Category Archives: John MacArthur

August 17, 2017: Verse of the day

img_1438

John repeated for emphasis the truth from verse 1 that those who believe in Jesus Christ and have been born of God … overcome the world, gaining the victory over it through their faith. The phrase our faith literally reads, “the faith of us.” It could refer to the subjective, personal faith of individual believers, or objectively to the Christian faith, “the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints” (Jude 3; cf. Acts 6:7; 13:8; 14:22; 16:5; 1 Cor. 16:13; 2 Cor. 13:5; Gal. 1:23; Phil. 1:27; 1 Tim. 4:1; 6:10, 21; 2 Tim. 4:7). It is safe to see in this context of believing that John is referring not to the objective content of the gospel as theology, but to the subjective trust by which God makes saints overcomers.[1]


4 Verse 4 builds on vv. 2–3 by describing the benefits of obedience. All those who are born of God “conquer [nikaō, GK 3771] the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”). The conquest metaphor is consistent with John’s dualistic perspective, which sees a hostile relationship between the world and God’s children. But the precise meaning of nikaō here is open to debate, especially since it seems to contrast starkly with the real-life experiences of the Johannine Christians (see Introduction).

Some suggest that nikaō is used in an eschatological sense. Schnackenburg, 229–30, for example, sees here a reference to “the victory that Christ won once for all in salvation history,” the victory that is “repeated in the lives of the Christians.” By participating in the work of Christ, then, believers experience the future victory over evil in the midst of the pain of this world. Rensberger, 129, takes a somewhat similar view with the suggestion that John is touching on the notion that Satan is “the ruler of this world” (Jn 12:31; 14:30; 16:11). Jesus has conquered the ruler of this world, and all those who believe share the benefits of this victory. Other commentators believe that John is thinking of the moral sphere of human experience. Dodd, 126–27, for example, says that “the world” refers here to “the power of evil inclinations, false standards and bad dispositions.” “Victory” is achieved when believers choose to obey God and resist temptation (cf. Marshall, 228–29; Schnackenburg, 229).

While both of these views are reasonable, the most likely reference point for the believer’s “victory over the world” is John 16:33. First John 5:4 opens with a hoti clause that seems to introduce a traditional slogan or saying, and the phrase that follows is strongly reminiscent of Jesus’ words in the upper room. After assuring the disciples that they will be hated by the world, put out of the synagogues, and persecuted for his name (Jn 15:18–16:4), Jesus predicts that they will soon scatter and abandon him. Despite all this, they should not be discouraged, because “I have conquered the world” (NIV, “overcome the world”; 16:33).

Jesus’ “conquest” seems to consist of his resolution to obey God’s calling and suffer death. By analogy, 1 John 5:4 uses nikaō to describe the true believer’s willingness to serve God in spite of the world’s persecutions. Hence the conquest of the world may be reduced to “our faith”—the fact of holding fast to the orthodox confession in the face of pressure to abandon Christ. The verb nikaō is used with the same connotation in Revelation, where the believer’s “victory” is gained by overcoming the temptation to abandon the faith in the face of severe suffering and possibly death (Rev 2:7, 11, 17, 26; 3:5, 12, 21). If 1 John and Revelation were produced by the same person or by members of the same community, these references would also support the interpretation adopted here.[2]


5:4 Next we learn the secret of victory over the world. The world system is a monstrous scheme of temptation, always trying to drag us away from God and from what is eternal, and seeking to occupy us with what is temporary and sensual. People of the world are completely taken up with the things of time and sense. They have become the victims of passing things.

Only the man who is born of God really overcomes the world, because by faith he is able to rise above the perishing things of this world and to see things in their true, eternal perspective. Thus the one who really overcomes the world is not the great scientist or philosopher or psychologist, but the simple believer who realizes that the things which are seen are temporary and that the things which are not seen are eternal. A sight of the glory of God in the face of Jesus dims the glory of this world.[3]


4 This leads on to victory. The neuter ‘whatever’ (niv, everyone) makes the statement quite general (cf. 1:1). Our faith (the noun occurs only here in 1 John; it is not found in the gospel or 2 or 3 John) stands last with emphasis. Has overcome means that the decisive victory is in the past, when Jesus died to overcome evil, and in the case of the individual believer when that believer came to trust in him.[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2007). 1, 2, 3 John (p. 179). Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers.

