Daily Archives: December 25, 2017

December 25 Recovering Man’s Destiny

“We … see Him who has been made for a little while lower than the angels, namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that by the grace of God He might taste death for every one” (Heb. 2:9).


Jesus Christ is the only One who could recover man’s destiny.

The ultimate curse of our lost destiny is death. God warned Adam that if he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, he would die (Gen. 2:17). In the restored Kingdom we will be elevated again over a redeemed earth. But the only way we could ever reign again as kings was to have the curse of sin removed, and the only way to remove it was to pay the penalty of sin, which is death (Rom. 6:23).

There’s just one problem: how can we reign if we are dead? We need to be raised from the dead, but we certainly can’t do that ourselves. That’s why God sent Jesus Christ.

To accomplish this great work for us, Jesus had to become a man. He Himself had to be made “for a little while lower than the angels.” To regain man’s dominion, He had to taste death for every man. Christ came to die for us because in His dying He could conquer death.

But He was also raised from the dead: “Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9). How does that help us? “If we have become united with Him in the likeness of His death, certainly we shall be also in the likeness of His resurrection” (v. 5).

The moment you put your faith in Christ, you were identified with Him. You died with Him on the cross, you were resurrected, and you began to walk in newness of life. You now are a joint-heir with Christ in His eternal Kingdom.

Christ tasted death for you and me so we could recover our lost destiny. Celebrate that glorious truth as you celebrate His birth today.


Suggestions for Prayer:  Before you do another thing today, praise your Heavenly Father for His wonderful plan of salvation.

For Further Study: Read Isaiah 2:2–4 and 11:6–9, noting the character of our future Kingdom.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 372). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


He came….

JOHN 1:11

“He came”—these two simple words are at the root of all theology and of all truth!

Before Christ came in the incarnation, there had been only the eternal past. Then from the time of creation, we have such hints as “In the beginning he was God” and “In him was light” and “all things were made by him” and “In him was life.”

Now it says, “He came!”

We are struck by the wonder of these simple words. All of the pity that God is capable of feeling, all of the mercy that God is capable of showing, and all of the redeeming love and grace that He could pour out of His divine being—all are at least suggested in the fact that Jesus came!

Then too, all of the hopes and longings and aspirations and dreams of immortality that lie in the human breast had their fulfillment in these two words, “He came!”

The message is more profound than all philosophy. It may be a superlative statement, but I believe it to be a balanced and accurate statement, to insist that the impact of these two words, understood in their high spiritual context, is wiser than all of man’s learning.

Because He is “the true light that lighteth every man that cometh into the world,” man’s long night of darkness is dispelled. We celebrate with Milton the delight that “This is the happy morn wherein the Son of heaven’s eternal king, of wedded maid and virgin mother born, our great redemption from above did bring!”[1]

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

December 25, 2017: Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Personal Setting

While they were there, the days were completed for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn. (2:6–7)

Luke described the most profoundly significant event in all of history up to that point—the birth of the God-man, Jesus Christ—in startlingly simple, straightforward, unembellished, even sparse language. While Joseph and Mary were in Bethlehem, the days were completed for her to give birth. Luke did not say how long they had been in Bethlehem, or whether they were still waiting to register, or stayed there after registering because Mary’s time to give birth was near. He gave no description of where the birth took place, except to say that it was not in the inn (see the discussion below). Luke simply said that Mary gave birth to her firstborn son. No angels appeared, as they later would to the shepherds. No heavenly trumpets rang. No voice from heaven announced the birth of the Son of God. Alone except for her young husband, far from her family and friends, in the most primitive of conditions, a young girl gave birth. Thus did the second person of the Trinity step from eternity into time and space.

Luke carefully noted that Jesus was Mary’s firstborn (prōtotokos), not her only (monogenēs) son (cf. his use of monogenēs to refer to an only child in 7:12; 8:42; 9:38). The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church that Jesus was Mary’s only child and that she remained a perpetual virgin until her death, is clearly a denial of Scripture. Matthew 1:25 says that Joseph “kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son” (emphasis added). That strongly implies that after Christ’s birth, they had normal marital relations. It is also revealed that Mary gave birth to other children, Jesus’ half brothers and sisters (Matt. 12:46–47; 13:55–56; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14). As the firstborn, Jesus had the primary right to the family inheritance (cf. Gen. 43:33; Deut. 21:15–17; 1 Chron. 5:1; 2 Chron. 21:3). Joseph was not wealthy (cf. the discussion of 2:21–24 in chapter 14 of this volume), and had no great estate to bequeath to his firstborn son. But what he did pass along was the right to the throne of Israel (Matt. 1:1–16).

As was customary, Mary wrapped her baby in cloths. Strips of fabric were used to bind a baby snugly for warmth, security, and to keep the limbs straight. The point is that Jesus was treated like any other baby. He was not dressed in royal robes but in the normal wrappings that other babies wore.

Having borne her Son and wrapped Him, Mary laid Him in a manger. The reference to a manger has given rise to the tradition that Jesus was born in a stable. The Bible nowhere states that, however. Phatnē (manger) is the word for a feeding trough. Such troughs could be found anywhere animals were kept, not only in stables. The Bible does not specifically say where Mary gave birth to Jesus although a tradition, dating back to the middle of the second century, says that it was in a cave. While that is possible, since caves were sometimes used to shelter animals, there is no way to verify it.

Wherever the couple stayed, it was not in the inn, because there was no room for them there. Part of the Christmas legend is the heartless innkeeper who turns away a young woman about to give birth. But kataluma (inn) is not the normal Greek word for an inn (pandocheion, which Luke used in 10:34), but rather a general term for a shelter, or lodging place (it is translated “guest room” in 22:11). Exactly what that lodging place was is not clear, but it may have been a public shelter or campground, perhaps a place where caravans stopped. But with the overcrowding brought about by the census, there was no room for Joseph and Mary even in such a makeshift shelter. As a result, Mary was forced to give birth in the only place available—the place where the travelers’ animals were kept.

When Jesus came into the world, He was born in the most comfortless conditions—a smelly, filthy, chilly shelter, surrounded by noisy animals. It was a fitting entrance for the “Son of Man [who had] nowhere to lay His head” (Luke 9:58); the one who “was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him” (John 1:10); for the one “who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and [was]made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:6–7); for the “Son of Man [who] did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Matt. 20:28) by bearing “our sins in His body on the cross, so that we might die to sin and live to righteousness” (1 Peter 2:24). His humble birth was appropriate for Jesus, who came to die as a substitute in the place of lowly, humble, wretched sinners. As the writer of the hymn “Ivory Palaces” put it,

Out of the ivory palaces,

Into a world of woe,

Only His great, eternal love

Made my Savior go.[1]

7 The word katalyma (GK 2906), usually translated “inn,” may mean a room (e.g., the “guest room” used for the Last Supper [22:11], referred to as an “upper room” in 22:12), a billet for soldiers, or any place for lodging, which would include inns (cf. L. Paul Trudinger, “ ‘No Room in the Inn’: A Note on Luke 2:7,” ExpTim 102 [1991]: 172–73). It is not, however, the usual Greek word for an inn—pandocheion (GK 4106), to which the Good Samaritan took the robbery victim (10:34). As the etymology of the word—pan (“all,” GK 4246) and dechomai (“receive,” GK 1312)—suggests, inns accepted all kinds of people, often the worst. Stories were told of discomfort and even of robberies at inns.

