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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 9:1-7

Paul Surrenders His Rights

9 Am I not free? Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are not you my workmanship in the Lord? If to others I am not an apostle, at least I am to you, for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

This is my defense to those who would examine me. 4 Do we not have the right to eat and drink? 5 Do we not have the right to take along a believing wife,[a] as do the other apostles and the brothers of the Lord and Cephas? Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? 7 Who serves as a soldier at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard without eating any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock without getting some of the milk?

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Last week’s post concluded Paul’s answers to the Corinthians on the subject of marriage.

In 1 Corinthians 8, he answered their questions about food. Stronger Christians should not trouble weaker Christians about the food they eat. Instead, stronger Christians should accede to weaker Christians in their preferences, lest the weaker ones suffer a pang of conscience and leave the Church.

In this chapter, he defends himself against charges from some of the false teachers in the Corinthian church about his eligibility to be an apostle. He also explains why those ministering to a church should receive a salary or a stipend.

John MacArthur gives Paul’s discourse a title (emphases in bold mine):

… we could kind of title this thing, “Six Reasons to Pay the Preacher,” “Six Reasons to Support a Missionary,” “Six Reasons to Take Care of the Ministers.” That’s just what he’s talking about: why is it that a minister of God, a servant of God, in whatever ministry he has is worthy of the support of the people?

Matthew Henry explains the background to this chapter:

Blessed Paul, in the work of his ministry, not only met with opposition from those without, but discouragement from those within. He was under reproach; false brethren questioned his apostleship, and were very industrious to lessen his character and sink his reputation; particularly here at Corinth, a place to which he had been instrumental in doing much good, and from which he had deserved well; and yet there were those among them who upon these heads created him great uneasiness. Note, It is no strange nor new thing for a minister to meet with very unkind returns for great good-will to a people, and diligent and successful services among them. Some among the Corinthians questioned, if they did not disown, his apostolical character. To their cavils he here answers, and in such a manner as to set forth himself as a remarkable example of that self-denial, for the good of others, which he had been recommending in the former chapter.

In verse 1, he poses the questions asked about him. Was he not free in Christ Jesus? Was he not an apostle? Did he not see the resurrected Christ? Were the Corinthian converts not among his work for the greater Church?

MacArthur examines these one by one.

First, Paul avers his liberty as a Christian.

Paul says, “All right, I’m in your boat, too. Am I not free? Could I not do whatever I want? I’m not just a Christian like the rest of you. Am I not an” – what? – “an apostle? As especially appointed apostle by Christ, do I not at least have the liberty that you do, and maybe just more? Am I certainly any less than you in my liberty? Don’t I have the same freedom you do?” …

Secondly, he reminds them that he had indeed seen the risen Christ, therefore making him an apostle:

Now, some of them may have said, “Well, I’m not sure you’re an apostle, fella.”

So, he says in verse 1, “Am I not free? Am I not an apostle?” And then he gives two reasons, or two verifications of his apostleship. “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” Now, the qualification for an apostle was that he be appointed by the resurrected Christ. An apostle had to be appointed by Jesus Christ personally, which means he would have had to have seen the resurrected Christ. Paul would have. Had Paul ever seen the resurrected Christ? He says, “I have seen the Lord.”

In Acts 1:22, it says that whoever was to be appointed as an apostle, to take up the place of Judas, had to be a witness of the resurrected Christ. To be an apostle, you had to see Jesus Christ. Paul had that experience.

In Acts chapter 22, in verse 17, he says this, “It came to pass, when I was come again to Jerusalem, and while I prayed in a temple, I was in a trance; and I saw Him saying unto me, ‘Make haste, and get quickly out of Jerusalem. They will not receive your testimony,’” and so forth.

“And I said, ‘Lord,” – so, it was in Jerusalem in Acts 22 that Paul was having a little conversation with the Lord. The Lord appeared to him.

In Acts chapter 9, earlier in the book of Acts, Paul was walking along on the Damascus Road, just on his way to persecute a few Christians. The Lord stopped him in his tracks. He feel down; he saw the blazing glory of the Lord and was blinded and he said, “Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?” He saw the Lord on the Damascus Road. He saw the Lord later in Jerusalem. There was a third place that he saw the Lord, and interestingly enough, it was in the city of Corinth.

In the eighteenth chapter of Acts, and the 9 verse, when Paul was in Corinth, it says, “Then spoke the Lord to Paul in the night by a vision, ‘Be not afraid, but speak, and hold not thy peace, for I am with thee.’” There a third time he saw the Lord. He had a vision of the Lord.

So, he had seen the resurrected Lord three times at least. And he says, “This is proof that He called me into the apostleship. I have seen Him. I am a witness of the living Christ. I am a witness that He is arisen from the dead.”

Finally, he reminds them that he planted the church in Corinth:

Not only was the seeing of Christ a verification of his apostleship, but so was the Corinthian church. “If you have any doubts about my apostleship” – he says – “look at yourselves. Where do you think you came from? Aren’t you the fruit of my labor? Aren’t you the verification of my ministry?

He affirms that by saying their congregation is proof of his apostleship (verse 2). Paul is upbraiding them for their disrespect.

Henry explains:

This church at Corinth had as much reason to believe, and as little reason to question, his apostolical mission, as any; they had as much reason, perhaps more than any church, to pay him respect. He had been instrumental in bringing them to the knowledge and faith of Christ; he laboured long among them, nearly two years, and he laboured to good purpose, God having much people among them. See Acts 18:10, Acts 18:11. It was aggravated ingratitude for this people to call in question his authority.

