none who seeks after God. All of that comes from the Psalms but it is also collected by Paul in Romans 3. In Romans 3, verses 10 to 18, Paul collects sayings out of the Psalms, none righteous, no not one, none does good, no one. He borrows from Psalm 14, Psalm 53, Psalm 5, Psalm 140, Psalm 10, Psalm 36 and even throws in a verse from Isaiah 59.

He collects from the Old Testament the testimony that no one is good, no one, because good is not a relative reality, it is an absolute – it is an absolute.

What does it mean? To be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect. As God says, “I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, I am holy, without sin, without flaw, without error.” It is perfect righteousness, perfect holiness, absolute goodness. The law is given to reveal that. How perverted had these Jewish people become when they took the law as a means to establish their own goodness when the purpose of the law was to reveal the goodness of God to which they could never attain? You understand the difference?

Jesus recited the six Commandments that concern our relationships with others (verse 19).

Henry looks at the way Jesus recited these Commandments:

He mentions the six commandments of the second table, which prescribe our duty to our neighbour; he inverts the order, putting the seventh commandment before the sixth, to intimate that adultery is a sin no less heinous than murder itself. The fifth commandment is here put last, as that which should especially be remembered and observed, to keep us to all the rest. Instead of the tenth commandment, Thou shalt not covet, our Saviour here puts, Defraud not.

The man replied that he had kept these Commandments since his youth (verse 20).

Henry says that this was the man’s mistake. He thought himself better than he was:

He thought he had [kept the Commandments], and his neighbours thought so too. Note, Ignorance of the extent and spiritual nature of the divine law, makes people think themselves in a better condition than they really are.

MacArthur compares and contrasts this man’s attitude with St Paul’s, starting from when he was still Saul the Pharisee. Post-conversion, Paul came to understand that the law is meant to convict us and lead us to repentance:

The testimony of the apostle Paul would be very much like this young man. I see a lot of parallels. The apostle Paul was doing really well for a while as a legalist, wasn’t he? Circumcised the eighth day, born of the tribe of Benjamin, Philippians 3, he goes through all of that. He says he was a traditionalist. He was zealous for the law. He was blameless before the law. He toed the line. He had all these credits to himself as a legalist. And then something happened to Paul, which he speaks of in Romans 7:7.

He says this: “I wouldn’t have come to know sin except through the law.” Once he began to really understand the law of God, he saw how sinful he was. What is the law of God? The law of God, which defines for us sin and holiness, is simply a revelation of the nature of God. God discloses His nature as holy in His law. God has revealed Himself in His law. And when Paul saw the reality of the nature of God in the law and knew he couldn’t keep the law, he said, “The law killed me,” Romans 7. “It slew me, it resulted in death for me,” he says, verse 10 …

You say, “What’s the purpose of that?” So that you’re slain, so that you’re devastated, so that you’re crushed and broken. Then the law becomes, Galatians 3:24, the tutor that drives you to Christ who alone can save you from your own corruption. The purpose of the law is to kill, to crush, to show how perfectly good God is and how utterly evil man is, therefore to produce guilt and fear and dread and remorse.

Well, the rich young ruler totally missed that. Totally. He had a superficial view of the law, like all legalists do, all phony religionists. His response is consistent with fallen human nature that thinks it’s good, and the religious people think they’re better than everybody else. He is sure that he’s good. He has met the law’s demands. He is good. Since Jesus is a teacher from God, He’s good, too.

Jesus, looking at the man, loved him — only Mark’s version has that part — and told him to sell everything he had, give the proceeds to the poor, thereby gaining treasure in heaven, and then follow Him (verse 21).

MacArthur says the love Jesus had for him was one of sorrow:

Maybe a tear like the tears He shed over Jerusalem, coursed down Jesus’ cheeks, tears of sympathy and compassion. So sad because this man was a blasphemer and didn’t know it. This man was a violator and didn’t know it. This man was the worst.

By telling him to sell his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor, Jesus was homing in on the man’s sin.

The young man was ‘shocked’ by what Jesus asked him to do and went away ‘grieving’ because he had many possessions (verse 22).

MacArthur explains the idolatry involved:

Here comes the exposure. “One thing you lack, just one thing.” You say, “How can you say that? One thing?” “Go sell all you possess, give to the poor, you’ll have treasure in heaven.” It’s what you said you wanted. “Come follow me.” How can it be that simple? “But at these words, he was saddened and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property.” Hmm. You know why he is a blasphemer? Because he has another god. Who is his other god? He had much what? Property? He had an idol. He didn’t love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, and mind.

That’s the one thing Jesus asked him to do. Let me just have you do one thing. Get rid of the idol, which is your money and your possessions. You don’t get saved by lowering your bank account, you get saved when you get rid of your idol and you embrace the true God. He’s a blaspheming idolater. And again I’ll say it, every time he opened his mouth, he took the Lord’s name in vain. Every time he showed up on a Sabbath, he violated that Sabbath as a hypocritical, idolatrous blasphemer.

Earthly wealth, temporal satisfaction was his God. In fact, he was his own god. Jesus preached the law to him and he never got to the gospel because you can’t get to the gospel, which is the good news, until someone accepts the bad news, the condemnation of the law. How do you tell a highly respected, revered, honored, religious man who sees his prosperity as the beneficence of a God who is pleased with him, who sees his position in the synagogue as evidence of his true spiritual virtue, how do you tell that man that good is not relative, it is absolute, and there’s only one who is good and that’s God, and he is not?

And then tell him, as a student of the law, that he is a regular violator of the whole law of God from the top to the bottom who worships himself. And that’s the way it is with all people who refuse the gospel, who never get to the gospel. That’s why I say the gospel hangs in the shadows silently here. If the law doesn’t drive you to Christ, it will drive you to hell in your own spiritual pride. He’s a blasphemer who has another god. If he would do one thing, it would be to get rid of the other god and love the Lord with all his heart, soul, and mind.

Jesus, indirectly referring to the man’s idolatry while eyeing the crowd, said how hard it is for those with wealth to enter the kingdom of God (verse 23).

MacArthur says:

Looking around, just taking stock of who was there, perhaps making eye contact with certain people He knew that fit into the category of those who were rich. “He then said to His disciples, ‘How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God. How hard it will be.’”

Then Jesus said, to the disciples’ shock, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God (verse 24) and that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for the wealthy to inherit that kingdom (verse 25).

The rich have everything, and many believe they achieved it by themselves, so why would they want anything to do with the afterlife? Note how many celebrities and captains of industry are unbelievers. They have it all, so they think.

The disciples were shocked because, in the Jewish world at that time, wealth meant divine blessing. Lack of it was believed to be a divine curse.

MacArthur tells us about this traditional belief:

Our Lord said this about a very religious man. “How hard it is for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.” In the context of Israel, these are religious people who are wealthy. And according to their theology, they were wealthy because they were blessed by God. If you were wealthy, you were blessed by God, and if you were poor, you were cursed by God. If you were healthy, you were blessed by God; if you were sick, you were cursed by God.

That was the simplicity of their theology – and a wrong theology to be surebut the idea was that a very, very religious man like this who was very, very wealthy would be easily able to enter into the kingdom of God because he had so much money he could buy all the animal sacrifices, he could buy the spotless lamb where somebody else with less money would have to take a blemished lamb by the sheer money factor, or even lesser than a lamb, maybe even down to a bird.

This man had the money to purchase as many sacrifices as he wanted, maybe in the morning and evening sacrifices, they were capable, the rich were, of making more than the rest. Also, the fact that they continued to be blessed meant that God was pleased with them and it just kept escalating. And so up the ladder of spiritual confidence they would climb – not only in their own eyes but in the eyes of the people around them.

The rabbis said that with alms, one purchases his redemption. That’s what they said. Some of the writings are very interesting. One writing taken from Tobit says this: “It is good to do alms rather than to treasure up gold, for alms deliver from death, and this will purge away every sin.” Okay, that was Judaism. If you want your sins washed away, give money, or Sirach 3 says, “Alms will atone for sin.” Or the Talmud, “Almsgiving is more excellent than all offerings and is equal to the whole law.”

In other words, if you give alms, you have virtually kept the whole law and further will deliver from the condemnation of hell and make one perfectly righteous. Wow. So how do you become perfectly righteous? How are you delivered from the condemnation of the law and of hell? By giving money – by giving money. That was their system. So when Jesus says, “Look, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” this is completely counterintuitive to them. They don’t get that at all. It is a shocking statement, it is a jolt to their system.

Now remember, they had come to faith in Christ – and Peter will make that confession again in verse 28, as we’ll see in a few minutes – but they still had all the stuff of the legalistic system, which they had imbibed for their entire lives. They still saw wealth as a sign of divine blessing and wealth as a means of entering the kingdom of God because you bought your way in with your giving. They assumed a causal relationship between wealth and power and blessing from God.

Now we come to analysing the word ‘camel’. This is where we enter the theme of something being humanly impossible.

MacArthur looks at ancient writings outside the Bible for the answer:

What is this talking about? This is an expression found in writings outside the Bible. It is found in the Talmud, Jewish writings. And the expression there uses an elephant. It is easier for an elephant to go through the eye of a needle. That statement is used in the Talmud to reflect something that can’t happen. This is impossible. Since the elephant was the largest animal in the Middle East, an elephant was used in the Talmud. In this case, the largest animal in Israel – there were no elephants, as far as we know – was a camel, so they used the camel – fit their experience.

What is our Lord saying? It’s impossible, that’s what He’s saying. You cannot put a camel through the eye of a needle. Some have tried to tamper with that saying. Really, some have tampered even with original manuscripts, kamēlos, camel, kamilos, slight difference in the vowel, rope. Maybe some scribe made a mistake, put the wrong letter and it came out camel but it should be rope. That doesn’t help because you can’t put a rope through the eye of a needle, either. But that’s not the point. The point is this is a very common expression that appears even outside the Bible to express something that is impossible – it’s impossible.

The disciples, still astounded, asked who could be saved (verse 26).

Jesus replied that it was impossible for mortals to save themselves, but not for God, because, with God, all things are possible (verse 27).

MacArthur tells us:

That same phrase is used in Luke 1 to refer to the virgin birth. That’s an impossibility, right? This is an impossibility of that same category. As a child cannot be born without an earthly father, so a sinner cannot be reborn without a heavenly work of the Spirit of God.

It’s interesting that those two statements are made in those two contexts. One having to do with the virgin birth of Christ, which is a divine miracle from above, the other having to do with the regeneration of a sinner, which is a divine miracle from above. Only God can do this mighty, mighty work. John 1 opens up, “As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believed in His name who were born not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God” – but of God.

Or John 3, Nicodemus says in his heart, “What do I do to be born again? What do I do to get into the kingdom?” And Jesus says, “You need to be born again, but that which is born of the flesh” – is what? – “is flesh.” You need to be born from above, anōthen, you need to be born of the Spirit, born from above. Only God can work the work of regeneration. It is a divine miracle, and it is possible with God.

Peter said that he and the other disciples left everything to follow Jesus (verse 28).

Jesus replied that anyone who leaves his or her house, family, friends and livelihood (‘fields’) behind for His sake and that of the Good News (verse 29) will receive ‘a hundredfold’ the same comforts — with persecutions in this life and eternal life to come (verse 30).

Mark is the only one to mention persecution in this story.

Henry offers an interpretation, saying that the comforts we receive in following Christ might not be literally the same but will be comparable to what we left behind:

They shall receive a hundred-fold in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters; not in specie, but that which is equivalent. He shall have abundance of comfort while he lives, sufficient to make up for all his losses; his relation to Christ, his communion with the saints, and his title to eternal life, shall be to him brethren, and sisters, and houses, and all. God’s providence gave Job double to what he had had, but suffering Christians shall have a hundred-fold in the comforts of the Spirit sweetening their creature comforts. But observe, It is added here in Mark, with persecutions. Even when they are gainers by Christ, let them still expect to be sufferers for him; and not be out of the reach of persecution, till they come to heaven.

Jesus concluded by saying that many who are first (on earth) will be last (in the life to come) and the last will be first (verse 31).