Luke could have painted a sordid picture, had he so desired. Instead he uses the general word for a lodging place and states the simple fact that when Mary’s time came, the only available place for the little family was one usually occupied by animals. It may have been a cave, as tradition suggests, or some part of a house or inn. Even today in many places around the world farm animals and their fodder are often kept in the same building as the family quarters. The eating trough, or “manger,” was ideal for use as a crib. Luke does not seem to be portraying a dismal situation with an unfeeling innkeeper as villain. Rather, he is establishing a contrast between the proper rights of the Messiah in his own “town of David” (v. 4) and the very ordinary and humble circumstances of his birth. Whatever the reason, even in his birth Jesus was excluded from the normal shelter others enjoyed (cf. 9:58). This is consistent with Luke’s realistic presentation of Jesus’ humanity and servanthood.[2]

6, 7. And while they were there the days were fulfilled for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son. She wrapped him in strips of cloth and laid him down in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

In connection with this simple yet all-important passage note the following:

  1. The expression “While they were there the days were fulfilled [or: completed]” may mean that the two spent a few days in Bethlehem before the child was born. On the other hand, the words may simply place special stress on the fact that Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem: the great event took place while they were there.
  2. “The days were fulfilled.” The birth occurred “in the fulness of time” (Gal. 4:4). In this particular case, however, the meaning may simply be that the birth took place when the normal period between conception and delivery had expired. Even though the conception itself was a miracle, the process of development within the womb was allowed to run its usual course.
  3. “her firstborn son.” Note: not “her only son,” but “her firstborn son.” The natural explanation is certainly this, that after Mary had given birth to Jesus she continued to bear children. The very names of Jesus’ brothers are mentioned in the New Testament (Matt. 13:55). The fact that he had brothers is also clear from Matt. 12:46, 47 (cf. Mark 3:31, 32; Luke 8:19, 20); John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14. And Matt. 13:56 makes reference to his sisters.
  4. “She wrapped him in strips of cloth.” Note: she wrapped him. Does this mean that Mary, having just given birth to her firstborn, now immediately with her own hands swaddled her babe? Not necessarily! No more than Herod’s statement, “John I beheaded” (Luke 9:9), means that he in person had wielded the executioner’s ax; and no more than Pilate’s declaration, “I will therefore punish … him” (Luke 23:16), means that he intended to do this himself. If we assume that Mary gave the directions, and Joseph (or anyone else) carried them out, we have probably done full justice to the passage.

As to the manner in which a little one was swaddled see B. S. Easton’s article “Swaddle, Swaddling-Band,” I.S.B.E., Vol. V, p. 2874, though whether exactly this procedure was followed also in the present case may well be questioned. Let it suffice to say that with strips of cloth the baby was wrapped round and round tightly and securely. More about this in a moment.

  • “… and laid him down in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”

About this “inn” there are various, sometimes sharply contrasting, interpretations. Note the following theories:

(1) The inn or caravansary was built around the four sides of an inner court. It generally had two stories. On the second story, reached by a primitive staircase, the rooms for the travelers were located. Those who stopped at the inn carried along their own blanket and pillow. If a person had no blanket, he could wrap himself up in his robe. On the ground floor the animals were stabled. Here also the cargoes that were transported along the caravan route could be temporarily stored. And here the servants, in charge of the pack animals (donkeys, camels), found rest for the night. It was in such a “stable” that Joseph and Mary found lodging when there was no longer any room in the “inn” proper, the second story.

(2) Akin to this is the explanation of A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures, p. 23, who, however, pictures the stables as being “on one side of the square, outside the wall.” He is careful to point out that the manger in which the child was laid was either connected with the inn or was in a cave.

(3) The manger was in a cave, but that cave was definitely part of—or at least associated with—the inn.

(4) The inn was filled to overflowing: the upstairs was filled with weary guests. Even on the roof there was no room left. And downstairs the servants were crowding the courtyard, bedding down the animals for the night. At the suggestion of a villager Joseph and Mary then found shelter in a cave-stable.

(5) The rendering inn is wrong. The right translation is “stopping place” (thus Lenski), or “upper room” (thus Christie, I.S.B.E., Vol. III, p. 1470, and several others).

Their reasoning is that the original (Greek) word here rendered “inn” means “upper room” in Mark 14:14 (= Luke 22:11); so, if it has that meaning there, why not here? As Lenski sees it, Joseph and Mary tried to find lodging with some relatives, but since all the extra space in their house proper had already been given away, these relatives put their guests up in an adjoining shed, where asses were kept.

Comment on theories (1) through (5).

Any of the first four theories may be correct. They have in common their support of the rendering inn in 2:7.

Why was there no room in the inn? Was it because Bethlehem was overcrowded with people that wanted to be registered? That is the reason often given. It may be right, but is probably wrong or at least incomplete. Deserving of consideration is the fact that the town just now was filled with men charged with the responsibility of taking the census: officials and soldiers of the Roman government. It is well known that since Augustus and those who carried out his decree were aware of the fact that the Jews, because of religious scruples, were terribly afraid of coming into contact with non-Jews, the census officials were to be quartered, as far as ever possible, not in private homes but in public places, in inns for example. It is not surprising, therefore, that it was exactly the inn in which there was no room for Joseph and Mary.

This also shows that the rendering inn is probably correct, and that theory (5) is probably defective. For more on this see the note on these verses on page 148.

The owner of the inn should not be charged with cruelty. Room was simply lacking, except in the inn-stable or cave-stable.

The belief that the travelers from Nazareth took up quarters “in a certain cave” dates all the way back to Justin Martyr (about a.d. 114–165). See his Dialogue with Trypho, ch. 78. A similar view was expressed by Origen, Against Celsus I.51.

Helena, the mother of Constantine, built a church on the presumed site of the nativity. The present church was built by Justinian. In its interior the steps on either side of the altar lead to a cave below, where the supposed birthplace of Jesus is indicated by a star. Did the stable in which the infant was born actually stand there? This can neither be proved nor disproved. It is not very important. One thing is certain: the glitter, splendor, and aroma of the present site do not truly represent the circumstances that obtained when this child was born. It cannot be emphasized too strongly that our Lord was born in a stable and was laid down in a manger, that is, a feeding trough for animals, possibly a niche carved out in the cave wall.

“Greetings, you highly favored one, the Lord is with you.”

“There was no room for them in the inn.”

“He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.”

“She laid him down in a manger.”

Why these contrasts? The answer is given in 2 Cor. 8:9: “For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, that you through his poverty might become rich.” See also John 3:16; Rom. 8:32.

It is not enough to be able to give a satisfactory interpretation of the nativity account, the Christmas story. We should be so deeply impressed with the love of God here revealed that we feel what the poet felt when he wrote:

For me, dear Jesus, was thine incarnation,

Thy mortal sorrow and thy life’s oblation;

Thy death of anguish and thy bitter passion,

For my salvation.

Johann Heermann

Tr. Robert Bridges

The baby was born in a stable, not in a palace. It was laid in a feeding trough for animals, not in a pretty bassinet. All this spells poverty, deprivation.

