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Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgContinuing an occasional series on quotes from the Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, today’s post concerns his views on reconciliation and strained relationships.

Previous entries addressed ambition, eternity and unity and growing old.

Numbers following the quotes refer to the relevant sermon.

Spurgeon, known as the Prince of Preachers, explains why we should seek reconciliation:

Our love ought to follow the love of God in one point, namely, in always seeking to produce reconciliation. It was to this end that God sent his Son. Has anybody offended you? Seek reconciliation. “Oh, but I am the offended party.” So was God, and he went straight away and sought reconciliation. Brother, do the same. “Oh, but I have been insulted.” Just so: so was God: all the wrong was towards him, yet he sent. “Oh, but the party is so unworthy.” So are you; but “God loved you and sent his Son.” 1707.119

That said, even he found certain people trying. These witty insights on strained relationships — the second and the third, in particular — encapsulate the reality of the human condition:

I have known good men with whom I shall never be thoroughly at home until we meet in heaven: at least, we shall agree best on earth when they go their way and I go mine. 1812.653

All good people are not equally good. There are some in the world whom we hope to meet in heaven, with whom fellowship is difficult. If they were on the other side of the Atlantic we might love them better than when we see much of them. I know several Christian people with whom I would sooner sit in heaven throughout all eternity than sit ten minutes with them on a sofa here below; distance, in their case, might lend enchantment to the view. 2154.387

There are people about who seem to be cut on the cross, and the only use they are in this world seems to be to raise irritating questions. They and the mosquitoes were created by infinite wisdom, but I have never been able to discover the particular blessing which either of them confer upon us. 3199.258

Spurgeon Ministries, based at Bath Road Baptist Church in Kingston, Ontario, says that he preached to 10,000,000 people during his lifetime. One of his sermons at London’s Crystal Palace attracted 23,654 people. He had no microphone or similar means of amplification.

Outside of the Bible, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is still the widest read preacher in the world. One woman was converted when she read a sermon of his which had been wrapped around a block of butter.

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.

Matthew 19:16-22

The Rich Young Man

16 And behold, a man came up to him, saying, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 And he said to him, “Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. If you would enter life, keep the commandments.” 18 He said to him, “Which ones?” And Jesus said, “You shall not murder, You shall not commit adultery, You shall not steal, You shall not bear false witness, 19 Honor your father and mother, and, You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” 20 The young man said to him, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” 21 Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” 22 When the young man heard this he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions.

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Two other accounts of this story are in the Synoptic Gospels: Luke 18:18-23 and Mark 10:17-22. Mark’s version is in the three-year Lectionary.

I wrote about Luke’s in 2014 and looked at the differences in the three versions.

What can we deduce by ‘rich young man’? My post on Luke’s account says he was the leader of a synagogue because Luke used the Greek word arche to describe him.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says that Matthew’s words in the original manuscript imply that he is a magistrate, or justice of the peace. Henry also points out:

it is probable that he had abilities beyond his years, else his youth would have debarred him from the magistracy.

We are looking at a brilliant young man who is highly respected and comes from money.

He approaches Jesus — Mark says he ‘ran and knelt before’ Him — and asks what he must do to have eternal life (verse 16). The words he uses to address Jesus are of interest in the original manuscript. Henry explains (emphasis in the original):

He gives Christ an honourable title, Good MasterDidaskale agathe. It signifies not a ruling, but a teaching Master. His calling him Master, bespeaks his submissiveness, and willingness to be taught and good Master, his affection and peculiar respect to the Teacher, like that of Nicodemus, Thou art a Teacher come from God. We read not of any that addressed themselves to Christ more respectfully than that Master in Israel and this ruler.

John MacArthur has this (emphases mine):

Didaskolos, or master, or teacher. He acknowledges that He was a teacher of divine truth. Mark and Luke tell us he called Him “good.” It’s added here in the Authorized of Matthew, but it isn’t in the manuscripts of Matthew, but it is in Mark and Luke. And so he said, “good,” agathos. Kalos means good form, good on the outside; agathos means good on the inside, good inwardly, good morally, good in nature, good in essence. So he says I know that You are good. I know that You are a good person. I know that You’re moral. I know that You’re upright and I also know You teach and You teach divine truth. You perhaps know the secret of getting eternal life.

It is also noteworthy that the young man asked about eternal life. From that, we know he was not a Sadducee, who intellectualised theology and discounted the afterlife because it was irrational. He was more of a Pharisee in mindset, thinking of obedience to religious law and the next life.

Jesus responds initially to the way the young man’s addressed Him (verse 17). There was, He said, only One who is good, referring to God the Father. He is not revealing Himself as Christ Jesus here.

He then answers his question: obey the commandments and eternal life will follow.

The young man asks which commandments must be obeyed. Jesus mentions all those which concern the way we treat our fellow man and our parents (verses 18, 19): ‘you shall love your neighbour as yourself’.

The young man is certain he has maintained these all his life (verse 20), thereby setting himself up for a fall. Henry deduces the young man answered Jesus with a lack of respect:

By pride, and a vain conceit of his own merit and strength this is the ruin of thousands, who keep themselves miserable by fancying themselves happy. When Christ told him what commandments he must keep, he answered very scornfully

The manner of his response and its content indicate that he had no idea he was sinning in some way every day. He considered himself to be perfect.

For that reason, Jesus put him in his place by saying that if he would be perfect, he should sell his possessions and become a disciple (verse 21). Remember, Jesus is omniscient. He knew what the sticking point — the source of temptation — was here: materialism. Recall His earlier words (Matthew 6:24):

“No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.[a]

The young man perceived he had kept the commandments towards his fellow men. Jesus was saying, in essence, ‘Okay, now keep the commandments honouring God: sell your possessions and give yourself to His service’.

The man couldn’t do it, because he ‘went away sorrowful’ (verse 22). In my exposition on Luke’s passage, I cited MacArthur’s sermon which explained that he would have been expected to maintain whatever property and money he had for his descendants or other family members. It’s a tough choice.

