Daily Archives: June 13, 2017

June 13, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Distinctiveness of Believers’ Destiny

For God has not destined us for wrath, but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep, we will live together with Him. Therefore encourage one another and build up one another, just as you also are doing. (5:9–11)

The most sobering truth in Scripture is that God will judge the wicked and sentence them to eternal hell (Matt. 3:12; 13:40–42, 50; 18:8; 25:41, 46; John 3:36; 5:29; Acts 24:25; Rom. 2:5, 8; 9:22; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; 10:26–27; 2 Peter 2:9; 3:7; Rev. 14:9–11; 20:11–15; 21:8). On the other hand, the blessed truth for believers is that God has not destined us for wrath (cf. 1:10; John 3:18, 36; 5:24; Rom. 5:1, 9; 8:1, 33–34). Like their nature, established in the past at salvation, and their present pattern of obedience, day people’s future destiny sets them apart from night people. Believers will not experience the wrath God will pour out on unbelievers on the Day of the Lord, and for eternity in hell.

The word destined expresses the inexorable outworking of God’s sovereign plan for believers’ salvation. In Matthew 25:34 Jesus promised that believers will “inherit the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world.” To the Ephesians Paul wrote, “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him” (Eph. 1:4), while in 2 Timothy 1:9 he added, “[God] has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity.”

Orgē (wrath) does not refer to a momentary outburst of rage, but to “an abiding and settled habit of mind” (Richard C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983], 131). It is a general reference to the final judgment, when God’s wrath will be poured out on the wicked (Matt. 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 1:18; 2:5, 8; 3:5; 4:15; 5:9; 9:22; 12:19; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; Rev. 14:9–11). But God’s wrath here must also include the Day of the Lord, since that was the Thessalonians’ primary concern. Paul assured them that they would face neither temporal wrath on the Day of the Lord (cf. Rev. 6:17), nor eternal wrath in hell.

But—in contrast to the doomed night people—God has destined believers for obtaining (lit., “gaining,” or “acquiring”) salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. Once again, Paul referred to the future dimension of believers’ salvation, their glorification (see the discussion of verse 8 above). But all three aspects of salvation—justification (Isa. 53:11; Rom. 3:24, 26; 5:8–9; 1 Cor. 6:11; Gal. 2:16), sanctification (1 Cor. 1:30; 6:11; Heb. 7:25), and glorification (cf. Phil. 3:21)—come only through our Lord Jesus Christ. The simple, yet profound phrase who died for (huper; “on our behalf”; “with reference to us”; “in our place”; “as our substitute”) us (cf. Rom. 5:8) expresses the sole basis for believers’ salvation. God “made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor. 5:21); “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24; cf. John 10:11; Rom. 8:3; Gal. 1:4; 3:13; Eph. 5:2; 1 Peter 3:18; 1 John 2:2). The glorious message of the gospel is that Christ’s substitutionary death paid in full the penalty for believers’ sins and therefore believers will not face God’s judgment. In John 5:24 Jesus declared, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” Nor will they face His condemnation, because “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Christ’s death on their behalf sets all day people—both those who are awake (alive) and those who are asleep (dead; cf. 4:13–15)—apart from night people. The marvelous reality is that all believers will live together with Him, as Jesus Himself promised:

Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also. (John 14:1–3; cf. 1 Thess. 4:17)

As he did with his discussion of the Rapture (cf. 4:18 where he used the same word rendered here “encourage”), Paul concluded his discussion of the Day of the Lord by exhorting the Thessalonians to encourage one another and build up one another. Based on the truth he had given them, they were to reassure the anxious and fearful that they would not experience the Day of the Lord. His concluding phrase, just as you also are doing, affirms that they were already committed to encouragement. Ever the faithful pastor, passionately concerned for his people, Paul wanted them to “excel still more” (4:1).

One of two possible destinies awaits every member of the human race. Those who stubbornly remain in spiritual darkness will ultimately “be cast out into the outer darkness” of eternal hell (Matt. 8:12; cf. 22:13; 25:30). But those who through faith in Jesus Christ come to the light of salvation (Acts 13:47; cf. John 8:12; 9:5; 11:9; 12:46) will “share in the inheritance of the saints in Light” (Col. 1:12). They will live forever in God’s glorious presence, where “there will no longer be any night; and they will not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God will illumine them; and they will reign forever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).[1]


11 With such a guarantee the readers are now equipped to “encourage one another and build each other up.” As in 4:18, parakaleō (“encourage,” GK 4151) has more a consolatory than a hortatory meaning. Here is an unconditional pledge to strengthen even the weakest in faith. It can also build up another Christian. Oikodomeō (“build … up,” GK 3868) was later to become one of Paul’s favorite ways of writing about growth in the church (Eph 2:20–22; 4:12, 16). An intellectual grasp of the provisions Paul describes leads to both individual and collective growth of the body of Christ. Paul is quick to acknowledge progress along this line: “just as in fact you are doing.” Yet he also looks forward to even greater attainments for them (cf. 4:1).[2]


5:11. This assurance of salvation, of transformation into the image of Christ, should encourage us. As we are encouraged, we must continually talk about it and remind one another of our future so that we do not grow weary or lose heart in the spiritual battles which rage. Every Christian has a responsibility to encourage others in the faith. In an age which is prone to criticism and fault-finding, the same fault-finding attitude can creep into the church. It can become natural to talk about others or critique their performance instead of examining our own hearts or encouraging others toward godliness.

While encouragement inspires us to keep on track spiritually, building each other up deals with investing in others. We should add to other people in such a way that they will be spiritually stronger. In this way, we encourage maturity and fortification of character. We need to look upon all persons as those for whom Christ died. They are eternal soul-spirits just as valuable as we are. We have a responsibility to encourage them to remain faithful and growing until the end.[3]


11. The relation between 5:10 and 11 is a close parallel to that between 4:17 and 18. Just as in chapter 4 the clause, “And so shall we always be with the Lord” was followed by “Therefore encourage one another with these words,” so here in chapter 5 the clause “In order that … we may live in fellowship with him” is followed by Therefore encourage one another and build up one the other, as in fact you are doing.

That last expression, “as in fact you are doing” has been explained in connection with 4:10. By instructing one another and by encouraging one another with the comfort which is found in the preceding paragraph (such comfort as is contained in assurances like “You are not in darkness,” “You are all sons of day,” “For God did not appoint us for wrath but for the obtaining of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ … in order that we may live in fellowship with him”), believers at Thessalonica will be doing very valuable personal work: building up one the other; for the church and also the individual believer is God’s edifice, God’s temple, 1 Cor. 6:19.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (pp. 163–164). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Thomas, R. L. (2006). 1 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 426). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 71). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of I-II Thessalonians (Vol. 3, pp. 128–129). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

 

June 13 – Speaking from a Pure Heart

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless” (James 1:26).

✧✧✧

Your speech reveals the condition of your heart.

In verse 22 James talked about the delusion of hearing the Word without obeying it. Here he talks about the deception of external religious activity without internal purity of heart.

That’s a common deception. Many people confuse a love for religious activity with love for God. They may go through the mechanics of reading the Bible, attending church, praying, giving money, or singing songs, but in reality their hearts are far from God. That kind of deception can be very subtle. That’s why James disregards mere claims to Christianity and confronts our motives and obedience to the Word. Those are the acid tests!