And yet, and yet! There is another side to the story. Love shines through. This infant at least was securely wrapped in pieces of cloth. Not so the child mentioned in Ezek. 16:4. From the very start that little one was thoroughly rejected, left to die in the field if God had not intervened. Also, many children, even today, have no bed to sleep in. Here, on the contrary, it takes but little imagination to see Joseph putting some straw into that manger, so that the baby would be able to rest in comfort.

To be sure, as a grownup Jesus would be “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” Indescribable agonies would be his portion. Nevertheless, again and again during his ministry a voice would ring out from heaven, “Thou art my Son, my Beloved; with thee I am well pleased.”

So here also this same love is revealed. And in a moment the angels are going to celebrate the infant’s birth in song.[3]

2:7 Swaddling cloths were strips of cloth wrapped around a baby to keep its arms and legs straight. Firstborn Son implies that Mary had other children (Matt. 1:25; 13:55; Mark 3:31–35). The manger was probably a feeding trough for animals. Jesus was probably born in a stable or in a cave that served as one. The inn was most likely a reception room in a private home or a space at a public shelter, not a large building with several individual rooms.[4]

2:6–7. The Child was born during their time in Bethlehem. The fact that Jesus was called Mary’s firstborn implies that later she had other children. The couple was housed in quarters which were not private. According to tradition, they were in a cave near the inn. The Child was placed … in a manger, from which livestock fed. Being wrapped in strips of cloth was important, for this was the way the shepherds would recognize the infant (v. 12). Some infants were bound up in that way to keep their limbs straight and unharmed.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 148–150). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 76). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 142–146). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1252). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[5] Martin, J. A. (1985). Luke. In J. F. Walvoord & R. B. Zuck (Eds.), The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures (Vol. 2, p. 208). Wheaton, IL: Victor Books.

The Day Even Non-Believers Honor Jesus Despite Themselves

It’s Christmas, hailed in at least one secular song as “the most wonderful time of the year!”  This is a Christian holiday.  But why do so many non-Christians celebrate it?

Nine out of ten Americans celebrate Christmas.  (And the 10% who don’t includes strict Christians who reject the holidays in the liturgical calendar on principle.)

Around three-quarters of Hindus and Buddhists in America celebrate Christmas, as do a third of Jews and a significant but undetermined number of Muslims. Even 87% of atheists, agnostics, and other “nones” celebrate Christmas!

Today 55% of Americans say they consider Christmas as a religious holiday, with the rest considering it only a “cultural” holiday.

Many observers conclude that the Christian meaning of Christmas is declining, so that December 25 is or is fast becoming a purely secular holiday.

But is that possible?

Read more

How to Teach the True Meaning of Christmas to Your Kids

The rear seating in our 2004 Yukon must have some kind of magnetic field that provokes good questions from kids. This week it was, “Why do we decorate trees at Christmas? What does that have to do with Jesus being born?” I don’t remember asking such sophisticated questions at age 7.

But at age 37, I have an answer. I told our precocious progeny, “Not everything we do to celebrate Christmas has to be Christian, as long as we keep Christ at the center of our celebration. Some of what we do can be merely cultural.”

But I remember there being a respectable, gracious military family in my church in high school who gave a different answer: Decorated evergreen trees have nothing to do with Christ, they said. Christmas is a pagan holiday, and we won’t celebrate it.

I’ve heard this argument go back and forth over the years. Christmas was stolen from the pagans; or no, it’s been stolen from the Christians. I predict that both arguments will enjoy a long life on social media (if “life” is what you call something on social media).

But I think there’s a better view: Christmas means what we mean by it.

If I have concerns about the celebration of Christmas, it’s what we modern Westerners (my intended audience in this article) have done with it. Not all of it is bad, but some of it is. If I want to teach my kids discernment, I’ve got to make some distinctions among the various things people mean by Christmas.

Christmas means what we mean by it

It’s helpful to view cultural artifacts such as holidays through linguistic lenses. Just as words don’t always mean what they used to mean (take, for example, a charged word like gay or a prosaic one like prevent), holidays can and do grow away from their origins. And just as a dictionary’s job is to tell us what gay and prevent mean today, not what they meant in 1899, a theologian’s job is to observe what Christmas has become, not necessarily to tell us what it was.

That’s because a theologian is supposed to apply the unchanging truth of Scripture to the changing world of circumstances.

So let me give this a shot: what do I think we Westerners mean by Christmas nowadays?

Three Christmases

I follow the analysis of a respected teacher of mine who distinguishes three holidays: the commercial Christmas, the cultural one, and the Christian one.

Commercial Christmas

The commercial Christmas is about buying stuff, which isn’t necessarily wrong: I surely hope people will take advantage of my own company’s Christmas sales, because I believe our product is truly good for people and for the church. And we’re not the only company on the planet selling good things worth having. Hey, I’ve got a wishlist; and I’m excited about the things I’ve purchased for my own family.

But of course the Bible warns about greed, and a faithful student of Scripture has to apply that command to commercial Christmas. A man’s life doesn’t consist in the size of his storage units. Christians therefore ought to have a wary relationship with commercial Christmas. It’s a very powerful force.

Cultural Christmas

As is cultural Christmas. Christmas trees, candy canes, stockings hung by the chimney with care, family visits, poinsettias, green and red, holly berries, Frosty the Snowman, Santa Claus, bowls full of jelly—the symbols of cultural Christmas are numerous, and they’re ubiquitous. I am literally surrounded by them as I write.

What does it all mean? In other words, what do people mean by these symbols of cultural Christmas? I think Westerners, Americans in particular, mean nostalgia. The iconography and customs of this second Christmas are “cultural liturgies” whose job is to connect people to the past in an otherwise unstable world.

I think such things can be harmless and even beneficial fun—and the great majority of Christians seem to agree with me. There aren’t a lot of holdouts from cultural Christmas, and there haven’t been for a long time. Traditions bind cultures together, and in this fractious era that’s not so bad. Plus, the Christian symbols that are used in cultural Christmas—manger scenes, say, and Christmas carols—are evidences of God’s common grace preserving a testimony to his Son in an unbelieving world.

Christian Christmas

The commercial and cultural Christmases can be viewed through Christian lenses and practiced with Christian faithfulness (it’s a good thing to buy gifts for others; it’s a good thing to enjoy one’s benign cultural traditions). These two Christmases don’t have to run counter to the third. But neither are they doing much to help it.

Only Christians will and should be interested in promoting Christian Christmas. The Bible doesn’t tell us to turn Christ’s birth into a holiday, but it is one, and we shouldn’t miss the opportunity to form our own Christian cultural liturgies.

Now, we haven’t missed it. We have beautiful carols celebrating Christ’s birth (many of them performed and even written by  unbelievers—what a world we live in), we have Christmas plays and cantatas at church, we have readings of Luke 2 on Christmas Eve.

I wonder if one of the healthy things we can do to preserve and promote this third and most important Christmas among our kids is simply to carefully distinguish it from the others. Let our kids know that there are three different celebrations going on at the same time, with some overlaps and some tensions among the three. This is not strange: it will always be the case when multiple people celebrate the same occasion. Point at a given symbol and quiz your kids; make them do some analysis: which of the three Christmases is that?

I think they’ll quickly pick up on the distinctions and start shouting them out every time you pass a different Christmas symbol while driving down the road. There’s cultural Christmas, Dad!


