Category Archives: Baker New Testament Commentary

September 23, 2017: Verse of the day

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Divine Preservation in God’s Kingdom

Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are recorded in heaven. (10:20)

Satan may, if God permits, bring trials into our lives as he did to Job (Job 1:6–12; 2:1–7), Peter (Luke 22:31), and Paul (2 Cor. 12:7). But he can never take away our salvation or separate us from God’s love (John 10:27–29; Rom. 8:28–39; Jude 24–25). The cause for that confidence lies in the final reason for the seventy’s rejoicing.

Although they rejoiced in the power over and protection from Satan’s kingdom of darkness the Lord had granted them, there was a far more significant reason for the seventy to rejoice. Jesus exhorted them not to rejoice merely because the spirits were subject to them, but rather that their names are recorded in heaven. They would not only experience God’s power and protection in this life, but also His blessing forever.

The wondrous reality that the seventy were genuine disciples was the supreme cause of their joy. Success in evangelism and power over Satan’s kingdom are for this life only. Believers’ knowledge that their names are recorded in heaven, never to be blotted out (cf. Dan. 12:1; Phil. 4:3; Rev. 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27), far surpasses all earthly joys.[1]


20 This verse, with its call to rejoicing in the supreme blessing of assurance of heaven, is one of Jesus’ great sayings. “Do not rejoice” does not exclude the disciples’ taking joy in spiritual victories but rather introduces a strong and typically Semitic comparison. The idea of the names of God’s faithful people as being written down in heaven is common in biblical and extrabiblical Jewish writings. In those days it was natural to refer to this through the metaphor of a book or scroll (e.g., Ex 32:32–33; Ps 69:28; Da 12:1; Mal 3:16; Rev 20:12–15).[2]


20. Nevertheless, it is not this in which you should rejoice, that the spirits submit to you, but this, that your names are recorded in heaven.

Jesus does not mean that these men erred in rejoicing over their God-given power over demons. Did not their ability to cast them out redound to God’s glory? Did it not also result in delivering the enslaved from the powers of darkness? What the Master must have meant was that authority over demons was, after all, insignificant in comparison with having one’s name recorded in heaven’s book of life. Cf. Isa. 4:3; Dan. 12:1; Rev. 3:5; 20:12, 15.

Casting out demons ceases when life here on earth ends. But right standing with God, resulting in everlasting salvation to his glory, never ends. Besides, authority over demons does not guarantee salvation. It is entirely possible that even upon Judas had been bestowed the ability to cast out demons. See Luke 9:1. But that did not make him a saved man!

For Practical Lessons and Greek Words, etc., see pp. 585–590.

10:21–24 The Rejoicing of Jesus

Cf. Matt. 11:25–27; 13:16, 17

21 At that time Jesus rejoiced greatly in the Holy Spirit, and said, “I praise thee Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou didst hide these things from the wise and learned (people) and didst reveal them to babes; yes Father, for such was thy good pleasure. 22 All things have been handed over to me by my Father, and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and no one knows who the Father is except the Son and anyone to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.”

23 And turning to his disciples he said privately, “Blessed (are) the eyes that see what you are seeing! 24 For I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you are seeing, but did not see it, and to hear what you are hearing, but did not hear it.”

The beginning of this paragraph so closely resembles what is found in Matthew’s Gospel that the opinion of many, namely, that the same event is being described in Matt. 11:25 ff. as here in Luke 10:21 ff., may well be correct. That event was the return of the “seventy,” or perhaps better, as has been indicated, the “seventy-two.”

Verses 1–24 of Luke’s tenth chapter are clearly a unit: the charge to the seventy-two (verses 1–12), the serious consequences of rejecting their (hence their Savior’s) message (verses 13–16), their return and exuberant report (verses 17–20), and Jesus’ own rejoicing coupled with the benediction he pronounced on the seventy-two (verses 21–24) belong together.[3]


20 Though sometimes identified as Lukan composition (e.g., Fitzmyer, 859 “v 20 may also be of Lukan composition”), only the πλήν (a strong form of “but”) with which the verse begins lies under suspicion of being Lukan (see the discussion in Miyoshi, Anfang, 107–9). There is, however, a difficulty about the form in which such a saying could have been transmitted. Different scholars have identified as the original unit vv 17, 20; vv 18, 20; and vv 19, 20. The best of these suggestions is the first (cf. Grelot, RSR 69 [1981] 88–89; rejoicing, the submission of the demons, and the role of the name link vv 17 and 20). This suggests that we should choose (from the options canvassed at v 17 above) in favor of heavy Lukan over-writing rather than Lukan composition. Could the original unit here have run something like, “They returned saying, ‘Even the spirits are subject to us [in your name].’ He said, ‘Do not rejoice in this; rejoice, rather, that your names have been recorded in heaven’ ”? (For a negative version of this sentiment, cf. Matt 7:22–23.) Luke (or his source) will have developed the parallelism between the two parts through the insertion of vv 18, 19.

Heavenly books of life are known from ancient Sumerian and Akkadian times (see Paul, JANESCU 5 [1973] 345–53). In the OT see Exod 32:32–33; Pss 69:28; 87:6; Isa 4:3; and esp. Dan 12:1; and cf. Mal 3:16–17. In the NT cf. Phil 4:3; Heb 12:23; Rev 3:5; 13:8. See also 1 Enoch 47:3; 108:3, 7; 1QM 12:2. The image is that of a register of citizens and is to be distinguished from the equally widespread image of God’s record book of the deeds of the people upon earth (the images are at times merged). An assured place in the kingdom of God is the supreme benefit that emerges through the experience of God’s grace in the ministry of Jesus. Note the contrast between Satan fallen from heaven and the names of the disciples now recorded in heaven.

Explanation

The Seventy(-two) have been involved in a mighty work and are excited by what they have experienced as they have in their mission explored the reality of the authority entrusted to them by Jesus. Jesus acknowledges and interprets this experience but bids them focus rather on the place secured for them in God’s future for his People.

We are to glean the success of the mission from the announcement of the returning messengers. We have no broader report, but at least they have had a heady experience of the reality of supernatural and spiritual power. As they have used his name, Jesus has been demonstrably Lord over the demons.

Jesus responds by reporting to them his own vision of Satan’s fall. This can be understood as simply a metaphorical description of the significance of what has been occurring in the disciples’ mission, but is probably better taken as referring to an actual visionary experience, like those of some of the OT prophets (Amos 8:1–2; Jer 1:13–19; etc.). In vision the prophets saw what God intended and found their own role in relation to it. Jesus saw that God intended the downfall of Satan and that it was his task to achieve this in God’s name.

In various circles of Jewish thought there was an expectation that the coming of the end-time would involve a final conflict between God and Satan, which would result in Satan’s decisive defeat. Jesus shared this view and allowed it to define his own role. But not only does this define his own role; it also defines the role of the disciples who are called to share in and extend Jesus’ own ministry. Through exorcism, healing, and proclaiming of the kingdom of God, Jesus’ vision becomes tangible reality upon the earth.

v 19 uses the imagery of trampling down one’s foes to develop the thought further. Jesus has imparted to his disciples the authority to move with impunity against all the forces of evil. In this verse there are probably allusions to Deut 8:15 and Ps 91:13. The former draws a connection between these present promises and God’s protection of the Israelites in the dangers of the Exodus wanderings. The latter provides a link to the protection promised by God to the one who makes God his shelter. Similarities with Rev 9:3–4 increase our confidence that the text here is using imagery of the end-time conflict between good and evil. The reality of this divine empowering and protection is pictured in Acts (e.g., 28:3–5), but the coming fate of Jesus in Jerusalem, which is so stressed in this journey section of the Gospel and also in other elements of the Acts portrayal, should warn us against taking this language in a way that is too triumphalist and that leaves no place for the Christian call to suffering (compare the paradoxical juxtaposition in Luke 21:16–17 and v 18).

One can easily be carried away by the experience of power. In v 20 Jesus expresses to the disciples just this concern. The prime goal of his ministry has been to restore people to God—to provide for them a secure place in the kingdom of God. To put it in terms that look ahead in the Gospel, the goal of Jesus’ ministry has been to see prodigals restored to their Father. The disciples are to rejoice that they have been recorded in heaven, for life in the kingdom of God (compare Dan 12:2).[4]


10:20 Yet they were not to rejoice in their power over spirits, but rather in their own salvation. This is the only recorded instance when the Lord told His disciples not to rejoice. There are subtle dangers connected with success in Christian service, whereas the fact that our names are written in heaven reminds us of our infinite debt to God and His Son. It is safe to rejoice in salvation by grace.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2011). Luke 6–10 (p. 342). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 194). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 582–583). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[4] Nolland, J. (1998). Luke 9:21–18:34 (Vol. 35B, pp. 565–567). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1409). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

 

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September 13, 2017: Verse of the day

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One Source and One Purpose

But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good. (12:7)

The manifestation of the Spirit restates what Paul has emphasized in each of the three previous verses: God is the source of all spiritual gifts. They are all given by and are manifestations of the divine Trinity. The gifts are given by “the same Spirit” (v. 4); the ministries are assigned by “the same Lord” (v. 5); and the effects are energized by “the same God” (v. 6).

Manifestation (phanerōsis) has the basic idea of making known, clear, or evident. That is what spiritual gifts do: they make the Holy Spirit known, clear, and evident in the church and in the world. They manifest the Spirit. The meaning is the opposite of hidden or private. Spiritual gifts are never given to be hidden or to be used privately. They are given to manifest the Holy Spirit, to put Him on display.

They are also given for the common good (sumpheron, from a verb meaning literally “to bring together”). The term also came to mean “to help, confer a benefit, or be advantageous,” and in the context of this verse means “mutually beneficial or advantageous.” Spiritual gifts are to be edifying and helpful to the church, to God’s people whom He brings together in His name.

Not only does the exercise of our spiritual gifts minister to others but it also helps them to better use their own gifts. A pastor, for example, who faithfully preaches and teaches his congregation not only builds them up spiritually but prepares them to be better stewards of their own gifts. God uses him “for the equipping of the saints for the work of service, to the building up of the body of Christ” (Eph. 4:12). The Christian who ministers his gift of helps not only serves other believers but encourages them to be more helpful. The believer who exercises his gift of mercy helps his fellow believers to be more merciful. As we each minister our own gifts we help others to better minister theirs.

On the other hand, as we fail to minister our own gifts we hinder others in ministering theirs. A Christian who does not exercise his spiritual gifts cripples his own ministry and the ministry of others—to say nothing of forfeiting the blessing and reward that would have come to his own life.

Some years ago I attended an Olympic decathlon, the grueling contest in which each athlete competes in ten different track and field events. I marveled at how a human body can function with such amazing coordination, endurance, and efficiency. Every muscle, every organ, every blood vessel, every nerve, every cell is harnessed in a completely unified effort to win. How wonderful it would be if we who comprise Christ’s body, the church, would function with such efficiency and harmony! How wonderful if every part of His body would work together in total unity and interdependence. What an impact the church would have on the world if every believer would be as wholly responsive to the mind of Jesus Christ as the bodies of dedicated athletes are responsive to the minds of their owners.

When the church ministers its gifts as it should, at least four important blessings result. First, Christians themselves receive great blessing—both from exercising their own gifts and from the exercising of other’s gifts for their benefit. God never intended for the ministry of His church to be carried on by a few professional or specially talented men, while everyone else sits back and watches.

Second, when everyone does his part in ministry the church forms a dynamic witness, with power and effectiveness it cannot otherwise have. Not only are those with the gift of evangelism empowered to witness more effectively but every believer is used directly or indirectly in strengthening the testimony of the gospel before unbelievers. So all share in the results. When Peter preached at Pentecost three thousand people were saved (Acts 2:41). And when the Jerusalem church, including many of those new converts, began to faithfully and sacrificially exercise their various gifts, “the Lord was adding to their number day by day those who were being saved” (v. 47).

Third, when the church ministers its gifts, God’s leaders become apparent. In a faithfully functioning church, spiritual leadership inevitably emerges. Capable leadership is essential for the church to operate as it should, but a faithful church is also necessary to provide the environment in which leaders can develop and lead as they should. God’s leaders are not made by attending leadership seminars built on worldly techniques for creating success. God equips His leaders when they are saved, and when they come to have the spiritual and moral qualifications that come from obedience to His Word, their leadership blossoms and becomes evident. Spirit–filled leadership appears rapidly when God is freely at work in His body.

Fourth, a church that faithfully uses its gifts in the Spirit’s power experiences the joy of great unity, love, and fellowship—in ways that no amount of human ability, planning, or effort can produce.[1]


7 This is the key verse in this section, which contains three main elements. (1) Every believer has received at least one gift from the Holy Spirit. No Christian, no matter who he or she is, can ever say, “God passed me by when he was handing out his gifts.” This does not mean that everyone has recognized his or her gift, but it is there and ready to be used. Nor does it mean that we are limited to only one gift, for some may have received several gifts. No one has received all the gifts, and no one has been bypassed.

(2) The gift(s) we have received are not for personal benefit but are “for the common good [sympheron, a participle of the verb sympherō, GK 5237; see comments at 10:23–24, 33].” They have been given to help confer a benefit on others. Those believers who proudly display their gifts for their own glory rather than for the glory of God are misusing their gifts. It is for this reason that Paul will shortly digress into his lengthy section on the body of Christ and how it should function (vv. 12–27).

(3) These gifts “are given.” This is a passive voice, an example of what is known as the divine passive. These gifts are not necessarily innate abilities that we have but specifically things that the Holy Spirit—the holy triune God—has given to us. At the same time, these gifts can easily work in conjunction with our natural abilities, which have also been implanted in us by the Creator.[2]


12:7 / This simple sentence states the truth that Paul most wants the Corinthians to realize. Paul coordinates the beginning of this sentence with the foregoing verses through the contrasting conjunction now (Gk. de), so that the verse fits as a summarizing conclusion to the complementary lines of verses 4–6. Whatever spiritual gifts are being manifested in Corinth, they are not for personal privilege or glory, but for the common good. The good of others, not merely the good of the self, is the purpose of the Spirit’s giving anything to anyone and everything to everyone. The unifying purpose of the manifest diversity of the Spirit in the life of the church is the well-being of all those called by God to be a part of the church. The divine giving of spiritual gifts is the concrete outworking of God’s own saving mission to the world, and those gifted by God for that mission become agents of God’s working for the common good of the fellowship of believers in the world.[3]


12:7. Paul elaborated on the themes of unity, diversity, and distribution, first stating that God gives a manifestation of the Spirit to each person. The Holy Spirit is the down payment or guarantee of every believer’s future inheritance (Eph. 1:13–14). So all believers receive the Spirit. Paul did not speak only of the Spirit’s indwelling presence here, but of the manifestation of the Spirit. This terminology indicates that every believer has some display of the Holy Spirit’s presence in his or her life.

Also, the manifestation of the Spirit has a particular goal: the common good (cf. 1 Pet. 4:10). The gifts of the Spirit are not principally for the edification of the individuals who receive them, but for the good of all believers.[4]


7. But to each one is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.

Too often, ministers of the gospel, evangelists, and missionaries are considered to be the only recipients of special gifts. Too often, a distinction is made between sacred and secular occupations. Kingdom service is frequently understood to be performed by those people who have been ordained to serve the Lord in special ministries.

Paul writes that the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each believer. That is, the Holy Spirit dwells in every believer (6:19) and thus makes his presence known with some indication of gifts. In the life of every Christian, the Holy Spirit reveals himself in one way or another. This does not mean that every believer is limited to one gift. For instance, Paul himself had received the gifts of continence and of speaking in tongues (7:7; 14:18).

The phrase the manifestation of the Spirit can be either objective or subjective. In an objective sense, it signifies an action that reveals the presence of the Spirit. Subjectively it means an action which the Spirit generates. Perhaps we should accept the objective interpretation of this phrase in view of the passive verb is given, which implies that God is the one who gives the various gifts.

The evidence of the Spirit’s presence in the life of the believer serves the common good of the entire community. The Spirit uses the gifts of the individual Christian for the edification of the church (compare Eph. 4:12), a theme that Paul later applies in his discussion about the use of speaking in tongues (14:4). The intent here is to promote the common good and to prohibit anyone from using a gift for personal profit. Paul does not rule out that the gift itself may benefit the individual, but God confers his gifts on his people so that all may be edified (14:26).[5]


12:7 The Spirit manifests Himself in the life of each believer by imparting some gift. There is no believer who does not have a function to perform. And the gifts are given for the profit of the entire body. They are not given for self-display or even for self-gratification but in order to help others. This is a pivotal point in the entire discussion.[6]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 293–295). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 365). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 257). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 214–215). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, p. 420). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1791). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

September 11, 2017: Verse of the day

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71 In you, O Lord, do I take refuge;

let me never be put to shame!

