Daily Archives: June 3, 2017

June 3, 2017: Verse of the day

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17:24, 25 Missionaries tell us that the best place to begin in teaching pagans about God is the account of creation. This is exactly where Paul began with the people of Athens. He introduced God as the One who made the world and everything in it. As he looked around on the numerous idol temples nearby, the apostle reminded his hearers that the true God does not dwell in temples made with hands. Nor is He dependent on the service of men’s hands. In idol temples, the priests often bring food and other “necessities” to their gods. But the true God does not need anything from man, because He is the source of life, breath, and all things.[1]


24. “The God who made the world and all things in it, because he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in manmade temples. 25. And he is not served by human hands as if he needs anything; rather, he gives to everyone life, breath, and all things.”

The message Paul proclaims is thoroughly scriptural. Although the people in his audience are unaware of the references, Paul teaches that God, who is the creator of the heavens and the earth, gives life to all people. He does this by freely quoting the words of Isaiah:

This is what God the Lord says—

he who created the heavens and stretched them out,

who spread out the earth and all that comes out of it,

who gives breath to its people,

and life to those who walk on it. [42:5, NIV]

Paul puts the teaching concerning God and his revelation in the place of the Stoic philosophy that sees deities in every aspect of the world but has no doctrine of creation. Paul teaches monotheism over against Stoic pantheism. He introduces God, who made the world and everything in it. The Greek word kosmos signifies the world arranged in orderly fashion “as the sum total of everything here and now.” When Paul adds to the term kosmos the phrase and all things in it, he stresses the orderliness of creation that finds its origin in one personal God. He says that this God is Lord of heaven and earth. Paul intimates that as Lord, God governs and cares for all that he has made, including this Athenian audience.

Incidentally, Paul’s reference to creation has an echo in the speech he delivered in Lystra (14:15–17; compare Gen. 14:19, 22; Exod. 20:11). There he stressed that God provides the people with plenty of food and fills their hearts with joy. Now he asserts that God rules over everything in heaven and on earth.

“[God] does not dwell in manmade temples.” Again Paul proclaims the teachings of the Old Testament when he points out that God does not live in temples made by human hands (see 7:48; 1 Kings 8:27). Simple reasoning should convince the Athenians that God who has created heaven and earth cannot be restricted to the confines of a temple.

“And he is not served by human hands as if he needs anything.” God is immeasurably greater than the human mind can ever fathom. Therefore, in the psalms God says that because everything in this world belongs to him, he has no need for bulls and goats as sacrificial animals (Ps. 50:8–13). To the point, God is not dependent on sacrifices that man brings to him. With this teaching, Paul finds a listening ear among the Athenian philosophers. “Here may be discerned approximations to the Epicurean doctrine that God needs nothing from human beings and to the Stoic belief that he is the source of all life.…”

“Rather, he gives to everyone life, breath, and all things.” God is a personal God who not only creates but also sustains everything he has made. This self-sufficient God daily cares for man and for his great creation in the minutest details. God is the source of life, for he gives breath to all living creatures. Note the striking contrast Paul makes in this verse (v. 25). He says that God, who does not “need anything,” provides “all things” for everyone. In the Greek, the expression all things connotes that God in his support of man excludes absolutely nothing from the totality of creation. God gives man everything he needs and thus upholds him by his power.[2]


Creator

The God who made the world and all things in it (17:24a)

Paul’s bold assertion that God made the world and all things in it was a powerful and upsetting truth for some of the Athenians to hear. It ran contrary to the Epicureans, who believed matter was eternal and therefore had no creator, and to the Stoics, who as pantheists believed everything was part of God—who certainly couldn’t have created Himself. But it was still the basic approach required. Whenever the logic of a creator has been eliminated, people are cut off completely from God.

The truth that God is the creator of the universe and all it contains is just as unpopular in our day. The prevailing explanation by the ungodly for the origin of all things is evolution. It is taught dogmatically by its zealous adherents (including, sadly, many Christians) as a scientific fact as firmly established as the law of gravity. Yet evolution is not even a scientific theory (since it is not observable, repeatable, or testable), let alone an established fact.

The impressive scientific evidence against evolution can be briefly summarized as follows. First, the second law of thermodynamics shows that evolution is theoretically impossible. Second, the evidence of the fossil record shows evolution in fact did not take place. (Among the many helpful books presenting the scientific case against evolution are Michael Denton, Evolution: A Theory in Crisis [Bethesda, Md.: Adler and Adler, 1985]; Duane T. Gish, Evolution: The Fossils Still Say NO! [El Cajon, Calif.: Institute for Creation Research, 1995]; Henry M. Morris, The Biblical Basis for Modern Science [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1985]; Henry M. Morris and Gary E. Parker, What Is Creation Science? [San Diego: Master Book Publishers, 1984].)

The second law of thermodynamics, one of the most well-established principles in all of science, states that the natural tendency is for things to go from a more ordered to a less ordered state. Noted atheist Isaac Asimov acknowledged that “as far as we know, all changes are in the direction of increasing entropy, of increasing disorder, of increasing randomness, of running down” (cited in Henry M. Morris, ed., Scientific Creationism [San Diego: Creation-Life, 1976], 39). Yet, incredibly, evolutionists argue that precisely the opposite has happened. According to them, things have gone from a less ordered state to a more ordered one. Attempts to harmonize evolution with the second law of thermodynamics have not been successful, and it remains a powerful witness against evolution (cf. Emmett L. Williams, ed., Thermodynamics and the Development of Order [Norcross, Ga.: Creation Research Society Books, 1987]).

The only way to determine if evolution has happened is to examine the fossil record, which contains the history of life on earth. Although presented in popular literature and textbooks as proof for evolution, the fossil record is actually a major source of embarrassment for evolutionists. The innumerable transitional forms between phylogenetic groups demanded by evolution are simply not found. Although an evolutionist, David B. Kitts of the University of Oklahoma admits,

Despite the bright promise that paleontology provides a means of “seeing” evolution, it has presented some nasty difficulties for evolutionists the most notorious of which is the presence of “gaps” in the fossil record. Evolution requires intermediate forms between species and paleontology does not provide them. (“Paleontology and Evolutionary Theory,” Evolution 28 [September 1974]: 467)

Even Stephen Jay Gould of Harvard University, perhaps the most well-known contemporary defender of evolution, candidly admits,

The extreme rarity of transitional forms in the fossil record persists as the trade secret of paleontology. The evolutionary trees that adorn our textbooks have data only at the tips and nodes of their branches; the rest is inference, however reasonable, not the evidence of fossils. (“Evolution’s Erratic Pace,” Natural History LXXXVI [May 1977]: 14)

Paul’s affirmation that God made the world and all things in it finds its support in Scripture. The Bible opens with the simple declaration “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). In Psalm 146:5–6 the psalmist writes, “How blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God; Who made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them.” Isaiah asks rhetorically, “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The Everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth does not become weary or tired. His understanding is inscrutable” (Isa. 40:28). In Isaiah 45:18, Isaiah describes God as “the God who formed the earth and made it.” Jeremiah 10:12 says of God, “It is He who made the earth by His power, who established the world by His wisdom; and by His understanding He has stretched out the heavens.” Taking comfort in God’s power, Jeremiah exclaims, “Ah Lord God! Behold, Thou hast made the heavens and the earth by Thy great power and by Thine outstretched arm! Nothing is too difficult for Thee” (Jer. 32:17). Zechariah 12:1 refers to God as He “who stretches out the heavens, lays the foundation of the earth, and forms the spirit of man within him.”

The New Testament also teaches that God is the creator. Ephesians 3:9 declares that God “created all things.” Colossians 1:16 says of Jesus Christ, “By Him all things were created, both in the heavens and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things have been created by Him and for Him.” The great hymn of praise to God in Revelation 4:11 reads, “Worthy art Thou, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for Thou didst create all things, and because of Thy will they existed, and were created.” In Revelation 10:6 an angel “swore by Him who lives forever and ever, who created heaven and the things in it, and the earth and the things in it, and the sea and the things in it.”

Still, the truth that God is the creator of all things is widely rejected—even by some who profess to believe in His existence. They see Him as a remote first cause, who merely set in motion the evolutionary process and can make no claim on anyone’s life. But the creator God can and does. Sinful men are uncomfortable with the thought that they are accountable to One who created them and hence owns them.

When preaching to Jews, Paul began with the Old Testament Scripture; but with Gentiles, he began with the need to explain the first cause (see the discussion of 14:15 in chapter 7 of this volume).

Ruler

since He is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands (17:24b)

Because God created them, He is Lord of heaven and earth, and their rightful ruler. Genesis 14:19 describes God as “possessor of heaven and earth,” while David says in Psalm 24:1, “The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains, the world, and those who dwell in it.” The psalmist wrote: “The Lord has established His throne in the heavens; and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19). Humbled by God’s devastating judgment on him, the pagan king of Babylon, Nebuchadnezzar, was forced to admit:

[God’s] dominion is an everlasting dominion, and His kingdom endures from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, “What hast Thou done?” (Dan. 4:34–35)

The God who created the universe obviously does not dwell in temples made with hands. In 1 Kings 8:27 Solomon said, “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain Thee, how much less this house which I have built!” (cf. 2 Chron. 2:6; 6:18). David expressed that same truth in Psalm 139:1–12:

O Lord, Thou hast searched me and known me. Thou dost know when I sit down and when I rise up; Thou dost understand my thought from afar. Thou dost scrutinize my path and my lying down, and art intimately acquainted with all my ways. Even before there is a word on my tongue, behold, O Lord, Thou dost know it all. Thou hast enclosed me behind and before, and laid Thy hand upon me. Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it. Where can I go from Thy Spirit? Or where can I flee from Thy presence? If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me, and Thy right hand will lay hold of me. If I say, “Surely the darkness will overwhelm me, and the light around me will be night,” even the darkness is not dark to Thee, and the night is as bright as the day. Darkness and light are alike to Thee.

The folly of idolatry is most clearly seen in its denial of God’s infinity.

Giver

neither is He served by human hands, as though He needed anything, since He Himself gives to all life and breath and all things; (17:25)

Paul points out the absurdity of imagining that God, the creator and ruler of the universe, should need to be served by human hands, as though He needed anything. Job 22:2–3 asks, “Can a vigorous man be of use to God…. Is there any pleasure to the Almighty if you are righteous, or profit if you make your ways perfect?” God declares to Israel:

I shall take no young bull out of your house, nor male goats out of your folds. For every beast of the forest is Mine, the cattle on a thousand hills. I know every bird of the mountains, and everything that moves in the field is Mine. If I were hungry, I would not tell you; for the world is Mine, and all it contains. (Ps. 50:9–12)

Far from needing anything from men, God gives to all life and breath and all things. Psalm 104:14–15 reads:

[God] causes the grass to grow for the cattle, and vegetation for the labor of man, so that he may bring forth food from the earth, and wine which makes man’s heart glad, so that he may make his face glisten with oil, and food which sustains man’s heart.

To the Romans Paul wrote, “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Rom. 11:36). He commanded Timothy to “instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy” (1 Tim. 6:17). “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above,” notes James, “coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow” (James 1:17).

Nor does God give only to His children. Jesus said in Matthew 5:45 that God “causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” God blesses all men, even the most hardened sinners, with the benefits of common grace.[3]


24–25 The substance of Paul’s Athenian address concerns the nature of God and the responsibility of people to God. Contrary to all pantheistic and polytheistic notions, God is the one, Paul says, who has created the world and everything in it: he is “the Lord of heaven and earth” (v. 24; cf. Ge 14:19, 22). He does not live in temples “built by hands” (en cheiropoiētois); nor is he dependent for his existence on anything he has created. Rather, he is the source of life and breath and everything else that humanity possesses (v. 25). Earlier in the fifth century BC, Euripides asked, “What house built by craftsmen could enclose the form divine within enfolding walls?” (Fragments 968); and in the first century BC, Cicero (Verr. 2.5.187) considered the image of Ceres worshiped in Sicily worthy of honor because it was not made with hands but had fallen from the sky. While Paul’s argument can be paralleled at some points by the higher paganism of the day, its content is decidedly biblical (cf. 1 Ki 8:27; Isa 66:1–2) and its forms of expression are Jewish as well as Greek (cf. Isa 2:18; 19:1; 31:7 [LXX]; Sib. Or. 4.8–12; Ac 7:41, 48; Heb 8:2; 9:24 on the pejorative use of “built with hands” for idols and temples).[4]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1638). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 632–634). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (p. 326). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 983). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

 

June 3 – Being Quick to Hear

“This you know, my beloved brethren. But let every one be quick to hear” (James 1:19).

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Being quick to hear involves a proper attitude toward God’s Word.

It has been well said that either God’s Word will keep you from sin or sin will keep you from God’s Word. Apparently some of James’s readers were allowing sin to keep them from receiving the Word as they should. God was allowing them to experience various trials so their joy and spiritual endurance would increase, but they lacked wisdom and fell into temptation and sin. James called them back to the Word and to a godly perspective on their circumstances.

