Category Archives: A. W. Tozer

APRIL 24 – CONFESSING OUR LOVE

He brought me to the banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.

Song of Solomon 2:4

Consider with me the appealing Old Testament story of the beautiful young woman in the Song of Solomon. Deeply in love with the young shepherd, she is also actively sought out by the king, who demands her favor. She remains loyal to the simple shepherd, who gathers lilies and comes to seek her and calls to her through the lattice.

In many ways, this is a beautiful picture of the Lord Jesus, of His love and care for His Bride, the Church. In the scriptural account, she does turn her loved one away with simple excuses. But condemned in heart, she rises to go out and search for him. As she seeks, she is asked: “What is he above others that you should seek him?” (see 5:9).

“Oh, he is altogether lovely,” she replies. “He came and called for me, and I had not the heart to go!” (see 5:16).

But at last she is able to confess, “I have found him whom my soul loveth!” (3:4).

He had been grieved but He was not far away. So it is with our Beloved—He is very near to us and He awaits our seeking!

Lord, You are “altogether lovely.” Thank You for pursuing the human race even in our state of unloveliness.[1]


4 The movement towards consummation intensifies. He has brought her to the “house of wine,” another identification of love with alcohol (and the vineyard of the previous vignette). The “banner” is a military standard that signals the identity of an encampment. Pope, 2, glosses, “His intent toward me Love.” The unmistakable design of the boy when he brought her to the house of wine, she says, was concupiscence. A literal banquet hall is as unnecessary to postulate as the houses of 1:16–17; perhaps the “wine-house” is part of the fantasy.[2]


2:4 banquet hall. The scene continues in the outdoors. This “house of wine” symbolizes the vineyard, just as the beams and rafters of 1:17 refer to the forest. his banner. As a military flag indicates location or possession, so Solomon’s love flew over his beloved one (cf. Nu 1:52; Ps 20:5).[3]


2:4 banqueting house (ESV footnote, “house of wine”). This is the only occurrence of this phrase in the OT (although there are similar expressions in Est. 7:8; Eccles. 7:2; Jer. 16:8). The exact location of this house is not critical. Rather, it is a place where wine is drunk and thus a place of love (see note on Song 1:2). This Hebrew term for banner is used elsewhere in the OT only in Numbers (Num. 2:2), where it is a standard flown at camps and carried into battle. Its use here would thus seem to indicate a public display of the lovers’ identity, namely, that they belong to and are committed to each other.[4]


2:4 the house of the wine The Hebrew phrase used here, beth hayyayin (meaning “the house of wine”), may describe a vineyard where grapes for wine are grown, or a banquet room in a palace (Esth 7:8).

his intention Banners were used for military purposes. Each unit would gather under their banner (Song 6:4; Num 1:52), which represented the army and often included the name or image of a deity (Exod 17:15). Here, the man’s banner represents a declaration of his love.[5]


2:4 banqueting house. Lit. “house of wine” (text note). The setting is outdoors (1:12 note). The lover’s “house” to this point has been the forest (1:16, 17). Now they move to a different “house,” namely, the young man’s vineyard, his “house” of wine. The expression continues the royal imagery from 1:4, 12 (the shepherd is a king) and the comparison of love and wine from 1:2.

his banner. An emblem typically used to mark out one tribe from another (Num. 2:3, 10, 18, 25). Banners were also used to muster troops for battle. It has been suggested that the word is used here for something like a sign for an inn. The young man is unabashedly advertising his love for the young woman.[6]


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

[2] Schwab, G. M. (2008). Song of Songs. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 385–386). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (So 2:4). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1218). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (So 2:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1099). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

APRIL 24 – LETTING THE WILL BE THE MASTER OF THE HEART

If ye then be risen with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God.

COLOSSIANS 3:1

Because the will is master of the heart, it is important to realize that the root of all evil in human nature is the corruption of the will!

The thoughts and intents of the heart are wrong and as a consequence the whole life is wrong. Repentance is primarily a change of moral purpose, a sudden and often violent reversal of the soul’s direction.

The prodigal son took his first step upward from the pigsty when he said, “I will arise and go to my father.” As he had once willed to leave his father’s house, now he willed to return.

To love God with all our heart we must first of all will to do so. We should repent our lack of love and determine from this moment on to make God the object of our devotion. We should read the Scriptures devotionally and set our affections on things above and aim our hearts toward Christ and heavenly things!

If we do these things we may be sure that we shall experience a wonderful change in our whole inward life. Our emotions will become disciplined and directed. We shall begin to taste the “piercing sweetness” of the love of Christ. The whole life, like a delicate instrument, will be tuned to sing the praises of Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood![1]


The Reminder

If then you have been raised up with Christ (3:1a)

If denotes reality, as in 2:20, and is better translated “since.” Believers having been raised up with Christ is not in doubt. The verb actually means “to be co-resurrected.” It is an accomplished fact.  Believers spiritually are entered into Christ’s death and resurrection at the moment of their salvation. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.” In that verse, the apostle shows the union of the believer with the Lord, so that they have a shared life. Romans 6:3–4 teaches the same truth: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death? Therefore we have been buried with Him through baptism into death, in order that as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.”

The “baptism” here is not into water, but an immersing into the Savior’s death and resurrection. Through their union with Christ, believers have died, have been buried, and have risen with Him. By saving faith they have entered into a new dimension. They possess divine and eternal life, which is not merely endless existence, but a heavenly quality of life brought to them by the indwelling Lord. They are thus alive in Christ to the realities of the divine realm.

Consequently, Christians have an obligation to live consistently with those realities. Paul delineates the specifics of that obligation in Romans 6:11–19:

Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus. Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body that you should obey its lusts, and do not go on presenting the members of your body to sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves to God as those alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law, but under grace. What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? May it never be! Do you not know that when you present yourselves to someone as slaves for obedience, you are slaves of the one whom you obey, either of sin resulting in death, or of obedience resulting in righteousness? But thanks be to God that though you were slaves of sin, you became obedient from the heart to that form of teaching to which you were committed, and having been freed from sin, you became slaves of righteousness. I am speaking in human terms because of the weakness of your flesh. For just as you presented your members as slaves to impurity and to lawlessness, resulting in further lawlessness, so now present your members as slaves to righteousness, resulting in sanctification.

This new life is real and powerful, but so is remaining sin. Though it no longer is our master, it can still overpower us if we are not presenting ourselves to God as servants of righteousness. (For a fuller  treatment of this rich teaching, see my comments on Romans 6–8 in Romans 1–8, MacArthur New Testament Commentary [Chicago: Moody, 1991].)

Spirituality, as Paul says in Philippians 2:12, is working that inner life out, the process of living the reality of our union with Christ. In Him we have all the resources necessary for living the Christian life (cf. 2 Pet. 1:3). Paul emphasizes the centrality of Christ throughout Colossians 3:1–4. By using such phrases as with Christ (3:1); where Christ (3:1); with Christ (3:3); when Christ (3:4); and with Him (3:4), he stresses again Christ’s total sufficiency (cf. 2:10). Unfortunately, many Christians fail to understand and pursue the fullness of Christ. Consequently, because of not knowing what Scripture says, or not applying it properly, they are intimidated into thinking they need something more than Him alone to live the Christian life. They fall prey to false philosophy, legalism, mysticism, or asceticism.

Paul reminds the Colossians that they have risen with Christ. This is the path to holiness, not self-denial, angelic experience, or ceremony. They are no longer living the old life they lived before their salvation, but possess the eternal life of Christ and have been raised to live on another plane. They must not be ignorant or forgetful of who they are and how they are to live. All sinful passion is controlled and conquered by the power of the indwelling Christ and our union with Him.

The Responsibility

keep seeking the things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. (3:1b, 2)

The present tense of zēteō (keep seeking) indicates continuous action. Preoccupation with the eternal realities that are ours in Christ is to be the pattern of the believer’s life. Jesus put it this way: “Seek first His kingdom and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you” (Matt. 6:33). Paul is not advocating a form of mysticism. Rather, he desires that the Colossians’ preoccupation with heaven govern their earthly responses. To be preoccupied with heaven is to be preoccupied with the One who reigns there and His purposes, plans, provisions, and power. It is also to view the things, people, and events of this world through His eyes and with an eternal perspective.

The things above refers to the heavenly realm and hones in on the spiritual values that characterize Christ, such as tenderness, kindness, meekness, patience, wisdom, forgiveness, strength, purity, and love.

When believers focus on the realities of heaven, they can then truly enjoy the world their heavenly Father has created. As the writer of the hymn “I Am His, and He Is Mine” expressed it,

Heav’n above is softer blue

Earth around is sweeter green!

Something lives in every hue

Christless eyes have never seen:

Birds with gladder songs o’erflow

Flow’rs with deeper beauties shine,

Since I know, as now I know,

I am His, and He is mine.

When Christians begin to live in the heavenlies, when they commit themselves to the riches of “the Jerusalem above” (Gal. 4:26), they will live out their heavenly values in this world to the glory of God.

In 3:2, Paul gives instruction on how to seek the things above. He says, Set your mind on the things above, not on the things that are on earth. Set your mind is from phroneō and could simply be translated, “think,” or more thoroughly, “have this inner disposition.” Once again, the present tense indicates continuous action. Lightfoot paraphrases Paul’s thought: “You must not only seek heaven, you must also think heaven” (St. Paul’s Epistles to the Colossians and to Philemon [1879; reprint, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1959], p. 209; italics in the original). The believer’s whole disposition should orient itself toward heaven, where Christ is, just as a compass needle orients itself toward the north.

Obviously, the thoughts of heaven that are to fill the believer’s mind must derive from Scripture. The Bible is the only reliable source of knowledge about the character of God and the values of heaven. Paul describes that preoccupation as being “transformed by the renewing of [your] mind” (Rom. 12:2). In it we learn the true, honorable, right, pure, lovely, of good repute, excellent, and praiseworthy things our minds are to dwell on (cf. Phil. 4:8).

Such heavenly values dominating the mind produce godly behavior. Sin will be conquered and humility, a sacrificial spirit, and assurance will result.

The Resource

where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (3:1c)

The believer’s resource is none other than the One in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge: the risen and glorified Christ, seated at the right hand of God in the place of honor and majesty. The Bible speaks often of Christ’s exalted position. Psalm 110:1 says, “The Lord says to my Lord: ‘Sit at My right hand, until I make Thine enemies a footstool for Thy feet.’ ” Jesus told the accusers at His trial that “from now on the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the power of God” (Luke 22:69). In his sermon on the day of Pentecost, Peter told the crowd that Jesus had been “exalted to the right hand of God” (Acts 2:33). Peter and the other apostles described Jesus to the Sanhedrin as “the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior” (Acts 5:31). As he was being martyred, Stephen cried out, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God” (Acts 7:56). Paul describes Jesus as He “who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us” (Rom. 8:34), because God “raised Him from the dead, and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Eph. 1:20). The writer of Hebrews says of Christ, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (Heb. 1:3). Because of that, “we have such a high priest, who has taken His seat at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens” (Heb. 8:1). He is the One “who is at the right hand of God, having gone into heaven, after angels and authorities and powers had been subjected to Him” (1 Pet. 3:22).