[2] Thatcher, T. (2006). 1 John. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, pp. 490–491). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 2322–2323). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] Morris, L. L. (1994). 1 John. In D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer, & G. J. Wenham (Eds.), New Bible commentary: 21st century edition (4th ed., p. 1408). Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press.

August 16, 2017: Verse of the day

img_0387

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

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


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

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


45. And blessed is she who believed,

Because there will be a fulfilment of the words

Spoken to her by the Lord.

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

August 15, 2017: Verse of the day

img_1437

The Purpose of God’s Pattern

until we all attain to the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a mature man, to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ. As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, (4:13–15a)

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

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

Unity of the Faith

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

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

Knowledge of Christ

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

Spiritual Maturity

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

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

Sound Doctrine

The fourth result of following God’s pattern for His church is sound doctrine. The Christian who is properly equipped and mature is no longer a child who is tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming.

Kubia (trickery) is the term from which we get cube, and was used of dice–playing. Just as today, the dice were often “loaded” or otherwise manipulated by professional gamblers to their own advantage. The term for dice therefore became synonymous with dishonest trickery of any sort. Craftiness (panourgia; see Luke 20:23; 1 Cor. 3:19; 2 Cor. 12:16) is a similar term, carrying the idea of clever manipulation of error made to look like truth. Methodia (scheming) is used later in the letter to refer to “the schemes of the devil” (6:11). No doubt it has reference to planned, subtle, systematized error. Paul’s point is that neither the trickery of men nor the deceitful scheming of the devil will mislead the spiritually equipped and mature believer.

It is spiritual children (nēpios, lit., one who does not talk), such as were many of the Corinthian believers (1 Cor. 3:1; 14:20), who are in constant danger of falling prey to every new religious fad or novel interpretation of Scripture that comes along. Having no thorough knowledge of God’s Word, they are tossed here and there by waves of popular sentiment and are carried about by every wind of new doctrine that seems appealing. Because they are not anchored in God’s truth, they are subject to every sort of counterfeit truth—humanistic, cultic, pagan, demonic, or whatever. The New Testament is replete with warnings against this danger (see Acts 20:30–31; Rom. 16:17–18; 2 Cor. 11:3–4; Gal. 1:6–7; 3:1; Col. 2:4–8; 1 Tim. 4:1, 6–7; 2 Tim. 2:15–18; 3:6–9; 4:3; Heb. 13:9; 2 Pet. 2:1–3; 1 John 2:19, 26).

The immature Christian is gullible; and in the history of the church no group of believers has fallen into more foolishness in the name of Christianity than has much of the church today. Despite our unprecedented education, sophistication, freedom, and access to God’s Word and sound Christian teaching, it seems that every religious huckster (cf. 2 Cor. 2:17; 4:2; 11:13–15) can find a ready hearing and financial support from among God’s people. The number of foolish, misdirected, corrupt, and even heretical leaders to whom many church members willingly give their money and allegiance is astounding and heartbreaking.

The cause of this spiritual plight is not hard to find. A great many evangelists have presented an easy–believism gospel and a great many pastors have taught an almost contentless message. In many places the Body of Christ has not been built up in sound doctrine or in faithful obedience. Consequently there is little doctrinal solidarity (“unity of faith”) and little spiritual maturity (“knowledge of the Son of God … to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ”).

Just as many families today are dominated by their children, so are many churches. It is tragic when the church’s children—spiritually immature believers (cf. 1 John 2:13–14) who change their views with every wind of doctrine and continually fall prey to men’s trickery and Satan’s craftiness and deceitful scheming—are found among its most influential teachers and leaders.

Authentic Loving Testimony

The fifth and final feature that is primarily a requirement and yet also a result of following God’s pattern for His church will be in direct opposition to being tossed, carried away, tricked, and deceived by the schemes of Satan—namely, speaking the truth in love, a principle that applies to every aspect of Christian life and ministry. The verb translated speaking the truth is alētheuō, which means to speak, deal, or act truthfully. Some have translated it “truthing it,” while others say it conveys the idea of walking in a truthful way. The verb refers to being true in the widest sense and is hard to translate into English. Yet in Galatians 4:16 it seems to especially emphasize preaching the gospel truth. Since the reference in Galatians is the only other use of the verb in the New Testament, it seems safe to say that the emphasis in Ephesians 4 is also on the preaching of the truth (within the context of a truthful and authentic Christian life). Authentic, mature believers whose lives are marked by love will not be victims of false teaching (v. 14) but will be living authentically and proclaiming the true gospel to a deceived and deceiving world. The work of the church goes full swing, from evangelism to edification to evangelism, and so on and on until the Lord returns. The evangelized are edified, and they, in turn, evangelize and edify others.

