Category Archives: Expositor’s Bible Commentary

April 30, 2017: Verse of the day

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4 The communal confession arouses another invocation to give thanks to the Lord. The worshiping community entered the temple courts (cf. 96:8) through the gates. The verb “enter” (bōʾû), identical to the verb in v. 2 translated “come,” resumes the invocation to praise. In fact, when vv. 1, 2, and 4 are read as a unit, the imperatival parallelism is clearer:

  1. 1–2: “Shout for joy … Worship … come”
  2. 4: “Enter [‘come’ in v. 2] … give thanks … praise”

Verses 1–2 bring out the joyful acclamation of God’s kingship, whereas v. 4 stresses the communal act of worship. They come “with thanksgiving” and “with praise.” These are the appropriate sacrifices of “thanks” to his name for all the benefits. Thanksgiving and praise go together, because the Lord reveals himself both in his perfections and acts (cf. 139:1; cf. Jer 33:11).[1]


100:4 Entering the presence of God has been made possible through Christ who opened the way (John 14:6; Heb. 10:19–22).[2]


[1] VanGemeren, W. A. (2008). Psalms. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Psalms (Revised Edition) (Vol. 5, p. 743). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1064). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

April 30 – Realizing Your Reward

“Blessed are you when men revile you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matt. 5:11–12).

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The sacrifices you make for Christ’s sake in this life will be abundantly compensated for in Heaven.

God’s promise for those who are persecuted for His sake is that their reward in Heaven will be great (Matt. 5:12). Jesus said, “Everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name’s sake, shall receive many times as much, and shall inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29).

Focusing on that promise instead of your present circumstances is how you can experience happiness amid suffering. That was Paul’s great confidence even as he faced certain death. In 2 Timothy 4:8 he declares, “In the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Another source of joy in trials is knowing that you share the fate of the prophets themselves (Matt. 5:12). Those godly men suffered untold hardships for proclaiming God’s message. That’s a noble group to be identified with!

One final word of encouragement from Matthew 5:11—persecution will not be incessant! Jesus said, “Blessed are you when . . .” The Greek word translated “when” means “whenever.” You won’t always be persecuted, but whenever you are, you will be blessed. In addition, God will govern its intensity so you will be able to bear it (1 Cor. 10:13). He knows your human weaknesses and will supply the necessary grace and peace to get you through. That’s why you can rejoice when otherwise you might be devastated and filled with grief.

If you are willing to make sacrifices now, you will receive incomparable rewards in the future. How shortsighted are those who protect themselves now by denying Christ or by compromising His truth rather than sacrificing the present for the sake of eternal blessing and glory!

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Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for the example of the prophets and others who have suffered for Him.

For Further Study: Read Matthew 21:33–39 and Hebrews 11:32–38. ✧ How did Jesus illustrate the persecution of God’s prophets? ✧ What is Scripture’s commendation to those who suffered for righteousness’ sake?[1]


Happy Are the Harassed

Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me. Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.” (5:10–12)

Of all the beatitudes, this last one seems the most contrary to human thinking and experience. The world does not associate happiness with humility, mourning over sin, gentleness, righteousness, mercy, purity of heart, or peacemaking holiness. Even less does it associate happiness with persecution.

Some years ago a popular national magazine took a survey to determine the things that make people happy. According to the responses they received, happy people enjoy other people but are not self-sacrificing; they refuse to participate in any negative feelings or emotions; and they have a sense of accomplishment based on their own self-sufficiency.

The person described by those principles is completely contrary to the kind of person the Lord says will be authentically happy. Jesus says a blessed person is not one who is self-sufficient but one who recognizes his own emptiness and need, who comes to God as a beggar, knowing he has no resources in himself. He is not confident in his own ability but is very much aware of his own inability. Such a person, Jesus says, is not at all positive about himself but mourns over his own sinfulness and isolation from a holy God. To be genuinely content, a person must not be self-serving but self-sacrificing. He must be gentle, merciful, pure in heart, yearn for righteousness, and seek to make peace on God’s terms-even if those attitudes cause him to suffer.

The Lord’s opening thrust in the Sermon on the Mount climaxes with this great and sobering truth: those who faithfully live according to the first seven beatitudes are guaranteed at some point to experience the eighth. Those who live righteously will inevitably be persecuted for it. Godliness generates hostility and antagonism from the world. The crowning feature of the happy person is persecution! Kingdom people are rejected people. Holy people are singularly blessed, but they pay a price for it.

The last beatitude is really two in one, a single beatitude repeated and expanded. Blessed is mentioned twice (vv. 10, 11), but only one characteristic (persecuted) is given, although it is mentioned three times, and only one result (for theirs is the kingdom of heaven) is promised. Blessed apparently is repeated to emphasize the generous blessing given by God to those who are persecuted. “Double-blessed are those who are persecuted,” Jesus seems to be saying.

Three distinct aspects of kingdom faithfulness are spoken of in this beatitude: the persecution, the promise, and the posture.

The Persecution

Those who have been persecuted are the citizens of the kingdom, those who live out the previous seven beatitudes. To the degree that they fulfill the first seven they may experience the eighth.

“All who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). Before writing those words Paul had just mentioned some of his own “persecutions, and suffering, such as happened to me at Antioch, at Iconium and at Lystra” (v. 11). As one who lived the kingdom life he had been persecuted, and all others who live the kingdom life can expect similar treatment. What was true in ancient Israel is true today and will remain true until the Lord returns. “As at that time he who was born according to the flesh persecuted him who was born according to the Spirit, so it is now also” (Gal. 4:29).

Imagine a man who accepted a new job in which he had to work with especially profane people. When at the end of the first day his wife asked him how he had managed, he said, “Terrific! They never guessed I was a Christian.” As long as people have no reason to believe that we are Christians, at least obedient and righteous Christians, we need not worry about persecution. But as we manifest the standards of Christ we will share the reproach of Christ. Those born only of the flesh will persecute those born of the Spirit.

To live for Christ is to live in opposition to Satan in his world and in his system. Christlikeness in us will produce the same results as Christlikeness did in the apostles, in the rest of the early church, and in believers throughout history. Christ living in His people today produces the same reaction from the world that Christ Himself produced when He lived on earth as a man.

Righteousness is confrontational, and even when it is not preached in so many words, it confronts wickedness by its very contrast. Abel did not preach to Cain, but Abel’s righteous life, typified by his proper sacrifice to the Lord, was a constant rebuke to his wicked brother-who in a rage finally slew him. When Moses chose to identify with his own despised Hebrew people rather than compromise himself in the pleasures of pagan Egyptian society, he paid a great price. But he considered “the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures of Egypt” (Heb. 11:26).

The Puritan writer Thomas Watson said of Christians: “Though they be never so meek, merciful, pure in heart, their piety will not shield them from sufferings. They must hang their harp on the willows and take the cross. The way to heaven is by way of thorns and blood. … Set it down as a maxim, if you will follow Christ you must see the swords and staves” (The Beatitudes [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1971], pp. 259–60).

Savonarola was one of the greatest reformers in the history of the church. In his powerful condemnation of personal sin and ecclesiastical corruption, that Italian preacher paved the way for the Protestant Reformation, which began a few years after his death. “His preaching was a voice of thunder,” writes one biographer, “and his denunciation of sin was so terrible that the people who listened to him went about the streets half-dazed, bewildered and speechless. His congregations were so often in tears that the whole building resounded with their sobs and their weeping.” But the people and the church could not long abide such a witness, and for preaching uncompromised righteousness Savonarola was convicted of “heresy,” he was hanged, and his body was burned.

Persecution is one of the surest and most tangible evidences of salvation. Persecution is not incidental to faithful Christian living but is certain evidence of it. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians by sending them Timothy, “so that no man may be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this. For indeed when we were with you, we kept telling you in advance that we were going to suffer affliction; and so it came to pass, as you know” (1 Thess. 3:3–4). Suffering persecution is part of the normal Christian life (cf. Rom. 8:16–17). And if we never experience ridicule, criticism, or rejection because of our faith, we have reason to examine the genuineness of it. “For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake,” Paul says, “not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, experiencing the same conflict which you saw in me, and now hear to be in me” (Phil. 1:29–30). Persecution for Christ’s sake is a sign of our own salvation just as it is a sign of damnation for those who do the persecuting (v. 28).

Whether Christians live in a relatively protected and tolerant society or whether they live under a godless, totalitarian regime, the world will find ways to persecute Christ’s church. To live a redeemed life to its fullest is to invite and to expect resentment and reaction from the world.

The fact that many professed believers are popular and praised by the world does not indicate that the world has raised its standards but that many who call themselves by Christ’s name have lowered theirs. As the time for Christ’s appearing grows closer we can expect opposition from the world to increase, not decrease. When Christians are not persecuted in some way by society it means that they are reflecting rather than confronting that society. And when we please the world we can be sure that we grieve the Lord (cf. James 4:4; 1 John 2:15–17).

When (hotan) can also mean whenever. The idea conveyed in the term is not that believers will be in a constant state of opposition, ridicule, or persecution, but that, whenever those things come to us because of our faith, we should not be surprised or resentful. Jesus was not constantly opposed and ridiculed, nor were the apostles. There were times of peace and even popularity. But every faithful believer will at times have some resistance and ridicule from the world, while others, for God’s own purposes, will endure more extreme suffering. But whenever and however affliction comes to the child of God, his heavenly Father will be there with him to encourage and to bless. Our responsibility is not to seek out persecution, but to be willing to endure whatever trouble our faithfulness to Jesus Christ may bring, and to see it as a confirmation of true salvation.

The way to avoid persecution is obvious and easy. To live like the world, or at least to “live and let live,” will cost us nothing. To mimic the world’s standards, or never to criticize them, will cost us nothing. To keep quiet about the gospel, especially the truth that apart from its saving power men remain in their sins and are destined for hell, will cost us nothing. To go along with the world, to laugh at its jokes, to enjoy its entertainment, to smile when it mocks God and takes His name in vain, and to be ashamed to take a stand for Christ will not bring persecution. Those are the habits of sham Christians.

Jesus does not take faithlessness lightly. “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words, of him will the Son of Man be ashamed when He comes in His glory, and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:26). If we are ashamed of Christ, He will be ashamed of us. Christ also warned, “Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for in the same way their fathers used to treat the false prophets” (Luke 6:26). To be popular with everyone is either to have compromised the faith or not to have true faith at all.

Though it was early in His ministry, by the time Jesus preached the Sermon on the Mount He had already faced opposition. After He healed the man on the Sabbath, “the Pharisees went out and immediately began taking counsel with the Herodians against Him, as to how they might destroy Him” (Mark 3:6). We learn from Luke that they were actually hoping Jesus would heal on the Sabbath “in order that they might find reason to accuse Him” (Luke 6:7). They already hated His teaching and wanted Him to commit an act serious enough to warrant His arrest.

Our Lord made it clear from His earliest teaching, and His opponents made it clear from their earliest reactions, that following Him was costly. Those who entered His kingdom would suffer for Him before they would reign with Him. That is the hard honesty that every preacher, evangelist, and witness of Christ should exemplify. We do the Lord no honor and those to whom we witness no benefit by hiding or minimizing the cost of following Him.

The cost of discipleship is billed to believers in many different ways. A Christian stonemason in Ephesus in Paul’s day might have been asked to help build a pagan temple or shrine. Because he could not do that in good conscience, his faith would cost him the work and possibly his job and career. A believer today might be expected to hedge on the quality of his work in order to increase company profits. To follow His conscience in obedience to the Lord could also cost his job or at least a promotion. A Christian housewife who refuses to listen to gossip or to laugh at the crude jokes of her neighbors may find herself ostracized. Some costs will be known in advance and some will surprise us. Some costs will be great and some will be slight. But by the Lord’s and the apostles’ repeated promises, faithfulness always has a cost, which true Christians are willing to pay (contrast Matt. 13:20–21).

The second-century Christian leader Tertullian was once approached by a man who said, “I have come to Christ, but I don’t know what to do. I have a job that I don’t think is consistent with what Scripture teaches. What can I do? I must live.” To that Tertullian replied, “Must you?” Loyalty to Christ is the Christian’s only true choice. To be prepared for kingdom life is to be prepared for loneliness, misunderstanding, ridicule, rejection, and unfair treatment of every sort.

In the early days of the church the price paid was often the ultimate. To choose Christ might mean choosing death by stoning, by being covered with pitch and used as a human torch for Nero, or by being wrapped in animal skins and thrown to vicious hunting dogs. To choose Christ could mean torture by any number of excessively cruel and painful ways. That was the very thing Christ had in mind when He identified His followers as those willing to bear their crosses. That has no reference to mystical devotion, but is a call to be ready to die, if need be, for the cause of the Lord (see Matt. 10:35–39; 16:24–25).

In resentment against the gospel the Romans invented charges against Christians, such as accusing them of being cannibals because in the Lord’s Supper they spoke of eating Jesus’ body and drinking His blood. They accused them of having sexual orgies at their love feasts and even of setting fire to Rome. They branded believers as revolutionaries because they called Jesus Lord and King and spoke of God’s destroying the earth by fire.

