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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Thessalonians 3:1-5

Pray for Us

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says that Paul has borrowed from Psalm 147:

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur reminds us of the danger Paul constantly faced:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Henry has a practical application of the verse for us:

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

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

Henry explains:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

MacArthur summarises the duty of congregations to their clergy:

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

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

Next week’s verses conclude 2 Thessalonians.

Next time — 2 Thessalonians 3:13-18


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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

Now concerning brotherly love you have no need for anyone to write to you, for you yourselves have been taught by God to love one another, 10 for that indeed is what you are doing to all the brothers throughout Macedonia. But we urge you, brothers, to do this more and more, 11 and to aspire to live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, 12 so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s exhortations to be morally and sexually pure as part of sanctification.

Nearly every New Testament letter has such exhortations against sexual sin, as does the Old Testament, therefore, these must be serious sins that God finds particularly abhorrent. Note that there are diseases specifically connected with these types of sin, which one could read as a divine judgement of sorts. If we consider sin to have a stench about it, these must be among the most malodorous!

In today’s verses, Paul moves on to discuss brotherly love and everyday behaviour in general terms.

We know that the Thessalonians were the most loving and doctrinally pure of the churches that Paul founded. Paul and the other Apostles cautioned in their letters to be ready for Christ’s Second Coming. The message is that a believer should always be ready for that day. A more practical application in our times, it would seem, is that we should treat every day as if it were our last. We should be prepared and ready to depart this mortal coil. That entails, in today’s parlance, ‘getting right with God’.

It seems as if some Thessalonians were overly preoccupied with our Lord’s return. As such, they eschewed their daily responsibilities and made a nuisance of themselves.

This reading also pertains to sanctification, a lifelong process — the Christian journey to become better and better in all ways of life.

To tie last week’s and this week’s verses together, John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

To remind ourselves what we’re supposed to be all about until Jesus gets here, number one, love each other more. Love each other more.  It would be safe to say, I think, that this exhortation to love, it’s in verses 9 and 10 by the way, it would be safe to say that this exhortation to love is beautifully connected with what Paul had just written because he’s just written about lust, even used the word in verse 5. And he said lust is forbidden but love is required, very much like Ephesians 5:1 and 2, where it says we’re to love in verse 2 and then immediately in verse 3 it says but we’re not to lust.  Some people get those confused, lust and love.

So, Paul says the first principle of sanctification, don’t lust.  The second one, do love, love.  And if anything is to characterize the church it is purity on the one hand and love on the other hand.  Pure moral conduct and love go together.

Paul tells the Thessalonians that, as far as brotherly love is concerned, they need no advice because they have been taught by God to love one another (verse 9).

In the Greek, the word is philadelphia. We know the great, historic city in the state of Pennsylvania is called ‘the city of brotherly love’, and ‘brotherly love’ is the literal translation of the word. Philos means love, and adelphos means brother.

MacArthur says that the original meaning of philadelphia implied a familial relationship, as it:

originally meant affection for someone from the same womb. 

God’s grace and the Holy Spirit were working through the Thessalonians to the extent that they positively exuded brotherly love for each other.

MacArthur analyses Paul’s great compliment to them:

He says, “You have no need for anyone to write to you.”  That’s interesting.  He says it would be superfluous, unnecessary for me to write to you.  He says that same thing, by the way, in chapter 5 verse 1.  He says my purpose is not to write to you to tell you to love each other. That’s superfluous.  Why?  “For you yourselves,” that means without me, emphatic, “you yourselves apart from me,” I love this, “are God-taught.” That’s one word in the Greek, theodidaktos. You are God-taught to love one another.  Boy, what a statement! What a statement that is!

He says, “Look, I don’t need to write you and tell you to love one another, you’re God-taught.”  By the way, that’s the only time in the New Testament that word is ever used. A similar phrase to that is used in John 6:45. But only here is that word used.  He’s saying you don’t need external instruction, you don’t need external motivation, external exhortation, you have an internal teaching, you’re God-taught.

You say, “You mean if I’m a Christian nobody needs to teach me to love my brother because God will do that?”  Yes.  “How?”  I’ll show you how, Romans 5:5, it tells you exactly how God does that.  Romans 5:5 says: “The love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”  Did you hear that?  The love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.  So how are we God-taught?  By the Holy Spirit.  God the Holy Spirit comes to live in us when we’re saved and He teaches us to love.

Paul goes on to say that the Thessalonians were known throughout Macedonia for their brotherly love, and he encourages them to display more and more of that love (verse 10) as part of sanctification.

MacArthur explains:

There’s no question about it.  It’s fact.  It’s reality.  You’re saved, you love.  “You practice it and you practice it toward all the brethren who are in all Macedonia.”  It isn’t just for people in your town. It isn’t…it isn’t just some local affection.  You practice it toward all of the believers.  Thessalonica was the capital city of Macedonia.  And there were, remember this, other churches being founded in Macedonia.  Paul, according to Acts 16:9 to 12, was in other parts of Macedonia.  Silas and Timothy, who had been in Thessalonica, were in other parts of Macedonia.  Other churches were being founded and Christians were coming to the trade center which was Thessalonica meeting the Thessalonian church and finding them full of love and taking the message back.  And everybody in Macedonia knew the Thessalonians loved Everybody knows that and it’s not even selective. You’re just loving all the Christians.

Matthew Henry says that it is important for believers to keep striving in love and other virtues. Sanctification drives us towards perfection:

There are none on this side heaven who love in perfection. Those who are eminent in this or any other grace have need of increase therein as well as of perseverance unto the end.

The next two verses stand out because they are antithetical to our modern life. They were probably antithetical back in Greco-Roman times, too.

Paul exhorts — encourages — the Thessalonians to aspire to a quiet life, minding their own business and working with their hands as he — ‘we’ — instructed them (verse 11). Work keeps us out of trouble.

How many people, particularly online, spend time picking meddlesome and potentially dangerous verbal conflicts out of self-righteousness? Such conflicts are an everyday occurrence on social media.

Henry’s commentary says that these disputes are the work of Satan, who likes nothing better than a disquieted mind:

It is the most desirable thing to have a calm and quiet temper, and to be of a peaceable and quiet behaviour. This tends much to our own and others’ happiness; and Christians should study how to be quiet. We should be ambitious and industrious how to be calm and quiet in our minds, in patience to possess our own souls, and to be quiet towards others; or of a meek and mild, a gentle and peaceable disposition, not given to strife, contention, or division. Satan is very busy to disquiet us; and we have that in our own hearts that disposes us to be disquiet; therefore let us study to be quiet. It follows, Do your own business. When we go beyond this, we expose ourselves to a great deal of inquietude. Those who are busy-bodies, meddling in other men’s matters, generally have but little quiet in their own minds and cause great disturbances among their neighbours; at least they seldom mind the other exhortation, to be diligent in their own calling, to work with their own hands; and yet this was what the apostle commanded them, and what is required of us also. Christianity does not discharge us from the work and duty of our particular callings, but teaches us to be diligent therein.

MacArthur puts this verse in the context of the Thessalonians awaiting the Second Coming. No doubt this caused some of them to poke their noses in others’ business and contend with each other on that issue:

Don’t ignore this world because Jesus is coming, take a greater look at the people around you and love them more.

Hmm, love them more?  I mean, why don’t we just ignore this world and wait to go to glory?  No, he says, love them more.

Second injunction, lead a quiet life. Lead a quiet life.  You say, “Now wait a minute, Jesus is coming, shouldn’t we lead a loud life?  Shouldn’t we be all over the place screaming and yelling and hollering and marching and protesting and doing whatever we need to do to wake up the whole world?”

No, just lead a quiet life.  This is a very interesting statement because it says in verse 11, “And to make it your ambition to lead a quiet life.”  Those two verb forms are tied in to “excel still more.”  How?  By making it your ambition to lead a quiet life.  That is a… That is an almost contradictory usage of two verbs.  The first one means to be zealous and to strive eagerly. Be zealous and strive eagerly to be quiet.  A little bit difficult.  Make a major effort to do nothing.  Make a major effort to rest, relax, remain silent.

That word there is used in the New Testament of a number of things: Keeping your mouth closed and not saying anything; quieting down when you’ve been speaking.  It’s used of resting.  But it has the idea in all those usages of a tranquility, calm tranquil, peaceful.  The root has that idea, quiet, peaceable.  One noun form literally means to keep your seat, sit down, relax.  Christians are to live quiet, relaxed, restful, peaceful lives in face of persecution, in face of anticipation of the Lord’s return.

We don’t know what these Christians were doing they shouldn’t have been doing. We don’t know where they were going and what they were involved in.  We don’t know how they were manifesting this lack of composure and upheaval.  But he says back off, sit down, relax, settle down, calm down, be quiet, be tranquil, be peaceful.  Very much like Paul’s instruction to Timothy to give the church at Ephesus, tell them to lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity.  Don’t make trouble for the king, don’t make trouble for the governors, don’t up…overturn the culture.  Hmm. Interesting commands, aren’t they?

First one, even though Jesus is coming very soon, make sure that you do loving things to meet the needs of other people, physical needs, earthly needs.  Second one, lead a very quiet life, stay out of the public eye, get back, settle down, be quiet.

There’s a third one, mind your own business.  That communicates, doesn’t it?  Mind your own business.  That’s been quoted a lot by folks, “Attend to your own business.”  But this is the only time this word is used in the Greek in the New Testament It’s common in secular Greek, but it’s only used here.  We don’t really know what he was speaking to because we don’t know what the issues were if there were any.  It may have been a general exhortation.  He is saying don’t get into somebody else’s affairs, either the affairs of other Christians, the church leaders, your society, whatever. Stay out of that stuff.  Just take care of your own business.  Concentrate on your own life.  Concentrate on how you live.  Stay out of other people’s matters, stay out of other issues.

Over in 2 Thessalonians 3:10 he said, “Don’t be a busybody.”  What’s a busybody?  Well that’s exactly what it says, a body that’s busy, somebody who is peripatetic, from the Greek verb [???] peripateo, to walk around, who is all over the place all the time Don’t do that.  People who are undisciplined, who don’t work, but who act like busybodies, just running around sticking their nose into everybody’s affairs.  Keep doing what’s necessary for your livelihood.  Don’t be running off trying to solve everybody’s problems in the world and straighten out everybody’s issues.  Mind your own business, no place for gossip.  Take care of you and just keep doing what you’ve always done.

Work, he says in Colossians 3:22 to 24, to please your master whether he’s good or not.  Do whatever you do for your master, the guy who has employed you, heartily as unto the Lord.  Just keep doing what is necessary to your life and stay out of other people’s affairs.  Keep to yourself.  Keep to your own life, your own business, the matters that concern you.  Lead a quiet, unobtrusive, gentle, peaceful life and make sure you give yourself in sacrificial love to one another in the matter of meeting worldly needs.

Paul ends this section of verses saying that living quietly, minding one’s own business and working with one’s hands will enable us to walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one (verse 12).

Think about that in line with today’s welfare state. So many on welfare, often multi-generational, profess a belief in God. Yet, they shirk work and ask for more from the state, meaning taxpayers.

Henry points out:

People often by their slothfulness bring themselves into narrow circumstances, and reduce themselves to great straits, and are liable to many wants, when such as are diligent in their own business live comfortably and have lack of nothing. They are not burdensome to their friends, nor scandalous to strangers. They earn their own bread, and have the greatest pleasure in so doing.

