Daily Archives: September 4, 2020

September 4 Cling to God

 

Psalm 37:39

The salvation of the righteous is from the Lord; He is their strength in the time of trouble.

Here’s a way for you to think about this the next time trouble comes: If you and God are standing apart from one another, and trouble comes between you, it can drive you further apart. But if, when you see trouble coming, you cling to God with all your might, never letting trouble come between you, then you have the victory. In fact, the pressure of the trouble will push you closer and closer to God. It will only serve to strengthen your relationship with Him. People tell me all the time, and I can testify as well, that they never experience the nearness of God as much as they do when they are in the desert places of life. That happens by not letting trouble come between you and God.

Prayer is a way to cling to God. You reach out to Him and communicate with Him with the words of your heart. You pour out your praises and your petitions, and you stay in an attitude of prayer until deliverance comes. [1]

 

[1] Jeremiah, D. (2002). Sanctuary: finding moments of refuge in the presence of God (p. 259). Nashville, TN: Integrity Publishers.

September 4th The D. L. Moody Year Book

 

And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shalt thou be with Me in paradise.—Luke 23:42, 43.

WHEN a prominent man dies, we are anxious to get his last words and acts. The last act of the Son of God was to save a sinner. That was a part of the glory of His death. He commenced His ministry by saving sinners, and ended it by saving this poor thief.[1]

 

[1] Moody, D. L. (1900). The D. L. Moody Year Book: A Living Daily Message from the Words of D. L. Moody. (E. M. Fitt, Ed.) (p. 155). East Northfield, MA: The Bookstore.

September 4, 2020 Evening Verse Of The Day

Suffering

Philippians 1:12–14

Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly.

Some passages of the Bible have to be understood by the emotions as well as by the mind. To understand them fully you must put yourself into the shoes of the Bible characters and try to feel as they felt. Can we really understand the chapter in Genesis where God asked Abraham to offer his son as a sacrifice unless we identify with Abraham in his struggles and understand something of what it means to lose a son? It is impossible without feeling. Moreover, it is only on that basis that we can go on to understand the story as a revelation of what it meant to God to give his Son on Calvary.

It requires similar sympathy with the apostle Paul to understand Philippians 1:12–14. Put yourself in the shoes of the Philippian Christians for a few minutes. It had been at least four years since they had seen Paul; they had heard rumors of the things that had happened to him, and they were worried. News had reached Philippi from Rome regarding their fellow church member, Epaphroditus, who had been sick. Those who bore the news certainly told all they knew of Paul’s condition. But now some time had elapsed, and the Christians would be asking serious questions. Was Paul still in chains? Perhaps he was sick? Had he already come to trial? Perhaps he had already been martyred for his faith in Jesus Christ? The Philippians had no way of knowing the answer to these speculations.

At last news arrived from Rome and with that news a letter written by Paul. At least he was alive. How eagerly they would have read it.

You can imagine them reading through the first eleven verses of the letter where the references are only to themselves. Perhaps they read these rather quickly the first time, hurrying on in the letter until they received news about Paul himself. “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phil. 1:12–14).

Here is some news. Many of the rumors they had heard were true after all. Many unfortunate things had actually happened to Paul. He was still in chains. The future was still uncertain. Yet something else is true also. These things have really served to advance the gospel, and for that Paul rejoices. In one deft sentence Paul shifts the legitimate interest of the Philippians from himself to the great, undeterred purposes of God in history.

Paul has written that the things that happened to him have actually furthered the gospel. What are those things and how did they further the gospel?

Paul’s Sufferings

We must remember, first, that the things that had happened to Paul were quite different from the things Paul had planned for himself. Paul was the great missionary to the Gentiles, and for years he had carried the gospel to various parts of the world. He had traveled through Syria and Crete, through most of what is now Turkey, and through Greece. Somewhere along the way he conceived the plan of taking the gospel to the far west, to Spain, after returning once more to Jerusalem and stopping for a visit in Rome. These plans were not fulfilled. Instead of this he found himself a prisoner on trial for his life. At the time of writing Philippians he could have no real confidence he would ever be free again.

The things that actually happened to Paul have been summarized in a stirring way by J. A. Motyer in a commendable study of Philippians. He writes:

What … happened began in Acts 21:17 when the apostle set foot in Jerusalem, forewarned by the Holy Spirit that bonds and imprisonment awaited him.… An entirely false accusation was leveled at him by his own people (21:28); he was nearly lynched by a religious mob, and ended up in the Roman prison, having escaped a flogging only by pleading citizenship (22:22ff.). His whole case was beset by a mockery of justice, for, though all right was on his side, he could not secure a hearing. He was made the subject of unjust and unprovoked insult and shame (23:2), malicious misrepresentation (24:5; 25:6f.), and deadly plot (23:12 ff.; 25:1ff.). He was kept imprisoned owing to official craving for popularity (24:27), or for money (24:26), or because of an over-punctilious facade of legalism (26:32).…

Even then his sufferings were not over. There came the prolonged trial of the storm at sea (Acts 27) where his life hung, as it seemed, by a thread, both because of the elements (verse 20) and because of petty officiousness (verse 42). Eventually, when he reached Rome it was far from the ambassadorial entry that he had doubtless looked for (19:21). He came in the company of the condemned, bound by a chain, and destined to drag out at least two years under arrest awaiting the uncertain decision of an earthly king. Nevertheless, still imprisoned, still chained, still unheard, still uncertain, he looks back and avers, “what … happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.”

Think of it! All the frustration, all the delay, all the physical suffering. Yet this is overshadowed by the fact that it has served to spread the gospel.

Have you experienced anything like that in your own Christian life? All suffering is not for this purpose. Suffering is of different kinds, and God has different purposes in permitting it to come upon us. Some suffering is corrective. It is intended to get us on the right path when we have gone astray. Solomon refers to such suffering when he says, “My son, do not despise the Lord’s discipline and do not resent his rebuke, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, as a father the son he delights in” (Prov. 3:11–12).

Some suffering is intended to awaken us to the needs and feelings of other people. Some of it is instructive. It is intended to mold us into the image of Jesus Christ, for we learn through the things that we suffer. Thus, Peter speaks of the Christian’s confidence in God but adds that it may be true that “now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6–7).

Paul’s suffering was neither corrective nor instructive. It was simply a suffering permitted by God so that the gospel might be spread to others.

I do not think that many of us have experienced this, certainly not myself. But some have. Perhaps not as consistently as Paul but in ways equally bitter and equally filled with anguish. If this has happened to you, you must know that God has greatly honored you with this suffering, and you must take joy even in the midst of it as you see how your suffering has brought salvation to others. This is a joy won through vales of tears, but it is one of the choicest prizes of the Christian life.

The Praetorian Guard

The second question that Paul’s statement raises is this: How did the things that happened to the great apostle result in the spread of the gospel? The first answer is that through them Paul was able to bear a remarkable witness to the praetorian guard.

In the King James version of the Bible, the key verse is translated, “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest in all the palace, and in all other places” (1:13). Unfortunately, the King James translators did not possess all of the information we have today, and as a result the translation they made is in error. The word translated “palace” is the word praetorium, which the ancient translators thought referred to a building. Since the seventeenth century, however, many ancient manuscripts have been uncovered that mention the Roman Praetorium, and in none of these manuscripts does the word ever refer to a palace or to a building of any kind. In all of them it refers to people, to the praetorian guard. This guard was the official bodyguard of the emperor, which took charge of all imperial prisoners. Knowing this, it is now necessary to translate the verse: “So that my bonds in Christ are manifest to the whole praetorian guard and to all others.”

We must visualize the scene at this point. Paul is imprisoned in Rome, chained to a Roman guard. Ever since his arrest in Jerusalem he had been chained to a guard, except for the moments on the ship carrying him to Rome. He is now in care of the picked troops who guard the emperor. Paul has some freedom of action. He may have visitors. For a while at least he lived in a private home. But always there was the guard.

What did Paul do in this situation? He might have complained: “This is unjust; Roman law is slow; this soldier represents all that Rome stands for, and I cannot bear the sight of him.” But this was never Paul’s way. He himself was a soldier for Christ. And the guard at the end of the chain represented a person for whom Christ died. Paul bore a witness not only to this soldier but to the one who replaced him for the second watch and the one who replaced him for the third watch and so on throughout the days and years. In this way in time Paul reached most of the imperial guard.

Think how Paul must have lived to have this effect upon a corps of tough Roman soldiers. Here was a man who had every right to be thinking about himself, but instead he spoke of Christ, even in prison. And even soldiers listened.

Some time ago I saw a cartoon that showed the effect of one man’s ill temper on others. First, the boss of a company spoke harshly to one of his employees. This put the employee in a bad mood, and when he arrived home at night he had a nasty word for his wife. She in turn yelled at the son. He kicked the dog. At the end the dog was outside and bit the boss of the company. That is how ill temper spreads. The witness of a life lived for Christ even in the midst of suffering also spreads to others, only the results are opposite. Paul triumphed over his circumstances, and the result spread through Rome.

There is a special application here for those who do not have the freedom to preach the gospel. Paul was chained to a prison room. You may have chains of your own. You may be tied to a desk when you would like to be out in more direct Christian service. You may be tied to a home, especially when the children are young and need constant care. You may be tied to a sickbed and may never see beyond your hospital room. This should not be a cause for discouragement. If you are in circumstances like these, this has been given you by God and can be used by him. You can bear a witness to people who come by your desk, your kitchen sink, or your hospital bed. If you do, God will bless your efforts. You will see spiritual fruit. What is more, it will entirely change the way you look at your limitations, whatever their cause. You can learn to say with Paul, “Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel” (Phil. 1:12).

The Effect on Other Christians

There is a further way in which Paul’s suffering for Christ served to advance the gospel. It had an effect on other Christians. Paul says, “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (v. 14). Christians moved from fear to boldness as a result of Paul’s example. They learned to testify. Has your life ever had that effect on other Christians?

Someone is going to say to me that Christians should always be bold in their witness for Jesus Christ, that Christians should “always be ready” to testify. That is true. But it is equally true that many Christians are shy and afraid. They may simply lack an example. It may be that God has placed you in a position where your witness can move one of God’s shy witnesses to boldness.

Job’s Experience

Paul’s words about the spread of the gospel through suffering reveal the effect of his life on non-Christians and on believers. Non-Christians became Christians. Believers were emboldened to preach the gospel. This was encouraging. But there is one more thing to be said. If these things are to be true in your life, you must let suffering draw you closer to the Lord. It can do the opposite; it can draw you away. It can embitter your heart and produce a complainer in you where there should be a victorious Christian. All too often Christians are like the man described by Epictetus, one of the pagan philosophers: “I am in sore straits, O Lord, and in misfortune; no one regards me, no one gives me anything, all blame me and speak ill of me.” Epictetus asks, “Is this the witness that you are going to bear, and is this the way in which you are going to disgrace the summons which he gave you?” (Discourses, I, xxix).

It was entirely the opposite in the case of Job. Job trusted God even in the midst of great suffering, and suffering drew him closer to his Lord. All that Job had was taken away from him. His oxen and donkeys were stolen. His sheep were destroyed by lightning. Raiders made off with his camels. His children perished in a single moment. Satan stepped back waiting for Job to turn and curse God. Instead, Job received the evil with a quiet trust in God. Instead of cursing God, he blessed him and said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).

Satan fought against Job even more intensely and inflicted him with boils. And once again Job triumphed, blessing God even in the midst of his pain. Did suffering drive Job farther from God? Oh, no! It drew Job to him and deepened his faith. In time God restored all that Job had lost and Job became a great example to God’s people of patience in suffering.

Has suffering ever brought you closer to God? If it has, you are well on the way to being a great blessing to God’s people and to tasting the joy of seeing the gospel spread through suffering.[1]


12 “What has happened to me” (lit., “the things concerning me” [ta kat’ eme]) refers to Paul’s situation of imprisonment (cf. Ac 24:22; 25:14; Eph 6:21; Col 4:7). The Greek mallon (GK 3437) is best translated “rather” instead of “really.” Gnilka, 55–56, notes that it signals the unexpected. Combined with the introductory phrase, “I want you to know,” it implies that the Philippians expect the worst and have become apprehensive and perhaps disheartened. Their anxiety for Paul caused them to dispatch Epaphroditus with the gift. They could have been worried about the conditions of his imprisonment (see Rapske, Paul in Roman Custody; Wansink, 27–95) and the outcome of his trial. They may have expected, quite understandably, that his incarceration would have jeopardized his mission and the gospel’s expansion. Paul discerns what God is doing in his situation and assures them that his plight has not hindered the gospel but has provided an occasion to advance it.

Paul does not say that being in chains is good; he takes no masochistic delight in his suffering, but he also does not bemoan it. He avows that his situation has salvage value and offers three assurances: (1) His imprisonment has not hindered his mission but provides an opportunity for him to proclaim the gospel to his captors. Further, it has emboldened other believers to preach (vv. 12–18a). (2) His death, should it come, is not something he fears, since it would be a gain (vv. 18b–23). (3) He fully expects to be released so that he can continue in his mission (v. 22) and contribute to the believers’ progress in the faith (vv. 24–26). Consequently, they should not be troubled by it but should rejoice (cf. Holloway, 101).[2]


12 The transition from the proemium to the body of the letter is marked in three ways: by the de (“now”), which in this case is a “transitional particle, pure and simple”; by the vocative, “brothers and sisters,” which is often used by Paul in transitional sentences; and by the formula “I want you to know that …,” which occurs only here in the Pauline corpus,13 but is often found as the first matter in letters of friendship.

The language “brothers and sisters” is one of the more significant Pauline images for the church. Although not unique to Christians, this usage was taken up by them to express their understanding of relationships within the believing community: They are “brothers and sisters” because first they are God’s “sons” through the Son, whose Spirit cries out from within them in the language of the Son (“Abba”) as the sure evidence of “adoption” (Gal 4:4–6); their ultimate end is conformity to the likeness of the Son, the Firstborn among many brothers [and sisters] (Rom 8:29). Thus in this letter, besides the vocatives which refer to the Philippians, Paul uses this appellation to denote fellow believers in Rome (1:14) and to his present companions (4:21). Whatever else, believers in Christ Jesus are God’s children, hence “brothers and sisters” in Christ.

What Paul wants the Philippians to know is that “what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel.” The thrice-repeated phrase “my chains” (vv. 13, 14, 17; cf. v. 7) attests that he is referring to his imprisonment. They are to understand that its effect has been quite the reverse of what they might have expected. It has “really served,” he explains, “to advance20 the gospel.” Here is Paul’s obvious concern. He wants them not to be anxious about him, because his circumstances, rather than being a “hindrance” (proskopē) to the gospel, as they might well believe, have in fact led to its “advance” (prokopē). “To advance the gospel” has been his lifelong passion; he has thus ordered his life so that nothing will hinder, and everything advance, the message about Christ.

For Paul, of course, this is the language of evangelism. In a world of religious pluralism, where evangelism has become something of a dirty word, one must not thereby recreate Paul in one’s own image, which downplays this dimension of his life in Christ.24 Evangelism was his “meat and potatoes” (or “rice,” in the case of Asian Christians), since he believed not only that the gospel is God’s “message of truth” (Gal 2:5, 14), but that it thereby contains the only good news for a fallen, broken world.

Paul will eventually reflect on his own feelings as to his imprisonment (vv. 20–23), but his first concern is to make sure that his friends in Philippi have a clear understanding as to how it has affected the gospel. To his delight, and perhaps their surprise, it has advanced it. The next clause (vv. 13–14) spells out how so.[3]


1:12 Paul begins his personal update to the Philippians by stating I want you to know, brothers. Known as a disclosure formula, it is common in Paul’s letters. The content of what Paul wants the Philippians to know begins in the following clause and runs through to the end of verse 15. Despite the length, the main assertion of this long sentence is expressed here in the final clause of verse 12: what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel. What Paul says here can best be understood if we divide our discussion into two parts.

First, when Paul speaks of what has happened to me he refers to his status as a prisoner under house arrest in Rome (Acts 28:17–30). He had already spent three years imprisoned in Caesarea Maritima (Acts 23:23–26:32), and now he awaits the slow wheels of imperial justice to process his case in Rome. In an age when communication was anything but instant, Paul wants to inform the Philippians how he is getting along.

Second, Paul stresses that his circumstances have really served to advance the gospel. On a human level, one would expect that Paul’s imprisonment would slow or perhaps even stop the progress of the gospel.10 After all, Paul cannot plant churches while in Roman custody. But, as Paul states elsewhere, ‘the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men’ (1 Cor. 1:25). The irony is that while Rome has imprisoned Paul in an effort to prevent his message from spreading, that very imprisonment has become the means by which the gospel advances. Paul may be in chains, but the gospel runs free. That is the surprising but true state of affairs.

In referring to the advance of the gospel, Paul uses a rare word (prokopē) that occurs only in one other place in the New Testament outside of this letter. As part of his instructions to Timothy, Paul tells him to put them into practice ‘so that all may see your progress’ (1 Tim. 4:15). The term was commonly used to refer to progress in moral virtue or wisdom, especially in Philo and Stoic literature. But here it refers to the progress of the gospel, which advances like a disciplined Roman legion cutting its way through enemy opposition.13

By framing the discussion of his circumstances within the context of the progress of the gospel, Paul makes it clear that the gospel is of utmost importance. Rather than complain about the difficulty of his circumstances, Paul revels in the advance of the gospel. Just as Joseph saw that what his brothers had meant for evil God had meant for good (Gen. 50:20), so too Paul sees the sovereign hand of a good God behind the evil intentions of his Roman captors.

Paul’s commitment to the progress of the gospel is a needed reminder to the church today. It is easy for believers to get distracted with a plethora of activities and concerns, many of them good things. But do they advance the gospel? Perhaps more pointedly, is the progress of the gospel our primary concern as believers? Stephen Fowl observes:

If one sees the aim of the life of discipleship as growing into ever deeper communion with the triune God and with others, then one thing contemporary Christians can learn from Paul is this habit of being able to narrate the story both of one’s past and one’s present circumstances from the perspective of those who learned their place in Christ’s ongoing story.

This verse reminds us of the necessity of evaluating all of one’s circumstances in light of the progress of the gospel. Am I thinking through my difficulties, my suffering, my prosperity, and my opportunities as the means by which God is advancing the reach of the gospel? Or have I fallen into the easy trap of thinking that God’s blessings in my life are an end in and of themselves rather than a means to advancing His gospel?[4]


1:12 / That the apostle to the Gentiles should be in chains might well have been regarded as a blow to the advance of the gospel that he was commissioned to proclaim. But no: whatever might be Paul’s own situation, the word of God was not in chains (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9). Indeed, Paul’s presence in Rome as a prisoner awaiting trial had really served to advance the gospel. He was a distinguished prisoner, a Roman citizen exercising his prerogative to have his case heard by the emperor, and he made sure that everyone who came in touch with him knew that it was on account of the gospel that he was under house arrest, and not because of subversive political activity or criminal conduct.[5]


the chains destroy the barriers

Philippians 1:12–14

I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has resulted rather in the advancement of the gospel, because it has been demonstrated to the whole Praetorian Guard and to all the others that my imprisonment is borne for Christ’s sake and in Christ’s strength; and the result is that through my bonds more of the brothers have found confidence in the Lord the more exceedingly to dare fearlessly to speak the word of God.

