Daily Archives: April 8, 2017

April 8, 2017: Verse of the day

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A humble messenger of God is willing to seek only The Lord’s Glory

But he who boasts is to boast in the Lord. (10:17)

This essential truth, found throughout Scripture, is a stinging rebuke to all self-glorying false teachers. In Psalm 20:7 David wrote, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God,” while in Psalm 34:2 he added, “My soul shall make its boast in the Lord; the humble shall hear it and rejoice.” Through the prophet Jeremiah God declared,

Thus says the Lord, “Let not a wise man boast of his wisdom, and let not the mighty man boast of his might, let not a rich man boast of his riches; but let him who boasts boast of this, that he understands and knows Me, that I am the Lord who exercises lovingkindness, justice and righteousness on earth; for I delight in these things,” declares the Lord. (Jer. 9:23–24)

Paul had the above passage in mind when he wrote this verse, and also when he wrote earlier to the Corinthians, “Just as it is written, ‘Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord’ ” (1 Cor. 1:31). To the Romans he wrote, “Therefore in Christ Jesus I have found reason for boasting in things pertaining to God. For I will not presume to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me, resulting in the obedience of the Gentiles by word and deed” (Rom. 15:17–18). He vowed in Galatians 6:14, “But may it never be that I would boast, except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”

After Martin Luther’s death, his friends found a scrap of paper in his pocket on which the great Reformer had written, “We are all beggars.” Humble men of God realize that they have nothing to boast about. If they preach the gospel, it is because God’s Word is a fire in their bones (Jer. 20:9) and they are compelled to preach (1 Cor. 9:16). They serve the church only because Christ puts them into service (1 Tim. 1:12), and any success they have is attributable solely to the grace of God at work in them (1 Cor. 15:10). They cry out with the psalmist, “Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory” (Ps. 115:1).

MacArthur New Testament Commentary

17 As in 1 Corinthians 1:31, Paul cites Jeremiah 9:24 (9:23 [LXX]). The contrast in Jeremiah 9:23–24 (9:22–23 [LXX]) is between proper and improper boasting, between boasting of one’s own wisdom, strength, and riches as though these were derived from oneself, and boasting “about this: understanding and knowing that I am the Lord who exercises mercy, judgment, and righteousness on the earth, for my pleasure resides in these” (Jer 9:23 [LXX]). Against this OT background, boasting “in the Lord” is boasting about the character and deeds of the Lord. Other boasting is illegitimate, whether it be of one’s own accomplishments or status (1 Co 1:26–31) or of another person’s achievements as though they were one’s own (v. 16). For Christians, only boasting “in the Lord” is legitimate—boasting of who Jesus Christ is and what he has done for them (Gal 6:14) or through them (Ro 15:18; cf. Ac 14:27) or can do through them. Here Paul is confident the Lord will make his work in Rome and Spain fruitful.

The Expositor’s Bible Commentary

APRIL 8 – EASTER—AND MISSIONS

That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection.

Philippians 3:10

 

Do we really believe that the resurrection of Jesus Christ is something more than making us the “happiest fellows in the Easter parade”?

Are we just to listen to the bright cantata and join in singing, “Up from the Grave He Arose,” smell the flowers and go home and forget it?

No, certainly not!

It is truth and a promise with a specific moral application. The Resurrection certainly commands us with all the authority of sovereign obligation—the missionary obligation!

I cannot give in to the devil’s principal, deceitful tactic which makes so many Christians satisfied with an “Easter celebration” instead of experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection. It is the devil’s business to keep Christians mourning and weeping with pity beside the cross instead of demonstrating that Jesus Christ is risen indeed.

When will the Christian church rise up, depending on His promise and power, and get on the offensive for the risen and ascended Savior?

 

Lord, Your resurrection is a call to action. No other religion can claim the power You displayed on that first Easter morning. You are the one, true God! Give me opportunities to tell others about Your saving power.[1]


power

that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection (3:10a)

Paul had already mentioned the deep, experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ that comes at salvation (v. 8). But still the cry of his heart was that I may know Him. That initial saving knowledge of Christ became the basis of Paul’s lifelong pursuit of an ever deeper knowledge of His Savior. Specifically, Paul longed to experience the power of His resurrection. He knew there was no power in the Law. He also knew there was no power in his flesh to overcome sin or serve God (cf. Rom. 7:18). But because he knew Christ and had His righteousness imputed to him, Paul had been given the Holy Spirit and the same spiritual power that raised Jesus from the dead.

His resurrection was the greatest display of Christ’s power. Rising from the dead (cf. John 2:19–21; 10:17–18) revealed His absolute power over both the physical and spiritual realms (cf. Col. 2:14–15; 1 Peter 3:18–20). Paul experienced Christ’s resurrection power in two ways. First, it was that power that saved him, a truth he affirmed in Romans 6:4–5: “Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, so that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall also be in the likeness of His resurrection.” In salvation, believers are identified with Christ in His death and resurrection. But more than that, it is Christ’s resurrection power that sanctified him (and all believers) to defeat temptation and trials, lead a holy life, and boldly and fruitfully proclaim the gospel. Paul gladly exchanged his impotence for Christ’s resurrection power, and desired to experience its fullness.

fellowship

and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; (3:10b)

A fourth benediction salvation brought Paul was fellowship with Jesus Christ. The apostle speaks specifically here of the fellowship of His sufferings. As he has just noted, Paul was conformed to His death at salvation (cf. Rom. 6:4–5). But he has something more in mind here, a deep partnership and communion with Christ in suffering. When he met Christ, Paul gained a companion to be with him in his suffering—One who endured far more intense persecution and suffering than anyone else who ever lived, all of it undeserved.

The deepest moments of spiritual fellowship with the living Christ are at times of intense suffering; suffering drives believers to Him. They find in Him a merciful High Priest, a faithful friend who feels their pain, and a sympathetic companion who faced all the trials and temptations that they face (Heb. 4:15). He is thus uniquely qualified to help them in their weaknesses and infirmities (Heb. 2:17). That blessed, comforting truth led Paul to exclaim, “Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).[2]


10 Paul understands that knowledge of God only comes from knowing Christ, whom God raised from the dead (Koperski, 236). “To know Christ” is akin to putting trust in him (Ps 9:10) and being loyal to him (Jer 2:8; 9:2–3). Putting trust in Christ is for Paul the same thing as putting trust in God. He assumes that one becomes like the one who is known, so that one is willing to forgo privileges and entitlements and undergo suffering and death. Knowing Christ is not some sublime, cerebral enlightenment but something that is experiential. For him it means becoming Christ’s slave, loving others as Christ did, and giving of himself as Christ did.

The “power of his resurrection” may refer to the influence that the risen Christ exerts on the believer, but it more likely refers to the power that raised Jesus from the dead (Eph 1:19–20). Paul’s belief that Christ’s resurrection was the firstfruits and that those who belong to Christ will be raised with him (1 Co 15:20–28) drives his reversal of values and reordering of priorities. The difference is between placing one’s confidence in the flesh and placing one’s trust in the hope of the transformation of the flesh.

Paul makes clear that experiencing the power of Christ’s resurrection is accompanied by participating in his suffering and death (Ro 8:17; cf. 1 Co 15:30–31; 2 Co 1:5; 4:8–11; Gal 6:17; Col 1:24; 2 Ti 2:10). God’s power and protection of his people do not prevent them from bearing the cost of holding fast to the gospel in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation (Php 2:15–16). They must experience the weight of the cross before they taste the power of the resurrection (cf. George R. Beasley-Murray, The Book of Revelation [NCB; London: Marshall, Morgan and Scott, 1974], 181). Paul understands from Christ’s example that one only finds life by pouring it out for others, just as Christ poured out his life (cf. Stagg, 207). Resurrection is placed first because one will not be able to put suffering and death in proper perspective unless one is first convinced that God conquered death by raising Jesus from the dead (1 Co 15:12–28). Paul is no masochist and does not rejoice in suffering for its own sake. It only brings him joy because it is “certain evidence of his intimate relationship with his Lord” (Fee, 333). His aim is not to suffer but to become Christlike in suffering—being obedient to death and dying for others. Being conformed (symmorphizō, GK 5214; NIV, “becoming like”) to Christ’s death (Ro 6:5; 2 Ti 2:11) will result in being conformed (symmorphos, GK 5215; NIV, “like”) to his glorious resurrected body (3:21).[3]


3:10 As we read this verse, we come to the supreme emotion of the apostle’s life. F. B. Meyer calls it “The Soul’s Quest for the Personal Christ.”

The most frequent treatment of this passage is to “spiritualize” it. By this is meant that sufferings, death, and resurrection are not to be taken literally. Rather, they are used to describe certain spiritual experiences, such as mental suffering, dying to self, and living the resurrected life, etc. However, we would like to suggest that the passage should be taken literally. Paul is saying he wants to live as Christ lived. Did Jesus suffer? Paul wants to suffer too. Did Jesus die? Then Paul wants to die by martyrdom in his service for Christ. Did Jesus rise from among the dead? Then Paul wishes to do the same. He realized that the servant is not above his Master. Thus, he desired to follow Christ in His sufferings, death, and resurrection. He does not say that all must adopt this view, but for him there could be no other pathway.