James was selective in the word he used for “religious.” Rather than using the common Greek word that spoke of internal godliness, he chose a word that referred to external religious trappings, ceremonies, and rituals—things that are useless for true spirituality.

He focused on the tongue as a test of true religion because the tongue is a window to the heart. As Jesus said, “The mouth speaks out of that which fills the heart” (Matt. 12:34). Corrupt speech betrays an unregenerate heart; righteous speech demonstrates a transformed heart. It doesn’t matter how evangelical or Biblical your theology is, if you can’t control your tongue, your religion is useless!

You can learn much about a person’s character if you listen long enough to what he says. In the same way, others learn much about you as they listen to what you say. Do your words reveal a pure heart? Remember Paul’s admonition to “let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, that it may give grace to those who hear” (Eph. 4:29). Make that your goal each day, so you can know the blessing and grace of disciplined speech!

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask the Lord to guard your tongue from speaking anything that might dishonor Him. Be aware of everything you say.

For Further Study: Read James 3:1–12. ✧ What warning does James give? ✧ What analogies does he use for the tongue?[1]


1:26, 27 Useless religion and pure and undefiled religion are contrasted. Religion here means the external patterns of behavior connected with religious belief. It refers to the outward forms rather than the inward spirit. It means the outer expression of belief in worship and service rather than the doctrines believed.

Anyone who thinks he is religious, but cannot control his tongue, … this one’s religion is useless. He might observe all kinds of religious ceremonies which make him appear very pious. But he is deceiving himself. God is not satisfied with rituals; He is interested in a life of practical godliness.

An unbridled tongue is only one example of futile religion. Any behavior inconsistent with the Christian faith is worthless. The story is told of a grocer who apparently was a pious fraud. He lived in an apartment above his store. Every morning he would call down to his assistant, “John!”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you watered down the milk?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you colored the butter?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Have you put chicory in the coffee?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Very well. Come up for morning devotions!”

James says that such religion is useless.

What God is looking for is the practical type of godliness which takes a compassionate interest in others and keeps one’s own life clean. As examples of pure and undefiled religion, James praises the man who visits needy orphans and widows, and who keeps himself unspotted from the world.

In other words, the practical outworking of the new birth is found in “acts of grace and a walk of separation.” Guy King describes these virtues as practical love and practical holiness.

We should put our own faith on trial with the following questions: Do I read the Bible with a humble desire to have God rebuke me, teach me, and change me? Am I anxious to have my tongue bridled? Do I justify my temper or do I want victory over it? How do I react when someone starts to tell an off-color joke? Does my faith manifest itself in deeds of kindness to those who cannot repay me?[2]


26. If anyone considers himself religious and yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue, he deceives himself and his religion is worthless.

In explaining the meaning and implication of serving God, James tells his readers first how not to serve God. Then in the next verse, he instructs them how to profess and practice their religion.

  • “If anyone considers himself religious.” This is a simple fact conditional sentence that depicts life as it is. A person who attends the worship services in a Christian church may consider himself religious. To be sure, many people believe that church attendance, praying, or even fasting is the equivalent of being religious. Not so, says James, because such activity may be merely outward show. That is formalism, not religion.

What, then, is religion? Negatively, it is not what man construes it to be when he considers himself to be pious. Positively, religion comes to expression when man speaks with a bridled tongue.

  • “Yet does not keep a tight rein on his tongue.” The author of this epistle introduces the subject of the tongue in the first chapter (1:19), mentions it here in connection with religion, and then returns to it more explicitly in the third chapter. There he compares the tongue to horses that have bits in their mouths so that they obey their masters. “No man can tame the tongue,” James says. “It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (3:8). If man is able to bridle his tongue, “he is a perfect man” (3:2).

If man fails to keep his tongue in check, his religion is worthless. The unruly tongue engages in lying, cursing and swearing, slander, and filthy language. From man’s point of view the hasty word, shading of the truth, the subtle innuendo, and the questionable joke are shrugged off as insignificant. Yet from God’s perspective they are a violation of the command to love the Lord God and to love one’s neighbor as oneself. A breach of this command renders man’s religion of no avail.

  • “He deceives himself and his religion is worthless.” This is the third time that James tells his readers not to deceive themselves (1:16, 22, 26). As a pastor he is fully aware of counterfeit religion that is nothing more than external formalism. He knows that many people merely go through the motions of serving God, but their speech gives them away. Their religion has a hollow ring. And although they may not realize it, by their words and by their actions—or lack of them—they deceive themselves. Their heart is not right with God and their fellow man, and their attempt to hide this lack of love only heightens their self-deception. Their religion is worthless.[3]

Do Not Be Deceived: The Importance of Right Speaking (1:26)

26 The word translated “religious” (thrēskos, GK 2580) is rare and unknown in Greek prior to this occurrence in James. The related and much more common word thrēskeia (GK 2579), which James uses at the end of v. 26 and again at the beginning of v. 27, has to do with religious ritual but could also imply the internal piety of the worshiper (TLNT 2:200–203). James clearly uses both terms to speak of service to God via right attitudes of the heart and righteous living (see 1:20). In line with the previous passage, true religion does not participate simply in forms of worship (i.e., hearing the word spoken or read) but must extend to a transformation of life that has implications for how one interacts in community.

Specifically, if a person thinks of himself as religious and cannot keep control of his tongue, he is self-deceived. The word translated “considers himself” does not have the pronoun attached to it in Greek, and the term dokeō also can communicate the idea of reputation, or “to seem.” Thus it might be better to translate the clause, “If anyone seems to be religious,” or, “If anyone has the reputation of being religious.” Yet what seems to be is not really true, for this person uses words destructively in the community. Both the NIV and NASB reflect that the term for “control” (chalinagōgeō, GK 5902) was used literally of a horse’s bridle, which is the main means of controlling the horse; hence the figurative meaning of “keep under control.” If the tongue is not kept in check, two conclusions may be drawn. The person deceives his own heart, and he has a worthless religion. The heart was seen variously as the seat of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual life of a person. In its figurative use, it represented, among other things, the inner self where moral decisions were made. James’s emphasis here is that we can trick ourselves into thinking ourselves religious when the clear evidence indicates otherwise. If the tongue is not under control, the supposed religion is “worthless,” a word connoting that it is useless, fruitless, powerless, or even lacking truth.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 177). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2224). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of James and the Epistles of John (Vol. 14, pp. 63–64). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] 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. 228–229). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 13 – GOD’S RIGHT: TO ASK OBEDIENCE OF HIS CREATURES

Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they …may enter in through the gates into the city.

REVELATION 22:14

The command to love God with our whole being has seemed to many persons to be impossible of fulfillment, and it may be properly argued that we cannot love by fiat.

Love is too gentle, too frail a creature to spring up at the command of another. It would be like commanding the barren tree to bring forth fruit or the winter forest to be green.

What then can it mean?

The answer is found in the nature of God and of man. God being who He is must have obedience from His creatures. Man being who he is must render that obedience, and he owes God complete obedience whether or not he feels for Him the faintest trace of love in his heart.

It is a question of the sovereign right of God to require His creatures to obey Him.

Man’s first and basic sin was disobedience. When he disobeyed God he violated the claims of divine love with the result that love for God died within him.

Now, what can he do to restore that love to his heart again?

