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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

In 2021, the Fourth Sunday in Lent is March 14.

This is also Laetare Sunday, one of joy and hope for the risen Christ.

In the United Kingdom, Laetare Sunday is also Mothering Sunday, or Mother’s Day. You can read about the history behind this in the following posts:

Laetare Sunday, Mother’s Day and the Golden Rose

Laetare Sunday is Mothering Sunday

My posts explain that Laetare Sunday is when clergy used to wear rose coloured vestments instead of purple. (Some still do.) It is traditionally the happy Sunday in Lent, as laetare means ‘rejoice’. The name comes from the opening words of the traditional Latin Introit, which in English translate to ‘Rejoice, Jerusalem’. Salvation is coming.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Fourth Sunday in Lent — Laetare Sunday — Year B

The Gospel reading is as follows (emphases in bold mine):

John 3:14-21

3:14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up,

3:15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.

3:16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

3:17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.

3:18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.

3:19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil.

3:20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.

3:21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

It is important to put these verses into context. It is a pity that the Lectionary editors did not think it appropriate to add the preceding 13 verses:

You Must Be Born Again

Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus[a] by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again[b] he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.[c] Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You[d] must be born again.’ The wind[e] blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”

Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” 10 Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11 Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you[f] do not receive our testimony. 12 If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13 No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man.[g]

Nicodemus was a religious ruler, a Pharisee: very learned in Scripture and Mosaic law. He was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish hierarchy.

He went to see Jesus at night either because he was too busy to meet him during the day, or, more likely, because he did not want to incur the wrath of the Sanhedrin.

Jesus compares Himself to the staff with the brass serpent on it that God told Moses to raise in order to end the plague of fiery serpents that He had visited upon the Israelites (verse 14). Those who looked upon the brass serpent were cured. Those who refused to look at it died.

Those who believe in Jesus will never die (verse 15).

That serpent on the pole was a figurative representation of Christ on the Cross.

Matthew Henry’s commentary explains this in full:

The Son of man is lifted up, as the serpent of brass was by Moses, which cured the stung Israelites. 1. It was a serpent of brass that cured them. Brass is bright we read of Christ’s feet shining like brass, Revelation 1:15. It is durable Christ is the same. It was made in the shape of a fiery serpent, and yet had no poison, no sting, fitly representing Christ, who was made sin for us and yet knew no sin was made in the likeness of sinful flesh and yet not sinful as harmless as a serpent of brass. The serpent was a cursed creature Christ was made a curse. That which cured them reminded them of their plague so in Christ sin is set before us most fiery and formidable. 2. It was lifted up upon a pole, and so must the Son of man be lifted up thus it behoved him, Luke 24:26,46. No remedy now. Christ is lifted up, (1.) In his crucifixion. He was lifted up upon the cross. His death is called his being lifted up, John 12:32,33. He was lifted up as a spectacle, as a mark, lifted up between heaven and earth, as if he had been unworthy of either and abandoned by both. (2.) In his exaltation. He was lifted up to the Father’s right hand, to give repentance and remission he was lifted up to the cross, to be further lifted up to the crown. (3.) In the publishing and preaching of his everlasting gospel, Revelation 14:6. The serpent was lifted up that all the thousands of Israel might see it. Christ in the gospel is exhibited to us, evidently set forth Christ is lifted up as an ensign, Isaiah 11:10. 3. It was lifted up by Moses. Christ was made under the law of Moses, and Moses testified of him. 4. Being thus lifted up, it was appointed for the cure of those that were bitten by fiery serpents. He that sent the plague provided the remedy. None could redeem and save us but he whose justice had condemned us. It was God himself that found the ransom, and the efficacy of it depends upon his appointment. The fiery serpents were sent to punish them for their tempting Christ (so the apostle saith, 1 Corinthians 10:9), and yet they were healed by virtue derived from him. He whom we have offended is our peace.

John MacArthur offers us a practical application of those two verses:

But there’s more to this than just being lifted up in His death. It means that you give Him all your attention. You elevate Him above all others, over all others, as the preeminent one and you look to Him in faith and Him alone for salvation.

The bitten Jews were healed from the poison by a look of faith. They had to believe I’m going to go where that thing is. I’m going to go there, I’m going to look, and if they would do that, they would be healed. And so it is that all God asks of us is to look at His Son, lift Him up. The Jews who were bitten didn’t have to do anything. There were no works. Nothing for which to atone. No restitution, nothing; just look and you have life. What a beautiful analogy. And I know when it happened it was in the plan of God that it would be the analogy of the simplicity of salvation by faith–Christ lifted up; we look at Him and that’s enough, we have life.

And here’s the heart of the heavenly message that Jesus brought down. Verse 15, “So that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. Whoever believes will have eternal life. That’s all the sinner can do. Belief, belief–that’s the heart of the gospel.

Jesus sums everything up in verse 16, one of the most famous in the New Testament:

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

God did not send Jesus to lead a temporal kingdom or to bring social justice. God sent Jesus to save us from being enslaved by sin and bring us to everlasting life in the world to come, with Him.

Let’s go back to the earlier verses in the chapter where Jesus tells Nicodemus that one must be born again of the Holy Spirit.

MacArthur explains:

Simply stated, What contribution did you make to your physical birth? What? None. You didn’t make a contribution and that’s why the Lord chose this. And nor will you make a contribution to your spiritual birth. So the first thing Jesus says to Nicodemus is—and this stops him dead in his legalistic tracks—something has to happen to you from above and you have no part in it. Try that on the next time you evangelize somebody. You need something you can’t do. You need something you can’t participate in. You need something you can’t contribute to. You need heaven to come down. And oh, by the way, unless you’re born from above, born again, unless you’re born of the Spirit, you’ll never enter the kingdom of God. And by the way, the Spirit comes and goes when He wills, and you can’t call Him and you can’t dismiss Him. And this is the doctrine of divine calling, the effectual call, the efficient call. This is what some call irresistible grace. This is the calling that identifies the church as the called. It’s divine.

All of this speaks of an incomprehensible love that God has for mankind. We will never be able to comprehend this during our temporal lives.

Jesus tells Nicodemus that God does not wish to condemn the world but to save it (verse 17), although those who do not believe in Jesus will be condemned forever (verse 18).

Henry makes this observation of the believer:

The cross perhaps lies heavy upon him, but he is saved from the curse: condemned by the world, it may be, but not condemned with the world, Romans 8:1,1 Corinthians 11:32.

He has much to say about unbelievers, whom God condemns in this life and the next:

Observe, [1.] How great the sin of unbelievers is it is aggravated from the dignity of the person they slight they believe not in the name of the only-begotten Son of God, who is infinitely true, and deserves to be believed, infinitely good, and deserves to be embraced. God sent one to save us that was dearest to himself and shall not he be dearest to us? Shall we not believe on his name who has a name above every name? [2.] How great the misery of unbelievers is: they are condemned already which bespeaks, First, A certain condemnation. They are as sure to be condemned in the judgment of the great day as if they were condemned already. Secondly, A present condemnation. The curse has already taken hold of them the wrath of God now fastens upon them. They are condemned already, for their own hearts condemn them. Thirdly, A condemnation grounded upon their former guilt: He is condemned already, for he lies open to the law for all his sins the obligation of the law is in full force, power, and virtue, against him, because he is not by faith interested in the gospel defeasance he is condemned already, because he has not believed. Unbelief may truly be called the great damning sin, because it leaves us under the guilt of all our other sins it is a sin against the remedy, against our appeal.

Jesus explains God’s judgement to Nicodemus: when people turn away from the light of Christ it is because they prefer the darkness of evil (verse 19). He adds that such people do not want divine light to expose their evil deeds of darkness (verse 20).

