Daily Archives: March 25, 2018

March 25: Thoughtless Iconoclasm

Numbers 29:1–40; 1 Corinthians 11:17–12:11; Psalm 24:1–10

When we learn something new about life and faith, it’s tempting to use our knowledge and freedom to tear down religious constructs and artifices—exposing truth in a way that’s not helpful or edifying. If we’re honest, pushing boundaries and living edgy and unfettered gives us a rush.

Paul warns the Corinthian Christians against this attitude: “All things are permitted, but not all things are profitable. All things are permitted, but not all things build up” (1 Cor 10:23). Paul sets up a contrast, juxtaposing the clauses to set apart what should really be the focus of the Corinthians. Paul stresses that instead of flaunting freedom, we should be focused on what is helpful and constructive for the community.

Seeking the good of the other person should be our first reflex. And it’s not simply limited to the Christian community. Paul states: “Therefore, whether you eat or you drink or whatever you do, do all things for the glory of God. Give no offense both to Jews and to Greeks and to the church of God” (1 Cor 10:31–32). This is a tall order in the internet age; when we don’t see someone face to face, it’s much easier to tear them down.

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t challenge ideas when the time is appropriate. However, it does mean we should carefully consider our audience and act in a way that will best communicate the message of the gospel. Whatever the case, we should “please all people in all things, not seeking [our] own benefit, but the benefit of man, in order that they may be saved” (1 Cor 10:33).

How are you seeking the good of those around you?

Rebecca Van Noord[1]

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

March 25 Appreciating God’s Gifts

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11).


God is the source of every good gift.

God has given us everything good to enjoy, including rain to make things grow, minerals to make the soil fertile, animals for food and clothing, and energy for industry and transportation. Everything we have is from Him, and we are to be thankful for it all.

Jesus said, “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your Father who is in heaven give what is good to those who ask Him!” (Matt. 7:11). James 1:17 says, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation, or shifting shadow.” Paul added, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, if it is received with gratitude: for it is sanctified by means of the word of God and prayer” (1 Tim. 4:4–5).

Sadly, unbelievers don’t acknowledge God’s goodness, though they benefit from it every day. They attribute His providential care to luck or fate and His gracious provisions to nature or false gods. They do not honor Him as God or give Him thanks (Rom. 1:21).

The great Puritan writer Thomas Watson wrote: “If all be a gift, see the odious ingratitude of men who sin against their giver! God feeds them, and they fight against him; he gives them bread, and they give him affronts. How unworthy is this! Should we not cry shame of him who had a friend always feeding him with money, and yet he should betray and injure him? Thus ungratefully do sinners deal with God; they not only forget his mercies, but abuse them. ‘When I had fed them to the full, they then committed adultery [Jer. 5:7].’ Oh, how horrid is it to sin against a bountiful God!—to strike the hands that relieve us!” (The Lord’s Prayer [London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1972], p. 197).

How sad to see such ingratitude, and yet how thrilling to know that the infinite God cares for us and supplies our every need. Don’t ever take His provisions for granted! Look to Him daily, and receive His gifts with a thankful heart.


Suggestions for Prayer:  Be generous with your praise for God’s abundant blessings.

For Further Study: Read Genesis 1:29–31, noting the variety of foods God created for your enjoyment.[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 97). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.


Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be?

John 3:9

I consider it a good sign that some people are still asking questions like these in our churches: “What should happen in a genuine conversion to Christ?” and “What should a man or woman feel in the transaction of the new birth?”

If I am asked, my answer is this: “There ought to be a real and genuine cry of pain!”

That is why I am not impressed with the kind of evangelism that tries to invite people into the fellowship of God by signing a card. There should be a birth within, a birth from above. There should be the terror of seeing ourselves in violent contrast to the holy, holy God!

Unless we come into this place of conviction and pain concerning our sin, I am not sure how deep and real our repentance will ever be.

The man whom God will use must be undone, humble and pliable. He must be, like the astonished Isaiah, a man who has seen the King in His beauty!

Lord, I pray that many unbelieving people in hard-to-reach nations will realize their need for a Savior and will call upon Your holy name for their salvation.[1]

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

March 25, 2018 Afternoon Verse Of The Day

The Command to Be Strong

You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. (2:1)

As mentioned in the Introduction and the previous chapters of this commentary, Timothy was facing a time of spiritual vacillation and weakness. He may have been questioning his calling or his gifts or the sufficiency of God’s provision. He was mired in difficulties of some sort and could not extricate himself. Whatever the particulars, Paul realized that his son in the faith needed “to kindle afresh the gift of God which” was in him (2 Tim. 1:6). As we noted in the last chapter, he did not need more from God but needed to use, with commitment and confidence, the divine provisions he already possessed. He needed to remember and to exercise the “power and love and discipline” (v. 7) that the Holy Spirit had provided him and provides every believer. He needed to discard his being ashamed of “the testimony of the Lord” and to be willing to join Paul in “suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (v. 8). He needed, like the apostle, to be “convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (v. 12), to “retain the standard of sound words which [he had] heard from [Paul], in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus” (v. 13), to avoid faithless church members such as Phygelus and Hermogenes, and to identify with faithful believers such as Onesiphorus and those in his household (vv. 15–16).

Summing up that counsel, Paul said, “You therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus.” The verb be strong is an imperative, making it a command. Yet it is a command tempered by Paul’s deep love for Timothy, his son. There was tenderness in Paul’s heart because there is tenderness in God’s heart. Even the Lord’s strongest commands are given in love. He admonishes His children firmly but lovingly, and that is the way Paul admonished his spiritual son Timothy. Because Timothy had “sincere faith” and was nourished in that faith by his godly mother and grandmother (1:5), because he was specially gifted by God and ordained by the laying on of Paul’s hands (v. 6) and the hands of the Ephesian elders (1 Tim. 4:14), and because of the abundant resources mentioned in the remainder of chapter 1, Timothy had no reason for not being strong. Paul was saying to Timothy, “My son, the Lord’s work in Ephesus depends on you, its divinely appointed and divinely endowed minister.” The effectiveness of his ministry depended not simply in his having that call and those resources but in his faithfully using them in God’s power and to God’s glory.

It is an amazing paradox, but fully biblical, that, although God is sovereign and all-powerful, He nevertheless entrusts His adopted children with propagating the saving gospel of His true Son, Jesus Christ.

The verb be strong is also passive, however, indicating that the source of Timothy’s strength was not in himself but in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. A somewhat better rendering would be, “by means of the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Just as we are saved solely “by grace … through faith; and that not of [ourselves, but by] the gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), we also are kept saved by the grace of God, who “is faithful and righteous [to continue] to forgive us our sins and [to continue] to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Our only effective spiritual strength is “in the Lord, and in the strength of His might” (Eph. 6:10). We build ourselves up in the “most holy faith” by “praying in the Holy Spirit” and keeping ourselves “in the love of God” (Jude 20–21).

God’s continuing grace in the lives of believers operates in justification and sanctification, in forgiveness and in holiness, and in His grace applied to our service. The same grace that forgives us and makes us holy is the grace that empowers us. Because we belong to Christ, we are continually in the sphere of grace. But to enjoy the sphere of blessing, we must live in the sphere of obedience.