The heart that mourns its coldness toward God needs only to repent its sins, and a new, warm and satisfying love will flood into it. For the act of repentance will bring a corresponding act of God in self-revelation and intimate communion.

Once the seeking heart finds God in personal experience there will be no further problem about loving Him.[1]


22:14 This verse may read, “Blessed are those who do His commandments” or “Blessed are those who wash their robes” (margin). Neither reading teaches salvation by works but rather works as the fruit and proof of salvation. Only true believers have access to the tree of life and to the eternal city.[2]


14. “Blessed are they who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and by the gates they may enter the city.”

“Blessed are they who wash their robes.” With this last and seventh beatitude Jesus addresses the saints on earth by calling blessed those people who wash their robes. He implies that their robes are filthy because of sin, which can be removed only through the blood of Christ. The verb to wash is a participle in the present tense to indicate that sin is a continual polluting agency that needs repeated cleansings. Earlier John recorded the words of an elder who instructed him concerning the status of the saints in heaven. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation and have washed their robes and have made them white in the blood of the Lamb” (7:14). Whereas the words of the elder are addressed to celestial saints, whose robes have been washed once for all (aorist tense), Jesus speaks to the saints on earth and by implication urges them to wash their robes again and again (present tense). Moses instructed the Israelites at Mount Sinai to wash their clothes prior to coming before God to hear the Law (Exod. 19:10, 14). This means that no one can enter the presence of God in filthy garments, for such an act is abominable to him. Only those who are covered with the robe of righteousness may enter God’s holiness (Isa. 61:10). Clothed in pure linen, they are permitted to sit at the table of the Lord (19:8; compare Matt. 22:11–13).

“So that they may have the right to the tree of life.” Adam and Eve were driven out of the Garden of Eden, and cherubim prevented them from approaching the tree of life (Gen. 3:24). But now the saints have perfect freedom to take the fruit of this tree (2:7; 22:2). Indeed Jesus grants them the right to do so. Delivered from the bondage of sin and guilt through his sacrifice, they now enjoy life eternal with unhindered access to the tree of life.

“And by the gates they may enter the city.” They are God’s people who have the right to enter the holy city and enjoy never-ending residency. Their names are recorded in the book of life that grants them citizenship in the new Jerusalem (21:27b).[3]


 

because of the exclusivity of heaven

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter by the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying. (22:14–15)

This section begins with the last of the seven beatitudes in Revelation (v. 7; 1:3; 14:13; 16:15; 19:9; 20:6), each introduced by the pronouncement blessed. This blessing is pronounced (most likely by the Lord Jesus Christ) on those who wash their robes. That phrase graphically portrays the believer’s participation in the death of Christ. In 7:14 one of the twenty-four elders said to John, “These [the Tribulation martyrs; 7:9] are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” Soiled clothes represent sinfulness in Isaiah 64:6 and Zechariah 3:3, whereas Psalm 51:7; Isaiah 1:18; and Titus 3:5 speak of the cleansing of sin that accompanies salvation. The agency through which that cleansing comes is the blood of Christ (1:5; 5:9; 7:14; Matt. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Rom. 3:24–25; 5:9; Eph. 1:7; 2:13; Col. 1:20; Heb. 9:12, 14; 10:19; 13:12; 1 Pet. 1:2, 18–19; 1 John 1:7).

Those who have experienced the washing from sin that marks salvation will forever have the right to the tree of life. As noted in the discussion of 22:2 in chapter 19 of this volume, the tree of life is located in the capital city of heaven, the New Jerusalem. This will be the fulfillment of Jesus’ promise, “To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God” (2:7). Those granted access to the tree of life, will be allowed to enter by the gates into the city (cf. the discussion of 1:21 in chap. 19 of this volume).

Heaven is exclusively for those who have been cleansed from their sins by faith in the blood of Christ and whose names have been “written from the foundation of the world in the book of life of the Lamb who has been slain” (13:8). In contrast, everyone else will remain forever outside the New Jerusalem in the lake of fire (20:15; 21:8), because “nothing unclean, and no one who practices abomination and lying, shall ever come into it, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life” (21:27). As in 21:8, a representative (though not exhaustive) list of the type of sins that exclude people from heaven is given to John.

The inclusion of dogs on the list seems puzzling at first glance. But in ancient times dogs were not the domesticated household pets they are today. They were despised scavengers that milled about cities’ garbage dumps (cf. Ex. 22:31; 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; 21:19, 23–24; 22:38). Thus, to call a person a dog was to describe that person as someone of low character (cf. 1 Sam. 17:43; 24:14; 2 Sam. 3:8; 9:8; 16:9; 2 Kings 8:13; Phil. 3:2); in fact, the first time blatantly impure sinners are called dogs is in Deuteronomy 23:18, where male homosexual prostitutes are in view. Sorcerers (from pharmakos, the root of the English word “pharmacy”) refers to those engaged in occult practices and the drug abuse that often accompanies those practices (cf. 9:21; 21:8; Gal. 5:20). Immoral persons (from pornos, the root of the English word “pornography”) are those who engage in illicit sexual activities. Murderers are also excluded from heaven in the list given in 21:8 (cf. 9:21; Rom. 1:29). Idolaters are those who worship false gods, or who worship the true God in an unacceptable manner (cf. 21:8). The final group excluded from heaven also includes everyone who loves and practices lying. It is not all who have ever committed any of these sins who are excluded from heaven (cf. 1 Cor. 6:11). Rather, it is those who love and habitually practice any such sin, stubbornly cling to it, and refuse Christ’s invitation to salvation who will be cast into the lake of fire.[4]


14 The seventh and last beatitude in Revelation is evangelistic in emphasis (cf. 21:6; 22:11, 17). Strands of the earlier imagery are blended in it. In 7:14, the washing of the robes indicates willing identification with Jesus in his death. It also carries the thought of martyrdom during the great ordeal for the saints (cf. 6:11). Thus it symbolizes a salvation that involves obedience and discipleship, since it is integrally related to the salvation imagery of the tree of life (cf. comments at 22:2) and the gates of the city (cf. 21:25).[5]


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

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2381). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Book of Revelation (Vol. 20, p. 590). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2000). Revelation 12–22 (pp. 307–309). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Johnson, A. F. (2006). Revelation. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 788). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 13 – Seeking God’s Kingdom First

But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.—Matt. 6:33

When Christians think like the world and crave things in the world, they will worry like the world, because a mind not focused on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [lets his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6).

The antidote to worry that results in contentment is to make God and His kingdom your priority. Jesus is saying, “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do, focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord, and He will take care of all your needs.”

Seeking God’s kingdom means losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord and pouring out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father. To seek God’s kingdom is to seek to win people into that kingdom that they might be saved and God might be glorified.

We are also to seek His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we ought to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but also holy lives: “What sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Peter 3:11–12).

ASK YOURSELF
Seeking first the kingdom can be little more than a mental slogan for us until we define what this means in real-life, everyday terms. Spend some time today focusing on what a kingdom priority looks like at home, at work, at church, at the gym, at the market, in all the places your routine takes you.[1]

6:33 The Lord, therefore, makes a covenant with His followers. He says, in effect, “If you will put God’s interests first in your life, I will guarantee your future needs. If you seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, then I will see that you never lack the necessities of life.”[2]


33. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift. Over against the Gentiles, who crave food, drink, garments, etc., Christ’s followers are urged to seek first his kingdom and his righteousness. The verb seek implies a being absorbed in the search for, a persevering and strenuous effort to obtain (cf. 13:45). The form of the verb that is used also allows the rendering, “Be constantly seeking” (cf. Col. 3:1). Note: seek first; that is, give God the priority that is his due (2 Cor. 4:18).