    In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;

incline your ear to me, and save me!

    Be to me a rock of refuge,

to which I may continually come;

you have given the command to save me,

for you are my rock and my fortress.

    Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,

from the grasp of the unjust and cruel man.

    For you, O Lord, are my hope,

my trust, O Lord, from my youth.

    Upon you I have leaned from before my birth;

you are he who took me from my mother’s womb.

My praise is continually of you.

    I have been as a portent to many,

but you are my strong refuge.

    My mouth is filled with your praise,

and with your glory all the day.

    Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

forsake me not when my strength is spent.

10    For my enemies speak concerning me;

those who watch for my life consult together

11    and say, “God has forsaken him;

pursue and seize him,

for there is none to deliver him.”

12    O God, be not far from me;

O my God, make haste to help me!

13    May my accusers be put to shame and consumed;

with scorn and disgrace may they be covered

who seek my hurt.

14    But I will hope continually

and will praise you yet more and more.

15    My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,

of your deeds of salvation all the day,

for their number is past my knowledge.

16    With the mighty deeds of the Lord God I will come;

I will remind them of your righteousness, yours alone.

17    O God, from my youth you have taught me,

and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.

18    So even to old age and gray hairs,

O God, do not forsake me,

until I proclaim your might to another generation,

your power to all those to come.

19    Your righteousness, O God,

reaches the high heavens.

You who have done great things,

O God, who is like you?

20    You who have made me see many troubles and calamities

will revive me again;

from the depths of the earth

you will bring me up again.

21    You will increase my greatness

and comfort me again.

22    I will also praise you with the harp

for your faithfulness, O my God;

I will sing praises to you with the lyre,

O Holy One of Israel.

23    My lips will shout for joy,

when I sing praises to you;

my soul also, which you have redeemed.

24    And my tongue will talk of your righteous help all the day long,

for they have been put to shame and disappointed

who sought to do me hurt. [1]


A Psalm for Old Age

Do not cast me away when I am old;

do not forsake me when my strength is gone.

For my enemies speak against me;

those who wait to kill me conspire together.

They say, “God has forsaken him;

pursue him and seize him,

for no one will rescue him.”

Be not far from me, O God;

come quickly, O my God, to help me.

May my accusers perish in shame;

may those who want to harm me

be covered with scorn and disgrace.

But as for me, I will always have hope;

I will praise you more and more.

My mouth will tell of your righteousness,

of your salvation all day long,

though I know not its measure.

I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, O Sovereign Lord;

I will proclaim your righteousness, yours alone.

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,

and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray,

do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation,

your might to all who are to come.

verses 9–18

Almost all the psalms in the second book of the Psalter have title lines. In fact, with the exception of this psalm, the only other psalm that does not is Psalm 43, which seems to belong with Psalm 42. Since Psalm 71 likewise has no title line, some commentators think it might once have belonged with Psalm 70, both therefore being ascribed to King David.

Certainly there are elements in Psalm 71 that pick up on Psalm 70,  and there are even more expressions drawn from other psalms that are ascribed to David: “rock of refuge” and “my rock and my fortress” (v. 3), “my enemies” (v. 10), “Be not far from me, O God” (v. 12), “come quickly, O my God, to help me” (v. 12), and others. The first three verses are taken directly from the opening verses of Psalm 31, which is by David. Moreover, since we are near the ending of book two of the Psalter and since it ends with the words “This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse,” it is appropriate that a psalm of David’s written in and about his old age should appear at this point. It is consistent with this view that the author seems to have been a public person (he says that he has become a “portent,” a well-known example or warning to many, v. 7) and a person of greatness or honor (v. 21). The Septuagint ascribes the psalm to David.

In this study I will be assuming David’s authorship. But on the other hand, the fact that it is or might be by David contributes little. For the psalm is a song of old age and is therefore for all who are old or will be, which is going to be true for most of us sooner or later. Charles Haddon Spurgeon says, “We have here the prayer of the aged believer who in holy confidence of faith, strengthened by a long and remarkable experience, pleads against his enemies and asks further blessings for himself.”

As far as the psalm’s outline goes, there may be six stanzas, as in the New International Version. But the important points overlap, and according to H. C. Leupold, “No two commentators divide the psalm in the same way.” Leupold splits it into two parts (vv. 1–12 and 13–24). Marvin E. Tate divides it into five parts (vv. 1–4, 5–12, 13–18, 19–20, 21–24). Derek Kidner has six sections, like the New International Version, but he does not follow the stanzas of the niv (vv. 1–3, 4–6, 7–11, 12–16, 17–21, 22–24).

It is probably best to think of this psalm in terms of what it says, rather than its outline. It handles four subjects: (1) old age and its problems, (2) how the past looks from the perspective of old age, (3) the future in terms of what is yet to be done, and (4) praise from one who has lived long enough to have observed God’s faithful ways.

Old Age and Its Problems

It is not fun to be old, especially in America. At other times and in other cultures old age had advantages to offset its disadvantages. Elderly persons were honored and respected. Their wisdom was valued. That is no longer true in America or in the West generally. Here we value youth, and the culture is so oriented to youthful interests that many old people even try to dress and act like teenagers. David didn’t have those problems, of course. But the problems he had as a result of his old age were serious and even universal. In fact, they are the most basic problems of all.

  1. Weakness, the loss of former strength or abilities. One problem with getting old is that you lose the strength and many of the abilities you had when you were younger. John Wesley, the great Methodist evangelist, lived to be eighty-eight years old (1703–91). He kept a diary throughout most of his life, and for June 28, 1789, there is this entry:

Sunday 28 … This day I enter on my eighty-sixth year. I now find I grow old: 1) My sight is decayed, so that I cannot read a small print, unless in a strong light; 2) My strength is decayed, so that I walk much slower than I did some years since; 3) My memory of names, whether of persons or places, is decayed, till I stop a little to recollect them. What I should be afraid of is, if I took thought for the morrow, that my body should weigh down my mind and create either stubbornness, by the decrease of my understanding, or peevishness, by the increase of bodily infirmities. But thou shalt answer for me, O Lord my God.

Many of us find that we can echo that. We can’t hear as well as we used to hear. We can’t read the small print. We get tired faster. We don’t even sleep as well, and we wake up three or four times throughout the night. It is what David is talking about when he tells God, “Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone” (v. 9).

  1. A continuation of troubles, particularly enemies. The second problem of old age is that the difficulties we have faced throughout our lives do not go away but instead remain with us. And the trouble they cause is augmented because of our diminishing strength or capacities to deal with them. In David’s case this had to do with his enemies, those he has written about in nearly every other psalm. Here he writes of these dangerous people, “My enemies speak against me; those who wait to kill me conspire together” (v. 10). Marvin E. Tate says, “The speaker might have expected mature age to bring exemption from such attacks, but such is not the case.” The enemies of the king were present as much at the end of his life as at the beginning.

So also with us. The most disturbing, continuing problems I face are having to support the various ministries I am involved in financially. The Bible Study Hour is usually behind in paying its bills, and at times it is so far behind that I think we are going to have to terminate the ministry. City Center Academy always needs funds. Even Tenth Presbyterian Church goes through regular financial crises, when we have to reduce our staff or curtail some aspects of our outreach. It would be nice if those problems would go away, but they do not. In fact, they are more serious now, more serious because of their greater dimensions, than they were when I began my ministry twenty-eight years ago. I wish somebody else would assume responsibility for these problems, but no one else does. In fact, I even get letters saying that we would not have these problems if we were only more careful about being in the will of God.

Other people have family problems, and these do not get better either. I know one woman who has taken care of her cantankerous octogenarian mother for several decades. The mother is now in a Christian nursing home where she is well cared for. Her finances are well managed. But she doesn’t thank her daughter. She is as critical and difficult as ever. In fact, just recently she has brought in a public defender and an unscrupulous lawyer to bring pressure on her daughter to do more. The problem never gets better; that is what is so wearing. The mother doesn’t even die.

E. M. Forster, the British novelist, had a mother like that. She lived to her late nineties and didn’t die until he was sixty-six.

Some people have health problems all their lives. Some struggle with depression. Others labor against class or ethnic prejudice, and the problems do not go away or even grow lighter as they grow older. In fact, they are often more difficult and certainly more oppressive and hard to bear than when these people were young.

  1. Being alone, no one to help. The third thing that bothered David is that as he grew older he had fewer people to help him, to solve or help shoulder these burdens. In fact, he describes himself as being utterly alone with none to help but God. His enemies recognized this; they argued that even God had deserted him. “They say, ‘God has forsaken him; pursue him and seize him, for no one will rescue him’ ” (v. 11). Maybe you feel that way too. In your youth you had many friends and coworkers. There were people you could share your burdens with. But now you are old. Those former friends are gone. You have no one.

Looking to the Past: Our Faithful God

You may have no human being with you perhaps, but if you are a Christian, you still have God. And that means that you still have the only one who was really with you and really able to help you all along. It is one advantage of old age to know that experientially.

This leads us to the second important element of this psalm. For the reflections David gives us concerning old age are not so we will wring our hands and complain about how bad it is to grow old, but the contrary. David wants us to see that even old age is given to us by God, is one of his good gifts and should be used for his glory and the blessing and well-being of others. He gets into these points first by pausing to look back over his long life and reflect on what he has learned about God and experienced about him during those former long years. We have spoken about the problems of old age, which are great. But one great advantage is in having a long experience of God’s presence, faithfulness, and blessing. There are two things to notice about what David says concerning the past.

  1. David had known God from his youth and even before that. He says, “You have been my hope, O Sovereign Lord, my confidence since my youth. From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb” (vv. 5–6). What this seems to mean is that he remembers how he had come to know God and had trusted God from childhood. We would say that such a person became a “Christian” early in life. But he is also saying that he is aware that God was with him even before childhood, from the moment of his birth, though he cannot remember the years before his early childhood himself. We know that this was true of David. He was a man of God even before he was a man. He was godly even when he was watching the sheep as the youngest and least of Jesse’s eight sons (see 1 Sam. 16:1–13).

Have you known the Lord from childhood? If you have, you are fortunate because you can look back over a lifetime of God’s faithful care and provision. Spurgeon wrote, “They are highly favored who can like David, Samuel, Josiah, Timothy, and others say, ‘Thou art my trust from my youth.’ ”

I like the testimony of Polycarp, the aged Bishop of Smyrna, who was martyred on February 22, a.d. 156. As he was being driven to the arena where he would be given the choice of worshiping Caesar or, refusing, being offered to the lions, the city officials tried to persuade him to make the gesture of homage to Caesar. They had respect for him because of his age and reputation and argued, “What harm is there in saying, ‘Caesar is Lord,’ and burning incense … and saving yourself?” But Polycarp answered, “For eighty-six years I have been [Christ’s] slave, and he has done me no wrong; how can I blaspheme my king who saved me?” Despite his age and undoubted physical weakness, Polycarp was not weak. He was strong in faith. In fact, he was never stronger, because he remembered the strength and faithfulness of God to him throughout the many long years of his service as Christ’s slave. So it will be with you if, in your old age, you recall God’s love and faithfulness to you over your lifetime.

  1. David had become “a portent” to many. The word portent (v. 7) is hard to define, because it can be taken either in a good or bad sense. In a good sense it would refer to the writer as a marvel of God’s protecting care. People would say, “Look how God has protected and blessed David.” In a bad sense it would refer to the greatness of his sufferings and the magnitude of his calamities. In that case, people would say, “Has anybody ever suffered as much as David?” Since the word occurs here in the context of remembering God’s faithfulness to him in the past, the bad sense should probably be thrown out. But it is possible both might be combined in the sense suggested by J. J. Stewart Perowne, when he says it is best “to understand it as applying to his whole wonderful life of trials and blessings, of perils and deliverances, such as did not ordinarily fall to the lot of man.” David was certainly a portent in this sense, which is why the record of his life is given to us so completely in the Bible.

Looking Ahead: The Next Generation

I suppose there are some people who in their old age only look back to the past and are often quite unhappy as they do. They think of what they have had and lost or what they wish they could have had and never did. The present does not mean much to them except as a basis for complaining about their multiplying aches and pains, and they are afraid to look forward. They are afraid of dying.

David’s approach to old age was not like this. For not only did he look to the past to remember God’s goodness and faithfulness to him over the many long years of his life, he also looked to the future in terms of the work yet remaining to be done. He knew that if God had left him in life and had not yet taken him home to be with him in glory, it was because there was work to do. This work was testifying to the coming generations about God. This led him to say,

Since my youth, O God, you have taught me,

and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.

Even when I am old and gray,

do not forsake me, O God,

till I declare your power to the next generation,

your might to all who are to come (vv. 17–18).

Someone has said that the Christian church is always one generation away from extinction, meaning that each generation has the responsibility of passing Christian doctrine to the next. David knew this. It is what he wants to do. But since he is writing about old age, the uniqueness of what he is saying is that older people have a special and peculiar ability to teach the young. This does not mean that they know more than those in middle age. An old deacon or deaconess does not necessarily know more than his pastor about the Bible’s content. But the old person has lived with God longer and has seen more of God’s faithfulness over more years of life than younger people, however much they may know. Therefore, a person like this is especially well equipped to help the young.

Haven’t you noticed that there is a special natural bond between the elderly and children? The secular world has begun to take advantage of this in nursing homes and kindergartens by bringing people from nursing homes to help care for children in day-care centers and other institutions. At Tenth Presbyterian Church we bring older people into the Sunday school to hear the children recite their Bible verses and assist in other ways. The children love these older people and respect them. It is a good arrangement. It is biblical.

The Present: Praising God Now

This brings us to the present, the third way in which David deals with the limitations of old age. He looks to the past to remind himself of God’s faithfulness and power. He looks to the future to remind himself of the work yet to be done. Then, having done both of those things, he turns to the present and begins to do exactly what he has been talking about. He bears witness to God now. What he praises God for chiefly is his righteousness (vv. 19–21) and faithfulness (vv. 22–24).

  1. God’s righteousness. The word righteousness is used in different ways in the Bible, most notably of that divine righteousness that is imparted to us in justification. That is not the way the word is used here, nor characteristically in the psalms. Here it refers to God’s right dealings, to the fact that everything he does is just, that no one can fault him. The word appears in this sense throughout the psalms ascribed to David. Again and again he calls God a “righteous God” and speaks of “your righteousness.” (There are not many psalms from which this word or the idea represented by this word is missing.) This is a great testimony, that a person has lived a long time and has found by his or her own experience that God does all things rightly or justly. Therefore, (1) God can be trusted, and (2) it is the part of wisdom to conform one’s life to God’s will and standards. That is a great and important testimony to pass to the next generation.
  2. God’s faithfulness. In one sense the entire psalm has been about God’s faithfulness: his faithfulness in the past, and the prayer of the psalmist that God will remain faithful to him in his old age. Here at the end the theme is the same, for it is the last and chief thing David wants to declare to those who are to come. He wants them to know that God is an utterly faithful God and can be trusted to remain so.

“Great is thy faithfulness,” O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with thee;

Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;

As thou hast been thou forever wilt be.

“Great is thy faithfulness! Great is thy faithfulness!”

Morning by morning new mercies I see:

All I have needed thy hand hath provided—

“Great is thy faithfulness,” Lord, unto me!

If you have known God at all, you have found that he is indeed a God of great faithfulness and know that this must be your testimony.[2]


Prayer in Old Age (71:9–13)

Commentary

9–11 Lament shapes the petition. The psalmist prays that the Lord will not abandon him in old age (i.e., “when my strength is gone,” v. 9). “Cast away” and “forsake” signify a state of condemnation and curse (cf. 51:11; Job 19:13–21). The vile enemies (vv. 4, 10) are all too ready to condemn him to death (v. 10; cf. 3:2; 5:9; 56:6–7), to accuse him as a sinner worse than they, and to justify their evil course of action (v. 11; cf. 3:2; 22:7–8). They do not believe in retribution and reward, and they believe that autonomously they hold the power of life and death in their own hands. Possibly they believed they were God’s appointed agents of justice (cf. 56:4).