Perhaps the better — and humble — question would have been, ‘What must I do to repent and have my sins forgiven?’

As it was, he gave up God for Mammon. Henry asks:

What then would the sorrow be afterward, when his possessions would be gone, and all hopes of eternal life gone too?

Does this mean that all of us have to give up our possessions in order to be true Christians? MacArthur says no. This was a specific reply to a specific person, not an overall commandment:

The Lord didn’t say that to other folks. But do you have to be willing to do whatever the Lord asks you to do? Yes. And it may be different in different cases. But the Lord put the finger on the issue here. He took us right back to the principle of Luke 14:33, the people who are My disciples are the people who forsake all. And He says to the guy, “Look, are you willing to do what I tell you? And right now I’m telling you to get rid of everything.” And He knew right where He was talking because He knew this was most important to the guy. For some people it might be a car. For some people it might be a girl. For some people it might be a job or a career or a certain sin they want to indulge in. For this guy, it was his money and his possessions.

MacArthur goes on to contrast the rich young man’s response to that of Zacchaeus, the vilified tax collector who climbed into a tree to get a better glimpse of Jesus. Zacchaeus was not wanting materially, either. Yet:

Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “O behold, the half of my goods I give to the poor and if I’ve taken anything from any man by false accusation, I restore him fourfold.” You want to see the attitude of this guy? Boy, he knows he’s been doing wrong all the time and he says, “Oh, I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get my life right. I’ve got to get it right. I’ve got to give everything back. And I’ve got to give all this stuff to the poor. And I’ve got to return to everybody four hundred percent.” This is the opposite, isn’t it? I mean, the guy want…the first thing he wanted to do was unload everything he had. And Jesus said, “This day is salvation come to this house, for he also is a son of Abraham.”

Here’s a true Jew. And, boy, this is real salvation. Why? Cause the guy can only think of what a sinner he is and he wants to unload all of the stuff that he’s taken unjustly from people and give them back, not only what they deserve but everything else he’s got. “For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which is lost.”

Our response to God’s requests says everything about us. May we, too, be able to release possessions, situations or relationships for His glory.

Next week’s reading continues this theme.

Next time: Matthew 19:23-30

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgContinuing an occasional series on quotes from the Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, today’s post concerns his views on growing old.

Previous entries addressed ambition, eternity and unity.

Numbers following the quotes refer to the relevant sermon.

Spurgeon gives hope to those of us who see twentysomethings and think they look like 12-year-olds. That’s my criterion for old age!

Without further ado, here is wisdom from the man known as the Prince of Preachers, with much more at the aforementioned link. Emphases mine below:

It is a crime to permit our fires to burn low while experience yields us more and more abundant fuel. AM191

From the altar of age the flashes of the fire of youth are gone, but the more real flame of earnest feeling remains. ME556

O you of forty, fifty, or sixty, what a world of mischief there is in you that will have to come out. 1248.455

Many of God’s aged servants who have been spared to advanced years, have come to look out for the setting of earth’s sun without a fear of darkness. While they have seemed to have one foot in the grave, they have really had one foot in heaven. 1922.537

Old men sometimes arrive at a second childhood. Do not be afraid, brother, if that is your case; you have gone through one period already that was more infantile than your second one can be, you will not be weaker then than you were at first. 2457.137

In the case of some old people, who have been professors of religion for years, but who have done next to nothing for Christ, I find it very difficult ever to stir them up at all. 2618.183

I always find that the older saints become more Calvinistic as they ripen in age; that is to say, they get to believe more and more that salvation is all of grace; and whereas, at first, they might have had some rather loose ideas concerning free-will, and the power of the creature, the lapse of years and fuller experience gradually blow all that kind of chaff away. 2991.287

When somebody said to a Christian minister, “I suppose you are on the wrong side of fifty?” “No,” he said, “thank God, I am on the right side of fifty, for I am sixty, and am therefore nearer heaven.” Old age should never be looked upon with dismay by us; it should be our joy. 3183.72

What a positive way for us oldies to start the week!

Age aside, may all my readers enjoy a blessed day!

Bible boy_reading_bibleThe 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.

Matthew 19:13-15

Let the Children Come to Me

13 Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people, 14 but Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me and do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.” 15 And he laid his hands on them and went away.

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This event has two parallel accounts: Mark 10:13-16 and Luke 18:15-17. I wrote about Mark’s in 2012 and Luke’s in 2014.

Odd, isn’t it, that none of these readings is in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship?

Surely, the future of the Church lies in parents, guardians and other responsible adults bringing children to Christ.

The word ‘then’ in verse 13 implies that our Lord’s blessing of children took place in the house where He had delivered His teaching on marriage and divorce to the disciples. Mark’s account makes this clearer (Mark 10:13):

And they were bringing children to him that he might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them.

Therefore, it would appear that this followed soon afterwards, particularly if the disciples were trying to shoo people away.

The ancient Jewish tradition of blessing children arose from Jacob‘s — Israel’s — blessing of Joseph’s sons near the end of his life (Genesis 48:8-10):

When Israel saw Joseph’s sons, he said, “Who are these?” Joseph said to his father, “They are my sons, whom God has given me here.” And he said, “Bring them to me, please, that I may bless them.” 10 Now the eyes of Israel were dim with age, so that he could not see. So Joseph brought them near him, and he kissed them and embraced them.

The Jews of Jesus’s time carried on this beautiful tradition. As Jesus’s teachings and miracles were well known far and wide, especially at this point in His ministry, it was only natural that adults would seek His blessing of the children in their care. This was so that these children would lead a godly life. This tradition continues in the Christian faith. Matthew Henry explains:

If they cannot stretch out their hands to Christ, yet he can lay his hands on them, and so make them his own, and own them for his own.