The object of this seeking is “his kingdom and his righteousness.” The listeners are exhorted, therefore, to acknowledge God as King in their own hearts and lives, and to do all in their power to have him recognized as King also in the hearts and lives of others, and in every sphere: education, government, commerce, industry, science, etc. For the concept “kingdom of heaven” see pp. 249, 250. It stands to reason that when God is recognized as King, righteousness will prevail. For this concept see pp. 274, 317. These two (kingdom and righteousness) go together. In fact, “the kingdom of God is [means, implies] righteousness” (Rom. 14:17), a righteousness both imputed to men and imparted to them, both of legal standing and of ethical conduct.

Now it is true that the kingdom and its righteousness are gifts, graciously bestowed. They are his kingdom and his righteousness. They are, however, also objects of continuing, diligent search; of ceaseless, strenuous effort to obtain. These two are not contradictory. An example from nature will clarify this. Of itself a tree has no power to maintain itself. Its roots are, as it were, empty hands stretched out to the environment. It is dependent on the sun, the air, the clouds, and the soil. It does not even have the strength to absorb the nourishment it requires. The sun is the source of its energy. But does this mean that the tree is therefore inactive? Not at all. Its roots and leaves, though completely receptive, are enormously active. For example, it has been estimated that the amount of work performed by a certain large tree in a single day to raise water and minerals from the soil to the leaves was equal to the amount of energy expended by a person who carried three hundred buckets full of water, two at a time, up a ten-foot flight of stairs. The leaves, too, are virtual factories. They, too, are tremendously active.

The same holds also with respect to the citizens of the kingdom. They receive the kingdom as a gift. Yet, after the new principle of life has been received, the recipients become very active. They work very hard, not by means of anything in themselves but by the power that is being constantly supplied to them by the Lord’s Spirit. They “work out their own salvation,” and are able to do this because “it is God who works in them both to will and to work for his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12, 13. See also Matt. 7:13; cf. Luke 13:24; 16:16b). They trust in God’s promises, pray, spread the message of salvation, and out of gratitude perform good works to benefit men and to glorify God.

The reward of grace: “all these things will be granted to you as an extra gift.” While they are concentrating their attention on the kingdom and its righteousness, God’s gift to them, their heavenly Father sees to it that they have food, drink, and clothing. For further elucidation see 1 Kings 3:10–14; Mark 10:29, 30; and 1 Tim. 4:8.[3]


Worry Is Unreasonable Because of Our Faith

Do not be anxious then, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “With what shall we clothe ourselves?” For all these things the Gentiles eagerly seek; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. (6:31–33)

Worry is inconsistent with our faith in God and is therefore unreasonable as well as sinful. Worry is characteristic of unbelief. Ethnoi (Gentiles) literally means simply “peoples,” or “a multitude.” In the plural form, as here, it usually referred to non-Jews, that is, to Gentiles and, by extension, to unbelievers or pagans. Worrying about what to eat, drink, and clothe themselves with are things the Gentiles eagerly seek. Those who have no hope in God naturally put their hope and expectations in things they can enjoy now. They have nothing to live for but the present, and their materialism is perfectly consistent with their religion. They have no God to supply their physical or their spiritual needs, their present or their eternal needs, so anything they get they must get for themselves. They are ignorant of God’s supply and have no claim on it. No heavenly Father cares for them, so there is reason to worry.

The gods of the Gentiles were man-made gods inspired by Satan. They were gods of fear, dread, and appeasement who demanded much, promised little, and provided nothing. It was natural that those who served such gods would eagerly seek whatever satisfactions and pleasures they could while they could. Their philosophy is still popular in our own day among those who are determined to grab all the gusto they can get. “Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” is an understandable outlook for those who have no hope in the resurrection (1 Cor. 15:32).

But that is a completely foolish and unreasonable philosophy for those who do have hope in the resurrection, for those whose heavenly Father knows that [they] need all these things. To worry about our physical welfare and our clothing is the mark of a worldly mind, whether Christian or not. When we think like the world and crave like the world, we will worry like the world, because a mind that is not centered on God is a mind that has cause to worry. The faithful, trusting, and reasonable Christian is “anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving [lets his] requests be made known to God” (Phil. 4:6). He refuses in any way to “be conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2).

Within this series of rebukes Jesus gives a positive command coupled with a beautiful promise: But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you. The cause of worry is seeking the things of this world, and the cause of contentment is seeking the things of God’s kingdom and His righteousness.

De is primarily a conjunction of contrast, for which but is a good rendering. In the present context it carries the idea of “rather,” or “instead of.” “Rather than seeking and worrying about food, drink, and clothing like unbelievers do,” Jesus says, “focus your attention and hopes on the things of the Lord and He will take care of all your needs.”

Out of all the options that we have, out of all the things we can seek for and be occupied with, we are to seek first the things of the One to whom we belong. That is the Christian’s priority of priorities, a divine priority composed of two parts: God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness.

As we have seen in the discussion of the Disciples’ Prayer (6:10), basileia (kingdom) does not refer to a geographical territory but to a dominion or rule. God’s kingdom is God’s sovereign rule, and therefore to seek first His kingdom is to seek first His rule, His will and His authority.

Seeking God’s kingdom is losing ourselves in obedience to the Lord to the extent that we can say with Paul, “I do not consider my life of any account as dear to myself, in order that I may finish my course, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify solemnly of the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24). To seek first God’s kingdom is to pour out our lives in the eternal work of our heavenly Father.

To seek God’s kingdom is seek to win people into that kingdom, that they might be saved and God might be glorified. It is to have our heavenly Father’s own truth, love, and righteousness manifest in our lives, and to have “peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17). We also seek God’s kingdom when we yearn for the return of the King in His millennial glory to establish His kingdom on earth and usher in His eternal kingdom.

We are also to seek … His righteousness. Instead of longing after the things of this world, we are to hunger and thirst for the things of the world to come, which are characterized above all else by God’s perfect righteousness and holiness. It is more than longing for something ethereal and future; it is also longing for something present and practical. We not only are to have heavenly expectations but holy lives (see Col. 3:2–3). “Since all these things [the earth and its works, v. 10] are to be destroyed in this way,” Peter says, “what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (2 Pet. 3:11).[4]


The heart of the matter (6:33)

33 In view of vv. 31–32, this verse makes it clear that Jesus’ disciples are not simply to refrain from the pursuit of temporal things as their primary goal in order to differentiate themselves from pagans; instead, they are to replace such pursuits with goals of far greater significance. To seek first the kingdom (“of God” in some MSS) is to desire above all to enter into, submit to, and participate in spreading the news of the saving reign of God, the messianic kingdom already inaugurated by Jesus, and to live so as to store up treasures in heaven in the prospect of the kingdom’s consummation. It is to pursue the things already prayed for in the first three petitions of the Lord’s Prayer (vv. 9–10).