12–13 The prayer calls on Yahweh to vindicate his servant speedily (cf. 35:2; 38:22; 40:13–14) by giving him “help” (v. 12) and by bringing retribution (“scorn and disgrace”) on God’s enemies (v. 13; cf. 35:26; 109:29). His enemies are “evil and cruel” (v. 4) “accusers” (v. 13; cf. “speak against me; … conspire together,” v. 10). Their joy lies in bringing misfortune and disgrace on others. The psalmist cries here for Yahweh’s fidelity to his promises in bringing the sanctions of the covenant, namely, blessing and curse. He does not do evil for evil or curse his enemies, but he awaits the Lord’s judgment (see Reflections, p. 953, Imprecations in the Psalms).[3]


71:9–13 / This section focuses attention on my enemies and the theological problem they raise. They say, “God has forsaken him.” Presumably they reason that because the speaker is old and his strength is gone, he now lacks God’s blessing and is thus Godforsaken and vulnerable. What precisely is their intention is left openended. The Hebrew phrase, which is literally, “those who watch my life,” is much more ambiguous than the niv’s those who wait to kill me. As noted in the Introduction, psalms often speak in extremes so as to include any form of situation. Thus, while the opponents say, “… pursue him and seize him” and the psalm describes them as my accusers and as those who want to harm me, this could include anything from harming his reputation, to seizing his property, or to homicide. We should note that the fate invoked upon them focuses on their shame (vv. 13, 24), not their destruction (in v. 13 instead of Hb. yiklû, “let them come to an end,” several mss and the Syriac read yikkāle, “let them be humiliated”).

To counter these presumptions, the lament concerning the foes is surrounded by petitions. The first petitions are negative: Do not cast me away, do not forsake me (using the same verb as the enemies), and be not far from me. The psalm thus allows the speaker to reckon with this fear as a possibility but then quickly asks God to exclude it as a reality. The positive petitions are first on the speaker’s behalf, come quickly, O my God, to help me (reminding him of the “my God” relationship), and then against the foes. These are expressed as a wish (Hb. jussive), may they perish (or “be humiliated”; see BHS) in shame and be covered with scorn and disgrace.[4]


The main complaint (71:5–12). These verses set forth, in rather traditional language, the conditions of the suppliant which merit complaint to God. The complaint begins with a succinct statement of confidence in God, which is followed by an affirmation of life-long trust and praise in v 6. The meaning of v 7 is not entirely clear. The word for “mystery” (or “like a mystery,” see note 7.a.) denotes a “wonder” or a “portent,” something extraordinary, which is so out of the routine course of things that it baffles. The reference here can be understood (1) as an unusual case of God’s care (so Weiser: “He is the sign or portent which in a visible way makes manifest ‘to many’ God’s providential rule, his power and his help”), or (2) as an outstanding public example of divine punishment (cf. Deut 28:46)—perhaps, the evidence for life lived under a divine curse. The term מופת is rather frequently used to convey a display of divine power as a sign or warning to make the enemies of God afraid (Exod 7:3; 11:9; Deut 6:22; 1 Kgs 13:3, 5; Isa 20:3)—so neb in 71:7, “To many I seem a solemn warning.” The word appears in a word-pair with אות (“sign”); see, e.g., Exod 7:3; Deut 4:34; 6:22; 7:19; 13:2, 3; 26:8; 28:46; 29:2; 34:11; Isa 8:18. Mopheth is used especially to describe the events of the exodus from Egypt. In these contexts, the “signs and wonders” are demonstrations of divine power and explicit or implicit warnings to all who might dare to oppose the divine will. If the meaning of a “solemn warning” is understood in 7a, then 7b indicates that the speaker ignores the wrong (and for the enemies, gratifying) conclusions about his or her sufferings, while persisting in trust in God—“looking to God to see through to a conclusion the work He began so long ago” (Kidner, I, 251). Perhaps, however, we should not draw the lines of meaning too sharply. The verse may mean that the suppliant continues with unshaken trust in God regardless of how the “many” (v 7a; the people in the community) choose to interpret the situation. Some members of the community would have seen the supplicant as a “sign” of God’s providential care; others would have understood his or her condition as a divine judgement. A “sign” is subject to the interpretation of the viewer.

The condition of the suppliant is the subject of talk and conspiracy on the part of enemies who are described as “soul-watchers” (v 10), those who wait for any opportunity to harm the life of the speaker. The foes assume that the suppliant has been forsaken by God and left at their mercy (v 11). The situation is made worse by the failing strength of advanced age (v 9); it is imperative that the suppliant not be abandoned by God while foes are strong and personal strength declines. V 12 forms the closing petition of this section (note the direct address to God which corresponds to the direct address to Yahweh in v 5). God is asked not to be far away (cf. Ps 22) and to hasten to help one who needs divine presence.[5]


71:9     Do not cast me off in the time of old age;

Do not forsake me when my strength fails.

To grow old gracefully calls for more Grace than Nature can provide. Old age is a new world of strange conflicts and secret fears; the fear of being left alone, the fear of being a burden to loved ones, the fear of becoming a helpless invalid, the fear of losing one’s grip, the fear of being imposed upon. These fears are not new. The psalmist is here thinking aloud for the encouragement of all who are in the autumn of life (Daily Notes of the Scripture Union).[6]


4–11 Lifelong divine care. Prayer for deliverance is nourished by an experience of God going back beyond the reach of memory, consciously enjoyed throughout youth (5–6) and now, in old age desired all the more as strength, but not opposition, diminishes (9–10). 5 Hope, the One on whom I waited with confident expectation. Confidence, the ‘place’ on which my trust rested. 6 Relied, ‘been upheld’. 7 Portent. The charges levelled against him (see on Pss. 69, 70) make people look on him as a ‘warning example’. But just as in the face of his direct assailants he reacts by recalling God (4–5), so when faced by public loss of reputation he reacts by finding again in God ‘my refuge—and what a strong one!’. Thus what could have resulted in deep depression issues rather in praise (8). 10–11 69:3 reveals a long-standing period of trial in which God has remained silent and even David wondered if his face had been turned away in rejection (69:17). His enemies are quick to capitalize on this,[7]


71:1–24 One of the features of the psalms is that they meet the circumstances of life. This psalm to God expresses the concerns of old age. At a time in his life when he thinks he should be exempt from certain kinds of troubles, he once again is personally attacked. Though his enemies conclude that God has abandoned him, the psalmist is confident that God will remain faithful.

  1. Confidence in God Stated (71:1–8)
  2. Confidence in God Practiced in Prayer (71:9–13)

III. Confidence in God Vindicated (71:14–24)

71:3 continually. Psalm 71:1–3 is almost the same as Ps 31:1–3a. One difference, however, is the word “continually,” which the elderly person writing this psalm wants to emphasize. God has “continually” been faithful (cf. vv. 6, 14).

71:7 a marvel. A reference to his trials. People are amazed at this person’s life, some interpreting his trials as God’s care, and others as God’s punishment.

71:15 the sum of them. The blessings of God’s salvation and righteousness are innumerable.

71:20 from the depths of the earth. Not actual resurrection, but rescue from near-death conditions and renewal of life’s strength and meaning.[8]


71:9 Do not cast me away The psalmist has trusted God all his life (Ps 71:5–6); he asks God not to forsake him in his old age.[9]


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ps 71:1–24). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

[2] Boice, J. M. (2005). Psalms 42–106: An Expositional Commentary (pp. 592–598). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 540). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[4] Hubbard, R. L. J., & Johnston, R. K. (2012). Foreword. In W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston (Eds.), Psalms (pp. 291–292). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Tate, M. E. (1998). Psalms 51–100 (Vol. 20, pp. 213–214). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

[6] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 657). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[7] Motyer, J. A. (1994). The Psalms. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 530). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

[8] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 71:1–20). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[9] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 71:9). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

September 2, 2017: Verse of the day

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In this passage Paul expressed that principle using familiar agricultural imagery: Now this I say, he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Every farmer recognizes that the size of the harvest is directly proportionate to the amount of seed sown. The farmer who sows seed sparingly will reap a meager harvest; the one who sows bountifully will … reap a great harvest. In the spiritual realm, the principle is that giving to God results in blessing from God; bountifully translates eulogia, which literally means “blessing.” Generous givers will reap generous blessings from God, while those who hold back selfishly fearing loss will forfeit gain.

In chapters 8 and 9, Paul sought to motivate the Corinthians to complete their giving for the needy members of the Jerusalem church. First, he reminded them of the example set by the Macedonians (8:1–9), then he gave them a direct exhortation (8:10–9:5), and in this section he pointed out the potential benefits. God graciously promises a harvest in accord with what believers sow. The appeal is not, of course, to self-interest. The promise is not that God will reward generous givers so they can consume it on their own desires. The real purpose of God’s gracious rewarding of believers will become evident as the passage unfolds.

To motivate the Corinthians to give, Paul gave a fivefold description of the harvest that would result: love from God, generosity from God, glory to God, friends from God, and likeness to God.

Love from God

Each one must do just as he has purposed in his heart, not grudgingly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. (9:7)

It is hard to imagine a more precious promise than to be the personal object of God’s love. All the world’s acclaim, honor, and rewards given to all philanthropists put together does not come close to this privilege of being loved by God. Yet that is what He promises the cheerful giver. God loves the world in a general sense (John 3:16), but He has a deeper, more wonderful love for His own (John 13:1; 1 John 4:16), and a special love for each one of His who gives cheerfully.

Cheerful giving comes from inside, from the heart, rather than from external coercion. It begins by giving just as one has purposed in his heart. Once again, Paul stressed the truth that Christian giving is strictly voluntary (see the discussion of 8:3 in chapter 21 of this volume). But though it is not forced, neither is it casual, careless, or a mere afterthought. Proaireō (purposed), used only here in the New Testament, has the idea of predetermination. Though there is spontaneous joy in giving, it is still to be planned and systematic (1 Cor. 16:2), not impulsive and sporadic. Nor is giving to be done grudgingly. Lupē (grudgingly) literally means, “sorrow,” “grief,” or “pain.” Giving is not to be done with an attitude of remorse, regret, or reluctance, of mourning over parting with what is given. And, as noted above, it is not to be under compulsion from any legalistic external pressure.

The giving that God approves of comes from a cheerful giver. Cheerful translates hilaros, from which the English word hilarious derives. Happy, joyous givers, who are joyous in view of the privilege of giving, are the special objects of God’s love.[1]


6 To emphasize the rewards of generous giving (v. 5) Paul cites what appears to be a proverb: “scanty sowing, scanty harvest; plentiful sowing, plentiful harvest” (TCNT). No exact parallel to this maxim is extant, but a similar sentiment is expressed in several places in Proverbs (e.g., 11:24–25; 19:17; 22:8–9), in Luke 6:38 (where Jesus says, “Give, and it will be given to you.… For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”), and in Galatians 6:7 (“A man reaps what he sows”).

7 The image of the harvest naturally suggests the freedom of sowers to plant as much seed as they choose—whether “sparingly” or “generously” (v. 6). Similarly, each person is responsible first to decide in his or her heart what to give (cf. Ac 11:29; 1 Co 16:2) and then to give it. Giving should result from inward resolve, not from impulsive or casual decision. Once the amount to be given has been determined, says Paul, the gift should be given cheerfully (since the cheerful giver always receives God’s approval—agapa, gnomic present, “loves”; cf. Pr 22:8, LXX), “not reluctantly [as though all giving were painful; cf. Tob 4:7] or under compulsion” (because there seems to be no alternative or because pressure has been exerted).[2]


9:6 / The argument begins in verse 6 with the concept of metaphorically reaping what is sown, which is part of the common stock of ot and Jewish wisdom tradition (cf. Prov. 22:8; Job 4:8; Sir. 7:3; Philo, On the Confusion of Tongues 21, 152; On the Change of Names 268–269; On Dreams 2.76; On the Embassy to Gaius 293). The prophetic tradition challenges the direct relationship between reaping and sowing by announcing that there can be an inverse relationship: those who sow wheat can reap thorns (Jer. 12:13), and those who sow in tears can reap with shouts of joy (Ps. 125:5). Paul partakes of the wisdom tradition when he states in Galatians 6:7–8: “A man reaps what he sows. The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” Likewise in the present context, Paul applies the wisdom principle to the matter of giving generously to the collection for Jerusalem (cf. Prov. 11:24).

9:7 / With this principle in mind, Paul exhorts the Achaians to give. Paul does not want to imply that the wisdom tradition that he uses in verse 6 reflects a merely mechanical process of sowing and reaping. He wants to emphasize that the wisdom tradition itself regards giving as a matter of the heart, and only cheerful giving is acceptable (cf. Sir. 35:8–9). As we have seen, the freewill offering for building the tabernacle is a prime example of giving that one decides in the heart (cf. Exod. 25:2; 35:5, 21, 22, 26, 29). Likewise, 1 Chronicles 29:16–22 speaks of a freewill offering for the temple that is given freely and joyously. Someone who gives grudgingly cannot expect a blessing from God in accordance with the wisdom principle. To establish this point, Paul gives a modified citation of Proverbs 22:8 lxx: “God blesses a cheerful and generous man.” In the previous line, this same proverb states that “he who sows wickedness shall reap evils.”[3]


9:6. The NIV translates the opening phrase touto de as remember this, but a variety of translations are possible. Literally, Paul said, “and this,” which may be elliptical for something like “now consider this” or “now this is important.”

The apostle began with what was probably a common agricultural proverb which taught that sowing sparingly results in a poor harvest and that generous sowing results in a plentiful harvest. It is also possible that Paul alluded to Proverbs 11:24–25; 22:9. Paul used a similar analogy in Galatians 6:7, 9. This analogy encouraged generous giving. Just as farmers should not expect a large harvest unless they sow generously, so Christians should not expect many blessings from God unless they bless others in a generous way.

9:7. In light of this wise saying, Paul encouraged the Corinthians to give. As before, he did not want them to give beyond their means, and the exact amount was a matter of conscience. The reliance on inward conviction in this matter is particularly important because Paul had no directive from God. As in every ethical choice that believers must make, there comes a point when the inward conviction of the Spirit must guide specific actions. Decisions of the heart must not violate the revelation of God, but they are necessary for practical application of the principles derived from the Old and New Testaments.

Acting according to conscience was very important in this situation. Paul wanted the Corinthians to receive God’s blessings in response to their generosity, but this would not occur if they gave reluctantly or under compulsion because God loves a cheerful giver. Once again, Paul relied on proverbial wisdom. This proverb probably circulated widely among Jewish rabbis and early Christian teachers because Paul used it freely as justification for his view. Paul believed that God’s love extends to all who are in Christ, but he had in mind here a special affection or approval that leads to significant blessings in the life of the believer.[4]


6. The point is this: he who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows generously will also reap generously.

Translations of the first clause vary because Paul’s statement is brief. It literally says, “And this,” so that we have to supply a word or phrase to complete the thought. Here are a few examples:

“Remember” or “Remember this” (NEB, REB, NCV)

“But this I say” (KJV, NKJV, NASB)

“Let me say this much” (NAB)

“Do not forget” (JB)

Although we do not doubt that Paul could have taught the truth of this verse at an earlier occasion, the present context suggests that we should state either “this I say” or “the point is this” (RSV, NRSV). The stress falls on the following saying, of which the first part may have been an agricultural proverb in that day: “He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and he who sows generously will also reap generously.” We do not know whether Paul was thinking of a verse in the Old Testament Book of Proverbs, “One man gives freely, yet gains even more; another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty” (11:24).

In the agricultural society of the first century, the activities of sowing and reaping lay close to the hearts of the people. The sower in Jesus’ parable (Matt. 13:3–9 and parallels) did not close his hand when he saw that some kernels would fall on the beaten path, the rocky soil, and the briar patch. He sowed generously as with rhythmic walk he strode across the field. And just as the parable of the sower has a spiritual application, so the words of Paul are analogous to a spiritual truth. He writes elsewhere, “A man reaps what he sows” (Gal. 6:7; see also Luke 6:38), which is a law inherent in both physical and spiritual spheres.

When seed falls to the ground, it decays while it germinates. In a sense, the farmer loses the seed he has scattered; he takes the risk of weather conditions, disease, or insects destroying much of the seed. But as he sows, he trusts that God will grant him the satisfaction of reaping a harvest. This is also true spiritually. Missionary James Elliot put it succinctly: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Elliot was slain in an effort to evangelize the Auca Indians of Ecuador, but his death was instrumental in leading them to Christ.