James 1:19 begins with the phrase “This you know,” which refers back to verse 18. They had experienced the power of the Word in salvation, and now James wants them to allow that Word to sanctify them. For that to occur, they must be “quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger” (v. 19).

Being “quick to hear” means you don’t disregard or fight against God’s Word. Instead, when trials or difficult decisions come your way, you ask God for wisdom and receive the counsel of His Word with a willingness to obey it. You’re not like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, whom Jesus described as “foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).

You should be “quick to hear” the Word because it provides nourishment for your spiritual life and is your weapon against all spiritual adversaries. It is the means by which you are strengthened and equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17). It delivers you from trials and temptations and engages you in communion with the living God. The Word should be your most welcome friend!

Be “quick to hear,” pursuing every opportunity to learn God’s truth. Let the testimony of the psalmist be yours: “O how I love Thy law! It is my meditation all the day . … I have restrained my feet from every evil way, that I may keep Thy word. … How sweet are Thy words to my taste! Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!” (Ps. 119:97, 101, 103).

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His precious Word and for the marvelous transforming work it accomplishes in you.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 19:1–14. ✧ What terms did the psalmist use to describe God’s Word? ✧ What benefits does the Word bring?[1]


  1. My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,20. for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.

Throughout the letter in general and here in particular, James talks directly to his readers. He tells them what to do and what not to do. Here he says, “Take note of this.” And what should they know? In typical Semitic parallelism he states the proverb:

Everyone should be

quick to listen

slow to speak

slow to become angry.

Speakers who have the talent to express themselves fluently and eloquently are much in demand. They receive recognition, admiration, and acclaim. James, however, puts the emphasis not on speaking but on listening. That is more important than speaking.

Listening is an art that is difficult to master, for it means to take an intense interest in the person who is speaking. Listening is the art of closing one’s mouth and opening one’s ears and heart. Listening is loving the neighbor as oneself; his concerns and problems are sufficiently important to be heard.

James cautions his readers to be fully aware of the words they speak. In effect, he echoes the saying of Jesus, “But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matt. 12:36–37; consult Eccles. 5:1–2; Sir. 5:11).

When James says that we must be slow to speak, he does not advocate that we take a vow to be silent. Rather, he wants us to be wise in our speaking. Jewish proverbs prevalent in the days of James were these: “Speak little and do much”; “It is wise for learned men to be silent, and much more for fools”; “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent” (Prov. 17:28). Solomon said something similar in this proverb: “When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise” (Prov. 10:19).

Careless words often accompany an angry mood. Of course, there is a place for righteous anger, but the psalmist tells us to know the limit of righteous anger: “In your anger do not sin” (Ps. 4:4; Eph. 4:26; and see Matt. 5:22). James pleads for restraint in respect to anger.

We have our excuses ready for being angry: too busy, too much pressure, a family trait, or even “I can’t help it.” James rules out excuses when he says, “Be … slow to become angry.” That is, we must be able to give an account of every word we speak. “A quick-tempered man displays folly” (Prov. 14:29) and anger is sin (Eph. 4:31; Col. 3:8; Titus 1:7). An angry man listens to the voice of the evil one and not to the voice of God.

James is direct. Says he, “Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.” Anger hinders the prayers of a believer (1 Tim. 2:8) and thus prevents him from promoting the cause of Christ. In effect, he has given “the devil a foothold” (Eph. 4:27). Consider Moses, who became angry with the Israelites but did not listen to the instructions God had given him. He showed disobedience and thus was not permitted to enter the Promised Land (Num. 20:10–12, 24; 27:14; Deut. 1:37; 3:26–27).

When we live the righteous life that God desires of us, we listen carefully and obediently to the Word of God. When we plan to do or say something, we ought to ask whether our actions and words promote the honor of God and advance the cause of justice and peace for our fellow man. When we permit anger to guide us, we are no longer guided by the law of God. “An angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins” (Prov. 29:22). Instead the believer ought to control his temper, pray for wisdom, and keep the law of God.[2]


1:19a The rest of this chapter gives practical instructions as to how we can be firstfruits of His creatures. It sets forth the practical righteousness which should characterize those who have been born again by the Word of Truth. We know that we were begotten by the word in order to manifest the truth of God. So then, let us now discharge our responsibility.

We should be swift to hear. This is an unusual command, with almost a trace of humor in it. It’s like saying, “Hurry up and hear!” It means that we should be ready to hear the word of God, as well as all godly counsel and admonition. We should be teachable by the Holy Spirit. We should be slow to speak. It is surprising how much James has to say about our speech! He cautions us to be guarded in our conversation. Even nature itself teaches us this. Epictetus noticed so long ago: “Nature has given to man one tongue, but two ears, that we may hear from others twice as much as we speak.” Solomon would have agreed heartily with James. He once said, “He who guards his mouth preserves his life, but he who opens wide his lips shall have destruction” (Prov. 13:3). He also said, “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking, but he who restrains his lips is wise” (Prov. 10:19). Compulsive talkers eventually transgress.

1:19b, 20 We should be slow to wrath. A man who is quick-tempered does not produce the kind of righteousness which God expects from His children. Those who lose their temper give people a wrong impression about Christianity. It is still true that “he who is slow to anger is better than the mighty; and he who rules his spirit than he who takes a city” (Prov. 16:32).[3]


Belief That Behaves—Part 1
A Proper Reception of the Word

(James 1:19–21)

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (1:19–21)

Here James presents a third test of a true believer. The first was his response to trials (1:2–12). The second was his response to temptation (1:13–18). The third is his response to the truth revealed in the Word of God (1:19–27).

When the true disciple hears God’s Word, there is an affection for its truth and a desire in his heart to obey it. One of the most reliable evidences of genuine salvation is that hunger for the Word of God (cf. Ps. 42:1). In 1:19–27, James focuses on two major truths relating to that evidence. First, saving faith is marked by a proper reception of Scripture as the Word of God (vv. 19–21). Second, it is marked by a proper reaction to the Word, reflected in an obedient life. The present chapter deals with the first element; chapter 7, with the second.

Just as a newborn baby does not have to be taught to hunger for its mother’s milk, the newborn child of God does not have to be taught to hunger for God’s Word, his spiritual food and drink. That is the natural impulse of his new spiritual life, of his new creation. To use another metaphor, his spiritual dial is tuned to the frequency of Scripture.

Our Lord stated: “If you abide in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine” (John 8:31). Genuine discipleship is evidenced by ongoing obedience to Scripture.

Jesus warned, “Take care what you listen to. By your standard of measure it shall be measured to you” (Mark 4:24; cf. Luke 8:18). Jesus’ true disciples are to pay keen attention to the content of what they hear and read, measuring every idea, every principle, and every standard against the infallible and sovereign authority of God’s Word. Believers are not, however, left only to the limits of their own diligence and understanding but are enabled by God’s indwelling Holy Spirit to accurately interpret what they hear in light of the Word. “To you,” the Lord assures us, “it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven. … Blessed are your eyes, because they see; and your ears, because they hear” (Matt. 13:11, 16; cf. 19:11). Paul also assures us that “we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may know the things freely given to us by God. … He who is spiritual appraises all things” (1 Cor. 2:12, 15; cf. vv. 9–10). When our faith is real, we are connected to the living God, from whom flows into us the supernatural life and power that makes us responsive and receptive to His Word.

The psalmist declared, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. … With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. … I have rejoiced in the way of Your testimonies, as much as in all riches” (Ps. 119:1, 10, 14). True believers love God’s Word, and their highest joy is to understand and keep it and thereby please their Lord.

Jesus also said:

“He who has My commandments and keeps them is the one who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and will disclose Myself to him.” Judas (not Iscariot) said to Him, “Lord, what then has happened that You are going to disclose Yourself to us and not to the world?” Jesus answered and said to him, “If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our abode with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine, but the Father’s who sent Me.” (John 14:21–24; cf. 15:7; 17:6, 17)

The person who is truly related to Christ through saving faith responds gladly to His Word. Conversely, the person who has no interest in hearing, much less obeying, God’s Word gives evidence that he does not belong to Him.

“If you abide in Me,” Jesus promised, “and My words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this is My Father glorified, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples” (John 15:7). In his first letter, John writes, “By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother” (1 John 3:10; cf. 2:24; 3 John 11).

Just as it is the inner desire of the believer to know and obey God’s Word, it is the natural desire of the unbeliever to disregard and disobey it. Although unbelievers sometimes refer to certain passages of Scripture to support their own beliefs, standards, and objectives, they do not cherish it and submit to it as God’s authoritative Word. At best, it is simply one resource among many others they may or may not agree with but will use to their advantage when it appears noble or seems helpful. Because of Scripture’s deep and convicting truths, they naturally rebel against it, since it exposes their sinfulness, lostness, and condemnation under God. “Just as Jannes and Jambres opposed Moses, so [unbelievers typically] oppose the truth, [because they are] men of depraved mind, rejected in regard to the faith” (2 Tim. 3:8). They are like Alexander the coppersmith, who vigorously opposed Paul’s teaching in Ephesus (see 2 Tim. 4:14–15). Like the various bad soils in Jesus’ parable—those on the roadside, on rocky places, and among thorns (Matt. 13:18–23)—unbelievers ultimately reject the gospel along with the rest of God’s Word. They reject His truth with their minds and with their hearts. Consequently, “Salvation is far from the wicked, for they do not seek Your statutes” (Ps. 119:155).

The Jews who rejected Jesus as the Messiah did so because they refused to believe the inspired Scriptures they had been divinely given. Jesus made it unmistakably clear to them that

the Father who sent Me, He has borne witness of Me. [But] you have neither heard His voice at any time, nor seen His form. You do not have His word abiding in you, for you do not believe Him whom He sent. You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; it is these that bear witness of Me; and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. (John 5:37–40)

A short while later, He said, “It is written in the prophets, ‘And they shall all be taught of God.’ Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me” (John 6:45). Still later, Jesus excoriated His enemies, telling them unambiguously: “You seek to kill Me, because My word has no place in you. … Why do you not understand what I am saying? It is because you cannot hear My word. … He who is of God hears the words of God; for this reason you do not hear them, because you are not of God” (John 8:37, 43, 47; cf. 10:26–27). Belief in God’s Word and belief in Jesus Christ are inseparable. To believe in one is to believe in the other; and to disbelieve one is to disbelieve the other.

So the believing mind and heart receives and submits to God’s truth. It is not that believers can merely sit back and passively understand, appreciate, and apply His truth without sincere determination and effort. Just as the Lord did not save us apart from our initial trust in Him, neither does He bless our lives as believers and give us spiritual growth apart from our continuing trust in Him. And just as the Word was the power of our new birth, so is it the power of our new life. Consequently, James reveals three attitudes that are necessary for believers to rightly receive God’s Word: willingness to receive it with submission (James 1:19–20), with purity (v. 21a), and with humility (v. 21b).

Willingness to Receive the Word with Submission

This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. (1:19–20)

This you know refers back to the truths just expressed: first, the general truth of the power of the Word in regenerating believers in the early church and making them entirely new creations; and, second, the subsidiary and marvelous truth that those believers became, in fact, “the first fruits among His creatures” (v. 18). From the apostle’s teaching as well as from their own experience, they knew what it was to be transformed by the incorruptible seed of the Word and given eternal life in the very family of God as His own child (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23–25).

At this point, James makes a clear transition in emphasis. Because we have experienced the transforming power of God and have been made new creatures, we are to continually submit to His Word, allowing it to continue its divine work in and through our lives. In James 1:18, Scripture is called “the word of truth”; in verse 21, “the word implanted”; in verse 22, simply “the word”; in verse 23, figuratively, as “a mirror”; and in verse 25, “the perfect law, the law of liberty.”

Scripture not only is given to bring men to salvation but also is “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). By the continual, faithful hearing of the life-giving and life-sustaining Word, our divinely indwelt hearts are stimulated to obey the Word with willing submission to its teachings and truths. We exult with David that “the law of the Lord is perfect, restoring the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes” (Ps. 19:7–8). “I have inherited Your testimonies forever,” another psalmist writes, “for they are the joy of my heart” (Ps. 119:111).

By addressing his readers as my beloved brethren James clearly indicates his deep compassion and concern for them. Like every wise Christian teacher, he is not simply trying to convince their minds in a purely intellectual way but also is trying to reach their hearts. His affection for them is equally as strong as his obligation to them. Few things can make a teacher’s work more effective than a genuine love for those being taught. Love can break down barriers—intellectual as well as spiritual ones—that no amount of fact and reason may do. And no matter how well the mind may understand and acknowledge a truth, it will be of little spiritual benefit to the believer or to the kingdom if the heart is not inclined to personally embrace and submit to it.

