Category Archives: John MacArthur

MARCH 28, 2017 – IT IS MODERN MAN HIMSELF WHO IS THE DREAMER

Ye are all the children of light, and the children of the day: we are not of the night, nor of darkness…let us watch and be sober.

1 THESSALONIANS 5:5, 6

We of the Christian faith need not go on the defensive, for it is the modern man of the world who is the dreamer, not the Christian believer!

The sinner can never be quite himself. All his life he must pretend. He must act as if he were never going to die, and yet he knows too well that he is. He must act as if he had not sinned, when in his deep heart he knows very well that he has. He must act unconcerned about God and judgment and the future life, and all the time his heart is deeply disturbed about his precarious condition. He must keep up a front of nonchalance while shrinking from facts and wincing under the lash of conscience. All his adult life he must dodge and hide and conceal. When he finally drops the act he either loses his mind or tries suicide.

If realism is the recognition of things as they actually are, the Christian is of all persons the most realistic. He of all intelligent thinkers is the one most concerned with reality. He pares things down to their stark essentials and squeezes out of his mind everything that inflates his thinking. He demands to know the whole truth about God, sin, life, death, moral accountability and the world to come. He wants to know the worst about himself in order that he may do something about it. He takes into account the undeniable fact that he has sinned. He recognizes the shortness of time and the certainty of death. These he does not try to avoid or alter to his own liking. They are facts and he faces them full on.

The believer is a realist—his expectations are valid and his faith well grounded![1]


Far from being in the darkness, believers are all sons of light and sons of day (cf. Luke 16:8; John 12:36; Eph. 5:8). The phrase sons of is often part of an idiomatic Hebrew expression describing the dominant influence in a person’s life. The Old Testament uses the phrase “sons of Belial” (Judg. 19:22; 1 Sam. 2:12; 2 Sam. 23:6; 1 Kings 21:10 kjv) to describe worthless men who are by nature children of the devil (cf. 2 Cor. 6:15). Jesus nicknamed James and John “Sons of Thunder” (Mark 3:17) because of their volatile, aggressive personalities. Barnabas’s name literally means “Son of Encouragement” (Acts 4:36), denoting his gentle, encouraging nature. Thus, to describe believers as sons of light is to say that light is the dominant influence in their lives. Adding the parallel phrase sons of day reinforces Paul’s point; light belongs to day just as darkness belongs to night.

To drive home his point, Paul declared emphatically, We are not of night nor of darkness. Believers live in an entirely different sphere than those who will experience God’s wrath in the Day of the Lord. As sons of light and sons of day, believers “walk in newness of life” (Rom. 6:4), are new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), are new creations (Gal. 6:15), are “seated … in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus” (Eph. 2:6), and have their lives “hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3). Therefore, the Thessalonians did not need to fear missing the Rapture, being caught in the Day of the Lord, or experiencing God’s wrath and condemnation. Believers live in a separate sphere of life, where judgment cannot come.[2]


The phrase so then emphasizes the inseparable link between Christians’ nature and their behavior, between their character and their conduct—a truth taught throughout the New Testament (cf. 2:12; 4:1; Eph. 4:1, 17; Phil. 1:27; Col. 1:10). What people are determines how they act; believers are day people and must act accordingly.

On that basis, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians, let us not sleep as others do, but let us be alert and sober. The apostle did not need to exhort them to be day people, because their nature was permanently fixed by the transforming, regenerating power of God in salvation. But because that new nature is incarcerated in fallen, sinful human flesh (cf. Rom. 7:14–25), it is possible for day people to do deeds of the darkness. Therefore, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to live consistently with their new natures. The present tense verbs indicate that the Thessalonians were to be continuously awake, alert, and sober. Rather than threaten them with chastening, the apostle appealed to their sense of spiritual dignity. As children of the day and the light, it was unthinkable for them to participate in the deeds of darkness (cf. Eph. 4:1; 5:11).[3]


5 Paul’s assertion that believers are “all sons of the light and sons of the day” rules out living in darkness. “All” brings reassurance that no one is excluded. The fainthearted may take heart, as may others who have been confused about the parousia (cf. 4:11–12; 5:14; Frame, 184). “The day” here does not refer to the eschatological day of the Lord, as the anarthrous (i.e., lacking a definite article) construction attests, but is used metaphorically in association with spiritual light (cf. Lightfoot, 73). Verse 5 guarantees the readers’ participation in a spiritual environment entirely different from that of non-Christians.

To reinforce his point, Paul returns to the negative side. Putting light and day in inverse order, he excludes himself, along with all Christians, from the night of moral insensitivity. By a casual change from “you” to “we,” he takes his place with his readers in accepting the exhortation of v. 6. This dulls the edge of what would otherwise be a sharp rebuke (cf. Frame, 185).

6 This verse provides a solid basis (“so then,” ara oun) for the ethical behavior Paul now urges on his readers—a lifestyle free from moral laxity. Mē katheudōmen (lit., “let us not sleep,” GK 2761) represents the ethical insensitivity that besets people in the other realm (“like others”; cf. 4:13). Though it is impossible for the day of the Lord to catch Christians unprepared, it is possible for them to adopt the same lifestyle as those who will be caught unawares. Paul urges his readers not to let this happen.

Conduct in keeping with “the light” and “the day” also includes alertness. Inattention to spiritual priorities is utterly inappropriate for those who will not be subject to the coming day of wrath. Though the Thessalonians were, if anything, overly watchful to the point of neglecting other Christian responsibilities (4:11–12; 2 Th 3:6–15), they were not to cease watching altogether.

Apparently self-control was a great need. Nēphō (“to be self-controlled, be sober,” GK 3768) is found with grēgoreō (“to be alert, watch,” GK 1213) in the noneschatological context of 1 Peter 5:8. Its usage in 1 Peter 1:13 and 4:7 is eschatological. Nēphō denotes sobriety. To counteract what might become a state of wild alarm or panic, Paul urges self-control as a balance for vagaries arising from distorted views of the parousia. Undue eschatological excitement was a serious malady; spiritual sobriety was the cure.[4]


5:5 For. Paul grounds his assurance of v. 4 in the Thessalonians’ status and destiny. children of light. This phrase is used in Jewish literature and in the NT (e.g., Luke 16:8; John 12:36) of those who belong to the realm of God and his salvation (Col. 1:13). children of the day. This phrase, which is unique to Paul, seems to link the concepts of “light” and “day” together. Thus, because Jesus is “the light of the world” (John 8:12; 9:5), Christians are “children of the light”; but Christians are also those who are called to live a godly life as people who “belong to the day” (1 Thess. 5:8) and who are destined to inherit salvation on “the day of the Lord,” when Christ (the light of the world) will return in power and great glory (cf. Matt. 24:30; Mark 13:26; Luke 21:27). We. Paul shifts to the first person plural to reinforce his confirmation and perhaps to prepare for and soften the exhortation of 1 Thess. 5:6–8. night … darkness. The dominion of evil and enmity with God.

5:6 So then. Paul gives general exhortations based on the reassurances of v. 5. To sleep is to be morally and spiritually disengaged, and/or living without a consciousness of the coming day.[5]


5:5 children of light The Greek phrase used here, huioi phōtos, refers to people characterized by light. In this context, light symbolizes God’s favor toward those who will be spared from His judgment. In the ot, light symbolizes God’s favor (Prov 4:18; Psa 112:4) and truth (Psa 119:130).

darkness See note 1 Thess 5:4.

5:6 let us not sleep Earlier in this letter, Paul used a Greek word for “sleep,” koimaō, metaphorically to describe those who have died (4:13). In this verse, he uses a different Greek word, katheudō, also translated “sleep,” to refer to being unaware of God, His workings, and His return.[6]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (p. 158). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2002). 1 & 2 Thessalonians (p. 159). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Thomas, R. L. (2006). 1 Thessalonians. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Ephesians–Philemon (Revised Edition) (Vol. 12, p. 424). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[5] Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (p. 2310). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (1 Th 5:5–6). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

March 28, 2017 – Forgiving as You Are Forgiven

“And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. … For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions” (Matt. 6:12, 14–15).

✧✧✧

An unforgiving Christian is a contradiction in terms.

It’s possible to confess your sins and still not know the joy of forgiveness. How? Failure to forgive others! Christian educator J. Oswald Sanders observed that Jesus measures us by the yardstick we use on others. Jesus didn’t say, “Forgive us because we have forgiven others,” but “Forgive us as we have forgiven others.”

An unforgiving Christian is a contradiction in terms because we are the forgiven ones! Ephesians 4:32 says, “Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you.” God forgave us an immeasurable debt, saving us from the horrors of eternal Hell. That should be motivation enough to forgive any offense against us, and yet some Christians still hold grudges.

Here are three practical steps by which to deal with the sin of unforgiveness. First, confess it to the Lord, and ask Him to help you mend the relationship in question. Second, go to the person, ask for forgiveness, and seek reconciliation. You might discover that he or she wasn’t even aware of the offense. Third, give the person something you highly value. This is a very practical approach based on our Lord’s teaching that where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). Whenever I’ve given a book or other gift to someone who had wronged me, I’ve felt a great sense of liberty in my spirit. In addition, my joy is compounded because I feel the joy of giving as well as the joy of forgiving.

Don’t ever let a grudge stand between you and another person. It will rob you of the full joy of God’s forgiveness.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Before praying, examine your heart. If you harbor bitterness toward another person, follow the procedure given above. Then pray, thanking the Lord for the joy of reconciliation.

For Further Study: Read the Parable of the Servant in Matthew 18:21–35. ✧ What question prompted the parable? ✧ How did the king respond to his servant’s pleading? ✧ What did the servant do later on? Why was that wrong?[1]


God’s Pardon

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (6:12)

Opheilēma (debts) is one of five New Testament Greek terms for sin. Hamartia is the most common and carries the root idea of missing the mark. Sin misses the mark of God’s standard of righteousness. Paraptōma, often rendered “trespass,” is the sin of slipping or falling, and results more from carelessness than from intentional disobedience. Parabasis refers to stepping across the line, going beyond the limits prescribed by God, and is often translated “transgression.” This sin is more conscious and intentional than hamartia and paraptoma. Anomia means lawlessness, and is a still more intentional and flagrant sin. It is direct and open rebellion against God and His ways.

The noun opheilēma is used only a few times in the New Testament, but its verb form is found often. Of the some thirty times it is used in its verb form, twenty-five times it refers to moral or spiritual debts. Sin is a moral and spiritual debt to God that must be paid. In his account of this prayer, Luke uses hamartia (“sins”; Luke 11:4), clearly indicating that the reference is to sin, not to a financial debt. Matthew probably used debts because it corresponded to the most common Aramaic term (ḥôbā˒) for sin used by Jews of that day, which also represented moral or spiritual debt to God.

The Problem

Sin is that which separates man from God, and is therefore man’s greatest enemy and greatest problem. Sin dominates the mind and heart of man. It has contaminated every human being and is the degenerative power that makes man susceptible to disease, illness, and every conceivable form of evil and unhappiness, temporal and eternal. The ultimate effects of sin are death and damnation, and the present effects are misery, dissatisfaction, and guilt. Sin is the common denominator of every crime, every theft, lie, murder, immorality, sickness, pain, and sorrow of mankind. It is also the moral and spiritual disease for which man has no cure. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). The natural man does not want his sin cured, because he loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ have received God’s pardon for sin and are saved from eternal hell. And since, as we have seen, this prayer is given to believers, the debts referred to here are those incurred by Christians when they sin. Immeasurably more important than our need for daily bread is our need for continual forgiveness of sin.

Arthur Pink writes in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), pp. 163–64:

As it is contrary to the holiness of God, sin is a defilement, a dishonor, and a reproach to us as it is a violation of His law. It is a crime, and as to the guilt which we contact thereby, it is a debt. As creatures we owe a debt of obedience unto our maker and governor, and through failure to render the same on account of our rank disobedience, we have incurred a debt of punishment; and it is for this that we implore a divine pardon.

The Provision

Because man’s greatest problem is sin, his greatest need is forgiveness-and that is what God provides. Though we have been forgiven the ultimate penalty of sin, as Christians we need God’s constant forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit. We are to pray, therefore, forgive us. Forgiveness is the central theme of this entire passage (vv. 9–15), being mentioned six times in eight verses. Everything leads to or issues from forgiveness.

Believers have experienced once-for-all God’s judicial forgiveness, which they received the moment Christ was trusted as Savior. We are no longer condemned, no longer under judgment, no longer destined for hell (Rom. 8:1). The eternal Judge has declared us pardoned, justified, righteous. No one, human or satanic, can condemn or bring any “charge against God’s elect” (Rom. 8:33–34).

But because we still fall into sin, we frequently require God’s gracious forgiveness, His forgiveness not now as Judge but as Father. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” John warns believers. But, he goes on to assure us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

During the Last Supper, Jesus began washing the disciples’ feet as a demonstration of the humble, serving spirit they should have as His followers. At first Peter refused, but when Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,” Peter went to the other extreme, wanting to be bathed all over. Jesus replied, “ ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’ ” (John 13:5–11).

Jesus’ act of footwashing was therefore more than an example of humility; it was also a picture of the forgiveness God gives in His repeated cleansing of those who are already saved. Dirt on the feet symbolizes the daily surface contamination from sin that we experience as we walk through life. It does not, and cannot, make us entirely dirty, because we have been permanently cleansed from that. The positional purging of salvation that occurs at regeneration needs no repetition, but the practical purging is needed every day, because every day we fall short of God’s perfect holiness.

As Judge, God is eager to forgive sinners, and as Father He is even more eager to keep on forgiving His children. Hundreds of years before Christ, Nehemiah wrote, “Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17). As vast and pervasive as the sin of man is, God forgiveness is more vast and greater. Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20).

The Plea

Asking forgiveness implies confession. Feet that are not presented to Christ cannot be washed by Him. Sin that is not confessed cannot be forgiven. That is the condition John makes plain in the text just quoted above: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). To confess means basically to agree with, and when we confess our sins we agree with God about them that they are wicked, evil, defiling, and have no part in those who belong to Him.

It is difficult to confess sins, and both Satan and our prideful nature fight against it. But it is the only way to the free and joyful life. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13). John Stott says, “One of the surest antidotes to the process of moral hardening is the disciplined practice of uncovering our sins of thought and outlook, as well as of word and of deed, and the repentant forsaking of them” (Confess Your Sins [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1974], p. 19).

The true Christian does not see God’s promise of forgiveness as a license to sin, a way to abuse His love and presume on His grace. Rather he sees God’s gracious forgiveness as the means of spiritual growth and sanctification and continually gives thanks to God for His great love and willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive. It is also important to realize that confessing sin gives God the glory when He chastens the disobedient Christian because it removes any complaint that God is unfair when He disciplines.

A Puritan saint of many generations ago prayed, “Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace.” At another time he prayed, “I am guilty but pardoned. I am lost but saved. I am wandering but found. I am sinning but cleansed. Give me perpetual broken-heartedness. Keep me always clinging to Thy cross” (Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975], pp. 76, 83).

The Prerequisite

Jesus gives the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness in the words, as we also have forgiven our debtors. The principle is simple but sobering: if we have forgiven, we will be forgiven; if we have not forgiven, we will not be forgiven.

We are to forgive because it is the character of righteousness, and therefore of the faithful Christian life, to forgive. Citizens of God’s kingdom are blessed and receive mercy because they themselves are merciful (Matt. 5:7). They love even their enemies because they have the nature of the loving heavenly Father within them (5:44–45, 48). Forgiveness is the mark of a truly regenerate heart. Still we fail to be consistent with that mark and need constant exhortation because of the strength of sinful flesh (Rom. 7:14–25).