MacArthur puts verse 12 into context for us and gives us another verse from 2 Thessalonians on the same subject. There was no welfare state then, but some in the congregation were probably taking a bit too much in church charity rather than contributing to it:

By the way, would you turn to 2 Thessalonians 3 for a moment, I’ll show you something interesting.  A little while later he wrote them another letter, 2 Thessalonians.  Guess what he says to them in this letter, very interesting.  Go down to verse 10 “For even when we were with you, we used to give you this order, if anyone will not work, neither let him (what?) eat.  For we hear that some among you are leading an undisciplined life, doing no work at all but acting like busybodies.  Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to work in quiet fashion and eat their own bread.  That’s pretty straightforward.  That’s basically what he said in our text.  And here he even says, “I used to tell you this.” I wrote you this. And now I hear word that I have to write you again about this.  You’re lazy, you’re not working, you’re busybodies, you’re not quiet, you’re eating someone else’s bread.

MacArthur explains why some Thessalonians thought they no longer needed to work:

The free Greeks believed that manual labor belonged only to slaves.  So they had the slaves do all of it.  Free men should never stoop to do manual labor.  It was degrading, said the free Greeks. And consequently it led them to idleness, indulgence.  But the Christian community dignified work as an honorable effort and no doubt most of the Christians were workers In fact, most of the Christians were slaves, probably.  So they’re exhorted to keep at it.

And you say, “Well what may have happened?”  Well something like this, these slaves, or these employed people would say, “Now we’ve come to know Jesus Christ, we’re free in Christ. That catapults us over our masters.  We don’t need to work, especially in the coming of Jesus Christ.  We’re not going to do their work anymore, we’re not going to ply their trade while they rake in all the profit, we’re just going to back out and wait for Jesus to come.”

And that’s exactly what he wrote in 2 Thessalonians.  “I heard some of you were living undisciplined lives instead of quiet, peaceable lives where you mind your own business. And some of you are working not at all.”  And he says in 2 Thessalonians, “And if you don’t work you shouldn’t (what?) …because what had happened was Christians waiting for the Second Coming were unconcerned about the needs of the people around them, first of all.  They were troublesome busybodies who were not leading quiet and peaceful lives and they had become deadbeats.  And they were depending on Christians with resources to sustain them instead of working with their own hands So anxious for the Second Coming they couldn’t be bothered to take care of this life.

MacArthur reminds us that Paul and Jesus were both manual workers:

Paul made his living by making tents with his hands.  Jesus made His living by making things out of wood with His hands, and probably laying bricks.  Christianity has always dignified labor. Since most of them were workers who worked with their hands, he says work with your hands, don’t flip out into some spiritual dimension where all you want to do is sit and discuss theology. Work.

MacArthur explores the second half of verse 12 about walking properly and not being dependent on anyone. This ties in with proper evangelism:

Work with your hands.

You say, “But, John, that seems so mundane when the work is so vital, the work of evangelism and if you believe that Jesus is coming soon.”  That’s just his point.  Go to verse 12.  “So that…” Here’s the purpose: “So that you may behave properly toward outsiders.”  Stop there.

Now wait a minute, he’s talking about evangelism here.  The key to evangelism is not a…is not a strategy that folds…that unfolds in a pamphlet, or a tract, or an evangelistic technique or a programmed service.  The key to evangelism is the integrity of the lives of Christians who manifest to a troubled, agitated, messed-up world a behavior that is filled with love and peace and tranquility and privacy and diligent work.  And when Christians live that kind of a life in the world, people say you’re different.  Everything is stirred up and troubled and agitated and you’re perfectly calm.  There’s anger and hostility and bitterness and hatred and you just love all these people.  You’re generous.  While everybody is running around trying to get the scoop on everybody else.  And if you don’t believe that, just read the newspapers and the tabloids and all of that.  Some people in our culture just literally thrive in feeding themselves on somebody else’s affairs.  And all you people want to do is take care of your own business.  My, everybody else is looking for the quickest way out and you want to work hard.  What makes you tick?

See that’s the platform of integrity that makes the message believable And so if we’re going to behave properly — “behave” means walk, daily conduct, “properly: means in good form toward outsiders, not Christians — this is the way to live.  He doesn’t say shirk your job, shirk your responsibility, get noisy, go out and do this.  No, just keep living your life and unbelievers will see it It’s how you live, shoe-leather faith toward outsiders.

And then he adds this in verse 12.  “And not be in any need.”  And furthermore, he says, I want you to behave that way toward outsiders and I want you to behave that way toward insiders, so they’re not always having to meet your need.  Non-Christians, first of all, should have no basis for thinking Christians are unloving, troublesome, nosy deadbeats.  But I’m not sure that’s always the case.  I think there are a lot of apparently unloving troublesome, nosy, deadbeat Christians around.  But we will com…commend Christianity to the outsiders by the diligence and the beauty of our lifestyle.  And then he says, “And you’ll not be in need,” which means you’ll also conduct yourselves properly toward those on the inside.  You make your living, you work with your hands, you live your life. You don’t shirk responsibility so that you have to depend on some more industrious Christian to provide your livelihood.

Anticipation of the Lord’s return, beloved, was no excuse for irresponsible living

MacArthur says that our lifestyle is an important part of evangelism:

All the future analysts say the church is in trouble … because it isn’t relevant.  It’s got to be relevant.

How does the church get relevant?  By using contemporary music?  By using contemporary theater, drama, whatever?  By using contemporary Madison Avenue marketing technique?  How does the church get relevant?  By giving people what they want?

No.  The most relevant thing the church can do is live the life of a Christian in every dimension of daily life, right?  So that we close any existing gap between our faith and our feet, right?  That’s what will make us relevant. 

In the closing verses of 1 Thessalonians 4, which are in the Lectionary, Paul describes the Second Coming. Those who are already dead will rise first. Those who rise after them are believers who are still alive at the time. These are particularly relevant to Evangelical churches which believe in the Rapture:

The Coming of the Lord

13 But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. 14 For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have fallen asleep. 15 For this we declare to you by a word from the Lord,[d] that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.

The theme continues in the first part of 1 Thessalonians 5:

The Day of the Lord

Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers,[a] you have no need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. While people are saying, “There is peace and security”, then sudden destruction will come upon them as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape. But you are not in darkness, brothers, for that day to surprise you like a thief. For you are all children[b] of light, children of the day. We are not of the night or of the darkness. So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us so that whether we are awake or asleep we might live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.

Paul then gives general words of advice to the Thessalonians. More on that next week.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 5:12-15

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

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

A Life Pleasing to God

Finally, then, brothers,[a] we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you through the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, your sanctification:[b] that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. Therefore whoever disregards this, disregards not man but God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s overwhelming joy at Timothy’s report about the Thessalonians abounding in faith and love.

In today’s reading, Paul encourages them to pursue sanctification: building on that holy spirituality by striving for — and achieving — more of it.

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

This is a new section in the epistle. That’s why he says, “Finally then, brethren.” It isn’t the last thing he’s going to say, it’s just the last subject he’s going to speak about.  The first three chapters looked at the quality of the church in Thessalonica and the integrity of Paul’s life and ministry.  He defended the integrity of the church and his own life.  Now he gets to the message he wants to give them.  Now he comes to the specific exhortations to spiritual excellence that concern him.  The unknown is, how they link up with that, or whether there’s any link at all, depending on if they have a heart longing after God.  This is a call to excellence.  This is a call to sanctification.  And it has to hook up with a desire for that.

Last Sunday — the Third Sunday of Advent, Gaudete Sunday 2022 — our vicar preached briefly on the stench of sin. He related an anecdote he read whereby a stranger in dire need of a bath showed up in a church for the first time. The man sitting next to him was overpowered by the stranger’s smell. Finally, he got up and moved, apologising to the sidesman (usher), who said, ‘Now we know what our sins smell like to God’.

I don’t remember what the rest of the sermon was about. The only thing that sticks in my head one week later is ‘the stench of sin’ and how much that offends God.

I won’t be going into a rant about sexual immorality but consider that all of it stinks mightily to the Lord God and His Son, our Saviour.

Furthermore, consider that sexual immorality is probably the only sin that can make us ill through one of the venereal diseases, all of which require medical attention and a prescription of some sort.

That’s how much God hates sexual sin.

Paul begins by saying that he — ‘we’ — asks and urges in the name of the Lord Jesus that, as the Thessalonians received from him the manner in which they are to walk and please God, they are to do so more and more (verse 1).

Paul is talking about sanctification, which is a life-long journey.

Before going into the interpretations of the verse, notice the variations in the versions of the Bible used in this post and the ones from Matthew Henry and MacArthur.

This is verse 1 in the ESVUK:

Finally, then, brothers,[a] we ask and urge you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God, just as you are doing, that you do so more and more.

This is the verse in Henry’s version:

Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more.

This is the verse in MacArthur’s version:

Finally then, brethren, we request and exhort you in the Lord Jesus, that as you received from us instruction as to how you ought to walk and please God, just as you actually do walk, that you may excel still more. 

Reading those three versions gives us a fuller meaning of what Paul intends to say. ‘Beseech’ in Henry’s version means to politely or humbly request; traditional prayers often use the word in requesting something of God (‘we beseech Thee’). ‘Exhort’ means ‘encourage’. ‘Abound’ and ‘excel’ drive the point home, as one might say to an athlete. It’s a constant striving for spiritual greatness.

MacArthur says:

It is a call to do better.  It is a call for spiritual excellence, that’s what excelling means.  It is a call for spiritual growth, progress.

The word “excel,” perisseu, means to overflow, it means to abound, to be over and above and around, to exist in full quantity, to be advanced, to be abundantly supplied The word in a modified form can mean extraordinary, surpassing.  It is even used in a comparative way in 1 Corinthians 8:8, translated by the word “better.”  I want you to be extraordinary. I want you to excel still more. That is a comparative, intensive, I want you to excel to a higher degree, I want you to excel to a greater extent.

Henry says that Paul was writing in an affectionate rather than critical manner, yet with great earnestness:

The manner in which the exhortation is given—very affectionately. The apostle entreats them as brethren; he calls them so, and loved them as such. Because his love to them was very great, he exhorts them very earnestly: We beseech and exhort you. The apostle was unwilling to take any denial, and therefore repeats his exhortation again and again.

MacArthur would agree with that assessment:

The word “exhort,” to come along side and encourage, again is a sort of a partnership word While it does carry the potential of an authoritative use, it also has the idea of coming alongside to sustain someone in a process which you desire them to fulfill It is a helping word, an encouraging word.

So we find a certain humility of heart here, a certain pastoral warmth within him.  He doesn’t want to club these people, they’re already doing very well.  They need to excel more but they’re excelling.  They need to walk more pleasing to God but they’re already walking, he says, in that way.  So his attitude is gentle and gracious and kind, while at the same time being urgent and establishing his priority, the priority of excelling still more.

Paul says that the Thessalonians know what instructions he (‘we’) gave them through the Lord Jesus (verse 2), instructions being commandments.

We so often hear these days of being able to ‘walk the walk’, yet here we have it in the New Testament.

Henry offers this exposition, recalling that the Thessalonians were, despite Paul’s short time with them, star pupils of his:

2. The matter of his exhortationthat they would abound more and more in holy walking, or excel in those things that are good, in good works. Their faith was justly famed abroad, and they were already examples to other churches: yet the apostle would have them yet further to excel others, and to make further progress in holiness. Note, (1.) Those who most excel others fall short of perfection. The very best of us should forget those things which are behind, and reach forth unto those things which are before. (2.) It is not enough that we abide in the faith of the gospel, but we must abound in the work of faith. We must not only persevere to the end, but we should grow better, and walk more evenly and closely with God.