By the end of the first century, Rome had expanded almost to the outer limits of the known world, and unity became more and more of a problem. Because only the emperor personified the entire empire, the caesars came to be deified, and their worship was demanded as a unifying and cohesive influence. It became compulsory to give a verbal oath of allegiance to caesar once a year, for which a person would be given a verifying certificate, called a libellus. After publicly proclaiming, “Caesar is Lord,” the person was free to worship any other gods he chose. Because faithful Christians refused to declare such an allegiance to anyone but Christ, they were considered traitors-for which they suffered confiscation of property, loss of work, imprisonment, and often death. One Roman poet spoke of them as “the panting, huddling flock whose only crime was Christ.”

In the last beatitude Jesus speaks of three specific types of affliction endured for Christ’s sake: physical persecution, verbal insult, and false accusation.

Physical Persecution

First, Jesus says, we can expect physical persecution. Have been persecuted (v. 10), persecute (v. 11), and persecuted (v. 12) are from diōkō, which has the basic meaning of chasing, driving away, or pursuing. From that meaning developed the connotations of physical persecution, harassment, abuse, and other unjust treatment.

All of the other beatitudes have to do with inner qualities, attitudes, and spiritual character. The eighth beatitude speaks of external things that happen to believers, but the teaching behind these results also has to do with attitude. The believer who has the qualities required in the previous beatitudes will also have the quality of willingness to face persecution for the sake of righteousness. He will have the attitude of self-sacrifice for the sake of Christ. It is the lack of fear and shame and the presence of courage and boldness that says, “I will be in this world what Christ would have me be. I will say in this world what Christ will have me say. Whatever it costs, I will be and say those things.”

The Greek verb is a passive perfect participle, and could be translated “allow themselves to be persecuted.” The perfect form indicates continuousness, in this case a continuous willingness to endure persecution if it is the price of godly living. This beatitude speaks of a constant attitude of accepting whatever faithfulness to Christ may bring.

It is in the demands of this beatitude that many Christians break down in their obedience to the Lord, because here is where the genuineness of their response to the other beatitudes is most strongly tested. It is here where we are most tempted to compromise the righteousness we have hungered and thirsted for. It is here where we find it convenient to lower God’s standards to accommodate the world and thereby avoid conflicts and problems that we know obedience will bring.

But God does not want His gospel altered under pretense of its being less demanding, less righteous, or less truthful than it is. He does not want witnesses who lead the unsaved into thinking that the Christ life costs nothing. A synthetic gospel, a man-made seed, produces no real fruit.

Verbal Insults

Second, Jesus promises that kingdom citizens are blessed … when men cast insults at them. Oneidizō carries the idea of reviling, upbraiding, or seriously insulting, and literally means to cast in one’s teeth. To cast insults is to throw abusive words in the face of an opponent, to mock viciously.

To be an obedient citizen of the kingdom is to court verbal abuse and reviling. As He stood before the Sanhedrin after His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus was spat upon, beaten, and taunted with the words “Prophesy to us, You Christ; who is the one who hit You?” (Matt. 26:67–68). As He was being sentenced to crucifixion by Pilate, Jesus was again beaten, spit upon, and mocked, this time by the Roman soldiers (Mark 15:19–20).

Faithfulness to Christ may even cause friends and loved ones to say things that cut and hurt deeply. Several years ago I received a letter from a woman who told of a friend who had decided to divorce her husband for no just cause. The friend was a professed Christian, but when she was confronted with the truth that what she was doing was scripturally wrong, she became defensive and hostile. She was reminded of God’s love and grace, of His power to mend whatever problems she and her husband were having, and of the Bible’s standards for marriage and divorce. But she replied that she did not believe the Bible was really God’s Word but was simply a collection of men’s ideas about God that each person had to accept, reject, or interpret for himself. When her friend wanted to read some specific Bible passages to her, she refused to listen. She had made up her mind and would not give heed to Scripture or to reason. With hate in her eyes she accused the other woman of luring her into her house in order to ridicule and embarrass her, saying she could not possibly love her by questioning her right to get a divorce. As she left, she slammed the door behind her.

The woman who wrote the letter concluded by saying, “I love her, and it is with a heavy heart that I realize the extent of her rejection of Christ. Painful as this has been, I thank God. For the first time in my life I know what it is to be separate from the world.”

Paul told the Corinthian church, whose members had such a difficult time separating themselves from the world, “For, I think, God has exhibited us apostles last of all, as men condemned to death; because we have become a spectacle to the world, both to angels and to men” (1 Cor. 4:9). Paul drew the expression “become a spectacle” from the practice of Roman generals to parade their captives through the street of the city, making a spectacle of them as trophies of war who were doomed to die once the general had used them to serve his proud and arrogant purposes. That is the way the world is inclined to treat those who are faithful to Christ.

In a note of strong sarcasm to enforce his point, Paul continues, “We are fools for Christ’s sake, but you are prudent in Christ; we are weak, but you are strong; you are distinguished, but we are without honor” (v. 10). Many in the Corinthian church suffered none of the ridicule and conflict the apostle suffered because they prized their standing before the world more than their standing before the Lord. In the world’s eyes they were prudent, strong, and distinguished-because they were still so much like the world.

God does not call His people to be sanctified celebrities, using their worldly reputations in a self-styled effort to bring Him glory, using their power to supplement His power and their wisdom to enhance His gospel. We can mark it down as a cardinal principle that to the extent the world embraces a Christian cause or person-or that a Christian cause or person embraces the world-to that extent that cause or person has compromised the gospel and scriptural standards.

If Paul had capitalized on his human credentials he could have drawn greater crowds and certainly have received greater welcome wherever he went. His credentials were impressive. “If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more,” he says. He was “circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee” (Phil. 3:4–5). He had been “caught up to the third heaven, … into Paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2, 4) and had spoken in tongues more than anyone else (1 Cor. 14:18). He had studied under the famous rabbi Gamaliel and was even a free-born Roman citizen (Acts 22:3, 29). But all those things the apostle “counted as loss for the sake of Christ, … but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ” (Phil. 3:7–8). He refused to use worldly means to try to achieve spiritual purposes, because he knew they would fail.

The marks of authenticity Paul carried as an apostle and minister of Jesus Christ were his credentials as a servant and a sufferer, “in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city; dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure” (2 Cor. 11:23–27).

The only thing of which he would boast was his weakness (12:5), and when he preached he was careful not to rely on “superiority of speech or of wisdom” (1 Cor. 2:1), which he could easily have done. “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified,” he told the Corinthians. “And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God” (vv. 2–5).

We live in a day when the church, more than ever before, is engaged in self-glorification and an attempt to gain worldly recognition that must be repulsive to God. When the church tries to use the things of the world to do the work of heaven, it only succeeds in hiding heaven from the world. And when the world is pleased with the church, we can be sure that God is not. We can be equally sure that when we are pleasing to God, we will not be pleasing to the system of Satan.

False Accusation

Third, faithfulness to Christ will bring enemies of the gospel to say all kinds of evil against [us] falsely. Whereas insults are abusive words said to our faces, these evil things are primarily abusive words said behind our backs.

Jesus’ critics said of Him, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax-gatherers and sinners” (Matt. 11:19). If the world said that of the sinless Christ, what things can His followers expect to be called and accused of?

Slander behind our backs is harder to take partly because it is harder to defend against than direct accusation. It has opportunity to spread and be believed before we have a chance to correct it. Much harm to our reputations can be done even before we are aware someone has slandered us.

We cannot help regretting slander, but we should not grieve about it. We should count ourselves blessed, as our Lord assures us we shall be when the slander is on account of Me.

Arthur Pink comments that “it is a strong proof of human depravity that men’s curses and Christ’s blessings should meet on the same persons” (An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1950], p. 39). We have no surer evidence of the Lord’s blessing than to be cursed for His sake. It should not seriously bother us when men’s curses fall on the head that Christ has eternally blessed.

The central theme of the Beatitudes is righteousness. The first two have to do with recognizing our own unrighteousness, and the next five have to do with our seeking and reflecting righteousness. The last beatitude has to do with our suffering for the sake of righteousness. The same truth is expressed in the second part of the beatitude as on account of Me. Jesus is not speaking of every hardship, problem, or conflict believers may face, but those that the world brings on us because of our faithfulness to the Lord.

It is clear again that the hallmark of the blessed person is righteousness. Holy living is what provokes persecution of God’s people. Such persecution because of a righteous life is joyous. Peter identifies such experience as a happy honor.

And who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong. For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, in order that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit.” (1 Pet. 3:13–18)

With those words, the apostle extols the privilege of suffering for holiness, and thus of sharing in a small way in the same type of suffering Christ endured. In the next chapter, Peter emphasizes the same thing.

Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you; but to the degree that you share the sufferings of Christ, keep on rejoicing; so that also at the revelation of His glory, you may rejoice with exultation. If you are reviled for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you. … If anyone suffers as a Christian, let him not feel ashamed, but in that name let him glorify God. … Therefore, let those also who suffer according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right.” (4:12–14, 16, 19)

When we are hated, maligned, or afflicted as Christians, the real animosity is not against us but against Christ. Satan’s great enemy is Christ, and he opposes us because we belong to Jesus Christ, because He is in us. When we are despised and attacked by the world, the real target is the righteousness for which we stand and which we exemplify. That is why it is easy to escape persecution. Whether under pagan Rome, atheistic Communism, or simply a worldly boss, it is usually easy to be accepted if we will denounce or compromise our beliefs and standards. The world will accept us if we are willing to put some distance between ourselves and the Lord’s righteousness.

In the closing days of His ministry Jesus repeatedly and plainly warned His disciples of that truth. “If the world hates you,” He said, “you know that it has hated Me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you; if they kept My word, they will keep yours also. But all these things they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know the One who sent Me” (John 15:18–21).

The world went along for thousands of years before it ever saw a perfect man. Until Christ came, every person, even God’s best, were sinful and flawed. All had feet of clay. To see God’s people fail and sin is often taken as an encouragement by the wicked. They point a finger and say, “He claims to be righteous and good, but look at what he did.” It is easy to feel smug and secure in one’s sinfulness when everyone else is also sinful and imperfect. But when Christ came, the world finally saw the perfect Man, and all excuse for smugness and self-confidence vanished. And instead of rejoicing in the sinless Man, sinful men resented the rebuke that His teaching and His life brought against them. They crucified Him for His very perfection, for His very righteousness.

Aristides the Just was banished from ancient Athens. When a stranger asked an Athenian why Aristides was voted out of citizenship he replied, “Because we became tired of his always being just.” A people who prided themselves in civility and justice chafed when something or someone was too just.

Because they refused to compromise the gospel either in their teaching or in their lives, most of the apostles suffered a martyr’s death. According to tradition, Andrew was fastened by cords to a cross in order to prolong and intensify his agony. We are told that Peter, by his own request, was crucified head down, because he felt unworthy to die in the same manner as Jesus. Paul presumably was beheaded by Nero. Though John escaped a violent death, he died in exile on Patmos.

The Promise

But compared to what is gained, even a martyr’s price is small. Each beatitude begins with blessed and, as already suggested, Jesus pronounces a double blessing on those who are persecuted for the sake of righteousness, which is for His own sake. The specific blessing promised to those who are so persecuted is that theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The citizens of the kingdom are going to inherit the kingdom. Paul expresses a similar thought in 2 Thessalonians 1:5–7-“This a plain indication of God’s righteous judgment so that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire.”

I believe that the blessings of the kingdom are threefold: present, millennial, and eternal. Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he shall receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life” (Mark 10:29–30).

First, we are promised blessings here and now. Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife, and was imprisoned. But the Lord raised him to be the prime minister of Egypt and used him to save His chosen people from starvation and extinction. Daniel was thrown into a den of lions because of his refusal to stop worshiping the Lord. Not only was his life spared, but he was restored to his high position as the most valued commissioner of King Darius, and the king made a declaration that “in all the dominion of my kingdom men are to fear and tremble before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God and enduring forever” (Dan. 6:26).

Not every believer is rewarded in this life with the things of this life. But every believer is rewarded in this life with the comfort, strength, and joy of His indwelling Lord. He is also blessed with the assurance that no service or sacrifice for the Lord will be in vain.

As a sequel to his book Peace Child, Don Richardson has written Lords of the Earth (Glendale, Calif.: Regal, 1977). He tells the story of Stan Dale, another missionary to Irian Jaya, Indonesia, who ministered to the Yali tribe in the Snow Mountains. The Yali had one of the strictest known religions in the world. For a tribe member even to question, much less disobey, one of its tenets brought instant death. There could never be any change or modification. The Yali had many sacred spots scattered throughout their territory. If even a small child were to crawl onto one of those sacred pieces of ground, he was considered defiled and cursed. To keep the whole village from being involved in that curse, the child would be thrown into the rushing Heluk River to drown and be washed downstream.