The words of the proverbial saying reveal an inner symmetry that is striking:

he who sows sparingly,

sparingly he will also reap

he who sows blessings,

blessings he will also reap

The Greek text is more precise than our translations. Although the adverb sparingly occurs only here in the New Testament and is self-explanatory, the word blessings has spiritual overtones and without doubt was written by Paul. The second half of the proverbial saying literally reads: “he who sows on the basis of blessings, on the basis of blessings he will also reap.” That is, he who gives by praising God will in turn reap a harvest for which he thanks the Lord. The generous giver responds with thanks and praises to God for the numerous material and spiritual blessings he receives (see Deut. 15:10).

7. Let each one give as he has decided in his mind to give, not reluctantly or out of necessity. For God loves a cheerful giver.

  • “Let each one give as he has decided in his mind to give, not reluctantly or out of necessity.” Paul issues no command, enacts no rule or regulation, and exercises no coercion. He gives the Corinthians complete freedom and tells them to decide in their own hearts what to give. He specifies, however, that the responsibility rests on the individual and not on the church as such. Each person must ponder this matter in his or her own heart and then decide, so that the entire congregation may be united in contributing to the collection.

Paul says that the act of giving must be accomplished neither reluctantly nor grudgingly. Reluctance implies a clinging to possessions that one hardly wants to give; and when they have been given, the giver grieves. Giving grudgingly denotes that external pressures compel one to conform to the rules of society; that is, necessity forces one to comply with the community’s objective. Giving, however, must be voluntary and individually motivated (see 8:3; Philem. 14).

By participating voluntarily, each person testifies to true faith in Jesus. Indeed, by voluntarily giving to the collection, Gentile Christians in Corinth demonstrate equality with the Jewish Christians in Jerusalem. They also authenticate their legitimate membership in Christ’s universal church.

  • “For God loves a cheerful giver.” Within the Christian community, this verse is most often quoted in connection with giving. The verse comes from the Greek text of Proverbs 22:8a, “God blesses a cheerful man and giver,” from which Paul has deleted the words man and and has changed the verb blesses to “loves.” The Hebrew text lacks this verse; it is found only in the Greek text of the Septuagint. This saying probably circulated orally as a proverb that Paul quotes from memory.

Why did the apostle write “loves” instead of “blesses”? Did his memory fail him? While writing, could he have had access to a scroll of Proverbs? There are no specific answers, but there are at least two suggestions to explain the substitution. First, in Paul’s epistle the concept love is much more prominent than the family of the word bless. Next, the force of the verb to love is all-encompassing, while that of the verb to bless connotes a beneficent act.

From a theological perspective, Paul discerns the indescribable love that God the Father imparts to his children. Just as he loves them, they must love one another. For this reason, Paul told the Corinthians that he wanted to test the genuineness of their love by considering the grace of Jesus Christ (8:8–9).[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2003). 2 Corinthians (pp. 314–315). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Harris, M. J. (2008). 2 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 508). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Scott, J. M. (2011). 2 Corinthians (pp. 186–187). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[4] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 404–405). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[5] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Second Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 19, pp. 310–313). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 27, 2017: Verse of the day

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3 And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. 4 And God saw that the light was good. And God separated the light from the darkness. 5 God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.


3–5 Verse 3 is often taken to mean that God created light before he created the sun, since here he says, “Let there be light,” but only in v. 16 does the narrative speak of God as making the sun. It should be noted, however, that the sun, moon, and stars are included in the meaning of the Hebrew expression in v. 1, “heavens and the earth” (haššāmayim wehāʾāreṣ). The expression is used in the Bible in a general way for the universe as we know it today. According to this account the sun, moon, and stars were created in v. 1.

Verse 3 does not describe the creation of the sun but the appearance of the sunlight in the darkness of the night, which precedes the dawning of the first day of this momentous week (cf. the sunrise as described in 44:3; Ex 10:23; Ne 8:3). The Hebrew word for “light” (ʾôr) in each of those passages refers to the sunlight, which is the word’s most likely sense in Genesis 1:3 as well. The narrative does not explain the cause of the darkness in v. 2, just as it does not explain the cause of the darkness in the land of Egypt in Exodus 10:22. It is probably to be understood as the darkness of night. The week thus begins with the sunrise in v. 3, “and there was light.” The absence of an explicit explanation of the darkness is insufficient ground for assuming the sun had not yet been created (see further on 1:14–18).

According to Wenham, 19, “There can be little doubt that here ‘day’ has its basic sense of a 24-hour period. The mention of morning and evening, the enumeration of the days, and the divine rest on the seventh show that a week of divine activity is being described here.” Such a natural explanation of this text finds ready support in the notice of a division between “the day” and “the night” already in v. 4. This leaves little room for an interpretation of the “light” in v. 3 as anything other than sunlight.

In light of the frequent repetition of the phrase, “And God saw that it was good” (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31), we may assume that this is an element the narrative intends to emphasize. In view of such an emphasis at the beginning of the book, it is hardly accidental that throughout Genesis and the Pentateuch, the activity of “seeing” is continually put at the center of the author’s conception of God. The first name given to God within the book is that of Hagar’s: “El Roi” (ʾēl roʾî), “the seeing God” (16:13). The psalmist, in reflecting on these texts, recognizes God’s “seeing” as one of the essential attributes distinguishing him from all false idols, “which do not see” (Ps 115:5).

Also, in Genesis 22:1–19, a central chapter dealing with the identity of God in Genesis, the narrative concludes on the theme that God is the one who “sees.” Thus the place where the Lord appeared to Abraham is called, “The Lord will see” (22:14). (Though the early versions often translate the verb “to see” in this passage as “to provide,” as it should be, the Hebrew word rʾh [“to see”] only comes to mean “to provide” secondarily [cf. TWOT, 823].)

This close connection between “seeing” and “providing” likely plays an important role in the sense of the verb “to see” in ch. 1. In a tragic reversal of the portrayal of God’s “seeing” the “good” in creation, the author subsequently returns to the notion of God’s “seeing” at the opening of the account of the flood. Here too the biblical God is the God who “sees”; but at that point in the narrative, after the fall, God no longer “saw” the “good” (ṭôb), but he “saw how great man’s wickedness [rāʿâ] on the earth had become” (6:5). The verbal parallels suggest that the two narratives are to be read as a contrast of the state of humanity before and after the fall (O. Eissfeldt, “Die kleinste literarische Einheit in den Erzählungsbuchern des Alten Testaments,” in Kleine Schrîten, vol. 1 [Tübingen: Mohr, 1962], 144).

The “good” the author has in view has a specific range of meaning in ch. 1—the “good” is that which is beneficial for humanity. Notice, for example, that in the description of the work of the second day (vv. 6–8), the narrative does not say, “God saw that it was good.” The reason for the omission is that on day two there was nothing created or made that was, as yet, “good”—that is, beneficial to humanity. The heavens were made and the waters divided, but the land, where humankind was to dwell, remains hidden under the “deep.” The land is still tōhû; it is not yet a place where humankind can live. Only when, on the third day, the sea is parted and the dry land appears does the text inform us, “God saw it was good” (v. 10). Only when the land is prepared for humankind can God call it good.

Throughout this opening chapter God is depicted as the one who both knows what is “good” for humankind and is intent on providing the good for humanity. In this way the author has prepared the reader for the tragedy that awaits in ch. 3. It is in the light of an understanding of God as the one who discerns “good” (ṭôb) from “evil” (raʿ), and who is intent on providing humanity with the good, that humankind’s rebellious attempt to gain the knowledge of “good and evil” for themselves can be seen clearly for the folly that it is. The author seems intent on portraying the “fall” not merely as sin but also as the work of fools.

When we read the portrayal of God in ch. 1 as the Provider of all that is good and beneficial (wayyarʾ ʾelōhîm kî-ṭôb, “And God saw that it was good”), we cannot help but see in this an anticipation of the author’s depiction of the hollowness of that first rebellious thought: “The woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good [ṭôb] … and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (3:6). Here again the verbal parallels between God’s “seeing [of] the good” in ch. 1 and the woman’s “seeing [of] the good” in ch. 3 can hardly be unintended in the text. In drawing a parallel between the woman’s “seeing” and God’s “seeing,” the author submits a graphic picture of the limits of human wisdom and, by doing so, highlights the tragic irony of the fall.[1]


1:3–5 / The words God said mark off the stages of creation, conveying that God created by the word. God’s words were not empty, for the Spirit, who was present over the waters, empowered God’s words, bringing into being what God had spoken (A. Kapelrud, “Die Theologie der Schöpfung im Alten Testament,” ZAW 91 [1979], pp. 165–66). The wording of Psalm 33:6, 9 supports this claim: “By the word of Yahweh were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth … For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.” The parallel in this psalm between “word” and “breath” (v. 6) communicates that God’s Spirit was the energy empowering God’s word.

God began the process of creation with the command, Let there be light, and light came into being, pushing back the primordial darkness. From the context we can discern two reasons God created light first: to limit the primordial darkness, and to begin the flow of time as measured in days. From our knowledge of the world another reason can be added; light was the energy necessary to support the life forms that God was going to create.

God saw that the light was good, thereby making a qualitative judgment about what he had created (also vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). While usually a word carries only one nuance in any given occurrence, “good” in this account is a loaded term. It carries four implications: (a) What came into being functioned precisely as God had purposed. (b) That which had just been created contributed to the well-being of the created order. (c) The new creation had aesthetic qualities—that is, it was pleasing and beautiful—and (d) it had moral force, advancing righteousness on earth (Job 38:12–13).

God went on and separated the light from the darkness. God called the light “day” and the darkness he called “night.” By naming these elements God defined their function in respect to their essence. God did not eliminate the darkness that was already present; rather he established his authority over it, assigning it a specific role and restricting its influence.[2]


1:3–5 On the first day God commanded light to shine out of darkness and established the Day and Night cycle. This act is not to be confused with the establishment of the sun, moon, and stars on the fourth day. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 the Apostle Paul draws a parallel between the original separation of light from darkness and the conversion of a sinner.[3]


1:3–5 And God said. In ch. 1 the absolute power of God is conveyed by the fact that he merely speaks and things are created. Each new section of the chapter is introduced by God’s speaking. This is the first of the 10 words of creation in ch. 1. Let there be light. Light is the first of God’s creative works, which God speaks into existence. the light was good (v. 4). Everything that God brings into being is good. This becomes an important refrain throughout the chapter (see vv. 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). God called the light Day (v. 5). The focus in v. 5 is on how God has ordered time on a weekly cycle; thus, “let there be light” may indicate the dawning of a new day. God is pictured working for six days and resting on the Sabbath, which is a model for human activity. Day 4 develops this idea further: the lights are placed in the heavens for signs and seasons, for the purpose of marking days and years and the seasons of the great festivals such as Passover. This sense of time being structured is further emphasized throughout the chapter as each stage of God’s ordering and filling is separated by evening and morning into specific days. there was evening and there was morning, the first day. The order—evening, then morning—helps the reader to follow the flow of the passage: after the workday (vv. 3–5a) there is an evening, and then a morning, implying that there is a nighttime (the worker’s daily rest) in between. Thus the reader is prepared for the next workday to dawn. Similar phrases divide ch. 1 into six distinctive workdays, while 2:1–3 make a seventh day, God’s Sabbath. On the first three days God creates the environment that the creatures of days 4–6 will inhabit; thus, sea and sky (day 2) are occupied by fish and birds created on day 5 (see chart). By a simple reading of Genesis, these days must be described as days in the life of God, but how his days relate to human days is more difficult to determine (cf. Ps. 90:4; 2 Pet. 3:8). See further Introduction: Genesis and Science.[4]


1:4 good God calls His handiwork good seven times in ch. 1 (vv. 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). The Hebrew word used here, tov, has a broad range of meaning but generally describes what is desirable, beautiful, or right. In essence, God affirms creation as right and in right relationship with Him immediately after He creates it. The material world is good as created by God.

caused there to be a separation between the light and between the darkness The division of time into day and night represents one of God’s first acts in the ordering of creation.[5]


1:4 light. God is the ultimate source of the daylight that alternates with darkness; the sun is later introduced as the immediate cause (vv. 14–18; v. 5 and note). Light symbolizes life and blessing (Ps. 4:7; 56:13; Is. 9:2; John 1:4, 5).

good. Brought within God’s constraints, even the darkness and watery deep (vv. 2, 10) are now “good,” serving God’s benevolent purposes (Ps. 104:19–26). The creation bears witness to God’s handiwork (Ps. 19:1–6).

separated. The Hebrew here is also translated “set apart.” Separation is fundamental both to creation and to Israel’s existence (3:15; 4:1–17; 12:1; Lev. 20:24, 25; Num. 8:14).[6]


[1] Sailhamer, J. H. (2008). Genesis. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis–Leviticus (Revised Edition) (Vol. 1, pp. 56–57). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Hartley, J. E. (2012). Genesis. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (p. 44). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 32–33). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 50). 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 (Ge 1:4). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 7). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

August 24, 2017: Verse of the day

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5 The word translated “woe” here (ʾôy; GK 208) is different from that used several times in ch. 5 (hôy [GK 2098], vv. 8, 11, 20–22), though they are similar in form and pronunciation and identical in meaning. They are, in fact, synonyms, each possessing various nuances ranging from a threat to a sigh. If this part of the book has been arranged with an eye more to its message than to its chronology, this “woe” may have been viewed as the climax of the series that began at 5:8. The reference in this verse to the people’s sin strengthens this possibility, the more so as sins of the tongue have found their place in ch. 5 at least twice (5:18–20) and possibly a third time, for acquittal (5:23) was made known by a pronouncement of the judge.

This verse teaches us that in order to be an effective channel for God’s penetrating word, the power of that word must be felt in the person’s own conscience. Wildberger (in loc.) says, “This terror is itself an element of the theophany (cf. Ge 32:30; Ex 3:6; Jdg 6:22; 13:22). Those who utter such a cry of woe about themselves are witnessing to the fact that their very existence is threatened” (cf. also Watts, in loc.).

It is true that the lips of the prophet were destined to proclaim God’s truth; but if he was in the temple at worship (see comment on v. 1), the primary reference may be to the defiled lips of the worshiper (cf. 1:15; 29:13). The people of the OT always felt a deep apprehension at the prospect of seeing God (Ge 32:20; Ex 33:20; Jdg 6:22; 13:21–22). This must have been underlined still more for Isaiah as he saw even the unfallen seraphs covering their faces in the presence of the Most High.[1]


Atonement (6:5–7)

In the presence of a holy God sinners feel ‘utterly at a loss’ (a popular phrase not dissimilar to the one Isaiah uses in verse 5)—like Isaiah here. When Simon Peter begins to realize that to be with Jesus is to be in the presence of God, he requests, ‘Depart from me, for I am a sinful man’ (Luke 5:8). Holiness and sin don’t mix. They never will. Sadly, there will be a day when sinners will hear the Lord Jesus say to them, ‘Depart from me’ (Matt. 25:41).

But sin can be atoned for—through sacrifice. The word ‘atoned’ in verse 7 comes from a Hebrew word that can mean ‘to cover’. It describes how sin is dealt with. Theologians argue about the main meaning of the word. Covering over, paying a ransom price and wiping clean are all pictures that the word can be associated with, and they all give a slightly different perspective on what is involved in dealing with sin. It is clear, though, what the day of atonement was designed to portray. This was the day when the sins of Israel were symbolically transferred to a scapegoat, which was then sent away into the wilderness, never to be seen again. Sin had been carried away. Whether you think of atonement as sin being covered (see Ps. 32:1; 85:2), the price of sin being paid (Col. 2:14; 1 Tim. 2:6) or the stain of sin being cleansed (Ps. 51:2; 1 John 1:7), it was gone! Whether into the depths of the sea (Mic. 7:19), behind God’s back (Isa. 38:17) or as far as the east is from the west (Ps. 103:12), it was gone.

Something else that the day of atonement made clear was that the vital ingredient for atonement was blood (Lev. 17:11). That was because blood represented the life of the sacrificial victim offered up in place of the worshipper. It pointed forward to ‘the precious blood of Christ’ (1 Peter 1:19), which seals the new covenant, ‘poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins’ (Matt. 26:28). The blood of goats and bulls could make people ceremonially clean, but it is the blood of Christ alone that can effectually cleanse from all sin (1 John 1:7).