3. The arguments with which the apostle enforces his exhortation. (1.) They had been informed of their duty. They knew their Master’s will, and could not plead ignorance as an excuse. Now as faith, so knowledge, is dead without practice. They had received of those who had converted them to Christianity, or been taught of them, how they ought to walk. Observe, The design of the gospel is to teach men not only what they should believe, but also how they ought to live; not so much to fill men’s minds with notions as to regulate their temper and behaviour. The apostle taught them how to walk, not how to talk. To talk well without living well will never bring us to heaven: for the character of those who are in Christ Jesus is this: They walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. (2.) Another argument is that the apostle taught and exhorted them in the name, or by the authority, of the Lord Jesus Christ. He was Christ’s minister and ambassador, declaring to them what was the will and command of the Lord Jesus. (3.) Another argument is this. Herein they would please God. Holy walking is most pleasing to the holy God, who is glorious in holiness. This ought to be the aim and ambition of every Christian, to please God and to be accepted of him. We should not be men-pleasers, nor flesh-pleasers, but should walk so as to please God. (4.) The rule according to which they ought to walk and act—the commandments they had given them by the Lord Jesus Christ, which were the commandments of the Lord Jesus Christ himself, because given by authority and direction from him and such as were agreeable to his will. The apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ were only commissioned by him to teach men to observe all things whatsoever he had commanded them, Matt 28 20. Though they had great authority from Christ, yet that was to teach men what Christ had commanded, not to give forth commandments of their own. They did not act as lords over God’s heritage (1 Pet 5 3), nor should any do so that pretend to be their successors. The apostle could appeal to the Thessalonians, who knew what commandments he gave them, that they were no other than what he had received from the Lord Jesus.

As a pattern of sanctification and longing for God, MacArthur cites Jonathan Edwards who, with George Whitefield, started the Great Awakening of 1739 to 1740 in colonial America:

What was it in that man that made him progress so far?  What was it that made him excel still more?  What was it that lifted him head and shoulders above his people, his peers?  What was the key to his powerful life and ministry?

And what he says in there, basically, as you go through his life and his writings is that the key was strong religious affections In fact, he wrote a treatise on religious affections in 1746 which really articulated what was in his heart in this matter.  And what marked him out from the very time of his conversion on was this tremendous longing to know God He had these strong religious affections — he calls them — for God and for the things that concern God, purity, holiness, virtue, truth.

Listen to what he said at his conversion “I felt great satisfaction but that did not content me.  I had vehement longings of soul after God and Christ and after more holiness wherewith my heart seemed to be full and ready to break, which often brought to my mind the words of the psalmist, ‘My soul breaks for the longing it has.’  I often felt a mourning and lamenting in my heart that I had not turned to God sooner, that I might have had more time to grow in grace,” end quote.  An insatiable thirst for God.  By the way, when he wrote that he was 17, 17 years old.  Also at 17 he wrote this, “My mind was greatly fixed on divine things.  Almost perpetually in the contemplation of them I spent most of my time in thinking of divine things, often walking alone in the woods and solitary places for meditation, soliloquy and prayer and converse with God And it was always my manner at such times to sing forth my contemplations.  I was almost constantly in ejaculatory prayer wherever I was.  Prayer seemed to be natural to me as the breath by which the inward burnings of my heart had vent.  The delights which I now felt in those things of religion were of an exceeding different kind from those before.”  Seventeen years old, those kinds of longings after God.

Now this puts us in touch with a very important element.  Paul can exhort all of us to excel still more, but that exhortation has to link up with a willing heart, with a certain level of desire to cause a response Obviously such exhortation can be rejected, pushed aside, discounted, ignored.  But when such exhortation is coupled with a strong longing for God, then you get the spiritual progress that Paul was after.

So, I have to say to you that the one unknown commodity in this exhortation this morning is…is how you hook up with it, at what level of spiritual desire you exist

Paul goes on to say that God’s will for the Thessalonians — and us — is sanctification, including — perhaps especially — that we refrain from sexual immorality (verse 3). The word in Greek is porneia.

MacArthur says that it was rampant in the Greco-Roman world and gives us the various categories of relationships prevalent in Paul’s era. Among them was the eteri, what we would call the FWB — the friend with benefits:

Hugh Hefner could have sold his same philosophy in Thessalonica.  Hugh Hefner could have sold his same philosophy in Corinth.  He could have sold it to Greek culture in the Roman world.  And somebody with another name did, or somebodies with a lot of other names did, because in the Roman world at the time that Paul wrote 1 Thessalonians they…there was a sexual revolution which if anything surpasses the one we are now living through They had experienced a sexual revolution which included homosexuality, which included pedophilia — sex with little boys, homosexual sex with little boys — which included effeminate transvestitism, men dressing up like women, which included every form of fornication and sexual perversion It was true in the Roman world. And unlike today there wasn’t any preliminary Christian culture to act as a sort of a small barrier along the way.  Consequently they had their venereal epidemics as we do and all the rest of the things that are attendant upon a fornicating society.

Now the Greek language has an immense capacity to articulate because of the vastness of its vocabulary and the specificity of its words.  So I pulled out a few of the Greek words that would help you get a feeling for the kind of culture to which Paul writes here.  The Greek language is amply capable of cataloging all kinds of deviant sexual sins and there are varying words that make that very clear.

For example, this quick survey will help. And I’m only dealing with the heterosexual sins at this point The first word to look at is porn. Porn literally means the purchasable one, the purchasable one, the one you buy, the harlot, the whore, the prostitute.  They had that word because they had that.  In the society in which Paul lived and to which he penned this letter and in which he founded churches under the power of the Holy Spirit, there was prostitution.  It was apparently legal, rampant

A second word to keep in mind in the Greek language is a form of the first word, pernmi, and it sums up the filthy business of making a living by prostitution It encompasses the prostitution, the pimping, the whole thing that goes on with that entire business So they not only had the individual woman who could be bought, who sold herself, but they had the big business, the stable, if you will, of prostitutes.

Then there’s the Greek word puloke. Puloke means a concubine.  A concubine was a slave whose primary function was to fulfill sexual desire.  Literally you purchased the concubine, you added her to your fold of concubines and you used her for sexual pleasure.  That too was legal, that too was rampant in the Roman world. So there was the one-time woman you purchased and the whole business of prostitution and then there was the long- term purchased woman, the concubine, the slave for sexual pleasure.

And then there was another word, eteri. This was different than the concubine, you didn’t buy this woman. This was a friend.  Typically men and women had these kinds of friends outside their marriage. By the way, your wife was primarily to take care of the house, cook the meals, keep the clothes clean, and watch the children.  The wife was not primarily the sexual partner. Sexual fulfillment was found in the one-time enterprise of a prostitute, the long-term responsibility of a concubine, or the now-and-then relationship to this friend who was both an intellectual friend as well as a sexual partner.

And then there was moichos, another word.  And moichos refers to the adulterer or the adulteress You could have a sexual relationship with a prostitute on an occasional situation which you purchased, you could own a concubine or more concubines for sexual pleasure, you could have mistresses, or reversing the situation, mistresses would have men. For every man who commits sexual sin there is a partner obviously.  And this was a friend you didn’t buy. This was sort of a mutual agreement, sort of casual sex with someone you knew very well.  And then there was moichos. That was adulterer or adulteress. That was having sex with somebody else’s spouse.  And it was all going on, all of it, filling up the Thessalonian as well as the Corinthian as well as the whole Roman culture.

Unmarried young men were also allowed to have intercourse with mistresses. They were encouraged to have intercourse with mistresses, but those mistresses could not be daughters of families that had full citizenship in the Roman Empire. Those were considered significant families and these young men were not to touch those girls.  But they could engage themselves with prostitutes and they could engage themselves with mistresses whose parents were not full citizens of the Roman Empire.

Now you could go one step beyond that and add temple prostitutes.  The Babylonian, cultic, mystery religions that filtered all the way down into the time of the apostle Paul and were the mythological religions of that time advocated prostitution.  Why?  Because they taught that if you have relationships with a priestess, prostitute, you are communing with the deity she represents. The way to get in touch with the deity is by a sexual liaison with a priestess. The temple in Corinth, for example, had 3,000 temple prostitutes to get people in contact with the deity, by the way, a very popular and convenient form of religion.  But you can see by that that it was not only not illegal, it was condoned.  Today, at least in America, religious prostitution is still a crime.

But they had it all.  Now you add to that homosexuality, pedophilia, whatever other kinds of deviant things were going on, and that was the culture in which Paul lived and to which he wrote.  If you think it’s bad today, you probably would have found it worse then

Paul says that, with regard to sexual urges, sanctification means that the true believer can control his body in holiness and honour (verse 4).

This is another verse to examine in its various versions, beginning with mine:

that each one of you know how to control his own body[c] in holiness and honour,

Here is Henry’s and MacArthur’s:

That every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour;

MacArthur explains that believers are called to be apart from the world and not to engage in sexual relations outside of marriage:

Very simple, total abstinence.  God has designed it for the marriage bed alone.  In Ephesians 5:3 it says, Paul wrote, “Do not let immorality or any impurity even be named among you as is proper among saints.  No kind of immorality, porneia again, sexual sin, no kind of impurity should ever be named among you because you are saints,” hagios, same word, you are set apart, you’re holy, you’re in process of becoming like God No kind of sexual sin should ever be so much as named among you. It is utterly inconsistent with sanctification.

MacArthur has more on the verse:

Now what is he saying there?  He’s saying that this is something that you must do.  It would be nice to think that I could have some kind of accountability relationship to somebody who could control my body for me.  It can’t be done.  That each one of you must know how to possess his own vessel in sanctification and honor.  The verb “know” here, eidenai, is often used to mean “to know how” and that’s its meaning here.  The knowledge or the skill necessary to accomplish a desired goal is the idea.  So every individual Christian is to know how — now note this little verb “to possess” — it means to gain mastery over Every individual Christian is to know how to gain mastery over what? His own, something very personal, vessel; the word is skeuos. It means utensil, implement, vessel.

Now some say the word vessel means “wife.”  In fact I read probably twenty commentaries this week to see what they said about this and the majority of them said it means “wife.”  I don’t know how they can conclude that, to be honest with you. Why would he say that in the middle of a context about sexual immorality?  Each one of you know how to gain mastery over your wife.  What is he saying? That she is a tool for your sexual gratification and what you’ve got to do is get mastery over her so she succumbs?  Is she a tool?  Is she an instrument or an implement?  Those who hold that view will endeavor to make a parallel between this and 1 Peter 3:7 where it says, “The woman is the weaker vessel.” But that is an inadequate parallel because in 1 Peter 3:7 the woman is called skeuos. She is the weaker skeuos. But the man therefore by comparative is a weak skeuos So, both of them are vessels there.  The Bible does not see the man as the power and the sovereignty and the woman as a tool in his hand for his own gratification No, no comparison with 1 Peter 3:7 works because there the woman is a weaker vessel, the man by comparative is a weak vessel She is not the vessel of the man; they are both the vessels of God.

Furthermore, the context here is not about marriage and wife, it’s about body

The term skeuos is used metaphorically for utensils, for tools, sometimes for people like in Acts 9:15, 2 Timothy 2:21, 2 Corinthians 4:7And in some Jewish literature in rabbinical sources it is even used of the body. And that is its meaning here.  It’s not about controlling your wife. Your wife isn’t your problem. It’s about controlling you. Your body is your problem.  It’s your unredeemed human flesh that…that is the beachhead to sin. That’s why Paul says in Romans 8, “We wait for the redemption (of what?) of the body.”  It’s our body that gets us into trouble.  That’s why Scripture says you’ve got to renew your what? Your mind; you’ve got to renew your mind Repeatedly does Paul say that in a number of his epistles.  Don’t let your body control you

The key then to controlling your body is walking in the Spirit. The key to walking in the Spirit is being filled by the Spirit.  The key to being filled by the Spirit, Colossians 3:16, is letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly As the Word saturates your life the Spirit then controls you and you walk in that control.  The key to letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly is hiding the Word in your heart that you might not what? Sin. Not a superficial reading of your daily devotion, but a serious apprehension of, comprehension of, application of, the Word of God in my life allows the Word to dwell in me richly, which yields control to the Spirit of God so that He fills me and I walk in Him That’s the only way you will not fulfill the lust of your body.