He defends his position (verse 3). This involves not only a mention of the lives of other ministers of Christ in Corinth but also a soldier and a farmer.

He begins by asking if the ministers of the church have no right to food and drink (verse 4). By this he means a stipend or a salary to provide daily sustenance.

He then asks why the Corinthians would object to some ministers having wives with them and others not (verse 5).

He asks why the Corinthians would deprive Paul and Barnabas, his companion in ministry, of a salary from the church and make them work for a living in addition to their church duties (verse 6).

MacArthur rewords this for us:

what he’s saying is, “I have a right to support from you. And if I wanted to” – he wasn’t married at this time … – “if I wanted to, I could take a Christian sister as a wife and expect that you would support her as well. That’s my liberty. That’s my right to ask of you.”

Now, this is interesting. He is saying that the church has the responsibility to support its leaders, its pastors, its evangelists, its missionaries.

he says, “If I wanted to take a Christian sister along with me, you should be able to support that sister as well.” And I think what you have there is a verse that affirms the right of a minister to have an unemployed wife.

MacArthur says that he personally finds his wife’s presence a comfort:

You know, I feel like so many times someone will ask me to speak someplace, and they’ll say, “You know, we want you to fly,” for example, “to Cleveland, Ohio. And there’s a tremendous opportunity for a Bible conference here, and would like you to come, and we’d like to bring your wife as our guest as well.” You know, I really appreciate that, because me and my wife are one flesh. You know? And when she’s with me, I’m a lot better off. I really am. I’m happier, easier to get along with. I can concentrate better on what I’m doing in ministry, and she can be supportive of me, and we share our life together. And that’s an important thing.

And I feel, as a church, when we ask someone to come and speak here, it would be the thing to do to say, “Would you like to bring your wife? We’d be more than happy to support the coming of your wife so she can share these days with you.” It’s a question of generosity. It’s a question of having the right attitude. And when somebody has asked us for support for some ministry or some mission or something, it ought to be with that kind of generosity and concern that not only his needs are met, but those of his wife so that they may minister together. I think a reason that you have divorces among people, even in the ministry so many times, is because you’ve got one of them running around all over the place and never paying any attention to the other one. And I don’t think it’s a question always of counseling; it may be a question of dollars so that the wife could go along. This is really important.

To drive his point home, Paul cites examples: a soldier and farmers (verse 7).

Are soldiers not paid to fight? Of course they are.

MacArthur says:

If a guy’s in the Army, they’re going to pay him. Not a lot, but they’re going to pay him enough. They’re going to sustain him. They’ll give him food, lodging, and whatever clothing he needs, and they’re going to give them a little bit of money. Nobody goes to war and pays himself. In other words, it is human custom that a man earns his living by his work. That’s all he’s saying.

Furthermore, what farmer does not avail himself of the fruits of his labour: either produce or milk?

Paul writes this to get the Corinthians thinking about their criticisms of him:

his conclusion is, “So, why not the servant of God? Why shouldn’t the servant of God be equally cared for out of his occupation? It’s just human custom, as well as apostolic right.”

Those well versed in Paul’s letters know that he made his living by making tents. He never took a salary through his ministry and he states that later in 1 Corinthians 9. This is why this chapter is titled ‘Paul Surrenders His Rights’.

However, he wants to establish the principle that those ministering to a church have the right to a reasonable salary provided by the congregation. He has more to say on the subject, which I will cover in my next post.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:8-15

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:36-40

36 If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed,[a] if his[b] passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. 37 But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. 38 So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.

39 A wife is bound to her husband as long as he lives. But if her husband dies, she is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord. 40 Yet in my judgment she is happier if she remains as she is. And I think that I too have the Spirit of God.

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Last week’s entry discussed Paul’s advice on marriage and celibacy.

He had been answering questions from the Christians of Corinth on which state was better. Paul replied that both were good, although celibacy afforded the ability to devote oneself entirely to God. Marriage, on the other hand, detracts from that as one is always concerned about pleasing one’s spouse, never mind raising one’s children.

The English Standard Version of today’s verses are a bit vague and read better in the King James Version (emphases mine below):

36 But if any man think that he behaveth himself uncomely toward his virgin, if she pass the flower of her age, and need so require, let him do what he will, he sinneth not: let them marry.

37 Nevertheless he that standeth stedfast in his heart, having no necessity, but hath power over his own will, and hath so decreed in his heart that he will keep his virgin, doeth well.

38 So then he that giveth her in marriage doeth well; but he that giveth her not in marriage doeth better.

39 The wife is bound by the law as long as her husband liveth; but if her husband be dead, she is at liberty to be married to whom she will; only in the Lord.

40 But she is happier if she so abide, after my judgment: and I think also that I have the Spirit of God.

The social convention at the time was for young men and women to marry. Both Jewish and Gentile parents arranged marriages for their children.

Then, as now, to a certain extent, there was always a question mark over the person who chose to remain single.

Matthew Henry says:

It was in that age, and those parts of the world, and especially among the Jews, reckoned a disgrace for a woman to remain unmarried past a certain number of years: it gave a suspicion of somewhat that was not for her reputation.

John MacArthur thinks that verse 36 is addressed to fathers with virgin daughters: try to keep them single, but, if you find they must get married, then allow a wedding.

Henry also reads it that way but allows for another interpretation, one which ties in with last week’s verses. His commentary says that Paul could equally be speaking to young adults themselves. ‘His virgin’ could refer to a celibate man’s own virginity:

But I think the apostle is here continuing his former discourse, and advising unmarried persons, who are at their own disposal, what to do, the man’s virgin being meant of his virginity.