The spiritually equipped church, whose members are sound in doctrine and mature in their thinking and living, is a church that will reach out in love to proclaim the saving gospel. God does not give us knowledge, understanding, gifts, and maturity to keep but to share. He does not equip us to stagnate but to serve. We are not gifted and edified in order to be complacent and self–satisfied but in order to do the Lord’s work of service in building up and expanding the Body of Christ. In love is the attitude in which we evangelize (cf. 3:17–19; 4:2; 5:1–2). Paul was an example for such love, as seen in the following testimony:

But we proved to be gentle among you, as a nursing mother tenderly cares for her own children. Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well–pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us. For you recall, brethren, our labor and hardship, how working night and day so as not to be a burden to any of you, we proclaimed to you the gospel of God. You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you may walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory. (1 Thess. 2:7–12; cf. 2 Cor. 12:15; Phil. 2:17; Col. 1:24–29)

John Bunyan said of Christians, “When all their garments are white the world will count them His,” and the skeptical German poet Heinrich Heine said to Christians, “You show me your redeemed life and I might be inclined to believe in your Redeemer.” The authentic life that speaks the gospel with a spirit of loving sacrifice will be eminently convincing.

Speaking the truth in love seems deceptively easy, but it is extremely difficult. It is possible only for the believer who is thoroughly equipped in sound doctrine and in spiritual maturity. For the immature believer, right doctrine can be no more than cold orthodoxy and love can be no more than sentimentality. Only the mature man, the man who is growing up to the measure of the stature which belongs to the fulness of Christ is consistent in having sufficient wisdom to understand God’s truth and effectively present it to others; and only he has the continual humility and grace to present it in love and in power. The combination of truth and love counteracts the two great threats to powerful ministry—lack of truth and lack of compassion.

we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ (4:15b)

This loving, authentic testimony assists believers in growing into the very likeness of Jesus Christ. The phrase in all aspects calls for a comprehensive Christlikeness such as that described in verse 13 (cf. 1 Cor. 11:1; 2 Cor. 3:18; Gal. 4:19; Eph. 5:2; 1 Pet. 2:21; 1 John 2:6).

The head … Christ expresses a familiar Pauline analogy indicating Christ’s authority (Eph. 1:22; Col. 1:18), leadership (Eph. 5:23), and here, as in Colossians 2:19, controlling power. He not only is the sovereign Head and the ruling Head but also the organic Head. He is the source of power for all functions. Human beings are declared officially dead when the ekg is flat, signifying brain death. As the brain is the control center of physical life, so the Lord Jesus Christ is the organic source of life and power to His Body, the church.

To grow into His likeness is to be completely subject to His controlling power, obedient to His every thought and expression of will. It is to personify Paul’s prayers “For to me, to live is Christ” (Phil. 1:21) and “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).[1]


Spiritual Adults

Ephesians 4:14–16

Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Several years ago the elders of Tenth Presbyterian Church spent a great deal of time thinking about a succinct statement of the unique purpose of the church. When it was finished it read like this:

Tenth Presbyterian Church is committed to developing and maintaining a strong teaching pulpit in center city Philadelphia, an effective network of fellowship groups aimed at meeting individual needs, a program of Christian education to promote the steady growth of our church family to spiritual maturity and, in cooperation with other Christians, an evangelistic outreach to our city and the world beyond.

Then, after this purpose statement was finished, it was passed on to a long-range planning commission, by whom it was expanded into five specific goals:

  1. To uphold our tradition of strong expository preaching by skilled men of God from our center city location.
  2. To integrate each member of the congregation into smaller fellowship groups where individual needs can be met and each can minister to others.
  3. To provide an effective Christian education program to inform, train, and disciple all segments of our congregation.
  4. To advance the missionary work of the church in the Philadelphia area and throughout the world, and
  5. To serve the social and physical needs of our community.

The next step in this plan will be to compile a list of particular objectives that would accomplish these goals, and then to set up a specific timetable for accomplishing them and a process of measurement afterward to see if they really have been accomplished.

The whole process sounds like a modern approach to church management, but it is as old as Ephesians 4. In that chapter dealing with the church, the apostle Paul states God’s purpose for the church and mentions his goals and objectives.