In the second half of verse 19, James gives three important commands for the believer who is willing to receive God’s Word with submissiveness. All three are deceptively simple. First, we must be quick to hear, that is, be a careful listener, making sure that we pay attention in order to get the message right. “Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise,” the writer of Proverbs observes; “when he closes his lips, he is counted prudent” (Prov. 17:28). In another place he asks rhetorically, “Do you see a man who is hasty in his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 29:20). In any field of knowledge we learn by listening, not by speaking (cf. Ps. 119:11; 2 Tim. 2:15).

James’s appeal is for believers to seize every opportunity to increase their exposure to Scripture, to take advantage of every privileged occasion to read God’s Word or to hear it faithfully preached or taught. The sincere, eager desire for such learning is one of the surest marks of a true child of God. When he is specially blessed, he turns to the Word to find passages of thanksgiving and praise. When he is troubled, he searches for words of comfort, encouragement, and strength. In times of confusion, he searches for words of wisdom and guidance. When he is tempted, he searches out God’s standards of purity and righteousness for power to resist. The Word is the source of deliverance from temptations and trials. It becomes the most welcome friend, not only because of what it delivers us from but also because of what it delivers us to—glorious, intimate, and loving communion with our heavenly Lord.

Periodically, every Christian should do a personal inventory regarding his hunger and thirst for God’s Word. He should ask himself with determined honesty, “Is my real delight, like the psalmist’s, truly in the law of the Lord; and do I meditate on it day and night?” (cf. Ps. 1:2); and, “If we miss reading Scripture before the day begins, do we notice a difference in the day and in ourselves?” Can we sing with Charles Wesley,

When quiet in my room I sit,

Thy book be my companion still;

My joy Thy sayings to repeat,

Talk o’er the records of Thy will,

And search the oracles divine

Till every heartfelt word is mine.

  1. A. Motyer has perceptively written,

We might wonder why the ever-practical James does not proceed to outline schemes of daily Bible reading or the like, for surely these are the ways in which we offer a willing ear to the voice of God. But he does not help us in this way. Rather, he goes deeper, for there is little point in schemes and times if we have not got an attentive spirit. It is possible to be unfailingly regular in Bible reading, but to achieve no more than to have moved the book-mark forward: this is reading unrelated to an attentive spirit. The word is read but not heard. On the other hand, if we can develop an attentive spirit, this will spur us to create those conditions—a proper method in Bible-reading, a discipline of time, and so on—by which the spirit will find itself satisfied in hearing the Word of God. (J. A. Motyer, The Message of James [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1985], 64–65)

The true believer will be marked by such an attentive spirit, which will find a way to be in Scripture regularly, not for the purpose of filling an allotted devotional time but to grow in the knowledge, understanding, and love of the truth—and through and above that, to grow in the knowledge, understanding, and love of the Lord Himself. He will be eager to attend Bible preaching and study, so that his heart and mind can again be exposed to God’s truth. He will be eager on the Lord’s Day to fellowship with brothers and sisters in Christ and to worship Him.

Second, the believer who willingly receives the Word with submission must be slow to speak. That characteristic is a companion of the first. You cannot listen carefully while you are talking, or even while you are thinking about what to say. Many discussions are fruitless for the simple reason that all parties are paying more attention to what they want to say than to what others are saying.

In this context, therefore, it seems that slow to speak includes the idea of being careful not to be thinking about one’s own thoughts and ideas while someone else is trying to express God’s. We cannot really hear God’s Word when our minds are on our own thoughts. We need to keep silent inside as well as outside.

The primary idea here, however, is that, when the appropriate time to speak does come, what is said should be carefully thought out. When we speak for the Lord, we should have the gravest concern that what we say not only is true but is spoken in a way that both edifies those who hear and honors the Lord in whose behalf we speak. We should pursue every opportunity to read the Word ourselves, to hear it preached and taught, and to discuss it with other believers who love, honor, and seek to obey it. At the same time, we should be cautious, patient, and careful when we have opportunity to preach, teach, or explain it to others. It is doubtless for that reason that James later warns, “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment” (James 3:1).

After many years of preaching and teaching the Word, I must confess that, although the exercise of preaching is the manifestation of my spiritual gift and certainly brings rich satisfaction, I cannot honestly say that I relish preaching and teaching or bask in the light of it. I do not rush into the pulpit with any sort of personal exhilaration or joy. There is always a certain reluctance in my heart, not a reluctance to fulfill my calling but a reluctance based on the great weight of responsibility to handle accurately and proclaim the truth of God (2 Tim. 2:15).

According to one of his biographers, when the great Scottish Reformer and theologian John Knox was first called to preach, “He burst forth in most abundant tears, and withdrew himself to his chamber. His countenance and behavior from that day until the day he was compelled to present himself to the public place of preaching, did sufficiently declare the trouble of his heart” (William Barclay, The Letters to Timothy, Titus, and Philemon [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1975], 50).

When a famous Roman orator was asked by a young man to teach him the art of public speaking, the young man continued an incessant flow of meaningless talk that allowed the great teacher no opportunity to interject a word. When they finally reached the point of discussing a fee, the orator said, “Young man, to instruct you in oratory, I will have to charge you a double fee.” When asked why, he explained, “Because I will have to teach you two skills: the first, how to hold your tongue; the second, how to use it.”

It is tragic when new converts, especially celebrities, are immediately encouraged to begin speaking publicly, not simply to give testimony to their salvation, but to begin giving advice and counsel about other aspects of Christian doctrine and practice for which they are not biblically or experientially prepared. Not only does it tend to foster pride and false confidence in the new convert but almost inevitably offers shallow, and often erroneous and spiritually dangerous, ideas to those who hear them. Well aware of that danger, Paul warned Timothy that an overseer, or elder, should not be “a new convert, so that he will not become conceited and fall into the condemnation incurred by the devil” (1 Tim. 3:6). Later in that letter he adds, “Do not lay hands upon anyone too hastily and thereby share responsibility for the sins of others” (5:22; cf. Ezek. 3:17–18; Acts 20:26–28; Heb. 13:17).

Judging from James 1:26 and 3:1, some believers in the churches to whom James wrote were accustomed to saying and teaching whatever happened to come into their minds, without giving it careful thought or checking it against Scripture. Many of the would-be teachers were perhaps sincere but poorly taught and unprepared. Some were proud and arrogant (see 4:6) and enjoyed hearing their own voices and being considered teachers and leaders. Some, being discontent, were given to criticizing and wrangling with each other (see 3:14; 4:1–2, 11; 5:9). And, although James does not mention the problem specifically, it would seem certain that there were also unbelieving false teachers who were deceptively undermining the doctrine and faith of church members, causing great confusion and damage.

The man of God whom God has anointed to preach and teach His Word is compelled to do that with both willingness and joy. But he also is to do it with a sense of awe, always making sure—by careful and patient study, preparation, and prayer—that he says nothing in God’s name that does not accurately reflect God’s Word.

Third, the believer who willingly receives the Word with submission must be slow to anger. Anger is a very natural emotion that is an all but automatic response—even for believers who are not spiritually prepared—to anything or anyone that harms or displeases them. Orgē (anger) does not refer to an explosive outburst of temper but to an inner, deep resentment that seethes and smolders, often unnoticed by others. It is therefore an anger that only the Lord and the believer know about. Therefore, it is a special danger, in that it can be privately harbored.

In this context, James seems to be speaking particularly about anger at a truth in the Word that displeases, that confronts sin or conflicts with a cherished personal belief or standard of behavior. It refers to a disposition hostile to scriptural truth when it does not correspond to one’s own convictions, manifested—even if only inwardly—against those who faithfully teach the Word.

As already noted, anger also was reflected in the general discontent and dissension within some of the congregations to whom James wrote. “What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you?” he asks. “Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members? You lust and do not have; so you commit murder. You are envious and cannot obtain; so you fight and quarrel” (4:1–2). People desired to have their own opinions confirmed, their own ways approved, their own likes and dislikes accepted by others. Self-will was supreme, personal hostility was rampant, and the spiritual damage was enormous. Instead of working together in love in each other’s behalf, they fought each other to have their own ways, regardless of the consequences to Christ’s church or to their own spiritual well-being.

But James’s emphasis here seems to be on those who hear the truth and resent its exposing their personal false ideas or ungodly lifestyles. Paul asked believers in Galatia, “So have I become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Gal. 4:16). In the minds of some church members, the answer doubtless was “yes.” In reality, of course, Paul’s persistently telling them God’s truth, without compromise or omission, was the kindest and most helpful thing he could do for them. That is the kindest and most helpful thing anyone can do for someone else.

But throughout the history of the church—in fact, throughout the history of fallen mankind—even believers have resented God’s truth and the messenger who brought it. Sometimes a pastor must therefore be severe in challenging and rebuking that resentment. “Now some have become arrogant,” Paul told the church at Corinth, “as though I were not coming to you. But I will come to you soon, if the Lord wills, and I shall find out, not the words of those who are arrogant but their power. For the kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power. What do you desire? Shall I come to you with a rod, or with love and a spirit of gentleness?” (1 Cor. 4:18–21).

In a similar but somewhat less specific way, James was trying to contain and defuse the personal resentment and hostility that plagued some, perhaps all, of the churches his letter would eventually reach. Many of the believers in those churches would have been under his pastoral care in Jerusalem before the church there was scattered after the martyrdom of Stephen (see Acts 8:1; 11:19).

There is, of course, a just anger, a holy indignation against sin, Satan, and anything that dishonors the Lord or assaults His glory. Jesus was intensely angry when He saw His Father’s house, the holy temple in Jerusalem, turned into “a place of business,” and He expressed His anger twice by driving out those responsible for the desecration (John 2:14–16; cf. Matt. 21:12–13).

But mere personal anger, bitterness, and resentment can never serve the cause of Christ, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God, that is, does not accomplish what is right in God’s eyes. That is especially true when the hostility is against the truth of God’s Word, for that in reality is against God Himself.

Willingness to Receive the Word with Purity

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, (1:21a)

As will be discussed further in the next section, the main verb of this sentence is receive. And because this verb (dechomai), as well as the related participle (from apotithēmi, putting aside), are in the aorist tense, the action of the participle is understood to precede that of the main verb. In other words, putting aside [more literally, “having put aside”] all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness is a condition for receiving the word implanted. Before God’s Word can produce His righteousness in us, we must renounce and put away the sin in our lives that stands between us and that righteousness.

Paul uses the same figure several times in his letters. He admonishes believers at Ephesus: “In reference to your former manner of life, you [must] lay aside the old self, which is being corrupted in accordance with the lusts of deceit, and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth” (Eph. 4:22–24). To Christians in Colossae, he says, “Put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (Col. 3:8–10). The writer of Hebrews declares, “Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12:1). Similarly, Peter writes, “Therefore, putting aside all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander, like newborn babies, long for the pure milk of the word, so that by it you may grow in respect to salvation” (1 Pet. 2:1–2).

Filthiness translates rhuparia, which refers to any sort of moral defilement or impurity. It is closely related to a term used of wax in the ear, which impairs hearing, and is therefore especially appropriate in this context. Moral filthiness is a serious barrier to our clearly hearing and comprehending the Word of God.

Wickedness is from kakia, which denotes moral evil and corruption in general, especially in regard to intent. It pertains to sin that is deliberate and determined. It may reside in the heart for a long time before being expressed outwardly, and may, in fact, never be expressed outwardly. It therefore includes the many “hidden” sins that only the Lord and the individual are aware of.

Although perisseia can carry the idea of remains, or surplus, in this context it seems better rendered as the “abundance,” “excess,” or “prevalence” of wickedness. The idea is that of confessing, repenting of, and eliminating every vestige and semblance of evil that corrupts our lives, reduces our hunger for the Word, and clouds our understanding of it. When that is done, we can indeed receive “the word of God, … not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God, which also performs its work in [us] who believe” (1 Thess. 2:13).

Willingness to Receive the Word in Humility

in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (1:21b)

Finally, James declares that true believers willingly receive God’s Word in humility. Humility translates prautēs, which is often rendered as “meekness” or “gentleness.” The adjective form is most commonly rendered “meek” or “gentle,” as in the third Beatitude (Matt. 5:5). But humility seems most appropriate here, because the idea is clearly that of selfless receptiveness, of putting self, as well as sins, aside. The noted Greek scholar W. E. Vine describes prautēs as “an inwrought grace of the soul; and the exercises of it are first and chiefly toward God. It is that temper of spirit in which we accept His dealings with us as good, and therefore without disputing or resisting” (An Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words [New York: Revell, 1940], 3:55).

Among other things, humility includes the very important quality of teachableness, which obviously is of utmost importance in regard to hearing and understanding God’s Word. The faithful Christian is to receive the word implanted with a submissive, gentle, and teachable spirit, cleansed of pride, resentment, anger, and every form of moral corruption.