Henry points out that confirmed bachelors were not looked upon all that kindly:

… it was a common matter of reproach among Jews and civilized heathens, for a man to continue single beyond such a term of years …

Verse 37 appears to lend itself more to fathers with regard to their daughters. If a father finds that his daughter has no desire for marriage, then he does well to keep her celibate.

Ultimately, the father who marries off a daughter who desires a husband and a family does well, but the man who has a daughter wishing to maintain her virginity does better because she can devote her life to the Lord (verse 38).

As MacArthur has pointed out before, celibacy is a gift. Most people have the desire for a sexual relationship with someone else. If a parent does not allow that young person to marry, sexual desire will out in one way or another:

The Spirit of God didn’t give her that gift, and that’s a gift the Spirit of God gives. If she doesn’t have the gift, the father’s saying, “Man, it’s obvious she doesn’t have the gift, all she talks about is this guy. And apparently there’s a guy there, or it wouldn’t say, “Let them marry.” There’s a them. Somebody’s hanging around. And, you see, he is behaving unfairly toward his daughter, because if he doesn’t let her get married, he’s going to tempt her to immorality – physically to immorality in her mind and to seduction.

And so, he realizes, “I can’t do this to my lovely little daughter. As much as I’d want to devote her to the Lord, there’s a guy here, and she’s saying, ‘Yes, yes, yes,’ and I’m saying, ‘No, no, no,’ and it’s not right.

So, dads, hey, it’s a super idea if you want to devote your daughter to being single, or your son, but if they get to the age of sexual consciousness, and they require marriage, let them marry. It’s no sin. You don’t have to keep some vow. We’re not in the vow age anymore.

In the concluding verses, Paul turns his thoughts towards widowhood.

Unfortunately, MacArthur skips these verses entirely.

Paul says that it is entirely appropriate for a widow to remarry, provided she has given careful reflection and prayer to that decision (verse 39).

Henry says:

In our choice of relations, and change of conditions, we should always have an eye to God. Note, Marriages are likely to have God’s blessing only when they are made in the Lord, when persons are guided by the fear of God, and the laws of God, and act in dependence on the providence of God, in the change and choice of a mate – when they can look up to God, and sincerely seek his direction, and humbly hope for his blessing upon their conduct.

Paul concludes that a widow is better off not remarrying (verse 40). As with the celibates, she can better serve the Lord with no husband, who would divide her interests.

Paul ends by saying that he, too, has the Spirit of God (verse 40). That remark is addressed towards his detractors. Recall the the Corinthians had allied themselves with different pastoral leaders, some of whom were false teachers.

Henry offers this interpretation:

Whatever your false apostles may think of me, I think, and have reason to know, that I have the Spirit of God.

Ultimately:

Note, Change of condition in marriage is so important a matter that it ought not to be made but upon due deliberation, after careful consideration of circumstances, and upon very probable grounds, at least, that it will be a change to advantage in our spiritual concerns.

Agreed.

We should take our time in evaluating a prospective spouse. There is no rush. As the nuns used to say, ‘Act in haste. Repent at leisure’.

1 Corinthians 8, which concerns food offered to idols, was read in 2021 as the Epistle on the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany (Year B).

1 Corinthians 9 is about personal freedom in daily activities.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 9:1-7

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:32-35

32 I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. 33 But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, 34 and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. 35 I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.

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Last week’s verses introduced Paul’s dissertation on one’s marital state, in which he said there was no need to be either single or married in order to serve the Lord.

He continues in that vein here, responding to questions on the subject from the Christians in Corinth.

Those who had been Jewish believed that marriage and family fulfilled God’s plan for mankind. On the other hand, the Gentiles, influenced by Greek philosophy, thought that remaining single would allow one to devote one’s life entirely to the Lord.

Above all, Paul does not want there to be anxiety about the world’s cares conflicting with serving the Lord (verse 32). To that end, he says that an unmarried man has fewer external cares and more ability to please the Lord.

Matthew Henry’s commentary says (emphases mine):

Note, It is the wisdom of a Christian so to order his outward affairs, and choose such a condition in life, as to be without distracting cares, that he may attend upon the Lord with a mind at leisure and disengaged. This is the general maxim by which the apostle would have Christians govern themselves. In the application of it Christian prudence must direct. That condition of life is best for every man which is best for his soul, and keeps him most clear of the cares and snares of the world. By this maxim the apostle solves the case put to him by the Corinthians, whether it were advisable to marry? To this he says, That, by reason of the present distress, and it may be in general, at that time, when Christians were married to infidels, and perhaps under a necessity of being so, if married at all: I say, in these circumstances, to continue unmarried would be the way to free themselves from any cares and incumbrances, and allow them more vacation for the service of God. Ordinarily, the less care we have about the world the more freedom we have for the service of God.

Paul goes on to say that a husband is concerned about pleasing his wife and, therefore, has divided interests (verses 33, 34).

John MacArthur cites an example, Luke 14:20:

I think about Luke 14, verse 20, where Jesus was calling people to follow him. And he says to this one guy, “Come and follow Me.”

And the guy says, “I have married a wife, and therefore, I cannot come.”

I wonder how many times that has happened around the world in the history of the Church, that there have been ministries and opportunities open, but somebody married a wife and couldn’t go?

You say, “Well, was it wrong for them to marry?”

No, it wasn’t wrong, but maybe it would have been better, if they had the gift of singleness, to have stayed single. And then they wouldn’t have had that problem.

Similarly, with women, a single woman thinks more about serving the Lord than a wife, who is equally concerned about pleasing her husband (verse 34). Therefore, the wife, like the husband, has conflicting interests.