Don’t ever let your body control you.  Don’t ever play with sexual emotion.  You see, once you begin to feel the impulses of sexual emotion, you are beginning to turn control over to your body. Your mind has yielded it up.  God has designed those things to culminate in intercourse and you are out of control.

You say, “All right, I’m not supposed to let my body control me. What does that mean?”  That means not only you’re not supposed to jump in bed with someone, but long before that you better make sure that you’re very careful about what your body sees, what your body hears, what your body touches, what your body feels long before the consummation so that you aren’t so far in that control is gone.

Paul tells the Thessalonians not to conduct themselves in the passion of lust, like the Gentiles who do not know God (verse 5).

Henry says that the believer must be dead to sin, not dead in sin:

It is not so much to be wondered at, therefore, if the Gentiles indulge their fleshly appetites and lusts; but Christians should not walk as unconverted Gentiles, in lasciviousness, lusts, excess of wine, revellings, banquetings, etc. (1 Pet 4 3), because those who are in Christ have crucified the flesh with its affections and lusts.

MacArthur has more:

By the way, lustful passion is kind of a strong term. Either one of those words might have worked; both of them together make it very strong.  The word “passion,” pathos, means excited emotion, means uncontrollable desire, means compelling feelings, overpowering urges It is used here in a bad sense as in Romans 1:26 and Colossians 3:5, though there could be legitimate passion for the right thing, a passion for God And then he adds the word epithumia, that word which means lustful, lusting, craving.  It’s kind of an out-of-control craving. And again there are a few occasions where that can mean a…a craving for the right thing but usually a bad thing and here it’s bad for sure.

So here’s a characterization of the unregenerate, right?  They don’t know God. Consequently they are driven by lustful out-of-control cravings, compelling urges, overpowering desires of the body.  That’s it.  Christians can’t live like that, that’s how the godless people live. 

Paul also says that no one should transgress and wrong another in this matter — sexual immorality — because the Lord is the avenger in all these things, reminding the Thessalonians that he had warned them solemnly about that early on when he was with them (verse 6).

In Henry’s and MacArthur’s versions, ‘defraud’ is used instead of ‘wrong’.

MacArthur explains the word:

What is he talking about?  “And defraud his brother.”  What does that word defraud mean?  Very interesting word, it means to selfishly, greedily take something at someone else’s expense It means to take advantage of someone for personal gain, personal pleasure. And “the matter.” See that little statement, “the matter,” that’s sexual sin So the simple statement is this, don’t go beyond the line that God has drawn and take advantage of another believer in the matter of sexual sin.  Don’t do that.  Don’t take advantage of someone else.  And that’s exactly what you’re doing. When you want your sexual pleasure, your physical pleasure and you take advantage of someone else to get it, you violated this.

I tell young people all the time, if a guy comes to you and maybe you’re dating and he says to you, “You know I really love you, I really care about you,” and he wants to take your purity and he wants to take your virginity, guess again, he doesn’t care about you, he doesn’t love you, he lusts for you If he loved you, love would seek your highest good, love would seek the noblest treatment of your purity Guess again what you’ve got. Don’t marry that guy because if all he had going for you was lust, somebody else will attract that same thing in him in the future.

And if you’re married and somebody comes along and says, “You know, I really want to have a relationship with you,” and you fall into that and you violate your marriage and you fall prey to that, you have been defrauded, you have been robbed, you have been plundered, you have been raped.  That’s not love, that’s lust.  When a married person steals another married person for personal gratification, that’s defrauding a brother or sister

By the way, that is so serious that in Matthew 18 verse 6 it says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me,” that’s a Christian. Little ones, what little ones?  The little ones who believe in Me, not little babies but Christians “Causes them to stumble into sin, better if a millstone were hanged around his neck and he were drowned in the depths of the sea.”  And what Jesus is saying there is, before you cause another Christian to sin you’d be better off dead You’d be better off drowned.  Don’t you defraud someone else.  You’d be better off dead, that’s how serious it is to God …

The command then, totally abstain from sexual sin.  That’s, what?  How?  Don’t let your body control you, don’t act like godless pagans and don’t take advantage of others.  Last question, why?  That’s what the kids always say, why?  Why?  Why keep the command?  Three reasons, very rapidly, very important.  Reason number one: Because of God’s vengeance, because of God’s vengeance.  The middle of verse 6, “Because the Lord is the avenger in all these things just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.”  Because of God’s vengeance, He is the avenger.  What does that mean?  The one who exacts judgment. That’s a strong reminder of Deuteronomy 32:35, “Vengeance is Mine and retribution, I will repay.”  Hebrews 13:4, “Let marriage be honorable in all and the bed undefiled but fornicators and adulterers God will judge.”

How will He judge?  How will He wreak vengeance if we violate this?  Could be in an unfulfilling sexual life and marriage, could be in a miserable marriage, could be in a divorce, could be in temporal chastening, could be through venereal disease, could be any other disease, could be negative circumstances, the absence of blessing, trials, trouble, even death, it certainly will be the loss of eternal reward in some measure.  God can do anything He wants to avenge it but He will.  So if you need to reason not to do it, God is the avenger, because of God’s vengeance in all these things.  None of them escape Him.  In all sexual sins God is the avenger.  And he reminds them that this isn’t something new, just as we also told you before and solemnly warned you.  He had told them when he was there about this which is a good indication that he gave them not only the full understanding of the gospel, but he taught them to observe all things whatsoever Jesus had commanded too while he was there.  He had done a full orbed job of evangelizing.

Paul says that God has called us not to impurity but to holiness (verse 7).

MacArthur says:

You see, the effectual call of salvation was a call to holiness, not unholiness.  God has not called us for the purpose of impurity.  It isn’t grace so that sin may abound.  Paul’s point is that the very nature of God’s calling and justification is a calling to sanctification.  He called us to Himself for the purpose of sanctifying us, making us holy, making us pure, making us sinless You have a holy, pure, and sinless God who brings salvation through His holy, pure, and sinless Son, who then applies that salvation through His holy, pure, and sinless Spirit in order to produce a people who are holy, sinless, and pure.  Thus the heart of the Apostle is to present the church without blemish and without spot, holy before God.

There’s no place in that for impurity.  The purpose of God was to make a holy people, a people who would walk in a manner worthy of the God who called them into His kingdom and glory as he said back in chapter 2, verse 12. That little phrase “in sanctification” indicates the state resulting from the calling.  The whole of the Christian life is in separation from sin, in holiness, in sanctification.  The call to salvation then can never be separated from holy living.  It can never be separated from the result, which is sanctification.  Sexual sin is utterly inconsistent.

Paul ends on a sharp, no-nonsense note, saying that whoever disregards him on this instruction disregards not man but God, who gives His Holy Spirit to us (verse 8).

MacArthur says that this is Paul’s third reason for obeying God’s will for abstinence:

Why obey?  Because of God’s vengeance, because of God’s calling or purpose.  Thirdly, because of God’s Spirit.  Verse 8, “Consequently,” that introduces a conclusion, “he who rejects this,” he who nullifies this makes it void, cancels it, disregards it, despises it, “is not rejecting man.”  This isn’t Paul you’re rejecting, this isn’t some church group you’re rejecting, this isn’t the elders, this isn’t John MacArthur, “But the God who gives His Holy Spirit to you.”  You’re rejecting God.  This is God’s standard and God, who gave you His Holy Spirit to make you pure and to enable you to be pure.  By the way, that verb there, “the God who gives His Holy Spirit,” marvelous.  It’s a timeless Greek idea, characterizes God as the unceasing giver of the timeless gift of the Holy Spirit.  And here in the Greek, the Spirit is “the Spirit of Him, the Holy One.”  How can you enter into sexual sin without knowing you’re rejecting the God who gave you the Spirit of Himself who is the Holy One?

Not only did He call believers to salvation but He called them to sanctification and continually breathes His Spirit into them for the purpose of producing holiness And then to sin is to grieve the Spirit and quench the Spirit. That’s why Paul says, “What?” First Corinthians 6, talking about sexual immorality in Corinth, “Don’t you know your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit which you have of God, you’re not your own, you’re bought with a price, so glorify God in your body.”

To live in sexual sin is to literally reject God, who gave His Spirit, to reject Christ, who gave us justification to sanctification, and to reject God, who is the avenger.  Sexual sin violates the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit and the work of each. So may God help us to be faithful to the command through the means that God has given us with the fear of His recourse should we fail. 

There is much to ponder in today’s verses.

In next week’s verses, Paul gives the Thessalonians guidance on how to further brotherly love. One of the ways is by working, interestingly enough.

Next time — 1 Thessalonians 4:9-12

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.

Philippians 3:15-16

15 Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. 16 Only let us hold true to what we have attained.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s warnings to the Philippians about the Judaizers who wanted them to be circumcised and follow Mosaic law. He called the false teachers dogs and evildoers who mutilate the flesh.

John MacArthur recaps the verses that immediately follow (emphases mine):

… so you had then in verses 4 through 11 an insight into the heart attitude of Paul at the time of his conversion when he discounted all of those things once precious, put them all aside to embrace Christ.

In verses 8 through 11 then he began to recite what he gained in Christ. Verses 4 through 7, what was loss, verses 8 through 11 what was gained. And what did he gain in Christ? Remember there were five things. He gained the knowledge of Christ, the righteousness of Christ, the power of Christ, the fellowship of Christ and the glory of Christ. Frankly, quite an amazing list of spiritual benedictions.

Then come the verses that precede today’s:

Straining Toward the Goal

12 Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. 13 Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, 14 I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Paul is talking about the process of sanctification, the natural urge to become a better Christian by following a holy example.

A lot of us, myself included for many years, think that because we are saved that our Christian walk can go on as it is. I was in a period of spiritual stasis for decades. I went to church, prayed during the week and volunteered now and again. What more did I need to do?

It was only when I started my blog and began doing a deep dive into Scripture that I realised I had much more to achieve spiritually.

Paul, as great an Apostle as he was, viewed himself as spiritually imperfect. So what must we mere mortals be, we who cannot hold a candle to Paul’s lived Christian example.

Paul viewed sanctification as a type of marathon, one that he would run until he took his last breath as a martyr.

MacArthur, who was on his high school’s track team, points out Paul’s metaphors:

I think it is obvious to any student of the New Testament and any student of the letters of the Apostle Paul that he must have loved athletics, as many of us do. And the reason I say that is because he so often uses athletic analogies, or athletic metaphors to illustrate spiritual truth. One of his athletic analogies is that of a runner, running a race. The runner to him is the picture of the Christian, the race is the Christian life. And frequently in his writings he alludes to this running metaphor, this…this picture of maximum effort as the Christian moves along toward the finish line. That is essentially the underlying picture of the passage before us …

Now obviously the heart of this passage is the very familiar fourteenth verse, “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” The theme here then is pursuing the prize. The analogy is that of a runner who is running to win in order that he might gain the prize. The spiritual point here is the matter of pursuing the spiritual prize. If you will, Paul is talking about Christian effort toward growth. Now he has just given his personal testimony of the experience of his own conversion from his viewpoint from verses 4 to 11.