Implanted is from emphutos, which has the literal meaning of planting a seed in the ground. Here it is used metaphorically of God’s Word being implanted and taking root in the heart of a believer (the “good soil” of Matt. 13:8, 23) at the time of salvation. With the Holy Spirit to interpret and empower, it becomes a vital element in the new spiritual life of the child of God, for “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). The Word of God is the gospel in its fullness and “is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16).

Yet, despite its already being within us, we must continually receive it, in the sense of allowing it to direct and control our lives. It was in this way that the noble-minded Jews of Berea “received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things [preached by Paul and Silas] were so” (Acts 17:11).

Able to save your souls first refers back to our initial salvation, in which the Word brought the truth of the gospel to an unsaved heart, showing us the way of salvation and saving us from the penalty of sin (cf. 1 Pet. 1:23). It is also able to save by being a constant resource of God’s truth that the Holy Spirit uses to guard believers’ souls from being snatched out of God’s family by protecting us from the power and dominion of sin. Finally, it is able to lead us to ultimate and complete salvation, when we are glorified with Christ in heaven, forever separated from the presence of sin. It is that comprehensive truth that Paul declares in assuring us that “now salvation is nearer to us than when we believed” (Rom. 13:11). It is the divine power behind the truth of Scripture that is able to initiate salvation, keep it alive and growing, and finally bring it to final glory, complete and perfect. We have been saved (justified) through the power of the Word of God; we are kept saved (sanctified) through the power of the Word; and we will be ultimately, completely, and eternally saved (glorified) through the power of the Word. [4]


19a The first part of v. 19 presents us with several difficulties. For instance, the form of iste can be understood either as an imperative (“know this”) or an indicative (“you know this”). The NIV takes the former position (“My dear brothers, take note of this”) and the NASB the latter (“This you know, my beloved brethren”). Since in the vast majority of the cases in James where the author addresses his readers as “brothers” the imperative form is used (e.g., 1:2, 16; 2:1, 5; 3:1; 4:11; 5:7, 9–10, 12), the NIV probably has it right in this case (Martin, 38, 41; Nystrom, 89; contra Johnson, 198–99). Also, there is a question whether this exhortation sums up what goes before (vv. 16–18; so Martin, 38, 41; Johnson, 198–99) or introduces what follows (vv. 19b–21; so Dibelius, 109; Nystrom, 89). The position taken in this commentary is that the exhortation forms a parallel conclusion with 16a, the conclusion of the previous unit, and should be translated “remember this, my dear brothers,” or, with the NIV, “take note of this.”

Notes

17 These words have caused a great deal of discussion and have a number of variants in the earliest manuscripts. For the discussion, see Davids, 87–88.

19a Some ancient manuscripts have the word ὥστε, hōste (“so that,” or “therefore”), which is much smoother than ἴστε, iste (“you know”). Most commentators understand the latter to be the correct reading. In textual criticism the more difficult reading is seen as more likely, since an ancient scribe would have been more likely to “smooth out” a reading than make it more difficult.

  1. Righteous Living through the Word (1:19b–21)

Commentary

19b The triple exhortation “be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” is proverbial in nature. The virtue of being a ready listener who knows how to control the tongue, and the corresponding moral danger of being a hothead, hasty talker, are widespread in both Hellenistic and Jewish literature. Davids, 92, suggests that pas anthrōpos (GK 476), translated as “everyone” by the NIV, points to a Jewish background, and passages such as Proverbs 13:3 immediately come to mind: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (see also Pr 15:1; 29:20; Ecc 7:9). Yet this triple challenge also brings to the surface James’s deep concern over the divisiveness among the people he addresses. Time and again James deals with the proper use of the tongue in the community, which is a hallmark of one walking according to God’s way of wisdom (e.g., 2:12; 3:1–12; 4:1–3, 11–12; 5:9).

20 James then offers a basis for the exhortation: “for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God” (NASB). Passionate outbursts of anger do not “achieve” or “bring about” or “carry out” God’s righteousness. The verb has to do with work or effort of some kind. However, what does he mean when he speaks of “the righteousness of God,” for at least four interpretations are possible. The phrase could refer to God’s character as righteous, his justification, his eschatological justice (cf. 5:7), or his standard of right living (Laws, 81; Davids, 93). Of these the final option is to be preferred, since it is only in living according to God’s standard that human beings can “accomplish” or “work” his righteousness (Moo, 84). Consequently, the idea here is that when we allow anger to control us, spewing out poisonous emotional garbage onto our fellow believers, this falls far short of what God has designed for our relationships in the community of faith.

21 The “Therefore” (dio) at the beginning of v. 21 is very strong and shows that what this author is about to say is inferred from the previous statement. James is saying, “Based on this need to live up to God’s standard by being self-controlled in our interactions with one another, here’s what you need to do,” and he follows first with what needs to be put aside and then with what needs to be embraced. The word translated “get rid of” (NIV) is, in reality, a participle, which the NASB translates more accurately with “putting aside.” This term was used at times in the ancient world to refer to taking off clothes, but it occurs in the NT in a figurative sense of “laying aside” something spiritually bad, such as lying (Eph 4:25), malice, deceit, hypocrisy, envy, slander (1 Pe 2:1), or anything that would hold us back from following Christ fully (Heb 12:1). Accordingly, “moral filth” (rhyparia, GK 4864) translates the figurative sense of a term that literally refers to dirt or filth. In its figurative uses it can connote bad behavior, moral uncleanness, greed, or sordid attitudes or actions. The “evil that is so prevalent,” which is also to be laid aside, Laws, 81, translates pointedly with “the great mass of malice” and refers to the malicious and vulgar wagging of the tongue with which the author is concerned (3:1–12; cf. 1 Pe 2:1; Davids, 94). These community-corroding attitudes and actions must be done away with, for they are out of line with God’s righteous standard and, therefore, inappropriate for his community.

On the other hand, we are to replace these filthy rags of wickedness with something: “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.” The term rendered “humbly” connotes a posture of gentleness or meekness, as opposed to an aggressive haughtiness that forces its opinion and desires on others. Given the context and James’s emphasis on community dynamics, the term as used here might carry the nuanced sense of courtesy or being considerate of others. In its one other use in the book, the word is contrasted with envy and selfishness, which bring about evil and disorder (3:13). Thus in James’s putting forth of this concept, it has to do with living life well relationally in the community of faith, which is a manifestation of God’s wisdom.

It is not surprising that James integrates humility with receptiveness to God’s word. In v. 18, James has already pointed out that we were “birthed” by the word of truth. He now challenges us to an attitude of ready openness to the “word planted in you.” The term rendered “planted in you” is an adjective modifying “word” (logos, GK 3364) and can also carry the idea of “inborn,” which fits with the imagery of v. 18. The word God used to give us birth is now a part of who we are as people (cf. Jer 31:31–34). Although Davids, 95, asserts that “inborn” is unrelated to receiving, the same could be said of something already “implanted.” What James has in mind here is a heart that the dictates of God’s wise word may influence. This word “can save,” alluding to the future aspect of our salvation. The word is able to bring us all the way to the consummation of our salvation at the end of the age.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 167). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 56–57). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2222–2223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 65–77). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Guthrie, G. H. (2006). James. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 224–226). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 3 – OUR RICHEST TREASURE: INNER KNOWLEDGE OF GOD

…Ye have dwelt long enough in this mount:…Behold, I have set the land before you: go in and possess the land….

DEUTERONOMY 1:6, 8

Large numbers of supposedly sound Christian believers know nothing at all about personal communion with God; and there lies one of the greatest weaknesses of present-day Christianity!

The experiential knowledge of God is eternal life (John 17:3), and increased knowledge results in a correspondingly larger and fuller life. So rich a treasure is this inward knowledge of God that every other treasure is as nothing compared with it!

We may count all things of no value and sacrifice them freely if we may thereby gain a more perfect knowledge of God through Jesus Christ our Lord. This was Paul’s testimony (Phil. 3:7–14) and it has been the testimony of all great Christian souls who have followed Christ from Paul’s day to ours.

To know God it is necessary that we be like God to some degree, for things wholly dissimilar cannot agree and beings wholly unlike can never have communion with each other. It is necessary therefore that we use every means of grace to bring our souls into harmony with the character of God.

As we move farther up into the knowledge of Christ we open new areas of our beings to attack, but what of it? Remember that spiritual complacency is more deadly than anything the devil can bring against us in our upward struggle. If we sit still to escape temptation, then we are being tempted worse than before and gaining nothing by it.[1]


6 Moses begins this historical overview with Israel’s encampment at Sinai/Horeb. The initial giving of the law at Sinai provides the theological backdrop for Moses’ call for covenantal renewal in Deuteronomy. After God’s children spent about a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai, God exhorted them to continue their journey toward the land of promise.

7 As part of his command that the Israelites break camp and travel toward Canaan, the Lord provided an overview of the principal geographical divisions of that region (see Aharoni, 41–42, for a summary of those terms). The land described covers an area that exceeds even the boundaries of Israel during the glorious days of David and Solomon. The “hill country of the Amorites” and the “land of the Canaanites” respectively refer to the central hill country and the coastal area (cf. Nu 13:29), inhabited by the two people groups customarily referenced in these geographical descriptions. “Canaanites” serves as an umbrella term for the diverse peoples who inhabited the land of Canaan.

After Yahweh named “the hill country of the Amorites,” he referred to the various groups of people who inhabited the land in general. In that regard, God methodically cited four divisions of Canaan: the Arabah (primarily the Jordan Rift Valley), Shephelah (the transitional region between the hill country of Judah and the coastal region to the west), Negev (the arid region in southern Palestine), and coast (possibly referring to the coastline farther to the north, in the area of Phoenicia, since he seems to refer to the Canaanite coast with the phrase “land of the Canaanites”). The region of Lebanon and the Euphrates River serve as the far northern boundaries for the land of promise. This territorial overview approximates the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 15:18: “from the river of Egypt to the great river, the river Euphrates” (cf. Ex 23:31; Dt 11:24).

8 As the foundation for his command that Israel depart from Sinai and travel toward the Land of Promise, the Lord reaffirmed his promise, originally made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, that he would indeed enable them to take possession of the land of Canaan.

Moses presents both sides of the conquest endeavor: God’s part and Israel’s part. God “set before” Israel this land of promise. The unique combination of the verb “to give” (ntn) and the preposition “before” (lipnê) highlights God’s action of placing the land of promise before the nation of Israel (see Note). Yahweh first promised this land to Abraham (as a pledge) in Genesis 12:7. His reaffirmation of this promise to Abraham (Ge 15:18) and Jacob (28:13–15) regarded this promise as a reality (“I have given/I gave”). In his reaffirmation to Jacob (Ge 35:12), the Lord affirmed that the land he gave to Abraham and Isaac he will give to Jacob and his descendants. The Lord promised this land to Abraham and his descendants by oath (1:8—“the land that the Lord swore he would give”).

In Moses’ day, God is placing the land of promise at the disposal of the Israelites, the anticipated descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In conjunction with the interjection “See,” Yahweh is declaring: “I hereby give/place …” (Weinfeld, Deuteronomy 1–11, 134).

God required that Israel “take possession” of this land of promise. Although this verb can signify a peaceful occupation of land (cf. Pss 25:13; 37:9), in covenantal contexts it highlights taking possession of a land by dispossessing the former inhabitants (Dt 4:14, 26; 6:1; 7:1; 8:1; 11:8 et al.). Just as God directed other nations to “possess” certain lands (2:12, 21–22), God demands that Israel take possession of what he has allotted to them. Although taking possession of a land relates to Israel’s inheriting the land, the verb nḥl more precisely highlights that nuance (1:38; 3:28). God’s servant-nation was not merely taking land that belonged to another nation but was receiving “the land as gift from its divine owner, coming into their own rightful claim as vassals who work the royal estate of the Lord their God (cf. 1:39; 3:20; 10:11; Josh 1:15; 21:43)” (Merrill, Deuteronomy, 68).[2]


1:6 Deuteronomy typically names God as the Lord our (or your) God. “Lord” is Yahweh, the personal and covenantal name for God revealed to Moses (Ex. 3:14–15; see note on Gen. 2:4).

1:7 Turn. Israel left Sinai in Num. 10:11ff. Amorites. A general term for the occupants of the land. The descriptions of the land reflect its geography, roughly east to west. Arabah. See note on Deut. 1:1. The hill country is the ridge of higher mountains overlooking the Jordan Valley from the west. The lowland is the next strip of land to the west, with low, undulating hills. The Negeb is the arid land across the south, which becomes desert. Seacoast refers to the flat Mediterranean coastline. In general terms, the land is occupied by Canaanites (a term virtually synonymous at this time with “Amorites,” mentioned earlier in the verse). Lebanon lies to the north. The river Euphrates lies even farther north and east. Cf. the description of the land in the promise to Abraham (Gen. 15:18–21).