We are also to be motivated to forgive because of Christp’s example. “Be kind to one another,” Paul says, “tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). John tells us, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Because it reflects God’s own gracious forgiveness, the forgiving of another person’s sin expresses the highest virtue of man. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).

Forgiving others also frees the conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness not only stands as a barrier to God’s forgiveness but also interferes with peace of mind, happiness, satisfaction, and even the proper functioning of the body.

Forgiving others is of great benefit to the whole congregation of believers. Probably few things have so short-circuited the power of the church as unresolved conflicts among its members. “If I regard wickedness in my heart,” the psalmist warns himself and every believer, “the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). The Holy Spirit cannot work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment (see Matt. 5:23–24; 1 Cor. 1:10–13; 3:1–9).

Forgiving others also delivers us from God’s discipline. Where there is an unforgiving spirit, there is sin; and where there is sin, there will be chastening (Heb. 12:5–13). Unrepented sins in the church at Corinth caused many believers to be weak, sick, and even to die (1 Cor. 11:30).

But the most important reason for being forgiving is that it brings God’s forgiveness to the believer. That truth is so important that Jesus reinforces it after the close of the prayer (vv. 14–15). Nothing in the Christian life is more important than forgiveness-our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.

In the matter of forgiveness, God deals with us as we deal with others. We are to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us. The Puritan writer Thomas Manton said, “There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves, for they know how gently God hath dealt with them.”[2]


God’s Postscript

For if you forgive men for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. (6:14–15)

The prayer lesson concludes with a reminder that follows the teaching of forgiveness in verse 12. This is the Savior’s own commentary on our petition to God for forgiveness, and the only one of the petitions to which He gives added insight. Thus its importance is amplified.

For if you forgive men for their transgressions puts the principle in a positive mode. Believers should forgive as those who have received judicial forgiveness (cf. Eph. 1:7; 1 John 2:1–2) from God. When the heart is filled with such a forgiving spirit, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. Believers cannot know the parental forgiveness, which keeps fellowship with the Lord rich and blessings from the Lord profuse, apart from forgiving others in heart and word. Forgive (aphiēmi) means literally “to hurl away:”

Paul had this in mind when he wrote, “I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience” (1 Tim. 1:16; cf. Matt. 7:11). An unforgiving spirit not only is inconsistent for one who has been totally forgiven by God, but also brings the chastening of God rather than His mercy. Our Lord illustrates the unmerciful response in the parable of Matthew 18:21–35. There a man is forgiven the unpayable debt representing sin and is given the mercy of salvation. He then refuses to forgive another and is immediately and severely chastened by God.

But if you do not forgive men, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions. That states the truth of verse 14 in a negative way for emphasis. The sin of an unforgiving heart and a bitter spirit (Heb. 12:15) forfeits blessing and invites judgment. Even the Talmud taught that he who is indulgent toward others’ faults will be mercifully dealt with by the Supreme Judge (Shabbath 151b).

Every believer must seek to manifest the forgiving spirit of Joseph (Gen. 50:19–21) and of Stephen (Acts 7:60) as often as needed (Luke 17:3–4). To receive pardon from the perfectly holy God and then to refuse to pardon others when we are sinful men is the epitome of abuse of mercy. And “judgment will be merciless to one who has shown no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment” (James 2:13).

There are petitions for the believer to ask from God, but there are also conditions for the answers to be received. Even more, our prayers are to be primarily concerned with the exaltation of the name, kingdom, and will of the Lord Jesus Christ. Prayer is primarily worship which inspires thanks and personal purity.[3]


Forgiveness Guaranteed

Matthew 6:12, 14–15

Once, as I was talking to a Christian psychiatrist, I touched on the problem of forgiveness and the need men have for it. The psychiatrist said, “As far as I am concerned most of what a psychiatrist does is directly related to forgiveness. People come to him with problems. They feel guilty about their part in these problems. They are seeking forgiveness. In effect, they confess their sins to the counselor and find that he forgives them. Then a pattern is set up in which they can show their change of heart in tangible ways toward the other person or persons.” The psychiatrist concluded by observing that the great need to be forgiven by men that many persons feel is only a shadow of a far greater need that all men have to be forgiven by God.

It is true. In his book Confess Your Sins Dr. John R. W. Stott, minister of All Souls Church in London, quotes the head of large English mental hospital as having said, “I could dismiss half my patients tomorrow if they could be assured of forgiveness.” He cites the Scottish churchman George MacLeod as having written, “We live in a world where literally thousands of church members [not to mention others] are in need of … release. … We live … in a vacuum where men simply are not freed.” None of these statements is in the least exaggerated. For in our day, as in all ages of man, people are crying out for real forgiveness and an assurance of it.

Types of Forgiveness

It is this, of course, that makes the second area of requests in the Lord’s Prayer so important. It concerns forgiveness. However, if we are to understand this request accurately, we must realize that it is speaking of forgiveness in one sense only—the forgiveness that is given after justification of a disobedient child of God. And we must realize that before this forgiveness is possible it must be preceded by another type of forgiveness by which one becomes a member of God’s family in the first place.

The request given here is certainly not a prayer for forgiveness in the same sense that we ask for forgiveness when we first believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. That request involves the acceptance of Christ’s death as the one sufficient sacrifice for our sin—past, present, and future—and it is something that is done once for all. If the fifth petition in the Lord’s Prayer is referring to this initial forgiveness, then we can have no real security before God. We cannot say, as Paul does, that “he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6). We cannot say with Jeremiah that God will “remember their sins no more” (Jer. 31:34). We cannot say, “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). All these verses would be meaningless if that kind of forgiveness is meant.

No, the Lord is not speaking of the forgiveness we receive in the first moment of our salvation. He is speaking of forgiveness that comes later, that comes repeatedly, a forgiveness that restores a broken relationship with God.

Forgiveness for Believers

Most Christians will immediately see the need for a distinction between the two types of forgiveness. But, unfortunately, there are Christians who feel that sin can be eradicated in the Christian during this life; and since they generally apply this to themselves, they therefore come to believe erroneously that they no longer need this forgiveness. That is wrong, of course, and the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ directed all his disciples to seek forgiveness refutes it.

We need to get one great principle straight. When a sinful human being becomes a Christian he does not cease to be a sinner any more than he ceases to be a human being. Oh, he has a new nature planted within him by God. The new nature does not sin. The new nature will constantly lead him along the paths of holiness if he will yield to it. But the Christian also has a sinful, fallen nature that he will never eradicate in this life. This old nature will get him into trouble again and again, and every time it breaks out he will find that it also breaks the fullness of his fellowship with God. What is the Christian to do in these circumstances? The Bible teaches that he is to return to the Lord again and again to confess his sin and to ask for forgiveness and cleansing. If he neglects to do this, he will lose all the joy of salvation. If he asks for forgiveness, he will enter increasingly into the joy of a deepening fellowship with God.

Moreover, this will involve our attitude toward others. For we shall not experience the fullness of God’s forgiveness toward us, according to Jesus, unless we extend the same forgiveness to those who have wronged us. Thus, Christ says, “For if you forgive men when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matt. 6:14–15).

Why is this so? Well, it is not because God waits for us to earn his forgiveness by forgiving others; we can never earn any of God’s favors. It is simply because we cannot truly ask for forgiveness unless our heart is right regarding other people. God does not work by halves. He will not allow us to come to him confessing half a sin while hanging onto the other half. It must be all or nothing. Thus, if we confess our sin, that confession must of necessity involve a forgiving attitude toward others. Dr. Harry Ironside, in his commentary on Matthew, writes correctly: “In the government of God as Father over his own children our forgiveness of daily offenses depends upon our attitude toward those who offend against us. If we refuse to forgive our erring brethren, God will not grant us that restorative forgiveness for which we plead when conscious of sin and failure. This, of course, has nothing to do with that eternal forgiveness which the believing sinner receives when he comes to Christ. It is the Father’s forgiveness of an erring child, which must of necessity take into account the attitude of the failed one toward other members of the family.”

Jesus tells us to pray, “Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” And this certainly means, among other things, that we are to pattern the scope of our own forgiveness upon God’s.

Assurance

We cannot go on to consider other parts of the Lord’s Prayer without pausing to see one other great truth about this matter of forgiveness. When a person comes to God through Jesus Christ confessing his sin and seeking forgiveness, he need not be uncertain of the outcome. Instead, he can be absolutely certain that God will provide the forgiveness which he asks for.

You may be saying, “How can I be sure of that?” In the only way that we can be sure of anything else of a spiritual nature. How can we be sure that the death of the Lord Jesus Christ was the one sufficient sacrifice for our sins? Because God says so. He says, “Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy” (Heb. 10:14). How can we be certain that once we have believed on Jesus Christ we will never be lost? Because God says so. Jesus said, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:27–28). How can we be certain that God will forgive our sin when we come to him to confess it? It is the same answer: Because God says so. Thus, we read in 1 John 1:9, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

There cannot be a greater promise than that, that we can be absolutely certain of the forgiveness of sins and that we can be certain because the forgiveness is based upon the faithfulness and justice of God. To what is God faithful? To his promises. God has promised to forgive, and he does not break his word. What is more, he is just in his forgiveness. The Lord Jesus Christ has paid the full price for our sin. On the basis of that fact, the justice of God necessarily requires him to grant us full forgiveness. Full forgiveness! It is a wonderful truth, for it means that God has made provision in advance for our daily and sometimes hourly cleansing from sin and that his faithfulness and justice stand behind these promises.

Forgiveness in Advance

Furthermore, God has assured us in advance of this full forgiveness. Why has he done so? Is it not precisely to keep us from sinning? Certainly it is. For no sooner has John written, “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9), then he goes on to say, “My dear children, I write this to you so that you will not sin” (1 John 2:1). In other words, God says that the truth that will most keep us from sinning is the promise that we will be forgiven by God even if we do.

Many years ago an incident occurred in the life of Dr. Donald Grey Barnhouse that is the perfect illustration of this truth. Dr. Barnhouse had been holding a series of meetings on a college campus and had been approached by one of the young professors at the close of a meeting. He had a sad story to tell. During the war, before he had become a Christian, he had fallen in with bad companions and while in Paris had lived a life of great sin. Now he had returned home, become a Christian, and had fallen in love with a fine Christian girl who also loved him. However, he hesitated to tell her of his love because he feared that his proclivities toward sin might cause him to sin again and thus wound the heart of the girl he now loved. What should he do? He stated his problem and waited for an answer.

Dr. Barnhouse prayed silently for a moment and then, after he had assured himself that the young man was a believer, advised him to share the story of his past life with the girl. If they were to live their lives together, said Dr. Barnhouse, there should be no barriers between them. Furthermore, he argued, her knowledge of his weakness would help him at every turn of the road.

Dr. Barnhouse then began to tell a story of two other people who had found themselves in a similar set of circumstances. The man had lived a life of great sin but had been converted, and eventually had come to marry a fine Christian woman. He had confided to her the nature of his past life in a few words. As he had told her these things, the wife had taken his head in her hands and had drawn him to her shoulder and had kissed him, saying, “John, I want you to understand something very plainly. I know my Bible well, and therefore I know the subtlety of sin and the devices of sin working in the human heart. I know you are a thoroughly converted man, John, but I know that you still have an old nature, and that you are not yet as fully instructed in the ways of God as you soon will be. The devil will do all he can to wreck your Christian life, and he will see to it that temptations of every kind will be put in your way. The day might come—please God that it never shall—when you will succumb to temptation and fall into sin. Immediately the devil will tell you that it is no use trying, that you might as well continue on in the way of sin, and that above all you are not to tell me because it will hurt me. But John, I want you to know that here in my arms is your home. When I married you I married your old nature as well as your new nature, and I want you to know there is full pardon and forgiveness in advance for any evil that may ever come into your life.”

As Dr. Barnhouse was telling this story to the college professor, the young man lifted his eyes and said reverently, “My God! If anything could ever keep a man straight, that would be it.”

God has given you full provision in advance for every sin that may ever come into your life, and he has done this precisely that you might be kept from sinning. Do not forget that there is nothing in you that can ever astonish God or take him by surprise. He knows what you are. Moreover, he has recommended his love to you on the basis of the fact that it was while you were yet a sinner Christ died for you (Rom. 5:8).

Debtors

There is just one other point that comes to us from this great text in Matthew; it comes from the word “debts.” In this context the word refers to our sin, and the verse is a prayer for forgiveness. In this sense, by means of confession and God’s forgiveness, we cease to become debtors to sin.

After we have come confessing our sin and receiving forgiveness, however, we become debtors in another sense, the same sense that occurs in Romans 1:14–15, where Paul says, “I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are at Rome.” This is a debt on two levels. First, we become debtors to God. We were nothing before him. We were going our own way. We were serving ourselves. We were not even understanding or “did not even understand” spiritual things. But God came to us first in Christ Jesus to redeem us from sin and then in the Holy Spirit to open our eyes to his truth and to lead us in his way. Because of these things we are debtors to God to serve him with all our heart and soul and mind and to carry out his purposes in this life.

But we are also debtors to men. Have you known God’s forgiveness? If you have ever come to him confessing your sin and your need for his Son to be your Savior, you have confessed that you know the gospel. If you have ever come to a communion service, eating the bread and drinking the wine that stand for the broken body and shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, you have declared your knowledge of God’s forgiveness. Well, then, if you know this, you are also acknowledging your indebtedness to declare that same forgiveness to others. You must tell them, for Jesus said, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded” (Luke 12:48).[4]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 100). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 391–395). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 397–398). Chicago: Moody Press.

[4] Boice, J. M. (2002). The Sermon on the Mount: an expositional commentary (pp. 195–200). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.

MARCH 28, 2017 – LET FEAR BECOME TRUST

Ye have not received the spirit of bondage again to fear.

Romans 8:15

What can we do but pray for the throngs of defiant men and women who believe that their humanistic view of life is all sufficient? They believe that they are responsible “captains” of their own souls.

The sad fact is that even while they are joining in the age-old rejection of Jesus Christ—“We will not have this Man to rule over us”—they still are beset with fears within.

The present competitive world and its selfish society have brought many new fears to the human race. I can sympathize with those troubled beings who lie awake at night worrying about the possible destruction of the race through some evil, misguided use of the world’s store of nuclear weapons. The tragedy is that they have lost all sense of the sovereignty and omnipotence and faithfulness of the living God.

Although the material world has never understood it, our faith is well placed in the Scriptures! Those who take God’s Word seriously are convinced of an actual heavenly realm as real as this world we inhabit!

 

Dear Lord, thank You that You are a strong tower where we can find shelter and protection. I choose to put my trust in You.[1]


We Are Given Access to God by the Spirit

For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received a spirit of adoption as sons by which we cry out, “Abba! Father!” (8:15)

A second way in which the Holy Spirit confirms our adoption as God’s children is by freeing us from the spirit of slavery that inevitably leads us to fear again. Because God’s “children share in flesh and blood,” we are told by the writer of Hebrews, “He Himself [Christ] likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives” (Heb. 2:14–15).

No matter how cleverly they may manage to mask or deny the reality of it, sinful men are continually subject to fear because they continually live in sin and are therefore continually under God’s judgment. Slavery to sin brings slavery to fear, and one of the gracious works of the Holy Spirit is to deliver God’s children from both.

John Donne, the seventeenth-century English poet who later became pastor and dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London, wrote in “A Hymn to God the Father” the following touching lines:

Wilt Thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it were done before?

Wilt Thou forgive that sin, through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;

For I have more. …

I have a sin of fear, that when I have spun

My last thread, I shall perish on the shore;

But swear by Thy self that at my death Thy Son

Shall shine as he shines now and heretofore:

And, having done that, Thou hast done,

I fear no more.