God’s Purpose for God’s Church

Without looking at this passage closely, what would you say the purpose of God for his church is? Some answer that question in terms of the missionary mandate. They remember that Jesus instructed his disciples to “go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation” (Mark 16:15). Since this command is repeated with variations in each of the four Gospels and an additional time in the book of Acts it is obviously of great importance. It is neglected at the church’s peril. Yet, is this the church’s purpose? Those who think so think of the church as a mighty army engaged in a great, worldwide invasion. Their favorite image of the people of God is the church militant.

Others think of the church in terms of its social concern. They remember that Jesus spoke of separating the sheep from the goats on the basis of whether those involved fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, looked after the sick, and visited the ones who were in prison (Matt. 25:31–46). People who emphasize this ministry generally think of the church as an international social service agency. But is this the proper emphasis? Is this God’s greatest purpose for his people?

Still others regard the church as a retreat from the world, and their image of it is a fortress. In the world we have conflict. We take batterings from those who do not own Christ’s lordship and are opposed to manifestations or extensions of his rule. To these people the church is a place where we can nurse our wounds and be fired up to fight another day. Is this the proper view? Did God establish the church chiefly to be a refuge from earthly conflicts?

In the verses I am speaking of Paul handles the issue of God’s purpose for his church quite differently. No doubt Paul would have had little quarrel with these other emphases. These are things the church is called to do and areas in which it is to function. But “purpose” is a more embracing concept, and when Paul writes about it, as he does here, he thinks of it as God’s developing wholeness or maturity in his people. His image is that of a body, Christ’s body, and his concern is that it be built up. See how he puts it. God gave “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (vv. 11–13).

Then, after speaking of the opposite possibility, namely, of the church remaining spiritually immature, like children, he says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (vv. 15–16).

In these verses Paul speaks of maturity once and of building up or growing up four times more. It means that for Paul God’s chief purpose for the church is that it might become full-grown and that each of its members might contribute to that maturity by becoming spiritual adults.

Unity to Be Attained

Paul is not just painting the scene with some broad brush of imagery, however. He is also being specific, as a careful examination of these verses shows. Granted that the church is to become spiritually mature. In what does that maturity consist? The first answer Paul gives—the first specific goal under his overriding purpose—is unity, the very point he has been making all along.

Up to this point Paul has been speaking of unity as a given, as something the church has and must maintain. He recognizes that there is diversity within the church, but far more important than the diversity are the things the people of God hold in common. He says, “There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called—one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4–5). The church possesses these seven great unities. Since that is so, Paul’s admonition is: “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace” (v. 3). A unity like this can only be maintained.

But it is entirely different in verse 13, where Paul speaks of reaching “unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God.” This unity is something to be attained. It does not yet exist but is an expression of the full maturity to which the church and its members should aspire. It has two parts: “Unity in the faith” and “unity … in the knowledge of the Son of God.”

“Faith” usually means an individual’s subjective response to the Word of God and the gospel, and “knowledge” usually refers to the content of what a child of God is to believe. But in this expression—“Unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God”—it is actually the other way around. “The faith” refers to the theological content of Christianity; it is “the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

“Knowledge of the Son of God” refers to experiential knowledge of Jesus attained through day-by-day discipleship; it is what Paul refers to in Philippians 3 where he writes of his desire “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death” (v. 10). Paul means knowledge that goes beyond what can be packed into the head, knowledge that also trickles down into the heart and flows out into the life in obedient and loving service to the Lord.

This twofold knowledge—of the head and of the heart—is what Paul says the mature church should attain. Where possible we should have an outward, visible unity, for Jesus prayed that his church might have a unity on the basis of which unbelievers might be stimulated to faith (John 17:23). But far more important than any outward show of unity is that deep, inward, motivational unity that comes from believers growing in a knowledge of the truth, as we find it in the Bible, and living that truth out experientially in day-by-day fellowship with Jesus Christ. This reality transcends denominational and all other barriers.

Christlikeness

The second specific goal under the general heading of maturity is what we would today probably call “Christlikeness.” It is what Paul is speaking of in the phrase “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” In other words, it is not only that we are to have an experiential knowledge of Jesus Christ and his ways. In addition we are to become increasingly like him through such fellowship.