Paul was a prisoner—but, far from his imprisonment ending his missionary activity, it actually expanded it for himself and for others. In fact, the chains of his imprisonment destroyed the barriers. The word Paul uses for the advancement of the gospel is a vivid word. It is prokopē, the word which is specially used for the progress of an army or an expedition. It is the noun from the verb prokoptein, which means to cut down in advance. It is the verb which is used for cutting away the trees and the undergrowth, and removing the barriers which would hinder the progress of an army. Paul’s imprisonment, far from shutting the door, opened the door to new spheres of work and activity into which he would never otherwise have penetrated.

Paul, seeing that there was no justice for him in Palestine, had appealed to Caesar, as every Roman citizen had the right to do. In due course, he had been despatched to Rome under military escort, and, when he had arrived there, he had been handed over to ‘the captain of the guard’ and allowed to live by himself under the care of a soldier who was his guard (Acts 28:16). Ultimately, although still under guard, he had been allowed to have his own rented lodging (Acts 28:30), which was open to all who cared to come to see him.

In the Authorized Version, we read that Paul said his imprisonment was ‘manifest in all the palace’. The word translated as palace is praitōrion, which can mean either a place or a body of people. When it has the meaning of a place, it has three meanings. (1) Originally, it meant a general’s headquarters in camp, the tent from which he gave his orders and directed his campaign. (2) From that, it very naturally moved on to mean a general’s residence; it could, therefore, mean the emperor’s residence, that is, his palace, although examples of this usage are very rare. (3) By another natural extension, it came to mean a large house or villa, the residence of some wealthy or influential person. Here, praitōrion cannot have any of these meanings, for it is clear that Paul stayed in his own rented lodging, and it does not make sense that this lodging was in the emperor’s palace.

So we turn to the other meaning of praitōrion, a body of people. In this usage, it means the Praetorian Guard or, very much more rarely, the barracks where the Praetorian Guard lived. The second of these meanings we can leave on one side, for it is unlikely that Paul would have rented accommodation in a Roman barracks.

The Praetorian Guard were the Imperial Guard of Rome. They had been set up by Augustus and were a body of 10,000 select troops. Augustus had kept them dispersed throughout Rome and the neighbouring towns. Tiberius had concentrated them in Rome in a specially built and fortified camp. Vitellius had increased their number to 16,000. They served for twelve, and later for sixteen, years. At the close of their term of service, they received the citizenship and a financial payment. Latterly, they became very nearly the emperor’s private bodyguard; and in the end they became a significant problem. They were concentrated in Rome, and there came a time when the Praetorian Guard became nothing less than king-makers; for inevitably it was their nominee who was made emperor every time, since they could impose their will by force, if need be, upon the people. It was to the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, their commanding officer, that Paul was handed over when he arrived in Rome.

Paul repeatedly refers to himself as a prisoner or as being in chains or fetters. He tells the Roman Christians that, although he had done no wrong, he was delivered a prisoner (desmios) into the hands of the Romans (Acts 28:17). In Philippians, he repeatedly speaks of his imprisonment (Philippians 1:7, 1:13, 1:14). In Colossians, he speaks of being in prison for the sake of Christ, and tells the Colossians to remember his chains (Colossians 4:3, 4:18). In Philemon, he calls himself a prisoner of Jesus Christ, and speaks of being imprisoned for the gospel (Philemon 9–13). In Ephesians, he again calls himself the prisoner for Jesus Christ (Ephesians 3:1).

There are two passages in which his imprisonment is more closely defined. In Acts 28:20, he speaks of himself as being bound with this chain; and he uses the same word (halusis) in Ephesians 6:20, when he speaks of himself as an ambassador in chains. It is in this word halusis that we find our key. The halusis was the short length of chain by which the wrist of a prisoner was bound to the wrist of the soldier who was his guard, so that escape was impossible. The situation was this. Paul had been delivered to the captain of the Praetorian Guard, to await trial before the emperor. He had been allowed to arrange a private lodging for himself; but night and day in that private lodging there was a soldier to guard him, a soldier to whom he was chained by his halusis all the time. There would, of course, be a rota of guardsmen assigned to this duty; and in the two years one by one the guardsmen of the Imperial Guard would be on duty with Paul. What a wonderful opportunity! These soldiers would hear Paul preach and talk to his friends. Is there any doubt that, in the long hours, Paul would open up a discussion about Jesus with the soldier to whose wrist he was chained?

His imprisonment had opened the way for preaching the gospel to the finest regiment in the Roman army. No wonder he declared that his imprisonment had actually been for the furtherance of the gospel. All the Praetorian Guard knew why Paul was in prison; many of them were touched for Christ; and the very sight of this gave to the Christians at Philippi fresh courage to preach the gospel and to witness for Christ.

Paul’s chains had removed the barriers and given him access to the finest section of the Roman army, and his imprisonment had been the medicine of courage to the Christian men and women at Philippi.[6]


12–14. It should seem, by what the Apostle here saith, that the Church at Philippi had so much affection for Paul, (as they well might,) that on account of his imprisonment, they were anxious to know the event. And Paul’s regard for them was not behind. But how graciously the Lord overruled the malice of his enemies, in causing even the imprisonment of his servant to minister to his glory. He tells them, that as his bonds in Christ was known in the palace of the emperor, it had occasioned some enquiry concerning the faith in Christ. And we know, that it was made instrumental in the hand of the Lord, for the conversion of some of Nero’s houshold. For, in the close of this Epistle, he tells the Church of Philippi, that amidst the salutations of the brethren which were with him at that time in Rome, they chiefly desired to salute the Church which were of Cæsar’s houshold. And Paul further adds, that his chains had made many bold to preach Christ. Reader! do not overlook these things. They are not uncommon now. How many have I known who have felt confidence from the exercise of the Lord’s tried ones? Yea, what instances have I not observed, where the Lord hath raised up glory to himself, and comfort to his people, from the malice of his enemies?[7]


12. But I wish you to know. We all know from our own experience, how much the flesh is wont to be offended by the abasement of the cross. We allow, indeed, Christ crucified to be preached to us; but when he appears in connection with his cross, then, as though we were thunderstruck at the novelty of it, we either avoid him or hold him in abhorrence, and that not merely in our own persons, but also in the persons of those who deliver to us the gospel. It may have happened to the Philippians, that they were in some degree discouraged in consequence of the persecution of their Apostle. We may also very readily believe, that those bad workmen2 who eagerly watched every occasion, however small, of doing injury, did not refrain from triumphing over the calamity of this holy man, and by this means making his gospel contemptible. If, however, they were not successful in this attempt, they might very readily calumniate him by representing him as hated by the whole world; and at the same time leading the Philippians to dread, lest, by an unfortunate association with him, they should needlessly incur great dislike among all; for such are the usual artifices of Satan. The Apostle provides against this danger, when he states that the gospel had been promoted by means of his bonds. The design, accordingly, of this detail is, to encourage the Philippians, that they may not feel deterred4 by the persecution endured by him.[8]


12. The information given in these verses reads like a reply to an enquiry about Paul’s conditions in prison. Now I want you to know suggests that the Philippians may have either written or sent a message by Epaphroditus (2:25) to express their concern about his safety and welfare. Paul replies by using a standard expression—called today a ‘disclosure formula’—to relate his circumstances. He tells them that the outcome of recent events, what has happened to me (lit. ‘my affairs’, as in Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7), has served to advance the gospel. The meaning of this phrase, prokopēn tou euangeliou, is advancement in spite of obstructions and dangers which would block the path of the traveller. The chief obstacle to the fulfilment of Paul’s ministry was, at this time, his enforced confinement in the praetorium (1:13). But the unexpected thing is that although his activity has been restricted in this way, the actual imprisonment has resulted in a powerful witness for Christ in the scene of his captivity, and a consequent triumph of the gospel in the pagan world (cf. 2 Tim. 2:9).[9]


12. Being the Joyful Servant of Christ Jesus, Paul is also the Optimistic Prisoner. The Christ whom he so willingly serves will take care of him; in fact, is doing so already, and not of him alone, but what is far more important, of the gospel also. For the concept gospel see on 1:27.

In all probability this optimism was not wholly shared by those whom Paul addresses. The church at Philippi was on tenterhooks. “What is going to happen to Paul; will he be condemned or will he be acquitted?” That was the question which everyone was anxiously asking. “Too bad for him … and for the cause of the gospel, this imprisonment!” That was what many people were thinking.

Now on both of these points Paul was of a different mind. With him the primary question was not, “What is going to happen to me?” It was, “How is the gospel-cause affected by whatever happens to me?” And his answer was not, “It is being retarded.” It was, “It is actually being advanced by my imprisonment.” Accordingly, Paul writes first about “the gospel,” “the message of God,” “the Christ” (verses 12–18), and then about his own hope of release (verses 19–26). And even in that second paragraph he writes not so much about himself as about “Christ magnified” in his (Paul’s) person and work.

The opening clause, Now I want you to know, brothers, is substantially the same in meaning as the slightly differently worded one in 1 Cor. 11:3 and Col. 2:1. Similar is also the expression, “I (or we) do not wish you to be in ignorance” (Rom. 1:13; 1 Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor. 10:1; 12:1; 2 Cor. 1:18; 1 Thess. 4:13); and cf. “I (or we) make known to you” (1 Cor. 15:1; 2 Cor. 8:1; Gal. 1:11). Introductions of this character serve to call attention to the fact that something of considerable interest or importance is going to follow. The word brothers (also in 1:14; 3:1, 13, 17; 4:1, 8, 21) is one of endearment, and indicates that the apostle regards these Philippians as being, along with himself, children of the same heavenly Father, by virtue of the merits of Christ and the work of the Spirit, and accordingly as being included in the glorious fellowship (see on verse 5 above).

Paul continues, that the things that have happened to me have in reality turned out to the advantage of the gospel. The apostle’s recent experiences (literally, “the things concerning me” or “my affairs”; cf. Eph. 6:21; Col. 4:7) have had the same effect on the gospel-message as the work of sturdy engineers has on the progress of an army. These men are sent ahead in order to remove obstructions and clear the roads for the rest of the army. Now in the path of the gospel, too, there had been formidable obstructions. On the part of those who had heard vague rumors but were unacquainted with the real essence of the gospel, there had been mistrust and hostility. And on the part of many a church-member there had been fear and cowardice. Paul’s experiences and reactions—his bonds, trial, constant witness for Christ, conduct in the midst of affliction—had served the purpose of tending to remove these obstacles. Thus, road-blocks set up by Satan to hinder and stop the progress of the gospel (see N.T.C. on 1 Thess. 2:18; cf. 1 Cor. 9:12) had become stepping-stones to better understanding and deeper appreciation of God’s redemptive truth and to rising courage in defending it. Paul had been bound, but the word of God could not be bound (see 2 Tim. 2:9; cf. Isa. 40:8; 55:11). When the apostle went to Rome as a prisoner, it was in reality the gospel that went to Rome.

Thus it has ever been. Joseph, cast into a pit and sold into slavery, by and by magnifies God and praises his providence (Gen. 37:23, 24; 50:20). Israel, pursued by Pharaoh’s army, a moment later is heard singing a song of triumph (Exod. 14 and 15). Job, deprived of his children, earthly goods, and health, arrives at a deeper insight into the mysteries of God’s wisdom than ever before (Job 1 and 2; then 19:25–27 and 42:5, 6). Jehoshaphat, threatened by the Ammonites and Moabites, offers a soul-stirring prayer in the midst of his distress. There follow praise, victory, and thanksgiving (2 Chron. 20). Jeremiah, cast into a muddy cistern and suffering other afflictions, coins the famous phrase immortalized in Scripture and song, “Great is thy faithfulness” (Jer. 38:6; Lam. 3:23; cf. verses 2 and 7). Our Lord Jesus Christ, crucified, by means of his very cross gains the victory over sin, death, Satan, causing every true believer to exclaim, “Far be it from me to glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Matt. 27:5; Acts 4:27, 28; Gal. 6:14; cf. Heb. 12:2). Peter and John, imprisoned, become bolder than ever in proclaiming Christ to be the only Savior (Acts 4). The early church, scattered abroad, improves that very opportunity to go about preaching the word (Acts 8).

The manner in which this wonderful progress has been achieved is now described. First, Paul’s experiences have affected the outside-world, notably, the praetorian guard (verse 13). Secondly, they have exerted their wholesome influence upon insiders, the “brothers” (verse 14).[10]


[1] Boice, J. M. (2000). Philippians: an expositional commentary (pp. 50–55). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[2] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 198). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Fee, G. D. (1995). Paul’s Letter to the Philippians (pp. 109–112). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm.B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] Harmon, M. S. (2015). Philippians: A Mentor Commentary (pp. 111–114). Great Britain; Ross-shire: Mentor.

[5] Bruce, F. F. (2011). Philippians (p. 40). Peabody, MA: Baker Books.

[6] Barclay, W. (2003). The Letters to Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (3rd ed. fully rev. and updated, pp. 23–27). Louisville, KY; London: Westminster John Knox Press.

[7] Hawker, R. (2013). Poor Man’s New Testament Commentary: Philippians–Revelation (Vol. 3, p. 5). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[8] Calvin, J., & Pringle, J. (2010). Commentaries on the Epistles of Paul the Apostle to the Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (p. 34). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

[9] Martin, R. P. (1987). Philippians: An Introduction and Commentary (Vol. 11, p. 75). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[10] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Philippians (Vol. 5, pp. 65–69). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

September—4 The Poor Man’s Evening Portion

 

Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people: for the cause was from the Lord.—1 Kings 12:15.

What a light doth this one verse throw upon the whole of this history, and upon ten thousand of a similar kind, which are perpetually going on through life! The event recorded in this chapter, that the king should listen to the counsel of fools, and disregard the advice of wise men, would have appeared incredible, the thing itself being so very obvious. But when we perceive the latent cause, and are told that it was “from the Lord,” how strikingly doth it set forth the wonderful government of God in bringing about the sacred purposes of his holy will! My soul! sit down, this evening, and ponder well the subject. Think how truly blessed it is, and how truly sanctified, to see his almighty hand in every dispensation. And bring home the doctrine itself, for it is a very blessed one, if well studied and well followed up, to thine own concerns and circumstances. When, in any of the providential or gracious appointments of thy Jesus, thou art exercised and afflicted, what can be thy relief, but seeing the cause as from the Lord? The sin and transgression that induceth it, indeed, are all thine own. But the overruling of it to thy future welfare and the divine glory is the Lord’s. Thus “the man of Uz” was grievously afflicted in every direction; but we are told that the Lord’s permission was in the whole: and the sequel fully proved the Lord’s design. Thus “the man after God’s own heart” was cursed by Shimei, in the moment when his life was sought after by his own unnatural son; but what said David, under the heavy trial? “Let him alone, for the Lord hath bidden him.” And what a gracious and sanctified improvement did he make of it, in proof that the Lord, who was smiting, was also upholding: “It may be,” said he, “that the Lord will look on mine affliction, and that the Lord will requite me good for his cursing this day.” (2 Sam. 16:5–12.) My soul! see every cause, every event, and every dispensation, as from the Lord: “He ruleth in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth.” If he afflict his children, still they are his children; the relationship never lessens, neither is his love abated: “Whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth.” Doth he raise up bad men to persecute them? Still they are but the sword: the government of it is the Lord’s. Doth Jesus speak in frowning providences, or hide himself from giving out his accustomed gracious visits of love? Still he is and must be Jesus. There is no change in him, whatever outward dispensations seem to say. He saith himself, “I know the thoughts I think towards you, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jerem. 29:11.) Precious Lord Jesus! give me the seeing eye, and the understanding heart, to behold thy hand in all, to rest upon thy love and faithfulness in all, and to be for ever looking unto thee under all; so shall I bless thee for all; and, sure I am, the issue will be to thy glory, and my everlasting happiness.[1]

 

[1] Hawker, R. (1845). The Poor Man’s Evening Portion (A New Edition, pp. 260–261). Philadelphia: Thomas Wardle.

September 4 Life-Changing Moments With God

 

Sit still, my daughter.

I will take heed, and be quiet; I will not fear or be fainthearted. I will be still, and know that You are God. Lord, did You not say to me that if I would believe I would see Your glory? The loftiness of man shall be bowed down, and the haughtiness of men shall be brought low; You alone, Lord God, will be exalted in that day.

Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and heard His word. Mary chose that good part, which will not be taken away from her. In returning and rest I shall be saved; in quietness and confidence shall be my strength. So I will meditate within my heart on my bed, and be still.

I rest in You, Lord, and wait patiently for You; I do not fret because of him who prospers in his way, because of the man who brings wicked schemes to pass.

I will not be afraid of evil tidings; my heart is steadfast, trusting in You, Lord. My heart is established.

Whoever believes will not act hastily.

Sitting still, Lord God, is so countercultural and so against my nature. Help me to sit still and wait on You to speak and to guide.

Ruth 3:18; Isaiah 7:4; Psalm 46:10; John 11:40; Isaiah 2:17; Luke 10:39, 42; Isaiah 30:15; Psalm 4:4; Psalm 37:7; Psalm 112:7–8; Isaiah 28:16[1]

 

[1] Jeremiah, D. (2007). Life-Changing Moments With God (p. 267). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

September 4 Thoughts for the quiet hour

 

To the Lord our God belong mercies and forgiveness

Dan. 9:9

As a spring lock closes itself, but cannot be unlocked without a key, so we ourselves may run into sin, but cannot return without the key of God’s grace.

Cawdray[1]

 

[1] Hardman, S. G., & Moody, D. L. (1997). Thoughts for the quiet hour. Willow Grove, PA: Woodlawn Electronic Publishing.

September 4 Let Your Hair Down

 

Then Mary took … expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance.
(John 12:3, NIV)

Don’t you like the way Mary worshiped? She let her hair down! She disregarded the critics and the customs and filled the house with the fragrance of her praise. Child of God, put aside your preconceived notions, your self-consciousness, and your concern over what others think, and pour out your love to the One who is worthy. Listen: “Because Your loving-kindness is better than life, my lips shall praise Thee … I will bless Thee while I live. I will lift up my hands in Thy name” (Psalms 63:3–4). That’s the way to do it!

Religious folks will always try to intimidate and silence you. Don’t let them! When they tried it with Jesus, He rebuked them and said, “If they keep quiet the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40, NIV). You can never worship God too exuberantly, for God knows, it’s either us or the rocks! John says the house was filled with the fragrance. Go ahead, fill the place with His praise!

Nothing builds intimacy between people like words of love and appreciation. Judas will always say, “What a waste!” When you take time to stand and “bathe” your soul in the presence of God, some will say, “What a waste of time; what a waste of effort.”

 

You see, they don’t understand that worship is how you enter, how you enjoy, and how you live in the presence of God.[1]

 

[1] Gass, B. (1998). A Fresh Word For Today : 365 Insights For Daily Living (p. 247). Alachua, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.

September 4 Streams in the Desert

 

And when you hear the sound of the trumpet, all the people shall shout with a great shout; and the wall of the city shall fall down flat, and the people shall ascend up every man straight before him.” (Joshua 6:5.)