In 2 Timothy 2:2–6, Paul presents four key elements of a strong, obedient, spiritual life, using the vivid analogies of teacher (v. 2), soldier (vv. 3–4), athlete (v. 5), and farmer (v. 6).[1]

1a “You” (sy, GK 5148) continues Paul’s emphatic address to Timothy (1:18) and marks a new section (similarly, 1 Ti 2:1; cf. 2 Ti 3:10; for the phrase “but you,” sy de, see comments at 1 Ti 6:11). The phrase follows the apostle’s reference to the Asiatics’ defection (1:15) and his commendation of Onesiphorus (1:16–18). “Then” (oun, GK 4036; cf. 1:8) grounds Paul’s following instruction in his previous exhortation to Timothy to “fan into flame the gift of God” he had received (1:6), to join him in “suffering for the gospel” (v. 8), and to “keep … the pattern of sound teaching” entrusted to him (vv. 13–14). “My son” (teknon, GK 5451) reiterates earlier endearing designations (1 Ti 1:2, 18; 2 Ti 1:2; cf. Tit 1:4).

1b Beginning here, a series of three exhortations ensues. First, Timothy must “be strong”—not timid (1:7)—in “the grace” that is not in himself but “in Christ Jesus” (cf. Stott, Message of 2 Timothy, 49). Paul himself knew how to be “strong” in the Lord (endynamoō, GK 1904; Php 4:13; 1 Ti 1:12; 2 Ti 4:17; cf. Ac 9:22) and earlier had issued a similar exhortation to the Ephesians (Eph 6:10). He had urged Timothy to suffer with him for the gospel “by the power of God, who has saved us … because of his own purpose and grace [charis, GK 5921]” (1:8–9). Timothy must continually rely on God’s gracious enablement as he performs his ministry (cf. 2 Co 9:8; Tit 2:11–14).[2]

2:1 / This opening imperative, which in a general way gathers up the concerns of 1:6–14 and anticipates those that follow (2:2–13), is tied to what has preceded with an emphatic su oun (you then). You then stands in contrast to the general defection of the Asians (1:15) but in keeping with the likes of an Onesiphorus. The oun is at least resumptive (“then”), perhaps consequential (“therefore”), and goes back to the imperatives of 1:13–14.

You, therefore (having already been urged to suffer and keep the trust, and now in the light of the Asians and Onesiphorus), be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. The imperative be strong (cf. 4:17; 1 Tim. 1:12; Rom. 4:20; Eph. 6:10; Phil. 4:13) is present tense (i.e., “keep on being”), passive voice, whose proper force is that one is being strengthened by God. The phrase in the grace can be either instrumental (“by means of the grace”) or locative (“in the grace,” so niv). Though it is true that grace is the means by which we are saved and by which we are enabled to walk in God’s will, it is also true that that same grace is the sphere in which all of Christian life is lived (cf. Rom. 5:2). In light of the usage of this phrase in Ephesians 6:10 and elsewhere in the pe, Paul probably intends the latter. He wants Timothy to be strengthened by God himself as he stands inthe grace that he has received. The source of such grace is to be found in Christ Jesus (cf. 1:13).

Thus Paul places the specific imperatives of this appeal (“Don’t be ashamed,” 1:8; “Take your share of suffering,” 1:8, 2:3; “Guard the deposit,” 1:14) within the context of this more general imperative of allowing God to strengthen him for his task of ministry. One should note the similarities with 1:6–7, 8c, and 14.[3]

2:1. Having just shared his disappointment over the growing apostasy spreading through Asia, Paul turned to Timothy and wrote, You then, my son, be strong. Difficult circumstances, our own weaknesses and fears, and the negative attitudes or unfaithfulness of others should not determine our course in life. Just as Paul wrote of the power which comes from the Holy Spirit (2 Tim. 1:7), so now he wrote of the strength which comes from Jesus Christ.

No doubt Timothy knew, as Paul did, that he could not find adequate strength within himself to fulfill the responsibilities thrust upon him on to endure the hardships ahead. Our confidence and ability to live successfully as followers of Christ comes when we are strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. Paul knew that God’s grace not only saves us; it enables us to carry out the life of faithful obedience.[4]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1995). 2 Timothy (pp. 37–38). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Köstenberger, A. (2006). 2 Timothy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 573). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Fee, G. D. (2011). 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus (pp. 239–240). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Larson, K. (2000). I & II Thessalonians, I & II Timothy, Titus, Philemon (Vol. 9, p. 280). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

March 25 The Function of Salt

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men.—Matt. 5:13

Salt has always been valuable in human society, often much more so than it is today. But the particular characteristics of salt that Jesus was referring to in this passage have resulted in various suggestions.

Some interpreters point out that salt is white and therefore represents purity. As the “pure in heart” (v. 8), Jesus’ disciples are to be pure before the world and are to be God’s means of helping purify the rest of the world.

Others emphasize the characteristic of flavor. Just as many foods are tasteless without salt, the world is drab and tasteless without the presence of Christians.

Because salt stings when placed on a wound, some interpreters believe Jesus meant to illustrate that Christians are to sting the world, prick its conscience, and thus make it uncomfortable in the presence of God’s gospel.

Salt also creates thirst. So others believe God intends for His people to live before the world in such a way that others will be made aware of their spiritual dehydration.

While all of these interpretations are reasonable, it’s likely Jesus was primarily referring to salt as a preservative. Christians are a preserving influence in the world; they retard moral and spiritual spoilage. As God’s children and as temples of His Holy Spirit, we represent God’s presence in the earth. We are the salt that prevents the entire earth from degenerating even faster than it already is.


In what ways are you and your church personifying the various properties of salt, whether by words, actions, or outreaches? Think very specifically. Which of these examples are proving to be the most effective at this, and why?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 93). Chicago: Moody Publishers.


Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ….

1 PETER 1:2

We are surely aware that as human beings we can never know all of the Godhead. If we were capable of knowing all of the Godhead perfectly, we would be equal to the Godhead.

The early fathers in the church, in illustrating the trinity, pointed out that God the eternal Father is an infinite God, and that He is love. The very nature of love is to give itself but the Father could not give His love fully to anyone not fully equal to Himself. Thus we have the revelation of the Son Who is equal to the Father and of the eternal Father pouring out His love into the Son, Who could contain it, because the Son is equal with the Father!

Further, those ancient wise men reasoned, if the Father were to pour out His love on the Son, a medium of communication equal both to the Father and to the Son would be required, and this was the Holy Ghost! So we have their concept of the Trinity—the ancient Father in the fullness of His love pouring Himself through the Holy Ghost, Who is in being equal to Him, into the Son Who is in being equal to the Spirit and to the Father!

Thus, all that man can know of God and His love in this life is revealed in Jesus Christ.[1]

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

March 25 Catch the Tide

Lift up your eyes and look at the fields, for they are already white for harvest.

John 4:35

All believers are responsible to have a passion for the lost. John Harper had such a passion. He was a newly called pastor to the great Moody Memorial Church in Chicago in the early 1900s, but in 1912 He was a passenger on the ill–fated voyage of the Titanic.

Four years later, a young Scotsman rose up in a meeting and said he was a survivor of the Titanic. As he drifted in the water on a piece of wood, he encountered a man who was afloat on a piece of wreckage. The man pleaded for the Scotsman to receive Christ. The young Scotsman refused. The tide brought the man around again, and he asked if the Scotsman was saved yet. Shortly after, the man disappeared into the water, and the Scotsman decided to trust Christ as Savior. At the meeting he identified the man as John Harper—the young Scotsman was John Harper’s last convert.