To seek God’s righteousness is not, in this context, to seek justification (contra Filson, McNeile). “Righteousness” must be interpreted as in 5:6, 10, 20; 6:1. It is to pursue righteousness of life in full submission to the will of God, as prescribed by Jesus throughout this discourse (cf. Przybylski, Righteousness in Matthew, 89–91). Such righteousness will lead to persecution by some (5:10), but others will themselves become disciples and praise the Father in heaven (5:16). Such goals alone are worthy of one’s wholehearted allegiance. For any other concern to dominate one’s mind is to stoop to pagan fretting. “In the end, just as there are only two kinds of piety, the self-centered and the God-centered, so there are only two kinds of ambition: one can be ambitious either for oneself or for God. There is no third alternative” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 172). Within such a framework of commitment, Jesus’ disciples are assured that all the necessary things will be given to them by their heavenly Father (see comments at 5:45; 6:9), who demonstrates his faithfulness by his care even for the birds and his concern even for the grass.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 173). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1227). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 354–355). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 425–427). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, pp. 216–217). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

JUNE 13 – HIS ETERNAL PURPOSE

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.

—Psalm 23:1-2

God’s sovereignty means that if there’s anybody in this wide world of sinful men that should be restful and peaceful in an hour like this, it should be Christians. We should not be under the burden of apprehension and worry because we are the children of a God who is always free to do as He pleases. There is not one rope or chain or hindrance upon Him, because He is absolutely sovereign.

God is free to carry out His eternal purposes to their conclusions. I have believed this since I first became a Christian. I had good teachers who taught me this and I have believed it with increasing joy ever since. God does not play by ear, or doodle, or follow whatever happens to come into His mind or let one idea suggest another. God works according to the plans which He purposed in Christ Jesus before Adam walked in the garden, before the sun, moon and stars were made. God, who has lived all our tomorrows and carries time in His bosom, is carrying out His eternal purposes. AOGII145

Forgive me for my worry, Father. I know I can be at peace when I have such a calm Shepherd, a sovereign God working out His eternal purpose in my life. Amen. [1]


23:1 Despite its worldwide popularity, the Psalm is not for everyone. It is applicable only to those who are entitled to say, “The Lord is my Shepherd.” It is true that the Good Shepherd died for all, but only those who actually receive Him by a definite act of faith are His sheep. His saving work is sufficient for all, but it is effective only for those who actually believe on Him. Everything therefore hinges on the personal pronoun my. Unless He is my Shepherd, then the rest of the Psalm does not belong to me. On the other hand, if He is really mine and I am really His, then I have everything in Him!

23:2 I shall not lack food for my soul or body because He makes me to lie down in green pastures.

I shall not lack refreshment either because He leads me beside the still waters.[2]


The Lord Is My Shepherd (23:1–4)

1 The first word of the psalm, “The Lord” (Yahweh), evokes rich images of the provision and protection of the covenantal God. He promised to take care of his people and revealed himself to be full of love, compassion, patience, fidelity, and forgiveness (Ex 34:6–7). The psalmist exclaims, “Yahweh is my shepherd,” with emphasis on “my.” The temptation in ancient Israel was to speak only about “our” God (cf. Dt 6:4) in forgetfulness that the God of Israel is also the God of individuals. The contribution of this psalm lies, therefore, in the personal, subjective expression of ancient piety. For this reason, Psalm 23 is such a popular psalm. It permits individual believers to take its words on their lips and express in gratitude and confidence that all the demonstrations of God’s covenantal love can be claimed not only corporately by the group but also personally by each of its members.

The metaphor of the shepherd has a colorful history, as it was applied to kings and gods. King Hammurabi called himself “shepherd” (ANET, 164b). The Babylonian god of justice, Shamash, is also called “shepherd”—“Shepherd of the lower world, guardian of the upper” (ANET, 388). The metaphor is not only a designation or name of the Lord, but it also points toward the relationship between God and his covenantal children (cf. 74:1–4; 77:20; 78:52, 70–72; 79:13; 80:1; Isa 40:11; Mic 7:14). The people of God were well acquainted with shepherds. David himself was a shepherd (1 Sa 16:11), as the hills around Bethlehem were suitable for shepherding (cf. Lk 2:8).

The psalmist moves quickly from “my shepherd” to a description: “I shall not be in want.” Dahood, 1:146, may stretch its meaning when he writes, “Implying neither in this life nor in the next”; but so do those commentators who find allusions to the Lord’s provisions, guidance, and protection of Israel in the wilderness (cf. A. A. Anderson, 1:196–97; Craigie, 206–7). The conclusion of the psalm (v. 6) gives at least some support to Dahood’s contention; however, the psalm should not be narrowly interpreted in terms of “the eternal bliss of Paradise” (Dahood, 1:145).

2–4 The image of “shepherd” aroused emotions of care, provision, and protection. A good shepherd was personally concerned with the welfare of his sheep. Because of this, the designation “my shepherd” is described by the result of God’s care—“I shall not be in want” (v. 1); by the acts of God—“he makes me lie down … he leads … he restores … he guides” (vv. 2–3); and by the resulting tranquillity—“I will fear no evil” (v. 4).

The shepherd’s care is symbolized by the “rod” and the “staff” (v. 4c). A shepherd carried a “rod” to club down wild animals (cf. 1 Sa 17:43; 2 Sa 23:21) and a “staff” to keep the sheep in control. The rod and staff represent God’s constant vigilance over his own and bring “comfort” because of his personal presence and involvement with his sheep.

Verses 1 and 4, taken as an inclusio, read:

The Lord is my shepherd.…

Your rod and your staff,

they comfort me.

2 The nature of the care lies in God’s royal provision of all the necessities for his people (see Richard S. Tomback, “Psalm 23:2 Reconsidered,” JNSL 10 [1982]: 93–96, for the background in the ancient Near East). The “green pastures” are the rich and verdant pastures, where the sheep need not move from place to place to be satisfied (cf. Eze 34:14; Jn 10:9). These “green pastures” were a seasonal phenomenon. The fields—even parts of the desert—would turn green during the winter and spring; but in summer and fall the sheep would be led to many places in search of food. God’s care is not seasonal but constant and abundant. The sheep have time to rest, as the shepherd makes them “lie down.” The “quiet waters” are the wells and springs where the sheep can drink without being rushed (cf. Isa 32:18). The combination of “green pastures” and “quiet waters” portrays God’s refreshing care for his own.

3a As the good shepherd provides his sheep with rest, verdant pastures, and quiet waters, so the Lord takes care of his people in a most plentiful way. He thereby renews them so that they feel that life in the presence of God is good and worth living. He “restores,” i.e., gives the enjoyment of life, to his own (cf. 19:7; Pr 25:13). The word “soul” is not here the spiritual dimension of humankind but denotes the same as “me,” repeated twice in v. 2, i.e., “he restores me.”

3b–4 The nature of the shepherd’s care also lies in guidance (vv. 3b–4b). In v. 2, the psalmist spoke of God as leading (“he leads me”). He develops the shepherd’s role as a guide, only to conclude with another aspect of his shepherdly care—protection (v. 4c). He leads his own in “paths of righteousness.” These paths do not lead one to obtain righteousness. “Righteousness” (ṣedeq) here signifies in the most basic sense “right,” namely, the paths that bring the sheep most directly to their destination (in contrast to “crooked paths”; cf. 125:5; Pr 2:15; 5:6; 10:9). The shepherd’s paths are straight (cf. Aubrey R. Johnson, “Psalm 23 and the Household of Faith,” in Proclamation and Presence, ed. John I. Durham and J. R. Porter [Richmond, Va.: Knox, 1970], 258). He does not unnecessarily tire out his sheep. He knows what lies ahead. Even when the “right paths” bring the sheep “through the valley of the shadow of death” (v. 4), there is no need to fear.

