Daily Archives: February 14, 2018

February 14 The Joy of Glorification

“I am confident of this very thing, that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).


Someday God will glorify and reward every believer.

For Christians there’s an element of truth to the bumper sticker that reads, “Please be patient, God isn’t finished with me yet.” We aren’t what we used to be, but there’s much to be done to make us all He wants us to be. Yet, God’s work within us is so sure and so powerful that Scripture guarantees its completion.

Pondering that guarantee led Bible expositor F. B. Meyer to write: “We go into the artist’s studio and find there unfinished pictures covering large canvas, and suggesting great designs, but which have been left, either because the genius was not competent to complete the work, or because paralysis laid the hand low in death; but as we go into God’s great workshop we find nothing that bears the mark of haste or insufficiency of power to finish, and we are sure that the work which His grace has begun, the arm of His strength will complete” (The Epistle to the Philippians [Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 1952], p. 28).

The completion of God’s work in you will come at a future point in time that Paul calls “the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). Scripture also speaks of “the day of the Lord,” which is the time of God’s judgment on unbelievers. But “the day of Christ Jesus” refers to the time when believers will be fully glorified and then rewarded for their faithful service (cf. 1 Cor. 3:10–15). All your earthly cares will be gone, and God’s promise to keep you from stumbling and make you stand in His presence “blameless with great joy” (Jude 24) will be fully realized.

Concentrating on what is wrong in your life might depress you, but focusing on the glorious day of Christ should excite you. Don’t be unduly concerned about what you are right now. Look ahead to what you will become by God’s grace.


Suggestions for Prayer:  Reflect on the joy that is yours because you belong to an all-powerful God who is working mightily in you. Express your joy and praise to Him. ✧ Read 1 Chronicles 29:11–13 as a prayer of praise to God.

For Further Study: Read Revelation 7:9–17 and 22:1–5. What glimpses do those passages give you of the activities of glorified believers in Heaven?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 57). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.

ROMANS 12:21

A bad disposition has been called “the vice of the virtuous,” which brings us directly to the conclusion that it is time we Christians stop trying to excuse our un-Christlike dispositions and frankly admit our failure to live as we should!

Wesley said that we will not injure the cause of Christ by admitting our sins, but that we are sure to do so by denying them.

Dispositional sins are as many as the various facets of human nature. Just so there be no misunderstanding let us list a few of them: Sensitiveness, irritability, churlishness, faultfinding, peevishness, temper, resentfulness, cruelty, uncharitable attitudes; and of course there are many more.

These kill the spirit of the church and slow down any progress which the gospel may be making in the community. Many persons who had been secretly longing to find Christ have been turned away and embittered by manifestations of ugly dispositional flaws in the lives of the very persons who were trying to win them!

Unsaintly saints are the tragedy of Christianity. The low state of religion in our day is largely due to the lack of public confidence in religious people.

There is a remedy for inward evil. The power of Christ can enable the worst of us to live lives of purity and love. We have but to seek it and to lay hold of it in faith. God will not disappoint us![1]

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

Truth Is Relative

Code: B180214

Satan has been running an ongoing campaign of lies ever since Adam’s fall in the garden. Jesus said that “whenever he speaks a lie, he speaks from his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Satan’s activities have always been counterfeit and antithetical to the God of all truth.

The devil knows that sinners love to “suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18), so he continually feeds unbelievers with a barrage of seductive and persuasive lies. Even more disturbing is the fact that some of his lies have made significant inroads into the visible church.

In the days ahead we’re going to examine ten of the most pervasive lies that are now widely accepted by society—and even infiltrating the church. We need to be wise to Satan’s schemes and constantly armed with the truth (Ephesians 6:14). To that end, we trust this series will open your eyes to these sinister lies, and equip you to earnestly contend for God’s unchanging truth.

Lying About the Truth

At the heart of all devilish seductions is the assault on the very nature of truth itself—it was Satan’s primary strategy from the start (Genesis 3:1). Today, that scheme lives on in the lie that all truth is relative. Forty years ago Francis Schaeffer observed, “We should note this curious mark of our age: The only absolute allowed is the absolute insistence that there is no absolute.” [1]

Schaeffer’s summary of relativism was a response to Chief Justice Fred M. Vinson who, twenty years earlier, had argued that “nothing is more certain in modern society than the principle that there are no absolutes. . . . All concepts are relative.” [2]

Tragically, Vinson failed to see the logical fallacy of his statement—he was absolutely sure that “there are no absolutes.” What Vinson should have recognized as a self-evident lie has been embraced as the central mantra of postmodern culture. The only fixed truth it believes in, to paraphrase Schaeffer, is that all truth is relative.

No God, No Truth

In addition to being an assault on the nature of truth, relativism is an idolatrous lie. It sets man up as the sovereign arbiter of what will be true for him. It removes every external objective standard—especially the enduring truths God has revealed in His Word. And as John MacArthur points out, that approach is always doomed to fail.

Truth cannot be adequately explained, recognized, understood, or defined without God as the source. Since He alone is eternal and self-existent and He alone is the Creator of all else, He is the fountain of all truth.

If you don’t believe that, try defining truth without reference to God, and see how quickly all such definitions fail. The moment you begin to ponder the essence of truth, you are brought face-to-face with the requirement of a universal absolute—the eternal reality of God. Conversely, the whole concept of truth instantly becomes nonsense (and every imagination of the human heart therefore turns to sheer foolishness) as soon as people attempt to remove the thought of God from their minds. [3]

John’s warning is an apt description of the relativism running rampant today. That worldview is now fully entrenched in our day-to-day lives. How often do we hear someone say, “That’s your truth,” “What’s true for you might not be true for me,” or other expressions of similar sentiment?

The relativism of our day is almost impossible to avoid. We’re regularly exposed to mainstream media that promotes an ideological narrative rather than report the facts. Society is increasingly uncomfortable with moral absolutes like good and evil. And public discourse is driven by subjective “facts” instead of objective truth. By and large, people can no longer reason; they can only emote.

Even the clear biological distinctions of gender are under attack. The determining criteria today is no more than the whim of personal preference. And gender confusion is just the tip of the iceberg—today people choose to identify as infants, animals, and even objects.

Of course, there are still some limits to the madness—just try telling an airline steward that you identify as a first class passenger. But the practical limitations happen in real life experience because even the most hardcore of relativists inherently know that their belief system is a lie. Their theories simply cannot function once reality bites. That’s why they don’t extend that subjective approach to traffic signals, bank statements, or gravity. Their tacit acknowledgment of certain absolute truths ultimately verifies God’s diagnosis of their rebellion. Those who believe in relativism are not ignorant or uneducated; they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

Infiltrating the Church

The obvious sanctuary from postmodern relativism should be among God’s people. As “the pillar and ground of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:15, KJV), the church should be immune from the world’s lie that all truth is relative. But that’s simply not the case.

Relativism rears its ugly head every time someone asks the question, “What does this verse mean to you?” It’s evident whenever a pastor argues from subjective experience rather than Scripture. It happens every time believers redefine an established doctrine according to their own preferences.

Nowhere is the church’s fight for the truth more vital than in its own backyard. Believers cannot turn a blind eye to doctrinal relativism and spiritual compromise. They are threats that don’t allow for neutrality or conscientious objection. As God’s people, we should be repulsed by any attack on absolute truth. John MacArthur reminds us of our call to “contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints” (Jude 3).

We cannot afford to be apathetic about the truth God has put in our trust. It is our duty to guard, proclaim, and pass that truth on to the next generation (1 Timothy 6:20–21). We who love Christ and believe the truth embodied in His teaching must awaken to the reality of the battle that is raging all around us. We must do our part in the ages-old Truth War. We are under a sacred obligation to join the battle and contend for the faith. [4]

Whether inside or outside of the church, our call is to bold proclamation, not passive persuasion. We can speak directly to the consciences of sinners who suppress the truth.

Truth Is Absolute

Truth is not relative. It is an unshakable reality completely immunized from all subjectivity. All truth comes from God and is the immovable tower standing above the shifting sands of human reason.

Moreover, absolute truths are the bedrock of every essential Christian doctrine. The creation of the world and man’s fall into sin are literal historical events. Christ’s life, death, and resurrection all actually happened. Our eternal fate hinges on the exclusive and nonnegotiable truth of what Christ preached. He said He is “the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me” (John 14:6). In one fell swoop, the Lord Himself ruled out every possibility of finding eternal life outside of Himself.