MacArthur explains why Paul says he is not perfect. It is in order to contrast his spiritual state with that of the Judaizers, who no doubt claimed perfection in this regard:

It is … quite possible that the Judaizers, the Jewish teachers who were plaguing the Philippian church, were telling the Philippians that spiritual perfection was available if they would be circumcized and keep the law. It is also true that there were heretics floating around at that time who believed you could reach a certain level of knowledge in which you attained perfection. So to answer the Gnostics who thought they had reached that level, to answer the Judaizers who thought they had reached that level through circumcision and law keeping and to answer anybody else who might assume that because he had the knowledge, the righteousness, the power, the fellowship and the glory of Christ he was therefore perfect, he quickly in verse 12 launches into a passage which is a total disclaimer of any spiritual perfection. That’s his intent in this passage. He wants us to know that he is not perfect. He has not reached moral perfection, he has not reached spiritual perfection even though he is a new creation, even though he has a new heart and a new disposition which desires strongly holy things, even though he had union with Jesus Christ and a new mind, the mind of Christ, even though he has new standing before God and is accepted by God and entitled to heaven and has the righteousness of Christ covering him, even though he has the indwelling Holy Spirit who is the power of God, even though he has promised future glory and indwelling glory in that Spirit, he has not arrived…he is not perfect. He is still temptable. He is still the possessor of his unredeemed flesh. He is still a sinner.

Thus, any thought of perfection must be set aside in favor of pursuing the perfection that every believer must recognize he doesn’t have. That’s the point. He had already been placed in Christ, already accepted by God, already gifted with all of these tremendous things and yet he was not perfect. He had not arrived.

St Peter also recognised that spiritual progress is a process:

Peter understood it when Peter wrote in 2 Peter 3:18, “Grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” He was saying the same thing Paul is saying here. There’s a growing process. When you’re saved yes you receive the knowledge of Christ, yes you receive the righteousness of Christ positionally imputed to your account, yes you receive the power of Christ in your life, yes you receive the fellowship of Christ in communion with Him, yes you receive the glory of Christ but not in perfection. And so there must be growth. There must be the pursuit of the goal. There must be the running of the race. That’s his point. The pressing toward the mark.

At some point, a Christian realises the need for the process of sanctification:

Having been born into the family of God you are born with a hunger, in fact in many cases an almost insatiable hunger. There is a built-in desire and drive and longing for growth.

But apart from that there are some very important reasons why you should grow, reasons why you should pursue the prize and run the race. First of all, it glorifies God. And that’s what a Christian is supposed to do with his life is bring glory to God. Secondly, it verifies regeneration. It makes demonstrable the fact that you are truly changed because you’re in the progress of making it visible that your life is being changed. Thirdly, it adorns the truth. It lets you literally wear the truth of God so others can see it. Fourthly, it grants you assurance. When there is spiritual progress in your life there is the sense that you belong to God because you can see His work and your calling and election become sure. Not only that it preserves you from the sorrows and the tragedies of spiritual weakness which are not enjoyable to any believer any time.

Furthermore, pursuing the prize, running the race, seeking the goal protects the cause of Christ from reproach because when you live a godly life and you pursue the goal, your life is consistent with the character of Christ and the character He upholds in Scripture and thus you’re not a reproach to Him. Seventh, when you pursue the prize and run the race and grow spiritually it produces joy and usefulness in your life and thus you can minister capably to the church. And finally, it enhances your witness to the lost world

Now, let me add another footnote here. The Apostle Paul is trying to show the readers in Philippi that because he is a Christian does not mean he has attained perfection. But beyond that, I believe he is trying to teach all of us and all generations that perfection in this life is a goal, not an achievement. It is something you pursue but never reach.

Paul exhorts — encourages — the Philippians by saying that those who are mature enough in the faith will think the way he does and God will reveal that way to those who think differently (verse 15).

Paul’s wish is that all the Philippians should hold true to what he and they attained (verse 16) in the Gospel.

In his commentary, Matthew Henry split out verses 15 and 16, so he must have found them important enough to do so.

His commentary says:

The apostle, having proposed himself as an example, urges the Philippians to follow it. Let the same mind be in us which was in blessed Paul. We see here how he was minded; let us be like-minded, and set our hearts upon Christ and heaven, as he did. 1. He shows that this was the thing wherein all good Christians were agreed, to make Christ all in all, and set their hearts upon another world. This is that whereto we have all attained. However good Christians may differ in their sentiments about other things, this is what they are agreed in, that Christ is a Christian’s all, that to win Christ and to be found in him involve our happiness both here and hereafter. And therefore let us walk by the same rule, and mind the same thing. Having made Christ our all, to us to live must be Christ. Let us agree to press towards the mark, and make heaven our end. 2. That this is a good reason why Christians who differ in smaller matters should yet bear with one another, because they are agreed in the main matter:If in any thing you be otherwise minded—if you differ from one another, and are not of the same judgment as to meats and days, and other matters of the Jewish law—yet you must not judge one another, while you all meet now in Christ as your centre, and hope to meet shortly in heaven as your home. As for other matters of difference, lay no great stress upon them, God shall reveal even this unto you. Whatever it is wherein you differ, you must wait till God give you a better understanding, which he will do in his due time. In the mean time, as far as you have attained, you must go together in the ways of God, join together in all the great things in which you are agreed, and wait for further light in the minor things wherein you differ.”

MacArthur thinks that verse 15 has some sarcasm in it directed at the Judaizers:

I’m so grateful for this verse, it gets overlooked a lot, verse 15, but it’s very important to me. Verse 15, “Let us therefore as many as are perfect have this attitude and if anything…if in anything you have a different attitude, God will reveal that also to you.”

Now follow this thought here, very important. You say, “Why would Paul throw that word perfect in there? That just confuses the clarity of the text.” I’ll tell you why. I think it’s sarcastic. And again I think in this polemic against the Judaizers, he’s dealing with the fact that the Judaizers were talking that they were…talking to the Philippians as if they were perfect, saying, “You know, we’ve reached perfection.” So there’s a sort of sarcasm in there that bites a little bit at the claims of the Judaizers. But he says, “As many of us who are the truly perfect need to have this attitude.”

He feels that and every pastor would. My prayer for you is that you’d have that attitude. That if you’re a true Christian, your desire would be to pursue the prize, that you’d see your own need, that you’d make maximum effort, that you’d have focused concentration, that you be motivated by the great prize and that you would pursue with all your might that prize. By the way, that phrase “have this attitude” literally in the Greek means to think this way, or be intent on this, or set one’s mind on this. On what? Pursuing the prize

But, Paul’s not stupid. So look what else he says. “But if in anything you have a different attitude.” Do you think that’s a remote possibility? Sure. The church is full of people who aren’t interested in pursuing the prize. They’re interested in looking at the past. They’re content with where they are. And so they want to spend the rest of their life justifying the level of their attainment and convincing everybody around them that they’re really very spiritual. Instead of recognizing their need, instead of making a maximum effort with focused concentration and motivation, they just are content with where they are and they want to spend their life justifying where they are. Or they’re so hung up on the past they can’t move. Paul says, “Look, if any of this stuff you have a different attitude, you don’t see the importance of pursuing in this way, or you believe you’ve already arrived wherever you would like to be you’ve settled there, or some of you even believe that now that you’re saved you can live any old wretched way you want like those described in verses 17 to 21 who were supposedly Christians, whose end was destruction and their God was appetite, if you think anything other than what I’ve said about pursuing the prize, and you won’t listen to me,” look what he says, “Then God will reveal that also to you.” He simply says I have to leave you to God. If you’re ever going to get the message and you won’t get it from me, then you’ll have to get it from God.

Every pastor does that, I’ve done that. I do that. “Lord, I’ve poured out my heart, I’ve said all I can say, and I know there are people who continue to live non-committed lives and all I can say is, Lord, I can’t do it, You’re going to have to do it. You’re going to have to reveal Yourself.” The word “reveal” is apokalupto, to unveil. You’re going to have to open their minds and unveil reality to them. And you know how the Lord usually does it? Through…what?…trials, suffering, chastening, things like that. Through some special circumstance of life that plunges us instantly back to spiritual reality.

MacArthur looks at the Greek words used in verse 16:

Look at verse 16, “However,” that really means nevertheless, or better, one more thing. It’s often used at the end of a paragraph to express a final thought. “One more thing, by the way, let us keep living by that same to which we have attained.”

In other words, look, keep moving along the path that has brought you to where you are in your spiritual progress. That’s the idea. You’ll be interested to know that the verb here is translated “keep living.” It actually means to follow in line, to line up. It’s what it means. So what he is saying is, spiritually stay in line and keep moving from where you have arrived by the same standard or principle that got you were you are. Fall in step. It’s used of armies marching in battle order, stay in line, stay in step, be consistent, keep moving. Wherever you are spiritually by the same principles that got you there, keep moving ahead. Consistency, conformity, live up to the level of your present understanding and by the principles that brought you there, keep moving ahead, stay in line, hold the principle tightly and move down the track. Stay in your lane, if you will, and move as fast as you can from where you are. Whatever strength and energy got you where you are, use it to move ahead. If we were talking about the runner metaphor, we would say you’ve run this far in your lane with great effort, it’s gotten you so far, keep that same effort up in that same lane until you hit the finish. Pursuing the prize.

MacArthur explains what the process of perfection, or sanctification, involves:

Whatever we achieve spiritually begins with dissatisfaction. I am not pleased with where I am in my spiritual life. I am not content with my spiritual condition. If you are content, you have reached a very dangerous point. It is a point at which you will find yourself insensitive to sin and defending yourself when you ought to be admitting your weakness and pursuing spiritual strength.

I can personally vouch for that.

This is how the sanctification process starts:

And, beloved, that’s where it starts, with an awareness that you’re not there, an awareness that you haven’t arrived, that you’ve got a lot to learn and a lot to perfect in your life and a lot to yield over to the power of the Spirit of God and a lot more to know than you already know. And if you have gotten to the place where you feel satisfied, that’s a very dangerous place to be…very dangerous. If you’ve had enough prayer and enough church and enough teaching of the Word of God and enough of the Bible and enough of Christian fellowship to satisfy you, you are in a very dangerous condition. For if not theological perfectionism, you have arrived at a sort of pragmatic perfectionism where you’re as perfect as you care to be and that assumes that you’re as perfect as God cares you to be when the truth is if you’re not pursuing the prize with all your might, you’re misjudging your present condition. Awareness of the need to pursue a better condition is where all spiritual progress starts. You start out of blessed discontent, blessed dissatisfaction, a recognition you’re not what you ought to be.

Number two principle, if you’re going to pursue the prize effectively you must give maximum effort to pursue that better condition. First to know you need it, secondly to pursue it. There must be maximum effort to pursue that better condition. Look at verse 12 again, so he says, “I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” I press on, dioko, I run, I follow after, I pursue, I chase. It’s used of a sprinter and the word means aggressive energetic endeavor. He says I’m running after this thing with all my might. There’s no quietism here. There’s no crucify yourself, let go and let God kind of theology here. This is the straining of every spiritual muscle, this is running to win, 1 Corinthians 9. This is pursuing the prize with all your might. This is fighting the good fight, 1 Timothy 6:12, 2 Timothy 4:7. This is running the race to win, Hebrews 12:1 and 2, laying aside every weight and the sin that does so easily beset us and looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith who is the one before us. Paul’s saying I run, I pursue, I chase, I haven’t arrived, maximum effort.

And, beloved, that’s what it takes. It takes maximum effort using the means of grace provided to you by God to pursue spiritual perfection. You say, “Well, what’s he after?” Now follow, marvelous, verse 12, “I am pursuing in order that I may lay hold of…” Oh, he’s after a prize, he’s after something specific. That’s right. He wants to get a hold of something. The verb means to seize or grasp. I’m after something. “What are you running after, Paul?” Well, here it is, “I’m after that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus.” Now that is a fascinating statement. You see what he’s saying? He’s saying I’m pursuing the prize so that I may lay hold of that for which I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus. “What do you mean by that, Paul?” I mean that I’m pursuing the very thing that was the reason Christ pursued me. Did you get that? In other words, my goal in life is consistent with Christ’s goal for my salvation. He saved me for a purpose that purpose of His in saving me has become my purpose in my spiritual progress. You see? That’s a very, very significant truth. The reason Christ redeemed me has become the goal of my life. My will is now His will, I want for me what He wanted for me and saved me to accomplish.