That I may know Him. To know Him means to gain practical day-by-day acquaintance with Him in such an intimate way that the apostle himself would become more Christlike. He wants the life of Christ to be reproduced in himself.

And the power of His resurrection. The power that raised the Lord from the dead is set forth in Scripture as the greatest display of might which the universe has ever seen (Eph. 1:19, 20). It would seem as if all the hosts of evil were determined to keep His body in the tomb. God’s mighty power defeated this infernal army by raising the Lord Jesus from the dead on the third day. This same power is placed at the disposal of all believers (Eph. 1:19), to be appropriated by faith. Paul is stating his ambition to experience this power in his life and testimony.

And the fellowship of His sufferings. It takes divine strength to suffer for Christ. That is why the power of His resurrection is put before the fellowship of His sufferings.

In the life of the Lord, suffering preceded glory. So then it must be in the life of Paul. He must share Christ’s sufferings. He realized that there would be nothing of an atoning value in his own sufferings as there was in Christ’s, but he knew, too, that it would be inconsistent for him to live in luxury and ease in a world where his Lord was rejected, scourged, and crucified. Jowett comments: “He was not contented to share the triumph of Olivet; he wanted to feel something of the pang and chill and loneliness of Gethsemane.”

Being conformed to His death. As mentioned before, this is usually explained as meaning that Paul wanted to live the crucified life, to die practically to sin, self, and the world. But we feel that such an interpretation robs the passage of its shocking force. It does mean that, but also much more. Paul was a passionately devoted follower of the One who died on the cross of Calvary. Not only that, he was present when the first martyr of the Christian church died; in fact, he was an accomplice in murdering him! We believe Paul was actually anxious to pour out his life in the same way. Perhaps he would have felt embarrassed to meet Stephen in heaven if he had come by any more comfortable route than martyrdom. Jowett agrees:

Many Christians are satisfied with expenditure in which there is no “shedding of blood.” They give away what they can easily spare. Their gifts are detached things, and the surrender of them necessitates no bleeding. They engage in sacrifice as long as it does not involve life; when the really vital is demanded, they are not to be found. They are prominent at all triumphant entries, and they willingly spend a little money on colorful decorations—on banners and palm branches; but when “Hurrahs” and “Hosannas” change into ominous murmurs and threats, and Calvary comes into sight, they steal away into safe seclusion.

But here is an Apostle who joyfully anticipates this supreme and critical demand. He is almost impatient at his own dribblings of blood-energy in the service of the kingdom! He is eager if need be to pour it out!

In a similar vein Hudson Taylor wrote:

There is a needs-be for us to give ourselves for the life of the world … Fruit-bearing involves cross-bearing. “Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone.” We know how the Lord Jesus became fruitful—not by bearing His cross only, but by dying on it. Do we know much of fellowship with Him in this? There are not two Christs—an easy-going Christ for easy-going Christians, and a suffering, toiling Christ for exceptional believers. There is only one Christ. Are we willing to abide in Him and so to bear fruit?

Finally, C. A. Coates says:

The knowledge of Christ in glory was the supreme desire of Paul’s heart, and this desire could never exist without producing an intense longing to reach Him in the place where He is. Hence the heart that longs after Him instinctively turns to the path by which He reached that place in glory, and earnestly desires to reach Him in that place by the very path which He trod. The heart asks, “How did He reach that glory? Was it through resurrection? And did not sufferings and death necessarily precede resurrection?” Then the heart says, “Nothing would please me so well as to reach Him in resurrection glory by the very path which took Him there.” It is the martyr spirit. Paul wanted to tread as a martyr the pathway of suffering and death, that he might reach resurrection and glory by the same path as the blessed One who had won his heart.[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W. (2015). Mornings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 238–239). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 242–243). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1973–1974). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

April 8 – Controlling Yourself

“Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth” (Matt. 5:5).

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Gentleness is power under control.

The Greek word translated “gentle” in Matthew 5:5 speaks of humility, meekness, and non-retaliation—traits that in our proud society are often equated with weakness or cowardice. But in reality they are virtues that identify Kingdom citizens.

The same word was used by the Greeks to describe a gentle breeze, a soothing medicine, or a domesticated colt. Those are examples of power under control. A gentle breeze brings pleasure, but a hurricane brings destruction; a soothing medicine brings healing, but an overdose can kill; a domesticated colt is useful, but a wild horse is dangerous.

Christ Himself is the epitome of gentleness. Even when officially announcing His messiahship to Jerusalem, He humbly entered the city astride a donkey (Matt. 21:5). His behavior amid persecution was exemplary: “Christ … suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps, who committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats” (1 Peter 2:21–23).

Despite His humility and restraint, Jesus wasn’t weak or cowardly. He never defended Himself, but when His Father’s house was being desecrated, He made a whip and beat those who were defiling it (John 2:13–16; Matt. 21:12–13). He never shirked from pronouncing judgment on unrepentant sinners and never compromised His integrity or disobeyed His Father’s will.

The hypocritical Jewish religious leaders expected that when Israel’s Messiah came, He would commend them for their wonderful spirituality. Instead, Jesus condemned them and called them children of the devil (John 8:44). In retaliation they had Him murdered. His power was always under control; theirs wasn’t.

Our society has little use for gentleness. The macho, do-your-own-thing mentality characterizes most of our heroes. But you are called to a higher standard. When you pattern your life after Jesus, you will have a significant impact on society and will know true happiness.

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the virtue of gentleness, which He is producing in you by the power of His Spirit. Follow Christ’s example today so that gentleness will mark your character.

For Further Study: Read the following passages, noting the responsibilities and blessings that accompany self-restraint: Proverbs 16:32; Ephesians 4:1–2; Colossians 3:12; and Titus 3:1–2.[1]


Happy Are the Meek

(5:5)

15

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth. (5:5)

Like the first two beatitudes, this one must have been shocking and perplexing to Jesus’ hearers. He taught principles that were totally foreign to their thinking.

Jesus’ audience knew how to act spiritually proud and spiritually self-sufficient. They were proficient in erecting a pious facade. They actually believed that the Messiah was coming soon and would commend them for their goodness. He would, at last, give the Jewish people their rightful place in the world-position above all other people, because they were the chosen of God.

They eagerly anticipated that the Messiah would deal gently with them and harshly with their oppressors, who for nearly a hundred years had been the Romans. After the Maccabean revolution that freed them from Greece, the Jews had a brief time of independence. But Rome’s rule, though not as cruel and destructive, was much more powerful than that of Greece. Since 63 b.c., when Pompey annexed Palestine to Rome, the region had been ruled primarily by puppet kings of the Herodian family and by Roman governors, or procurators, the best known of which to us was Pilate.

The Jews so despised Roman oppression that sometimes they even refused to admit it existed. One day as He taught on the Mount of Olives,Jesus had one of His strongest exchanges with the Pharisees. When He said “to those Jews who had believed Him, ‘If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free,’ ” the Pharisees’ response was strange. “We are Abraham’s offspring,” they said, “and have never yet been enslaved to anyone; how is it that You say, ‘You shall become free?’ ” (John 8:31–33). The fact was, of course, that Israel’s history was one of repeated conquest and oppression-by Egypt, Assyria, the Medes and Persians, the Greeks, and, at that very time, Rome. Apparently pride would not allow those Pharisees to acknowledge one of the most obvious facts of their nation’s history and of their present situation.

All Jews hoped for deliverance of some sort, by some means. Many were expecting deliverance to come through the Messiah. God had directly promised the godly Simeon “that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ,” that is, the Messiah (Luke 2:26). Simeon’s expectation was fulfilled when he was given the privilege of seeing the true Messiah as an infant. Others, however, such as the Pharisees, expected the Messiah to come with great fanfare and a mighty show of supernatural power. They assumed He would miraculously throw off the yoke of Rome and establish a Jewish state, a revived theocracy and holy commonwealth that would rule the world. Others, such as the materialistic Sadducees, hoped for change through political compromise, for which they were despised by many fellow Jews. The monastic Essenes, isolated both physically and philosophically from the rest of Judaism, lived largely as if Rome and the rest of the world did not exist.

The Zealots, as their name implies, were the most vocal and active proponents of deliverance. Many of them expected the Messiah to come as a powerful, irresistible military leader who would conquer Rome in the same way that Rome had conquered them. They were not, however, waiting passively for their Deliverer, but were determined that, whenever and however He might come, they would do their part to make His job easier. Their numbers, influence, and power continued to grow until Rome brutally attempted to crush Jewish resistance. In a.d. 70 Titus totally destroyed Jerusalem and massacred over a million Jews. Three years later Flavius Silva finally succeeded in his long siege against the stronghold at Masada. When Jewish rebelliousness continued to frustrate Rome, Hadrian swept through Palestine during the years 132–35 and systematically destroyed most of the cities and slaughtered the Jews living there.