God’s Word describes all true Christians as those who “know the truth, and the truth shall make [them] free” (John 8:32). The truth is not some vague destination at the end of a mystical quest. God expects His people to know His truth with certainty. He also expects us to proclaim that truth with settled conviction. God’s truth is our ultimate weapon against the lies of relativism.

Available online at: https://www.gty.org/library/blog/B180214
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Chris Rosebrough in conversation with Costi Hinn, nephew of Benny Hinn.

Chris Rosebrough interviews Costi Hinn about his book ‘Defining Deception’. Costi Hinn is the Executive Pastor at Mission Bible Church and is completing his Masters of Divinity at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

Costi Hinn and co-author Anthony Wood are committed to exposing deceptions surrounding the modern “mystical-miracle” movement. Both have written and spoken extensively on the matter, describing it as, “Attempting to corrupt the evangelical church from the inside…”


John Macarthur “This could well prove to be one of the most important books of the decade”

For those interested in further teaching on the false kenotic theology of the NAR:


Email all comments and questions to c3churchwatch@hotmail.com

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Weak and Wounded Sinner

Unfathomable Grace

Are you sensing your sin? Are you feeling a bit frustrated? Did you think you would be a bit farther down the “holiness road” than you presently are? Is your soul crushed? Well my friend, you are not odd, and you are not alone.

A great sinner and saint wrote:

For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells within me. So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law…

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What Is Love?

How many people do you know that have made it to the hall of fame in music, art, literature, or sports because of their love? We elevate people to the status of heroes because of their gifts, their talents, and their power, but not because of their love. Yet, from God’s perspective, love is the chief of all virtues. But what is love?

Love is said to make the world go round, and romantic love certainly makes the culture go round in terms of advertising and entertainment. We never seem to tire of stories that focus on romance. But we’re not referring to romantic love when we speak of the Christian virtue of love. We’re talking about a much deeper dimension of love, a virtue so paramount that it is to distinguish Christians from all other people. Moreover, love is so important to the Bible’s teachings that John tells us, “God is love” (1 John 4:7–8). Whatever else we say about the Christian virtue of love, we must be clear that the love God commands is a love that imitates His own. The love of God is utterly perfect. And we are called to reflect and mirror that love to perfection, to be perfect as He is perfect (Matt. 5:48). Now, of course, none of us loves perfectly, which is why we must be covered with the perfect righteousness of Christ by faith in Him alone. Nevertheless, it’s important for us to return time and again to Scripture to find out what love is supposed to look like, for we’re so easily satisfied with a sentimental, maudlin, romantic, or superficial understanding of love.

First Corinthians 13 plumbs the depths of what love really means. It’s a measuring rod by which we can examine ourselves carefully to see whether this love resides in our hearts and is manifested in our lives. Given that truth, I’m surprised that 1 Corinthians 13 is one of the most popular passages in all of Scripture instead of being one of the most despised. I can’t think of any chapter in Scripture that more quickly reveals our sins than this chapter. It’s popularity may be due to its being one of the most misunderstood and least applied chapters in the Bible. There’s a sense in which we’re ambivalent toward it. We’re drawn to it because of the grandeur of its theme and the eloquence of its language, yet at the same time we’re repulsed by this chapter because it reveals our shortcomings. We want to keep some safe distance from it because it so clearly demonstrates to us our lack of real love.

This chapter is part of an Apostolic admonition to Christians who were torn apart by contentions in the church. They were behaving in an immature, fleshly manner, and at the heart of this ungodly behavior was a manifestation of certain talents, abilities, and gifts without the presence of love in their lives. In the opening verses, Paul speaks of love as the sine qua non of Christian virtue (1 Cor. 13:1–3). He’s speaking with hyperbole, intentionally exaggerating things to make his point. He starts off comparing love to the gift of tongues. Paul says, in effect, “I don’t care if you are fluent in fifty languages or if you have the gift to speak foreign languages miraculously. I don’t care if God has endowed you with the ability to speak the language of the heavenly host. If you don’t have love, the eloquence of your speech becomes noise. It becomes dissonance, an irritating and annoying racket.” He says here that if we speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, we become a sounding brass or a clanging symbol—mere noise. All the beauty of speech is lost when love is absent.

Paul then compares love to the gifts of prophecy and understanding, miraculous endowments that God gave to people during the Apostolic era. These tremendous gifts were nothing compared to love. The Apostle says that you can have a miraculous endowment, you can receive power from God the Holy Spirit, but it is to be used in the context of the grace of love. And without that love, the use of the divine power is a charade. Jesus had to warn even His own disciples about the danger of using a God-given gift without love. Jesus empowered His disciples to participate in His ministry of exorcism, and they went out on their mission and came back clicking their heels. They were so excited at the effectiveness of their ministry that they were rejoicing in the power Christ had given them. But what did Jesus say? Don’t rejoice because you have been given power over Satan, but rejoice that your names have been written in heaven (Luke 10:1–20). The disciples were caught up with the power instead of the grace that was underlying that power. They were intoxicated with the gift, and were forgetting the One who gave it.

The bottom line is that the gifts of God can be used without love. When that happens, their value is destroyed. The essence of love, 1 Corinthians 13 tells us, is to seek the welfare of others. A person who reflects God’s love is driven to give of himself for others, not to wield his power for his own benefit. But we are people who are more interested in power, in doing rather than being. We’re more concerned to seize the supernatural power that God can give rather than the supernatural love that is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit (Rom. 5:5). We have misplaced priorities. Thanks be to God that His love for us is greater than our love for Him. May He strengthen us to pursue love above all else, a love that reflects His love for us in Christ (5:8).

Dr. R.C. Sproul was founder of Ligonier Ministries, founding pastor of Saint Andrew’s Chapel in Sanford, Fla., and first president of Reformation Bible College. He was author of more than one hundred books, including The Holiness of God. This post was originally published in Tabletalk magazine.


Information Enigma: 21-minute video explains intelligent design


Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information? Can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?

The video is here:

I have read and listened and watched a lot of material on intelligent design, but I have never seen so much value packed into such a short lecture. I really hope you’ll watch this and that it’s helpful to you.


  • the big question when discussing the origin of life: where did the information in living systems come from?
  • Until 530 million years ago, the oceans were largely devoid of life
  • In a 10 million year period, many new forms of animal life emerged
  • New biological forms of life require new information
  • the discovery of DNA shows that living systems work because cells have information that allows them to build the components of molecular machines: cell types, proteins, etc.
  • can random mutation and natural selection create new functional information?
  • normally, random mutations tend to degrade the functionality of…

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Moody Bible Institute—Trying to Hold on to a Biblical Heritage While Riding the Wave of the Emerging Church

(Lighthouse Trails) Several years ago, Rick Warren said something that still haunts us—leaders of the new purpose-driven, emergent “Christianity” will have to wait until resisters either leave or die before the plan can be fully implemented. In other words, they are going to eventually accomplish what they are trying to do—revamp Christianity into a “new” spirituality that will be all-inclusive, ecumenical, mystical, and with a new gospel message. But before that can happen, those who are resisting and opposing this new “Christianity” will have to be out of the way (either through getting old and dying or somehow being coerced into leaving the churches).

In thinking about Moody Bible Institute and the current shake up going on there (e.g., the president and COO recently resigned), Warren’s words have come to the forefront of our minds again. Moody is struggling. According to an article in the Christian Post, Moody has shut down their Washington state campus and an extension site and let go of one third of their faculty. One can only guess what’s going on behind the scenes as Moody leadership and trustees aren’t offering many answers these days.

Moody, once considered a stalwart institution to the Gospel of Jesus Christ (named after the great evangelist D.L. Moody), began caving in to the “new” spirituality several years ago (as documented by LT), allowing contemplative, emergent influences into the school. Maybe they thought if they became culturally relevant, cool, hip, contemplative, and missional, they could continue being successful and on top of the Christian college scene. But, like the puppy with a bone in his mouth and looking at his reflection in the water hoping to have the other bone too, Moody may end up losing everything all together because they wanted both worlds—a reputation of biblical integrity and at the same time acceptance by the new and popular emergent Christianity. Maybe trustees of Moody believed Rick Warren’s co-comrade in all-things-emergent, Leonard Sweet,when Sweet said “Reinvent yourself for the 21st century or die.”