When Stan Dale came with his wife and four children to that cannibalistic people he was not long tolerated. He was attacked one night and miraculously survived being shot with five arrows. After treatment in a hospital he immediately returned to the Yali. He worked unsuccessfully for several years, and the resentment and hatred of the tribal priests increased. One day as he, another missionary named Phil Masters, and a Dani tribesman named Yemu were facing what they knew was an imminent attack, the Yali suddenly came upon them. As the others ran for safety, Stan and Yemu remained back, hoping somehow to dissuade the Yali from their murderous plans. As Start confronted his attackers, they shot him with dozens of arrows. As the arrows entered his flesh he would pull them out and break them in two. Eventually he no longer had the strength to pull the arrows out, but he remained standing.

Yemu ran back to where Phil was standing, and Phil persuaded him to keep running. With his eyes fixed on Start, who was still standing with some fifty arrows in his body, Phil remained where he was and was himself soon surrounded by warriors. The attack had begun with hilarity, but it turned to fear and desperation when they saw that Start did not fall. Their fear increased when it took nearly as many arrows to down Phil as it had Stan. They dismembered the bodies and scattered them about the forest in an attempt to prevent the resurrection of which they had heard the missionaries speak. But the back of their “unbreakable” pagan system was broken, and through the witness of the two men who were not afraid to die in order to bring the gospel to this lost and violent people, the Yali tribe and many others in the surrounding territory came to Jesus Christ. Even Stan’s fifth child, a baby at the time of this incident, was saved reading the book about his father.

Stan and Phil were not rewarded in this life with the things of this life. But they seem to have been double-blessed with the comfort, strength, and joy of their indwelling Lord-and the absolute confidence that their sacrifice for Him would not be in vain.

There is also a millennial aspect to the kingdom blessing. When Christ establishes His thousand-year reign on earth, we will be co-regents with Him over that wonderful, renewed earth (Rev. 20:4).

Finally, there is the reward of the eternal kingdom, the blessing of all blessings of living forever in our Lord’s kingdom enjoying His very presence. The ultimate fruit of kingdom life is eternal life. Even if the world takes from us every possession, every freedom, every comfort, every satisfaction of physical life, it can take nothing from our spiritual life, either now or throughout eternity.

The Beatitudes begin and end with the promise of the kingdom of heaven (cf. v. 3). The major promise of the Beatitudes is that in Christ we become kingdom citizens now and forever. No matter what the world does to us, it cannot affect our possession of Christ’s kingdom.

The Posture

Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (5:12)

The believer’s response to persecution and affliction should not be to retreat and hide. To escape from the world is to escape responsibility. Because we belong to Christ, we are no longer of this world, but He has sent us into this world to serve just as He Himself came into this world to serve (John 17:14–18).

His followers are “the salt of the earth” and the “light of the world” (Matt. 5:13–14). For our salt to flavor the earth and our light to lighten the world we must be active in the world. The gospel is not given to be hidden but to enlighten. “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (vv. 15–16).

When we become Christ’s salt and Christ’s light, our salt will sting the world’s open wounds of sin and our light will irritate its eyes that are used to darkness. But even when our salt and light are resented, rejected, and thrown back in our face, we should rejoice, and be glad.

Be glad is from agalliaō, which means to exult, to rejoice greatly, to be overjoyed, as is clear in the King James Version, “be exceeding glad.” The literal meaning is to skip and jump with happy excitement. Jesus uses the imperative mood, which makes His words more than a suggestion. We are commanded to be glad. Not to be glad when we suffer for Christ’s sake is to be untrusting and disobedient.

The world can take away a great deal from God’s people, but it cannot take away their joy and their happiness. We know that nothing the world can do to us is permanent. When people attack us for Christ’s sake, they are really attacking Him (cf. Gal. 6:17; Col. 1:24). And their attacks can do us no more permanent damage than they can do Him.

Jesus gives two reasons for our rejoicing and being glad when we are persecuted for His sake. First, He says, your reward in heaven is great. Our present life is no more than “a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (James 4:14); but heaven is forever. Small wonder that Jesus tells us not to lay up treasures for ourselves here on earth, “where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal” (Matt. 6:19–20). Whatever we do for the Lord now, including suffering for Him-in fact, especially suffering for Him-reaps eternal dividends.

God’s dividends are not ordinary dividends. They are not only eternal but are also great. If God “is able to do exceedingly abundantly beyond all that we ask or think” (Eph. 3:20), how much more abundantly is He able to grant what He Himself promises to us?

We often hear, and perhaps are tempted to think, that it is unspiritual and crass to serve God for the sake of rewards. But that is one of the motives that God Himself gives for serving Him. We first of all serve and obey Christ because we love Him, just as on earth He loved and obeyed the Father because He loved Him. But it was also because of “the joy set before Him” that Christ Himself “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2). It is neither selfish nor unspiritual to do the Lord’s work for a motive that He Himself gives and has followed.

Second, we are to rejoice because the world persecuted the prophets who were before us in the same way that it persecutes us. When we suffer for Christ’s sake, we are in the best possible company. To be afflicted for righteousness’s sake is to stand in the ranks of the prophets. Persecution is a mark of our faithfulness just as it was a mark of the prophets’ faithfulness. When we suffer for Christ’s sake we know beyond a doubt that we belong to God, because we are experiencing the same reaction from the world that the prophets experienced.

When we suffer for our Lord we join with the prophets and the other saints of old who “experienced mockings and scourgings, yes, also chains and imprisonment. They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were tempted, they were put to death with the sword; they went about in sheepskins, in goatskins, being destitute, afflicted, ill-treated (men of whom the world was not worthy), wandering in deserts and mountains and caves and holes in the ground” (Heb. 11:36–38). Though the world is not worthy of their company, every persecuted believer is. To be persecuted verities that we belong to the line of the righteous.

Our assurance of salvation does not come from knowing we made a decision somewhere in the past. Rather, our assurance that the decision was a true decision for Jesus Christ is found in the life of righteousness that results in suffering for the sake of Christ. Many will claim to have preached Christ, cast out demons, and done mighty works for His sake, but will be refused heaven (Matt. 7:21–23). But none who have suffered righteously for Him will be left out.

The world cannot handle the righteous life that characterizes kingdom living. It is not understandable and acceptable to them, and they cannot stomach it even in others. Poverty of spirit runs counter to the pride of the unbelieving heart. The repentant, contrite disposition that mourns over sin is never appreciated by the callous, indifferent, unsympathetic world. The meek and quiet spirit that takes wrong and does not strike back is regarded as pusillanimous, and it rasps against the militant, vengeful spirit characteristic of the world. To long after righteousness is repugnant to those whose fleshly cravings are rebuked by it, as is a merciful spirit to those whose hearts are hard and cruel. Purity of heart is a painful light that exposes hypocrisy and corruption, and peacemaking is a virtue praised by the contentious, self-seeking world in words but not in heart.

John Chrysostom, a godly leader in the fourth-century church preached so strongly against sin that he offended the unscrupulous Empress Eudoxia as well as many church officials. When summoned before Emperor Arcadius, Chrysostom was threatened with banishment if he did not cease his uncompromising preaching. His response was, “Sire, you cannot banish me, for the world is my Father’s house.” “Then I will slay you,” Arcadius said. “Nay, but you cannot, for my life is hid with Christ in God,” came the answer. “Your treasures will be confiscated” was the next threat, to which John replied, “Sire, that cannot be, either. My treasures are in heaven, where none can break through and steal.” “Then I will drive you from man, and you will have no friends left!” was the final, desperate warning. “That you cannot do, either,” answered John, “for I have a Friend in heaven who has said, ‘I will never leave you or forsake you.’ ” Chrysostom was indeed banished, first to Armenia and then farther away to Pityus on the Back Sea, to which he never arrived because he died on the way. But neither his banishment nor his death disproved or diminished his claims. The things that he valued most highly not even an emperor could take from him.[2]


5:11 The final beatitude seems to be a repetition of the preceding one. However, there is one difference. In the previous verse, the subject was persecution because of righteousness; here it is persecution for Christ’s sake. The Lord knew that His disciples would be maltreated because of their association with, and loyalty to, Him. History has confirmed this: from the outset the world has persecuted, jailed, and killed followers of Jesus.

5:12 To suffer for Christ’s sake is a privilege that should cause joy. A great reward awaits those who thus become companions of the prophets in tribulation. Those OT spokemen for God stood true in spite of persecution. All who imitate their loyal courage will share their present exhilaration and future exaltation.

The Beatitudes present a portrait of the ideal citizen in Christ’s kingdom. Notice the emphases on righteousness (v. 6), peace (v. 9), and joy (v. 12). Paul probably had this passage in mind when he wrote: “For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom. 14:17).[3]


11–12 These two verses (cf. Lk 6:22–23, 26), switching from third person to second, apply the force of the last beatitude (v. 10), not to the church (which would be anachronistic), but to Jesus’ disciples. Doubtless Matthew and his contemporaries also applied it to themselves. Verse 11 extends the persecution of v. 10 to include insult and slander (Lk 6:22–23 adds hate). The reason for the persecution in v. 10 is “because of righteousness”; now, Jesus says, it is “because of me.” “This confirms that the righteousness of life that is in view is in imitation of Jesus. Simultaneously, it so identifies the disciple of Jesus with the practice of Jesus’ righteousness that there is no place for professed allegiance to Jesus that is not full of righteousness” (Carson, Sermon on the Mount, 28). Moreover, it is an implicit christological claim, for the prophets to whom the disciples are likened were persecuted for their faithfulness to God and the disciples for faithfulness to Jesus. Not Jesus but the disciples are likened to the prophets. Jesus places himself on a par with God. The change from “the Son of Man” (Luke) to “me” is probably Matthew’s clarification (see Reflections, p. 247).

The appropriate response of the disciple is rejoicing. The second verb, agalliasthe (“be glad,” GK 22), Hill takes to be “something of a technical term for joy in persecution and martyrdom” (cf. 1 Pe 1:6, 8; 4:13; Rev 19:7). Yet its range of associations seems broader (Lk 1:47; 10:21; Jn 5:35; 8:56; Ac 2:26; 16:34). The disciples of Jesus are to rejoice under persecution because their heavenly reward (see Notes, v. 12) will be great at the consummation of the kingdom (v. 12). Opposition is sure, for the disciples are aligning themselves with the OT prophets who were persecuted before them (e.g., 2 Ch 24:21; Ne 9:26; Jer 20:2; cf. Mt 21:35; 23:32–37; Ac 7:52; 1 Th 2:15). This biblical perspective was doubtless part of the historical basis on which Jesus built his own implied prediction that his followers would be persecuted. Treated seriously, it makes ineffective the ground on which some treat the prediction as anachronistic (e.g., Hare, Theme of Jewish Persecution, 114–21). Stendahl’s suggestion (“Matthew,” in Peake’s Commentary) that Matthew here refers to Christian prophets is not only needlessly anachronistic but out of step with both Matthew’s use of “prophet” and his link between the murder of “prophets” and the sin of the “forefathers” (23:30–32), which shows that the prophets belong to the OT period.

These verses neither encourage seeking persecution nor permit retreating from it, sulking, or retaliation. From the perspective of both redemptive history (“the prophets”) and eternity (“reward in heaven”), these verses constitute the reasonable response of faith, one which the early Christians readily understood (cf. Ac 5:41; 2 Co 4:17; 1 Pe 1:6–9; cf. Da 3:24–25). “Discipleship means allegiance to the suffering Christ, and it is therefore not at all surprising that Christians should be called on to suffer. In fact it is a joy and a token of his grace” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 80–81). But in reassuring his disciples that their sufferings are “neither new, nor accidental, nor absurd” (Bonnard), Jesus spoke of principles that will appear again (esp. Mt 10, 24).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 133). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 219–233). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1217). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 167). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 30 – HEED THE CALL OF GOD

I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me.

Isaiah 6:8

If Abraham had ever grumbled to the Lord about leaving the beggarly idols of Ur, God would have let him go back. We are free to do the will of God, but God never makes us His unwilling prisoners. God called Abraham out, God gave him the Promised Land and God said, “Abraham, from among your posterity will come the Messiah in the fullness of time!”

This is the gracious reason why we should tell people everywhere to hear and heed the call of God—so He can lead them into everything that is good and blessed and worthwhile.

God wants to call us out into a more abundant and fruitful Christian life than we have ever known!

Lord, who am I to argue with You or to call into question Your sovereign choice? The decision is not mine but Yours. So be it, Lord; Your will, not mine be done.[1]


8 As we have already noted at v. 3, biblical teaching presents beautiful balance. This is true in relation to a multitude of themes, and another example occurs here. The message of God to Isaiah in vv. 9–10 is strongly predestinarian. How appropriate, therefore, that the verse preceding them should place such emphasis on the prophet’s responsibility! He is not coerced into service; rather, his will makes its ready response as a grateful reaction to God’s forgiving grace. No doubt Isaiah’s readiness was itself the product of divine grace, but this is not where the stress falls here. Instead, we see him faced with the challenge to personal commitment.