In Jesus’ day the aggressive, rebellious Zealots were not many in number, but they had the sympathy and moral support of many of the people, who wanted Rome to be overthrown, however it was done.

Consequently, in whatever way various groups of people expected the Messiah to come, they did not anticipate His coming humbly and meekly. Yet those were the very attitudes that Jesus, the one whom John the Baptist had announced as the Messiah, was both teaching and practicing. The idea of a meek Messiah leading meek people was far from any of their concepts of the messianic kingdom. The Jews understood military power and miracle power. They even understood the power of compromise, unpopular as it was. But they did not understand the power of meekness.

The people as a whole eventually rejected Jesus because He did not fulfill their messianic expectations. He even preached against the means in which they had put their hope. They first rejected, then hated, and finally killed Him because, instead of approving their religion He condemned it, and instead of leading them to independence from Rome He disdained revolutionary acts and offered a way of even greater subservience.

In their minds Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah, and the final evidence was His crucifixion. The Old Testament taught that anyone hanged on a tree was “accursed of God” (Deut. 21:23), yet that is exactly where Jesus’ life ended-ignominiously on a cross, and a Roman cross at that. As He hung dying, some of the Jewish leaders could not resist a last taunt against His claim to be Savior and Messiah: “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him now come down from the cross, and we shall believe in Him. He trusts in God; let Him deliver Him now, if He takes pleasure in Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (Matt. 27:42–43).

In the early days of apostolic preaching, the death and resurrection of Christ were the greatest hindrances to belief in the gospel. The ideas were foolishness to Gentiles and a stumbling block to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23). The gospel was foolishness to those Gentiles who considered the body to be inherently evil and thought it absurd that the Savior of the world not only would allow Himself to be killed but would come back from the dead in bodily form. To the Jews the gospel was a stumbling block because the idea of the Messiah dying at all, much less on a cross, was unthinkable. How could a Messiah who taught for a few years, accomplished absolutely nothing as far as anyone could see, and then was rejected by the religious teachers and put to death be worth believing in? (cf. Acts 3:17–18).

But rejection of Jesus started long before His crucifixion. When He began the Sermon on the Mount by teaching humility, mourning, and meekness, the people sensed something was wrong. This strange preacher could hardly be the deliverer they were looking for. Great causes are fought by the proud, not the humble. You cannot win victories while mourning, and you certainly could never conquer Rome with meekness. In spite of all the miracles of His ministry, the people never really believed in Him as the Messiah, because He failed to act in military or miracle power against Rome.

The Jews were not looking for the Messiah that God had told them was coming. They disregarded such parts of His Word as Isaiah 40–60, which so clearly and vividly portrays the Messiah as the Suffering Servant as well as the conquering Lord. They could not accept the idea that such descriptions as, “He has no stately form or majesty … He was despised and forsaken of men … He was oppressed and He was afflicted…like a lamb that is led to slaughter … that He was cut off out of the land of the living,” and “His grave was assigned with wicked men” (Isa. 53:2–3, 7–9) could apply to the Messiah, to the coming great deliverer of the Jews.

Jesus’ teaching seemed new and unacceptable to most of His hearers simply because the Old Testament was so greatly neglected and misinterpreted. They did not recognize the humble and self-denying Jesus as the Messiah because they did not recognize God’s predicted Suffering Servant as the Messiah. That was not the kind of Messiah they wanted.

The Meaning of Meekness

Gentle is from praos, which basically means mild or soft. The term sometimes was used to describe a soothing medicine or a soft breeze. It was used of colts and other animals whose naturally wild spirits were broken by a trainer so that they could do useful work. As a human attitude it meant being gentle of spirit, meek, submissive, quiet, tenderhearted. During His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, Jesus was hailed as the coming King, though He was “gentle, and mounted on a donkey” (Matt. 21:5). Paul lovingly referred to the “meekness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:1) as the pattern for his own attitude.

The essential difference between being poor in spirit and being meek, or gentle, may be that poverty in spirit focuses on our sinfulness, whereas meekness focuses on God’s holiness. The basic attitude of humility underlies both virtues. When we look honestly at ourselves, we are made humble by seeing how sinful and unworthy we are; when we look at God, we are made humble by seeing how righteous and worthy He is.

We again can see logical sequence and progression in the Beatitudes. Poverty of spirit (the first) is negative, and results in mourning (the second). Meekness (the third) is positive, and results in seeking righteousness (the fourth). Being poor in spirit causes us to turn away from ourselves in mourning, and meekness causes us to turn toward God in seeking His righteousness.

The blessings of the Beatitudes are for those who are realistic about their sinfulness, who are repentant of their sins, and who are responsive to God in His righteousness. Those who are unblessed, unhappy, and shut out of the kingdom are the proud, the arrogant, the unrepentant-the self-sufficient and self-righteous who see in themselves no unworthiness and feel no need for God’s help and God’s righteousness.

Most of Jesus’ hearers, like fallen men throughout history, were concerned about justifying their own ways, defending their own rights, and serving their own ends. The way of meekness was not their way, and therefore the true kingdom was not their kingdom. The proud Pharisees wanted a miraculous kingdom, the proud Sadducees wanted a materialistic kingdom, the proud Essenes wanted a monastic kingdom, and the proud Zealots wanted a military kingdom. The humble Jesus offered a meek kingdom.

Meekness has always been God’s way for man. It is the way of the Old Testament. In the book of Job we are told that God “sets on high those who are lowly, and those who mourn are lifted to safety” (5:11). Moses, the Jews’ great deliverer and law-giver, “was very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). The Jews’ great King David, their supreme military hero, wrote, “He [the Lord] leads the humble in justice, and He teaches the humble His way” (Ps. 25:9).

Meekness is the way of the New Testament. It is taught by Jesus in the Beatitudes as well as elsewhere and is continued to be taught by the apostles. Paul entreated the Ephesians to “walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love” (Eph. 4:1–2). He told the Colossians to “put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience” (Col. 3:12). He told Titus to remind those under his leadership “to be subject to rulers, to authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good deed, to malign no one, to be uncontentious, gentle, showing every consideration for all men” (Titus 3:1–2).

Meekness does not connote weakness. The word was used in much extrabiblical literature to refer to the breaking of an animal. Meekness means power put under control. A person without meekness is “like a city that is broken into and without walls” (Prov. 25:28). “He who is slow to anger is better than the mighty, and he who rules his spirit, than he who captures a city” (Prov. 16:32). An unbroken colt is useless; medicine that is too strong will harm rather than cure; a wind out of control destroys. Emotion out of control also destroys, and has no place in God’s kingdom. Meekness uses its resources appropriately.

Meekness is the opposite of violence and vengeance. The meek person, for example, accepts joyfully the seizing of his property, knowing that he has infinitely better and more permanent possessions awaiting him in heaven (Heb. 10:34). The meek person has died to self, and he therefore does not worry about injury to himself, or about loss, insult, or abuse. The meek person does not defend himself, first of all because that is His Lord’s command and example, and second because he knows that he does not deserve defending. Being poor in spirit and having mourned over his great sinfulness, the gentle person stands humbly before God, knowing he has nothing to commend himself.

Meekness is not cowardice or emotional flabbiness. It is not lack of conviction nor mere human niceness. But its courage, its strength, its conviction, and its pleasantness come from God, not from self. The spirit of meekness is the spirit of Christ, who defended the glory of His Father, but gave Himself in sacrifice for others. Leaving an example for us to follow, He “committed no sin, nor was any deceit found in His mouth; and while being reviled, He did not revile in return; while suffering, He uttered no threats, but kept entrusting Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Pet. 2:21–23).

Though He was sinless, and therefore never deserved criticism or abuse, Jesus did not resist slander or repay injustice or threaten His tormentors. The only human being who did no wrong, the One who always had a perfect defense, never defended Himself.

When His Father’s house was profaned by moneychangers and sacrifice sellers, “He made a scourge of cords, and drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and the oxen; and He poured out the coins of the moneychangers, and overturned their tables” (John 2:14–15). Jesus scathingly and repeatedly denounced the hypocritical and wicked religious leaders; He twice cleansed the Temple by force; and He fearlessly uttered divine judgment on those who forsook and corrupted God’s Word.

But Jesus did not once raise a finger or give a single retort in His own defense. Though at any time He could have called legions of angels to His side (Matt. 26:53), He refused to use either natural or supernatural power for His own welfare. Meekness is not weakness, but meekness does not use its power for its own defense or selfish purposes. Meekness is power completely surrendered to God’s control.

The Manifestation of Meekness

The best way to describe meekness is to illustrate it, to see it in action. Scripture abounds with instructive accounts of meekness.