MacArthur explains:

what he’s saying is that the one who is not married can be separated unto God physically and spiritually. And there are no physical attachments, humanly speaking. There is no need to satisfy the physical. There are no spiritual encumbrances. There is a certain liberty and consecration, and that’s what he’s talking about.

However, celibacy is a gift. Some people are perfectly happy being single and celibate. Others hope to marry and, in most cases, have children.

Paul had always been single. He had that gift. It allowed him to go wherever and whenever the Holy Spirit directed. Paul planted churches. He travelled throughout Asia Minor and Greece, returning now and then to Jerusalem, from whence he sailed (Caesarea) to preach in Rome, eventually was imprisoned there and died a martyr.

Peter, on the other hand, was married. He and his wife eventually ended up in Rome. They were both imprisoned and, according to early Christian history, died as martyrs.

Peter and Paul met in Rome.

From their life choices, it is apparent that one can serve the Lord whether one is celibate or married.

Paul ends by saying that very thing, not in order to promote one choice over the other but to leave it up to the individual in ordering his life and his ability to serve God.

MacArthur interprets Paul’s words as follows:

It isn’t that you have to stay single. Even if you have the gift for it, it is not a command, it is not that you must do this or else, it is that you have the option; you have the liberty; you have the freedom. And I’m only telling you for your own good, if you have the gift, you’d be better off to use it.

Also:

And he’s saying simply this: if you have the gift of singleness, think about it, because if you ever choose to marry, that’s a final choice. And you can’t go back unless there is a death.

Henry offers this conclusion:

That condition of life should be chosen by the Christian in which it is most likely he will have the best helps, and the fewest hindrances, in the service of God and the affairs of his own salvation.

Paul has more to say about marriage, to be continued next week.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:36-40

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.

1 Corinthians 7:25-28

The Unmarried and the Widowed

25 Now concerning[a] the betrothed,[b] I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. 26 I think that in view of the present[c] distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. 27 Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. 28 But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman[d] marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that.

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Last week’s post discussed Paul’s instruction not to worry about one’s social status with regard to Christianity. The verses before that said that Christian men should not worry about whether they are circumcised.

In today’s verses, Paul says that we should not worry whether we are married.

In other words, the Lord knows our status in life and loves us just the way we are.

The word ‘betrothed’ in verses 25 and 28 does not mean ‘engaged to be married’. It means ‘virgin women’, as illustrated by the same verses from the King James Version:

25 Now concerning virgins I have no commandment of the Lord: yet I give my judgment, as one that hath obtained mercy of the Lord to be faithful.

26 I suppose therefore that this is good for the present distress, I say, that it is good for a man so to be.

27 Art thou bound unto a wife? seek not to be loosed. Art thou loosed from a wife? seek not a wife.

28 But and if thou marry, thou hast not sinned; and if a virgin marry, she hath not sinned. Nevertheless such shall have trouble in the flesh: but I spare you.

In 1 Corinthians 7, Paul is responding to questions that people from that congregation asked him. Marriage was one of them.

John MacArthur explains why (emphases mine):

The Corinthians were asking questions, according to verse 1 of chapter 7, “Concerning the things about which you wrote,” Paul is replying to direct questions they were asking. And the question he’s answering here is should they get married; is it better to be single, to serve God with a devoted heart and a single mind, or is it necessary to get married like the Jewish traditionalists were saying, in order to fulfill the will of God?

The Jews said you had to be married or you would violate God’s command to replenish the earth. And the Gentiles, coming out of a philosophical asceticism would say it’s better to be single, and you can devote yourself totally to God. Paul is saying both are good. Some have the gift of singleness, and if they do, that’s good. Some do not have the gift of singleness, and it’s better for them to marry, and that’s good, too.

In verse 25, Paul says that Jesus said nothing about virgins. Paul goes on to say that, in his considered judgement — one that ‘by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy’ — it is better to remain in the state in which one is (verse 26).

Paul mentions ‘distress’ (verse 26), which Matthew Henry says means persecution:

Christians, at the first planting of their religion, were grievously persecuted. Their enemies were very bitter against them, and treated them very cruelly. They were continually liable to be tossed and hurried by persecution. This being the then state of things, he did not think it so advisable for Christians that were single to change conditions. The married state would bring more care and cumber along with it (1 Corinthians 15:33, 1 Corinthians 15:34), and would therefore make persecution more terrible, and render them less able to bear it. Note, Christians, in regulating their conduct, should not barely consider what is lawful in itself, but what may be expedient for them.

Similarly, Paul said that the Corinthians who were married should not seek to separate from their spouses nor should those without spouses feel an obligation to get married (verse 27).

Paul went on to say that getting married is not sinful, although being married brings problems of its own (verse 28).

Personally, I do not find being married troublesome, but some married people do have problems and wish they were single again.

However, looking at this with regard to the Corinthians, the dangers of persecution would be magnified in a family situation.

MacArthur explains, looking at Paul’s own experiences preaching the Good News:

Now, Paul is speaking of the violence and the distress and the pain and the suffering that can come to anyone who confesses Christ. “It is difficult to be a Christian,” Paul is saying, “and it is especially difficult to be a married Christian because of the distress and the violence of the system.”

Now, Paul had had many experiences that would help us to understand this. Paul would go into a town, and they would beat him. He would go into another town, and they would stone him. He would go into another town, and they would give him stripes with a whip. He would go into another town, and they would put him in jail. On and on and on through the man’s life, there was pain and suffering, pain and suffering.