Your kids will pick up on not just what you say but what you love. It takes the grace of God for even adults to love Christ more than swag, to be more thankful for the incarnation than for a new gadget. God has given grace to our culture by preserving Christmas as a holiday; surely he will give believers even more grace at this time of year.

Mark L. Ward, Jr. received his PhD from Bob Jones University in 2012; he now serves the church as a Logos Pro. His most recent book is Authorized: The Use and Misuse of the King James Bible (forthcoming, Lexham Press).

The post How to Teach the True Meaning of Christmas to Your Kids appeared first on LogosTalk.


For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour.

Luke 2:11

When we sing, “The Light of the world is Jesus,” there should be a glow on our faces that would make the world believe indeed that we really mean it!

The Incarnation meant something vast and beautiful for John Milton—and he celebrated the coming of Jesus into the world with one of the most beautiful and moving expressions ever written by a man:

This is the month, and this the happy morn,

Wherein the Son of Heaven’s eternal King,

Of wedded maid, and Virgin mother born,

Our great redemption from above did bring.

That glorious form, that Light insufferable,

And that far beaming blaze of majesty,

He laid aside, and here with us to be,

Forsook the courts of everlasting Day,

And chose with us a darksome house of mortal clay.

Oh! run; present them with thy humble ode,

And lay it lowly at His blessed feet,

Have thou the honor first thy Lord to greet

And join thy voices with the Angel quire,

From out His secret altar touched with hallowed fire!

Lord Jesus, I worship You today for choosing to put on mortal flesh for the sole purpose of redeeming mankind. I praise You for Your single-minded dedication to that most difficult task.[1]

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

December 25 Entering the Kingdom from Different Circumstances

He goes and sells all that he has and buys that field … and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.—Matt. 13:44b, 46

There is no preset formula for turning from sin and by faith embracing Christ’s kingdom. A person does not have to perform certain rituals to become a Christian, and he or she can come from a variety of circumstances. In each parable referred to here, a man finds something of huge value and sacrifices all to possess it. But in the first parable the man was not even looking for anything, certainly not a valuable treasure. He came upon it quite by accident. In tending to his normal business, the man was working in a field or perhaps passing through on a trip. Finding the treasure was the furthest thing from his plans.

Similarly, people often encounter the gospel while pursuing their daily activities. As they are busily occupied with their job, family, or schooling, they hear a sermon, read a book, listen to a CD, or have a believer witness to them. Through the Spirit’s gracious power they realize the gospel’s infinite value and are drawn into God’s kingdom.

In contrast, the second parable portrays a man whose career was searching for a valuable commodity, which he eventually found. He’s the seeker who looks many places for life’s meaning. When not finding that which satisfies, he nevertheless perseveres, believing the truth can be found. He is like the Ethiopian whom Philip directed to Christ (Acts 8:26–39), or the God-fearing Cornelius who found salvation (Acts 10).

Whether “by accident” or deliberately, all who are in the right place can and do find God’s priceless kingdom.


On this Christmas Day, celebrate the gift of salvation that has brought ultimate worth and value—and energy and excitement—into your life experience. Thank Him enthusiastically for seeking you with purpose and precision, even while you weren’t particularly looking for Him.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 368). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

December 25 Why Was Jesus Born?

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.

Mark 10:45

Here’s a side to the Christmas story that isn’t often told: those soft little hands, fashioned by the Holy Spirit in Mary’s womb, were made so that nails might be driven through them. Those baby feet, pink and unable to walk, would one day walk up a dusty hill to be nailed to a cross. That sweet infant’s head with sparkling eyes and eager mouth was formed so that someday men might force a crown of thorns onto it. That tender body, warm and soft, wrapped in swaddling clothes, would one day be ripped open by a spear.

Jesus was born to die.

Don’t think I’m trying to put a damper on your Christmas spirit. Far from it—for Jesus’ death, though devised and carried out by men with evil intentions, was in no sense a tragedy. In fact, it represents the greatest victory over evil anyone has ever accomplished.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 386). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

December 25, 2017: Morning Verse Of The Day

The Person of the Good News

for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (2:11–12)

Having reassured the stunned and frightened shepherds that he came bearing good news, the angel then gave them the details of that good news. That very day, in the fullness of time (Gal. 4:4), history’s most significant birth had taken place. It had happened in the most unlikely of places—in the city of David (the tiny hamlet of Bethlehem; see the discussion of 2:4 in chap. 12 of this volume). The angel prefaced his threefold description of the newborn Child by telling the shepherds that the One of whom he spoke had been born for them. Collectively, as noted above, Jesus is the Savior of both Jews and Gentiles; individually, He is the Savior of everyone who believes in Him (John 3:16). The angel did not give the Child’s earthly name; Savior, Christ and Lord are all titles. But since the name “Jesus” means “the Lord is salvation,” its meaning is encompassed by the term Savior.

The description of Jesus as Savior is an apt one, since the reason He was born was to “save His people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21; cf. Luke 19:10). That obvious truth is often obscured in contemporary presentations of the gospel. Too often Jesus is presented as the One who will rescue people from unfulfillment in their marriages, families, or jobs; from a debilitating habit they cannot overcome on their own; or from a sense of purposelessness in life. But while relief in those areas may be a by-product of salvation, it is not its primary intent. Mankind’s true problem, of which those issues are only symptoms, is sin. Everyone (Rom. 3:10, 23) is guilty of breaking God’s holy law and deserves eternal punishment in hell. The true gospel message is that Jesus Christ came into the world to rescue people from sin and guilt—not psychological, artificial guilt feelings, but true, God-imposed guilt that damns to hell.

Christ is an exalted title for a baby born in such humble circumstances. The name and its Old Testament counterpart, Messiah (Dan. 9:25–26), both mean “anointed one”; one placed in a high office and worthy of exaltation and honor. Jesus was anointed first in the sense that He is God’s appointed King, the “King of kings” (Rev. 17:14; 19:16), who will sit on David’s throne and reign forever, as Gabriel told Mary (1:32–33). He was also anointed to be the great High Priest (Heb. 3:1) for His people; the mediator between them and God (1 Tim. 2:5) who makes intercession for them (Heb. 7:25). Finally, Jesus was anointed as a prophet, God’s final and greatest spokesman (Heb. 1:1–2).

Lord in a human sense is a term of respect and esteem, given to someone in a position of leadership and authority. Especially it was the title borne by slave owners; kurios (Lord) and doulos (slave) were connected. To call someone Lord was to acknowledge your subservience. In the New Testament Sarah called Abraham lord, acknowledging his authority over her as her husband (1 Peter 3:6).

