Daily Archives: January 27, 2019

Sunday’s Hymn: I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus — Rebecca Writes

I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus
Trusting only thee:
Trusting thee for full salvation,
Great and free.

I am trusting thee for pardon;
At thy feet I bow,
For thy grace and tender mercy,
Trusting now.

I am trusting thee for cleansing
In the crimson flood;
Trusting thee to make me holy
By thy blood.

I am trusting thee to guide me;
Thou alone shalt lead,
Ev’ry day and hour supplying
All my need.

I am trusting thee, Lord Jesus;
Never let me fall;
I am trusting thee for ever,
And for all.

—Frances R. Havergal

 

 

Other hymns, worship songs, or quotes for this Sunday:

via Sunday’s Hymn: I Am Trusting Thee, Lord Jesus — Rebecca Writes

January 27 Hope for the Future

scripture reading: Psalm 42
key verse: Psalm 42:5

Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.

Hope brings an anticipation of blessing. We live in hope of a wedding day or the birth of a child or grandchild. We have hope over graduation from college or the day we can finally place “Dr.” in front of our names. There are as many reasons to hope as there are people who live each day.

To know hope, you must endure times of hopelessness. Hope represents an end to desperate longing—a need that begs to be satisfied and in the end is fulfilled. When hope burns within your heart, it cries out to be heard.

The psalmist wrote,

As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So my soul pants for Thee, O God.…
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?” (Ps. 42:1–3 nasb)

What is your hope, your dream, the cry of your heart? Take a moment and go to Jesus with your deepest, most earnest pleas.

Realize that whatever is important to you is even more important to the Lord. Let Him be your Source of hope today.

O Lord, my heart cries out to You today. Like the psalmist, I long for You as a deer desires the cool, refreshing water. Rekindle the dying embers of my hope.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (1998). Enter His gates: a daily devotional. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

27 january (1861) 365 Days with Spurgeon

The Christ of Patmos

“… one like unto the Son of man, … His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow … And when I saw him, I fell at his feet as dead.” Revelation 1:12–18

suggested further reading: Matthew 22:41–46

“His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow.” When the Church described him in the Canticles she said “His locks are bushy and black as a raven’s.” How do we understand this apparent discrepancy? My brethren, the Church in the Canticles looked forward, she looked forward to days and ages that were to come, and she perceived his perpetual youth; she pictured him as one who would never grow old, whose hair would ever have the blackness of youth. And do we not bless God that her view of him was true? We can say of Jesus, “Thou hast the dew of thy youth;” but the Church of to-day looks backward to his work as complete; we see him now as the ancient of eternal days. We believe that he is not the Christ of 1800 years ago merely, but, before the day-star knew its place, he was one with the Eternal Father. When we see in the picture his head and his hair white as snow, we understand the antiquity of his reign. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” When all these things were not, when the old mountains had not lifted their hoary heads into the clouds, when the yet more hoary sea had never roared in tempest; ere the lamps of heaven had been lit, when God dwelt alone in his immensity, and the unnavigated waves of ether, if there were such, had never been fanned by the wings of seraphim, and the solemnity of silence had never been startled by the song of cherubim, Jesus was of old in eternity with God. We know how he was despised and rejected of men, but we understand, too, what he meant when he said, “Before Abraham was, I am.” We know how he who died, when but a little more than thirty years of age, was verily the Father of the everlasting ages, having neither beginning of days nor end of years.

for meditation: Glory in the paradoxes of Christ—seen as old, yet young; God and man; a.d. yet b.c.; David’s Son, yet David’s Lord; a Shepherd, yet a Lamb; the Master, yet a Servant; the Great High Priest, yet the Sacrifice; the Immortal who died and rose again!

sermon no. 357[1]


[1] Spurgeon, C. H., & Crosby, T. P. (1998). 365 Days with Spurgeon (Volume 1) (p. 34). Leominster, UK: Day One Publications.

27 JANUARY 365 Days with Calvin

Defending our Cause

But thou, O Lord, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head. Psalm 3:3

suggested further reading: 2 Samuel 15:1–30

In dependence on God, David courageously encounters enemies who are waging an ungodly and wicked war against him to prevent him from becoming king. Having acknowledged his sin, David now considers the merits of his present cause.

Likewise it becomes the servants of God to respond like David when molested by the wicked. Having mourned over their sins and humbly come to the mercy of God, they may now fix their eyes on the obvious and immediate cause of their afflictions and call upon God to help them. When undeservedly subjected to evil treatment, especially that which opposes the truth of God, they should be greatly encouraged by the assurance that God will maintain his promises to help them against such perfidious treatment.

David might appear to have claimed these things without grounds, seeing he had deprived himself of the approbation and help of God by offending him. But David was persuaded that he was not utterly cut off from the favor of God and that God’s decision to make him king remained unchanged, so he allowed himself to hope for a favorable resolution of his present trial. In comparing God to a shield, David means that he was defended by God’s power. He also says that God is his glory, because God would maintain and defend the royal dignity that he was pleased to confer upon David. Because of this, David is so bold that he declares he can walk with an uplifted head.

for meditation: The knowledge that we are sinners should not keep us from fighting for God’s truth. If the accusation of sin was enough to silence God’s children, no one would be left to herald his truth. Having confessed our sin, we should not be afraid of calling our cause righteous and go forward in God’s strength.[1]


[1] Calvin, J., & Beeke, J. R. (2008). 365 Days with Calvin (p. 45). Leominster; Grand Rapids, MI: Day One Publications; Reformation Heritage Books.

EChurch@Wartburg 01/26/19 — The Wartburg Watch

Why did sinners want to be around Jesus bug not so much around us?

Welcome to a Gathering of EChurch@Wartburg

https://www.publicdomainpictures.net/en/view-image.php?image=231812&picture=scenic-landscape
link

PRAYER AT RISING: The Carmina Gadelica: Celtic Oral Prayers

(From Catherine Maclean, crofter, Naast, Gairloch)

Bless to me, O God,
Each thing mine eye sees;
Bless to me, O God,
Each sound mine ear hears;
Bless to me, O God,
Each odour that goes to my nostrils
Bless to me, O God,
Each taste that goes to my lips;
Each note that goes to my song,
Each ray that guides my way,
Each thing that I pursue.
Each lure that tempts my will,
The zeal that seeks my living soul.
The Three that seek my heart,
The zeal that seeks my living soul,
The Three that seek my heart.
Amen

GOD’S AID: Carmine Gadelica

God to enfold me,
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.

God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my soul,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber,
God in mine ever-living soul,
God in mine eternity.
Amen

1 Peter 5:19 (NIV)

And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.

Ephesians 4:1 (NIV)

As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling (grace) you have received.

https://player.vimeo.com/video/312407325?title=0&portrait=0

Wade Burleson: A Mind That Thinks “Never Perfect; Always Embraced” from Emmanuel Enid on Vimeo.

Benediction

May the love of the Father,
the tenderness of the Son,
and the presence of the Spirit,
gladden your heart
and bring peace to your soul,
this day and all day
Amen.

via EChurch@Wartburg 01/26/19 —

January 27, 2019 Morning Verse Of The Day

Remain

But you, beloved, building yourselves up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. (20–21)

For those of us who are Christians to exercise discernment and protect ourselves from being led astray, we must remain on the path of sanctification. Doing so involves first building ourselves up on our most holy faith. We must become doctrinally strong if we would recognize error and effectively fight the battle for truth. The present, active participle translated building yourselves up has an imperatival sense—meaning it is not optional. Metaphorically, the idea of building up refers to personal edification and spiritual growth, and it implies the establishment of the firm foundation of sound doctrine. As in verse 3, the most holy faith is the objective body of biblical truth.

Practically speaking, edification centers on studying the Word of God and learning to apply it. In Acts 20:32 Paul tells the Ephesian elders, “I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified.” All the ministries of the church should result in edification (Rom. 14:19; 1 Cor. 14:12, 26; Eph. 4:16; 1 Thess. 5:11; cf. 1 Cor. 8:1). God gave the church apostles, prophets, evangelists, and pastor/teachers to proclaim His Word, which results in “the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:11–12; cf. Col. 2:6–7). Peter wrote that believers should desire the Word for spiritual growth, just as babies desire milk for their physical nourishment (1 Peter 2:2). Along those same lines, the apostle John wrote that the spiritually strong believers, those capable of successfully waging effective warfare for the truth, are those in whom the Word of God abides (1 John 2:14).

A second essential element of sanctification involves praying in the Holy Spirit. That expression does not refer to speaking in tongues, but to praying for that which is consistent with the Spirit’s will—His desires, directives, and decrees. Although His will is revealed through the plain commands of Scripture (Deut. 17:19–20; Pss. 19:7, 11; 119:11, 105, 130; Prov. 6:23; Matt. 4:4; Luke 11:28; John 5:39; Rom. 15:4; 2 Tim. 3:16–17; James 1:25), we as believers do not always know how to practically apply it to the various issues of life. Therefore the Holy Spirit intercedes for us before the Father with genuine sympathy and inexpressible fervor (Rom. 8:26–27). Of course, the Spirit’s will and the Father’s will—and even praying in Jesus’ name—are one and the same. When we pray in the Holy Spirit we submit ourselves to Him, rest on His wisdom, seek His will, and trust in His power (cf. John 14:14–17; 1 John 5:14–15).

As we who believe pursue sanctification, we must also keep ourselves in the love of God. This is a vitally important principle, and it means to remain in the sphere of God’s love, or the place of His blessing (Rom. 5:5; 8:39; 1 John 4:16). On a practical level, it means that we must stay obedient to God, since divine blessing is promised only within the sphere of obedience. As Jesus told the apostles:

Just as the Father has loved Me, I have also loved you; abide in My love. If you keep My commandments, you will abide in My love; just as I have kept My Father’s commandments and abide in His love. These things I have spoken to you so that My joy may be in you, and that your joy may be made full. (John 15:9–11; cf. 1 John 2:5)

On the other hand, if we become disobedient, we move from a position of blessing to a position of chastisement (Heb. 12:3–11).