Now, can you imagine the intensity with which that problem would be magnified if the apostle Paul had had a dear wife at home and a group of little apostles running around the house? Well, that would have been much more complicated, and everything that Paul endured, he would have had in the back of his mind, “But if it happens to me, then who takes care of my wife? And who takes care of my children? And how can I keep doing this while my wife sits home in fear and the constant edge of heartbreak, and my children in fear that their father will never return? I must be home, taking care of them, and nurturing them, and raising them; that’s my primary obligation.”

Do you see, in the violence of the world in which Paul lived, marriage was a terrible encumbrance to somebody who was a Christian, at least in the sense of the ministry that he had. The Corinthian Christians could well remember what the Corinthian Jews had tried to do to Paul the very time he came to their city.

Now, Paul is saying because of the – notice this – the present or the immediate violence, Paul is anticipating something here. There is a violence that is going to come when the wholesale pagan persecution breaks out, and Paul could see it coming. He knew that a girl married, a guy married and raising children, might suffer the heartbreaking losses that can only come to those who have a family when the persecution broke out. He knew from his own life, as I said, that it was good that no wife and no children needed to weep and live with broken, fearful hearts every time he went somewhere. Hard times were coming to the Church, and Paul was aware of it. Change in the pagan attitude toward Christians was in the wind.

The Roman emperors were not entirely well disposed towards either Judaism or Christianity. Jews had to leave Rome for a time and go into exile. Under Nero, life for Christians was brutal and horrifying:

Nero refined cruelty upon cruelty and continued all manner and style of persecution. He had some Christians sown up in the skins of wild beasts, and then turned over to dogs to be torn into pieces. Others he dressed in garments that were made stiff with wax. He fixed those people to trees and then lit them like candles to light his garden. This occurred throughout the early centuries of the Roman Empire. Erastus, according to Fox’s Book of Martyrs, was one of those martyred in the first persecution, and Erastus was the chamberlain or the treasurer of the city of Corinth. What that tells us is that the persecution of Nero extended to Corinth and took the life of one of the men named in the Bible, one of the Christians of Corinth.

Now, Paul knew that this was coming to Corinthians. He could see it on the horizon. And in view of this, he says, “My advice is if you have the gift, stay single.” And, people, keep in mind that all of this advice is only to those who have the gift. Because to force somebody to be single who doesn’t have the gift is to force them to burn with desire all this life, and that isn’t accomplishing anything. But if you have the gift, he is saying, that’s the basic supposition of all of this. Don’t get married because of the pressure that is coming, the pressure of the system against the believer.

On a related note, MacArthur gave this sermon in 1976, the year of America’s Bicentennial. Given that we are now in 2021, he summarised a book about the year 2000:

There is an interesting book entitled The Year 2000, written by Herman Kahn and Anthony Wiener. And in it, this is what they predict for the year 2000. It sounds like they’ve been reading Matthew 24, except they’re not Christians. This is what they predict: invasion and war, civil strife and revolution, famine, disease, persecution by despotism – that is by dictatorship – national disasters, and a depression or economic stagnation, etcetera.

Plus ça change … The more things change, the more they stay the same. I remember all those things happening around the world in 1976, too. Every year, a lay person sounds the death knell online: ‘This is it, folks. The Lord is coming. This is what Revelation talked about. We’re in those final days’. Clearly, we’re progressing towards the end of the world, but it seems as if we still have a long way to go. There are days when I hope I am wrong.

Anyway, MacArthur mentioned the book because:

Those are the predictions of those people who look at the world analytically. And that’s precisely what Matthew 24 says. It’s a rough world. And being married only complicates it greatly because of the problem of caring for your wife and husband and caring for your children.

Paul has much more to say on marriage. For now, the next few verses that follow were read this year — 2021 — on the Third Sunday after Epiphany (Year B):

29 This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, 30 and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, 31 and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.

What Paul means is that we should not get too attached to our spouses, material things or the world in general. At some point, we may lose some or all of them. Therefore, throughout our lives, we should have Christ as our primary focus, because this world is but transitory for us. Our eternity is with Him, forever and ever. Amen.

That said, in closing, I hope that all who celebrated had a very happy St Valentine’s Day. Love is a beautiful thing, one of life’s great pleasures — and a gift from God.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:32-35

Below are the readings for Transfiguration Sunday, February 14, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This is also Quinquagesima Sunday, 50 days before Easter, and the final Sunday before Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent.

Emphases below are mine.

First reading

This is the dramatic account of Elijah being whisked into Heaven by a chariot and horses, leaving Elisha to succeed him. Matthew Henry’s commentary explains the background to Elijah’s influence as a prophet and what happened at his death. There were several schools of prophecy among God’s chosen at the time, and Elijah was the spiritual leader for all of them. Before he died, he bade farewell to those in the schools of prophecy. When he was about to die, he did not want Elisha there, but then he relented (verses 2, 4). Elisha asked his spiritual leader for ‘a double share of his spirit’ — meaning ability to properly interpret Scripture and thereby prophesy (verse 9). After Elijah was ‘translated’ (theological term) into Heaven, Elisha rent his own clothes, the traditional manner of mourning in Judaism. Scholars believe that the horse and chariot that whisked Elijah into Heaven were actually angels: cherubim and seraphim. Zechariah 1:8 and Zechariah 6:1 have similar imagery. Elijah appears in the account of the Transfiguration in the Gospel stories (see Mark’s below).

2 Kings 2:1-12

2:1 Now when the LORD was about to take Elijah up to heaven by a whirlwind, Elijah and Elisha were on their way from Gilgal.