THE shout of steadfast faith is in direct contrast to the moans of wavering faith, and to the wails of discouraged hearts. Among the many “secrets of the Lord,” I do not know of any that is more valuable than the secret of this shout of faith. The Lord said to Joshua, “See, I have given into thine hand Jericho, and the king thereof, and the mighty men of valour.” He had not said, “I will give,” but “I have given.” It belonged to them already; and now they were called to take possession of it. But the great question was, How? It looked impossible, but the Lord declared His plan.

Now, no one can suppose for a moment that this shout caused the walls to fall. And yet the secret of their victory lay in just this shout, for it was the shout of a faith which dared, on the authority of God’s Word alone, to claim a promised victory, while as yet there were no signs of this victory being accomplished. And according to their faith God did unto them; so that, when they shouted, He made the walls to fall.

God had declared that He had given them the city, and faith reckoned this to be true. And long centuries afterwards the Holy Ghost recorded this triumph of faith in Hebrews:

“By faith the walls of Jericho fell down, after they were compassed about seven days.”—Hannah Whitall Smith.

“Faith can never reach its consummation,

Till the victor’s thankful song we raise:

In the glorious city of salvation,

God has told us all the gates are praise.”[1]

 

[1] Cowman, L. B. (1925). Streams in the Desert (pp. 259–260). Los Angeles, CA: The Oriental Missionary Society.

September 4, 2020 Morning Verse Of The Day

A Word to Servants

Slaves, in all things obey those who are your masters on earth, not with external service, as those who merely please men, but with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men; knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward of the inheritance. It is the Lord Christ whom you serve. For he who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. (3:22–25)

The final relationship in an ancient home was that of masters and slaves. Again Paul, in Ephesians 6:5–9, parallels this text. In our day, that relationship can largely be compared to that of employer and employee. It should be noted that although the Word of God never advocates slavery, it does recognize it as an element of society that could be beneficial if both slaves and masters treated each other as they should. Far from seeking to abolish slavery, the Lord and the apostles use it as a motif for spiritual instruction, by likening the believer, one who belongs to Christ and serves Him, to a slave. So New Testament literature accepts slavery as a social reality and seeks to instruct those in that system to behave in a godly manner. Certainly in the letter to Philemon (delivered at the same time as Colossians), Paul upholds the duties of slave and master. He was sending the runaway slave Onesimus back to his master, Philemon. Paul asked Philemon to treat his returned slave with kindness and forgiveness—restoring the relationship to its divine design.

Rather than commanding slaves to rebel and overthrow slavery, Paul says, In all things obey those who are your masters on earth. It really is irrelevant what the social form may be, slavery or freedom—if the relationship is godly. As in the relationships between husbands and wives and parents and children, the principle of authority and submission is central to Paul’s thought. In all things is a comprehensive phrase referring to both enjoyable and distasteful duties. The obedience required of slaves is not external service, doing a duty with a reluctant attitude, as those who merely please men. Rather, Christian servants are to please the Lord by working with sincerity of heart, fearing the Lord. Holding God and His will in high regard is the right motive. They are to work heartily (putting their whole inner man into the effort), as for the Lord rather than for men, serving their master as they would the Lord Himself.

Paul stresses to Timothy that such obedience and honor given by slaves to their masters keeps “the name of God and our doctrine” from being evil-spoken of (1 Tim. 6:1).

Paul gives two reasons for slaves (or employees) to obey their masters. Positively, the Lord will repay them for their faithfulness. They can endure inequity now, knowing that from the Lord they will receive the reward of the inheritance. The earthly master or boss may not give the servant what he deserves, but the Lord will. He is the One who will assure the eternal compensation is what it should be (cf. Rev. 20:12–13). Christian slaves are also heirs of eternal reward. As an employee on the job, or a servant in the home, it is the Lord Christ whom believers serve. He will pay them back with grace and generosity.

Paul then gives a negative reason for obedience. The one who does wrong will receive the consequences of the wrong which he has done, and that without partiality. The warning is that the Lord will discipline without partiality in cases of disobedience (cf. Gal. 6:7). Paul acknowledged that the Christian slave Onesimus was responsible to repay Philemon (Philem. 18). The Christian servant is not to presume on his Christianity to justify disobedience. Even if we are God’s children, we will reap what we sow, because God is impartial (cf. Acts 10:34).[1]


23 In 3:17 Paul enjoins the Colossians in general to do all things in the name of the Lord Jesus. At the outset of v. 23, the apostle admonishes slaves in particular to work heartily (lit., “from [your] soul”; NIV, “with all your heart”) in whatever they do. Slaves are to not only obey their masters with singularity of heart but are also to perform their given duties with all the energy they can muster. A slave characterized by integrity and productivity would be a valued commodity for any master. That being said, this is not what ought to motivate their work; rather, Paul directs slaves to expend their energies as to the Lord and not their masters, who are, in the final analysis, mere mortals. Even though they work for their lords, they are to do their work for their Lord.[2]


22–24  Christian slaves are next addressed. Within the context of a household code household slaves are primarily in view, and slaves in a Christian household at that. But the directions given would be applicable to slaves whose duties were not within the household (slaves employed in agriculture or industry, for example), and to slaves of pagan masters.

Both in this letter and in Ephesians the injunctions to slaves are more extended than those to masters, and are accompanied by special encouragement. This, it has been suggested, is “a reflection of the social structure of these churches” (the implication being that they contained more slaves than masters). That may well be so. On the other hand, it has been pointed out that “the content of the admonitions would certainly be more readily approved by owners than by slaves.”200

The companion letter to Philemon affords an illuminating commentary on the mutual responsibilities of slaves and masters within the Christian fellowship, and on the transforming effect of this fellowship on their relationship. The relationship belongs to this present world-order; it is “earthly” (lit., “according to the flesh”).202 In the higher and abiding relationship which is theirs in Christ, believing slaves and masters are brothers. The slave/master relationship might persist in the home and business life: within the church it was swallowed up in the new relationship (cf. Col. 3:11). Paul treats the distinction in status between the slave and the free person as irrelevant in the new order (which perhaps was easier for him than it would have been for one who was enslaved to an earthly master). He sees the advantages of being free rather than enslaved, and the slave who has an opportunity of gaining freedom is encouraged to make use of the opportunity; but if there is no such opportunity, “never mind.… For he who was called in the Lord as a slave is a freedman of the Lord; likewise he who was free when called is a slave of Christ” (1 Cor. 7:21–22). If a Christian slave came to be recognized as a leader in the church, he would be entitled to receive due deference from his Christian master.204 But the Christian slave would not presume on this new relationship or make it an excuse for serving his master less assiduously; on the contrary, he would serve him more faithfully because of this new relationship.

If a Christian slave had an unbelieving master, he would serve him more faithfully now because the reputation of Christ and Christianity was bound up with the quality of his service. Slaves in general might work hard when the master’s eye or the foreman’s eye was on them;206 they would slack off as soon as they could get away with it. And why not? They owed their masters nothing. Far more culpable is the attitude of modern “clockwatchers,” who have contracted to serve their employer and receive an agreed fixed remuneration for their labor. But Christian slaves—or Christian employees today—have the highest of all motives for faithful and conscientious performance of duty; they are above all else servants of Christ, and will work first and foremost so as to please him. Not fear of an earthly master, but reverence for their heavenly Lord,208 should be the primary motive with them. This would encourage Christian servants to work eagerly and zestfully even for a master who was harsh, unconscionable, and ungrateful; for they would receive their thanks not from him but from Christ. A rich recompense is the assured heritage of all who work for Christ;210 and the Christian servant can work for Christ by serving an earthly master in such a way as to “adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in everything” (Tit. 2:10).[3]


23 Verse 23 largely repeats what was said in Col 3:17; in fact, the opening clause is nearly identical to 3:17 but focused now on slaves: “Whatever you do.” The “whatever” is whatever the slaves do. Verse 23 turns quickly and tersely from doing everything “in the name of the Lord Jesus” (3:17) to a reworking of 3:22, with one major shift: instead of working for their masters, their efforts are transcended by learning to work for Master Jesus. Three brief expressions are used here: (1) work at it with all your heart, or enthusiastically, or more literally, from your God-vivified body;302 (2) their efforts are refocused into working for the Lord Jesus; and (3) they are not to see the focus of their labors as done only for human masters. Three clauses, the first reworking what is just said in 3:22, the second repeating what is found about living before the Lord Jesus in 3:17, and the third reworking again what is found in 3:22. But the verb is new. “Work” (ergazomai) is often used negatively in Paul for those working “works of the law” (Rom 4:4–5) but sometimes also positively (Gal 6:10; 1 Cor 16:10; 2 Cor 7:10; Rom 2:10; 13:10). Here the second sense is in mind.[4]


Servants (vv. 22–25)

The Scriptures do not give slavery the stamp of divine approval. In Genesis God ordains and approves of such things as marriage (2:18, 24), the family (1:28), the Sabbath (2:3), and human government (9:6; see also Rom. 13:1–13), and he made all men free and equal. He did not create a slave or hint at slavery as an acceptable practice. In Paul’s day the laws of Rome allowed slavery, but in Old Testament times slaves were not so oppressed ‘and did acquire various rights’ such as to own property and conduct business. Hebrew slaves were treated under a somewhat complicated set of biblical rules, one of which commanded that they be kept in bondage for a maximum of six years only, in order to pay off the debts they owed (Exod. 21:2–6; Deut. 15:12–18).

‘Bondservants, obey in all things your masters … not with eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but in sincerity of heart, fearing God’ (v. 22b). Christians are to work not simply out of duty, with self-preservation and self-interest in view; rather they are to work ‘as to the Lord’ (v. 23). Two things motivate believers to obey their employers:

fear of god (vv. 22, 25). Holy and reverential fear of God, together with respect for one’s employer, is good and healthy. This is not repressive, rather it takes into account that God is almighty and that men are answerable to him at the day of judgement for all that they have done or said (2 Cor. 5:10–11). So the Bible teaches obedience in matters pleasant and unpleasant (Eph. 6:5–8; 1 Tim. 6:1–2; Titus 2:9–10; 1 Peter 2:18–21a), but not absolutely in all things (Acts 5:29).

rewards (v. 24). ‘… knowing that from the Lord you will receive the reward’. The quality of service must be such as would please Christ. Let there be no jobs half-finished, no shoddy workmanship or work of poor quality. Slaves were not rewarded as a rule, but were called to do their duty. Here, however, Paul reminds the believers that there are rewards to come for the good and faithful servants of Christ (Eph. 6:8; Matt. 25:14–30). Christians are to work as if they are in God’s service: they ‘serve the Lord Christ’. This is their calling, so they are to do the best they can and pray for grace and protection (Matt. 6:13). Whatever believers do for their Saviour here on earth it will not be regretted; in fact, when they reach heaven they will wish that they had given more to him who gave everything for them (John 21:15–17). Ultimately, we do not work for our employer but for the Lord Jesus Christ. Understanding this principle will help produce a better and healthier attitude to work and allow us to do the unpleasant tasks with patience. There are rewards promised and waiting for believers in heaven after a lifetime of faithful service (Luke 19:11–27; James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:7–8).[5]


3:23 / Second, slaves have a new center of reference. This is implied already in the last phrase of verse 22, which the thoughts of verse 23 amplify somewhat. Paul wants them to understand that, in spite of their position, they are serving Christ and not men. As a result of their relationship to Christ, they have been freed from viewing work as an obligation and performing it methodically and unenthusiastically for human approval. Thus Paul states that they are to work heartily, as though they were working for the Lord, not for men.[6]


Ver. 23.—Whatever ye be doing, work (therein) from (the) soul, as to the Lord, and not to men (ver. 17; Eph. 6:6, 7; 1 Cor. 7:21–23). (On the first clause, see ver. 17.) In the Revised Text, however, the turn of expression differs from that of ver. 17, πᾶν being cancelled. The writer is thinking, not so much of the variety of service possible, as of the spirit which should pervade it. “Do” is replaced in the second clause by the more energetic “work,” opposed to indolent or useless doing (comp. Eph. 4:28; 2 Thess. 3:10; John 5:17; 9:4). “From [ἐκ, out of] the soul “indicates the spring of their exertions—inward principle, not outward compulsion; the servant must put his soul into his work. “Soul” implies, even more than “heart,” the engagement of the man’s best individual powers (comp. Phil. 1:27, as well as Eph. 6:6). The slaves’ daily taskwork is to be done, not only in sight and in fear of the Lord (ver. 22 b; Eph. 5:21), but as actually “to the Lord.” Him they are serving (ver. 24 b), who alone is “the Lord” (ch. 2:6); every mean and hard task is dignified and sweetened by the thought of being done for him, and the commonest work must be done with the zeal and thoroughness that his service demands (comp. Eph. 6:7, “with good will doing bond-service”). The word “not” (οὐ instead of μὴ) implies that their service is actually rendered to One other and higher than “men” (1 Cor. 7:22; Gal. 1:10).[7]


23–24. Second, whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men. The task may appear unimportant or trivial, but the person doing it is never that, and he or she has the opportunity to turn the job into an act of worship. This attitude cannot be motivated by earthly reward, and so cannot be distracted if such prospects seem remote: since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. One should properly read ‘the inheritance’; the reference is clearly to the life of the age to come. This is ironic, since in earthly terms slaves could not inherit property. Here, then, is the third point: the ‘master’ in heaven will reward you. The fourth one is perhaps not to be taken (with niv) as a statement (It is the Lord Christ that you are serving) but, as is equally possible in the Greek, as a command: ‘Serve the Lord Christ!’ The force of this unusual phrase (Paul nowhere else allows the titles ‘Lord’ and ‘Christ’ to stand together without the name ‘Jesus’ as well) could be brought out by a paraphrase: ‘so work for the true Master—Christ!’[8]


Ver. 23. Whatsoever ye do, do it heartily, as unto the Lord.

Servants of Christ:—The apostle was speaking to slaves, who must have felt their condition to be irksome and degrading, but he applies a principle which altogether transforms it. They are to feel and act as servants of Christ. This principle is of far-reaching application. We are to serve Christ by discharging all the duties of life so as to please Him. This suggests a train of thought which has a special suitableness to young men. Note then the things which are essential to the realization of this lofty ideal of Christian service.

  1. There must be a full surrender of the whole being to Christ. “No man can serve two masters.” “He that is not with Me is against Me.” Alas! how many act as though they bad made a bargain with Christ; that part of their nature should be given to Him, and part retained for the world and self. In certain circumstances they seem devout and earnest believers, in others frivolous and worldly. Such a course is dishonouring to Christ, and injurious to their own souls. There are families in which the children having been asked to do something, refuse or delay; then a struggle ensues, involving discomfort to both parents and children. In others the first intimation is followed by prompt obedience. In the one case is love, order, and happiness; in the other the reverse. Why? In the one case the children had learned to obey, in the other they had not. So some of God’s children have not learned to surrender their wills utterly to Him; hence every act of obedience involves a struggle; but some have learnt to make the struggle once for all, and are now happy in that service which is perfect freedom.
  2. Strive to be efficient in your worldly calling. “Whatsoever,” whether the work of master or servant, prince or peasant, “do it as to the Lord.” When we can recognize Christ as our Master, and our work as rendered to Him, it should make us faithful servants, whoever may be our immediate employer. Unfortunately this has not been always acted on, and religion has been regarded as a disqualification for efficient service. A lad once said, when urged to decision, “I would like to learn my business before being converted, for I notice that the pious men in my father’s employ are not generally good workmen.” I want you to wipe out this reproach, and try to excel in everything for the sake of Christ—whether in school, workshop, or counting-house, &c. The influence of Christian character and effort is greatly enhanced when connected with superiority in business. A working man who had recently come to reside in a northern village, was asked, as he was strolling in the fields one Sunday, to attend a cottage service where the speaker was going to preach. The invitation was rudely declined, and on mentioning the matter to an acquaintance who came up immediately, he was asked if he knew who the preacher was. “No.” “Why that is Thompson, the best forgeman in the district.” “Oh, indeed, I have often heard of Thompson’s work; I will go and hear him preach.” He did so and became a new man.

III. Strive to acquire mental culture and general intelligence for the sake of Christ. 1. It will open to you many avenues of enjoyment. 2. It will enable you to discover riches and beauty in the Divine word which would otherwise be concealed. 3. It will help to keep you free from the religious crotchets by which the Christian life is now weakened and disfigured. 4. It will give you greater power to serve Christ. Edward Irving had in his Glasgow congregation the wife of a shoemaker, who was a determined infidel. Irving visited him day after day without producing any impression. But one day he sat down beside him and began talking about his work and the material he was then handling. The man became interested, for he found that the minister knew as much about his trade as he did himself. Next Sunday he went to church, and when taunted by his former companions, replied, “Mr. Irving is no fool, he kens leather.”

  1. Have some special work to do for Christ. The field of Christian usefulness is wide, and there can be no difficulty in finding suitable work. To help you in this—1. Be regular and faithful in your devotions. 2. Try to do every day something simply for Christ’s sake—repress your temper, speak to some friend about salvation, practise some self-denial, for Christ’s sake, and with the help of the Spirit. Conclusion: Are you serving Christ or Satan? You must be one or the other. (G. D. Macgregor.)

Do all for God:—1. When we remember that our destiny is to live with Christ and glorified beings, and that any work that does not fit us for that is a great impertinence, it is alarming at first sight to note that the great bulk of our occupations are of the earth, earthy. All professions and trades are for the purpose of supplying defects in the existing order, and, therefore, when that order is no more, and is superseded by one in which there are no defects, the occupations of this life must necessarily die a natural death. Is there not, then, something which seems inappropriate in the circumstance that all this short life should be taken up in doing what has no reference to eternity, and will be swept away like so much litter? 2. It was just this feeling that gave rise to Monasticism. Men assumed that eternity would be given up to prayer and praise; these, therefore, must be the earthly occupations of religious men. Let us not rail at their mistake, for it is a common assumption that a secular pursuit is an obstacle to a religious mind. Hence a seriously disposed young man is pointed out as destined for the Church. 3. As the pushing of a false theory to its extreme point is one method of showing its fallacy, imagine it to be God’s will that all Christians should have a directly spiritual pursuit. What then? The system of society is brought to a dead-lock. Take away the variety of callings, reduce all to that of the monk, and civilization is undermined and we revert to barbarism. This assuredly cannot be the will of Him who has implanted in us the instincts which develope into civilization. 4. But if this cannot be the will of God, then it must be His will that this man should ply some humble craft; that this other should have the duties of a large estate; that a third should go to the desk; a fourth minister to the sick; a fifth fight the battles of his country. Now if this be the case the greatest harm is done when a man thrusts himself out from his proper vocation. Each man’s wisdom and happiness must lie in doing the work God has given him. So thought St. Paul. He did not urge his converts to join him in his missionary journeys, but to abide in his calling with God. 5. “With God.” This wraps up the secret of which we are in search, how we may serve God in our daily business. How can this be done? By throwing into the work a pure and holy intention. Intention is to our actions what the soul is to the body. As the soul, not the body, makes us moral agents, so motive gives action a moral character. To kill a man, of malice prepense, is murder; but to kill him by accident is no sin at all. A good work, such as prayer, becomes hypocrisy if done for the praise of men. 6. Now the great bulk of life’s work is done with no intention whatever of serving God. (1) The intention of some in their work is simply to gain a livelihood: a perfectly innocent and even good motive, but not spiritual and such as redeems the work from earthiness. (2) Others labour with a view of gaining eminence. The effects of work done in this spirit, if it does not meet with success, are sad to witness. (3) Others mainly work from energy of mind. They would be miserable if idle; but that work has of course no spiritual character. (4) Another class work from the high and elevating motive of duty; but if the intention have no reference to God’s appointment it has no more spirituality than might have been found in the mind of Cicero or Sepeca. (5) A great mass of human activity has no intention at all, and so runs to waste from a spiritual point of view. Multitudes work mechanically, and by the same instinct of routine as a horse in a mill. But man is surely made for something nobler than to work by mere force of habit. 7. Now what is the true motive which lifts up the humblest duties into a higher atmosphere? This—“Whatsoever ye do,” &c. The primary reference is to the duties of slaves, the lowest imaginable. The a fortiori inference is this, that if the drudgery of a slave admits of such a consecration, much more does any nobler form of business. No man after this can say, “My duties are so very commonplace that they cannot have a religious dignity and value.” 8. Practical counsels. (1) Before you go to your task fix it in your mind that all lawful pursuits are departments of God’s harvest-field in which He has called Christians to labour. (2) Pursue your own calling with the conscious intention of furthering His work and will. (3) Then put your hand to it bravely, keeping before you the main aim of pleasing Him with diligence and zeal. (4) Imagine Jesus surveying your work as He will do it at the last day, and strive that there may be no flaw in it. (Dean Goulburn.)