1:8 See has a sense of urgency, for it is a time of decision: from the plains of Moab Israel can now survey the land before it. Take possession of the land is a common command in Deuteronomy (e.g., 1:21, 39; 2:24, 31; 3:18; 4:1, 5, 14, 22, etc.). fathers. See 1:11, 21; 4:1; 6:3; 10:11; 12:1; 26:7; 27:3; 29:25. The promise of land was made first to Abraham (Gen. 12:7; 15:18–21), reiterated to Isaac (Gen. 26:4), and then to Jacob (Gen. 28:13; 35:12; cf. Deut. 6:10; 9:5; 29:13; 30:20; 34:4). The promises to the three patriarchs included land for their offspring after them. Moses is emphasizing that the current generation of Israel is included in the promises and God intends to keep his promise of the land. Thus the patriarchal reference functions rhetorically to persuade Israel to go in and possess the land.[3]


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

[2] Grisanti, M. A. (2012). Deuteronomy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers–Ruth (Revised Edition) (Vol. 2, pp. 480–481). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (pp. 330–331). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

JUNE 3 – NEW TESTAMENT ROOTS

For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body…and have been all made to drink into one Spirit.

1 Corinthians 12:13

It is really a blessed thing in our Christian fellowship and in our congregations that God never asks whether it is a big church or a little church!

A young pastor, when introduced to a well-known church leader, said, “You do not know me. I am the pastor of a little rural church.”

I think it was a wise reply that came from the churchman: “Young man, there are no little churches; all churches are the same size in God’s sight!”

But whether large or small, it must be an assembly of believers brought together through the name of Jesus to worship in God’s Presence—and with the right to receive all that God bestows.

With these roots we should ask ourselves if we are truly interested in spiritual attainment as were the New Testament believers. We must confess that the spiritual temperature among us may often be lower than in the early church. But we hold to the message that those who truly honor the Presence of the Savior are included in this relationship that goes back to the New Testament and to the apostles!

Lord, even small churches can be a large beacon in their communities through prayer and service. Glorify Yourself today through the good works of Your universal Church.[1]


  1. For indeed by one Spirit all of us were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and all were made to drink of one Spirit.

This text presents a number of difficulties that stem from the expressions by one Spirit, baptized, into one body, and all were made to drink. The combination of these terms is unique. What did Paul have in mind when he wrote that all of us are baptized by one Spirit? And what is the significance of making everyone to drink of one Spirit? We comment on the italicized terms but admit that problems remain.

By one Spirit. The Greek text has the preposition en that can be translated either “by” or “in.” Most translators have adopted the reading by to reveal means or agency. They think that this interpretation is the better of the two, for it avoids the awkwardness of having two quite similar prepositional phrases in the same clause: “in one Spirit … into one body.” I prefer the translation by.

Conversely, other translators believe that the Greek preposition en denotes sphere or place and thus translate it “in.” They point out that in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit is never described as the baptizer. Rather, the Spirit is the sphere into which the baptismal candidate enters. The Gospels declare that Jesus baptizes his followers with the Holy Spirit (Matt. 3:11; Mark 1:8).

Baptized. When Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” is he referring to a literal or a figurative baptism? If taken literally, Paul is talking about water baptism. However, the verb to baptize often conveys a metaphorical sense. For instance, Jesus asks James and John whether they are able to be baptized with a baptism similar to his own (Mark 10:38). Jesus is alluding not to his baptism in the Jordan but to his death on the cross (see also Luke 12:50; Acts 1:5; and 1 Cor. 10:2). It is preferable to state that Paul has in mind a figurative use of baptism.

Paul writes, “all of us were baptized,” and “all were made to drink of one Spirit.” These words extend to a circle that is far broader than the Corinthian community and includes all believers. This means that all true believers in Jesus Christ have been baptized by the Holy Spirit. The text teaches that regenerated Christians are incorporated into one body by the Holy Spirit but it says nothing about a subsequent baptism of the Spirit.

Some scholars interpret the text as a reference to the sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. But this is difficult to maintain. First, in the present context Paul gives no indication of introducing a discussion on the sacraments. Next, the text simply does not allude to water baptism. Third, the assertion that the verb to make to drink refers to the drinking of the Communion cup cannot be sustained. And last, the Greek verb tense calls for a single occurrence of drinking, which is incongruent with the repeated observance of the Lord’s Supper.

The flow of this verse intimates that to be baptized means to become a living member of the church upon conversion. When spiritual regeneration takes place in individuals, they enter the body of Christ, that is, the church. Not the external observance of water baptism but the internal transformation by the Holy Spirit brings people into a living relationship with Christ.

Into one body. Here Paul stresses the unity of the church in its diverse forms. He notes the racial, cultural, and social differences that existed in the Corinthian church: there were Jews and Greeks, slaves and free. Regardless of their status and position in life, these people came together to worship God in one church. If the church should practice discrimination, it would be in direct conflict with the law of love. All people who are spiritually renewed in Christ are equal to one another.

The preposition into denotes movement from the outside to the inside. Persons who have been regenerated by the Holy Spirit leave the world when they become living members of the church. “For Paul to become a Christian and to become a member of the Body of Christ are synonymous.”

All were made to drink. In verse 13, the adjective all appears twice not to indicate two distinct stages of the Christian experience but to reinforce the new status. In fact, the verse itself “rules out any interpretation of baptism which requires it to be complemented by a later rite for the impartation of the Spirit. For this reason, Paul once more writes the expression one Spirit and says that all believers were made to drink of this Spirit. We sense that the two verbs baptize and drink have much in common. By looking for a parallel, we see similar wording in one of Paul’s epistles: “For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27–28).

In the Corinthian and Galatian passages, Paul stresses the unity in Christ Jesus regardless of racial, cultural, social, and sexual differences. He states that all were baptized by one Spirit into Christ. And he adds that the believers have been made to drink of the Spirit (v. 13) and have clothed themselves with Christ (Gal. 3:27). Just as Christians are clothed with Christ, so they are saturated with the Holy Spirit. The Greek verb potizoō can mean either “I give to drink” (Matt. 25:35) or “I irrigate” (1 Cor. 3:6–8). The second meaning is appropriate, for Jesus also connects the Holy Spirit to the concept living water flowing from the believer (John 4:10; 7:38–39). When this spiritual saturation occurs, the individual believer enjoys a bountiful harvest, namely, the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22–23).[2]


12:13 Paul goes on to explain how we became members of the Body of Christ. By (or in) one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The more literal translation here is “in one Spirit.” This may mean that the Spirit is the element in which we were baptized, just as water is the element in which we are immersed in believer’s baptism. Or it may mean that the Spirit is the Agent who does the baptizing, thus by one Spirit. This is the more probable and understandable meaning.

The baptism of the Holy Spirit took place on the Day of Pentecost. The church was born at that time. We partake of the benefits of that baptism when we are born again. We become members of the Body of Christ.

Several important points should be noted here: First, the baptism of the Holy Spirit is that divine operation which places believers in the Body of Christ. It is not the same as water baptism. This is clear from Matthew 3:11; John 1:33; Acts 1:5. It is not a work of grace subsequent to salvation whereby believers become more spiritual. All the Corinthians had been baptized in the Spirit, yet Paul rebukes them for being carnal—not spiritual (3:1). It is not true that speaking in tongues is the invariable sign of being baptized by the Spirit. All the Corinthians had been baptized, but not all spoke in tongues (12:30). There are crisis experiences of the Holy Spirit when a believer surrenders to the Spirit’s control and is then empowered from on high. But such an experience is not the same as the baptism of the Spirit, and should not be confused with it.

The verse goes on to say that believers have all been made to drink into one Spirit. This means that they partake of the Spirit of God in the sense that they receive Him as an indwelling Person and receive the benefits of His ministry in their lives.[3]


Baptized by One Spirit

For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and we were all made to drink of one Spirit. (12:13)

In this verse Paul presents two important truths about Christ’s Body: its formation and its filling.

The Forming of the Body

The church is formed as believers are baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body. The Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism but Christ is the baptizer. At Jesus’ own baptism John the Baptist tells us that it is Jesus Christ, “He who is coming after me [and] is mightier than I,” who would baptize “with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matt. 3:11; cf. Mark 1:8; Luke 3:16; John 1:33). As explained in the following verse, the baptism of fire is the judgment of hell, the burning of “the chaff with unquenchable fire.” As Savior, Christ baptizes with the Holy Spirit; as Judge, He baptizes with fire. All believers receive baptism with the Holy Spirit; all unbelievers will receive baptism with fire. Therefore every living soul will be baptized by Christ.

Parenthetically, it should be noted that Paul is not speaking here of water baptism. Water baptism is an outward, physical ordinance believers submit to themselves and which is performed by other believers, in obedience to Christ’s command (Matt. 28:19; cf. Acts 2:38). Water baptism plays no part in conversion, but is a testimony to the church and to the world of conversion that has already taken place inwardly Spirit baptism, on the other hand, is entirely the work of God and is virtually synonymous with salvation. The term baptizō (“to baptize”) is used in the New Testament to refer to figurative immersion in trouble (Matt. 20:22–23, KJV) or to spiritual immersion (Rom. 6:3–5) in Christ’s death and resurrection. As one can be immersed in water, so a believer is immersed spiritually into the Body of Christ.

It should also be noted that the phrase “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is not a correct translation of any passage in the New Testament, including this one. En heni pneumati (by one Spirit) can mean “by or with one Spirit.” Because believers are baptized by Christ, it is therefore best to translate this phrase as “with one Spirit.” It is not the Holy Spirit’s baptism but Christ’s baptism with the Holy Spirit that gives us new life and places us into the Body when we trust in Christ.

It is not possible to be a Christian and not be baptized by Christ with the Holy Spirit. Nor is it possible to have more than one baptism with the Spirit. There is only one Spirit baptism, the baptism of Christ with the Spirit that all believers receive when they are born again. By this the Son places all believers into the sphere of the Spirit’s power and Person, into a new environment, a new atmosphere, a new relationship with others, and a new union with Jesus Christ (cf. 1 Cor. 10:2, where Paul shows how the nation of Israel left Pharaoh and Egypt to become immersed and identified with a new leader, Moses, and a new land, Canaan).

The pouring forth of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost also reveals that this baptism was by Jesus Christ (Acts 2:32–33), in fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prediction (Matt. 3:11; etc.) and of Jesus’ own promise (John 7:37–39; 15:7–15; Acts 1:5). We are not told exactly how this is done, any more than we are told exactly how God can give a person a new heart and new life. Those are mysteries beyond our comprehension. But there is no mystery as to the divine roles in salvation. The Father sent the Son and the Son sends the Spirit. The Son is the divine Savior, and the Holy Spirit is the divine Comforter, Helper, and Advocate. The Son is the baptizer and the Holy Spirit is the agent of baptism.

Paul’s central point in 1 Corinthians 12:13 is that baptism with the one Spirit makes the church one Body. If there were more than one Spirit baptism, there would be more than one church, and Paul’s whole point here would be destroyed. He is using the doctrine of baptism with the Spirit to show the unity of all believers in the Body. Many erring teachers today have used a wrong interpretation of the baptism with the Spirit to divide off from the Body an imagined spiritual elite who have what the rest do not. That idea violates the whole teaching here.

For by one Spirit we were baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free. The apostle could not have stated the truth more clearly. One Spirit baptism establishes one church. There are no partial Christians, no partial members of Christ’s Body. The Lord has no halfway houses for His children, no limbo or purgatory. All of His children are born into His household and will forever remain in His household. “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26–27). All believers in Jesus Christ become full members of His Body, the church, when they are saved. “There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Eph. 4:4–6).

It is interesting that those who advocate Christians’ seeking the baptism by the Spirit in order to belong to the spiritual elite cannot seem to agree on how that is to be done. They have many ideas and many theories but no scriptural method. The reason is simple: Scripture contains no command, suggestion, or method for believers to seek or receive the baptism of the Spirit. You do not seek or ask for that which you already possess. The believers in Samaria who were converted under the ministry of Philip had to wait a short while to receive baptism with the Holy Spirit, until Peter and John came up to Samaria and laid hands on the converts (Acts 8:17). In that unique transitional situation as the church was beginning, those particular believers had to wait for the Holy Spirit, but they were not told to seek Him. The purpose for that exception was to demonstrate to the apostles, and to bring word back to the Jewish believers in general, that the same Holy Spirit baptized and filled Samaritan believers as baptized and filled Jewish believers—just as a short while later Peter and a few other Jewish Christians were sent to witness to Cornelius and his household in order to be convinced that the gospel was for all men and to see that “the Holy Spirit had been poured out upon the Gentiles also” (Acts 10:44–45). Those special transitional events did not represent the norm, as our present text makes clear, but were given to indicate to all that the Body was one (Acts 11:15–17).