After God had called Abraham from Ur of the Chaldeans to the Promised Land and had made the marvelous unconditional covenant with him, a dispute about grazing lands arose between the servants of Abraham and those of his nephew Lot. All the land of Canaan had been promised to Abraham. He was God’s chosen man and the Father of God’s chosen people. Lot, on the other hand, was essentially a hanger-on, an in-law who was largely dependent on Abraham for his welfare and safety. Besides that, Abraham was Lot’s uncle and his elder. Yet Abraham willingly let Lot take whatever land he wanted, thus giving up his rights and prerogatives for the sake of his nephew, for the sake of harmony between their households, and for the sake of their testimony before “the Canaanite and the Perizzite [who] were dwelling then in the land” (Gen. 13:5–9). Those things were much more important to Abraham than standing up for his own rights. He had both the right and the power to do as he pleased in the matter, but in meekness he gladly waived his rights and laid aside his power.

Joseph was abused by his jealous brothers and eventually sold into slavery. When, by God’s gracious plan, he came to be second only to Pharaoh in Egypt, he was in a position to take severe vengeance on his brothers. When they came to Egypt asking for grain for their starving families, Joseph could easily have refused and, in fact, could have put his brothers into more severe slavery than that into which they had sold him. Yet he had only forgiveness and love for them. When he finally revealed to them who he was, “he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it” (Gen. 45:2). Then he said to them, “Do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life … Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (vv. 5, 8). Later he told them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive” ( 50:19–20). In meekness Joseph understood that it was God’s place to judge and his to forgive and help.

Moses killed an Egyptian who was beating some Hebrew slaves; faced up to Pharaoh to demand the release of his people; and was so angry at the orgy that Aaron and the people were having around the golden calf that he smashed the first set of tablets of the Ten Commandments. Yet he was called “very humble, more than any man who was on the face of the earth” (Num. 12:3). Moses vented his anger against those who harmed and enslaved his people and who rebelled against God, but he did not vent his anger against those who abused him or demand personal rights and privileges.

When God called him to lead Israel out of Egypt, Moses felt completely inadequate, and pleaded, “Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh, and that I should bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?” (Ex. 3:11). After God explained His plan for Moses to confront Pharaoh, Moses again pleaded, “Please, Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither recently nor in time past, nor since Thou hast spoken to Thy servant; for I am slow of speech and slow of tongue” (4:10). Moses would defend God before anyone, but he did not defend himself before God.

David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to replace Saul as Israel’s king. But when, in the cave of Engedi, he had the opportunity to take Saul’s life, as Saul often had tried to take his, David refused to do so. He had such great respect for the king’s office, despite that particular king’s wickedness and abuse of him, that “David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe. So he said to his men, ‘Far be it from me because of the Lord that I should do this thing to my lord, the Lord’s anointed, to stretch out my hand against him, since he is the Lord’s anointed’ ” (1 Sam. 24:5–6).

Many years later, after David’s rebellious son Absalom had routed his father from Jerusalem, a member of Saul’s family named Shimei cursed David and threw stones at him. When one of David’s soldiers wanted to cut off Shimei’s head, David prevented him, saying, “Behold, my son who came out from me seeks my life; how much more now this Benjamite? Let him alone and let him curse, for the Lord has told him. Perhaps the Lord will look on my affliction and return good to me instead of his cursing this day” (2 Sam. 16:5–12).

By contrast, King Uzziah, who began to reign at the age of sixteen and who “did right in the sight of the Lord,” and “continued to seek God” (2 Chron. 26:4–5), became self-confident after the Lord gave him great victories over the Philistines, Ammonites, and other enemies. “When he became strong, his heart was so proud that he acted corruptly, and he was unfaithful to the Lord his God, for he entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense” (v. 16). Uzziah thought he could do no wrong, and arrogantly performed a rite that he knew was restricted to the priests. He was so concerned with exalting himself and glorying in his greatness, that he disobeyed the God who had made him great and even profaned His Temple. As a consequence “King Uzziah was a leper to the day of his death; and he lived in a separate house, being a leper, for he was cut off from the house of the Lord” (v. 21).

Of the many examples of meekness in the New Testament, the greatest other than Jesus Himself was Paul. He was by far the most educated of the apostles and the one, as far as we can tell, that God used most widely and effectively. Yet he refused to put any confidence in himself, “in the flesh” (Phil. 3:3). He knew that he could do all things, but only “through Him who strengthens me” (4:13).

The Result of Meekness

As with the other beatitudes, the general result of meekness is being blessed, being made divinely happy. God gives the meek His own joy and gladness.

More specifically, however, the gentle … shall inherit the earth. After creating man in His own image, God gave man dominion over the whole earth (Gen. 1:28). The subjects of His kingdom are going to come someday into that promised inheritance, largely lost and perverted after the Fall. Theirs will be paradise regained.

One day God will completely reclaim His earthly domain, and those who have become His children through faith in His Son will rule that domain with Him. And the only ones who become His children and the subjects of His divine kingdom are those who are gentle, those who are meek, because they understand their unworthiness and sinfulness and cast themselves on the mercy of God. The emphatic pronoun autos (they) is again used (see vv. 3, 4), indicating that only those who are meek shall inherit the earth.

Most Jews thought that the coming great kingdom of the Messiah would belong to the strong, of whom the Jews would be the strongest. But the Messiah Himself said that it would belong to the meek, and to Jew and Gentile alike.

Klēronomeō (to inherit) refers to the receiving of one’s allotted portion, one’s rightful inheritance. This beatitude is almost a direct quotation of Psalm 37:11-“But the humble will inherit the land.” For many generations faithful Jews had wondered, as God’s people today sometimes wonder, why the wicked and godless seem to prosper and the righteous and godly seem to suffer. Through David, God assured His people, “Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place, and he will not be there” (v. 10). The wicked person’s time of judgment was coming, as was the righteous person’s time of blessing.

Our responsibility is to trust the Lord and obey His will. The settling of accounts, whether in judgment or blessing, is in His hands and will be accomplished exactly in the right time and in the right way. In the meanwhile, God’s children live in faith and hope based on the certain promise, the divine pronouncement, that they shall inherit the earth.

Paul both warns and assures the Corinthians, saying, “So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ; and Christ belongs to God” (1 Cor. 3:21–23). Because we belong to Christ, our place in the kingdom is as secure as His.

It is also certain “that the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9). One day the Lord will take the earth from the hands of the wicked and give it to His righteous people, whom He will use “to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishment on the peoples; to bind their kings with chains, and their nobles with fetters of iron; to execute on them the judgment written” (Ps. 149:7–9).

Our inheritance of the earth is not entirely future, however. The promise of the future inheritance itself gives us hope and happiness now. And we are able to appreciate many things, even earthly things, in ways that only those who know and love the Creator can experience.

In the beautiful words of Wade Robinson,

Heav’n above is softer blue,

Earth around is sweeter green;

Something lives in ev’ry hue

Christless eyes have never seen!

Birds with gladder songs o’erflow,

Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know,

I am His and He is mine.

Nearly a century ago George MacDonald wrote, “We cannot see the world as God means it in the future, save as our souls are characterized by meekness. In meekness we are its only inheritors. Meekness alone makes the spiritual retina pure to receive God’s things as they are, mingling with them neither imperfection nor impurity.”

The Necessity for Meekness

Meekness is necessary first of all because it is required for salvation. Only the meek will inherit the earth, because only the meek belong to the King who will rule the future kingdom of the earth. “For the Lord takes delight in His people,” says the psalmist; “he crowns the humble with salvation” (Ps. 149:4, niv ). When the disciples asked Jesus who was the greatest in the kingdom, “He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, ‘Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven’ ” (Matt. 18:2–4).

Meekness is also necessary because it is commanded. “Seek the Lord, all you humble of the earth who have carried out His ordinances; seek righteousness, seek humility” (Zeph. 2:3). James commands believers, “Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls” (James 1:21). Those who do not have a humble spirit are not able even to listen rightly to God’s Word, much less understand and receive it.

Meekness is necessary because we cannot witness effectively without it. Peter says, “Sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet. 3:15). Pride will always stand between our testimony and those to whom we testify. They will see us instead of the Lord, no matter how orthodox our theology or how refined our technique.

Meekness is necessary because only meekness gives glory to God. Pride seeks its own glory, but meekness seeks God’s. Meekness is reflected in our attitude toward other children of God. Humility in relation to fellow Christians gives God glory. “Now may the God who gives perseverance and encouragement grant you to be of the same mind with one another according to Christ Jesus; that with one accord you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Wherefore, accept one another, just as Christ also accepted us to the glory of God” (Rom. 15:5–7).[2]


5 This beatitude and those in vv. 7–10 have no parallel in Luke. It would be wrong to suppose that Matthew’s beatitudes are for different groups of people or that we have the right to half the blessings if we determine to pursue four out of the eight. They are a unity and describe the norm for Messiah’s people.