The plural “us” is often linked theologically with v. 3 (see comment) and interpreted in terms of the Trinity. It is an unusual phenomenon, found elsewhere in the OT only in Genesis (Ge 1:26; 11:7; cf. also Isa 41:21–23). Many modern scholars, taking it to be a plural of consultation, see it both here and in Genesis as implying a council of heavenly beings. There are, of course, many biblical passages that picture God as surrounded by the heavenly hosts. In a context that speaks both of waters and mountains (and so of nature) and of nations (and so, by implication, also of history), however, the Lord refutes the notion that he consulted others in his work of creation (40:13–14). If Isaiah 6 and 40 have the same author (see Introduction, pp. 438–48), it seems most unlikely that consultation with a heavenly council is in view here. Moreover in Daniel, what a pagan king may have attributed to “the decree of the watchers” (Da 4:17, KJV) Daniel called “the decree of the Most High” (Da 4:24).

It is true that 1 Kings 22:19–23 pictures God as consulting with heavenly beings, but it is doubtful whether we should interpret literally a highly dramatic vision with details probably chosen to give vividness to a solemn message. GKC (par. 124g, n.2) takes “us” as a plural of self-deliberation. Motyer (1993, in loc.) points out that “the New Testament relates these verses to both the Lord Jesus (Jn. 12:24) and the Holy Spirit (Acts 28:25), thus finding here what will yet accommodate the full revelation of the Holy Trinity.”[2]


6:8 Us. This plural pronoun does not prove the doctrine of the Trinity, but does strongly imply it (see Ge 1:26). Here am I. Send me! This response evidenced the humble readiness of complete trust. Though profoundly aware of his sin, he was available.[3]


6:8 Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? See 1 Kings 22:19–20; Jer. 23:18, 22. Here am I! Send me. Isaiah’s experience of grace has dealt with his problem, confessed in Isa. 6:5. “Us” is like “us” in Gen. 1:26 (“let us make man”): God could be addressing himself (in a way compatible with the Christian doctrine of the Trinity), or he could be addressing his heavenly court (less likely, since only God is doing the sending here). See notes on Gen. 1:26; 1:27.[4]


6:8 who will go for us? The biblical descriptions of God’s heavenly deliberations often include a plural address. The plural can be understood most simply as God addressing the divine beings present in His throne room, and asking them a rhetorical question—knowing Isaiah will respond. A mark of a true prophet was that he had stood in the divine council and received his mission directly from God. See Gen 1:26 and note; Jer 23:18; 1 Kgs 22:19–23.[5]


6:8 who will go for us. The Lord permits Isaiah to listen in on the sessions of the royal, heavenly court (“us”). From this moment on, Isaiah is a servant of God’s court and proclaims God’s message to kings and people alike (cf. 1 Kin. 22:19, 20; Jer. 23:18, 22). Having been freely forgiven, Isaiah volunteers without waiting to hear the nature of his commission.[6]


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

[2] 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. 508–509). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Is 6:8). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[4] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1251). 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 (Is 6:8). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 1132). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

APRIL 30 – REVIVAL BLESSINGS FLOW FROM GOD’S PROMISES

Rejoice in the LORD always: and again I say, Rejoice.

PHILIPPIANS 4:4

One characteristic that is largely lacking in the average church today is that of spiritual anticipation.

When Christians meet, they do not expect anything unusual to happen: consequently, only the usual happens, and that usual is as predictable as the setting of the sun.

A psychology of nonexpectation pervades the assembly, a mood of quiet ennui which the minister by various means tries to dispel, the means depending upon the cultural level of the congregation and particularly of the minister.

Christian expectation in the average church follows the program, not the promises. The activities of the saints are laid out for them by those who are supposed to know what they need better than they do. Prevailing spiritual conditions, however low, are accepted as inevitable—what will be is what has been!

The weary slaves of the dull routine find it impossible to hope for anything better.

Today we need a fresh spirit of anticipation that springs out of the promises of God! We must declare war on the mood of nonexpectation, and come together with childlike faith. Only then can we know again the beauty and wonder of the Lord’s presence among us.[1]


Maintaining a Spirit of Joy

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, rejoice! (4:4)

This verse expresses the theme of the book of Philippians, that believers are to rejoice in the Lord always (cf. 3:1). Joy is such a vitally important factor in believers’ spiritual stability that Paul repeats his command for emphasis: again I will say, rejoice! This repetition presupposes the reality that it was not easy to be joyful. The Philippians needed to rise above their circumstances.

Some, wrongly identifying joy as a purely human emotion, find Paul’s twice-repeated command to rejoice puzzling. How, they ask, can people be commanded to produce an emotion? But joy is not a feeling; it is the deep-down confidence that God is in control of everything for the believer’s good and His own glory, and thus all is well no matter what the circumstances. Chairete (rejoice) is a present imperative, calling believers to the continual, habitual practice of rejoicing. Neither Paul’s imprisonment nor the Philippians’ trials should eclipse their joy.

It is true that believers often cannot find reason to rejoice in their specific circumstances. Certainly the general wickedness, sorrow, misery, and death in the world evoke no joy. Nor are people a reliable source of joy, since they can change, hurt, and disappoint. The only sure, reliable, unwavering, unchanging source of joy is God. That is why Paul commands believers to rejoice in the Lord. The phrase in the Lord introduces an important principle: Spiritual stability is directly related to how a person thinks about God. No one has stated that truth more clearly than A. W. Tozer. In his classic book on the attributes of God, The Knowledge of the Holy, Tozer wrote,

What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.

The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.

For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God, just as her most significant message is what she says about Him or leaves unsaid, for her silence is often more eloquent than her speech. She can never escape the self-disclosure of her witness concerning God.

Were we able to extract from any man a complete answer to the question, “What comes into your mind when you think about God?” we might predict with certainty the spiritual future of that man. (Reprint; New York: Harper & Row, 1975, 9)

Knowledge of God is the key to rejoicing. Those who know the great truths about God find it easy to rejoice; those with little knowledge of Him find it difficult to rejoice. God gave the Psalms to Israel in poetic form so they could be easily memorized and set to music. The first three verses of the book of Psalms promise blessings to those who meditate on Scripture:

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)

It is from that knowledge of God and repeated recitation and singing of His nature and attributes that believers’ joy flows. So deep was the apostles’ knowledge of God’s character and purposes that even suffering for Jesus Christ was a cause of joy: “So they went on their way from the presence of the Council, rejoicing that they had been considered worthy to suffer shame for His name” (Acts 5:41).

Moses’ father-in-law Jethro “rejoiced over all the goodness which the Lord had done to Israel, in delivering them from the hand of the Egyptians” (Ex. 18:9; cf. Deut. 26:11). After the dedication of the temple, Solomon “sent the people to their tents, rejoicing and happy of heart because of the goodness that the Lord had shown to David and to Solomon and to His people Israel” (2 Chron. 7:10).

Believers rejoice in the contemplation of God’s redemption. In 1 Samuel 2:1, “Hannah prayed and said, ‘My heart exults in the Lord; my horn is exalted in the Lord, my mouth speaks boldly against my enemies, because I rejoice in Your salvation.’ ” In Psalm 13:5 David confidently asserted, “I have trusted in Your lovingkindness; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation” (cf. Pss. 21:1; 35:9; 40:16; Isa. 61:10; Hab. 3:18). In Psalm 71:23 the psalmist exulted, “My lips will shout for joy when I sing praises to You; and my soul, which You have redeemed.”

Another reason for believers to rejoice is that God has promised to supply all their needs. Paul reminded the Philippians, “God will supply all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:19). In the Old Testament counterpart to that promise, the psalmist wrote, “For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly” (Ps. 84:11). In the Sermon on the Mount, the Lord Jesus Christ made God’s promise to provide for believers’ needs unmistakably clear:

Why are you worried about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that not even Solomon in all his glory clothed himself like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the furnace, will He not much more clothe you? You of little faith! Do not worry then, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear for clothing?” For the Gentiles eagerly seek all these things; for your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you. (Matt. 6:28–33)

Paul rejoiced because of the privilege of serving God. To Timothy he wrote, “I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service” (1 Tim. 1:12). He also rejoiced when God’s truth was proclaimed (Phil. 1:18). Paul’s declaration to the Philippians earlier in this epistle, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (1:21), reveals that even the prospect of death could not quench his joy. The confidence “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38–39) produces both deep-seated joy and spiritual stability.[2]


4:4 Turning now to the entire church, Paul repeats the favorite exhortation. The secret of his exhortation is found in the words in the Lord. No matter how dark the circumstances of life may be, it is always possible for the Christian to rejoice in the Lord.

Jowett shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June; a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November. One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat. He does not show Himself only when I wear a garland, and hide Himself when I wear a crown of thorns. He is with me “all the days”—the prosperous days and the days of adversity; days when the funeral bell is tolling, and days when the wedding bell is ringing. “All the days.” The day of life—the day of death—the day of judgment.[3]


4 The conclusion to the letter begins in 4:4. Paul’s letter endings vary widely and lack any formal pattern, but he usually concludes with a battery of ethical imperatives. Here he begins by repeating the call to “rejoice in the Lord.” Since joy is commanded, it is not a feeling like happiness. It is a mental attitude, a life stance. Whereas happiness depends on what happens, joy does not. Joy derives from a conviction that, despite present circumstances, God is in control and will save those who belong to Christ. Joy derives from the Philippians’ union with Christ, the promise of the resurrection, and their partnership with one another.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2001). Philippians (pp. 273–276). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1978). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Garland, D. E. (2006). Philippians. In T. Longman III (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 252). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 30 – The Victory of the Resurrection

“ ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ … but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

1 Corinthians 15:54–55, 57

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The Resurrection seals what we could not: victory over death.

Death is the great enemy of mankind. It comes to everyone without exception. It violates our dominion of God’s creation, breaks apart relationships, disrupts families, and causes us to grieve the loss of loved ones. However, Christ’s resurrection has broken the power of death for Christians because “death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9).

In today’s passage the apostle Paul reminds us of the final victory over death that results once we have been transformed into our resurrection bodies. To make his point, Paul quotes from the Old Testament prophets Isaiah and Hosea. In using Hosea’s sting of death metaphor, Paul implies that death left its sting in Christ, as a bee leaves its stinger in its victim. On the cross Jesus bore all of death’s sting (sin), so we wouldn’t have to bear any of it. When sin’s penalty has been removed, death merely interrupts our earthly life and ushers us into the heavenly realm, where we will worship and praise God forever.

Paul concludes (v. 57) by thanking God, who provided us the triumph over sin and death. We also should be thankful to God who, through Christ’s redeeming work, gave us what we could never have obtained by ourselves. God promises to all believers the heavenly in exchange for the earthly, and the immortal in exchange for the mortal.

With Jesus Christ’s triumph over death, we have no reason to fear what death can do to us. Instead, we should rejoice concerning the Lord’s promise to us about the next life: “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire … and He shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 20:14; 21:4).

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Suggestions for Prayer: Thank God that in His sovereign wisdom and power He has defeated death and removed all reasons for the believer to be afraid of it.

For Further Study: Read 2 Kings 2:9–14 and 4:18–37. What do these passages preview about Jesus’ control over death, His own and ours? ✧ Do they remind you of any particular New Testament stories?[1]


The Great Triumph

But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. (15:54–56)

Christ’s resurrection broke the power of death for those who believe in Him, and death is no longer master over them because “death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9). But death is still the enemy of man. Even for Christians it violates our dominion of God’s creation, it breaks love relationships, it disrupts families, and causes great grief in the loss of those dear to us. We no longer need fear death, but it still invades and torments us while we are mortal.

But one day, when Christ returns, the perishable that “must put on the imperishable” (v. 53) will have put on the imperishable, and the mortal that “must put on immortality” will have put on immortality. Then will come the great triumph that Isaiah predicted, when death is swallowed up in victory. The Isaiah text reads, “He [the Lord of Hosts] will swallow up death for all time” (Isa. 25:8; cf. v. 6). When the great transformation comes, the great victory will come.

The well–known commentator R. C. H. Lenski writes,

Death is not merely destroyed so that it cannot do further harm while all of the harm which it has wrought on God’s children remains. The tornado is not merely checked so that no additional homes are wrecked while those that were wrecked still lie in ruin. … Death and all of its apparent victories are undone for God’s children. What looks like a victory for death and like a defeat for us when our bodies die and decay shall be utterly reversed so that death dies in absolute defeat and our bodies live again in absolute victory (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963], pp. 744–45).

Quoting another prophet (Hos. 13:14), Paul taunts death: O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? To continue with that metaphor, Paul implies that death left its sting in Christ, as a bee leaves its stinger in its victim. Christ bore the whole of death’s sting in order that we would have to bear none of it.

To make his point, the apostle reminds his readers that the sting of death is sin. The harm in death is caused by sin; in fact, death itself is caused by sin. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Only where there is sin can death deal a fatal blow. Where sin has been removed death can only interrupt the earthly life and usher in the heavenly. That is what Christ has done for those who trust in Him. Our “sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). Death is not gone, but its sting, sin, is gone. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).