In 1995, Rick Warren and Leonard Sweet did an audio series called The Tides of Change. In the audio, they spoke of “new frontiers,” “a new spirituality,” and “waves of change.” A few years prior to The Tides of Change, Sweet wrote a book calledQuantum Spirituality. This book reveals the nature of Sweet’s spiritual affinities as he talks about “christ-consciousness” and a “New Light” movement. Ray Yungen discusses Quantum Spirituality:

In [Quantum Spirituality], Sweet thanks interspiritualists/universalists such as Matthew Fox (author of The Coming of the Cosmic Christ), Episcopalian priest/mystic Morton Kelsey, Willis Harman (author of Global Mind Change) and Ken Wilber (one of the major intellectuals in the New Age movement) for helping him to find what he calls “New Light.” Sweet adds that he trusts “the Spirit that led the author of The Cloud of Unknowing.” . . .  Sweet disseminates line after line of suggestions that the “old teachings” of Christianity must be replaced with new teachings of “the New Light.” And yet these new teachings, he believes, will draw from “ancient teachings” (the Desert Fathers). This “New Light movement,” Sweet says, is a “radical faith commitment that is willing to dance to a new rhythm.”

Throughout the book, Sweet favorably uses terms like Christ consciousness and higher self and in no uncertain terms promotes New Age ideology: “[Quantum Spirituality is] a structure of human becoming, a channeling of Christ energies through mindbody experience.” (from A Time of Departing)

A few years after Rick Warren and Leonard Sweet did The Tides of Change, Warren endorsed the front and back cover of Sweet’s book, Soul Tsunami. Of Sweet’s book, Warren said: “suggests practical ways to communicate God’s unchanging truth to our changing world.” However, the “practical ways” that Sweet shares in the book include a labyrinth and visiting a meditation center. Sweet also says in the book, “It’s time for a Post Modern Reformation,” adding that “The wind of spiritual awakening is blowing across the waters.” He says that times are changing and you’d better, “Reinvent yourself for the 21st century or die” (p. 75).

In 2006, Lighthouse Trails wrote an article titled “Purpose Driven Resisters—Must Leave or Die.” Here’s a portion of it:  View article →

Source: Moody Bible Institute—Trying to Hold on to a Biblical Heritage While Riding the Wave of the Emerging Church

40 Days to the Cross: Week of Ash Wednesday – Wednesday

Confession: Psalm 51:1–4

Be gracious to me, O God, according to your loyal love.

According to your abundant mercies,

blot out my transgressions.

Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity,

and from my sin cleanse me.

For I myself know my transgressions,

and my sin is ever before me.

Against you, only you, I have sinned

and have done this evil in your eyes,

so that you are correct when you speak,

you are blameless when you judge.

Reading: Mark 8:27–33

And Jesus and his disciples went out to the villages of Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples, saying to them, “Who do people say that I am?” And they told him, saying, “John the Baptist, and others Elijah, and others that you are one of the prophets.” And he asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered and said to him, “You are the Christ!” And he warned them that they should tell no one about him.

And he began to teach them that it was necessary for the Son of Man to suffer many things and to be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and to be killed, and after three days to rise. And he was speaking openly about the subject, and Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning around and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan, because you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of people!”


If Peter … was called a stumbling-block by Jesus—as not minding the things of God in what he said but the things of men—what is to be said about all those who profess to be made disciples of Jesus, but do not mind the things of God? [What is to be said about those who] do not look to things unseen and eternal, (but mind the things of man) and look to things seen and temporal? Would they be seen by Jesus as a stumbling block to Him, and because they are stumbling blocks to Him, as stumbling blocks to His followers also? In regard to them He says, “I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,” so also He might say, “When I was running you caused me to stumble.” Let us not therefore suppose that it is a trivial sin to mind the things of men—since we ought in everything to mind the things of God.


Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew


How are you mindful of the “things of people”? Are you harboring mindsets, possessions, goals, and desires that are incompatible with God and His kingdom? Make a list of these things and pray about them.[1]

[1] Van Noord, R., & Strong, J. (Eds.). (2014). 40 Days to the Cross: Reflections from Great Thinkers. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

February 14, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

24 The first line may be rendered, “May Yahweh bless you and may he keep you.” While these words are directed to the entire community, the pronouns are singular. This is characteristic of covenantal language: Yahweh blesses the whole by blessing the individuals; he blesses the individuals by blessing the whole. The invocation of God’s blessing reveals that the covenantal community knew who they were: the people who were particularly blessed of the Lord because of his own choice of the patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob) and because of the solemn relationship he has entered into with the fathers, mothers, and their children.

“The Lord bless you and keep you” are words of reminder, words of attestation of promise. These are words whereby the community says, “Yes, Amen!” to God’s promise, whereby they request from his presence the continuity of the blessing he has already begun. The buttressing words, “and keep you,” further explain his blessing. God’s intention for his people is for their good; he will preserve them to enjoy that good.

25 The words “make his face shine upon you” take us back to the experience of Moses on Mount Sinai. There the epiphany of the Lord appeared to Moses (see Ex 34:29–35), and he experienced God’s presence in a dramatic and direct manner. (As elsewhere, I follow Claus Westermann in using the term “theophany” to describe an appearance of God, but “epiphany” to describe an experience of his grand descent.) As his glory caused Moses’ face to shine, so the Lord desired to make his presence known to all his people. When Moses was on the mountain, it was in the context of terror; all the physical signs of the epiphany of God in Exodus 19–20 provoked trepidation on the part of the people. But God had come down in grace; his revelation was of mercy. Hence we have the splendidly suitable tie of the light of his face and the grace of his presence in the words: “[May] the Lord make his face shine upon you / and be gracious to you.”

Again, and throughout the prayer, the pronoun “you” is in the singular in the Hebrew text; this was a prayer for the community, but its force was to be realized in the life of the individual. Only in the introductory and concluding formulas are the plurals used.[1]

6:24 The word bless is the operative term in this passage. It is a general word indicating God’s desire to bring good and significance to His people, to make their lives worthwhile and their relationship to Him remarkable. As God reached out to Abram and Sarai with His blessing (Gen. 12:1–3), so now He reaches out to the whole nation. There are those who seem to think that God’s intent in the “Old” Testament was to make the lives of His people difficult, and that only in the NT does God reach out to people in grace. Such misconceptions fly in the face of texts such as this.

6:25 The idea of the phrase make His face shine is that of pleasure in the presence of God, of an intimate experience that is not unlike that experienced by Moses when he talked with God on Mount Sinai (Ex. 34:29–35). The people as a whole would have some sense of the God’s glorious presence in their lives.[2]

6:24 bless. The Lord’s blessing was described as His face (i.e., His presence) shining on His people (v. 25) and looking at them (v. 26). God shone forth in benevolence on Israel and looked on them for good. keep. The results of the Lord’s blessing were His preservation of Israel (“keep”), His kindness toward her (“be gracious,” v. 25), and her total well-being (“peace,” v. 26).[3]

6:24The Lordbless you. God blesses by giving good harvests, peace, children, and his own presence (Lev. 26:3–13). keep. That is, “guard” and “protect.”

6:25his face to shine upon you. God’s presence is like sunshine (Ps. 19:1–11). A shining face is a smiling face, a pledge of God’s good favor (Ps. 80:3, 7, 19).[4]

6:24keep The Hebrew word used here, shamar, has the sense of guarding or keeping safe.

6:25his face The Hebrew word panim (used here and in v. 26) refers to the physical face. It also may idiomatically refer to someone’s presence because seeing a face required being in the person’s physical presence (compare Exod 33:20). In the ancient Near East, including the ot, when a deity’s face shines, it is a sign of favor (for example, Pss 31:16; 80:3, 7, 19).[5]

6:24–26 This threefold, divinely inspired blessing was pronounced by the priest with uplifted hands (Lev. 9:22). It moves from a general blessing (v. 24), to an invocation of God’s favor and presence (v. 25), and finally to a climactic mention of the peace that comes only with God’s gracious presence (v. 26). The pronouncement of this blessing placed God’s covenant name Lord (Yahweh) on the people (v. 27).

6:25 make his face to shine upon you. Here is a vivid figure for God looking favorably upon His worshipers. The closer one’s access to the face of God, the greater the blessing.[6]

6:24 God’s protection of Israel had been demonstrated by their deliverance from Egypt. The prayer calls for that protection to continue.