This goal has a personal side, namely, that individuals might become Christlike. Ironically the temptation that first came to Adam and Eve in the garden was precisely at this point. The devil had succeeded in getting the man and the woman to doubt God’s goodness and then question his word. But the clinching argument was when he said to them, “God knows that when you eat of it [that is, the forbidden tree] your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5). This was a lie, of course, although like all good lies it had a measure of truth mixed with it. It was true that if the man and the woman ate of the tree, they would come to know good and evil. Before this they had known the good but not the evil. The lie was in the fact that they did not become “like God,” knowing good and evil. They became like Satan, who not only knows what evil is, as God knows, but also practices it.

Here is the irony. Before the Fall the man and the woman actually were like God. That is the meaning of the thrice repeated phrase “in our [his own or God’s] image” from the creation account in chapter 1. In their unfallen state our first parents actually were like God, and this is precisely what they lost by succumbing to Satan’s temptation. The wonder of the gospel is that this original image, once lost through the Fall, is now progressively restored as individuals are made like Christ within the church’s fellowship.

Does anyone feel the need of performance standards for the achieving of this goal? They are in Galatians, where Christlike character, termed “the fruit of the Spirit,” is unfolded: “The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Gal. 5:22–23). This describes Jesus Christ. It also describes the direction in which individuals grow by the power of Christ’s Spirit.

There is another aspect of this that is also worth considering. I have been writing of Christlikeness on the personal level as involving each individual member of the church, and this is important. It is how the church matures. Yet it is also true that in this great passage of Ephesians, dealing with maturity, Paul is thinking not so much of individual believers as of the church as a whole. He is saying that just as there is a growth in maturity for the individual, so also there is a growth in maturity for the church corporately. I think this means that, as the church goes about its business in this world, God works in it to develop one aspect of the character of Jesus Christ in a particular way here and another aspect of the character of Christ in a special way there, so that the entire church in every place is necessary to manifest the full character of the Lord.

Are you aware of that? Do you pray for that? It is what the Lord Jesus Christ wants to see in the people who constitute his body.

Growing in Truth

The third specific goal of maturity for the church is truth; without truth there is no real maturity. Paul writes in verse 15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.”

The contrast here is with the nature and conduct of infants described in verse 14: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Children are delightful little creatures to have around, but they do have their limitations. Two are instability and naïveté. Children are notoriously fickle. They will be interested in one thing for five minutes; then they change their minds and focus on something else entirely, and five minutes later they move on to a third concern.

Again, children may be easily fooled. It is easy to deceive them. That is why parents have a special responsibility for the sound education and careful guidance of children; it is part of what it means to be a child. However, it is an unfortunate thing when those same characteristics hang on into adult life, weakening a person’s character and limiting his or her usefulness. It is particularly unfortunate when the same marks of immaturity mar a Christian’s development. Neither individual Christians nor the church as a whole are to be so weakened. If the church is not to be weakened, it must grow in the truth of God.

This is why Paul began by speaking of teaching gifts: apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers. It is not that these are the only gifts; they are not. Paul lists others elsewhere. But he lists these since they are the ways the church is to grow out of spiritual infancy to maturity. One of the tragedies of our day is that the church is so immature in this area. Consequently, it is always being carried along by the world’s fads or being led astray by false theology. The only real cure is teaching followed by teaching and then still more teaching.

Truth Wedded to Love

Yet it is not truth in isolation, as if we only needed to bombard people with facts. Truth is important! But we also need to speak the “truth in love.” Love is the fourth and last of these specific expressions of maturity. Indeed, Paul emphasizes love. This is not so evident in our English translations, but in the original text the word “truth” is actually a participle. So a more literal translation than “speaking the truth in love” would be “truthing [it] in love.” The combination means both speaking and living the truth in a loving manner. In the combination of these goals, love (the noun) is emphasized.

I was impressed with this emphasis some years ago when I was studying the seventeenth chapter of John in which Jesus prays for his church, highlighting six marks by which the church is to be recognized: joy, holiness, truth, mission, unity, and love (John 17:13–26). Each of these is important. But it struck me that love is most important, which can be seen either by subtracting it from the other marks or by expressing it in every way possible. Subtract love from joy. What do you have? You have the kind of hedonistic reveling found in the secular world, the pursuit of pleasure for its own sake. Joy is distorted.

Take love from sanctification. The result is self-righteousness, the kind of thing that distinguished the scribes and Pharisees of Christ’s day but allowed them to be filled with hatred, so that they crucified the Lord Jesus Christ when he came. Sanctification is destroyed.