Jesus rebuked the disciples for rebuking the adults with these children. He told them two things (verse 14): let the children come to Him and do not hinder them. John MacArthur analyses this for us (emphases mine):

Interesting that He uses two verbs and there’s a reasonThe first one is in the aorist tense, point action, permit right now this moment, let them come.  And then “forbid them not” is present tense.  And what He’s saying is right now let these come and from now on don’t ever make it a practice to stop them from coming.  So He takes care of the present and the future. 

MacArthur says that these children were probably infants, even though Matthew’s manuscript used the generic Greek word for children, paedia:

But if we were to compare the other passages and go to Mark, we would find that he uses the term brephos.  And so, whereas Matthew just generally says little children, Mark tells us how little, brephos, and that word means a suckling, a nursing baby, an infant.  They were bringing in their arms their infants.  And we know they must have been infants by our Lord’s response because the Bible says in Mark that He took them in His arms and blessed them.  They were bringing babies to Jesus.  They wanted Him to pray for them with His unique divine power, with His unique proximity to God, they felt, they wanted His prayers on the behalf of their little ones.

Jesus blessed these little ones — laid hands on them — and left afterwards (verse 15). Henry explains:

As if he reckoned he had done enough there, when he had thus asserted the rights of the lambs of his flock, and made this provision for a succession of subjects in his kingdom.

MacArthur tells us why Jesus was so angry with the disciples:

He was furious with them.  Only two or three times He really got mad at them.  Frustrated with them a lot, disappointed a lot, but really angry, just a few times.  This is one of them.  And the only time that particular word of indignation is used of Jesus in reference to them.  But He was very angry with them for trying to stop these parents from bringing their children …

Reason number one, He loved babies.  He loved them.  And He knew they were a creation of God, a creation of His.  And He felt a tender affection for them. And He felt a sympathy for them for the world in which they were born.  And it seemed, of course, that the disciples were utterly deficient in such an attitude.

Secondly, I think He is angry with them because He also loved adults and He knew full well that if you say no to people’s children, you’re going to have a tough time getting their attention.  Politicians learned that long ago.  I mean, He knew the first and foremost way to a parent’s heart was through their baby and He wanted to demonstrate the genuineness of His tender love and care for the little ones.

Thirdly, I think He was angry with them because no one is outside the care and plan and love of God, not even a baby.  No one is outside the concern of God, not a baby.  No one ever coming to Jesus Christ intrudes on Him.

Fourthly, I think He was angry because children provided Him a tremendous picture, a tremendous illustration, a tremendous analogy for salvation.  And He took advantage of it every time He could.

Fifthly, I think He was angry with them because He needed to set them straight about something.  And that something was this, you don’t ever say who can or cannot come to Christ.  That’s not within your prerogative.  If you follow the life of Christ, you will find that He refused some people they brought and He sought some people they rejected.  And it is a lesson of who’s in charge, again.  And so, He really was eliminating their misunderstanding, their lack of concern for little ones.

Note that Jesus told the disciples that the kingdom of heaven belongs to little children (verse 14). It belongs to them and to believers who have their innocence of the world and dependence on God the Father. If that sounds familiar, it is because Matthew recorded it in the previous chapter (Matthew 18:1-4), verses which I covered in May 2016.

Parents and people in charge of children close to them — family friends, aunts and uncles, grandparents — do well to begin religious instruction of some sort from an early age. My mother taught me how to pray by the time I was three years old. The sooner adults begin, the sooner the child begins to know Jesus Christ and God the Father. Furthermore, the sooner that begins the longer that journey in faith progresses and continues.

MacArthur gives us the following advice about children:

if God made them and God gave them and God gave them to be a blessing, then God wants them “returned” to Him for His use.  And that is why Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train up a child in the way he should go and when he’s old he won’t depart from it.”  That’s why Ephesians 6:4 very clearly says, “Bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.”  Because the task that you have is to give your children back to God, that’s your stewardship.  So remember, where they came from, and to where they are to return.

Go back to the Pentateuch, I’m thinking of Deuteronomy 6 for a minute.  Let me give you just a look at a pattern that you need to understand if you’re going to effectively teach children.  We must remember whose they are, where they came from and where they’re to return and we must teach them…we must teach them.  And here is how.  I believe God gave this to Moses in the very beginning with His people because it’s so basic, it hasn’t changed, the principles are here.  Verse 4, “Hear O Israel, the Lord our God is one Lord.”  In other words, if you’re going to teach your children, it all begins with you worshiping the right God in the right way.   No idols.  You cannot teach them unless you commit yourself to the true religion.

Secondly, “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thine heart, with all thy soul, with all thy might, these words which I command thee this day shall be in thine heart.”  What does that mean?  That means internalize what you believe about God.  Not only have the right theology, but the right heart.  You’ve got to commit to your children not only truth but truth in an uncompromising heart of conviction, truth in a pure heart, truth in a holy life so that you see God in everything.  You love Him with your heart, your mind, your soul, your power, everything.  If you’re going to teach your children, you’ve got to have the right God and the right faith and it’s got to come right out of your heart.  It has to be internal with you, not just external.

And then verse 7, I love this, “Teach them diligently unto thy children and shall talk of them when thou sittest in thine house, when thou walkest by the way, when thou liest down and when thou risest up.”  What does that say?  That simply says that you have to teach from life situations.  You have the right faith in God, you’ve internalized it, your heart is filled with love, your passion is toward God, you love Him with your heart, mind and strength and now out of every vicissitude, every trial, every struggle, every moment of life, you teach the truth of God….when you stand up, sit down, walk in the way, lie down, every time you’ve got an opportunity.  It isn’t enough to sit down with your kids and read them a Bible story and then go on and live a worldly life the rest of the day.  You’ve got to draw God into every analogy, into every aspect of life.  They have to see the Lord in everything.  All of life becomes a blackboard in which you teach the truth of God.  And it’s unending, unceasing, constant.  Teach it diligently all the time, sitting down, walking, lying down, rising up so that it’s the flow of life.