6:25 The face reflected the righteous character of God. Be gracious to you evoked God’s favor, which was beyond measure. God’s grace would be exemplified when God brought the second generation into the promised land after the rejection of that gift by the generation delivered from Egypt.[7]

[1] Allen, R. B. (2012). Numbers. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers–Ruth (Revised Edition) (Vol. 2, pp. 145–146). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Radmacher, E. D., Allen, R. B., & House, H. W. (1999). Nelson’s new illustrated Bible commentary (p. 203). Nashville: T. Nelson Publishers.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Nu 6:24). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 275). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Nu 6:24–25). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 203). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

[7] Cole, R. D. (2017). Numbers. In E. A. Blum & T. Wax (Eds.), CSB Study Bible: Notes (pp. 213–214). Nashville, TN: Holman Bible Publishers.


And he said unto them, Come ye yourselves apart…and rest a while.

Mark 6:31

Those who try to give warnings to the Christian church are never very popular. Still, I must voice the caution that our craze for “activity” brings very few enriching benefits into our Christian circles. Look into the churches, and you will find groups of half-saved, half-sanctified, carnal people who know more about social niceties than they do about the New Testament.

It is a fact that many of our church folks are activists—engaged in many religious journeys—but they do not seem to move up any closer to Jesus in heart and in spirit.

This modern religious emphasis on activity reminds me of the Japanese mice I have seen in the pet store windows. They are called waltzing mice—but they do not waltz. They just run continually!

Many in our churches hope to have a part in “something big and exciting.” But God calls us back—back to the simplicity of the faith; back to the simplicity of Jesus Christ and His unchanging Person!

Dear Lord, help me to find some quiet moments in the midst of today’s schedule to focus my thoughts on Your goodness and mercy.[1]

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


Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.—Matt. 5:3

The Puritan Thomas Watson, in his book The Beatitudes, discusses many principles to help the believer recognize his or her humility—those spiritual fruits that enable us to determine whether or not humility is actually growing within us. Here are three.

First, if we are truly humble, we will be weaned from ourselves and have no more constant self-preoccupation. Paul expresses it beautifully this way: “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Gal. 2:20).

Second, if we are really humble we will be lost in the wonder of Jesus Christ. We will contemplate “as in a mirror the glory of the Lord … being transformed into the same image from glory to glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). We’ll look forward to the day when we’ll be just like our Lord.

And third, no matter how bad life’s situations get, we will not complain. We’ll understand that we deserve far worse than anything we experience in this life. When tragedy comes, our first response won’t be, “Why me, Lord?” Instead, we’ll fully appreciate that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18).


Could you honestly say you’re detecting growth in these three areas? It’s not “proud” to recognize it, to give God glory for what He’s producing in you by His Spirit. If you’re not seeing this kind of spiritual development, ask yourself what needs to change.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 53). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

February 14 A Mark of the Christian

If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins.

1 John 1:9

The apostle John wrote his first epistle to define the difference between a Christian and an unbeliever. Our verse for today indicates that confession characterizes the former. The next verse says, “If we say that we have not sinned, we make Him a liar” (v. 10). Unregenerate men deny their sin, but Christians take responsibility for it and confess it.

Confession of sin doesn’t take place only at salvation. It continues, as faith does, throughout the life of a believer. A willingness to confess sin is part of the pattern of life that characterizes every believer. That pattern also includes love (1 John 3:14), separation from the world (2:15), and instruction by the Holy Spirit (2:27). Of course there are varying degrees of confession—sometimes we don’t make as full a confession as we should—but a true believer eventually acknowledges his sin.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 57). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

February 14, 2018 Morning Verse Of The Day

Willingness to Receive the Word with Submission

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When quiet in my room I sit,

Thy book be my companion still;

My joy Thy sayings to repeat,

Talk o’er the records of Thy will,

And search the oracles divine

Till every heartfelt word is mine.

J. A. Motyer has perceptively written,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But mere personal anger, bitterness, and resentment can never serve the cause of Christ, for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God, that is, does not accomplish what is right in God’s eyes. That is especially true when the hostility is against the truth of God’s Word, for that in reality is against God Himself.[1]

Letting the Word Do Its Work (1:19b–21)

James says, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires” (1:19b–20). At first glance, these verses read like simple wisdom proverbs. Believers need wisdom and knowledge, and we learn more by listening than by speaking. Big talkers are rarely good listeners, and angry talkers may not hear a thing. Therefore, we should be deliberate, not rash, in speech. It takes strength to hold the tongue, to wait and deliberate until thoughts grow ripe. This kind of care, with proper emotional self-control, leads to edifying speech.

It is elementary wisdom that anger does not lead to righteousness. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, but our anger is rarely righteous. On the one hand, we often become indignant about trivial things: a pokey driver making us late for an appointment; a string of poorly synchronized traffic lights, wasting our time; an unskilled referee wounding our favorite team with a bad call. Such things stir our wrath. On the other hand, we ignore true injustice, especially if it occurs far away and falls upon strangers. Sadly, our anger is often burdened with “self-importance, self assertion, intolerance, and stubbornness.”

Such anger makes it difficult to get along with other people. It also makes it difficult to go along with God, for anger makes us slow to listen and receive his word. Therefore, James says, “Get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (1:21).

At first glance, the order of this teaching is baffling, for it seems that James has reversed two elements. We readily understand the second command: to receive the word “with meekness.” It means to listen well. To be meek is to shun argument and to be gentle, docile, and teachable before the word. But it seems that this should be the first command, since no one can put away filth and wickedness on his own. One must first receive the implanted word “which can save you.”

When James first commands that we put away wickedness, and tells us to receive the word and its salvation second, he seems to imply that reform is a precondition to hearing the word with faith. But no one can put off wickedness before receiving the word. Rather, it is the word, implanted in our hearts and saving us, that enables us to put off wickedness.

To solve this problem, notice first that to put off filth is to put away the old, sinful way of life. In the Bible, physical filth often stands for spiritual filth. Scripture sometimes depicts sinners as people who are dressed in filthy clothes (Isa. 64:6; Zech. 3:3–4). To change those clothes is a metaphor for conversion and a new way of life (Zech. 3:4–9; Eph. 4:22–24; 5:26–27). True believers also keep themselves unstained by the world (James 1:27). So James commands us to put away spiritual evil in all its forms. How can we do this?

Ultimately, James says, the word of God must do this work. Through the word, God gives birth to his children (1:18). It discloses our true condition. It describes our need of God’s mercy and directs us to that mercy. It says no one can simply “put off all … wickedness.” The word of God, implanted in the heart, can change a heart. Why then does James say we should put away wickedness before he says we should “receive the word with meekness”?

I believe James is speaking pastorally. Pastorally speaking, so far as the human eye can see, a desire to break free from wickedness often precedes an interest in God’s word. New converts report that a desire to clean up their lives led them to go to church. A hunger for the truth led them to read the Scriptures and find life there.

We know that the Holy Spirit imparts this desire for reform. Nonetheless, unbelievers still ought to aspire to lay aside wickedness. Believers should yearn for a pure life all the more; that yearning will drive them to the word, where they will find strength and direction for holiness.

Still, we notice that James, unlike Paul, does not tell believers to put off sins and to put on certain virtues. He says “receive the implanted word,” not “work at removing sin.” This is how transformation occurs: The implanted word takes root deep within us and transforms us. It brings conviction of sin and assurance of mercy. It instills faith and creates new life, so that good fruit inevitably follows. Yet, James says, this will not be easy. Wickedness is “rampant” (1:21 esv); it abounds and grows prolifically.

After years of doing it myself, to little avail, I finally hired a lawn service to wage war against the clover, dandelions, crabgrass, sedge, and chickweed that were calling my yard home. The professionals applied their chemicals faithfully. Still, by late summer, I had to call in and complain as sweetly as I could: “Hello. I’m happy to report that, thanks to your work, my yard has never been so green in the late summer as it is this year. Besides the grass, which is doing reasonably well, the dandelions are particularly vibrant just now. The clover is blooming continually, and the crabgrass is evenly distributed throughout the yard.” The customer service representative did not argue. “Yes,” he said, “it’s been a bad year for weeds.”

As with weeds, so with sin: it’s been a bad year for sin. Indeed, every year is a bad year for sin. It grows and it abounds, so we must wage war against it.