2:2 Elijah said to Elisha, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me as far as Bethel.” But Elisha said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they went down to Bethel.

2:3 The company of prophets who were in Bethel came out to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he said, “Yes, I know; keep silent.”

2:4 Elijah said to him, “Elisha, stay here; for the LORD has sent me to Jericho.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So they came to Jericho.

2:5 The company of prophets who were at Jericho drew near to Elisha, and said to him, “Do you know that today the LORD will take your master away from you?” And he answered, “Yes, I know; be silent.”

2:6 Then Elijah said to him, “Stay here; for the LORD has sent me to the Jordan.” But he said, “As the LORD lives, and as you yourself live, I will not leave you.” So the two of them went on.

2:7 Fifty men of the company of prophets also went, and stood at some distance from them, as they both were standing by the Jordan.

2:8 Then Elijah took his mantle and rolled it up, and struck the water; the water was parted to the one side and to the other, until the two of them crossed on dry ground.

2:9 When they had crossed, Elijah said to Elisha, “Tell me what I may do for you, before I am taken from you.” Elisha said, “Please let me inherit a double share of your spirit.”

2:10 He responded, “You have asked a hard thing; yet, if you see me as I am being taken from you, it will be granted you; if not, it will not.”

2:11 As they continued walking and talking, a chariot of fire and horses of fire separated the two of them, and Elijah ascended in a whirlwind into heaven.

2:12 Elisha kept watching and crying out, “Father, father! The chariots of Israel and its horsemen!” But when he could no longer see him, he grasped his own clothes and tore them in two pieces.

Psalm

The Psalm tells us to live a life worthy of God and avoid judgement in the afterlife.

Psalm 50:1-6

50:1 The mighty one, God the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to its setting.

50:2 Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty, God shines forth.

50:3 Our God comes and does not keep silence, before him is a devouring fire, and a mighty tempest all around him.

50:4 He calls to the heavens above and to the earth, that he may judge his people:

50:5 “Gather to me my faithful ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”

50:6 The heavens declare his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah

Epistle

Paul tells the Christians of Corinth that those who are perishing in sin are incapable of understanding the Gospel. On the other hand, Christians proclaim the Light, which is Christ Jesus.

2 Corinthians 4:3-6

4:3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.

4:4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

4:5 For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake.

4:6 For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. Jesus took Peter, James and John — His most trusted Apostles — to give them a glimpse of Himself as He lives and reigns forevermore. Note that Elijah (see the first reading above) was there with Moses. God the Father spoke, telling the three men to listen to Him. Compare Mark’s version with Matthew’s (read in Year A).

Mark 9:2-9

9:2 Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them,

9:3 and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them.

9:4 And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus.

9:5 Then Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.”

9:6 He did not know what to say, for they were terrified.

9:7 Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, “This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!”

9:8 Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus.

9:9 As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead.

These readings give show us the incomprehensible heavenly glory of the life to come.

May I also take this opportunity to wish those celebrating it a very happy St Valentine’s Day!

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:20-24

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

——————————————————————————————————————–

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

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

John MacArthur explains (emphases mine):

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s a bad state of affairs.

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

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

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

MacArthur continues:

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

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

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

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

MacArthur says:

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Well, who’s your master?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I digress.

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

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

Matthew Henry sums up these verses as follows:

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

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

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:25-28

Below are the readings for the Fifth Sunday after Epiphany, February 7, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

As I explained last week, we are now in Shrovetide. Last Sunday was Septuagesima Sunday. February 7 is Sexagesima Sunday, signifying 60 days before Easter.

My posts below discuss these Sundays and Shrovetide in more detail:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Isaiah prophesies deliverance, not only for the chosen held captive in Babylon but also salvation for mankind in general through Jesus Christ. Verse 31 contains the imagery of eagles’ wings, also found in Exodus 19, Psalm 91 and Matthew 13.

Isaiah 40:21-31

40:21 Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?

40:22 It is he who sits above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in;

40:23 who brings princes to naught, and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing.

40:24 Scarcely are they planted, scarcely sown, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them off like stubble.

40:25 To whom then will you compare me, or who is my equal? says the Holy One.

40:26 Lift up your eyes on high and see: Who created these? He who brings out their host and numbers them, calling them all by name; because he is great in strength, mighty in power, not one is missing.

40:27 Why do you say, O Jacob, and speak, O Israel, “My way is hidden from the LORD, and my right is disregarded by my God”?

40:28 Have you not known? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable.

40:29 He gives power to the faint, and strengthens the powerless.

40:30 Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted;

40:31 but those who wait for the LORD shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint.

Psalm

This is one of the Praise Psalms (145-150). Matthew Henry’s commentary says that many Bible scholars believe this was written after the Jews were released from captivity, but Henry says that a case could also be made for David’s authorship, during the building up of Jerusalem and the return of the outcasts from Saul’s time.

Psalm 147:1-11, 20c

147:1 Praise the LORD! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for he is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting.

147:2 The LORD builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel.

147:3 He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.

147:4 He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names.

147:5 Great is our Lord, and abundant in power; his understanding is beyond measure.

147:6 The LORD lifts up the downtrodden; he casts the wicked to the ground.

147:7 Sing to the LORD with thanksgiving; make melody to our God on the lyre.

147:8 He covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth, makes grass grow on the hills.

147:9 He gives to the animals their food, and to the young ravens when they cry.

147:10 His delight is not in the strength of the horse, nor his pleasure in the speed of a runner;

147:11 but the LORD takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love.

147:20c Praise the LORD!