Because of Christ’s coronation and exaltation to the Father’s right hand, He is the fountain of blessing for His people. Jesus told the disciples, “Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask Me anything in My name, I will do it” (John 14:13–14; cf. 15:16; 16:23–24, 26). Believers can be assured that what they seek is there, “for as many as may be the promises of God, in Him they are yes” (2 Cor. 1:20).[2]


3:1 If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. The If of this verse does not express any doubt in the mind of the Apostle Paul. It is what has been called the “If” of argument, and may be translated since: “Since then you were raised together with Christ.…

As mentioned in chapter 2, the believer is seen as having died with Christ, having been buried with Him, and having risen with Him from among the dead. The spiritual meaning of all this is that we have said goodbye to the former way of life, and have entered upon a completely new type of life, that is, the life of the risen Lord Jesus Christ. Because we have been raised with Christ, we should seek those things which are above. We are still on earth, but we should be cultivating heavenly ways.

3:2 The Christian should not be earth-bound in his outlook. He should view things not as they appear to the natural eye but in reference to their importance to God and to eternity. Vincent suggests that “seek” in verse 1 marks the practical striving and that set your mind in verse 2 describes the inward impulse and disposition. The expression set your mind is the same as that in Philippians 3:19: “who set their mind on earthly things.” A. T. Robertson writes: “The baptized life means that the Christian is seeking heaven and is thinking heaven. His feet are upon the earth, but his head is with the stars. He is living like a citizen of heaven here on earth.”

During World War II, a young Christian enthusiastically reported to a mature servant of Christ, “I understand our bombers were over the enemy’s cities again last night.” To this, the older believer replied, “I did not know that the church of God had bombers.” He obviously was looking at things from the divine standpoint, rather than taking pleasure in the destruction of women and children.

F. B. Hole explains our position clearly:

The counterpart to our identification with Christ in His death is our identification with Him in His resurrection. The effect of the first is to disconnect us from man’s world, man’s religion, man’s wisdom. The effect of the other is to put us into touch with God’s world and with all that is there. The first four verses of chapter 3 unfold the blessedness into which we are introduced.[3]


1 Having reminded the Colossians that they have died with Christ (2:20; cf. 2:12), Paul now reiterates that they have been “raised with Christ” (cf. 2:12). Unlike Christ, they have not been raised bodily. Nevertheless, Paul insists that they have been raised (synēgerthēte, GK 5283, is a liquid aorist passive compound verb [second person plural]) spiritually with Christ by God. Their baptisms served as vivid, tangible reminders of this vital theological principle. If they truly have been raised with Christ via conversion as imaged in baptism, then they should seek “the things above.” They should not devote their attention to the earthly things that characterized the “philosophy”; conversely, they should quest after (“set [their] hearts on”) heavenly things. (“The things above” is synonymous with heaven [so, rightly, Lincoln, 637].)

Why does Paul counsel the Colossians to keep seeking the things above? Is this not dangerous advice with which the promoters of the “philosophy” would agree? Paul does not employ such spatial imagery to affirm the “philosophy” or to encourage visionary activity among the assembly; rather, he commands the Colossians to pursue the things of heaven precisely because this is where Christ is. He is not one among a panoply of heavenly dignitaries; Christ occupies a place of primacy and sovereignty. The resurrected Christ is the ascended Christ who is “seated at the right hand of God.” This depiction of Christ’s session is drawn from Psalm 110:1 (cf. Ro 8:34; Eph 1:20). (To take this metaphoric description literally is a misconstrual of the text.) In enjoining the church to seek the things above and thereby Christ, Paul is encouraging them “to give Christ [who reigns as Lord] an allegiance that takes precedence over all earthly loyalties. His ends are to be their ends; and it follows that the means by which those ends are attained must be his means” (Caird, 202).[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1992). Colossians (pp. 125–128). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2007). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] 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. 322). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 24 – GRACE ABOUNDS

Moreover the law entered, that the offence might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound.

—Romans 5:20

Grace is God’s goodness, the kindness of God’s heart, the good will, the cordial benevolence. It is what God is like. God is like that all the time. You’ll never run into a stratum in God that is hard. You’ll always find God gracious, at all times and toward all peoples forever. You’ll never run into any meanness in God, never any resentment or rancor or ill will, for there is none there. God has no ill will toward any being. God is a God of utter kindness and cordiality and good will and benevolence. And yet all of these work in perfect harmony with God’s justice and God’s judgment. I believe in hell and I believe in judgment. But I also believe that there are those whom God must reject because of their impenitence, yet there will be grace. God will still feel gracious toward all of His universe. He is God and He can’t do anything else….

What God is, God is! When Scripture says grace does “much more abound,” it means not that grace does much more abound than anything else in God but much more than anything in us. No matter how much sin a man has done, literally and truly grace abounds unto that man. AOG103-105

Lord, I am so horribly rebellious and sinful in the light of Your perfect holiness. Thank You that where sin abounds, Your grace abounds even more! Amen. [1]


As Paul explains more fully in chapter 7, the energizing force behind man’s sin is the Law, which came in that the transgression might increase. Knowing that he would be charged with being antinomian and with speaking evil of something God Himself had divinely revealed through Moses, Paul states unequivocally that “the Law is holy, and the commandment is holy and righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). Nevertheless, God’s own Law had the effect of causing man’s transgression to increase.

It should be noted here that God’s law-ceremonial, moral, or spiritual-has never been a means of salvation during any age or dispensation. The divinely-ordained place it had in God’s plan was temporary. As the biblical scholar F. F. Bruce has stated, “The law has no permanent significance in the history of redemption” (The Letter of Paul to the Romans [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985], p. 121). Paul has already declared that Abraham was justified by God solely on the basis of his faith-completely apart from any good works he accomplished and several years before he was circumcised and many centuries before the law was given (4:1–13).

The Law was a corollary element in God’s plan of redemption, serving a temporary purpose that was never in itself redemptive. Disobedience to the law has never damned a soul to hell, and obedience to the law has never brought a soul to God. Sin and its condemnation were in the world long before the law, and so was the way of escape from sin and condemnation.

God gave the Law through Moses as a pattern for righteousness but not as a means of righteousness. The law has no power to produce righteousness, but for the person who belongs to God and sincerely desires to do His will, it is a guide to righteous living.

The law identifies particular transgressions, so that those acts can more easily be seen as sinful and thereby cause men to see themselves more easily as sinners. For that reason the Law also has power to incite men to unrighteousness, not because the Law is evil but because men are evil.

The person who reads a sign in the park that forbids the picking of flowers and then proceeds to pick one demonstrates his natural, reflexive rebellion against authority. There is nothing wrong with the sign; its message is perfectly legitimate and good. But because it places a restriction on people’s freedom to do as they please, it causes resentment and has the effect of leading some people to do what they otherwise might not even think of doing.

The Law is therefore a corollary both to righteousness and to unrighteousness. For the lawless person it stimulates him to the disobedience and unrighteousness he already is inclined to do. For the person who trusts in God, the law stimulates obedience anti righteousness.

Again focusing on the truth that Christ’s one act of redemption is far greater than Adam’s one act of condemnation, Paul exults, But where sin increased, grace abounded all the more. God’s grace not only surpasses Adam’s one sin but all the sins of mankind.[2]


5:20 What Paul has been saying would come as a jolt to the Jewish objector who felt that everything revolved around the law. Now this objector learns that sin and salvation center not in the law but in two federal heads. That being the case, he might be tempted to ask, “Why then was the law given?” The apostle answers, The law entered that the offense might abound. It did not originate sin, but it revealed sin as an offense against God. It did not save from sin but revealed sin in all its awful character.

But God’s grace proves to be greater than all man’s sin. Where sin abounded, God’s grace at Calvary abounded much more![3]


20 At the conclusion of the chapter, Adam as a figure fades from view. Yet his influence is still present in the mention of sin and death. Paul now introduces another factor—the Mosaic law—to show its bearing on the great issues of sin and righteousness. There is scarcely a subject treated by Paul in Romans that does not call for some consideration of the law. The closest affinity to the thought in v. 20 is found in 3:20: “through the law we become conscious of sin.” Also, ch. 7 traces the relationship between the law and sin in rather elaborate fashion.

The apostle is not maintaining that the purpose of the giving of the law is exclusively “so that the trespass might increase,” because he makes room for the law as a revelation of the will of God and therefore a positive benefit (7:12). The law also serves to restrain evil in the world (implied in 6:15; stated in 1 Ti 1:9–11). Paul uses the unusual verb pareiserchomai (GK 4209) at the beginning of v. 20 (“added”; NASB, “came in”). It has the idea of “slipping in between” (cf. its use in Gal 2:4), as though to say that the law had a limited and temporary role to perform. Similar language is used in Galatians 3:19 (“added”), where the law is regarded as something temporary, designed to disclose the “trespass” aspect of sin and prepare the way for the coming of Christ by demonstrating the dire need for his saving work. Stuhlmacher, 88, writes, “Just as it did between Abraham and Christ (cf. Gal. 3:19ff.), so too the law also ‘came in between’ Adam and Christ (at Sinai).” The function of the law to increase trespass was not recognized in rabbinic Judaism (cf. H.-J. Schoeps, Paul [Philadelphia: Westminster, 1961], 174). From the Sermon on the Mount, however, it appears that Jesus sought to apply the law in just this way, i.e., to awaken a sense of sin in those who fancied they were keeping the law tolerably well but who had underestimated its searching demands and the sinfulness of their own hearts. The law thus finally leads to an understanding of the necessity of grace: “If it had looked as if the law worked hand in hand with sin, it is now made clear that it works hand in hand with grace” (Nygren, 227).

The bad news of this negative influence of the law is countered by good news announced with the words, “grace increased all the more.” The apostle waxes almost ecstatic as he revels in the superlative excellence of the divine overruling that makes sin ultimately serve a gracious purpose. The statement is akin to Paul’s repeated “how much more” argument (cf. vv. 15, 17). The saving grace of God far exceeds the damning sin of Adam’s offspring.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 308–309). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1699–1700). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 100–101). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 23 – REJOICING IN TRIALS

But rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ’s sufferings.

1 Peter 4:13

The Apostle Peter stated a great Christian truth in the form of an amazing paradox: The obedient Christian believer will continue to rejoice and praise God even in the midst of continuing trials and suffering in this earthly life!

God’s people know that things here on this earth are not all they ought to be, but they refuse to join the worry brigade. They are too busy rejoicing in the gracious prospect of all that will take place when God fulfills His promises to His redeemed children.

This ability to rejoice is demonstrated throughout the Bible, and in the New Testament it rings forth like a silver bell!

The life of the normal believing child of God can never become a life of gloom and pessimism, for it is the Holy Spirit of God who keeps us above the kind of gloomy resignation that marks the secularism of the day.

We are still able to love the unlovely and to weep with those who weep, for in Peter’s words, “When Christ’s glory shall be revealed, you may be glad with exceeding joy!” (see 1 Peter 4:13).