The word “meek” (praus, GK 4558) is hard to define. It can signify absence of pretension (1 Pe 3:4, 14–15) but generally suggests gentleness (cf. 11:29; Jas 3:13) and the self-control it entails. The attempt to understand a “meek” person to be nonviolent and law-observant (Michel Talbot, Heureux les doux, car ils hériteront la terre: (Mt 5:4 [5]) [Paris: Gabalda, 2002]) is unconvincing in its methods and doctrinaire in its conclusions. The Greeks extolled humility in wise men and rulers, but such humility smacked of condescension. In general, the Greeks considered meekness a vice because they failed to distinguish it from servility. To be meek toward others implies freedom from malice and a vengeful spirit. Jesus best exemplifies it (11:29; 21:5). Lloyd-Jones (Sermon on the Mount,1:65–69) rightly applies meekness to our attitudes toward others. We may acknowledge our own bankruptcy (v. 3) and mourn (v. 4). But to respond with meekness when others tell us of our bankruptcy is far harder (cf. Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 43–44). Meekness, therefore, requires such a true view about ourselves as will express itself even in our attitude toward others.

And the meek—not the strong, aggressive, harsh, tyrannical—will inherit the earth. The verb “inherit” often relates to entrance into the promised land (e.g., Dt 4:1; 16:20; cf. Isa 57:13; 60:21). But the specific OT allusion here is Psalm 37:9, 11, 29, a psalm recognized as messianic in Jesus’ day (4QpPs 37). There is no need to interpret the land metaphorically, as having no reference to geography or space; nor is there need to restrict the meaning to “land of Israel” (see Notes). Entrance into the promised land ultimately became a pointer toward entrance into the new heaven and the new earth (“earth” is the same word as “land”; cf. Isa 66:22; Rev 21:1), the consummation of the messianic kingdom. While in Pauline terms, believers may now possess all things in principle (1 Co 3:21–23; 2 Co 6:10) since they belong to Christ, Matthew directs our attention yet further to the “renewal of all things” (19:28).[3]


5:5 A third blessing is pronounced on the meek: they shall inherit the earth. By nature these people might be volatile, temperamental, and gruff. But by purposefully taking Christ’s spirit on them, they become meek or gentle (compare Matthew 11:29). Meekness implies acceptance of one’s lowly position. The meek person is gentle and mild in his own cause, though he may be a lion in God’s cause or in defending others.

The meek do not now inherit the earth; rather they inherit abuse and dispossession. But they will literally inherit the earth when Christ, the King, reigns for a thousand years in peace and prosperity.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 111). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 166–176). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 163–164). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1216). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

APRIL 8 – WE ARE AMAZED THAT GOD HAS FORGIVEN US

For l am the least of the apostles…But by the grace of God I am what I am….

1 CORINTHIANS 15:9, 10

Every humble and devoted believer in Jesus Christ must have his own periods of wonder and amazement at this mystery of godliness—the willingness of the Son of Man to take our place in judgment so that the people of God could be a cleansed and spiritual people!

If the amazement has all gone out of it, something is wrong, and you need to have the stony ground broken up again!

The Apostle Paul, one of the holiest men who ever lived, was not ashamed of his times of remembrance and wonder over the grace and kindness of God. He knew that God did not hold his old sins against him forever!

Knowing the old account was all settled, Paul’s happy heart assured him again and again that all was well.

He could only shake his head in amazement and confess: “I am unworthy to be called, but by His grace, I am a new creation in Jesus Christ!”

I make this point about the faith and assurance and rejoicing of Paul in order to say that if that humble sense of perpetual penance ever leaves our justified being, we are on the way to backsliding![1]


The Testimony of a Special Witness

And last of all, as it were to one untimely born, He appeared to me also. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not fit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me did not prove vain; but I labored even more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. (15:8–10)

The fourth major testimony of Christ’s resurrection was that of the apostle Paul himself, a special and unique witness of the risen Lord. Paul was not among the original apostles, all of whom had been disciples of Jesus during His earthly ministry. He was not among the five hundred other believers who had seen the resurrected Christ. Rather, he had for many years been an unbeliever and a chief persecutor of the church.

He was, however, last of all allowed to see the risen Christ. The Lord’s appearance to Paul not only was post-resurrection but post-ascension, making Paul’s testimony more unique still. It was not during the forty days in which He appeared to all the others but several years later. All the others to whom Christ appeared, except perhaps James, were believers, whereas Paul (then known as Saul) was a violent, hateful unbeliever when the Lord manifested Himself on the Damascus road (Acts 9:1–8). There were also other appearances (Acts 18:9–10; 23:11; cf. 2 Cor. 12:1–7).

Jesus appeared to Paul as it were to one untimely born. Ektrōma (untimely born) ordinarily referred to an abortion, miscarriage, or premature birth—a life unable to sustain itself. In Paul’s figure, the term could indicate hopelessness for life without divine intervention, and convey the idea that he was born without hope of meeting Christ. But the use of the term in the sense of an ill–timed birth, too early or too late, seems to fit Paul’s thought best. He came too late to have been one of the twelve. In carrying the idea of unformed, dead, and useless, the term was also used as a term of derision. Before his conversion, which coincided with his vision of the resurrected Lord, Paul was spiritually unformed, dead, and useless, a person to be scorned by God. Even when he was born it was wrong timing. Christ was gone. How could he be an apostle? Yet, by special divine provision, He appeared to me also, Paul testifies.

Though Paul never doubted his apostleship or hesitated to use the authority that office brought, he also never ceased to be amazed that, of all persons, Christ would have called him to that high position. He not only considered himself to be the least of the apostles, but not even fit to be called an apostle, because [he] persecuted the church of God.

Paul knew all of his sins were forgiven, and he was not plagued by feelings of guilt over what he had once done against God’s people. But he could not forget that for which he had been forgiven, and it continually reminded him that by the grace of God I am what I am. That he deserved God’s forgiveness so little was a constant reminder of how graciously His grace is given.

It is possible that Paul’s memory of having persecuted the church of God was a powerful motivation for his being determined that His grace would not prove vain. (Compare his testimony in 1 Tim. 1:12–17.) As is clearly substantiated in the New Testament, Paul was able to truthfully say, I labored even more than all of them. (Compare his commitment as chronicled in 2 Cor. 11:23—12:12.) Yet he was not boasting in his own spirituality or power but in God’s, because, as he hastened to add, yet not I, but the grace of God with me. The same grace responsible for his calling was responsible for his faithfulness. God sovereignly appointed Paul an apostle and sovereignly blessed his apostolic ministry. Paul believed, responded, obeyed, and was continually sensitive to the Lord’s leading and will. But apart from God’s prevenient grace the apostle knew that everything he did would have been in vain and worthless (cf. Eph. 4:15–16; Col. 1:28–29; etc.).

The truth and power of the resurrected Christ had brought three great changes in Paul. First was deep recognition of sin. For the first time he realized how far his external religious life was from being internally godly. He saw himself as he really was, an enemy of God and a persecutor of His church. Second, he experienced a revolution of character. From a persecutor of the church he became her greatest defender. His life was transformed from one characterized by self–righteous hatred to one characterized by self–giving love. He changed from oppressor to servant, from imprisoner to deliverer, from judge to friend, from a taker of life to a giver of life. Third, he experienced a dramatic redirection of energy. As zealously as he had once opposed God’s redeemed he now served them.[2]


9–10 Paul goes on to admit that he was totally unworthy to have this special appearance from the risen Lord and certainly did not have the right to become an apostle, for he had been one of the key persecutors of “the church of God” (see Ac 8:1; 9:1–2; Gal 1:13–14). But solely “by the grace of God” (v. 10) was his life turned around so that he became what he eventually became—an apostle preaching God’s word of salvation to the Gentiles. In other words, Paul’s experience of God’s grace was not in vain (“not without effect”).

In fact, whether out of guilt or because of eagerness to spread the gospel, Paul worked harder than any of the other apostles to fulfill the mission assigned to him. Then for the third time in v. 10 Paul uses charis (“grace,” GK 5921), since he knew whatever good he was doing for the Lord was a result of God’s grace working in and through him. Paul—saved by grace and ministering by grace![3]


15:9 As the apostle thinks of the privilege he had of meeting the Savior face to face, he is filled with a spirit of unworthiness. He thinks of how he persecuted the church of God and how, in spite of that, the Lord called him to be an apostle. Therefore he bows himself in the dust as the least of the apostles, and not worthy to be called an apostle.

15:10 He hastens to acknowledge that whatever he now is, he is by the grace of God. And he did not accept this grace as a matter of fact. Rather it put him under the deepest obligation, and he labored tirelessly to serve the Christ who saved him. Yet in a very real sense it was not Paul himself, but the grace of God which was working with him.[4]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Smith, G. B. (2015). Evenings with tozer: daily devotional readings. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 404–406). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 393). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1804). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

April 8 – Our Responsibility Clarified

Whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.—Matt. 5:19b

The New Testament presents a paradox concerning God’s law. On one hand, it is abolished; on the other, responsibilities to it remain. Regarding Jews and Gentiles, Paul writes that Christ “is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:14–15). With the church’s emergence, the “dividing wall” of civil ordinances disappeared.