… Now why were you saved? Why did God choose you and then save you? In order to make you like what? His Son. What’s the goal of your Christian life then? It’s the same thing for which you were saved, He saved you to make you like His Son and that purpose for which He saves you becomes the purpose for which you live. You see? That’s what we’re all about. We’re all in a life-long pursuit of Christ’s likeness. And you may think that you have arrived at some point of spiritual perfection, but I think if you put yourself against Christ you’re going to be a little more realistic. Christ’s likeness is the goal. Christ’s likeness is the issue here. And it is that for which we were redeemed that we might be made like His Son. That’s the point …

Third principle, in pursuing the prize it is required that there be focused concentration to pursue that better condition. Not only maximum effort but focused concentration. Any athlete knows that when you’re running in a race you have to fix your eyes on something ahead of you. You cannot watch your feet or you’ll fall on your face. You cannot watch the people around you or you will trip or somebody will pass you on the other side. Your focus is straight forward on the goal that is ahead. And that is precisely what he is saying here. In making maximum effort there’s a concentration point beyond you upon which you focus

And that takes us to the positive in verse 13, forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead. Let’s go, let’s move. The word here, “reaching forward,” I love it, epekteinomi, ektenes, means to stretch a muscle to its limit, epek is double prepositions added to it, it means to…I don’t know what…stretch stretch, out after would be ek out, ep after…out after. I mean, your extreme effort is in view here. This is a runner stretching every muscle to reach what is in front of him, the prize. Focused concentration, nothing with the past, just looking at the goal, moving as fast as possible

Paul saw it at the end of his life when he wrote his last letter and he said, “I have finished the course and I’m waiting for the crown of righteousness which the Lord, the righteous judge, will award to me on that day.” What is the crown of righteousness? It’s the crown which is righteousness. What kind of righteousness? Perfection. I’m waiting for perfection which God’s going to give me the day I see Him. That’s the prize.

Number five, this too is a very important principle. In pursuing the prize we must recognize divine resources to pursue that better condition

MacArthur concludes by telling us how to pursue sanctification:

Now, what are the ingredients that help us do that? Four of them, one is the Word. As newborn babes desire the pure milk of the Word that you may grow, constantly in the Word, constantly in the Word will keep you consistent, it will keep you on track. It will keep you moving, it will keep you pursuing the prize.

Number two is prayer…prayer. Paul in writing to the Thessalonians illustrates this point when he says, “We night and day keep praying most earnestly that we may see your face and complete what is lacking in your faith.” We’re praying that your faith will be complete. Stay in the Word, be in prayer.

Third principle, follow an example. Look at verse 17, the following verse in our text, “Brethren, join in following my example and observe those who walk according to the pattern you have in us.” Find somebody to pattern your life after It takes the Word, it takes prayer, it takes a model to follow and one more thing. It takes trials. First Peter 5:10, “After you have suffered a while, the Lord make you perfect.” James 1, “Trials have their perfect work.”

So, in the pursuit of the prize, the Word, prayer, following a spiritual model, you move along and God brings enough trials in to your life to perfect you, to knock the dross off so that you’re pure.

I hope this helps to explain the process of spiritual perfection.

May all reading this be blessed in their Christian journey.

Next time — Philippians 4:10-13

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.

Galatians 4:17-20

17 They make much of you, but for no good purpose. They want to shut you out, that you may make much of them. 18 It is always good to be made much of for a good purpose, and not only when I am present with you, 19 my little children, for whom I am again in the anguish of childbirth until Christ is formed in you! 20 I wish I could be present with you now and change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.


Last week’s post discussed Paul’s physical ailment, probably related to his eyes, which brought him to Galatia to found the churches there. He hadn’t intended to go there, but he needed to stop for some time and tend to his illness. The Galatians received him warmly, indeed.

Paul is deeply concerned about the Galatians’ growing relationship with the Judaisers, who want the congregations to adopt Mosaic law and mix it in with their Christianity.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

The apostle is still carrying on the same design as in the Galatians 4:12-16, which was, to convince the Galatians of their sin and folly in departing from the truth of the gospel: having just before been expostulating with them about the change of their behaviour towards him who endeavoured to establish them in it, he here gives them the character of those false teachers who made it their business to draw them away from it, which if they would attend to, they might soon see how little reason they had to hearken to them

Paul tells the Galatians that ‘they’ — the Judaisers — are fawning over them for no good purpose; the Judaisers want to shut the door on the Galatians — the door to salvation — so that the congregations will be entirely dependent upon them (verse 17).

In today’s parlance, Paul would say that the Judaisers are pulling the Galatians into a psychologically and spiritually abusive relationship.

Henry rephrases the verse as follows:

… whatever opinion they might have of them, he tells them they were designing men, who were aiming to set up themselves, and who, under their specious pretences, were more consulting their own interest than theirs: They zealously affect you,” says he; “they show a mighty respect for you, and pretend a great deal of affection to you, but not well; they do it not with any good design, they are not sincere and upright in it, for they would exclude you, that you might affect them. That which they are chiefly aiming at is to engage your affections to them; and, in order to this, they are doing all they can to draw off your affections from me and from the truth, that so they may engross you to themselves.”

John MacArthur says that this verse is essential to keep in mind at all times with regard to religion, because it points to false teachers:

You ought to know that verse. That verse applies to all false religion and all false teachers. That is a defining verse.

“They eagerly seek you.” This is referring to the Judaizers teaching their Mosaic lies. “They court you, they make a fuss over you to win you, favor you.” “Eagerly seek” is to have a deep concern. They, these false teachers, aggressively went after the Galatians.

That’s how it is with false religion, it is a seeking religion; they’re aggressive. False religion is spreading like wildfire over the world today.

Second Corinthians 11 says that Satan is disguised as an angel of light, and so are his emissaries and ambassadors. “And they’re going everywhere” – as Jesus put it in Matthew 23 – “making double sons of hell.” There are already sons of hell; and now when you get into this false religion you’re a double son of hell.

“They eagerly seek you, not commendably,” not honorably, not honestly, not with any commendable purpose like all false cults, false teachers, false religions. “All they want to do is shut you out so that you will seek them.” Why do they want you to seek them? Because they represent Satan’s kingdom, and they’re in it for the money. They do what they do for money; all false teachers do, according to Scripture.

“They want to shut you out. Literally, they want to exclude you from the benefits of true salvation, and walking with Christ, and living in the power of Christ. They want to exclude you from freedom in Christ. They want to bar the door, they want to put up a barrier, and then they want you to turn and seek them.”

Verse 18 is not without its sarcasm. Paul remembers the loyalty and devotion that the Galatians had towards him.

MacArthur says:

There’s some sarcasm in that. False teachers wanted money. They wanted converts to validate themselves and their false teaching, they wanted to make double sons of hell. They wanted money.

Henry rephrases Paul’s thought for us:

“Time was when you were zealously affected towards me; you once took me for a good man, and have now no reason to think otherwise of me; surely then it would become you to show the same regard to me, now that I am absent from you, which you did when I was present with you.”

Then we have the other, more affirmative, meaning of that verse. It is good to be fawned over, or to be zealous for, a good purpose, and not just when that particular person, Paul, is present.

However, that zeal, that fiery enthusiasm, must be a constant, as Henry says:

the apostle here furnishes us with a very good rule to direct and regulate us in the exercise of our zeal: there are two things which to this purpose he more especially recommends to us:– (1.) That it be exercised only upon that which is good; for zeal is then only good when it is in a good thing: those who are zealously affected to that which is evil will thereby only to do so much the more hurt. And, (2.) That herein it be constant and steady: it is good to be zealous always in a good thing; not for a time only, or now and then, like the heat of an ague-fit, but, like the natural heat of the body, constant. Happy would it be for the church of Christ if this rule were better observed among Christians!

Paul then compares himself to a mother in the throes of childbirth. He says that he is experiencing the same anguish until Christ is formed in them (verse 19).

MacArthur says that Paul is speaking of the doctrine of sanctification. The Galatians are of Christ, and Christ is in them. However, they are still spiritually immature. Christ is not yet perfectly formed in them.

MacArthur tells us that the doctrine of sanctification is largely absent from today’s theological discourse.

Personally, until now, I’ve only ever read about sanctification — and the spiritual assurance that comes from it — in Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s sermons.

MacArthur explains this important aspect of Christianity:

Sanctification is a marvelous word, it’s a familiar theological, biblical word that all Christians understand. But the doctrine of sanctification, the truth of sanctification has become unpopular in our time. There has been much, much talk about the doctrine of election, divine sovereign election, how God has chosen sinners before the foundation of the world to belong to Him and to enter into eternal heaven, and He wrote their name in the Book of Life before the foundation of the world. We celebrate the doctrine of election. There has been much talk about the doctrine of justification, which is where God in time declares a sinner righteous by virtue of imputing to him the righteousness of Christ; and that is the experience of conversion, salvation, regeneration, new birth, new life. We are committed and we celebrate loudly the doctrines of election and justification, and we’re happy as well to celebrate the doctrine of glorification, that great reality that will be the culmination of God’s redemptive purpose when we are in heaven and we are like Christ, and we are in the midst of eternal joy and peace and bliss and worship and service.

Even in the contemporary church there is a lot said about the doctrine of election. There is a lot said about the doctrine of justification. And there is some said about the doctrine of glorification, although that doesn’t seem to be a priority as it should be. But the doctrine that has fallen into the greatest disuse is this doctrine of sanctification. And yet, sanctification is the applicable doctrine to our entire life as believers on earth.

Election is something that happened before creation; that was the work of God solely. Justification happened in a moment of time when God declared us righteous in Christ by faith. Glorification will occur in the future. And in between justification and glorification, we live our lives on this earth, and the doctrine that defines the character of our lives before God is the doctrine of sanctification.

What is sanctification? The word means “to be separated, to be separated.” It is the lifelong work of God in every believer to separate us from sin; that is sanctification. It is what the Holy Spirit is doing now in our lives. Nothing is more important for us to understand than this work of sanctification. And yet the truth of sanctification is treated with indifference commonly. It is ignored by many preachers, if not assaulted by many preachers. The same foolish teachers and their followers who are bewitched about the gospel of salvation by faith alone are often bewitched about the doctrine of sanctification. But beyond those who are bewitched there seem to be many who completely ignore this doctrine.

Again, the truth of sanctification is what defines the work of the Spirit in our lives from justification to glorification, which means from the moment of our salvation until we enter heaven. If there’s anything that we ought to know, understand, and be committed to it would be sanctification. And that is expressed in Paul’s words where he says, “I am again in labor until Christ is formed in you, filled out in you, so that you are like Christ. I settle for nothing less.”

MacArthur cites Ephesians 2:10, which, incidentally, is part of the traditional Anglican liturgy:

… please notice verse 10: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus” – listen to this – “for good works,” – not because of good works, not by good works, but for good works – “which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.”

Sanctification is living a godly life. This should be our main preoccupation, because God has already accomplished the foregoing work in us — election, or predestination, and justification by faith through grace:

Now listen, the doctrine of election – sovereign election, predestination – does not only relate to justification. It does not only relate to justification and glorification, it relates also to sanctification. God has not just ordained that we be justified and one day glorified, He has ordained that we be sanctified. And that is what verse 10 is saying: “God prepared beforehand.” God prepared, we can say, before the foundation of the world certain good works that we would walk in.