Epistle

The Corinthians were a troublesome congregation, paying too much attention to the world and developing factions among themselves with false teachers. As such, Paul felt the need to justify his commission to preach the Gospel. He explains his strategy for evangelising in order to reach both Jew and Gentile.

1 Corinthians 9:16-23

9:16 If I proclaim the gospel, this gives me no ground for boasting, for an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!

9:17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward; but if not of my own will, I am entrusted with a commission.

9:18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in my proclamation I may make the gospel free of charge, so as not to make full use of my rights in the gospel.

9:19 For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them.

9:20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law.

9:21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law.

9:22 To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.

9:23 I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. His account of Jesus’s early ministry continues, relating what happened after he drove the demon out of the man with the unclean spirit. This is his account of His healing Simon Peter’s mother-in-law, who had a debilitating fever. Afterwards, Jesus healed many more people through His power, mercy and compassion.

Mark 1:29-39

1:29 As soon as they left the synagogue, they entered the house of Simon and Andrew, with James and John.

1:30 Now Simon’s mother-in-law was in bed with a fever, and they told him about her at once.

1:31 He came and took her by the hand and lifted her up. Then the fever left her, and she began to serve them.

1:32 That evening, at sundown, they brought to him all who were sick or possessed with demons.

1:33 And the whole city was gathered around the door.

1:34 And he cured many who were sick with various diseases, and cast out many demons; and he would not permit the demons to speak, because they knew him.

1:35 In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed.

1:36 And Simon and his companions hunted for him.

1:37 When they found him, they said to him, “Everyone is searching for you.”

1:38 He answered, “Let us go on to the neighboring towns, so that I may proclaim the message there also; for that is what I came out to do.”

1:39 And he went throughout Galilee, proclaiming the message in their synagogues and casting out demons.

Have a blessed Sunday.

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

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

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

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

1 Corinthians 7:17-19

Live as You Are Called

17 Only let each person lead the life[a] that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him. This is my rule in all the churches. 18 Was anyone at the time of his call already circumcised? Let him not seek to remove the marks of circumcision. Was anyone at the time of his call uncircumcised? Let him not seek circumcision. 19 For neither circumcision counts for anything nor uncircumcision, but keeping the commandments of God.

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Last week’s verses were Paul’s guidelines for marriage, including between a Christian and a non-Christian.

We now begin looking at Paul’s advice to Jews and Gentiles who have converted to Christianity. The Jewish men were circumcised. The Gentile men were not.

Paul begins by saying that he has a rule for all the churches: God has called us to a certain place in life and we do not need to worry about that when we become Christians (verse 17). Following Christ is about spiritual renewal and our relationship with Him as individuals.

Matthew Henry’s commentary states (emphases mine):

As the Lord hath called every one, so let him walk. Whatever his circumstances or condition was when he was converted to Christianity, let him abide therein, and suit his conversation to it. The rules of Christianity reach every condition. And in every state a man may live so as to be a credit to it. Note, It is the duty of every Christian to suit his behaviour to his condition and the rules of religion, to be content with his lot, and conduct himself in his rank and place as becomes a Christian. The apostle adds that this was a general rule, to be observed at all times and in all places; So ordain I in all churches.

In Paul’s time, the Church was made up of Jews and Gentiles alike. For the men, Paul said that the Jews, ‘already circumcised’, did not need to worry that they were. Similarly, a Gentile man did not need to think he had to become circumcised (verse 18).

God and His Son know our starting points in this life along the Christian journey. What matters is not where we’ve come from but where we are going.

John MacArthur says that Paul brought circumcision into the picture because there were social effects at that time for Jewish men who converted to Christianity:

A Jew comes to Christ; he gets saved. Who would be the most likely person that he then could lead to Christ? Another Jew, right? And somebody in his own family. So, if a Jew comes to Christ, and immediately renounces his Judaism … and totally identify with the Gentile culture, what are his Jewish friends going to say? They’re going to call him a what? Blasphemer, an apostate who isn’t fit for heaven … And he would immediately alienate himself from the harvest field that he is most capable of reaping in. You see?

So, Paul says, “Don’t do that.”

MacArthur contrasts the views then with those of our time, where a more relaxed view about Jewish conversions to Christianity prevails:

They get saved, and they don’t reject their Jewishness. They hold onto their Jewishness, and this gives them accessibility back into the Jewish community, doesn’t it? They have an open door maybe to friends and family when they maintain something of the belief and the love of the Jewish heritage, even though they have seen it fulfilled in Messiah, there’s no reason to assume that they have to deny all of that heritage. To deny it and become a Gentile would alienate them from the harvest field that God would give them the most fruit in.

I think that might be more true in North America than it is in Europe. I’m not sure European Jews converting to Christianity would still be warmly received by their own families and circle of friends. However, I could be mistaken. We have very actively Jewish communities in Britain, especially among the younger generations. I live in one such neighbourhood.

As for the situation with Gentile men converting in Corinth, perhaps Paul saw the possibility that some of the Jewish converts were Judaizers trying to convince the Gentiles to get circumcised: entering the New Covenant through the Old Covenant.

MacArthur says:

Some Gentiles came to Christ. And what would the Jews say? “Oh, it’s so nice that you’ve come to Christ. But listen, if you want to get in on the really great stuff in the kingdom, you got to have this operation.”

In addition, a Gentile man’s circumcision would have alienated him from his family and friends:

The Gentiles looked down on the circumcision and the Jews as a despised people. They really believed that the Jews were a low-class, despised people. Now, to identify with the Jews, then, would have alienated a Gentile from – what? – from all his people. And, you see, then he would have alienated himself from the harvest field that God had designed him to reach. Do you see the point? God says, “Just stay where you are; that’s where I have your for the reason that I have you there, to reach those people. Don’t worry about your social status. It doesn’t matter.”