The ceremonial law also has terminated. While Christ was on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). With Jesus’ death the Old Testament sacrifices became invalid and unnecessary.

In a certain sense God’s moral law seems no longer binding on His children (Rom. 10:4; 6:12–15; Gal. 5:17–18). Paul harmonizes this notion when he speaks of being “without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). In Christ, believers are anything but without the law. Whereas His law is totally different from the Old Testament moral law with its penalties for disobedience, it is not different at all from the righteous standards which that law taught.

Whenever we look at the moral law with humility and a sincere desire to obey, the law will invariably point us to Jesus Christ—as was always its ultimate intention.

ASK YOURSELF
What benefits do the teachings of the law continue to deposit in the life of the believer? If not for its guidance and its setting of boundaries, where would our human nature choose to live and operate?[1]

Christ and the Law—Part 3: The Pertinence of Scripture

(5:19)

24

Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. (5:19)

In the last several decades the expression “do your own thing” has described a popular approach to behavior. Freedom has been equated with doing what you want. The philosophical corollary of that attitude is antinomianism, the rejection of law, regulations, and rules of every sort. Such was the attitude in ancient Israel during the time of the judges, when “everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judg. 21:25).

Antinomianism is reflected in our own day in personal existentialism, the concept that teaches the fulfillment only of the present moment, regardless of standards or codes or consequences. Rejection of authority follows logically from personal existentialism: we want no one else making rules for us or holding us accountable for what we say or do. The inevitable consequence of that philosophy is breakdown of the home, of school, of church, of government, and of society in general. When no one wants to be accountable to anyone else, the only thing to survive is anarchy.

Even the church has not escaped such attitudes. Many congregations hesitate or even refuse to discipline members who are flagrantly immoral, dishonest, or heretical. For fear of offending, of losing financial support, of being thought old-fashioned or legalistic, or even for fear of stepping on someone else’s presumed rights, there is widespread failure to maintain God’s clear standards of righteousness in His own church. In the name of grace, love, forgiveness, and other “positive” biblical teachings and standards, sin is dismissed or excused.

Some Christians claim that, because God’s grace covers every offense a believer can ever commit, there is no need to bother about holy living. Some even argue that, because the sinful flesh is presently unredeemed in its corruption and is going to be done away with at glorification, it does not make any difference what that part of us does now. Our new divine, incorruptible nature is good and eternal, and that is all that counts. That idea is simply a rebirth of the Greek dualism that wreaked so much havoc in the early church, and that Paul dealt with in the Corinthian letters.

But even the sincere Christian cannot help wondering about the relation between law and grace. The New Testament plainly teaches that in some very important ways believers are freed from the law. But what, exactly, is our freedom in Christ? In Matthew 5:19 the Lord confronts that question and reaffirms what that freedom cannot mean.

In Matthew 5:17 Jesus had pointed out the law’s preeminence, because it was authored by God, affirmed by the prophets, and accomplished by the Messiah, the Christ. In verse 18 He showed its permanence, its lasting without the smallest change or reduction “until heaven and earth pass away.” Now in verse 19 He shows its pertinence. The Jews were still under the full requirements of the Old Testament law.

In verses 17 and 18 Jesus declared that He came to fulfill and not diminish or disobey the law, and in verse 19 He declares that citizens of His kingdom are also not to diminish or disobey it. In light of His own attitude about and response to the law, Jesus now teaches what the attitude and response of His followers should be.

The law is pertinent for those who believe in Christ because of its own character, because of the consequences of obeying or disobeying, and because its demands are clarified and enforced throughout the rest of the New Testament.

The Character of the Law

The then, or therefore, refers to what Jesus has just said about the law. The law is utterly pertinent to those who trust in God, because it is His Word and is exalted by the prophets and accomplished by the Messiah Himself. Because the Bible is not a collection of men’s religious ideas but God’s revelation of divine truth, its teachings are not speculations to be judged but truths to be believed; its commands are not suggestions to be considered but requirements to be followed.

Because Scripture is given by God for man, nothing could be more relevant to man than this revelation. Scripture is the standard of relevance by which all other relevance is measured.

The Consequences of Men’s Responses to the Law

The consequences of the law depend on a person’s response to it. Whoever responds to it positively will receive a positive result, but whoever responds to it negatively will receive a negative result.

The Negative Consequence

Jesus mentions the negative result first: Whoever then annuls one of the least of these commandments, and so teaches others, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

Luō (annuls) is a common word in the New Testament and can mean to break, set loose, release, dissolve, or even to melt. The idea here is that of annulling God’s law, or making it void, by loosing ourselves from its requirements and standards. Jesus used a compounded and stronger form of that term (kataluō) in verse 17 in asserting that He had not come “to abolish the Law or the Prophets.”

Fallen human nature resents prohibitions and demands. Even Christians are tempted to modify and weaken God’s standards. Because of ignorance, misunderstanding, or outright disregard, believers find reasons to make God’s commands less demanding than they are. But when a Christian ceases to revere and obey God’s Word in even the slightest degree, to that degree He is being un-Christlike, because that is something Christ refused to do.

The Jews of Jesus’ day had divided the Old Testament laws into two categories. Two hundred forty-eight were positive commands, and three hundred sixty-five-one for each day of the year-were negative. The scribes and Pharisees would have long, heated debates about which laws in each category were the most important and which were the least.

Scripture itself makes clear that all of God’s commands are not of equal importance. When a lawyer among the Pharisees asked which commandment was the greatest, Jesus replied without hesitation: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and foremost commandment.” He then went on to say, “The second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’ ” (Matt. 22:37–39). Jesus acknowledged that one commandment is supreme above all others and that another is second in importance. It follows that all the other commandments fall somewhere below those two and that, like them, they vary in importance.

In His series of woes Jesus gives another indication of the relative importance of God’s commands. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23). The tithing of herbs was required; but being just, merciful, and faithful are much more spiritually important.

Jesus’ point here, however, is that it is not permissible to annul-by ignoring, modifying, or disobeying-even one of the least of these commandments. Some commands are greater than others, but none are to be disregarded.

Paul reminded the Ephesian elders that while he had ministered among them, he “did not shrink from declaring to [them] the whole purpose of God” (Acts 20:27). The apostle did not pick and choose what he would teach and exhort. He stressed some things more than others, but he left nothing out.

The person who teaches others to disregard or disobey any part of God’s word is an even worse offender. He not only annuls the law himself but causes others to annul it. Besides that, his disobedience obviously is intentional. It is possible to break God’s commands by being ignorant of them or forgetting them. But to teach others to break them has to be conscious and intentional.

James cautions, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we shall incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1). Every believer is accountable for himself, but those who teach are also accountable for those whom they teach. “The head is the eider and honorable man,” writes Isaiah, “and the prophet who teaches falsehood is the tail. For those who guide this people are leading them astray; and those who are guided by them are brought to confusion” (Isa. 9:15–16).

Jesus’ warning does not simply apply to official or formal teachers. Every person teaches. By our example we continually help those around us either to be more obedient or more disobedient. We also teach by what we say, When we speak lovingly and respectfully of God’s Word, we teach love and respect for it. When we speak disparagingly or slightingly of God’s Word, we teach disregard and disrespect for it. When we ignore its demands, we give loud testimony to its unimportance to us.

Just after Paul reminded the elders from Ephesus that he had been faithful in teaching them God’s full Word, he warned them, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock. … I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; and from among your own selves men will arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after them” (Acts 20:28–30).

The consequence of practicing or teaching disobedience of any of God’s Word is to be called least in the kingdom of heaven. I do not believe, as some commentators suggest, that called refers to what men say about us, but to what God says about us. Our reputation among other people, including other Christians, may or may not be adversely affected. Often other people do not know about our disobedience, and often when they know they do not care. But God always knows, and He always cares. It is only what we are called by God that is of any ultimate importance. It should be the concern of every believer who loves his Lord that He never have cause to call him the least.

Determining rank in the kingdom of heaven is entirely God’s prerogative (cf. Matt. 20:23), and Jesus declares that He will hold those in lowest esteem who hold His Word in lowest esteem. There is no impunity for those who disobey, discredit, or belittle God’s law.

That Jesus does not refer to loss of salvation is clear from the fact that, though offenders will be called least, they will still be in the kingdom of heaven. But blessing, reward, fruitfulness, joy, and usefulness will all be sacrificed to the extent that we are disobedient. “Watch yourselves,” John warns, “that you might not lose what we have accomplished, but that you may receive a full reward” (2 John 8). It is possible to lose in the second phase of our Christian lives what we built up in the first.

To disdain even the smallest part of God’s Word is to demonstrate disdain for all of it, because its parts are inseparable. James teaches that “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). To ignore or reject the least of God’s law is therefore to cheapen all of it and to become the least in His kingdom. Such Christians receive their rank because of their ill treatment of Scripture, not, as some imagine, because they may have lesser gifts.

