Daily Archives: February 1, 2018

February 1 Joy and Godliness

“I rejoice and share my joy with you all” (Phil. 2:17).


True joy is directly related to godly living.

Philippians is often called the epistle of joy, and rightly so because the believer’s joy is its major theme. Paul loved the Philippian Christians, and they loved him. When they learned that he had been imprisoned for preaching the gospel, they were deeply concerned.

Paul wrote to alleviate their fears and to encourage their joy. Of his own circumstances he said, “Even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. And you too, I urge you, rejoice in the same way and share your joy with me” (Phil. 2:17–18).

Often a Jewish animal sacrifice was accompanied by a libation or drink offering (see, e.g., Num. 15:1–10). The animal was the greater sacrifice, the libation the lesser. Drawing from that picture, Paul placed greater significance on the faith and spiritual well-being of his readers than on his own life. To suffer for Christ’s sake brought him joy, and he wanted the Philippians to understand that perspective and to rejoice with him.

He also wanted them to understand that joy doesn’t operate in a vacuum. It’s directly related to godly living. Christ is its source, obedience its sustenance. We see this in David’s cry of repentance: “Restore to me the joy of Thy salvation” (Ps. 51:12). Paul knew the joy of the Lord because he trusted Christ and obeyed His will.

The scarcity of joy and godliness in the world today makes it imperative that Christians manifest those characteristics. As we do, others will see our good works and will glorify our Father in heaven (Matt. 5:16).

This month we will highlight various aspects of joy and godliness from Philippians 1:1–11 and Colossians 1:9–12. I pray that you will be eager to learn from God’s Word and will willingly obey what you learn, for therein is “joy inexpressible and full of glory” (1 Peter 1:8).


Suggestions for Prayer:  Ask the Holy Spirit to use our daily studies to strengthen your joy and to increase your godliness. ✧ Seek to emulate Paul’s attitude of preferring others to yourself—a key element in joyful living.

For Further Study: Read the book of Philippians, noting each reference to joy. ✧ What brought joy to Paul? ✧ On what or whom do you rely for joy?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 44). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


And what is the exceeding greatness of his power to us-ward who believe, according to the working of his mighty power, Which he wrought in Christ….

EPHESIANS 1:19, 20

God is spirit and His universe is basically spiritual!

Scientists change their beliefs radically from time to time and I do not want to quote them in confirmation of Christian truth, but there does appear to be a startling parallel between the atomic theory of matter and the biblical concept of the Eternal Word as the source and support of all created things.

Could it be that, as certain mystics have insisted, all things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, are in reality but the goings forth of the power of God?

Whatever God is He is infinitely. In Him lies all the power there is; any power at work anywhere is His. Even the power to do evil must first have come from Him since there is no other source from which it could come.

Lucifer, son of the morning, when he lifted up himself against the Most High, had only the abilities he had received from God. These he misused to become the devil he is.

I am well aware that this kind of teaching raises certain very difficult questions, but we should never retreat before truth simply because we cannot explain it. The fact of sin introduces a confusing element into our thinking about God and the universe and requires that we suspend judgment on many things. The wise man will note that the things we cannot understand have nothing to do with our salvation.

We are saved by the truth we know, and true Christians know that the boundless power of our infinite God is all around us, preserving us and keeping us unto salvation ready to be revealed.[1]

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

February 1, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Virgin Birth Consummated

And Joseph arose from his sleep, and did as the angel of the Lord commanded him, and took her as his wife, and kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son; and he called His name Jesus. (1:24–25)

That Joseph arose from his sleep indicates that the revelatory dream had come to him while he slept (cf. v. 20). Such unique, direct communication from God was used on other occasions to reveal Scripture (see Gen. 20:3; 31:10–11; Num. 12:6; 1 Kings 3:5; Job 33:14–16). It should be noted that all six New Testament occurrences of onar (“to dream”) are in Matthew and concern the Lord Jesus Christ (see 1:20; 2:12–13, 19, 22; 27:19).

We know nothing of Joseph’s reaction, except that he immediately obeyed, doing as the angel of the Lord commanded him. We can imagine how great his feelings of amazement, relief, and gratitude must have been. Not only would he be able to take his beloved Mary as his wife with honor and righteousness, but he would be given care of God’s own Son while He was growing up.

That fact alone would indicate the depth of Joseph’s godliness. It is inconceivable that God would entrust His Son into a family where the father was not totally committed and faithful to Him.