Henry says that Jesus was telling the disciples to stop squabbling about their status, as there would be further and greater disciples to follow in the future, e.g. St Paul:

because they talked so much, and really more than became them, of leaving all for Christ, he tells them, though they were first called, that there should be disciples called after them, that should be preferred before them; as St. Paul, who was one born out of due time, and yet laboured more abundantly than all the rest of the apostles, 1 Corinthians 15:10. Then the first were last, and the last first.

On the other hand, MacArthur says this is a verse of equality:

“Many who are first will be last and the last first.” That principle – so important. They were always arguing about who’s going to be the greatest – right? – who’s going to be first, and our Lord says this to make a statement that can’t be mistaken, and yet many people mistake the meaning of the statement. What does it mean? It means everybody ends up equal, that’s what it means. If you’re first, you’re last, and you’re last, you’re first, then everybody’s the same.

This is defined for us in Matthew 19, verse 30, through 20, verse 16, when Jesus tells the story about people who worked one hour, three hours, five hours, eight hours, all different amounts of work and they all received the same pay. And Jesus said, “That’s because the last are first and the first are last,” everybody ends up the same.

At the conclusion of his sermon about the young ruler, MacArthur leaves us with these thoughts:

And the question is for you. What will you do? Many of you come near to Christ. You have a conversation with Him here on Sunday mornings. You walk away clinging to your cherished blasphemy, holding onto your own self-worship, your own pride, your own achievement, unwilling to recognize the profound depth and damning power of your own sin. You ignore the law’s condemnation. And instead of letting it be the tutor that drives you to Christ, you let it drive you into hell.

You just want to say to this young man, “Don’t you understand that the goodness you can’t achieve will be given to you as a gift? The righteousness you cannot attain will be given to you as a gift through the sacrifice of Christ? He was made sin for you, that you might become the righteousness of God in Him?”

This is Paul, isn’t it? That the thing that he pursued was garbage when he found there was an alien righteousness, the very righteousness of God that would be credited to his account. You can’t come into eternal life unless you’re as good as God, and the only way you can be as good as God is to have the goodness of God credited to you. That’s the gospel. Christ takes your punishment, pays for your sin, gives you His perfect goodness.

Beware of the selfish seeker, deluded about his own goodness, her own goodness. Stop the selfish seeker in his tracks with the law and judgment and a biblical definition of what it really means to be good.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

John F MacArthurThroughout his letters, St Paul often wrote of endurance, a resilience to the end.

John MacArthur has a sermon on the subject, ‘Secrets to Endurance’, based on 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self[a] is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

Excerpts follow, emphases mine.

Because we all want to know what St Paul’s secret to endurance was, I’ll start there, even though it is near the end of MacArthur’s sermon:

The secret is focusing on the inner man not the outer man, focusing on the spiritual and not the physical. The secret is to look to the future not the present, to take your eyes off present pain, and look at future glory. And the secret is to be consumed with what is invisible and not what is visible; to give your life to what will never perish, not what will perish. Place the unseen far above the seen, the future far above the present, and the spiritual far above the physical.

And when you do that, you will be able to say, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed.”

Paul suffered much persecution during his life, which, as an Apostle, though not one of the original twelve, brought him much physical pain. There was emotional pain also, because a lot of people wanted to kill him.

It could have been so different for him. As a Pharisee growing up far from Jerusalem, he was educated in Greek ways of thinking. When he moved to Jerusalem for religious training, he learned under the best teacher, Gamaliel. He could have had a highly privileged life.

Yet, the Lord chose Paul to evangelise in His name, far and wide, to Asia Minor, Macedonia and Greece.

Paul’s three-day long Damascene conversion began with an appearance by Christ along the road to Damascus which left him blinded during that time. Our Lord spoke to him, uncomfortable, yet eternal, truths for a persecutor of Christians such as Saul.

Paul wrote that he had seen the face of Christ. That blinding moment helped him persevere through the hardest trials of persecution.

MacArthur cites 2 Corinthians 3:18:

… he found the solution for his trouble, and his trial, and his anxiety, and his depression by looking at the face of Jesus. And as long, “beholding as in a mirror” – as verse 18 of chapter 3 says – “the glory of the Lord in the face of Jesus Christ” – as long as he did that, he found strength, and comfort, encouragement, and even joy in the midst of his trials.

MacArthur wants us to develop a similar spiritual strategy, imagining the face of Christ from the pages of the Bible and making that ‘image’, for lack of a better expression, a living one we look at every day:

So, we’ve been suggesting to you that looking into the face of Jesus is the way to live your Christian life. And that is an objective thing, not a subjective one. We’re not asking you to find some mystical image of Jesus in space somewhere and fix yourself on it, but rather to look at the Lord Jesus Christ as revealed on the pages of Scripture. And finding there the real Christ, learn to trust in Him.

Now, I want to sort of approach the same program, the same issue this morning, the same pattern of vision, looking at the person of Christ, but from a bit of a different angle, rather than just talking about looking at the face of Jesus, I want to take a step beyond that, and I want to define that look as love, if I may, and say to you that the reality of the Christian life, as I have been saying, is looking at the face of Jesus. And the reality of that is simply loving the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s really what that is. That is synonymous with loving the Lord Jesus Christ.

The reality of loving the Lord Jesus Christ is at the heart and soul and core of the Christian life. Love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. I’ll say it again; love for the Savior is present in every true Christian. In fact, we could be defined as those who love the Lord Jesus Christ. Most frequently we say, “Well, I accepted Christ,” or, “I trusted Christ,” or, “I confessed Christ,” or, “I put my faith in Christ.”

And perhaps what would be more true would be to say, “I love the Lord Jesus Christ,” and in so saying, you are saying he is the object of my highest affection. He is my highest joy. He is the one to whom I am supremely devoted. He is the object of my desires, and my interest, and my love. My whole life is centered on Christ. To use the words of Paul, “For to me, to live is Christ,” is another way of saying, “I love Christ with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength.” And Paul certainly exhibits that kind of devotion.

This is what Jesus asks us to do, as documented in the Gospels:

In John 8:42, Jesus said this, “If God were your Father, you would love Me.” “If God were your Father, you would love Me.”

In John 14:21, Jesus said, “He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me shall be loved by My Father, and I will love him and reveal Myself to him.”

This matter of being a Christian, then, is a matter of loving the Lord Jesus Christ – and being loved by Christ, by God the Father – and demonstrating that love in sacrifice a willingness to alienate yourself, if need be, from family, willing to give your life, a willingness to give up your life, and certainly a willingness to obey.

That is a tall order and one which I struggle with at times. I know very few believers, because there are few in Britain. Obedience is also something difficult for me, as I occasionally strain at the bit. Those are my weak points.

MacArthur summarises temptation rather well:

we take our eyes off Christ, don’t we? We fluctuate in the intensity of our love. We fluctuate; we wax and wane in the regularity of our devotion to Christ. Why? Because we become enamored with other attractions. Other things vie for our affections. Things in the world, material things; other people; other goals, and dreams, and ambitions, and desires, they compete.

And so, the love that we have for the Lord Jesus Christ, while always there, because it is an incorruptible love, fluctuates in its intensity, and we fluctuate in our devotion. When we take a our eyes off Jesus Christ, we become weak and sinful

and it’s hard to look if your affection is diverted.

I mean that’s true in the human life. You can and should be fixed and devoted to the object of your love, your marriage partner, an undiminished, incorruptible, and singular devotion. But there are other things, very, very often, that get in the way. And once other things or other people begin to distract our attention, no matter to what level of involvement we might come or not come, it begins to take away the singular devotion of attention that should be given to our own partner. The same thing is true in the spiritual dimension. So, Satan just parades a string of other things in front of us to divert us. And when we take our eyes off Jesus Christ, and our love for Him diminishes, we become weak and sinful.

This is something we must guard against because it can become a destructive habit.

MacArthur mentions our Lord’s letter to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:

Perhaps as graphic an illustration of that as is in the Scripture we would find in Revelation chapter 2. Let’s look at it, because it’ll set in motion what I want to say to you, and we’ll come a full circle by the time we’re finished and come back to this concept.

But do you remember the letter of the Lord to the church at Ephesus, a very, very well-known letter. And the Lord writes to them, and in verses 2, 3, and 6 of Revelation 2, He commends them. In verse 2 of Revelation 2, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance” – in other words, “I know that you serve; I know that you work hard, you labor, you toil to the point of exhaustion. I know your perseverance – that is your steadfastness – that is you stay at it; you stay at it. “I also know you can’t endure evil men” – you don’t tolerate wickedness. I also know that you put to the test those who call themselves apostles” – in other words, you measure them by the Scripture – “and if they are not, you will find them to be false.”

Verse 3, “You have perseverance, and you have endured for My name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.” And then in verse 6, “Yet the – this you do have, that you hate the deeds of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” They were a group of people involved in sinful indulgence, uncleanness, and immorality. He commends them for their purity, their discernment, their hatred of sin, their doctrinal soundness, their endurance, their service, their hard work. So much to be commended.

But the fatal flaw comes down there in verse 4, where He says, “I have this against you, that you have left your first love.” Sadly, the honeymoon had ended. Love was cold. No longer were they fixed on the Lord Jesus Christ …

And so, then we have an essential word here for us as to the church at Ephesus. Verse 5, “Remember, therefore, from where you have fallen” – get back to that first affection, that first love – “repent and do the deeds which you did at first. If you don’t, I’ll remove your lampstand.”

The church in Ephesus was dying then. The Muslim invasions of the 7th century ended what was left of it.

Returning to Paul’s endurance, MacArthur says:

And so Paul here, as he writes, back to 2 Corinthians chapter 4, is in the middle of severe trials, severe problems, heartbreaking issues in the church, physical things pale beside the immense emotional trauma that he was feeling as everything was up for grabs, and his whole ministry was being assaulted as to its integrity.

And in the midst of that he finds his equilibrium, and he finds his strength, and he finds his victory, and he finds his peace, and he finds even joy not by changing circumstances, but by looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God revealed.

And so, we have said that as he talks [about] the new covenant here, and the great privileges of being a new covenant preacher, he’s not just talking about something for which others are privileged, but he himself, because his own joy is found in looking into the glories of the Lord Jesus Christ who is the new covenant.

And so, in verse 18, he says looking at the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God is a clarifying look. In verse 18 he says it’s a transforming look. Then in chapter 4, verse 1, it is a strengthening look. At the end of the verse, we do not lose heart. Looking into the face of Jesus, in verse 2, is a purifying look. It causes us to renounce the things that are hidden because of shame and not walk in deception.

It is a truth-loving look. It causes us never to adulterate the Word of God, but always by the manifestation of the truth commend ourselves to ever man’s conscience in the sight of God. So, it is a truth-loving look. So, Paul has found that no matter what the trial, things become clear. He becomes transformed, strengthened, purified, and begins to love the truth as he gazes at the face of Jesus Christ in any situation.

Paul could have boasted about that, but he remained humble:

Whenever Paul talked about himself, he talked about his weakness. Whenever he referred to himself, he referred to himself in terms of his inabilities. The apostle Paul never promoted himself, never preached himself. His vision of Christ caused the glory of Christ to dominate his life. His love for Christ caused him to be completely consumed by Jesus Christ, and Christ was the focus of everything. If we would boast in glory, he would glory in the Lord. And if there was anything to boast about in him, it was his weakness – so in his weakness he could be made strong. He never promoted himself.

He goes further, in verse 5, “For we do not preach ourselves but Christ Jesus as Lord.” I think we could safely conclude from that that Paul was a lordship preacher. I think that’s a safe assumption. He preached Christ Jesus as Lord.

Humility is essential:

Let me tell you something, a true look into the face of Jesus results in humility. It results in humility. I mean this is very, very basic. Anyone looking at the face of Jesus is turned into a humble, self-effacing person. It’s true.

And conversely, anyone who is not humble is not looking into the face of Jesus. Anyone who is in love with Christ and deeply, profoundly devoted to Christ, anyone who has established the Lord Jesus Christ as the object of his affections, the singular object of his love is going to manifest humility. He’s going to be a servant of the one he loves and a servant of those whom the one he loves loves. Going to be a servant of God’s people.

Where there is a real look at Jesus, where there is a real love for the Lord Jesus Christ, you will see humility. And where there is no humility, there is no real vision of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and there is a kind of love that we could say is less than first love. In fact, where you see pride, there’s another person vying for that love, and it’s self. Right?