 

Lord, thank You for helping me not just to cope but to rise above the difficult situations that face me at work, at home, and at church.[1]


Exult in Suffering

but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing, so that also at the revelation of His glory you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. (4:13–14)

To the degree is a generous way to translate katho (“as,” “according to which”) and thus to show that Christians’ eternal reward is proportionate to their earthly suffering (cf. Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:16–18; Heb. 11:26; 2 John 8; Rev. 2:10). That is a reasonable relationship since suffering reveals faithfulness to their Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself noted this relationship between suffering and reward, saying,

Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. Be glad in that day and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven. For in the same way their fathers used to treat the prophets. (Luke 6:22–23)

Peter further enriches the endurance of those who are persecuted by stating that they share the sufferings of Christ. That is not in any redemptive sense; neither does it refer only to spiritual union with Him, as Paul describes in Romans 6. But it refers to believers experiencing the same kind of sufferings He endured—suffering for what is right. R. C. H. Lenski rightly elaborates the meaning of Peter’s expression:

The readers [of 1 Peter] are only in fellowship with the sufferings of Christ. This is a thought that is prominent and fully carried out by Paul in Rom. 8:17; II Cor. 1:7; 4:10; Phil. 1:29; 3:10; Col. 1:24. It goes back to Christ’s word (John 15:20, 21).

We fellowship Christ’s sufferings when we suffer for his name’s sake, when the hatred that struck him strikes us because of him. Never is there a thought of fellowshiping in the expiation of Christ’s suffering, our suffering also being expiatory. In Matt. 5:12 persecution places us in the company of the persecuted prophets (high exaltation indeed); here it places us in the company of Christ himself, into an even greater communion or [koinōnia]. Is that “a strange thing” or to be deemed strange? It is what we should deem proper, natural, to be expected, yea, as Peter says (following Matt. 5:12), a cause for joy. (The Interpretation of the Epistles of St. Peter, St. John and St. Jude [reprint; Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1966], 203)

Christ who suffered at the hands of wicked men even though He was without sin (Isa. 53:9; Matt. 26:67; 27:12, 26, 29–31, 39–44; John 10:31, 33; 11:8; Acts 2:23) promised believers it would be their privilege to suffer in the same way when He said, “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).

To the degree that believers suffer unjustly, they should, as their Lord did, keep on rejoicing, a sentiment completely unacceptable to those who have no hope of heavenly reward, but affirmed by the Lord when He declared,

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you and persecute you, and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of Me. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great; for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Matt. 5:10–12)

The revelation of His glory will come in “the day that the Son of Man is revealed” (Luke 17:30), which refers to Christ’s return. The Lord resumed the full exercise of His glory after He ascended to heaven, but He has not yet revealed it on earth for everyone to see (cf. Matt. 24:30; Phil. 2:9–11; Rev. 19:11–16). (Peter, James, and John did get a preview of that glory when they witnessed Christ’s transfiguration [Mark 9:2–3; cf. 2 Peter 1:16–18].)

Peter’s second use of rejoice (chairō) in verse 13 is qualified by exultation (agalliaō), a reference to rapturous joy. When Christ returns, believers will rejoice with exultation (cf. the discussion of joy in chapter 3 of this volume), and do so in proportion to their share in His sufferings in this life. Those who share His sufferings will also share His glory (5:1; cf. Matt. 20:20–23). The saints’ suffering for righteousness proves them, refines them, and earns for them “an eternal weight of glory” (2 Cor. 4:17) so that the greater their suffering the stronger their hope, and the richer their joy (cf. 2 Cor. 4:16–18; James 1:2).

The name of Christ is the cause of evil hatred directed toward believers (Matt. 10:22; 24:9). In the early days of the church, His name first became synonymous with the Savior Himself and all that He represents (cf. Luke 24:47; John 1:12; Acts 2:38; 4:17, 30; 9:15; 19:17). In Peter’s sermon before the Sanhedrin, he asserted, “There is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Later the apostles “went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (5:41). In His vision concerning the conversion of Saul of Tarsus and his subsequent preaching as Paul the apostle, Christ told Ananias of Damascus, “I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (9:16). It is not the name “Christ” that offends the ungodly, but rather who He is and what He said and did that causes hostility from them.

That animosity is summed up in the word reviled (oneidizō), meaning “to denounce,” or “to heap insults upon.” In the Septuagint it described hostility heaped at God and His people by the godless (Pss. 42:10; 44:16; 74:10, 18; cf. Isa. 51:7; Zeph. 2:8). In the New Testament it refers to the indignities and mistreatments Christ endured from sinners (Matt. 27:44; Mark 15:32; Rom. 15:3). In the first century, unbelievers were often exasperated and infuriated that believers were so frequently speaking of Christ, whose indictment of sinners they despised (cf. Acts 4:17–18; 17:1–7).

However, all the hatred and violence of the world against Christians does not diminish their blessedness. Actually they are more blessed for such suffering, not only for the eternal reward they will receive but for the present blessing, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on them. It is not merely because of suffering that the Holy Spirit will rest on believers, as when He came on and departed from an Old Testament prophet, but rather that He, already being in believers permanently (Rom. 8:9; 1 Cor. 6:19–20; 12:13), gives them supernatural relief in the midst of their suffering. Because the Spirit is God, divine glory defines His nature (cf. Pss. 93:1; 104:1; 138:5). Glory recalls the Shekinah, which in the Old Testament symbolized God’s earthly presence (Ex. 24:16–17; 34:5–8; 40:34–38; Hab. 3:3–4). When the tabernacle and the ark of the covenant were brought to Solomon’s newly dedicated temple, “the glory of the Lord filled the house of the Lord” (1 Kings 8:11). As the brilliant cloud of the Shekinah rested in the tabernacle and the temple, so the Holy Spirit lives in and ministers to believers today. Rests (from the present tense of anapauō) means “to give relief, refreshment, intermission from toil” (cf. Matt. 11:28–29; Mark 6:31), and describes one of His ministries. “Refreshment” comes on those believers who suffer for the sake of the Savior and the gospel. The Spirit gives them grace by imparting endurance, understanding, and all the fruit that comes in the panoply of His goodness: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22–23).

That kind of refreshment and divine power came upon Stephen, a leader in the Jerusalem church and its first recorded martyr. As he began to defend his faith before the Jewish leaders, they “saw his face like the face of an angel” (Acts 6:15). His demeanor signified serenity, tranquility, and joy—all the fruit of the Spirit—undiminished and even expanded by his suffering and the Holy Comforter’s grace to him. The Sanhedrin became enraged as Stephen rehearsed redemptive history to them from the Old Testament, an account that culminated in the atoning work of Jesus the Messiah. Stephen’s Spirit-controlled rest was evident as “he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, ‘Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God’ ” (Acts 7:55–56). As his enemies stoned him to death, Stephen “called on the Lord and said, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!’ Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them!’ Having said this, he fell asleep” (vv. 59–60). Truly the Spirit of glory elevated him above his suffering to sweet relief. That powerful work of the Spirit was the cause of Paul’s later testimony in 2 Corinthians 12:9–10, “And He has said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.”[2]


4:13 The privilege of sharing Christ’s sufferings should cause us great rejoicing. We cannot of course share His atoning sufferings; He is the only Sin-Bearer. But we can share the same kind of sufferings He endured as a Man. We can share His rejection and reproach. We can receive the wounds and scars in our bodies which unbelievers would still like to inflict on Him.

If the child of God can rejoice today in the midst of suffering, how much more will he rejoice and be glad when Christ’s glory is revealed. When the Savior comes back to earth as the Lion of the tribe of Judah, He will be revealed as the Almighty Son of God. Those who suffer now for His sake will be honored then with Him.[3]


13 Rather than be shocked or surprised at suffering, the readers are told to rejoice. The writer is not hereby glibly suggesting that one rejoices in suffering qua suffering. It is rather “in the Lord” (Php 4:4) that one rejoices. Believers “participate in the sufferings of Christ” (cf. Php 3:10, which speaks of “the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings”), based on the believer’s union with Christ, and therefore can emit a response of “rejoicing.” The believer is united with Christ in his death as well as his resurrection (Ro 6:5–14), not in the sense of paying for our sins, as only the Son of God could do, but in the sense that “our old self was crucified with him … that we should no longer be slaves to sin … but alive to God” (Ro 6:6, 11). Rejoicing and shock stand at opposite ends, and a deep awareness of our union with Christ—and all that it entails—preserves the Christian from surprise that metastasizes into disenchantment and disillusionment. To expect suffering, it should be emphasized, is not to welcome it in some blindly fatalistic way; it is, however, to be realistic about our union with Christ.

The attitude of rejoicing in the context of suffering is further magnified by the cognizance of the coming revelation of Christ’s glory. Peter writes, “so that you may be overjoyed [lit., ‘that you may rejoice exultingly’] when his glory is revealed,” using the same strengthened form of “rejoice” (agalliaō, GK 22) as earlier (1:6, 8), and in the same context (Christ’s return). His theological rationale squares with that of Paul: “if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory” (Ro 8:17); “if we endure, we will also reign with him” (2 Ti 2:12). Suffering for Christ is a privilege and not a penalty (so Barclay, 258). In Petrine thinking, eschatology informs Christian ethics.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2004). 1 Peter (pp. 251–254). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2278). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Charles, D. J. (2006). 1 Peter. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 349–350). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 23 – THE WORD OF GOD: SHORTEST ROUTE TO SPIRITUAL PEACE

Till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.

EPHESIANS 4:13

The work of God is not finished in the heart and life of the new believer when the first act of inward adjustment has given him a sense of cleansing and forgiveness, peace and rest for the first time in his life!

The Spirit would go on from there to bring the total life into harmony with that blissful “center.” This is wrought in the believer by the Word and by prayer and discipline and suffering.

It could be done by a short course in things spiritual if we were more pliable, less self-willed and stubborn; but it usually takes some time before we learn the hard lessons of faith and obedience sufficiently well to permit the work to be done within us with anything near to perfection.

In bringing many sons unto glory God works with whatever He has in whatever way He can and by whatever means He can, respecting always His own gift to us, the freedom of our wills. But of all means He uses, the Bible is the best.

The Word of God well understood and religiously obeyed is the shortest route to spiritual perfection, and we must not select a few favorite passages to the exclusion of others. Any tinkering with the truth, any liberties taken with the Scriptures, and we throw ourselves out of symmetry and invite stiff discipline and severe chastisement from that loving Father who wills for us nothing less than full restoration to the image of God in Christ![1]


The building up of the redeemed involves a two–fold ultimate objective, which Paul identifies as the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God, out of which flow spiritual maturity, sound doctrine, and loving testimony.

Some commentators advocate the view that such an ultimate objective is only attainable at glorification, believing that Paul is describing our final heavenly unity and knowledge. But that idea does not fit the context at all, because the apostle is not describing the final work of Christ on behalf of the church in heaven but the work of gifted men in the church on earth. These results could only apply to the church in its earthly dimension.

Unity of the Faith

The ultimate spiritual target for the church begins with the unity of the faith (cf. v. 3). As in verse 5, faith does not here refer to the act of belief or of obedience but to the body of Christian truth, to Christian doctrine. The faith is the content of the gospel in its most complete form. As the church at Corinth so clearly illustrates, disunity in the church comes from doctrinal ignorance and spiritual immaturity. When believers are properly taught, when they faithfully do the work of service, and when the body is thereby built up in spiritual maturity, unity of the faith is an inevitable result. Oneness in fellowship is impossible unless it is built on the foundation of commonly believed truth. The solution to the divisions in Corinth was for everyone to hold the same understandings and opinions and to speak the same truths (1 Cor. 1:10).

God’s truth is not fragmented and divided against itself, and when His people are fragmented and divided it simply means they are to that degree apart from His truth, apart from the faith of right knowledge and understanding. Only a biblically equipped, faithfully serving, and spiritually maturing church can attain to the unity the faith. Any other unity will be on a purely human level and not only will be apart from but in constant conflict with the unity of the faith. There can never be unity in the church apart from doctrinal integrity.