In Alaska in the late nineteenth century the Stickeen and Sitka Indians welcomed Christian missionaries, at least in part because they were so familiar with the concept of atonement. At one point in their history fighting between the two tribes was so serious that their future looked to be under threat. A Stickeen chief stood in an open place between the two camps and asked to speak to the leader of the Sitkas. He said,

‘My people are hungry. They dare not go to the salmon-streams or berry-fields for winter supplies, and if this war goes on much longer most of my people will die of hunger. We have fought long enough; let us make peace. You brave Sitka warriors go home, and we will go home, and we will all set out to dry salmon and berries before it is too late.’

The Sitka chief replied, ‘You may well say let us stop fighting, when you have had the best of it. You have killed ten more of my tribe than we have killed of yours. Give us ten Stickeen men to balance our blood-account; then, and not till then, will we make peace and go home.’

‘Very well,’ replied the Stickeen chief, ‘you know my rank. You know that I am worth ten common men and more. Take me and make peace.’

And the Stickeen chief was shot down. When they heard the gospel and it was explained to them that all mankind had gone astray, broken God’s laws and deserved to die, but then God’s Son came forward and offered himself as a sacrifice, they said, ‘Yes, your words are good … The Son of God, the Chief of chiefs, the Maker of all the world, must be worth more than all mankind put together; therefore, when His blood was shed, … salvation … was made sure.’

Sin, then, can be atoned for, through sacrifice. And when sin is atoned for, guilt is taken away. Sometimes a sense of guilt lingers, but the guilty verdict has been overturned for good (1 Cor. 1:8). This is how a man of unclean lips can become the Lord’s spokesman; how a sinful nation (1:4) can become a righteous nation (26:2); and how we who ‘fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23) can ‘rejoice in hope of the glory of God’ (Rom. 5:2).[2]


6:5 / Holiness also means purity. Yahweh’s holiness could make a mere creature simply draw back. But because of who Yahweh is, holiness comes to have moral connotations (see on 5:16). Isaiah draws back from God’s holiness not just because of God’s awesome splendor and his own creatureliness. He also draws back because God is just and righteous and he and his people are polluted (tame’), like the king who died that year (2 Kgs. 15:5). They do not fulfill the demands of Psalm 24. The fact that his lips were the part of his person especially involved in serving God as a prophet may lie behind his linking pollution with his lips. But he links his pollutedness with his people’s, suggesting that he is identifying the pollution of his lips with Judah’s. He has already referred to a number of the wrongs of their lips (e.g., 1:15, 23; 2:6; 3:8; 5:19, 20, 24). In the context of worship, the first of these (1:15) would have been especially relevant. Whichever it is, Isaiah finds that a vision of the holy God shuts the mouth.

6:6–7 / Isaiah’s instinct to infer that holiness will be the end of him turns out to be mistaken. He also learns that holiness can mean forgiveness. In keeping with his stress on fire as a means of judging/purging (1:25; 4:4), a coal from the incense altar touches the part of Isaiah’s body that he recognized to be the place of pollution (cf. Num. 16:46–47). The high and lofty One (the same phrase as in v. 1) dwells in a high and holy place, but also with those who are crushed and lowly in spirit (57:15). Merciful grace belongs as much to the essence of God’s holiness as justice and purity. Once more, a return to Yahweh is not the only requirement for a restored relationship with Yahweh, as chapter 1 might have seemed to imply (guilt/sin recur from 1:4). People who do nothing and presume on God’s forgiveness indeed fail to experience it; those who acknowledge the justice of God’s judgment and turn from the ways that earned it can escape it.

The sign of cleansing that Isaiah receives is absurdly inadequate. How could being touched with a coal effect this sort of purification? The insufficiency of the sign highlights the fact that the cleansing originates within the person of the holy God. Sacramental rites such as this are the means by which Yahweh incarnates grace to humankind.[3]


[1] Grogan, G. W. (2008). Isaiah. In T. Longman III, Garland David E. (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs–Isaiah (Revised Edition) (Vol. 6, pp. 507–508). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Thomson, A. (2012). Opening Up Isaiah (pp. 34–37). Leominster: Day One.

[3] Goldingay, J. (2012). Isaiah. (W. W. Gasque, R. L. Hubbard Jr., & R. K. Johnston, Eds.) (pp. 59–60). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

August 23, 2017: Verse of the day

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9 A further participle, “having been made perfect,” leads into a second main clause, “he became …,” which balances that of v. 8; his “learning [of] obedience” was thus not an end in itself but the means by which he was able to fulfill perfectly his saving mission. For “made perfect,” see above on 2:10 and the introduction, p. 32; the reference is not to attaining moral perfection but to being perfectly equipped to fulfill his saving mission. The verb teleioō, “make perfect” (GK 5457), has special resonance in this context as teleioō cheiras, “to perfect (or fill) the hands,” is often used in the LXX for consecration to priestly service (e.g., Ex 29:9, 29, 33, 35; NIV, “ordain”). Peterson, 103, sums up a lengthy discussion (96–103) by endorsing the verdict of O. Michel that the “perfecting” of Christ here involves “his proving in temptation, his fulfillment of the priestly requirements and his exaltation as Redeemer of the heavenly world.”

And just as Christ “learned obedience,” so those who are to benefit from his saving work must also “obey” him. For them, he is the “source” (lit., “cause,” the one responsible for) of salvation (cf. 2:10, “pioneer of their salvation”). Jesus in Gethsemane could not bypass physical death, and neither can we; but this is “eternal” salvation on a different level altogether from merely escaping death. Just how Jesus’ obedience to a mission of suffering would bring about salvation for others is not yet spelled out, but the theme will be richly developed in chs. 9–10, and already there is a strong pointer in the fact that the issue under discussion here is priesthood, with its connotations of sacrifice. We will also read there why the solution that Jesus has provided for sin is not temporary, like the sacrifices of the OT priests, but “eternal,” since it is secured by the one sacrifice offered once for all by the eternal Son.

10 A further participial clause (“having been designated …” [NIV, “and was designated …”] could be understood wrongly to speak of a subsequent designation rather than the prior calling the participle denotes) rounds off the sentence and grounds it again in the text from Psalm 110 that is the legitimation for Christ’s priestly office. The reason it was appropriate for Jesus to undergo all this human suffering was because he had a role to play in fulfillment of the divine calling to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek. Thus, the time is now ripe for our author to explain what this special order of priesthood is all about—but that explanation must first be postponed while the author’s frustration with his readers finds expression in a remarkable digression.[1]


An effective priesthood (5:9–10)

He was willing to suffer, and through the Gethsemane experience and what followed he demonstrated the greatest and most costly obedience. But what is meant by the writer’s assertion that being made perfect he became the source of our salvation? It certainly does not mean that before Gethsemane and the cross he was imperfect, any more than the preceding verse meant that prior to such experience he was disobedient. The word ‘perfect’ here obviously does not refer to his moral perfection. It repeats the idea found earlier (2:10) that by his life, death and exaltation Christ became ‘fully qualified’ as our saviour.

This epistle has already noted the six essential qualifications required of God’s Son in order for him to become man’s priest. He had to be appointed by God, identified with men and sensitive to human need, victorious over sin, obedient to the divine purpose and willing to die to effect man’s deliverance. His final qualification was that of his victorious exaltation to the right hand of God when he was ‘crowned with glory and honour’ (2:9). This is what our writer means when he says that ‘once perfected’ (neb) he became the author of eternal salvation. The obedient Son saves those who will respond to his redeeming message with obedient hearts and minds. Completely qualified, he is designated, clearly ‘named by God’ (neb), to all mankind as the high priest of our completely adequate and eternally relevant salvation.

Before we leave this passage with its moving description of Christ’s total submission, we need a further reminder that obedience was not only necessary for him; it is expected also of us. Salvation is for those who obey him. It is important for us to see that when Jesus surrendered himself entirely to God’s will, he obeyed not only in order to honour God but also to help us to see what obedience is all about. In his exposition of this passage, Calvin says: ‘He did this for our benefit, to give us the instance and the pattern of His own submission … If we want the obedience of Christ to be of advantage to us, we must copy it.’

These verses are particularly important at a time when some Christians may find themselves tempted to bypass the constant discipline Christ demands in favour of the ‘instant’ or ‘immediate’ holiness offered by some exponents of the Christian life. This is the ‘instant’ age; if a thing is to be had, it must be had now. The idea goes something like this: The promises are there, claim them at this very moment and the prize is yours, whether it is instant sanctification, instant power, or instant healing. We live in a impatient society and the idea of humble submission, patient waiting and steady perseverance does not make a ready appeal. But the way of Christ was the way of persistent obedience. All his life was given to it. He strongly resisted the temptation to have it effected in a spectacular and supernatural moment. He resolutely pursued the will and purpose of God. He knew that it could not be achieved in a magical minute.

Moreover, he made it clear to his followers that his way was to be their way. There was no other. The only possible route to holiness of life was by way of the cross. When the disciples expressed their horror about his cross, he told them about theirs. ‘If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.’ The act of taking up the cross may well occur initially and decisively at a precise moment of time. In that sense there is a crisis. But following after Christ and denying oneself is a daily, painful, costly reality that cannot be achieved by a sudden crisis, but only by a lifetime of constantly renewed dedication and obedient responsiveness to all that God requires of his people and equips them to do.[2]


Sacrificing for Men

And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation.” (5:9)

In His suffering and death, Jesus fulfilled the third requirement for high priest. He offered the sacrifice of Himself and thereby became the perfect High Priest and the source of eternal salvation. Jesus went through everything He had to go through, and accomplished all He needed to, so He could be such a perfect High Priest. He was not, of course, made perfect in the sense of having His nature improved. He was eternally perfect in righteousness, holiness, wisdom, knowledge, truth, power, and in every other virtue and capability. Neither His nature nor His person changed. He became perfect in the sense that He completed His qualification course for becoming the eternal High Priest.

In offering His sacrifice, however, Jesus differed in two very important ways from other high priests. First, He did not have to make a sacrifice for Himself before He could offer it for others. Second, His sacrifice was once-and-for-all. It did not have to be repeated every day, or even every year or every century.

By His death, Jesus opened the way of eternal salvation. All the priests of all time could not provide eternal salvation. They could only provide momentary forgiveness. But by one act, one offering, one sacrifice, Jesus Christ perfected forever those who are His. The perfect High Priest makes perfect those who accept His perfect sacrifice, those who obey Him.

The obedience mentioned here of those who obey Him is not that regarding commandments, rules, and regulations. It is not obedience to the law. It is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5). God wants us to obey Him by believing in Christ. True obedience, just as true works, is first of all true believing. “This is the work of God,” Jesus said, “that you believe in Him whom He has sent” (John 6:29). Trust in Jesus Christ is the work of faith and the obedience of faith.

Sadly and tragically, all people do not believe. And whoever does not believe does not truly obey, no matter how moral, well-meaning, religious, and sincere. In First and Second Thessalonians, Paul speaks of the two responses to the gospel—the only two possible responses. In the second letter he tells of God’s retribution on those who “do not know God” and who “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (1:8). In the first letter, by contrast, he praises the missionary work of the faithful Thessalonian Christians in Macedonia and Achaia (1:8). Their obedience in the faith brought others to obedience to the faith—and to the gift of eternal salvation.[3]


5:10 / As “the source of eternal salvation” Jesus has been declared high priest by God. The divine Son and yet fully human Jesus possesses the qualifications needed to be high priest: divine appointment (especially through Ps. 110:4) and ability to empathize with those whom he represents to God. He is thus a member of a unique priesthood—of the order of Melchizedek. At this point, however, the argument is interrupted by a long parenthetical warning, and is not resumed until 7:1.[4]


5:9. The fact that Jesus learned obedience perfected him. Jesus was perfect in that he possessed every qualification to be our High Priest. He also was perfect in that God glorified him with exaltation to his right hand.

Made perfect (teleiotheis) describes perfection in the sense of completeness or fulfillment. Jesus was obedient to God’s will in that he endured suffering and death. In doing this Jesus brought God’s redemptive purposes to their fulfillment or completion. By enduring suffering Jesus attained the goal the Father had for him. This enabled him to become a perfectly equipped high priest.

To say that Jesus was perfect does not suggest that he was imperfect before he suffered. During his human life Jesus’ perfection endured severe testing. None of this testing blackened a single feature of his perfection. Jesus’ perfection was the completion of someone who had faced trials, endured them, and learned to trust God through them. Jesus’ perfection developed in an atmosphere in which he had his obedience tested and strengthened by the trials he faced.

After passing victoriously through suffering, Jesus became the source of eternal salvation. This phrase carries a meaning similar to author of their salvation in 2:10. Jesus’ salvation is eternal because Christ accomplished salvation through a sacrifice which was thorough, effective, permanently valid, and never to be repeated or superseded.

Jesus’ salvation applies only to those who obey him. The practice of obedience does not mean that only the morally perfect receive salvation. We obey the Lord when we accept his provisions for our salvation. Obedience is our acceptance of God’s will. This response to salvation allows the privilege to be available to rich and poor, important and unimportant, Jews and Gentiles, and learned and uneducated. God’s gift of salvation is open to all. The one who learned to obey made salvation available to all who obey.

5:10. This section closes with the announcement that God had designated Jesus to be a high priest in a new order, the order of Melchizedek. This statement added additional confirmation to the emphasis that Jesus served in this position through a divine appointment.

Several features of this order differed from the order of Aaron. First, the order of Melchizedek had no hereditary succession. This feature stood in contrast to the Aaronic order, which saw wave after wave of priests succeeding one another.

Second, it was a unique order because only Christ belonged to it. It was an order which was fit for Christ because it placed him in an entirely different order from that of Aaron.

We might expect the writer of Hebrews to plunge immediately into a discussion of the theme of Melchizedek, but instead he paused to consider some problems among his readers. Their spiritual immaturity was a serious concern to him, and he spent the final four verses of this chapter and most of the following chapter warning them of the dangers of their present attitude. When he finished this warning, he returned to explain more about the significance of Melchizedek in chapter 7.[5]


8. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered 9. and, once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him 10. and was designated by God to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek.

Verses 8–10 are closely connected with the preceding verse. Indeed, in the original Greek the main verb in verses 7 and 8 is “he learned.” That is where the emphasis falls in this passage. Therefore, numerous translations end verse 7 not with a period, but with a comma. This is correct, for the two verses are closely related and form a unit. Incidentally, the stress on the main verb, “he learned,” gives added support to the reading because of his reverent submission.

Consider these questions.

  • Would Jesus have to learn obedience? The author introduces this subject by mentioning the divinity of Jesus first and stating this fact concessively: “although Jesus was the Son of God.” He does not say that because Jesus was divine he had to learn obedience. Jesus did not have to learn anything concerning obedience, for his will was the same as God’s will. However, in his humanity Jesus had to show full obedience; he had to become “obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:8). As one version has it: “son though he was, he learned obedience in the school of suffering.”
  • What was the obedience Jesus had to learn? Translations, for reasons of style and diction, speak of obedience. In the original Greek, however, a definite article precedes the noun so that it reads “the obedience”; that is, the well-known obedience expected from the Lord.

When we interpret this verse we are not to think in terms of contrasts. It is true that sinful man needs to correct his ways by listening to God’s Word and turning from disobedience to obedience. But Christ, the sinless One, did not learn by unlearning. Rather, through his active and passive obedience, Christ provides eternal life for the sinner and a discharge of man’s debt of sin. Says Paul in Romans 5:19, “For just as through the disobedience of the one man the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous.”

  • How was Jesus made perfect? The question is legitimate, for Jesus, as the Son of God, is perfect from eternity. But in his humanity, “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and men” (Luke 2:52). We see his development in the school of obedience. As the burden becomes more taxing for Jesus, so his willingness to assume the task his Father has given him increases.

In the Garden of Gethsemane and on Calvary’s cross, he endured the ultimate tests. Jesus was made perfect through suffering. His perfection “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” The author of Hebrews in effect repeats the thought he expressed in Hebrews 2:10—Jesus, made perfect through suffering, leads many sons to glory. Perfection, therefore, must be seen as a completion of the task Jesus had to perform.

  • What does the writer mean by “the source of eternal salvation”? The writer of Hebrews calls Jesus the “author” of salvation (Heb. 2:10) and the “source” of salvation. These two expressions are synonymous. Jesus is the captain, the chief, the originator, and the cause.