We know nothing else of Joseph’s life except his taking the infant Jesus to the Temple for dedication (Luke 2:22–33), his taking Mary and Jesus into Egypt to protect Him from Herod’s bloody edict and the return (Matt. 2:13–23), and his taking his family to the Passover in Jerusalem when Jesus was twelve (Luke 2:42–52). We have no idea when Joseph died, but it could have been well before Jesus began His public ministry. Obviously it was before Jesus’ crucifixion, because from the cross Jesus gave his mother into the care of John (John 19:26).

Apparently the marriage ceremony, when Joseph took her as his wife, was held soon after the angel’s announcement. But he kept her a virgin until she gave birth to a Son. Matthew makes it clear that she remained a virgin until she gave birth, implying that normal marital relations began after that time. The fact that Jesus’ brothers and sisters are spoken of numerous times in the gospels (Matt. 12:46; 13:55–56; Mark 6:3; etc.) prove that Mary did not remain a virgin perpetually, as some claim.

As a final act of obedience to God’s instruction through the angel, Joseph called His name Jesus, indicating that He was to be the Savior (cf. v. 21).

The supernatural birth of Jesus is the only way to account for the life that He lived. A skeptic who denied the virgin birth once asked a Christian, “If I told you that child over there was born without a human father, would you believe me?” The believer replied, “Yes, if he lived as Jesus lived.” The greatest outward evidence of Jesus’ supernatural birth and deity is His life.[1]

1:24–25. The dream that had begun for Joseph in verse 20 ends in these verses with him waking and choosing to obey everything the angel had told him to do. This fine man had learned to “trust and obey.”[2]

24, 25. The story is concluded as follows: Rising from sleep Joseph did as the angel of the Lord had directed him, and took his wife into his home, but had no sexual relations with her until she had given birth to a son; and he named him Jesus.

The meaning of the words “took his wife into his home” becomes clear when this expression is compared with verse 18: “before they had begun to live together.” See on that verse and also on verse 20. Though Joseph and Mary were now together in the same home, they had no sexual relations with each other until Mary had given birth to Jesus. Why this was so is not related. Could this decision have been motivated by the couple’s high regard for that which had been conceived? Or did they abstain to be able to refute every allegation that Joseph himself was the father of the child? Whatever it was that prompted the couple to refrain from having sexual intercourse, there is every reason to suppose that after the child’s birth the abstention did not continue. This conclusion cannot be based merely upon the negative plus “until.” That wording does not always introduce an event (in this case: she gave birth to a son) whereby the earlier situation (the couple had no sexual relations) is reversed (they now begin to have sexual relations). Nevertheless, it is also true that frequently, in such cases, a complete reversal in the situation is suggested. Each case must be judged on its own merits. In the present instance the case against Mary’s perpetual virginity is strengthened by these considerations: a. According to both the Old and the New Testament sexual intercourse for married couples is divinely approved (Gen. 1:28; 9:1; 24:60; Prov. 5:18; Ps. 127:3; 1 Cor. 7:5, 9). Of course, even here, as in all things, self-control should be exercised. Incontinence is definitely condemned (1 Cor. 7:5; Gal. 5:22, 23). But no special sanctity attaches to total abstention or celibacy. b. We are definitely told that Jesus had brothers and sisters, evidently together with him members of one family (Matt. 12:46, 47; Mark 3:31, 32; 6:3; Luke 8:19, 20; John 2:12; 7:3, 5, 10; Acts 1:14). c. Luke 2:7 informs us that Jesus was Mary’s “firstborn.” Though in and by itself this third argument may not be sufficient to prove that Jesus had uterine brothers, in connection with arguments a. and b. the evidence becomes conclusive. The burden of proof rests entirely on those who deny that after Christ’s birth Joseph and Mary entered into all the relationships commonly associated with marriage.

Joseph, having risen from sleep, did exactly as the angel had directed him. Not only did he take his wife home with him but when the child was born he named him Jesus. Of course, in doing this, Joseph and Mary acted in perfect harmony (cf. Luke 1:31, 38).[3]

1:24 As a result of the angel’s intervention, Joseph abandoned his plan to divorce Mary. He continued to recognize their betrothal until Jesus’ birth, after which he married her.

1:25 The teaching that Mary remained a virgin all of her life is disproved by the consummation of their marriage mentioned in this verse. Other references which indicate that Mary had children by Joseph are Matthew 12:46; 13:55, 56; Mark 6:3; John 7:3, 5; Acts 1:14; 1 Corinthians 9:5; and Galatians 1:19.