That’s why when I – when I look at someone who names the name of Jesus Christ, particularly someone who claims to be a preacher and represent the Lord Jesus Christ and proclaim His truth, the first thing I look for is – what? – humility. Because I’m going to know the level of love for the Lord Jesus Christ in that person’s life by the demonstration of humility. And if there’s not humility there, then self is the main object of affection, and they’re not looking into the face of Jesus and seeing the glory of God.

The reason for humility is the realisation that we cannot accomplish salvation ourselves:

And salvation or redemption is as much a divine operation as was creation, and it’s as much a creative operation. Spiritual darkness covers the minds of men and women until God shines in their hearts. Colossians 1 says, “Giving thanks to the Father” – verse 12 – “who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light. For He delivered us from the domain of darkness.” Thanks to Him, He did it. He delivered us. It wasn’t our cleverness, ingenuity, insight, ability to comprehend. It wasn’t our good sense, common sense, and it wasn’t the cleverness of a preacher; it was simply the truth presented. God turned on the light. God alone can dispel the darkness. Second Corinthians 5:18 says, “All these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself in Christ.” God alone can dispel the darkness of sin and ignorance in which people are perishing under Satan’s deception. Only the creative power of the Almighty can transfer men from that kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.

It’s right back there in Isaiah 2, “The people who walk in darkness will see a great light. Those who live in a dark land, the light will shine on them.” And Jesus came and said, “I’m the fulfillment of that.” He was the true Light that lights every man who comes into the world.

Christ bore the light of God. God alone can turn on the light in the heart. So, the point that he’s making is creation and redemption are each works of God. God commanded the light to shine out of darkness at the creation. And the light which shined in a creative way has now begun to shine in a redemptive way. The light of creation has become the light of salvation. The light placed in the heavens has now become a light placed in the heart. He light which was material has become immaterial or moral. The physical light of the sun – S-U-N – has become the spiritual light of the Son – S-O-N. The universal light has become the personal light. The sovereign God shines the gospel light into the human heart, when the truth is preached, and God designs to save.

And so, he says in verse 6, “God is the one who has shone in our hearts to give the light, to make the light known. And what is that light? It is the light that is the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. What is the light? It is to know who Christ is: that He is graduate incarnate, that He is the clearest revelation of God. It is the illumination of the truth about God revealed in Christ. That’s it.

And Paul is saying, “Whatever might happen to me, I can’t despair. Whatever might happen to me, I can’t be depressed for very long. Whatever may happen to me, I can’t be sad and sorrowful. Whatever difficulties of ministry, I can’t quit, bail out and fail, and give up, because I am so immensely, immensely blessed that my heart is overwhelmed with thanksgiving, that in the midst of my darkness, a sovereign God chose to turn on the light.

MacArthur concludes:

So, rekindle that first love. Remember from where you are fallen. Begin again to focus all your life on knowing Jesus Christ, gazing at Him through the mirror of Scripture that reflects the glory of God in the face of Christ, and you’ll find in Him all the realities and all the resources for triumph, for peace, and for joy.

It’s an encouraging message for the week ahead.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The Temple of the Living God

14 Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? 15 What accord has Christ with Belial?[a] Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? 16 What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

“I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them,
    and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.
17 Therefore go out from their midst,
    and be separate from them, says the Lord,
and touch no unclean thing;
    then I will welcome you,
18 and I will be a father to you,
    and you shall be sons and daughters to me,
says the Lord Almighty.”

———————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post concerned the greater glory of the New Covenant compared with the Old Covenant, which is no more.

In today’s reading, Paul addresses the Corinthians’ syncretic (false) religion combining Christianity with idolatry.

John MacArthur describes their situation, exacerbated by false teachers (emphases mine):

When a person becomes a believer they are transported out of one world into another And shuttling back and forth is absolutely unacceptable And that is precisely what the Corinthians were trying to do.  Having named the name of Christ, identified with Him, come into the church, they were still hanging on to their own idolatry, their old pagan ways

Corinth was dominated above the city by an acropolis, a high mountain on top of which was the temple to the false deities which engaged itself in pagan ritual and worship and priestess prostitution This temple not only was the center of that religion, but from it disseminated its religious viewpoints and ideologies through the entire culture of Corinth It was a part of everything in life Holidays, festivals, celebrations and so forth.  And it was a constant pull to the Corinthians to fall back into those old patterns And they did

Additionally, the false teachers had come in and they had brought a quasi-Christian syncretism and eclectic religion which took Christianity, a little bit of Jewish legalism and some pagan religion, and melted it all together and offered it as the truth And that compromise had found its way into the Corinthian church and found an audience and some of them were listening and believing and accepting it.  You see, the false teachers wanted to make Christianity more popular, less demanding, less distinct, less narrow, less offensive, less different, less exclusive so they’d get more people in on it, so they could get more money, which is always what false teachers want

And so here is the Corinthian church, new and fresh and being assaulted by pagan religion around it You couldn’t separate the social life from the religion You couldn’t separate the historical life of that village in terms of its patterns from the religion.  And that village that became a city bore all of the signs of the religion that moved in its growth.  It was a full-blown pagan system down to the very core And it was hard to sort it out

To be involved at all in the life of the culture was to be involved in the paganism, unless you made a very clean break The Corinthians didn’t do it And as I said, then add to that the confusion of the false teachers

It’s very much like modern Christianity today, by the way, that seeks to blend Christianity with popular culture, wants to make Christianity more popular, less different, more palatable, less offensive, less narrow, less exclusive.  And the result of it is that true Christianity and the purity of God’s Word gets corrupted by compromise, and the church can become useless and shameful and blasphemous in mocking the truth

With that in mind, Paul instructs the Corinthians to have nothing to do with unbelievers, asking what partnership righteousness has with lawlessness or light with darkness (verse 14).

The answer is none; the two are mutually exclusive, as MacArthur says:

The terminology is clear.  One of those worlds is marked by righteousness, light, Christ, believers, and the presence of God The other is marked by lawlessness, darkness, Satan, unbelievers, and the presence of false gods And these two worlds are utterly different and distinct, so much so that they are mutually exclusive. 

They cannot work together in common partnership; they cannot fellowship together They are not in harmony with one another One is old; the other is new.  One is earthly; the other is heavenly.  One is deadly; the other is life giving.  One is wicked; the other holyOne is built on lies; the other is all truthOne perishes and the other lives eternally.

Paul then is making it clear that believers can’t live in both worlds Certainly, John said this in his first epistle, 1 John, when he clearly identified this disparity between the two worlds with these familiar words, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  Mutually exclusive worldsYou can’t be in both at the same time.

MacArthur explains that lawlessness in the Bible is used to describe unbelievers:

Question number one, “For what partnership have righteousness and lawlessness?”  Partnership is metoch It’s the only place it’s used in the New Testament, it’s really a synonym for the word Koinonia, which means partnership It means a common sharing together, the common engagement in a common effort And obviously righteousness and lawlessness can’t join hands in the same enterprise Righteousness is that which pleases and honors God Lawlessness is that which displeases and dishonors God Righteousness is doing what is right.  Lawlessness is doing what is wrong. 

Believers are classified in the Bible as righteous The righteousness of Christ has been imputed to us ... God has covered us with the righteousness of Christ which includes the forgiveness of sins.  On the other hand, unbelievers are lawless, unrighteous.  Their sins are not forgiven.  There is no possible partnership for those two very opposite categories.

What about unbelievers?  In what way are they lawless?  Well it simply means they do not abide by God’s law They violate it, they rebel against it, and they disobey it And the Bible characterizes unbelievers as lawless They will be damned to eternal punishment because they are lawless, because they are unrighteous, because they violate God’s law and there is no possible cure for that violation because they do not come to the Savior who alone provides forgiveness.  So they die, as Jesus said, in their sins and are punished eternally

Jesus classifies them that way For example, in Matthew 7:23 He says to those who claim to know Him, “I never knew you, depart from Me – ” and here’s His characterization of those to be judged – “you who practice lawlessness.”  The pattern of their life is an ongoing, constant, uninterrupted, violation of God’s law, God’s command, God’s will and God’s Word. 

Therefore, Paul’s primary purpose of that verse is to make it clear that the unrighteous should not be involved with leadership positions in church.

MacArthur has more. He gave this sermon in 1995:

What we’re talking about here is any linking together with an unbeliever in any religious or spiritual enterprise That’s what we’re talking about.  We’re not talking about mutual funds; you can rest easy.  We’re not talking about you should quit your job cause you work with non-believers We’re not talking about Christians pulling out of the school because he doesn’t have a Christian teacher We’re not talking about leaving your neighborhood We’re not talking about any of that.  We’re talking about a spiritual enterprise, worship, ministry, evangelism.

Religious cooperation between the kingdom of darkness and the kingdom of light is ridiculous Why would we want to give Satan access?  You say, “Is this…is this a problem?”  Is this a problem?  This is Satan’s number one ploy.  I remember when I was a student in college I was first confronted with the fact that huge massive evangelistic endeavors were being held in America And the committees were made up of Christians and non-Christians, people who believed the Bible and people who denied the Bible and were theological liberals And I wasn’t particularly profound, believe me, at that age .. But it was in those years and I was asking, “How can they do that?  I don’t understand how you can bring unbelievers and believers together in a common spiritual enterprise.”  It doesn’t make any sense.  I mean, why would you invite Satan in?

We still have that today Satan still endeavors to encroach.  Recently we had the Promise Keepers event in Los Angeles And right around the time of the Promise Keepers, I picked up the Los Angeles Times and found that the Cardinal…the Catholic Cardinal had affirmed everything about the Promise Keepers and encouraged all the parish priests to take all their men That was followed in an article, I think a day later, by the local Mormon bishop who said that he was encouraging all the Mormons to go What does that say about Promise Keepers?  Nothing.  What it says about Satan is everything That’s always been his approach He doesn’t want to fight it; he wants to what?  He wants to join it

If we are married to unbelievers, we should not divorce them, because God hates divorce.

However, Christians looking for a spouse should be careful, nonetheless.

MacArthur relates this true story:

I’ll never forget a young man with whom I had a close association in seminary, one of the most tragic things.  We were dear friends We participated in all kinds of activities together.  He was headed to the ministry, as I was.  We graduated from Talbot Seminary the same year.  He married a Buddhist It wasn’t long until there was a Buddhist altar in his house It wasn’t long until he had abandoned the faith One wife.  You know, whenever I see men who are notably in the mainstream of the church and evangelicalism, and all of a sudden they seem to fall off into some serious deviation or error, I always want to ask, “What is the wife like?”  Certainly in many, many cases, if not most, that’s where Satan’s subtleties enter in.

Paul goes on to ask what accord Christ has with Belial, or Satan, and what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever (verse 15).

The answer, again, is absolutely none.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states another important consideration about a forming a close relationship with an unbeliever:

Believers are made light in the Lord, but unbelievers are in darkness; and what comfortable communion can these have together? Christ and Belial are contrary one to the other; they have opposite interests and designs, so that it is impossible there should be any concord or agreement between them. It is absurd, therefore, to think of enlisting under both; and, if the believer has part with an infidel, he does what in him lies to bring Christ and Belial together.

What a terrifying way to lay out the truth of the matter.

The next three verses — 16 through 18 — are a summary of four verses from the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us:

“Just as God said I will dwell in them and walk among them, and I will be their God and they shall be My people.”  And by the way, that mosaic of Old Testament texts is the blending together of statements made in Leviticus 26:11 and 12, Jeremiah 24:7 and Ezekiel 37 and 27 He is just taking what is the Old Testament teaching and sort of pulling it together in a mosaic and summarizing it, and saying God says He will dwell in His people and walk among them and be their God and they’ll belong to Him.  We are the temple of the living God. 

Paul asks what agreement the temple of God has with idols, stating that we are the temple of the living God, as He said, ‘I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people’ (verse 16).

MacArthur says:

I love the fact that He is called the living God as over against the dead idols That’s a common expression with Paul in contrast to dead idols.  He uses it in Romans, 2 Corinthians, Thessalonians and 1 Timothy.  Any joining to unbelievers is putting idols in the temple of God, or putting the temple of God in an idol temple It is blatantly, overtly, intolerably sacrilegious And he confirms it with that little phrase, “Just as God said.”  And if you do that, you are openly, flagrantly assaulting what God has said. 