Our weapon in this war is the word, “which is able to save [our] souls.” The saving work of the word extends far beyond the day of salvation. In the New Testament, salvation has three aspects:

  • Salvation is a past event, for Christ accomplished our salvation in the past. We receive that salvation the day we believe (Luke 19:9; Acts 4:12; 2 Cor. 6:2; Titus 3:5).
  • Salvation is a future event, because our deliverance is never complete until Christ returns, judges men and angels, sends evildoers away from his presence, and restores the heavens and the earth (Matt. 25:31ff.; Rom. 5:9–10; Heb. 9:28; 1 Peter 1:5).
  • Salvation is a present reality, something we seize and work out day by day (Phil. 2:12).

James knows salvation is past, present, and future, but his concern in our text is the present. The word of God empowers daily growth as we travel the road of salvation. James 1:18–21 says that the word does three things. First, it gives us birth, so we become God’s firstfruits, uniquely dedicated to him (v. 18). Second, it promotes righteousness (v. 20). Third, it saves our souls, from the day of salvation through all eternity (v. 21).

We must pause to weigh the implications of James’s teaching for Christian ministry. In some circles, people occasionally say, “Real ministry takes place through relationships,” that is, through one-on-one and small-group discipleship. Ministry certainly takes place through relationships, but that is a false claim if it means ministry occurs only through relationships.

Christian leaders should not seek as their final goal the greatest number of relationships, but the greatest exposure to the word. Relationships provide special opportunities to model the truth and to guide young or struggling believers. But relationships are not intrinsically redemptive. It is entirely possible for two Christians to have a pleasant relationship that advances holiness not a whit. Non-Christians can also attend church, form all manner of happy relationships with believers, and remain utterly lost.

The word of God, blessed by the Holy Spirit, saves lives, changes hearts, and redirects behavior. Everyone who faithfully preaches or teaches the word to large groups, everyone who writes books or articles, everyone who speaks on radio or television, knows he can minister to total strangers. Total strangers write and say, “Your message changed my life,” or, “As you preached, it seemed that you were reading my mind. Your words were just what I needed to hear.”

How did we know? We didn’t. God knew. He put his gospel truth into his word. As we re-declare that word, it saves souls. It saves from the soul’s past sinfulness, it saves in the soul’s present battle with sin, and it saves for the soul’s future life with God. The power lies in the word, not in the relationship, not in the preacher.

Teachers and preachers of the word must continue to seek the solution to their own struggles in the word of God. This seems obvious, but pastors and seminarians are prone to professionalize their use of Scripture, to read it to help every soul but their own. Let me offer a typology of the ways pastors can read Scripture.

When he is a new Christian, the future pastor’s reading is naïve and devotional. He devours Scripture, underlining virtually every word in his new Bible, feeling that God speaks directly to him with every word.

After a few years, the budding leader’s reading becomes sophisticated and devotional. He still feels that God is speaking to him in the text, but he has learned to read texts in their contexts. He reads Bible dictionaries and commentaries. He knows the translation strategies of various Bible versions and begins to use that knowledge to get at the original text.

The future pastor decides to go to seminary, where he becomes a technical reader. He reads Greek and Hebrew; he consults scholarly sources. He respects the distance between his world and that of biblical thought. His zeal to describe biblical history, culture, and language grows. He pursues what the word originally meant and perhaps neglects what it means today.

As ordination comes, our friend remembers that his study has, as its goal, the edification of the church. He continues to read technically, but now he shares his findings with the church. He becomes a technical-functional reader. His reading may be detached, personally speaking, but he stores and organizes his discoveries so he can offer them to others. While this phase may mark a partial improvement, he does not directly profit from his reading of Scripture.

He needs therefore to become a technical, devotional reader. Every technical skill remains, but he reads like a child, letting the word speak directly to his heart again. He gains what Paul Ricoeur calls a “second naiveté.” He is both technically astute and meek. He both receives God’s word and expounds it. In this way, he finds strength to endure trials and to check the growth of sin.[2]

1:19 / Deliberately paralleling the style of 1:16, James warns, My dear brothers, take note of this. James 1:16–18 discussed wisdom as a gift of life descending from God (cf. 1:5–8); now comes the related topic—the wise person controls his or her speech (cf. 3:1–18), for speech-ethics were a very important topic in both Jewish literature and the world in which James lived. James continues with a proverb: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry. As shocking as this saying is to this modern age of express-your-feelings, it was accepted wisdom in the biblical period: “He who guards his lips guards his life, but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin” (Prov. 13:3). “Do you see a man who speaks in haste? There is more hope for a fool than for him” (Prov. 29:20). “Do not get upset quickly, for anger resides in the lap of fools” (Eccles. 7:9). The truly wise and godly person in scripture is not the one who always has something to say but the person who listens to others, prayerfully considers, and only then speaks in measured tones.

James thinks of this proverb not just as a personal truth for each Christian but also as part of his concern for communal harmony. In 3:1 he points to conflicts among teachers that in 3:13–18 can lead to party spirit and jealousy. These were well known in the early church, encouraged by those drunk with the heady wine of the newly outpoured Spirit and preoccupied with their gift or ministry rather than the good of the church. James counsels caution and listening rather than quick speech and sharp denunciation.

1:20 / But what of righteous indignation? Man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James never states his reason for this statement, but several appear in the New Testament. First, once the angry feeling begins to be expressed, it is by nature immoderate and uncontrollable, which made even Hellenistic pagan writers condemn anger. Second, anger is incompatible with the teaching of Jesus, particularly his command to love one’s enemy (Matt. 5:38–48) and his direct condemnation of hating one’s brother (Matt. 5:21–26). Third, human anger usurps the role of God as the only judge and vindicator. In 5:7–9 James will indicate that the Christian is to wait for God’s vindication, not vindicate himself. A similar note is sounded in Hebrews 10:30–39, Romans 12:19, and repeatedly in 1 Peter. The proper response to suffering is meekness and endurance, for God is the only true judge. Thus human anger cannot bring about the righteous life that God desires, either in the sense of bringing about the righteousness God will establish in the final day (which may be in mind here; cf. 5:7–11) or in the sense of meeting God’s present standard of righteousness. One need only to reflect on Moses’ impulsive murder of the Egyptian taskmaster (Exod. 2:11–16) to discover a fine illustration of this principle.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1998). James (pp. 68–73). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Doriani, D. M. (2007). James. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (pp. 46–51). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Davids, P. H. (2011). James (pp. 39–40). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.


But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.

—Matthew 6:33

Again, part of the answer we are looking for is the fact that so many professing Christians just want to get things from God. Anyone can write a book now that will sell—just give it a title like, Seventeen Ways to Get Things from God! You will have immediate sales. Or, write a book called, Fourteen Ways to Have Peace of Mind—and away they go by the ton. Many people seem to be interested in knowing God for what they can get out of Him.

They do not seem to know that God wants to give Himself. He wants to impart Himself with His gifts. Any gift that He would give us would be incomplete if it were separate from the knowledge of God Himself….

I feel that we must repudiate this great, modern wave of seeking God for His benefits. The sovereign God wants to be loved for Himself and honored for Himself, but that is only part of what He wants. The other part is that He wants us to know that when we have Him, we have everything—we have all the rest. Jesus made that plain when He said, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33). ITB024-025

Lord, I know that in having You I will have everything I could ever need. Just give me Yourself today, Lord, and that’s enough. Amen.[1]

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

February 14 Our Response to God’s Power

“Yet those who wait for the Lord will gain new strength…. They will run and not get tired, they will walk and not become weary.”

Isaiah 40:31


Relying on God’s power gives us confidence to live as Christians.

What should be our response to God’s power? First, we should worship Him. Our response should follow what God told Israel: “The Lord, who brought you up from the land of Egypt with great power and with an outstretched arm, Him you shall fear, and to Him you shall bow yourselves down, and to Him you shall sacrifice” (2 Kings 17:36).

Understanding God’s power should also give us confidence: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13). Because of His strength, we can live the Christian life each day with confidence. God “is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond all that we ask or think, according to the power that works within us” (Eph. 3:20).

Our eternal hope rests on the power of God. His power saved us and will “raise [us] up on the last day” (John 6:40). That day should be the great hope of the Christian, because whatever troubles we have on earth, our heavenly destiny is still secure.