Can you be one of the John Harpers of this generation?[1]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 97). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

March 25, 2018 Morning Verse Of The Day

The Need for Daily Food

Now the day was ending, and the twelve came and said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat; for here we are in a desolate place.” But He said to them, “You give them something to eat!” And they said, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish, unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” (For there were about five thousand men.) And He said to His disciples, “Have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” They did so, and had them all sit down. Then He took the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, He blessed them, and broke them, and kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. And they all ate and were satisfied; (9:12–17a)

Luke’s narrative now turns to the actual miracle. His simple, unadorned account, framed in straightforward language, should not be allowed to obscure the staggering implications of this creative miracle.

As the day was ending (lit., “began to decline” after the the sun reached its highpoint at noon) and the afternoon wore on, the apostles became concerned. Focused as they too often were on earthly things, the twelve came to Jesus and brashly, almost impertinently said to Him, “Send the crowd away, that they may go into the surrounding villages and countryside and find lodging and get something to eat.” They wanted the Lord to disperse the crowd before it got any later because, they informed Him, “Here we are in a desolate place.”Erēmos (desolate) does not refer here to a desert, since there was abundant green grass (Mark 6:39), but rather to an uninhabited place. Evening was approaching, and there was nowhere for the crowd to acquire food.

The apostles’ concern once again exhibited their lack of faith (cf. Matt. 8:26; 14:31; 16:8). They had a disconnect from all the miracles they had seen and they themselves had performed on the just-completed preaching tour. They might also have recalled that God had miraculously provided food in Israel’s past:

Now a man came from Baal-shalishah, and brought the man of God bread of the first fruits, twenty loaves of barley and fresh ears of grain in his sack. And he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat.” His attendant said, “What, will I set this before a hundred men?” But he said, “Give them to the people that they may eat, for thus says the Lord, ‘They shall eat and have some left over.’ ” So he set it before them, and they ate and had some left over, according to the word of the Lord. (2 Kings 4:42–44; cf. 1 Kings 17:10–16)

Incredibly, even after this amazing display of Christ’s divine power, the apostles’ faith was still weak. While Jesus, Peter, James, and John were on the mountain for the transfiguration, the nine who had not accompanied them were unable to cast out a demon because they failed to pray in faith (Luke 9:37–40). Exasperated by their continual lack of faith, Jesus sharply rebuked them, calling them an “unbelieving and perverted generation” (cf. Matt. 17:17). Rather than trust Jesus to deal with the obvious need for food, the apostles thought only of a human solution.

Jesus’ response, “You give them something to eat!”, seemingly detached from reality, must have amazed and surprised them. Incredulously they protested, “We have no more than five loaves and two fish. Andrew, anticipating the problem, had taken an inventory of what meager food the crowd possessed (John 6:8–9). Then somewhat sarcastically the apostles added, “unless perhaps we go and buy food for all these people.” Perhaps playing off their remark, the Lord asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread, so that these may eat?” (John 6:5). Aghast, “Philip answered Him, ‘Two hundred denarii (nearly a year’s pay for a common laborer) worth of bread is not sufficient for them, for everyone to receive a little’ ” (v. 7). As Luke’s parenthetical note indicates, there were about five thousand men present. Including the women and children (Matt. 14:21), there could have been twenty to twenty-five thousand people present. The five loaves (small biscuits or crackers) and two small dried fish were obviously intended as a protest if not a mockery of the Lord’s request.

Their amazement must have turned to complete shock when the Lord commanded the apostles to “have them sit down to eat in groups of about fifty each.” Mark 6:40 notes that they “sat down in groups of hundreds and of fifties.” Organizing the crowd like that would have made it easier to serve them. But the obvious question that would have arisen is, “Serve them what?” The apostles had just finished telling Jesus that they had nothing with which to feed them.

Despite their misgivings, the disciples obeyed the Lord and had the people all sit down. It was spring, just before Passover (John 6:4), and as previously noted there was plenty of green grass for the people to sit comfortably on. When all were seated, the Lord took the five loaves and the two fish, and then doing what every Jewish father did at a meal, looking up to heaven, He blessed them. By looking up to heaven, Jesus acknowledged God as the source of all provision. There was nothing mystical or spiritual that happened to the food by the Lord’s blessing; eulogeō (blessed) simply means that He gave thanks to God.

Then, also doing what a father would do at a meal, Jesus broke the loaves and fish. But unlike any father had ever done, He kept giving them to the disciples to set before the people. In that understated way Luke described this astonishing display of Christ’s power to create ex nihilo—the same power He used to create all things from nothing (John 1:3; Col. 1:16; Heb. 1:2). There was no doubt as to the source of the food; it was obvious to all who saw that it was being created in the Lord’s hands and then given to the apostles to distribute to the crowd.

The people did not merely receive a minimal snack, but in keeping with God’s bountiful grace, they all ate and were satisfied. Satisfied translates a form of the verb chortazō, which was originally used to describe fattening animals, who gorged themselves until they could eat no more (it is so used in Rev. 19:21). The people ate their fill until they were satiated.

The Need for Provision for His Servants

and the broken pieces which they had left over were picked up, twelve baskets full. (9:17b)

In His lavish provision of food, Jesus did not forget His own. After the meal was over, the broken pieces of the loaves and the fish (Mark 6:43) which the crowd had left over were picked up by the apostles. In the Lord’s precision, nothing was wasted; the amount of leftover food was exactly enough to meet the needs of the Twelve.

There is a sad postscript to this remarkable story, which John records. The next day the crowds, thwarted in their attempt to make Him king, followed Jesus back to Capernaum (John 6:22–25). They expected Him to provide more food (v. 26), but when He refused and instead presented Himself as the Bread of Life come down from heaven (vv. 27–40), they rejected Him (vv. 41–66). So do all sinners who spurn God’s generosity, compassion, and kindness (cf. Rom. 2:4–5).

Believers need to proclaim the Lord’s power and mercy to those who need relief from life’s physical and emotional struggles. But supremely, we must present to them the Savior who alone delivers from sin. It is our task to point them to the all-sufficient Bread of Life, the Lord Jesus Christ, the embodiment of God’s compassion. Only through the salvation that He alone provides will lost sinners find eternal blessing and rest for their souls (Matt. 11:28–30).[1]

Five Loaves, Two Fish, Twelve Baskets

Luke 9:10–17

And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:16–17)

Sometimes I forget how to follow Christ and have to learn all over again. If it has happened to me once, it has happened a thousand times: I learn some basic lesson in Christian discipleship, but soon I forget, and then I find myself struggling spiritually. When I stop to ask why, I discover that I have been missing one of the basics—something I already know but somehow have managed to forget, again.

What are some of the basic lessons that Christians sometimes forget to remember? We forget to study the Bible, not remembering that God’s Word gives us life. We forget the power of prayer, not remembering that God’s blessing is ours for the asking. We forget that we cannot make it on our own, not remembering our deep dependency on the Holy Spirit. We forget that we do not have to work our way to heaven, not remembering that God has accepted us in Christ. We forget how much God loves us, not remembering that we are his sons and daughters. We forget that our Father knows best, not remembering to trust his sovereign plan for our lives. And we forget that God will provide, not remembering his promise to give us our daily bread.