Finally, as we pursue sanctification, we Christians must be waiting anxiously for the mercy of the Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. The verb translated waiting anxiously (prosdechomai) means “to wait for,” or “to welcome,” and connotes doing so with great expectancy. Thus we are to live with eternity in view as we eagerly anticipate the Lord’s return (1 Cor. 1:7; Phil. 3:20; 1 Thess. 1:10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Titus 2:12–13; cf. 1 Peter 4:7; 2 Peter 3:11–13 and the commentary on these three verses in chapter 9 of this volume). On that great future day, all of us who have trusted in Him will experience Christ’s final mercy and enjoy the fullness of eternal life (cf. Rom. 2:7; 1 Tim. 6:12; 1 John 5:13) as we experience the resurrection and glorification of our bodies (John 5:24; 17:3; Rom. 5:17; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 John 5:20; cf. Dan. 7:18).[1]


20. But ye, beloved. He shews the manner in which they could overcome all the devices of Satan, that is, by having love connected with faith, and by standing on their guard as it were in their watch-tower, until the coming of Christ. But as he uses often and thickly his metaphors, so he has here a way of speaking peculiar to himself, which must be briefly noticed.

He bids them first to build themselves on faith; by which he means, that the foundation of faith ought to be retained, but that the first instruction is not sufficient, except they who have been already grounded on true faith, went on continually towards perfection. He calls their faith most holy, in order that they might wholly rely on it, and that, leaning on its firmness, they might never vacillate.

But since the whole perfection of man consists in faith, it may seem strange that he bids them to build upon it another building, as though faith were only a commencement to man. This difficulty is removed by the Apostle in the words which follow, when he adds, that men build on faith when love is added; except, perhaps, some one may prefer to take this meaning, that men build on faith, as far as they make proficiency in it, and doubtless the daily progress of faith is such, that itself rises up as a building. Thus the Apostle teaches us, that in order to increase in faith, we must be instant in prayer and maintain our calling by love.

Praying in the Holy Ghost. The way of persevering is, when we are endued with the power of God. Hence whenever the question is respecting the constancy of faith, we must flee to prayer. And as we commonly pray in a formal manner, he adds, In the Spirit; as though he had said, that such is our sloth, and that such is the coldness of our flesh, that no one can pray aright except he be roused by the Spirit of God; and that we are also so inclined to diffidence and trembling, that no one dares to call God his Father, except through the teaching of the same Spirit; for from him is solicitude, from him is ardour and vehemence, from him is alacrity, from him is confidence in obtaining what we ask; in short, from him are those unutterable groanings mentioned by Paul (Rom. 8:26.) It is not, then, without reason that Jude teaches us, that no one can pray as he ought without having the Spirit as his guide.

21. Keep yourselves in the love of God. He has made love as it were the guardian and the ruler of our life; not that he might set it in opposition to the grace of God, but that it is the right course of our calling, when we make progress in love. But as many things entice us to apostasy, so that it is difficult to keep us faithful to God to the end, he calls the attention of the faithful to the last day. For the hope of that alone ought to sustain us, so that we may at no time despond; otherwise we must necessarily fail every moment.

But it ought to be noticed, that he would not have us to hope for eternal life, except through the mercy of Christ: for he will in such a manner be our judge, as to have no other rule in judging us than that gratuitous benefit of redemption obtained by himself.[2]


Personal Obligations (20–21)

Overview

Bauckham, 111, rightly observes that these verses are no appendix to the letter, rather a climax. They constitute the strategy for “contending for the faith” as originally announced in v. 3. Jude’s pastoral burden is felt at this point. The Christian community must grasp not only the sobriety of the moment but the reality of God’s sure provision.

Commentary

20–21 How is it that Jude’s burden is refracted pastorally? Four admonitions are linked together to underscore the believer’s responsibility: (1) building yourselves up in your most holy faith, (2) praying in the Holy Spirit, (3) keep yourselves in God’s love, and (4) anticipating the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Several features of this fourfold admonition—edifying, praying, remaining, and awaiting—strike the reader. One is the involvement of the Trinity. Each person of the Godhead is at work; the Spirit aids the prayer life, God the Father bestows love, and Christ the Lord dispenses mercy. Another notable feature is the recurrence in v. 21 of the catchword “keep” (tēreō, GK 5498). Of the four verbs in vv. 20–21, three are participial—“building,” “praying,” “awaiting”—and one is imperative—“keep.” The believers are to remain rooted in the love of God. While it is God who calls and initiates (v. 1) and in the end preserves (v. 24), the emphasis here is clearly on human responsibility. Obedience is the fundamental imperative.

Furthermore, the believer anticipates mercy to be revealed in Jesus Christ. Here again we encounter in Jude the link between eschatology and ethics. And it is by Jesus, through whom mercy was originally extended, that final judgment will be meted out. Jesus is no less than the sovereign Lord; mercy and judgment rest in his hand. In addition, the believer demonstrates the genuine presence of the Holy Spirit, in contrast to Jude’s opponents (v. 19), by cultivating a rich prayer life. Life in the Spirit is carried out not by inflated claims but by dependence on God and corresponding fruit.

The fourth admonition, listed first in most English translations, draws from a metaphor quite common in early Christian tradition (e.g., Mt 16:18; Ac 15:16; 1 Co 3:9–15; 2 Co 6:16; Gal 2:9; Eph 2:19–22; Col 2:7; 1 Pe 2:5; cf. 2 Pe 1:5): “building yourselves up in your most holy faith.” This foundation of faith, on which the Christian community is built, is “most holy.” The contrast between the faithful and the unfaithful, the holy and the defiled, is painted in the strongest terms. The saints have been morally transformed; this is the hallmark of the church in a pagan culture.

Reflections

Taken together, these four admonitions, far from advocating passivity, are meant to incite the Christian community as it deals with the cancer of apostasy. They represent tangible means of reaffirming the foundation of faith imparted to them at the outset of their spiritual pilgrimage. A fresh commitment to the spiritual “first things” will allow them to deal with those individuals who pose a threat to the life of the Christian community.[3]


20 / The contrast Jude draws is highlighted as he again speaks directly to his readers and comes to the heart of his letter. He has already said that he is writing to urge them to “contend for the faith” (v. 3). Now he explains what this means in practical terms. His manner of address sets the foundation. As in verses 3 and 17, his readers are dear friends, the niv translation of the Greek agapētoi, “beloved ones,” that is, beloved by God, because they share in the same spiritual relationship as do Jude and all true believers.

The infiltrators are doing their utmost to disrupt the Christian fellowship and to break it down. Jude’s friends, by contrast, are to concentrate on a spiritual construction program. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith, he tells them. This is to be achieved by an ever deepening grasp of what God in Christ has done for them, according to the teaching handed down by the apostles (v. 3). Although Jude does not spell it out, this building up is the consequence of Bible study, meditating upon the word of God as recorded in the Scriptures, as other early Christian writers consistently make clear.

But it has to be borne in mind that Jude’s exhortation is addressed to the whole body of believers. He is not suggesting that individuals should concern themselves only with their own spiritual progress. All have a part to play in strengthening the Christian community as a whole. The biblical metaphor of “building up, edifying” is invariably communal, not individual (1 Cor. 14:12, 26; 1 Thess. 5:11; 1 Pet. 2:5).

The Christian faith is described as most holy because it comes to us not through human reasoning but by revelation of the holy God about himself. The basic biblical meaning of “holy” is “set apart as different.” The most holy faith is one that is different from all other religions in being unique in its message and in its moral transforming power.

The readers must also pray in the Holy Spirit (John 4:23–24; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18), an expression that includes, but is not confined to, praying in tongues (1 Cor. 14:15–16). God’s Spirit alone can teach believers how to pray aright (Rom. 8:26). Without him, prayer can easily become self-centered or at best off-course. Such Spirit-prompted prayer is vital to the Christian life and its development. By contrast, the false teachers, since they do not have the Spirit (v. 19), cannot pray aright—and perhaps they do not even pray at all, as some “advanced” modern-day professing Christians freely admit. But Jude clearly implies that prayer has a major role in building up Christian life.

21 / Jude exhorts his readers, Keep yourselves in God’s love. That love was responsible for their call to faith in the first place (v. 1). But believers have their part to play. They must continue to respond to God’s love (John 15:9–10; Rom. 8:35–39; 1 John 4:16) and thereby maintain and strengthen their relationship with him. The false teachers have demonstrated that it is all too possible to turn away from God’s love (Rev. 2:4) and as a consequence to cool in their love for others.

Persistence is called for in this matter, as in so many other aspects of the Christian life. The final outcome for believers is assured, and this certain hope is referred to by the words as you wait. Yet this expectant attitude toward the future must be balanced. “If too great attention is paid to the future hope, the Christian tends to become so other-worldly that he is not much use in this world. If, however, as is the greater danger today, the future element is soft-pedalled, Christianity becomes a mere religious adjunct to the social services” (Green, p. 185).

All God’s gifts to the believer are due to the divine mercy, a note struck in the opening prayer (v. 1). God has committed the final judgment to the Lord Jesus Christ (John 5:22), and it is he who will bring you to eternal life, for that life is his gift (John 17:2). It begins in this world, and will be known in all its fullness in the next.[4]


Contending for the faith: the Christian

Jude 20–21

When Jude began his letter, he said that although his original intention was to write a general letter about ‘the salvation we share’, he had narrowed down his concern to ‘urge you to contend for the faith’ (verse 3). By ‘salvation’ and ‘faith’ he meant the same Christian message, of course; but his different words and emphases show his apprehension over the disturbances that were occurring in the churches. ‘Salvation’ is the great future hope of Jesus’ return as Saviour, but that hope was being undermined by those who did not ‘share’ it with Jude or his faithful readers. Similarly, ‘the faith’ is the fixed Christian gospel, but it was being eroded by those who denied that it was given to the church ‘once for all’, and instead felt free to ‘change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality’ (verse 4).

When we are faced with similar pressures today to alter basic Christian doctrine or behaviour, how do we respond? Some are tempted to ignore them and hope they will wither away with time. They would argue that although the church has always been beset by false teachers, God has preserved true teaching, and so we should not be unduly alarmist. Instead, we should concentrate on affirming our fellowship. This is naïve in Jude’s eyes, for he says that these people are all too ready to meet in a hollow mockery of fellowship. In the long run, however, they are not loved back into the way of truth, but prove to be ‘blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm’ (verse 12). Evasion will not work.