But in this context Lord is no mere elevated human designation; it is a divine title. To say that this Child is Lord is to say that He is God. When used in reference to Jesus Christ, kurios (Lord) conveys all that is implied by the tetragrammaton YHWH (“Yahweh,” which the Septuagint translates kurios)—the name of God (cf. Ex. 3:14–15). The most fundamental and basic confession of Christianity is, “Jesus is Lord” (1 Cor. 12:3). No one who does not affirm Christ’s full deity and equality with God the Father can be saved for, as He warned the Jews, “Unless you believe that I am [God], you will die in your sins” (John 8:24. For a discussion of the “I am” statements in John’s gospel in reference to Christ’s deity, see John 1–11, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 2006], 14, 348). Romans 10:9 declares that “if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

The angel then gave the shepherds a sign by which they could recognize this remarkable Child: they would find find the baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. That the baby would be wrapped in cloths would not single out Jesus for the shepherds, since that was done to all Jewish babies (see the discussion of 2:7 in the previous chapter of this volume). To fail to properly care for a newborn baby, including wrapping it, was unthinkable (cf. Ezek. 16:1–5). But Jewish mothers did not usually put their newborn babies in a manger, so that would narrow the shepherds’ search to the Child of whom the angel spoke. The stark contrast between Jesus’ exalted status as Savior, Messiah, and God and the humble circumstances of His birth emphasizes the magnitude of His “[emptying] Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men” (Phil. 2:7).[1]

12 The “cloths” (KJV, “swaddling clothes,” from the verb sparganoō, “to swathe,” GK 5058) would constitute a “sign.” Babies were snugly wrapped in long strips of cloth, giving them warmth, protection of extremities, and a sense of security in their newborn existence. The combination of a newborn baby’s wrappings and the use of the manger for a crib would be a distinctive “sign.” Perhaps they also imply that in spite of seeming rejection, symbolized by the manger, the baby was the special object of his mother’s care. In Ezekiel 16:1–5, Jerusalem is symbolically described as a heathen child who was neglected from birth until God rescued and cared for her. She had not been given the usual postnatal care and so was not wrapped with strips of cloth (Eze 16:4). But Jesus was not so neglected. On the other hand, the “sign” might be only the strange circumstance of the newborn child’s being in the manger at all. If one moves further in the Lukan narrative, this “sign” may also point to the burial scene of Jesus, in which linen becomes yet another “sign” (cf. J. Winandy, “Le signe de la mangeoire et des langes,” NTS 43 [1997]: 140–46).[2]

2:12 How would the shepherds recognize Him? The angels gave them a twofold sign. First the Baby would be wrapped in swaddling cloths. They had seen babies in swaddling cloths before. But the angels had just announced that this Baby was the Lord. No one had ever seen the Lord as a little Babe wrapped in swaddling cloths. The second part of the sign was that He would be lying in a manger. It is doubtful that the shepherds had ever seen a baby in such an unlikely place. This indignity was reserved for the Lord of life and glory when He came into our world. It makes our minds dizzy to think of the Creator and Sustainer of the universe entering human history not as a conquering military hero, but as a little Babe. Yet this is the truth of the Incarnation.[3]

2:11, 12 The city of David here refers to Bethlehem. In other passages, the phrase means Jerusalem (2 Sam. 5:7). Savior … Christ … Lord: These three titles together summarize the saving work of Jesus and His sovereign position. What God was called in 1:47, Savior, Jesus is called here. The word Christ means “Anointed,” referring to Jesus’ royal, messianic position. The word Lord was the title of a ruler. The meaning of the word is defined by Peter in Acts 2:30–36. Jesus is destined to sit and distribute salvation’s benefits from God’s side, ruling with the Father.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (pp. 158–160). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 79). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1374). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 1253). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.


And they sung a new song, saying, Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us to God by thy blood out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation.

—Revelation 5:9

Did you ever stop to think about the rapture? It’s going to be something that’s never happened before. You might be walking around on the street and hear the sound of the trumpet—and suddenly you’re transformed! You won’t know what to do or how to act. And the people lying in their graves, what’ll they do? I know what they’ll do—they’ll sing! There’s going to be singing at the consummation, on that great day!

“Thou art worthy to take the book, and to open the seals thereof: for thou wast slain, and hast redeemed us” (Revelation 5:9)—that’s the theme of the new song. The theme of the new song isn’t “I am”; it’s “Thou art.” Notice the difference! When you look at the old hymnody of Wesley, Montgomery and Watts, it was “Thou art, O God, Thou art.” But when you look at the modern hymns, it is “I am, I am, I am.” It makes me sick to my stomach. Occasionally a good hymn with testimonies is all right, but we’ve overdone it. The song of the ransomed is going to be “Thou are worthy, O God.” AOG014

I long for that day, Lord, when I can join in the singing. I await Your return, Lord Jesus. Amen. [1]

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

December 25 The Purpose of Christ’s Exaltation

“God highly exalted Him … to the glory of God the Father.”

Philippians 2:9, 11


When the Son is glorified, so is the Father.

The purpose of Christ’s exaltation is to glorify God. Philippians 2:11 says Jesus will be acknowledged as Lord “to the glory of God the Father.” In Isaiah 45:5 God says, “I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides Me there is no God.” None can be compared to God. He does not ask anyone for advice. He knows all and does exactly what He wants to do. All His purposes come to pass.

In light of who God says He is, one might assume that it would be blasphemous for everyone to bow to Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord. To so honor Christ would seem to put Him in competition with the Father.

But the mystery of the Trinity is that when the Son is glorified, the Father is glorified. Perfect glory given to the Son is perfect glory given to the Father. John 5:23 says the Father has given all judgment to the Son “that all may honor the Son, even as they honor the Father. He who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him.” That’s why the Father said of Jesus, “This is My beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; hear Him!” (Matt. 17:5). When you believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord, you exalt not only the Son but also the Father. There is no competition within the Trinity. The Father is exalted by what He accomplishes in the Son. They are one.

What a joy to know that our confessing of Jesus as Lord glorifies God. Let’s continue to glorify Him as Lord by bearing spiritual fruit in our lives (see John 15:8).


Suggestions for Prayer: Jesus said, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son” (John 14:13). Whatever you ask in Christ’s name, do so by acknowledging His sovereignty and desiring that God be glorified.

For Further Study: What do Romans 9:5, 1 Corinthians 15:28, and John 13:31–32 show about the glory of the Father and the Son?[1]

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

December 24 Daily Help

OUR heavenly Father often draws us with the cords of love. How slowly do we respond to his gentle impulses! He draws us to exercise a more simple faith in him; but we have not yet attained to Abraham’s confidence; we do not leave our worldly cares with God. Our meagre faith brings leanness into our souls; we do not open our hearts wide, though God has promised to fill them. Does he not this day draw us to trust him? Can we not hear him say, “Come, my child, and trust me. The veil is rent; enter into my presence, I am worthy of thy fullest confidence; cast thy cares on me. Shake thyself from the dust of thy cares, and put on thy beautiful garments of joy.”[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 362). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

December 24, 2017: Evening Verse Of The Day

The General Instruction

With all prayer and petition pray at all times in the Spirit, and with this in view, be on the alert with all perseverance and petition for all the saints. (6:18)

The four alls introduce the five emphases Paul makes regarding the general character of the believer’s prayer life: the variety, the frequency, the power, the manner, and the objects of prayer.

the variety of prayer

Proseuchē (prayer) refers to general requests, while deēsis (petition) refers to those that are specific. The use of both words points to the idea that we are to be involved in all kinds of prayer, every form of prayer that is appropriate. Scriptural precept and allowance suggest we may pray publicly or privately; in loud cries, in soft whispers, or silently; deliberately and planned or spontaneously; while sitting, standing, kneeling, or even lying down; at home or in church; while working or while traveling; with hands folded or raised; with eyes open or closed; with head bowed or erect. The New Testament, like the Old, mentions many forms, circumstances, and postures for prayer but prescribes none. Jesus prayed while standing, while sitting, while kneeling, and quite probably in other positions as well. We can pray wherever we are and in whatever situation we are in. “Therefore I want the men in every place to pray” (1 Tim. 2:8), Paul said. For the faithful, Spirit-filled Christian, every place becomes a place of prayer.