The Filling of the Body

When we were born again the Lord not only placed us into His Body, but placed the Holy Spirit in us. At salvation we are all made to drink of one Spirit. We are in the Spirit, who is in us. Just as there are no partially saved Christians there are no partially indwelt Christians. The Spirit is not parceled out to us in installments. God “gives the Spirit without measure” (John 3:34).

Like being baptized with the Spirit, being indwelt by the Spirit is virtually synonymous with conversion. It is a separate facet of the same glorious, transforming act. “However, you are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God dwells in you. But if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Him” (Rom. 8:9). A person who does not have the Holy Spirit does not have eternal life, because eternal life is the life of the Spirit. Thus Peter can affirm “that His divine power has granted to us everything pertaining to life and godliness, through the true knowledge of Him who called us by His own glory and excellence. For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, in order that by them you might become partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:3–4; cf. Col. 2:10; 1 Cor. 6:19).

Well–meaning and otherwise sound Christian leaders have caused great confusion, frustration, and disappointment in the lives of many believers by holding out the prospect of a second working of grace—which is called by many names. Time and energy that could be used in simply obeying the Lord and relying on what He has already given is spent striving for that which is possessed completely and in abundance. A person cannot enjoy what he has if he is forever seeking a nonexistent second blessing. An inadequate doctrine of salvation will always lead to an erroneous doctrine of sanctification. It is an ironic tragedy that those who seek a second blessing of grace cannot enjoy either. They do not enjoy the first blessing, although it is complete, because they are continually seeking the second, which does not exist.

The idea of the second blessing probably originated in the Middle Ages with the teaching that a person is saved when baptized, even though as an infant, and later receives the Holy Spirit at confirmation after coming of age. Sincere and otherwise biblical evangelicals modified the idea as a means for trying to enliven lifeless Christians. Because the church was lethargic, carnal, worldly, and fruitless, they sought to infuse vitality by encouraging believers to seek an additional work of God. But the problem has never been the insufficiency or incompleteness of God’s work. Christ gives no salvation but perfect salvation. And it is tragic that so many are seeking some “triumphalistic experience” of “deeper life,” some formalized key to instant spirituality, when the Lord calls for obedience and trust in what has been given in His perfect work of salvation (Heb. 10:14).

The being “filled up to all the fulness of God” of which Paul speaks in Ephesians 3:19 has to do with living out fully that which we already possess fully, just as does the working out of our salvation (Phil. 2:12). When we trust in Christ we are completely immersed into the Spirit and completely indwelt by Him. God has nothing more to put into us. He has put His very self into us, and that cannot be exceeded. What is lacking is our full obedience, our full trust, our full submission, not His full salvation, indwelling, or blessing.[4]


13 The sacrament that has incorporated us into Christ, i.e., into the church as his body, is the sacrament of baptism. All believers are baptized by one and the same Spirit into one body. In order to stress how wide a diversity is actually incorporated into that one body, Paul picks out two of the most obvious social distinctions in ancient society: Jews and Gentiles, and slaves and free people. If these sorts of people can all come together into one body, then anything that divides us as human beings—such as social status, economic level, ethnic distinction—should play no role in dividing us in the church.

Moreover, we have “all” (pantes, repeated from v. 12 and used twice in this verse) been given the same Spirit “to drink” (potizō, GK 4540). There is no special blessing of the Spirit that only some Christians receive; we all receive the Spirit and his blessings. The number of times Paul stresses in this section the universal gift of the Spirit to all Christians hints that some in Corinth may have claimed a “greater measure of the Spirit” than others. But according to Paul, the Spirit is a person, not a substance. We either have the Spirit or we do not, and if we have received Christ as Lord and been baptized into him, then we have been made to drink of the Spirit. Paul refers to God’s pouring out his love into our hearts by the Spirit (Ro 5:5), and Jesus refers to drinking of him as though drinking water (Jn 4:7–14; 7:37–39). This latter passage also relates our drinking of Jesus to our reception of the Holy Spirit.[5]


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

[2] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 429–431). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1792). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 311–314). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] 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. 367). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 3 – Proper Fasting and Prayer

But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face so that your fasting will not be noticed by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees what is done in secret will reward you.—Matt. 6:17–18

Jesus’ statement “when you fast” indicates that fasting is normal and acceptable in the Christian life. He assumes His followers will fast on certain occasions, especially in times of testing, trial, or struggle.

Fasting is appropriate during times of sorrow. On occasions of deep grief, fasting is a natural human response. Most people don’t feel like eating at those times. Other things that motivate fasting have included overwhelming danger, penitence, and the receiving or proclaiming of a special revelation from God. And fasting often accompanied the beginning of an important task or ministry.

In every scriptural account, genuine fasting is linked with prayer. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast biblically without praying. Fasting is an affirmation of intense prayer, a corollary of deep spiritual struggle before God. It is never an isolated act or ceremony or ritual that has some inherent efficacy or merit.

Fasting is also always linked with a pure heart and must be associated with obedient, godly living. This is the attitude that will motivate the one fasting not to attract attention to his deprivation and spiritual struggle. Fasting is not to be a display for anyone, including God. Genuine fasting is simply a part of concentrated, intense prayer and concern for the Lord, His will, and His work. Jesus’ point is that the Father never fails to notice fasting that is heartfelt and genuine, and He never fails to reward it.

ASK YOURSELF
Has fasting ever been a part of your life and relationship with God? If so, what have those experiences taught you about Him … and about yourself and your need for Him? If you’ve never actually participated in fasting, what might be some appropriate times and ways for you to practice it?[1]


  1. But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. Jesus does not say that his followers must fast, neither does he forbid them to fast if that is what they wish to do. In certain circumstances he seems to regard fasting as entirely proper. Did he not himself fast also, though, as has already been indicated, for an entirely different reason? The point Jesus stresses is that when his followers think they ought to fast they should, by anointing their head and washing their face, make this voluntary observance of a religious exercise as inconspicuous as possible. This admonition parallels that with respect to giving to charity (6:2–4) and praying (6:5, 6). All such practices should take place “in secret,” that is, away from the eyes of men. They should be sincere acts of devotion to God, to him alone. Concluded: 18. that not men but (only) your Father who is in secret may see that you are fasting. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you (for explanation see on 6:4).

With the passing of the day of atonement, fasting is no longer a religious requirement (Col. 2:14). Are there, nevertheless, lessons here that hold today as well as they did yesterday? I suggest the following:

  1. Intemperance in eating, as well as in everything else, is warned against in Scripture. See N.T.C. on I and II Timothy and Titus, p. 122. The lazy gluttons of Crete, sluggish and sensual gormandizers, do not remain unrebuked (Titus 1:12). A mark of the enemies of the cross is that “their god is their belly (Phil. 3:19; cf. Rom. 16:18).” Instead of striving to keep their physical appetites under control (Rom. 8:13; 1 Cor. 9:27), realizing that our bodies are the Holy Spirit’s temple, in which God should be glorified (1 Cor. 6:19, 20), these people surrendered themselves to gluttony and licentiousness. They worshiped their sensual nature. The Bible forbids this. In this connection it is interesting to note that the physical advantage in cutting down the intake of animal fats is not a modern medical discovery (see Lev. 3:17; 7:22–25).
  2. Nevertheless, in Scripture it is not the salutary effect which a moderate amount of fasting may have on a person’s physical welfare that is especially in view. It is rather the spiritual benefit that is basic. As has already been indicated, often fasting was an expression of sorrow for sin or was observed in order that mind and heart might concentrate not on material matters but wholly on God and on the tasks which he assigns. That there is a close connection between fasting and spiritual meditation and contemplation is widely recognized.
  3. The indispensability of sincerity in worship is, however, the main thrust of this entire section (6:1–18).

As to the relation of 6:19–34 to the sermon as a whole, and specifically to the immediately preceding verses 1–18, see pp. 263, 318. Righteousness in relation to God requires not only the sincere devotion of the heart to the heavenly Father (6:1–18) but also unlimited trust in him under all circumstances. We turn, therefore, to the sub-theme:

Unlimited Trust (6:19–34)

This truth is made clear, first of all, by the condemnation of its opposite, namely, lack of trust in God, that is, feverish anxiety. The latter:

a mounts to idolatry,

for its accompanying attachment to mammon means detachment from God (verse 24);

b lurs vision,

for, by being preoccupied with piling up material wealth, it obscures the real goal of our existence (verses 22, 23);

c onfuses values,

for it attaches primary significance to that which is secondary, and vice versa, as if food were more important than life, and clothing than the body (verse 25); and

d efies all reason,

for it barters away heavenly for earthly treasures, the imperishable for the perishable (verses 19–21); forgets that it cannot even add one cubit to a person’s life-span (verse 27); borrows tomorrow’s troubles as if today’s were inadequate (verse 34); and, worst of all, refuses to consider that if, even as Creator, God feeds the birds and clothes the lilies, then certainly, as heavenly Father, he will care for his children (verses 26, 28–32).

Secondly, this truth (the necessity of unlimited trust in God) is also stated positively; for over against the negative commandments (“Do not gather.… Do not be anxious.… Do not become anxious”) of, respectively, verses 19, 25, and 31, 34, stand the positive (“But gather.… Look at.… Consider”) of, respectively, verses 20, 26, and 28, climaxed by the powerful and very comforting words of verse 33, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift.”[2]


Proper Fasting

But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men, but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will repay you. (6:17–18)

Fasting is mentioned some thirty times in the New Testament, almost always favorably. It is possible that fasting was even overemphasized in some parts of the early church. At least four times a reference to fasting seems to have been inserted into the original text where it is not found in the earliest and best manuscripts (Matt. 17:21; Mark 9:29; Acts 10:30; 1 Cor. 7:5). The other favorable accounts, however, both in the gospels and in the epistles, show that proper fasting is a legitimate form of spiritual devotion.

Jesus’ statement when you fast (cf. v. 16) indicates that fasting is normal and acceptable in the Christian life. He assumes His followers will fast on certain occasions, but He does not give a command or specify a particular time, place, or method. Because the validity of the Day of Atonement ceased when Jesus made the once-for-all sacrifice on the cross (Heb. 10:10), the single prescribed occasion for fasting has ceased to exist.

Jesus’ disciples did not fast while He was with them because fasting is associated primarily with mourning or other times of consuming spiritual need or anxiety. When the disciples of John the Baptist asked Jesus why His disciples did not fast like they and the Pharisees did, He replied, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the days will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them, and then they will fast” (Matt. 9:14–15). Fasting is there associated with mourning.

Fasting is never shown in Scripture to be the means to heightened spiritual experience, visions, or special insight or awareness-as many mystics, including some Christian mystics, claim. Fasting is appropriate in this age, because Christ is physically absent from the earth. But it is appropriate only as a response to special times of testing, trial, or struggle.

Fasting is appropriate during times of sorrow. When God caused the first child born to Bathsheba by David to be taken ill, David fasted while he pleaded for the infant’s life (2 Sam. 12:16). He also fasted when Abner died (2 Sam. 3:35). David even fasted on behalf of his enemies. “When they were sick, my clothing was sackcloth; I humbled my soul with fasting; and my prayer kept returning to my bosom” (Ps. 35:13).

On such occasions of deep grief, fasting is a natural human response. Most people do not then feel like eating. Their appetite is gone, and food is the last thing they are concerned about. Unless a person is getting seriously weak from hunger or has some specific medical reason for needing to eat, we do them no favor by insisting that they eat.

Overwhelming danger often prompted fasting. King Jehoshaphat proclaimed a national fast in Judah when they were threatened with attack from the Moabites and Ammonites (2 Chron. 20:3). From a human standpoint they could not possibly win, and they cried out to God for help, forsaking food as they did so. Queen Esther, her servants, and all the Jews in the capital city of Susa fasted for three full days before she went before the king to plead for the Jews to be spared from Haman’s wicked scheme against her people (Esther 4:16).

As the exiles were about to leave Babylon for the adventurous return to Jerusalem, Ezra declared a fast, “that we might humble ourselves before our God to seek from Him a safe journey for us, our little ones, and all our possessions” (Ezra 8:21). Ezra continues, “For I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, ‘The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all those who seek Him, but His power and His anger are against all those who forsake Him.’ So we fasted and sought our God concerning this matter, and He listened to our entreaty” (vv. 22–23).

Penitence was often accompanied by fasting. David fasted after his double sin of committing adultery with Bathsheba and then having her husband Uriah sent to the front of the battle to be killed. Daniel fasted as he prayed for God to forgive the sins of his people. When Elijah confronted Ahab with God’s judgment for his great wickedness, the king “tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and fasted, and he lay in sackcloth and went about despondently” (1 Kings 21:27). Because of Ahab’s sincerity, the Lord postponed the judgment (v. 29). Centuries later, after the exiles had returned safely to Jerusalem, the Israelites were convicted of their intermarrying with unbelieving Gentiles. As Ezra confessed that sin in behalf of his people, “he did not eat bread, nor drink water, for he was mourning over the unfaithfulness of the exiles” (Ezra 10:6).