When the author uses the word source, he does not open a discussion on the primary cause of salvation; God the Father commissioned his Son to effectuate salvation. Instead the writer uses the term source in the context of his discussion about the high priesthood of Christ. By accomplishing his redemptive work, especially in Gethsemane and at Golgotha, Jesus is the source of eternal salvation (Isa. 45:17). Only those people who obey him will share in the salvation Jesus provides. F. F. Bruce describes the concept of obedience adequately when he writes, “The salvation which Jesus has procured, is granted ‘unto all them that obey him!’ There is something appropriate in the fact that the salvation which was procured by the obedience of the Redeemer should be made available to the obedience of the redeemed.”

  • How does the author of Hebrews conclude his discussion about the priesthood of Christ? He states that God designated Jesus to be high priest in the order of Melchizedek. That is significant, because this section about the high priesthood of Christ, beginning with Hebrews 4:14, is presented in terms of Aaron’s priesthood. The section continues and concludes with a clear reference to the priesthood of Melchizedek.

Note the following observations.

Not the writer of Hebrews but God designates Christ as high priest in the order of Melchizedek (Ps. 110:4). The writer of Hebrews searches the Old Testament and shows that God addresses his Son as high priest.

The topic of the high priesthood of Christ is important to the author of Hebrews. He introduces the subject in Hebrews 2:17; after a discussion about Israel’s disobedience in the desert and the meaning of rest the author returns to the subject in Hebrews 4:14–5:10; and the theme eventually is fully treated in Hebrews 7.

We also note that Jesus fulfilled the priestly duties of Aaron when he, in his submission and suffering, brought the task God had given him to completion. Thus Jesus became “the source of salvation for all who obey him.” This could never be said of Aaron or any of the high priests who succeeded him.

The subject of Christ’s high priesthood in the order of Melchizedek is deep. In fact, the writer of Hebrews calls it “hard to explain” (Heb. 5:11), although after a pastoral word to his readers he does explain it fully.[6]


5:9 And having been perfected. This cannot refer to His personal character because the Lord Jesus was absolutely perfect. His words, His works, and His ways were absolutely flawless. In what sense then was He perfected? The answer is in His office as our Savior. He could never have become our perfect Savior if He had remained in heaven. But through His incarnation, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension, He completed the work that was necessary to save us from our sins, and now He has the acquired glory of being the perfect Savior of the world.

Having returned to heaven, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him. He is the Source of salvation for all, but only those who obey Him are saved.

Here salvation is conditional on obeying Him. In many other passages salvation is conditional on faith. How do we reconcile this seeming contradiction? First of all, it is the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5; 16:25–27): “the obedience which God requires is faith in His word.” But it is also true that saving faith is the kind that results in obedience. It is impossible to believe, in the true NT sense, without obeying.

5:10 Having gloriously accomplished the fundamental work of priesthood, the Lord Jesus was addressed by God as High Priest “according to the order of Melchizedek.”

It should be mentioned here that though Christ’s priesthood is of the Melchizedekan order, yet His priestly functions are similar to those carried on by the Aaronic priests. In fact, the ministry of the Jewish priests was a foreshadow or picture of the work that Christ would accomplish.[7]


9–10 Learning obedience from what he suffered, Jesus was made perfect (‘perfected’) i.e. ‘qualified’ or ‘made completely adequate’ as the saviour of his people (cf. 2:10). More specifically, he was perfected as the source of eternal salvation. Every experience of testing prepared him for a final act of obedience to the Father in his sacrificial death (cf. 10:5–10). By this means he achieved a salvation from sin, death and the devil, enabling those who trust in him to share with him in the life of the world to come. The idea that Christ establishes a pattern of obedience for others to follow is suggested by the words for all who obey him. However, this expression does not indicate that salvation is to be earned by obedience. Salvation is God’s gift to us in Christ, but those who look to him as the unique source of eternal salvation will want to express their faith in ongoing obedience as he did (cf. 12:1–4). Faith in Christ commits us to share in his struggle against sin.[8]


[1] 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. 77). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Brown, R. (1988). The message of Hebrews: Christ above all (pp. 101–102). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 125–126). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Hagner, D. A. (2011). Hebrews (p. 82). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

[5] Lea, T. D. (1999). Hebrews, James (Vol. 10, pp. 94–95). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[6] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of Hebrews (Vol. 15, pp. 138–140). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[7] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2171–2172). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[8] Peterson, D. G. (1994). Hebrews. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1333). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

August 22, 2017: Verse of the day

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13 The basic premise of Jesus’ argument is that the disciples acknowledged him to be their Teacher and Lord. The order is significant. The disciples came to know Jesus first as Teacher (equivalent to Rabbi, the title normally used by Jewish students when addressing their master) and later as Lord. They had been with him in public ministry for almost two years before he asked, “Who do you say that I am?” and Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Mt 16:15–16). While it is true that the day will come when every tongue will confess that “Jesus Christ is Lord” (Php 2:11), during his earthly ministry Jesus did not demand the obedience appropriate to lordship from those who had not come to know him first as Teacher. The disciples, however, were correct in acknowledging him as Teacher and Lord because, as Jesus said, “That is what I am.” He was not simply one who had taught them; more important, he was their Lord.[1]


The Suitable Response to Christ’s Love

So when He had washed their feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you. Truly, truly, I say to you, a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him. If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them. (13:12–17)

Having washed the disciples’ feet, and taken His garments and reclined at the table again, Jesus taught them the lesson He wanted them to learn. The theological truths pictured in verses 7–11 (Jesus’ humiliation at His first coming and the once-for-all cleansing of justification versus the daily cleansing of sanctification), though of great importance, are not the main truths the Lord sought to communicate. The primary principle Jesus wanted the disciples to learn was the importance of humble, loving service. That becomes clear because He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? You call Me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. If I then, the Lord and the Teacher, washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” This was a crucial lesson for the disciples, constantly bickering over who was the greatest, to learn. If the Lord of Glory was willing to humble Himself and take on the role of the lowest of slaves, how could the disciples do any less? Jesus had once asked, “Why do you call Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46); here He was in effect saying, “Why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not follow My example?”

Some argue from this passage that foot washing is an ordinance for the church, along with baptism and the Lord’s Supper (Communion). But Jesus said, “I gave you an example that you also should do as I did to you,” not, “what I did to you.” Further, “Wise theologians and expositors have always been reluctant to raise to the level of universal rite something that appears only once in Scripture” (Carson, John, 468). (The only other reference to foot washing, 1 Tim. 5:10, is not in the context of a church rite, but of good deeds performed by individuals.)

To elevate the outward act of foot washing to the status of an ordinance is to minimize the important lesson Jesus was teaching. The Lord gave an example of humility, not of foot washing; His concern was for the inner attitude, not the outward rite. The latter is meaningless apart from the former.

To refuse to follow Jesus’ example of humble service is to pridefully elevate oneself above Him, since a slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him (cf. similar sayings in 15:20; Matt. 10:24; Luke 6:40; 22:27). No servant dares to regard any task as beneath him if his master has performed it.

The Lord’s concluding thought, “If you know these things, you are blessed if you do them,” reflects the biblical truth that blessing flows from obedience. The opening words of the Psalms emphasize that truth:

How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,

Nor stand in the path of sinners,

Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!

But his delight is in the law of the Lord,

And in His law he meditates day and night.

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers. (Ps. 1:1–3)

Psalm 119:1 declares, “How blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord” (cf. Ps. 128:1). In Proverbs 16:20 Solomon declared, “He who gives attention to the word will find good, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” “My mother and My brothers,” Jesus declared, “are these who hear the word of God and do it” (Luke 8:21). Later in Luke’s gospel, He affirmed, “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it” (Luke 11:28).

This passage reveals one essential way that believers can obey God and receive His blessing: by following the example of His Son. “The one who says he abides in Him,” John wrote in his first epistle, “ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6). Serving others in the humility of love is imitating Jesus Christ (cf. Phil. 2:5)[2]


Love Exhorted (13:12–17)

SUPPORTING IDEA: Perhaps there exists no act more menial than washing another’s feet, but nothing is beneath a disciple. Did the Savior intend to initiate an ordinance here? Some believe the command to wash the feet of others must be taken literally. But Jesus called us to acts of humble service for other Christians and, as Harry Ironside used to say, “When washing each other’s feet, we should be careful of the temperature of the water.”

13:12–14. The washing not only demonstrated humility and servanthood to the disciples but also laid an experiential foundation for the teaching of verse 10. When the foot-washing ended, Jesus taught an important lesson about the relationship of believers—you also should wash one another’s feet.

As Mother Teresa has shown us, perhaps more than anyone else in the twentieth century, if our teacher and Lord does not hesitate to wash our feet, how can we fail to wash one another’s feet? Certainly there can be no harm in the literal practice of foot-washing, but the symbolism of first-century behavior seems more appropriately replicated in the way we serve people in a variety of ways.

Incidentally, the only other reference to foot-washing appears in 1 Timothy 5:10, so we have scant evidence that the New Testament church actually practiced this as a regular ordinance.

Jesus emphasized the words Teacher and Lord in contrast with the way they had behaved toward him. The Lord reminded them that he washed their feet as their leader. Morris says, “Jesus proceeds to endorse this way of speaking. He commends the disciples, for these expressions point to his true position. But precisely because of this there are implications. His repetition of ‘the Lord and the teacher’ (a reversed order may be significant) emphasizes his dignity. This exalted Person has washed their feet. They ought, therefore, to wash one another’s feet” (Morris, p. 620).

13:15–17. Throughout the New Testament we learn the importance of example, never more so than when Jesus refers to himself. But here we are not focused on some great spiritual reality or doctrinal truth; the passage deals with how we treat other people. As Francis Schaeffer often observed, love is the ultimate mark of the Christian. Since Jesus loved his disciples and loves us in the same way, we need to do for others what he has done for us.

In verse 16 we find John’s only use of the word apostolos, the common New Testament word for “apostle,” here translated as messenger. Interesting that no church office or spiritual gift comes to view here. The context remains one of foot-washing as an example of how Christians treat one another. If we would be Christ’s messengers in any capacity, we must behave toward others the way he behaved toward his disciples.

We receive God’s joy by acting on the principles of conduct that Jesus taught. First we ought to pray, “Lord, wash me”; then we need to pray, “Lord, help me wash others.” And let us not forget that the word blessed can also be translated “happy.” We can be happy as Christians by acting on the principles of these verses, conducting our lives in such a way that we forgive, serve, and love the brothers and sisters in Christ. When we avoid criticism, complaining, and conflict, harmony and unity gain strength in the body.

Hughes calls this kind of behavior, “ ‘people of the towel’: When Jesus said, ‘Do you know what I have done to you?’ he might have added, ‘and do you know who you are, as heirs to the towel?’ The power, the impetus, and the grace to wash one another’s feet is proportionate to how we see ourselves. Our Lord saw Himself as King of kings, and He washed their feet. Recovery of a consciousness that we serve Christ the King will also compel us to service” (Hughes, p. 38).[3]


12–15. So when he had washed their feet, had taken his garments, and had resumed his place, he said to them, Do you know what I have done to you? you call me Teacher and Lord, and you say (this) correctly, for (that is what) I am. If, therefore, I your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash each other’s feet, for I have given you an example, in order that just as I did to you so also you should do.

Peter’s objection having been answered, Jesus finished washing his feet, and then the feet of the others until the entire task was done. Then the Lord redressed and resumed his place at the table.

In order to understand what follows it must be borne in mind that the feet-washing was a. an essential element in Christ’s humiliation; b. a symbol of that humiliation (the water that washed away physical filth was a true symbol of Christ’s suffering during his entire life on earth and especially on the cross, whereby he not only atones for the guilt of his people but also merits for them the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit); and c. a lesson in humility; in other words, an example.

Ideas a. and b. are very closely related. With respect to them Jesus has already told Peter that he would understand hereafter, not now. Nevertheless, Jesus had prepared his mind—and the minds of the others—by saying to him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.”

But even though the disciples were able, at this moment, to catch but a glimpse of the deep meaning that was wrapped up in the feet-washing, the moral has instantaneous significance for them. How they needed the lesson (item c. above) which Jesus meant to teach them by means of this act! Bear in mind Luke 22:24!

So Jesus said to his disciples: “Do you know what I have done to you?” Do you grasp the positive, practical teaching which I have just now imparted to you?—Note that the Lord does not scold these men. He does not say, “Shame on you! You should have washed each other’s feet instead of waiting for me to do it.” This rebuke is certainly implied in the exhortation, but the words of Jesus go much farther. He is never satisfied with being merely negative. It is as if he were saying, “The past was bad enough; we shall say nothing further about that; for the future, copy my example.” The implied rebuke, concealed in words of loving, positive exhortation, often does more good than the expressed reprimand. In this positive atmosphere Jesus continues:

“You call me Teacher and Lord, and you say (this) correctly, for (that is what) I am,”

Indeed, the disciples were right in addressing Jesus as Teacher (ὁ διδάσκαλε, probably to be regarded as a translation of the Aramaic Rabbi; as 1:38 seems to indicate), for his teaching “with authority and not as the scribes” was the greatest that was ever heard on earth. Also they were right in addressing him as Lord (ὁ κύριος); and the deeper the meaning they poured into this concept, the more right they were. He was, indeed, the owner of all things (see on 13:1, 3); moreover, he was equal in essence and authority with God, the Father. See Vol. I, p. 103, footnote , for the gradual displacement of Rabbi by Lord. And see on 12:21.

When Jesus adds, “You say (this) correctly, for (that is what) I am,” he is making a statement that is entirely in line with his great declaration in 10:30: “I and the Father, we are one.” Those who claim that Jesus never represented himself as the rightful object of worship are clearly wrong. See also on 1:7, 8.

Now comes the application. It is an argument from the greater to the lesser: “If, therefore, I, your Lord and Teacher—the terms are reversed now, for it is especially as Lord that Jesus can claim the right to obedience—have washed your feet (and the very form of the conditional sentence indicates that this act is here rightly assumed to have actually occurred), you also constantly (present tense) ought to wash each other’s feet.” Surely, if the Lord of glory is willing to be “girded around” with a towel, having taken the form of a servant, actually washing and drying the feet of those who are so very far below him, it ought to be easy for mere disciples to render loving service to one another in the spirit of genuine humility! Note the emphatic position of the pronouns in the original. We have tried to preserve something of the flavor of the original by using italics.

Is Jesus instituting a new ordinance here, that of feet-washing? No, he is not commanding the disciples to do what (ὁ) he has done; but he has given them an example in order that they, of their own accord, may do as (καθώς) he has done. Hence, significantly he adds: “For I have given you an example (ὑπόδειγμα here only in John, but found also in Heb. 4:11; 8:5; 9:26; James 5:10; and 2 Peter 2:6), in order that just as I did to you so also you should constantly do.” Jesus has shown (cf. the verb δείκνυμι) his humility under (ὑπό) their very eyes (hence, ὑπόδειγμα).

But although no sacrament has been instituted to be literally copied this does not remove the fact that under certain conditions those who may wish to show their hospitality in this manner are doing the proper thing (cf. 1 Tim. 5:10). It should, however, be stressed that what Jesus had in mind was not an outward rite but an inner attitude, that of humility and eagerness to serve.

16. Most solemnly do I assure you, the servant is not greater than his lord, neither is he who is sent greater than he who sent him.

For the words of solemn introduction see on 1:51. In all probability Jesus added these words in order to prevent anyone from saying: “It is below my dignity to wash the feet of another believer.” If it was not below the dignity of the Lord, it surely should not be considered below the dignity of the “servant.” This remains true even then when the servant is sent or divinely commissioned to function in a high office or to carry out an important task in the Church. If humility is the proper attitude for the Lord and Sender, how unremittingly should not the servant and commissioned individual exercise himself in this grace and grow in it. See also 15:20; Matt. 10:24; Luke 6:40; 22:27.

17. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.

See what has been said about this verse above, in footnote . The words of Jesus are very clear. Faith without works is dead. See also Matt. 7:17, 24–27; 11:30; 1 Cor. 4:20; and James 1:22–27; 2:14–26. It must not escape us that we have here not a commandment but a very loving and tender declaration. It has been called a promise, but it is even more than that. It is the statement of a fact: the practice of humility imparts blessedness. When Jesus says, “If you know these things,” etc., he means, according to the context, “If you know that a. he who is Lord and Teacher is willing to minister to the needs of those who are his subjects and pupils, even though in doing so he has to stoop very low; and if you know that b. all the more, those who were thus benefited should be willing to serve one another in humility of spirit; if you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.”