In taking Mary as his wife, Joseph also took her Child as his adopted Son. This is how Jesus became legal heir to the throne of David. In obedience to the angelic visitor, he called the Baby’s name Jesus.

Thus the Messiah-King was born. The Eternal One entered time. The Omnipotent became a tiny Infant. The Lord of glory veiled that glory in a human body, and “in Him dwells all the fullness of the Godhead bodily” (Col. 2:9).[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Vol. 1, pp. 21–22). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Weber, S. K. (2000). Matthew (Vol. 1, p. 19). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Matthew (Vol. 9, pp. 144–145). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1206). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.


In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.

Genesis 1:1

Have we modern men and women never given thought or meditation concerning the eternal nature of God? Who are we to imagine that we are “bailing out” the living God when we drop a $10 bill in the Sunday offering plate?

Let us thank God for the reality of His causeless existence. Our God only is all-sufficient, uncreated, unborn, the living and eternal and self-existent God!

I refer often to the great worshiping heart of Frederick William Faber, who in these words celebrated his vision of God’s eternal self-existence:

Father! the sweetest, dearest Name,

That men or angels know!

Fountain of life, that had no fount

From which itself could flow.

Thy vastness is not young or old,

Thy life hath never grown;

No time can measure out Thy days,

No space can make Thy throne!

Dear Heavenly Father, my daily problems must seem so trivial to You, the eternal God. Yet You invite Your children to bring their cares and concerns to You. Praise be to God![1]

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

February 1 Obeying Jesus’ Call

He said to them, “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.” Immediately they left their nets and followed Him.—Matt. 4:19–20

Peter and Andrew obeyed Jesus’ call right away—“Immediately they left their nets and followed Him”—an indication of how determined they were to go with the Lord. The word “followed” carries the meaning of being committed to imitating the one he or she follows.

Past surveys have shown that 95 percent of all professing Christians have never led someone to faith in Jesus Christ. Too often they are like the reclusive, frugal man many years ago who accumulated 246 expensive violins in the attic of his house in Italy. Because he selfishly acquired and held on to those instruments, the world never heard the beautiful music the violins were intended to play. Many believers hide their light and store away the great treasure they possess as children of God. As a result, 95 percent of the world’s spiritual violins have not been played for others.

Evangelist D. L. Moody especially admired two similar paintings. The first depicted a person in the midst of a storm clinging with both hands to a cross firmly planted in a rock. The other picture also showed a person in a storm firmly grasping a cross. But in this one the man was reaching out with his other hand to rescue someone who was about to drown. Both paintings pictured a Christian valiantly holding on to Christ. But the second one portrayed the believer reaching out for another who was about to be lost. For us, as for D. L. Moody, the second picture should be the favorite.


Would “immediately” describe the way you travel to Jesus’ side when He calls? How quickly does His Word make its way from your conscious mind into conscious action?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 40). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

February 1 The Key to Spiritual Growth

Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To Him be the glory both now and forever. Amen.

2 Peter 3:18

Spiritual growth is not mystical, sentimental, devotional, or psychological. It’s not the result of some clever secret or formula. It is simply matching your practice with your position.

As believers, our position in Christ is perfect: we are complete in Him (Col. 2:10); we have all things that pertain to life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3); and we have received all spiritual blessings (Eph. 1:3). But now we need to progress in our daily lives in a way that is commensurate with our exalted position.

Today’s verse provides the most important concept in understanding and experiencing spiritual growth. Giving glory to God is directly related to spiritual growth. Therefore, it is vital that we understand what it means to glorify Him.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 44). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

February 1, 2018 Morning Verse Of The Day

19:26 his wife … looked back. Lot’s wife paid the price of disregarding the angelic warning to flee without a backward glance (v. 17). In so doing, she became not only encased in salt, but a poignant example of disobedience producing unwanted reaction at judgment day (cf. Lk 17:29–32), even as her home cities became bywords of God’s judgment on sin (cf. Is 1:9; Ro 9:29; 2Pe 2:5, 6).[1]

19:26 Lot’s wife disregards the angel’s instruction not to look back (v. 17) and is transformed into a pillar of salt, engulfed perhaps in the fiery matter raining in molten lumps from the sky.[2]

19:26 a pillar of salt Lot’s wife disobeyed the command of the angels (Gen 19:17). The result of her hesitancy was inclusion in the judgment against Sodom and Gomorrah.