Paul reminded Timothy that our heavenly Father “has not given us a spirit of timidity [or, fear], but of power and love and discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). John assures us that “there is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love” (1 John 4:18).

At this point in Romans, Paul is not so much emphasizing the transaction of adoption as the believer’s assurance of it. Through the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit, we not only are truly and permanently adopted as children of God but are given a spirit of adoption. That is, God makes certain His children know they are His children. Because of His Spirit dwelling in our hearts, our spirit recognizes that we are always privileged to come before God as our beloved Father.

The term adoption is filled with the ideas of love, grace, compassion, and intimate relationship. It is the action by which a husband and wife decide to take a boy or girl who is not their physical offspring into their family as their own child. When that action is taken by the proper legal means, the adopted child attains all the rights and privileges of a member of the family.

The first adoption recorded in Scripture was that of Moses. When Pharaoh ordered all the male Hebrew children slain, Moses’ mother placed him in a waterproof basket and set him in the Nile River among some reeds. When Pharaoh’s daughter came to the river with her maids to bathe, she saw the basket and had one of her maids retrieve it. She immediately realized the infant was Hebrew but took pity on him. Moses’ sister, Miriam, had been watching nearby and she offered to find a nursemaid for the child, as her mother had instructed. With the approval of Pharaoh’s daughter, Miriam brought her own mother, who was then paid to take Moses home and nurse him. When Moses was a young boy, he was brought to the palace and adopted by Pharaoh’s daughter (see Ex. 2:1–10).

Because Esther’s parents had died, she was adopted by an older cousin named Mordecai, who loved her as a father and took special care to look after her welfare (see Esther 2:5–11).

Perhaps the most touching adoption mentioned in the Old Testament was that of Mephibosheth, the crippled son of Jonathan and the sole remaining descendent of Saul. When King David learned about Mephibosheth, he gave him all the land that had belonged to his grandfather Saul and honored this son of his dearest friend, Jonathan, by having him dine regularly at the king’s table in the palace at Jerusalem (see 2 Sam. 9:1–13).

Pharaoh’s daughter adopted Moses out of pity and sympathy. And although Mordecai dearly loved Esther, his adoption of her was also prompted by family duty. But David’s adoption of Mephibosheth was motivated purely by gracious love. In many ways, David’s adoption of Mephibosheth pictures God’s adoption of believers. David took the initiative in seeking out Mephibosheth and bringing him to the palace. And although Mephibosheth was the son of David’s closest friend, he was also the grandson and sole heir of Saul, who had sought repeatedly to kill David. Being crippled in both feet, Mephibosheth was helpless to render David any significant service; he could only accept his sovereign’s bounty. The very name Mephibosheth means “a shameful thing,” and he had lived for a number of years in Lo-debar, which means “the barren land” (lit., “no pasture”). David brought this outcast to dine at his table as his own son and graciously granted him a magnificent inheritance to which he was no longer legally entitled.

That is a beautiful picture of the spiritual adoption whereby God graciously and lovingly seeks out unworthy men and women on His own initiative and makes them His children, solely on the basis of their trust in His true Son, Jesus Christ. Because of their adoption, believers will share the full inheritance of the Son. To all Christians God declares, “ ‘I will welcome you, and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to Me,’ says the Lord Almighty” (2 Cor. 6:17–18). Paul gives us the unspeakably marvelous assurance that God has “predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:5).

For some people today, the concept of adoption carries the idea of second-class status in the family. In the Roman culture of Paul’s day, however, an adopted child, especially an adopted son, sometimes had greater prestige and privilege than the natural children. According to Roman law, a father’s rule over his children was absolute. If he was disappointed in his natural sons’ skill, character, or any other attribute, he would search diligently for a boy available for adoption who demonstrated the qualities he desired. If the boy proved himself worthy the father would take the necessary legal steps for adoption. At the death of the father, a favored adopted son would sometimes inherit the father’s title, the major part of the estate, and would be the primary progenitor of the family name. Because of its obvious great importance, the process of Roman adoption involved several carefully prescribed legal procedures. The first step totally severed the boy’s legal and social relationship to his natural family, and the second step placed him permanently into his new family. In addition to that, all of his previous debts and other obligations were eradicated, as if they had never existed. For the transaction to become legally binding, it also required the presence of seven reputable witnesses, who could testify, if necessary, to any challenge of the adoption after the father’s death.

Paul doubtless was well aware of that custom, and may have had it in mind as he penned this section of Romans. He assures believers of the wondrous truth that they are indeed God’s adopted children, and that because of that immeasurably gracious relationship they have the full right and privilege to cry out, “Abba!” to God as their heavenly Father, just as every child does to his earthly father. The fact that believers have the compelling desire to cry out in intimate petition and praise to their loving Father, along with their longing for fellowship and communion with God, is evidence of the indwell-ing Holy Spirit, which indwell-ing proves one’s salvation and gives assurance of eternal life.

Abba is an informal Aramaic term for Father, connoting intimacy, tenderness, dependence, and complete lack of fear or anxiety. Modern English equivalents would be Daddy, or Papa. When Jesus was agonizing in the Garden of Gethsemane as He was about to take upon Himself the sins of the world, He used that name of endearment, praying, “Abba! Father! All things are possible for Thee; remove this cup from Me; yet not what I will, but what Thou wilt” (Mark 14:36).

When we are saved, our old sinful life is completely canceled in God’s eyes, and we have no more reason to fear sin or death, because Christ has conquered those two great enemies on our behalf. In Him we are given a new divine nature and become a true child, with all the attendant blessings, privileges, and inheritance. And until we see our Lord face-to-face, His own Holy Spirit will be a ceaseless witness to the authenticity of our adoption into the family of God.

The idea of Christians being God’s adopted children was clearly understood by Paul’s contemporaries to signify great honor and privilege. In his letter to Ephesus, the apostle exults, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before Him. In love He predestined us to adoption as sons through Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the kind intention of His will” (Eph. 1:3–5). Countless ages ago, before He created the first human being in His divine image, God sovereignly chose every believer to be His beloved and eternal child!

It should be kept in mind that, marvelous as it is, the term adoption does not fully illustrate God’s work of salvation. The believer is also cleansed from sin, saved from its penalty of death, spiritually reborn, justified, sanctified, and ultimately glorified. But those who are saved by their faith in Jesus Christ by the work of His grace have no higher title than that of adopted child of God. That name designates their qualification to share full inheritance with Christ. It is therefore far from incidental that Paul both introduces and closes this chapter with assurances to believers that they are no longer, and never again can be, under God’s condemnation (see 8:1, 38–39).[2]


15 It is difficult to know whether the word “spirit” should be capitalized in v. 15. The NASB uses the lower case “spirit” in both occurrences of the word. It would be equally possible to capitalize the word in both instances. On the other hand, Paul may well be playing on the word, so that we could take the first as “spirit”—“spirit that makes you a slave”—and the second as “Spirit”—“the Spirit of sonship” (so NIV). The new title given to the Spirit, “the Spirit of sonship,” emphasizes the vast gulf between slavery and family relationship. It is by the Spirit that believers can cry, “Abba, Father.” The two terms are equivalent, the first being the Aramaic word Jesus used in prayer (Mk 14:36). Paul’s use of the Aramaic alongside the Greek both here and in the closely related Galatians 4:6 may well indicate that the tradition concerning the prayer life of Jesus filtered down through the church even before Mark wrote his gospel. J. Jeremias (The Central Message of the New Testament [New York: Scribner’s, 1965], 28) notes that in permitting the Twelve to use the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus “authorizes his disciples to follow him in saying Abba. He gives them this address as the token of their discipleship.” The “cry” refers to calling on God in prayer.

The important term huiothesia (GK 5625; NASB, “adoption”; NIV, “sonship”) bears a relationship to justification in that it is declarative and forensic (inasmuch as it is a legal term). Adoption bestows an objective standing, as justification does; like justification, it is a pronouncement that is not repeated. It has permanent validity. Like justification, adoption rests on the loving purpose and grace of God (Eph 1:5). Though the term is used of Israel in relation to God (Ro 9:4; cf. Hos 11:1), it is doubtful that adoption was practiced in the OT period. Much more likely is the conclusion that Paul was drawing on the background of Roman law both here and in Galatians 4:5. The readers of both epistles would be familiar with adoption in their own society (for a thorough discussion, see J. M. Scott, Adoption as Sons of God [WUNT 2.48; Tübingen: Mohr, 1992]). Paul’s readers are called “sons” (v. 14) and “children” (v. 16) without any appreciable distinction. Both are family terms used interchangeably by Paul.[3]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1991). Romans (pp. 434–438). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] 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, p. 136). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 28, 2017 – Shining the Light

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.—Matt. 5:16

Letting our “light shine before men” allows them to see our “good works,” the beauty the Lord has worked in us. To see good works by us is to see Christ in us. That’s why Jesus says, “Let your light shine.” It is not something we create or make up, but something we allow the Lord to do through us. It is God’s light; our choice is whether to hide it or let it shine.

We allow God’s light to shine through us so God will receive the praise. Our intent should be that in what we are and what we do, others may see God and “glorify [our] Father who is in heaven.”

Our good works should magnify God’s grace and power. That is the supreme calling of life: glorifying God. Everything we do is to cause others to give praise to God, the source of all that is good. The way we live ought to lead those around us to glorify our heavenly Father.

However, when what we do causes people to be attracted to us rather than to God, to see our human character rather than His divine character, we can be sure that what they see is not His light. Make sure your deeds point people to God, the author of those deeds.

ASK YOURSELF

As we’ve seen before, some will respond to your good deeds with derision and persecution, but others will shower praise on you for your acts of Christian character. How do you respond to those who give you credit for your servant’s heart and faithful obedience? How do you deflect that praise to God so it doesn’t nestle down in your own heart?[1]


The Purpose: to Glorify God

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. (5:16)

The word (kalos) for good that Jesus uses here does not so much emphasize quality-though that obviously is important-as it does attractiveness, beautiful appearance. Letting our light shine before men allows them to see our good works, the beauty the Lord has worked in us. To see good works by us is to see Christ in us. That is why Jesus says, let your light shine. It is not something we create or make up, but something we allow the Lord to do through us. It is God’s light; our choice is whether to hide it or let it shine.

The purpose of letting our light shine and reveal our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to God. Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God in order that they may glorify [our] Father who is in heaven. Jesus’ speaking of the Father emphasizes God’s tenderness and intimacy, and speaking of His being in heaven emphasizes His majesty and holiness, as He is pictured dwelling in the splendor of His eternal holy home. Our good works are to magnify God’s grace and power. This is the supreme calling of life: glorifying God. Everything we do is to cause others to give praise to the God who is the source of all that is good. The way we live should lead those around us to glorify (doxazō, from which we get doxology) the heavenly Father.

When what we do causes people to be attracted to us rather than to God, to see our human character rather than His divine character, we can be sure that what they see is not His light.

It is said of Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister of the last century, that his face carried such a hallowed expression that people were known to fall on their knees and accept Jesus Christ as Savior when they looked at him. Others were so attracted by the self-giving beauty and holiness of his life that they found his Master irresistible.

It was also said of the French pietist Francois Fenelon that his communion with God was such that his face shined with divine radiance. A religious skeptic who was compelled to spend the night in an inn with Fenelon, hurried away the next morning, saying, “If I spend another night with that man I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.”

That is the kind of salt and light God wants His kingdom people to be.[2]


16 Jesus drives the metaphor home. What his disciples must show is their “good works,” i.e., all righteousness, everything they are and do that reflects the mind and will of God. And people must see this light. It may provoke persecution (vv. 10–12), but that is no reason for hiding the light others may see and by which they may come to glorify the Father—the disciples’ only motive (cf. 2 Co 4:6; 1 Pe 2:12). Witness includes not just words but deeds; as Stier (Words of the Lord Jesus) remarks, “The good word without the good walk is of no avail.”

Thus the kingdom norms (vv. 3–12) so work out in the lives of the kingdom’s heirs as to produce the kingdom witness (vv. 13–16). If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14–16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven. “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 106).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 96). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 246–247). 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. 170). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MARCH 28, 2017 – GOD RISES ABOVE RATIONALITY

Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him? but the thunder of his power who can understand?

—Job 26:14

Now the holy man of God said, “Lo, these are parts of his ways: but how little a portion is heard of him?” (Job 26:14). All that we can think or say is rational. But God rises above rationality. He rises as high above the rational as He does above the physical. God is of an essence and substance the like of which nothing else exists in the universe. He is above it all—and yet we can know a little portion of God’s ways. When I preach on the being of God, the attributes of God, when I talk about what God is like, and what kind of God He is, I approach it respectfully, from afar. I point with a reverent finger to the tall mountain peak which is God, which rises infinitely above my power to comprehend. But that is only a little portion. The paths of His ways cannot be known; the rest is super-rational….

How terrible it is that, in the presence of this awesome, awful God, some people are untouched by it all! How frightful, how awesome, how awful it is! We don’t want to hear about God. We want to hear about something that can tickle our fancy, that can satisfy our morbid curiosity or our longing after romance. AOGII040-041

I see such a little portion, Lord, of who You are, and yet how awesome are Your ways! May I never be untouched by what I see of You. Amen. [1]


14 For Job these manifestations and deeds are but mere shadows or whispers of the smallest part of God’s might. We stand merely at the fringe of his majestic power. Who among us can even begin to comprehend this fully, let alone fully realize the thunderous might of which he is capable? How beautifully and humbly Job asserts the majestic omnipotence of God! But he ends the poem convinced of the mystery that surrounds that omnipotence.[2]


26:14 the outskirts of his ways These mighty acts of God give only a glimpse of His power.

how small a whisper The mighty thunder and wind is only a whisper to God. This description anticipates God’s response in ch. 38, where God speaks from a whirlwind. Elsewhere, God speaks in a whisper (1 Kgs 19:11–13).[3]


26:14 Behold, these are the fringes of His ways. Poetic language reminding his counselors that all that could be said and understood by man was only a glimpse of God’s powerful hand.[4]


26:14 the outskirts of his ways. Job is aware that such phenomena only hint at the full extent of divine power. Since even there, God’s ways lie beyond human comprehension, Job’s friends are presumptuous to suppose that they can unerringly interpret God’s dealings with him.[5]


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

[2] Smick, E. B. (2010). Job. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: 1 Chronicles–Job (Revised Edition) (Vol. 4, p. 817). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[3] Barry, J. D., Mangum, D., Brown, D. R., Heiser, M. S., Custis, M., Ritzema, E., … Bomar, D. (2012, 2016). Faithlife Study Bible (Job 26:14). Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[4] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (2006). The MacArthur study Bible: New American Standard Bible. (Job 26:14). Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers.

[5] Sproul, R. C. (Ed.). (2015). The Reformation Study Bible: English Standard Version (2015 Edition) (p. 797). Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust.

March 28, 2017 – Enemies of Humility: Partisanship

“… That no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.”

1 Corinthians 4:6

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Genuine humility among Christians will leave no room for arrogant partisanship.

The Corinthian church was a notorious illustration of the sin of partisanship among believers. Its partisanship—some members claimed allegiance to Paul, some to Apollos, and some to Cephas (Peter)—was essentially caused by pride. Paul, as author of 1 Corinthians, vigorously opposed such pride of divisions, as Apollos and Peter would have.

The Corinthian believers did have reason to be thankful to God for sending them such quality leaders. And it was right for those in Corinth to respect and honor their spiritual elders. Scripture says, “Appreciate those who diligently labor among you, and have charge over you in the Lord and give you instruction” (1 Thess. 5:12). However, the Corinthians went far beyond God’s Word and exalted the leaders for the prideful sake of themselves, the followers, thus creating partisan sects.