Paul continues his scriptural summary, saying that the Lord says to be separate from unbelievers and touch no unclean thing (verse 17), a reference to idols. Then He will welcome us.

Henry has another stern warning:

There is a great deal of danger in communicating with unbelievers and idolators, danger of being defiled and of being rejected; therefore the exhortation is (2 Corinthians 6:17; 2 Corinthians 6:17) to come out from among them, and keep at a due distance, to be separate, as one would avoid the society of those who have the leprosy or the plague, for fear of taking infection, and not to touch the unclean thing, lest we be defiled. Who can touch pitch, and not be defiled by it? We must take care not to defile ourselves by converse with those who defile themselves with sin; so is the will of God, as we ever hope to be received, and not rejected, by him.

Paul concludes, saying that, if we do these things, the Lord Almighty will be our Father and we will be His sons and daughters (verse 18).

Henry asks:

is there a greater honour or happiness than this? How ungrateful a thing then must it be if those who have this dignity and felicity should degrade and debase themselves by mingling with unbelievers! Do we thus requite the Lord, O foolish and unwise?

Here’s a question that many will probably want an answer to: can we take unbelievers to church?

MacArthur says that we definitely can do so:

You say, “Do you mean unbelievers shouldn’t come to church?”  No, I don’t mean that.  I pray God that they will, and when they do that they’ll be saved What I mean is church isn’t to be designed to make pagans feel comfortable That is not its purpose.  They should be starkly held to accountability for their sins when they enter into the place of worship And they should feel uncomfortable and disconcerted.

So, what can we do about unbelievers we know and love?

Pray, pray and pray again that God draws them to Himself through Jesus Christ. I have been praying for months for someone I know to come to the faith. I will continue to do so. It is a long-term project of mine.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 8:1-6

The Eighteenth Sunday after Trinity — Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is October 3, 2021.

Readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 10:2-16

10:2 Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?”

10:3 He answered them, “What did Moses command you?”

10:4 They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.”

10:5 But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you.

10:6 But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’

10:7 ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife,

10:8 and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh.

10:9 Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

10:10 Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter.

10:11 He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her;

10:12 and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.”

10:13 People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them.

10:14 But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, “Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs.

10:15 Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”

10:16 And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

There is a lot to discuss here, so grab yourself a cup of tea and a biscuit.

We pick up where we left off last Sunday.

It is unclear why the Lectionary editors left out Mark 10:1, so here it is:

And he left there and went to the region of Judea and beyond the Jordan, and crowds gathered to him again. And again, as was his custom, he taught them.

John MacArthur explains:

… we find Him, according to verse 1, having concluded His Galilean ministry. And actually, by the time we get into this chapter in Mark, He has also concluded His Judean ministry, which lasted quite a number of months. Mark gives us no record of that at all. If you want the record of that period of ministry, look at Luke 10 through 18, and those months are covered in a summary fashion by Luke.

So we jump from the Galilean ministry right over the top of the Judean ministry, and here we find our Lord beyond the Jordan in the area called Peraea, often referred to, then, as His Peraean ministry. This is the last little bit of ministry He does before He goes down to Jericho and in chapter 11 enters Jerusalem for the final week of His life. So we’re at the end of His earthly ministry here, virtually at the end of it. And He is teaching His disciples some very, very important lessons, and this one happens to be about the subject of divorce.

Also:

There were lots of people there. He was ministering there at the very end. Why? Because when He left Galilee, He left the hostility of Galilee. Six months in Judea has escalated the hostility of Judea, so He spent the last brief time before His death crossing the Jordan into Peraea.

So in chapter 10, you really have His Peraean ministry. It’s just one chapter. As I say, Mark doesn’t even tell us about the six months, we just have one chapter, and then in chapter 11, verse 1, He enters Jerusalem. The Galilean Jews who went down to Jerusalem, which they would start doing now because Passover would be coming – that’s why Jesus went there, to be the Passover – Galilean Jews would travel south on the east side of Jordan because if they were on the west side, they’d be going through Samaria, and they hated the Samaritans because they were inter-married half-breeds.

And so they would all go down the east side, all the way down to Jericho, and from Jericho up to Jerusalem, and so our Lord would find crowds there at the last time of His ministry, crowds of people, because there were many Jews who had moved there during the reign of Herod the Great, and they lived there but there would also be many pilgrims, traversing on their way to Jerusalem.

It had a large Jewish population, as I said, that developed during the reign of Herod the Great, the father of the current ruler, Herod Antipas. So we read here there were crowds gathered around Him. Those would be the Jews that lived in that area, as well as the pilgrims headed to Jerusalem, as the migration would have begun toward the coming feasts.

The Pharisees were on hand to test him with a question about divorce (verse 2).

MacArthur says that the question being posed and where the Pharisees posed it was no accident, but part of a plan to put Jesus in danger:

They were putting Him to the test with the purpose of discrediting Him. They wanted Him to say things that would alienate Him from the people. Since divorce was popular among the leaders, it was popular among the people, the men especially. And they wanted Jesus to say what they knew He believed because they had heard it before.

They wanted Him to say that divorce was wrong, and they wanted Him to condemn everybody that was divorced, and that would set Him against the leaders and against the people, irritate the people, and thus Jesus would not be nearly so popular. But even more than that, it happened to be that they confront Him on the subject in Peraea because they’re in the territory under Herod Antipas, and Herod had divorced his wife and married the divorced wife of his own brother and committed incest with her because she was his relative.

And John the Baptist had confronted this divorce and Herod chopped his head off. They were hoping that if Jesus took John’s position on divorce, Herod might rise again and destroy Jesus the way he had destroyed John the Baptist. So they had some plans to discredit Jesus and even to have Him killed by bringing up the question.

We do not normally think of the ancient Jews as favouring divorce, but they did in the Old Testament.

MacArthur tells us of the books of Nehemiah and Malachi where Jewish men divorced their Jewish wives in order to marry pagan women. In the time of Jesus, Jewish men were divorcing their wives under petty claims of indecency, which could be anything trivial, to marry other Jewish women:

What they were doing was divorcing their Jewish wives to marry pagan Gentile women. That’s how, essentially, the Old Testament history ends. Nehemiah and Malachi give us the last word, and the last word of the Old Testament to the priests and the people is, “Do not divorce your wives, I hate divorce.” Four hundred years later, we arrive in Mark’s gospel in the New Testament period, and you can go back to chapter 10. Divorce now has been reestablished as a noble alternative, a righteous behavior.

The Jews of our Lord’s day have a rationalized framework to make divorce acceptable. They’re engaged in it. It was rampant through the culture of Israel and including the priests who were the ones indicted originally four hundred years earlier by Malachi and Nehemiah. This issue of pervasive divorce in the land of Israel becomes the subject of the opening verses of this chapter.

Jesus responds by asking them what Moses commanded (verse 3).

They responded by saying that Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce a wife (verse 4).

Jesus replied that Moses allowed that provision because of their hardness of heart (verse 5).

Matthew Henry says that some men would have killed their wives just to be rid of them:

That the reason why Moses, in his law, permitted divorce, was such, as that they ought not to make use of that permission; for it was only for the hardness of their hearts (Mark 10:5; Mark 10:5), lest, if they were not permitted to divorce their wives, they should murder them; so that none must put away their wives but such as are willing to own that their hearts were so hard as to need this permission.

Jesus referred to Genesis 1:27: Adam and Eve, male and female (verse 6). There were no other humans in the Garden of Eden.

MacArthur discusses God’s plan for a union between a man and a woman:

Now, what’s important about that is there is no provision for polygamy. There isn’t Adam and Eve and Sally and Alice. And there is no provision for divorce because there are not a few single women hanging around as options or alternatives. In the order of creation, there was one man and one woman. There are no spare parts. There are no spare people. They were created for each other and for no one else. Their union was complete, their union was unique, and they are a pattern for all to follow. Every marriage is no less an indissoluble union between one man and one woman.

And there were no provisions for any other people. The argument is clear. In the case of Adam and Eve, divorce is not only inadvisable, it is not only wrong, it is impossible where there isn’t anybody else for either of them to marry.

Jesus went on to cite Genesis 2:24: a man shall leave his mother and father to be joined to his wife and the two will become one flesh (verses 7, 8).

Matthew 19:5 uses the word ‘cleave’ or ‘cling’, as in sticking to each other as one:

Verse 7, “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother,” and Matthew adds, “and shall cling to his wife.” This is Genesis 2:24. This is the God-ordained view of marriage. It is an independent, strong union. You leave father and mother. You break the prior family bond. And in the language of Matthew 19:5, which is taken from Genesis 2:24, “You cling” or cleave “to your wife.” The idea of that word is glue – glue. You’re literally stuck together.

It is not a – arm’s-length relationship, it is not a look-and-see trial. You are glued together. And it also, that word, carries the idea – cleaving carries the idea of pursuing hard after. It is two people unbreakably connected together, glued together, and pursuing hard after each other to be united in mind and will and spirit and body and emotion. The Jewish term for marriage is kiddushin. It means sanctification or consecration. Both of those words mean something completely set apart for special use. It was used to describe something dedicated to God as His exclusive possession, His personal possession.

Jesus said what God has joined together, no man must separate (verse 9).

MacArthur explains:

You can’t divide one. One is the indivisible number – one is the indivisible number.

That oneness, that indivisibility is seen in the product of those two, isn’t it? Children. The child is the one that comes out of the two. It is an indivisible oneness that manifests itself in the offspring that are the ones that come from the two. Family plays into this, then, by implication. We all understand the destructiveness of the family in divorce.

Later, once they were in the house where they were staying, the disciples asked Jesus again about divorce (verse 10).

He responded, saying that a man who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her (verse 11) and that a woman who divorces her husband to marry another man commits adultery (verse 12).

Henry says:

No more is here related of this private conference, that the law Christ laid down in this case–That it is adultery for a man to put away his wife, and marry another; it is adultery against the wife he puts away, it is a wrong to her, a breach of his contract with her, Mark 10:11; Mark 10:11. He adds, If a woman shall put away her husband, that is, elope from him, leave him by consent, and be married to another, she commits adultery (Mark 10:12; Mark 10:12), and it will be no excuse at all for her to say that it was with the consent of her husband. Wisdom and grace, holiness and love, reigning in the heart, will make those commands easy which to the carnal mind may be as a heavy yoke.

Children feature in Mark 10, just as they did in Mark 9.

People were bringing their children to Jesus so that He might touch them, but the disciples rebuked them (verse 13).

We would find that a strange response, but the disciples, still thinking of works-based salvation, disregarded small children because they did not understand Mosaic law nor could they accomplish what was involved in keeping those laws.

MacArthur explains:

So while they had come to salvation by grace, they had imbibed so much of their former system (salvation by works) that they didn’t think children fit in anywhere. And, of course, the Lord hadn’t apparently said anything to this point about the children, so this is their teaching moment. They strongly protest this group of parents who desired the Lord to bless their babies and pray for their babies, convinced that this would just be an unnecessary, trivial interruption.

And, again, if you just took a Greek New Testament, took the word epitimaō and started in Mark 3 and traced it through Mark 10, you would see that every time it’s used, it’s a very intense reprimand. So the disciples really let those parents have it

And that is a very strong word, epitimaō, a compound word intensified again by a preposition as verbs tend to be in the Greek language. Literally, it means they censured them or they reprimanded them. In a noun form, it means punishment. They turned on these parents. Their worldview, their religious worldview, was such that children had no place in the system of religion, no place before God, not until they arrived at the point where they could do the things they needed to do to gain God’s favor.

The practice of a Jewish blessing either by a patriarch or a religious elder was widespread throughout history:

There are Old Testament illustrations of how fathers blessed their children. There are a number of them. All through the patriarchal period, fathers blessed their children, Noah blessed Shem and Japheth, and we see that through the patriarchs, through Jacob and passed down to the next generation and the next, Isaac blessing his sons and Jacob blessing his sons, and this was a typical fatherly benediction pronounced on the heads of children.

What was it about? It was a desire, including a prayer, for their spiritual blessing. It was that God would show favor to them. In fact, it was even more specific. The elders used to say that when you pray for your child and you pray blessing on your child, you pray this, that the child would be famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. Famous in the law, faithful in marriage, and abundant in good works. The father would lay his hands on the child’s head, the elders of the synagogue would come together and they would do the same and bless the child, and they would pray for the child.