the frequency of prayer

The Jewish people of Paul’s day had several prescribed times for daily prayer, but the coming of the New Covenant and the birth of the church brought a new dimension to prayer as it did to everything else. Jesus said, “Keep on the alert at all times, praying in order that you may have strength to escape all these things that are about to take place” (Luke 21:36). Among other things, the earliest Christians in Jerusalem “were continually devoting themselves … to prayer” (Acts 2:42). The God-fearing Cornelius, to whom the Lord sent Peter with the message of salvation, “prayed to God continually” (Acts 10:2). In many of his letters Paul urged his readers to regularly devote themselves to prayer (Rom. 12:12; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17). The apostle assured Timothy, his beloved son in the Lord, that he prayed for him “night and day” (2 Tim. 1:3). The early church knew the importance of prayer, and God honored their prayers, even when faith was sometimes weak—as in the case of those who were praying for Peter’s release from prison but did not believe Rhoda when she reported that he was knocking at the door (Acts 12:12–15).

David said, “Evening and morning and at noon, I will complain and murmur, and He will hear my voice, … God will hear and answer” (Ps. 55:17, 19). There is no time when we do not need to pray and no time when God will not hear our prayers. In many ways prayer is even more important than knowledge about God. In fact, only through a regular and sincere prayer life can God’s Holy Spirit add spiritual wisdom to our knowledge. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “our ultimate position as Christians is tested by the character of our prayer life.” A person may be a Bible school or seminary graduate, a pastor or a missionary, but his deep knowledge of and relationship to God are measured by his prayer life. If knowledge about God and the things of God do not drive us to know Him more personally, we can be sure that our true motivation and commitment are centered in ourselves rather than Him. Jesus’ deepest prayer for His disciples was not that they simply know the truth about God but that “they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Studying and learning God’s Word in the right spirit will always drive the believer to know Him more intimately and to commune with Him more faithfully in prayer.

To pray at all times obviously does not mean we are to pray in formal or noticeable ways every waking moment of our lives. Jesus did not do that, nor did the apostles. And it certainly does not mean we are to devote ourselves to ritualistic patterns and forms of prayer that are recited mechanically from a prayer book or while counting beads. That amounts to no more than the “meaningless repetition” that characterizes pagan worship (Matt. 6:7).

To pray at all times is to live in continual God consciousness, where everything we see and experience becomes a kind of prayer, lived in deep awareness of and surrender to our heavenly Father. To obey this exhortation means that, when we are tempted, we hold the temptation before God and ask for His help. When we experience something good and beautiful, we immediately thank the Lord for it. When we see evil around us, we pray that God will make it right and be willing to be used of Him to that end. When we meet someone who does not know Christ, we pray for God to draw that person to Himself and to use us to be a faithful witness. When we encounter trouble, we turn to God as our Deliverer. In other words, our life becomes a continually ascending prayer, a perpetual communing with our heavenly Father. To pray at all times is to constantly set our minds “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2).

The ultimate purpose of our salvation is to glorify God and to bring us into intimate, rich fellowship with Him; and to fail to come to God in prayer is to the deny that purpose. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also,” John said, “that you also may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:3). Our fellowship with God is not meant to wait until we are in heaven. God’s greatest desire, and our greatest need, is to be in constant fellowship with Him now, and there is no greater expression or experience of fellowship than prayer.

the power of prayer

The most important and pervasive thought Paul gives about prayer is that it should be in the Spirit. This supreme qualification for prayer has nothing to do with speaking in tongues or in some other ecstatic or dramatic manner. To pray in the Spirit is to pray in the name of Christ, to pray consistent with His nature and will. To pray in the Spirit is to pray in concert with the Spirit, who “helps our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words; and He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Rom. 8:26–27). As the “Spirit of grace and of supplication” (Zech. 12:10), the Holy Spirit continually prays for us; and for us to pray rightly is to pray as He prays, to join our petitions to His and our will to His. It is to line up our minds and desires with His mind and desires, which are consistent with the will of the Father and the Son.

To be “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18) and to walk in His leading and power is to be made able to pray in the Spirit, because our prayer will then be in harmony with His. As we submit to the Holy Spirit, obeying His Word and relying on His leading and strength, we will be drawn into close and deep fellowship with the Father and the Son.

the manner of prayer

Whenever he prays, the believer should be on the alert with all perseverance and petition. Jesus told His disciples to watch and pray (Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33; cf. Luke. 18:1). Paul counseled the Colossians to “devote [themselves] to prayer” (Col. 4:2). The Greek verb behind “devote” (proskartereō) means to be steadfast, constant, and persevering. It is used of Moses’ faithful endurance when he led the children of Israel out of Egypt (Heb. 11:27). To be devoted to prayer is to earnestly, courageously, and persistently bring everything in our lives before God.

The parables of the persistent neighbor and the importunate widow were both told by Jesus to illustrate the manner in which His followers should pray. At the end of the first parable He said, “And I say to you, ask, and it shall be given to you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened” (Luke 11:9). At the end of the other parable He explained, “Now shall not God bring about justice for His elect, who cry to Him day and night, and will He delay long over them? I tell you that He will bring about justice for them speedily” (Luke 18:7–8).

To dispersed and persecuted Christians in the early church, Peter wrote, “Be of sound judgment and sober spirit for the purpose of prayer” (1 Pet. 4:7). To pray in the right manner is to pray sensibly, with our minds and our understanding as well as our hearts and spirits. “I shall pray with the spirit and I shall pray with the mind also” (1 Cor. 14:15), Paul said.

To pray in the right manner also involves praying specifically. “Whatever you ask in My name,” Jesus promised, “that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13). God answers prayer in order to put His power on display, and when we do not pray specifically, He cannot answer specifically and thereby clearly display His power and His love for His children. To pray, as young children often do, “God bless the whole world,” is really not to pray at all. We must think about particular people, particular problems, particular needs, and then pray about those things specifically and earnestly, so that we can see God’s answer and offer Him our thankful praise.

Most Christians never get serious about prayer until a problem arises in their own life or in the life of someone they love. Then they are inclined to pray intently, specifically, and persistently. Yet that is the way Christians should always pray. Sensitivity to the problems and needs of others, especially other believers who are facing trials or hardships, will lead us to pray for them “night and day” as Paul did for Timothy (2 Tim. 1:3).

Because the greatest problems are always spiritual, our greatest prayer concern and concentration—whether for ourselves or for others—should be for spiritual protection, strength, and healing. It is certainly appropriate to bring physical needs before our heavenly Father, but our greatest focus should be for spiritual needs—for victory over temptation, for forgiveness and cleansing of sins already committed, for unbelievers to trust in Christ for salvation, and for believers to have greater dependence on Him. The context of Paul’s call to prayer is that of spiritual warfare, and the Christian’s prayer should, above all, be about that warfare. Our greatest concern for ourselves and for other believers should be for victory in the battle against the enemy of our souls. Our deepest prayers for our spouse, our children, our brothers and sisters, our fellow church members, our pastor, our missionaries, and all others would be that they win the spiritual battle against Satan. Examining the prayers of Paul throughout his epistles yields the insight that he prayed for the spiritual well-being of the people of God (see, e.g., 1 Cor. 1:4–7; Phil. 1:9–11; Col. 1:9–11; 2 Thess. 1:11–12).