Such partisan spirit, even on behalf of godly leaders, always leads to hostility toward other faithful servants of God. And the motivation behind all this is pride, which is essentially having an inflated (arrogant) view of yourself, one that says “I’m for me.” When pride rules the operations of any church, humility is forgotten, and fellowship and harmony are inevitably torn apart.

You can help prevent or counteract partisanship simply by considering that all the daily benefits you take for granted—food, housing, clothing, job, family—are yours because of God’s kind providence. And if you’re a Christian, you have eternal life, God’s Word, spiritual gifts, and many other blessings that are all of grace. The apostle James reminds us, “Every good thing bestowed and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).

So again we see that God gives us every reason to be humble and leaves no place for pride and partisanship. If you have a good pastor and good elders or deacons, humbly thank God for them. You and your leaders are all stewards of God, entrusted for a short while to serve Him with His resources.

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Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that the Lord would help you be a positive influence for humility and harmony, rather than for pride and partisanship.

For Further Study: Read Acts 14:8–18. How did the people of Lystra react to Paul and Barnabas? ✧ How difficult was it for Paul and Barnabas to correct the people’s errors?[1]


The Corinthians’ Conceit

Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes, that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant in behalf of one against the other. For who regards you as superior? And what do you have that you did not receive? But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? You are already filled, you have already become rich, you have become kings without us; and I would indeed that you had become kings so that we also might reign with you. (4:6–8)

The Corinthians were proud and boastful. The cause of their factionalism—with some claiming Paul, some Apollos, and some Cephas (1:12; 3:4, 22)—basically was pride. They were proud of their human wisdom and proud of their human leaders. It was that worldly, carnal pride that caused the serious divisions that plagued the church. Those leaders themselves were godly and humble servants of the Lord, and the Corinthians had much reason to be grateful for His having sent them such men. But instead of being grateful they were proud.

Throughout most of the letter thus far Paul had been teaching them not to exalt human wisdom and human leaders. Now these things, brethren, I have figuratively applied to myself and Apollos for your sakes. These things refers to the figures of farmers (3:6–9), builders (3:10–15), and servant–stewards (4:1–5), which refer to those who minister for the Lord. Paul tells his Corinthian brethren that he has applied these figures of speech and analogies to himself and Apollos. His reason is to begin to teach them not to exalt themselves, either: that in us you might learn not to exceed what is written, in order that no one of you might become arrogant. Paul (myself) and Apollos had been given as illustrations of what true ministers should be: humble servants and stewards (4:1). Servants are faithful and meek, not proud; stewards are trustworthy and submissive, not arrogant. Neither is any Christian to be.

God’s faithful servants are to receive proper honor and respect. We are to “appreciate those who diligently labor among [us], and have charge over [us] in the Lord and give [us] instruction” (1 Thess. 5:12), and faithful elders should “be considered worthy of double honor, especially those who work hard at preaching and teaching” (1 Tim. 5:17). But they are to be honored only within such bounds of Scripture. godly respect turns into ungodly exaltation when we exceed what is written. When loving gratitude and legitimate loyalty are contaminated with pride and conceit, Christ’s church is fractured and weakened. What God intends as a means of unity Satan turns into a means of division.

The Corinthians had gone far beyond scriptural respect for ministers and had developed factions that were virtually sects. As is often the case, the leaders were exalted for the followers’ own sakes, not for the leaders’ sakes. The leaders were not a party to their glorification but were simply used as a focal point for the Corinthians’ own pride. In fact, the humble example of their leaders was rejected; thus Paul had to remind them of his own humility and that of Apollos. The factions gave the Corinthians a means to become arrogant in behalf of one against the other.

When the Israelites were being delivered from Egypt, Moses was clearly the leader. Moses had stood before Pharaoh and demanded the release of his people. Through Moses the Lord had performed the great miracles that finally convinced Pharaoh to let them go. Moses was the undisputed head of his people. After the Lord sent a special anointing of his Spirit on seventy of the elders, two of them, Eldad and Medad, continued to prophesy in the camp after the others had stopped. When Moses was told what they were doing, his young assistant, Joshua, was annoyed and said, “ ‘Moses, my lord, restrain them.’ But Moses said to him, ‘Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all the Lord’s people were prophets, that the Lord would put His Spirit upon them!’ ” (Num. 11:28–29). Joshua’s loyalty to Moses was misplaced. Misplaced loyalty, even to faithful men of God, inevitably brings hostility to others of God’s servants. It causes envy, competition, and division.

Moses did not exalt himself and would not let others exalt him. That was the attitude of Paul and Apollos. “If we, as God’s apostles and ministers, refuse to exalt ourselves or be exalted by you or anyone else,” Paul was telling the Corinthians, “what reason do you have to exalt yourselves?” (An interesting comparison to this text can be made from Acts 14:8–18.)

The reason was arrogance. Arrogant (phusioō) literally means to “puff up (KJV), inflate, blow up.” The term was used metaphorically to indicate pride, which is having an inflated view of oneself. Paul uses that word four times to describe the Corinthian believers (see also 4:18, 19; 5:2) and three other times to warn them against pride (18:1; 13:4; 2 Cor. 12:20). The meaning of pride basically is “I’m for me.” When everyone is pulling first of all for himself, fellowship and harmony are torn apart in the process.

A closely related sin is boasting. Pride must brag, but that is no more excusable than being arrogant. Why do you boast? Paul asked. Actually he asked the question in three parts. First, For who regards you as superior? “Why,” he says, “do you think you are above other believers in the church? Why do you think your group is better than any other? You are made of the same stuff they are and have been redeemed by the same Lord. You are no better. You have nothing to boast of.”

Second he asks, And what do you have that you did not receive? What does anyone have that, in one way or another, was not given to him? We did not give ourselves life, the food and care and protection we had as babies, an education, talents, the country we were born in, the opportunity to earn a living, the iq we have, or anything else. No matter how hard we may have studied in school and worked at our business or profession, we would have nothing except for what the Lord and many others, by His providential hand, have given us.

Christians have been given even more. We have salvation, eternal life, God’s presence within us, His Word, His spiritual gifts, His love, and countless other blessings for which we have done nothing and can do nothing. All those are gifts of God’s grace. We have absolutely no good thing that we did not receive (cf. James 1:17; 1 Chron. 29:11–16). What does any person have to boast about?

If we have a good pastor, God gave him to us. If we have good parents, God gave them to us. If we live in a good country, God gave it to us. If we have a good mind or creative talent God gave it to us. We have no reason to boast either in people or possessions. Not only ministers, but all Christians, are but God’s stewards. Everything we have is on loan from the Lord, entrusted to us for a while to use in serving Him.

The third question follows logically. But if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it? In other words, if they possessed only what someone else had given them, why were they boasting as if they had created the things themselves, or earned them? The whole foundation of their boasting was nothing more than a fabrication of their pride. Nothing is more self–deceitful than pride. We are inclined to believe almost anything about ourselves if it is favorable.[2]


6 Paul now comes to the crux of the issue. He has been writing this to the Corinthians so that they will apply this message to their own attitudes toward himself and Apollos. He follows up this statement with two purpose clauses, both introduced by the Greek word hina (the first one translated in the NIV with “so that” and the second with “then”).

The phrase the NIV translates “so that you may learn from us the meaning of the saying, ‘Do not go beyond what is written’ ” is one of the most difficult phrases in this letter to interpret. What seems certain is that the neuter singular article (to) functions here as a quotation mark to introduce a quote. The quotation itself is probably some sort of proverb or maxim. But note that it does contain the negative particle , which is a normal marker for a nonindicative verbal form. It is probably for this reason that the NIV translates the phrase as an imperative, “Do not go beyond what is written.”

But what does “what is written” mean? This verbal form is the perfect passive indicative of graphō, a form that Paul frequently uses to introduce OT quotations. (This same form is found, e.g., in 1:19, 31; 2:9; 3:19.) How might the apostle be using it here? I suggest that what lies behind this phrase is the preaching of the apostle. We know from Acts 17:3 that Paul’s typical preaching included two elements: demonstrating from the OT what God had prophesied would happen to the Messiah, and then proving from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that he was the promised Messiah. We can almost hear him saying over and over as he disputed with the Jews, “Let’s not let our Jewish traditions determine our understanding of the Scriptures. Don’t go beyond what is written!” He must have used that “maxim” repeatedly.

How does this apply here? Insofar as Paul constantly drew the attention of his audience to the Scriptures, and since he has been using several Scriptures in his discussion of the problem of divisions in the church (in sequence, Isa 29:14; Jer 9:24; Isa 64:4; 40:13; Job 5:13; Ps 94:11), he is calling on his readers here to reflect on all of these Scriptures. If they do nothing more than keep these texts in mind, they will not choose favorites—Paul, Apollos, Peter, and so forth.

This leads us into the meaning of the second hina clause (lit.): “so that no one of you may become arrogant in one person over against another.” Since Paul has just referred earlier in this verse to himself and Apollos, he undoubtedly has these two in mind here. And he is addressing both elements in the church: those who are manifesting pride in him over against Apollos, and those who are manifesting pride in Apollos over against him. Neither party receives his blessing! As far as Paul himself is concerned, all pride is wrong. The verb he uses here for “take pride” (physioō, GK 5881) is a favorite in this letter (see 4:18–19; 5:2; 8:1; 13:4; cf. 2 Co 2:17, the only other occurrence in the NT). Each time he uses this verb it expresses an attitude that he condemns. His goal for this church is that they stop all arrogance.[3]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 106–108). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] 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. 291–292). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 28, 2017 – The True Picture

I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.

1 Corinthians 2:2

Jesus Christ evokes many images in the minds of people. Some picture Him as a baby in a manger—the Christ of Christmas. Others picture Him as a child, perhaps living in the home of a carpenter or confounding the religious leaders of Jerusalem. Many picture Him as a compassionate and powerful healer who restored the sick and raised the dead. Still others picture a bold and fiery preacher speaking the Word of God to great crowds. And there are those who see Him as the consummate man—a model of goodness, kindness, sympathy, concern, care, tenderness, forgiveness, wisdom, and understanding.

Yet the one image of Christ that surpasses all the rest is Jesus Christ on the cross. To know Christ crucified is to know Him as the author and finisher of your faith—the truest picture of His Person and work.

Christ’s suffering on the cross is the focal point of the Christian faith. That’s where His deity, humanity, work, and suffering are most clearly seen.[1]


And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. (2:1–2)

As we have noted, the gospel of God’s wisdom, righteousness, sanctification, and redemption cannot be obtained through human wisdom. Here Paul demonstrates that it also is not to be presented through human wisdom. Paul did not come to Corinth as a philosopher but as a witness. He came proclaiming … the testimony of God. Testimony (marturion) means just that—a testimony or witness. A person can only testify to what he himself has seen or heard or experienced. A witness in a courtroom is to report only what he knows objectively, factually, and personally. He is not to speculate, guess, or deduce. Paul was a witness only to God’s revelation, not to his own human understanding or reason or inclinations. God’s revelation was everything; human wisdom was nothing.

We should not come to church to hear the pastor’s opinions about politics, psychology, economics, or even religion. We should come to hear a word from the Lord through the pastor. God’s Word edifies and unifies; human opinions confuse and divide.

Paul assured the Corinthians that he had not come to them with a lot of human verbiage and opinion. He presented them with the testimony of God and nothing else. Some years later he assured them again: “We have renounced the things hidden because of shame, not walking in craftiness or adulterating the word of God, but by the manifestation of truth commending ourselves to every man’s conscience in the sight of God” (Cor. 4:2). The primary task, the only task, of the ministry is to manifest the truth of God.

Paul warned Timothy, “The Spirit explicitly says that in later times some will fall away from the faith, paying attention to deceitful spirits and doctrines of demons, by means of the hypocrisy of liars seared in their own conscience as with a branding iron” (1 Tim. 4:1–2). Timothy was to “give attention to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation and teaching” (v. 13). That was his job. That is every preacher’s job. Any other approach prostitutes the pulpit.

In his second letter to that young minister, Paul solemnly charged him “in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus” to “preach the word” (2 Tim. 4:1–2). I cannot comprehend how any man who calls himself a minister of God can do anything but preach the Word of God and be ready to do it “in season and out of season” (v. 2). Many congregations, however, do not want their pastors to preach only the Word. They “will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires” (v. 3). As one commentator has observed, “In periods of unsettled faith, skepticism, and mere curious speculation in matters of religion, teachers of all kinds swarm like the flies in Egypt. The demand creates the supply. The hearers invite and shape their own preachers. If the people desire a calf to worship, a ministerial calf–maker is readily found.” Some people, including some immature believers, will go from church to church looking for the right preacher. Unfortunately their idea of “right” preaching is not sound biblical exposition but interesting observations and suggestions based on the preacher’s personal philosophy. They are not looking for a word from God to believe but for a word from man to consider.

When Paul had preached to the Corinthians, as when he had preached anywhere, he was determined to know nothing among his hearers except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. He was not interested in discussing men’s ideas or insights, his own or those of anyone else. He would proclaim nothing but Jesus Christ, the crucified, risen, and redeeming Jesus Christ. He did not preach Jesus simply as the perfect teacher or the perfect example or the perfect Man—though He was all of these. The foundation of all of his preaching was Jesus as the divine Savior.

Obviously the apostle was not saying that he preached or taught nothing but messages, or that he expounded only those parts of Scripture that deal directly with Christ’s atonement. He taught the full counsel of God, as his writings make clear (Acts 20:27). He ministered in Corinth for a year and a half, “teaching the word of God among [them]” (Acts 18:11). But it was, and still is, the cross of Jesus Christ that is the stumbling block or the foolishness to unbelievers (1 Cor. 1:23), and until a person accepts God’s revelation in the cross, no other revelation matters. The preaching of the cross was so dominant in the early church that many Jews and Gentiles accused the Christians of worshiping a dead man. To help a person understand the gospel Paul would go to any length to explain and clarify the cross, but he would not say one word to modify or contradict it.[2]


2 The focal point of Paul’s message was “Jesus Christ and him crucified”—the same message that in ch. 1 he wrote was “a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1:23; see comments). Note that Paul uses the perfect tense here for “crucified” (cf. also 1:23; Gal 3:1), which suggests that his focus was not as much on the historical event of the cross but on its ongoing effect for those who believe in Jesus, namely, that in this event they can find personal justification, redemption, and sanctification (cf. 1 Co. 1:30).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 100). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 54–56). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] 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. 274). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 27, 2017 – Identifying with Christ’s Suffering

It was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings.

Hebrews 2:10

 

Christians can identify with their Master because like Him, they suffer to enter their glory.

Christ said to the disciples on the road to Emmaus, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Ought not the Christ to have suffered these things and to enter into His glory?” (Luke 24:25–26). Our Lord had to explain that future glory required that He suffer. We should expect the same.

The path to glory for Christ was the path of unjust suffering. That’s our path also. Jesus endured suffering with perfect patience and was exalted to the highest point of glory. He is our example of how to respond to suffering.[1]


Our Salvation Author

For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to perfect the author of their salvation through sufferings. (2:10)

The phrase it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things, and through whom are all things refers primarily to God the Father, though it obviously refers to the Son as well. It was fitting means that what God did through Jesus Christ was consistent with His character. It was consistent with God’s wisdom. The cross was a masterpiece of wisdom. God solved the problem which no human or angelic mind could have solved. What He did was also consistent with His holiness, for God showed on the cross His hatred for sin. It was consistent with His power, being the greatest display of power ever manifested. Christ endured for a few hours what will take an eternity for unrepentant sinners to endure. It was consistent with His love, in that He loved the world so much that He gave His only Son for its redemption. Finally, what He did was consistent with His grace, because Christ’s sacrifice was substitutionary. The work of salvation was totally consistent with God’s nature. It was entirely fitting for Him to have done what He did.