The details of how Lot’s wife became a pillar of salt are not given. She may have been overcome by the fiery sulfurous debris sent to destroy Sodom. The narrative does not say how close she was to Sodom, or if she actually reached Zoar (vv. 22–23)—the specified location where Lot went to be out of the destruction’s range. Her transformation may have been an isolated supernatural act.[3]

19:26 Lot’s wife … looked back. Lot’s wife is a sobering lesson against vacillation when God’s judgment is at hand (Luke 17:28–37).[4]

19:26 Lot’s wife was exercising her personal desires and refusing to obey her husband or the lordship of Yahweh. She was more interested in material possessions than in spiritual truths.[5]

19:26 The command was clear, not to look back or linger (v. 17). Lot’s wife disobeyed and looked back. By implication, she was reluctant to leave. pillar of salt: Her destruction was sudden. Nothing was left of her but a mineral heap. Jesus referred to her in His teaching on the sudden destruction that will come in the last days. “Remember Lot’s wife,” Jesus warned (Luke 17:32).[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ge 19:26). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 84). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ge 19:26). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 41). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[5] Criswell, W. A., Patterson, P., Clendenen, E. R., Akin, D. L., Chamberlin, M., Patterson, D. K., & Pogue, J. (Eds.). (1991). Believer’s Study Bible (electronic ed., Ge 19:26). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[6] The NKJV Study Bible. (2007). (Ge 19:26). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson.


But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

—Hebrews 11:6

A loving Personality dominates the Bible, walking among the trees of the garden and breathing fragrance over every scene. Always a living Person is present, speaking, pleading, loving, working and manifesting Himself whenever and wherever His people have the receptivity necessary to receive the manifestation….

But why do the very ransomed children of God themselves know so little of that habitual, conscious communion with God which Scripture offers? The answer is because of our chronic unbelief. Faith enables our spiritual sense to function. Where faith is defective the result will be inward insensibility and numbness toward spiritual things. This is the condition of vast numbers of Christians today. No proof is necessary to support that statement. We have but to converse with the first Christian we meet or enter the first church we find open to acquire all the proof we need.

A spiritual kingdom lies all about us, enclosing us, embracing us, altogether within reach of our inner selves, waiting for us to recognize it. God Himself is here waiting our response to His presence. This eternal world will come alive to us the moment we begin to reckon upon its reality. POG048-050

Lord, give me faith to believe, to see, to know Your awesome Presence and bring Your spiritual kingdom alive in my life. Amen.[1]

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

February 1 Pursuing the Knowledge of God

“More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ.”

Philippians 3:8


God’s greatest desire for us is that we seek diligently to know Him.

To know God and all that He has revealed about Himself is the highest pursuit of life. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10). Such a realization should really be the starting point for all of life’s other pursuits.

As David gave his throne to his son Solomon, his primary counsel was that Solomon know God: “As for you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father, and serve Him with a whole heart and a willing mind; for the Lord searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever” (1 Chron. 28:9).

Knowing God not only determines the quality of one’s present life, but also the destiny of one’s life in eternity. Jesus says, “And this is eternal life, that they may know Thee, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent” (John 17:3). Eternal life is simply knowing God in an intimate way for the rest of eternity. It begins here on earth when we believe in Christ and partake of His very nature and life.

How can we know God? The Lord says, “You will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart” (Jer. 29:13). Solomon teaches us, “For if you cry for discernment, lift your voice for understanding; if you seek her as silver, and search for her as for hidden treasures; then you will discern the fear of the Lord, and discover the knowledge of God” (Prov. 2:3–5). This pursuit of God must be our top priority in life. Otherwise, it is so easy to be distracted by the pursuit of money, career success, personal power and prestige, or any earthly endeavor that demands our time and energy.


Suggestions for Prayer: Thank the Lord that you know Him personally.

For Further Study: Read 2 Peter 1:1–11. What are the benefits to those who know God? ✧ What qualities should be evident in your life?[1]

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

January 31 Daily Help

SIMEON called Jesus the consolation of Israel; and so He was. Before His actual appearance, His name was the day-star; cheering the darkness, and prophetic of the rising sun. To Him they looked with the same hope which cheers the nightly watcher, when from the lonely castle-top he sees the fairest of the stars, and hails her as the usher of the morn. When He was on earth, He must have been the consolation of all those who were privileged to be His companions. Like children they would tell Him of their griefs, and consider Him as their Father.[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 35). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

January 31, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Preeminent Example of Christ’s Love

“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” (13:34–35)

The Lord’s charge to the eleven apostles in one sense was not new. The Old Testament prescribed love for God (Deut. 6:5) and people (Lev. 19:18), as Jesus Himself affirmed (Matt. 22:34–40). But it was a new commandment (cf. 1 John 2:7–8; 3:11; 2 John 5) in the sense that it presented a higher standard of love—one based on the example of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. Believers face the daunting challenge of loving one another even as Jesus loved them (cf. 15:12–13, 17). Of course, to love like that is impossible apart from the transforming power of the new covenant (Jer. 31:31–34). It is only “because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Rom. 5:5; cf. Gal. 5:22) that believers can love as Jesus commanded.