The doctrine of election, the great truth of sovereign election, divine choice, encompasses our sanctification, not just our justification and our glorification. God has established a pattern of good works in which believers will walk by His sovereign will. And as our justification was accomplished by the Holy Spirit who gave us life, so our sanctification is accomplished by the Holy Spirit who enables us to become more and more righteous, and less and less sinful. Nothing then is more important for us to understand than this great doctrine that is the defining work of God in us until we go to heaven. God has ordained this as much as He has ordained our justification and our glorification.

The good works God has prepared for us to walk in are the fruits of faith, because they often spring up spontaneously, without much conscious thought:

That is to say, God did not design to justify us and glorify us and be indifferent about what’s in the middle. He ordained that, and for that He ordained sanctification and manifest good works, that before the foundation of the world He determined we would walk in them, so that every true believer is being sanctified, has been justified, will be glorified, is being sanctified. That is a mark of a true believer. That’s why Jesus said, “By their fruits you shall know them.” Manifest evidences of the Holy Spirit’s sanctifying work are those fruits.

Paul is intent on ensuring that the Galatians grow in Christ, which happens only through sanctification. By being ‘bewitched’ by the Judaisers, they are moving towards a false works-based salvation, which is still popular today. There is no such reality as a works-based salvation. No human can achieve that. That is not what the New Covenant promises. Only faith in Jesus Christ, by whom we know God the Father, brings salvation.

What is another word for sanctification? Holiness.

MacArthur says:

Now you notice that holiness is the synonym for sanctification. Holiness means “to be separate” also, as sanctification does, “separate from sin.” So the doctrine of sanctification, we could say, is the doctrine of holiness, or the doctrine of righteousness. It defines our earthly lives in Christ. It is the constant work of the Holy Spirit to separate us from sin.

You will see as you live your Christian life decreasing frequency of sin and the increasing frequency of holiness as you move from your justification to your glorification. As the believer is being sanctified, the seductions of the world, the desires of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, the pride of life are replaced by love for God, love for Christ, love for the Word of God, love for obedience, longing for holiness, aspirations to give glory and honor only to the Lord with your life. This is, as justification is and glorification is, a mark of true Christians.

MacArthur explains the route towards sanctification:

Now the question would be asked, “How does it occur? If Paul is desiring that his people whom he loves and once gave birth to in a spiritual sense, if he’s in pain again for them to become like Christ, how does that happen? How does it occur? By what means do we become Christlike? Are we sanctified? Do we become holy? By what means does this happen?”

Well, first of all, it is again the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from means, which engage the believer. Salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from faith. Sanctification is the work of the Holy Spirit, but not apart from obedience.

You say, “Well then do I need to read the commands more, go over them, maybe memorize all the command? Do I need to become more familiar with the commands?” That can’t hurt. “Do I need to develop more self-discipline? Maybe I need to have more accountability with people around me who can help me with discipline.” Certainly that’s good, but that is not what Scripture calls us to do.

If you are to keep His commandments in an increasingly more faithful way, this is not going to come out of sheer duty, but rather our Lord said this: “If you love Me you keep My commandments. Whoever keeps My commandments” – He said – “loves Me.”

This is not about duty, this is not about discipline, although it is a duty and there is a discipline; this is about love. So if you want to be more obedient, you must love Christ more. And if you want to love Christ more, you must know Christ better.

Why do we spend years and years and years going through Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and all the rest of the books of the Bible that present Christ? Why are we always preaching on Christ? So that you can have a lot of information about Him, so that you can have a lot of data in your mind about Him? Not at all. So that you can know Him in the fullness of His glory, and as a result of that, love Him.

The unconverted don’t love Christ. And anyone who doesn’t love Christ is damned, Paul says. Believers are those who love Christ; and we are continually exhorted to love Him more. That’s not going to happen in a vacuum, that’s going to happen as you are exposed to who He is in the glorious revelation of Scripture. Sanctification, holiness, purity, righteous attitude, righteous words, righteous actions are the result of looking at the Lord Jesus Christ and loving Him more until you are literally becoming like Him.

… It is your vision of Christ that is the means the Spirit uses to sanctify you. Sanctification is Christlikeness. Christlikeness is loving obedience to God.

How many times in the Gospels was Jesus quoted as saying that He obeyed His Father and was carrying out His will, including dying on the Cross for our sins and rising from the dead on the third day? Many times. Christ was in perfect obedience to the Father. And we should strive to be the same way.

MacArthur says:

First of all, perfect love for His Father that manifested itself in perfect obedience. He said, “I only do what the Father tells Me to do. I only do what the Father shows Me. I only do what the Father wills. I only do what honors the Father.”

His perfect obedience out of perfect love for the Father is a manifestation of what it is to be fully sanctified. A fully sanctified person is one who loves God perfectly and obeys Him perfectly. Christ is our model.

Returning to Paul, the Apostle despairs over the Galatians, wishing he could be with them and be able to change his tone by finding out more about why they are following the Judaisers; for now, he is perplexed about them (verse 20).

Henry discusses Paul’s state of mind towards the Galatians at that time:

… he desired to be then present with them–that he would be glad of an opportunity of being among them, and conversing with them, and that thereupon he might find occasion to change his voice towards them; for at present he stood in doubt of them. He knew not well what to think of them. He was not so fully acquainted with their state as to know how to accommodate himself to them. He was full of fears and jealousies concerning them, which was the reason of his writing to them in such a manner as he had done; but he would be glad to find that matters were better with them than he feared, and that he might have occasion to commend them, instead of thus reproving and chiding them. Note, Though ministers too often find it necessary to reprove those they have to do with, yet this is no grateful work to them; they had much rather there were no occasion for it, and are always glad when they can see reason to change their voice towards them.

In order to further illustrate his theological points, Paul contrasts Abraham’s servant Hagar with his wife Sarah.

More on those verses next week.

Next time — Galatians 4:20-27

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

2 Corinthians 13:1-4

13 This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. I warned those who sinned before and all the others, and I warn them now while absent, as I did when present on my second visit, that if I come again I will not spare them— since you seek proof that Christ is speaking in me. He is not weak in dealing with you, but is powerful among you. For he was crucified in weakness, but lives by the power of God. For we also are weak in him, but in dealing with you we will live with him by the power of God.


In last week’s post, we saw how much Paul grieved over the state of the Corinthian church under the influence of the false teachers and the unrepentant souls in the congregation.

It is no wonder that Paul never married. He had a deep agape for all the churches he planted and he wanted them to be pure, a true Bride of Christ. He suffered a broken heart for the Corinthians but still wanted them to straighten themselves out for the Lord.

As we enter the last chapter of 2 Corinthians, Paul says that he will be making his third visit. He says that he will be exercising church discipline by asking two or three witnesses to be present before each charge of serious sin before a member of the congregation (verse 1).

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

… the apostle had told these Corinthians before, in his former epistle, and now he tells them, or writes to those who heretofore had sinned, and to all others, giving warning unto all before he came in person the third time, to exercise severity against scandalous offenders. Others think that the apostle had designed and prepared for his journey to Corinth twice already, but was providentially hindered, and now informs them of his intentions a third time to come to them. However this be, it is observable that he kept an account how often he endeavoured, and what pains he took with these Corinthians for their good: and we may be sure that an account is kept in heaven, and we must be reckoned with another day for the helps we have had for our souls, and how we have improved them.

John MacArthur says that it was an imperative for Paul to deal with ongoing sin in the church in Corinth. He had similar experiences elsewhere, too, Galatia being another example:

When it came to sin, for the sake of the sinning believer, Paul wanted to confront that sin … He sees the effect of what’s going on in the church crippling believers and cutting them off from God’s blessing. And he also sees its devastating impact in the community, because an unholy church has no power, no witness. You cannot convince a community of the transforming power of God if the church is characterized by sin and wickedness.

Paul was very confront[ational] with his churches. In Galatians chapter 1, you remember he writes the Galatians. In verse 6 he said, “I am amazed that you’re so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ for a different gospel.” He confronts the fact that they had wandered off after Judaizing false teachers who were teaching them legalism. “I can’t believe you’ve done it; it’s not really another gospel at all. People are coming, distorting the gospel. I’m telling you” – in verse 8 “though we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel contrary to that which we have preached to you, let him be accursed!”

The call for witnesses is in Deuteronomy as well as Numbers, and Christ spoke of it in Matthew 18. MacArthur expands on our Lord’s desire for a holy and pure Church:

You see, the hope of the Church and the impact of the Church is all connected to the purity of the Church. Holiness is the issue. When Jesus first addressed the Church in Matthew 18, the first time he ever said anything related to the Church, in that great sermon in Matthew 18:7, the first thing he said about it is this, If somebody’s in sin, go to him. If he doesn’t listen, take two or three witnesses. If he doesn’t listen, tell the church. And after the church has pursued him, if he still doesn’t repent, throw him out; treat him like an outcast.

The first instruction our Lord ever gave to the CHURCH had to do with sin. In that very first sermon, Jesus said, “If you ever lead another believer into sin, you’d be better off if a millstone were put around your neck and you were drowned in the depths of the sea.” The Lord of the Church is concerned about the purity of the Church. He’s concerned about the holiness of the Church. Sin is the issue to the Lord of the Church, and it should be the issue for us. But I daresay you can go from conference to conference to conference, and book to book to book, and this is not the concern today. You won’t hear talk about the holiness of the Church, the purity of the Church.

He warns again that when he returns he will be harsh with the unrepentant, sparing no one (verse 2).

Henry says that, after a long period of patience, stronger measures are sometimes necessary, as God is our judge. Better to repent now than to experience His wrath later:

Note, Though it is God’s gracious method to bear long with sinners, yet he will not bear always; at length he will come, and will not spare those who remain obstinate and impenitent, notwithstanding all his methods to reclaim and reform them.

MacArthur explains the verb ‘to spare’ in Greek:

The verb here is pheisomai. It’s a very strong word. It’s used to describe a battle situation, and it means to spare the life of a captured enemy. You have every right to take his life, because he’s the enemy. To spare means not to kill him when you have the opportunity to do so and the right to do so. The idea is to have mercy on an enemy who deserves death.

Well, Paul says, “When I get there, I’m not going to have any mercy. When I get there, I’m not going to spare anybody; you’re going to get exactly what your sin calls for.” This is no idle threat. Paul’s going to do this; he’s going to deal with sin. And he wants the Corinthians to know that this is his concern.

Paul returns to the troubling reality that the Corinthians need further proof that Christ speaks through him, saying that our Lord is not weak in dealing with them but is, in fact, powerful among them — via sanctification (verse 3).

MacArthur interprets this verse and notes the thematic transitions from the end of 2 Corinthians 12:21 through 2 Corinthians 13:4:

So, verse 3 says, “Since you are seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me” – that’s the issue. They were saying, “We want some proof that it’s really Christ speaking in you; how do we know it’s not just your opinion? You’re just telling us what you want to tell us. You’re just saying what is your own view, and your own idea. How do we know? Give us some proof of the Christ who speaks in you.” That was the issue here. Now, remember, Paul had already indicated that his concern for his people was repentance, chapter 12, verses 20 and 21.

That was our first point in this little outline. And secondly, he was concerned for the discipline of his people, verses 1 and 2. And now, in verses 3 and 4, he’s concerned for the authority of his people. Any faithful pastor is concerned with these issues. He’s concerned about sin and repentance. He’s concerned about discipline, which is the purging and purifying of the church. And he’s concerned about making sure the people come under the authority of the truth. Those are the faithful pastor’s concerns.

And we come to this third one, this matter of authority, and Paul wants to address it. So, he says in verse 3, “You’re seeking for proof of the Christ who speaks in me, huh? You haven’t had enough proof already?” Go back to verse 12, of chapter 12. “The signs of a true apostle were performed among you with all perseverance, by signs and wonders and miracles.” Well, they had a lot of proof; miracles that Paul had done there. That was proof enough. And there was even more proof. How about this?