Others suggest that we need the stress on experience, inner conviction and certainty, married to Jude’s passion for truth and structure. The difference, they say, is not between truth and heresy, but between personalities and values. But such a warm approach, which would be welcomed by the false teachers, effectively removes any authority from Jude’s writing and means that we stand over, not under, his authority.

Yet others find the mere presence of false teaching in a church so alarming that the only course of action is immediate evacuation into other, purer churches. That may solve the problem in the short term; but in this letter Jude is warning that a liberalizing danger will always threaten churches, and the pure church of one generation faces the very real danger of becoming the heretical church of the next. Evasion, even-handedness and evacuation are not answers to error.

That is a hard word for today, as our inter-church philosophy is very often the reverse of Jude’s insights. We may say that although we differ in precise points of theology, we aim to meet in unity around the Lord’s Supper. The World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Paper on Baptism, Eucharist and Ministry says: ‘The eucharist shows us that our behaviour is inconsistent in face of the reconciling presence of God in human history: we are placed under continual judgment by the persistence of unjust relationships of all kinds in our society, the manifold divisions on account of human pride, material interest and power politics and, above all, the obstinacy of unjustifiable confessional oppositions within the body of Christ.’ Jude would not deny that the Lord’s Supper is a powerful uniting symbol, for he calls it a ‘love feast’; but he would question the assumption that doctrinal differences are by definition unjustifiable, or that such differences must disappear before the more powerful symbol of the shared meal. Jude does not call us to unity at the price of doctrine. He does indeed call us to unity in ‘the salvation we share’, but also calls us to ‘contend for the faith’ (verse 3).

So far, Jude has explained only why we should ‘contend for the faith’, the reason being that it is under the attack we should expect. In this final section of six verses, he tells us how to contend, setting out the three steps which are necessary if we are to do so. First (verses 20–21), we must take care of ourselves, ensuring that we are correctly centred on God and his gospel. Secondly (verses 22–23), we have certain responsibilities to those who are falling foul of wrong teaching. Thirdly (verses 24–25), we must keep our eyes firmly fixed on the great future which God has promised us. Richard Bauckham properly says that these verses are ‘not an appendix to the letter but its climax’.

This chapter deals with the first of these aspects of contending for the faith. In a series of four pieces of pastoral wisdom which are designed to be an effective remedy against spiritual danger, Jude urges us to keep a watch on ourselves and on one another. They all involve activities for which we are responsible, but they also involve the active work of God the Father, our Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit.

  1. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith (20a)

The faith, as we have continually seen in Jude’s letter, is that body of doctrine which Christians have believed from the earliest days of the church. Of course, Christians have explored it and expressed it in different ways for different times, but from the outset there has always been a recognizable, defensible gospel. Paul wrote in what is probably the earliest New Testament letter: ‘If anybody is preaching to you a gospel other than what you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!… I want you to know, brothers, that the gospel I preached is not something that man made up.’ Because it is not a figment of our collective imaginations, but comes as a direct message from the throne of God himself, it is most holy and it has the power to make those who believe it into ‘saints’ (verse 3; literally ‘holy ones’). In the Old Testament, anything which belonged to the holy God was automatically holy, and the punishment for stealing it or maltreating it was the death penalty at God’s own hand. Jude has already shown what must happen to those who hijack the most holy faith that God has entrusted to us.

We are not to be so fearful of the awesomeness of this faith that we make the error of treating it like a fragile antique vase, which must be kept locked up and guarded for its own safety. When the Bible urges us to defend the gospel, it tells us to do so by teaching it fearlessly. We are to have a reverent but robust confidence in it and take practical steps to build ourselves up in it. Growing as Christians, and growing more closely together as Christians, are duties which New Testament writers frequently compare to the constant productive activity of a building site. Jude’s desire, then, would not be fulfilled by formulating a short doctrinal basis and then defending it against all comers. Such bases may be useful, but they can be no more than summaries of the wonderful comprehensiveness and interrelatedness of Scripture. Jude wants to see the whole of our lives—that is, our intellects, actions, consciences, motives and imaginations—brought increasingly into conformity to God’s Word. This is a life-long activity; he says literally that we are to ‘keep on building’. It is also a corporate activity; he instructs his readers to build yourselves up, a plural which indicates that we are involved not in a solo spiritual quest but in a common concern and love. The first sigh that a Christian is in danger of falling away is a tendency to be a loner, cut off from sources of encouragement and nurture. In a Christian leader, such isolation can mean a dangerous lack of accountability. If we have friends who are physically distant from other Christians, we should make the effort to ensure that they are still spiritually ‘plugged in’; and if we have friends who are failing to use the supports that God has provided in the church, we should gently try to win them back. Jude saw Christians drifting away from genuine fellowship into the arms of the heretics, and he wants to warn us that it is dangerous to be a solo Christian. A brick cannot be built into the building unless it is on the building site.

  1. Pray in the Holy Spirit (20b)

This is the second time Jude has mentioned the Holy Spirit. He has told us that the counterfeit Christian leaders ‘do not have the Spirit’ (verse 19), and now he tells the genuine Christians to pray in the Holy Spirit. Despite what the counterfeits were probably saying, there is no such person as a Christian who does not have the Holy Spirit, for the Spirit is God’s gift to the church at Pentecost and to each of us when we are converted. The false message had spread that there are lower-class Christians, who are saved but still lack the Spirit; and upper-class Christians who have a higher level of spiritual awareness. Jude has turned that argument on its head, for the people who teach that kind of doctrine actually demonstrate that they have not even been converted! Of course, the Bible teaches that we need to be filled with the Spirit, but that is a continual requirement for all Christians. It is not a rebuke to a sub-standard group.

Part of the Holy Spirit’s promised work is to make us aware of the gap between the way things should be and the way things are, as understood from the Bible. When we are aware of it on a personal level, we call that experience conviction of sin. When we are aware of it in another person, we may realize that he or she needs to understand a particular Christian truth in order to become a Christian or a better Christian, and we call that experience love. When we are aware of it in a church or an organization, it might take any one of a number of forms. We might want to take a range of actions, but our first and most constant response must be to pray for that gap to narrow, especially when the problem is prayerlessness. Calvin comments wisely: ‘Such is the coldness of our make-up that none can succeed in praying as he ought without the prompting of the Spirit of God.’

It is important to understand that Jude is not rebuking them for praying in a wrong, fleshly way and encouraging them to a higher mode of praying, as if there was a category of praying ‘out of’ the Spirit as well as in the … Spirit. J. D. G. Dunn is among those who have argued that case here. He sees that Jude is undermining a two-tier Christianity; Jude ‘castigates his opponents as “worldly-minded, lacking the Spirit” … clearly they have laid claim to be pneumatichoi [spiritual], denying the epithet to others. Jude will have none of this.’ But then Professor Dunn slips into the same two-tier error that he has just said Jude wants to deny. Jude’s ‘aim seems to be to achieve the same sort of charismatic balance that Paul strives for in 1 Cor. 14. A reference to charismatic prayer, including glossolalic prayer [prayer in tongues], may therefore be assumed.’ But to say that Jude is encouraging speaking in tongues here, and that it ‘may be assumed’, is to misread him wildly. There is no evidence of that issue being anywhere in Jude’s field of vision. Only if we come to this passage having already decided that pray in the Holy Spirit means using charismatic gifts will we reach that conclusion. But that is to import into the text a preferred meaning that it cannot be proved to carry. Jude just wants us to pray.

In the context of the issue which Jude says faces us, our prayer for ourselves and one another will be that we may not deviate from our faith and hope. For new Christians we shall pray that they will put down good and healthy roots; for our teachers and leaders, that they will not be led into error and so lead us into error; and for those who have fallen into error, that they may come back—or even be converted.

  1. Keep yourselves in God’s love (21a)

God’s basic attitude towards humankind is his love, by which Jude means the strong passion he has to save us from his rightful indignation at our disobedience. He has given us promises of salvation, and the correct response of his covenant people to his covenant love is to echo his love by our obedience. There are always two sides to this. On one side, as Paul found out, ‘Christ’s love compels us’15 as an inexorable force, and he prayed that the Ephesians might ‘grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ’. But on the other side, Jesus warned us to ‘remain in my love. If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’17 Although God’s love towards us is fixed and promised in his covenant, then, it is possible for us to position ourselves outside it, and instead to face his anger.

Jude has written about both sides of God’s love. He opened his letter by telling us that we are ‘loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ’ (verse 1), and now as he closes he tells us to keep ourselves in God’s love. We know from his letter that the way we do this is by ensuring that we are constantly obeying God. If we want to know what happens to those who do not keep themselves in God’s love, we need look no further than the examples of the Israelites in the desert, the angels, the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Cain, Balaam and Korah. If we want to see the present counterparts of those people and places, we need only look at those who behave in the same way and share their mocking attitude to God’s law.

  1. Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ (21b)

Christianity makes sense only if the promises God makes are kept. God gave the Old Testament believers wonderful promises about what he would do, and they responded to him by patiently and faithfully waiting. Micah saw that all around him the Israelites were deserting the covenant. ‘But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord, I wait for God my Saviour; my God will hear me.’ The New Testament opens with the hope being kept alive as Zechariah led the temple worshippers in prayer for the Messiah to come. And when the baby Jesus was brought to the temple for the first time, he was recognized by Simeon, who had been ‘waiting for the consolation of Israel’, and by Anna, who ‘spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Israel’. Once Jesus had made it clear that he was going back to heaven and would return only later, it became the turn of his disciples to behave ‘like men waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet, so that when he comes and knocks they can immediately open the door for him’.20

Jude urges us to wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring us to eternal life. This indicates that only God’s final intervention in our world will ultimately prove that God’s Word is true, and that it is his great gift to those who believe it. We do of course enter into eternal life now as Christians, but what we experience in this life is largely dominated by a battle because we are still waiting for our new resurrection bodies. Paul wrote that ‘the whole creation has been groaning … right up to the present time’. Christians ‘groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies’. Even the Holy Spirit himself ‘intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express’. It is important to realize how supremely right it is that creation, Christians and even God himself ‘groan’ in this way. God’s promises are still waiting for their final fulfilment, and Christians pin their destiny on the future rather than the present.