It is still hard for me to believe that unbelievers could actively reject Christ, but MacArthur explains why people are enslaved to sin:

There’s one reason people don’t believe in Christ, one reason. They love their sin. They don’t want to come near Christ ’cause He shines a light on their sin, exposes their sin. Sinners love sin. It’s not ignorance. It’s not lacking the basic faculties of reason. It’s not misunderstanding. Sinners prefer moral darkness. They’re like bugs that run for the dark when you pick the rock up. They love their corruption. They delight in their evil and love darkness, hate light, don’t want to come to the light because if they come to the light they’ll be exposed for what they are. So they resent the truth, they resent the Scripture, they resent the church, they resent Christians, they run from us. It’s strong—it’s a strong, dominating compulsion in a fallen heart. If you look at John 7:7 it says, “The world cannot hate you,” Jesus talking, “but it hates Me because I testify of it that its deeds are evil.” They hate Christ because He exposes their sin. That eventually gets passed down to us.

And how. We live in a time of Christian censorship which, in some cases, extends to active persecution.

Jesus ends his discourse by saying that those who do what is right come to the light so that it is clear that God is working through them (verse 21).

MacArthur tells us:

… if you’re one of those who practices the truth, the light comes on and you take a look at your life in the light and you say, “What’s going on in me is wrought by God.” And there’s confidence and assurance and joy in that. We come to the light, we love the light, we welcome the communion with Christ. And there’s no fear; there’s complete acceptance and security and joy and protection and love. Boy, what a…what a…what a message Nicodemus got that day and he never even asked a question. He just got his heart read.

MacArthur gave this sermon in 2013, when Rick Warren’s book on ‘purpose’ in the Church was popular. MacArthur rightly says that notion is false:

Stop saying, “Do you want purpose in your life? Jesus will give you purpose.” Stop that. Stop saying Jesus will make you happy, give you a better life, solve your problems, make you better, make you richer—stop. That produces false converts because that sheds no light on the sinner’s wretchedness. That uncovers nothing. That exposes nothing. That’s a lie. What you want to do is shine the light of the pure righteousness of Jesus Christ as brightly as you can on the sinner and see if the sinner runs. That has no value to people, that kind of stuff—produces nothing but false converts. The issue is to confront sin in all its horror and all its ugliness and they will seal their sentence by rejecting Christ because they love their iniquity. Or by the grace of God they will run to the truth, verse 21, “He who practices the truth comes to the light so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God.”

MacArthur has more advice on evangelising:

So when you talk to people, I think it’s sometimes okay to say, “You know, you’re a lawbreaker, you’ve broken this law, broken that law, broken the Ten Commandments, fine. That’s all forgivable.” Sooner or later in the conversation, and may I suggest sooner rather than later, you need to address people about what they think concerning Jesus Christ and cut to the chase and say, “If you do not believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as Redeemer, and Savior, and Lord, you will die in your sins and go to hell. That is the one unforgivable sin”

What you’re going to say when you stand before God is this, “I refuse to believe in Jesus Christ,” and that’s the issue. And that will be the issue. You have been judged already—you’re condemned and sentenced. And if you continue in unbelief, you will perish.

What can we do? Pray for unbelievers, known and unknown. Unbelievers can also pray for faith — and more faith — through divine grace.

In closing, I wish all my British readers who are mothers a very happy Mothering Sunday (sadly, the second one under coronavirus lockdown).

In 2021, the Second Sunday in Lent is February 28.

The readings for Year B in the three-year Lectionary are below:

Readings for the Second Sunday in Lent — Year B

There are two choices for the Gospel reading. I have chosen the first, where Jesus tells His disciples that He must die (emphases mine below):

Mark 8:31-38

8:31 Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.

8:32 He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him.

8:33 But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

8:34 He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.

8:35 For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.

8:36 For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life?

8:37 Indeed, what can they give in return for their life?

8:38 Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

Commentary for today’s exegesis comes from Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Sometimes, the older versions of the above verses are so well known that it is good to refer to them. Here is the King James Version:

31 And he began to teach them, that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected of the elders, and of the chief priests, and scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32 And he spake that saying openly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him. 33 But when he had turned about and looked on his disciples, he rebuked Peter, saying, Get thee behind me, Satan: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but the things that be of men. 34 And when he had called the people unto him with his disciples also, he said unto them, Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. 35 For whosoever will save his life shall lose it but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it. 36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? 37 Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? 38 Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.

Just before Jesus spoke those words, He asked His disciples two questions:

27 And Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi. And on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” 28 And they told him, “John the Baptist; and others say, Elijah; and others, one of the prophets.” 29 And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Christ.” 30 And he strictly charged them to tell no one about him.

Why those verses could not have been added to today’s reading in order to provide context is perplexing. As I have often said, that is why the Lectionary can be irritating. No wonder people don’t read the Bible more often.

On one level, the disciples know that Jesus is the Messiah. On the other hand, people are confused because they expect a temporal Messiah, one with the appearance of a king.

John MacArthur explains:

… through the years, they struggle with that. They don’t struggle because there’s no evidence of divine power. They just struggle because He doesn’t conform to their preconceived patterns. It’s like he that is convinced against his will is unconvinced still. It’s just a really hard hurdle to get over. They struggle with doubts because, as the people concluded, He can’t be the Messiah, so He has to be somebody short of the Messiah – John the Baptist, the forerunner to the Messiah; Elijah, who will come back before the Messiah; Jeremiah, who will come back before the Messiah. But nobody’s saying He’s the Messiah. He doesn’t fit the preconceived theological package. He’s maybe, obviously, a prophet of God; we’ll grant Him that, but He just hasn’t done what the Messiah will do. Where’s the conquest? Where’s national independence? National freedom? Power? Blessing? Where’s the overthrow of Rome? And He’s so meek, and lowly, and humble, and submissive, and pays taxes to Rome, and He’s hated by the leaders of Israel.

In fact, it was so bewildering, compared to their messianic view, that even John the Baptist got confused. John the Baptist, the one who was His forerunner, the one who was related to Him, the one whose mothers were related, who talked about all these issues. John the Baptist must have heard from His own family all the story about how the angel came and announced to His mom and dad that He would be born, and that He would be the forerunner of the Messiah. And they must have told Him about how Mary came and bore the child who was the Messiah, and Jesus was His relative, and he knew who He was, and it was all angelic, divine revelation. And he heard perhaps again and again the incredible stories of the annunciation and the birth of the Messiah. And yet, he gets confused. Why? Well, he’s in prison. This doesn’t look like the right plan here.

Jesus tells the disciples about what ‘must’ happen to Him: rejection, suffering, death and resurrection (verse 31).

Peter was profoundly affected by that announcement and took Jesus to one side to ‘rebuke’ Him (verse 32). One wonders whether ‘rebuke’ in this verse is the same as it usually is, one of reprimand and condemnation. Peter loved Jesus and wanted to protect Him.

MacArthur says:

Matthew says it this way, “God forbid, Lord; this shall never happen to You.” He’s not asking questions; He’s making statements. And idiomatically, an interesting phrase in Matthew, “May God grant You better than that.” Whoa. “This isn’t going to happen, and we’re not going to allow this.”

Matthew Henry says:

He took himproslabomenos auton. He took hold of him, as it were to stop and hinder him, took him in his arms, and embraced him (so some understand it) he fell on his neck, as impatient to hear that his dear Master should suffer such hard things or he took him aside privately, and began to rebuke him. This was not the language of the least authority, but of the greatest affection, of that jealousy for the welfare of those we love, which is strong as death. Our Lord Jesus allowed his disciples to be free with him, but Peter here took too great a liberty.

That explanation reminds me of an illustration I used to see in my youth of Peter embracing Jesus, his head on His shoulder, weeping. It might have been in our family Bible. However, it was a powerful depiction of this particular moment.