Knowledge of Christ

The second result of following God’s pattern for building His church is attaining the knowledge of the Son of God. Paul is not talking about salvation knowledge but about the deep knowledge (epignōsis, full knowledge that is correct and accurate) through a relationship with Christ that comes only from prayer and faithful study of and obedience to God’s Word. After many years of devoted apostleship Paul still could say, “I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, … that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings. … Not that I have already obtained it, or have already become perfect, but I press on in order that I may lay hold of that for which also I was laid hold of by Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:8–10, 12). Paul prayed that the Ephesians would have that “knowledge of Him” (1:17; cf. Phil. 1:4; Col. 1:9–10; 2:2). Growing in the deeper knowledge of the Son of God is a life–long process that will not be complete until we see our Lord face–to–face. That is the knowing of which Jesus spoke when He said, “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them” (John 10:27). He was not speaking of knowing their identities but of knowing them intimately, and that is the way He wants His people also to know Him.

Spiritual Maturity

The third result of following God’s pattern for His church is spiritual maturity, a maturity to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. God’s great desire for His church is that every believer, without exception, come to be like His Son (Rom. 8:29), manifesting the character qualities of the One who is the only measure of the full–grown, perfect, mature man. The church in the world is Jesus Christ in the world, because the church is now the fullness of His incarnate Body in the world (cf. 1:23). We are to radiate and reflect Christ’s perfections. Christians are therefore called to “walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6; cf. Col. 4:12), and He walked in complete and continual fellowship with and obedience to His Father. To walk as our Lord walked flows from a life of prayer and of obedience to God’s Word. “We all, with unveiled face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as from the Lord, the Spirit” (2 Cor. 3:18). As we grow into deeper fellowship with Christ, the process of divine sanctification through His Holy Spirit changes us more and more into His image, from one level of glory to the next. The agent of spiritual maturity, as well as of every other aspect of godly living, is God’s own Spirit—apart from whom the sincerest prayer has no effectiveness (Rom. 8:26) and even God’s own Word has no power (John 14:26; 16:13–14; 1 John 2:20).

It is obvious that believers, all of whom have unredeemed flesh (Rom. 7:14; 8:23), cannot in this life fully and perfectly attain the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. But they must and can reach a degree of maturity that pleases and glorifies the Lord. The goal of Paul’s ministry to believers was their maturity, as indicated by his labors to “present every man complete (teleios, mature) in Christ” (Col. 1:28–29; cf. Phil. 3:14–15).[2]


4:13 Verse 13 answers the question, “How long will this growth process continue?” The answer is till we all come to a state of unity, maturity, and conformity.

Unity. When the Lord takes His church home to heaven, we will all arrive at the unity of the faith. “Now we see in a mirror dimly” with regard to many matters. We have differences of opinion on a host of subjects. Then we will all be fully agreed. And we will reach the unity of … the knowledge of the Son of God. Here we have individual views of the Lord, of what He is like, of the implications of His teachings. Then we will see Him as He is, and know as we are known.

Maturity. At the Rapture we will also reach full growth or maturity. Both as individuals and as the Body of Christ, we will achieve perfection of spiritual development.

Conformity. And we will be conformed to Him. Everyone will be morally like Christ. And the universal church will be a full-grown Body, perfectly suited to its glorious Head. “The fulness of Christ is the Church itself, the fulness of Him that filleth all in all” (FWG). The measure of the stature of the church means its complete development, the fulfillment of God’s plan for its growth.[3]


13 Here we encounter three goals that Paul specifies “we all” (hoi pantes) ought to reach or attain. Paul includes himself in this collective goal for all Christians (recall v. 7: “to each one of us grace has been given”), not just the gifted leaders. This also confirms that “works of service” (v. 12) refers to the congregation, not the leaders. The conjunction “until” (mechri) specifies both the time frame and the purpose of the leaders’ work: they labor until. Though the church already is the fullness of Christ—its identity (1:23)—its members strive until they achieve “the whole measure of the fullness” (cf. 3:19). The first goal is unity in two dimensions: “in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” Unity in the faith (Greek objective genitive) points to a common trust in and assent to the “one faith” (recall v. 5). Since there is only one (body of) faith and one Jesus, faith in whom secures salvation, church members need to embrace it in common. Whatever differences of opinion we possess on various matters, on the central core issues of the faith we must strive for unity.

Unity in knowledge (again, an objective genitive) has an intriguing object: “of the Son of God” (the Son being the object of believers’ knowledge). Probably this second phrase unpacks the meaning of the “unity in the faith.” For the first time in Ephesians, Paul calls Jesus by this title (he uses it elsewhere only in Ro 1:4; 2 Co 1:19; Gal 2:20; cf. Ac 9:20). There are both relational and informational dimensions to our knowledge of Christ (see commentary on 1:17). Unity centers in Jesus, and the goal for Christian learning is to “know [Christ] better,” personally and intimately (1:17; cf. Php 3:10; Col 2:20; 2 Pe 3:18), as the one who loves us and gave himself for us. Knowing God and his Son Jesus is the very essence of eternal life (Jn 17:3; Eph 4:20; cf. 2 Pe 1:8; 2:20). Jesus’ parting instructions stressed the need to teach followers of Jesus to obey everything he commanded (Mt 28:20). Having listed the unshakable realities in vv. 4–6, now Paul stresses the need for a unified knowledge or understanding of the central Christian truths. We see their opposite in v. 14—immature people flummoxed by various teachings and wily deceivers. Leaders must equip the saints to secure unity in their beliefs and knowledge. Christians ought to espouse unequivocally a common worldview instructed by the one faith centered in the knowledge of Christ and true beliefs about him.

A second objective is to “become mature,” literally, “to a mature man,” taking the church as a corporate whole. “Man” translates anēr (GK 467), the gender-specific term for adult male (or husband, as in 5:22–33), here modified by “mature” (or “perfect”), denoting a full-grown, mature person (cf. BDAG, 79). Paul’s point here is not that the individual men of the church become mature (requiring the plural “men”), but that the corporate body of Christ does (cf. Best, 401; Lincoln, 256; Schnackenburg, 85; O’Brien, 307). Paul’s goal is a perfect church, as the “whole measure of the fullness of Christ” implies. So leaders have the task of promoting maturity, and all members have the responsibility to ensure that the body of Christ grows up spiritually. The failure to work at this leaves people as spiritual “infants” (v. 14). In v. 16 Paul spells out what maturity entails; in v. 17 he starts delineating its results in the life of the body.

This passion for the church’s maturity underlies Paul’s third goal for the body: to attain, literally, “the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ.” On “fullness,” see commentary at 1:23. In referring to “stature” (hēlikias [GK 2461], NASB; not in the NIV), Paul introduces the metaphor of a physical body—one he will develop in vv. 15–16. Recall that at 3:19 Paul prayed that the readers would be filled “to the measure of all the fullness of God.” What might the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” imply here? “Stature” refers to either a person’s age or physical size. It implies maturity, full growth in size or age. We find a general depiction of the metaphor in vv. 15b–16 and the specific traits in the remainder of the letter. Christ is the standard for maturity. Christ seeks to give the church his fullness. Measuring up to Christ is the church’s ideal and target—the goal of knowing him. Maturity as a church derives only through its integral relationship to Christ as it comes to know him more and more. Leaders in their equipping and the church in its growing must strive for nothing less than full Christlikeness.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 156–158). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1936). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 119–120). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 23 – THE SWEETEST STRING ON OUR HARP

But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved).

—Ephesians 2:4-5

When through the blood of the everlasting covenant we children of the shadows reach at last our home in the light, we shall have a thousand strings to our harps, but the sweetest may well be the one tuned to sound forth most perfectly the mercy of God.

For what right will we have to be there? Did we not by our sins take part in that unholy rebellion which rashly sought to dethrone the glorious King of creation? And did we not in times past walk according to the course of this world, according to the evil prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now works in the sons of disobedience? And did we not all at once live in the lusts of our flesh? And were we not by nature the children of wrath, even as others? But we who were one time enemies and alienated in our minds through wicked works shall then see God face-to-face and His name shall be in our foreheads. We who earned banishment shall enjoy communion; we who deserve the pains of hell shall know the bliss of heaven. And all through the tender mercy of our God, whereby the Dayspring from on high hath visited us. KOH139-140

Lord, let me begin even now to sing of Your great mercy. My voice may be poor and my earthly instrument rusty, but my heart is full. Amen. [1]


Salvation Is by Love

But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, (2:4)

Salvation is from sin and by love. God’s mercy is plousios, rich, overabounding, without measure, unlimited. The problem with reconciliation is not on the Lord’s side. The two words but God show where the initiative was in providing the power of salvation. His great desire is to be rejoined with the creatures He made in His own image and for His own glory. The rebellion and rejection is on man’s side. Because He was rich in mercy toward us and had great love for us, He provided a way for us to return to Him. In Romans 11:32 the apostle Paul focuses on this same issue in saying, “God has shut up all in disobedience that He might show mercy to all.” His purpose in so doing is given in verse 36: “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (emphasis added).

Salvation for God’s glory is by the motivation and power of God’s great love. God is intrinsically kind, merciful, and loving. And in His love He reaches out to vile, sinful, rebellious, depraved, destitute, and condemned human beings and offers them salvation and all the eternal blessings it brings. Man’s rebellion is therefore not only against God’s lordship and law but against His love.

If a person were driving down the street and carelessly ran down and killed a child, he probably would be arrested, tried, fined, and imprisoned for involuntary manslaughter. But after he paid the fine and served the sentence he would be free and guiltless before the law in regard to that crime. But paying his penalty before the law would do nothing to restore the life of the child or alleviate the grief of the parents. The offense against them was on an immeasurably deeper level. The only way a relationship between the parents and the man who killed their child could be established or restored would be for the parents to offer forgiveness. No matter how much the man might want to do so, he could not produce reconciliation from his side. Only the one offended can offer forgiveness, and only forgiveness can bring reconciliation.

Though greatly offended and sinned against (as depicted in the parable of Matt. 18:23–35), because of God’s rich … mercy and His great love He offered forgiveness and reconciliation to us as He does to every repentant sinner. Though in their sin and rebellion all men participated in the wickedness of Jesus’ crucifixion, God’s mercy and love provide a way for them to participate in the righteousness of His crucifixion. “I know what you are and what you have done,” He says; “but because of My great love for you, your penalty has been paid, My law’s judgment against you has been satisfied, through the work of My Son on your behalf. For His sake I offer you forgiveness. To come to Me you need only to come to Him:” Not only did He love enough to forgive but also enough to die for the very ones who had offended Him. “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Compassionate love for those who do not deserve it makes salvation possible.

Salvation Is into Life

even when we were dead in our transgressions, [God] made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), (2:5)

Above all else, a dead person needs to be made alive. That is what salvation gives—spiritual life. To encourage believers who doubt the power of Christ in their lives, Paul reminds them that if God was powerful and loving enough to give them spiritual life together with Christ, He is certainly able to sustain that life. The power that raised us out of sin and death and made us alive (aorist tense) together with Christ (cf. Rom. 6:1–7) is the same power that continues to energize every part of our Christian living (Rom. 6:11–13). The we may emphasize the linking of the Jew with the Gentile “you” in verse 1. Both are in sin and may receive mercy to be made alive in Christ.