Whenever we come down with this kind of spiritual amnesia, we go into spiritual decline. Our relationship with Christ ceases to be a joy and starts becoming a chore. Instead of being carried along by the wind of the Spirit, we trudge along under our own power, weighed down by the guilt of unconfessed sin. We experience unnecessary feelings of loneliness, doubt, discouragement, and anxiety. Very soon, unless we learn how to follow Christ all over again, we will be ineffective in our service to God. How quickly we forget, and how badly we need to remember.

A Retreat Interrupted

The apostles had the same problem. They seemed to forget almost as much as they learned from Jesus, especially in the early days of their discipleship. There is a notable example of this in Luke 9, where Jesus feeds the five thousand. This is one of Jesus’ most famous miracles—one of only two miracles to appear in all four Gospels (the other is the resurrection). It comes near the end of Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, at one of the climax points of the Gospel. Soon Peter will make his confession of the Christ. But first Jesus had one last great miracle to perform in Galilee, at the world’s most famous picnic.

Everyone knows the story, but people do not always remember the context. The apostles had just completed their internship, so to speak. They had been preaching the kingdom and healing people all over Galilee—an amazing experience of God’s power and provision in ministry. Now it was time for the disciples to go on a retreat and report on their short-term mission trip. According to Mark, they had not even had a chance to sit down and eat, so Jesus invited them to come away and rest (Mark 6:31). They must have been exhausted. What they needed most—and what we always need the most after a busy time in ministry—was time away with Jesus.

Jesus and his disciples were hoping to enjoy a little privacy, away from the public eye, but they could not escape for long: “On their return the apostles told him all that they had done. And he took them and withdrew apart to a town called Bethsaida. When the crowds learned it, they followed him, and he welcomed them and spoke to them of the kingdom of God and cured those who had need of healing” (Luke 9:10–11).

This is a powerful witness to the compassion of Christ and his servant-hearted ministry. The hordes of people that followed Jesus were invading his privacy and disturbing his rest. Most people would have been tempted to ask them to come back later, or to send them away altogether. But Jesus welcomed all comers. He was willing to be inconvenienced and interrupted, as long as he had an opportunity to preach the kingdom and perform its miracles. The way Jesus welcomed these people reminds us that we can go to him at any time; he will listen to our cry for help. It also sets the pattern for our own ministry. Even when we are tired and weary, wanting to take a break from other people and their problems, we need to be ready to give them the gospel and to help them in any practical way we can.

Jesus was always ready to receive people in need, and when he received them, he was always able to help them. Luke tells us that Jesus cured anyone and everyone who needed healing. There was not one single case that he could not resolve. This is a powerful testimony to his grace. There is hope for everyone in Jesus, because he is able to save anyone who comes to him for help. This is as true for us spiritually as it was for the crowds medically. By the power of his grace, Jesus is able to forgive our sins, renew our spirits, and comfort our sorrows. He is able to touch the wounded places in our hearts and make us whole.

All of this provides the background to a very practical difficulty: “Now the day began to wear away, and the twelve came and said to him, ‘Send the crowd away to go into the surrounding villages and countryside to find lodging and get provisions, for we are here in a desolate place’ ” (Luke 9:12). The sun was going down in the desert. The hour was late, the shadows were lengthening, and before long it would be getting dark. As the day wore on, the disciples began to have some logistical concerns. They wondered where everyone would get something to eat, not to mention a place to stay. They were out in a remote area, far from anything resembling a roadside hotel, and it was hard to imagine where so many people could find room and board.

Apparently the disciples were thinking about others, but the way they approached Jesus seems a little suspect. They were hungry too, and one wonders how much this had to do with their request, especially since it was more like a demand. Basically, the disciples told Jesus to get rid of the crowds. That way, everyone else could look after their own needs, while the disciples had Jesus all to themselves. But there were some things that they were forgetting and needed to remember.

Jesus Tests His Disciples

Jesus responded with a demand of his own. It was a test of their fitness for ministry—the final exam for their internship. Jesus said to his disciples, “You give them something to eat” (Luke 9:13).

This was a command, not a question. But what are we to make of it? Was Jesus serious, or not? Maybe he was trying to get the disciples to recognize their own inadequacy. On this interpretation, he wanted them to see that they were unable to give people something to eat, in the hope that they would remember to depend on him to supply whatever was needed.

This may be the right interpretation, but there is another one that we should at least consider. The statement Jesus made was emphatic, and the emphasis fell on the word “you.” Jesus was putting the onus on the apostles. He was saying, “You give them something to eat.” They were the ones who noticed what the people needed, and who wanted to send them away to get it. They were also the ones who had a responsibility to provide. Jesus was insistent: “You feed them!” Here it helps to remember the context. The apostles had just completed a short-term missions trip on which they had performed many miracles. Could it be that in the name of Christ, they also had the power to feed the hungry?

We will never know, because the disciples never obeyed Christ’s command. Instead, they said that they were powerless to help: “We have no more than five loaves and two fish—unless we are to go and buy food for all these people” (Luke 9:13). The very idea sounded absurd, especially when we learn that “there were about five thousand men” (Luke 9:14), not including the women or children. How could the disciples provide food for so many people? All they had was five loaves and two little fish—hardly enough to go around. Nor did they have the money to buy what was needed. Feeding everyone would have cost a fortune (eight months’ wages, according to Philip; see John 6:7), especially for men traveling without any money. The only reason the disciples even mentioned the idea of buying groceries was to show how impossible it was, and perhaps to show how ridiculous it was for Jesus even to suggest such a thing.

The trouble with the disciples was that they were looking at things from a merely human perspective. They were acting like men without a God, thinking only in terms of what they had on hand and what they had the ability to provide from their own resources, not considering the power and the providence of their God. David Gooding remarks that Jesus’ question ought to have “startled them into thinking that there might be more to the kingdom of God and the powers of Jesus than they had yet realized. Instead of that, the highest their thoughts could rise to was the possibility of going to the nearest merchants (wholesalers, of course) and of buying the necessary quantity of food.” The disciples were forgetting that they had a God, not remembering his power to provide.

At the very least, they should have asked Jesus to supply what they were unable to give. To be sure, the disciples had never seen this kind of miracle before. Jesus had been unveiling his powers gradually, healing one person at a time. He had not yet demonstrated his divine power to give people the bread of life. So we can understand why the disciples did not anticipate this miracle in advance. Yet by now they should have learned to expect the unexpected from Jesus, and to ask for his help whenever things were humanly impossible.

The feeding of the five thousand reminds us not to forget that God is not limited by our inadequacies. Rather, our very limitations can display the glory and the grace of Jesus Christ whenever he does what we are unable to do: His power is made perfect in our weakness (2 Cor. 12:9).

One man who understood this principle well was Robert Morrison, the famous missionary to China. In 1805 the London Missionary Society recruited Morrison to go to China. It was the time of the Napoleonic wars, however, and the only British ships traveling to China belonged to the East India Company, which refused to transport missionaries. So Morrison went to the United States, hoping to book passage to Canton. When the owner of the ship heard about Morrison’s plans, he was skeptical. “And so, Mr. Morrison,” he said, “do you really expect that you will make an impression on the idolatry of the great Chinese Empire?” “No, sir,” Morrison quickly replied, “I expect God will.” Through Morrison’s ministry, in all its weakness, God did make an impression on China’s idolatry, with spiritual results that last until the present day. It is when we know that we are at the end of our own resources that we are ready to see what God will do.