When I’m tempted to worry, I’m comforted to remember that God’s power is greater than any problem I have. The psalmist says, “I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from whence shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 121:1–2). The God who made everything can certainly handle our troubles!

God’s power also gives us spiritual victory. Paul instructs us to “be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10). When the adversary comes and you’re on guard, you don’t fight him; you go tell the commander, and he leads the battle. God will bring about the victory because “greater is He who is in [us] than he who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). Satan may be powerful, but he’s no match for God.

Finally, understanding God’s power gives us humility. Peter exhorts us, “Humble yourselves … under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you at the proper time” (1 Peter 5:6). Apart from God’s gracious power we are nothing and can do nothing (John 15:5).


Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God for each of these ways He uses His power for our benefit.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 121. In what ways does God demonstrate His power to us?[1]

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

February 13 Daily Help

CHRIST is the chariot in which souls are drawn to heaven. The people of the Lord are on their way to heaven; they are carried in everlasting arms; and those arms are the arms of Christ. Christ is carrying them up to his own house, to his own throne; by-and-by his prayer, “Father, I will that they whom thou hast given me be with me where I am,” shall be wholly fulfilled. The cross is the great covenant transport which will weather out the storms, and reach its desired heaven. This is the chariot, the pillars wherewith are of gold; it is lined with the purple of the atonement of our Lord Jesus Christ.[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 48). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

February 13, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

Answered Prayer

This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. If anyone sees his brother committing a sin not leading to death, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. There is a sin leading to death; I do not say that he should make request for this. All unrighteousness is sin, and there is a sin not leading to death. (5:14–17)

As noted above, the full experience of eternal life awaits Christians in heaven. But though they have not yet entered into their eternal inheritance (cf. 1 Peter 1:4), they have access to all of God’s resources through prayer. Parrēsia (confidence) literally means “freedom of speech” (cf. the discussion of 3:21 in chapter 13 of this volume). It can also be translated “boldness” (Acts 4:31), or “openness” (Acts 28:31). The phrase translated before Him has the sense of “in His presence.” Through Jesus Christ believers have “boldness and confident access” (Eph. 3:12) to God that enables them to “draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that [they] may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb. 4:16).

The sure promise of God is that when believers boldly and freely come to Him with their requests, He will hear and answer. If we ask anything according to His will, John wrote, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him. Hearing in this context refers to more than merely God’s being aware of believers’ requests; it also means that He grants the requests which we have asked from Him. That is nothing less than a blank check to ask God for anything, but it comes with one important qualifier: the requests must be according to His will.

To pray according to God’s will assumes first of all being saved. God is not obligated to answer the prayers of unbelievers. He may choose to do so when it suits His sovereign purposes, but God does not obligate Himself to any unbeliever. John illustrated this principle when he wrote earlier in this epistle, “Beloved, if our heart does not condemn us, we have confidence before God; and whatever we ask we receive from Him, because we keep His commandments and do the things that are pleasing in His sight” (3:21–22). The Lord Jesus Christ made a similar statement, recorded in John 15:7: “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you [the definition of a genuine believer], ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (cf. v. 16). Only believers, those who obey God’s commandments, can have the certainty that He will answer their prayers.

Praying according to God’s will also means confessing sin. The psalmist wrote in Psalm 66:18, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, the Lord will not hear” (cf. 1 Peter 3:7).

Again, the Lord’s promise in John 14:13–14 affirms the requirement of praying according to God’s will: “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it.” To pray in Jesus’ name is to pray consistent with who He is, with the goal of bringing Him glory. It is to follow the pattern of His model prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10), and His example of humble submission to the Father’s will when He prayed in Gethsemane, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). The goal of prayer is not to gratify our selfish desires (cf. James 4:3), but to align our wills with God’s purposes.

Praying according to God’s will not only brings glory to the Son, but also joy to believers. “Truly, truly, I say to you,” Jesus said, “if you ask the Father for anything in My name, He will give it to you. Until now you have asked for nothing in My name; ask and you will receive, so that your joy may be made full” (John 16:23–24). When obedient believers delight themselves in the Lord, He will plant the desires in their hearts for what glorifies Him (Ps. 37:4), and those desires will control their prayers. God’s answers to those prayers will glorify Him, bring believers’ wills into line with His purposes, and fill them with joy.

At first glance, verse 16 appears to introduce an abrupt change of subject. But upon further consideration, the connection of verses 16 and 17 to verses 14 and 15 becomes clear. By giving one important exception, John illustrates in a contrasting manner the extent of God’s promise to answer prayer. When a believer sees a brother (a real or professing believer) committing a sin not leading to death, the apostle writes, he shall ask and God will for him give life to those who commit sin not leading to death. On the other hand, there is a sin leading to death, and the apostle did not advise Christians to make request for this sin.

Evidently John and his readers knew what the sin leading to death was, since no explanation is given, but its exact meaning is difficult for us to determine. Two possibilities present themselves.

First, the sin in question may be that of a non-Christian leading to eternal death. In that case it would be a final rejection of Jesus Christ, such as that committed by those who attributed His miracles to the power of Satan (Matt. 12:31–32). Such ultimate apostasy is unforgivable, as Jesus declared:

Therefore I say to you, any sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven people, but blasphemy against the Spirit shall not be forgiven. Whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man, it shall be forgiven him; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit, it shall not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come. (Matt. 12:31–32)

Praying for the restoration of such people to the fellowship from which they have departed (1 John 2:19) is futile, because “it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame” (Heb. 6:6). John did not forbid prayer for such people, since it is impossible to know who they are. The apostle merely stated that prayer for them will not be answered; God has already made the final decision about their future. Supporting the view that John is referring to unbelievers is the present tense of the participle hamartanonta (“sinning”; the Greek text literally reads “If anyone sees his brother sinning a sin …”); John elsewhere in this epistle uses the present tense to describe the habitual sins that characterize unbelievers (e.g., 3:4, 6, 8; 5:18).

Another possibility is that John is not referring to an unbeliever, but to a believer. According to this view, the sin leading to death refers to a Christian’s sin that is so serious that God takes the life of the one committing it. He put to death Ananias and Sapphira when they lied to the Holy Spirit in front of the church (Acts 5:1–11). Paul wrote to the Corinthians concerning those who were abusing the Lord’s Table, “For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep [have died]” (1 Cor. 11:30). The sin is not one particular sin, but any sin that the Lord determines is serious enough to warrant such severe chastisement.

Both of the above views reflect biblical truth, and it is hard to be dogmatic as to which one John had in mind. In either case, John’s point is that prayer for those committing a sin leading to death will not result in the outcome that might otherwise be expected.

Although God mercifully does not immediately punish every sin with death, every sin is nonetheless a serious matter to Him. All unrighteousness is sin, John reminded his readers, even sin not leading to death. Every sin is a violation of His law and an affront to God, and is to be confessed (1:9; Ps. 32:5), forsaken (Prov. 28:13), and mortified (Rom. 8:13; Col. 3:5).[1]

Confidence in Prayer and Intercession

1 John 5:14–17

This is the assurance we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.

If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.

There are few subjects in the Christian life more puzzling to more of God’s people than prayer. On the surface we might think that prayer should be the most natural and uncomplicated part of Christian living, for what should be more natural than to speak out of one’s heart to one’s heavenly Father? Nevertheless, in practice Christians often are confused by prayer and ask: What is prayer? Does prayer change things or does prayer merely change the one who is praying? How should we pray? What should we pray for? Can we be sure that God always hears prayer? Can we be confident that he will answer it? Most of these questions are answered in the verses that form the first half of the postscript to 1 John.

Strictly speaking, the letter has ended with 5:13. In that verse John has summed up his letter by saying that he has written to those who have already believed on Jesus in order that they might be assured of their salvation. But once again John seems reluctant to leave the matter. So he adds a postscript in which he first returns to the subject of prayer (vv. 14–17) and then lists three final affirmations about which the Christian may have confidence (vv. 18–21). He has already discussed prayer once in chapter 3.

The outline for his discussion of prayer is striking. The verses contain two subjects: confidence in prayer (vv. 14–15) and prayer for others (vv. 16–17). Each of these contains a promise followed by a qualification.