When we became Christians we were no longer alienated from the life of God. We became spiritually alive through union with the death and resurrection of Christ and thereby for the first time became sensitive to God. Paul calls it walking in “newness of life” (Rom. 6:4). For the first time we could understand spiritual truth and desire spiritual things. Because we now have God’s nature, we now can seek godly things, “the things above” rather than “the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). That is what results from being alive together with Christ. “We shall also live with Him” (Rom. 6:8) says the apostle, and our new life is indistinguishable from His life lived in us (Gal. 2:20). In Christ we cannot help but be pleasing to God.[2]


2:4 The words, But God, form one of the most significant, eloquent, and inspiring transitions in all literature. They indicate that a stupendous change has taken place. It is a change from the doom and despair of the valley of death to the unspeakable delights of the kingdom of the Son of God’s love.

The Author of the change is God Himself. No one else could have done it, and no one else would have done it.

One characteristic of this blessed One is that He is rich in mercy. He shows mercy to us by not treating us the way we deserve to be treated (Ps. 103:10). “Though it has been expended by Him for six millennia, and myriads and myriads have been partakers of it, it is still an unexhausted mine of wealth,” as Eadie remarks.

The reason for His intervention is given in the words, because of His great love with which He loved us. His love is great because He is its source. Just as the greatness of a giver casts an aura of greatness on his gift, so the surpassing excellence of God adds superlative luster to His love. It is greater to be loved by the mighty Sovereign of the universe, for instance, than by a fellow human being. God’s love is great because of the price He paid. Love sent the Lord Jesus, God’s only begotten Son, to die for us in agony at Calvary. God’s love is great because of the unsearchable riches it showers on its objects.

2:5 And God’s love is great because of the extreme unworthiness and unloveliness of the persons loved. We were dead in trespasses. We were enemies of God. We were destitute and degraded. He loved us in spite of it all.

As a result of God’s love for us, and as a result of the redeeming work of Christ, we have been: (1) made alive together with Christ; (2) raised up with Him; (3) seated in Him.

These expressions describe our spiritual position as a result of our union with Him. He acted as our Representative—not only for us, but as us. Therefore when He died, we died. When He was buried, we were buried.

When He was made alive, raised, and seated in the heavenlies, so were we. All the benefits of His sacrificial work are enjoyed by us because of our link with Him. To be made alive together with Him means that converted Jews and converted Gentiles are now associated with Him in newness of life. The same power that gave Him resurrection life has given it to us also.

The marvel of this causes Paul to interrupt his train of thought and exclaim, By grace you have been saved. He is overwhelmed by the fathomless favor which God has shown to those who deserved the very opposite. That is grace!

We have already mentioned that mercy means we do not get the punishment we deserve. Grace means we do get the salvation we do not deserve. We get it as a gift, not as something we earn. And it comes from One who was not compelled to give it. A. T. Pierson says:

It is a voluntary exercise of love for which He is under no obligation. What constituted the glory of grace is that it is an utterly unfettered, unconstrained exercise of the love of God toward poor sinners.[3]


4 Swiftly Paul adds the good news: “But” (de) God has acted to remedy human hopelessness, for God is rich in mercy. “Mercy” (eleos, GK 1799), also translated as “compassion” or “pity,” occurs seventy-eight times in the NT, twenty-six of those in Paul’s letters. In the LXX it dominantly translated the Hebrew ḥesed (GK 2876)—God’s covenantal faithfulness to his undeserving people. In the Gospels the sick appeal to Jesus for mercy—that he show kindness by healing (e.g., Mk 10:47–48 par.). This unmerited, compassionate commitment motivates God’s rescue effort for his disobedient, wayward creatures (cf. Tit 3:5). God has decided to have mercy on all people, Jews and Gentiles (cf. Ro 11:32). In the next verses here, Paul characterizes this divine motivation as “grace” (vv. 5, 7–8).

God’s “great love” forms the second basis for his rescue of humanity. Paul commonly situates God’s actions for his people in his great love (Ro 5:5, 8; 8:39; Eph 5:2, 25). In 1:4 we saw that love was the motivation for God’s pretemporal determination to adopt his people. Here we find a kind of Semitic redundancy, where Paul uses the verb and noun together: “on account of the great love [with] which he loved us” (Paul uses both the noun agapē, GK 27, and the verb agapaō, GK 26). Not elegant in a literal translation, but the point emerges forcefully.

5 Now we discover what God’s mercy and love motivated him to do: he raised to life with Christ us who were dead in transgressions (cf. v. 1). Paul does not assert that all the dead ones will live—only “us.” In 1:20 Paul rehearsed God’s great power in bringing Jesus back to physical life. Jesus had been physically dead, and God raised him from among the dead and installed him on his heavenly throne at God’s right hand. Now we learn here that much more was riding on Jesus’ resurrection than simply the restoration of his own physical life. We who were spiritually dead were “made alive with” Christ, a composite verb prefixed with the preposition “with” (syn), which occurs only here and at Colossians 2:13 and later Christian writings dependent on these verses. In other words, those “with Christ” were raised with Christ (this redundancy being Paul’s). To relieve the redundancy, some aver that the verb might indicate “with each other,” anticipating vv. 11–22 (so Barth, 1:222). “In Christ” we were raised to a life together with other believers. Though attractive, this is unlikely: the parallel to Colossians 2:13, the essential meaning of the verb, and the pervasive concept of corporate solidarity probably point only to union “with Christ.” We participated in Christ’s resurrection from the dead, and it means we too live now. Though our physical resurrection awaits the end of the age, again Paul has brought eschatology into the present. What will happen physically has already happened spiritually, since we are “in Christ.” Formerly “dead,” we now live. Formerly dominated by the power center of the world system, we now live through the power of the Holy Spirit (1:13, 18–19).

In a brief parenthesis (repeated in v. 8) that switches back to second person “you,” Paul appends a third motivation for God’s action and then describes the event with an extremely loaded term. “Grace,” along with mercy and love, moved God to “save.” The dative case chariti (GK 5921) points to cause; grace is the basis and reason God saved. Paul pinpointed God’s grace in 1:2, 6–7, already identifying it as the motivation behind God’s decision to grant redemption and to forgive sins. This connecting of salvation and grace reflects a rare combination for Paul (see 2 Ti 1:9; Tit 2:11).

Because of God’s grace, “you have been saved” (here Paul uses the verbal form sōzō, GK 5392, the cognate of the noun for salvation he used in 1:13). Though the salvation word group can convey the physical sense of “rescue,” “deliver,” or “preserve,” the theological meaning most interests readers of Paul, who uses it to convey the grand sense of God’s rescue of his people from their sinful condition. Jesus received his very name—which means “Yahweh saves”—“because he will save his people from their sins” (Mt 1:21). Paul’s apostolic mission was to use all available means to “save some” (1 Co 9:22), because “God was pleased … to save those who believe” (1 Co 1:21). Paul assured his readers in Ephesians 1:13 that, because they believed the good news of salvation, God rescued them—he saved them. The good news shouts out that God saves through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead those dead in sin. Here and in v. 8 Paul employs the perfect tense of “save,” the most heavily marked Greek tense (and rarely used for “save” elsewhere and never by Paul; see Mk 5:34 par.; 10:52 par.; Lk 7:50). In so doing, he emphasizes the ongoing consequences in the present of God’s action to save. Not only did God save them, but believers enjoy the ongoing results of that salvation. They live in a saved condition.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 58–59). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1917). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 67–68). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 22 – GLORIOUS CONTRADICTIONS

The life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me.

Galatians 2:20

God has revealed so many glorious contradictions in the lives and conduct of genuine Christian believers that it is small wonder that we are such an amazement to this world.

The Christian is dead and yet he lives forever. He died to himself and yet he lives in Christ.

The Christian saves his own life by losing it, and he is in danger of losing it by trying to save it.

It is strange but true that the Christian is strongest when he is weakest and weakest when he is strongest. When he gets down on his knees thinking he is weak, he is always strong.

The Christian is in least danger when he is fearful and trusting God and in the most danger when he feels the most self-confident.

He is most sinless when he feels the most sinful, and he is the most sinful when he feels the most sinless.

The Christian actually has the most when he is giving away the most; and in all of these ways, the Christian is simply putting into daily practice the teachings and example of Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord!

 

Heavenly Father, the biggest contradiction is that I am a sinner and You are sinless. Yet You have redeemed me by Your death and resurrection. I praise You, Lord.[1]


Legalism’s most destructive effect is that it cancels the effect of the cross. I have been crucified with Christ, Paul testifies, and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me. To go back under the law would be to cancel one’s union with Christ’s sacrifice on the cross and therefore to go back under sin.

I died to the Law, Paul explains, because I was crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I who live. The old man, the old sell is dead, crucified with Christ, and the new man lives (cf. Col. 3:9–10). Now I … live to God, because Christ lives in me (cf. Rom. 8:9). The life I received by faith I now also live by faith. The Greek verb behind live is in the perfect tense, indicating a past completed action that has continuing results. When a believer trusts in Christ for salvation he spiritually participates with the Lord in His crucifixion and in His victory over sin and death.

That is why, the apostle continues, the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God. The true Christian life is not so much a believer’s living for Christ as Christ’s living through the believer. Because in Christ “all the fulness of Deity dwell-s in bodily form” (Col. 2:9), the fulness of God also dwell-s in every believer, as “partakers of the divine nature” (2 Pet. 1:4).

I do not have such a divine life and the magnanimous privilege of being indwelt with the living, powerful Son of God because of anything I have done or merited, but only because He loved me, and delivered Himself up for me.

The surpassing motive, therefore, for all spiritual devotion and obedience is gratitude to the sovereign, gracious Lord. The statement who loved me refers to the motive behind God’s saving grace. The New Testament is replete with teaching on this great truth (see, e.g., John 3:16; Rom. 5:8; Eph. 2:5). The gift of love was not taken from Christ, but He delivered Himself up for me, says the apostle. This is reminiscent of our Lord’s words in John 10:17–18, “I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one has taken it away from Me, but I lay it down of My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again.”[2]


2:20 The believer is identified with Christ in His death. Not only was He crucified on Calvary, I was crucified there as well—in Him. This means the end of me as a sinner in God’s sight. It means the end of me as a person seeking to merit or earn salvation by my own efforts. It means the end of me as a child of Adam, as a man under the condemnation of the law, as my old, unregenerate self. The old, evil “I” has been crucified; it has no more claims on my daily life. This is true as to my standing before God; it should be true as to my behavior.

The believer does not cease to live as a personality or as an individual. But the one who is seen by God as having died is not the same one who lives. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. The Savior did not die for me in order that I might go on living my life as I choose. He died for me so that from now on He might be able to live His life in me. The life which I now live in this human body, I live by faith in the Son of God. Faith means reliance or dependence. The Christian lives by continual dependence on Christ, by yielding to Him, by allowing Christ to live His life in him.

Thus the believer’s rule of life is Christ and not the law. It is not a matter of striving, but of trusting. He lives a holy life, not out of fear of punishment, but out of love to the Son of God, who loved him and gave Himself for him.

Have you ever turned your life over to the Lord Jesus with the prayer that His life might be manifest in your body?[3]


19–20 These verses contain four propositions: (1) “Through the law I died to the law so that I might live for God”; (2) “I have been crucified with Christ”; (3) “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me”; and (4) “the life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Determining the meaning of each of these statements will aid in understanding Paul’s intention in this section.