What was fitting for the Father was equally fitting for the Son. Christ’s suffering humiliation for the sake of man’s salvation was consistent with His loving and gracious nature. Though all things were both for Him and through Him, He became for a little while lower than the angels in order to bring many sons to glory and become the perfect author of their salvation through sufferings. Here is the second perfection that His humiliation accomplished—Author of salvation. Jesus had to become a man and He had to suffer and die in order to be the perfect provider of salvation.

The Greek word for author is archēgos, literally, a “pioneer” or “leader.” In Acts 3:15 and 5:31 the term, used both times of Christ, is translated “Prince.” It always refers to someone who involves others in his endeavor. For example, it is used of a man who starts and heads a family, into which others are born or married. It is used of a man who founds a city, in which others come to live. It was commonly used of a pioneer who blazed a trail for others to follow. The archēgos never stood at the rear giving orders. He was always out front, leading and setting the example. As the supreme Archegos, Christ does not stand at the rear giving orders. He is always before us, as perfect Leader and perfect Example.

He lived for us the pattern of perfect obedience. “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Heb. 5:8–9). By His own obedience He set the perfect pattern for us. He also set us the the pattern for suffering. “For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet. 2:21).

For most people, life becomes most anxious and dreadful at the point of death. That is the point beyond which we cannot go a single step by ourselves. But the Author of our salvation promises us that “because I live, you shall live also” (John 14:19). The world’s ultimate question is: “Has anyone ever cheated death?”—to which the Bible replies: “Yes, Jesus Christ.” The second most important question is: “If He did, did He leave the way open for me?”—to which the Bible also replies, “Yes.” He did leave the way open. All we have to do is put our hand in His hand and He will lead us from one side of death to the other. When we accept Him as our Savior, we can say with the apostle Paul, “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor. 15:55).

As the great Pioneer of redemption, He blazed the trail through death and resurrection. He said, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me shall live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me shall never die” (John 11:25–26). God made Christ for a little while lower than the angels so that He could come down to us, be our Archegos—our spiritual Pioneer and Example—and bring us to the Father.[2]


10 We are first reminded of the purpose that underlies the whole divine plan: it is to “bring many sons to glory.” (TNIV has correctly changed “sons” to “sons and daughters,” since no one believes the author thought only males were to be saved; such changes are rightly made throughout the letter wherever masculine terms such as “sons,” “brothers,” and “men” are used in an inclusive sense, and I shall from now on take them for granted rather than draw attention to them individually.) “Many” is in contrast with the one Son through whom the many are brought to glory (rather than restricting the scope of “everyone” in v. 9; cf. the “many” of Isa 53:11–12). The nature of that “glory” will be explained more fully later, for instance in terms of the heavenly “rest” (4:1–11) and the festivities of Mount Zion (12:22–24). Salvation is thus not merely a rescue mission but the positive fulfillment of the “glory and honor” for which humanity was created (Ps 8:5), sharing in the authority and glory of the living God, “for whom and through whom everything exists.” (Note that this clause echoes closely what was said of the Son in 1:2.) And it is the role of the Son to be the “author” of that salvation; the term archēgos (GK 795) means both “leader” and “originator,” and probably here as in 12:2 suggests not only the one who makes salvation possible but also the one who has gone on ahead to prepare the way (cf. 6:20). Some versions helpfully translate archēgos as “pioneer.” But his ability to fulfill that role depends on his first undergoing suffering on our behalf, so that it is “through what he suffered” (TNIV) that he becomes “perfect” as our savior. “Perfect” here, as always in Hebrews, is not a term for moral rectitude but speaks of the completion of God’s purpose (see Introduction, p. 32); Peterson, 66–73, argues in detail for a “vocational” sense here. There is no suggestion Jesus was at some time “imperfect” in the moral sense (cf. 4:15; 7:26).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2001). Truth for today : a daily touch of God’s grace (p. 99). Nashville, Tenn.: J. Countryman.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1983). Hebrews (pp. 65–67). Chicago: Moody Press.

[3] France, R. T. (2006). Hebrews. In T. Longman III & D. E. Garland (Eds.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Hebrews–Revelation (Revised Edition) (Vol. 13, p. 54). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 27, 2017 – Enemies of Humility: Selfish Ambition

“But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?’ They said to Him, ‘We are able.’ ”

Matthew 20:22

✧✧✧

Selfish ambition in spiritual things shows that we are ignorant of the real path to God’s glory.

Yesterday we saw that James and John, with their mother, posed a bold power–play question to the Lord Jesus. Now, as He answers them, they display another attitude at odds with the humble spirit: selfish ambition.

If the brothers’ power–play request was brazen, it was also very foolish. They did not have a clue about what was involved if Jesus granted their request. “The cup that I am about to drink” was His way of referring to His suffering and death. When He asked James and John if they were prepared to drink that cup, Christ was saying that if you are His disciple, you must be prepared for suffering and hardship.

In fact, Jesus’ words “to drink the cup” indicate that something very difficult lay ahead. Not only do those words refer to the Savior’s own painful suffering and death (Matt. 26:39), but they mean we must stay the course to the end, enduring whatever is necessary. James, John, and the other disciples initially did not have such staying power.

James and John, thinking they would always persevere, overconfidently declared, “We are able.” Peter brashly promised never to forsake the Lord, and all the other disciples echoed that pledge. But Peter denied Jesus three times, and the ambitious brothers, along with the rest of the disciples, fled after Jesus’ arrest.

The disciples eventually did finish well and shared in the “fellowship of His sufferings” (Phil. 3:10). James became the first martyred apostle, and John was exiled to the island of Patmos. But such faithfulness was not attained in their own strength, nor by their ambitious maneuvering, but by the Spirit’s power. This is a strong reminder to us that no position in God’s kingdom is rewarded because of selfish human ambition, but only by His sovereign choice of “those for whom it has been prepared” (Matt. 20:23).

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer: Pray that God would give you a view of service in His kingdom that is unclouded by your own ambitions.

For Further Study: Read and compare Psalms 15 and 75. What do they say about pride and humility? ✧ Meditate on several verses that relate to that theme.[1]


These verses reflect a second wrong way to spiritual greatness, that of self-serving ambition. The request of James, John, and their mother not only was brash but foolish. Bypassing the mother, Jesus answered the two brothers directly and said, “You do not know what you are asking for. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” The three had no idea of the full implications of their request.

The cup that Jesus was about to drink was the cup of suffering and death, which He had just finished describing to them (vv. 18–19). Jesus was saying, “Don’t you realize by now that the way to eternal glory is not through worldly success and honor but through suffering? Haven’t you heard what I’ve been teaching about the persecuted being blessed and about taking up your own crosses and following Me?”

The apostle Paul learned that the way to great glory is through great affliction for Christ’s sake. Although he suffered extreme hardship, persecution, and suffering, he considered those things to be insignificant compared to what awaited him in heaven. He told the self-serving, pleasure-loving Corinthians, “For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison” (2 Cor. 4:17). It is those who are persecuted “on account of Me” who Jesus said will have great reward in heaven (Matt. 5:11–12).

Suffering from physical afflictions such as disease, deformity, and accident or from the emotional distresses of a lost job or the death of a loved one can be used by the Lord to strengthen believers spiritually. He can help them grow even through problems and hardships they bring on themselves because of foolishness or sin. But the affliction that brings eternal glory is that which is brought about and is willingly endured because of faithfulness to the Lord. It is suffering because of the gospel, being “persecuted for the sake of righteousness” (Matt. 5:10). The one who has the greatest glory beside Christ in heaven will be the one who has faithfully endured the greatest suffering for Him on earth.

To drink the cup meant to drink the full measure, leaving nothing. It was a common expression that meant to stay with something to the end, to endure to the limits, whatever the cost. The cup that Jesus was about to drink was immeasurably worse than the physical agony of the cross or the emotional anguish of being forsaken by His friends, painful as those were. The full measure of His cup was taking the world’s sin upon Himself, an agony so horrible that He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt” (Matt. 26:39).

Either because they completely misunderstood what Jesus meant or because, like Peter promising never to forsake Christ, they self-confidently thought they could endure anything required of them, James and John foolishly declared, “We are able.” And just as Peter denied the Lord three times before the cock crowed, those two brothers, along with all the other disciples, fled for their lives when Jesus was arrested (Matt. 26:56).[2]


22 The additional words “and to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with” (KJV)—and similarly in v. 23—are almost certainly an assimilation to Mark 10:38–39. Jesus’ answer is not severe but mingles firmness with probing. It is often ignorance that seeks leadership, power, and glory; the brothers do not know what they are asking. To ask to reign with Jesus is to ask to suffer with him, and not only do they not know what they are asking for (cf. 10:37–39; Ro 8:17; 2 Ti 2:12; Rev 3:21); they have as yet no clear perceptions of Jesus’ sufferings. To ask for worldly wealth and much honor is often to ask for anxiety, temptation, disappointment, and envy; in the spiritual arena, to ask for great usefulness and reward is often to ask for great suffering (cf. 2 Co 11:23–33; Col 1:24; Rev 1:9). “We know not what we ask, when we ask for the glory of wearing the crown, and ask not for grace to bear the cross in our way to it” (Matthew Henry).

The “cup” (cf. 26:39) characteristically refers, in OT imagery, to judgment or retribution (cf. Ps 75:8; Isa 51:17–18; Jer 25:15–28). If the disciples grasped anything of Jesus’ passion predictions, they probably thought the language was partly hyperbolic (Jesus did use hyperbole elsewhere [e.g., 19:24]) and referred to the eschatological conflict during which Messiah’s side would suffer losses; but these could scarcely be too severe for one who could still storms and raise the dead. Thus, by their bold response, James and John betray their misunderstandings of the timing of the dawn of the kingdom in all its glory (cf. Lk 19:11), and equally of the uniqueness and redemptive significance of Jesus’ sufferings (cf. v. 28) now imminent.[3]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (Mt 20:20). 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, pp. 487–488). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 27, 2017 – True Salt and Light Are Pure

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.—Matt. 5:13–15

With great responsibility, there is often great danger. We can’t be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own purity. We can’t sting the world’s conscience if we continually go against our own. We can’t be used of God to retard the corruption of sin in the world if our lives become corrupted by sin. To lose our saltiness is not to lose our salvation, but we will lose our effectiveness.

Light, too, is in danger of becoming useless. Like salt, it can’t lose its essential nature. A hidden light is still light, but it is useless light. That’s why people do not “light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.” A light that is hidden under a basket can’t even be used to read by; it helps neither the person who hides it nor anyone else.

Don’t hide your light for fear of offending others, whether out of indifference or lovelessness or any other reason. If you do, you demonstrate unfaithfulness to the Lord.

ASK YOURSELF

The demands of purity call for more than merely the eradication of sin and shameful habits, but also for replacing impurity with active, living, breathing righteousness. What are some specific acts of obedience and service to which God is calling you at this hour, in this generation?[1]


Salt of the Earth and Light of the World

(5:13–16)

You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do men light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on the lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. 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. (5:13–16)

In these four verses the Lord summarizes the function of believers in the world. Reduced to one word, that function is influence. Whoever lives according to the Beatitudes is going to function in the world as salt and light. Christian character consciously or unconsciously affects other people for better or for worse. As John Donne reminds us, “No man is an island.”

An ancient Greek myth tells of a goddess who came to earth unseen but whose presence was always known by the blessings she left behind in her pathway. Trees burned by forest fires sprouted new leaves, and violets sprang up in her footprints. As she passed a stagnant pool its water became fresh, and parched fields turned green as she walked through them. Hills and valleys blossomed with new life and beauty wherever she went. Another Greek story tells of a princess sent as a present to a king. She was as beautiful as Aphrodite and her breath was as sweet as perfume. But she carried with her the contagion of death and decay. From infancy she had fed on nothing but poison and became so permeated with it that she poisoned the very atmosphere around her. Her breath would kill a swarm of insects; she would pick a flower and it would wither. A bird flying too close would fall dead at her feet.

Andrew Murray lived an exceptionally holy life. Among those on whom his influence was the greatest were his children and grandchildren. Five of his six sons became ministers of the gospel and four of his daughters became minister’s wives. Ten grandsons became ministers and thirteen grandchildren became missionaries.

Woodrow Wilson told the story of being in a barbershop one time. “I was sitting in a barber chair when I became aware that a powerful personality had entered the room. A man had come quietly in upon the same errand as myself to have his hair cut and sat in the chair next to me. Every word the man uttered, though it was not in the least didactic, showed a personal interest in the man who was serving him. And before I got through with what was being done to me I was aware I had attended an evangelistic service, because Mr, D. L. Moody was in that chair. I purposely lingered in the room after he had left and noted the singular affect that his visit had brought upon the barber shop. They talked in undertones. They did not know his name, but they knew something had elevated their thoughts, and I felt that I left that place as I should have left a place of worship.”

Many years ago Elihu Burrit wrote, “No human being can come into this world without increasing or diminishing the sum total of human happiness, not only of the present but of every subsequent age of humanity. No one can detach himself from this connection. There in no sequestered spot in the universe, no dark niche along the disc of nonexistence to which he can retreat from his relations with others, where he can withdraw the influence of his existence upon the moral destiny of the world. Everywhere his presence or absence will be felt. Everywhere he will have companions who will be better or worse because of him. It is an old saying, and one of the fearful and fathomless statements of import, that we are forming characters for eternity. Forming characters? Whose? Our own or others? Both. And in that momentous fact lies the peril and responsibility of our existence. Who is sufficient for the thought? Thousands of my fellow beings will yearly enter eternity with characters differing from those they would have carried thither had I never lived. The sunlight of that world will reveal my finger marks in their primary formations and in their successive strata of thought and life.”

In Matthew 5:13–16 Jesus talks about the influence of His people on the world for God and for good. In His high priestly prayer Jesus said to His Father, “I do not ask Thee to take them out of the world, but to keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world … As Thou didst send Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world” (John 17:15–16, 18). John wrote, “Do not love the world, nor the things in the world” (1 John 2:15). Christ’s kingdom people are not to reflect the world but they are to influence the world; they are to be in it but not of it.

When we live the life of the Beatitudes some people will respond favorably and be saved, whereas others will ridicule and persecute us. In the words of Paul, we will manifest “the sweet aroma of the knowledge of [Christ] in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Cor. 2:14–16). In either case our lives have profound effects, and even persecution is not to alter our function in the world. We “are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for God’s own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called [us] out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).

Though Jesus was speaking before a great multitude of people on the hillside, His teaching about kingdom life was primarily for His disciples, for those who believed in Him. His concern was for the all of the multitude, and in hearing His teaching on godly living many of them may have been drawn to faith. But the principles He teaches here are appropriate only for believers, for they are impossible to follow apart from the power of God’s own Spirit.

Here is a mandate for Christians to influence the world. The Beatitudes are not to be lived in isolation or only among fellow believers, but everywhere we go. God’s only witnesses are His children, and the world has no other way of knowing of Him except through the testimony of what we are.

The figures of salt and light emphasize different characteristics of influence, but their basic purpose is the same. They will both be studied from the aspects of the presupposition of the world’s corruption and darkness, the plan for believers’ godly dominion in the world, the problem of the danger of failure, and the purpose of glorifying God.