Jesus immediately rebukes Peter — in the traditional sense of the word — correcting him with harsh words in front of the other disciples (verse 33).

MacArthur tells us:

First of all, Matthew said He said, “You’re a stumbling block”you’re in the way; you’re a hindrance. Then the real blow, “Get out of My sight, Satan.” That’s literally what it says. “Get out of My sight, Satan.” It’s a bad idea for followers to play God. When you put yourself in the place of God, you end up putting yourself in the place of Satan. He says to him, “You’re not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.” That’s an indictment of Peter. Peter didn’t want a cross. These guys were looking for glory. Do we remember that James and John had come with their mother to ask if they could sit on the right and the left hand in the kingdom? I mean it was all about elevation, glory, power, prosperity. Jesus says, “You are an offense to Me,” according to Matthew. “You’re a skandalon.” Skandalon means you’re a trap. “You’re a baited trap; you’re a Satan trap; you’re a Satan stumbling block. If you’re trying to dissuade Me from the cross, you’re on Satan’s side. Get out of My sight.”

Far from speaking about glory, Jesus then says that His followers will have to suffer in His name by denying themselves and taking up their own cross (verse 34).

Henry explains the verse this way:

Those that will be Christ’s patients must attend on him, converse with him, receive instruction and reproof from him, as those did that followed him, and must resolve they will never forsake him.

Jesus continues by indicating the way to salvation: caring more about eternal life than temporal life (verse 35).

MacArthur lists other difficult verses on the same theme:

Jesus said the very same thing in Matthew repeatedly, Matthew 10, Matthew 16, and alluded to it elsewhere. He said it in Luke – Luke chapter 9, verses 23 to 27 is a direct repeat of what we read in Mark. And then at the end of Luke 9, verses 57 to 62, Jesus basically says, “If you say you want to follow Me, but you have any other agenda that is more important immediately than Me, then you can’t be My disciple.”

Remember a man said, “Oh, I want to follow you, but I need to go home and get my inheritance. Oh, I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go bury my father. I want to follow you, but I’ve got to go negotiate some things of my family so I make sure I have some money while I’m following You.”

Jesus said, “Don’t do that. Don’t start to follow and turn back or you’re not worthy.” He’s always talking about the price of following Him. In the twelfth chapter of Luke – and Luke is particularly strong in emphasizing these teaching passages of our Lord with regard to invitations. He says in verse 51 of 12, “Do you suppose that I came to grant peace on Earth? I tell you, no, but rather division; from now on five in one household will be divided, three against two and two against three.” Two become a believer and the other three don’t; three become believers, and the other two don’t. “They’ll be divided, father against son, son against father, mother against daughter, daughter against mother, mother-in-law against daughter-in-law, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law.” Again it is this emphasis that you pay a price relationally when you come to Christ

And He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.” This is not easy. Why? You have to say no to self. You have to say no to family. You have to say no to the things of the world, no to the love of sin. People want the kingdom. It’s attractive. They want forgiveness, they want eternal life, but the price is everything. That’s why later in chapter 14, another time, he said, “If anyone comes to Me and doesn’t hate His own father and mother, and wife and children, and brothers and sisters, and even his own life, he can’t be my disciple.” He doesn’t mean hatred in the sense that you despise the people that you love. He simply means that you treat them as if they aren’t nearly as significant as coming to Christ. So, you’re willing to say, “I’ll go to Christ; I’ll follow Christ, even if it costs me my family.”

“And it might even cost you your life,” He said. And in the twelfth chapter of John, He said the same thing in verse 25, “You better be willing to hate your own life.” So, coming to Jesus was not easy. Coming to Jesus was not something that you could simply do because you wanted the pluses that Jesus offered. It demanded much more than that. Jesus’ invitation was not easy. It was even severe because He threatened those who rejected it. It was hard because the cost was so high. So high.

Jesus then asks two questions.

What good is it having everything possible in this world only to lose one’s soul in the next and be condemned to eternal death (verse 36)? What price has a man’s soul (verse 37)?

MacArthur explains:

Remember the man about whom Jesus spoke, the man who kept building bigger barns and bigger barns and bigger barns because he had more stuff and more stuff? And he said, “Okay, soul, take your ease. Eat, drink, and” – what? – “be merry.” And boom comes the divine voice, “Tonight you die.” And then what? What are you going to profit if you gain the whole world? That’s hyperbole. Nobody could gain the whole world. Nobody. But even if you could gain the whole thing, actually, who would want it? But even if you could gain the whole thing, what would it matter if you lost your eternal soul? It is the common belief of man that he is the happiest when he has the most stuff – the most that the world has to offer. And what a delusion that is if he forfeits his soul.

“Because” – verse 37 – “what are you going to give in exchange for your soul?” How are you going to buy back your soul? You think you can – if you owned the whole world, could you pay that price for your soul? If you had the whole world – all the money in the world, all the resources in the world, all the power in the world – with it could you buy your soul? What are you going to give in exchange for your soul? What is of equivalent value to your soul?

You want to look at this the other way? Your soul is worth more than everything in this world because this world will burn up. You will live forever. You say, “I don’t – I even rent my house; I don’t own any of it. I lease my car; I don’t own anything.” You, my dear friend, are more valuable than everything material in this world. There is no price for your soul except the provision of Jesus Christ on the cross. He paid an infinite price because of an infinite value attached to you. That’s the gift of salvation.

Jesus ends His discourse by saying that those who are ashamed of Him in this life will not inherit eternal life in the world to come, because our Lord will be ashamed of them (verse 38).

MacArthur puts it equally plainly:

This is a severe invitation because judgment is attached to it. This is a hard invitation because it requires total abandonment, self-denial, cross bearing, loyal obedience, giving up your life to save it. And if you choose not to do it because you want to hang onto your own life, and you’re ashamed of Christ and ashamed to identify with His words, His teaching, and you want to fully embrace your place in the middle of this adulterous and sinful generation – if that’s where you want to be, the Son of Man will be ashamed of you when He comes at His coming in the glory of His Father with the holy angels. And you take your place with the perishing world, with the doomed rejecters to whom the gospel is a shameful thing, to whom Christ is a shameful person; you will face divine judgment. When Christ comes, He comes to judge the world. That’s what it says.

This is a powerful verse

It certainly is a powerful verse, giving us much to contemplate in the week ahead.

May everyone reading this have a blessed Sunday.

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.

1 Corinthians 7:20-24

20 Each one should remain in the condition in which he was called. 21 Were you a bondservant[a] when called? Do not be concerned about it. (But if you can gain your freedom, avail yourself of the opportunity.) 22 For he who was called in the Lord as a bondservant is a freedman of the Lord. Likewise he who was free when called is a bondservant of Christ. 23 You were bought with a price; do not become bondservants of men. 24 So, brothers,[b] in whatever condition each was called, there let him remain with God.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s words of comfort to Jewish and Gentile men converting to Christianity. There was no need for the Jew to fret that he had been circumcised as an infant. Similarly, there was no need for the Gentile convert to become circumcised.

These verses discuss the state of men and women converting to Christianity. Paul offers similar words of comfort, saying that God knows the circumstances in which we live and He accepts us all (verse 20). Christianity has to do with our spiritual rather than our physical state or social status.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

The point is this: a relationship to Christ is compatible with any social status. You can be single, married, widowed, divorced. You can be a slave, a free man. You can be a Jew. You can be a Gentile. You can be a man. You can be a woman. You can live in any kind of society: democracy or total anarchy, or you can live in a dictatorship. You can be anywhere from America to Cuba to Red China to any place in the world, and Christianity is compatible with any social status. Why? Because it is internal, not external

Paul’s concern here is that the Christians realize that the primary business is being a Christian, not outward circumstances that are relatively or totally unimportant. Don’t ever let outward things become a major importance.