It is not, of course, that Christians no longer sin, but that the sins we commit are already covered by Christ’s atoning death, so that sin’s effect is not permanently fatal. “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). But for those who do not believe, death’s sting tragically remains forever.

Paul continues to explain the sequence leading to death by mentioning that the power of sin is the law. God’s law reveals God’s standards, and when they are broken they reveal man’s sin. If there were no law, obviously there could be no transgression. “Where there is no law neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). But men die because they break that law.

What about those who do not know God’s law, who have never even heard of, much less read, His Word? Paul tells us in Romans that when “Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (2:14–15). Anyone, therefore, who goes against his conscience goes against God’s law just as surely as anyone who knowingly breaks one of the Ten Commandments. That is the reason men are doomed to die (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).

The Great Thanksgiving

But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (15:57)

Because of Jesus’ perfect obedience to the law (Rom. 5:19) and the satisfaction He made for its victims, those who trust in Him “are not under law, but under grace,” having “been released from the Law” (Rom. 6:14; 7:6). Jesus has both fulfilled the law and fulfilled righteousness. Because His life was sinless and therefore fulfilled the law, His death conquered sin.

Paul gives thanks to the One who will give us the great transformation of our bodies and who has made the great triumph over sin and death. That which we could never do for ourselves God has done for us through our Lord Jesus Christ. We cannot live sinlessly and thereby fulfill the law, nor can we remove sin once we have committed it, or remove its consequence, which is death But on our behalf Jesus Christ lived a sinless life, fulfilling the law; removed our sin by Himself paying the penalty for it, satisfying God with a perfect sacrifice; and conquered death by being raised from the dead. All of that great victory He accomplished for us and gives to us. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). He took our curse and our condemnation and gives us victory in their place.

How can we do anything but thank and praise God for what He has done for us? He has promised us an imperishable, glorious, powerful, and spiritual body for one that is perishable, dishonorable, weak, and natural. He promises us the heavenly in exchange for the earthly, the immortal in exchange for the mortal. We know these promises are assured because He has already given us victory over sin and death.

For Christians death has no more power (Heb. 2:14–15), because God has taken away our sin. For Christians death is but the passing of our spirits from this life to the next, the leaving of earth and going to be with Christ Paul had only one reason for wanting to remain on earth: to continue his ministry for Christ on behalf of others. But for his own benefit and joy he had but one desire: “to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better” (Phil. 1:23–24).

In Christ’s victory over death, death’s sting is removed; it is declawed, deranged, disarmed, destroyed. “And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire, … and He shall wipe away every, tear from their eyes; and there shall no longer be any death; there shall no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain” (Rev. 20:14; 21:4).[2]


15:54 When the dead in Christ are raised and the living changed with them, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (Isa. 25:8). How magnificent! C. H. Mackintosh exclaims:

What are death, the grave, and decomposition in the presence of such power as this? Talk of being dead four days as a difficulty! Millions that have been mouldering in the dust for thousands of years shall spring up in a moment into life, immortality and eternal glory, at the voice of that blessed One.

15:55 This verse may well be a taunt song which believers sing as they rise to meet the Lord in the air. It is as if they mock Death because for them it has lost its sting. They also mock Hades because for them it has lost the battle to keep them as its own. Death holds no terror for them because they know their sins have been forgiven and they stand before God in all the acceptability of His beloved Son.

15:56 Death would have no sting for anyone if it were not for sin. It is the consciousness of sins unconfessed and unforgiven that makes men afraid to die. If we know our sins are forgiven, we can face death with confidence. If, on the other hand, sin is on the conscience, death is terrible—the beginning of eternal punishment.

The strength of sin is the law, that is, the law condemns the sinner. It pronounces the doom of all who have failed to obey God’s holy precepts. It has been well said that if there were no sin, there would be no death. And if there were no law, there would be no condemnation.

The throne of death rests on two bases: sin, which calls for condemnation, and the law which pronounces it. Consequently, it is on these two powers that the work of the Deliverer bore.

15:57 Through faith in Him, we have victory over death and the grave. Death is robbed of its sting. It is a known fact that when certain insects sting a person, they leave their stinger imbedded in the person’s flesh, and being thus robbed of their “sting,” they die. In a very real sense death stung itself to death at the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and now the King of Terrors is robbed of his terror as far as the believer is concerned.[3]


54 When this grand event of Christ’s return and of our putting on new, incorruptible bodies takes place, then what the prophet wrote in Isaiah 25:8 (in the Hebrew) will be fulfilled: The Lord “will swallow up death forever.” Or to use Paul’s earlier words, this will be the time when the last enemy, death, will be destroyed (15:26). At this time God will also wipe away all tears from our eyes and death shall be no more (Isa 25:8b; cf. Rev 21:3–4). Once again, as in 15:23–28 (see comments), Paul does not demonstrate here how his thoughts relate to the day of the Antichrist, the binding and loosing of Satan, the millennium, the judgment day, and so on.

55 Because God’s last word is resurrection, glorified and imperishable bodies, and the abolishment of death, Paul cries out in the words of Hosea, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (cf. Hos 13:14). Right now death does have a sting. Right now it appears as though death does have the victory, for there is not a single human being alive who will escape death if the Lord tarries. But what appears to be victory for “the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon” (Rev 9:11), will ultimately end in his defeat, for death itself will be vanquished along with its angel (20:10, 14–15).

56 Paul digresses before he writes his grand conclusion. He wants to identify more closely what the “sting” (kentron, GK 3034) is that will be conquered through the resurrection. That sting is “sin.” As Paul wrote in Romans 5:12, death entered into the human world as a result of Adam’s sin. Otherwise put, “the wages of sin is death” (Ro 6:23). But when Christ offered himself as a sacrifice for sin on the cross, died, and then rose again as the firstfruits (1 Co 15:20–23), the power of that sting was gone. Death remains an enemy, of course, but only temporarily. When the resurrection of the body occurs, the sting will be gone permanently (v. 26).

Paul follows this phrase up with one more teaser, which reflects a lifetime of theological thinking about the relationship of sin and the law: “The power of sin is the law.” According to Paul’s thinking in Romans, the law (though in itself holy, righteous, and good, Ro 7:12) generates in us a knowledge of sin (3:20; 5:13; 7:7). In fact, the law can even increase our sin (5:20), perhaps by provoking us to do precisely what it forbids. But Christ, through his sacrifice on the cross, “redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (Gal 3:13).

57 Thus, not only has the sting of death (sin) been removed, but also the power of sin (the law) has lost its grip—all through the death and resurrection of Jesus. This is the message that Paul triumphs in v. 57: “Thanks be to God,” who has given us the victory through what he accomplished in Jesus Christ. It is Christ, and Christ alone, who has achieved the victory.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 444–446). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1810–1811). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] 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, pp. 404–405). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 30 – A Cleansed Conscience

How much more shall the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without spot to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God?

Hebrews 9:14

Our safety in Christ results from “the answer of a good conscience toward God” (1 Pet. 3:21). The Greek word for “answer” refers to a pledge, in this case agreeing to meet certain conditions required by God before being placed into the ark of safety (Christ).

Unregenerate men and women have consciences that condemn them. One who appeals to God for a good conscience is sick of his sin and desires to be delivered from the load of guilt he bears. He has a crushing and intimidating fear of coming judgment and knows only God can deliver him. He desires the cleansing that comes through the blood of Christ (cf. Heb. 10:22). So he repents of his sin and pleads for forgiveness.

When Christ suffered on the cross, hell threw all its fury at Him, and wicked men vented their hatred on Him. Yet through that suffering, He served as an ark of safety for the redeemed of all ages. And because He triumphantly provided salvation through His suffering, we are safe in Him.[1]


The New Significance

For if the blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkling those who have been defiled, sanctify for the cleansing of the flesh, how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God, cleanse your conscience from dead works to serve the living God? (9:13–14)

If the Old Covenant, weak and imperfect as it was, served its purpose, how much better will Christ’s New Covenant, powerful and perfect, serve its purpose. The new not only has a better purpose, but accomplishes its purpose in a better way, a perfect way. The purpose of the old sacrifice was to symbolize, externally, the cleansing of sin. It accomplished this purpose. The purpose of the new sacrifice, however, was to cleanse actually, internally (where sin really exists). It accomplished its superior purpose in a superior way.

Not all the blood of beasts on Jewish altars slain,

Could give the guilty conscience peace or wash away the stain.

Christ the heavenly Lamb takes all our sins away,

A sacrifice of nobler name and richer big than they.

Isaac Watts

Jesus did everything He did on earth in obedience to the Father through the Spirit. Even, in fact especially, in His supreme sacrifice He through the eternal Spirit offered Himself without blemish to God. In doing so, He provided the cleansing of our consciences from dead works to serve the living God. He frees our consciences from guilt, a joy and a blessing that no Old Testament saint ever had or could have had. In Christ we can “draw near with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Heb. 10:22).

The former priests cleaned up the outside, and even that only symbolically, imperfectly, and temporarily. But Christ cleanses from the inside, where the real problem is. He does more than cleanse the old man; He replaces it with a new man. He cleanses our conscience, but He recreates our person. In Christ, we are not cleaned-up old creatures but redeemed new creatures (2 Cor. 5:17).

An evangelist tells a story from the days when he held tent meetings many years ago. One day, after a series of meetings was over, he was pulling up tent stakes. A young man approached him and asked what he had to do to be saved. The evangelist answered, “Sorry, it’s too late.” “Oh no,” was the response. “You mean it’s too late because the services are over?” “No,” the evangelist said, “I mean it’s too late because it’s already been done. Everything that could be done for your salvation has already been done.” After explaining Christ’s finished work to the young man, he led him to saving faith.

Our salvation is based on the covenant whose redeeming work is finished—on a sacrifice that has been offered once and for all, that is complete and perfect and eternal.[2]


9:14 If the ashes of a heifer had such power to cleanse from one of the most serious forms of outward defilement, how much more powerful is the blood of Christ to cleanse from inward sins of the deepest dye!

His offering was through the eternal Spirit. There is some difference of opinion as to the meaning of this expression. Some interpret it to mean, “through an eternal spirit,” meaning the willing spirit in which He made His sacrifice in contrast to the involuntary character of animal offerings. Others understand it to mean, “through His eternal spirit.” We rather believe that the Holy Spirit is in view; He made His sacrifice in the power of the Holy Spirit.

It was an offering made to God. He was the spotless, sinless Lamb of God whose moral perfection qualified Him to be our Sin-bearer. The animal sacrifices had to be physically spotless; He was without blemish morally.

His blood cleanses the conscience from dead works to serve the living God. It is not merely a physical purging or a ceremonial cleansing but a moral renewal that purifies the conscience. It cleanses from those dead works which unbelievers produce in an effort to earn their own cleansing. It frees men from these lifeless works to serve the living God.[3]


14 With Christ all is different. This is no unwilling animal but rather the voluntary self-offering of the Son of God; his offering is not according to human routine but “through the eternal Spirit”; whereas OT sacrifices had to be physically “unblemished” (e.g., the red heifer, Nu 19:2), Christ was spiritually perfect, without sin (4:15; 7:26); and whereas OT sacrifices cleansed the flesh, this one cleanses the conscience and sets us free from a round of “dead works” to serve the living God.

The mention of the Holy Spirit in connection with Christ’s self-offering serves to locate it in the spiritual realm as opposed to that of earthly ritual, and in the process affords one of those intriguing NT pointers toward the doctrine of the Trinity, in that all three Persons are involved in the work of atonement. “Conscience” recalls the comment in v. 9 that the OT sacrifices were unable to “perfect the conscience”; but Christ’s offering can cleanse the conscience from “dead works.” This is the same phrase as in 6:1 (see note there), and here, as there, it may be understood either morally as “works that bring death” (so the NIV and many commentators) or religiously as “useless rituals” (NIV footnote), which therefore cannot bring eternal life. Here the latter sense seems to me not only the natural sense of the Greek phrase but also more relevant to the immediate context. The “dead works” here stand over against the worship of “the living God” (see on 3:12), and the sense of “lifeless” (rather than “fatal”) makes a more appropriate contrast with “living”: it is when we are set free from the round of ineffective sacrifices offering only external cleansing that we can offer the spiritual service appropriate to the living God.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 135). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 230–231). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2185–2186). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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

APRIL 29 – DEMONSTRATE YOUR FAITH

It is the spirit that quickeneth…the words that I speak unto you, they are spirit, and they are life.

John 6:63

 

We know of many who have been deceived into believing that the learning and the memorizing of Christian doctrine is all sufficient. They actually think that somehow they are better off for having learned the doctrines of religion.

God actually asks of us what He asked of Noah long ago! “Demonstrate your faith in God in your everyday life!”

It is evident that God did not say to Noah, “I am depending on you to hold the proper orthodox doctrines. Everything will be just fine if you stand up for the right doctrines.”

I have read a statement by Martin Lloyd-Jones, the English preacher and writer, in which he said: “It is perilously close to being sinful for any person to learn doctrine for doctrine’s sake.”

I agree with his conclusion that doctrine is always best when it is incarnated—when it is seen fleshed out in the lives of godly men and women. Our God Himself appeared at His very best when He came into our world and lived in our flesh!