The Presupposition: Corruption and Darkness

The world needs salt because it is corrupt and it needs light because it is dark. G. Campbell Morgan said, “Jesus, looking out over the multitudes of His day, saw the corruption, the disintegration of life at every point, its breakup, its spoilation; and, because of His love of the multitudes, He knew the thing that they needed most was salt in order that the corruption should be arrested. He saw them also wrapped in gloom, sitting in darkness, groping amid mists and fogs. He knew that they needed, above everything else, … light” (The Gospel According to Matthew [New York: Revell, 1929], p. 46).

The biblical world view is that the world is corrupted and decayed, that it is dark and darkening. “Evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived,” Paul warns (2 Tim. 3:13). The world cannot do anything but get worse, because it has no inherent goodness to build on, no inherent spiritual and moral life in which it can grow. Year after year the system of evil accumulates a deeper darkness.

A college student told me his professor had recently told the class that marriage was on the decline because man was evolving to a higher level. Marriage was something that man needed only at the lower stages of his evolutionary development. Now that man had ascended farther up the evolutionary scale, marriage was falling off just as his prehensile tail had done millions of years ago.

Any person who knows the history of mankind, even the history of the past hundred years, and thinks that man is evolving upward is “deceiving and being deceived,” just as Paul said. Man has increased in scientific, medical, historical, educational, psychological, and technological knowledge to an astounding degree. But he has not changed his own basic nature and he has not improved society. Man’s knowledge has greatly improved, but his morals have progressively degenerated. His confidence has increased, but his peace of mind has diminished. His accomplishments have increased, but his sense of purpose and meaning have all but disappeared. Instead of improving the moral and spiritual quality of his life, man’s discoveries and accomplishments have simply provided ways for him to express and promote his depravity faster and more destructively. Modern man has simply invented more ways to corrupt and destroy himself.

Many philosophers, poets, and religious leaders at the end of the last century had great optimism about man’s having come of age, about his inevitable moral and social improvement. They believed that Utopia was around the corner and that man was getting better and better in every way. The golden age of mankind was near. Wars would be a bad memory, crime and violence would disappear, ignorance would be gone, and disease would be eradicated. Peace and brotherhood would reign completely and universally. Few people today hold to such blind, unrealistic ideas.

It was not many generations after the Fall that “the Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen. 6:5). Because wickedness was so great, God destroyed every person but eight-and they were far from perfect. A few generations after that, the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah became so rotten from the offspring of those eight that God destroyed them with fire and brimstone. Another day of judgment is coming when God will again rain fire on earth, but that destruction will be a holocaust such as men have never dreamed of. “The present heavens and earth by His word are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men … the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up” (2 Pet. 3:7, 10).

Man is infected with the deadly virus of sin, which has no cure apart from God. Yet unlike their attitude toward physical diseases, most men do not want their sin cured. They love their decadence and they hate God’s righteousness (cf. John 3:19–21). They love their own way and they hate God’s.

Man’s knowledge is increasing by quantum leaps, but his increased knowledge is mechanical knowledge, inanimate knowledge, lifeless knowledge, knowledge that has no bearing on the inner man (cf. 2 Tim. 3:7). His knowledge does not retard his corruption but rather is used to intensify and defend it.

Bertrand Russell devoted most of his 96 years to the study of philosophy. Yet at the end of his life he acknowledged that philosophy proved to be a washout, and had taken him nowhere. Nothing he had thought or had heard that other philosophers had thought had changed the world for the better. He felt that the basic causes of man’s problems, not to mention the solutions, had evaded the best minds of every age including his own.

Some scientists have proposed that by surgery or careful electronic stimulation of the brain, a person’s bad impulses can be eradicated, leaving only the better part of his nature. Others propose that the ideal, crime-free, problem-free person will be developed by genetic engineering. But every part of every man is corrupt. He has no inherent, naturally good traits that can be isolated from the bad. His total nature is depraved. David knew that he was sinful from the moment of his conception. “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5). There is no good part in man from which a better can be constructed or from which his corrupt part can be isolated. Isaiah said, “The whole head is sick, and the whole heart is faint” (Isa. 1:5), and Jeremiah labeled the heart as “more deceitful than all else” and as “desperately sick” (Jer. 17:9).

We go on from war to greater war, from crime to greater crime, from immorality to greater immorality, from perversion to greater perversion. The spiral is downward, not upward (see Rom. 1:18–32). Despair and pessimism reign in our day, because the honest person knows that man has not been able to retard his descent. He hopes that he can just live out his own life before someone pushes the button that blows mankind into oblivion.

A leading news magazine reported a few years ago that Americans tend to see themselves as potential saints rather than real-life sinners. Another leading magazine reported, “Today’s young radicals in particular are almost painfully sensitive to … wrongs of their society, and they denounce them violently. But at the same time they are typically American in that they fail to place evil in its historic and human perspective. To them evil is not an irreducible component of man; it is not an inescapable fact of life, but something committed by the older generation, attributable to a particular class or the establishment and eradicable through love or revolution” (Time, 5 December 1969).

Just as every person is affected by the sin problem, every person also contributes to the sin problem.

The Plan: The Dominion of His Disciples

The church cannot accept the world’s self-centeredness, easy solutions, immorality, amorality, and materialism. We are called to minister to the world while being separated from its standards and ways. Sadly, however, the church today is more influenced by the world than the world is influenced by the church.

In both verse 13 and verse 14 the pronoun you is emphatic. The idea is, “You are the only salt of the earth” and “You are the only light of the world.” The world’s corruption will not be retarded and its darkness will not be illumined unless God’s people are its salt and light. The very ones who are despised by the world and persecuted by the world are the world’s only hope.

The you in both verses is also plural. It is His whole body, the church, that is called to be the world’s salt and light. Each grain of salt has its limited influence, but it is only as the church collectively is scattered in the world that change will come. One ray of light will accomplish little, but when joined with other rays a great light is created.

Some years ago a magazine carried a series of pictures that graphically depicted a tragic story. The first picture was of a vast wheat field in western Kansas. The second showed a distressed mother sitting in a farmhouse in the center of the field of wheat. The accompanying story explained that her four-year-old son had wandered away from the house and into the field when she was not looking. The mother and father looked and looked all day but the little fellow was too short to see or be seen over the wheat. The third picture showed dozens of friends and neighbors who had heard of the boy’s plight and who had joined hands the next morning to make a long human chain as they walked through the field searching. The final picture was of the heartbroken father holding his lifeless son who had been found too late and had died of exposure. The caption underneath read, “O God, if only we had joined hands sooner.”

The world is full of lost souls who cannot see their way above the distractions and barriers of the world and cannot find their way to the Father’s house until Christians join together as salt and light and sweep through the world in search of them. Our work is not simply as individual grains of salt or as individual rays of light but as the whole church of Jesus Christ.

Are stresses being rather than doing. Jesus is stating a fact, not giving a command or request. Salt and light represent what Christians are. The only question, as Jesus goes on to say, is whether or not we are tasteful salt and effective light. The very fact that we belong to Jesus Christ makes us His salt and light in the world.

Christ is the source of our savor and of our light. He is “the true light which, coming into the world, enlightens every man” (John 1:9). “While I am in the world, I am the light of the world,” He said (John 9:5). But now that He has left the world His light comes to the world through those whom He has enlightened. We shine forth the reflected light of Christ. “You were formerly darkness, but now you are light in the Lord,” Paul tells us; “walk as children of light” (Eph. 5:8). “For He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son”(Col. 1:13).

We are God’s salt to retard corruption and His light to reveal truth. One function is negative, the other positive. One is silent, the other is verbal. By the indirect influence of the way we live we retard corruption, and by the direct influence of what we say we manifest light.

Both salt and light are unlike that which they are to influence. God has changed us from being part of the corrupted and corrupting world to being salt that can help preserve it. He has changed us from our own darkness to be His agents of giving light to others. By definition, an influence must be different from that which it influences, and Christians therefore must be different from the world they are called to influence. We cannot influence the world for God when we are worldly ourselves. We cannot give light to the world if we revert to places and ways of darkness ourselves.

The great blessings emphasized in verses 3–12 lead to the great responsibilities of verses 13–16. The blessings of heaven, comfort, inheriting the earth, being filled with righteousness, being given mercy, being called God’s children, and being given heavenly reward bring the responsibility of being His salt and light in the world.

Being Salt

Salt has always been valuable in human society, often much more so than it is today. During a period of ancient Greek history it was called theon, which means divine. The Romans held that, except for the sun, nothing was more valuable than salt. Often Roman soldiers were paid in salt, and it was from that practice that the expression “not worth his salt” originated.

In many ancient societies salt was used as a mark of friendship. For two persons to share salt indicated a mutual responsibility to look after one another’s welfare. Even if a worst enemy ate salt with you, you were obliged to treat him as a friend.

Salt was frequently used in the ancient Near East to bind a covenant, somewhat in the way an agreement or contract is notarized in our day. When the parties to a covenant ate salt together before witnesses, the covenant was given special authentication. Though no particulars are given in the account, we learn from 2 Chronicles 13:5 that God made a covenant of salt with David. God prescribed that all sacrificial offerings in Israel were to be offered with salt “so that the salt of the covenant of your God shall not be lacking” (Lev. 2:13).

In numerous ways Jesus’ hearers-whether Greek, Roman, or Jewish-would have understood salt of the earth to represent a valuable commodity. Though most could not have understood His full meaning, they knew He was saying that His followers were to have an extremely important function in the world. Whatever else it may have represented, salt always stood for that which was of high value and importance.

Many suggestions have been made as to the particular characteristics of salt that Jesus intended to associate with this figure. Some interpreters point out that salt is white and therefore represents purity. As the “pure in heart” (v. 8), Jesus’ disciples are to be pure before the world and are to be God’s means of helping purify the rest of the world. Their glistening white moral and spiritual purity is to contrast with the moral discolor of the world. Christians are to exemplify the divine standards of righteousness in thought, speech, and actions, remaining “unstained by the world” (James 1:27). All that is certainly true; but it does not seem to the point, because saltiness, not the color of salt, is the issue.

Others emphasize the characteristic of flavor. That is, Christians are to add divine flavor to the world. Just as many foods are tasteless without salt, the world is drab and tasteless without the presence of Christians. Someone has even said, “We Christians have no business being boring. Our function is to add flavor and excitement to the world.” Christians are a means of God’s blessing mankind, including unbelievers, just as He sends His sun and rain on the righteous and unrighteous alike.

There are certain senses in which that principle is true. An unbelieving marriage partner is sanctified by a believing spouse (1 Cor. 7:14), and God offered to spare Sodom for the sake of only ten righteous people, if that many could be found within it (Gen. 18:32).

The problem with that view, however, is that, from the earliest days of the church, the world has considered Christianity to be anything but attractive and “flavorful.” It has, in fact, often found the most spiritual Christians to be the most unpalatable. In the world’s eyes, Christians, almost above all others, take the flavor out of life. Christianity is stifling, restrictive, and a rain on the world’s parade.

After Christianity became a recognized religion of the Roman Empire, the emperor Julian lamented, “Have you looked at these Christians closely? Hollow-eyed, pale-cheeked, flat-breasted, they brood their lives away unspurred by ambition. The sun shines for them, but they don’t see it The earth offers them its fullness, but they desire it not. All their desire is to renounce and suffer that they may come to die.”

Oliver Wendell Holmes reportedly once said that he might have entered the ministry if certain clergymen he knew had not looked and acted so much like undertakers. Sometimes the world is turned away from the church because Christians are hypocritical, self-righteous, judgmental, and truly boring by any standard. But even when the church is faithful-indeed, especially when it is faithful-the world does not value whatever taste or aroma it sees in Christianity. Paul reminds us that Christians are an “aroma from life to life” and “a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved,” but are an “aroma of death to death” among “those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15–16).

Because salt stings when placed in a wound, some interpreters believe that Jesus meant to illustrate just the opposite characteristic to that of flavor. Christians are to sting the world, prick its conscience, make it uncomfortable in the presence of God’s holy gospel.

That analogy also has merit. The church frequently is so concerned with trying to please, attract, and excuse that its witness against sin is obscured and all but lost. We may be so concerned with not offending others that we fail to confront them with their lostness and their desperate need to be saved from their sin. A gospel that does not confront sin is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Some years ago a young couple who came to me to be married said they knew the Lord had brought them together and given them to each other. The woman claimed to have been a Christian all her life, but her concept of salvation was that of trying to please God by doing the best she could. She admitted that, although she had filed for divorce because her husband had been unfaithful, she was still married to him. On further questioning, she admitted that she had been committing fornication with the young man she now wanted to marry. The young man claimed to be born again, but he saw no great wrong in their relationship and no reason why they should not be married in a Christian service. I told them that God could not possibly have brought them together because they were living contrary to His revealed will-and worse, trying to justify it. At that point they both got up and angrily stormed out of the office.

The church cannot stand for the Lord if it does not stand for His Word, and when it stands for His Word its witness will often sting.

Salt also creates thirst. Partly because it increases the body’s craving for water, salt tablets often are given to those who do hard work in excessive heat. Without proper intake of fluids, dehydration and even death may result. God intends for His people so to live and testify before the world that others will be made more aware of their spiritual dehydration and danger. A person may see our peace in a trying circumstance, or our confidence in what we believe, and thereby be persuaded to try our faith.

I believe that all of the foregoing analogies have some validity. Christians are to be pure; they should add a certain attractiveness to the gospel; they should be true to God’s Word even when it stings; and their living should create a thirst for God in those who do not know Him.

But I believe the primary characteristic Jesus emphasizes is that of preservation. Christians are a preserving influence in the world; they retard moral and spiritual spoilage. When the church is taken out of the world at the rapture, Satan’s perverse and wicked power will be unleashed in an unprecedented way (see 2 Thess. 2:7–12). Evil will go wild and demons will be almost unbridled. Once God’s people are removed it will take only seven years for the world to descend to the very pits of hellishhess (see Dan. 9:27; Rev. 6–19).

Until that day Christians can have a powerful influence on the welfare of the world. Martyn Lloyd-Jones writes, “Most competent historians are agreed in saying that what undoubtedly saved [England] from a revolution such as that experienced in France at the end of the eighteenth century was nothing but the Evangelical Revival. This was not because anything was done directly, but because masses of individuals had become Christians and were living this better life and had this higher outlook. The whole political situation was affected, and the great Acts of Parliament which were passed in the last century were mostly due to the fact that there were such large numbers of individual Christians found in the land” (Studies in the Sermon on the Mount [Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971], 1:157).

As God’s children and as the temples of His Holy Spirit, Christians represent God’s presence in the earth. We are the salt that prevents the entire earth from degenerating even faster than it is.

Helen Ewing was saved as a young girl in Scotland and gave her life completely to the lordship of Christ. When she died at the age of 22 it is said that all Scotland wept. She had expected to serve God as a missionary in Europe and had become fluent in the Russian language. But she was not able to fulfill that dream. She had no obvious gifts such as speaking or writing, and she had never traveled far from home. Yet by the time she died she had won hundreds of people to Jesus Christ. Countless missionaries mourned her death because they knew that a great channel of their spiritual strength was gone. She had risen every morning at five in order to study God’s Word and to pray. Her diary revealed that she regularly prayed for over three hundred missionaries by name. Everywhere she went the atmosphere was changed. If someone was telling a dirty story; he would stop if he saw her coming. If people were complaining, they would become ashamed of it in her presence. An acquaintance reported that while she was at Glasgow University she left the fragrance of Christ wherever she went. In everything she said and did she was God’s salt.

Being Light

Jesus also calls us to be light. You are the light of the world. Whereas salt is hidden, light is obvious. Salt works secretly, while light works openly. Salt works from within, light from without. Salt is more the indirect influence of the gospel, while light is more its direct communication. Salt works primarily through our living, while light works primarily through what we teach and preach. Salt is largely negative. It can retard corruption, but it cannot change corruption into incorruption. Light is more positive. It not only reveals what is wrong and false but helps produce what is righteous and true.