You’re saying, “This means you can’t have any progress?”

No, he isn’t saying that. He isn’t saying you can’t have a promotion, you can’t advance in your business or your education, or seek a better life, or seek to increase your income or get a better job or change employment. No.

What he is saying is don’t disrupt the social balance in the name of Christ. In other words, nobody should desire to change his status in life simply because he’s a Christian, as if Christian was incompatible with certain kinds of social positions. It isn’t. It’s compatible with anything. It’s well-suited to any man or any woman in any situation in life as long as that person realizes that the key thing is to keep the commandments of the Lord. Obedience is possible in any situation. Now you may pay a higher price for it in some than in others, but it’s possible.

You see, when the Lord saved you, He didn’t save you to change your earthly status; He saved you to change your soul and your eternal destiny.

Today’s verses concern slavery, which was widespread throughout the ancient world. To be a bondservant meant that you had no property of your own and that you were essentially your master’s property.

That’s a bad state of affairs.

However, in the ancient world, slaves could a) purchase their freedom (e.g. by working long enough to pay off their financial debt to their master) or b) become free men during a census period or c) if master and slave arranged for freedom before a provincial official.

Depending on where one lived at that time, there were closed systems and open systems regarding freed men and women. A closed system still relegated a freed person to the bottom rungs of society with limited participation in it. An open system allowed freed persons to participate much more in society with certain rights guaranteed.

Whatever the case, the good news is that Paul wants slaves to know that their status is no bar to becoming a Christian. At the end of Romans, Paul speaks of various people he has encountered during his journeys and church planting. Some of those people were slaves and they were well respected Christians (see Romans 16:7-10 and Romans 16:14-16).

MacArthur continues:

You say, “John, did the Bible say slavery doesn’t matter?”

No. No, the Bible doesn’t say slavery doesn’t matter; the Bible says if you were saved as a slave, don’t worry about it. You can be a Christian as a slave. Can’t you? You can be a Christian as an anything, socially speaking. I’m not talking about moral things, but social. Paul is not approving of slavery; he is merely saying that slavery is not an obstacle to Christian living.

We see in verse 21 that Paul encourages those slaves who can gain their freedom to do so.

Paul goes on to say that a slave on Earth is a free man as far as Christ is concerned (verse 22). We are all equal in His sight.

MacArthur says:

what he’s saying here is if you’re saved a slave, don’t worry about it. But if freedom comes along, grab it. And, you know, in Rome, there was the provision. In fact, many owners kept a nest egg, and they added money into it all the time, until finally it got to the place where the guy could buy his own freedom. So, the definition wasn’t that, necessarily, oppressive. In some cases there were cruel masters, but you could be a slave. And it could be tolerable. Don’t worry about it. But if you’re freedom comes, use it. And this just means God’s giving you that and taking you another step.

He then explains the story of the Book of Philemon, which concerns one of Philemon’s slaves, Onesimus, who was on the run:

There’s a good illustration of this in the little book of Philemon. Philemon is an interesting little book, right after Titus and before the book of Hebrews. And Philemon was a Christian man in Colossi. He had a slave, among other slaves. He was probably a very wealthy man. One of his slaves was named Onesimus. And Onesimus decided he wanted his freedom. So, Onesimus stole some stuff out of Philemon’s house, packed his little bag, and hustled off to Rome. And what he was figuring, to lose himself in the mob at Rome.

And while he was mingling with the crowd at Rome, he ran into a very interesting man by the name of Paul, which began a very dramatic transformation in the life of Onesimus. In verse 10, Paul says, “I beseech you for my son Onesimus, whom I have begotten in my bonds.” Now, we don’t know how – Paul was undoubtedly a prisoner here, and somehow he got in connection with Onesimus, and led Onesimus to Christ.

Onesimus became a Christian, and oh, Paul loved him. In verse 11 he says, “This guy was profitable, and I really cared for him. And he was important to me.”

But one day, Paul and Onesimus were kind of getting down to it, and they sat down, and Onesimus says, “Hey, Paul, I’ve got to tell you something. I don’t know how this is going to go over, but I’m a runaway slave.” Well, that must have really crushed Paul. What was he going to do?

“Well, who’s your master?”

“Well, he’s Philemon. You know, a Christian over at Colossi.” That even made it worse.

“Oh.” Well, what could Paul do? “Well, look, slavery’s a rotten institution anyway. Just cool it, and I’ll keep you here, and no one will ever know. That’s one thing; we’ll just hide you. The other one would be I’ll send you back with a letter telling Philemon what I think of him as a slave owner.” And Philemon could have been, “Dear Philemon, let all your slaves go. Slavery’s a rotten institution.”

Or Paul could have just said, “No, according to this society, we have a social status of masters and slaves. You’re a slave. You disobeyed the rules of society. You have to go back and make it right.”

And that’s what he did. And he sent Onesimus back with a letter. And you know what the letter says? “Hey, Philemon, here comes your slave, and he’s really been great to me, and I’ve led him to Jesus Christ. Would you accept him as a brother? Would you take him back in good graces as your good slave? I think he’ll serve you better than he’s ever served you.”

And off hustles Onesimus with a letter. And, you know, he had a lot to risk, because slaves in those days, for running away, could be killed, or at best they could have a brand on their head. They put a big F on their head for fugitīvus which meant runaway. So, he could have paid a high price. But Onesimus, now in the bonds of Christ, goes back and gives the letter, and tradition tells us Philemon embraced him with open arms, and they were accepted as brothers together, even though he continued to be his servant and his slave.

Now, in all of Philemon, Paul says nothing about slavery. He doesn’t condemn it. He doesn’t tell Philemon to set Onesimus free. He just accepts the social status that Onesimus was in and knew he could go back and be a slave, and it wouldn’t have any effect on his Christian life.

Slavery in the US and in former British colonies was in the news a lot last year. Marxists have long condemned the Church for not having done enough about it. They conveniently ignore the abolitionist movement, more about which below.

However, MacArthur offers a reason why there were no Christian revolutions about slavery in the New Testament era. It would have completely taken Jesus out of the equation. Jesus came to offer us salvation, not a socio-political revolution:

Now, some people have criticized Paul for not attacking the system of slavery. But the point is this, people, if Christianity had encouraged the ending of slavery, then Christianity would have been seen as a political revolution, and Christians would have been killed in a revolution.

And I would add another thing. If Christian slaves had started to disrupt society, then the major issue would have been lost: the issue of faith in Jesus Christ.

Now, you know what’s happened in America. Every time ‘Christianity’ attaches itself to a social movement, the message of Christianity gets totally lost. Given the Christian faith, emancipation is bound to happen. At the time, it was not right. So, Paul says, don’t concern yourself with your earthly state; don’t concern yourself with a situation that is superficial. The major issue is internal.

Therefore, a slave can live as a slave and still be redeemed by Christ. To Christ, the slave is a free man (verse 22).

However, Paul adds in that verse that a free man becomes a slave to Christ upon his conversion:

All he’s simply saying is, “You may be a slave physically, but you’re a free man spiritually. And you may be a free man physically, but you’re a slave spiritually.”

In other words, he just kind of shows the fact that nothing really matters on the surface. It doesn’t matter whether you’re physically bound or free, it only matters that you’re both spiritually bound and free in the paradox of Christianity. Do you understand that paradox? That as a Christian, you’re the servant of Jesus Christ; and yet, as a Christian, you’re free from the law, from sin, from Satan, from hell, from the curse. You understand that paradox? That’s what he’s saying.

Christ has totally set you free to be His servant. Don’t worry about the superficial situation you’re in.