“You’re saved. You’ve been justified. You’ve been regenerated. You’ve been converted. You’ve been transformed. You’ve been changed. You’ve been born again. You’ve been redeemed. Isn’t that indicative of the fact that the truth came through me, the saving truth? Not only that, you’re in the process of being sanctified, you’re in the process of growing, and maturing, and being nurtured, and becoming more like Christ. Isn’t that evidence?” They had evidence from signs. They had evidence from salvation. They had evidence from sanctification.

But they were so fickle they allowed themselves to get sucked into this false teacher’s effort, and to question things that they really had no reason to question. So, he says, “Okay, you want more proof of the Christ who speaks in me?” – go back to verse 2 – “If I come again I’ll not spare anyone.” That’s what he’s talking about. “I’ll not spare you, and that will give you more proof.” What does he mean? He means, “When I come, I’m going to take out the sword, if need be, of discipline, and I’m going to act in behalf of Christ in dealing with your sin.”

As for Paul’s statement that Christ is speaking in him, MacArthur says:

What a great statement: “The Christ who speaks in me.” And how does Christ speak in us? Not in an audible voice; He speaks in us when we proclaim His Word. Christ isn’t indicated to have given special words to Paul on every occasion. Once the Word of God was revealed, Paul preached it, and re-preached it, and re-preached it, and gave it to us. When you speak the Word of Christ, Christ speaks in you. So, you – that was the question. And that should be the question. That should always be the question

“And you’re going to see more when I come and don’t spare anybody, and apply Matthew 18 to all of you. And then you’ll see the Christ who speaks in me” – verse 3 – “and who is not weak toward you, but mighty in you.” And he’s saying, “You already have seen that. He – He is not weak toward you. You know that, because you’re saved, and you’re being sanctified. He is mighty in you, and you know that. You’re experiencing it. Your lives have been changed and transformed. You know that, and you’ve seen the signs and wonders.

“You want more proof of how mighty Christ is? You want more proof of how powerful He is? Then I’ll give it to you, when I come against that unrepentant person, with the very same authority of the Word of Christ.” Beloved, always, there is power, when believers act in line with the truth of God’s Word. Christ is the Lord of the church, and He expresses authority in His church through His Word, proclaimed by gifted, and called, and faithful preachers and teachers.

Paul concludes this section by saying that Christ appeared weak on the Cross but He lives forevermore because of the power of God; similarly, Paul was weak so as to allow the Lord to work through him, and this would also be true in his exercising of church discipline (verse 4).

Compared to the false teachers, Paul lacked their charm, persona and physical attributes. He was a humble man but he took care to preach and teach the truth.

He wanted to be humble and weak, an empty vessel, so that Christ could work through him in everything he did.

MacArthur explains the power of humility which Paul employed to great effect, making way for the power of God. The ‘we’ refers to Paul, who could not abide saying ‘I’:

Well, he gives a tremendous analogy, brilliant analogy. Listen to this – verse 4, middle of the verse, start with the word for – “For we also are weak in Him.” “We admit it. I admit it. I’m weak. I’m weak, and I’m in Christ. I’m in Him. That is, I’m in Christ; saved, redeemed, belong to Him, but I’m weak. I admit it.” “Yet we shall live with Him.” What does that mean? What does it mean, “we shall live with Him?” Well, what it means is that he’s found spiritual life, and it’s eternal. He has found spiritual life, and it’s eternal spiritual life.

And he found it because of the power of God. God, in power, came into his weakness, and made him alive with spiritual life forever. And then it says, in verse 4, “God directed that same power through him toward you.” Wow. What’s he saying? He’s saying, “Well, my weakness didn’t stop the power of God, it facilitated it. Because there’s no other explanation for my life than that it was the power of God, because there’s no human explanation. I’m too week, too frail, too inept, too unimpressive, to have pulled it off myself.

“Whatever has happened has been the power of God, surging through my weakness.” Back to verse 9, of chapter 12, God said, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” God says, “Power is perfected in weakness.” Wow. “Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me.” That’s – that’s the principle. God said, “I’ll perfect My power through your weakness.” Paul said, “I’m happy to be weak, because in my weakness, God’s power came.”

It was in Paul’s weakness and brokenness that he was redeemed. It was when he was going to Damascus, a proud, confident, arrogant Jew, persecuting Christians, and he was crushed in the dirt, and shattered, and broken, and dismantled, and made blind, and halting, and stumbling, he fell before God. And in the midst of that weakness he was crushed into nothing, and through that weakness God saved him, and began to sanctify him, and he became the great, great preacher; the greatest preacher ever, next to the Lord Jesus Himself.

Brokenness can serve a great purpose in that it gives way to God’s power working in us. Jesus set the example.

MacArthur notes, with regret, that this notion of humility is no longer a message that most churches convey. However, it is essential, because Christ was broken on the Cross, yet He lives through the power of God:

And again, I say, the church doesn’t need less of this; it needs so much more of it. So, he says, “We’re weak in Him.” It’s true. “Yet we have received spiritual life which is eternal, because of the power of God that has come to us, and through us, is directed toward you.” “You’ve experienced it. You saw the miracles. You were saved. You’re sanctified. And you’re about to see some of it, too, if I find some sin there; you’ll see more of the power of God coming through.”

And then he gives this really wonderful, wonderful analogy, in the beginning of verse 4: “For indeed He was crucified because of weakness, yet He lives because of the power of God.” Well, I mean, that is the end of the discussion, right there. Who’s He? Jesus. “You’re saying I’m too weak to be powerful? Let me give you an analogy. I am weak; that’s why I’m powerful, and so was Jesus.” This is great. “Indeed He was crucified because of weakness” – or literally, it could be in the Greek, “He was crucified in weakness.”

The bottom line is that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is an unmistakable evidence of His weakness. I mean, He came into the world in the form of a servant, Philippians 2 says; He humbled Himself, came in the fashion of a man, became a servant. He lived a very humble life. But when He got to the cross, you really began to see His weakness. Through His life, you could see human weakness. He was weary. He was sad. He sorrowed. He was disappointed. He wept. But then He was betrayed, and then He was taken before a court of Jews in a mock trial, and blasphemed.

And then He was blasphemed by the Idumeans, and then He was blasphemed by the Romans, in a mock of a trial before Pilate. And then He was treated with disdain and abuse, and spit on, and punched, and poked, and laughed at. And then He was crucified, and then He died. And that is weakness. The supreme evidence of His weakness is His death. And Paul says, “Indeed, that’s true” – indeed meaning truly, that’s true – “He was crucified because of weakness, yet He is alive because of the power of God.”

What’s that refer to? Resurrection, right? The resurrection. God raised Him from the dead. Romans 1:4 tells us God raised Him from the dead. The Lord Jesus was weak. He was so weak that His enemies defeated and executed Him in the most debasing, humiliating, and shameful manner possible. His human nature was so weak that it was fully susceptible to death. Yet He lives. Once weak in death, He was made alive in power, and He came out of that grave on the third day, His resurrection being the most monumental evidence and revelation of His power.

So, Jesus is the pattern. He was weak, weak all the way to death, and yet He is alive because of the power of God, which raised Him from the dead. So Paul. He’s weak. He’s in fear and trembling. He suffers a lot. He lives with sorrow, pain, and disappointment. He’s been beaten, and battered, and rejected. Humanly, he’s not welcome. He’s not ranked among the great preachers or speakers and orators of his day. He says, “We’re weak in Him, yet we shall live with Him because of the power of God directed toward you.”

Like Christ, it was Paul’s weakness that God used to make him strong. The power of God came into his life, transformed him, and surged through his life to transform the Corinthians.

Next week’s post concludes 2 Corinthians, part of which is in the Lectionary.

Next time — 2 Corinthians 13:5-10, 14

Stained glass shadows westernskycommunicationscomRedbird’s Roost has a good post on St Paul’s faith, contrasting it with that of many Christians today.

In ‘Pressing On’ Redbird examines Philippians 3:13-14 wherein the apostle tells his faithful that he has not yet attained perfect faith and sanctification, yet he was determined to

press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.

Redbird goes on to describe two different types of Christians. The first group are those who say that unless we believe everything they do and live exactly as they do, we are doomed. Redbird observes:

Sometimes our professed maturity and sureness may not be as mature as we would like it to appear. Psychologists tell us that the so-called true believer who appears to be rock hard in his or her faith may be in fact engaging in a cover-up of troubling inner questions and insecurities.

On the other hand, Redbird says, are those who expect Christianity to be an easy life where everything immediately becomes perfect, especially our sanctification and faith:

So we reduce Christianity to some simplistic package that you can accomplish quickly and without effort. We thus imply that the Christian life is something petty and inconsequential.

Once again, this proves the necessity of daily Bible reading so that we understand what Scripture says about leading the Christian life.

May we become more Pauline in our approach to faith and in our relationships.


John F MacArthurOne of the more popular maxims of today’s Church is ‘let go and let God’.

This is a relatively recent saying. Its origin is unclear; regardless, John MacArthur says this equivalent of ‘Don’t worry, be happy’ is unbiblical.

In ‘The Person and Power of God in Your Spiritual Growth’ he explains why. A few excerpts follow, emphases mine below:

The first key to God’s work in our sanctification is His personhood

Most pagan deities are described as impersonal, remote, and indifferent. That is not surprising, because false gods are fabricated by men out of fear and superstition. Even those that have personal characteristics are not portrayed as desiring fellowship with their worshipers. And understandably, their worshipers have no desire to fellowship with them.

The God of Scripture has unimaginable love for fallen, sinful mankind, which has rebelled against Him, blasphemed Him, and vilified Him. He has such great love for them “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17). It is not the Lord’s will “for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

For those who belong to Him, the God of Scripture has even greater love and the closest of personal relationships. Throughout Scripture, God is referred to as His people’s Father—on a national level in the Old Testament (cf. Isaiah 63:16, 64:8), and individually in the New (cf. Matthew 5:16, 45, 48; 6:1, 9; 23:9). Adam and Eve, Moses, and many other Old Testament saints spoke with God directly. “The Lord used to speak to Moses face to face, just as a man speaks to his friend” (Exodus 33:11).

The second essential truth emphasized in Philippians 2:13 concerning God’s part in believers’ sanctification is His divine power. Above all else, it is God “who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in the lives of His children. He calls them to obey, and then, through His sovereign power, energizes their obedience. He calls them to His service, and then empowers their service. He calls them to holiness, and then empowers them to pursue holiness.

God Himself is the believer’s supreme and indispensable resource and power. The wonder of all wonders is thatit is God who is at work” (Philippians 2:13) in them. Paul summed it up in Colossians 1:29 when he said, “I labor, striving according to His power, which mightily works within me.”

Note that our relationship with God is intensely personal. No other world faith can offer this one-on-one rapport.

Furthermore, the idea that God expects us to be passive or inactive individuals — the way ‘Let go and let God’ is often interpreted — has no foundation in Scripture.

John F MacArthurJohn MacArthur’s most recent post on the Grace To You blog is called ‘Who Is Responsible For Your Spiritual Growth?’

Many readers will find it useful, especially as he cites a number of passages from Paul’s epistles.

This paragraph, in particular, stood out:

God is responsible for supplying everything you need for life and godliness, and you are responsible for actively using that power to grow in sanctification for His glory. The paradox is found in the believer being both fully responsible, and yet fully dependent on God’s supply. We may not fully comprehend the paradox, but we can exercise faith that it is resolved in the infinite wisdom of God and respond in obedience to His commands.

Please take a few minutes to read his article in full.

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