Confidence in Prayer (vv. 14–15)

Verse 14 contains the word “assurance” (parrēsia), which is translated three other times in John’s letter as “confidence.” Twice it has been used of the Christian’s confidence before God in view of the final judgment (2:28; 4:17). On one other occasion, as here, it refers to the Christian’s confidence in regard to prayer (3:21–22). The Christian need not fear that for some unknown reason God will refuse to hear him when he prays or turn from him, says John. Indeed, such confidence is actually a product of knowing that one is a true child of God and of having no doubts on the matter, as he says in chapter 3.

The Promise

In this verse John phrases the content of the Christian’s confidence as being “that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.” In English this promise seems to fall into two parts, the two parts being (1) that God hears us and (2) that he answers when he hears. This is not quite the point, however. To begin with, whenever the Bible speaks of God hearing prayer, this means, at least in the great majority of cases, that God answers. So in this case the first part of the promise is actually that God hears in the sense that he answers. But, then, what does the second part mean? Is it mere repetition? Actually it introduces an entirely new idea, for the promise is not just that God answers, but rather that because he answers we have the items we requested of him now. In Greek the verb “have” is in the present tense. Consequently, the promise is not even that we will have them, but that we have them even as we pray.

How did the author of this letter arrive at such confidence? It is hard to miss the fact that he probably did so on the basis of Jesus’ own teaching about prayer, much of which is recorded in John’s Gospel. Jesus said, “I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father. You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it” (John 14:13–14). He said, “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you. … The Father will give you whatever you ask in my name” (John 15:7, 16). “Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive” (John 16:24).

Certainly these were new and bold teachings, and they were remembered as such by John. They are the basis of his extraordinary confidence.

The Qualification

But the Christian is not to suppose that God will grant just anything he might happen to pray for, however foolish or sinful it may be, just because he prays for it. He must pray according to God’s will. In prayer the Christian can be absolutely certain that God hears and answers his requests so that whatever he asks he obtains, but with this qualification: that he prays not according to his own sinful wishes but rather according to what an all-wise, infinite, and holy God desires.

This, interestingly enough, is found in all the verses that speak so firmly about the Christian’s right to be confident in prayer. Earlier, in the third chapter, John said nearly the same thing as he does in this closing passage—“We have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask” (3:21–22). But there is a qualification there also, for the verses immediately go on to add, “because we obey his commands and do what pleases him” (v. 22). Similarly, in Jesus’ statements about prayer, qualifications are also added to the effect that we must pray “in my [that is, Christ’s] name” and “remain in me [that is, in Christ],” and that Christ’s “words” must “remain” in the believer.

This says a great deal about the nature of prayer, of course. Probably in most people’s minds prayer is thought of primarily as that means by which God’s will is changed or at least enlarged to include the concerns of the one praying. According to these verses prayer is not so much getting God to pay attention to our requests as it is getting our requests in line with his perfect and desirable will for us. It is learning to think God’s thoughts after him and to desire his desires. Dodd writes on this point, “Prayer rightly considered is not a device for employing the resources of omnipotence to fulfill our own desires, but a means by which our desires may be redirected according to the mind of God, and made into channels for the forces of his will.” In the same vein Barclay notes that prayer, even more than “talking to God,” is “listening” to him.2Prayer for Others (vv. 16–17)

Having indicated the nature of true prayer and having stated the confidence in prayer that every Christian should possess, John now moves on to the content of prayer in answer to the question: What requests should the believer bring before God? A first response to that question is nearly always personal, which indicates no doubt our own limited understanding of this privilege. We think of our needs for food and clothing, a good job (or a better one), our desire for a husband or a wife, the elimination of a vexing problem, and other things. In other words, we think of ourselves. It is somewhat of a surprise, therefore, to find that, first of all, John thinks not of himself but of others and that, as a result, his first specific example of prayer is intercession.

This, too, says much about prayer, for it tells us that the privilege of prayer should not lead us into a preoccupation with our own affairs, as though prayer were a blank check drawn on the bank of heaven given to us so that heaven’s resources can be spent purely on our own needs or pleasure. Prayer implies responsibility, and part of that responsibility is in intercession for others. Do others have needs? Then we should pray for them. The one who truly understands prayer and who prays according to the will of God will pray for others, just as in material ways he will strive to show love practically (3:17–18).

The Promise

The encouragement to pray for others is based on a great promise; namely, the promise that God will hear and “give … life … [for] those whose sin does not lead to death” (v. 16). John has spoken often in this letter of the need to pursue righteousness as one evidence that the individual involved is truly a child of God. But in spite of the fact that the individual Christian must and, in fact, will pursue righteousness, he will, nevertheless, also sin and even from time to time become entangled in it. What then? Obviously, the Christian should confess sin and turn from it, knowing that he has an advocate in Jesus Christ and that the Father is faithful and just to forgive him on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice and continuing intercession (1:9–2:2). But it is often the case, when he is in this state, that this is what the Christian least wants to do. So what then? Should he be left to himself to suffer the consequences of his sinning? Not at all, says John. Rather, those who are spiritual should pray in his behalf, knowing that God will hear and respond when they thus pray for others.

In all honesty it must be acknowledged that in this area Christians often fail grievously, for sin in a brother becomes all too often a cause for gossip rather than a cause for prayer. What is wrong in this case? The answer is in these verses, for they suggest that it is when a believer is himself in the will of God and is therefore praying according to the will of God that he will pray for others. John does not even use the imperative (“Pray!”). He uses the future indicative, saying that the spiritual person will intercede for the sinning brother.

The Qualification

It is hard to imagine anything more obviously in accord with the will of God than the restoration of a Christian who has become entrapped in some sin. Yet, surprisingly, John seems to hesitate. His desire is obviously to encourage his readers to be bold in their prayers. He stresses confidence. But is it right, after all, that it is always God’s will to restore the sinner? Always? In verse 16 John seems to recognize that it is not always the case and therefore introduces an exception based on a distinction between sin that “leads to [literally, toward] death” and sin that does not. “There is a sin that leads to death,” he says. “I am not saying that he should pray about that.”

What is this sin that is “to death”? Apparently, in John’s day and with his readers the phrase was a common one and was well understood, for John does not bother to explain it. But today the key has been lost, and opinion is widely divided in regard to John’s meaning. Four views are prominent.

  1. The first view is that John is referring to some particularly heinous sin, which God, so we are told, will not pardon. At first glance this seems to be suggested by a long history of divisions between various types of sin, beginning with the Old Testament Scriptures. In the law codes of the Old Testament several distinctions are fundamental: a distinction between capital offenses and those that are not capital offenses, for example; or a distinction between sins of neglect or ignorance and sins of presumption or premeditation. This latter is the same kind of distinction that is made in modern American law between murder in the first (that is, premeditated) and murder in the second (that is, unpremeditated) degrees. Rabbinical law further elaborated such distinctions, and in time the classification of sins as forgivable and unforgivable entered the church. At this time it was spelled out as the difference between “mortal” and “venial” sin so common in Catholic theology.

The difficulty with this interpretation is that it is somewhat of an anachronism to apply the distinction between mortal and venial sins here. Moreover, it may also be said that such a distinction is simply not supportable from the pages of the New Testament and that John, even in this very letter, seems to contradict it (see the discussion on 3:6, 9).

  1. A second view, supported in part by the concerns of this letter, is that John is thinking of what we would call apostasy, namely a deliberate repudiation of the Christian faith by one who once was a Christian. Those who take this view find support for it both in 1 John, in regard to the Gnostics who had professed faith in Jesus as the Christ but who had later repudiated him, and in other select New Testament passages that speak of falling away from Christianity. Hebrews provides the best examples of such texts, for it speaks of those who, like Esau, are “rejected,” finding “no change of mind” though they seek it “with tears” (Heb. 12:17; cf. Heb. 6:4–6; 10:26–27).

But is it really possible for one who is truly a Christian to apostatize? Or, laying aside the whole of biblical teaching that is clearly against this conclusion, is such a view even consistent with the theology that we find in this letter? Here Stott writes, “Surely John has taught clearly in the Epistle that the true Christian cannot sin, that is, persist in sin (3:9), let alone fall away altogether. He is about to repeat it: ‘we know that anyone born of God does not sin, but He who was born of God keeps him, and the evil one does not touch him’ (v. 18). Can he who does not sin, ‘sin unto death’?” In these verses John is teaching the doctrine of eternal security or perseverance; but if this is so, then there is no such thing as apostasy by a genuine believer. The Gnostics, for example, were just not Christians to begin with (2:19). Similarly, those touched upon in the problem texts in Hebrews are best understood as being merely external adherents to Christianity.