The Positive Consequence

The positive result is that whoever keeps and teaches them, he shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. Here again Jesus mentions the two aspects of doing and teaching. Kingdom citizens are to uphold every part of God’s law, both in their living and in their teaching.

Paul could tell the Thessalonians, “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:10–12). Paul had been faithful to live and teach among them all of God’s Word, just as he had done at Ephesus and everywhere else he ministered.

God’s moral law is a reflection of God’s very character and is therefore changeless and eternal. The things it requires will not have to be commanded in heaven, but they will be manifested in heaven because they manifest God. While God’s people are still on earth, however, they do not naturally reflect the character of their heavenly Father, and His moral standards continue to be commanded and supernaturally produced (cf. Rom. 8:2–4).

“Prescribe and teach these things,” Paul tells Timothy, “[and] in speech, conduct, love, faith and purity, show yourself an example of those who believe” (1 Tim. 4:11–12). Near the end of the same letter Paul tells Timothy to flee from all evil things and, as a man of God, to “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called” (6:11–12).

Paul both kept and taught the full Word of God, and he is therefore among those who will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. No one who does not do the same will be in the ranks of God’s great saints.

Greatness is not determined by gifts, success, popularity, reputation, or size of ministry-but by a believer’s view of Scripture as revealed in his life and teaching.

Jesus’ promise is not simply to great teachers such as Paul-or Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, or Spurgeon. His promise applies to every believer who teaches others to obey God’s Word by faithfully, carefully, and lovingly living by and speaking of that Word. Every believer does not have the gift of teaching the deep doctrines of Scripture, but every believer is called and is able to teach the right attitude toward it.

The Clarification of the Law

We know from the thrust of the New Testament epistles that Jesus is speaking here of God’s permanent moral law. The Sermon on the Mount is just as valid for believers today as it was for those to whom Jesus preached it directly, because every principle and standard taught here is also taught in the epistles. The other writers make absolutely clear that believers’ obligation to obey God’s moral law not only did not cease at Christ’s coming but was reaffirmed by Christ and remains energized by the Holy Spirit for the entire church age.

There is indeed a paradox in regard to the law, and it is especially evident in Paul’s letters. On the one hand we are told of the law’s being fulfilled and done away with, and on the other that we are still obliged to obey it. Speaking of the Jews and Gentiles, Paul says that Christ “is our peace, who made both groups into one, and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace” (Eph. 2:14–15). When the church came into existence the “dividing wall” of civil, judicial law crumbled and disappeared.

In God’s eyes Israel was temporarily set aside as a nation at the cross, when she crucified her King and rejected His kingdom. In the world’s eyes Israel ceased to exist as a nation in a.d. 70, when all of Jerusalem, including the Temple, was razed to the ground by the Romans under Titus. (Her restoration nationally is but a preparation for her restoration spiritually, as Romans 9–11 teaches.)

The ceremonial law also came to an end. While Jesus was still hanging on the cross, “the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom” (Mark 15:38). The Temple worship and the sacrifices were no longer valid, even symbolically. That part of the law was finished, accomplished, and done away with by Christ.

There is even a sense in which God’s moral law is no longer binding on believers. Paul speaks of our not being under law but under grace (Rom. 6:14). But just before that he had said, “do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts” (v. 12), and immediately after verse 14 he says, “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be!” (v. 15). Those in Christ are no longer under the ultimate penalty of the law, but are far from free of its requirement of righteousness.

To the Romans Paul said, “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes” (Rom. 10:4), and to the Galatians he wrote, “But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the Law” (Gal. 5:18). But he had just made it clear that Christians are not in the least free from God’s moral standards. “For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please” (v. 17). The law that was once “our tutor to lead us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24) now leads us as “sons of God through Christ Jesus” to be clothed with Christ (vv. 26–27), and His clothing is the clothing of practical righteousness. If Christ’s own righteousness never diminished or disobeyed God’s moral law, how can His disciples be free to do so?

Paul harmonized the idea when he spoke of himself as being “without the law of God but under the law of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:21). In Christ we are anything but lawless. Christ’s law is totally different from the Jewish judicial and ceremonial law and different from the Old Testament moral law, with its penalties and curses for disobedience. But it is not different in the slightest from the holy, righteous standards that the Old Testament law taught.

The Old Testament law is still a moral guide, as in revealing sin (Rom. 7:7). Even when it provokes sin (v. 8), it helps us see the wickedness of our own flesh and our helplessness apart from Christ. And even when we see the condemnation of the law (vv. 9–11), it should remind us that our Savior took that condemnation upon Himself on the cross (5:18; 8:1; 1 Pet. 2:24; etc.). Whenever a Christian looks at God’s moral law with humility, meekness, and a sincere desire for righteousness, the law will invariably point him to Christmas it was always intended to do. And for believers to live by it is for them to become like Christ. It could not possibly be otherwise, because it is God’s law, and it reflects God’s character. “So then,” Paul is careful to remind us, “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (v. 12).

Paul concludes Romans 7 by thanking “God through Jesus Christ our Lord” that even though his flesh served “the law of sin,” his mind served “the law of God” (7:25). The penalty of the law has been paid for us by Jesus Christ, but also in Him the righteousness of the law is “fulfilled in us, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according the Spirit” (Rom. 8:4; cf. Gal. 5:13–24).[2]


19 The contrast between the least and the greatest in the kingdom probably supports gradation within kingdom ranks (as in 11:11, though the word for “least” is different there; cf. 18:1–4). It is probably not a Semitic way of referring to the exclusion-inclusion duality (contra Bonnard). The one who breaks “one of the least of these commandments” is not excluded from the kingdom—the linguistic usage is against this interpretation (see Meier, Law and History, 92–95)—but is very small or unimportant in the kingdom (taking elachistos [GK 1788] in the elative sense). The idea of gradations of privilege or dishonor in the kingdom occurs elsewhere in the Synoptic Gospels (20:20–28; cf. Lk 12:47–48). Distinctions are made not only according to the measure by which one keeps “the least of these commandments” but also according to the faithfulness with which one teaches them.

But what are “these commandments”? It is hard to justify restriction of these words to Jesus’ teachings (so Banks, Jesus and the Law, 221–23), even though the verb cognate to “commands” (entolōn, GK 1953) is used of Jesus’ teachings in 28:20 (entellomai); the noun in Matthew never refers to Jesus’ words, and the context argues against it. Restriction to the Ten Commandments (TDNT, 2:548) is alien to the concerns of the context. Nor can we say “these commandments” refers to the antitheses that follow, for in Matthew houtos (“this,” plural “these”) never points forward. It appears, then, that the expression must refer to the commandments of the OT Scriptures. The entire Law and the Prophets are not scrapped by Jesus’ coming but fulfilled. Therefore the commandments of these Scriptures—even the least of them (on distinctions in the law, see comments at 22:36; 23:23)—must be practiced. But the nature of the practicing has already been affected by vv. 17–18. The law pointed forward to Jesus—his activity and his teaching—so it is properly obeyed by conforming to his word. As it points to him, so he, in fulfilling it, establishes what continuity it has, the true direction to which it points and the way it is to be obeyed. Thus ranking in the kingdom turns on the degree of conformity to Jesus’ teaching as that teaching fulfills OT revelation. His teaching, toward which the OT pointed, must be obeyed.[3]


5:19 In returning to the Sermon, we notice that Jesus anticipated a natural tendency to relax God’s commandments. Because they are of such a supernatural nature, people tend to explain them away, to rationalize their meaning. But whoever breaks one part of the law, and teaches other people to do the same, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven. The wonder is that such people are permitted in the kingdom at all—but then, entrance into the kingdom is by faith in Christ. A person’s position in the kingdom is determined by his obedience and faithfulness while on earth. The person who obeys the law of the kingdom—that person shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 107). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 267–273). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 178–179). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1219). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

APRIL 8 – GOD IS ALWAYS CORDIAL

If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?

—Matthew 7:11

I have for over thirty years spoken about God’s goodness. It is most important that we know about God’s goodness and know what kind of God He is. What is God like? It is a question that must be answered if we’re going to be any kind of Christians at all. Don’t take that for granted and say, “I already know.” …

God is kindhearted, gracious, good-natured and benevolent in intention. And let us remember that God is cordial. We only think we believe, really. We are believers in a sense, and I trust that we believe sufficiently to be saved and justified before His grace. But we don’t believe as intensely and as intimately as we should. If we did, we would believe that God is a cordial God, that He is gracious and that His intentions are kind and benevolent….