Jude’s prescription has involved the Christians with the living Trinity: they obediently keep themselves in God’s love, pray in the Holy Spirit and wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is a powerful and effective antidote to the poison of the people Jude opposes. For their part, they wilfully ‘change the grace of our God into a licence for immorality’ (verse 4); they cannot pray because they ‘do not have the Spirit’ (verse 19); and they rebelliously ‘deny Jesus Christ’ (verse 4). Jude’s opponents would not find themselves ‘groaning’ as they battle to be holy. Instead, they grumble (verse 16), complaining that God places such heavy demands on them. They long to produce selfish cries of delight as they ‘follow their own evil desires’ (verse 16). Will they have any hope of mercy on that day? Only if we take some action towards them, as Jude is about to tell us.[5]


20–21. Knowing the reality of false teachers, how do we safeguard ourselves against them? The niv seems to suggest three instructions, but the Greek gives us four participles: building, praying, keeping, and expecting. To arm ourselves against false teachers, we must (1) build yourselves up in your most holy faith, (2) pray in the Holy Spirit, (3) keep yourselves in God’s love, and (4) wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

To build oneself up in the most holy faith means to grow spiritually. Fundamental to such growth is to learn as much as possible of the truth of Scripture and to set one’s life to believe and obey it. The most holy faith is that which was once for all entrusted to the saints (v. 3). It embodied the teaching of Jesus and the apostles and is now recorded in the Scriptures. “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16–17). If we want to be trained in righteousness and equipped for every good work, we must make the Scriptures a central part of our lives.

Praying in the Holy Spirit is not necessarily a reference to speaking in tongues but may include this as one part of prayer (see John 4:23–24; Rom. 8:15–16; Gal. 4:6; Eph. 6:18). Rather, it refers to praying under the direction and influence of the Holy Spirit, trusting him to intercede for us with “groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26). The how of praying may not be so much in focus here as the need for life in the Spirit which the false teachers did not have (v. 19). They did not have the Spirit because they did not pray for the Spirit and did not let the Spirit guide them in their prayers. Those who build themselves up in faith do so not by mystic journeys to the heavens or by self-glorying speech but by spending time with the Holy Spirit.

Keeping oneself in God’s love does not suggest that our salvation depends on our own effort, but rather that we live in faith and obedience to God. Repeatedly in his Gospel and in his first epistle, John reminds us that if we love God, we keep his commandments (John 15:10; 1 John 3:24). So keeping ourselves in God’s love must include keeping God’s commandments from the heart (Rom. 6:17). Keeping those commandments finds its ultimate expression in love of the brothers (1 John 3:14; cf. 1 Thess. 4:10; 1 Pet. 1:22; 3:8).

To wait for the mercy of our Lord … to bring eternal life probably refers primarily to the hope of Christ’s return. Jesus might come at any moment. Titus 2:13 captures the idea: the “blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ.” Waiting in hope infuses all of life with expectancy and the desire to do all that Jesus expects of us so we will have no shame when he returns. This expectant waiting is a fourth means of building ourselves up.

Even if Jesus doesn’t come in our lifetime, when we die and go into the presence of the Lord, we will receive his mercy and eternal life. That promise should be enough to motivate us to resist false teachers and to obey Christ by building ourselves up through prayer, love, and hope.[6]


Persevere and Pray

20–21

The last few verses of his letter Jude devotes to the initial readers. In contrast with the lengthy discourse about the wickedness of the apostates, the final remarks to the believers are brief. In a series of four commands Jude tells them to cultivate the familiar Christian virtues of faith, prayer, love, and hope. Moreover, in these two verses Jude refers to the Trinity: God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.

20. But you, dear friends, build yourselves up in your most holy faith and pray in the Holy Spirit.

  • “Dear friends.” Once again (see v. 17) Jude contrasts the readers with the heretics, and now with pastoral care he addresses them as “dear friends,” that is, beloved by God (v. 1) and by Jude himself. After depicting the destructive life of the unbelievers, he states how believers ought to live positively. The first command is:
  • “Build yourselves up in your most holy faith.” While the godless men enter the Christian community to bring division, Jude commands the readers to build each other spiritually and thus strengthen the unity of the church. Jude writes an apostolic command, for he puts in his own words Paul’s description of the pastor’s role: “To prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” (Eph. 4:12; also see Col. 2:7; 1 Thess. 5:11). Jude instructs his readers: “You must continue to build yourselves up on the foundation of your most holy faith.” He illustrates his message with a reference to the building trade: build on a foundation.

What is that foundation on which the believers must construct their spiritual house? Faith! This is the first virtue in the series of four Jude lists in this verse and the next (v. 21). He has returned to the subject faith with which he began his epistle: “Dear friends, … I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). Hence he begins and ends his letter with the subject faith. This faith is the body of Christian doctrines which the apostles taught (see Acts 2:42). The reference here is not to subjective faith, the personal trust the believer places in Jesus Christ, but rather to objective faith (Christian beliefs), which is the foundation for the body of Christ.

Notice how verses 3 and 20 complement each other. At the beginning of his letter, Jude urges the readers to contend for the faith “that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (v. 3). And in verse 20 he exhorts the believers to build themselves up in the “most holy faith.” This faith is a gift of God that is entrusted to Christians and is described in superlative form as “most holy.” This faith which originates with God is perfect, pure, and incomparable. Believers should put forth every effort to fortify their brothers and sisters with this precious gift which they together possess. By continuing to strengthen each other, they achieve unity and purpose “to become the one holy community of the Lord.” In their task, however, they do not stand alone as the body of Christ. Jude lists the second of four virtues (faith, prayer, love, and hope) and commands the believers to pray.

  • “Pray in the Holy Spirit.” Together Christians must pray continually in the Spirit to show their complete dependence upon God. Jude’s wording is similar to that of Paul, who writes, “And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests” (Eph. 6:18) to oppose the spiritual attacks of Satan. Jude presents the apostolic teaching, known among the early Christians, to pray continually (see 1 Thess. 5:17). He exhorts the believers: “Keep on praying, for you possess the Spirit.” The Spirit takes our feeble prayers and perfects and presents them to God the Father. As Paul tells the church, “The Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express” (Rom. 8:26).

21. Keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

  • “Keep yourselves in God’s love.” Of the four Christian virtues enumerated in this passage, Jude introduces the third, namely, love. Amid the uncertainties, difficulties, and temptations that surround the believers, Jude admonishes them to keep themselves within the circle of God’s love and literally to stay in that sphere. Christians are recipients of this love when they strive to do God’s will by loving him with heart, soul, and mind and by loving their neighbor as themselves (see Matt. 22:37–39).

The phrase the love of God can mean either God’s love for man or man’s love for God. Even though the choice is difficult to make, the context seems to favor God’s love for man. As Jude states in the salutation in verse 1, the readers “are loved by God the Father” (also compare John 15:9–10; 1 John 2:5). God comes to man and surrounds him with divine love; in response man comes to God with human love.

  • “As you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This is the fourth Christian virtue Jude introduces: hope. Granted that the word itself is not in the text, we know that the context clearly expresses the idea. To hope and to wait eagerly are twin concepts to which the text, in effect, testifies. The text literally says: “As you are waiting with anticipation.” For instance, this expression also is used to describe our expectation of the resurrection (Acts 24:15), the prospect of eternal glory (Thus 2:13), and servants who await the return of their master (Luke 12:36).

A Christian waits with eager expectation for the day of judgment in which Christ’s mercy will acquit him. In other words, the text calls attention to the judgment day when all believers will experience “the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ,” but all the wicked will receive their just reward. Notice that Jude once again (see v. 17) refers to Jesus as “our Lord Jesus Christ.” That is, the believers who acknowledge him as their Lord and Savior know that he grants them eternal life.

  • “To bring you to eternal life.” In this last phrase Jude summarizes the work of the Trinity (God the Father, the Holy Spirit, and the Lord Jesus Christ) and the result of four Christian virtues (faith, prayer, love, and hope). Believers have everlasting fellowship with God when they experience the fullness of eternal life in his presence.[7]

[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2005). 2 Peter and Jude (pp. 200–201). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Calvin, J., & Owen, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Catholic Epistles (pp. 446–448). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[3] Charles, D. J. (2006). Jude. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 565–566). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Hillyer, N. (2011). 1 and 2 Peter, Jude (pp. 263–264). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Lucas, R. C., & Green, C. (1995). The message of 2 Peter & Jude: the promise of His coming (pp. 218–224). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[6] Walls, D., & Anders, M. (1999). I & II Peter, I, II & III John, Jude (Vol. 11, pp. 266–267). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[7] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Epistles of Peter and the Epistle of Jude (Vol. 16, pp. 404–406). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: O the Deep, Deep Love — The Thirsty Theologian

O the Deep, Deep Love of Jesus
EBENEZER

imageO the deep, deep love of Jesus,
vast, unmeasured, boundless, free,
rolling as a mighty ocean
in its fullness over me.
Underneath me, all around me,
is the current of Thy love;
leading onward, leading homeward
to my glorious rest above.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
spread His praise from shore to shore!
How He loveth, ever loveth,
changeth never, nevermore!
How He watcheth o’er His loved ones,
died to call them all His own;
how for them He intercedeth,
watcheth o’er them from the throne.

O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
love of ev’ry love the best;
’tis an ocean vast of blessing,
’tis a haven sweet of rest.
O the deep, deep love of Jesus,
’tis heav’n of heav’ns to me;
and it lifts me up to glory,
for it lifts me up to Thee.

Hymns to the Living God (Religious Affections Ministries, 2017).