The Talmud tells us that it was a very customary thing for parents to bring their children, their little children, to be blessed by the elders of the synagogue, and in Judaism, there was a special day set aside for this, the day before the Day of Atonement, the day before Yom Kippur. In fact, they would bring their children that day before praying that, of course, the atonement the next day would be applied to those children.

The children in today’s reading were toddlers, little innocents.

Jesus was indignant with the disciples, telling them that they should not stop the children coming to Him because they were part of the kingdom of God (verse 14).

MacArthur tells us:

“He was indignant” – again, a very strong verb, to be angry, to be irate. This is not an insignificant issue, not a minor issue. Jesus doesn’t pass over this lightly. He is very angry that they would treat children this way. The parents were not wrong. He did not rebuke the parents. Only the disciples were rebuked for their wrong assumptions and their bad understanding of Scripture.

MacArthur says this is an unconditional promise for children and is not dependent on baptism. This is important for parents who have lost their little ones:

The kingdom of God belongs to such as these. There are no qualifiers there. Okay? There are no caveats there. There are no conditions there. This is so very important. He doesn’t say the kingdom of God belongs to these as if somehow these particular babies were in the kingdom. He says the kingdom of God belongs to such as these, meaning the whole category or the whole class of beings to which these babies belong. Literally, the kingdom of God belongs to these kind, babies, infants, little children.

Matthew calls it the kingdom of heaven and says the same thing, it belongs to such as these. Not just to these but to the whole category to which these belong. The kingdom of God belongs to babies. They have a place in the kingdom. They have a part in the kingdom.

What is He talking about, the kingdom? He’s talking about the sphere of salvation – the sphere of salvation – same thing He was always talking about. The sphere in which God rules over those who belong to Him, the spiritual domain in which souls exist under His special care.

Now, what’s important here is He just said that babies, as a category, have a part in the kingdom. They belong to it, it belongs to them, same thing. Nothing is said about the parents’ faith, nothing is said about a covenant as if there was some family covenant. Nothing is said about baptism. Nothing is said about circumcision. Nothing is said about any rite, any ritual, any parental promise, parental covenant, or any national covenant. His words simply and completely engulf all babies. They belong to the kingdom; the kingdom belongs to them.

And if our Lord was ever going to teach infant baptism, this would have been the perfect spot. All He would have to have said was, “These children will possess the kingdom if you baptize them.” But He doesn’t say that. This was His golden opportunity, but He said nothing, and neither does anybody else in the Bible say anything about infant baptism. This is not about personal faith, either. He doesn’t commend the parents’ faith. He doesn’t commend the babies’ faith, which would be nonexistent. He simply says babies belong in the kingdom and the kingdom belongs to them, as a category

This is not salvation, but this is His special care. And in the event that the child dies, I think the testimony of Scripture is that child receives salvation at the point of death because of God’s sovereign grace. Another way to look at it is to understand that all babies that die are elect. They’re all saved. Christ’s sacrifice is applied to them all.

Jesus was emphatic — ‘Truly, I tell you’ — that whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it (verse 15).

That means that we need to be as little innocents when approaching the Gospel and our Lord.

MacArthur says:

You have to come the way children come – simple, open, trusting, unpretentious, dependent, weak, lacking achievement, humbly. And if you don’t come like that, you’ll never enter the kingdom.

Henry has an eloquent commentary on that verse:

We must receive the kingdom of God as little children (Mark 10:15; Mark 10:15); that is, we must stand affected to Christ and his grace as little children do to their parents, nurses, and teachers. We must be inquisitive, as children, must learn as children (that is the learning age), and in learning must believe, Oportet discentem credere–A learner must believe. The mind of a child is white paper (tabula rasa–a mere blank), you may write upon it what you will; such must our minds be to the pen of the blessed Spirit. Children are under government; so must we be. Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? We must receive the kingdom of God as the child Samuel did, Speak, Lord, for thy servant heareth. Little children depend upon their parents’ wisdom and care, are carried in their arms, go where they send them, and take what they provide for them; and thus must we receive the kingdom of God, with a humble resignation of ourselves to Jesus Christ, and an easy dependence upon him, both for strength and righteousness, for tuition, provision, and a portion.

Jesus took the children in His arms, laid His hands on them and blessed them (verse 16).

Henry says this was a fulfilment of prophecy:

See how he out-did the desires of these parents; they begged he would touch them, but he did more. (1.) He took them in his arms. Now the scripture was fulfilled (Isaiah 40:11), He shall gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom. Time was, when Christ himself was taken up in old Simeon’s arms, Luke 2:28. And now he took up these children, not complaining of the burthen (as Moses did, when he was bid to carry Israel, that peevish child, in his bosom, as a nursing father bears the sucking child,Numbers 11:12), but pleased with it. If we in a right manner bring our children to Christ, he will take them up, not only in the arms of his power and providence, but in the arms of his pity and grace (as Ezekiel 16:8); underneath them are the everlasting arms. (2.) He put his hands upon them, denoting the bestowing of his Spirit upon them (for that is the hand of the Lord), and his setting them apart for himself. (3.) He blessed them with the spiritual blessings he came to give. Our children are happy, if they have but the Mediator’s blessing for their portion. It is true, we do not read that he baptized these children, baptism was not fully settled as the door of admission into the church until after Christ’s resurrection; but he asserted their visible church-membership, and by another sign bestowed those blessings upon them, which are now appointed to be conveyed and conferred by baptism, the seal of the promise, which is to us and to our children.

In closing, I wanted to share with you John MacArthur‘s views on marriage. Like him, I would like to see as many people married as possible.

He says not to wait too long or be too fussy:

… by the way, marriage is the grace of life. And here’s a verse all you ladies know, “A man who finds a good wife finds a good thing. A wife is a gift from the Lord,” Proverbs 19:14. A wife is the best gift that God can ever give a man; a husband is the best gift that God could ever give a woman. It’s the best thing in life. It’s the greatest joy in life. It’s the greatest fulfillment in life.

The disciples were talking on a very theoretical and pragmatic level. It’s not good for man to be what? Alone. It is the grace of life. It is the joy of all joys, the blessing of all blessings. It is the path to fruitfulness, to children, the blessing of children, the blessing of grandchildren, the blessing of family. So He says it’s a nice sentiment, but you’re made to be married. Find somebody. Don’t look for the Messiah, just find somebody.

I keep saying that to girls, you know, the Messiah came and went, you’ve got to settle for somebody else. Not everybody can receive it. He means not everybody can be fulfilled in a single state. Not everybody – literally, the word means have space or room for that. You need to be married. We say, “Well, if marriage is so hard….”

Well, look, let me tell you how to make a marriage work. Two people perfectly related to Jesus Christ will be perfectly related to each other. Two people who seek to honor Christ will have no problem honoring each other. How do you treat your spouse? You treat your spouse the way you would treat Christ because when you receive that person, you receive Christ. You treat that person the way Christ would treat that person.

People sometimes say to me, “You seem to have a good marriage.” I do have a good marriage. I’m ecstatic about the marriage that God has given to me. I love my wife more now than I’ve ever loved her. I can’t even – I don’t even know where I stop and she starts. That’s the way it is. She has not been married to a perfect man, but she has been married to a man who pursues the things in her life that I believe Christ would want for her. And the same for me. She pursues in my life the things that Christ would want for me. And it’s the joy of all joys, it’s supreme joy.

And I’ll tell you young people, I know some of you are hanging around, waiting for the perfect person to come up. Look, just find somebody in whom Christ lives who desires to serve Christ and don’t postpone marriage needlessly. Get married. This is the grace of life. We need more kids in the nursery. The kingdom grows that way.

You know, hanging around until you’re 30 years of age, just checking everybody out, guess what – they’re checking you out, and they’re not thrilled, either, so just find somebody. You’re wasting great years, do you understand that? You’re wasting great, great years. If I could wish anything for myself, I wish that I had gotten married younger because it’s such a wonderful thing, a blessed thing, God-honoring thing. In Christ, your marriage can be anything that Christ wants it to be, if you walk with Him.

You’re in the best of circumstances here to have a sanctifying influence. Let me tell you something: It’s not good to be single. It’s good to have a sanctifying influence in your life right next to you 24 hours a day. And you want a strong believer. Just find one and let that person be a spiritual influence on you.

I could not agree more.

Let us pray for singletons seeking a suitable partner for life’s journey.

Marriage is an amazing blessing! I am most grateful for mine; it is a tremendous gift from God.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 3:7-11

Now if the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? For if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation, the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory. 10 Indeed, in this case, what once had glory has come to have no glory at all, because of the glory that surpasses it. 11 For if what was being brought to an end came with glory, much more will what is permanent have glory.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s comparison of Christ to a triumphal leader of a victory procession, where a fragrance of life or death, depending on whether one is a believer or an unbeliever, is present.

In today’s verses, Paul compares and contrasts the Old Covenant with the New Covenant. He did this because Judaizers were infiltrating the Corinthian congregation, insisting that Mosaic Law be followed as well as Christian teachings. An example of this theological error would be to stipulate that Gentile males be circumcised, otherwise they could not be true Christians.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

There were those in Corinth doing that.  Coming along and demanding that the people who were already redeemed in Christ, in order to validate their redemption and to assure their redemption, needed to keep the ceremonial Law of Moses.  These gentiles needed to be circumcised They needed to make sure they followed through on washings and ceremonies and sacrifices and et cetera They were demanding a return to old-covenant symbols which were now obsolete since the reality had come Going back and exalting the symbols is pointless.  It not only rejects the reality of the gospel but perverts the purpose and meaning of the symbol.  It never w[as] intended to minister grace.  It never w[as] intended to minister spiritual life, but only to be pictures of that which could and would do that.

So in dealing with this in Corinth, Paul writes in this section a concern that people understand the difference between the new covenant and the oldOr better stated, that people will understand the transition from the old covenant to the new It isn’t that the old covenant and new covenant are opposites.  It isn’t that they are opposed to each other.  It is that one gives way to the nextThe old covenant, in and of itself, was not complete It could not save It could not grant righteousness It had to pass away and be replaced by the newThe old covenant, however, did serve a purpose, a very good purpose.  And that purpose was fulfilled historically, and when the time came for that purpose to fade, it faded, and the new covenant came in its place

Paul discusses Moses’s receiving the law from God, which made his face blindingly brilliant, like the sun, even though that brilliance faded (verse 7).

When Moses was alone on the mountain, he had asked to see God’s glory. God granted his request, hence Moses’s brilliance in front of the Israelites when he returned to them. Because they could not look at him without being blinded, he put a veil over his face. Even then, his brilliance began to fade. By the time he removed the veil, he was back to normal.

MacArthur explains:

in verse 7, the Law came with glory The glory of God was on the face of Moses when he delivered the Law.  What he’s saying is, the Law is glorious; it is reflective of God.  You see, the Apostle Paul had been accused by the Judaizers and the circumcision party of being against the Law, speaking against the Law, denigrating the Law, depreciating the Law, ignoring the Law, discounting the Law, or lowering the Law.  He never did that He realized that the Law, the old covenant, came in glory.  It came with glory …

End of verse 7, he says, “–the sons of Israel could not look intently at the face of Moses because of the glory of his face,” and then he throws this in, “fading as it was.”  The point is, the glory that was on Moses’ face was temporary After that encounter and that experience, it was gone; it faded.  In fact, it faded even as he was there, talking to the people.  And when he put the veil over his face, it would fade.

It was a “fading” glory

Paul calls the law of God ‘the ministry of death’ because no Jew was capable of obeying over 600 laws regulating every part of his or her life.

The law was there to convict God’s people of their sins. They were meant to take the law to heart and repent, which few did.

God had always intended for Jesus to redeem Jew and Gentile alike through His Son.

MacArthur tells us how redemption worked under the Old Covenant:

The old covenant could provide a basis of damnation, but not of salvation; a basis of condemnation, but not of justification; a basis of culpability, but not puritySomething had to be added.

You say, “Well, did the Jews know it was coming?  Were they ever told?”