Stating “through the law I died to the law” further expounds the assertion Paul made at v. 18 that he is not a transgressor of the law. When Paul speaks of “dying to” something elsewhere, he means to say metaphorically that all relationship to that entity has been cut off (cf. “died to sin,” Ro 6:2, 10–11; “died to the law,” Ro 7:2–6). So here he contends that the believer cannot be a transgressor of the law because one who has trusted Jesus Christ has been cut off from any (intended redemptive) relationship to the law. Paul does not indicate that the believer is cut off from the law in any and every sense—the context of this statement is the propositio, in which he sets forth his thesis statement regarding justification and observance of the law—but in both the “legalistic” connotation and in the sense of the law functioning as the nomistic guideline for life (as argued by Paul’s opponents), the believer is “dead” to the law and thus no longer in relationship to it (cf. Burton, 132–33; Bruce, 142). This death to the law came about “through the law,” i. e., the believer’s death to the law is through the law because he died in Christ’s death (Ro 7:4). Paul will further expand on this statement in the probatio section of 3:19–4:7, particularly at 3:19–25.

“I have been crucified with Christ” speaks to the believer’s incorporation into the work of Christ. This is the basis of Paul’s earlier statements regarding the believer’s death to the law and living for God. This is a “Spirit-ual” identification with Christ (i. e., “of the Spirit,” “sourced” in the person of God’s Holy Spirit) in his death. It indicates that union with Christ by faith includes one’s being united with him in his experience of death to the old order, to the law.

The statement “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” extends this incorporation into Christ beyond death to the law to life in Christ. The Christian’s life is “hidden with Christ” (Col 3:3). The believer is transferred by virtue of incorporation with the crucified Christ to the sphere of resurrection life in him (cf. Matera, 103; Bruce, 144). The believer’s life is now lived out under the ethic and guidance of Jesus Christ by means of the Holy Spirit. Just as sin was the operative power of the former life, exercised through the law and the self, now Christ lives both in and through the believer.

Paul goes on to explain, “The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” The present life in the mortal body is, for the believer, a life that is lived “in Christ.” This is life lived in union with Christ, through faith in him who is the “Son of God.” This is a life of commitment to him who “loved me and gave himself for me.” The title “Son of God” both defines Jesus’ identity as God’s Servant and describes the close bond between him and the Father. It also emphasizes the greatness of Jesus’ sacrifice, as he gave himself up to be crucified in order to provide redemption for lost humanity. This sacrificial activity made the way clear for the faith life of union with Christ Paul describes here.

In these verses Paul has expressed the crux of his theology of the Christian life: the believer has died to the law by virtue of incorporation into Christ, with whom the believer has been co-crucified. Life is now lived in union with him in a daily existence of faith “outworked” (cf. 5:13–6:10). The law has no dominion over the believer, who lives now in the ethical sphere of Christ’s life by his Spirit, whose power it is that energizes and empowers one by faith in Christ’s person and work.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Galatians (p. 60). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1880). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Rapa, R. K. (2008). Galatians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 586–587). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 22 – A BLESSING: THE UNCHANGING FAITHFULNESS OF GOD

Jesus Christ the same yesterday, and today, and for ever.

HEBREWS 13:8

It is a gracious thing in our relationship with the heavenly Father to find that He loves us for ourselves and values our love more than galaxies of new created worlds.

The added blessing is to discover His faithfulness for what He is today we shall find Him tomorrow, the next day and the next year!

Actually, the fellowship of God with His redeemed family is beyond all telling. He communes with His redeemed ones in an easy, uninhibited fellowship that is restful and healing to the soul.

He is not sensitive nor selfish nor temperamental. He is not hard to please, though He may be hard to satisfy. He expects of us only what He has Himself first supplied.

He is quick to mark every simple effort to please Him, and just as quick to overlook imperfections when He knows we meant to do His will. Surely He loves us for ourselves!

Unfortunately, many Christians cannot get free from their perverted notions of God, and these notions poison their hearts and destroy their inward freedom. These friends serve God grimly, as the elder brother did, doing what is right without enthusiasm and without joy, and seem altogether unable to understand the buoyant, spirited celebration when the prodigal comes home. Their idea of God rules out the possibility of His being happy in His people!

How good it would be if we could learn that God is easy to live with, the sum of all patience, the essence of kindly goodwill![1]


13:8 The connection of this verse with the preceding one is not clear. Perhaps the simplest way to understand it is as a summary of the teaching, the goal, and the faith of these leaders. The gist of their teaching was this: Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever. The goal of their lives was Jesus Christ—the same yesterday, today, and forever. The foundation of their faith was that Jesus is the Christ (Messiah), the same yesterday, today, and forever.[2]


8 This famous verse has neither verb nor immediate link with what precedes and follows to clarify what is its intention in context. Probably it is to be understood as summing up the faith of the church’s founders (its epigrammatic form suggests a well-memorized creedal “motto”), which the readers are now called to imitate. Following the mention of the “outcome” of these earlier leaders’ lives, it serves to reassure the readers that, whereas their founding fathers may have died, Jesus remains and always will remain a secure foundation for their faith. The unexpected word order that separates the first two time references from the last—“Jesus Christ yesterday and today the same, and forever”—is perhaps intended to emphasize that the fact that he has proved unchanged so far (“yesterday and today”) assures us he will remain the same for the future. Following the assurance of vv. 5–6, this verse thus locates the reliability of our unfailing God more specifically in the unchangeability of Jesus—and thus, as so often in this letter, places Jesus alongside God without distinction. (Cf. 1:12, where our author has quoted the description of God’s unchangeability in Ps 102:27 [using the same phrase “the same”] as though speaking of the Son; for the threefold division of time, cf. the doxologies of Rev 1:4, 8; 4:8.)[3]


13:8 Jesus the Messiah (Christ) is eternally trustworthy in his position as high priest and as Son of God—yesterday active in creation (e.g., 1:2–4), today offering salvation (e.g., 4:7–10), and forever reigning in heaven (e.g., 10:12). This verse may be a transition from 13:7 (their leaders trusted in this Christ, and Jesus remains trustworthy) to v. 9 (strange teachings are departures from the Jesus who is always the same).[4]


13:8 Though human leaders pass from the scene, Jesus Christ is “the same” (1:12) “yesterday” (in which God spoke through prophets, 1:1), “today” (as God summons us to enter His rest through faith; 3:7, 13; 4:7), and “forever” (1:8; 7:17, 21, 24, 28). He is the strong anchor amid sufferings and uncertainties (6:19).[5]


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

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 2209). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 185). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2385). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 2221). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

APRIL 22 – ALL ARE RECIPIENTS

It is of the LORD’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.

—Lamentations 3:22

All men are recipients of God’s mercy. Don’t think for a minute that when you repented and came back from the swine pen to the Father’s house that mercy then began to operate. No, mercy had been operating all the time…. So, remember that if you hadn’t had the mercy of God all the time, stooping in pity, withholding judgment, you’d have perished long ago. The cruel dictator is a recipient of the mercy of God. The wicked murderer is a recipient of the mercy of God. And the blackest heart that lies in the lowest wallow in the country is a recipient of the mercy of God….

All men are recipients of the mercy of God, but God has postponed the execution, that is all. When the justice of God confronts human guilt then there is a sentence of death, but the mercy of God—because that also is an attribute of God, not contradicting the other but working with it—postpones the execution.

Mercy cannot cancel judgment apart from atonement. When justice sees iniquity, there must be judgment. But mercy brought Christ to the cross. I don’t claim to understand that. I’m so happy about the things I do know and so delightedly happy about things I don’t know. AOG085-087

Lord, when I realize how much we deserve Your judgment, I am once again in awe of Your great mercy. Thank You for the message of the cross. Amen. [1]


3:22 lovingkindnesses. This Heb. word, used about 250 times in the OT, refers to God’s gracious love. It is a comprehensive term that encompasses love, grace, mercy, goodness, forgiveness, truth, compassion, and faithfulness.

3:22–24 His compassions never fail. As bleak as the situation of judgment had become, God’s covenant lovingkindness was always present (cf. vv. 31, 32), and His incredible faithfulness always endured so that Judah would not be destroyed forever (cf. Mal 3:6).[2]


3:22 God’s steadfast love (his “covenant mercy” or beneficial action on his people’s behalf) never ceases, even in the face of Judah’s unfaithfulness and the resulting “day of the Lord” (cf. Joel 2:1–2; Amos 5:18; Zeph. 1:14–16). mercies. Or “compassion.” This type of mercy goes the second mile, replacing judgment with restoration. never come to an end. God is willing to begin anew with those who repent.[3]


3:22 The loyal love of Yahweh does not cease The speaker appeals to Yahweh’s covenant love to justify his hope.

The Hebrew term used here for Yahweh’s covenant love is chesed. This phrase could be referring to the eternal nature of Yahweh’s chesed or to chesed as the essential quality of Yahweh’s nature that allows Him to restrain His wrath and justice from bringing a total end. Some English translations follow the ancient Aramaic versions here, which read “The kindnesses of Yahweh never cease”; others follow the traditional Hebrew text, which says “Because of Yahweh’s mercies [or great love], we are not consumed.” Deciding which reading to follow is part of the task of a field of study known as textual criticism. The difference between what the Hebrew reads and what the Aramaic translators may have read is only one letter. The poetic parallelism with the rest of the line (which reads literally, “His mercies never come to an end”) supports following the Aramaic reading.[4]


3:22 steadfast love. On the Hb. word (hesed), see note on Ps. 36:5. The plural form, used here, recalls many acts or perhaps the riches of divine love. Cf. Is. 55:3.

mercies. God’s covenant devotion is always joined with His compassion. Though the Lord may withhold mercy temporarily (see 2:2), that is not the end of the story. His people are not finally consumed because God’s compassion is not consumed. God’s wrath toward His people must come to an end because His compassion cannot end (4:22; Hos. 11:8).[5]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (La 3:22–24). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1487). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (La 3:22). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1372). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

APRIL 21 – SPIRITUAL TESTING

Do therefore as the Lord your God hath commanded you: ye shall not turn aside to the right hand or to the left.

Deuteronomy 5:32

 

In the scriptural accounts, there are many examples of men and women being tested, and I think it is plain that the Holy Spirit rarely tells a believer that he is about to be tested.

Abraham was being tested when the Lord asked him to take his only son up into the mountain. He thought he was being ordered. He did not know he was being tested.

Peter was unconsciously tested. Paul was tested and tried. There does come a time when we have heard enough truth and the Holy Spirit says, “Today this disciple is going to be tested.”

The people of Israel in their time of testing came to Kadesh Barnea, and instead of crossing into the promised land, they said, “We will not go over!” God simply let them make their own test, and they flunked it!

Are there any among us who have an honest desire to be Christlike? We should all be aware that every day is a day of testing. Some come to their own Kadesh Barnea and turn back.

What a solemn thought: Many of the persons whom God is testing will flunk the test!