MacArthur reminds us that the abolitionist movement in Britain and the United States came from Christians:

Did you know that the concentration of righteousness that was in Christianity really became the catalyst that ultimately abolished slavery in the world? Christianity has done that. The important thing, you see, is to serve God. And a slave shouldn’t worry about the fact that he’s a slave; he should just serve God. And as this whole righteous kind of life begins to penetrate and spread, the downfall of an enslaving system will occur.

Where does slavery exist today? Mostly in Asia. However, in Africa, it still exists in Mauritania, even if the government says it doesn’t. It would be interesting for protesters from the US to go there and urge the Mauritanian government to get everyone to free their slaves. They could protest, riot and topple statues. One wonders what would happen.

In 2018, The Guardian published an article, ‘The unspeakable truth about slavery in Mauritania’, which begins as follows:

In 1981, Mauritania made slavery illegal, the last country in the world to do so. Nonetheless, tens of thousands of people – mostly from the minority Haratine or Afro-Mauritanian groups – still live as bonded labourers, domestic servants or child brides. Local rights groups estimate that up to 20% of the population is enslaved, with one in two Haratines forced to work on farms or in homes with no possibility of freedom, education or pay.

Slavery has a long history in this north African desert nation. For centuries, Arabic-speaking Moors raided African villages, resulting in a rigid caste system that still exists to this day, with darker-skinned inhabitants beholden to their lighter-skinned “masters”. Slave status is passed down from mother to child, and anti-slavery activists are regularly tortured and detained. Yet the government routinely denies that slavery exists in Mauritania, instead praising itself for eradicating the practice.

On June 26, 2020, The Daily Caller published an article, ‘An African Country Still Has Slavery — Obama Awarded Them Trade Benefits, Trump Reversed It’:

There are currently an estimated 21 million to 45 million people trapped in slavery today, and an estimated 9.2 million of them are in Africa. Among these countries, the Islamic Republic of Mauritania is perhaps the only place in the world where people can still be born into slavery.

But I digress.

In verse 23, Paul reminds the Corinthians that Christ paid the price for their spiritual freedom by dying on the Cross.

Therefore, Christians should not worry about their temporal condition (verse 24).

Matthew Henry sums up these verses as follows:

Note, The special presence and favour of God are not limited to any outward condition or performance. He may enjoy it who is circumcised; and so may he who is uncircumcised. He who is bound may have it as well as he who is free. In this respect there is neither Greek nor Jew, circumcision nor uncircumcision, barbarian nor Scythian, bond nor free, Colossians 3:11. The favour of God is not bound.

God knows where we are in life. Similarly, our Lord Jesus knows. Christians can fulfil God’s will by obeying the Commandments and be certain of the life of the world to come through salvation through Christ Jesus.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:25-28

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 11:2b-6

2b Do you not know what the Scripture says of Elijah, how he appeals to God against Israel? 3 “Lord, they have killed your prophets, they have demolished your altars, and I alone am left, and they seek my life.” But what is God’s reply to him? “I have kept for myself seven thousand men who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too at the present time there is a remnant, chosen by grace. 6 But if it is by grace, it is no longer on the basis of works; otherwise grace would no longer be grace.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s mention of Isaiah’s disappointment in the disobedient and stubborn Jews of his time.

In Romans 11, he changes tack, introducing his audience of Jewish converts to the fact that there is a remnant who will become faithful to Jesus Christ.

In order to do so, he takes them back to Elijah’s time, when the vast majority of God’s people were worshipping Baal under the wicked Ahab and Jezebel. It was so bad that Elijah felt he was the only faithful Jew left. In fear of his life, he fled to the desert. There he prayed (verse 2).

Paul cites the relevant Scripture passage describing that episode (verse 3), 1 Kings 19:10:

10 He said, “I have been very jealous for the Lord, the God of hosts. For the people of Israel have forsaken your covenant, thrown down your altars, and killed your prophets with the sword, and I, even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

Paul reminds the Jews that, even in the worst times of their wickedness, there was always a faithful remnant (verse 4). God told Elijah that He had a remnant of 7,000 Jews who had not succumbed to idolatry, 1 Kings 19:18:

18 Yet I will leave seven thousand in Israel, all the knees that have not bowed to Baal, and every mouth that has not kissed him.”

Elijah did not know that because the idolatry was so rampant.

Matthew Henry says:

Now the description of this remnant is that they had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, which was then the reigning sin of Israel. In court, city, and country, Baal had the ascendant; and the generality of people, more or less, paid their respect to Baal.

Paul tells his audience that there was a similar remnant of faithful in his and the Romans’ own era, ‘chosen by grace’ (verse 5). That means God knew from the beginning of time who would be among the elect and His remnant in every generation.

Henry explains (emphases mine):

This is called a remnant according to the election of grace; they are such as were chosen from eternity in the counsels of divine love to be vessels of grace and glory. Whom he did predestinate those he called. If the difference between them and others be made purely by the grace of God, as certainly it is (I have reserved them, saith he, to myself), then it must needs be according to the election; for we are sure that whatever God does he does it according to the counsel of his own will.

Paul then tells the Romans that because the remnant’s election is by grace — a free gift from God — it is not an election by works, i.e. according to Mosaic law. If it were election by works, then grace could not be a part of that election (verse 6).

Henry has more:

Now concerning this remnant we may observe, First, Whence it takes its rise, from the free grace of God (Romans 11:6), that grace which excludes works. The eternal election, in which the difference between some and others is first founded, is purely of grace, free grace; not for the sake of works done or foreseen; if so, it would not be graceElection is purely according to the good pleasure of his will, Ephesians 1:5. Paul’s heart was so full of the freeness of God’s grace that in the midst of his discourse he turns aside, as it were, to make this remark, If of grace, then not of works. And some observe that faith itself, which in the matter of justification if opposed to works, is here included in them; for faith has a peculiar fitness to receive the free grace of God for our justification, but not to receive that grace for our election. Secondly, What it obtains: that which Israel, that is, the body of that people, in van sought for (Romans 11:7): Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, that is, justification, and acceptance with God (see Romans 9:31), but the election have obtained it. In them the promise of God has its accomplishment, and God’s ancient kindness for that people is remembered. He calls the remnant of believers, not the elect, but the election, to show that the sole foundation of all their hopes and happiness is laid in election. They were the persons whom God had in his eye in the counsels of his love; they are the election; they are God’s choice. Such was the favour of God to the chosen remnant.

John MacArthur summarises the remnants throughout the Bible:

In Elijah’s time there were seven thousand in the remnant. In Isaiah’s time there was a very small remnant. Do you remember chapter 6? God says to Isaiah, “You go out and preach the message and know this, that their ears will be fat, their eyes will be blind, their minds will not understand but you preach anyway till all the cities are laid waste, until there’s no inhabitants in the land. Because when it’s all said and done you’ll find a tenth and they’ll be a godly seed.” There’s always a godly seed. In Elijah’s time it was a remnant. In Isaiah’s time it was remnant. In the captivity, when they were in Babylon, there was a small remnant. The remnant was people like Daniel, like Ezekiel, like Shadrach, like Meshach, like Abednego, like Mordecai, like Esther, they were part of the remnant in captivity, while the rest of the people were rejecting the truth of God. And when they returned to the land, a remnant returned under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. In Malachi’s time, there was a remnant and that remnant sought to have their names written in God’s book of remembrance, Malachi 3:16 says, “And the Lord had their names written there and He said, I will punish this whole nation for their apostasy but I have your names written in my book of remembrance.” And He said, “They shall be Mine in the day that I make up My jewels.” God had His remnant in Malachi’s time.