Sure.  Jeremiah made it as clear – as crystal clear as it could be made Jeremiah 31:31, he says this, “Behold, days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke,” not like that one, “this is the covenant I’ll make with the house of Israel after those days.  I’ll put my Law within them and on their heart I’ll write it, and I’ll be their God, and they’ll be my people, and I’ll forgive their iniquity, and their sin I’ll remember no more.”  They should have known that the old covenant wasn’t the last

The ministry of Old Testament prophets – and we don’t have time to get into this the ministry of Old Testament prophets was to call the people to repent Over and over and over again, right on down to John the Baptist Repent, repent, repent, repent, repent.  That was the whole point You’re brought against the Law.  The Law reveals your sinYou’re called to repent.

See, what happened was, most of the Jews knew they couldn’t keep the moral Law, so they figured out a way to get saved “Oh, we can’t keep the moral Law, but what we do, what we will keep, we’ll keep the ceremonial Law, and the ceremonial Law will save us.”  So, they imposed the ceremonial Law on top of the moral Law as the savior, and that’s what it means that they worshiped according to the letter of the Law And that was damning.

But let’s take a true Jew who really believed What would he do?  He’d come to God repentant, pleading for grace and pleading for mercy He saw the ceremonial Law as symbolic of God’s provision for him somewhere down the future He knew God would provide.  He knew God would be gracious, and God would be merciful, because that’s the kind of God he was.  And he cast himself on God’s mercy and God’s grace, and he would be redeemed, based upon what Christ would do in his behalf.

But for most Jews, the vast majority apart from that true remnant, they disobeyed the Law, offered no genuine repentance, exercised no saving faith in God, depended not on God’s grace but on their own works, keeping the external ceremonial religion, and that was really a killer And along came the prophets and constantly called them to repentance, and called them to repentance, and called them to repentance.  That’s always the message It boggles my mind how that people can say today that we don’t have to preach repentance It’s always been the message.

Paul asks that if the Old Covenant — the law of God — came in glory, how much greater then is the ministry of the Spirit, the New Covenant (verse 8).

MacArthur says:

The term “ministry of the Spirit” is Paul’s descriptive term for the new covenant He calls the new covenant the “ministry of the Spirit.”  The Law, written on stone, was a killer, but written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, is a life-giver and produces righteousness The Law, written on stone, condemns.  The Law, written on the heart by the Holy Spirit, saves.

Therefore, if there was glory in the ministry of condemnation — the Old Covenant — the ministry of righteousness of the New Covenant must far exceed it in glory (verse 9).

MacArthur tells us why that is true:

What does the new covenant bring?  Righteousness.  The new covenant changes God’s view of the sinner It changes his attitude.  He sees him clothed in the righteousness of Christ “Garmented with a robe of righteousness,” Isaiah calls it, covered with the righteousness of Christ, having the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, put to his account.

Paul goes further by saying that the glorious Old Covenant no longer has glory because the glory of the New Covenant has surpassed — eclipsed — it (verse 10).

Matthew Henry elaborates:

The law was the ministration of condemnation, for that condemned and cursed every one who continued not in all things written therein to do them; but the gospel is the ministration of righteousness: therein the righteousness of God by faith is revealed. This shows us that the just shall live by his faith. This reveals the grace and mercy of God through Jesus Christ, for obtaining the remission of sins and eternal life. The gospel therefore so much exceeds in glory that in a manner it eclipses the glory of the legal dispensation, 2 Corinthians 3:10; 2 Corinthians 3:10. As the shining of a burning lamp is lost, or not regarded, when the sun arises and goes forth in his strength; so there was no glory in the Old Testament, in comparison with that of the New.

In verse 11, Paul says that the New Covenant is permanent in all its glory. Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross has reconciled us to God.

Henry says:

Not only did the glory of Moses’s face go away, but the glory of Moses’s law is done away also; yea, the law of Moses itself is now abolished. That dispensation was only to continue for a time, and then to vanish away; whereas the gospel shall remain to the end of the world, and is always fresh and flourishing and remains glorious.

As for those who do not know God, an Anglican priest, the Revd Peter Mullen, wrote an inspired article for Conservative Woman, ‘God leaves His calling cards’, which concludes with this encouraging, simple instruction and prayer:

You seek God’s comfort and the certainty of this presence? Just ask him for it.

O God, take away all my faithlessness and fear, and give me imagination that I may know certainly that thou art ever near. Make me bold to look for thee, that I might ever find thee.

What a marvellous message on which to end.

May everyone reading this have a blessed week ahead.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 6:14-18

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity — the Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost — is September 26, 2021.

The readings for Year B can be found here.

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases mine):

Mark 9:38-50

9:38 John said to him, “Teacher, we saw someone casting out demons in your name, and we tried to stop him, because he was not following us.”

9:39 But Jesus said, “Do not stop him; for no one who does a deed of power in my name will be able soon afterward to speak evil of me.

9:40 Whoever is not against us is for us.

9:41 For truly I tell you, whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.

9:42 “If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea.

9:43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

9:45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell.

9:47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell,

9:48 where their worm never dies, and the fire is never quenched.

9:49 “For everyone will be salted with fire.

9:50 Salt is good; but if salt has lost its saltiness, how can you season it? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.”

Commentary comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

These verses pick up from where we left off last week:

9:35 He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.”

9:36 Then he took a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he said to them,

9:37 “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus refers to children again in today’s reading as well as the disciples’ argument about who shall be first among them.

Jesus spoke of radical Christianity here, the necessity of mortifying our carnal desires and of ensuring our own purity.

‘Radical’ derives from the word ‘root’, meaning that it is essential.

John MacArthur has more:

This is a very unique portion of Scripture. It is full of graphic terminology, dramatic acts, severe warnings, and rather violent threats. It really is a passage about radical discipleship, and the language bears testimony to that. It calls for radical behaviors, and it shows us just how radical it is to be a true disciple of Jesus Christ. Our Lord here, in these verses, is calling for radical discipleship. I think this is a message that is highly necessary for the day in which we live when under the name of Christianity and even evangelical Christianity, there is so much superficiality.

The language here is severe, extreme, fanatical, and radical language. And that fits the radical nature of our Lord’s invitation to true discipleship. Let me talk about the word “radical.” It’s a word you hear, it’s a word you know, it’s a word that we experience in our world commonly.

If you look in the dictionary, you’ll find two meanings for the word “radical.” Number one probably will be this word means basic or fundamental or foundational, something primary, intrinsic or essential. The second meaning, which may be the one that is more popular today, is that it also means something that deviates by its extreme. When we think of something radical, we think of something revolutionary or something severe or, as I mentioned, something fanatical. But really, the word is both.

It is a word that refers to something that is fundamental and fanatical, that is intrinsic and intensive, that is essential and extreme. Therefore, it is a great word to use as an adjective for a discipleship because discipleship is something fundamental and fanatical, something intrinsic and intensive, something essential and something extreme. The basics of being a disciple are really radical.

John tells Jesus that he and the disciples saw someone casting out demons in His name and that they tried to stop him from doing so because he was not one of them (verse 38).

We do not know when this happened. It could have been during the time when Jesus invested the Apostles with His own divine gifts of teaching and healing.

Jesus replied, saying that no one performing a powerful deed in His name would be able to speak evil of him afterwards (verse 39).

Furthermore, He said that whoever is not against us is for us (verse 40).

Matthew Henry and John MacArthur agree that it is possible that God granted a few outsiders these divine gifts.

MacArthur says:

There were others that the Lord had given this power to. Perhaps this is one who became a part of the 70. We don’t know. But what he was doing was legitimate. God was doing it because he was a true believer in Christ and he was doing it in the name of Christ. But they were telling the guy to stop because he wasn’t a part of their group. This is not Simon Magus, folks. This is the real thing here

Henry posits that the man might have been a follower of John the Baptist and spoke of the Messiah to come, not realising that Jesus was already on Earth:

some think that he was a disciple of John, who made use of the name of the Messiah, not as come, but as near at hand, not knowing that Jesus was he. It should rather seem that he made use of the name of Jesus, believing him to be the Christ, as the other disciples did. And why not he receive that power from Christ, whose Spirit, like the wind, blows where it listeth, without such an outward call as the apostles had? And perhaps there were many more such. Christ’s grace is not tied to the visible church.

Henry refers to a similar incident with Joshua in the Old Testament:

This was like the motion Joshua made concerning Eldad and Medad, that prophesied in the camp, and went not up with the rest to the door of the tabernacle; “My lord Moses, forbid them (Numbers 11:28); restrain them, silence them, for it is a schism.” Thus apt are we to imagine that those do not follow Christ at all, who do not follow him with us, and that those do nothing well, who do not just as we do. But the Lord knows them that are his, however they are dispersed; and this instance gives us a needful caution, to take heed lest we be carried, by an excess of zeal for the unity of the church, and for that which we are sure is right and good, to oppose that which yet may tend to the enlargement of the church, and the advancement of its true interests another way.

2. The rebuke he gave to them for this (Mark 9:39; Mark 9:39); Jesus said, “Forbid him not, nor any other that does likewise.” This was like the check Moses gave to Joshua; Enviest thou for my sake? Note, That which is good, and doeth good, must not be prohibited, though there be some defect or irregularity in the manner of doing it. Casting out devils, and so destroying Satan’s kingdom, doing this in Christ’s name, and so owning him to be sent of God, and giving honour to him as the Fountain of grace, preaching down sin, and preaching up Christ, are good things, very good things, which ought not to be forbidden to any, merely because they follow not with us. If Christ be preached, Paul therein doth, and will rejoice, though he be eclipsed by it, Philippians 1:18. Two reasons Christ gives why such should not be forbidden. (1.) Because we cannot suppose that any man who makes use of Christ’s name in working miracles, should blaspheme his name, as the scribes and Pharisees did. There were those indeed that did in Christ’s name cast out devils, and yet in other respects were workers of iniquity; but they did not speak evil of Christ. (2.) Because those that differed in communion, while they agreed to fight against Satan under the banner of Christ, ought to look upon one another as on the same side, notwithstanding that difference. He that is not against us is on our part. As to the great controversy between Christ an Beelzebub, he had said, He that is not with me is against me, Matthew 12:30. He that will not own Christ, owns Satan. But as to those that own Christ, though not in the same circumstances, that follow him, though not with us, we must reckon that though these differ from us, they are not against us, and therefore are on our part, and we must not be any hindrance to their usefulness.

Following on the same theme, Jesus said that anyone offering the disciples a drink of water because they represent Him will be rewarded (verse 41).

Henry tells us:

If Christ reckons kindness to us services to him, we ought to reckon services to him kindnesses to us, and to encourage them, though done by those that follow not with us.

MacArthur says that Jesus was cautioning against pride on the part of the disciples:

You give a cup of water to drink to someone who belongs to Christ, that’s humility. You don’t have any psychoanalysis of what humility feels like. Forget that. Because as soon as you feel humble, guess what? You’re proud. And as soon as you feel proud, you have hope for humility. I’m not talking about feeling, we’re talking about what humility does because that’s the only way you can define it. It looks like this, it’s basically kind, it’s basically sacrificial toward those who bear the name of Christ.

Whichever one of you goes to the other and gives a cup of cold water for the sake of Christ, you will not lose your reward. Because the fear was, “Oh, if I humble myself, I’m going to lose the fight. This is a competition, we’ve got to win, we’ve got to be first, we’ve got to be first.” So the fear is, if I end up at the bottom, I’m going to lose the reward, I’m going to lose the prize. No, you’re not going to lose it. You’re going to gain it. The simple act of sacrificial kindness to one who belongs to Christ will result in what you will never achieve by elevating yourself. You won’t lose your reward, you’ll gain it.

Then Jesus said that anyone who puts a stumbling block — temptation — before His ‘little ones’ would be better off having a millstone put around his neck and thrown in the sea than suffer the consequences of divine judgement (verse 42).

He was referring to the child in his arms but also to the wider body of believers, God’s children.

Henry tells us:

Whosoever shall grieve any true Christians, though they be of the weakest, shall oppose their entrance into the ways of God, or discourage and obstruct their progress in those ways, shall either restrain them from doing good, or draw them in to commit sin, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea: his punishment will be very great, and the death and ruin of his soul more terrible than such a death and ruin of his body would be. See Matthew 18:6.

MacArthur explains the gravity of that threat:

The threat is unmistakable. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe” – not children but believers who are considered His children, His precious ones – “to stumble” – to stumble. What do we mean by stumble? Skandalizomai, to be caught in sin, to be trapped in sin, entrapped. “Whoever causes one” – not a group, one, and one is emphatic – “it would be better to have a, mulos onikos, tied around your neck. Mulos is mule, onikos is stone.