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/TliCy09D3v0?rel=0&showinfo=0

https://www.youtube-nocookie.com/embed/KLTu1xv2-Us?rel=0&showinfo=0

The current hymnal for this series is Hymns to the Living God, published by Religious Affections Ministries. This is such a good hymnal that I’m pretty sure I could happily post every hymn it contains, but I’ll be limiting selections to hymns I have never posted here before, especially those unfamiliar to me (of which there are many). For more information and to purchase this hymnal, visit Religious Affections Ministries.

via In Preparation for the Lord’s Day: O the Deep, Deep Love — The Thirsty Theologian

SSB Sunday Gathering – January 27, 2018 — Spiritual Sounding Board

 

Spiritual Sounding Board – This is your place to gather and share in an open format.

-by Kathi

***

Scripture is taken from the Book of Common Prayer, Readings for Epiphany and Ordinary Time Until Lent, Year 1 and may be found here.

Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song, for he has done marvelous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The Lord has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations. He has remembered his love and his faithfulness to Israel; all the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God.

Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth, burst into jubilant song with music; make music to the Lord with the harp, with the harp and the sound of singing, with trumpets and the blast of the ram’s horn — shout for joy before the Lord, the King.

Let the sea resound, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it. Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy; let them sing before the Lord, for he comes to judge the earth. He will judge the world in righteousness and the peoples with equity.

Hebrews 10: 19 – 31

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another — and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified them, and who has insulted the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” and again, “The Lord will judge his people.” It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.

John 5: 2 – 18

Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie — the blind, the lame, the paralyzed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, “Do you want to get well?”

“Sir,” the invalid replied, “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.”

Then Jesus said to him, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, 1and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, “It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.”

But he replied, “The man who made me well said to me, ‘Pick up your mat and walk.’ ”

So they asked him, “Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?”

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defense Jesus said to them, “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” 1For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.

***

***

May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you: wherever he may send you;

may he guide you through the wilderness: protect you from the storm;

may he bring you home rejoicing: at the wonders he has shown you;

may he bring you home rejoicing: once again into our doors.

***

Feel free to join the discussion.

You can share your church struggles and concerns.

Let’s also use it as a time to encourage one another spiritually.

What have you found spiritually encouraging lately?

Do you have any special Bible verses to share, any YouTube songs that you have found uplifting?

Photo credit: Kathi

SSB Sunday Gathering – January 27, 2018 — Spiritual Sounding Board

January 27 For the love of God (Vol. 2)

Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27

 

for narrative simplicity and power, the book of Esther readily captures the imagination. Though by now we are three chapters into it, we can pick up something of both its flavor and its message by reflecting on selected elements of Esther 4.

(1) The book makes its profound theological points by the shape of its restrained narrative. Commentators never fail to observe that not once does the book explicitly mention God. Nevertheless, it says a great deal about God and his providence, about his protection of his covenant people (even when they are far from the land, learning to survive during the exile and throughout the Diaspora), and about their faith in him, even when they are horribly threatened.

(2) The book thus gradually leads us to reflect on the strange circumstances that bring Esther to succeed Vashti as queen, as the consort of the Emperor Xerxes. If the point is overlooked by the careless reader, the chapter before us makes it pretty obvious to all but the most obtuse. “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (4:14), Mordecai asks Esther by the hand of Hathach. Mordecai is not appealing to impersonal fate; he is a devout and pious Jew. But the form of his utterance emphasizes God’s sovereign providence even while implicitly acknowledging that providence is hard to read. God’s people must act responsibly, wisely, strategically in light of the circumstances that play out around them, knowing that God is in control.

(3) Even while Mordecai mourns and wails deeply when he discovers Haman’s plot (4:1–3), he neither descends into fatalism nor loses his faith. Having had time to mull over the wretched threat to his people, he reaches the conclusion (as he puts it to Esther) that, “For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish” (4:14). Granted that God is faithful to his covenant promises, Mordecai cannot conceive that he would permit the people of God to be destroyed.

(4) True to her upbringing by Mordecai, Esther simultaneously expresses confidence in the living God and avoids the presumption that God’s purposes for her life are easy to infer. She knows that God is there and that he hears and answers importunate prayer. “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa [the capital city], and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do.… And if I perish, I perish” (4:16). While she resolves to do what is right, she acknowledges that she cannot see her own future and commits herself to the grace of God.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 2, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

01/27/19 Practical Discipleship: Time Management — ChuckLawless.com

READING: Ephesians 5:16

God gives all of us the same amount of time, but we don’t all use that time equally wisely. Some of us waste much more time than we care to admit—and then we find excuses not to fit our devotional time into the day. Here, though, is one suggestion for dealing with this time issue: find and use your “10-minute segments” wisely to spend time with God.  

It seems to me that all of us can find 10-minute blocks throughout the day to spend at least a few minutes with God. In each 10-minute block (and I encourage you to find more than one each day), you can:

  • read chapters of the Bible
  • focus the entire time on praising God, confessing sin, or interceding for others
  • work on memorizing a scripture verse
  • journal about what God is doing in your life
  • sit quietly and just meditate on the majesty of God
  • read a devotional book entry, etc.

I am convinced that if we learn to use our 10-minute blocks well, we will long to spend even more time with God. Give it a shot today—watch for those segments of time, and turn your attention to God!

PRAYER: “God, help me to redeem the time You give me, beginning with my 10-minute times.”

TOMORROW’S READING: Exodus 8-10, Matthew 18:10-35

01/27/19 Practical Discipleship: Time Management — ChuckLawless.com

January 27 For the love of God (Vol. 1)

Genesis 28; Matthew 27; Esther 4; Acts 27

 

the name bethel means “house of God.” I wonder how many churches, houses, Bible colleges and seminaries, Christian shelters, and other institutions have chosen this name to grace their signs and their letterheads.

Yet the event that gave rise to the name (Gen. 28) was a mixed bag. There is Jacob, scurrying across the miles to the home of his uncle Laban. Ostensibly he is looking for a godly wife—but this reason nests more comfortably in Isaac’s mind than in Jacob’s. In reality he is running for his life, as the previous chapter makes clear: he wishes to escape being assassinated by his own brother in the wake of his own tawdry act of betrayal and deceit. Judging by the requests he makes to God, he is in danger of having too little food and inadequate clothing, and he is already missing his own family (28:20–21). Yet here God meets him in a dream so vivid that Jacob declares, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven” (28:17).

For his part, God reiterates the substance of the Abrahamic Covenant to this grandson of Abraham. The vision of the ladder opens up the prospect of access to God, of God’s immediate contact with a man who up to this point seems more driven by expedience than principle. God promises that his descendants will multiply and be given this land. The ultimate expansion is also repeated: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring” (28:14). Even at the personal level, Jacob will not be abandoned, for God declares, “I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (28:15).

Awakened from his dream, Jacob erects an altar and calls the place Bethel. But in large measure he is still the same wheeler-dealer. He utters a vow: If God will do this and that and the other, if I get all that I want and hope for out of this deal, “then the Lord will be my God” (28:20–21).

And God does not strike him down! The story moves on: God does all that he promised, and more. All of Jacob’s conditions are met. One of the great themes of Scripture is how God meets us where we are: in our insecurities, in our conditional obedience, in our mixture of faith and doubt, in our fusion of awe and self-interest, in our understanding and foolishness. God does not disclose himself only to the greatest and most stalwart, but to us, at our Bethel, the house of God.[1]


[1] Carson, D. A. (1998). For the love of God: a daily companion for discovering the riches of God’s Word. (Vol. 1, p. 25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

January 26 Knowing God

Scripture reading: Ephesians 3:14–21

Key verses: Ephesians 3:18–19

[That you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the width and length and depth and height—to know the love of Christ which passes knowledge; that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.

It’s difficult to describe things that are beyond the terms of our immediate visual experience. For example, we know that outer space is immeasurably vast, but we cannot make any concrete comparisons. When numbers get up into billions and trillions and even higher, the effect is staggering, and we lose all sense of their meaning. And there are crevices in the ocean floor that go down so far they cannot be measured.

If we cannot fully grasp the mysteries of our physical world, how much more inept are we at comprehending our all-knowing, all-powerful, eternal Lord? Yet the true wonder is that God wants you to know Him and love Him the way He loves you. He does not want to remain a distant mystery.

That was why Paul stressed the importance of understanding who He is: “[I pray that you] may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ which surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled up to all the Fulness of God” (Eph. 3:18–19 nasb).

When you are filled with the knowledge and intimate experience of His love, the rest of life falls into perspective. His clarity and righteousness subdue the confusions and complexities of this world. God is not impenetrable or distant, and He desires your fellowship.

Dear God, I want to know You and love You the way You love me. Fill me with the knowledge and intimate experience of Your love.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2002). Seeking His face (p. 27). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

January 26, 2019 Evening Verse Of The Day

The Inquiry

Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (3:1–3)

The placing of the chapter break here is unfortunate, since the story of Jesus’ interaction with Nicodemus is logically tied to the previous section (2:23–25). As noted in chapter 7 of this volume, John 2:23–25 described Jesus’ refusal to accept shallow, sign-based faith, since in His omniscience, He understood the people’s hearts. The story of Nicodemus is a case in point, since Nicodemus himself was one of those superficial believers whose heart He read like an open book. Instead of affirming his profession, the Lord refused to accept Nicodemus’s faith, which was solely based on the signs he had witnessed (v. 2). Jesus pointed him to the life-transforming nature of true saving faith.

Nicodemus (“victor over the people”) was a Greek name common among the Jews of Jesus’ day. Some have identified Nicodemus with a wealthy man of that same name mentioned in the Talmud. But since that Nicodemus was still alive when Jerusalem was destroyed in a.d. 70, he would probably have been too young to have been a member of the Sanhedrin during Jesus’ ministry four decades earlier (cf. 7:50–51). The implication of verse 4 that Nicodemus was already an old man when he met with Jesus argues further against that identification.