And when Jesus came, the whole nation of Israel was apostate, but He had His remnant. And His remnant was John the Baptist and his followers. And His remnant was Anna. And His remnant was Simeon, and those who looked for the redemption of Jerusalem. There was always a remnant. And in Paul’s time, look at verse 5, “Even so then at this present time there is a remnant, according to the election of grace.” Even in the time of Paul the whole of Israel hadn’t rejected. There was a remnant. I mean, there were the apostles. And there was the church at Jerusalem. Three thousand people converted at the day of Pentecost, thousands and thousands more in [Acts] chapters 4 and 5, you’re up to twenty thousand, by the time you get to chapter 8 they fill Jerusalem with their teaching.

There are more and more Jews being converted, there was a remnant of tens of thousands of them, no doubt, by the time the apostle Paul penned the epistle to the Romans. There was even then a remnant of believing Jews, according to the election of grace. The church at Jerusalem was growing under the leadership of James. They even founded a church in Antioch. And then that church sent out apostles, Paul and Barnabas to found churches all around the world. And in any city they went to, where did they go first? To the what? To the Jewish synagogue. And Jews were being saved all around. So there was a remnant according to the election of God’s grace.

There will always be a remnant, today and in future:

If you’re a Christian, beloved, it’s because God chose you before the foundation of the world and it was made manifest in your lifetime. The remnant is elected by grace, it is all of God’s sovereign love, all of God’s sovereign will, has nothing to do with human performance and that’s what Paul is saying. God has elected His remnant. God has chosen His remnant in every time period.

Chapter 9 verse 11, it says there, “According to the purpose of God, according to election.” It’s the same concept back in chapter 9 verse 11. So, there is a remnant. The salvation of the remnant, like the salvation of everyone else, is wholly based on God’s free gift of sovereign grace. Now listen, God chose a nation graciously, sovereignly. He determined by His own will to love that nation. Therefore in every period of time out of that nation He determines to love a remnant of people. Now may I add, so that you’re not confused, that that choosing is not without the response of faith, but it is initiated by the sovereign choice of God? All men deserve death, none of us has a right to be saved, no Jew has a right to claim salvation, but God graciously grants it.

So the first six verses add up to the reality then that God is not finished with the Jews. He [ha]s not cast off the nation of Israel, as Paul’s conversion proves, verse 1; and as the remnant proves, verse 2 through 6. There always will be a faithful group. There always will be a believing remnant to fulfill the Word of God. So very, very important.

As I write, many churches are succumbing to politics rather than pursuing holiness. Many of us feel as if we are alone in wanting to hear more about the Bible from our clergy in these troubled times.

Matthew Henry has these wise words of advice:

Note, First, Things are often much better with the church of God than wise and good men think they are. They are ready to conclude hardly, and to give up all for gone, when it is not so. Secondly, In times of general apostasy, there is usually a remnant that keep their integrity–some, though but a few; all do not go one way. Thirdly, That when there is a remnant who keep their integrity in times of general apostasy it is God that reserves to himself that remnantThe best evidence of integrity is a freedom from the present prevailing corruptions of the times and places that we live in, to swim against the stream when it is strong. Those God will own for his faithful witnesses that are bold in bearing their testimony to the present truth, 2 Peter 1:12. This is thank-worthy, not to bow to Baal when every body bows. Sober singularity is commonly the badge of true sincerity.

Churches are reopening this weekend in England. If our established church is any bellwether, many sermons will probably be about identity politics and social justice rather than this Sunday’s readings. If so, more’s the pity, as the Gospel reading is particularly pertinent during our health and social crises.

In closing, if you feel alone spiritually during this time, be assured that there are many others who feel the same way. Together, I pray that we are the remnant.

Next time — Romans 11:7-10

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 5:20-21

20 Now the law came in to increase the trespass, but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more, 21 so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

———————————————————————————————

Last week’s post discussed circumcision in Romans 4; Paul points out that it was not salvific in and of itself, although it served as a seal of the covenant that God made with the Jews.

In Romans 5, Paul tells us that faith through divine grace brings us peace with God, made possible by Christ’s one sufficient sacrifice for our sins.

He then goes on to say that, although through Adam’s Original Sin, we lived in perpetual darkness, but, that, with Christ, eternal life is open to us. Taking the chapter up at verse 15, we read (emphases mine):

15 But the free gift is not like the trespass. For if many died through one man’s trespass, much more have the grace of God and the free gift by the grace of that one man Jesus Christ abounded for many. 16 And the free gift is not like the result of that one man’s sin. For the judgment following one trespass brought condemnation, but the free gift following many trespasses brought justification. 17 For if, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.

18 Therefore, as one trespass[f] led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness[g] leads to justification and life for all men. 19 For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

Why the Lectionary editors left today’s verses — the conclusion of Romans 5 — out of their readings for public worship mystifies me. They are beautiful.

In verse 20, Paul asks what the purpose of God’s law is. He answers by saying that it is to make us more aware of how disgusting and displeasing to God our sins are. That is what ‘the law came in to increase the trespass’ means. It does not mean that the law causes us to sin more but, thanks to God’s law, we recognise that we have done wrong in His eyes. Believers want to please God, even though we know we need His grace to do that. God provides us with infinite grace to enable us to do the right thing.

This means that, as powerful as sin is in leading us down the path of spiritual death, God’s grace is infinitely stronger, leading to the promise of eternal life thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ (verse 21).

Matthew Henry explains:

The greater the strength of the enemy, the greater the honour of the conqueror. This abounding of grace he illustrates, Romans 5:21. As the reign of a tyrant and oppressor is a foil to set off the succeeding reign of a just and gentle prince and to make it the more illustrious, so doth the reign of sin set off the reign of grace. Sin reigned unto death; it was a cruel bloody reign. But grace reigns to life, eternal life, and this through righteousness, righteousness imputed to us for justification, implanted in us for sanctification; and both by Jesus Christ our Lord, through the power and efficacy of Christ, the great prophet, priest, and king, of his church.

John MacArthur says:

And would you notice how the chapter ends? “By Jesus Christ our Lord.” Beloved, it’s all there, isn’t it, in Him. Would you note that that’s really the theme that’s woven through this whole chapter. Look at verse 1, and let me give you a quick 15-second tour. Verse 1, “Through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 9, “Saved from wrath through Him.” Verse 10, “Reconciled to God by the death of His Son. Being reconciled be saved by His life.” Verse 11, “We have joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Verse 15, “By one man Jesus Christ.” Verse 17, “Shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ.” Verse 21, “By Jesus Christ our Lord.” Now do you understand why the apostle said, “Neither is there salvation in any other name, for there’s none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.”

What’s the practical use of this? I’ll tell you what it is. I’m going to close with this. Listen, don’t turn off your mind now. Listen to this. Every one of us should bow before God in humiliating consciousness that we are vile sinners worthy of death. Every one of us should realize that apart from the work of Jesus Christ we would be doomed to eternity forever without God because God hates sin. But O my, where there was the reign of death, God came with His grace and overpowered that and death is overruled by life for all who believe in Jesus Christ.

May God continue to bless us with His grace.

May we never diminish what Christ did for us on the Cross.

May we always wish to live with Him forever.

Next time — Romans 7:1-3

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

Romans 3:1-22a

God’s Righteousness Upheld

Then what advantage has the Jew? Or what is the value of circumcision? Much in every way. To begin with, the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God. 3 What if some were unfaithful? Does their faithlessness nullify the faithfulness of God? By no means! Let God be true though (F)every one were a liar, as it is written,

“That you may be justified in your words,
    and prevail when you are judged.”

But if our unrighteousness serves to show the righteousness of God, what shall we say? That God is unrighteous to inflict wrath on us? (I speak in a human way.) By no means! For then how could God judge the world? But if through my lie God’s truth abounds to his glory, why am I still being condemned as a sinner? And why not do evil that good may come?—as some people slanderously charge us with saying. Their condemnation is just.