The idiom “the shadow of death” has stirred discussion. Briggs, 1:211–12, spoke of the MT’s punctuation (ṣalmāwet, “shadow of death”) as “a rabbinical conceit” and preferred, instead of a compound phrase, one word (ṣalmût, “darkness”). D. Winton Thomas (“צַלְמָוֶת in the Old Testament,” JSS 7 [1962]: 191–200) has argued persuasively that the MT may be correct, with “death” being a superlative image for “very deep shadow” or “deep darkness.” This imagery is consistent with the shepherd metaphor because the shepherd leads the flock through ravines and wadis where the steep and narrow slopes keep out the light. The darkness of the wadis represents the uncertainty of life. The “straight paths” at times need to go through the wadis, but God is still present.

The shepherd who guides is always with the sheep. The presence and guidance of the Lord go together. He is bound by his name (“for his name’s sake,” v. 3b), “Yahweh,” to be present with his people. Underlying the etymology of “Yahweh” is the promise “I will be with you” (Ex 3:12). For the sake of his name, he keeps all the promises to his covenantal children (cf. 25:11; 31:3; 79:9; 106:8; 109:21; 143:11; Isa 48:9; Eze 20:44). He is loyal to his people, for his honor and reputation are at stake (see Reflections, p. 135, The Name of Yahweh).

The nature of the shepherd’s care lies further in the protection he gives (v. 4c). The “rod” and the “staff” symbolize Yahweh’s presence, protection, and guidance. They summarize his role as shepherd. The effects of his care are expressed in the first person—“I shall not be in want … I will fear no evil” (vv. 1, 4)—as an inclusionary motif together with “shepherd” and “rod/staff” (vv. 1, 4). Thus the psalmist rejoices that Yahweh is like a shepherd in his provision, guidance, and protection, so that the psalmist lacks nothing and fears not.[3]


23:1 The Lord is my shepherd. Cf. Ge 48:15; 49:24; Dt 32:6–12; Pss 28:9; 74:1; 77:20; 78:52; 79:13; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Is 40:11; Jer 23:3; Eze 34; Hos 4:16; Mic 5:4; 7:14; Zec 9:16 on the image of the Lord as a Shepherd. This imagery was used commonly in kingly applications and is frequently applied to Jesus in the NT (e.g., Jn 10; Heb 13:20; 1Pe 2:25; 5:4).

23:2, 3 Four characterizing activities of the Lord as Shepherd (i.e., emphasizing His grace and guidance) are followed by the ultimate basis for His goodness, i.e., “His name’s sake” (cf. Pss 25:11; 31:3; 106:8; Is 43:25; 48:9; Eze 36:22–32).[4]


23:1 shepherd. The deity-as-shepherd motif is common in the Bible (e.g., Gen. 48:15; 49:24; Ps. 28:9; 80:1; 95:7; 100:3; Rev. 7:17; cf. Ps. 49:14). The Lord is the Shepherd of the people as a whole, as well as individual members; and in this psalm the particular member is in view. want. That is, to lack what one needs.

23:1 Jesus is the good shepherd (John 10:11–18, 27–29) who embodies God’s care for his people.

23:2 Green pastures and still waters are peaceful places for rest and feeding.[5]


23:1 shepherd. The image of God as shepherd is inexhaustibly rich. The shepherd stays with the flock (Is. 40:11; 63:9–12). His sheep are totally dependent upon him for food, water, and protection from wild animals. The image of shepherd also evoked the image of king in the ancient world. David was tending sheep when he was anointed to be king. In the NT Jesus is revealed as the shepherd of His church (John 10:11, 14), fulfilling the prophecy that God will come to shepherd His people (Ezek. 34:7–16, 23).

23:2 green pastures. Where the sheep get necessary food.

still waters. Lit. “Waters of resting places” (text note), referring to the place where sheep get both the water and rest that they need.[6]


[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. 580). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, pp. 252–254). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 23:1–2). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 966). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 854). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

June 13 – Integrity Resists Intimidation

“Then the herald loudly proclaimed: ‘To you the command is given, O peoples, nations and men of every language, that at the moment you hear the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, you are to fall down and worship the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king has set up. But whoever does not fall down and worship shall immediately be cast into the midst of a furnace of blazing fire.’ Therefore at that time, when all the peoples heard the sound of the horn, flute, lyre, trigon, psaltery, bagpipe, and all kinds of music, all the peoples, nations and men of every language fell down and worshiped the golden image that Nebuchadnezzar the king had set up.”

Daniel 3:4–7

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The choices you make reveal the convictions you embrace.

After King Nebuchadnezzar had gathered all his leaders to the dedication of his golden image, he issued a proclamation that at the sound of his orchestra they were to fall down and worship the image. Those leaders were the most influential and respected people in Babylon, so you might expect them to be people of strong convictions and personal integrity. Sadly, that was not the case, and with only three exceptions they all lacked the courage to say no.

Granted, punishment for disobeying the king’s decree would be severe indeed. But even the threat of a fiery death could not intimidate Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego. Instead, it simply revealed the depth of their commitment to God. That’s what makes them such remarkable role models. As young men barely twenty years old, they demonstrated tremendous courage and conviction.

Each day Christians face considerable pressure to compromise spiritual integrity and to adopt standards of thought and behavior that are displeasing to the Lord. Young people especially are vulnerable to negative peer pressure and intimidation. Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed–nego show us that young people can be spiritual leaders who are strong in their faith and exemplary in their obedience. May that be true of you as well, regardless of your age.

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Suggestions for Prayer: Remember to pray often for the young people in your church, and do what you can to encourage them in their walk with the Lord.

For Further Study: Read Joshua 1:1–9. How did God encourage Joshua as he faced the intimidating task of leading the nation of Israel?[1]


3:1–7 Nebuchadnezzar … made an idolatrous image of gold ninety feet high and set it up in the plain of Dura. He then commanded that when they heard horn, flute, harp, lyre, and psaltery, in symphony with all kinds of music, all men were to fall down to worship it. Any who refused would be cast … into a fiery furnace.[2]


1–7 No time frame is assigned to this episode, but most likely the event occurs early in Nebuchadnezzar’s reign as a test of loyalty to the new administration (cf. Miller, 107). The date given for the incident in the LXX (the eighteenth year of Nebuchadnezzar’s reign) is borrowed from Jeremiah 52:29 as a possible rationale for the unusual royal ceremony (cf. Porteous, 57). The story features Daniel’s three friends, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, with no mention of Daniel himself. Daniel’s absence at the “Festival of the New Babylon” may be explained by the reference to his role as an adviser in the royal court (2:49). Either Daniel has relinquished his administrative authority for the profit of his friends (so Lacocque, 55), or his duties are of such a highly specialized nature that he is required to remain at the royal palace (so Miller, 108).