Christ’s example of selfless, sacrificial love sets the supreme standard for believers to follow. D. A. Carson writes,

The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice … The more we recognize the depth of our own sin, the more we recognize the love of the Saviour; the more we appreciate the love of the Saviour, the higher his standard appears; the higher his standard appears, the more we recognize in our selfishness, our innate self-centredness, the depth of our own sin. With a standard like this, no thoughtful believer can ever say, this side of the parousia, “I am perfectly keeping the basic stipulation of the new covenant.” (The Gospel According to John, The Pillar New Testament Commentary [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991], 484. Italics in original.)

In Ephesians 5:2 Paul exhorted, “Walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.” Such love is “patient, … is kind and is not jealous; … does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things” (1 Cor. 13:4–7). If the church ever consistently loved like that, it would have a powerful impact on the world.

In his book The Mark of the Christian, Francis Schaeffer listed two practical ways Christians can manifest love for each other. They can do so first by being willing to apologize and seek forgiveness from those they have wronged. What causes the sharpest, most bitter disputes in the body of Christ are not doctrinal differences, but the unloving manner in which those differences are handled. Being willing to apologize to those whom we have offended is crucial to preserving the unity of the body of Christ. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught that reconciliation with other people is a prerequisite to worshiping God: “Therefore if you are presenting your offering at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your offering there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering” (Matt. 5:23–24).

A second practical way to demonstrate love is to grant forgiveness. In light of the eternal forgiveness that comes through the cross, Christians should be eager to forgive the temporal offenses committed against them (Matt. 18:21–35; cf. 6:12, 14–15). Because God’s love has transformed believers’ hearts, they are able to extend that love to others in forgiveness. “In this is love,” wrote John in his first epistle, “not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (1 John 4:10–11). In Luke 17:3–4 Jesus commanded, “Be on your guard! If your brother sins, rebuke him; and if he repents, forgive him. And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.” In Ephesians 4:32 Paul wrote, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (cf. Col. 3:13).

The Lord’s command to love extends beyond the church to embrace all people. Paul’s prayer for the Thessalonians was that they would “increase and abound in love for one another, and for all people” (1 Thess. 3:12). He exhorted the Galatians to “do good to all people, and especially to those who are of the household of the faith” (Gal. 6:10). The writer of Hebrews charged his readers, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2).

The Lord’s statement, “By this all men will know that you are My disciples” reveals the effect of believers’ having love for one another: the world will know that we belong to Him. The church may be orthodox in its doctrine and vigorous in its proclamation of the truth, but that will not persuade unbelievers unless believers love each other. In fact, Jesus gave the world the right to judge whether or not someone is a Christian based on whether or not that person sincerely loves other Christians. Francis Schaeffer writes,

The church is to be a loving church in a dying culture.… In the midst of the world, in the midst of our present dying culture, Jesus is giving a right to the world. Upon his authority he gives the world the right to judge whether you and I are born-again Christians on the basis of our observable love toward all Christians.

That’s pretty frightening. Jesus turns to the world and says, “I’ve something to say to you. On the basis of my authority, I give you a right: you may judge whether or not an individual is a Christian on the basis of the love he shows to all Christians.” In other words, if people come up to us and cast into our teeth the judgment that we are not Christians because we have not shown love toward other Christians, we must understand that they are only exercising a prerogative which Jesus gave them. (The Mark of the Christian [Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity, 1970], 12–13)

One’s love for other believers also assures that believer that his faith is genuine. As John wrote, “We know that we have passed out of death into life, because we love the brethren” (1 John 3:14; cf. 2:10; 4:12).[1]

The New Commandment

John 13:33–34

“My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come.

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.

The Gospel of John has been given many fine titles in the long history of its exposition, but none are more fitting than those that identify it as the Gospel of God’s love. It has been called “God’s love letter to the world.” But if this is so, then it is probably also true that either John 3:16 or the verses to which we come now are its heart. They are those in which the Lord Jesus Christ speaks to his disciples out of his great love for them, reminding them of that love and encouraging them to love one another.