 

Lord, tutor me by Your Spirit and help me successfully “pass” Your times of testing. I can’t do it by myself.[1]


32–33 The narrative, i.e., the recollection by Moses of this stupendous historical event, ends with 5:31, and Moses’ exhortation begins with 5:32. Moses makes it clear that he is not talking about the words or commandments of Moses but the words of Almighty God. God’s covenantal people are not to “turn aside to the right or to the left” (a common expression in Deuteronomy and other historical books—Dt 17:11, 20; 28:14; Jos 1:7; 23:6; 2 Ki 22:2) from those divine expectations. Instead, the Israelites are to live (“walk”; see comment on 10:12–13) in accordance with those requirements and, consequently, enjoy long tenure in the Promised Land.[2]


5:32–33 not turn aside to the right hand or to the left. God’s way is likened to a straight path. See also 2:27; 17:11, 20; 28:14. walk in all the way. See also 8:6; 9:16; 10:12; 11:22; 19:9; 26:17; 28:9; 30:16; 31:29.[3]


5:22 and he added no more. Lit. “and He did not add,” perhaps an idiom meaning that He spoke no more. This would fit the statement in Exodus that the people in their fear asked that God speak no more to them directly but to address them only through Moses (Ex. 20:19).

two tablets of stone. The tablets are mentioned in Ex. 31:18, where they are called the “two tablets of the testimony … written with the finger of God.” In addition, the tablets were inscribed on both sides (Ex. 32:15). These tablets were broken (Ex. 32:19), but new ones were made (Ex. 34:1–4, 27). Called “the testimony,” the tablets were placed in the ark of the testimony (Ex. 25:16; 40:20), also called the “ark of the covenant” (Num. 10:33). The “testimony” refers to the written record attesting the terms of the covenant (Ex. 25:16 note).[4]


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

[2] Grisanti, M. A. (2012). Deuteronomy. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Numbers–Ruth (Revised Edition) (Vol. 2, p. 552). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 341). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 262). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

APRIL 21 – WE DO NOT DESPISE GOD-GIVEN EMOTIONS

But when he saw the multitudes, he was moved with compassion on them, because they fainted, and were scattered abroad….

MATTHEW 9:36

Our emotions are neither to be feared nor despised, for they are a normal part of us as God made us in the first place. Indeed, the full human life would be impossible without them!

A feeling of pity would never arise in the human breast unless aroused by a mental picture of others’ distress, and without the emotional bump to set off the will there would be no act of mercy. That is the way we are constituted and what I am saying here is nothing new. Every mother, every statesman, every leader of men, every preacher of the Word of God knows that a mental picture must be presented to the listener before he can be moved to act, even though it be for his own advantage!

God intended that truth should move us to moral action. The mind receives ideas, mental pictures of things as they are. These excite the feelings and these in turn move the will to act in accordance with the truth. That is the way it should be, and would be had not sin entered and wrought injury to our inner life. Because of sin, the simple sequence of truth-feeling-action may break down in any of its three parts.

The Christian who gazes too long on the carnal pleasures of this world cannot escape a certain feeling of sympathy with them, and that feeling will inevitably lead to behavior that is worldly. To expose our hearts to truth and consistently refuse or neglect to obey the impulses it arouses is to stymie the motions of life within us, and if persisted in, to grieve the Holy Spirit into silence.[1]


Christ’s Divine Compassion

And seeing the multitudes, He felt compassion for them, (9:36a)

Perhaps from the vantage point of a hillside, Jesus looked out over the great mass of people who had been His almost constant followers for many months. They were always there, wherever He went. If He entered a boat to cross the Sea of Galilee, they would either follow in other boats or run around the shore to the other side and meet Him there. They dogged Him from town to town, from house to house, from synagogue to synagogue, and gave Him no rest.

Many people came simply to watch and listen, eager to see and hear what the great miracle worker and teacher would do or say. They had never heard anyone speak the authoritative but gracious words He spoke, and they had never seen anyone perform the marvelous feats that He performed. Many other people, however, came to Him for specific needs in their own lives or in the lives of their loved ones or friends. Most of these came for physical healing or deliverance from demons.

But the divine eyes of Jesus saw infinitely greater need in their lives, a need that far surpassed a withered arm, a bleeding body, a possessed mind, or blind eyes and deaf ears. He sympathized with their physical pains, too, and would have been deeply moved had those been their only afflictions.

But in seeing the multitudes Jesus saw the deepness and pervasiveness of their sin and the desperate plight of their spiritual blindness and lostness. Consequently, He felt compassion for them as only God could feel. He cared for them because He was God incarnate and it is God’s nature to love and to care, for “God is love” (1 John 4:8). Over and over in the gospel record we are told of Jesus’ compassion and love for men. When He withdrew in a boat to be alone after hearing of the death of John the Baptist, the crowd discovered where He went and “followed Him on foot from the cities. And when He went ashore, He saw a great multitude, and felt compassion for them, and healed their sick” (Matt. 14:13–14). After He had healed a great number of people on a mountainside in Galilee, He privately told His disciples, “I feel compassion for the multitude, because they have remained with Me now three days and have nothing to eat; and I do not wish to send them away hungry, lest they faint on the way” (15:32). It was not enough that He had healed the lame, the crippled, the blind, the dumb, and many others among them (vv. 30–31). When they were without food, He cared deeply about their hunger.

Splanchna, the noun form of the verb behind felt compassion, literally refers to the intestines, or bowels. In Scripture it is sometimes used literally, as when describing Judas’s death (Acts 1:18). More often, however, it is used figuratively to represent the emotions, much in the way we use the term heart today. The Hebrews, like many other ancient peoples, expressed attitudes and emotions in terms of physiological symptoms, not in abstractions. As most of us know from personal experience, many intense emotions-anxiety, fear, pity, remorse, and so on-can directly, and often immediately, affect the stomach and the digestive tract. Upset stomach, colitis, and ulcers are a few of the common ailments frequently related to emotional trauma. It is not strange, then, that ancient people associated strong emotions with that region of the body. The heart, on the other hand, was associated more with the mind and thinking (see Prov. 16:23; Matt. 15:19; Rom. 10:10; Heb. 4:12). The heart was the source of thought and action, whereas the bowels were the responder, the reactor.

Jesus therefore used the common term of His day to express His deep compassion for the great crowds of people who were suffering. But His care was not merely figurative, because He felt in His own body the symptoms of His deep caring. If our bodies literally ache in pain and nausea when we experience great agony, remorse, or sympathy, we can be sure that the Son of Man felt them even more. Matthew tells us that, in order to fulfill the prophecies of Isaiah, Jesus “Himself took our infirmities, and carried away our diseases” (Matt. 8:17). It was not, of course, that Jesus Himself contracted the diseases or infirmities, but that in sympathy and compassion He physically as well as emotionally suffered with those who came to Him for healing-just as a parent can become physically ill from worry and concern over a child who is desperately sick or in trouble or danger.

When Jesus saw Mary and her friends weeping over the death of her brother Lazarus, “He was deeply moved in spirit, and was troubled,” and He wept with them (John 11:33, 35). The phrase “deeply moved in spirit” carries the idea of physical as well as emotional and spiritual anguish. Jesus Himself was seized with grief as He saw His dear friend grieving; and He burst into tears. He knew that Lazarus would soon be alive again, and His grief was therefore not for the same reason as theirs. But it was the same feeling as theirs and even more intense. After some of the people there wondered aloud why Jesus had not prevented Lazarus’ death, He was again “deeply moved within” (v. 38), a phrase that carries the idea of shuddering, of being physically racked with emotion.

When Jesus was arrested in the Garden, His concern was not for Himself but for His disciples. He said to the soldiers, “If therefore you seek Me, let these go their way” (John 18:8). When He was hanging on the cross, facing death and suffering great physical agony from the crown of thorns and the nails in His hands and feet, His concern was for His mother. “When Jesus therefore saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, ‘Woman, behold, your son!’ Then He said to the disciple, ‘Behold, your mother!’ ” (John 19:26–27). In His incalculable compassion He would not give up His spirit until He had provided for His mother.

As He agonized over the rejection by His own people, He did not feel anger or vengeance but the deepest possible remorse for them. In one of the most poignant statements ever uttered, He lamented, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were unwilling” (Matt. 23:37). Luke reports that when Jesus approached Jerusalem for the last time, “He saw the city and wept over it, saying, ‘If you had known in this day, even you, the things which make for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes’ ” (Luke 19:41–42). As Isaiah had prophesied, Jesus was indeed “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief” (Isa. 53:3).

Jesus not only performed miracles of healings to establish His messianic credentials but also to show God’s infinite love. He demonstrated compassionate power, a kind of power completely foreign to pagans and even to most Jews-who had long ago lost sight of the lovingkindness of the God who had called, guided, protected, and blessed them as His chosen people. The people who witnessed Jesus’ healing touch and heard His healing words must surely have been as astonished by His compassion as they were by His power.

Dr. Paul Brand has spent many years in medical work among lepers. In his book Fearfully and Wonderfully Made, he writes,

[Jesus] reached out His hand and touched the eyes of the blind, the skin of the person with leprosy, and the legs of the cripple. …

I have sometimes wondered why Jesus so frequently touched the people He healed, many of whom must have been unattractive, obviously diseased, unsanitary, smelly. With His power, He easily could have waved a magic wand. … But He chose not to. Jesus’ mission was not chiefly a crusade against disease … but rather a ministry to individual people, some of whom happened to have a disease. He wanted those people, one by one, to feel His love and warmth and His full identification with them. Jesus knew He could not readily demonstrate love to a crowd, for love usually involves touching.

Commenting on two statements about Jesus in the book of Hebrews (“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses,” 4:15; and “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered,” 5:8), Dr. Brand says,

A stupefying concept: God’s Son learning through His experiences on earth. Before taking on a body, God had no personal experience of physical pain or of the effect of rubbing against needy persons. But God dwelt among us and touched us, and His time spent here allows Him to more fully identify with our pain. (Paul Brand and Philip Yancey, Fearfully and Wonderfully Made [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1980], pp. 140. 146–48)

That sympathetic compassion is unique to Christianity, because it is unique to Christianity’s God. Hinduism is perhaps one of the most cruelly neglectful of all religious systems. Its caste system prohibits anyone from even touching those of an alien caste. Its treatment of the sick and dying is sometimes shocking and barbarous, because providing them help is thought to delay the process of karma and reincarnation. Brahmins, the Hindu priestly class, recognize no responsibility for the care of the afflicted and downtrodden. Islam, whose history runs red with secular and religious bloodshed, cannot be expected to show much pity for those in need. The primary motive behind Buddhist benevolence is that the act may lay up merit

How different were Jesus’ teaching and example. In the parable of the slave who owed an unpayable debt to his king, Jesus illustrated God’s love through the grace of the king, who “felt compassion” on his slave “and released him and forgave him the debt” (Matt. 18:27). When the two blind men sitting by the road just outside of Jericho cried out to Jesus, “Lord, have mercy on us, Son of David!” He was “moved with compassion, … touched their eyes,” and restored their sight (20:30, 34). When the leper came to Him, declaring, “If You are willing, You can make me clean,” Jesus again was “moved with compassion,” and He cleansed the man of his tormenting disease (Mark 1:40–41).