In his introduction to the book of Acts, Luke refers to his gospel as “the first account I composed, Theophilus, about all that Jesus began to do and teach” (1:1). Christ’s work always has to do with both doing and speaking, with living and teaching.

David wrote, “For with Thee is the fountain of life; in Thy light we see light” (Ps. 36:9). “God is light,” John reminds us, “and in Him there is no darkness at all. If we say that we have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth; but if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:5–7). Light is not given simply to have but to live by. “Thy word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path,” the psalmist tells us (Ps. 119:105). God’s light is to walk by and to live by. In its fullest sense, God’s light is the full revelation of His Word-the written Word of Scripture and the living Word of Jesus Christ.

God’s people are to proclaim God’s light in a world engulfed in darkness, just as their Lord came “to shine upon those who sit in darkness and the shadow of death” (Luke 1:79). Christ is the true light, and we are His reflections. He is the Sun, and we are His moons. A free rendering of 2 Corinthians 4:6 could be, “God, who first ordered the light to shine in the darkness has flooded our hearts with His light. We now can enlighten men only because we can give them knowledge of the glory of God as we have seen it in the face of Jesus Christ.” God sheds His light on the world through those who have received His light through Jesus Christ.

The Jews had long claimed to have God’s light, and He had long called them to be His light. But because they had ignored and rejected His light, they could not be His light. They were confident that they were guides “to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,” but Paul told them they were blind guides and lamps without light. “You, therefore, who teach another, do you not teach yourself?” he asks (Rom. 2:19–21). They had the light, but they were not living by it. “You who preach that one should not steal, do you steal?” Paul continues by way of illustration. “You who say that one should not commit adultery, do you commit adultery?” (vv. 21–22). We are to prove ourselves “to be blameless and innocent, children of God above reproach in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom [we are to] appear as lights in the world” (Phil. 2:15).

By its nature and by definition light must be visible in order to illuminate. Christians must be more than the largely indirect influence of salt; they must also be the direct and noticeable instruments of light.

Both in the daytime and at night, a city set on a hill cannot be hidden. It is exposed for all to see. By day its houses and buildings stand out on the landscape, and at night the many lights shining out of its windows make it impossible to miss. A secret Christian is as incongruous as a hidden light. Lights are to illuminate, not to be hidden; to be displayed, not to be covered. Christians are to be both subtle salt and conspicuous light.

God did not give the gospel of His Son to be the secret, hidden treasure of a few but to enlighten every person (John 1:9). Many reject the light and reject those who bring it, but just as God offers His light to the whole world, so must His church. It is not our gospel but God’s, and He gives it to us not only for our own sakes but the entire world’s. True believers are salt and light, and must fulfill that identity.

The Problem: Danger of Failure

but if the salt has become tasteless, how will it be made salty again? It is good for nothing anymore, except to be thrown out and trampled under foot by men. (5:13b)

Much salt in Palestine, such as that found on the shores of the Dead Sea, is contaminated with gypsum and other minerals that make it taste fiat and even repulsive. When a batch of such contaminated salt would find its way into a household and be discovered, it was thrown out. People would be careful not to throw it on a garden or field, because it would kill whatever was planted. Instead it would be thrown onto a path or road, where it would gradually be ground into the dirt and disappear.

There is a sense in which salt cannot really become unsalty. But contamination can cause it to lose its value as salt. Its saltiness can no longer function.

Jesus is not speaking of losing salvation. God does not allow any of His own to be taken from Him. “My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out of My hand,” Jesus assures us (John 10:27). Christians cannot lose their salvation, just as salt cannot lose its inherent saltiness. But Christians can lose their value and effectiveness in the kingdom when sin and worldliness contaminate their lives, just as salt can become tasteless when contaminated by other minerals. It is a common New Testament truth that although true believers are identified as righteous, godly, and salty, there are times when they fail to be what they are (cf. Rom. 7:15–25), which Peter says leads to loss of assurance (2 Pet. 1:9–10), not loss of salvation.

With great responsibility there is often great danger. We cannot be an influence for purity in the world if we have compromised our own purity. We cannot sting the world’s conscience if we continually go against our own. We cannot stimulate thirst for righteousness if we have lost our own. We cannot be used of God to retard the corruption of sin in the world if our own lives become corrupted by sin. To lose our saltiness is not to lose our salvation, but it is to lose our effectiveness and to become disqualified for service (see 1 Cor. 9:27).

Pure salt does not lose its saltiness, that which makes it valuable and effective. Christians who are pure in heart do not become tasteless, ineffective, and useless in the kingdom of God.

Light, too, is in danger of becoming useless. Like salt, it cannot lose its essential nature. A hidden light is still light, but it is useless light. That is why people do not light a lamp, and put it under the peck-measure, but on a lampstand; and it gives light to all who are in the house. The exemplary woman praised in Proverbs 31 does not let her lamp go out at night (v. 18). There was always illumination for anyone in the household who had to get up or find his way home during the night. A light that is hidden under a peck-sized basket cannot even be used to read by; it helps neither the person who hides it nor anyone else.

Whether we hide our light because of fear of offending others, because of indifference and lovelessness, or because of anything else, we demonstrate unfaithfulness to the Lord.

The Purpose: to Glorify God

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. (5:16)

The word (kalos) for good that Jesus uses here does not so much emphasize quality-though that obviously is important-as it does attractiveness, beautiful appearance. Letting our light shine before men allows them to see our good works, the beauty the Lord has worked in us. To see good works by us is to see Christ in us. That is why Jesus says, let your light shine. It is not something we create or make up, but something we allow the Lord to do through us. It is God’s light; our choice is whether to hide it or let it shine.

The purpose of letting our light shine and reveal our good works is not to bring attention or praise to ourselves but to God. Our intent should be that, in what we are and in what we do, others may see God in order that they may glorify [our] Father who is in heaven. Jesus’ speaking of the Father emphasizes God’s tenderness and intimacy, and speaking of His being in heaven emphasizes His majesty and holiness, as He is pictured dwelling in the splendor of His eternal holy home. Our good works are to magnify God’s grace and power. This is the supreme calling of life: glorifying God. Everything we do is to cause others to give praise to the God who is the source of all that is good. The way we live should lead those around us to glorify (doxazō, from which we get doxology) the heavenly Father.

When what we do causes people to be attracted to us rather than to God, to see our human character rather than His divine character, we can be sure that what they see is not His light.

It is said of Robert Murray McCheyne, a godly Scottish minister of the last century, that his face carried such a hallowed expression that people were known to fall on their knees and accept Jesus Christ as Savior when they looked at him. Others were so attracted by the self-giving beauty and holiness of his life that they found his Master irresistible.

It was also said of the French pietist Francois Fenelon that his communion with God was such that his face shined with divine radiance. A religious skeptic who was compelled to spend the night in an inn with Fenelon, hurried away the next morning, saying, “If I spend another night with that man I’ll be a Christian in spite of myself.”

That is the kind of salt and light God wants His kingdom people to be.[2]


Commentary

13 Salt and light are such common substances (cf. Pliny, Nat. 31.102: “Nothing is more useful than salt and sunshine”) that they doubtless generated many sayings. Therefore it is improper to attempt a tradition history of all gospel references as if one original stood behind the lot (cf. Mk 4:21; 9:50; Lk 8:16; 11:33; 14:34–35). Equally, the suggestion that Jesus is referring to the “covenant of salt” (Lev 2:13; Nu 18:19; 2 Ch 13:5) seems unlikely. Where that expression shows up in the OT, it seems to be connected with the permanence or stability of God’s covenant with his people. Here, however, Jesus says that his disciples are “salt.” There is no mention of covenant, and, far from symbolizing stability, the salt of which Jesus speaks loses its effectiveness.

The reality is that “salt” is not a technical word with only one set of associations. It can even be connected with judgment (Lot’s wife is turned into a pillar of salt, Ge 19:26; one might ruin an enemy’s field by sowing it with salt, Jdg 9:45). Salt was used in the ancient world to flavor foods and even in small doses as a fertilizer (cf. Eugene P. Deatrick, “Salt, Soil, Savor,” BA 25 [1962]: 44–45, who wants tēs gēs to read “for the soil,” not “of the earth”; but notice the parallel “of the world” in v. 14). Sometimes the word is simply referring to a commodity (Ezr 6:9) or identifies a place (2 Sa 8:13). Above all, salt was used as a preservative. Rubbed into meat, a little salt would slow decay. Strictly speaking, salt cannot lose its saltiness; sodium chloride is a stable compound. But most salt in the ancient world derived from salt marshes or the like rather than by evaporation of salt water, and therefore contained many impurities. The actual salt, being more soluble than the impurities, could be leached out, leaving a residue so dilute it was of little worth.

In modern Israel, savorless salt is still said to be scattered on the soil of flat roofs. This helps harden the soil and prevent leaks; and since the roofs serve as playgrounds and places for public gathering, the salt is still being trodden under foot (Deatrick, “Salt, Soil, Savor,” 47). This explanation negates the attempt by some (e.g., Lenski, Schniewind) to suppose that, precisely because pure salt cannot lose its savor, Jesus is saying that true disciples cannot lose their effectiveness. The question “How can it be made salty again?” is not meant to have an answer, as Schweizer rightly says. The rabbinic remark that what makes salt salty is “the afterbirth of a mule” (mules are sterile) rather misses the point (cf. Schweizer). The point is that if Jesus’ disciples are to act as a preservative in the world by conforming to kingdom norms, if they are “called to be a moral disinfectant in a world where moral standards are low, constantly changing, or nonexistent …, they can discharge this function only if they themselves retain their virtue” (Tasker).

Notes

13 The verb μωρανθῇ (mōranthē, “loses its saltiness,” GK 3701) is used four times in the NT. In Luke 14:34, it again relates to salt, but in Romans 1:22 and 1 Corinthians 1:20, it has its more common meaning “to make or become foolish” (cf. cognate μωρέ [mōre, “fool”] in v. 22). It is hard not to conclude that disciples who lose their savor are in fact making fools of themselves. The Greek may hide an Aramaic תפל (tpl, “foolish”) and תבל (tbl, “salted”; see Black, Aramaic Approach, 166–67).

(2) Light (5:14–16)

Commentary

14–15 As in v. 13, “you” is emphatic—namely, You, my followers and none others, are the light of the world. Though the Jews saw themselves as the light of the world (Ro 2:19), the true light is the Suffering Servant (Isa 42:6; 49:6), fulfilled in Jesus himself (Mt 4:16; cf. Jn 8:12; 9:5; 12:35; 1 Jn 1:7). Derivatively, his disciples constitute the new light (cf. Eph 5:8–9; Php 2:15). Light is a universal religious symbol. In the OT as in the NT, it most frequently symbolizes purity as opposed to filth, truth or knowledge as opposed to error or ignorance, and divine revelation and presence as opposed to reprobation and abandonment by God.

The reference to the “city on a hill” is at one level fairly obvious. Often built of white limestone, ancient towns gleamed in the sun and could not easily be hidden. At night the inhabitants’ oil lamps would shed some glow over the surrounding area (cf. Bonnard). As such cities could not be hidden, so also it is unthinkable to light a lamp and hide it under a peck measure (v. 15, NIV, “bowl”). A lamp is put on a lampstand to illuminate all. Attempts to identify “everyone in the house” as a reference to all Jews in contrast with Luke 11:33, referring to Gentiles (so Manson, Sayings of Jesus, 93), are probably guilty of making the metaphor run on all fours, especially in view of the Gentile theme so strongly present in Matthew.

But the “city on a hill” saying may also refer to OT prophecies about the time when Jerusalem or the mountain of the Lord’s house, or Zion, would be lifted up before the world, the nations streaming to it (e.g., Isa 2:2–5; cf. chs. 42, 49, 54, 60). This allusion has been defended by Grundmann, Trilling (Das wahre Israel, 142), and especially K. M. Campbell (“The New Jerusalem in Matthew 5.14,” SJT 31 [1978]: 335–63). It is not a certain allusion, and the absence of definite articles tells against it; if valid, it insists that Jesus’ disciples constitute the true locus of the people of God, the outpost of the consummated kingdom, and the means of witness to the world—all themes central to Matthew’s thought.

16 Jesus drives the metaphor home. What his disciples must show is their “good works,” i.e., all righteousness, everything they are and do that reflects the mind and will of God. And people must see this light. It may provoke persecution (vv. 10–12), but that is no reason for hiding the light others may see and by which they may come to glorify the Father—the disciples’ only motive (cf. 2 Co 4:6; 1 Pe 2:12). Witness includes not just words but deeds; as Stier (Words of the Lord Jesus) remarks, “The good word without the good walk is of no avail.”

Thus the kingdom norms (vv. 3–12) so work out in the lives of the kingdom’s heirs as to produce the kingdom witness (vv. 13–16). If salt (v. 13) exercises the negative function of delaying decay and warns disciples of the danger of compromise and conformity to the world, then light (vv. 14–16) speaks positively of illuminating a sin-darkened world and warns against a withdrawal from the world that does not lead others to glorify the Father in heaven. “Flight into the invisible is a denial of the call. A community of Jesus which seeks to hide itself has ceased to follow him” (Bonhoeffer, Cost of Discipleship, 106).

Notes

15 There are several probable Semitisms in this verse (cf. Hill). The μόδιος (modios, “bowl,” GK 3654) is a wooden grain measure, usually given as 8¾ liters, i.e., almost exactly one peck (see comments at 13:33). It is doubtful whether the vessel was used for hiding light, despite various suggestions. A different word is used in Josephus (Ant. 5.223 [6.5]). In any case, Jesus’ point turns on what is not done.[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. (2008). Daily readings from the life of Christ (p. 95). Chicago: Moody Publishers.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 233–247). 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, pp. 168–171). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

MARCH 27, 2017 – THE WORLDLY “VIRUS”

Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour…be put away from you.

Ephesians 4:31

 

As Christian believers, we must stand together against some things. So, if you hear anyone saying that A.W. Tozer preaches a good deal that is negative, just smile and agree: “That is because he preaches the Bible!”

Here are some of the things we oppose: We are against the many modern idols that have been allowed to creep into the churches; we are against the “unauthorized fire” that is being offered on the altars of the Lord; we are against the modern gods that are being adopted in our sanctuaries.

We are against the world’s ways and its false values. We are against the world’s follies and its vain pleasures. We are against this world’s greed and sinful ambitions. We are against this world’s vices and its carnal habits.

We believe this spells out clearly the Bible truth of separation. God asks us to stand boldly against anything or anyone who hurts or hinders this New Testament body of Christians. Where the Church is not healed, it will wither. The Word of God is the antibiotic that alone can destroy the virus that would plague the life of the Church!

 

Lord, I pray that our churches will be faithful to the whole Word of God and that churchgoers will set themselves apart from the world’s ungodly values.[1]


Man’s natural tendency is to sin, and the natural tendency of sin is to grow into greater sin. And a Christian’s sin will grow just like that of an unbeliever. If not checked, our inner sins of bitterness and wrath and anger will inevitably lead to the outward sins of clamor, slander, and other such manifestations of malice.

Bitterness (pikria) reflects a smoldering resentment, a brooding grudge–filled attitude (see Acts 8:23; Heb. 12:15). It is the spirit of irritability that keeps a person in perpetual animosity, making him sour and venomous, Wrath (thurmos) has to do with wild rage, the passion of the moment. Anger (orgē) is a more internal smoldering, a subtle and deep feeling. Clamor (kraugē) is the shout or outcry of strife and reflects the public outburst that reveals loss of control. Slander (blasphēmia, from which we get blasphemy) is the ongoing defamation of someone that rises from a bitter heart. Paul then adds malice (kakia), the general term for evil that is the root of all vices. All of these, he says, must be put away from you.