Take love from truth. The result is bitter orthodoxy. Truth remains, but it is proclaimed in such an unpleasant, harsh manner that it fails to win anybody.

Take love from mission and you have colonialism. In colonialism we work to win people for our denomination or organization, but not for Christ.

Take love from unity and you have ecclesiastical tyranny, in which a church imposes human standards on those within it.

But if instead of subtracting love, you express love—for God the Father, the Lord Jesus Christ, the Bible, one another, and the world—what do you have? You have all the other marks of the church, because they naturally follow. Love for God leads to joy; nothing is more joyful than knowing and loving him. Love for the Lord Jesus Christ leads to holiness; as he said, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15). Love for the Word of God leads to truth; if we love the Bible, we will read it and grow in a knowledge of what the Word contains. Love for the world leads to mission. Love for other believers leads to unity.

When Paul speaks of the church’s maturity, as he does in these verses, he does so in terms of bodily growth. And the point of that is that growth is a process. Growth takes time. The church does not become mature overnight any more than we as individuals become mature overnight. But if God is nevertheless working to accomplish this in us, we must trust him to do it and be patient as he works. I am sure you have seen that little pin that quite a few Christians have taken to wearing. It contains just a string of letters (PBPWMGIFWMY), and it is meant to provoke curiosity. The letters stand for “Please be patient with me; God isn’t finished with me yet.”

We want everyone to be patient with us. Let us learn to be patient with them, and with the church—as God works in each believer, in all places and at all times to build and perfect Christ’s earthly body, of which we are a part.[2]


15 By way of contrast, Paul designates the positive component of the purpose (still governed by the conjunction hina in v. 14) for building up the church. No longer ought we to be infants, but (adversative de) we should “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.” Paul said earlier that Christ is Head over all things for the church, his body (see on 1:22–23). As its Head, Christ occupies the prominent place in the body. (The idea of “source” may also fit here, given Paul’s declaration in v. 16 that the body grows “from him.”) Repeating the idea of “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ” (v. 13), Paul champions growth (“we are to grow,” NASB) “in all things” (ta panta, accusative of reference)—i.e., in every conceivable way—to or toward Christ to avoid the potential shipwrecks instigated by deceivers. Again, Paul stresses the corporate growth of the body. The goal of the church is to become like Christ, its Head, in every possible way. The idea of growth into Christ parallels the metaphor of the church as a building in 2:20–22.

One means to achieve such growth is to continue “speaking the truth in love” (instrumental use of the present tense participle), an appeal well suited to the present theme of unity. The verb alētheuō (GK 238) means “to be truthful,” or “to tell the truth” (see Gal 4:16 for its other NT occurrence; cf. Eph 4:25). It counters the schemes “of error” (NIV, “deceitful,” from the Greek planēs, GK 4416) of v. 14. Note that Paul’s concern here is not with individual believers’ personal speech and truthfulness or honesty. In this context concerning unity, faith, knowledge, and maturity, “speaking the truth in love” denotes teaching orthodoxy against those who would pervert the truth of the message—yet all under the constraints of love. A few contend that Paul’s instruction here does not refer to speaking the truth but to living the truth, that Paul does not limit “truthing” to speaking. A better case can be made, linguistically (see its uses in the LXX and Gal 4:16) and contextually, however, for “speaking the truth,” as most versions and commentators agree. “In love” occurs six times in the letter (1:4; 3:17; 4:2, 15, 16; 5:2). Only teaching orthodoxy in a loving way will maintain the twin requirements of unity in the faith. Mitton, 156, wisely counsels, “Of any proposed action or word we ask not only ‘Is it true and right?’ but also ‘Is it kind and loving?’ ”

Unity at the cost of truth, or “truth” that sacrifices unity—both come with prices that are too high. To grow up into Christ requires the speaking of truth, for only there reside true salvation (1:13; 4:21) and orthodox Christianity. But any speaking that destroys unity is not truth-speaking, for there is only one body. A teaching that divides the body is not truth. Love, not deception or trickery, must govern how Christians speak the truth.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (pp. 156–160). Chicago: Moody Press.

[2] Boice, J. M. (1988). Ephesians: an expositional commentary (pp. 145–151). Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library.