G. Campbell Morgan wrote on this passage,

There is no reason in man that God should save; the need is born of His own compassion. No man has any claim upon God. Why, then, should men be cared for? Why should they not become the prey of the ravening wolf, having wandered from the fold? It has been said that the great work of redemption was the outcome of a passion for the righteousness and holiness of God; that Jesus must come and teach and live and suffer and die because God is righteous and holy. I do not so read the story. God could have met every demand of His righteousness and holiness by handing men over to the doom they had brought upon themselves. But deepest in the being of God, holding in its great energising might, both holiness and righteousness, is love and compassion. God said, according to Hosea, “How shall I give thee up, Ephraim?” It is out of the love which inspired that wail of the Divine heart, that salvation has been provided. (The Gospel According to Matthew [Old Tappan, N.J.: Revell, 1979], pp. 99–100)

The great Puritan writer Thomas Watson said, “We may force our Lord to punish us, but we will never have to force Him to love us.” The God of Scripture is the God of love and compassion. How different are the gods of paganism. The supreme attribute of the ancient Greek gods was apatheia, apathy and indifference. Those supposed deities were supremely unconcerned about the welfare of mankind. Even the nature of the true God had been so distorted by the scribes, Pharisees, and rabbis that most Jews thought of Him primarily as a God of anger, vengeance, and indifference. Jesus brought an entirely new message.

Because the Lord is compassionate, believers who bear His name are also to be compassionate. “To sum up,” Peter says, “let all be harmonious, sympathetic, brotherly, kindhearted, and humble in spirit; not returning evil for evil, or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead” (1 Pet. 3:8–9).

Man’s Lost Conditions

because they were distressed and downcast like sheep without a shepherd. (9:36b)

Jesus’ second motive for ministry was the knowledge of man’s lost condition. He saw the people around Him in the reality of their need. He was moved by their diseases and sickness, and He healed every kind of them (v. 35). But He was moved even more deeply by the needs that most of the multitude did not know they had-to be freed from their bondage to sin. He was not fooled by their religious fronts and their spiritual facades. He saw their hearts, and He knew that inwardly they were distressed and downcast.

Skullō (to be distressed) has the root meaning of flaying or skinning, and the derived meanings of being harassed or severely troubled. It often connoted the ideas of being battered, bruised, mangled, ripped apart, worn out, and exhausted. Jesus saw the multitudes as being inwardly devastated by their sinful and hopeless condition.

Rhiptō (to be downcast) has the basic meaning of being thrown down prostrate and utterly helpless, as from drunkenness or a mortal wound. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) uses the word of Sisera as he “was lying dead with a tent peg in his temple” (Judg. 4:22). Jesus saw the downcast multitudes as sheep without a shepherd to protect and care for them. They were helpless and defenseless, spiritually battered, thrown down, and without leadership or supply.

Those who claimed to be their shepherds were the scribes and Pharisees, but it was those very “shepherds” who were largely responsible for the people’s confusion and hopelessness. Their religious leaders gave them no spiritual pastures, nor did they feed them, give them drink, or bind up their wounds. Instead, they were spiritually brutalized by uncaring, unloving leaders who should have been meeting their spiritual needs. Consequently, the people had been left weary, desolate, and forlorn. In 10:6 Jesus calls them “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” God’s chosen people who had been left to perish.

The scribes and Pharisees offered a religion that added burdens instead of lifting them. They had great concern about their self-made traditions but only superficial and hypocritical concern about the true law of God. And for them, the common people were the object of disdain not compassion, to be exploited not served. The scribes and Pharisees were true descendants of the false shepherds against whom the Lord had railed centuries earlier through Ezekiel: “Woe, shepherds of Israel who have been feeding themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flock? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fat sheep without feeding the flock. Those who are sickly you have not strengthened, the diseased you have not healed, the broken you have not bound up, the scattered you have not brought back, nor have you sought for the lost; but with force and with severity you have dominated them” (Ezek. 34:2–4; cf. Zech. 11:5).

The scribes and Pharisees “tie up heavy loads, and lay them on men’s shoulders,” Jesus said; “but they themselves are unwilling to move them with so much as a finger” (Matt. 23:4). Worse than that, they “shut off the kingdom of heaven from men,” not entering themselves and not allowing others to enter (v. 13). What an indictment.

Many religious leaders today are still endeavoring to keep people out of the kingdom by distorting and contradicting God’s Word and perverting the way of salvation. They still keep them from the true Shepherd. By telling people they are already saved because “a good God would never condemn anyone to hell,” they lead people to be content with themselves and to see no need for repentance and salvation-thereby shutting tight the gracious door God has provided. Or when people are told they can work their way into God’s favor by avoiding certain sins or by performing certain good deeds or participating in some prescribed ritual, they are likewise deceived and left in their losthess. Those for whom Christ feels compassionate love are spiritually battered, bruised, and thrown down to lie helpless outside the sheepfold God has provided for them in His Son.

Jesus called such false teachers thieves and robbers, strangers from whom people should flee (John 10:1, 5). In his parting words to the Ephesian elders at Miletus, Paul warned, “Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood. I know that after my departure savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock” (Acts 20:28–29).

How wonderfully refreshing it must have been to hear Jesus say, “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart; and you shall find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy, and My load is light” (Matt. 11:28–30). What a contrast those words were from the teaching of the scribes and Pharisees, who added burden upon burden, tradition upon tradition, requirement upon requirement.

Someone has written,

Let me look on the crowd as my Savior did,

Till my eyes with tears grow dim;

Let me view with pity the wandering sheep,

And love them for the love of Him.[2]


9:36 As He gazed on Israel’s multitudes, harassed and helpless, He saw them as sheep without a shepherd. His great heart of compassion went out to them. Oh, that we might know more of that yearning for the spiritual welfare of the lost and dying. How we need to pray constantly:

Let me look on the crowd, as my Savior did,

Till my eyes with tears grow dim;

Let me view with pity the wandering sheep,

And love them for love of Him.[3]


36 Like Yahweh in the OT (cf. Eze 34), Jesus showed compassion on the shepherdless crowds and judgment on the false leaders. The “sheep” Jesus sees are “harassed” (not “fainted” [KJV], which has poor attestation), i.e., bullied, oppressed. In the face of such problems, they are “helpless,” unable to rescue themselves or escape their tormentors. The language here is close to Numbers 27:17 (which could almost make Joshua a “type” of Jesus); but other parallels (e.g., 1 Ki 22:17; 2 Ch 18:16; Isa 53:6; Eze 34:23–24; 37:24) remind us not only of the theme’s rich background but also that the shepherd can refer either to God or to the Davidic Messiah God will send (cf. 2:6; 10:6, 16; 15:24; 25:31–46; 26:31).[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (p. 111). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1237). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 275). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 21 – A BOUNDLESS AND FATHOMLESS FLOOD

And he said, I will make all my goodness pass before thee, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before thee; and will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.

—Exodus 33:19

There has been a lot of careless teaching that implies that the Old Testament is a book of severity and law, and the New Testament is a book of tenderness and grace. But do you know that while both the Old Testament and the New Testament declare the mercy of God, the word mercy appears in the Old Testament over four times more often than in the New?…

God’s infinite goodness is taught throughout the entire Bible. Goodness is that in God which desires the happiness of His creatures and that irresistible urge in God to bestow blessedness. The goodness of God takes pleasure in the pleasure of His people. I wish I could teach the children of God to know this. For a long time it has been drummed into us that if we are happy, God is worried about us. We believe He’s never quite pleased if we are happy. But the strict, true teaching of the Word is that God takes pleasure in the pleasure of His people, provided His people take pleasure in God….

“The mercy of God is an ocean divine, a boundless and fathomless flood.” Let us plunge out into the mercy of God and come to know it. AOG077-079, 095

Thank You, Lord, for your mercy, that out of Your goodness You delight in the happiness of Your children. Amen. [1]


33:18–23 Next Moses asked for a sight of God’s glory. God replied by promising to reveal Himself as a God of grace and compassion (see Ex. 34:6, 7). Moses could not see God’s face … and live, but he would be permitted to stand on a rock while God’s glory passed by, and he would see an appearance of God’s back. This is figurative language, of course, since God does not have a body (John 4:24). As Hywel Jones put it, “Moses is to see the afterglow which is a reliable indication of what the full splendor is to be.”

No one can see God’s face and live (v. 20). This means that no one can look upon the unveiled glory of God; He dwells “in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see” (1 Tim. 6:16). In that sense, no one has seen God at any time (1 Jn. 4:12). How then do we explain passages in the Bible where people saw God and did not die? For example, Hagar (Gen. 16:13); Jacob (Gen. 32:30); Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel (Ex. 24:9–11); Gideon (Judg. 6:22, 23); Manoah and his wife (Judg. 13:22); Isaiah (Isa. 6:1); Ezekiel (Ezek. 1:26, cf. 10:20); John (Rev. 1:17).

The answer is that these people saw God as represented by the Lord Jesus Christ. Sometimes He appeared as the Angel of the Lord (see Judges 6 for a discussion of this doctrine), sometimes as a Man, and once manifested Himself as a Voice (Ex. 24:9–11; cf. Deut. 4:12). The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, has fully declared God (John 1:18). Christ is the brightness of God’s glory and the express image of His Person (Heb. 1:3). That is why He could say, “He who has seen Me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).[2]


19–20 In response to Moses’ request to see God’s “glory,” God says he will “cause all [of his] goodness to pass” before Moses (v. 19). By his “goodness” is meant his whole character and nature. In a later theophany the Lord passed by what may have been the same cleft of the rock (cave) for the discouraged prophet Elijah (1 Ki 19:11).

A further aspect of the revelation of God’s glory is the proclamation of his name. The name of God includes his nature, character, person (Ps 20:1; Lk 24:47; Jn 1:12), doctrine (Ps 22:22; Jn 17:6, 26), and standards of ethical and moral living (Mic 4:5). In this context his name includes his “mercy” (i.e., his “grace”) and his “compassion” (rehem, lit., “womb, bowels,” i.e., deep-seated feelings; GK 8167). Romans 9:15 quotes this verse and applies it to the sovereignty of God. The one restriction of the Lord is that Moses will not be permitted to see the Lord’s face (v. 20). In fact, “no one may see me and live” (v. 20; see Jn 1:18; 6:46; 1 Ti 1:17; 1 Jn 4:12).[3]


33:19 The Lord’s words appear to be a response to Moses’ requests—that the Lord would show him his ways (v. 13) and his glory (v. 18). The description points forward to the event of the Lord’s self-declaration that is to come: “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord’ (see 34:5–6) … I will be gracious … and will show mercy” (see 34:6). Paul cites this in Rom. 9:15 to show that, when God shows mercy, it is because he has chosen to do so.

33:19 God as sovereign works his will in election (Rom. 9:15).[4]


33:19 the name of Yahweh’ Yahweh has already revealed His name to Moses (3:14). In ot theology, the “name” (shem) of God was another way to refer to the person of God Himself (e.g., Isa 24:15; 30:27; Prov 18:10; Psa 75:1).[5]


33:19 my goodness … my name. Though the visible magnificence of this theophany is apparent from the text, the emphasis falls on a revelation to Moses of God’s sovereign, gracious, and compassionate nature (cf. 34:5–7). In Jesus Christ, the glory of the gracious and compassionate God that was withheld even from Moses is displayed to believers through the Spirit (John 1:14; 2 Cor. 3:18).

to whom … on whom. The Lord is sovereign in His purposes of mercy (Rom. 9:14–16). See “Predestination” at Mal. 1:2.[6]


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

[2] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 126). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[3] Kaiser, W. C., Jr. (2008). Exodus. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 545–546). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 199). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[5] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ex 33:19). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 145). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.