  1. A third view is that John is speaking of that “blasphemy against the Spirit,” about which Jesus warned his disciples. He warns of it in Matthew 12, defining it as that extreme form of rejection of truth seen in ascribing God’s works to Satan. On this occasion the Pharisees had claimed that Jesus did his works of healing by Satan’s power. He countered by saying, “Every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. … Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:31–32).

The major objection to this view is that it is hard to see how John could call such a hardened sinner a brother, as he seems to do. Stott, who holds to this interpretation, argues correctly that strictly speaking John does not call such a person a brother. He uses the word only for that one who does not thus sin, saying, “If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray, and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death.” However, says Stott, in actual fact neither one can be thought of as a brother in the sense of being a true child of God, for the prayer is that even the brother might be given “life,” and if this is so, then he must have been dead in sin originally. In this case the prayer that John has in mind is a prayer for the salvation of unbelievers, with the promise that God will save such, as the Christian prays.

But is John using the word “brother” in a way that does not mean another “child of God”? Stott points out that the word can be used in a broader sense to designate one whom we might call a “neighbor,” citing 2:9, 11 and 3:16–17 as examples. But it is not so clear that these cases do support a broader use of the word. Nor is it easy to feel that John can be departing from the more precise usage at this point of his letter.

  1. The fact that none of the other explanations is entirely satisfactory leads one to wonder whether John may not be speaking just of physical death inflicted on a Christian by God as a result of a Christian’s persisting in some deliberate sin. Certainly there are examples of such judgments. Ananias and Sapphira are two (Acts 5:1–11). A number of references in 1 Corinthians suggest others (5:5; 11:30). In speaking of the ministry of intercession, John may therefore be saying that in some cases God will not turn back a physical judgment on one of his disobedient children, no matter how much another Christian prays. So he does not say that prayer must be made in such a situation, although, we note, he does not forbid it.

The objection to this view is that “life” must mean spiritual life and that, therefore, “death” must mean spiritual death. But John is not necessarily making that distinction. For example, if the brother is a true Christian brother, then he is already alive spiritually; and the prayer would be, not so much that God would give him spiritual life, but that he might have life in abundance, as we might say.

A Further Qualification

The difficulty with a discussion such as this is that it becomes strangely fascinating to certain Christians, so much so that they tend to spend all their time on the exception (the sin unto death) and not on the central message of the passage. Whatever the interpretation we give to the exception, therefore, we must always bear in mind that it is the exception and that the burden laid upon us by John is to pray for any believer whom we see falling into sin.

Moreover, we must not even be quick to note the exceptional case even assuming that we have been able to decide what the nature of such a case is. Here the example of Jesus’ prayer for Peter should make us cautious. Peter had spent three years with Jesus; but at the time of Christ’s arrest, when asked by a servant girl and others if he knew Christ and was his disciple, Peter denied the Lord with oaths and cursings. We might say, if we did not know the end of the story, that if anyone had ever sinned unto death, certainly Peter had. Yet Peter did not die, either physically or spiritually. He had a lifetime of useful service. Moreover, far from refusing to pray for him, Jesus, we are told, actually interceded for him: “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31–32).

We do not need encouragements not to pray. That comes naturally. We need encouragements to pray, particularly for others. In this responsibility we are greatly encouraged by John’s teaching and by the example of the Lord Jesus Christ in his prayer for Peter.[2]

14–15 The closing section of 1 John summarizes the privileges enjoyed by true believers. Primary among these privileges is the ability to pray with “confidence” (parrēsia). John elsewhere uses parrēsia to describe speech that is clear and direct, hiding nothing (Jn 16:25–30). Believers will speak to God with parrēsia on the day of judgment because they have no fear (1 Jn 4:17). The reason believers may pray in this way is indicated in v. 15: God hears our requests and is ready to grant them. This being the case, we should hold nothing back in our prayers.

Sadly, these two verses have been much abused by advocates of the “health and wealth gospel.” This school of thought insists that God wants all believers to be healthy, happy, and prosperous. Christians can therefore expect to receive any material blessing they ask God to grant them. Such thinking can produce two dangerous extremes. On the one hand, it can sanctify materialism and greed by cloaking the objects of worldly desire under a divine blessing; on the other hand, it can engender deep guilt and remorse in those whose prayers are not answered, under the logic that God is not listening because one’s faith is insufficient. John would reject both conclusions. Those who believe that God desires for them to have a new car and designer clothes while others starve should recall 1 John 2:16—that such cravings come not from the Father but from the world. The Johannine Jesus promises his followers pain and persecution in this world, not health and wealth (Jn 15:18–16:4). And those who fear that God has rejected them because their whims have not been granted should recall 1 John 3:19–20, which assures believers that all who love and obey God “belong to the truth,” regardless of their circumstances.

As though anticipating these misunderstandings, John specifies that God hears us “if we ask anything according to his will” (5:14). A similar condition appears at 3:21–24, which says that believers may receive anything they ask for as long as “we obey his commands and do what pleases him.” Marshall, 246, notes that the reference to God’s will at v. 14 directs the reader’s attention to the main point of this section in v. 16. John is not offering a general principle about prayer but rather is urging believers to pray for sinning brothers. God’s will is that all sinning believers confess and repent so that they may remain in fellowship with him. Barker, 355, is therefore correct to suggest that vv. 14–15 have more the force of a command than a promise. While only God can forgive sins, intercessory prayers indicate the community’s forgiveness and acceptance of the sinner and are therefore a critical aspect of complete restoration. To “ask according to his will” (v. 15), then, means that we should ask for things that God wishes to achieve; it doesn’t mean that God wants us to have whatever we ask for.[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (pp. 203–206). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2004). The Epistles of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 137–143). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 501–502). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

February 13: The System

Exodus 30–32; John 5:31–47; Song of Solomon 4:4–8

Religion is a tough subject. Jesus staunchly opposed religion for religion’s sake, yet He was a Law-abiding Jew. He recognized the value of worship, community, and discipleship, but not the value of religious constraints: religion can bind someone in tradition and be used for oppression. This knowledge makes it hard to understand why God set up religious systems in the first place. Their purpose is confusing.

In Exodus 30–31, there are full descriptions of altars, taxes, basins, oils, incense, and the Sabbath. In the middle of this, we’re given a glimpse into what it’s all about in a scene where God places His Spirit upon two men so that they may honor Him with a creative craft. They will depict, in art, what it means to know God. Here we get a glimpse into the symbolic work at play. God is not building religion for religion’s sake—He is building systems to help people understand Him. They’re meant to be used for the purpose of knowing Him and nothing else.

Religion is exploited in the narrative in the next chapter, where an impatient Aaron (the man meant to lead God’s people to Him) promotes the worship of another god. (The golden calf was a symbol of Baal, the chief god of a neighboring people group.) Here we are given another glimpse into something deeper, but this situation is not God’s will. We see what happens when people become impatient: they build their own systems, reaching out to something that can’t actually help them.

And this is precisely what we do when we sin. We seek our own way, our own system, when instead we should be seeking God’s way and worshiping Him the way in which He has called us.

Jesus confronts this problem with religion. “Do not think that I will accuse you before the Father! The one who accuses you is Moses, in whom you have put your hope! For if you had believed Moses, you would believe me, for that one wrote about me. But if you do not believe that one’s writings, how will you believe my words?” (John 5:45–47). These words would have cut to the core of a highly religious, first-century Jew. Imagine someone claiming that the very way they worshiped and their very book of teachings actually testifies against them. Imagine losing the court case because the authority you appeal to is actually revealing the errors of your ways.

Just a few lines earlier, Jesus provides His reasoning for this statement: “I do not accept glory from people, but I know you, that you do not have the love of God in yourselves. I have come in my Father’s name, and you do not accept me” (John 5:41–42).

Jesus does not seek glory from a religious system—a system that both He and Paul acknowledge was failing because of people’s sinfulness and desires to exploit it. Instead, He’s in the business of relationships. We all have our failing systems, and they’re revealed as we seek Jesus. And when they’re revealed, we must let God work within us and our communities to destroy those systems. A creative act that leads to better worship, discipleship, or community is desirable, but an act that inhibits it must be destroyed.

What systems have you and your worship community built that are keeping you from fully entering into relationship with Jesus?

John D. Barry[1]

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