Bedtime Bible stories, a religious bedroom wall plaque, simple prayers for toddlers, the Lord’s Prayer by the time the child starts nursery school, conversations about God’s creation when looking at plants or animals, saying Grace before meals in thanksgiving of His provisions are just a few ways parents, families and other guardians can convey the reality of divine truth.

Don’t wait for Sunday School or Christian school teachers to do it. Start with yourselves — today. Teaching a child about God’s love for him or her will be more effective than their hearing it from someone they see once a week for an hour. Patience, faith and a pure heart will benefit children enormously in their religious journey.

Next time: Matthew 19:16-22

On July 6, 2016, I wrote about the high church Anglican quiz ‘How “spikey” are YOU?’

One of my readers, Boetie, a Catholic living in Germany, sent in a thoughtful comment by way of response. He has kindly given me permission to use it as a guest post on the differences between Catholic and Anglican worship.

What he says closely parallels my own experience in the early 1980s and caused me to convert to the Episcopal Church and continue worshipping in the UK as an Anglican. I should emphasise that my conversion came through low church, which also had quite a lot of ritual, rather than high church. That said, I have occasionally enjoyed the freedom and the opportunity to revisit ancient traditions and vestments.

Without further ado, Boetie discusses his results and his own worship journey:

I came out “top of the flame” – not that I was in the least surprised, though. But this liturgical and at the same time humorous approach is what first attracted me to the Anglican Church in her High Church / Anglo-Catholic tradition ever since I was an 11 or 12 year old lad from Germany coming to Britain for the first time in the very early 1970s. Quite visibly the Anglican Church had not been through the devastations Vatican II had brought about in my own church (I’m a “Roman”:-)). Sadly, the Anglican Church has more than made up leeway since.

But for the first time in my life I saw priests who looked like priests with their dog collars and their cassocks/soutanes, who spoke like priests and who acted like priests. Our own RC priests at the time had opted for the “social worker” chic, loathed to be addressed as “Father” and were delighted when you told them: “I would never have guessed you were a priest”.

And, of course, in England I gained an insight into what “liturgy” meant – while in Germany they had already come up with that brilliant idea of happy-clappy services with do-gooder homilies. I had never heard e.g. an “Angelus” prayer in my home parish – the first in my life was in an Anglican church in Hertfordshire.

So, for many years in my youth, the Anglican Church shaped my own Catholic faith.

I noticed differences though, even at an early age.

Right from day one I was impressed by the style of hearty hymn singing – as opposed to many RC churches where people often can’t be bothered and where the singing is lacklustre. Also, I found traditional Anglican services solemn but ultimately more serene than traditional RC Masses. And the difference of the quality of style and language was stunning: introducing the vernacular after Vatican II into RC services didn’t work well: e.g. in Germany it was modern day German while in the Anglican Church the wonderful traditional English had been retained. (Doing away with Prayer Book English I regard as a a major flaw in today’s Anglican worship.) Not least of all, to this day I appreciate the humour that is never far from the surface with High Church priests – which makes it a pleasure to listen to their sermons and homilies.

The demise of the Anglican Church (namely the CofE) I find deeply saddening and I wonder whether the Catholic faith in her Anglican tradition will have a future within the Anglican Communion or whether in the long run it will be just “catholic” in name and maybe ritual but no longer in essence – with lesbians and feminists in fiddleback chasubles and birettas swinging the thurible – during a same sex marriage.

But I do not want to end on a sombre note. If you appreciate the type of humour of the quiz I am sure you will also like the cartoon figure of “Father Jolly” created years ago by the American Anglican priest Fr. Tom Janikowski during his formative years in the seminary. He is now Rector of Trinity Anglican Church in Rock Island, Illinois (an ACNA parish). Unfortunately there are only few of his cartoons on the net: the first 4 pictures here:

https://www.google.de/search?q=father+jolly&client=firefox-b-ab&biw=1370&bih=938&source=lnms&tbm=isch&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwiK2-ie_uDNAhVCbRQKHReiBVEQ_AUIBigB

Here is another one: http://www.thescp.org/documents/jollylovejoy.jpg

Should you come across more in the vein of that quiz – please let us know in your blog. I am sure I’d be not the only one to appreciate this.

You can bet I will, brother!

Thank you very much, Boetie, for your excellent contribution and for the witty (and realistic) Father Jolly cartoons.

It would be edifying if others sharing the same experience as Boetie’s and mine would kindly comment below.

John F MacArthurA John MacArthur sermon I cited yesterday has a lovely explanation of marriage.

Excerpts follow from his exposition of Matthew 19:10-12, ‘Jesus’ Teaching on Divorce, Part 4′. Emphases mine below.

Leaders of every youth group from secondary school through university would do well to borrow from this sermon. Too many of us do not fully appreciate matrimony.

MacArthur sets out the main points of marriage. Each begins with a ‘P’.

Procreation

Children are an heritage from the Lord, so there is marriage to have children.  Procreation … Nothing is more clear than you two are one when you see your selves in that one that is born of your union. 

Pleasure

It’s for pleasure.  Hebrews 13:4 says, “Marriage is honorable in all and the bed is undefiled.”  The bed is undefiled, you can’t do anything in that place that is defiling.  Great liberation, 1 Corinthians 7 says, your body is not yours, and her body is not hers they belong to each other and the Old Testament … from Proverbs, talks about the satisfaction of the physical relationship, the pleasure.

Purity

It’s for purity.  In 1 Corinthians 7:2, the Bible says, that for fornication let every man have his own wife.

This is the verse (ESV):

But because of the temptation to sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife and each woman her own husband.