 

Dear Lord, enable me to demonstrate my faith in practical ways today. Remind me to put feet to my faith when I have the inclination to hide my “light” under a stack of hay.[1]


As He did in 3:6, Jesus contrasted the Spirit who gives life with the flesh that profits nothing. Spiritual life comes only when the Holy Spirit imparts Christ’s life to the believer (Gal. 2:20; Col. 3:3–4). It does not come through “the will of the flesh” (1:13), which as R. V. G. Tasker notes, “signifies the outward to the exclusion of the inward, the visible apart from the invisible, the material unrelated to the spiritual, and the human dissociated from the divine” (The Gospel According to St. John, The Tyndale New Testament Commentaries [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975], 96). The Lord exhorted those who took issue with eating His flesh (v. 52) to focus instead on partaking of His Spirit (vv. 53–58).

Of course, no one can do that apart from hearing and obeying the words that Jesus has spoken, which, He declared, are spirit and are life. It is Jesus’ words that reveal who He really is. As noted earlier, accepting or rejecting those words separates true and false disciples. True disciples continue in His Word (8:31), which abides in them (15:7; cf. Jer. 15:16; Col. 3:16; 1 John 2:14); false disciples ultimately reject His word (8:37, 43, 47). To embrace Jesus’ words is to receive Him, for they reveal His person. Thus the Bible teaches that salvation comes through the agency of the Word of God:

Now the parable is this: the seed is the word of God.… The seed in the good soil, these are the ones who have heard the word in an honest and good heart, and hold it fast, and bear fruit with perseverance. (Luke 8:11, 15)

But He answered and said to them, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.” (Luke 8:21)

In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures. (James 1:18)

Therefore, putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (James 1:21)

For you have been born again not of seed which is perishable but imperishable, that is, through the living and enduring word of God. (1 Peter 1:23)[2]


6:63 These people had been thinking in terms of Christ’s literal flesh, but here He told them that eternal life was not gained by eating flesh but by the work of the Holy Spirit of God. Flesh cannot give life; only the Spirit can do this. They had taken His words literally and had not realized that they were to be understood spiritually. And so here the Lord Jesus explained that the words that He spoke were spirit and they were life; when His sayings about eating His flesh and drinking His blood were understood in a spiritual way, as meaning belief in Him, then those who accepted the message would receive eternal life.[3]


63 That Jesus was speaking metaphorically when he said that a person must eat his flesh and drink his blood (v. 54) is now made clear. It is the Spirit who “gives life.” He is the one who provides life eternal. “The flesh counts for nothing”; it is totally unable to provide spiritual sustenance. “Flesh” (sarx, GK 4922) here is “the earthly part of man, man as he is by nature, his intellect remaining unilluminated by the revelation of God” (Lindars, 273). Little wonder that it cannot produce life. Life comes from hearing and absorbing the words of Jesus. His words are “spirit and … life.” It is through his words that the Spirit communicates life to the person of faith. We are reminded of Jeremiah’s testimony that when the Lord’s words came, he ate them, and they were his joy and heart’s delight (Jer 15:16). Even though some of Jesus’ followers had listened to what he had to say, they still did not believe. There is a hearing of the ears only. To hear in such a way is to acknowledge the voice but to refuse the message. There is also a hearing of the inner person. To hear in this way is to take the next step and actually commit oneself to the message. When this happens, it is the Spirit giving life through the words of Jesus. This same phenomenon is true today. To read God’s Word and find one’s heart “strangely warmed” (as John Wesley put it) is to discover oneself in actual communication with the Spirit, whose role it is to illumine the believing heart.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). John 1–11 (pp. 270–271). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1506–1507). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Mounce, R. H. (2007). John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Luke–Acts (Revised Edition) (Vol. 10, p. 452). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 29 – Jesus and Non-retaliation: Property

Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you.—Matt. 5:42

Secular people also hold tightly to the concept that property rights are sacred. But such self-centered possessiveness is merely another symptom of humanity’s sinfulness. Even believers forget that whatever they have belongs to God and that they are simply stewards of their wealth.

We do have certain legal rights in most countries to manage property as we wish. But we must be willing to sacrifice those rights on the altar of Christian obedience and submission (cf. Rom. 12:1–2). Whenever someone wants to borrow something of ours, we ought to willingly allow him or her to do so. That person might well have a genuine need, which only we can meet.

The Lord implies here that His disciples should offer to give as soon as they sense a need, not waiting to be asked. And He is not referring to our grudgingly donating, but to generous giving that springs from a loving desire to help. Our attitude should be far more than a token charity that merely wants to salve an uneasy conscience.

Christ’s words do not intend to undercut civil justice, but to destroy human selfishness, which is sin and does not belong in the hearts of true Christians. In truth, the only persons who do not selfishly or vengefully cling to their property rights are those who have died to self (cf. Gal. 2:20). The faithful believer lives for Christ and if necessary surrenders all his or her rights and dies for Him (Rom. 14:8).

ASK YOURSELF
Again, since we cannot give away everything we have, how do we deal with the requirement of adhering to this Christian command while also using sound judgment, being good stewards of our God-given resources?[1]

Property

Give to him who asks of you, and do not turn away from him who wants to borrow from you. (5:42)

The fourth right we are to surrender is that of property. Possessiveness is another characteristic of fallen human nature. We dislike giving up, even temporarily, that which belongs to us. Even as Christians, we often forget that nothing truly belongs to us and that we are only stewards of what belongs to God. But as far as other people are concerned, we do have a right to keep that which we possess. By right it is ours to use or dispose of as we see fit.

But that right, too, should be placed on the altar of obedience to Christ if required. When someone asks to borrow something from us, we should not turn away from him. In other words, we should give him what he wants. The implication is that the person who asks has a genuine need. We are not required to respond to every foolish, selfish request made of us. Sometimes to give a person what he wants but does not need is a disservice, doing him more harm than good.

Also implied is the principle that we should offer to give what is needed as soon as we know of the need, whether or not we are asked for help. Jesus is not speaking of begrudging acquiescence to a plea for help, but willing, generous, and loving desire to help others. He is speaking of generosity that genuinely wants to meet the other person’s need, not tokenism that does a good deed to buy off one’s own conscience.

Jesus does not undercut civil justice, which belongs in the courtroom. He undercuts personal selfishness (characteristic of the false religionists listening to Him on the mountain), which belongs nowhere and especially not in the hearts of His kingdom people.

A biographer of William Gladstone, the great British prime minister, wrote of him, “Of how few who have lived for more than sixty years in the full light of their countrymen and have, as party leaders, been exposed to angry and sometimes spiteful criticism, can it be said that there stands against them no malignant word and no vindictive act. This was due not perhaps entirely to Gladstone’s natural sweetness of disposition but rather to self-control and a certain largeness of soul which would not condescend to anything mean or petty.”

The only person who is nondefensive, nonvengeful, never bears a grudge, and has no spite in his heart is the person who has died to self. To fight for one’s rights is to prove that self is still on the throne of the heart. The believer who is faithful to Christ lives for Him and, if necessary, dies for Him (Rom. 14:8). It is impossible to live for self and for Christ at the same time.

George Mueller wrote, “There was a day when I died, utterly died to George Mueller and his opinions, his preferences, and his tastes and his will. I died to the world, to its approval and its censure. I died to the approval or the blame of even my brethren and friends. And since then I have studied only to show myself approved unto God.”

That is the spirit Jesus teaches in this passage, a spirit all men fail to possess apart from saving grace. It is the spirit Abraham manifested when he gave the best land to his nephew Lot. It is the spirit of Joseph when he embraced and kissed the brothers who had so terribly wronged him. Is the spirit that would not let David take advantage of the opportunity to take the life of Saul, who was then seeking to take David’s life. It is the spirit that led Elisha to feed the enemy Assyrian army. It is the spirit that led Stephen to pray for those who were stoning him to death. It is the spirit of every believer who, by the Holy Spirit’s power, seeks to be perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect (v. 48).[2]


5:42 Jesus’ last command in this paragraph seems the most impractical to us today. Give to him who asks you, and from him who wants to borrow from you do not turn away. Our obsession with material goods and possessions makes us recoil at the thought of giving away what we have acquired. However, if we were willing to concentrate on the treasures of heaven and be content with only necessary food and clothing, we would accept these words more literally and willingly. Jesus’ statement presupposes that the person who asks for help has a geniune need. Since it is impossible to know whether the need is legitimate in all cases, it is better (as someone said), “to help a score of fraudulent beggars than to risk turning away one man in real need.”

Humanly speaking, such behavior as the Lord calls for here is impossible. Only as a person is controlled by the Holy Spirit can he live a self-sacrificing life. Only as the Savior is allowed to live His life in the believer can insult (v. 39), injustice (v. 40), and inconvenience (v. 41) be repaid with love. This is “the gospel of the second mile.”[3]


42 The final illustration requires not only interest-free loans (Ex 22:25; Lev 25:37; Dt 23:19) but a generous spirit (cf. Dt 15:7–11; Pss 37:26; 112:5). The parallel form of this verse (Lk 6:30) does not imply two requests but only one; the repetition reinforces the point. These last two illustrations confirm our interpretation of vv. 38–39. The entire pericope deals with the heart’s attitude, the better righteousness. For there is actually no legal recourse to the oppression in the third illustration, and in the fourth no harm that might lead to retaliation has been done.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 128). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 335–336). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1222–1223). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 29 – BUT GOD SEEMS REMOTE

Having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart.

—Ephesians 4:18

The reason we sense that God is remote is because there is a dissimilarity between moral characters. God and man are dissimilar now. God made man in His image, but man sinned and became unlike God in his moral nature. And because he is unlike God, communion is broken. Two enemies may hate each other and be separated and apart even though they are for a moment forced to be together. There is an alienation there—and that is exactly what the Bible calls that moral incompatibility between God and man.

God is not far away in distance, but He seems to be because He is far away in character. He is unlike man because man has sinned and God is holy. The Bible has a word for this moral incompatibility, this spiritual unlikeness between man and God—alienation. AOG123

Thank You, gracious Father, that You have provided the remedy for the alienation between You and Your children. Thank You for the blood of Jesus, whereby our blindness can be lifted and we can be brought near to You. Amen. [1]


Ignorant of God’s Truth

The second characteristic of ungodly persons is ignorance of God’s truth. Their thinking not only is futile but spiritually uninformed. They are darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart.

General education and higher learning are more widespread today than ever in history. College graduates number in the tens of millions, and our society, like ancient Greece, prides itself in its science, technology, literature, art, and other achievements of the mind. For many people, to be called ignorant is a greater offense than to be called sinful. Yet Paul’s point in this passage is that ignorance and sin are inseparable. The ungodly may be “always learning,” but they are “never able to come to the knowledge of the truth” (2 Tim. 3:7). Fallen mankind has a built–in inability to know and comprehend the things of God—the only things that ultimately are worth knowing. When men rejected God, “they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened” (Rom. 1:21). Intellectual futility and foolishness combine as part of sin’s penalty.

The Greek word behind being darkened is a perfect participle, indicating a continuing condition of spiritual darkness. This darkness implies both ignorance and immorality. And darkness of understanding is coupled with exclusion from the life of God (cf. John 1:5). The cause of their darkness, ignorance, and separation from God is the hardness of their heart, their willful determination to remain in sin. Because men determine to reject Him, God judicially and sovereignly determines to blind their minds, exclude them from His presence, and confirm them in their spiritual ignorance. “For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God, or give thanks,” Paul explains of fallen mankind. “Professing to be wise, they became fools. … Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity” (Rom. 1:21–22, 24).

Because of the hardness of their heart, the ungodly are unresponsive to truth (cf. Isa. 44:18–20; 1 Thess. 4:5). Just as a corpse cannot hear a conversation in the mortuary, the person who is spiritually “dead in [his] trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1) cannot hear or understand the things of God, no matter how loudly or clearly they may be declared or evidenced in his presence. Pōrōsis (hardness) carries the idea of being rock–hard. It was used by physicians to describe the calcification that forms around broken bones and becomes harder than the bone itself. It was also used of the hard formations that sometimes occur in joints and cause them to become immobile. It could therefore connote the idea of paralysis as well as of hardness. Sin has a petrifying effect, and the heart of the person who continually chooses to sin becomes hardened and paralyzed to spiritual truth, utterly insensitive to the things of God.

Leroy Auden of the University of Chicago has written, “We hide a restless lion under a cardboard box, for while we may use other terms than guilt to describe this turbulence in our souls, the fact remains that all is not right within us.” By one way or another—by psychological game playing, rationalization, self–justification, transferring the blame, or by denying sin and eliminating morality—men try futilely to get rid of the lion of guilt. But it will not go away.

Satan plays a part in the blindness of those who refuse to believe, because “the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving, that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Cor. 4:4). They refuse to see Christ because they refuse to see God, and their refusal is readily confirmed and reinforced by the god of this world.