For those reasons, Paul said that circumcision doesn’t count but obeying God’s commandments through Jesus does (verse 19).

Both the Old and the New Testaments are full of stories of disobedient Jews, all of whom, since Abraham, were circumcised. In the New Testament, the culprits were the Sanhedrin, who, with the help of the Romans, eventually ensured that Jesus died on the Cross. The Sanhedrin perversely hounded our Lord from the beginning of His ministry until the very end.

As Henry points out:

External observances without internal piety are as nothing.

MacArthur says:

The only issue is a moral issue, a spiritual issue, not an external.

The bigger issues — which still resonate today — come in next week’s reading, which is why I selected these verses to discuss separately.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:20-24

Below are the readings for the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany, January 31, 2021.

These are for Year B in the three-year Lectionary used in public worship.

This particular Sunday is also known traditionally as Septuagesima Sunday, marking 70 days before Easter. It is also the beginning of Shrovetide, which concludes on Shrove Tuesday. Shrove Tuesday is the day before Ash Wednesday.

Centuries ago, some Christians began their Lenten disciplines during Shrovetide. A number of traditionalists, not only in the Catholic Church but also the Anglican Communion and Lutheran Church, also observe the pre-Lenten Sundays counting down to Easter: Septuagesima, Sexagesima and Quinquagesima.

My posts which follow discuss these Sundays and Shrovetide in more detail:

Shrovetide — a history

The Sundays before Lent — an explanation (the Sundays that define Shrovetide)

Emphases mine below.

First reading

Moses relates what the Lord told him. From the midst of His people, the Lord promises His people a prophet above all others: Jesus Christ.

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

18:15 The LORD your God will raise up for you a prophet like me from among your own people; you shall heed such a prophet.

18:16 This is what you requested of the LORD your God at Horeb on the day of the assembly when you said: “If I hear the voice of the LORD my God any more, or ever again see this great fire, I will die.”

18:17 Then the LORD replied to me: “They are right in what they have said.

18:18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their own people; I will put my words in the mouth of the prophet, who shall speak to them everything that I command.

18:19 Anyone who does not heed the words that the prophet shall speak in my name, I myself will hold accountable.

18:20 But any prophet who speaks in the name of other gods, or who presumes to speak in my name a word that I have not commanded the prophet to speak–that prophet shall die.”

Psalm

This short Psalm of David’s was likely used in communal worship, reflecting on God’s infinite glory, power and mercy. Verse 10 will be familiar to most readers.

Psalm 111

111:1 Praise the LORD! I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart, in the company of the upright, in the congregation.

111:2 Great are the works of the LORD, studied by all who delight in them.

111:3 Full of honor and majesty is his work, and his righteousness endures forever.

111:4 He has gained renown by his wonderful deeds; the LORD is gracious and merciful.

111:5 He provides food for those who fear him; he is ever mindful of his covenant.

111:6 He has shown his people the power of his works, in giving them the heritage of the nations.

111:7 The works of his hands are faithful and just; all his precepts are trustworthy.

111:8 They are established forever and ever, to be performed with faithfulness and uprightness.

111:9 He sent redemption to his people; he has commanded his covenant forever. Holy and awesome is his name.

111:10 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever.

Epistle

Paul discusses weaker and stronger brothers in faith, a topic that he wrote about extensively in Romans. If a weaker Christian is offended by something that a stronger Christian does, i.e. eating meat sacrificed to idols, then it is incumbent upon the stronger Christian not to do it in his presence or force him to do so. The weaker Christian, if forced to partake of an activity that he finds offensive, could suffer an interminable pang of conscience and could even leave the faith.

1 Corinthians 8:1-13

8:1 Now concerning food sacrificed to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.

8:2 Anyone who claims to know something does not yet have the necessary knowledge;

8:3 but anyone who loves God is known by him.

8:4 Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.”

8:5 Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth–as in fact there are many gods and many lords–

8:6 yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

8:7 It is not everyone, however, who has this knowledge. Since some have become so accustomed to idols until now, they still think of the food they eat as food offered to an idol; and their conscience, being weak, is defiled.

8:8 “Food will not bring us close to God.” We are no worse off if we do not eat, and no better off if we do.

8:9 But take care that this liberty of yours does not somehow become a stumbling block to the weak.

8:10 For if others see you, who possess knowledge, eating in the temple of an idol, might they not, since their conscience is weak, be encouraged to the point of eating food sacrificed to idols?

8:11 So by your knowledge those weak believers for whom Christ died are destroyed.

8:12 But when you thus sin against members of your family, and wound their conscience when it is weak, you sin against Christ.

8:13 Therefore, if food is a cause of their falling, I will never eat meat, so that I may not cause one of them to fall.

Gospel

Readings from Mark continue. This is what happened after Jesus began calling His disciples.

Mark 1:21-28

1:21 They went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught.

1:22 They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes.

1:23 Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit,

1:24 and he cried out, “What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.”

1:25 But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!”

1:26 And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.

1:27 They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, “What is this? A new teaching–with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

1:28 At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.

May all of my readers enjoy a blessed Sunday.

Today’s commentary is a repost of St Paul’s verses on marriage, which I wrote in 2010:

1 Corinthians 7:1-16 – marriage, marriage to non-Christians

Paul discusses the reasons for marriage and preserving a marriage between a Christian and a non-Christian.

Last week’s post on unrighteousness is here.

Next time — 1 Corinthians 7:17-19

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