Provision

I love this.  Ephesians 5 says that the man is to nourish, cherish, provide for, care for, be like a savior to his wife

… marriage is a provision of security, it’s a provision of carrying and nourishing and cherishing.  Providing for[;] in fact, it says, if a man doesn’t provide for his own household, he’s worse than an unbeliever

Partnership

It’s for partnership.  When God made Eve, he said he made Adam a what?  A helper.  A helper. Somebody to come along side and help so you don’t do things alone, you do them togetherThere is strength in that fellowship, isn’t there.  And I confess to you that my wife is strong where I am weak and that I tend to be strong where she is weak and that’s the way it ought to be.  She tells me when I need to be told and if she didn’t, she wouldn’t be strength to my weakness.  She has wonderful ways of reminding me of my weaknesses.  In fact, I can hear the speech coming before she gives it.  I know, speech number 8, you don’t have to give it.  But there is real partnership isn’t there, real partnership.  I mean, I go here and I work here and I study and I do the things I need to do and she’s home providing all the home needs all that the children need, all that I need to be free to do what I do.  It’s real partnership.  And I provide all the resources that she needs to do what God has ordained for her to do and so that’s partnership.

Picture

And then finally, marriage is picture.  It’s picture and what is it picture of?  It is picture of Christ and his what?  Church.  Ephesians 5, it is a graphic demonstration in the face of the world that God loves and has an ongoing unending relationship with the bride whom he loves.  And for whom he lives and dies and I dare say that the whole metaphor of marriage of a symbol of Christ and his church has lost its punch because the church is so rife with divorce and fouled up marriages. 

Conclusion

Some psychologists did a study and came up with a theory that you are what you are because you are adjusting to the most important person in your life.  Whoever the most important person is in your life, that’s the person you are trying to please.  Very simple for the Christian, isn’t it?  Who is the most important person in our life?  Christ.  That settles the issue, really, because now we can say, I receive it, if you say it.  It’s God’s order. 

If more of us heard, read and heeded those succinct yet necessary messages about marriage, we would have fewer divorces and many more happy unions.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 19:10-12

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

—————————————————————————————–

Today’s verses conclude Jesus’s teachings on divorce.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple. He then reiterated that divorce was a permission, given man’s fallen state, and refuted that it was, as the Pharisees taught and practised, a commandment. Divorce is only to be used in case of adultery, He said, thereby reinforcing Old Testament law. By saying this, He humiliated the Pharisees and made them look like the law-breaking adulterers they were.

John MacArthur explains that the Pharisees disappeared afterward, because we are left with Jesus addressing the disciples (emphases mine):

The reasons they disappeared is they had just been made into adulterers because they were standing there having had to face the reality that any divorce for other than adultery causes you to become an adulterer when you remarry[;] the fact is they had done that, perhaps myriad times, represented by the groups that were there and they were nothing but a lot of adulterers and they just fade.  We don’t see them anymore.  But by this time, the disciples are enraptured with this teaching of our Lord.  And the scene moves into a house, in verse 10.  And the Lord sits down with the disciples and I’m sure they followed up on that discussion with a lot of other discussion about marriage.

Jesus’s words perplexed the disciples. They had seen so many divorces in their lifetime that to hear those breakups defiled men and women seemed unthinkable. Therefore, they countered that it would be better never to get married at all than have no recourse to divorce only in the case of adultery (verse 10). A lifetime commitment would be too risky.

They sound like men and women today who operate under one of two scenarios. One says it is better to live together for fear a lifetime commitment could be living hell. The second is to get divorced for any variety of reasons — e.g. incompatibility, irreconcilable differences — once things go pear-shaped.

Perhaps the Jews of Jesus’s time, led by their hierarchy, thought similarly to us. Maybe, like them, the majority of us are looking for great sex and shimmering romance every day of the week. Once married life fails to deliver, we’re outta there.

Some people go on to marry serially. Zsa Zsa Gabor once said the reason she got married so often was that she wanted to consummate relations in a spiritually legal way. In her case, as in many others, once the emotional thrill and initial romance faded, she or her husband wanted to divorce. On a positive note, happy 30th anniversary wishes go to her and her husband Frédéric Prinz von Anhalt. They were married on August 14, 1986. I am very glad this union has been a blessing to them both.

The uncertainty of the future is why marriage scares people. This is why sensible parents advise their children to take their time in choosing a lifetime partner. There are many secularist families in Britain who are proud of their no divorce records which stretch beyond the generations and into the extended family. By contrast, there are notionally Christian families where any number of couples have divorced for trivial reasons; they simply ‘grew apart’ or ‘didn’t like each other anymore’. Hmm.

Before I go on to verses 11 and 12 in today’s reading, may I remind those contemplating marriage to consider that there will be times when sexual performance wanes as quickly as it waxes. Employment and financial insecurity are two main causes. Today’s economy is hardly conducive to non-stop virility and desire. Therefore, couples should be aiming to marry their best friend of the opposite sex.

Of their successful marriage, Zsa Zsa Gabor’s husband said:

It was a friendship, but when you’re with someone over a certain time you fall in love.[8]

On that note, I haven’t seen one of these plaques for years, but when I was growing up, they were in every American curio shop. This is truer than engaged couples realise:

Image result for kissin don't last cookin do

(Photo credit: Pinterest)

A truly loving union is a daily blessing from on high. MacArthur tells us:

Marriage is a sacred thing and it is the greatest gift that God can ever give.  I can only tell you that from my own experience as you can from yours that when you have two people who love Jesus Christ and love each other and live a life together under God’s leading and direction and in the power of the Spirit, it gets so good sometimes you have to pinch yourself to think it’s real and that’s as God intended it

It really does get that good!