When the people of Nineveh heard Jonah’s preaching they were so convicted that they believed in God and “called a great fast and put on sackcloth from the greatest to the least of them. … By the decree of the king” they would “not let man, beast, herd, or flock taste a thing” (Jonah 3:5, 7). Rather than resent the warning of judgment and damnation, they repentantly turned to God and sought His forgiveness and mercy.

Fasting was sometimes associated with the receiving or proclaiming of a special revelation from God. As Daniel contemplated Jeremiah’s prediction of the seventy year’s desolation of Jerusalem, he gave his “attention to the Lord God to seek Him by prayer and supplications, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes” (Dan. 9:2–3). As he continued “speaking in prayer,” he reports, “then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. And he gave me instruction and talked with me, and said, ‘O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding’ ” (vv. 21–22). A short time later, just before receiving another vision, Daniel made a partial fast-by forsaking “any tasty food, … meat or wine”-for three weeks (10:3). It is important to note that, though fasting was related to the revelations, it was not a means of achieving them. Daniel’s fasting was simply a natural accompaniment to his deep and desperate seeking of God’s will.

We often fail to understand God’s Word as fully as we ought simply because, unlike those great people of God, we do not seek to comprehend it with their degree of intensity and determination. Skipping a few meals might be the small price we willingly pay for staying in the Word until understanding comes.

Fasting often accompanied the beginning of an important task or ministry. Jesus fasted forty days and nights before He was tempted in the wilderness and then began His preaching ministry. Intensity and zeal over proclaiming God’s Word can so consume the mind and heart that food has no appeal and no place. Though abstaining from food has absolutely no spiritual value in itself, when eating is an intrusion on that which is immeasurably more important, it will be willingly, gladly, and unobtrusively forsaken.

Both before and after the Holy Spirit directed the church at Antioch to set apart Barnabas and Saul for special ministry, the people were praying and fasting (Acts 13:2–3). As those two men of God ministered God’s Word they prayed and fasted as they appointed elders in the churches they founded (14:23).

Only the Lord knows how much the leadership of the church today could be strengthened if congregations were that determined to find and follow the Lord’s will. The early church did not choose or send out leaders carelessly or by popular vote. Above all they sought and followed God’s will. Fasting has no more power to assure godly leadership than it has to assure forgiveness, protection, or any other good thing from God. But it is likely to be a part of sincere dedication that is determined to know the Lord’s will and have His power before decisions are made, plans are laid, or actions are taken. People who are consumed with concern before God do not take a lunch break.

In every scriptural account genuine fasting is linked with prayer. You can pray without fasting, but you cannot fast biblically without praying. Fasting is an affirmation of intense prayer, a corollary of deep spiritual struggle before God. It is never an isolated act or a ceremony or ritual that has some inherent efficacy or merit. It has no value at all-in fact becomes a spiritual hindrance and a sin-when done for any reason apart from knowing and following the Lord’s will.

Fasting is also always linked with a pure heart and must be associated with obedient, godly living. The Lord told Zechariah to declare to the people, “When you fasted and mourned in the fifth and seventh months these seventy years, was it actually for Me that you fasted? … Thus has the Lord of hosts said, ‘Dispense true justice, and practice kindness and compassion each to his brother; and do not oppress the widow or the orphan, the stranger or the poor; and do not devise evil in your hearts against one another’ ” (Zech. 7:5, 9–10). Seventy years of fasting meant nothing to the Lord, because it was done insincerely. Like the hypocrites that Jesus would later condemn, those Israelites lived only for themselves (v. 6).

After chastising the people in a similar way for their pretentious and unrighteous fasting, the Lord declared through Isaiah,

Is this not the fast which I chose, to loosen the bonds of wickedness, to undo the bands of the yoke, and to let the oppressed go free, and break every yoke? Is it not to divide your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into the house; when you see the naked, to cover him; and not to hide yourself from your own flesh? Then your light will break out like the dawn, and your recovery will speedily spring forth; and your righteousness will go before you; the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry, and He will say, “Here I am.” (Isa. 58:5–9)

There can be no right fasting apart from a right heart, right living, and a right attitude.

But you, when you fast, Jesus tells those who belong to Him, anoint your head, and wash your face so that you may not be seen fasting by men. To anoint the head with oil was commonly done as a matter of good grooming. The oil was often scented and used partly as a perfume. Like washing the face, it was associated with day-to-day living, but especially with more formal or important occasions. Jesus’ point was that a person who fasts should do everything to make himself look normal and do nothing to attract attention to his deprivation and spiritual struggle.

The one who sincerely wants to please God will studiously avoid trying to impress men. He will determine not [to] be seen fasting by men, but by God the Father who is in secret. Jesus does not say we should fast for the purpose of being seen even by God. Fasting is not to be a display for anyone, including God. Genuine fasting is simply a part of concentrated, intense prayer and concern for the Lord, His will, and His work. Jesus’ point is that the Father never fails to notice fasting that is heart-felt and genuine, and that He never fails to reward it. Your Father who sees in secret will repay you.[3]


17–18 Yet Jesus, far from banning fasting, assumes his disciples will fast, even as he assumes they will give alms and pray (vv. 3, 6). His disciples may not fast at the moment, for the messianic bridegroom is with them and it is the time for joy (9:14–17). But the time will come when they will fast (9:15). (Observe in passing that here Jesus assumes the continued existence of his disciples after his departure.) What he condemns is ostentation in fasting. Moreover, he forbids any sign at all that a fast has been undertaken, because the human heart is so mixed in its motives that the desire to seek God will be diluted by the desire for human praise, thus vitiating the fast.

Washing and anointing with oil (v. 17) were merely normal steps in hygiene. Oil does not here symbolize extravagant joy but normal body care (cf. Ru 3:3; 2 Sa 12:20; Pss 23:5; 104:15; 133:2; Ecc 9:8; Lk 7:46; cf. NIDNTT, 1:120). The point of v. 18 is not to draw attention to oneself, whether by somber mien or extravagant joy. Jesus desires reticence, not deception. And the Father, who sees in secret, will provide the reward (see comments at v. 4).

Reflections

The three principal acts of Jewish piety (vv. 1–18) are only examples of many practices susceptible of religious hypocrisy. Early in the second century, the Christian document Didache (8:1), while polemicizing against the Monday and Thursday “fasts of the hypocrites,” enjoins Christians to fast on Wednesday and Friday. Christian copyists added “fasting” glosses at several points in the NT (17:21; Mk 9:29; Ac 10:30; 1 Co 7:5). Hypocrisy is not the sole preserve of Pharisees. The solution is not to abolish fasting (cf. Alexander’s remark that mortification of the flesh “can be better attained by habitual temperance than by occasional abstinence”) but to set it within a biblical framework (see references at v. 16) and sincerely to covet God’s blessing. For if the form of vv. 1–18 is negative, the point is positive—namely, to seek first God’s kingdom and righteousness (cf. v. 33).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 163). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 342–343). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 401–405). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 210). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 3 – FLAWLESS PRECISION

Wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence.

—Ephesians 1:8

What is wisdom? It is the skill to achieve the most perfect ends by the most perfect means. Both the means and the ends have to be worthy of God. Wisdom is the ability to see the end from the beginning, to see everything in proper relation and in full focus. It is to judge in view of final and ultimate ends and to work toward those ends with flawless precision.

God Almighty must be flawlessly precise. God doesn’t bumble. The British used to say of themselves, “We muddled through,” meaning they got through somehow, playing it by ear, hoping for the best and taking advantage of situations. They’ve done it well for the last thousand years. That’s the way we have to do it, but God never works that way. If God worked that way it would prove that God didn’t know any more than we did about things. But God works with flawless precision because God sees the end from the beginning and He never needs to back up. AOGII130

Thank You, Lord, that You don’t have to muddle through and hope for the best. Thank You for the flawless precision with which You work. Amen. [1]


1:8 It was in grace that He chose us, predestined us, and redeemed us. But that is not all. God has superabounded that same grace toward us in all wisdom and prudence. This means He has graciously shared His plans and purposes with us. His desire is that we should have intelligence and insight into His plans for the church and for the universe. And so He has taken us into His confidence, as it were, and has revealed to us the great goal toward which all history is moving.[2]


8 At the end of v. 7 and into v. 8 Paul specifies the source of this astonishing gift of forgiveness: God’s riches of grace. As before (1:2, 6), grace accounts for God’s actions, and this grace came not sparingly but lavishly. Paul views God’s grace as “riches,” a word that can denote material wealth (e.g., Mt 13:22; 1 Ti 6:17). God imparted his riches (see also 1:18; 3:8, 16) to his people when he graced them with redemption and forgiveness. And beyond these awesome gifts, the gracious God lavished additional riches on his people—“all wisdom [sophia, GK 5053] and understanding [phronēsis, GK 5860].”

“Wisdom” has a rich use in the OT, but Paul is the principal NT writer who uses the term (e.g., 1 Co 1–3 of human versus divine wisdom; Ro 11:33 of God’s wisdom). Wisdom speaks of how one approaches or lives life. One can live according to human wisdom, what James terms “earthly” wisdom (Jas 3:15), or according to divine wisdom, God’s approach to how life ought to be lived. The Wisdom literature of the OT, especially Proverbs, personifies wisdom as a guide to correct living (e.g., Pr 1:8–9:18). In addition, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Pr 9:10 NRSV). So beyond redemption and forgiveness God provides his people with wisdom—the insight and ability to live life appropriately.

The second term, “insight” (NIV, “understanding”), adds little to our understanding of “wisdom.” Though classical Greek distinguished the meanings of these words, probably their juxtaposition in Proverbs 3:13, 19 and other places in the LXX shows their virtual synonymity in the biblical uses. In keeping with the expansive style of this section, where synonyms and genitive constructions add color and emphasis, “insight” restates “wisdom”: to live wisely (Eph 5:15) is to live with understanding. They mutually define each other in the structure known as “hendiadys”—one idea through two words.[3]


1:7b, 8 the forgiveness of our trespasses … In all wisdom and insight. Redemption brings in the limitless grace of God (Ro 5:20) and forgiveness of sin (cf. Mt 26:28; Ac 13:38, 39; Eph 4:32; Col 2:13; 1Jn 1:9). It brings divinely-bestowed spiritual understanding. Cf. 1Co 2:6, 7, 12, 16.[4]


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

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1909). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 50–51). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Eph 1:7). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

June 3 – Integrity Triumphs over Pride

“Then the king ordered Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to bring in some of the sons of Israel, including some of the royal family and of the nobles, youths in whom was no defect, who were good–looking, showing intelligence in every branch of wisdom, endowed with understanding, and discerning knowledge, and who had ability for serving in the king’s court; and he ordered him to teach them the literature and language of the Chaldeans…. Now among them from the sons of Judah were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah.”

Daniel 1:3–4, 6

✧✧✧

Man values physical beauty and superior human capabilities, whereas God values spiritual character.

As King Nebuchadnezzar was besieging Jerusalem, he received word that his father had died. So he returned to Babylon, leaving Jehoiakim, king of Judah, in power. To ensure the king’s loyalty, Nebuchadnezzar instructed Ashpenaz, the chief of his officials, to take some hostages from among the royal families of Israel. Among those selected were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah.

Nebuchadnezzar’s plan was to train these young hostages in the ways of the Babylonians (Chaldeans), then press them into service as his representatives among the Jews. There were an estimated fifty to seventy–five hostages, each of whom was young (probably in his early teens), handsome, and without physical defect. In addition, each had superior intellect, education, wisdom, and social graces.

Being among such a select group of people could have led to pride in Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. But self–glorification meant nothing to them. Their priority was to serve their God with humility, integrity, and fidelity. Nebuchadnezzar could look on them favorably, train them in the ways of the Chaldeans, and offer them power and influence in his kingdom, but he could never incite their pride or diminish their allegiance to the Lord.

Like Babylon, our society is enamored with physical beauty and human capabilities. However, let your focus be on spiritual character and using for God’s glory the talents and abilities He has given you.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord for the special gifts He has given you. ✧ Prayerfully guard your heart against subtle pride, which undermines spiritual character.

For Further Study: Read Daniel 4:28–36. How did God deal with King Nebuchadnezzar’s pride? ✧ What was the king’s response (see v. 37)?[1]


1:1–7 The scene is the court of Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon following his attack on Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. Nebuchadnezzar ordered several Jewish young men to be prepared to serve him as men of wisdom and knowledge. Among these were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah. Their Chaldean names were Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-Nego. As part of their preparation, they were to eat of the king’s delicacies and drink of his wine. These foods probably included meats that were unclean, according to the OT law, or perhaps they were connected with idol worship.