No One Is Righteous

What then? Are we Jews[a] any better off?[b] No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, 10 as it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;
11     no one understands;
    no one seeks for God.
12 All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
    no one does good,
    not even one.”
13 “Their throat is an open grave;
    they use their tongues to deceive.”
“The venom of asps is under their lips.”
14     “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16     in their paths are ruin and misery,
17 and the way of peace they have not known.”
18     “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

19 Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. 20 For by works of the law no human being[c] will be justified in his sight, since through the law comes knowledge of sin.

The Righteousness of God Through Faith

21 But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— 22 the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe.

————————————————————————————–

Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warning about circumcision being useless for those who had the religious procedure and then never obeyed God’s law.

Christians can substitute baptism for circumcision and heed Paul’s warning similarly.

Today’s post has a lot of messages. I decided to run Romans 3 in one post, because I had written about most of it many years ago before I began going through one book of the New Testament at a time. The older posts will appear below.

Paul picks up where he left off with the first two verses.

In verse 1, he asks what advantage does the Jew have if he is circumcised. He answers by saying that there is much in circumcision for the Jew, as they were given ‘the oracles of God’ (verse 2).

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

They were marks of God’s care, they were marks of God’s concern, they were marks of God’s love. They were aids to their deliverance from sin. They were instructions for the blessing of the Holy Spirit. God gave them all of these things and they just never really lived up to what they possessed. Great advantage, great privilege, great priority, great preeminence was given to the people of Israel but they wasted it. They had the privilege of proclaiming the true God. They had the privilege of revealing the Messiah. They had the privilege of blessing from God as they served faithfully. They had the privilege of a land. They had a privilege of an ultimate restoration and glory in the final kingdom. They had all of these privileges.

You can read at length about Romans 3:1-8 here. Ultimately, God’s promise of salvation is a constant. He will save those who believe in Him and follow His Word. Is God really being ‘unfair’ in judging our sins? St Paul firmly answers, ‘No’ (verse 6). God will judge us equally and do so on His terms, not our own. As for verses 7 and 8, how can we think that sin can produce goodness, especially if we cloak it in God’s name? One example would be of clergy who embrace all sorts of error in order to attract greater attendance at church. It is commonplace today for clergy to say, ‘Don’t worry about what the New Testament says. We’ve moved on. Go and enjoy yourselves.’

Then Paul comes right out and cites various passages from the Old Testament which say that no one is righteous in and of himself. We need God’s grace for our faith in and obedience to Him. Why? Because we are all inherently sinful, even if baptism removes Original Sin. I have a lengthy post about Romans 3:9-20 which explains our vulnerability and inclination to sin. Paul says that because we are all guilty of sin, we cannot use the Law in our defence (verse 20). Only God can use it in judgement, and it will be in our condemnation. However, what we can do is to use the Law to make us aware of sin and to pray for God’s divine grace to keep us from sinning. This is why we cannot merit Heaven through our own works. Salvation can come only through faith.

This brings us to verse 21 and the first part of verse 22, wherein Paul announces that the righteousness of God has been made manifest apart from the law through faith in Jesus Christ.

John MacArthur explains:

The doctrine of salvation in the Scripture is very clear. God saves us by grace through faith, not human effort. But part of God’s gracious work is to bring us to repentance and to bring us to confession and to bring us to submission to the lordship of Christ. Now why do people have such a hard time allowing that to be the gracious work of God in our hearts? Because I say that I believe the Bible teaches you have to repent of your sin doesn’t mean that I decide to repent of my sin all by myself and I sort of resolve that in my own heart. No, no, no, that is a gracious work of God as much as any other thing. Because I say you need to submit yourself to the lordship of Christ in salvation does not mean that I do that in my flesh. It means that God produces that in me through His gracious act of salvation. You see, justification is the initiating of the sanctifying process, or the purifying process, and it begins with turning from sin to God, Acts 20. Anything less is religious reformation. And you know what happens to people who religiously reform? They get swept and garnished and they’re still (What?) empty, and eight more come back and the end is worse than the beginning.

So, when you say salvation is by grace through faith, I believe that. But I believe in that gracious work there is a transforming of the nature of the individual.

Therefore, the conduct of such persons manifests itself to others. It is a transformation made possible not by our own actions but by God’s grace working through us:

If there’s no manifestation of a righteous pattern [in a person], then you know that the work didn’t get done because if he was redeemed he would have been presented holy and unblamable and unreprovable. And that is not only to be seen as a positional reality but is to be manifest as a practical truth as well …

So, sanctification, righteous manifestation, godly behavior, holy activity is the manifestation of genuine salvation.

God’s mercy and love for us is so great that He saves us regardless of our status in society. We do not need money, multiple university degrees or social standing. We do not have a caste system, as some other world faiths do.

For that, we should be eternally grateful to our Creator and to our Saviour.

Paul writes more about circumcision — in the context of the Old Testament — in Romans 4.

Next time — Romans 4:6-12

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.

Hebrews 12:4-7

In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?

“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
    nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
    and chastises every son whom he receives.”

It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline?

————————————————————————————————–

Last week’s reading discussed the faith that Moses displayed. The rest of Hebrews 11 described the travails and trials other persons in the Old Testament endured; despite them, they never faltered in their faith.

In Hebrews 12, the author, inspired by the Holy Spirit, takes that steadfastness in faith from the Old Testament and encourages the Hebrew converts to apply it to their own Christian journey.

These are the first three verses (emphases outside of the subtitles mine):

Jesus, Founder and Perfecter of Our Faith

12 Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.

Do Not Grow Weary

3 Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.

This chapter, John MacArthur says, is dedicated to the new converts who have been persecuted by their families and friends. Their joy and confidence in Christ is faltering. Some regret the choice they made:

the primary target of these words, as we shall look at them, is to the saved who are going through some terrible trials, some real sufferings, some tribulation, some anguish, some affliction. Unless they think that this is something bad within Christianity, and unless they begin in their minds to disqualify Christianity on the basis of trouble and say, “Well, I thought Christianity was a happy thing; I thought there was supposed to be joy; I thought there was supposed to be peace; I thought God was supposed to take care of us and supply our needs and give us answers for our questions, and smooth a way, and etcetera, etcetera. Now I’ve got all this trouble and worse than I had before. I’ve got everybody I used to love hating me.”

That holds true today, doesn’t it? A convert among agnostics or atheists is sure to lose some of his family and friends during his Christian journey.

That can also happen when one formally changes denomination.

However, we have to weigh our tribulations in these circumstances against what God’s people endured in the Old Testament. Granted, some Christians are being physically persecuted and put to death. However, millions of others are not. Therefore, we need to keep a perspective on personal trials and tribulations when they are not that severe.

MacArthur elaborates, revisiting the second half of Hebrews 11:

11:37, “They were stoned; they were sawn asunder, were tested, were slain with the sword; they wandered about in sheepskins and goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, tormented; (of whom the world was not worthy): they wandered in deserts, in mountains, in dens and caves of the earth.” The Holy Spirit has already shown them the great heroes of the faith. Great men and great women, of years past, lived amidst terrible suffering, terrible affliction, excruciating pain, and faced it victoriously because they faced it – watch this – with the right attitude. With the right attitude.

Now, having shown this at the end of chapter 11, that there were some who faced it with the right attitude, He then calls upon the Hebrews to do the same. And He says to them in verse 1 of chapter 12, “Wherefore seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses” – in other words, so many people to testify of the victory of faith over adversity – “let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.”

Listen we have enough people to prove to us that faith endures, that faith is victorious, that suffering may come, and suffering may go, but there’s still victory. We have enough witnesses to confirm that; let’s get in the race and let’s run it with the same endurance that they ran it with.

And then He gives the key to running it the right way. Verse 2, “Looking unto Jesus.” Looking unto Jesus.