Jesus responded to the disciples’ caution by saying not everyone is called to a life of celibacy (verse 11). Staying single is fine for some, but the majority will not be able to cope long term. MacArthur analyses Jesus’s response this way:

He says, that’s a nice idea.  That’s a nice sentiment.  You’ll just stay single, that way you won’t get into something you can’t get out of.  You’ll just say single, but he says, look, not everybody can handle that.  Not everybody can handle singleness, except those two whom it is given.  May I suggest to you that singleness is a gift of sorts, it’s given to a person.  That’s what Jesus said.  Unless you can handle singleness, singleness isn’t going to be the best thing for you.  You might say, in don’t want to get married, because I don’t want to make a commitment and all you are going to do is be left with a rollercoaster of emotions and find yourself being tempted in and out of all kinds of illicit thoughts, if not acts the rest of your life.

Jesus went on to discuss eunuchs (verse 12). He said there are eunuchs from birth, referring to congenital malformation of sexual organs. Then there are manmade eunuchs, referring to castration at the hands of another. Finally, there are eunuchs who do so for godly reasons. MacArthur says He meant becoming asexual and turning off desire, not actually castrating oneself. St Paul was asexual but he did not advocate that state for his converts for the aforementioned reasons that it would eventually lead to tortured emotions and/or fornication.

Jesus concluded by saying ‘let him who is able to receive this receive it’. MacArthur says He referred to heeding His teachings on divorce and celibacy. Ultimately:

marriage is the norm and I want you to hear that and receive it. 

And:

… if you can receive it, you better receive it.  In other words, if you have the life of God in your soul and you find yourself loving the Lord Jesus Christ and if you find yourself under the authority of the Word of God, then you better receive this teaching and the teaching is, you are married for life or you are single for the glory of God or for some other physical reason, not just so you can just play around.

In closing, Matthew Henry has the following pearls of wisdom about marriage and mankind’s flawed appetites:

Note, 1. Corrupt nature is impatient of restraint, and would fain break Christ’s bonds in sunder, and have a liberty for its own lusts. 2. It is a foolish, peevish thing for men to abandon the comforts of this life, because of the crosses that are commonly woven in with them, as if we must needs go out of the world, because we have not every thing to our mind in the world or must enter into no useful calling or condition, because it is made our duty to abide in it. No, whatever our condition is, we must bring our minds to it, be thankful for its comforts, submissive to its crosses, and, as God has done, set the one over against the other, and make the best of that which is, Ecclesiastes 7:14. If the yoke of marriage may not be thrown off at pleasure, it does not follow that therefore we must not come under it but therefore, when we do come under it, we must resolve to comport with it, by love, and meekness, and patience, which will make divorce the most unnecessary undesirable thing that can be.

Also, for those who are not interested in marriage :

they who have the gift of continence, and are not under any necessity of marrying, do best if they continue single (1 Corinthians 7:1) for they that are unmarried have opportunity, if they have but a heart, to care more for the things of the Lord, how they may please the Lord (1 Corinthians 7:32-34), being less encumbered with the cares of this life, and having a greater vacancy of thought and time to mind better things. The increase of grace is better than the increase of the family, and fellowship with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ is to be preferred before any other fellowship.

For both groups of people:

Note, That condition is best for us, and to be chosen and stuck to accordingly, which is best for our souls, and tends most to the preparing of us for, and the preserving of us to, the kingdom of heaven.

For those wondering if they will find the right partner, be patient and pray on it. Sometimes God wants our edges a bit smoother or in a different locale before He provides us with one.

I know many people who got married for the first time in their 30s and 50s. They are all very happy, contented couples.

Interestingly, either the husband or the wife from each often says s/he would not have been ‘ready’ for their spouse had they met them decades earlier. How true!

Next time: Matthew 19:13-15

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgContinuing an occasional series on quotes from the Reformed Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, today’s post concerns his views on ambition.

The two previous entries addressed eternity and unity.

Before I move onto quotes from the Prince of Preachers, which are just as relevant today as they were in the 19th century, it is important to keep in mind how much he loved studying and reading. Those Christians who disparage the value of formal education could take a leaf out of his book.

Encyclopedia.com describes his grandfather’s parsonage in Stambourne, Essex (southeastern England). Emphases mine below:

His favorite getaway was in the attic, in a secret little room he stumbled upon one day that had once served as the minister’s den before the windows were covered up. In this dark, little space, Spurgeon discovered countless books and fell in love with Puritan theology.

… Spurgeon particularly loved Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan, a Puritan who had been jailed for his beliefs. Over the course of his lifetime, Spurgeon read the book more than 100 times. The attic also contained books on Scriptural theology and Christian martyrs. Reading them provided Spurgeon with a solid theological background.

In the attic, Spurgeon fell in love with reading. In his autobiography, posted on the Spurgeon Archive website, Spurgeon described the impact reading had on him: “Out of that darkened room I fetched those old authors when I was yet a youth, and never was I happier than when in their company.” This fondness for books lasted a lifetime. By the time he was an adult, Spurgeon read an average of six books a week and was well–read in Puritan theology, natural history, and Latin and Victorian literature. At his death, Spurgeon had 12,000 books in his personal library.

The numbers following the quotes below relate to his sermons.

Spurgeon clearly had a good knowledge — and understanding — of history as well as classical mythology, which, sadly, some churchgoers disdain today:

Ambition is like the sea which swallows all the rivers and is none the fuller; or like the grave whose insatiable maw for ever craves for the bodies of men. It is not like an amphora, which being full receives no more, but its fulness swells it till a still greater vacuum is formed. In all probability, Napoleon never longed for a sceptre till he gained the bâton, nor dreamed of being conqueror of Europe till he had gained the crown of France. Caligula, with the world at his feet, was mad with a longing for the moon, and could he have gained it the imperial lunatic would have coveted the sun. It is in vain to feed a fire which grows the more voracious the more it is supplied with fuel; he who lives to satisfy his ambition has before him the labour of Sisyphus, who rolled up hill an ever-rebounding stone, and the task of the daughters of Danaus, who are condemned for ever to attempt to fill a bottomless vessel with buckets full of holes. FA10

There are times in life when ambition can cause us to attempt or covet too much:

He who undertakes too much succeeds but little. PT140

You may burst a bag by trying to fill it too full, and ruin yourself by grasping at too much. PT140

Our endeavours to go up lead us to push others down. 2153.379

A man is never perfectly at peace if he is ambitious, and craving for this or that which as yet is beyond his reach. 2626.280

Men do not quarrel when their ambitions have come to an end. 2281.529

Are we accomplishing things for God’s glory or man’s?