Working:—Were I to ask, “What was the purpose for which you were sent into the world,” I should get a variety of replies. But the right answer would be, To work. So the Bible tells us, and Providence and the world around. Work is not an evil, but a good. There is work in heaven. Adam unfallen was a working man. If there had been no sin the world would not have been a world of idleness. And what is true of us is true of all God’s creatures. Take water; it never stands still. Take horses, or even the birds, how soon they have to work for a living. Our text tells us how to work and for whom to work. Take then its instruction as a guide for—

  1. School work. Many wish there were no such thing. This is foolish, for schools make all the difference between us and heathens. How hard it is for a man to get on in life who has had a poor education. School work is hard, but it will be made all the lighter if done heartily and to the Lord; and then there would be no need for the coaxing and bribing and threatening that are so common.
  2. Home work. Young people should make themselves useful at home, and not expect that everybody should be attending upon them. Home work is an important part of the training for after life; and there is nothing in it beneath the dignity of any girl. And what a comfort it would make you, and what a saving you might be to mother’s cares. And the reason it is repulsive is because you do not take to it in a right spirit. Throw heart in it, and it will soon be enjoyable.

III. Business work. Whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing well—the work even of a message-boy, crossing sweeper, or shoeblack. It is often when people are busy at their work that God comes with a blessing. Moses, Gideon, Elisha, the shepherds, the apostles were all called when at their work. Is yours humble? You can exalt it by taking it as Christ’s, and by doing it with all your heart.

  1. Soul work. This is done more for us than by us. And yet we have to “work out” what God works in. This will have to be done heartily and unto the Lord, or literally not at all. We have to escape—which surely involves earnestness—to Jesus.
  2. Christian work. Every work is Christian if done for Christ, but there is work more especially done for Him. When a little girl’s mother comes to visit her at school, she wants to introduce all her friends to her. Your work is to introduce them to Jesus. You need not be a missionary to do this. (J. H. Wilson, M.A.)

“Not unto men”:—It is related that when Phidias, the great sculptor who carved statues for one of the temples of antiquity, was labouring with minute fidelity upon the hair on the back of the head of one of the historic figures which was to be elevated from the pavement to the very apex of the building, or placed along the frieze, some one expostulated with him, saying, “Why do you take such great pains with the hair? It is never to be seen.” His simple reply was, “The gods will see it.” So he laboured thoroughly in the minutest things, not for the eyes of men but for the eyes of the gods. (H. Melvill, B.D.) Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the inheritance; for ye serve the Lord Christ.

Christian Socialism:—Christianity, though altogether opposed to those levelling theories which disaffected men industriously broach, places the highest and the lowest on a par in the competition for eternity. Christianity is the best upholder of the distinctions in society; and he can have read his Bible to little purpose who does not see the appointment of God that there should be rich and poor in the world, master and servant; who does not perceive that want of loyalty is want of religion, and that there is no more direct rebellion against the Creator than resistance to any constituted authority, or the endeavour to bring round that boasted equality in which all shall have the same rights, or to speak more truly, in which none shall have any. But if Christianity makes it sinful to repine against servitude, it gives a dignity to the servant who would still remain in servitude. It tells the servant, that if faithful here, he may rank with his master hereafter, even though the employment of the master has been the advancement of Christ’s cause on earth. And oh! it should be a surprisingly cheerful thing to those who have to wear away life in the meanest occupations, that, as immortal beings, they are not one jot disadvantaged by their temporal position, but they make as much progress in the Christian race as those placed at the very highest summit in the Christian office. (Ibid.) Living for Christ:—

  1. Unity of purpose is necessary. 1. For the development of character. 2. For success in life. Glory, self-interest, benevolence, each gives unity and force, whereas a man without any such governing principle becomes weak; and it is only by making one object predominant and seeking that object that great results are achieved.
  2. That which gives unity to the Christian life is Christ. 1. He is the unifying principle of Christian theology. 2. Of the inward life of the Christian. 3. Of his outward and active life. We have an illustration of this in Paul, in his theology, experience, and work. Negatively he did not seek wealth or honour, either as his main or subordinate object. He simply sought the glory of Christ.

III. The glory of Christ should be our aim. 1. Because it is our duty. This is the highest thing we can do. Whatever else we do will, in the end, be regarded as nothing. 2. Our inward holiness and happiness will thereby be best advanced. 3. Only thus can we be really useful. Thus only do we associate ourselves with the saints and angels. The extension of Christ’s kingdom is the only thing worth living for. 4. Christ has died for you, redeemed you. You are not your own but His. Serve Him, then, under the constraint of His love. (C. Hodge, D.D.)

The perfect service:—It would be truthful to say that all “serve the Lord Christ.” Some against their will—Pharisees, Pilate, Judas, &c. Some unconsciously—all who spread the true refinement of art, the researches of science, the charities of philanthropy. But Paul is not now speaking to such, but “to the saints and faithful brethren in Christ at Colossæ.” And these words indicate about the life service of all true Christians.

  1. Its motive. The constraint is “for Christ’s sake.” Such motive is—1. Deep enough. It has its hands on all the hidden springs of purpose and love. 2. Abiding enough. To please others who may change or die, or please self, which is fickle and disappointing, cannot ensure the prolonged service men can render to the eternal and unchanging Christ.
  2. Its pattern. In some warfare the commander says, “Go”; in this He says, “Follow Me.” “He was in all points tempted,” &c. “He has left us an example.”

III. Its help. The fishers after their night of bootless toil, Peter walking on the waves, Paul receiving grace to endure a hidden sorrow, are specimens of men needing and receiving help from Christ.

  1. Its comprehensiveness. It includes all circumstances, whether of artizan or statesman; all ages, whether of child or patriarch; of all spheres, whether of the inward or outward life. “Whatsoever ye do.”
  2. Its consummation. It has now the approval of conscience and the Master; it will ultimately receive “the reward of the inheritance.” (U. R. Thomas.) The service of Christ is
  3. Honourable service. We serve the Lord Christ—King of kings, and Lord of lords. The servants of royalty are nobles; so we are kings and priests unto God.
  4. Reasonable service. The master had a claim upon the slave as his property won in war or purchased by money. We have been bought with a price. Christ has a right based upon His service of love; we should respond with gratitude.

III. Entire service. The slave was his master’s altogether—self, family, belongings, &c. So Christ claims all we are and all we have—time, money, secularities, and not merely Sabbaths, worship, &c.

  1. Happy service. Sometimes the road is rough, but the motive for treading it makes it smooth, and the companionship of Him we love relieves its tedium and lightens its darkness.
  2. Easy service. “Take My yoke upon you … and ye shall find rest.” Love is the magic power which makes what is irksome pleasurable.
  3. The service of friendship (John 15:15). It is the badge of true Christian discipleship—not creeds, professions, sentiments, &c.

VII. Lucrative service. 1. It is its own reward here. 2. It has an exceeding great reward by and by. (A. C. Price, B.A.)

How difficulties in Christ’s service are overcome:—Sometimes when a man’s limb has been broken, and long weeks of rest are necessary in order that the fractured bones may reunite, there is danger lest the limb should become permanently contracted; so as soon as it is safe to do so, the patient is ordered to exercise the limb. At first the exercise gives acute pain, but after awhile, as vigour and strength return to the limb, in the thrill of health that he feels, the man forgets the pain and is glad. Now sin has dislocated man’s moral nature, and though by grace it may have been reset, still God’s wise exercise of it is exceedingly painful; but then this exercise begets spiritual health, and that health sends such a thrill of pleasure through the soul that the very act of obedience to, and service of, Christ, gains strength to obey and serve; and with increasing strength difficulty after difficulty disappears, pain goes, pleasure comes, and the Christian is master of his work, and delights in it. (Ibid.)

What makes Christ’s service easy and pleasant:—That huge piece of timber which lies there in that quiet creek, from which the tide has receded, leaving it dry and immovable in the sand; try to shift it, and it is only with the utmost difficulty that you can do so. But wait till the tide comes in, and the waters flow around it. Make the attempt now, and with what comparative ease you accomplish it! Even so there are ten thousand things in the way of duty laid upon us by God which, so long as the heart is unrenewed, seem hard and burden-some, but all of which yield when once the love of Christ has once entered and filled the heart, are cheerfully taken up and done with ease and joy to the Loved One. A little child had given to her by a friend a bunch of ripe, beautiful grapes. Just as she was about to eat them her mother said, “My child, will you give me those grapes?” The little one looked at the grapes and then at the mother whom she loved; and then after a pause, as the mother’s love came rushing with full tide into her heart, and overmastering every other feeling, she flung the grapes into her mother’s lap, and with a kiss surrendered them all (Matt. 18:3). The love of Christ makes sacrifice easy and delightful. (Ibid.)

The ruling motive of Christ’s servants:—You cannot serve two masters—you must serve one or other. If your work is first with you, and your fee second, work is your master, and the Lord of work, who is God. But if your fee is first with you, and your work second, fee is your master, and the lord of fee, who is the devil; and not only the devil, but the lowest of devils—“the least erected fiend that fell.” So there you have it in brief terms—work first, you are God’s servants; fee first, you are the fiend’s. And it makes a difference, now and ever, believe me, whether you serve Him who has on His vesture and thigh written, “King of kings,” and whose service is perfect freedom; and him on whose vesture and thigh is written, “Slave of slaves,” and whose service is perfect slavery. (John Ruskin.)

The sure reward of Christ’s servants:—When Calvin was banished from ungrateful Geneva, he said, “Most assuredly if I had merely served man, this would have been a poor recompense; but it is my happiness that I have served Him who never fails to reward His servants to the full extent of His promise.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

All for Jesus:—The gospel does not barely supply us with directions, but furnishes us with reasons and power for obedience. The apostle knew that the conditions of believers are various, and therefore laid down distinct precepts for masters and servants, &c., but proposed a common motive for all. Our translation is in the indicative and states the fact—“Ye serve the Lord Christ.” Is that so? If not, the original will bear rendering in the imperative—“Serve ye the Lord Christ.” What an exaltation for a slave of Satan to become a servant of Christ. “Thy gentleness hath made me great.” It is a greater honour to serve Christ in the most menial capacity than to occupy the throne of the Cæsars. To serve us He laid aside His glorious array and girt Him with the garments of a servant. In our turn let us serve Him alone and for ever. Ye serve the Lord Christ—

  1. In the common acts of life. The fact that the text was addressed to the lowest is instructive. He does not address this choice saying to masters, preachers, deacons, magistrates, or persons of influence, but to slaves. He goes to the kitchen, the field, &c., to his toiling brethren. If the poor slave should serve Jesus how much more ought I? 1. Those who are in a low estate serve the Lord Christ. (1) By a quiet acquiescence in the arrangement of Providence which has placed them where they are. While the race is as it is some must serve. When a man can say, “I have learned in whatsoever state I am to be content,” that is obedience and the service of Christ. (2) By exercising the graces of the Spirit in the discharge of our calling. An honest, trustworthy servant is a standing evidence of the power of religion, and preaches in the nursery, workshop, and many places where a preacher would not be admitted, a silent but effective sermon. This was how the gospel spread in Rome. (3) By displaying the joy of the Lord in our service. Many have been won to Christ by the cheerfulness of poor Christians. It was so in Paul’s day. The Christian slave would not join in the jollity of the heathen festivals, but whenever any one was in trouble he was the cheerful comforter. (4) By performing the common acts of life as unto Christ’s self. To the man of God nothing is secular, everything is sacred. “What God hath cleansed, that call thou not common.” 2. This view of things—(1) Ennobles life. The bondsman is henceforth free; he serves not man but God. (2) Cheers the darkest shades. (3) Ensures a reward. (4) Should stimulate zeal. If you serve the Lord Christ, serve Him well. If you had work to do for Her Majesty you would try to do your best.
  2. In religious actions. Every professor should have something to do for Christ. It would be well if our Church discipline permitted us to turn out every drone. They are of little use in honey making and are at the bottom of all quarrels. But all who work are not necessarily serving Christ. 1. Some serve in a legal spirit. This spirit has a measure of power in it, as the lash drives the slave. But Christians are free and should serve Christ from gratitude and not from fear. 2. Some in a spirit of formality, as a part of the general routine of their existence. It is the proper thing to go to a place of worship, to give their guinea, &c. Christ is not served by such mechanical working. 3. Some in a party spirit, who serve not Christ but their own denomination, and who would almost be vexed at Christ being honoured by any other sect. 4. Some out of the ambition to be thought useful. Our parents or friends wish us to be active in the Church, and therefore we do it. 5. We must rise above all this. What we do we must do for the Master alone.

III. In special acts done to Himself. We desire not only to aid our friend in his projects, but to do something for him himself. So we want to do something, personally, for our Divine Benefactor. 1. We can adore Him. We may be doing nothing for our fellows while thus occupied, but Jesus is dearer to us than the whole race. And as we adore Him in secret so we should extol Him in public. 2. We should pray for Him. “Prayer shall be made for Him continually.” It is delightful to pray for sinners and for saints, but there should be special prayer for the extension of Christ’s kingdom, that He may see the travail of His soul. 3. There should be much communion with Him. “If any man serve Me let him follow Me, and where I am there shall also My servant be.” To be near Him is one of the essentials of service. Let no day pass without a word with Jesus. You are His spouse—can you live without a loving word from your husband? 4. You should sit at His feet and learn of Him, studying His Word. Martha prepared a feast for Christ and did well, but Jesus gave Mary the preference. 5. You must obey Him. “If ye love Me keep My commandments,” not simply build chapels, &c. 6. You must be willing to bear reproach for His sake. 7. Care for His Church. “Lovest thou Me?—feed My sheep.” If you cannot serve with your tongue you can feed the hungry, clothe the naked, &c. “Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these,” &c. 8. Bestow upon Him little wastefulnesses of love—breaking alabaster boxes of very precious ointment on Him. Think of something now and then that you could not justify in prudence. (C. H. Spurgeon.)[9]


To slaves (3:22–25)

  • A new obedience

It is important to notice that in the gathering of believers in Colossae that day, for whom Paul always gave thanks to God (1:3–8), for whom he prayed (1:9–14), and about whom he has said so much in this letter, there were slaves. Onesimus (who had left Colossae some time earlier as an unbeliever, but had just now returned, as a believer) was not the only slave present. Paul addressed the slaves directly. The fellowship of believers was distinctive in this regard (see 3:11). Slaves were members of the gathering in Philemon’s house, fully recognized and acknowledged, regarded as responsible for their own conduct. While advice for how a household should be conducted was common enough in the world of the time, slaves were not usually addressed on the subject.

Slaves were to obey in everything what their masters required. Paul is not interested here in exploring the very reasonable question as to what limits there might be to that obedience, any more than he does for children’s obedience to parents a little earlier, or wives’ submission to their husbands. That does not mean there would be no limit. That question is simply not his concern here.

His point is to set their obedience in a whole new context that radically changes their situation. Their masters are only those who are your earthly lords (literally ‘the masters/lords according to the flesh’). Slaves no longer live in fear of their masters. They are only ‘lords according to the flesh’. The ultimate and true Lord is Christ Jesus. Although slaves still have an earthly lord, it is very important to know the limited sphere of his power. He is only lord (master) in the realm of the flesh.

There is an important point here. It is all too easy for the Christian believer to think that allegiance to Christ overrides earthly allegiances. At least it is not unusual to feel that my allegiance to Christ loosens my allegiances to mere humans in this world. ‘I am serving Christ—and, I’m sorry, but there are times when I must therefore sit a little loose to other obligations in this world.’

The extreme case of slavery is a challenge to this understanding of the relationship between the Lordship of Christ and merely earthly, this worldly, obligations. If you are a slave, your obedience to your master is not compromised by having Christ as Lord. On the contrary, it is put into good order. It is (if it is possible to speak like this) redeemed. Your obedience is not now by way of eye-service. That is a rather literal translation of a Greek compound word that includes the ‘slave’ word: ‘eye-slavery’. You serve, as a slave, not just to be seen to be serving. You do not obey only in order to appear to be obedient. The quality of your obedience would then depend on whether you were being watched. Your service now is not as people-pleasers. Your obedience (yes, your obedience to your earthly lord and master) is now with sincerity of heart. This is perhaps better rendered, ‘singleness of heart’. It is simply not the case that your allegiance to the Lord Jesus pulls you one way, and your earthly obligations pull you the other. No. The Lord Christ who is reordering the universe does not pull us out of our earthly relationships, but calls us to live in those relationships under him, fearing the Lord. To fear the Lord (if we remember the Old Testament teaching about ‘the fear of the Lord’) includes loving him and trusting him (see Deut. 10:12; Ps. 40:3; 115:11; 147:11).

We must not, of course, lose sight of the fact that these words were addressed to slaves. Yet as we listen to the words to slaves (just as when every freeman in Philemon’s house that day listened to the words to the slaves) we must see that, if this is how Christ works, even with the slave, there are implications for us all.

  • A new life

The new obedience of the slave is now generalized, and the radically new way of life is filled out: Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men. There is an echo here of the summary of the Christian life a few lines earlier: ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him’ (3:17). Slaves (though they are still slaves) are liberated to live in this way. In the flesh they may have limited freedom. We might think that they have no freedom at all. Yet if the slave is a Christian, the slave (though still a slave) is living for the Lord Christ. His or her service, in everything they do, is serving Christ.