Nicodemus was a member of the elite religious party the Pharisees. Their name probably derives from a Hebrew verb meaning “to separate”; they were the “separated ones” in the sense of being zealous for the Mosaic law (and their own oral traditions, which they added to it [cf. Matt. 15:2–6; Mark 7:8–13]). The Pharisees originated during the intertestamental period, likely as an offshoot of the Hasidim (“pious ones”), who opposed the Hellenizing of Jewish culture under the wicked Seleucid king Antiochus Epiphanes. Unlike their archrivals the Sadducees, who tended to be wealthy priests or Levites, the Pharisees generally came from the middle class. Therefore, though few in number (there were about 6,000 at the time of Herod the Great, according to the first-century Jewish historian Josephus), they had great influence with the common people (though, ironically, the Pharisees often viewed some with contempt [cf. 7:49]). Despite being the minority party, their popularity with the people gave them significant influence in the Sanhedrin (cf. Acts 5:34–40).

With the disappearance of the Sadducees in a.d. 70 (after the temple was destroyed) and the Zealots in a.d. 135 (after the Bar Kochba revolt was crushed), the Pharisees became the dominant force in Judaism. In fact, by the end of the second century a.d., with the completion of the Mishnah (the written compilation of the oral law, rituals, and traditions), the Pharisee’s teaching became virtually synonymous with Judaism.

Ironically, it was their very zeal for the law that caused the Pharisees to become ritualized and external. Having unchanged hearts, they would only replace true religion with mere behavior modification and ritual. In response to their pseudo-spirituality, Jesus scathingly pointed out: “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cummin, and have neglected the weightier provisions of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness; but these are the things you should have done without neglecting the others” (Matt. 23:23; cf. 6:1–5; 9:14; 12:2; Luke 11:38–39). Even worse, the wide gap between their teaching and their practice led to gross hypocrisy, which both Jesus (e.g., Matt. 23:2–3) and, surprisingly, the Talmud (which lists seven classes of Pharisees, six of which are hypocritical) denounced. As a result, despite their zeal for God’s law, they were “blind guides of the blind” (Matt. 15:14), who made their proselytes doubly worthy of the hell to which they themselves were headed (Matt. 23:15). Even if they had not been hypocrites, keeping the law could never have saved them, “because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified” (Rom. 3:20; cf. 3:28; Gal. 2:16; 3:11, 24; 5:4)—a truth that the zealous Pharisee Saul of Tarsus eventually discovered (Phil. 3:4–11).

But Nicodemus was no run-of-the-mill Pharisee; he was a ruler of the Jews. That is, he was a member of the Sanhedrin (cf. 7:50), the governing council of Israel (under the ultimate authority of the Romans). Jewish tradition traced the origin of the Sanhedrin to the seventy elders who assisted Moses (Num. 11:16–17). Ezra, also according to tradition, reorganized that body after the exile (cf. Ezra 5:5, 9; 6:7–8, 14; 10:8). However, the Sanhedrin of New Testament times probably originated during the period of Persian or Greek rule. It consisted of seventy-one members, presided over by the reigning high priest. It included men from the influential priestly families, elders (family and tribal heads), scribes (experts in the law), and any former high priests who were still alive. Under the Romans, the Sanhedrin exercised wide-ranging powers in civil, criminal, and religious matters (though the Romans withheld the power of capital punishment [18:31]). It had the authority both to make arrests (Matt. 26:47; Acts 4:1–3; 5:17–18) and to conduct trials (Matt. 26:57ff.; Acts 5:27ff.). Although its influence extended even to Jews of the Diaspora (cf. Acts 9:1–2; 22:5; 26:12), the Sanhedrin’s direct authority seems to have been limited to Judea (it apparently wielded no power over Jesus while He was in Galilee; cf. John 7:1). After the failure of the Jewish revolt (a.d. 66–70), the Sanhedrin was abolished and replaced by the Beth Din (Court of Judgment). Unlike the Sanhedrin, however, the Beth Din was composed solely of scribes (lawyers), and its decisions were exclusively limited to religious matters.

The fact that Nicodemus was a member of the Sanhedrin probably explains why he came to Jesus by night. He might not have wanted his coming to imply the approval of the entire Sanhedrin, nor did he want to risk incurring the disfavor of his fellow members. Nighttime would also have afforded more time for conversation than during the day, when both he and Jesus would be occupied. The important point, however, is not when Nicodemus came, but that he came at all. Though coming to Jesus does not always guarantee salvation (cf. the rich young ruler, Luke 18:18–23), it is a necessary beginning.

By using the respectful term Rabbi, Nicodemus, although a member of the Sanhedrin and an eminent teacher (v. 10), addressed Jesus as an equal. He did not share the suspicion and hostility that many of his fellow religious leaders had toward Christ (cf. 7:15, 47–52). Nicodemus, and others like him (cf. the plural, we know), accepted that Jesus had come from God as a teacher—even though He had not received proper rabbinic training (7:15). As Nicodemus acknowledged, “No one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Like the people in the previous section (2:23), he was impressed with and believed that the undeniable power manifested in Jesus’ miracles was divine. Undoubtedly, he was also aware of John the Baptist’s testimony about Christ. That, coupled with the evidence of them, may have caused Nicodemus to wonder if Jesus was the Messiah.

But Jesus was not interested in discussing His signs, which had resulted only in superficial faith. Instead, He went straight to the real issue—the transformation of Nicodemus’s heart by the new birth. Jesus answered Nicodemus’s unasked question (cf. Matt. 19:16) and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” The phrase amēn amēn (truly, truly) appears in the New Testament only in John’s gospel. It solemnly affirms the veracity and significance of what follows. In this instance, Jesus used the phrase to introduce the vitally important truth that there is no entrance into God’s kingdom unless one is born again. The new birth, or regeneration, is the act of God by which He imparts eternal life to those who are “dead in … trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1; cf. 2 Cor. 5:17; Titus 3:5; James 1:18; 1 Peter 1:3, 23; 1 John 2:29; 3:9; 4:7; 5:1, 4, 18), thus making them His children (John 1:12–13).

The kingdom of God in its universal aspect refers to God’s sovereign rule over all of His creation. In that broadest sense of the term, everyone is part of God’s kingdom, since “the Lord has established His throne in the heavens, and His sovereignty rules over all” (Ps. 103:19; cf. 10:16; 29:10; 145:13; 1 Chron. 29:11–12; Jer. 10:10; Lam. 5:19; Dan. 4:17, 25, 32).

But Jesus is not referring here to the universal kingdom. Instead, He is speaking specifically of the kingdom of salvation, the spiritual realm where those who have been born again by divine power through faith now live under the rulership of God mediated through His Son. Nicodemus, like the rest of his fellow Jews, eagerly anticipated that glorious realm. Unfortunately, they thought that being descendants of Abraham, observing the law, and performing external religious rituals (particularly circumcision) would gain them entrance into that kingdom. But in thinking this, they were severely mistaken, as Jesus made clear. No matter how religiously active someone might be, no one can enter the kingdom without experiencing the personal regeneration of the new birth (cf. Matt. 19:28).

The implications of Jesus’ words for Nicodemus were staggering. All of his life he had diligently observed the law (cf. Mark 10:20) and the rituals of Judaism (cf. Gal. 1:14). He had joined the ultrareligious Pharisees, and even become a member of the Sanhedrin. Now Jesus called him to forsake all of that and start over; to abandon the entire system of works righteousness in which he had placed his hope; to realize that human effort was powerless to save. Describing the consternation Nicodemus must have felt, R. C. H. Lenski writes:

Jesus’ word regarding the new birth shatters once for all every supposed excellence of man’s attainment, all merit of human deeds, all prerogatives of natural birth or station. Spiritual birth is something one undergoes, not something he produces. As our efforts had nothing to do with our natural conception and birth, so in an analogous way but on a far higher plane, regeneration is not a work of ours. What a blow for Nicodemus! His being a Jew gave him no part in the kingdom; his being a Pharisee, esteemed holier than other people, availed him nothing; his membership in the Sanhedrin and his fame as one of its scribes went for nought. This Rabbi from Galilee calmly tells him that he is not yet in the kingdom! All on which he had built his hopes throughout a long arduous life here sank into ruin and became a little worthless heap of ashes. (The Interpretation of St. John’s Gospel [Reprint; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1998], 234–35)[1]


Becoming New Men

John 3:3–5

In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

“How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”

Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.”

A young Arab was proceeding down the road on a donkey when he came upon a small bird, a sparrow, lying upon his back in the road. There he was, a small scrawny object with two thin legs pointed skyward. At first the Arab thought the sparrow was dead. When he found that the bird was alive, however, the Arab got down from his donkey and went forward to speak to him. “Are you all right?” he asked.

“Yes,” the sparrow answered.

“Then what are you doing lying on your back with your legs pointed up at the sky?”

“Haven’t you heard the rumor?” the sparrow asked in return. “They say that heaven is going to fall.”

“If it does,” said the Arab, “surely you don’t think you’re going to hold it up with those two scrawny legs?”

The bird looked at him with a solemn face for a moment and then retorted, “One does the best one can.”

We laugh at the story, of course, but the folly of the sparrow is only an illustration of the folly of human beings who think they can hold off the wrath of divine judgment by the scrawny legs of human achievements. According to the Bible, this cannot be done. Thus, the first few verses of John 3 have been showing that no man can please God either by his own achievements or by his intellect. Instead a man must be born again. At this point, however, Nicodemus asks the question that anyone might quite properly ask, “All right, you say that a man must be born again. How, then, is it possible? How can a man be born again?” To this question—perhaps the most important question that anyone can ask—the third chapter of John gives two answers.

Birth from Above

The first answer to Nicodemus’s question is the answer Jesus gave even before he asked it. Jesus said, “No one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (v. 3). Later he said the same thing by repeating, “You must be born again” (v. 7). The answer involved in this statement lies in the meaning of the Greek word translated “again.” It is one of two Greek words that are often translated “again” in our Bibles. One is palin, which refers quite simply to the repetition of an act. The other word, the one used here, is anōthen, which also refers to the repetition of an act but which implies more.

In the first place, anōthen can also be translated “from above.” This is the meaning of the word in John 3:31 that says, “The one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all.” “Above” points to heaven. So when the Bible uses anōthen instead of palin in the first part of the chapter, it is suggesting that the new birth is supernatural and has its origin in God.