[3] 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. 121–122). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

August 14, 2017: Verse of the day

img_0386

4 The NIV, probably correctly, identifies the unnamed (see MT) speaker as the “angel” of the Lord. The removal of the filthy clothes (apparently by angels—“those who were standing before him”) may connote that Joshua is thereby deprived of priestly office. If so, he is reinstated in v. 5. Theologically, however, there also seems to be a picture here of the negative aspect of what God does when he saves a person. Negatively, he takes away sin. Positively, he adds or imputes to the sinner saved by grace his own divine righteousness (cf. v. 5). The act of causing Joshua’s sin to pass from him (cf. Heb.) represents justification, not sanctification. It is forensic forgiveness that is in view, as seen from v. 9, which interprets Joshua’s cleansing by applying it to the land (i.e., the people)—another evidence that more than Joshua himself is in view here.

Next, Joshua is to be clothed with rich or fine garments—God’s representative clothed in God’s righteousness. God’s servant goes from filthy clothes to festive garments. The “rich garments” (the Hebrew word is used only here and in Isa 3:22) speak of purity, joy, and glory; but their chief significance is that they symbolize the restoration of Israel to her original calling (Ex 19:6; Isa 61:6). There is a contrast here: Joshua in filthy garments, representing Israel as a priest but defiled and unclean, versus Joshua in festive garments, representing Israel’s future glory in reconsecration to the priestly office.

“I have taken away” emphasizes the agent of the forgiveness. It is God who causes sin to be removed, ultimately on the basis of the messianic Servant’s substitutionary death. But here it was actually the Angel of the Lord who forgives sin, thus identifying him with deity (cf. Mk 2:7, 10), or at least as God’s representative.[1]


3:4 The removal of filthy garments by the angels (“who were standing before him”) depicted the promised future forensic justification, the salvation of the nation (cf. v. 9; 12:10–13:1; Ro 11:25–27). The High-Priest was symbolically clothed with rich robes, which spoke of righteousness imputed (cf. Is 61:10) and the restoration of Israel to her original calling (cf. Ex 19:6; Is 61:6; Ro 11:1, 2).[2]


3:4 The Lord also acts to cleanse Joshua from his iniquity. He commands his servants to remove the filthy garments, so removing Joshua’s iniquity, and to clothe Joshua in pure vestments, garments suitable for him to wear in the presence of the King of kings. Since the filthy garments represent iniquity, these “pure vestments” represent a new righteousness imputed to Joshua.

3:4 The removal of iniquity symbolizes justification in Christ (Rom. 3:23–26; 5:1).[3]


3:4 the ones standing before him Probably refers to other angels, though human associates of the priest are possible.

will clothe you with rich garments The priests were to wear specially consecrated garments (see Lev 8:7–13, 30; 16:4).[4]


3:4 Remove the filthy garments. God makes Joshua fit for the priesthood by giving new garments. In this way Joshua is a type of the coming Branch (v. 8), who will fulfill a priestly function and provide clothing of righteousness for us from His own merit.[5]


[1] Barker, K. L. (2008). Zechariah. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel–Malachi (Revised Edition) (Vol. 8, pp. 755–756). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

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

[3] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1755). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

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

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 1330). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

August 12, 2017: Verse of the day

img_1435

Salvation Presentation

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Elect from ev’ry nation,

Yet one o’er all the earth.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

There’s a wideness in God’s mercy,

Like the wideness of the sea;

There’s a kindness in his justice,

Which is more than liberty.

For the love of God is broader

Than the measure of man’s mind;

And the heart of the Eternal

Is most wonderfully kind.

—Frederick W. Faber

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

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

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


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

There are two principal interpretations of verse 35:

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

August 11, 2017: Verse of the day

img_1434

3 The forgiveness of “sins” (ʿāwōn, GK 6411, lit., “guilt”) is God’s gracious act of removing the consequences of sin as well as the sin itself (cf. 32:1; 51:2; 90:8). It is synonymous with “heals all your diseases.” The “diseases” may be forms of sickness (cf. Mk 2:7); but more likely it is a metaphor for adversities or setbacks (cf. Dt 29:22; Jer 14:19; 16:4), similar to punishment (“sins”). For “healing” as an act of restoration, see 147:3 and Jeremiah 30:12–17; 51:8–9.[1]


forgiveness (v. 3) He first mentions the forgiveness of sins—not just some of his iniquities! What good would that be when one sin is sufficient enough to condemn before a holy God. The forgiveness of God covers ‘all’ iniquities. And the forgiveness of iniquities—let us never forget—flows from God through the channel of the redeeming work of Jesus Christ.