The Preface

Verse 34 is the key verse of this section, but it is nevertheless significant that it is preceded by another that is, in some sense, its preface. The preface says, “My children, I will be with you only a little longer. You will look for me, and just as I told the Jews, so I tell you now: Where I am going, you cannot come” (v. 33). As I read the various commentators on this Gospel I find a discussion of why the disciples could not follow Christ and of the difference between their inability and the inability of the Jews. (The same words were spoken to the Jewish leaders earlier.) But I do not find an explanation of the connection between this verse and the great verse following. Yet it is in this connection that the importance of the verse lies.

What is its significance? It is along two lines. First, it is evident that since the Lord Jesus Christ was about to depart from the world, the only example of true love that the world had ever known was about to be taken from it. Jesus was himself love, for he was God and “God is love” (1 John 4:8). He was about to prove that love by dying on the cross. Yet in the very act of dying, which was to be followed by his resurrection and ascension into heaven, he was to be taken from humanity. How, then, were men and women to know what true divine love is? How were they to see love demonstrated when he was about to be taken from them? The answer is that they were to see it in those who are Christ’s disciples. Jesus is being taken, but now the disciples are to love as he loved. It is as if Jesus had said, “I am going; therefore you must be as I have been in this world.”

The second way in which the preface is important is in its transference of the love the disciples felt for him to one another. There is no doubt that each of the disciples (Judas excluded, who by now, however, had left the upper room) loved Jesus. Whatever he said they would do. Several had just prepared the upper room for this last dinner. Peter is about to say that he will die for Jesus if necessary. It is true, of course, that their love was not as strong as they thought it was. Peter would not die; in fact, he would deny his Master. The others would scatter at the moment of the arrest in Gethsemane. Nevertheless, they did truly love him. And yet, just as certainly as they loved him, so is it certain that they did not really love one another with anything even approaching that intensity. On the contrary, they were actually jealous of one another. They were disputing over who should be greatest. They would not wash the others’ feet. In this situation Jesus, who is about to be taken from them, points out that now it is precisely one another whom they must love.

The vertical love of disciples for the exalted Christ must be expressed horizontally in their love for all other Christians. Moreover, the horizontal love, which can be seen by everyone, is proof of the vertical dimension.

Things New and Old

In the thirteenth chapter of Matthew, in a section of Christ’s teachings dealing with the kingdom of God, Jesus speaks of a teacher of the law being like an “owner of a house, who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old” (v. 52). At this point he is himself like that teacher, for he follows his preface by the giving of a command that is at once both new and ancient.

The command to love is old in that it existed before Christ’s coming. In its simplest and best-known form it is found in Leviticus 19:18, which says, “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.” This is the verse to which Jesus referred when he was asked his opinion concerning the first and greatest commandment. He said that the greatest commandment was that recorded in Deuteronomy 6:5—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” The second was Leviticus 19:18.

But if the commandment was an old commandment, as it must have been if it is recorded in one of the first five books of the Old Testament, in what sense is it new? Indeed, how can Christ call it “a new command”? The answer is that it was raised to an entirely new level and given an entirely new significance by Jesus. We can say that it is given a new object; it is to be exercised according to a new measure; it is to be made possible by a new power. Each of these is involved in Christ’s saying.

In the first place, the command to love received a new object. It is true that the verse from Leviticus declares that the Jew is to love his neighbor as himself. But the neighbor involved is a Jewish neighbor only. The first half of the verse makes this plain, for in a parallel sentence the reader is told that he is not to hold a grudge against any of “your [also his] people.” This is a physical, family relationship. In Christ’s command, by contrast, the relationship is spiritual, for the neighbor is any believer in Jesus.

Something else about this new object is very important. Jesus says that the disciples are to love one another and that this is to be a witness to the unbelieving world. However, it is obvious from Christ’s own example and from his teaching elsewhere that this is not to be a love that is held back from unbelievers. Even the very nature of the relationship makes this clear, for if the relationship involved is spiritual, then obviously there is no way of knowing who might be included in the company of believers should God so move. When the relationship was physical, the limits were obvious. One was supposed to love other Jews. Gentiles were not to be loved. They were sinners, those whom God obviously wished to destroy. But when the relationship became spiritual, the whole matter was broadened. This spiritual, Christian brotherhood is created by God’s drawing together those of all races and languages. Consequently, the Christian is to love every individual—everyone; for anyone can be a special one for whom Christ died.