Many years ago a saint of God prayed:

O Lord, in prayer I launch far out into the eternal world, and on that broad ocean my soul triumphs over all evils on the shores of mortality. Time, with its amusements and cruel disappointments, never appears so inconsiderate as then. In prayer, O God, I see myself as nothing. I find my heart going after Thee with intensity, and I long with vehement thirst to live with Thee. Blessed be the strong winds of the Spirit that speed me on my way to the new Jerusalem. In prayer all things here below vanish and nothing seems important but holiness of heart and the salvation of others. In prayer all my worldly cares and fears and anxieties disappear and are as little in significance as a puff of wind. In prayer my soul inwardly exalts with thoughts of what Thou art doing for Thy church, and I long that Thou shouldest get Thyself a great name from sinners returning to Thee. In prayer I am lifted above the frowns and flatteries of life to taste the heavenly joys. Entering into the eternal world I can give myself to Thee with all my heart forever. In prayer I can place all my concerns in Thy hands to be entirely at Thy disposal, having no will or interest of my own. In prayer I can intercede for my friends, ministers, sinners, the church, Thy kingdom, with greatest freedom and brightest hope as a son to his Father and as a lover to his beloved. And so, O God, help me to pray always and never to cease.

the objects of prayer

Elsewhere Paul commands us to pray for unbelievers, for government leaders, and for others, but here the focus is on all the saints. It is only saints, Christian believers, who are involved in the spiritual warfare for which God provides the armor Paul has just been describing and who are able to pray in the Spirit.

It is not inappropriate to pray for ourselves any more than it is inappropriate to pray for physical needs. But just as the Bible primarily calls us to pray about spiritual needs rather than physical, it primarily calls us to pray for others rather than ourselves. Even when he was concerned about his own needs, Paul does not mention that he prayed for himself but that he asked other believers to pray on his behalf, as he does in the next two verses (Eph. 6:19–20). The greatest thing we can do for another believer, or that he can do for us, is to pray. That is the way the Body of Christ grows spiritually as well as in love. When one member of the Body is weak, wounded, or cannot function, the other members compensate by supporting and helping strengthen it. Samuel said to the people of Israel, “Far be it from me that I should sin against the Lord by ceasing to pray for you” (1 Sam. 12:23). With God’s own Holy Spirit to indwell us and help us even when we do not know how to pray (Rom. 8:26), how much more do we as Christians sin against God when we fail to pray for fellow saints?

The spiritually healthy person is devoted to the welfare of others, especially fellow believers. On the other hand, the root of both psychological and spiritual sickness is preoccupation with self. Ironically, the believer who is consumed with his own problems—even his own spiritual problems—to the exclusion of concern for other believers, suffers from a destructive self-centeredness that not only is the cause of, but is the supreme barrier to the solution of, his own problems. Usually such selfishness isolates him from the other believers, who if they were intimately involved in fellowship with him, would be regularly praying for his spiritual welfare.

Praying for others with sincerity and perseverance is, in God’s immeasurable grace, a great blessing and strength to our own souls. D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones reported that before the outbreak of the Spanish civil war that country was experiencing such an epidemic of neuroses that psychiatrists could hardly handle them all. But the war, terrible and destructive as it was in most respects, had the unexpected effect of “curing” many of Spain’s thousands of neurotics. When they became concerned about the welfare of their families, friends, and country instead of their own, their neuroses disappeared and hospitals and clinics were almost emptied of such cases. “These neurotic people were suddenly cured by a greater anxiety,” an anxiety that reached beyond their own selfish welfare. (The Christian Soldier [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1977], pp. 357–58.)[1]

18 Abandoning the metaphor of the soldier’s equipment, Paul now instructs the believers to engage in prayer “on all occasions” and “with all kinds of prayers and requests.” The formidable nature of the battle against the evil powers underscores the need for prayer. Prayer is a key weapon in the battle; it gets more attention in Paul’s summary than the other weapons do. Yoder Neufeld, 305, observes, “Prayer is ‘militarized’ and drawn into the struggle with the powers.” Paul employs the common verb for prayer, proseuchomai (GK 4667), which means “to petition the deity.” The tense of the verb “pray” is present: believers are to keep on praying. “All kinds of prayers and requests” (the two terms are roughly synonymous) should accompany this continual praying. They ought to pray “on all occasions” or at every appropriate time (kairos, GK 2789); recall Paul’s use of kairos in the phrase “making the most of every opportunity” (5:16). And they ought to pray “in the Spirit,” suggesting prayers that are consistent with the Spirit’s desires and are energized by the Spirit. Schnackenburg, 282, puts it well: “Our human praying only achieves power and effectiveness in the strength of the divine Spirit.”

What is more, believers ought to pray in a continually watchful mode (“be alert”); alertness ought to rouse their prayers into action. Jesus also connected these ideas: “Be always on the watch, and pray” (Lk 21:36). Who knows what will require urgent prayers and petitions? The enemy will not let up. Watch and pray! This alert praying should be accompanied by, literally, “all perseverance” (en pasē proskarterēsei [GK 4675], NIV, “keep on”). This noun, another hapax, means “firm persistence” (BDAG, 881). Do not be quitters; discipline yourselves in prayer.

Finally Paul adds an object for their prayers: “for all the saints.” “Saints” comprise God’s people—those who belong to him (see commentary at 1:1; 15; 2:19; cf. 1 Co 1:2). Perhaps to counter the normal tendency to pray mostly for their own concerns, Paul reminds his readers that they need to remember the entire body of Christ in their prayers. Pray for other believers, particularly those in the thick of the spiritual battles.[2]

6:18 / Although the military imagery continues into this verse—arm yourselves and be alert—the prayer to which the readers are summoned should not be taken as a seventh piece of the Christian’s armor. God has given his splendid armor to the believer, but the “putting on” and the utilization of that armor in battle calls for discipline in prayer in the Spirit. According to Stott, “Equipping ourselves with God’s armor is not a mechanical preparation; it is itself an expression of our dependence on God, in other words, of prayer” (p. 283).

The prayer that the believers are admonished to utter has some significant qualities about it. First, it is to be unceasing: pray … on all occasions. The Christian warrior, although heavily armed, can only stand firm against the enemy through the agency of prayer. Praying is done in the Spirit. To do so is not to be transposed into some ecstatic or euphoric condition beyond the senses but to live in the realization that the Spirit is the believer’s helper (5:18) and intercessor (Rom. 8:15, 16, 26, 27). “It is an approach to God relying not on our own piety, but on the help which God in his Spirit offers to us” (Mitton, p. 228).

The Greek, and most English translations (rsv, niv), employ the two expressions prayers (proseuchē and “supplication” or requests (deēsis). Most commentators feel that “prayer” always addresses God, whereas “supplication” may be used to address either God or humankind. The gnb “asking for God’s help” takes the Greek as a request to God and not as intercession on behalf of human beings.