And it is much the same also with ambition,—not the desire to use one’s capacities to the full, especially for God’s glory, and the good of our fellow-creatures; but that craving for so-called “glory” which makes a man court the homage of his fellow-men, and which will not let him be content unless he is set up on a high pedestal for fools to stare at. 2886.268

He had this advice for churchgoers:

Aspire to be something more than the mass of church members. Lift up your cry to God and beseech him to fire you with a nobler ambition than that which possesses the common Christian—that you may be found faithful unto God at the last, and may win many crowns for your Lord and Master, Christ. 867.232

In closing, this is worthwhile for seminarians who hope to rise to the top in their vocation:

Do you not know that the higher you rise, even in the Church of Christ, the more responsibility you have, and the heavier burdens you have to carry? 2871.91

Every time I read Spurgeon quotations I spend a period of time pondering each one. I hope you find them equally valuable.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Matthew 19:7-9

They said to him, “Why then did Moses command one to give a certificate of divorce and to send her away?” He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

—————————————————————————————————–

This week’s verses continue our Lord’s discussion on divorce with the Pharisees.

There is much to unpack here.

To recap, the first part of Matthew 19 explains where Jesus is at this time. Last week’s post covered God’s plan for Adam and Eve as well as the covenant of marriage, based on His creation of the couple.

This week’s verses are the middle of Jesus’s teaching on divorce. The Pharisees were known to divorce their wives for any reason, no matter how trivial. I wrote about this at length in 2014 when discussing Luke 16:18. Therefore, it is interesting that they interpret Moses’s position on divorce as a ‘command’ (verse 7), when our Lord clearly saw it as something which is ‘allowed’ (verse 8).

The passage the Pharisees were referring to was Deuteronomy 24:1-4:

Laws Concerning Divorce

24 “When a man takes a wife and marries her, if then she finds no favor in his eyes because he has found some indecency in her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, and she departs out of his house, and if she goes and becomes another man’s wife, and the latter man hates her and writes her a certificate of divorce and puts it in her hand and sends her out of his house, or if the latter man dies, who took her to be his wife, then her former husband, who sent her away, may not take her again to be his wife, after she has been defiled, for that is an abomination before the Lord. And you shall not bring sin upon the land that the Lord your God is giving you for an inheritance.

In short, John MacArthur says that ‘indecency’ (verse 1) refers to something just short of adultery. Contrary to what the Pharisees believed, it had nothing to do with burnt dinners, sloppy housekeeping or disagreements with the mother-in-law. Under Mosaic Law, adulterers were to be stoned to death, although there were many who never received that sentence. MacArthur surmises that there were too many adulterers at the time; therefore, handing out death sentences would have been rank hypocrisy. It would certainly have thinned the population, if true.

In any event, a woman’s former husband cannot remarry her if he’s divorced her (verse 4). That is the real takeaway message here — and the one command!

Divorcing for anything other than adultery defiles the woman. Therefore, the ex-husband may not remarry her on those grounds. This is why verse 4 speaks of not bringing sin upon the land that the Lord has given in inheritance.

No Old Testament passages on divorce command it. In fact, in some instances it was strictly forbidden. Where a man has sexual congress with a virgin to whom he is not married (Deuteronomy 22:18-19, emphases mine):

18 Then the elders of that city shall take the man and whip[b] him, 19 and they shall fine him a hundred shekels[c] of silver and give them to the father of the young woman, because he has brought a bad name upon a virgin[d] of Israel. And she shall be his wife. He may not divorce her all his days.

Later on, it says the same in verses 28 and 29:

28 “If a man meets a virgin who is not betrothed, and seizes her and lies with her, and they are found, 29 then the man who lay with her shall give to the father of the young woman fifty shekels of silver, and she shall be his wife, because he has violated her. He may not divorce her all his days.

We read in Leviticus 21:7 of priestly marriage:

They shall not marry a prostitute or a woman who has been defiled, neither shall they marry a woman divorced from her husband, for the priest is holy to his God.

And, again, in verse 14:

A widow, or a divorced woman, or a woman who has been defiled, or a prostitute, these he shall not marry. But he shall take as his wife a virgin[b] of his own people,

Going back to Deuteronomy 24, MacArthur sums it up this way:

Deuteronomy 24 does not command divorce.  It commands that you not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.  It’s a very strong word, my friend.  You don’t want to marry an illegitimately divorced person because you’re marrying someone who is defiled

This is because God intended for the holy covenant of marriage among His people:

Now, you see, God is protecting marriage.  And He’s saying this: you can’t just divorce your wife for anything you want, or you’re going to turn her into an adulteress, whoever marries her into an adulterer, yourself and who you marry into one, so just know that, and that ought to help you when you think about getting rid of your wife.  Because you’re just going to become an adulterer, and whoever you marry is going to fall into that category, and so is everybody else.  And you see, God is, in a sense, trying to insulate that one man, one woman, monogamous, lifelong relationship by making the alternative one of disaster.  And so, this text does not command divorce; it commands that you do not remarry an illegitimately divorced person.