At issue in the story is a giant image erected by Nebuchadnezzar (v. 1) and his subsequent decree that all of his royal subjects must bow down and worship the image (vv. 6, 11). The term “image” (Aram. elēm) simply refers to a statue or stela of some sort. The extreme height (ninety feet) and narrow width (nine feet) of the image suggests the form of an obelisk or totem pole (e.g., Porteous, 57; see BBCOT, 734). Commentators debate whether the image represents the king or a deity of the Babylonian pantheon (cf. Goldingay, 70). Wallace, 64, rightly points out that the matter is left intentionally vague. The statue could represent whatever anyone wants it to symbolize, whether the spirit of Babylon, the king himself, one of the traditional deities (e.g., Marduk according to Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 109), or even a syncretistic focal point for the various religions of Nebuchadnezzar’s realm. The fact that the statue is overlaid with gold may indicate that Nebuchadnezzar has been influenced by Daniel’s interpretation of the king’s statue-dream identifying him as the “head of gold” (2:28; cf. Young, 84).

The “plain of Dura” (v. 1) may have been a site near the city wall (since the Akk. duru refers to a “walled place”; cf. Wiseman, Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 111), but more traditionally the location has been identified with Tulul Dura (“tells of Dura”) some sixteen miles south of Babylon (cf. Miller, 111). Seven classes of state officials are named (vv. 2–3), presumably rank-ordered in terms of importance (cf. Miller, 111; see Notes). These administrators represent the many peoples, nations, and languages of the king’s wide domain. The lesser officials and civil servants are addressed collectively in the umbrella phrase “all the other provincial officials” (v. 2). Goldingay, 70, has noted that “in many cultures, music draws attention to state and religious processions and ceremonials.”

Six types of musical instruments are specifically mentioned as examples of the array of instruments comprising the royal band (v. 5; see Notes). None of the instruments named were used in Hebrew worship, and most are designated by loanwords from other languages. Rhetorically, the repetition of the musical component of the event (vv. 5, 7, 10, 15) attests the grandiose nature and cosmopolitan character of the ceremony (cf. Porteous, 57; Wallace, 64; Miller, 114). Theologically, the repetition of the foreign terms for the musical instruments “imply a double judgment on the alien, pagan nature of the [idolatrous] ceremony Nebuchadnezzar is inaugurating” (Goldingay, 70).

Ceremonies marking the installation of statues or the dedication of buildings are well documented in the ancient world (cf. Montgomery, 197–98). This ceremony probably included the taking of a loyalty oath as Nebuchadnezzar solidified his rule over the vast Babylonian Empire (cf. BBCOT, 735). The word “dedication” (vv. 2–3; Heb. anukkâ; GK 10273) means to inaugurate or put into use for the first time (and implies some ongoing function for the object so dedicated; cf. TDOT, 5:19–23). The same term is used in the OT for the dedication of the altar (Nu 7:10–11), the temple (1 Ki 8:63), and the rebuilt wall of Jerusalem (Ne 12:27; cf. Seow, 53). “Hanukkah” is the name applied to the Feast of Rededication of the temple after its cleansing by Judas Maccabeus (1 Macc 4:56, 59). Later the NT records that Jesus was in the temple during the Feast of Dedication or Hanukkah (Jn 10:22).

The role of the herald (v. 4) as public crier and messenger or courier is known in the biblical world (e.g., Est 3:13; cf. Collins, Daniel, 183); according to Wiseman (Nebuchadrezzar and Babylon, 111), “the use of the herald for public proclamations was a long-standing Babylonian tradition.” The king’s decree is probably announced to the assembly in the Aramaic language, the lingua franca of Nebuchadnezzar’s empire (so Miller, 113). Burning (v. 6) is a well-attested penalty for the punishment of criminals throughout the Babylonian, Persian, and Greek periods (cf. Jer 29:22; see Goldingay, 70; Collins, Daniel, 185–86). Nebuchadnezzar’s “blazing furnace” (v. 6) may have been a beehive-type oven or kiln with an opening at the top (into which the men were thrown) and a door at the side (permitting a view to the inside of the furnace; cf. Hartman and Di Lella, 161), or a tunnel-shaped brick furnace (so Baldwin, 103). While such details lend authenticity to narrative, the story itself has little to do with “the Festival of the New Babylon” (see Wallace, 63–64) and everything to do with idolatry and apostasy—the very cause of the Hebrews’ exile to Babylonia (see Russell, 59–61; cf. Dt 29:25–28).[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.) (p. 1080). 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. 75–77). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

June 13 – Righteous Anger

Be angry, and do not sin.

Ephesians 4:26

You might be surprised to hear that there is such a thing as righteous anger—that is, being angry over what grieves God and hinders His causes. But we are not to be so angry that it results in sin.

Don’t be angry for your own causes. Don’t get angry when people offend you. And don’t let your anger degenerate into personal resentment, bitterness, sullenness, or moodiness. That is forbidden. The only justifiable anger defends the great, glorious, and holy nature of our God.

Anger that is selfish, passionate, undisciplined, and uncontrolled is sinful, useless, and hurtful. It must be banished from the Christian life. But the disciplined anger that seeks the righteousness of God is pure, selfless, and dynamic. We ought to be angry about the sin in the world and in the church. But we can’t let that anger degenerate into sin.[1]


4:26 A second area for practical renewal in our lives is in connection with sinful wrath and righteous anger. There are times when a believer may be righteously angry, for instance, when the character of God is impugned. In such cases anger is commanded: Be angry. Anger against evil can be righteous. But there are other times when anger is sinful. When it is an emotion of malice, jealousy, resentment, vindictiveness, or hatred because of personal wrongs, it is forbidden. Aristotle said, “Anybody can become angry—that is easy; but to be angry with the right person, to the right degree, at the right time, for the right purpose, and in the right way—that is not easy.”

If a believer gives way to unrighteous wrath, he should confess and forsake it quickly. Confession should be made both to God and to the victim of his anger. There should be no nursing of grudges, no harboring of resentments, no carrying over of irritations. Do not let the sun go down on your wrath. Anything that mars fellowship with God or with our brethren should immediately be made right.[2]


26, 27. The next specific admonition has to do with such matters as anger and resentment: Be angry but do not sin. These words recall Ps. 4:4 (LXX: Ps. 4:5), which the apostle is here applying for his own use. The words should not be interpreted separately, as if the sense were, a. “Be sure to be angry once in a while”; and b. “do not sin.” Much less is it true that all anger is here forbidden. Those who, by means of strange reasoning, favor this “interpretation” (?) do so with an appeal to verse 31, but see on that verse. The sense is simply, “Let not your anger be mixed with sin.” Anger as such need not be sinful. It is ascribed even to God (1 Kings 11:9; 2 Kings 17:18; Ps. 7:11; 79:5; 80:4, 5; Heb. 12:29), and to Christ (Ps. 2:12; Mark 3:5; John 2:15–17). In fact, the age in which we are living could use a little more “righteous indignation” against sin of every type. Also, the more angry every believer is with his own sins, the better it will be. However, anger, especially with reference to the neighbor, easily degenerates into hatred and resentment. To love the sinner while one hates his sin requires a goodly supply of grace. The exclamation, “I cannot stand that fellow,” is at times uttered even by one church member with reference to another. It is for that reason that the apostle immediately adds: let not the sun go down on that angry mood of yours. Having spoken about anger, the apostle now turns to that into which anger may easily degenerate, namely, the spirit of resentment, the angry mood, the sullen countenance that is indicative of hatred and of the unforgiving attitude. The day must not end thus. Before another dawns, nay rather, before the sun even sets—which to the Jew meant the end of one day and the beginning of another—genuine forgiveness must not only have filled the heart but must, if at all possible, have come to open expression so that the neighbor has benefited from its blessing. Phillips, though not really translating, does give the sense of the passage when he paraphrases it as follows: “Never go to bed angry.” Continued: … and do not give the devil a foothold. Literally, “And do not give a place to the devil.” The devil will quickly seize the opportunity of changing our indignation, whether righteous or unrighteous, into a grievance, a grudge, a nursing of wrath, an unwillingness to forgive. Paul was very conscious of the reality, the power, and the deceitfulness of the devil, as 6:10 shows. What he means, therefore, is that from the very start the devil must be resisted (James 4:7). No place whatsoever must be given to him, no room to enter or even to stand. There must be no yielding to or compromise with him. He must not be given any opportunity to take advantage of our anger for his own sinister purpose.[3]