Alexander Maclaren, that great preacher of another generation, speaks of the newness of such love as it battered the ancient world’s societies. “When the words were spoken, the then-known civilized Western world was cleft by great, deep gulfs of separation, like the crevasses in a glacier. … Language, religion, national animosities, differences of condition, and saddest of all, differences of sex, split the world up into alien fragments. A ‘stranger’ and an ‘enemy’ were expressed in one language by the same word. The learned and the unlearned, the slave and his master, the barbarian and the Greek, the man and the woman, stood on opposite sides of the gulfs, flinging hostility across. A Jewish peasant wandered up and down for three years in His own little country, which was the very focus of narrowness and separation and hostility, as the Roman historian felt when He called the Jews the ‘haters of the human race’; He gathered a few disciples, and He was crucified by a contemptuous Roman governor, who thought that the life of one fanatical Jew was a small price to pay for popularity with his troublesome subjects, and in a generation after, the clefts were being bridged and all over the Empire a strange new sense of unity was bearing breathed, and ‘Barbarian, Scythian, bond and free,’ male and female, Jew and Greek, learned and ignorant, clasped hands and sat down at one table, and felt themselves ‘all one in Christ Jesus.’ ”

The commandment of Christ does not only have a new object. It also is to be exercised according to a new measure. What was love before this, after all? A vague feeling of good will? A sense of pride in one’s race? A need to defend a neighbor or to free a family member who had become a slave? Yes, this and perhaps a bit more. But it was not that measure of love seen in the fact that the God of the universe would take human form, suffer, and die for those who were ungodly in order that, almost in spite of themselves those who hated God and had tried to turn from him might be redeemed from the chains of sin and brought into glory. “This is love,” writes John in the fourth chapter of his magnificent first letter, “not that we loved God [because we did not], but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (v. 10).

The measure of this love is the standard found in 1 Corinthians 13. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Love never fails” (vv. 4–8). This is the love Jesus brought, and it was a new thing in this world.

Third, the command to love is also new in that it is made possible by a new power. The power is the power of the Holy Spirit, the very life of the Lord Jesus Christ in each believer. How much we need this! Without it we cannot love as Christ loved; for such love cannot be achieved by human energy.

Our Great Example

There is one more point to be seen in these two verses: Jesus is himself our example as we obey his command. He indicates this in the second half of verse 34, in which he says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” It is not just that we are to love. It is that we are to love as he loved us. His love is to be the full measure of our love for one another.

How can we speak about this practically? One way is to return to the verses from 1 Corinthians cited earlier. When they were quoted before they were quoted exactly as they are printed in our Bibles. This time read them with the word “Jesus” substituted for the word “love.” “Jesus is patient, Jesus is kind. He does not envy, he does not boast, he is not proud. He is not rude, he is not self-seeking, he is not easily angered, he keeps no record of wrongs. Jesus does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. He always protects, always trusts, always perseveres. Jesus never fails.” Clearly, the substitution of “Jesus” for “love” is quite proper, for Jesus is obviously the embodiment of such love. Our hearts acknowledge it to be so, and we rejoice in the fact.

Now make another substitution. We are told in our text that we are to love as Christ loves. But since 1 Corinthians 13 reveals the way that Christ did love, we (if we love in that way) should be able to substitute our name for his. We should be able to put “I” where “love” is printed. “I am patient, I am kind. I do not envy, I do not boast, I am not proud. I am not rude, I am not self-seeking, I am not easily angered, I keep no record of wrongs. I do not delight in evil, but rejoice with the truth. I always protect, always trust, always persevere. I never fail.” When we read it this way the result is humbling, for we recognize that we do not love as Jesus loves. We do not even understand such love. And we find ourselves praying, “Oh, Lord Jesus, teach me to love others as you love.”

When we pray this way God will help us, and we will begin to grow in the love and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let Us Love

We should get more out of this command than the disciples did on the first occasion on which it was spoken. We think that they must have been struck by these great words and have remembered them vividly, but this was not the case. On the contrary, not one of them really heard the command or understood what it meant.

We know this because of the course of the discussion that follows verse 35. We remember that Jesus had begun his discussion of the new command by informing the disciples that he was going to leave them and that they would not be able to follow him in his departure. They heard this, and it filled them with dismay. It crowded all other thoughts from their minds. Next, Jesus talked about his new command, but they did not hear him, for he had barely finished talking about it when Peter broke in to ask, “But, Lord, where are you going?” Peter had been thinking about Christ’s earlier announcement and was returning to it. Jesus stopped to deal with Peter’s questions, and before he could get back to the subject of the new commandment Thomas responded, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” Jesus answered Thomas, and he never did get back to the great command.