And when men continually persist in following their own way, they will also eventually be confirmed in their choice by the God of heaven. The Jews who heard Jesus teach and preach had the great advantage of having had God’s Word given to them through Moses, the prophets, and other Old Testament writers. They had the even greater advantage of seeing and hearing God’s own incarnate Son. But “though He had performed so many signs before them,” John tells us, “yet they were not believing in Him. … For this cause they could not believe, for Isaiah said again, ‘He has blinded their eyes, and He hardened their heart; lest they see with their eyes, and perceive with their heart, and be converted, and I heal them’ ” (John 12:37, 39–40). Because they would not believe, they could not believe. God one day says,

“Let the one who does wrong, still do wrong; and let the one who is filthy, still be filthy” (Rev. 22:11).

When men choose to petrify their hearts by constant rejection of the light (John 12:35–36), they became darkened in their understanding, excluded from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the hardness of their heart. That is the unspeakable tragedy of unbelief, the tragedy of the person who makes himself his own god.[2]


4:18 Blind. “They live blindfold in a world of illusion” (JBP). Their understanding was darkened. First, they had a native incapacity to understand spiritual truths, and then, because of their rejection of the knowledge of the true God, they suffered blindness as a judgment from the Lord.

Ungodly. They were alienated from the life of God, or at a great distance from Him. This was brought about by their willful, deep-seated ignorance and by the hardness of their hearts. They had rejected the light of God in creation and in conscience, and had turned to idolatry. Thereafter they had plunged farther and farther from God.[3]


18 Beyond living with a futile mind-set, Gentiles possess a darkened understanding, according to Paul’s assessment. “Understanding” translates dianoia (GK 1379) and refers to the human faculty of comprehending, reasoning, and intelligence. In other words, a dark shadow blinds unbelievers and denies them the ability to comprehend spiritual matters “because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Co 2:14). Unbelievers are spiritually befuddled.

Repeating the thought of 2:1–10, Paul asserts that unbelievers are alienated from the life of God; i.e., they do not possess the life (using zōē, GK 2437) that derives from God alone (genitive of origin) and that he gives to believers. Paul supplies two reasons for this separation from God’s life: unbelievers’ “ignorance” and the “hardening of their hearts.” Does the ignorance “in them” point to an inherent flaw—original sin? Or does it point to their disobedience? The next phrase clarifies: they brought it on themselves by hardening their hearts against the truth about God. “Hardened hearts” is a common biblical metaphor (Ex 4:21; 7:3; Ps 95:8; Mt 19:8; Mk 3:5; Ro 11:25; also common in Qumran writings). “Hardening” translates pōrōsin (GK 4801), which literally refers to a callus or hardening of the skin. It describes a spiritual insensitivity or unresponsiveness—or a lack of remorse. Unbelievers’ repetition of wrong choices produces a spiritual hardening of the heart (the center of one’s being), with the result that their consciences become ineffective in curbing sin. A hard heart cannot distinguish between good and evil. This contrasts with the believers, whose hearts God has enlightened (1:18). So Christians ought not to live like these Gentiles any longer; they have been changed.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 168–170). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1937). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Klein, W. W. (2006). Ephesians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, pp. 124–125). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

APRIL 28 – HAPPINESS: YOUR WHOLE AMBITION TO BE LIKE JESUS

And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God.

ROMANS 12:2

The assumption that human beings are born “to be happy” is scarcely questioned by anyone in today’s society and the effect of this modern hedonism is felt also among the people of God.

The Christian gospel is too often presented as a means toward happiness, to peace of mind or security. There are even those who use the Bible to “relax” them, as if it were a drug.

How far wrong all this is will be discovered easily by the simple act of reading the New Testament through once, with meditation. There the emphasis is not upon happiness but upon holiness. God is more concerned with the state of people’s hearts than with the state of their feelings.

Undoubtedly the will of God brings final happiness to those who obey, but the most important matter is not how happy we are but how holy!

The childish clamor after happiness can become a real snare. One may easily deceive himself by cultivating a religious joy without a correspondingly righteous life. For those who take this whole thing seriously I have a suggestion: Go to God and have an understanding. Tell Him that it is your desire to be holy at any cost and then ask Him never to give you more happiness than holiness! Be assured that in the end you will be as happy as you are holy; but for the time being let your whole ambition be to serve God and be Christlike![1]


The Mind Must Be Given to God

And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, (12:2a)

The third element of our priestly self-sacrifice is that of offering Him our minds.

It is in the mind that our new nature and our old humanness are intermixed. It is in the mind that we make choices as to whether we will express our new nature in holiness or allow our fleshly humanness to act in unholiness.

Be conformed is from suschēmatizō, which refers to an outward expression that does not reflect what is within. It is used of masquerading, or putting on an act, specifically by following a prescribed pattern or scheme (schēma). It also carries the idea of being transitory, impermanent, and unstable. The negative (not) makes the verb prohibitive. The verb itself is passive and imperative, the passive indicating that conformation is something we allow to be done to us, the imperative indicating a command, not a suggestion.

Paul’s gentle but firm command is that we are not to allow ourselves to be conformed to this world. We are not to masquerade as a worldly person, for whatever the reason. J. B. Phillips translates this phrase as “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould.” We must not pattern ourselves or allow ourselves to be patterned after the spirit of the age. We must not become victims of the world. We are to stop allowing ourselves to be fashioned after the present evil age in which we live.

New Testament scholar Kenneth Wuest paraphrased this clause: “Stop assuming an outward expression which is patterned after this world, an expression which does not come from, nor is representative of what you are in your inner being as a regenerated child of God” (Wuest’s Word Studies from the Greek New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1955], 1:206–7).

World translates aiōn, which is better rendered “age,” referring to the present sinful age, the world system now dominated by Satan, “the god of this world (aiōn)” (2 Cor. 4:4). World here represents the sum of the demonic-human philosophy of life. It corresponds to the German zeitgeist (the spirit of the age) and has been well described as “that floating mass of thoughts, opinions, maxims, speculations, hopes, impulses, aims, aspirations, at any time current in the world, which it may be impossible to seize and accurately define, but which constitute a most real and effective power, being the moral, or immoral atmosphere which at every moment of our lives we inhale, again inevitably to exhale” (G. C. Trench, Synonyms of the New Testament [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973], pp. 217–18).

It is not uncommon for unbelievers to mask themselves as Christians. Unfortunately, it also is not uncommon for Christians to wear the world’s masks. They want to enjoy the world’s entertainment, the world’s fashions, the world’s vocabulary, the world’s music, and many of the world’s attitudes—even when those things clearly do not conform to the standards of God’s Word. That sort of living is wholly unacceptable to God.

The world is an instrument of Satan, and his ungodly influence is pandemic. This is seen in the prideful spirit of rebellion, lies, error, and in the rapid spread of false religions—especially those that promote self and come under the broad umbrella of “New Age.” “We know that we are of God,” John wrote nearly two thousand years ago, “and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one” (1 John 5:19). It clearly still does.

Instead, Paul goes on to say, you should rather be transformed. The Greek verb (metamorphoō) connotes change in outward appearance and is the term from which we get the English metamorphosis. Matthew used the word in describing Jesus’ transfiguration. When “He was transfigured [metamorphōtheē] before them; and His face shone like the sun, and His garments became as white as light” (Matt. 17:2), Christ’s inner divine nature and glory were, for a brief time and to a limited degree, manifested outwardly. Our inner redeemed nature also is to be manifested outwardly, but as completely and continually as possible, in our daily living.

Like the preceding verb (be conformed), be transformed is a passive imperative. Positively, we are commanded to allow ourselves to be changed outwardly into conformity to our redeemed inner natures. “We all,” Paul assured the Corinthians believers, “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). Although we are to aspire to this outward change, it can be accomplished only by the Holy Spirit working in us, by our being “filled with the Spirit” (Eph. 5:18).

The Holy Spirit achieves this transformation by the renewing of the mind, an essential and repeated New Testament theme. The outward transformation is effected by an inner change in the mind, and the Spirit’s means of transforming our minds is the Word. David testified, “Thy word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against Thee” (Ps. 119:11). God’s own Word is the instrument His own Holy Spirit uses to renew our minds, which, in turn, He uses to transform our living.

Paul repeatedly emphasized that truth in his letter to Colossae. As he proclaimed Christ, he was “admonishing every man and teaching every man with all wisdom, that we may present every man complete in Christ” (Col. 1:28). By receiving Christ as Lord and Savior, we “have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him” (3:10). Consequently, we are to “let the word of Christ richly dwell within [us], with all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another with psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with thankfulness in [our] hearts to God” (3:16).

The transformed and renewed mind is the mind saturated with and controlled by the Word of God. It is the mind that spends as little time as possible even with the necessary things of earthly living and as much time as possible with the things of God. It is the mind that is set “on the things above, not on the things that are on earth” (Col. 3:2). Whether good or bad, when anything happens in our lives, our immediate, almost reflexive response should be biblical. During His incarnation, Jesus responded to Satan’s temptations by hurling Scripture back into His adversary’s face (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10). Only the mind that is constantly being renewed by God’s Spirit working through God’s Word is pleasing to God. Only such a mind is able to make our lives “a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is [our] spiritual service of worship.”

The Will Must Be Given to God

that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect. (12:2b)

An implied fourth element of presenting ourselves to God as a living, holy, and acceptable sacrifice is that of offering Him our wills, of allowing His Spirit through His Word to conform our wills to the will of God.

The Greek construction makes that you may prove a purpose/ result phrase. That is to say, when a believer’s mind is transformed, his thinking ability, moral reasoning, and spiritual understanding are able to properly assess everything, and to accept only what conforms to the will of God. Our lives can prove what the will of God is only by doing those things that are good and acceptable and perfect to Him.

In using euarestos (acceptable), Paul again borrows from Old Testament sacrificial language to describe the kind of holy living that God approves, a “living sacrifice” that is morally and spiritually spotless and without blemish.

Perfect carries the idea of being complete, of something’s being everything it should be. Our wills should desire only what God desires and lead us to do only what He wants us to do in the way He wants us to do it—according to His will and by His power. Our imperfect wills must always be subject to His perfect will.

A transformed mind produces a transformed will, by which we become eager and able, with the Spirit’s help, to lay aside our own plans and to trustingly accept God’s, no matter what the cost. This continued yielding involves the strong desire to know God better and to comprehend and follow His purpose for our lives.

The divine transformation of our minds and wills must be constant. Because we are still continuously tempted through our remaining humanness, our minds and wills must be continuously transformed through God’s Word and by God’s Spirit.

The product of a transformed mind is a life that does the things God has declared to be righteous, fitting, and complete. That is the goal of the supreme act of spiritual worship, and sets the stage for what Paul speaks of next—the ministry of our spiritual gifts.[2]


12:2 Secondly, Paul urges us not to be conformed to this world, or as Phillips paraphrases it: “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mold.” When we come to the kingdom of God, we should abandon the thought-patterns and lifestyles of the world.

The world (literally age) as used here means the society or system that man has built in order to make himself happy without God. It is a kingdom that is antagonistic to God. The god and prince of this world is Satan (2 Cor. 4:4; John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). All unconverted people are his subjects. He seeks to attract and hold people through the lust of the eyes, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 Jn. 2:16). The world has its own politics, art, music, religion, amusements, thought-patterns, and lifestyles, and it seeks to get everyone to conform to its culture and customs. It hates nonconformists—like Christ and His followers.

Christ died to deliver us from this world. The world is crucified to us, and we are crucified to the world. It would be absolute disloyalty to the Lord for believers to love the world. Anyone who loves the world is an enemy of God.

Believers are not of the world any more than Christ is of the world. However, they are sent into the world to testify that its works are evil and that salvation is available to all who put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. We should not only be separated from the world; we should be transformed by the renewing of our mind, which means that we should think the way God thinks, as revealed in the Bible. Then we can experience the direct guidance of God in our lives. And we will find that, instead of being distasteful and hard, His will is good and acceptable and perfect.

Here, then, are three keys for knowing God’s will. The first is a yielded body, the second a separated life, and the third a transformed mind.[3]


2 The dedicated life is also the transformed life. Whereas v. 1 has called for a decisive commitment, v. 2 deals with the maintenance of that commitment. The stress provided by the present tenses in this verse points to the necessity of continual vigilance, lest the original decision be vitiated or weakened. The threat to Christians comes from “this world,” whose ways and thoughts are so prevalent and powerful. Paul here uses aiōn (GK 172), essentially a time word meaning “age,” but it has much common ground with kosmos (GK 3180), the more usual term for “world.” Christians have been delivered from this “present evil age” (Gal 1:4), which has Satan for its god (2 Co 4:4). They live by the powers of the age to come (Heb 6:5), but their heavenly calling includes residence among sinful people in this world, where they are to show forth the praises of him who called them out of darkness into God’s wonderful light (1 Pe 2:9). They are in the world for witness but not for conformity to that which is a passing phenomenon (1 Co 7:31).