Then, too, there is an even finer distinction that also bears this out. Palin, as I have said, refers to the repetition of an act. Anōthen also refers to the repetition of an act, but it involves one additional detail, the fact that the repetition of the act has the same source as the first act. Suppose that the pianist Van Cliburn and I are in a room and that Van Cliburn has just completed playing the piano parts of Tchaikovsky’s great piano concerto. People want to hear it again. Now if they were Greek and should say, “Play it again (palin),” that would mean that I could sit down at the piano and try and do it. It would only mean that they wanted to hear the music repeated. However, if they should say, “Play it again (anōthen),” it would mean that the repetition of the music would have to have the same source as the first playing. In other words, Van Cliburn would have to play the concerto. Thus, when Jesus said, “Unless he is born again,” he was suggesting that the new birth would have to have the same source as the original birth. That is, Nicodemus would have to be brought to life spiritually by God.

This distinction takes us back to the early chapters of Genesis, before the fall, where we are told that “The Lord God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Gen. 2:7). When Adam sinned he lost God’s life, first spiritually and then physically. Thus, Jesus told Nicodemus that he needed to be born again as Adam was born. God was the source. Therefore, Nicodemus needed to have a fresh impartation of spiritual life; there had to be a new creation.

Water and Wind

The second answer to Nicodemus’s question—“How can a man be born again?”—is the answer given in verse 5. Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God” (rsv). This verse carries Jesus’ explanation of the new birth a bit further, for having explained it in reference to its source he now begins to explain in a more technical way how the new birth takes place. It takes place literally by “water” and “breath” or, as most translations say, “of water and of the Spirit.” In other words, Jesus first spoke of the source of the new birth. He now speaks of the means by which it occurs.

At this point we must acknowledge that several interpretations of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit” have been given. One of these interpretations takes the word “water” as referring to physical birth. I heard this explanation first during my years in college. It is based on the fact that physical birth is accompanied by the release of the embryonic fluid from the womb of the mother. If this were the proper explanation, Jesus would be saying that in order for a person to be saved he must first be born physically and then his physical birth must be followed by a spiritual birth.

True as this may be, it does not seem to be the proper interpretation of the statement. For one thing, the word “water” is never used in this way elsewhere in Scripture. For another, a reference to the necessity of physical birth is so self-evident that the question arises whether Jesus would waste words in this fashion. The third and decisive problem with this view is that since Jesus was probably claiming that a person is born again by water as well as by the Spirit, if water refers to physical birth, this is simply not true. Physical birth is not part of the answer.

The second interpretation of the phrase is that which sees water as referring to water baptism. Unfortunately, this is not substantiated either by the text or by biblical theology. The text says nothing at all about baptism, and the Bible elsewhere teaches that no one is saved by any external rite of religion (1 Sam. 16:7; Rom. 2:28–29; Gal. 2:15, 16; 5:1–6). Baptism is a sign of what has already taken place, but it is not the agent by which it takes place.

Some years ago a young woman came to me wanting to be married to a young man whom I had not yet met. I arranged for us to get together and in the course of the resulting conversation discovered that neither the young woman nor the young man were Christians. The man was quite open about it and regarded the church service as merely a public ceremony. The young woman thought she was a Christian, largely because she had come from a family of churchgoers and had been baptized in her infancy by a bishop. When I pointed out that baptism never made anyone a Christian this woman was greatly offended. She was even more offended when later I declined to perform the ceremony.

Someone will object to this on the grounds that John the Baptist supposedly baptized people for new life, but this is wrong teaching. John called for repentance, and when men or women repented he baptized them as a sign to others that this had happened. The proof of this is seen in the fact that John actually refused to baptize certain of the Pharisees and Sadducees because they did not show evidence of any genuine change in their lives.

The third interpretation of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit” is one that takes both parts of the phrase symbolically. “Water,” the argument goes, refers to cleansing; “Spirit” refers to power. Therefore, one must be both cleansed and filled with power. William Barclay is one who holds this view. It is true, of course, that the sinner must be cleansed from his sin and that it is the Christian’s privilege to be endued with power from on high, but it is questionable whether this is the primary meaning of this passage. Strictly speaking, both cleansing and power accompany the new birth, while these verses are dealing with the way in which the new birth itself comes about. Moreover, neither of the ideas is related at all to the birth metaphor as the context seems to require.

One of the great students of the Greek New Testament, Kenneth S. Wuest, proposed a fourth explanation. It is based upon the use of the word “water” as a metaphor in other New Testament texts. Wuest points out that “water” often is used in Scripture to refer to the Holy Spirit. He thinks that this is the case in John 4, for instance, where Jesus tells the woman of Samaria that he will give her “a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:14). Another case is John 7:37–38, where almost the identical language is used. After this statement John himself adds, as if in parentheses, “By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (v. 39). Wuest also refers to Isaiah 44:3 and 55:1, both of which should have been known to Nicodemus. If this is the correct interpretation of the phrase “of water and of the Spirit,” then we have a repetition of ideas, and the word “and” should be taken in its emphatic sense. We would normally indicate this by translating the word as “even.” Thus, Jesus would be saying, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water, even the Spirit.”

The explanation given by Wuest is a good explanation. Nevertheless, it seems to me that another must be preferred. Wuest begins by pointing out that the word “water” is often a metaphor for the Holy Spirit. This is true, but it is not the only spiritual reality that is suggested by that metaphor.

Water is also a metaphor for the written Word of God, the Bible. Thus, Ephesians 5:26 says that Christ gave himself for the church “to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word.” In 1 John the same author who composed the fourth Gospel distinguishes between the witnesses to Christ on earth of “the Spirit, the water and the blood” (1 John 5:8). Since he then goes on to speak of God’s written witness to the fact that salvation is in Christ, in this context the Spirit must refer to God’s witness within the individual, the blood to the historical witness of Christ’s death, and the water to the Scriptures. Psalm 119:9 declares, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” Jesus said, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you” (John 15:3).

A related text is James 1:18, which actually cites the Scriptures as the channel through which the new birth takes place, although without using water as the metaphor. “He chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created.”

When we see Christ’s words in this light, we see that God is here pictured as the Divine Begetter, the Father of his spiritual children, and we learn that the written Word of God together with the working of his Holy Spirit is the means by which the new birth is accomplished. That is why the Bible tells us that it pleased God to save people by the foolishness of preaching, for people are reborn through the efforts of others who proclaim God’s Word (Rom. 10:14–15; 1 Cor. 1:21).

Spiritual Conception

One more verse makes this even clearer: 1 Peter 1:23. It says, “For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.”

There are many symbols for the Word of God in the Bible. We are told that the Bible is “a lamp” to our feet and “a light” to our path (Ps. 119:105). The Word is like “a fire … and like a hammer that breaks a rock in pieces” (Jer. 23:29). It is “milk” to the spiritual infant and “strong meat” to those of a more mature age (1 Peter 2:2; Heb. 5:11–14). It is a sword (Heb. 4:12; Eph. 6:17), a “mirror” (1 Cor. 13:12; 2 Cor. 3:18; James 1:23), a “schoolmaster to bring us to Christ” (Gal. 3:24). It is a branch grafted into our bodies (James 1:21). These are great images, but none is so bold as the one used by Peter in this passage.

In the first chapter of 1 Peter, Peter has been talking about the means by which a person enters the family of God. First, he has discussed his theme objectively in terms of Christ’s death, writing that “it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed … but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect” (vv. 18, 19). Second, he has discussed the basis of the new birth subjectively, pointing out that it occurs through faith: “Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God” (v. 21). Finally, having mentioned these truths, Peter goes on to discuss the new birth in terms of God’s sovereign grace in election. This time, however, he emphasizes that God is the Father of his children and that we are born again spiritually by means of the Word of God, which Peter likens to the male life germ. The Latin Vulgate makes this image of Peter’s even clearer than our English versions, for the word used there is semen.

When we take these passages together and then add to them all that the Bible has to say about faith and about the work of the Holy Spirit in salvation, we find that we are able to grasp the essential nature of the new birth in terms of human conception. What happens when a man or a woman is born again? The answer is that God first of all plants within the heart of the person what we might call the ovum of saving faith, for we are told that even faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Second, God sends forth the seed of his Word so that the seed of the Word, which contains the divine life within it, pierces the ovum of faith that God has already placed within our hearts. The result is conception. By this means, a new spiritual life comes into being, a life that has its origin in God and that therefore has no connection whatever with the sinful life that surrounds it.

God did not use anything of Abram when he made Abraham. He did not use anything of Simon when he created the new Peter. He did not use anything of Saul when he made Paul. He does not use anything of your old sinful and Adamic nature when he produces the new life of Christ within you. That is why we can now say, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come” (2 Cor. 5:17). Thus did Jesus speak to Nicodemus.

Thus does Jesus speak to you, whoever you may be. If you are one who has never believed on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior, you must realize that you will never be able to enter God’s family by any achievements of your own. The work is God’s alone, and it was accomplished objectively through the death and resurrection of Christ. If you are a believer, you should find encouragement in the fact that all the people of God, from Abel on down to the last believer who will ever live, are born again by the same process and are therefore in the family of God through God’s activity. This should be your confidence, if you are a Christian. “For God’s gifts and his call are irrevocable” (Rom. 11:29). Moreover, we know that what God has promised “[he has] power to do” (Rom. 4:21).[2]


3. Verily, verily, I say to thee. The word Verily (ἀμὴν) is twice repeated, and this is done for the purpose of arousing him to more earnest attention. For when he was about to speak of the most important and weighty of all subjects, he found it necessary to awaken the attention of Nicodemus, who might otherwise have passed by this whole discourse in a light or careless manner. Such, then, is the design of the double affirmation.

Though this discourse appears to be far-fetched and almost inappropriate, yet it was with the utmost propriety that Christ opened his discourse in this manner. For as it is useless to sow seed in a field which has not been prepared by the labours of the husbandman, so it is to no purpose to scatter the doctrine of the Gospel, if the mind has not been previously subdued and duly prepared for docility and obedience. Christ saw that the mind of Nicodemus was filled with many thorns, choked by many noxious herbs, so that there was scarcely any room for spiritual doctrine. This exhortation, therefore, resembled a ploughing to purify him, that nothing might prevent him from profiting by the doctrine. Let us, therefore, remember that this was spoken to one individual, in such a manner that the Son of God addresses all of us daily in the same language. For which of us will say that he is so free from sinful affections that he does not need such a purification? If, therefore, we wish to make good and useful progress in the school of Christ, let us learn to begin at this point.