Dinner Impossible

In this particular case, what God did was to make a miraculous provision, through his Son and our Savior, Jesus Christ:

And he said to his disciples, “Have them sit down in groups of about fifty each.” And they did so, and had them all sit down. And taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven and said a blessing over them. Then he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd. And they all ate and were satisfied. And what was left over was picked up, twelve baskets of broken pieces. (Luke 9:14–17)

Everyone was astounded. Most Christians have heard this story so often that we forget how utterly amazed the people must have been. The tense of the Greek verb indicates that Jesus kept breaking and breaking the bread. The more he broke it, the more there was for everyone to eat, until finally everyone was satisfied. Five loaves were multiplied to feed five thousand. To put this miracle into perspective, imagine the logistics involved in planning a meal for five thousand people. Better yet, try to imagine having five thousand people show up unexpectedly for dinner. Then imagine trying to feed them all from the leftovers in the refrigerator!

The feeding of the five thousand was truly a miracle. This may seem obvious, but it needs to be said, because people sometimes deny the miracles of Christ, and this miracle has been treated with as much skepticism as any of the others. What some people doubt is that Jesus had the power to do anything that went beyond the ordinary laws of nature, as this miracle obviously did. By multiplying the loaves and fishes, Jesus was making new matter, which the skeptic says can neither be created nor destroyed.

So what really happened? Skeptics often say that everybody shared. They were so inspired by the person who contributed the five loaves and the two fish (a little boy, John tells us; John 6:9) that they all opened their bags and began to share whatever they had. The real miracle, some people say, was a miracle of generosity.

Such an interpretation robs Jesus of his glory. Curiously, it also requires nearly as much faith as it takes to believe in the miracle itself. Where would people who ran after Jesus on the spur of the moment get so much food? If they had brought their own food, then why were the disciples worried about them? And what would be the point of passing it all in and then having Jesus pass it all out again?

The real difficulty, however, is that a merely natural explanation contradicts what we read in Luke and the other Gospels. The Bible gives four different accounts of what happened that day—two that come directly from eyewitnesses (Matthew and John)—and they all agree on the basic events. Jesus did this miracle out in the open, where everyone could see it. To their complete astonishment, people saw Jesus give them more and more food from the same five loaves and the same two fish. It was so impossible that none of them could explain it, but none of them could deny it either: it was a real miracle.

The Meanings of the Miracle

The most obvious meaning of this miracle is that God will provide. As he provided for his people in the wilderness, so he will provide for us—not in the same miraculous way, perhaps, but by the same powerful grace.

We need to remember this because sometimes we are tempted to forget. God has promised to provide for our needs, both as the church and as individual Christians. He will give us our daily bread, providing food, clothing, and shelter. He will meet our needs for friendship and fellowship. He will give us the guidance that we seek in faith. He will provide a way for us to serve him. And when God gives us the opportunity to serve, he will give us all the resources we need to fulfill our calling. We are not limited by what we have on hand, or by what we are able to provide for ourselves; we are enabled by the power and providence of God.

God’s provision is abundant. The disciples kept going back to Jesus for more food, and every time they went back, there was always more. In the words of Alexander Maclaren, “The pieces grew under his touch, and the disciples always found his hands full when they came back with their own empty.” Even after everyone was fully and finally satisfied, there was still more left over: twelve full baskets of broken pieces (Luke 9:17). In other words, there was one basket of leftovers for each and every disciple. This was a powerful object lesson in the abundance of God’s grace. The weight of those baskets would help the disciples remember that Jesus had provided far more than they ever expected.

Every time God meets our needs, we should savor the abundance of his provision, so that the next time we find ourselves in need, we do not forget to trust in him. Even if we have learned this lesson before, there are times when we need to learn it all over again. God has provided for us in the past, and he can be trusted to provide for us again in the future. How long will his provision continue? All through life, and then on through eternity. In the words of one little poem, “Yesterday, God helped me, / Today He’ll do the same. / How long will this continue? / Forever—praise his name.”

When we think of the feeding of the five thousand, we probably think first of material provision. That is not the only meaning of this miracle, however. Jesus really did meet the material needs of the people who listened to him preach, and unless he did, there is nothing else for us to learn from this miracle. The only God who can help us is a God who is able to provide. Nevertheless, meeting people’s physical needs was not the miracle’s only purpose. Like all of his miracles, the feeding of the five thousand teaches us even deeper truths about the person and work of Jesus Christ.

To begin with, the miracle testifies to the deity of Jesus Christ. When Luke describes the location of this miracle as “a desolate place” (Luke 9:12), he calls us to think back to Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness between Egypt and the Promised Land (see Ex. 16). This connection is made even more explicit in the Gospel of John, who tells us that after Jesus performed this miracle, people asked him about the manna in the wilderness (John 6:31). They were making a connection between what Jesus provided for them and what God had provided for his people during the exodus from Egypt. This was the right connection to make. Just as God had provided daily manna in the days of Moses, so now once again God was providing bread in the wilderness, in the person of his Son.

Incidentally, this provides a clear answer to Herod’s earlier question (Luke 9:9): Who is this Jesus? The answer is that he is God the Great Provider. This is something to remember, and not to forget: Jesus is one and the same as the God of the Old Testament, who cares and provides for his people.

What else does this miracle teach? The power of prayer. The feeding of the five thousand teaches us to trust God for what we need, not worrying about how we will get it, but asking God to provide. Here Jesus is our great example. The disciples were anxious about where people could get some food. But Jesus was not worried at all; he simply prayed. Thanking God, Jesus “looked up to heaven and said a blessing” (Luke 9:16). In contrast to his disciples, who were only looking at the difficulties of their situation, Jesus looked to his Father in heaven. Perhaps when he blessed God he used the ancient Jewish table benediction: “Blessed art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the universe, who bringest forth bread from the earth.” But whatever he said, Jesus said it with his eyes turned to his Father, in dependence upon his grace.

We can turn in the same direction. Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are sons and daughters of our Father in heaven. Now, whenever we find ourselves in any need, we remember to turn to our Father in prayer, trusting him to provide. Then we turn to him again in thanksgiving, as Jesus did, blessing him for our daily bread.

This miracle also shows that we have a part to play in the work that Jesus is doing on earth. Jesus was the one who broke the bread, but he gave it to his disciples to distribute. Of course Jesus could have handled the distribution himself. If he had the power to produce the bread, then obviously he had the power to pass it out as well. Instead, “he broke the loaves and gave them to the disciples to set before the crowd” (Luke 9:16). Earlier Jesus told the disciples to give the people something to eat, and now they were doing it. They could not provide the food themselves; only Jesus could do that. But there were some things that they could do. They could recognize people’s needs; they could give Jesus what they had—the loaves and the fish; and they could give away what Jesus provided. Thus the people would be fed through their ministry.

This miracle is virtually a parable for Christian ministry. From time to time we see what people need, spiritually and otherwise. Whatever we have to give is woefully inadequate, but we offer our time and our talents, the best that we are able to give. Then Jesus takes it, and by the supernatural power of his grace, he uses it to help people. He also uses us in the process, so that we join in the work of his kingdom. This is what the apostles experienced in the early church. God gave them gifts of preaching, prayer, and evangelism. In their own strength they would have accomplished nothing, even for all their gifts. But they offered themselves in ministry to the service of Jesus Christ, and by the provision of his grace, they were able to spread the gospel all over the world.