This is profoundly radical. Precisely because it is the extreme case of slavery to which these words are addressed, we ought to see how every obligation under which we labour, every burden that life puts upon us, every pressure under which we are placed, is transformed by the wonder of the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We are liberated by Christ, but not from those things. We are free now to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him (3:17). We are free to work, not under grudging compulsion, but from the centre of our being (‘heartily’ is, more literally, ‘from the soul’!), knowing that we are living for Christ, not for men.

  • A new reward

Paul continues this astonishing line of instruction to the slaves in the gathering there in Philemon’s house: knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. Again it is the fact that this is the extreme case of slavery that intensifies what is said. Slaves, by definition, were not normally ‘rewarded’ for their work. They were not paid, at least not more than a pittance. The motivation for much that we do in life is the reward we hope to receive. The rewards that motivate us are not just monetary, of course. There are all manner of ‘rewards’ for our efforts, from satisfaction at an achievement to approval or gratitude from others.

Can a slave be redeemed from a life of rewardless effort? Faith in Christ changes life, even for a slave. Here we see starkly what Paul meant at the beginning of this letter when he gave thanks to God for ‘the hope laid up for you in heaven’, about which ‘you have heard before in the word of the truth, the gospel’ (1:5). God has qualified believers in Christ (including slaves!) to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (1:12).

Can we, who still live for so many pathetic ‘rewards’ (what is it that really keeps you going?), learn from this word to the slaves in Colossae? Can we share the liberation they were invited to enjoy from bondage to earthly reward? Do you know (really know) that ‘from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward’? It is undeserved, of course—all of grace. It is nonetheless the most powerful and liberating motivation for living every part of life well.

  • A new master

All this is summed up by saying explicitly what has been behind everything said to the slaves so far: You are serving the Lord Christ. The tniv expresses the emphasis of the Greek word order here a little better: ‘It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’

‘Serving’ is the word for a slave’s service. Here is the power that transforms the life of the slave: he or she has become a slave of the Lord Christ: the one who is ‘the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation’, by whom ‘all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. And he is the head of the body, the church. He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything he might be pre-eminent. For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross’ (1:15–20). All of this is implied when we are told that it is the Lord Christ you are serving!

Whatever indignity, shame or drudgery there was in being a slave, it can never be the same once you have received Christ Jesus the Lord. It must never be the same now that you are serving him.

While hearing this word to the slaves in Philemon’s house is deeply moving, its power extends beyond slaves. By hearing something of what the gospel means to a slave, all believers ought to appreciate afresh the wonder: It is the Lord Christ you are serving!

  • A new world

The word to the slaves ends with a surprise. For suggests that the statement in verse 25 supports the immediately preceding words. The Lord Christ (whom you are serving) cares about wrongdoing: the wrongdoer will be paid back for the wrong he has done. You will answer to him for wrongdoing. This must transform the quality of your serving. Mind you, your earthly master is also answerable to the same Lord Christ and there is no partiality. This must encourage the believing slave to fear the Lord Christ, not his earthly master. The life of a slave who belongs to Christ Jesus is thus profoundly changed.

This word to the slaves, who nonetheless serve the Lord Christ, again illuminates the situation of all believers. Being united to Christ changes everything: we have died with Christ; we have been raised with Christ; our life is hidden with Christ in God; when Christ appears, we also will appear with him in glory (3:1–4). But this does not mean we are taken out of the world, or the obligations of life in this world in whatever situation we find ourselves. Serving the Lord Christ deepens, it does not lessen, our obligations to those we serve in this world.[10]


23, 24. Whatever you do (cf. with verse 17), put your soul into the work (literally, “work from the soul”), as for the Lord and not for men … In spirit people cease to be slaves as soon as they begin to work for the Lord, and no longer in the first place for men. This was, accordingly, the most helpful advice anyone could ever have given a slave. Moreover, by means of his wholehearted cooperation with his master, rendering obedience to him in every way, and doing this while his master was fully aware of the fact that the service was being rendered by a Christian, the slave was promoting the cause and honor of his Lord. The master would begin to think, “If the Christian religion does this for slaves, it must be wonderful.” Paul continues, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the recompense, namely, the inheritance. Even though from his earthly master the slave may receive far less than he should, yet from his heavenly Lord he will receive the full amount which by God’s grace has been allotted to him.

Though salvation is entirely “by grace” and definitely not “of works” (Eph. 2:8, 9; Titus 3:5), yet this gracious recompense of eternal life will be given “according to works” (2 Cor. 5:10; Rev. 20:12, 13; then also Eccl. 12:14; 1 Cor. 3:10–15; 4:5; Gal. 6:7). The recompense is, moreover, “the inheritance,” probably implying the following ideas: a. it is a gift (a person does not earn an inheritance), b. it is inalienable (1 Kings 21:3; Heb. 9:15), c. it was willed to the person who receives it, and in that sense, is therefore his by right (cf. Isa. 1:27); and it implies the death of the testator (Heb. 9:16).

Now slaves, as a rule, are not heirs (Gen 15:3; Rom. 8:15–17; Gal. 4:7). But the slaves to whom Paul is here referring do inherit, for their Master is Christ: (It is) the Lord Christ (whom) you are serving. Let them therefore always live “as under the eye” of their Lord! For the expression “the Lord Christ” see also Rom. 16:18. These are the only two occurrences in the New Testament. The anointed Lord is the slave’s employer. What a privilege and honor![11]


3:22–25. The section on servants and masters is somewhat expanded in comparison to the “family” section. This may be due to the unique situation in the church at Colosse, where the runaway slave, Onesimus, was returning to his master, Philemon (Col. 4:9; Phlm.). The category of slave-master would be equivalent to our modern employee-employers. The arena is the workplace.

Slaves are to obey their earthly masters. Paul reminds those under authority that they have a master in heaven who observes their internal attitude and external performance (vv. 24–25). Christian employees are to render sincere service. The employee is not to work only when the boss is looking. The employee is to recognize that in the final analysis he is working for the Lord, not for men and so do his best. Such work will be rewarded. Remember, God does not play favorites. He “rewards” wrong motives and work as well as good.[12]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 174–175). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Still, T. D. (2006). Colossians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 342). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Bruce, F. F. (1984). The Epistles to the Colossians, to Philemon, and to the Ephesians (pp. 167–169). Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.

[4] McKnight, S. (2018). The Letter to the Colossians. (N. B. Stonehouse, F. F. Bruce, G. D. Fee, & J. B. Green, Eds.) (p. 362). Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

[5] McNaughton, I. S. (2006). Opening up Colossians and Philemon (pp. 78–79). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[6] Patzia, A. G. (2011). Ephesians, Colossians, Philemon (p. 93). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[7] Spence-Jones, H. D. M. (Ed.). (1909). Colossians (p. 157). London; New York: Funk & Wagnalls Company.

[8] Wright, N. T. (1986). Colossians and Philemon: an introduction and commentary (Vol. 12, pp. 153–154). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[9] Exell, J. S. (n.d.). The Biblical Illustrator: Philippians–Colossians (Vol. 2, pp. 264–269). New York; Chicago; Toronto; London; Edinburgh: Fleming H. Revell Company.

[10] Woodhouse, J. (2011). Colossians and Philemon: So Walk in Him (pp. 232–237). Ross-shire, Great Britain: Christian Focus.

[11] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Colossians and Philemon (Vol. 6, pp. 174–175). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[12] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, pp. 333–334). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

MacArthur: 4 ways to recognize a man of God | The Cripplegate

This past Sunday was the graduation ceremony for The Master’s Seminary. These men were supposed to have graduated in May, but because of restrictions in California, the celebration was moved August. It took place outdoors, in a tent, but that did not diminish the joy these students felt at completing their studies.

This was a special day for me because two students from our Washington DC location graduated, and it was a joy to gives thanks to the Lord for their faithfulness, and for the impact of The Master’s Seminary on both coasts of the United States.

Pastor MacArthur charged the graduates to remember Paul’s description of “the man of God” (1 Timothy 6:11, 2 Timothy 3:17). The phrase “man of God” is used over 70 times in the Old Testament, and refers to someone who has been given a special word from the Lord for God’s people. It is found in the New Testament only twice, both times of Timothy.

Dr. MacArthur then gave the students four descriptions of the man of God, drawn from 1 Timothy 6:11. 

The man of God is known by what he flees from. Paul repeatedly reminded Timothy to run form pointless arguments and disputes (1 Timothy 1:4). He should have “nothing to do with silly myths” (1 Timothy 4:7). One might imagine today Paul telling Timothy to turn of the TV, run from the news, flee politics, and abandon social media. Those things take time and suck energy from the person who should be known as a man of God.

In addition to fleeing arguments and frivolity, the man of God should flee the love of money (1 Timothy 3:3, 6:10). It is impossible to be known as a man of God if you are also known as a man who loves money. Ministry for money is dangerous, as it corrupts the message and erodes confidence in the messenger. The man of God flees that, often times even working with his own hands to avoid being caught in the snare of the love of money (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

Second, the man of God is known by what he follows after. Paul connects the man of God to a list of virtues—he is to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness and gentleness. These things don’t happen naturally, they must be aggressively chased, and the man of God is willing to do that.

MacArthur pointed out that the sum total of a man of God’s reputation should be forged by what happens when he is on his knees, in his own relationship with the Lord, long before and after he is known by the rest of his life. Godliness is cultivated, not assumed, and the man of God is willing to pursue it.

Third, the man of God is known by what he fights for. Paul reminds Timothy that the life of faith is a fight (1 Timothy 4:12). Boxers in Rome would have gloves lines with fur or felt on the inside, but laced with metal on the outside. The loser might have his eyes gouged out. They fought as if their lives depended on it, because they often did.

The man of God has that approach to his faith. He fights to keep it. He labors with eternity in view. He fights against distractions, and he fights for godliness. Whatever things belong to the kingdom of God, the man of God is willing to fight to the death over.

Finally, the man of God is known by what he is faithful to (1 Timothy 4:13-14). Paul tells Timothy to guard the “good confession” and to “keep the commandment” of God. In the context of Paul’s letters to Timothy, this confession is the apostolic recognition of Christ (his divinity and humanity, as well as the nature of the gospel), and “the commandment” refers to all of scripture (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Here is where the link to the Old Testament term is so apparent. If the man of God is anything, he is one who is faithful to God’s word. His life is marked by that faithfulness, and his ministry is flavored by it. IN fact, it is more than flavored by it, it is defined by it.

Pastor MacArthur ended his sermon by charging the graduates not to be known by how they stroke the sheep, but rather by how they feed them. He challenged them not only to be pastors, but to be men of God.

When you think of it, pray for the Master’s Seminary and their students and graduates in the Washington DC area. There are now six graduates from our location here, 16 students currently enrolled at our campus in DC, as well as another 15 in pastoral ministry in the DC metro area. We covet your prayers as we seek to honor Paul’s charge to Timothy to be men of God.

— Read on thecripplegate.com/macarthur-4-ways-to-recognize-a-man-of-god/

Forgiveness, reconciliation and why forgiving the repentant is just — Building Jerusalem

Yesterday, I published an article about forgiveness without repentance. I asked the question whether the Bible insists that we forgive people who haven’t repented (TL:DR – it doesn’t). You can read the full post here.

Somebody on my Facebook asked whether it might be helpful to do a follow up post based on what forgiveness is and the difference between it and reconciliation. Given how the discussion on Twitter unfolded – broadly in agreement with the position I outlined in the earlier post, with some who vehemently disagreed – it seems like that probably was a good idea. So, here it is.

So, to reiterate, scripture does not demand unilateral forgiveness when there is no repentance forthcoming. You can read the previous post to see how I get to that Biblically. But, if there is no repentance, the Bible does not demand your forgiveness for that person.

It bears saying, at this point, just what forgiveness is. RC Sproul does a helpful job of explaining here:

At heart, then, forgiveness is to say that I count this sin against you no longer. That is, I will not hold it against you and I will not seek further redress for the issue if your repentance is genuine.

This is different to reconciliation. Forgiveness is fundamentally about not holding sin against somebody anymore and considering whatever debt there was to have been cancelled. Reconciliation is more concerned with restoring a broken relationship.

Consider, for example, if you tell lies to me. When you repent, I may forgive you for your lies. I won’t count those lies against you anymore. However, reconciliation is concerned with restoring the relationship that has been broken through those lies. Though forgiveness may be immediate and the sin no longer held against you, reconciliation will be a longer process because it will take time to restore trust again. One can forgive upon repentance without reconciliation necessarily having fully taken place. However, it should be the case that reconciliation should always be the goal when forgiveness is conferred.

It should also be remembered that whenever somebody sins against another person, there are always at least two injured parties: the victim and the Lord. In some instances, the law (or the State) may also have been broken. It is important to recognise that each injured party is responsible for their own forgiveness. I cannot forgive on behalf of the state and the state cannot forgive on behalf of God. Each party is responsible for their own forgiveness.

This means, although I may forgive somebody for injuring me, the state may still seek redress for the injury they have incurred. So, for example, somebody who has committed murder may well be genuinely repentant and the family of the victim may – with the Lord’s help – recognise that repentance and offer them their forgiveness. Whilst the family have forgiven, they cannot forgive on behalf of the state and justice will still need to be enacted. The family’s forgiveness does not stop state justice and nor does it negate the fact that the Lord will also enact justice for the injury he has incurred.

Somebody might object that it is eminently unfair for a victim of abuse (for example) to forgive an abuser when justice has not been forthcoming. However, this only becomes an issue on the false view that one must forgive even impenitent people. If we consider that the Lord only expects us to forgive repentant people, this is not an issue. If the person is not repentant, their sin is still rightly counted against them. But if the person is truly repentant, they will place themselves in a position in which justice will be done. Repentant people admit wrongdoing, they seek justice and redress for victims. What this means, in the case of abuse, is that the abuser can receive no forgiveness if it is not sought but they can be forgiven when they repent, which will be evidenced by their own admissions of wrongdoing and actions that seek to redress the wrong that has been done. Such redress will include submitting themselves to the relevant authorities, admitting what they have done and accepting the relevant consequences.

Zacchaeus provides us with a good model of what true repentance looks like. A man who had stolen from others admitted his sin – against God and against those he had wronged – and sought to redress his theft by paying back what he had stolen four-fold. Zacchaeus was prepared to admit his wrong and seek to redress the problem at great personal cost. That is what true repentance should look like.

This is why there should be no trouble in our offering forgiveness to those who are truly repentant. Those who have repented will seek to redress the wrong and submit themselves to proper justice. This is also why the unbiblical view of unilateral forgiveness for all people regardless of their repentance is so damaging because it is an affront to natural justice and, worse, God’s understanding of justice. But granting forgiveness to the repentance is just because the truly repentant will have sought to redress their sin. There is no need for the one offering forgiveness to hold onto the sin because justice – in the truest sense – will have been done. The one who denies that justice matters – and is unwilling to submit to what would be just – has not truly repented at all.

Forgiveness, reconciliation and why forgiving the repentant is just — Building Jerusalem

Are You Doing a Great Work? – From His Heart – September 4 — Christianity.com

ARE YOU DOING A GREAT WORK?

So I sent messengers to them, saying, “I am doing a great work and I cannot come down. Why should the work stop while I leave it and come down to you?”
Nehemiah 6:3

Nehemiah was called by God to go to Jerusalem and lead the people to rebuild the broken down walls of the city. It was an important, God-directed, God-sized task. As such, it incurred the wrath and opposition of the devil as he tried every possible way to derail the project, discourage the builders, and defeat the Lord’s plans.

On one occasion, the enemies of God tried to lure Nehemiah away from the rebuilding of the wall by asking for a conference to discuss their differences. They wanted him to take a break from the building and meet them at the plains of Ono. Nehemiah could see through their deception and said, “Oh no,” to Ono. He told them he was doing a great work and could not come down to meet them. I love that. He saw that what he was doing – an unglamorous, dirty, backbreaking, sweat-filled, manual labor-type of job – was in reality a great work for God.

IT’S A GREAT WORK

Whatever work God has truly directed you to do, that work, no matter what it may be, is a great work. Maybe it is taking care of babies, or working with students, or teaching children, or leading a Bible study, or helping behind the scenes, or singing in the choir, or playing in the orchestra, or serving as a prayer warrior, or visiting shut-ins, or helping the under-privileged, or just letting your light shine in your daily routine. Any God-directed work is a great work.

Don’t let the devil discourage you into thinking what you are doing does not matter. For all you moms who spend countless hours changing diapers, doing laundry, cooking, cleaning, and receiving little “thanks” for all your hard work, hear this: YOU ARE DOING A GREAT WORK! The devil wants to make you think you are wasting your life by staying home with your kids. NO YOU ARE NOT!! You are doing a great work for God. Jesus said, “And whoever in the name of a disciple gives to one of these little ones even a cup of cold water to drink, truly I say to you he shall not lose his reward”(Matt. 10:42).

Be encouraged this day as you seek the Lord on what He wants you to do, and do it with all your might. Building walls around the city of Jerusalem may not sound too spiritual, but it surely was to God. It is what He wanted His people to do for Him. Make it your goal to serve the King each day and do everything for His glory. That kind of heart attitude makes the most mundane of tasks a spiritual experience that honors the Lord Jesus and earns reward in heaven.

PRAYER

Lord, I have been thinking that what I do does not matter. I have been guilty of dividing my life into the secular and the sacred. I realize now that it is all sacred to You. Everything I do can be a spiritual experience if I do it for Your glory – “Whether, then, you eat or drink or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God” (1 Cor. 10:31). I choose to do all to the glory of God. What a privilege to serve You, Jesus. I am reporting for duty.

Love,

Pastor Jeff Schreve,
From His Heart Ministries


Dr. Jeff Schreve believes that no matter how badly you may have messed up in life, God still loves you and has a wonderful plan just for you. From His Heart provides real truth, love and hope on over 700 radio stations each day, in 182 countries each week on TV, and is always available online.  Pastor Jeff takes no income from this ministry. All donations go to furthering the broadcast outreach. As a listener/viewer supported ministry, we thank you for joining with us to help speak the truth in love to a lost and hurting world. Go to www.fromhisheart.org for more information.

Are You Doing a Great Work? – From His Heart – September 4 — Christianity.com

He Gives Us a New Song to Sing — Daily Devotionals by Thoughts about God

He has given me a new song to sing, of praise to our God. Now many will hear of the glorious things He did for me, and stand in awe before the Lord, and put their trust in Him” Psalm 40:3

Jim was big man on campus, president of his fraternity and an atheist. He ridiculed all those who professed faith in God, especially the Christians in his fraternity house.

I was invited, over his objections, to speak at one of their weekly meetings. A number of fraternity brothers were active in Campus Crusade and insisted that I come even though Jim resented the idea. Yet, upon completion of my message, he was one of the very first to respond and, after further counsel, received Christ. He became one of the most joyful, radiant, contagious, fruitful witnesses for Christ on the entire campus.

He had a new song to sing, a song of praise to God who had liberated him from a life of decadence and deceit. Now his heart fairly burst with joy as he developed a strategy to help reach every key student for Christ on a great university campus.

There is no greater joy in life than that of sharing Christ with others, and there is no greater joy that comes to another than that which comes with the assurance of salvation when one receives Christ into his life.

Would you like to be an instrument of God to cause others to sing praises to Him? Then tell them the glorious things He has done for you and for them, and encourage them to place their trust in Christ.