There is a seeming discrepancy between verse 1 and Jeremiah 25:1. Here Nebuchadnezzar is said to have besieged Jerusalem in the third year of Jehoiakim’s reign. The Jeremiah passage says that the fourth year of Jehoiakim was the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. This may be explained by the difference between Jewish and Babylonian reckoning.[2]


3–7 This unit introduces the protagonists of the story line of the book of Daniel. Four young men taken captive from Judah are identified by name as among those Israelites belonging to the royal family and Hebrew nobility deported to Babylonia (v. 3). All four bore theophoric names (v. 6) associating them with the God of the Israelites: “Daniel” (“God is my judge”), “Hananiah” (“Yah[weh] has been gracious”), “Mishael” (“Who is/what is God?”), and “Azariah” (“Yah[weh] has helped”).

The name “Ashpenaz” (v. 3) is an attested proper name in Aramaic known from an incantation bowl dating to ca. 600 BC (cf. Collins, Daniel, 134). The name is associated with “lodging” in some manner and may mean “innkeeper.” His title, “chief of [the] court officials,” indicates a position of oversight vested with some degree of royal authority (since he was in a position to make a decision concerning Daniel’s request concerning food rations without appealing to a superior; v. 8). Ashpenaz probably served both as a type of chamberlain overseeing the accommodations (i.e., “room and board”) for the captives and headmaster in terms of supervising the education of the captive foreign youth and approving them for “graduation” into the civil service corps upon completion of their prescribed period of training.

The policy of incorporating capable foreign captives in the civil service corps as officials of the king was widespread in the ancient world (cf. BBCOT, 730). Such practice had the benefit of depleting the leadership ranks in subjugated territories as well as harnessing that administrative potential in civil service to the ruling nation. Wiseman (Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 81) has suggested that in Babylonian practice such “diplomatic hostages” were sometimes educated for eventual return to their homeland as loyal supporters of the Babylonian regime. This training or education was essentially a programmatic indoctrination of the captives in the worldview of a conquering nation (see Lucas, 53). The reprogramming included studies in the language and literature of the host nation (v. 4), a special diet, and training in royal protocol (v. 5). The goal or desired outcome was reorientation of the exiled individual in the thoughts, beliefs, and practices of the suzerain nation.

Typically, this reorientation included a change of name symbolic of the loyalty of the subject to a new king, his nation, and his gods. Accordingly, Daniel and his three friends became (v. 7): “Belteshazzar” (“Bel [i.e., Marduk, the supreme god of the Babylonian pantheon] protects his life”), “Shadrach” (perhaps “command of Aku” [i.e., the Sumerian moon-god] or “I am fearful of Aku”), “Meshach” (perhaps “Who is what [the god] Aku is?”), and “Abednego” (“servant of the shining one” or “servant of Neg[b]o” [i.e., Nabu, son of Marduk and patron deity of the scribal guild]; cf. Goldingay, 18, on naming and renaming in the OT).

Two things stand out in the passage: the exceptional qualifications of the young men chosen for the civil service training and the extensive nature and duration of that diplomatic training. Concerning the former, it is likely that Daniel and his friends were teenagers when they were taken captive from Judah and exiled to Babylonia, the presumption on the part of the Babylonians being that young boys generally would be more teachable and would be in a position to give more years of fruitful service to the state. Natural good looks and physical prowess were commonly associated with leadership in the biblical world (cf. 1 Sa 9:2; 16:18). The three expressions referring to intellectual capabilities (v. 4, “aptitude for … learning, well informed, quick to understand”) should probably be regarded as synonyms for “gifted learners” rather than signifying distinctive aspects of the human intelligence (cf. Miller, 61). The cumulative effect of the triad simply stresses the emphasis King Nebuchadnezzar placed on inherent intellectual ability.

According to Wiseman (Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 86), Babylon prided itself on being the “city of wisdom,” a title that earlier belonged to Assur as the capital of Assyria. The schools of King Nebuchadnezzar’s day would have continued to copy “sign lists … word lists, paradigms and extracts of legal terminology … religious documents of all kinds … fables, and omens of various categories including those about devils and evil spirits … as well as texts of possible historical interest.” The language of the Babylonians (v. 4) would have been the Akkadian dialect known as Neo-Babylonian. Beyond this, Daniel and his friends would have known several other languages, including Hebrew, Aramaic, and probably Persian.

Akkadian was a cuneiform writing system made up of wedge-shaped characters, commonly etched on clay tablets. The language was cumbersome and required learning hundreds of symbols, many with multiple syllabic values. Collins (Daniel, 140) has observed that length of Babylonian education varied depending on the specialization of the student (in some cases from ten to eighteen years). He further comments that the three-year instructional program for Daniel and his friends seems “unrealistically short for anyone who had no previous training in Akkadian letters.” Those who have studied the Akkadian language might be inclined to agree!

Mastery of Akkadian was accomplished by copying simple exercises set forth by an instructor, then advancing to the copying of important literary texts, and finally to the composition of original documents of various sorts. As Baldwin, 80, notes, to study Babylonian literature was “to enter a completely alien thought-world.” This Mesopotamian worldview was polytheistic in nature, superstitious in character, and pluralistic in practice. Lucas (Daniel, 53) summarizes that “the learning process intended for these Judean exiles was thus one of induction into the thought-world and culture of Babylonia.” This makes all the more remarkable the fact that Daniel and his friends were able to devote themselves to the study of Babylonian language and literature without compromising their faith in Yahweh and their Hebrew worldview. Baldwin, 80, aptly reflects, “evidently the work of Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Habakkuk had not been in vain.” Likewise, the Christian church needs individuals of faith who are “students” of the “language and literature” of modern culture both for the sake of effective gospel outreach (cf. Ac 17:22–28) and for discerning the spirits in terms of maintaining sound doctrine (cf. 1 Jn 4:1).[3]


 

[1] MacArthur, J. (1997). Strength for today. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1078–1079). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hill, A. E. (2008). Daniel. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 49–50). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 3 – Conforming to Christ

Do not love the world or the things in the world.

1 John 2:15

As Christians, we are new creations and members of the church of Jesus Christ, and therefore unique. As a result, we should not live like people in the world. The world is proud; we are humble. The world is fragmented; we are united. The world is impotent; we are gifted. The world is hateful; we are full of love. The world doesn’t know the truth; we do. If we don’t walk any differently from the world, we won’t accomplish Christ’s goals. If we live like people in the world, we essentially are imitating the dead (Eph. 2:1–5), and that doesn’t make sense.

Christians are like a new race. We have a new spiritual, incorruptible seed, and we must live a lifestyle that corresponds to it. We are new creations who have been suited for an eternal existence. As a result, we can discard our old lifestyle and be conformed to the life of Christ.[1]


2:15, 16 We are plainly warned not to love the world or the things that are in the world, for the simple reason that love for the world is not compatible with love for the Father. All that the world has to offer may be described as the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. The lust of the flesh refers to such sensual bodily appetites as proceed from within our evil nature. The lust of the eyes applies to such evil desires as may arise from what we see. The pride of life is an unholy ambition for self-display and self-glory. These three elements of worldliness are illustrated in the sin of Eve. The tree was good for food; that is the lust of the flesh. The tree was pleasant to the eyes; that is the lust of the eyes. It was a tree to be desired to make one wise; this describes the pride of life.

As the devil is opposed to Christ, and the flesh is hostile to the Spirit, so the world is antagonistic to the Father. Appetite, avarice, and ambition are not of the Father, but of the world. That is, they do not proceed from the Father, but find their source in the world. Worldliness is the love for passing things. The human heart can never find satisfaction with things.[2]


Do Not Love the World

2:15

After an appeal to the believers, the author sounds a warning not to love the world. Love for the world precludes love for the Father. We see a parallel between the words of John and those of James, “Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God” (James 4:4). John writes,

  1. Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.

John issues a stern warning not to love the world. He says “do not love,” not “do not like” the world. The word love that John employs is the same term he uses in verse 10 where he speaks about the person who loves his brother. The love which he has in mind is that of attachment, intimate fellowship, loyal devotion. It is the love which God demands in the summary of the law: “Love the Lord your God … and love your neighbor as yourself.”

John directs his warning to those people who already have switched allegiance and are now giving their undivided attention to the affairs of the world. He tells them to stop loving the world and to desist from pursuing their worldly interests. He is not talking about a single incident but about a lifestyle.

John mentions the expression world—a word that is typically Johannine. This word has various meanings, as John illustrates in his first epistle: the world of the believers, the world of sin, the world of the devil.

Thus John writes that Jesus is the Savior of the world (4:15) and that by faith the Christian is able to overcome the world (5:4–5). According to John, the characteristics of the world are cravings, lust, and boasting (2:16). The world passes away (2:17) and is ignorant of God (3:1). It hates the believers (3:13) and is the abode of false prophets (4:1), the antichrist (4:3), and unbelievers (4:5). And last, the whole world is controlled by the evil one (5:19). Concludes Donald Guthrie, “There is therefore in I John a strong parallel between the ‘world’ and the ‘devil.’ ”

  1. John warns the readers against loving the world and that which belongs to it. He does not advise the Christian to abandon this world or to live in seclusion. John stresses not that a Christian separate himself from the world. Rather, he says that a believer should keep himself from a love for the world. Note that in this relatively short verse the concept love precedes the concept world. What, then, is John saying? In a sentence: “Love for the world and love for the Father cannot exist side by side.” The Christian will love the one and hate the other, but he cannot love both at the same time (compare Matt. 6:24; Luke 16:13). The sinful world stands diametrically opposed to the Father. John describes this world in verse 16.[3]

The Command Not to Love the World

Do not love the world nor the things in the world. (2:15a)

By examining its use in a particular biblical context, and properly comparing Scripture with Scripture, one can understand the various meanings of the term world. In this verse it is clear what John is not referring to. First, he is not speaking of the physical world, or the created order. John would not have commanded his readers to hate something that God in Genesis 1:31 pronounced was originally “very good.” Even though creation is marred by the fall (cf. Genesis 3), nature’s physical beauties still reflect God’s glory and demand praise. The psalmist expressed this principle eloquently:

The heavens are telling of the glory of God; and their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. Day to day pours forth speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words; their voice is not heard. Their line has gone out through all the earth, and their utterances to the end of the world. In them He has placed a tent for the sun, which is as a bridegroom coming out of his chamber; it rejoices as a strong man to run his course. Its rising is from one end of the heavens, and its circuit to the other end of them; and there is nothing hidden from its heat. (Ps. 19:1–6; cf. 104:1–32; Acts 14:15–17; 17:23–28; Rom. 1:20)

Second, John would not have commanded believers to hate the world of humanity. That is because God loves people in the world and sent His Son to be the propitiation for their sin (see 2:2; 4:9–10, 14; cf. John 3:16; 2 Cor. 5:19; 1 Tim. 2:3–6; Titus 2:11–14; 3:4–5).

The world and its things, which John warned his readers not to love, is the invisible, spiritual system of evil. It is the kosmos (“world order,” “realm of existence,” “way of life”) governed by Satan; as Paul reminded the Ephesians, “You formerly walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, of the spirit that is now working in the sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). Later in this letter John wrote: “the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (5:19; cf. 4:1–5; John 12:31). The “world” here refers to the same evil system that Jesus referred to when He said, “If the world hates you, you know that it has hated Me before it hated you” (John 15:18; cf. 17:14). So, it was not humanity in general or the created order that hated Christ, but rather the wicked, corrupt (2 Peter 2:19), demonic ideologies and enterprises that stimulate fallen humanity (cf. Matt. 13:19, 38; 2 Cor. 2:11; 4:4; 11:14; 1 Thess. 2:18; 2 Thess. 2:9; Rev. 16:14). In keeping with this understanding, the apostle Paul correctly viewed the world as engaged in a massive spiritual war against the kingdom of God:

For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh, for the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh, but divinely powerful for the destruction of fortresses. We are destroying speculations and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ. (2 Cor. 10:3–5; cf. Eph. 6:11–13)

“Speculations” means ideologies or belief systems, ranging from primitive, animistic systems to sophisticated, complex world religions, philosophies, political theories, or any unbiblical worldviews. They represent all unbelieving ideas and dogmas that, often from an elitist standpoint, rise up against the true knowledge of God. In response, believers are commanded to confront and destroy the world’s spiritual lies and false speculations with the truth. Paul thus identifies the world as the full spectrum of beliefs and inclinations that oppose the things of God, and John implicitly echoes that definition. When a person becomes a Christian, he or she is no longer a slave to the world system. Christians have been “rescued … from the domain of darkness, and transferred … to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col. 1:13; cf. 2 Cor. 6:17–18; Eph. 5:6–12).[4]


15 John prefaces his fourth test with a comprehensive admonition. Again following his dualistic framework, John draws a boundary between God’s people and everyone else: “If anyone loves the world, [then] the love of the Father is not in him.” Love “of the Father” here seems to be, as at 2:5, an objective genitive (love “for the Father”). As John 3:16 indicates, God loves everyone, including the world, but those who are of the world and those who love the world do not love him.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 172). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2313–2314). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 269–270). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 82–83). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[5] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 445). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.