They used to grind grain using a mule. There would be a fixed stone and on top of that a round stone that would roll around and crush the grain and be pulled by a mule. It would weigh tons – tons. You would be better off to have one of those tied around your neck and have you thrown to the bottom of the ocean than to cause another Christian to be trapped in sin. Drowning is a very unforgettable threat to Jewish people. They are not seafaring people. The ocean is a great barrier to them. They are agrarian people. They fish in the lake. They don’t like the depths of the sea. This is a horrifying threat.

What our Lord is calling for here is radical love, the kind of love that works very hard never to be a source of sinful solicitation to another person. To solicit them toward the lust of the flesh, toward the lust of the eyes, materialism, toward the love of the world, toward pride. We’re talking here about the other believers in your life, children, spouses, friends, acquaintances. Love doesn’t do that. Love doesn’t solicit to sin. Love does the very opposite of that. According to 1 Corinthians chapter 13, love doesn’t enjoy someone falling into sin …

This is the strongest threat that ever came out of the mouth of Jesus to His own people, and it calls for radical love, and love seeks someone’s best, love seeks to elevate, love seeks to purify, love seeks to bless.

Jesus expanded on that by citing parts of our body that can cause us to sin. He does not intend us to actually remove them, just to rid ourselves of touching (verse 43), going to (verse 45) and seeing things (verse 47) that tempt us. Otherwise, we will end up in hell forever.

MacArthur says that He is calling us to radical purity:

But not just radical love is called for in radical discipleship. Secondly is radical purity – radical purity. And that’s what is laid out in verses 43, 45, and 47. And, of course, they go together because you’re never going to be able to lead someone else into righteousness if you’re not righteous yourself. You’re not going to be a purifying influence on others unless your own heart is pure. Just the reverse is true. If your own heart is impure, you will lead others into sin. You will be the means of other people’s entrapment.

So the danger of leading others to sin is eliminated when you deal with sin in your own heart. And what this text calls for is a radical, severe dealing with that sin.

MacArthur explains the strong metaphors that Jesus used:

The language here is just so strong. First thing that strikes me is the severity with which we are to deal with sin. This is extreme behavior. This reminds me of the illustration of the Old Testament of hacking Agag to pieces as a kind of a symbol of how we have to deal with sin. This is the language that’s similar to Romans where Paul talks about killing sin, mortifying it. This is aggressive, severe treatment of sin, and it’s in metaphoric hyperbole – it’s in metaphoric hyperbole.

The language calls for radical, severe action against any and all sin. Body parts are mentioned here, the hands, the feet, and the eyes. And I think the sum of those is simply to say everything you see, everything you do, everywhere you go – everything that relates to your life, all behaviors, these three separate parts are symbolic of the overall, general emphasis, and the verbs are all in the present tense, which means you keep on doing it. It’s not once and for all. We would like to think of that, but that’s not the way it is. Present tense verbs emphasize the continual struggle with temptation and with sin.

And what our Lord is saying is that salvation and the kingdom of God, mentioned in verse 47, which you want to enter, or life, as it’s referred to in verse 43 and 44, which means eternal life, spiritual life, salvation on the positive side and escape from hell on the negative side, is so important that you need to get rid of anything that is a barrier to that. That’s the point. Amputation is what’s in view. Amputation, radical, severe action against anything that stands in the way of the pursuit of holiness, righteousness, and purity.

Obviously, our Lord is not calling for physical mutilation, not at all. I promise you, a person with one eye and a person with one hand and a person with one leg – or, for that matter, a person with no hands, no legs, and no eyes does not thereby conquer sin. That kind of folly developed in the history of the church, even from the second century on, that somehow if you emasculated yourself or if you mutilated yourself physically in some way, you could defeat sin.

That kind of view in those early years gained enough traction to have developed into kind of a full-fledged cult in the Middle Ages, a false view developed by monks and ascetics who took passages like these and Matthew 19:12 where it refers to those who have been made eunuchs, as if somehow in an action like that they could thereby conquer sin. The testimony from people who did that is that it had no real effect on their hearts, although it may have seriously altered their behavior. The issue is on the inside.

Eagle-eyed readers might be wondering what happened to verses 44 and 46.

MacArthur says that they might have been added later then removed because they were not in the original text:

There are things here that are so firm, so strong, so threatening, so severe that somewhere along the line people thought they needed to ramp up the message because of its severity. And there are things in this passage that are cryptic and challenging to interpret, and so through the years, there have been some alterations, maybe by scribes who wanted to clarify a little bit. Not a good thing to do, change the text, but, fortunately, we have as close to the original as we’re going to get, and we’re going to take the passage at its purest form.

One of the great realities of Scripture is the preservation of the original, which God has overseen so that we have a true reflection of the original Greek and Hebrew text. Let me read this to you, and if you’ll notice it, I’m going to skip verses 44 and 46 when I read. It may be, if you have an NAS or one of the newer translations, you see brackets around them. That is because in the earlier manuscripts, these two statements do not occur. However, the statement in verse 44 and 46 is in verse 48. So we assume that some scribe saw the urgency of this and just wanted to pile it on a little bit.

Jesus said that the worm never dies and the fire is never quenched in hell (verse 48).

MacArthur explains why He used those words, which would have resonated with the Jews, His disciples:

The word “hell,” by the way, is gehenna – gehenna. It is a very interesting term. It is always the term that refers to the lake of fire, not just the place of the dead (like hades) but the actual burning lake of fire. That is why verse 43 describes hell as the place of unquenchable fire. And verse 48, “Where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”

Gehenna – where did that word come from? The root of that word comes from the Valley of Hinnom – the Valley of Hinnom, mentioned in Joshua 15:8. It is a steep ravine down to a valley, south of the city of Jerusalem, very severe. That was a place where Ahaz and Manasseh, two kings, offered human sacrifices to Molech. You can read about it in 2 Kings 16 and 21, 2 Chronicles 28 and 33. Human sacrifices in the land of Israel in the Valley of Hinnom to pacify this vicious, false deity named Molech, an unthinkable practice that Jewish people would sacrifice their babies to Molech.

It was denounced, of course, by the prophets, particularly Jeremiah, Jeremiah 7:31, Jeremiah 32:35. In fact, Jeremiah renames it in Jeremiah 19:6. He calls it the Valley of Slaughter – the Valley of Slaughter. And he also calls it the Valley of Topheth. Topheth comes from a Hebrew word that means drum. Why would it be called the Valley of the Drum? Because some historians tell us that drums were beaten there regularly to drown out the screams of the burning babies. A horrendous place.

Josiah, the good king, according to 2 Kings 23:10, shut that down, stopped all that, and turned it into Jerusalem’s garbage dump. I mean real garbage, no plastic, no paper. Rancid food, sewage, maggots, and a 24/7 fire consuming it. And it was easily adapted as the word to describe eternal hell, unquenchable fire. This is the emphasis of Scripture. All the way from the beginning, Matthew 25 to the end, Revelation 20, hell is a reality about which we are warned. Hell is mentioned twelve times in the New Testament, eleven of them by Jesus, the other one by James (James 3:6) and in this place, the fire is not quenched and the worm never dies, that’s verse 48.

By the way, verse 48 is a direct quote from Isaiah 66:24, and if you remember Isaiah, that’s the last verse in Isaiah. Isaiah ends with a horrible, horrible pronunciation of judgment. “They will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me, for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” Looking at the judgment when the Lord comes as final judge.

This is the strongest call to discipleship, maybe the strongest our Lord ever gave. You either deal radically with issues of sin in your life or you end up in the eternal dump, the garbage pit, punished forever, where there will be darkness, weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth in isolation, according to what we read in so many places in Matthew.

Jesus went on to mention salt, in a negative and a positive way.

The use of ‘salt’ would also have resonated with His disciples, because salt was mandated in sacrifices of animals and grain as a sign of God’s covenant with His people.

MacArthur tells us:

Salt was added to sacrifices as a symbol of God’s enduring covenant. Salt is a preservative. But there’s one particular sacrifice that really fits perfectly here, Leviticus 2. In the opening five chapters of Leviticus, you have Scripture instruction on the five offerings – five offerings. In chapter 2, you have the grain offering – the grain offering – and it describes that offering.

But I want you to go down to verse 13, “Every grain offering of yours, moreover, you shall season with salt so that the salt of the covenant of your God should not be lacking from your grain offering.” With all your offerings, you shall offer salt. Salt symbolizes God’s promise, God’s covenant, God’s enduring faithfulness as you make the offering.

Jesus said that those who go to hell will be salted with fire (verse 49).

Henry explains that this salting with fire is eternal, because it works both as a corrosive and as a preservative:

in hell they shall be salted with fire; coals of fire shall be scattered upon them (Ezekiel 10:2), as salt upon the meat, and brimstone (Job 18:15), as fire and brimstone were rained on Sodom; the pleasures they have lived in, shall eat their flesh, as it were with fire,James 5:3. The pain of mortifying the flesh now is no more to be compared with the punishment for not mortifying it, than salting with burning. And since he had said, that the fire of hell shall not be quenched, but it might be objected, that the fuel will not last always, he here intimates, that by the power of God it shall be made to last always; for those that are cast into hell, will find the fire to have not only the corroding quality of salt, but its preserving quality; whence it is used to signify that which is lasting: a covenant of salt is a perpetual covenant, and Lot’s wife being turned into a pillar of salt, made her a remaining monument of divine vengeance. Now since this will certainly be the doom of those that do not crucify the flesh with its affections and lusts, let us, knowing this terror of the Lord, be persuaded to do it.

Jesus then ended with the good use of salt, a seasoning which makes our food taste good, and, in this context, a sign of grace making our utterances and actions palatable and pleasant as believers. If we lose our saltiness, how can we recover it? He called on the disciples and calls on us to have salt in ourselves and to be at peace with one another (verse 50).

Henry says:

Those that have the salt of grace, must make it appear that they have it; that they have salt in themselves, a living principle of grace in their hearts, which works out all corrupt dispositions, and every thing in the soul that tends to putrefaction, and would offend our God, or our own consciences, as unsavoury meat doth. Our speech must be always with grace seasoned with this salt, that no corrupt communication may proceed out of our mouth, but we may loathe it as much as we would to put putrid meat into our mouths …

We must not only have this salt of grace, but we must always retain the relish and savour of it; for if this salt lose its saltiness, if a Christian revolt from his Christianity, if he loses the savour of it, and be no longer under the power and influence of it, what can recover him, or wherewith will ye season him? This was said Matthew 5:13.

Jesus warned against salt that had lost its flavour.

MacArthur explains that this is because some salt was cut, or mixed, with other additives, one of which was gypsum:

Now, if any of you are into chemicals out there, chemistry, you know that sodium chloride is stable. Just sitting around, it doesn’t lose its saltiness, so the question comes up: What can this mean, since salt is stable and doesn’t lose its property, even over a long period of time? What can it refer to?

We’re helped by some historians. Some of them may be ancient, like Pliny, who recorded the fact that there were several kinds of salts in Israel and many of them had properties that made them impure, and they were basically worthless. One kind that seemed to be in some abundant supply was salt that was imperceptibly mixed with gypsum, and it was worse than useless.

So our Lord says, while we’re talking about salt and dedication, let me just pick my salt illustration up and move it up to another point. Salt is good but it’s only good if its unmixed – if it’s unmixed. And then comes His statement: Have salt in yourselves. Be salt, don’t be salt mixed with gypsum or anything else, be undiluted, unmixed.

Being at peace with one another means being humble rather than fighting over who will win top spot in the next life:

… that’s a command and I think it’s a command to radical obedience, a life that is unmixed. Why do you say that? Because He then gives them a direct practical application, “And be at peace with one another.”

Why does He say that? Because that’s what they needed to hear. Back in verse 33 they were – Jesus says, “What were you discussing on the way down here to Capernaum?” They kept silent. On the way they had discussed with one another which of them was the greatest. Wow. They were basically proud, self-serving, competitive. They were guilty of leading each other into sin. There was anger. Anything but humility.

I think our Lord simply says, “You need to be unmixed in your obedience, and here’s the command for today: Stop fighting. Stop elevating yourselves. Stop the competition. Stop being the cause of temptation. Such is the essence of radical discipleship, then, to love extremely, to deal with sin severely, to sacrifice one’s life wholly, and to obey fanatically.