Bible ReadingPsalm 40:4-8

TODAY’S ACTION POINT: Today I will seek every opportunity to encourage others to receive Christ so that they can join with me in singing a new song of praise to our God, and together we will share the glorious things He does for us when we place our trust in Him.

By Dr. Bill Bright
Used by Permission


FURTHER READING

How to Fall in Love with Jesus by Sylvia Gunter

The Supernatural Power of Praise

Learn more about knowing Jesus at: https://thoughts-about-god.com/four-laws/

He Gives Us a New Song to Sing — Daily Devotionals by Thoughts about God

The Secret to a Joyful Life — Daily Devotionals by Thoughts about God

“give thanks in all circumstances….” 1 Thessalonians 5:18a

Recently, I found myself in an uncertain season of life. I was in a position I didn’t necessarily want to be in, although I felt that God had led me to where I currently was. Yet, the whispering of doubt grew into a thunderous voice that eventually blocked out any peace that could shine some hope on my situation.

When I finally quieted myself, I began to hear the repetitive message of gratitude. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18says, Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances. In three short sentences, Paul gives us the secret to a joyful life — rejoice, pray, and give thanks.

In order to rejoice, we must be grateful. In order to be grateful, we must pray — openly thanking our Father for what he’s given us. In order to be joyful, we must be grateful.

I have found this truth to be completely transformative. I have managed to find peace and joy by giving thanks to the Lord for every good gift. There is a peace that has overwhelmed me because I have learned gratefulness produces joy.

How much more could we be transformed into joyfulness if we thanked him not only for the good gifts but for everything? What if we thanked God for the trials, heartbreaks, and losses?

When we choose to see God in every circumstance and thank him for the opportunity to grow, our faith follows suit. When we are grateful, we have no choice but to be joyful.

Heavenly Father, thank you for your love, your sacrifice, your grace that you so freely give. Help us to see you even more clearly, not only through the good but through the hardships. Teach us to give thanks in every circumstance so we may be transformed to bring glory to your Kingdom! Amen.

Nehemiah 8:10 states, “for the joy of the Lord is your strength.”   What does that mean to you?

By McKenna Vietti
Used by Permission


FURTHER READING

Living in God’s Joy and Peace | Prayer for Inner Peace

The Joy of Prayer | by Barbara Epp

Life Can Bring Joy out of Sorrow | by Norma Becker

Learn more about knowing Jesus at: https://thoughts-about-god.com/four-laws/

The Secret to a Joyful Life — Daily Devotionals by Thoughts about God

September 4 – Walk by the Spirit: a daily fight — Reformed Perspective

For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. – Galatians 5:17

Scripture reading: Galatians 5:16-18

We’ve seen that walking by the Spirit is an echo of Israel’s exodus and includes the following ideas: freedom in Christ from the curse of the law, strength by the Spirit to turn from sin and to walk in obedience to God, and being led by the Spirit according to God’s Word.

At this point, the Christian life may sound easy. Indeed, we have heard much good news so far to strengthen us for the journey! But the journey is not without its struggles. Here we are reminded that if we are led by the Spirit there will be a daily fight within, between our sinful nature (“desires of the flesh”) and the Holy Spirit Who dwells within us.

Do you ever feel like there are two of you? Do you ever do something sinful and think, “Why did I just do that? I hate that! I never want to do that again!” only to do it again. Know that you are not alone. This is the ordinary Christian life. It’s a fight, but it’s a good fight. It’s the good fight of the faith. As Christians, we have peace with God because we have been justified through faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:1). But the peace we have with God in justification marks the beginning of the war on sin in our sanctification. Thanks be to God that the Spirit Who raised Christ from the dead dwells within us and will give us ultimate victory! (Romans 8:11; Philippians 1:6).

Suggestions for prayer

Confess your sins to God and be assured that He forgives you and accepts you in Christ (1 John 1:9; 2:1-2). Pray that the Spirit would govern you more and more in your thoughts, words and deeds for the glory of God and the good of others.

Rev. Brian Cochran has been serving Redeemer Reformation Church in Regina, Saskatchewan since 2010. This daily devotional is also available in a print edition you can buy at Nearer to God Devotional.

September 4 – Walk by the Spirit: a daily fight — Reformed Perspective

For God’s Own Glory — CultureWatch

Thoughts on the glory of God:

If we had to pick a major theme of biblical theology, it would be the glory of God. While we have all heard the Westminster Shorter Catechism on this so many times, it is still worth repeating: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

Scripture throughout speaks to this, but since I am again in the prophets, let me draw upon them. In particular, in my reading in Ezekiel over the past few days I have seen this brought out so very often. Of course from the opening chapter where we read about God’s glory in his commission, to the final days where God’s glory is returned (Ex. 40-43), we see so much of this theme.

Let me just offer some passages from this book. And notice a number of related phrases that all have to do with God’s glory. We often read things like this:
-“I will display my glory”
-“Then you will know that I am the Lord”
-“But for the sake of my name”
-“I will be zealous for my holy name”

Consider then just a small sampling of such verses:

Ezekiel 20:9 But for the sake of my name, I brought them out of Egypt. I did it to keep my name from being profaned in the eyes of the nations among whom they lived and in whose sight I had revealed myself to the Israelites.

Ezekiel 20:14 But for the sake of my name I did what would keep it from being profaned in the eyes of the nations in whose sight I had brought them out. 

Ezekiel 36:11 I will increase the number of people and animals living on you, and they will be fruitful and become numerous. I will settle people on you as in the past and will make you prosper more than before. Then you will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 36:22-23 Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone. I will show the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, the name you have profaned among them. Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.’

Ezekiel 36:32 I want you to know that I am not doing this for your sake, declares the Sovereign Lord. Be ashamed and disgraced for your conduct, people of Israel!

Ezekiel 36:36-38 Then the nations around you that remain will know that I the Lord have rebuilt what was destroyed and have replanted what was desolate. I the Lord have spoken, and I will do it. This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Once again I will yield to Israel’s plea and do this for them: I will make their people as numerous as sheep, as numerous as the flocks for offerings at Jerusalem during her appointed festivals. So will the ruined cities be filled with flocks of people. Then they will know that I am the Lord.

Ezekiel 39:12-14 For seven months the Israelites will be burying them in order to cleanse the land. All the people of the land will bury them, and the day I display my glory will be a memorable day for them, declares the Sovereign Lord. People will be continually employed in cleansing the land. They will spread out across the land and, along with others, they will bury any bodies that are lying on the ground.

Ezekiel 39:21 I will display my glory among the nations, and all the nations will see the punishment I inflict and the hand I lay on them.

Ezekiel 39:25 Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will now restore the fortunes of Jacob and will have compassion on all the people of Israel, and I will be zealous for my holy name.

Ezekiel 39:28 Then they will know that I am the Lord their God, for though I sent them into exile among the nations, I will gather them to their own land, not leaving any behind.

What God does, he does for his own glory, and that his name might be made known throughout the earth. Let me here draw upon three theologians who have spoken often on the glory of God. The great American theologian Jonathan Edwards was constantly thinking and writing and preaching on this.

Image of Astonished by God: Ten Truths to Turn the World Upside Down
Astonished by God: Ten Truths to Turn the World Upside Down by Array

And perhaps the one who has done the most to popularise his theology is John Piper. Most of his books could be featured here. Let me utilise just one: Astonished By God. In it he has a chapter on the glory of God. He asks why it is that God created the world, and he replies, in part:

God created the world, “that he may be glorified.” This does not mean “that he may be made glorious.” Don’t take glorify and treat it like beautify. “Beautify” means to take a plain room, for example, and make it beautiful. We don’t take a plain God and make him beautiful. That is not what glorifying God means.

When God created the world, he did not create out of any need or weakness or deficiency. He created out of fullness and strength and complete sufficiency. As Jonathan Edwards said, “Tis no argument of the emptiness or deficiency of a fountain that it is inclined to overflow.” So we don’t glorify God by improving his glory, but by seeing and savoring and showing his glory (which is the same as knowing, loving, showing it).

Or consider the word magnify (so Philippians 1:20, “that Christ be magnified”). We magnify his glory like a telescope, not a microscope. Microscopes make small things look bigger than they are. Telescopes make unimaginably big but distant things look more like what they really are. Our lives are to be telescopes for the glory of God. We were created to see his glory, be thrilled by his glory, and live so as to help others see him and savor him for what he really is.

To know, to love, to show God’s glory – that is why the universe exists. If this takes hold of you the way it should, it will affect the way you think and feel about everything. Because now you know why everything exists.

In his book The Hunger for Significance, R. C. Sproul speaks about the nature of human dignity, and how it is tied in with God’s glory:

The idea of dignity is rooted in the Old Testament concept of glory. In the created realm, all things reflect some degree of this glory. The stars have a certain glory, as do the moon and the sun. There is a glory ascribed to fish, fowl, and the beasts of the field; a glory to the man and a glory to the woman.

Ultimately, glory derives from an attribute of God Himself. It is the heavenly glory of God that defines the essence of glory. The usual translation of the biblical concept of glory into Latin is the simple gloria. There are instances when another Latin word is chosen, the term dignitas, which mirrors the link between our word dignity and the Hebrew concept of glory.

The ancient Jews liked to speak in concrete images and had a love for the figurative and metaphorical. So we uncover a clue to the original meaning of glory by looking at its Hebrew root. The word “glory” comes from the Hebrew word for “weightiness.”

When they ascribed glory to God, they were saying that God was “weighty” or “heavy.” Yet they did not conceive of God as a grossly overweight or obese deity in the sky. God was not considered weighty n pounds but in significance.

God was conceived as having substantial or “solid” existence. There is a permanence associated with God that no creature possesses. In contrast, man is pictured in ephemeral terms, the fragility of his life is likened to grass…

It is because God has assigned worth to man and woman that human dignity is established. Man’s glory is derived; he is dependent upon God’s glory for his own.

Man enjoys such an exalted rank in the nature of things because mankind bears the image of God. From his creation to his redemption, man’s dignity is preserved. He is created by one who is eternal and is made for a redemption which stretches into eternity. His origin is significant – his destiny is significant – he is significant.

A brief article like this barely does justice to such a profound and majestic topic. The glory of God is such a vital biblical truth. And the significance we have as humans flows directly from his own glorious and exalted nature. No wonder the great hymnwriters so often returned to this theme.

Let me mention just one: “To God Be the Glory,” written by Fanny Crosby in 1875. It goes like this:

1 To God be the glory, great things he has done!
So loved he the world that he gave us his Son,
who yielded his life an atonement for sin,
and opened the life gate that we may go in.

Refrain:
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the earth hear his voice!
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord,
let the people rejoice!
O come to the Father thro’ Jesus the Son,
and give him the glory, great things he has done!

2 O perfect redemption, the purchase of blood!
To ev’ry believer the promise of God;
the vilest offender who truly believes,
that moment from Jesus forgiveness receives. [Refrain]

3 Great things he has taught us, great things he has done,
and great our rejoicing through Jesus the Son;
but purer and higher and greater will be
our wonder, our transport, when Jesus we see. [Refrain]

And to see why this is such a great hymn, we must know something about this great hymnwriter. See here for more on her amazing life: billmuehlenberg.com/2013/09/02/notable-christians-fanny-crosby/

Soli Deo gloria (Glory to God alone).

For God’s Own Glory — CultureWatch

Spiritual Gifts | Possessing the Treasure

by Mike Ratliff

11 And He gave some as apostles, and some as prophets, and some as evangelists, and some as pastors and teachers, 12 for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ; 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fullness of Christ. 14 As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; Ephesians 4:11-14 (NASB) 

There is little doubt that there are some in leadership positions in the visible church that are there because of their natural abilities rather than the fact that God has gifted them to lead His people. If the latter were the case, they would not be leading their followers into apostasy as the passage I placed at the top of this post clearly states. Those gifted by God to be true leaders in His Church have the role and responsibility to do what? They are to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of Got, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ. Why?

It is so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, et cetera. Meditate on that my brethren then compare it with the apostate teaching such as Spiritual Formation, which is just another term for transcendental meditation, which is not Christian, but Eastern Mysticism. Along with that, there are all forms of universalism and Christian liberalism and Social Justice corruptions of the Gospel being taught right now being called Christianity and it is from these very things that the true called and gifted Christian leader is to equip those under his care to learn to turn from and not be deceived by their lies.

The Apostle Paul wrote about Spiritual Gifts in three of his Epistles. One I placed at the top of this post. The others are Romans and 1 Corinthians.

6 Since we have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, each of us is to exercise them accordingly: if prophecy, according to the proportion of his faith; 7 if service, in his serving; or he who teaches, in his teaching; 8 or he who exhorts, in his exhortation; he who gives, with liberality; he who leads, with diligence; he who shows mercy, with cheerfulness. Romans 12:6-8 (NASB) 

7 But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. 8 For to one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit, and to another the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit; 9 to another faith by the same Spirit, and to another gifts of healing by the one Spirit, 10 and to another the effecting of miracles, and to another prophecy, and to another the distinguishing of spirits, to another various kinds of tongues, and to another the interpretation of tongues. 11 But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually just as He wills. 1 Corinthians 12:7-11 (NASB) 

28 And God has appointed in the church, first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healings, helps, administrations, various kinds of tongues. 1 Corinthians 12:28 (NASB) 

In the passage I placed at the top of this post, Ephesians 4:11-14, we see that God gave apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastorss, and teachers. We also see why He gave them. Compare this with these three passages. Of course, the context is different in each passage because Paul was explaining something unique, but if we look at all four of these passages together we get a clear picture that it is God who gifts His people to be His leaders. He gives the leaders the gifts they need to obey Him whatever role He assigns them. These gifts differ according to the grace given to each recipient which is actually the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. God has appointted in the Church what is needed. If we see shipwreck all over the visible church then what must we deduce from this? Are people misusing their gifts? Are God’s gifts not enough?

No, God’s Church is quite healthy. The visible church is not, which is the combination of the counterfeit church and the real Church. The reason apostasy appears to be so rampant is that the counterfeit part has grown so much larger and more visible. There are still God’s people who have not bowed the knee to Baal nor sacrificed their children to Molech.

Those of us truly in Christ must continually turn from evil as we continually turn to our Lord and serve Him in all we do. In this, God will use us and our gift(s) as He sees fit. I was in a discussion the other day with some friends and we became amused because it became apparent that we were all pretty much a bunch of what the visible church would classify as nobodies. However, we were the ones whom it appears God is using to shine His light of truth into the darkness because those well-known Christian leaders who should be leading the way are not doing it. Even if God does use me and my friends this way, I know that I am still a nobody in the Kingdom of God and my Saviour is Lord of All and all the glory goes to Him.

Soli Deo Gloria!

— Read on mikeratliff.wordpress.com/2020/09/03/spiritual-gifts/

What Happens When a Christian Dies? — Unlocking the Bible

We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (2 Cor. 5:1).

A Christian is a person who owns two homes. The home you are living in now is a temporary one, a “tent.” But you have another home that is more enduring, more substantial. The date for your moving to your new home has not yet been given, but it is already known to God.

You have an enduring home.

What exactly is this new home? Nobody I have read deals with this question better than Charles Hodge, the great teacher of an earlier century, from Princeton. In his commentary on 2 Corinthians1, Hodge asks, “What is the building into which the soul enters when the present body is taken down?” He lists three possibilities:

  1. Heaven itself
  2. The resurrection body
  3. Some kind of temporary, intermediate body

Hodge quickly dismisses option number 3; the idea an interim body is taught nowhere in Scripture. Besides, Paul says that the new “house” is eternal (2 Cor. 5:1), so it could hardly be temporary.

With regard to number 2, Hodge points out that a resurrection body is the gift of God to all believers when Christ returns in glory. Christians who die still have to wait for that gift, even though they are already in the Lord’s presence. No Christian has the resurrection body at this time. Paul does not have it, nor Peter, nor John. The only person who has the resurrection body right now is Jesus Christ.

2 Corinthians 5:8 tells us the Christian who has died is now “at home.” Paul writes, “To be away from the body is to be at home with the Lord!” So, I am convinced, with Hodge and many others, that the home referred to here is heaven itself.  Jesus said, “In my Father’s house are many rooms… I go and prepare a place for you” (Jn. 14:2-3). And Abraham, who lived in tents, was “looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose designer and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10).

The Christian is a person with two houses. The contrast between them could hardly be greater. The first house for your soul is your body, which is like a tent – a fragile structure that will be destroyed. When this house is pulled down, you will move into your other house, which is heaven – an enduring building to live in forever. Heaven is the eternal home into which your soul will enter when its present house is destroyed. In the earthly tent there is groaning, but in the “house not made with hands” what is mortal is swallowed up by life (2 Cor. 5:4)!

But what actually happens immediately after Christian closes his or her eyes in death?

Your soul is separated from your body.  

Death is referred to as an enemy, the last enemy. Death is the undoing of our nature, the tearing apart of what God has joined together. God created your life by knitting your body and soul together. This interconnection is so complex that we can hardly imagine life without the body.

Try to imagine shutting down all the functions of the body, one by one – you can no longer see, or hear, or speak, or eat, or walk, or move. Eventually, you would be conscious but unable to function. That’s why Paul says, “we long to put on our heavenly dwelling, that we may not be found naked”(2 Cor. 5:3). Nobody in their right mind wants their soul to be separated from their body.

If the only thing to say about death was this eviction of the soul from the body, it would be terrifying indeed. Who wants to be a shivering ghost, lost in space without a home? Nobody wants that. Thank God, that’s not what happens.

Your soul moves into its new home.  

Christian, when God takes down your tent, your soul will not be lost in space without a resting place. The moment you leave the tent, your soul will be at home in the building. To be absent from the body is to be at home with the Lord.

My wife, Karen, and I have moved only once in all of our married lives. We moved from a home owned by the church we served in London to a home that we bought when we came to the United States. That four-thousand-mile journey took some time.

But the moment you leave the tent, you will arrive in the building – an instant move! Away from the body – at home with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). You will not be out there and homeless. For the Christian, death is an immediate translation into the presence of the Lord. You exchange the tent for the building, earth for heaven. You exchange the temporary for the eternal, the pain of groaning for the joy of glory.

You’re prepared for this!

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God (2 Cor. 5:5).

How has God prepared you to move from the tent to the building? He sent His Son into the world to prepare a place in heaven for you. He sent His Spirit into your heart to prepare you for your place there. God has given us His Spirit as a guarantee.

The Old Testament describes the tabernacle, which was a tent. It tells us that the cloud of God’s presence came into the tent. Now Paul says that your body is a “tent”, and the Holy Spirit of God comes down to dwell in this tent with you. Your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. Christ lives in you. He is with you in the tent! God makes his home with you in the tent until the day when you make your home with him in the house that is eternal in the heavens.

This revelation about the Christian’s life in heaven is a marvelous gift! God did not need to tell us anything about life beyond the tent. He could have said, “Trust me, and wait and see.” But God did not do that.

God pulls back the curtain so that believers can say, “We know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” And when you find yourself groaning in the tent, that knowledge will keep you from losing heart.