Second, prayer is to be intense. Be alert and always keep on praying. In other words, maintain a spirit of watchfulness and perseverance. A Christian warrior must not be caught off guard. This exhortation toward constancy and watchfulness in prayer and the Christian life is common to the nt (Luke 18:1; Rom. 12:12; 1 Cor. 16:13; Phil. 4:6; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:17; 1 Pet. 5:8). But since this phrase falls between two other exhortations, it is not entirely clear where “perseverance” (keep on praying) belongs. Should it go with the idea of praying constantly with all alertness, or does it relate to the following phrase, in which believers are summoned to intercede for others? Beare suggests that alertness refers to the believer’s spiritual conflict but that this, in turn, leads to “persevering intercession on behalf of all his comrades in the fight” (p. 746).

Third, prayer is unlimited. Always keep on praying for all the saints. Since all believers are involved in a spiritual battle, prayer must transcend its narrow individualism and encompass the entire body of Christ. As members of an army, believers must manifest a concern for all who are fighting along with them. Here the apostle’s concerns are not unlike those in 1 Peter, where, in a similar context of warning his readers about the devil, Peter writes: “Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings” (5:9).[3]

18. by means of all prayer and supplication, praying at all times in the Spirit, and with a view to this, being on the alert in all perseverance and supplication, for all the saints.

In his own power the soldier can do nothing against so great a foe. Hence, as he takes and puts on each piece of his armor and as he makes use of it in the battle he must pray for God’s blessing.

  1. The Variety of Prayer: “all prayer and supplication”

The apostle makes a special point of it that the soldier’s communion with his General—the believer’s fellowship with his God—should not be of just one kind. Some people are always asking for things. Their entire prayer-life consists of that. But prayer—the first word is very general—should include not only cries for help but also confession of sin, profession of faith, adoration, thanksgiving, intercession. Moreover, prayer-life should be definite, not just “O Lord, bless all that awaits thy blessing,” which is a big order, but “supplication” or “petition” for the fulfilment of definite needs, a request for specific benefits. This means that the man who prays should become acquainted with concrete situations all over, at least not limited to his own contracted horizon, situations in connection with which help is needed. He should set aside, perhaps, today to stress this need, tomorrow to remember another.

  1. The “when” and the “where” of Prayer: “at all times … in the Spirit.”

Prayer in time of “great calamity” or “catastrophe” has long been in vogue. For many people, however, “Thanksgiving Day” comes just once a year. It is the day set aside by the national government. The apostle admonishes the addressed to take hold on God “at every occasion.” “In all thy ways acknowledge him” (Prov. 3:6).

As to the “where” of prayer, it is not to be confined either to “Jerusalem” or to “this mountain” but should always be “in (the sphere of) the Spirit,” that is, “with his help” and “in harmony with his will” as revealed in the Word which he inspired.

  1. The Manner of Prayer: “being on the alert in all perseverance and supplication.” Cf. Col. 4:2.

Those who are not “alert” but listless and indifferent to what is going on in their homes, in the streets of their city, in their state or province, in their country, in their church, in their denomination, or in the world at large will have a very restricted prayer-life. Those who do not know the will of God because they devote so little time to the study of the Word will fail to harvest the fruits of prayer. Those who do not know the promises cannot be expected to “go to the deeps of God’s promise” in their devotions. They will not partake of a deep and satisfying communion with God. Consequently, they will perhaps pray now and then only. There will be no “perseverance” and little “supplication” (petition for definite benefits).

  1. The Indirect Objects of Prayer: “for all the saints”

Christ during his sojourn on earth evaluated intercessory prayer (“prayer for others”) very highly, as is shown by many incidents (Matt. 9:18–26; 15:21–28; 17:14–21; etc.). So did Paul. The heart of our Great Intercessor who not only intercedes for us but actually lives in order to do so (Heb. 7:25) is deeply touched by such petitions! Thus the fellowship of saints is kept alive and real.

In this fellowship of prayer the Jewish convert must not forget the Gentile convert, the old must not ignore the young, the free must not neglect those in bondage, nor vice versa. It must be prayer “for all the saints.” With God there is no partiality.

Up to this point the apostle has said very little about his own physical circumstances. He is not a complainer. He has made brief mention of the fact that he was writing as a prisoner (3:1; 4:1), and has also urged the Ephesians “not to lose heart” over what he was suffering for them (3:13). But that was all; and even in the given passages he was thinking not of himself so much as of the welfare of those addressed.[4]

6:18 Prayer is not mentioned as a part of the armor; but we would not be overrating its importance if we say that it is the atmosphere in which the soldier must live and breathe. It is the spirit in which he must don the armor and face the foe. Prayer should be continual, not sporadic; a habit, not an isolated act. Then too the soldier should use all kinds of prayer: public and private; deliberate and spontaneous; supplication and intercession; confession and humiliation; praise and thanksgiving.

And prayer should be in the Spirit, that is, inspired and led by Him. Formal prayers recited merely by rote (without giving thought to their meaning)—of what value are they in combat against the hosts of hell? There must be vigilance in prayer: watchful to this end. We must watch against drowsiness, mind-wandering, and preoccupation with other things. Prayer requires spiritual keenness, alertness, and concentration. And there must be perseverance in prayer. We must keep on asking, seeking, knocking (Luke 11:9). Supplication should be made for all the saints. They are engaged in the conflict too, and need to be supported in prayer by their fellow soldiers.[5]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 378–383). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 169). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (pp. 290–291). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 280–282). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1953). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

December 24: You Should Do This, but Maybe You Shouldn’t

Jeremiah 47:1–48:47; Romans 11:11–24; Proverbs 26:1–11

We all know the feeling. When someone belittles us in front of others, we want to rail against them or make their lives miserable by filtering our rage through our best passive-aggressive behavior. When a friend continuously doles out inflammatory remarks, it’s easy to snap and say (or tweet) something inspired by the white-hot rage sweeping through us.

We’d be better off turning to the book of Proverbs, which can offer wisdom for dealing with these situations. The book seems to deliver hard-and-fast rules for life we can easily apply—do this; don’t do that. Do this and you’ll prosper; do that and you’ll suffer for your foolishness. However, Proverbs 26 delivers statements that confuse those who live by the rules: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly lest you become like him—even you. Answer a fool according to his folly, or else he will be wise in his own eyes” (Prov 26:4–5). Do we answer the fool or leave him alone?

The entire trajectory of Proverbs is the attainment of wisdom. The author of this proverb isn’t offering a simple rule. He’s giving guidance. Although it’s sometimes better to keep silent—when speaking would inspire us to be equally foolish—other times the situation might call for us to reprimand the fool. If the fool is misleading others, we need to gently correct them for their good and everyone else’s. The fool may be teachable, just lacking in instruction and discipline.

We need discernment to know which response the situation requires. Pray for guidance in your interactions with others. Pray for wisdom from the Spirit, who can provide you with the discernment you need to answer in the right way. Just don’t be the fool and set the conversation ablaze with inflammatory words (Jas 3:5).

How do you respond to foolish people? How can you, guided by the Holy Spirit, answer (or choose to remain silent) in ways that build up or challenge the fool?

Rebecca Van Noord[1]

[1] Barry, J. D., & Kruyswijk, R. (2012). Connect the Testaments: A One-Year Daily Devotional with Bible Reading Plan. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.