Jesus is not frustrated by human preoccupation, however. So, after many years had passed, the Holy Spirit spoke to John the evangelist, who was present on the earlier occasion, and caused him to write a book which is in one sense an exposition of the new commandment. The book is 1 John, and it expounds the new commandment completely.

In all, the new command is talked about in four separate passages: 1 John 2:7–11; 3:11–18; 4:7–21; and 5:1–5. But the key passage is 4:7–21, in which the words “love one another” occur three times. In each case a different reason is given why this exhortation must be heeded.

The first reason why we should love one another is that love is God’s nature. John says, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God; for God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). John’s argument is that, if we truly are God’s children, we will bear the characteristics of our Father.

Second, John tells us that we should love because love led to God’s gift. In these verses John reminds us that we were spiritually dead men and women before God the Father sent his Son to die for us. Being dead we were not able even to understand what he had done. But when Christ died for us, and when by the work of the Holy Spirit we were made alive spiritually, we were able to believe on Christ and recognize the love of God in Christ, which stood behind the sacrifice. Consequently, having thus come to know love and take the measure of love, we are to love. John’s way of putting it is: “This is how God showed his love among us: he sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. … Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” (vv. 9, 11).

Finally, we are told that we should love one another in that love is God’s present and continuing activity. God is not creating the world today; he has already done that. He is not sending Jesus to die; Jesus has already died. What God is doing is working in Christians through love in order that others who do not yet know him might see him through such divine activity. John writes: “No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is made complete in us [and, thus, men see him]” (v. 12).

Do those who are not yet Christians see God in you? It is a breathtaking thought. But this verse teaches that they can and will, if you will love others. Will you? Remember, this is not a divine invitation, as if Jesus had said, “Won’t you please love others?” It is not even one of a series of steps to successful living, as if he had said, “You will be happier if you love one another.” It is Christ’s new command. Love one another! God grant that we shall and that, in doing so, we may truly be his disciples.[2]

34 Jesus delivers to his disciples a new commandment: “love one another.” In the Vulgate (the Latin translation, which since the sixteenth century has been the official version of the Roman Catholic Church), “new command” is translated mandatum novum, from which is derived the name Maundy Thursday, the anniversary of the Last Supper. The commandment is not new in the sense that it was formerly unknown. Leviticus 19:18 reads, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” The newness of the command lay in the meaning given to love by the life and teachings of Jesus. It was to be a covenantal love, distinguished from even the noblest forms of human love by the fact that it was “spontaneous and unmotivated” (Brown, 614). God’s love does not question the worthiness of the recipient but gladly gives of itself in humble service.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 89–91). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 1037–1042). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 557). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

January 31: Discipline

Genesis 49–50; Hebrews 12–13; Ecclesiastes 12:9–14

I was a stubborn child. When disciplined by my parents, I would sulk for hours afterward. I didn’t see discipline from my parents’ perspective—as something that would mold me into a mature, loving person.

Hebrews 12 has a lesson for people like me with a history of wallowing in self-pity when disciplined. Here, the writer of Hebrews tells us that God, a Father to us through the work of Jesus, disciplines us for our good. To emphasize this, the writer of Hebrews draws on the book of Proverbs, where the Father instructs His own Son. “My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline, or give up when you are corrected by him. For the Lord disciplines the one who he loves, and punishes every son whom he accepts” (Heb 12:6; compare Prov 3:11–12).

The author tells us that being disciplined is a sign of God’s love. It means He is working and active in our lives (Heb 12:8). Like a chastised child, we might not always recognize God’s discipline this way. When challenged by our circumstances, we might struggle against events that are meant to shape us for holiness and eternity. We might even avoid subjecting ourselves to them because we don’t see God as the author of the event.

Sometimes our parents’ form of discipline gives us a tainted view of its purpose. Imperfect, like us, they disciplined us “for a few days according to what seemed appropriate to them.” It may have been harmful and destructive. But God disciplines us “for our benefit, in order that we can have a share in his holiness” (Heb 12:10). Because His intentions are perfect, we know that He has our ultimate good in mind. And we can approach discipline like a student, ready to learn how to better serve Him—and others—for His kingdom.

How do you respond to God’s discipline in your life? How can you change your attitude so that you view them as teachable moments and not a means to inflict harm?

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.