Unless a man be born again. That is, “So long as thou art destitute of that which is of the highest importance in the kingdom of God, I care little about your calling me Master; for the first entrance into the kingdom of God is, to become a new man.” But as this is a remarkable passage, it will be proper to survey every part of it minutely.

To see the kingdom of God is of the same meaning as to enter into the kingdom of God, as we shall immediately perceive from the context. But they are mistaken who suppose that the kingdom of God means Heaven; for it rather means the spiritual life, which is begun by faith in this world, and gradually increases every day according to the continued progress of faith. So the meaning is, that no man can be truly united to the Church, so as to be reckoned among the children of God, until he has been previously renewed. This expression shows briefly what is the beginning of Christianity, and at the same time teaches us, that we are born exiles and utterly alienated from the kingdom of God, and that there is a perpetual state of variance between God and us, until he makes us altogether different by our being born again; for the statement is general, and comprehends the whole human race. If Christ had said to one person, or to a few individuals, that they could not enter into heaven, unless they had been previously born again, we might have supposed that it was only certain characters that were pointed out, but he speaks of all without exception; for the language is unlimited, and is of the same import with such universal terms as these: Whosoever shall not be born again cannot enter into the kingdom of God.

By the phrase born again is expressed not the correction of one part, but the renovation of the whole nature. Hence it follows, that there is nothing in us that is not sinful; for if reformation is necessary in the whole and in each part, corruption must have been spread throughout. On this point we shall soon have occasion to speak more largely. Erasmus, adopting the opinion of Cyril, has improperly translated the adverb ἄνωθεν, from above, and renders the clause thus: unless a man be born from above. The Greek word, I own, is ambiguous; but we know that Christ conversed with Nicodemus in the Hebrew language. There would then have been no room for the ambiguity which occasioned the mistake of Nicodemus, and led him into childish scruples about a second birth of the flesh. He therefore understood Christ to have said nothing else than that a man must be born again, before he is admitted into the kingdom of God.[3]


3 It is reasonable to assume that Nicodemus had come prepared to ask Jesus much the same question as did the rich young man—“What must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mk 10:17 par.). But even before the question can be asked Jesus provides the answer. It is prefaced with the double amēn (“I tell you the truth,” GK 297), which stresses the validity of what is about to be said. Unless a person is “born again” he cannot see the kingdom of God. Anōthen (GK 540) is an adverb either of place (“from above,” as in Mt 27:51) or of time (“again,” “anew,” as in Gal 4:9). In this context the former meaning is primary. To be born “from above” means to be born of God (cf. the use of anōthen, 3:31). However, since spiritual birth is in fact a second birth, the temporal idea of “again” is included. Unless a person is reborn from above he or she is unable to “see the kingdom of God.” To see God’s kingdom means to enter into and have a part in the final establishment of God’s sovereign rule. As a Jew, Nicodemus would understand the kingdom of God as the long-awaited age to come. To “see” this kingdom would mean to experience resurrection life at the end of the age. What he did not understand was that to have a part in that kingdom required a second birth.[4]


3:3. If we view these first fifteen verses of chapter 3 as a series of questions and answers, the first question might look like this: “Are you here to bring in the kingdom?” And Jesus’ first answer is, “You will never see the kingdom without being born again.”

Nicodemus demonstrates that religious training without spiritual insight is useless. Jesus wasted no time getting to the heart of the problem. He told the teacher he must be born again or from above (anothen), a word which appears again in verses 7 and 31. This popular expression can be applied to almost anything in our day. A football team gets a new coach, and sportscasters tell us it is born again. A company languishing in bankruptcy issues new stock and shows profit under a new CEO, and we read that it is born again. Buildings get a renovation, changing their appearance and function, and people say they have been born again.

The actual words describe a garment torn from top to bottom. Unless God changes our hearts his way, from the inside out, any discussion of the kingdom is useless. All devout Jews connected the Messiah with the kingdom; Jesus drove to the heart of the matter immediately.

Nicodemus had not mentioned the kingdom, but the Lord knew his true interest. As we noted in connection with chapter 1, the word translated again really means “from above.” In other words, to belong to the heavenly kingdom, one must be born into it just as one is born into the earthly kingdom. Morris offers a helpful paragraph on the concept of the kingdom.

“The kingdom of God” is the most common topic of Jesus’ teaching in the Synoptic Gospels. As such it has attracted a great deal of attention, and the literature on the subject is enormous. Most modern students hold that the term “kingdom” is to be understood in the dynamic sense. It is “reign” rather than “realm.” It is God’s rule in action. We are probably not meant to put much difference between seeing and entering (v. 5) the kingdom. But it will be appropriate that Jesus speaks here of seeing it. So far from entering into the kingdom and enjoying all its privileges, the man who is not reborn will not even see it. This passage incidentally is the only one in this Gospel which mentions the kingdom of God … But John frequently speaks of eternal life, and for him the possession of eternal life appears to mean very much the same thing as the Synoptic Gospels mean by entering the kingdom of God (Morris, pp. 213–14).[5]


3. Jesus answered and said to him, I most solemnly assure you (see on 1:51), unless one is born anew, he cannot see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus has not asked any question. Nevertheless, Jesus answers him, for he read the question which was buried deeply in the heart of this Pharisee. On the basis of Christ’s answer we may safely assume that the question of Nicodemus was very similiar to the one found in Matt. 19:16. Like “the rich young ruler,” so also this Pharisee, who came to Jesus one night and who by some is considered to have been a “rich old ruler,” wanted to know what good thing he had to do in order to enter the kingdom of heaven (or: in order to have everlasting life, which is simply another way of saying the same thing). However, Nicodemus was never even given the chance to translate into actual words the question of his inner soul.

The answer which Jesus gives is another mashal (see on 2:19). It must have sounded like a riddle to the ears of Nicodemus. This remains true whether the conversation was conducted in Greek or in Aramaic. The Greek text as it lies before us immediately raises a problem. When Jesus said, “Unless one is born ἄνωθεν,” what is the meaning of that last word? It can mean “from above” (from the top). In fact, everywhere else in John’s Gospel it has that meaning (3:31; 19:11; 19:23). It seems probable, therefore, that also here (in 3:3, 7) it has that significance. Moreover, also in Matt. 27:51, Mark 15:38, and James 1:17; 3:15, 17, it has that sense. Jesus, then, we may believe, was referring to the birth “from above,” i.e., from heaven. However, the word can also have a different connotation; namely, “anew,” or “again” (Gal. 4:9). And, in the third place, it may mean “from the first,” “from the beginning” (Luke 1:3; Acts 26:5). Nevertheless, the third meaning may be dismissed, because it would not be suitable to the present context. Nicodemus, then is faced with the choice between the first and the second connotation.

However, all that has been said so far is true only on the basis of the Greek. If it be assumed that the conversation was conducted in Aramaic, which seems probable, the riddle, in slightly modified form, remains. It may be argued that there was no Aramaic word identical in ambiguity to the Greek ἄνωθεν. But even if that should be granted, Nicodemus would still be faced with this great difficulty: how can a man experience another birth in any sense whatever? Of course, we know what Jesus meant; namely, that in order to see the kingdom of God it is necessary that a person be born from above; i.e., that the Spirit must implant in his heart the life that has its origin not on earth but in heaven. Let not Nicodemus imagine that earthly or nationalistic distinctions qualify one for entrance into this realm. Let not this Pharisee think either that improvement in outward behavior—a conduct more precisely in keeping with the law—is all that is necessary. There must be a radical change. And unless one is born from above he cannot even see the kingdom of God; i.e., he cannot experience and partake of it; he cannot possess and enjoy it (cf. Luke 2:26; 9:27; John 8:51; Acts 2:27; Rev. 18:7).

When Jesus speaks about entering the kingdom of God, it is clear that the expression is equivalent to having everlasting life or being saved (cf. 3:16, 17). The kingdom of God is the realm in which his rule is recognized and obeyed and in which his grace prevails. Before one can see that kingdom, before one can have everlasting life in any sense, one must be born from above. It is very clear, therefore, that there is an act of God which precedes any act of man. In its initial stage the process of changing a person into a child of God precedes conversion and faith. (See also on 1:12.)[6]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 99–103). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). The Gospel of John: an expositional commentary (pp. 197–202). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] Calvin, J., & Pringle, W. (2010). Commentary on the Gospel according to John (Vol. 1, pp. 107–109). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 395–396). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Gangel, K. O. (2000). John (Vol. 4, p. 49). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 1, pp. 132–133). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

January 26 Choosing the Perfect Path

Scripture Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:8–12

Key Verse: Hebrews 13:15

Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.

When you are faced with a very crucial decision and you really want to do God’s best, what do you do? When you are rejected and criticized by someone you love very dearly, how do you respond? When you are tempted to indulge your carnal desire, where do you turn?

If you depend on your own calculations to negotiate an important decision in life, there is absolutely no guarantee that your action will yield God’s best. While you may make a smart choice, your inability to see what lies ahead in life limits your capacity for decision making. But God, who sees all things, has plans to prosper you and to give you hope for your future. If you allow Him, He will make certain that you choose the perfect path for your life.

Rejection and criticism can be literally debilitating, particularly when they come from loved ones. But there is no one who loves you more than your Father in heaven. When Jeremiah’s heart was faint, he turned to God to be his comforter (Jeremiah 8:18–19). You can too.

The apostle Paul instructed believers to pray for deliverance from temptation. When you are in the throes of ungodly provocation, invoke the name of God. Direct your prayers to Him, and your heart will follow.

A wise person looks to God to be his stronghold through trials. Realizing that you are no match for the snares of the enemy, it is always prudent to put your trust in God, who will never leave or forsake you.

Lord, on my own I am nothing. Thank You that You are always there to give me love and guidance when I am feeling battered.[1]


[1] Stanley, C. F. (2006). Pathways to his presence (p. 27). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.