From Unrighteous Anger to Righteous

Be angry, and yet do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. (4:26–27)

Parorgismos (anger) is not momentary outward, boiling–over rage or inward, seething resentment, but rather a deep–seated, determined and settled conviction. As seen in this passage, its New Testament use can represent an emotion good or bad, depending on motive and purpose.

Paul’s command is to be angry (from orgizō), with the qualification and yet do not sin. In this statement he may be legitimating righteous indignation, anger at evil, at that which is done against the Person of the Lord and against His will and purpose. It is the anger of the Lord’s people who hate evil (Ps. 69:9). It is the anger that abhors injustice, immorality, and ungodliness of every sort. It is the anger of which the great English preacher E W. Robertson wrote in one of his letters. When he once met a certain man who was trying to lure a young girl into prostitution, he became so angry that he bit his lip until it bled.

Jesus expressed righteous anger at the hard–heartedness of the Pharisees who resented His healing the man with the withered hand on the Sabbath (Mark 3:5). Although the word itself is not used in the gospel accounts of the events, it was no doubt that kind of anger that caused Jesus to drive the moneychangers out of the Temple (Matt. 21:12; John 2:15). Jesus was always angered when the Father was maligned or when others were mistreated, but He was never selfishly angry at what was done against Him. That is the measure of righteous anger.

Anger that is sin, on the other hand, is anger that is self–defensive and self–serving, that is resentful of what is done against oneself. It is the anger that leads to murder and to God’s judgment (Matt. 5:21–22).

Anger that is selfish, undisciplined, and vindictive is sinful and has no place even temporarily in the Christian life. But anger that is unselfish and is based on love for God and concern for others not only is permissible but commanded. Genuine love cannot help being angered at that which injures the object of that love.

But even righteous anger can easily turn to bitterness, resentment, and self–righteousness. Consequently, Paul goes on to say, do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not give the devil an opportunity. Even the best motivated anger can sour, and we are therefore to put it aside at the end of the day. Taken to bed, it is likely to give the devil an opportunity to use it for his purposes. If anger is prolonged, one may begin to seek vengeance and thereby violate the principle taught in Romans 12:17–21,

Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men. If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. “But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals upon his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

It may also be that verses 26b–27 refer entirely to this unrighteous anger, in which case Paul uses the imperative in the sense of saying that, because anger may come in a moment and overtake a believer, and because it has such a strong tendency to grow and fester, it should be dealt with immediately—confessed, forsaken, and given to God for cleansing before we end the day.

In any case of anger, whether legitimate or not, if it is courted, “advantage [will] be taken of us by Satan” (2 Cor. 2:11), and he will feed our anger with self–pity, pride, self–righteousness, vengeance, defense of our rights, and every other sort of selfish sin and violation of God’s holy will.[4]


26 Paul’s second command also cites an OT text: Ps 4:4 ([4:5] LXX). His words consist of three elements: the imperative “be angry,” the conjunction “and,” and the prohibition “do not sin” (the present tense might convey “do not keep sinning,” or even “stop sinning”). The imperative “be angry” either (1) is a genuine entreaty to be (righteously) angry, and not to sin, or (2) functions in a concessive or conditional way (i.e., “be angry, if you must, and …” or “if you get angry, and …”). Most versions and scholars adopt option #2. That is, there may be times when a believer will get angry, whether justifiably or not, but sin can never be condoned. (In fact, v. 31 urges that anger be completely removed.) So if you find yourself in an angry state, do not allow your anger to lead you into sin.

Wallace (Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics, 491–92) argues against this option. He notes that “be angry” is followed with “and [kai] do not sin,” not “but do not sin.” The other uses of the conditional imperative with “and” are followed with a future indicative, either real or implied. Thus, according to Wallace, the more common command function is probably in view, in light of the community nature of the context (speaking the truth to one’s neighbor as members of one body). To fail to call others to account, i.e., to allow deceit to continue, is unconscionable. The proper Christian response is to “be angry,” as was Jesus at the abuses in the temple. Paul seems to make the place for “righteous anger” in the context of church discipline—in this case, be angry and do not sin. To fail to be angry at falsehood in the body of Christ would be a sin.

Opposing this, Best, 449, cites the lack of a context that would show what Christians are commanded to be angry about—internal church discipline is not the topic of this section. Further, he notes the incongruence of a positive command in the context of the other injunctions in the section that all begin with what is to be removed. Best believes a command to anger here would conflict with the command to be rid of all anger in v. 31. These are worthy objections, though Best does not respond to the formidable grammatical issues that Wallace raises.

The verse concludes with a prohibition not to let anger continue unchecked. The setting sun sets the (proverbial) time limit on being angry. The noun translated “anger” (NASB) is parorgismos (GK 4240), which refers to “the state of being intensely provoked” to anger (BDAG, 780). Whether anger is justified or not, it ought not to fester; what provoked the anger should be addressed promptly. Defuse anger by the end of the day (cf. Dt 24:15); this will ensure that anger does not lead to sin. Probably this concluding prohibition tips the evenly balanced scales in favor of option #2—that Paul’s imperative to anger is actually conditional or concessive. If he commanded believers to be righteously angry with sin in their midst, why would he put a time limit on such anger? Since the anger itself is not sin (it would be a righteous response to some sin or evil), why would Paul not want the readers to be angry for as long as it took to remedy the causes? Surely “one day” would not suffice in most cases. Probably, then, righteous anger or a holy rage is not Paul’s intent. Rather, he insists that Christians not harbor anger within the body, whether it is justified or creeps in unsolicited. As Chrysostom put it, “It is better not to grow angry at all. But if one ever does fall into anger, he should at least not be carried away by it toward something worse” (cited in Edwards, 176). Address the causes for anger immediately; seek forgiveness and reconciliation quickly—and so preserve the health of the church.

27 To fail to engage in the necessary disciplining of deceitful Christians or, perhaps more likely here, to savor anger and allow it to continue to fester, puts the church in the very position the devil favors. He has gained an entrée to cause greater damage. Though diabolos (GK 1333) might refer to anyone who engages in slander, clearly here Paul denotes the church’s archenemy, the devil. Paul does not insinuate that the devil causes anger, only that he can exploit it for his own ends. So using the negative particle plus an aorist imperative of “give,” Paul urges the readers not to give the devil such a foothold—“Don’t do it.”[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 182). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1939). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 217–218). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 184–185). Chicago: Moody Press.

[5] 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. 130–131). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.