healing (v. 3) David moves to the next blessing: God’s healing of diseases. Henry T. Mahan writes: ‘The diseases of this body are the results of sin and God will heal them when it is according to his will and when it serves his purpose, but the diseases referred to here are spiritual diseases, which, like our sins, are all healed in Christ. He bore all our spiritual sicknesses and diseases in his body on the tree and by his sufferings we are healed for ever.…’[2]


103:3 But above all else, we should be thankful to Him for forgiving all our iniquities. It is an unspeakable miracle of divine grace that crimson sins can be made whiter than snow. I can empathize with the man who chose one word for his tombstone—FORGIVEN. And also with the Irishman who said, “The Lord Jesus has forgiven me all my sins, and He’s never going to hear the end of it.” To know that our sins have been put away forever by the precious blood of Christ—well, it’s just too much to take in. The second benefit to be remembered is the healing of all our diseases. Before we get into the problem that this raises, let us notice that healing comes after forgiveness. The physical is closely related to the spiritual. While not all sickness is a direct result of sin, some of it is. Where the connection exists, forgiveness must precede healing.

But the obvious problem is still there. The verse says “… who heals all your diseases.” Yet as a matter of practical experience we know that not all diseases are healed, that we will all die sooner or later if the Lord does not come in the meantime. So what does the verse mean? In seeking an answer, we would make the following observations.

First, all genuine healing is from God. If you have been sick, and then have recovered, you can thank God for your recovery because He is the source of all healing. One of the names of God in the Old Testament is Jehovah Rophi—the Lord your Healer. Every instance of true healing comes from Him.

Second, the Lord is able to heal all kinds of diseases. There is no such thing with Him as an incurable disease.

Third, the Lord can heal by the use of natural means over a period of time or He can heal miraculously and instantly. No limit can be placed on His power to heal.

Fourth, when He was on earth the Lord actually healed all that were brought to Him (Matt. 8:16).

Fifth, during the Millennium He will actually heal all diseases (Isa. 33:24; Jer. 30:17) except in the case of those who rebel against Him (Isa. 65:20b).

But whatever else the verse means, it cannot mean that the believer can claim healing for every disease, because in other verses of the Psalm we are reminded of the shortness of life and of the certainty of its coming to an end (see vv. 15, 16). What the verse says to me is that whenever a believer is healed, this is a mercy from God, and He should be acknowledged and thanked as the Healer.[3]


103:3 diseases. This is not a promise, but rather a testimony which should be understood in the light of Dt 32:39.[4]


103:3 Heals often refers to curing someone from a physical sickness, but it can also be used as a metaphor for restoring the moral and spiritual life (e.g., Isa. 6:10; 53:5; Jer. 3:22; Hos. 14:4). Since it is in parallel with forgives, the metaphorical use may be intended here. Thus iniquity is like diseases, which weaken and corrupt; it is God’s mercy that takes them away. These sentiments reflect David’s own experience of God’s forgiveness (cf. 2 Samuel 12; Psalm 51).[5]


103:3 forgives all your iniquity. The primary benefit of grace is the forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38). God is compassionate toward His repentant people.[6]


[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. 757). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] Ellsworth, R. (2006). Opening up Psalms (p. 133). Leominster: Day One Publications.

[3] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (pp. 703–704). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 103:3). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 1068). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 826). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.

August 10, 2017: Verse of the day

img_1433

42:1 Our inner longing for fellowship with God can be compared to the vehement craving of the deer as it wanders through the parched countryside, its sides throbbing and its breathing quickened as it longs for the brooks. Gamaliel Bradford transferred the picture to himself when he said:

My one unchanged ambition

Wheresoe’er my feet have trod

Is a keen, enormous, haunting,

Never-sated thirst for God.[1]


42:1 As the deer pants … my soul pants. On this simile from nature, cf. Joel 1:20. In the psalmist’s estimation, he is facing a severe divine drought.[2]


42:1 As a deer longs for streams of water The psalmist’s desperation for God’s sustaining presence is like a thirst for water.[3]


42:1 As a deer pants for flowing streams. A powerful description of deep desire for God’s presence.[4]


[1] MacDonald, W. (1995). Believer’s Bible Commentary: Old and New Testaments. (A. Farstad, Ed.) (p. 615). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Ps 42:1). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Ps 42:1). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2005). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (p. 773). Orlando, FL; Lake Mary, FL: Ligonier Ministries.