There are never any times when God won’t be cordial. Even the best Christian doesn’t always feel cordial. Sometimes he didn’t sleep well, and though he’s not mad and he’s living like a Christian, he doesn’t feel like talking in the mornings. He doesn’t feel cordial; he’s not overflowing; he’s not enthusiastic. But there’s never a time when God isn’t. Because what God is, He is perfectly. AOG040, 042-043

Oh, Lord, may I believe in your goodness more intensely. Give me a deep confidence that You are a gracious God and that Your intentions are always benevolent. Amen. [1]


If you then, being evil-as sinful human fathers-know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him! Here is one of the many specific scriptural teachings of man’s fallen, evil nature. Jesus is not speaking of specific fathers who are especially cruel and wicked, but of human fathers in general, all of whom are sinful by nature.

Those who do not know the true God have no divine source to whom they can turn with assurance or trust. Most pagan gods are but larger than life images of the men who made and worship them. Greek mythology tells of Aurora, the goddess of dawn, who fell in love with Tithonus, a mortal youth. When Zeus, the king of gods, promised to grant her any gift she chose for her lover, she asked that Tithonus might live forever. But she had forgotten to ask that he also remain forever young. Therefore when Zeus granted the request, Tithonus was doomed to an eternity of perpetual aging (Homeric Hymn to Aphrodite [5.218–38]). Such are the capricious ways of the gods men make.

But not so with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. As in the previous chapter, Jesus uses the phrase much more to describe God’s love for His children (cf. 6:30). Our divine, loving, merciful, gracious Father who is in heaven has no limit on His treasure and no bounds to the goodness He is willing to bestow on His children who ask Him. The most naturally selfless relationship among human beings is that of parents with their children. We are more likely to sacrifice for our children, even to the point of giving up our lives, than for any other persons in the world. Yet the greatest human parental love cannot compare with God’s.

There is no limit to what our heavenly Father will give to us when we ask in obedience and according to His will. Again we get additional truth from the parallel passage in Luke, which tells us, “How much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him?” (11:13).

The truth Jesus proclaims here is that, if imperfect and sinful human fathers so willingly and freely give their children the basics of life, God will infinitely outdo them in measure and in benefit. That is why the children of God are “blessed … with every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3) offered by “the riches of His grace, which He lavished upon us (vv. 7–8). If we want God to treat us with loving generosity as His children, we should so treat others, because we are those who bear His likeness.[2]


7:11 you … who are evil. Earthly parents have an innate impulse to do what is best for their children, yet they are flawed as a result of sin’s corruption of all humanity through the fall of Adam and Eve (cf. Rom. 5:12–14), and the quality of their parenting does not match God’s. This is an example of a “how much more” argument frequently used in Matthew and Luke (e.g., Matt. 10:25; 12:12; Luke 11:13; 12:24; cf. Heb. 9:14).[3]


[1] Tozer, A. W., & Eggert, R. (2015). Tozer on the almighty god: a 365-day devotional. Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 445–446). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1834). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

April 8 – Christ Our Shepherd

You were like sheep going astray, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.

1 Peter 2:25

 

Today’s verse is the apostle Peter’s allusion to Isaiah 53:6, which says, “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” If the Lord had not provided a sacrifice for sin, He could never have brought us into His fold.

The task of a shepherd is to guard sheep. The Greek term for “shepherd” in 1 Peter 2:25 can also be translated as “pastor.” That, along with the word translated as “overseer,” describe the responsibilities of elders (cf. 1 Pet. 5:2). Jesus guards, oversees, leads, and supervises His flock. He said, “The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11). That’s exactly what He did to bring us to Himself.[1]


Believers’ Perfect Shepherd Through Suffering

For you were continually straying like sheep, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Guardian of your souls. (2:25)

As he concluded this passage, Peter once more alluded to Isaiah 53, “All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; but the Lord has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him” (v. 6). If God had not determined that all believers’ sins should fall on Jesus, there would be no shepherd to bring God’s flock into the fold.

The phrase were continually straying like sheep describes by analogy the wayward, purposeless, dangerous, and helpless wandering of lost sinners, whom Jesus described as “sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). The verb rendered have returned (epestraphēte) carries the connotation of repentance, a turning from sin and in faith a turning toward Jesus Christ. But Peter’s readers had trusted in Christ’s substitutionary death and turned to Him for salvation. Like the prodigal son in Luke 15:11–32, they had turned away from the misery of their former sinful life (cf. Eph. 2:1–7; 4:17–24; Col. 3:1–7; 1 Thess. 1:2–10) and received new life in Christ (cf. Eph. 5:15–21; Col. 3:8–17; 1 Thess. 2:13–14). All who are saved come under the perfect care, provision, and protection of the Shepherd and Guardian of their souls.

The analogy of God as shepherd is a familiar and rich theme in Scripture (cf. 5:4; Ps. 23:1; Ezek. 34:23–24; 37:24). Jesus identified Himself as God when He took the divine title and named Himself the “good shepherd” (John 10:11, 14). Shepherd is an apt title for the Savior since it conveys His role as feeder, leader, protector, cleanser, and restorer of His flock. And believers as sheep is also an apt analogy because sheep are stupid, gullible (a sheep called the “Judas sheep” in modern times leads the other sheep to slaughter), dirty (the lanolin in sheep’s wool collects all kinds of dirt), and defenseless (they have no natural defensive capabilities). (See the discussion of shepherding in chapter 23 of this volume.)

The term Guardian (episkopos) serves as a synonym, another term describing Jesus’ care for His flock. It is the word usually translated “bishop” or “overseer,” which along with Shepherd also describes the responsibilities of the pastor or elder (cf. 1 Tim. 3:1–7; Titus 1:5–9). Later in this letter, Peter uses both root words when he exhorts elders to “shepherd the flock of God … exercising oversight not under compulsion, but voluntarily, according to the will of God” (5:2). By His death and resurrection for His flock, the Lord has become the Shepherd and Guardian of their eternal souls. In suffering, He became their example, their substitute, and their shepherd.[2]


25 Rhetorically speaking, Peter finds it necessary to remind his readers that, formerly, “you were like sheep going astray” (cf. Isa 53:6), as he has already suggested earlier in the letter (1:14, 18; 2:10). But “now you have returned [epestraphēte, GK 2188].” Doubtless his own returning is in the back of the writer’s mind; he knows what it means to be restored (“when you have turned back [epistrepsas], strengthen your brothers,” Lk 22:32).

Given the delicate nature of the themes being addressed (unjust suffering, mistreatment, showing respect to all, confidently entrusting ourselves to God who vindicates), it is fitting that this section concludes with the sheep/shepherd metaphor, reminiscent once more of Isaiah 53:6–7. The shepherd tends the flock, and in so doing he selflessly cares for the sheep, recovering those who stray. He alone is aware of dangers lurking that threaten the flock’s welfare. Christ’s example is compelling for several reasons. Not only did his vicarious suffering bring about redemption and not only did he not respond in kind, but through his own suffering he also established solidarity with the saints. Because “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but … who has been tempted in every way—yet was without sin” (Heb 4:15), the saints can “approach the throne of grace with confidence.” It is there that they “receive mercy and find grace to help [them] in [their] time of need” (4:16).

Christ is here depicted as both “Shepherd” and “Overseer of your souls.” The designation “Overseer” (episkopos, GK 2176, hence the English “bishop”) is not intended to denote an ecclesiastical title (and thereby suggest a later date for the epistle, as some commentary assumes). In a secular milieu, episkopoi are governors or administrators who supervise law and maintain public safety; thus, rich in what it suggests, the term reinforces the fact that Christ is concerned for—and superintends—the saints’ welfare. He guards them in a multifaceted way. Not incidentally, Paul addresses the elders of Ephesus in very similar terms. He calls them both to “be shepherds of the church of God” and be “overseers” thereof, which was “bought with his own blood” (Ac 20:28). These attributes, which Christ himself exhibits toward the church and which inhere in the sheep/shepherd metaphor, are emphasized again later in the epistle’s concluding exhortations (5:2–4); the elders are to demonstrate the same qualities as they shepherd the flock of God.[3]


2:25 Before conversion, we were like sheep going astray—lost, torn, bruised, bleeding. Peter’s mention of straying sheep is the last of six references to Isaiah 53 in this passage:

v. 21

 

Christ … suffered for us (cf. Isa. 53:4, 5).

 

v. 22

 

He committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth (cf. Isa. 53:9).

 

v. 23

 

When He was reviled, He did not revile in return (cf. Isa. 53:7).

 

v. 24

 

Who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree (cf. Isa. 53:4, 11).

 

v. 24

 

By whose stripes you were healed (cf. Isa. 53:5).

 

v. 25

 

For you were like sheep going astray (cf. Isa. 53:6).

 

When we are saved, we return to the Shepherd—the good Shepherd who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11); the great Shepherd who “tends with sweet, unwearied care the flock for which He bled,” and the Chief Shepherd who will soon appear to lead His sheep into the green pastures above—from which they will never stray.

Conversion is returning to the Guardian of our souls. We were His by creation, but became lost through sin. Now we return to His keeping care, and are safe and secure forever.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 113). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 173–174). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 325–326). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2265–2266). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.