Some may ask if the Bible explains how Moses decided, with God’s help, to allow divorce as a realistic way of dealing with the Israelites’ ‘hardness of heart’ (verse 8). There is no such verse:

Frankly, dear friends, we don’t know where in the Old Testament Moses actually permitted it because it doesn’t say that, but we do know that it must have been permitted for a legitimate basis or it wouldn’t have been discussed for illegitimate basis in Deuteronomy 24.  But the Old Testament does not give us a text where it says I permit you to get a divorce on the basis of this.  So, we have to sort of draw that out.  And I think there’s a reason for that.  I think God avoided saying it.  It is a permission, but it’s sort of way behind the scenes, it’s not overtly stated lest people hurry to that passage to justify themselves

God is also merciful and does not want to see innocent parties penalised by forbidding them to remarry:

… when there was an irreconcilable problem, in other words, you’ve got a partner in a marriage who is in an adulterous relationship and will not sever it and will not sever it, and there’s no way to bring it back, there’s no way to restore it.  God may be gracious to that adulterous person, but where that hard heart is not softened, God permitted divorce for the innocent party to be free to remarry.  I believe where you have an unrepentant, irreconcilable adultery, you have a hard heartAnd you are pursuing your adultery in a hard-hearted way, then Moses allowed, not condoned, not commended, and not commanded, but allowed divorce, when God was gracious and didn’t bring death.  That’s all we can understand about it, otherwise nothing makes sense. 

We cannot give any more latitude than the Word of God does.  It was a concession on account of sin to make life more bearable for one sinned against

In the case of death, the marriage covenant comes to an end. As such, the widowed party can remarry:

In other words, let’s say in the Old Testament your husband commits adultery, he’s dead.  He has no chance to repent.  If he’s unredeemed, he’s in hell forever.  Are you free to remarry?  Sure, because death breaks the marriage

There were, however, times when divorce was allowed. Ezra 10 describes what happened when men of Israel married pagan women then repented. They came up with the idea to divorce them: they were not of their culture which was known to be adulterous. They were defiled women in the first place. Ezra gave the men his permission to divorce.

MacArthur says:

They had temple prostitutes, both male and female.  And when they went to worship, for example, the people who worshiped Baal would go in and actually engage in sex orgies.  And I believe the reason that the reason there can be legitimate grounds for divorce here, is because their spouses were pagan adulterers and idolaters, okay?  And on that basis, God is permitting them to shed those wives, or husbands, who are engaged in that incessant, unceasing worship of false gods connected not only with idolatry, but with adultery.  And so, you see implied here then that they were to be divorced because of the spiritual intermarriage with idols, and the physical union they were having with the prostitutes who carried on the idolatrous worship.  Now this is a hint, then, at the fact that there is legitimate divorce where there is adultery involved, a very important text. 

Isaiah 50 is interesting as it records God’s asking Israel for her divorce certificate for adultery — sinfulness via idolatry. That ‘certificate’ does not exist. Only God can make that decision. And, because He is loving and merciful, He did not divorce Himself from Israel.

He threatened it later, only after 700 years of continual hardness of heart and worse behaviour from Judah, as chronicled in Jeremiah 3. Even then, God called his adulterous (sinful) people to repentance!

Returning to Matthew 19, this is what Matthew Henry has to say about the ‘hardness of heart’ that Jesus — and Moses — referred to:

their being hardened against their relations they were generally violent and outrageous, which way soever they took, both in their appetites and in their passions and therefore if they had not been allowed to put away their wives, when they had conceived a dislike of them, they would have used them cruelly, would have beaten and abused them, and perhaps have murdered them. Note, There is not a greater piece of hard-heartedness in the world, than for a man to be harsh and severe with his own wife. The Jews, it seems, were infamous for this, and therefore were allowed to put them away better divorce them than do worse, than that the altar of the Lord should be covered with tears, Malachi 2:13. A little compliance, to humour a madman, or a man in a frenzy, may prevent a greater mischief. Positive laws may be dispensed with for the preservation of the law of nature, for God will have mercy and not sacrifice but then those are hard-hearted wretches, who have made it necessary and none can wish to have the liberty of divorce, without virtually owning the hardness of their hearts. Observe, He saith, It is for the hardness of your hearts, not only theirs who lived then, but all their seed. Note, God not only sees, but foresees, the hardness of men’s hearts he suited both the ordinances and providences of the Old Testament to the temper of that people, both in terror.

Henry adds an excellent concise explanation of the difference between the messages of the Old and New Testaments:

The law of Moses considered the hardness of men’s hearts, but the gospel of Christ cures it and his grace takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. By the law was the knowledge of sin, but by the gospel was the conquest of it.

That’s a marvellous way to explain the Bible. So many unchurched and unbelievers press the importance of Mosaic Law, when, in fact, Christ lifts that burden from us and brings us to life — in every sense of the word.

Ultimately, Jesus repeats what has been written throughout the Old Testament (verse 9). He knew the Pharisees were divorcing their wives wrongly, thereby defiling them. This is MacArthur’s take:

He silenced the Pharisees.  In fact, He made them appear as adulterers.  So, when they came to Him, they really walked into a buzz saw.  They were trying to discredit Him and before the conversation is half over.  They’re standing there, a whole stack of adulterers in public gaze.

Next week’s post concludes Jesus’s teaching on divorce.

Parallel passages for today’s verses are Matthew 5:31-32, Mark 10:10-12 and Luke 16:18.

Next time: Matthew 19:10-12

Charles Haddon Spurgeon by Alexander Melville.jpgOne of last week’s posts featured Charles Haddon Spurgeon‘s insights on eternity.

Today’s entry throws the spotlight on his assessment of the Church of the 19th century and how she — and we today — can achieve unity. There are several quotes at the link. This is one of them:

It is not likely we should all see eye to eye. You cannot make a dozen watches all tick to the same time, much less make a dozen men all think the same thoughts. But, still, if we should all bow our thoughts to that one written Word, and would own no authority but the Bible, the Church could not be divided, could not be cut in pieces as she now is. 307.167

The Bible — divinely inspired — is read and heeded by too few Christians. Some of us prefer delving into religious self-help books, others poetry or modern church music.

Making a silent, personal commitment to reading and studying the truths of the Bible is the best way we can improve our relationship with Jesus, God and our fellow man.

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