This article is adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Prepared for Something Better”, from his series Don’t Lose Heart.
1. Charles Hodge, ed. Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer, The Crossway Classic Commentaries: 2 Corinthians(Wheaton: Crossway, 1995), 90-92.
Photo: Pixabay

What Happens When a Christian Dies? — Unlocking the Bible

Why Is Doctrine So Important? | Crossway Articles

What Is Christian Doctrine?

Doctrine is a body of teaching. Christian doctrine is the teaching found in the Bible—about who God is, who we are, why the world exists, and so on. The subject merits careful thought because it plays a vital part in every Christian’s life.

“Doctrine” sometimes has the reputation of being just a cold set of propositions debated by scholars. On the contrary, every believer every day is full of doctrine that makes all the difference in the world. Just to say we believe in God implies a set of assumptions about what it means to believe, and about who God is and what he is like: that’s doctrine. Devotional study of the word, therefore, cannot exist without healthy doctrine. Doctrine is important because it summarizes God’s word, guarantees the health of God’s church, and bears fruit in the lives of God’s people.

Doctrine Summarizes God’s Word

First, doctrine summarizes the truths of the Bible—synthesizing and condensing its teaching. For example, the doctrine of the atonement pulls together many biblical passages that deal with God’s forgiveness of sin—from the Old Testament animal sacrifices all the way to the death of Christ on the cross, bearing our sins and suffering God’s wrath in our place. Since it is based on the Scriptures, doctrine bears the weighty responsibility of rightly reflecting the words God breathed out through the biblical writers who were “carried along” by his Spirit (2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pet. 1:21). To summarize these living and active words is an awesome task, one to be embraced only with humble and prayerful reliance on the God who inspired them.

How are doctrines derived from the Scriptures? Most importantly, believers read and study the word of God itself—like the Bereans, who examined the Scriptures eagerly and daily in order to see everything else clearly in their light (Acts 17:11). Such biblical reading and study requires the best possible access to the words God inspired—ideally, access to a version of the Bible that translates the original Hebrew and Greek texts accurately and well. Beyond this, all kinds of study helps are available to aid readers in their growing understanding of God’s word. There is nothing more important than rightly hearing the voice of the God of the universe.

Doctrine Guarantees the Health of God’s Church

Christians, however, do not develop doctrine simply as individual students of Scripture. Those who believe in Christ live as members of his body, the church. As part of that church we have the benefit of doctrine handed down through generations of faithful believers, in clear statements like the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed, and in faithful bodies of teaching such as the Westminster Confession of Faith, the Heidelberg Catechism, the London Baptist Confession, or the Church of England’s Thirty-nine Articles. Such doctrine has been passed on for centuries within the church and within local church congregations, from one generation to the next. New applications of doctrine occur, in various contexts and different cultures and even in each new sermon preached, but God’s people always create and receive these new applications in submission to God’s word first, and also in light of trustworthy teachings hammered out and handed down by those of God’s people who have gone before.

Ongoing responsibility to guard doctrine is given by Scripture to the living leaders of the church—and specifically to the leaders of local church congregations. As the final and climactic requirement in the list of qualifications for a church elder (or overseer), Paul tells Titus that this man must “hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine” (Titus 1:9). “Sound” means “healthy.” Sound doctrine, rooted clearly in the trustworthy word of God, makes for a healthy church. It is the job of church leaders to know and teach sound doctrine, for the health of the church.

But we left out the final phrase: an overseer must be able both to teach sound doctrine “and also to rebuke those who contradict it” (Titus 1:9). To grow healthy doctrine involves combating unhealthy doctrine. Interestingly, the huge majority of New Testament references to doctrine emphasize guarding against unsound doctrine, and refuting doctrine contrary to the teaching that has been faithfully passed on. Jesus condemned the Jewish scribes and Pharisees in Isaiah’s words, accusing them of “teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:9; Mark 7:7). Paul tells the Roman Christians to “watch out for those who cause divisions and create obstacles contrary to the doctrine that you have been taught” (Rom. 16:17). When Paul warns the church in Ephesus not to be carried about by “every wind of doctrine,” he is talking about false teaching that mature believers must reject (Eph. 4:14). Paul gives the young pastor Timothy strong instruction about purifying the church from false doctrine (1 Tim. 1:3, 10). Like doctors, church leaders must fight disease in order to foster health.

In short, we must be actively involved in a local church that cares about healthy doctrine, led by elders who have carefully studied the word and can shepherd us and answer our questions.

Doctrine Bears Fruit in the Lives of God’s People

Sound Christian doctrine not only summarizes the very word of God and guarantees the health of the church; it also bears fruit in the lives of God’s people. Doctrine is supremely practical. Your doctrine will determine how you live your life. Paul’s instruction about qualifications for elders involves both what they teach and how they live; they go together (Titus 1:5–9). The false teachers these elders must rebuke “profess to know God, but they deny him by their works”; their ungodly lives expose their unsound doctrine (Titus 1:16).

Your doctrine will determine how you live your life. 

Paul goes on to tell Titus to “teach what accords with sound doctrine” (Titus 2:1). That command is followed by a series of practical instructions to various segments of the church membership (Titus 2:2–10). It is so crucial for us to put all these instructions, including the much-discussed words to older and younger women, in the context of Paul’s teaching about doctrine. These instructions tell us what kind of living accords with sound doctrine. Those who follow Paul’s instructions are showing the fruit of their biblical beliefs—which means that God’s people need to learn the doctrine from which this fruit grows. Sound doctrine is clearly at the heart of “what is good”—such as, for example, that the older women should teach the younger, training them in godly behavior (Titus 2:3–4).

It is the slaves—the servants, the lowest and last societal segment Paul addresses—who are given the most exalted instruction in relation to doctrine. The goal of their humble, trustworthy service is that “in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10). Such godly service is what accords with sound doctrine: it adorns sound doctrine, like beautiful fruit growing on a tree. The doctrine Paul names here is the essence of the gospel: it is the doctrine of the God who saves us in Christ. This gospel truth is the most fundamental doctrine all believers have the privilege of adorning with godly lives. It is this gospel truth that “accords with godliness” (Titus 1:1). The whole letter of Paul to Titus expounds upon “truth, which accords with godliness”—that is, sound doctrine, which bears godly fruit.

That sound doctrine should bear such fruit makes sense, for sound doctrine summarizes the living and active word of God, which comes down like the rain and the snow from heaven and makes the earth bring forth and sprout (Isa. 55:10–11). Sound doctrine guarantees the health of the church, and the members of a healthy church will grow and bear fruit, spreading and multiplying the good seed of the word far and wide. Healthy doctrine, far from being a cold set of propositions, is actually God’s gracious means of letting his people learn and live and share his gospel truth.

This article is by Kathleen Nielson and is adapted from the ESV Women’s Study Bible.

Kathleen Nielson (PhD, Vanderbilt University) is an author and speaker who loves working with women in studying the Scriptures. After directing the Gospel Coalition’s women’s initiatives from 2010–2017, she now serves as senior adviser and book editor for TGC. She and her husband, Niel, make their home partly in Wheaton, Illinois, and partly in Jakarta, Indonesia. They have three sons, two daughters-in-law, and five granddaughters.

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— Read on www.crossway.org/articles/why-is-doctrine-so-important/

The Bankruptcy of Atheism | Living Waters

Mark Spence first debunks the notion that atheists exist, then discusses the heart of atheism with its self-refuting claims…and the need for the gospel.

SUMMARY

In Romans 1, the Bible clearly teaches that God has revealed Himself to everyone, and Psalm 14:1 tells us that those who say there is no God are fools. In this fast-paced teaching, Mark first debunks the notion that atheists exist, then discusses the heart of atheists with their foolish, self-refuting claims such as, “There is no such thing as truth” and “Nobody’s right.” Next, he answers some common questions and objections of atheists, such as, “If God is loving, why are there evil and suffering in the world?” and “You can’t trust the Bible because it was written by men.” Finally, Mark shares the greatest need of atheists, which is to be born again.

Romans 1:18-23 says, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse, because, although they knew God, they did not glorify Him as God, nor were thankful, but became futile in their thoughts, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like corruptible man—and birds and four-footed animals and creeping things.”

George Clooney said,

I don’t believe in Heaven and Hell. I don’t believe in God. All I know is that as an individual, I won’t allow this life, the only thing I know to exist, to be wasted.”

His buddy Brad Pitt said,

I’m probably 20% atheist and 80% agnostic. I don’t think anyone really knows. You’ll either find out or not when you get there. Until then, there is no point thinking about it.”

As early as 2016, the statistics show that 1 out of 10 Americans are atheists, 1 out of every 10. Within one year, that statistic has changed. One out of every four people in America one year later claim to be an atheist, an agnostic, a freethinking skeptic. They adhere to the tenets of the flying spaghetti monster. Either way, they claim there is no God, or there’s no ability to know whether or not God exists.

Atheism, when defined by Daniel Webster, is the disbelief or lack of belief in the existence of God or gods. There is no deity. There’s nobody in control. There’s nobody in charge. There’s nobody guiding us with their eye. We as Christians are put right dab in the middle of this very popular teaching.

Understanding the Atheist

I want to divide my teaching into four main sections. Section number one is the knowledge of the atheist. We will go over, as we discussed here in Romans chapter 1, the atheist actually knows that God exists. They have simply suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness. They don’t want God to exist in the same way a bank robber does not want a police officer to exist. He knows he exists, but doesn’t want him to exist. They have suppressed that truth, and they live a lie.

“The atheist actually knows that God exists. They have simply suppressed the truth of God in unrighteousness.”

The second portion that I want to discuss is the heart of an atheist. In Psalm 14, verse 1, it says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” Notice it doesn’t say, “The brilliant biologist has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” or, “The mesmerizing mathematician has said in his heart, ‘There is no God,’” or, “The scholarly scientist has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’” It says, “The fool.” The fool has said in his heart there is no God. In this section, I want to discuss some very common foolish statements from atheists. I’ve covered a couple of those before in the past, but we’re going to cover more of those here today.

Thirdly, we want to deal with the questions of an atheist. What are the most common questions that an atheist will bring up? When you’re around the water cooler at work, if you have the desire to go door to door or to stand up on a platform at a university, what questions will come hurling your way? I want you to become equipped.

Then finally, I would like to look at the greatest need of the atheist. This section is going to be examining the gospel. Romans 1:16 says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel. It is the power of God unto salvation for the Jew first and then the Gentile.” In this section, we will also be discussing how to share the gospel with someone who is smarter than you. Do you cower away? Do you run? Do you make the blinds go down? Do you turn on the television and hope that person who is knocking on the door goes away? What do you do? How do you share the gospel with someone who is smarter than you?

The Knowledge of the Atheist

I’ve broken it down into these four sections, and we want to look at section number one, the knowledge of the atheist. The atheist knows that God exists. That’s what our text says. They have suppressed the truth in unrighteousness. Verse 19, “Because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God Himself has shown this to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen,” they’re clearly seen, “being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead,” catch this, “so that they are without excuse.”

Within our society today we have a battle. This battle is a battle for this word called truth; T-R-U-T-H, truth. What is it? Some have properly defined it as that which conforms or correlates to reality. I say, “Whose reality?” Yours Mr. Skeptic, Mr. Mormon, Mr. Jehovah’s Witness, or my reality in the world in which I live? Who is right, you or me? Is there a way to know? Is there a litmus test we can take to determine who is correct? I say, biblically put, one can properly define truth as that which correlates to God’s mind. Whatever God says is correct is true.

The only truth you know is the truth you want to know. If someone said you can’t handle the truth, each person needs to decide for himself how much truth he can handle. Isn’t it so that when you begin to open up the Word of God, people’s fingers from time to time will be put inside their ears? They don’t want to know. They don’t want God to exist. Truth is not elastic and it doesn’t change with the times. It’s not movable. It doesn’t expire. Milk expires, truth does not.

In John chapter 17 verse 17, we read that Jesus prayed that we would be sanctified by the truth. What was the final part of that scripture? “Your word is truth.” Why do I read God’s Word and meditate on God’s Word in the morning? Because I’m going to be lied to the rest of the day. You can have devotions in the morning, you can have them in the afternoon, you can have them in the evening. It’s not about devotions. It’s about His devotion to us. I want to know this God who’s devoted to me regardless of me.

I’m infatuated with the man in the mirror. I love him. There’s nobody in this world that loves him more than me, but God. He knows all about me and He loves me anyways. This body, I’m 45 years old, is falling apart. I fall asleep. I’ve showered. I’m all cleaned up. I wake up in the morning and there’s now an eyebrow that is three inches long and I have no idea where it came from. It was not there in the evening. This body is falling apart. God says that that is good. It is good that your body is falling apart. It makes you homesick for a home you’ve never been to. We are on our way home and this is not the place.

We Need the Word

Evidence is supposed to lead to the truth. The problem is, according to our text, people that suppress that truth, they have quenched the truth in unrighteousness. They don’t want to hear the truth. When the truth is spoken in love and the gospel is boldly proclaimed, we can have confidence that God’s Word is not going to return void. This is why we need to get the Word in us and allow God to open up the door where He can get it out of us.

Could you, if you’re a plumber, speak about plumbing for 30 minutes? Yes. If you’re an electrician, can you speak about being an electrician for an hour? Yes. I had an electrician say, “Mark, I can speak about being an electrician and all the ins and outs of electricity for four weeks. You’d be bored to tears but I could do it.” Could you talk about Jesus for 30 minutes? Could you talk about Jesus for four weeks, the ins and the outs, the way He’s always been there, the way He’ll always be there? Could you talk about this One who is the King of kings and the Lord of lords? If you are called up behind a pulpit to give a devotion, a 10-minute devotion, simply on the greatest figure who has ever brought a shadow to this planet, Jesus Christ, could you talk about Jesus for 10 simple minutes? Isn’t that convicting?

Always Be Prepared

When I challenged this girl to a debate inside a Wendy’s, she had no idea what I wanted to debate. She said, “I will debate you about any subject you want to talk about.” Her whole debate team was there. I said, “Well, how about whether or not Jesus rose from the dead, whether the Bible is the Word of God, whether Jesus is the only way to the Father, whether Christianity is true?” She said, “Pick one.” There’s only two times we, as believers, we are to be ready to preach the gospel: in season and out of season. Are you? She was and so we debated.

Evidence is supposed to lead to the truth. We live in a society that calls up down, right wrong, left right. The only way we will know what is correct is when we open up God’s Word unashamedly, unreservedly without any hesitation. We need to proclaim it from the mountaintop that God is not on trial. He is the judge. He rules supreme. His judgment is perfect and it’s without prejudice. Whether they’re an atheist or a Mormon, we need to be ready and shame on us if we’re not.

“We live in a society that calls up down, right wrong, left right. The only way we will know what is correct is when we open up God’s Word.”

God loves you just the way you are, Church. He loves you too much to keep you that way. Now is the time and today is the day to prepare for that individual. Abraham Lincoln said, “I will study and I will prepare myself, and perhaps my time will come,” and his time came. We need to study and prepare ourselves. The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and the knowledge of the Holy One is His delight.

We Have All We Need

We have inside information on atheists and it’s simply this: we know that they know that God exists. When we try to argue with them, “Hey, listen. God exists. Here’s the ontological argument. Here’s the cosmological argument for the existence of God.” Those are some pretty solid arguments for the existence of God. We say, “So do you believe?” They say, “No.” “Wait a minute. I just gave you some great evidence for the existence of God.” It didn’t move me, wasn’t that great? What happens is they pretend they’re not on trial but God is on trial. You give me evidence for the existence of God and I will determine as an autonomous individual whether or not your evidence is any good. Guys, God is not on trial. He is proclaimed. He has given us this inside information that He does not believe in atheists. God does not believe in atheists. An atheist can say he doesn’t believe in God, but we know the truth of the matter and the truth of the matter is simply this: the atheist does not exist.

Secondly, we have the heart of the atheist. The heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. In Psalm 14, verse 1, it says, “The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt. They have done abominable works. There is none who does good.” None. Remember, this person who you think is intellectually smarter than you, they may have more degrees after their name than the alphabet, but you know and you have something on them. You have God’s Word and that is a beautiful, brilliant thing.

This one’s surprising, but we actually don’t have the original Bible. We don’t have the original letters, the original “autographs” as they’re known. What do we have? We merely have letters that have circulated. We have fragments that we have pieced together. In fact, the oldest New Testament manuscript we have is found in the John Rylands Library. Tune in students, because this is remarkable. On this fragment found in the John Rylands Library, it’s known as the John Rylands Fragment, the P52. P stands for papyrus. It was one of the types of material that this scripture was written on. It’s 52, meaning it’s the 52nd categorized material that was found concerning the Bible. Simple enough, P52.

What’s on the oldest New Testament manuscript that we have in existence? Since we don’t have any of the autographs, any of the originals, no letters, no Bible, what do we have? What’s written on this little piece? It’s this scripture where Pontius Pilate says, “What is truth?” A very provocative question asked, in fact the most important question ever to be asked by a very influential person. He walked away before he got the answer. He washed his hands of his own question. What a great question, but he didn’t wait around for the answer. What is truth. What is truth? Somebody said, “We don’t get to choose what is true. We only get to choose what we do about it.”

There Are Answers

I shared last time I was here that when I go to the universities and students will begin to ask me questions and a barrage of questions come out, what do I say? “Hey, well, slow down man. I’m not your enemy because I have a differing worldview. Let’s deal with your questions one at a time. I don’t have all the answers. I’ll do my best, but you need to be careful with the questions you asked.” “Why?” “Because there’s answers.” What a beautiful response. You have questions, guess what? There’s answers. There’s answers to questions that are being asked. Thomas Jefferson said, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

In other words, there are some things that need not explaining. An atheist, when he comes up with his self-refuting statements, we merely have to point those things out. I want to go over a couple of those with you. As I’ve done in the past, I’ll give a little bit more detail. This is the heart of an atheist, the heart of the skeptic, the heart of one out of four people, somebody who comes along and says, “You can’t know anything for sure.” This is the supposed modern world in which we live where everything is relativistic to each individual that there’s no right, no wrong, no good, no bad, no sacred, no secular. Each person is merely dancing to the beat of their own DNA. They can do whatever they want to do and they answer to no one. That each person is their own sovereign, which means they do whatever they want whenever they want to whomever they want and they answer to no one. This is the ideology of Brad Pitt and George Clooney as we saw earlier.

How do you respond to someone who says, “You can’t know anything for sure?” You simply say, “Do you know that for sure?” The heart of an atheist. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” What does it cause the atheist to do? It causes them to begin to think. Then he comes up with his next question, “You Christians are so judgmental. What do you mean I need to get right with God or I go to Hell? What kind of a loving God would ever send somebody to Hell anyways?” A God who cares. A God who cares about right and wrong and good and bad. “You Christians are so judgmental,” to which we say, “Is that your judgment? If it’s wrong to judge, well, then why are you judging me? Don’t judge my judgment.” This is their worldview. It’s like a shot to the head.

Who’s Right?