We need to remember that we have the same privilege today. God is using us to teach his Word, share the gospel, and demonstrate the love of Christ through deeds of mercy. Even if we do not feel that we have very much to offer, God can multiply our ministry. We must never forget to give what we have for the work of God’s kingdom, and then ask God to use it for the glory of Jesus Christ. Norval Geldenhuys comments:

It is vain for us to attempt by ourselves to give real food to needy mankind with our five little loaves and two fishes—the insignificant gifts and powers possessed by us. But when we place at His disposal, in faith and obedience, everything we have received from Him, He will, in spite of our own insignificance and poverty, use us nevertheless to feed souls with the bread of eternal life. He sanctifies, blesses and increases our talents and powers, everything consecrated by us to His service.

The Sufficiency of Christ

These are all valuable lessons to learn. One of the reasons this miracle has such a special place in the hearts of God’s people is that it speaks to so many of our needs. But after everything else has been said about this passage, the main lesson is simply this: all we really need is Jesus.

The miraculous feeding of the five thousand met people’s physical needs. In fact, once they had tasted the bread that Jesus provided, they wanted to eat it all the time. In the Gospel of John, Jesus accuses them of only coming to him for physical food. “You are seeking me,” he said, “because you ate your fill of the loaves” (John 6:26). But if that is all that people wanted, they were missing the point. “Do not labor for the food that perishes,” Jesus went on to say, “but for the food that endures to eternal life” (John 6:27). In other words, the meaning of the miracle is spiritual and eternal, not merely temporal and physical.

Going back to the Old Testament, physical bread was always a symbol of spiritual sustenance. This was true of the manna in the wilderness. Moses told the children of Israel that God gave them special bread so they would “know that man does not live by bread alone, but man lives by every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord” (Deut. 8:3). Similarly, Isaiah describes salvation in terms of eating bread that truly satisfies (Isa. 55:1–3). Bread means life, and the Bible uses this physical symbol to speak of the spiritual life that we have in God.

By feeding the five thousand, Jesus was teaching us to find our life in him. We could probably infer this from the Gospel of Luke, but in case there is any doubt, the Gospel of John makes it perfectly explicit. There Jesus says “the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world” (John 6:33). “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35), he goes on to say; “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever” (John 6:51). Jesus is our nourishment and provision, our sustenance and satisfaction. “The heart of man,” wrote J. C. Ryle, “can never be satisfied with the things of this world. It is always empty, and hungry, and thirsty, and dissatisfied, till it comes to Christ.” It is in Christ that we have the forgiveness of sins, a new relationship with God, and all the other blessings of salvation.

Jesus gives us this life through his death on the cross and his resurrection from the grave. Later he said, “The bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh” (John 6:51). In other words, he would offer his very body for our salvation. Jesus was speaking of his crucifixion, of the life that he gave for our sins when he died on the cross. Of all the things that we need to remember and never forget, this is the most important: the provision of eternal life that comes by trusting in Christ crucified.

What we need is Jesus. Only Jesus. The Jesus who offers his body as the true and everlasting bread. Are you still remembering this, or have you been forgetting?[2]

Food for all (9:10–17)

Jesus had listened to all the blessings the disciples had received during their travels. Now he seeks time alone with God. Christ felt the need for private prayer, yet did not use his love of prayer as a reason to turn the crowds away, but rather ministered to the crowds in exactly the same way as he had taught his disciples. In Luke 9:2 he told them to ‘preach the kingdom of God and to heal the sick’. Here he ‘spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who had need of healing’ (v. 11).

As the day drew to its close, the Lord’s disciples, who had come with the multitudes, suggested quite understandably that the people find lodging and food in the surrounding villages. What he wanted to teach them, however, was that the same provision they had received during their missionary journey was available to this vast crowd. The God who sustains the universe would provide. The disciples, who had been the means of healing and blessing to others, must now give food to this crowd (v. 13).

Taking just one meal, Christ multiplied the loaves and fish, and fed the whole crowd. Verse 16 shows how the Lord looked up to heaven, blessed and broke the loaves and fish. Twelve baskets of crumbs were left over, a further proof that nothing is too hard for the Lord. So important is this occurrence to our Lord’s ministry that this incident is recorded in all four Gospels.

For further study

  1. Look up Luke 9:3. Consider the many examples in Scripture of those who have denied themselves material help in order to prove the power of God: Gideon’s army reduced to three hundred (Judg. 7:3–7); David and the sling (1 Sam. 17:38–40); Ezra and a military guard (Ezra 8:21–23).
  1. See Luke 9:3. How far can it be said that God rewards trust in him (see Ps. 37:39, 40)?
  1. Consider Luke 9:3 further. It might be said, ‘The church is always strongest when free from material wealth and earthly power’. Do you agree with this statement?
  1. Look at Luke 9:16, 17. Elisha multiplied barley loaves and corn (2 Kings 4:42–44). What makes the miracle of Jesus so much greater?

To think about and discuss

  1. Luke 9:1–6. How important are years of formal training in a college for missionaries before they are sent out by a church? Are there other ways by which they can be equipped to serve God?
  2. Consider Luke 9:3. How far do we expect missionaries to trust God for daily sustenance? Should we expect this of all Christians?[3]

[1] MacArthur, J. (2011). Luke 6–10 (pp. 253–256). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Ryken, P. G. (2009). Luke. (R. D. Phillips, P. G. Ryken, & D. M. Doriani, Eds.) (Vol. 1, pp. 432–443). Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing.

[3] Childress, G. (2006). Opening up Luke’s Gospel (pp. 80–81). Leominster: Day One Publications.

March 25 Practical Humility

“Let your forbearing spirit be known to all men.”

Philippians 4:5


Real humility will have a forbearance that is gracious toward others and content with its own circumstances.

Some Greek words have various meanings that are hard to translate into just one English word. This is true of “forbearing” in today’s verse. It can refer to contentment, gentleness, generosity, or goodwill toward others. Some commentators say it means having leniency toward the faults and failures of others. Other scholars say it denotes someone who is patient and submissive toward injustice and mistreatment—one who doesn’t lash back in angry bitterness. It reminds us very much of what we have been considering for the past week—humility.

The humble believer trusts God and does not hold a grudge even though others have unfairly treated him, harmed him, or ruined his reputation. Such a person does not demand his rights. Instead, he will pattern his behavior after his Lord Jesus, who in supreme humility manifested God’s grace to us (Rom. 5:10).

If you are conscientiously following Christ, your behavior will go against the existentialism of modern society. Existentialism claims the right to do or say anything that makes one feel good. Today’s existentialist unbeliever has a twisted logic that says, “If something makes you feel good but hurts me, you can’t do it. But if something makes me feel good but hurts you, I can do it.”

Unhappily, many believers have been caught up in that kind of thinking. They don’t call it existentialism—self–esteem or positive thinking are the preferred terms—but the results are much the same. Such Christians do what satisfies their desires, often at the expense of other people. At its core, this kind of attitude is simply sinful self–love.

In contrast to such self–love, Philippians 4:5 exhorts us to exhibit humble forbearance and graciousness to others. Other Scriptures command us to love our enemies and show mercy to those who sin (Matt. 5:44; 1 Peter 4:8). Such qualities allowed the apostle Paul to say, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am” (Phil. 4:11). God wants us to be just as humble and content with our circumstances.