The term blessed (μακάριοι) does not necessarily refer to those who are considered happy by others; nor even primarily to those who consider themselves happy, but to those who are indeed the objects of God’s favor, whether or not they are considered such by other men or even by themselves. The blessed ones may be poor and may even be mourning (cf. Matt. 5:1–12, The Beatitudes). The blessedness here spoken of is a matter not (at least, not primarily) of feeling, but of inner spiritual condition or state. The Christian who practises humility possesses this felicity whether he is at all times conscious of it or not. Before God, in his eyes, he is blessed. The Aramaic word which Jesus probably employed both here in 13:17 (see also 20:29) and in The Beatitudes (also in several other New Testament passages) resembles the Hebrew word found in many passages of the Psalms (1:1; 2:12; 31:1; 32:2; 33:12; 34:8; 40:4; 41:4; etc.). It means superlatively blessed, most blessed. It is true, of course, that the smile of God which is upon such a person who is constantly doing these things (note present continuative tense), so that humility is of the very essence of his character, will sooner or later be reflected in his heart, so that he will possess the peace of God which passes all understanding.[4]


[1] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, pp. 548–549). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2008). John 12–21 (pp. 68–69). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[3] Gangel, K. O. (2000). John (Vol. 4, pp. 251–252). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to John (Vol. 2, pp. 234–237). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 16, 2017: Verse of the day

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Elizabeth’s closing statement, “blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord,” supplements her earlier blessing of Mary. Mary was blessed not only because of her privilege in being the mother of the Messiah, but also because of her faith in believing that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord. But Elizabeth’s use of the third person pronoun she broadens the blessing beyond Mary to encompass all who believe that God fulfills His promises.

Mary is not the mother of God, or the queen of heaven. She plays no role in the redemption of sinners, and does not intercede for them or hear their prayers. But she is a model of faith, humility, and submission to God’s will. She is an example to all believers of how to respond obediently, joyfully, and worshipfully to the Word of God. Therein lies her true greatness.[1]


45 “Blessed” describes the happy situation of those God favors. Elizabeth gave the blessing Zechariah’s muteness prevented him from giving. See vv. 68–79 for the blessing he later pronounced on the infant Jesus. Luke uses the blessing Elizabeth gave Mary to call attention to Mary’s faith.

The way in which v. 45 supplements v. 42 is noteworthy. In v. 42, Mary is called the “blessed” one because of her maternal relationship with her son Jesus. In v. 45, however, Mary is recognized to be truly “blessed” because of her faith in and obedience to God. The same contrast is developed later in the Lukan material. In 8:19–21, for example, Jesus redefines family relationship in terms of one’s faith in and obedience to God: “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice” (v. 21).[2]


45. And blessed is she who believed,

Because there will be a fulfilment of the words

Spoken to her by the Lord.

Although the rendering “And blessed is she who believed that there will be,” etc., is also possible, the first translation has the following in its favor:

  1. The positive assurance that God is going to fulfil his promises to Mary is a more solid ground, a more valid reason, for calling her “blessed” than her own subjective faith in the fulfilment of these promises.
  2. “Blessed is she who believed” is a richer expression than “Blessed is she who believed that,” etc. The first rendering more definitely than the second describes Mary as a woman of faith.
  3. “Blessed is she who believed” is in line with “Blessed are those who, though not seeing, are yet believing” (John 20:29). See also Gen. 15:6 (cf. Rom. 4:3; Gal. 3:6, 9; James 2:23).
  4. As to conciseness of phraseology, the beatitude “Blessed is she who believed” is also more in line with the familiar beatitudes of Luke 6:20 f., cf. Matt. 5:1 f.
  5. Finally, the construction, “Blessed is she who believed,” describes more adequately than does its alternative what had been Mary’s reaction to Gabriel’s message.

That reaction, it will be recalled, had been: first, alarm and astonishment (verse 29); then, an earnest request for an explanation (verse 34); and finally, the complete surrender that characterizes the person who lives by the rule, “Trust and obey” (verse 38). For the rest, see the note on verse 45 on p. 99.

As to … “there will be a fulfilment,” etc., note the following: the words of the Lord (via Gabriel) recorded in 1:31a, 35a (unique conception) had already been fulfilled, and the promises contained in 31b, 32, 33, 35b (still largely unfulfilled) were going to be realized, as the rest of the Gospels, etc., abundantly prove.

What deserves special attention is this outstanding fact, namely, that in Elizabeth’s entire exuberant exclamation (verses 41b–45) envy never raises its head. Elizabeth was, after all, much older than Mary (cf. 1:7, 18, 36 with 2:5). Yet this aged woman is deeply conscious of her own unworthiness and genuinely rejoices in the joy of her much younger relative!

How can this complete absence of the begrudging attitude be explained? The answer is found in 1 Cor. 13:4: “Love does not envy.” Is not this a good reason for calling this poem “Elizabeth’s Song of Love”?[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2009). Luke 1–5 (p. 72). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] Liefeld, W. L., & Pao, D. W. (2007). Luke. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 64). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Gospel According to Luke (Vol. 11, pp. 97–98). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 12, 2017: Verse of the day

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Salvation Presentation

And opening his mouth, Peter said: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him. The word which He sent to the sons of Israel, preaching peace through Jesus Christ (He is Lord of all)—you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem. And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. And He ordered us to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead. Of Him all the prophets bear witness that through His name everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins.” (10:34–43)

In contrast to his indicting sermons on the Day of Pentecost and at Solomon’s portico, and his bold defenses before the Sanhedrin, Peter here is led by the Spirit to give a simple gospel presentation. Some situations call for a detailed apologetic and historic presentation before the hearers can understand the gospel message. Others, with divinely plowed hearts, require only the simple truths of the gospel. Cornelius and the other Gentiles gathered with him were such divinely prepared individuals.

The phrase opening his mouth is a colloquial Greek expression marking the speech that follows as important. Looking around at his improbable audience, Peter began by shattering what remained of the barrier separating the two groups with his fresh insight: “I most certainly understand now that God is not one to show partiality, but in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right, is welcome to Him.” With one stroke, Peter cuts to the heart of the issue and rivets their attention on him.

Saying … . understand is an admission that this is really new for him, and that only now, at long last, was he beginning to understand that the church was to include men from every nation. The truth of Jesus’ words “I have other sheep, which are not of this fold” (John 10:16) was dawning. The meaning of the vision was clear. Actually, because this was not new truth, Peter and his Jewish companions should have already known that God is not one to show partiality. That is clearly taught in the Old Testament (Deut. 10:17; 2 Chron. 19:7; Job 34:19).

Paul elaborated on that truth. To the Romans he wrote, “Is God the God of Jews only? Is He not the God of Gentiles also? Yes, of Gentiles also, since indeed God who will justify the circumcised by faith and the uncircumcised through faith is one” (Rom. 3:29–30; cf. 2:11; Eph. 6:9).

Peter then expanded that thought, explaining that in every nation the man who fears Him and does what is right is welcome to Him. Some have misunderstood this verse to be teaching universalism, that God accepts all who are sincere on the basis of their works. That view is obviously inconsistent with biblical teaching and absurd. If Cornelius and the others were already saved, what was Peter doing there preaching that only through the name of Jesus can souls be saved (v. 43)? Further, that they were not yet saved is clearly stated in Acts 11:14. There are some who would deny that there is any pre-salvation work on the part of the sinner, leading to salvation. This, too, is absurd, since the text clearly states that salvation comes to those who fear God and do what is right. Is this salvation by works? Of course not. Peter is simply expressing the reality that there is a Spirit work in the heart of the sinner (cf. John 16:8–11; Acts 11:18; 2 Tim. 2:25). That work produces a person who fears or reverences God and does what is right, and who is welcome or acceptable (dektos) to God. That word means “marked by a favorable manifestation of the divine pleasure,” as used in 2 Corinthians 6:2, “ ‘At the acceptable time I listened to you, and on the day of salvation I helped you’; behold, now is ‘the acceptable time’, behold, now is ‘the day of salvation.’ ” This text shows that the welcome or acceptable time is the time of salvation. No matter what the age, race, sex, or social strata, when the heart hungers for God and for righteousness (Matt. 5:6), it is the welcome time for salvation. Commenting on this verse, Everett Harrison remarks, “The meaning is not that such persons are thereby saved (cf. Acts 11:14) but rather that they are suitable candidates for salvation. Such preparation betokens a spiritual earnestness that will result in faith as the gospel is heard and received (Interpreting Acts: The Expanding Church [Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986], 182).

Cornelius responded to the work of God in his soul, yet it must not be thought that he did that on his own, apart from the grace of God. The truth is that no one, whether Gentile (cf. Rom. 1:18ff.) or Jew (cf. Rom. 2:1ff.) does that (Rom. 3:10–18). God had worked in Cornelius’s heart so that he sought to know and obey God, and when he heard the saving truth of the gospel, he eagerly responded.

Peter introduced his message by assuring them that salvation was available to the prepared heart. Yet it was not enough for them merely to know of its availability; they needed to know how to appropriate the forgiveness of sin and deliverance from judgment. Peter turns, then, to the main theme of the gospel, namely that salvation comes through Jesus Christ to anyone from any nation. In the words of the hymn “The Church’s One Foundation,” the church is

Elect from ev’ry nation,

Yet one o’er all the earth.

The word of God containing the message of salvation came first to the sons of Israel (cf. Rom. 1:16). It was the glorious message of peace through Jesus Christ. All people are fallen and are enemies who are at war with God (cf. Rom. 5:10). The sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus Christ ended that hostility and brought peace between man and God by paying the price for sin. In the words of the apostle Paul, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Cor. 5:19), and has “made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col. 1:20). Salvation is offered to all because Jesus is Lord of all.

As already noted, Caesarea was the seat of the Roman government in Judea. Consequently, Peter can affirm to Cornelius and the others that you yourselves know the thing which took place throughout all Judea, starting from Galilee, after the baptism which John proclaimed. They were aware of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good, and healing all who were oppressed by the devil; for God was with Him.

The baptism which John proclaimed was a baptism signifying an attitude of repentance and longing for the reign of righteousness. It prepared the nation for the Messiah, who was Jesus of Nazareth. As He began His ministry, God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power (cf. Matt. 3:13–17; Luke 3:21–22). Peter describes that ministry as going about doing good, then lists as an example His healing of all who were oppressed by the devil. That phrase encompasses the whole gamut of human ailments, from direct demon oppression to disease to spiritual darkness. “The Son of God,” wrote the apostle John, “appeared for this purpose, that He might destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8). Jesus Christ’s complete overpowering of Satan and his demons left no doubt that God was with Him.

All they had heard about Jesus’ ministry was true, Peter affirms. He adds the apostolic corroboration that we are witnesses of all the things He did both in the land of the Jews and in Jerusalem, and then comes quickly to the significant event saying, And they also put Him to death by hanging Him on a cross. God raised Him up on the third day, and granted that He should become visible, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. That religious men would lead the effort to put to death the One who went about doing good and overruling the work of Satan illustrates the depths of human depravity—even when it is masked with religion. God, however, overturned the world and hell, vindicating Jesus by raising Him up on the third day.

The significance of Peter’s statement that Jesus became visible should not be overlooked. Countless heretics, from apostolic times to the present, have denied the truth of Christ’s physical resurrection. That fact is central to Christianity, however. Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 15:12–19 the serious consequences of denying the resurrection. If “Christ has not been raised, [our] faith is worthless; [we] are still in [our] sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). Those who deny Christ’s literal resurrection destroy the only bridge spanning the gulf separating them from God. For the record, Paul has left us the inspired fact that the risen Jesus appeared to Peter, then the Twelve, more than 500 believers at one time, then to James, all the apostles, and finally to himself (1 Cor. 15:5–8).

Not everyone had the privilege of witnessing the resurrected Christ, however. He appeared, Peter declares, not to all the people, but to witnesses who were chosen beforehand by God, that is, to us, who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead. God chose only a few to bear testimony to the world that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead, and all of them were believers. Peter’s reference to those who ate and drank with Him after He arose from the dead offers further proof of His bodily resurrection, since in Jewish thought spirit beings were incapable of such actions.

Verse 42 relates the warning that was essential to the apostolic witness. They were ordered (Commanded) to preach to the people, and solemnly to testify that this is the One who has been appointed by God as Judge of the living and the dead (cf. John 5:21–29; Acts 17:30–31; 2 Thess. 1:7–10; 2 Tim. 4:8; Rev. 19:11ff.). Jesus Christ will be to every person either deliverer or judge.

The apostles were not the only witnesses of Jesus Christ; so also were the prophets. They bore witness that through His name (By His power and authority) everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins. Isaiah (Isa. 53:11), Jeremiah (Jer. 31:34), and Zechariah (Zech. 13:1) were among those who spoke of the forgiveness Messiah would bring. All that Jesus is and did is the culmination of divine promises made centuries earlier. The last recorded line of Peter’s message, everyone who believes in Him receives forgiveness of sins, is essential. Every component is critical to the gospel. Everyone indicates the universal offer of saving grace (cf. Acts 2:39; 13:39; Rom. 9:33; 10:11; 1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Peter 3:9; Rev. 22:17). Who believes in Him indicates the means of receiving saving grace—by faith in Christ alone (Acts 9:42; 11:17; 13:39; 14:23; 15:9; 16:31; 19:4; cf. John 3:14–17; 6:69; Rom. 10:11; Gal. 3:22; Eph. 2:8–9). Receives forgiveness of sins indicates the marvelous, unspeakable privilege conferred by saving grace (Acts 2:38; 13:38–39; cf. Matt. 26:28; Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14).[1]


34–35 The sermon is prefaced by the words “opening his mouth, Peter said” (anoixas de Petros to stoma eipen). This was one way to introduce a weighty utterance (cf. Mt 5:2; 13:35 [quoting Ps 78:2]; Ac 8:35). In Luke’s eyes, what Peter was about to say was indeed momentous in sweeping away centuries of racial prejudice. It begins by Peter’s statement that God does not show “favoritism” or “partiality” (prosōpolēmptēs [GK 4720], which appears only here in the NT but whose synonym prosōpolēmpsia is found in Ro 2:11; Eph 6:9; Col 3:25; Jas 2:1; 1 Pe 1:17), “but accepts [people] from every nation who fear him and do what is right.” While some consciousness of this may be implicit in Israel’s history and at times have been expressed by her prophets (cf. Am 9:7; Mic 6:8), it was only by means of a revelational clarification—i.e., a “pesher” interpretation of what was earlier considered to be a highly enigmatic “mystery” (cf. Eph 3:4–6)—that Peter came to appreciate the racial challenge of the gospel.[2]


10:34–35. Luke understood the enormous impact of what he was about to write. In a few short sentences this brash disciple from Galilee, now a respected apostle from Jerusalem, would sweep away centuries of religious and racial prejudice. No longer was God only for the Jews, and no longer was Jesus only a Jewish Messiah. Here comes a new theology of remnant Christians from all nations of the world. The word for favoritism (prosopolemptes) appears only here in the New Testament, but synonyms show up in Romans 2:11, Ephesians 6:9, Colossians 3:25, and James 2:1.

We talked earlier about Mark writing Peter’s version of the life of Christ. Here we have a mini-summary of the Gospel of Mark, a revolutionary message indicating that salvation does not rest in the works of some religious group. It forms the racial challenge of the gospel—God does not distinguish faces. The body of Christ reaches worldwide. Its members come from every ethnic group where the gospel has been preached (Rom. 2:11; Eph. 2:11–22; Col. 3:25; Jas. 2:1; 1 Pet. 1:17).

Like the Ethiopian treasurer before him, Cornelius followed what light God had given and now became the recipient of more light, the full light of the message of Jesus and the gospel.[3]


  1. Peter said: “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.”

This is Peter’s first address to a Gentile audience. As a representative of the Christian church, he is fully aware of the uniqueness of this situation. He realizes the significance of his vision in Joppa and knows that he is doing God’s will. He says, “I truly understand that God shows no favoritism.” The Jews of Peter’s day lived by the doctrine that God had made a covenant with Abraham and his descendants and that they were God’s chosen people. They despised the Gentiles because, according to the Jews, God had rejected the Gentiles and had withheld his blessings from them.