These are certainly not messages we hear in today’s church.

I am looking forward to Sunday’s sermon at my church and seeing how close it comes to this exposition from Henry and MacArthur.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Triumph in Christ

12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.

14 But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

—————————————————————————————-

In last week’s verses, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to forgive and allow a man whom they had excluded from fellowship to rejoin their congregation because he had gone through enough and repented.

In this week’s reading, we have Paul’s account of moving from despair to hope.

Paul had an intense love for the Corinthians, even though they were mired in sin.

He wrote them three letters, two of which are in the New Testament, and one which is not. John MacArthur calls the one excluded from the canon the ‘severe’ letter.

Yet, just as Paul despaired over their spiritual state, he knew that God had greater things in store for him.

Today’s passage addresses the same emotions of despair and hope.

Paul tells the Corinthians that he was awaiting the arrival of Titus in Troas and when he did not arrive as expected, Paul stopped preaching to the people of that city and went instead to Macedonia (verses 12, 13).

Titus was supposed to give him an update on the state of the congregation in Corinth, which troubled Paul greatly. While waiting, Paul preached to the people of Troas but was too dejected to continue. He really wanted to hear from Titus about the Corinthians.

MacArthur describes what was going on in Paul’s mind and heart at that time (emphases mine):

What a church, certainly a church to bring grief to a pastor’s heart.

It is that very grief that we feel in the text before us. Would he ever be welcome at Corinth again? Could he ever go back? He already planned a trip and then changed his mind in chapter 2 because he really didn’t want to have another sad visit. He wasn’t up to it. He couldn’t take any more pain. The last brief visit that he had there was very short and very painful.

On top of all of this, as we find the apostle Paul, he has been in Ephesus; and in Ephesus things weren’t going very well either. Some think he may have had a serious, even potentially, fatal illness, because he said, “We carry about in our body the dying of Jesus Christ.” Others think it was just the relentless persecution. It all culminated when a riot started that could have taken his life in Ephesus, so things weren’t going well where he was, and they were certainly going terribly where his heart was.

It’s not then hard to understand that there is some pathos  in this letter, there’s some grief in this letter. There’s some ache in his heart as he writes.

Paul’s visit to Troas here was not the same one in Acts 16, where he first met Luke. This was a second trip. MacArthur tells us more:

Now Paul had been to Troas before. Acts 16 records his first visit there in verses 8 to 11, and apparently on that occasion he did not found a church. It is also true that in Acts 20, and verses 6 to 12, we read that there is a church in Troas. There was not church there the first time he went. There was a church there in Acts 20. We assume then that the church was planted on this visit. It says – go back to verse 12: “I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ,” to evangelize the city which was the way you started a church. He had come with a purpose of evangelization, not just to meet Titus.

Now he may have come early because of the pressure from Ephesus. Titus may have missed his boat. And so while he is there waiting for Titus, he purposely evangelizes. And then he adds in verse 12, notice the last phrase, “and when a door was opened for me in the Lord,” – stop at that point for a moment before we finish that sentence.

He had commented about an opened door in Ephesus in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9. He loved opened doors. He said to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 16:8 and 9, “I have to stay at Ephesus because there is an open door. And even though there are many adversaries, I have to stay because the door is open.”

Well, it’s the same thing; here’s an open door in Troas. It wasn’t opened by human ingenuity – would you notice verse 12? – “It was opened for me in the Lord, by the Lord, in the power and strength of the Lord.” The Lord had given him a tremendous opportunity there.

Now in order to know that, he must have already preached. He must have preached with great blessing and success. And many people must have come to hear; and some believed, and more interested. How else would he know the door was open unless he had tested it? So we can assume when he arrived, he started to preach, and people believed.

Despite his success in Troas, his heart was still with the Corinthians. Note verse 13:

my spirit was not at rest

MacArthur says:

he really was preaching with a broken heart. He was a very distracted preacher. He was having a ministry in a place he didn’t want to be. His heart was so overwrought and burdened by the Corinthian situation that he had a very difficult time pouring himself into a ministry that was wide open to him. It was the discontent of his own heart that cut him off from that opportunity.

MacArthur continues:

All the churning of all of that in his own heart created the anxiety that debilitated him. He didn’t know the answer to the aching questions, and he had no freedom to minister. So he said, “I have no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus, my brother.” Without some kind of word from Titus, he was really useless, he was so troubled. And I’m sure he imagined the worst. So here we find this marvelous man in the pits.

So Paul left Troas for Macedonia.

Imagine the disappointment of the people of Troas:

he turned away from the open door, verse 13. Isn’t it amazing? “But taking my leave of them,” – them? Who is them? The church that he had planted there, the baby infant church, the believers and those who were eager yet to hear. “I turned my back on them, and went on to Macedonia.”

This was so unlike Paul, the epitome of apostolic resilience.

Paul normally prayed for — and received — divine guidance. However, in this instance, he says nothing of that. MacArthur asks:

You notice the absence of any prompting of the Holy Spirit here?

There is another question to be asked, which is, how did he know where Titus would be?

MacArthur explains:

You see, he knew the route that Titus would take. It was a five-day boat trip across the northeast corner of the Aegean Sea. He could leave Troas and be where he needed to be, and then get on the trail. And in ancient times when people traveled they made sure that everyone knew their travel plans, and they could be tracked, and they sent word ahead and left word behind about their movements. Paul set out then on a gloomy journey trying to intersect Titus; he couldn’t wait any longer. He had to know. He had to know.

Then Paul changes the tone.

The next three verses are some of the most marvellous in the New Testament. Note the change in language and the hope. Why did Paul use such poetic words?

The answer is in the title of this passage: ‘Triumph in Christ’, specifically ‘triumph’, which was an elaborate Roman procession to celebrate a general who had won a major victory.

A triumph involved fragrance from flowers and incense. The procession ended when those in it arrived at the emperor’s throne.

MacArthur gives us a splendid description:

The Romans had what was called a “Triumph;” that’s what they called it. A Triumph was when the Roman government and all of its people honored a great general.

The honor could be bestowed on a victorious Roman general only under certain conditions. Before he could win it, he must have been the actual commander-in-chief of all the troops in the field. The campaign must have been completely finished, the region completely pacified, and the victorious troops brought home. At least 5,000 of the enemy must have fallen in one engagement. A positive extension of the territory of the kingdom must have been gained and not just a disaster retrieved or some attack repelled. A victory must have been won over a foreign foe and it could not be in a civil war. And now and then, maybe once in a life time, a general might have that kind of Triumph given to him as his honor. In the actual Triumph, there would be a procession through the streets of Rome to the capital where an offering would be made to the gods.

First there would come the state officials, and there would come the senate in this great Triumph. Then there would come the trumpeters. Then there would come those carrying the spoils from the conquering, all the wealth and the treasures. Then there would come the white bull which was to be offered in a blood sacrifice to Jupiter. Then there would come the captives, the prisoners in chains who would be headed to prison and to death.

Then there would come the priests. The priests would be swinging censers full of incense that was smoldering and smoking, and the fragrance of the incense would fill the air all along the way. And in addition, women would line the street and throw garlands of flowers to be crushed under the hooves of the men on the horses, and thus the fragrance would mount. In the homes of the people, they might light incense lamps, so that the fragrance would fill the entire city.

Then there would come the general himself, and he would be riding a chariot pulled by four horses; and he would have a purple toga marked out with golden stars, and over it he would have another purple robe; it would be embroidered with golden palm leaves. In his hand he would have an ivory scepter crowned with an eagle. And all the people would shout, “Triumph, triumph, triumph, triumph” …

The great emperor seated on the high throne at the capital at the end of the parade would smell the wafting fragrance. It was not only sweet to the victorious troops who had been the means by which the smell of victory had come to pass, but it was very sweet to the emperor himself.

Paul uses the triumph as a metaphor for evangelising for Christ, our leader in the procession. Paul gives thanks to God for Christ, who, through us, spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Himself everywhere (verse 14).

MacArthur captures the eternal hope of that verse:

Don’t look at the circumstances. Don’t look at the difficulties. If you want to turn your discouragement into joy, look at your privileges. And you have the privilege of being led by the sovereign God who is involved in every detail of your life and ministry. Just the contemplation of the privilege of being led by the greatest Commander-in-Chief and being associated with the Lord Jesus Christ and being in the ranks of others who have served Him through the years also under His sovereign leadership should be enough to bring back the joy.

And then Paul gave thanks for a second thing: gave thanks for the privilege of promised victory in Christ. Not only the privilege of being associated with Jesus Christ under the sovereign leadership of God, but the privilege of promised victory with Jesus Christ. Look at it, verse 14: “God who always leads us in His triumph in Christ.” He’s not only always leading us, but He’s always leading us triumphantly. We’re always marching in the great parade. We can never lose. We follow the conquering Hero in the victory parade through life, not as captives, not as prisoners headed to judgment, but as co-conquerors in the great triumph over sin and death and hell.

It’s just wonderful to be a part of the triumphant parade, even if I just shot one guy over the corner and he was only barely wounded. It’s just wonderful to be associated with the victory, isn’t it? Jesus Christ is a conqueror, and in Him we are more than conquerors. And He came into the world, and He conquered sin and death and hell, and triumphantly He will march the redeemed troops into eternal glory, and you and I will be behind Him in His train as those who were with Him in the battle. And the issue is not how many we got, the issue is the triumph; and we’re swept up in the victory parade, we’re swept up in the glory moment.

Paul says that we are the aroma from Christ to God in equal measure to those who are alive in Him and to those who are condemned (verse 15).

For some, it is a fragrance of eternal death, and, for others, it is fragrance that gives eternal life; but who among us is able to convey the message alone (verse 16)?

Matthew Henry explains the effects of the Gospel on those who hear it:

The different success of the gospel, and its different effects upon several sorts of persons to whom it is preached. The success is different; for some are saved by it, while others perish under it. Nor is this to be wondered at, considering the different effects the gospel has. For, (1.) Unto some it is a savour of death unto death. Those who are willingly ignorant, and wilfully obstinate, disrelish the gospel, as men dislike an ill savour, and therefore they are blinded and hardened by it: it stirs up their corruptions, and exasperates their spirits. They reject the gospel, to their ruin, even to spiritual and eternal death. (2.) Unto others the gospel is a savour of life unto life. To humble and gracious souls the preaching of the word is most delightful and profitable. As it is sweeter than honey to the taste, so it is more grateful than the most precious odours to the senses, and much more profitable; for as it quickened them at first, when they were dead in trespasses and sins, so it makes them more lively, and will end in eternal life.

Henry also explores the sufficiency of the preacher of the Gospel. No one can do it alone. We require God’s help and grace to work through us:

Tis hikanos–who is worthy to be employed in such weighty work, a work of such vast importance, because of so great consequence? Who is able to perform such a difficult work, that requires so much skill and industry? The work is great and our strength is small; yea, of ourselves we have no strength at all; all our sufficiency is of God. Note, If men did seriously consider what great things depend upon the preaching of the gospel, and how difficult the work of the ministry is, they would be very cautious how they enter upon it, and very careful to perform it well.

Paul returns to the false teachers in the Corinthian church, calling them ‘peddlers’ of the market stall type: hawkers. He contrasts such men with himself and Titus, who preach with earnestness and sincerity, commissioned by God, always aware that they speak of Christ under the watchful eye of the Father (verse 17).

Henry says:

Though many did corrupt the word of God, yet the apostle’s conscience witnessed to his fidelity. He did not mix his own notions with the doctrines and institutions of Christ; he durst not add to, nor diminish from, the word of God; he was faithful in dispensing the gospel, as he received it from the Lord, and had no secular turn to serve; his aim was to approve himself to God, remembering that his eye was always upon him; he therefore spoke and acted always as in the sight of God, and therefore in sincerity. Note, What we do in religion is not of God, does not come from God, will not reach to God, unless it be done in sincerity, as in the sight of God.

What a wonderful passage, taking us from sharing Paul’s despair to his triumph in Christ.

Thus ends 2 Corinthians 2.

Much of 2 Corinthians 3 is in the Lectionary, but a short passage discusses ministry further. It has the same theme of eternal glory in Christ Jesus.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 3:7-11

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