Then they begin to cry out, “Nobody is right.” Nobody is right. There are so many worldviews. Mormon temples are being built at a rate of two per day around the world. Are you going to say that they’re wrong? Yes. Jehovah’s Witnesses and their Kingdom Halls, very militant as they go door to door. You can say that they’re wrong? Yes. So is Islam, it’s wrong. The only way you and I know that it’s wrong is because we have God’s word on it. We can compare God’s Word to anything and everything else. Ron Rhodes in his book dealing with Jehovah’s Witness, he said, “The average Jehovah’s Witness can turn the average Christian into a doctrinal pretzel in less than 30 seconds.”

“Nobody is right. There are so many worldviews.” Well, are you right? Are you right that nobody is right? Because if you are right that nobody is right, well, then you’re wrong about nobody being right because you claim to be right, and that’s not right, right? Somebody must be right or everybody is wrong. I say God is right. God’s ways are right. His judgments are right. God is the arbiter of the Law. He is above the Law and the Law represents Him. We can go through the Law; it brings a knowledge of sin and we want to get to the gospel. What is the gospel? The life, death, burial, and resurrection of the King of kings. This gospel will change and transform an atheist’s heart the same way it did you and the same way it did me. The same it’s done to people of past and the people of the future should God tarry before He comes.

What About Absolute Truth?

The atheist begins to grasp its straws and he says, “There is no such thing as absolute truth.” This is what that professor said to me when I was in Long Beach, “There is no such thing as truth.” I said, “Is that true? Is it true that there’s no such thing as absolutely truth?” only leaving him frustrated. He responded and said, “Correct. There’s no such thing as truth and that is the truth. I have no problem with that.” “You have no problem with contradictions? You have no problem with contradicting yourself when you talk?” He says, “No, I don’t. There’s nothing wrong with contradictions.” I said, “Oh, so there is a problem with contradictions.” He said, “No, I just said there’s not, there’s nothing wrong with contradicting yourself when you communicate.” “No, right, I got this. You’re saying that you do have a problem with contradictions.” “There’s nothing wrong with contradictions.” “Right, so I’m going to contradict you and say that you do have a problem with contradictions.”

He said, “Aren’t you listening to me?” I said, “Yes. Are you listening to yourself? You said there’s nothing wrong with contradictions. You’re contradicting yourself by saying that and now I’m going to contradict you and now you have a problem with it.” “There’s nothing wrong with contradictions.” “You have a problem with it, don’t you?” So do I and so does God. You see, contradictions equate to lying and lying is wrong with God. There are things that God detests and a couple of those is lying. God desires truth in the inward parts. We must speak the truth and we must speak it in love. The heart of the atheist.

Are There Moral Absolutes?

R. C. Sproul said, “As the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, so the denial of God is the height of foolishness.” I ask atheists all the time, “Are there moral absolutes?” to which they typically say, “No, there are no moral absolutes,” and that puzzles me. Then I respond with, “Well, is it okay to torture babies for fun?” The usual answer to that is no. Sometimes occasionally somebody wanting to be consistent within their worldview will say, “You know what? I don’t know. I don’t know if it’s wrong to torture babies for fun.” If somebody responds like that, they don’t need an argument; they need a therapist. There will be college professors from UC Berkeley down to San Diego State and I’ve heard them all, they say the same thing. There are no moral absolutes. Really? Then I go through that argument.

The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” As you can see, the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. We looked at the knowledge of the atheist. We looked at the heart of the atheist. The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” Now the questions of the atheist. As I begin to prepare for this, I want to answer some of these common questions that they’re going to ask.

Common Questions from Skeptics

First, we see James. He says, “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, and then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.”

“The church is filled with hypocrites.” So what? Jesus never said to “Follow My people.” He said to “follow Me.” The only person who can be a hypocrite is someone who has no moral value whatsoever. No moral compass. The only person who can truly never be a hypocrite is an atheist. You can never be a hypocrite because you have no moral compass telling you what is right or wrong. You and I know that he does have a moral compass. God has shed this inner light, a conscience, and He has given it to every man, woman, and child so that they’re without excuse. I just simply answer as simply as put, “Jesus never said to ‘follow My people.’ He said to ‘follow Me,’ but within your worldview, what is wrong with hypocrisy?” We were not living according to a specific predetermined way of living.

“‘The church is filled with hypocrites.’ So what? Jesus never said to ‘Follow My people.’ He said to ‘follow Me.’”

It’s easy to rip that apart because atheists really do have a conscience. I’ll say, “Is it wrong to commit adultery?” They’ll say, “Yes.” “Ever done it?” “No.” They’ll then say, “Is it wrong to lie?” I say, “Yes, it’s wrong to lie.” “Ever done it?” “Ah, yes.” They’ll say, “So you’re a hypocrite.” I respond with, “Ever stolen anything?” They usually say, “Yes.” “Is it wrong to steal?” “Yes.” “So you’re a hypocrite, too. Welcome to the family.” Just not the family of God, not yet.

“Why do bad things happen to good people?” Well, that only happened once and He volunteered, because there’s only one good according to God and that’s Jesus Christ. There’s none good but one. I like what Voddie Baucham said in response to that very question: “Why didn’t God kill me in my sleep last night for the rebellious thoughts I’ve had against Him?” The question should not be why do bad things happen to good people, but why do good things ever happen to bad people? Guess what? You are like me. You’re bad and that’s why you need a savior.

Moving along: “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s written by men and everyone knows that men make mistakes.” I was faced with this question. I was on Daystar TV with a man named Ken Ham. There was this 19-year-old boy named Mikey, who came up and he asked this question, more like a statement, that “You can’t trust the Bible because it’s written by men and everyone knows that men make mistakes.” I said, “Are you secretly trying to tell me that you can’t trust secular science public textbooks? Because those are written by men and everybody knows that men make mistakes. Or maybe Mike you’re trying to tell me that just men can’t be trusted, to which I say, men? If you’ve looked in the mirror recently you’re a man, maybe you’re saying you can’t be trusted. Man, I’m just giving you a hard time. Really honestly, I think what you’re trying to say is you don’t have a problem with the Word of God. You have a problem with the God of the Word. You have a problem with God, not with “Are there mistakes inside the Bible?”

Last October, I was speaking with the Denver Broncos and this guy came up to me and he said, “The Bible is filled with mistakes,” one of the players. I said, “Yes, it is. The Bible is filled with mistakes.” Everybody is just like, “What?” I said, “Yes, the first one was when man rejected God back in the garden. Don’t do the same.” All his brothers were like, “Yeah!” They’re like chest pumping, giving high-fives. I tried to jump in the midst of that and missed all their hands.

“You can’t trust the Bible because it’s written by men.” “How old are you?” “I’m 22.” “How do you know you’re 22 years old?” “Well, I have a birth certificate.” “Written by?” “I also have a driver’s license.” “Written by? You do trust things written by men. You just don’t trust the Bible because it speaks of God and how man is ultimately responsible to Him.”

The Bible is not one book but 66 books. It’s written over a period of 1,500 years on four different continents, 40 different authors, many different occupational backgrounds with one central main theme: how does man avoid Hell, come into relationship with his maker, have fellowship with God and his fellow men. How does that take place?

Defending the Faith

“Could you be wrong about Christianity being true and God being real?” “No, I can’t.” “Well, that’s very frightful.” “Is it frightful to say two plus two is four? See, when you find truth, you wrap your brain around it, put it inside the vault and you don’t let it out. There’s truth to be known, so I know that God exists.” “How do you know that?” “Because God has revealed it to me.” “How did He reveal it to you?” “I don’t know, He just did.” “Answer the question.” “I did answer the question, you just don’t like the answer.”

I’ll then ask them, “Is it possible for God to exist?” “Yes, I guess it is possible for God to exist.” “Is it possible for this God who might exist to reveal truth in such a way that His creation can know for certain that He is real?” “Yes, I guess that’s possible.” “That’s what He did.” “How did He do it?” “I don’t know, but He did. He did it. He opened my eyes. I was once in darkness, loving darkness and being darkness, heading and running in the wrong direction, loving sin and fornication, loving getting high. God reached down into the dark cavern of my heart. He did the one thing for me that I couldn’t do for myself. He could do the same thing for you, but you got to repent and place your trust in Jesus. Are you willing? Are you ready?”

“If I could answer all your questions to your satisfaction, will you walk away and go, ‘Man, that guy’s smart, those are good answers’? Would you be willing to bow your knee to the God of the Bible and confess Him as Lord?” You know what they say? “No, I’m not.” “You realize that it’s not an argument that’s holding you back. It’s your heart that is holding you back. The fool has said in his heart, ‘There is no God.’”

“Christianity is unscientific. Miracles don’t happen.” That was David Hume’s argument. Miracles are impossible because they are impossible. Circular reasoning. He’s begging the question. Surely, you have to come to the place and you confess to the idea that if God is real then miracles can exist. “Yes, show me a miracle.” “Nope, I am not going to do it.” “Why?” Because an evil and adulterous generation seeks after a sign. Even if I could perform a miracle, they’re not going to believe.

I like sleight of hand. I toured around Europe, escaping out of a straight jacket and a chain and doing sleight of hand magic. I performed at the Magic Castle in Hollywood. I will from time to time perform a little sleight of hand magic trick and they’ll go, “How’d you do that?” I go, “Are you ready to believe? You said perform a miracle.” He’s all, “That’s not a miracle.” “How do you know? You have no idea how it was done.” A miracle is not holding back an atheist. “I don’t believe in God and I’m just as good as any Christian.” This is where I go through the Law of God, the commandments of God; we’ll look at that in just a moment.

“Religion has caused more wars than anything else in history.” “Well, you sure about that one?” Firstly, I would say, well, according to atheism, what’s wrong with war? Doesn’t your motto fit into the box that says, “Only the strong have survived”? Survival of the fittest. You should be applauding God for getting rid of the weaker race. You should applaud God for getting rid of the Canaanites and the Amorites and any other ites that don’t belong according to Him. You can only tell me you don’t like war but then we’re simply arguing ice cream flavors. If you have no objective foundation, no place for right and wrong as we do with the Word of God, then you can’t tell me why war is wrong. It’s just merely not your preference. Let the record show religion is actually number two.

What’s number one in the cause of wars across this planet in which we live? Atheism. Atheism is actually number one, the cause of more wars from Lenin to Stalin to Mao who exterminated more than a hundred million people in the 20th century alone. Their institutionalized atheism lead to an unprecedented loss of human life. The fact of history is that the greatest evil has not come from zeal for God but from the conviction that there is no God to answer to. Religion has not caused more wars.

The Big Question

“If God is good and all powerful, why is there evil and suffering in the world?” The most common question. I say, “What is evil? Remember, without a foundation of truth you can’t tell me what evil is.” In fact the pope of atheism, he said, “There is no purpose, no evil and no good. We are merely dancing to our own DNA.” You cannot have evil without good and you cannot have good without God. Someone once said, “If there is no objective morality, then there’s no difference between a man who kills his dog to feed his son, and a man who kills his son to feed his dog.” We know that God is real and so do you. He has given you a conscience. That word “con” is “with” and that word “science” means “knowledge,” that every time you do something right or wrong you do it with knowledge that it’s right or wrong.

When I’m on the college campuses, I’ll ask the students all the time, “How many people wish that God would show up and get rid of all the evil in the world?” All these hands are raised up. “How many people would like to see God get rid of all the rapists and the kidnappers? How many people would like to see God get rid of all the liars and the thieves and covetous individuals and those who had sex outside of marriage? Where did the hands go? Your checklist on what evil is is very small and your definition of good is very low. God’s definition of good is very high.” It represents Himself. It’s to be perfect in thought, word, and in deed. If God were to come at 12:00 to get rid of all the evil in the world, where would you be at 12:01? Because you’re holding the smoking gun. We’ve all lied. We’ve all stolen. We’ve all looked with lust. God made a way for us to be forgiven, a way for us to be redeemed.

Second Peter 3:9 tells us why God has not come to get rid of all the evil in the world and it’s this: “The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.”

“The God of the Old Testament is evil, got rid of all the Canaanites.” Yes, He sure did. “Destroyed the babies.” Sure did. “Destroyed the children, the mom who’s suckling the—” yes, sure did. Sometimes we have history. Sometimes we have insights. Sometimes we see the culture and the customs and sometimes we don’t. We know the Canaanites were very evil people. God gave them 400 years of warning where they sacrifice their babies on the molten hot stone of their Molech god. The drummers would beat so loud so that the parents would not hear the crying of the babies.

Look, atheist. You say, “God, where are You? Why don’t You show up and do something?” Then He shows up and He does something and you raised your fist at Him. Is it interesting to know, Church, that the same people who are against God for killing babies are the same people who are for the killing of babies in the womb? 4,000-6,000 babies every day will never breathe oxygen, and that’s not evil? It’s choice, really.

“Is it interesting to know, Church, that the same people who are against God for killing babies are the same people who are for the killing of babies in the womb?”

The Atheist’s Greatest Need

We looked at the knowledge of the atheist and the heart of the atheist, the question to the atheist. Let’s look at the greatest need of the atheist. What is the greatest need of the atheist? It’s to get born again, man. It’s to come to a relationship with the God who knows all about you and your excuses and loves you anyways.

We get our righteousness through the life of Christ. We get to ground zero through the death of Christ. We’re all little Adams at the death of Christ. If you want the righteousness of Christ, that comes through the light and this is why Jesus had to live a perfect life, for He never lied once. He never stole and he never looked with lust. He always obeyed the Father. He always pleased the Father. Jesus Christ became something He never was and that is a man, so that you and I can become something we never were and that is righteous, to have a right standing before the Father. We have the opportunity to share the greatest story ever told that talks about grace, God’s unmerited favor to the infinitely ill-deserving. The gospel, it’s not something to be hoarded. It’s something to be shared. I will go anywhere that the Lord sends me as long as it’s forward.

Recently, I had the opportunity to speak to a men’s gathering where they’re all Catholic three days ago in Iowa. “Mark, would you be willing to come speak to the men?” “Let me pray about it. He said, ‘Yes.’” Absolutely and unreservedly, unashamedly; being able to get in there and just preach the good news. One of the guys who is a lawyer, he had four books on his table. They were commentaries by Barclay. I said, “Hey, I’ve read those books. Those are good books. William Barclay, he is a great guy when it comes to culture and customs and the traditions of the early church, terrible when it comes to miracles. He doesn’t believe in the physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.” He goes, “You’ve read these?” And I said, “Yes.” “Because I’ve never met anybody besides a priest who has read these books.” Then later on, he says, “All right, guys. Make sure you have your Bible reading done by next week. Jesus said He is the light of the world. He who follows…um…hm…” and I just finished the verse for him.

They’re looking at me. I go, “Let me give you some quick culture behind that. There’s the festival of light where there’s these two big 12-prong lamp stands that were behind them. They were distinguished after the 12th day. Jesus stands up and He says, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.’ Man, you’re going to see that inside that book, it’s really great.” They’re all, “How do you know that?” I go, “Read the Word. Get some commentaries.” I actually just finished teaching on that exact passage unbeknownst to him so it worked out really great. They thought I was the smartest man in the world at that point. When I was laughing they were just like, “Hey, can we stay in touch?” I said, “Absolutely, my Catholic friends. Write to me anytime.”

The guy who invited me to speak to those group of men just came from Haiti on his Catholic missions trip. Well, within my family devotions just a week prior I showed my kids a little video of people in Haiti eating mud cookies, made out of mud. So, I gave the Catholic man the history behind it and talked about how the average person in Haiti survives on less than two dollars a day. Well, this guy just got back from Haiti. This guy looked at me like I knew everything about geography and the world. I just finished on a video, studying it not even a week earlier. Have you noticed that God will use you right where you’re at? You have to be willing to look for that opportunity, for that situation. God will position you in a place if you’re ready and willing to be positioned.

If you suffer with “Here am I send him,” well, then God will never speak louder over your commotion than He needs to, because He won’t compete with your commotion. He loves those words, “Here am I, send me. I can’t, You can, woe is me, but wow is You. Here am I, send me. Whether it’d be an atheist, an agnostic, or anybody else.”

Sharing the Gospel with Smarties

Finally, I said I will share with you how to share the gospel to somebody smarter than you. It’s really simple. You don’t need to know everything there is to know about the hive if they come knocking at your door, which they won’t. Or Jehovah’s Witnesses or Mormons. The knock comes. You look out and you go, “Hey, there’s a couple of Mormons, Latter Day Saints.” You want to demonstrate to them that they’re Latter Day Ain’ts—that you are a saint, that Christianity is true. What do you do? Where do you go from there?

Say, “Hey, listen. I just want to thank you for having the courage of your conviction, coming up to my door and being willing to share when others are enjoying their Saturday watching football. I had a quick question for you. I’m wondering if you have some time.” They’ll say, “Yes, sure do.” “Well, I’m a Christian. I’m a Protestant. In fact, I’m celebrating the 500th year of the Reformation this year as a Protestant. I was wondering if you could tell me what is your understanding of what I believe is going to happen to me when I die? Do you have a couple of moments to share that? I’d love to get your opinion.” I’m boosting their ego up. They want to talk about their favorite subject, which is themselves, not Jesus.

“Hey, what’s going to happen to me when I die? What do you think? According to my belief, what do you think?” Then they share whatever their understanding is. Then what do you do? You know they’re going to leave something out. What is it? Grace, elevating Jesus. They themselves are probably rich in good works to earn favor with God. We don’t serve God to gain His favor. We are favored, therefore we serve God. It’s completely different. “Hey, so what is your understanding of what I believe is going to happen to me when I die?” “Well, when you die you think this, this and the other, etc.” I say, “Well you left something out. Let me share with you then I want to get your thoughts.” Why am I doing this? Because Romans 1:16, “The gospel is the power of God unto salvation.”

I go, “Here, let me share with you what you left out.” Then I share the gospel from the beginning until the end. Then I look at them. Before I ask what their thoughts are, I say, “So does that sound like something you want to do? Do you want to confess your sins right here right now? Today is the day to prepare for your last day. Today is the day of salvation.” Notice there’s no apologetical sword fight going on. I’m not worried to get into apologetics. I’ll do that when needed, but the average person doesn’t know apologetics. Does that mean God doesn’t want to use you where you’re at? No, God wants to use you where you’re at, right where you’re at. So then when they fail to give a proper definition of what the gospel is or what’s going to happen to you, with confidence you just go through the gospel. Man, you start with who God is. You talk about being an image bearer created in the image of God. Sin came into the world. We love sin. We’ve broken His Law, and now that paved the way for grace and mercy and forgiveness and the resurrection.

That’s really simple. I’ll email you my gospel presentation. Email me and I will email you a 1-minute gospel presentation, a 3-minute, a 5-minute, a 10-minute, a 45-minute, a 60-minute presentation; mark@livingwaters.com. I’ve done all the work. You don’t need to do it. You can have it right there. You can read it to them and see where they stand, how they’re going to respond. What happens as Christians, we get into an apologetical sword fight with that culture, the culture of that atheist. We fail to recognize that it’s the gospel that is the power of God unto salvation. When you’re done going through the gospel, you say, “You know what? Look at that time. I got to get going. Hey, thanks for coming to my door,” and you just move on. You move on and you let them move on, unless you’re like me. If it’s Jehovah’s Witnesses, I just follow them and go door to door in my neighborhood.

— Read on www.livingwaters.com/bankruptcy-of-atheism/