The positive call is complementary to the negative call. That is, with the command to avoid conformity to the pattern of this world comes the command to “be transformed.” (The striking verb is metamorphoō [GK 3565], used of the transfiguration of Jesus [Mk 9:2 par.] and applied to the Christian in 2 Co 3:18.) The two processes are viewed as going on all the time, as the present tenses indicate—a continual renunciation and renewal. Our pattern here is Jesus, who refused conformity to Satan’s solicitations in the temptation but was transformed to the doing of the will of God and to acceptance of the path that led to Calvary. As the mission of Jesus can be summarized in the affirmation that he had come to do the Father’s will (Jn 6:38), so too the service of Christians can be reduced to this simple description. They are in the present age to “live a new life” (6:4), to “live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory” (1 Th 2:12), to “live a life worthy of the calling you have received” (Eph 4:1). But they must “test” what is in accord with the will of God, refusing the norms of conduct employed by the sinful world and reaffirming for themselves the spiritual norms befitting the redeemed. Only from Christ do the redeemed “finally obtain the criteria for that which in the world can be called good, well-pleasing, and perfect” (Stuhlmacher, 189).

Crucial to the process of being transformed is “the renewing of your mind” (tē anakainōsei tou noos, GK 363, 3808)—which seems to indicate the necessity of setting one’s mind on the theological truths of the faith—to the basis of one’s original commitment, reaffirming its necessity and legitimacy in the light of God’s grace. It is by means of this use of the mind that transformation and renewal take place. In this activity, the working of the Holy Spirit should no doubt be recognized (cf. Tit 3:5, where the Holy Spirit is the agent of renewal). It appears from the context that the believer is not viewed as ignorant of the will of God but as needing to avoid blurring its outline by failure to renew the mind continually (cf. Eph 5:8–10). Dedication leads to discernment, and discernment to delight in God’s will. That there is an intimate connection between certifying the will of God and making oneself a living sacrifice is indicated by the use of “pleasing” in each case (cf. Php 4:18; Heb 13:16). For the Christian, the will of God is “good” (agathon, GK 19), “pleasing” (euareston, GK 2298), and “perfect” (teleion, GK 5455).[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (Ro 12:2). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 1728–1729). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Harrison, E. F., & Hagner, D. A. (2008). Romans. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, pp. 183–184). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 28 – Jesus and Non-retaliation: Liberty

Whoever forces you to go one mile, go with him two.—Matt. 5:41

The concept of liberty is much cherished in the United States and other democratic nations. The Declaration of Independence famously speaks of “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Patrick Henry of Virginia used the bold oratory, “Give me liberty or give me death!” These sentiments were derived from biblical principles, although sometimes altered from those ancient origins.

God’s intention from the beginning was for mankind created in His image to live in perfect liberty, both spiritually and physically. But the Fall ruined this ideal and introduced such corrupt concepts as slavery and subjugation to totalitarian governments. Democratic governments have tried, although imperfectly, to protect the liberty of their citizens—sometimes even extending such freedoms to foreign visitors and immigrants. However, civil liberties should not supersede our duties to righteousness or our obligations to display a faithful witness.

Jesus here makes the analogy between surrendered liberties and the Roman law that could force civilians to carry a soldier’s pack for a mile. Except for facing them in battle, Roman troops were not as despised by their opponents as when those people were obligated to carry the troops’ packs or other equipment.

Yet our Lord teaches that we should be willing to go the extra mile for someone else—even at the expense of our cherished liberty. In so doing, we are worthy ambassadors for Christ, realizing that in Him we have an eternal liberty that can never be taken.

ASK YOURSELF
Who in your life regularly asks you to go the second mile for them? What is your usual response to their demand for your time and energy? How do you strike the balance between being sacrificial and maintaining boundaries that help you protect other godly priorities?[1]

Liberty

And whoever shall force you to go one mile, go with him two. (5:41)

The third right the Lord indicates kingdom citizens are to be willing to sacrifice is that of liberty. God’s original intention was for everyone made in His image to live in freedom. Human bondage and slavery are consequences of the Fall and have no part in God’s original plan for His creation. The best of human governments have always tried to protect the freedom of their citizens, and sometimes even of foreigners. In light of God’s will and proper human justice, men have the right to certain freedoms. But like all other rights, freedom is not to be cherished and protected at the expense of righteousness or even of faithful witness.

Roman law gave a soldier the right to force a civilian to carry his pack for a milion, a Roman mile, which was slightly shorter than our modern mile. The law, designed to relieve the soldier, not only caused great inconvenience to civilians but was made even more despicable by the fact that the oppressed were made to carry the equipment and weapons of their oppressors. Outside of combat the Roman soldier was probably never more hated than when he forced someone to carry his pack.

Yet even so despised a burden should be carried willingly, Jesus says-not only willingly but with magnanimity. When we are forced to go one mile, we should willingly go two. When we are robbed of some of our cherished liberty, we should surrender even more of it rather than retaliate. In so doing we are obedient to our Lord and testify to His righteousness, knowing that in Him we have a dearer freedom that the world cannot take from us.[2]


41 The third example refers to the Roman practice of commandeering civilians to carry the luggage of military personnel a prescribed distance, one Roman “mile.” (On the verb angareuō (“commandeer,” GK 30; NIV, “force”), see W. Hatch, Essays in Biblical Greek [Oxford: Clarendon, 1889], 37–38.) Impressment, like a lawsuit, evokes outrage, but the attitude of Jesus’ disciples under such circumstances must not be spiteful or vengeful but helpful—willing to go a second mile (exemplars of the Western text say “two more [miles],” making a total of three!). This illustration is also implicitly anti-Zealot.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 127). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 334–335). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] Carson, D. A. (2010). Matthew. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew–Mark (Revised Edition) (Vol. 9, p. 190). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

April 28 – The Resurrection: Motive for Sanctification

“Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’ Become sober–minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame.”

1 Corinthians 15:33–34

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Trusting in the fact of Christ’s resurrection and looking forward to our own rising from the dead ought to stimulate us toward sanctification.

Like any essential teaching of Scripture, the doctrine of the Resurrection can be studied and discussed from an academic standpoint only. When that happens, we usually acquire a factual understanding of the topic and perhaps some appreciation of how the doctrine supports our faith—but that’s as far as we go.

However, our studies on the Resurrection have already taught us some of the implications this Bible truth ought to have for our conduct. The hope of the Resurrection can give everyone an incentive to be saved and believers an incentive for service. This hope also provides a third incentive: the motivation toward sanctification.

The apostle Paul knew that those in the Corinthian church were being exposed to the heretical theology that there is no real resurrection from the dead. This false teaching was having a bad influence on the Corinthians’ behavior. That’s why Paul tells them in today’s verse, “Bad company corrupts good morals.” It is impossible to be around evil people and not be contaminated both by their ideas and their habits. The apostle goes on to urge those believers who hoped in a resurrection to be a positive influence on others and lead them to the truth.

This glimpse at the situation in Corinth proves that sound doctrine matters and does affect how people live. We see all around us today what results when there is no belief in a resurrection. People become short–sighted and live as they please because ultimately nothing keeps them accountable. This is all the more reason for us to hold firm to the truth of the Resurrection, live in its hope, and proclaim it to others.

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Suggestions for Prayer: How is the pursuit of holiness coming in your life? Pray that the Lord would increase your diligence and help you especially in an area of weakness.

For Further Study: Read 1 Peter 1. List all the verses that refer to God’s plan for Christ’s death and resurrection. ✧ How does the existence of such a divine plan strengthen your hope? ✧ Write a theme sentence for the chapter.[1]


An Incentive for Sanctification

Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.” Become sober–minded as you ought, and stop sinning; for some have no knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. (15:33–34)

The third incentive the hope of resurrection gives is for sanctification. Looking forward to resurrection should lead to more godly living and spiritual maturity. Verses 32 and 33 are closely related. Denying the resurrection destroys the incentives both for service and for sanctification. Why then bother serving the Lord or serving others in His name, and why bother to be holy and pure?

Paul warned the Corinthians that they should not be deceived about the danger of bad company. Homilia (company) basically means an association of people, but also can have the connotation of a lecture or sermon. It seems possible, therefore, that the Corinthians were both listening to some wrong teaching and associating with some evil people. Whether the teaching was in formal messages or not, it was bad and corrupting.

People who think wrongly invariably behave wrongly. Wrong behavior comes from wrong thinking, from wrong beliefs and wrong standards. It is impossible to associate regularly with wicked people without being contaminated both by their ideas and by their habits. The context implies that the bad company was teaching the heretical theology that there is no resurrection of the dead, and that bad theology had corrupted good morals.

Just as hoping in the resurrection is an incentive to obedience and holiness, so disbelief of it is an incentive to disobedience and immorality. As Paul has just pointed out, if there is no resurrection, we might as well eat and drink, for tomorrow we die. If death is the end, what great difference does it make what we do?

Some in the Corinthian congregation had no knowledge of God, and therefore no knowledge of His truth. Their bad theology was leading to bad behavior, especially because they denied the resurrection.

The Greek historian Thucydides reported that when a deadly plague came to Athens, “People committed every shameful crime and eagerly snatched at every lustful pleasure.” They believed life was short and there was no resurrection, so they would have to pay no price for their vice. The Roman poet Horace wrote, “Tell them to bring wine and perfume and the too short–lived blossoms of the lovely rose while circumstance and age and the black threads of the three sisters fate still allow us to do so.” Another Roman poet, Catullus, penned the lines: “Let’s live my Lesbia and let’s love, and lets value the tales of austere old men at a single half penny. Suns can set and then return again, but for us when once our brief light sets there is but one perpetual night through which we must sleep.”

Without the prospect of a resurrection, and of the accountability it brings, there is no incentive for doing anything but what we feel like doing here and now. If behavior has no reward or condemnation, it is uncontrollable.

Become sober–minded as you ought, and stop sinning, Paul pleads in the imperative. “Those of you who believe in the resurrection know better, and you should be leading those who do not believe in the resurrection into a true knowledge of God, rather than allowing their heresy and their immorality to mislead and corrupt you.” The apostle spoke this to [their] shame. They had the truth, but they did not fully believe it and therefore did not fully follow it. He commands them to cease the sin they were involved in.

What tremendous power the resurrection has, and what wonderful hope it gives! Jesus rose from the dead; He is alive; and we also shall live because one day He will raise us up to be with Him eternally. What greater incentive, what greater motive, could we have for coming to Him, for serving Him, and for living for Him?[2]


15:33 The Corinthians should not be deceived on this score. Evil company corrupts good habits. Paul is referring to the false teachers who had come into the church at Corinth, denying the resurrection. The Christians should realize that it is impossible to associate with evil people or evil teachings without being corrupted by them. Evil doctrine inevitably has an effect on one’s life. False teachings do not lead to holiness.

15:34 The Corinthians should awake to righteousness and not sin. They should not be deluded by these evil teachings. Some do not have the knowledge of God. I speak this to your shame. This verse is commonly interpreted to mean that there are still men and women who have never heard the gospel story, and that Christians should be ashamed of their failure to evangelize the world. However, while this may be true, we believe that the primary meaning of the passage is that there were men in the fellowship at Corinth who did not have the knowledge of God. They were not true believers, but wolves in sheep’s clothing, false teachers who had crept in unawares. It was to the shame of the Corinthians that these men were allowed to take their place with the Christians and to teach these wicked doctrines. The carelessness which let ungodly people enter the assembly resulted in lowering the congregation’s whole moral tone, thus preparing an opening for the intrusion of all kinds of error.[3]


33–34 Paul ends this section with a warning, presumably to those in Corinth who were under the influence of the heretical doctrine of the resurrection. The maxim “bad company corrupts good character” (which can be traced to the Greek poet Menander but was probably a common proverb in Greco-Roman society) reflects essentially the same concern as contemporary sayings about peer pressure, where going along with the crowd can lead an otherwise good person into bad behavior.

Apparently there were some in Corinth who were doing precisely this—being caught up in the “wine, women, and song” philosophy of those who believed there were no consequences for immoral behavior since there was no resurrection of the dead. Such people had no true knowledge of God (in spite of the claim of some in Corinth to be so wise; cf. the “wisdom” section of 1:18–2:16; also 3:18; 8:1–2). As a result, they were being easily led into sinning. In writing this, Paul was intending to shame his readers to whom this applied (see comments on the “honor-shame” culture at 4:14; 11:7–10; 14:35). What he wanted them to do was to sober up and come to their senses.

It appears that the thinking reflected here is similar to what Paul dealt with in 6:12–20. There, too, I argued that part of the problem was a lack of belief in the resurrection of the body. One can even argue that 15:1–35 is an expansion of these earlier verses. So why would Paul not have coupled together these two sections? As noted in the introduction (pp. 251–52), I suggest that Paul probably wrote this letter over a period of time (perhaps a couple of months). After all, he seems to go back and forth between his responses to their written questions to him and things he keeps hearing about as visitors come to him in Ephesus. Rather than start the letter over again when he hears something new about a problem he has already touched on (or do a “cut and paste,” as we do today on computers), Paul simply wrote his sections as the issues came to him. When the letter was finally read, the connections would be clear to the Corinthians.[4]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 429–430). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 1808). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

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