The Jews also knew that God had told Abraham that in him all the nations of the earth would be blessed (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18; 26:4). So, then, believers of all nations would claim Abraham as their spiritual father. Interestingly, in his sermon at Solomon’s Colonnade Peter had quoted the words God had spoken to Abraham: “And through your offspring all the families of the earth will be blessed” (3:25). But at that time, Peter had not fully fathomed the depth of this divine saying. Now, however, Peter sees the fulfillment of God’s word to Abraham. The Roman centurion, the members of Cornelius’s household, and all his invited relatives and guests receive God’s blessing.

Peter appeals to the Scriptures when he says that God shows no favoritism. For instance, Moses tells the Israelites in the desert, “For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality nor takes bribes” (Deut. 10:17, NIV).41

God does not look at a person’s external appearance, nationality, wealth, social status, and achievements. In the light of God’s teaching given in a vision, Peter sets aside his ingrained bias against the Gentiles and, as he states, truthfully accepts the doctrine of God’s impartiality. He is convinced that salvation belongs to all nations and not merely to Israel. He knows that his earlier view of God was defective.

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in his justice,

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of man’s mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.

—Frederick W. Faber

  1. “But in every nation, the man who fears him and does what is right is accepted by God.”

The expression in every nation stands first in the sentence for emphasis. God excludes no country on the face of this earth but accepts believers from every nation into the church. God has removed the barrier between the nation Israel and the Gentiles. Nevertheless, God accepts a Gentile only when such a person fears him and obediently does his will. God accepts no sinner on his own merit; everybody, be he Jew or Gentile, must be saved through the atoning work of Jesus Christ. If Cornelius were acceptable on the basis of his own moral purity and personal religiosity, Peter would not have to preach Christ’s gospel in the officer’s home.

What is the meaning of Peter’s remark that God accepts a man who fears God and does what is right? Peter is saying that a person who seeks God and strives to keep his law is, on that account, eager to hear the good news of salvation. In Acts, Luke shows that God-fearers who earnestly do what is right readily place their trust in Jesus. When the apostles preach the gospel to them, they believe (see 16:14–15; 17:4, 12; 18:7–8). God receives people from every race, tribe, or tongue, not on the basis of their reverence for God and their striving after righteousness, but because they put their faith in Jesus. Thus, Peter reminds his audience of their knowledge of the Christ.[4]


10:34, 35 Peter prefaced his message with a frank admission. Up to now he had believed that God’s favor was limited to the nation of Israel. Now he realized that God did not respect a man’s person because of his nationality, but was interested in an honest, contrite heart, whether in a Jew or a Gentile. “In every nation whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.”

There are two principal interpretations of verse 35:

  1. Some think that if one truly repents and seeks after God, he is saved even if he has never heard about the Lord Jesus. The argument is that although the man himself might not know about Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice, yet God knows about it and saves the man on the basis of that sacrifice. He reckons the value of the work of Christ to the man whenever He finds true faith.
  2. The other view is that even if a man fears God and works righteousness, he is not thereby saved. Salvation is only by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. But when God finds a man who has lived up to the light he has received about the Lord, He makes sure that the man hears the gospel and thus has the opportunity to be saved.

We believe that the second view is the proper interpretation.[5]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1994). Acts (pp. 298–302). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Longenecker, R. N. (2007). Acts. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 880). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Gangel, K. O. (1998). Acts (Vol. 5, pp. 163–164). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the Acts of the Apostles (Vol. 17, pp. 391–392). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

[5] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1613–1614). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

August 9, 2017: Verse of the day

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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).[1]


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.[2]


4:13. Diverse gifts create and build up one body in unity. This unity is in faith and knowledge of Christ. Christ does not try to build up superstars in his kingdom with superior faith or superior knowledge. He tries to build up a church unified in its faith and knowledge, each member being built up to maturity. All are to reach the fullness of Christ. The church’s goal is that each member and thus the entire church will show to the world all the attributes and qualities of Christ. Then the church will truly be the one body of Christ.[3]


13. until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the clear knowledge of the Son of God. This brings us back again to the spiritual unity demanded in verse 3, and to the “one faith” to which reference was made in verse 5. It also reminds us of 3:19: “in order that you may be filled to all the fulness of God.” When verse 13 is considered in the light of the preceding verses it becomes clear that what the apostle has in mind is this, that the entire church—consisting not only of apostles, prophets, evangelists, “pastors and teachers,” but of all others besides—should be faithful to its calling of rendering service, with a view to the upbuilding of the body of Christ, so that true, spiritual unity and growth may be promoted. Note “we all.” There is no room in Christ’s church for drones, only for busy bees. To the Thessalonians the apostle had said, “For we hear that some among you are conducting themselves in a disorderly manner, not busy workers but busybodies” (2 Thess. 3:11). Paul sharply rebuked that attitude. It is exactly unity that is promoted when all become busily engaged in the affairs of the church and when each member eagerly renders service for which the Lord has equipped him. Thus, it has happened repeatedly that young people began to be imbued with enthusiasm when they engaged in this or that church program. For example, the Board of Home Missions of a certain denomination launches a S(ummer) W(orkshop) I(n) M(issions) program. This program requires of the young people who are in it that at different places throughout the country for several weeks during the summer they not only receive special instruction in the aims and methods of missions but also make contact with those who have not been previously reached for Christ. They bring the message, teach, and organize various social and religious activities. They are not afraid to live for a while in a slum district in close and beneficial contact with the community. How the eyes of these young people sparkle upon their return, for they have a story to tell, and are far more aglow with interest in Christ and his church than ever before. Often the contacts made during the summer are continued by means of correspondence and return visits. Also, the Young People’s societies and the congregations that have taken part in sponsoring the program, having become thus involved, receive an added blessing when the young witnesses bring their reports. Thus, unity has been promoted, a unity of faith in Christ and of knowledge—not just intellectual but heart-knowledge—of the Lord and Savior, who, because of his majesty and greatness, is here called “the Son of God” (cf. Rom. 1:4; Gal. 2:20; 1 Thess. 1:10). Thus all believers advance to a fullgrown man. The underlying figure is that of a strong, mature, well-built male (not just “human being”). In Col. 4:12 this maturity is described as follows: “fully assured in all the will of God.” For a detailed tabulation of the meaning of the word fullgrown or mature see N.T.C. on Phil. 3:15, p. 176, footnote 156. Just as a physically robust man can be pictured as being filled with vibrant strength and without defect, so the spiritually mature individual, which is the ideal for all believers to attain, is without spiritual flaw, filled with goodness, that is, with every Christian virtue that results from faith in, and heart-knowledge of, the Son of God. Continued: to the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ. One could also translate: “to an age-measure marked by the fulness of Christ” (cf. Lenski, op. cit., pp. 532, 536). It does not matter whether the underlying figure is fulness of age or fulness of stature, for in either case it is a “fulness of Christ” that is meant (thus also Grosheide, op. cit., p. 68, footnote 26). It is a fulness of him who completely fulfilled the earthly mission for which he had been anointed, and who is willing to impart to those who believe in him salvation full and free.

The question has been asked, Do believers during their present life on earth attain to this “measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ”? According to some they do. Lenski, for example, mentions Paul as one who had attained to it (op. cit., p. 533). The passage itself, however, does not really teach this. To be sure, it should be granted that not all remain “babes” in Christ. A degree—in fact, a high degree—of maturity can be attained even here and now. And the more wholeheartedly all the saints strive to promote it by rendering humble and wholehearted service to one another and to the kingdom in general, the more also the ideal will be realized. Nevertheless, full, spiritual maturity, one that in the highest degree attains to “the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ,” cannot be realized this side of death. Paul himself would be one of the first to admit this. See what he said concerning himself in Rom. 7:14: “I am carnal, sold under sin”; and what he is going to say very shortly after Ephesians had been delivered to its destination: “Brothers, I do not count myself yet to have laid hold. But one thing (I do), forgetting what lies behind (me), and eagerly straining forward to what lies ahead, I am pressing on toward the goal, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14, 15). For the rest, as to degree, time, and possibility of attainment, see on 3:19 where the same subject is discussed.[4]


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

[2] 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.

[3] Anders, M. (1999). Galatians-Colossians (Vol. 8, p. 152). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Hendriksen, W., & Kistemaker, S. J. (1953–2001). Exposition of Ephesians (Vol. 7, pp. 198–200). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

August 6, 2017: Verse of the day

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The Priority: Preaching the Gospel

I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gains, that no man should say you were baptized in my name. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. (1:14–17)

Crispus was the leader of the synagogue in Corinth when Paul first ministered there and was converted under the apostle’s preaching. His conversion led to that of many others in the city (Acts 18:8). Since the letter to the Romans was written from Corinth, this Gaius was probably the Corinthian “host” to whom Paul refers in Romans 16:23. The apostle was grateful that he had personally baptized only those two and a few others.

Jesus did not baptize anyone personally (John 4:2). To have been baptized by the Lord Himself would have brought almost irresistible temptation to pride and would have tended to set such people apart, whether they wanted to be or not. As an apostle, Paul faced a similar danger. But he also had another: the danger of creating his own cult; and so he declared, I thank God … that no man should say you were baptized in my name.

As already mentioned, it is not wrong to have special affection for certain persons, such as the one who baptized us, especially if we were converted under his ministry. But it is quite wrong to take special pride in that fact or pride in any close relationship to a Christian leader. Paul was not flattered that a group in Corinth was claiming special allegiance to him. He was distraught and ashamed at the idea, as he had already said: “Paul was not crucified for you, was he? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul?” (1:13). “How could you even think of showing a loyalty to me,” he was saying, “that belongs only to the Lord Jesus Christ?” He wanted no cult built around himself or around any other church leader.

Paul was not certain of the exact number he had baptized in Corinth. Now I did baptize also the household of Stephanas; beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any other. This comment gives an interesting insight into the inspiration of Scripture. As an apostle writing the Word of God, Paul made no errors; but he was not omniscient. God protected His apostles from error in order to protect His Word from error. But Paul did not know everything about God or even about himself, and was careful never to make such a claim. He knew what God revealed—things he had no way of knowing on his own. What he could know on his own, he was prone to forget. He was one of us.

Another reason for Paul’s baptizing so few converts was that his primary calling lay elsewhere. For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. He was not sent to start a cult of people baptized by him. Jesus had personally commissioned him: “For this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (Acts 26:16–18). His calling was to preach the gospel and bring men to oneness in Christ, not in baptizing to create a faction around himself.

As we each have the right priority in our lives, we too will be determined to serve the Lord in truth and in unity, not living in the carnality and confusion of dissension and division.[1]


17 Paul then uses the opportunity to reflect on what Christ did call him to do—“not … to baptize, but to preach the gospel” (euangelizō, GK 2294). It is not, of course, as though Paul considered baptism to be an unimportant or even optional element in a Christian’s life. In Romans 6:3–14, for example, he uses baptism as a powerful argument for living a Christian life that is dead to sin and alive to God, and he assumes that all believers have been baptized (cf. also Col 2:11–12). But Paul’s unique gift—that for which Christ commissioned him as an apostle—was to evangelize. By the same token, however, Paul’s comments on baptism also rule out any sort of magical view of baptism; the crucial thing in a person’s life is to hear the gospel message and to respond in faith.

In the last part of v. 17, Paul shifts his emphasis from the nature of his calling to its execution. When he preaches, he does not do so “with words of human wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” Paul does not speak his words in the manner of the Sophists, who were more concerned about eloquence than content. For the apostle, content—namely, the message of the cross of Christ—is the most important thing. It is the message that has the power to save, for “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Ro 10:9). This should be the focus of any preacher’s or evangelist’s message.[2]


1:17. This verse serves as a hinge in Paul’s discussion. It closes his preceding discussion of baptism and transitions to his next topic. The conclusion to the previous matter amounts to an explanation that Christ did not send him to baptize, but to preach the gospel. It would appear that Paul followed the example of Jesus in this matter. Christ preached, and delegated baptism primarily to his disciples (John 4:1–2). Paul followed the same practice; he proclaimed the gospel and left baptism primarily to his converts, who supervised the ongoing life of the church.

The expression “preach the gospel” moved Paul’s thoughts in a different but related direction. What was the nature of the gospel he preached? It was devoid of words of human wisdom. This phrase may be translated more literally, “wisdom of words.” The idea is that his preaching did not rely on cleverness or eloquence. Paul distinguished himself from the Greek orators of his day who sought to persuade with impressive rhetoric and style. Paul insisted that his own preaching was simple and straightforward. He avoided great oratory because he did not want to distract from the message itself. His style of preaching was self-effacing, pointing to the source of salvation, Christ.

Paul was concerned that the cross of Christ not be emptied of its power when presented in preaching. The gospel message contradicts human wisdom, so that it cannot be mixed with the power of human wisdom and manipulative persuasion. For this reason, those in Corinth who tried to defend their faith and practices through human wisdom actually opposed the way of the gospel. The power of the cross was the “power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). Salvation comes only from the atonement of Christ, purchased by his suffering on the cross. The recognition and reception of that power was Paul’s chief concern as he proclaimed the gospel.[3]


17. For Christ sent me not to baptize but to preach the gospel, not in wisdom of words that the cross of Christ may not be emptied.

In this text, Paul expresses one positive element and three negative ones. The affirmative statement is that Christ sent him to preach the message of salvation. The disclaimers are that Paul was not told to baptize believers, that the proclamation of this message should not become a philosophical treatise, and that Christ’s cross should not lose its central position.

  • Task. In the preceding two verses (vv. 15, 16) Paul emphatically states that he has no interest in baptizing converts. Now he conveys the reason: Christ commissioned him to be a preacher of the gospel (Rom. 1:1; 15:15–16; Gal. 1:16). The task of preaching the gospel requires talent, education, tact, and skill. Baptizing believers is a simple act that requires no training, but preaching is a constant task of leading people to repentance, faith, new life, and growth. Baptizing is a one-time act that distinguishes a Christian from the world, but preaching takes place every Lord’s Day and often on weekdays.

Paul is by no means discrediting baptism. He is following the example Jesus set during his earthly ministry: Christ proclaimed the gospel and the disciples baptized the believers (John 4:1–2). Jesus designated the apostles fishers of men (Matt. 4:19) and commissioned them to catch men through preaching. “To preach the gospel is to cast the net; it is apostolic work. To baptize is to gather the fish now taken and put them into vessels.” Paul had to use all his time and talent to preach the Word and hence left the matter of baptism primarily to others.

  • Manner. “Not in wisdom of words.” Paul does not say “words of wisdom” or “wisdom to speak,” but, to be precise, “in wisdom of words.” This is the first time in the epistle that Paul writes the word wisdom. In the succeeding verses of chapters 1 and 2, he uses the word as he contrasts God’s wisdom and worldly wisdom. But in this verse, the phrase wisdom of words describes the manner of a Greek orator who eloquently delivers a speech. In Greek rhetoric, speakers cleverly presented philosophical arguments to support a particular viewpoint. Paul separates himself from this procedure, for he proclaims the message of the cross in simple terms.

By preaching the gospel in plain terms, Paul follows the example of Jesus. Jesus proclaimed the message of salvation and the common people heard him gladly. Similarly, the apostles were commissioned to preach the gospel with simplicity and clarity. “ ‘To tell good news in wisdom of word’ is a contradiction; ‘news’ only needs and admits of straightforward telling. To dress out the story of Calvary in specious theorems, would have been to ‘empty the cross of Christ,’ to eviscerate the Gospel.”

“[So] that the cross of Christ may not be emptied.” When Paul proclaimed the message of Christ’s death on Calvary’s cross, he was scorned in the Greco-Roman world. That world rejected the message of an ignominious death on a cross. If Paul, however, had adopted Greek practice and had delivered his message with rhetorical eloquence, the message of the cross would have been emptied of its power and glory. Then his message would have had a hollow ring and consequently no conversions and baptisms would have taken place.

The Corinthians knew that Paul had preached the gospel of Christ’s death without resorting to oratory and human wisdom (see 2:1). In humility, he had called them to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. He had pointed to the shameful cross of Christ by which they were saved from sin and death.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 32–33). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 267). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Pratt, R. L., Jr. (2000). I & II Corinthians (Vol. 7, pp. 10–11). Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman Publishers.

[4] Kistemaker, S. J., & Hendriksen, W. (1953–2001). Exposition of the First Epistle to the Corinthians (Vol. 18, pp. 50–52). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.