Suggestions for Prayer: Ask the Lord to help you remain content in the midst of all that happens to you today.

For Further Study: Read Jesus’ parable about mercy and compassion in Matthew 18:21–35. What parallels do you find between the parable and our study of forbearance? ✧ What kind of priority does Jesus give these issues?[1]

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


And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM: and he said, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, I AM hath sent me unto you.

—Exodus 3:14

We must remember that the “attributes” of God are not component parts of the blessed Godhead nor elements out of which He is composed. A god who could be composed would not be God at all but the work of something or someone greater than he, great enough to compose him. We would then have a synthetic god made out of the pieces we call attributes, and the true God would be another being altogether, One indeed who is above all thought and all conceiving.

The Bible and Christian theology teach that God is an indivisible unity… from whom nothing can be taken and to whom nothing can be added. Mercy, for instance, immutability, eternity— these are but names which we have given to something which God has declared to be true of Himself. All the “of God” expressions in the Bible must be understood to mean not what God has but what God is in His undivided and indivisible unity. Even the word “nature” when applied to God should be understood as an accommodation to our human way of looking at things and not as an accurate description of anything true of the mysterious Godhead. God has said, “I AM THAT I AM” (Exodus 3:14), and we can only repeat in reverence, “O God, Thou art.” POM086-087

Lord, it is because You are beyond all conceiving that I worship You in wonder and bow before You today. Amen.[1]

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

March 24 Daily Help

THERE is one great event, which every day attracts more admiration than do the sun, and moon, and stars. That event is the death of our Lord Jesus Christ. To it the eyes of all the saints who lived before the Christian era were always directed; and backwards, through the thousand years of history, the eyes of all modern saints are looking. Upon Christ, the angels in heaven perpetually gaze. “Which things the angels desire to look into,” said the apostle. Upon Christ, the eyes of the redeemed are perpetually fixed; and thousands of pilgrims, through this world of tears, have no higher object for their faith.[1]

[1] Spurgeon, C. H. (1892). Daily Help (p. 87). Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company.

March 24, 2018 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Principle Stated

Only, as the Lord has assigned to each one, as God has called each, in this manner let him walk. And thus I direct in all the churches. Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let him not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing, but what matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. (7:17–19)

Christians individually and corporately are to minister in many ways, including the practical, material ways of feeding the hungry, healing the sick and injured, and other such services. Christianity has far and away been the leader in building hospitals and orphanages, in visiting prisoners, in helping the poor, and in ministering in countless other ways that are considered social services. But those are ministries Christians do as Christians, not services that they persuade society to perform.

Christ made it clear that He did not come to instigate an external social revolution, as many Jews of His days thought the Messiah would do. Jesus told Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If My kingdom were of this world, then My servants would be fighting, that I might not be delivered up to the Jews; but as it is, My kingdom is not of this realm” (John 18:36). Christ’s mission was “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10), and that is the mission of His church. When Christianity becomes closely identified with a social movement, the message of the gospel is in danger of being lost.

When it is faithfully followed, however, biblical Christianity cannot help having radical effects on every person, institution, and practice around it. But the primary purpose of the gospel is to change people, not change society. Its focus is on inward change, not outward. We should be satisfied to be where God has put us, to accept what the Lord has assigned us, and to be faithful in whatever condition God has called us.

Obviously the apostle is not telling believers to stay in occupations, professions, or habits that are inherently immoral or illegal. A thief was not to keep stealing, a temple priestess was not to continue in prostitution, or a drunkard was not to keep getting drunk. Everything sinful is to be forsaken. The issue has to do with believers being content in the social conditions and situations they are in when saved.

Several areas of discontent were prevalent in the Corinthian church. Some believers wanted to change their marital status—from single to married, from married to single, or from an unbelieving partner to a believing one. Some were slaves and wanted to be free. They had misinterpreted, and often abused, the truth of Christian freedom—taking it to mean freedom to do as they pleased, instead of freedom to do as God pleased.

The unity of the church at Corinth was seriously fractured. Not only were there numerous parties and factions, but some groups were encouraging those with the gift of celibacy to get married, while other groups were encouraging those who were married to become celibate. Slaves were chafing under their bondage and were trying to find spiritual justification for demanding freedom. Although the gospel is the antithesis of the standards and values of the world, it does not disdain or seek to destroy governments, societies, or families. Rather where the gospel is believed and obeyed, some of the most obvious by-products are better government, better societies, and better families.

But Christians can be Christians in a dictatorship, a democracy, or even under anarchy. We can be Christians whether we are man, woman, child, married, single, divorced, Jew, Gentile, slave, or free. We can be Christians in Russia or the United States, in Cuba or China, in France or Japan. Whatever we are and wherever we are, we can be Christians.

God does not justify corrupt governments or immoral societies, and they will be judged in His time and in His way. But the purpose of the gospel of His Son Jesus Christ is not to revolutionize social institutions but to revolutionize hearts. The gospel is directed at the human heart, not at human society. Because faithful Christians are better husbands or wives, better friends, better slaves or masters, better sons or daughters, and better citizens, they cannot help contributing to better societies. But using natural means to try to effect a better society is not their ministry.

The gospel can be planted and take root wherever there is a person to hear and accept it, even in countries or in families that are pagan, atheistic, humanistic, and avowedly anti-Christian. As the saying goes, we should bloom where we are planted. Where the Lord has assigned and where God has called is where we should walk.

The principle is universal. It was not given only to the divided, contentious, and immature Corinthians, but to all the churches. God’s primary purpose for His church in every nation is for them to evangelize, to change the world through spiritual regeneration, not social revolution.

The first illustration Paul gives of that general principle has to do with identity as Jew or Gentile. Was any man called already circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. In the epistles, being called by God (cf. v. 17) always refers to an effectual call to salvation. When a Jew is saved, he should not try to become like a Gentile.

This had a very specific application. Circumcision was an embarrassment in the Roman world. According to the Maccabees, some Jewish men “made themselves uncircumcised.” Josephus tells us that during the Greek rule of the eastern Mediterranean several centuries before Christ, some Jewish men who wanted to be accepted into Greek society had surgery performed to make themselves appear uncircumcised when they bathed or exercised at the gymnasiums. They literally became uncircumcised surgically. The Roman encyclopedist Celsus, in the first century a.d., wrote a detailed description of the surgical procedure for decircumcision (De Medicina VII. 25).

The practice was so common that considerable rabbinic literature addressed the problem (e.g., Aboth 3:11; Jerushalmi Peah 1 and 16b; Lamentations Rabbah 1:20). Jews who had such surgery were referred to as epispatics, a name taken from the euphemistic term epispaomai, meaning “to draw over,” or “to pull towards.” That is the very term Paul uses here for uncircumcised. Perhaps some Jewish Christians thought that was a way to demonstrate their break with Judaism.

The apostle’s meaning here can also be figurative. Circumcised and uncircumcised were commonly used to represent Jew and Gentile, respectively. By extension, the terms may even have related to women, for whom literal circumcision obviously does not apply. And the idea could also be that, when they become Christians, Jews are not to give up their Jewishness and try to appear like Gentiles. Many religious beliefs must be changed, but not racial or cultural identity as Jews.

The same principle applies to Gentiles. Has anyone been called in uncircumcision? Let Him not be circumcised. Gentiles who become Christians are not to become like Jews.