The author reiterates this by telling them they were not in danger at that point of ‘shedding blood’ for their faith (verse 4). MacArthur says this means they needed to look at the example of Jesus:

Verse 3 and 4, “Consider Him that endured such contradiction of sinners against Himself, lest you be weary and faint in your minds.” You think you’ve got troubles, look at Jesus. “You have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.” None of you have died for the sins of the world yet. None of you know what it is to be absolutely pure, pristine to the very core, without a possibility of defilement, and then to have poured out on you all the sins of all the ages. You don’t know anything about that. Don’t cry about your troubles; look at Jesus. He endured, and His was victory.

And so, already, you see, He begins to move into the subject of suffering and how to handle it. Jesus suffered far beyond what we will ever suffer, and He endured. And you and I can endure as the Old Testament saints did, as we look at Jesus. Every Christian needs to remember that life is a marathon. The Christian life is a marathon, and there are obstacles all along the course. It’s like the 3,000-meter steeplechase. There are water hazards, and there are hurdles, and we have to go over. It’s not just flat ground. And we must face it, and we must run it with endurance.

Then the author addresses the subject of divine discipline (verses 5 and 6), citing Job 5:17

“Behold, blessed is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore despise not the discipline of the Almighty.

Psalm 94:12

Blessed is the man whom you discipline, O Lord,
    and whom you teach out of your law,

… and Psalm 119:67:

Before I was afflicted I went astray,
    but now I keep your word.

The author then says that God disciplines us because we are His children (verse 7). If He did not discipline us, it would show that He does not love us as His own.

MacArthur explains that discipline — ‘chastisement’ in some translations — does not mean punishment, but, rather, refinement:

Now, to begin with, we’ve got to understand some introductory things. Here we go. There is a word that repeats itself in the passage. It is the word “chastening,” “chastising,” “chastisement.” You see, chastening in verse 5; you see chastening in verse 6 – chasteneth in verse 6; chastening in verse 7; chastisement in verse 8; chastened in verse 10; chastening in verse 11. You get the idea that’s an important word. You’re right.

What does the word “chastening” mean? Well, most people think it means God’s browbeating us or punishing us for sin. That’s not what it means at all. The word “chastening” comes from a Greek word, a Greek verb – really, the noun form is paideia, and paideia has to do with children. It is the word that means to train and educate your children. Get that. The word should not really be translated chastisement; it should be translated discipline. Discipline. I think the New American Standard does translate it discipline. But the word means simply a very broad term; it speaks of whatever – now watch this – of whatever adults use toward their children to cultivate their souls, to correct their mistakes, to curb their passions that they might mature in the most positive, effective, mature, disciplined way. It is a very broad word. It speaks of instruction that will increase virtue. It’s not just punishment. That – if it was only punishment, it would be a different word. It is – it is instruction through discipline. It does not have only the idea of punishment in it. Punishment is part of discipline, isn’t it? But that’s not all of it. But it has the idea of corrective measures and preventative measures that bring up a child in the right path. And the word is used repeatedly to speak of a parent working with his children.

So, what we’re talking about tonight is not God punishing the Christian; it is God disciplining the Christian into maturity. And so, we’ve entitled our study, “The Discipline of God.” And the figure changes here in chapter 12 from a race to a family: a loving Father disciplining his beloved children. And the obstacles in the race are now the disciplines of the Father training His children.

Did we — will we — ever suffer as God’s only begotten Son Jesus did? No, never. He endured the greatest suffering in the world — for our sins. He took our punishment for us.

Therefore, we will never have to endure that same pain, the same torture or the same humiliation. That isn’t to say that people aren’t dying viciously in attacks on their homes or churches or in prisons under dictatorial regimes, but it will never match what Jesus endured for His father for our sakes.

MacArthur explains:

Christ has already borne the full punishment of God. Right? And God will never exact double payment for the same sins. So, the punishment end is finished in terms of punishment as regards guilt for sin. John said, “The blood of Jesus Christ His Son cleanses us from all sin.” He completely bore our sins in His own body on the tree. Neither the justice of God nor the love of God would ever permit God to exact payment for what Christ has already paid in full. Okay? So, in no way does a Christian suffer the punishment that redeems him from sin. That’s already been done.

However, God will bring corrective action our way because we are His children. He wants to direct us from sin to holiness:

Now, mark this, friends. Mark this, and mark it well, the difference between that kind of punishment – listen – and discipline lies not in the nature of the pain, but in the purpose of the pain. You see? In other words, the suffering of an unbeliever and the suffering of a believer may not be too much different. Both can get cancer. Both can have loved ones that die. Both can lose their jobs. But in one sense, a man is being punished for his sins; in the other sense, he is being disciplined by God. The pain may be the same, the purpose is different.

In punishment, God is the judge; in discipline, He is the Father. In punishment, the object is His enemy; in discipline, the object is His child. In punishment, the goal is condemnation; in discipline, the goal is holiness.

I know. It’s hard to grasp. However, think of it as God driving us away from sin, something that could only be relieved through blood sacrifice. That is how much God hates sin.

Matthew Henry has a more encouraging explanation, even though he wrote it centuries before we were born. He tells us of the objective of the author of Hebrews, which was to strive against sin:

1. He owns that they had suffered much, they had been striving to an agony against sin. Here, (1.) The cause of the conflict was sin, and to be engaged against sin is to fight in a good cause, for sin is the worst enemy both to God and man. Our spiritual warfare is both honourable and necessary; for we are only defending ourselves against that which would destroy us, if it should get the victory over us; we fight for ourselves, for our lives, and therefore ought to be patient and resolute. (2.) Every Christian is enlisted under Christ’s banner, to strive against sin, against sinful doctrines, sinful practices, and sinful habits and customs, both in himself and in others.

2. He puts them in mind that they might have suffered more, that they had not suffered as much as others; for they had not yet resisted unto blood, they had not been called to martyrdom as yet, though they knew not how soon they might be. Learn here, (1.) Our Lord Jesus, the captain of our salvation, does not call his people out to the hardest trials at first, but wisely trains them up by less sufferings to be prepared for greater. He will not put new wine into weak vessels, he is the gentle shepherd, who will not overdrive the young ones of the flock. (2.) It becomes Christians to take notice of the gentleness of Christ in accommodating their trial to their strength. They should not magnify their afflictions, but should take notice of the mercy that is mixed with them, and should pity those who are called to the fiery trials to resist to blood; not to shed the blood of their enemies, but to seal their testimony with their own blood. (3.) Christians should be ashamed to faint under less trials, when they see others bear up under greater, and do not know how soon they may meet with greater themselves. If we have run with the footmen and they have wearied us, how shall we contend with horses? If we be wearied in a land of peace, what shall we do in the swellings of Jordan? Jeremiah 12:5.

II. He argues from the peculiar and gracious nature of those sufferings that befall the people of God. Though their enemies and persecutors may be the instruments of inflicting such sufferings on them, yet they are divine chastisements; their heavenly Father has his hand in all, and his wise end to serve by all; of this he has given them due notice, and they should not forget it, Hebrews 12:5.

If this is still difficult to grasp, think of it as training in sport or in the military. What does the coach or the drill sergeant ask his subordinates to do? Try harder, work harder, get rid of the flaws. Be a better athlete. Be a better soldier. Put up with gradually increased training and, through it, become a professional athlete or a professional soldier.

What are the objectives of training? Perseverance and endurance. We want to win sports matches or athletic competitions. We want to win battles so that we win a war.

Discipline from God works along the same lines. He wants us to be with Him at the end of our Christian race. He’s training us to endure, to persevere — and to be victorious.

The subject continues next week, but if we keep these thoughts in mind, next week’s verses will be easier to understand.

Next time — Hebrews 12:8-11

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