The problem concerning circumcision was not as serious in Corinth as it was in Galatia, where Judaizers taught that circumcision was necessary for salvation (Gal. 5:2–3). In Corinth the practice may have been viewed as a mark of special dedication and a means of special blessing. But circumcision is not necessary either for salvation or for blessing. It has no spiritual significance or value for Christians at all. Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing.

For Jews to want to appear as Gentiles or for Gentiles to subscribe to things unique to Jews was both spiritually and practically wrong. It was spiritually wrong because it added an outward form to the gospel that the Lord does not require and that has no spiritual merit or meaning. It was practically wrong because it unnecessarily separated believers from their families and friends and made witnessing to them much more difficult.

What matters is the keeping of the commandments of God. Obedience is the only mark of faithfulness the Lord recognizes. Obedience is sometimes costly, but it is always possible. We can be obedient anywhere and in any circumstance. The issue is internal.[1]

17 Paul gets into this more general section with ei mē (lit., “if not”), a Greek idiom that generally indicates a contrast with a preceding (often negative) statement (“otherwise,” “nevertheless”). In this case, the statement it relates back to must be v. 15: If the unbelieving spouse wants to leave, that’s fine, for the believing spouse is not bound then. Nevertheless, this is not something that the believing spouse should actively seek, because the Lord in general expects us to remain (“should retain” is, like vv. 2–3, a third person imperative; see comments there) in the social situation in which we found ourselves when we became believers.

Then, to make sure the Corinthians realize he is not treating them any differently from what he expects in any church he started, Paul goes on to say that this is what he commands (diatassō, GK 1411, a verb used also in 9:14; 11:34; 16:1; Tit 1:5) everywhere. Insofar as Paul says something similar in three other places in this letter (1 Co 4:17; 11:16; 14:33), one gets the feeling that some in Corinth may have been charging Paul with treating them differently from, or perhaps more harshly than, his other churches.[2]

7:17 / Paul refocuses the deliberations in this verse. Quite literally he writes, “At any rate, to each as the Lord allotted, each as God has called; thus let one walk—and thus in all the churches I direct.” Paul’s grammar is simple, but his choice of words is subtle, even enigmatic; so translations supply words and phrases to clarify Paul’s elusive statements. The niv’s introduction of the verb should retain, the phrase to which, and the explanatory paraphrasing This is the rule I lay down together add a tone of moral oughtness, depersonalize the focus of Paul’s thought, and lapse into heavy, static moralizing. This rendering misses the personal concern of Paul’s statement, its dynamic confidence in God, and its gentle tone of encouragement and direction.

Far from being heavy-handed, Paul is concerned that the Corinthians alter their social status in celebration and display of their Christian freedom, and he assures them that God attends to their lives as they are. Whatever place in life was granted to the believer by the God-given gift of life, that is the capacity in which God came to the Corinthians and called them. Thus, the Corinthian Christians are able to live with the assurance of God’s concern and in the dignity of knowing that God had brought them to a new life in faith and in the church in their present earthly statuses. Moreover, Paul assures the Corinthians that they are not alone in this endeavor, for all the churches are called and directed in this same manner, even as Paul himself lives this way. The subtlety of Paul’s statement suggests that one should imagine his gently checking, nudging, and encouraging the believers in Corinth. Reading and hearing from this point of view, one perceives a different Paul and even a different God from the one suggested by the severe and clumsy rendering of the niv and most other translations. One may easily misread the NIV to reveal a cold-hearted Paul and a capricious and indifferent God, but that understanding does not fit in the context of this epistle.[3]

7:17. Throughout this passage Paul spoke of God’s calls to believers, calls both to salvation and to various tasks. This emphasis on “call” expanded his statement in verse 15 that “God has called us to live in peace.” Believers live in peace partly by knowing and following God’s call.

It is important to remember that Paul did not suggest that believers should never change their status. He said that they should seek to know how God has called them, and to retain the places God has assigned them. His general rule was: Christians should remain as they are in relationships and service unless God assigns them new tasks.[4]

17. Nevertheless, so let each one live the life the Lord has imparted to him, as God has called each one. And I am laying down this rule in all the churches.

  • “Nevertheless, so let each one live the life the Lord has imparted to him.” The first word is an adversative that calls attention to the exception to the rule that marriage vows are binding (v. 15a, b). When the Christian spouse is divorced by the unbelieving partner, then let it be so, says Paul. Nevertheless, when a marriage has been dissolved, life continues.

However, Paul broadens his scope to address everyone affected by the gospel. Notice that Paul uses the substantive each one twice in the first sentence of this verse. He knows that the gospel enters not only the relationship of husbands and wives, but also of Jew ad Gentile, of slave and freedman. In whatever situation a person becomes a Christian, he or she must remain there. That is the place in life the Lord has designated for everyone. “Paul endeavoured to convince his readers that their relation to Christ was compatible with any social relation or position.” New converts to the Christian faith are often of the opinion that the only way to show gratitude to God for the gift of salvation is to become a minister or missionary of the gospel. This is commendable but not necessary. The Lord calls his people in all walks of life to follow him. He wants them to be Christian fathers and mothers, Christian husbands and wives, Christian employers and employees. Each one should fulfill the role the Lord has assigned to him or her and live (literally, walk) accordingly.

  • “As God has called each one.” in this chapter, Paul repeatedly writes that God has called the believer (vv. 15, 17, 18 [twice], 20, 21, 22 [twice], 24). God calls a person first into the fellowship of Jesus Christ (1:9) and then to a role of fulfilling the Christian life in the setting in which the Lord has placed him. This does not mean that God allows the believer no change of status, employment, or residence. The Lord often leads his people into other areas of life and gives them different roles; in whatever calling God places them, they must reflect his glory. They must live worthily in that place and environment as Christians who demonstrate the love of the Lord Jesus.
  • “And I am laying down this rule in all the churches.” The rule for believers is to stay where the Lord has placed them and to live worthily in their calling. Paul repeats himself to bring the point home (vv. 20, 24). He makes this rule on the strength of his apostolic authority and applies it in all the churches (see 4:17; 14:34; 16:1).[5]

7:17 There is sometimes a feeling among new converts that they must make a complete break with every phase of their former life, including institutions such as marriage which are not in themselves sinful. In the newfound joy of salvation, there is the danger of using forcible revolution to overthrow all that one has previously known. Christianity does not use forcible revolution in order to accomplish its purposes. Rather, its changes are made by peaceful means. In verses 17–24, the apostle lays down the general rule that becoming a Christian need not involve violent revolution against existing ties. Doubtless he has marriage ties primarily in view, but he also applies the principle to racial and social ties.

Each believer is to walk in accordance with the calling of the Lord. If He has called one to married life, then he should follow this in the fear of the Lord. If God has given grace to live a celibate life, then a man should follow that calling. In addition, if at the time of a person’s conversion, he is married to an unsaved wife, then he need not overturn this relationship, but should continue to the best of his ability to seek the salvation of his wife. What Paul is stating to the Corinthians is not for them alone; this is what he taught in all the churches. Vine writes:

When Paul says, “and so ordain I in all the churches,” he is not issuing decrees from a given center, but is simply informing the Church at Corinth that the instructions he was giving them were what he gave in every church.[6]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 170–172). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 321). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 154). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, p. 117). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 229–230). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1768). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.