These particular sins involve conflict between person and person—believer and unbeliever and, worse still, between believer and believer. These are the sins that break fellowship and destroy relationships, that weaken the church and mar its testimony before the world. When an unbeliever sees Christians acting just like the rest of society, the church is blemished in his eyes and he is confirmed still further in resisting the claims of the gospel.[2]


31 Continuing in this negative mode, Paul implores his readers to “get rid of” six additional behaviors that are sinful and that, presumably, would also grieve the Holy Spirit. (Four of the items parallel sins in Col 3:8; for similar lists, see 2 Co 12:20; Gal 5:20–21.) Here is a list of vices to avoid. While the verb the NIV translates “get rid of” is in the passive voice—perhaps an implicit reminder that believers need the Spirit’s power to jettison these—clearly they must exert their wills to put off these offenses. So this translation is appropriate. Paul precedes the list with the particle pasa, thus prohibiting “all kinds of” instances of the following acts. Many commentators point out the inner to outer progression in this list. First, Paul prohibits “bitterness” or “harshness,” probably in their speech, as he also employs this Greek word pikria (GK 4394) in Romans 3:14 to speak of “bitter” words. This inner feeling leads to anger. So second, they must avoid “rage” (thymos, GK 2596; cf. BDAG, 461) and its synonymous vice “anger” (orgē, GK 3973), a word denoting an emotional outburst of strong displeasure (cf. BDAG, 720) which Paul also uses of God’s wrath in 2:3; 5:6. Though it may be possible to be angry without sinning, the presence of anger usually proves dangerous. Anger leads to the next two examples of verbal outbursts. Believers must shun shouting or quarreling (kraugē, GK 3199; NIV, “brawling”). It speaks of a “shouting match.” (See Ac 23:9 for an example of this type of clamor or uproar.) Fifth, Paul prohibits blasphēmia (GK 1060), a term that refers to abusive speech that denigrates, defames, or slanders (cf. BDAG, 178). Finally, they must put off “every form of malice,” a phrase Paul uses to include any other kinds of behaviors that destroy harmony in the body. Members of Christ’s body must take great pains to rid themselves of all of these; they grieve the Spirit who has called believers to unity.[3]


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

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1986). Ephesians (p. 190). Chicago: Moody Press.

[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. 132–133). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

March 27, 2017 – Solving Man’s Greatest Problem

“And forgive us our debts” (Matt. 6:12).

✧✧✧

Forgiveness removes the guilt and penalty of sin and restores intimacy with God.

Man’s greatest problem is sin. It renders him spiritually dead, alienates him from God and his fellowman, plagues him with guilt and fear, and can eventually damn him to eternal Hell. The only solution is forgiveness, and the only source of forgiveness is Jesus Christ.

All sin is punishable by death (Rom. 6:23), but Christ bore the sins of the world, thereby making it possible for us to be forgiven and to have eternal life through faith in Him (John 3:16). What a glorious reality!

Scripture speaks of two kinds of forgiveness: judicial and parental. Judicial forgiveness comes from God the righteous Judge, who wiped your sin off the record and set you free from its punishment and guilt. At the moment of your salvation He forgave all your sins—past, present, and future—and pronounced you righteous for all eternity. That’s why nothing can ever separate you from Christ’s love (Rom. 8:38–39).

Parental forgiveness is granted to believers by their loving Heavenly Father as they confess their sin and seek His cleansing. That’s the kind of forgiveness Jesus speaks of in Matthew 6:12.

When a child disobeys his father, the father/child relationship isn’t severed. The child is still a member of the family, and there’s a sense in which he is already forgiven because he’s under the umbrella of his father’s parental love. But some of the intimacy of their relationship is lost until the child seeks forgiveness.

That’s the idea in Matthew 6:12. The sins you commit as a believer don’t rob you of your salvation, but they do affect your relationship with God. He still loves you and will always be your Father, but the intimacy and sweet communion you once knew is jeopardized until you seek reconciliation by confessing your sins.

As a Christian, you are judicially forgiven and will never come into condemnation. But never presume on that grace. Make confession part of your daily prayers so sin will never erode your relationship with your Heavenly Father.

✧✧✧

Suggestions for Prayer:  Thank God for His judicial forgiveness of all your sins. ✧ Ask Him to help you maintain the joy of your relationship with Him by quickly dealing with any sin that comes up in your life.

For Further Study: Read Psalm 32:1–7. ✧ How did David feel about forgiveness? ✧ What happened to David before he confessed his sin?[1]


God’s Pardon

And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. (6:12)

Opheilēma (debts) is one of five New Testament Greek terms for sin. Hamartia is the most common and carries the root idea of missing the mark. Sin misses the mark of God’s standard of righteousness. Paraptōma, often rendered “trespass,” is the sin of slipping or falling, and results more from carelessness than from intentional disobedience. Parabasis refers to stepping across the line, going beyond the limits prescribed by God, and is often translated “transgression.” This sin is more conscious and intentional than hamartia and paraptoma. Anomia means lawlessness, and is a still more intentional and flagrant sin. It is direct and open rebellion against God and His ways.

The noun opheilēma is used only a few times in the New Testament, but its verb form is found often. Of the some thirty times it is used in its verb form, twenty-five times it refers to moral or spiritual debts. Sin is a moral and spiritual debt to God that must be paid. In his account of this prayer, Luke uses hamartia (“sins”; Luke 11:4), clearly indicating that the reference is to sin, not to a financial debt. Matthew probably used debts because it corresponded to the most common Aramaic term (ḥôbā˒) for sin used by Jews of that day, which also represented moral or spiritual debt to God.

The Problem

Sin is that which separates man from God, and is therefore man’s greatest enemy and greatest problem. Sin dominates the mind and heart of man. It has contaminated every human being and is the degenerative power that makes man susceptible to disease, illness, and every conceivable form of evil and unhappiness, temporal and eternal. The ultimate effects of sin are death and damnation, and the present effects are misery, dissatisfaction, and guilt. Sin is the common denominator of every crime, every theft, lie, murder, immorality, sickness, pain, and sorrow of mankind. It is also the moral and spiritual disease for which man has no cure. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Then you also can do good who are accustomed to do evil” (Jer. 13:23). The natural man does not want his sin cured, because he loves darkness rather than light (John 3:19).

Those who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ have received God’s pardon for sin and are saved from eternal hell. And since, as we have seen, this prayer is given to believers, the debts referred to here are those incurred by Christians when they sin. Immeasurably more important than our need for daily bread is our need for continual forgiveness of sin.

Arthur Pink writes in An Exposition of the Sermon on the Mount (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1974), pp. 163–64:

As it is contrary to the holiness of God, sin is a defilement, a dishonor, and a reproach to us as it is a violation of His law. It is a crime, and as to the guilt which we contact thereby, it is a debt. As creatures we owe a debt of obedience unto our maker and governor, and through failure to render the same on account of our rank disobedience, we have incurred a debt of punishment; and it is for this that we implore a divine pardon.

The Provision

Because man’s greatest problem is sin, his greatest need is forgiveness-and that is what God provides. Though we have been forgiven the ultimate penalty of sin, as Christians we need God’s constant forgiveness for the sins we continue to commit. We are to pray, therefore, forgive us. Forgiveness is the central theme of this entire passage (vv. 9–15), being mentioned six times in eight verses. Everything leads to or issues from forgiveness.

Believers have experienced once-for-all God’s judicial forgiveness, which they received the moment Christ was trusted as Savior. We are no longer condemned, no longer under judgment, no longer destined for hell (Rom. 8:1). The eternal Judge has declared us pardoned, justified, righteous. No one, human or satanic, can condemn or bring any “charge against God’s elect” (Rom. 8:33–34).

But because we still fall into sin, we frequently require God’s gracious forgiveness, His forgiveness not now as Judge but as Father. “If we say that we have no sin, we are deceiving ourselves, and the truth is not in us,” John warns believers. But, he goes on to assure us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).

During the Last Supper, Jesus began washing the disciples’ feet as a demonstration of the humble, serving spirit they should have as His followers. At first Peter refused, but when Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me,” Peter went to the other extreme, wanting to be bathed all over. Jesus replied, “ ‘He who has bathed needs only to wash his feet, but is completely clean; and you are clean, but not all of you.’ For He knew the one who was betraying Him; for this reason He said, ‘Not all of you are clean’ ” (John 13:5–11).

Jesus’ act of footwashing was therefore more than an example of humility; it was also a picture of the forgiveness God gives in His repeated cleansing of those who are already saved. Dirt on the feet symbolizes the daily surface contamination from sin that we experience as we walk through life. It does not, and cannot, make us entirely dirty, because we have been permanently cleansed from that. The positional purging of salvation that occurs at regeneration needs no repetition, but the practical purging is needed every day, because every day we fall short of God’s perfect holiness.

As Judge, God is eager to forgive sinners, and as Father He is even more eager to keep on forgiving His children. Hundreds of years before Christ, Nehemiah wrote, “Thou art a God of forgiveness, gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in lovingkindness” (Neh. 9:17). As vast and pervasive as the sin of man is, God forgiveness is more vast and greater. Where sin abounds, God’s grace abounds even more (Rom. 5:20).

The Plea

Asking forgiveness implies confession. Feet that are not presented to Christ cannot be washed by Him. Sin that is not confessed cannot be forgiven. That is the condition John makes plain in the text just quoted above: “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). To confess means basically to agree with, and when we confess our sins we agree with God about them that they are wicked, evil, defiling, and have no part in those who belong to Him.

It is difficult to confess sins, and both Satan and our prideful nature fight against it. But it is the only way to the free and joyful life. “He who conceals his transgressions will not prosper, but he who confesses and forsakes them will find compassion” (Prov. 28:13). John Stott says, “One of the surest antidotes to the process of moral hardening is the disciplined practice of uncovering our sins of thought and outlook, as well as of word and of deed, and the repentant forsaking of them” (Confess Your Sins [Waco, Tex.: Word, 1974], p. 19).

The true Christian does not see God’s promise of forgiveness as a license to sin, a way to abuse His love and presume on His grace. Rather he sees God’s gracious forgiveness as the means of spiritual growth and sanctification and continually gives thanks to God for His great love and willingness to forgive and forgive and forgive. It is also important to realize that confessing sin gives God the glory when He chastens the disobedient Christian because it removes any complaint that God is unfair when He disciplines.

A Puritan saint of many generations ago prayed, “Grant me never to lose sight of the exceeding sinfulness of sin, the exceeding righteousness of salvation, the exceeding glory of Christ, the exceeding beauty of holiness, and the exceeding wonder of grace.” At another time he prayed, “I am guilty but pardoned. I am lost but saved. I am wandering but found. I am sinning but cleansed. Give me perpetual broken-heartedness. Keep me always clinging to Thy cross” (Arthur Bennett, ed., The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers and Devotions [Edinburgh: Banner of Truth, 1975], pp. 76, 83).

The Prerequisite

Jesus gives the prerequisite for receiving forgiveness in the words, as we also have forgiven our debtors. The principle is simple but sobering: if we have forgiven, we will be forgiven; if we have not forgiven, we will not be forgiven.

We are to forgive because it is the character of righteousness, and therefore of the faithful Christian life, to forgive. Citizens of God’s kingdom are blessed and receive mercy because they themselves are merciful (Matt. 5:7). They love even their enemies because they have the nature of the loving heavenly Father within them (5:44–45, 48). Forgiveness is the mark of a truly regenerate heart. Still we fail to be consistent with that mark and need constant exhortation because of the strength of sinful flesh (Rom. 7:14–25).

We are also to be motivated to forgive because of Christp’s example. “Be kind to one another,” Paul says, “tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you” (Eph. 4:32). John tells us, “The one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked” (1 John 2:6).

Because it reflects God’s own gracious forgiveness, the forgiving of another person’s sin expresses the highest virtue of man. “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger, and it is his glory to overlook a transgression” (Prov. 19:11).

Forgiving others also frees the conscience of guilt. Unforgiveness not only stands as a barrier to God’s forgiveness but also interferes with peace of mind, happiness, satisfaction, and even the proper functioning of the body.

Forgiving others is of great benefit to the whole congregation of believers. Probably few things have so short-circuited the power of the church as unresolved conflicts among its members. “If I regard wickedness in my heart,” the psalmist warns himself and every believer, “the Lord will not hear” (Ps. 66:18). The Holy Spirit cannot work freely among those who carry grudges and harbor resentment (see Matt. 5:23–24; 1 Cor. 1:10–13; 3:1–9).

Forgiving others also delivers us from God’s discipline. Where there is an unforgiving spirit, there is sin; and where there is sin, there will be chastening (Heb. 12:5–13). Unrepented sins in the church at Corinth caused many believers to be weak, sick, and even to die (1 Cor. 11:30).

But the most important reason for being forgiving is that it brings God’s forgiveness to the believer. That truth is so important that Jesus reinforces it after the close of the prayer (vv. 14–15). Nothing in the Christian life is more important than forgiveness-our forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us.

In the matter of forgiveness, God deals with us as we deal with others. We are to forgive others as freely and graciously as God forgives us. The Puritan writer Thomas Manton said, “There is none so tender to others as they which have received mercy themselves, for they know how gently God hath dealt with them.”[2]


12 The first three petitions stand independently from one another. The last three, however, are linked in Greek by “ands,” almost as if to say that life sustained by food is not enough. We also need forgiveness of sin and deliverance from temptation.

In Matthew, what we ask to be forgiven for is ta opheilēmata hēmōn (“our debts,” GK 4052); in Luke, it is our “sins.” Hill notes that the crucial word to opheilēma (“debt”) “means a literal ‘debt’ in the LXX and NT, except at this point.” And on this basis, S. T. Lachs (“On Matthew 6.12,” NovT 17 [1975]: 6–8) argues that in Matthew this petition of the Lord’s Prayer is not really dealing with sins but with loans in the sixth year, one year before the Jubilee. But the linguistic evidence can be read differently. The word opheilēma is rather rare in biblical Greek. It occurs only four times in the LXX (Dt 24:10 [2x]; 1 Esd 3:20; 1 Macc 15:8); and in Deuteronomy 24:10, where it occurs twice, it renders two different Hebrew words. In the NT, it appears only here and in Romans 4:4. On this basis it would be as accurate to say the word always means “sin” in the NT except at Romans 4:4 as to say it always means “debt” except at Matthew 6:12.

More important, the Aramaic word ḥôbā (“debt”) is often used (e.g., in the Targums) to mean “sin” or “transgression.” Deissmann (Bible Studies, 225) notes an instance of the cognate verb hamartian opheilō (lit., “I owe sin”). Probably Matthew has provided a literal rendering of the Aramaic Jesus most commonly used in preaching; and even Luke (Lk 11:4) uses the cognate participle in the second line, panti opheilonti hēmin (“everyone who sins against us”). There is therefore no reason to take “debts” to mean anything other than “sins,” here conceived as something owed God (whether sins of commission or omission).

Some have taken the second clause to mean that our forgiveness is the real cause of God’s forgiveness, i.e., that God’s forgiveness must be earned by our own. The problem is often judged more serious in Matthew than Luke, because the latter has the present “we forgive,” the former the aorist (not perfect, as many commentators assume) aphēkamen (“we have forgiven”; GK 918). Many follow the suggestion of Jeremias (Prayers of Jesus, 92–93), who says that Matthew has awkwardly rendered an Aramaic perfectum praesens (a “present perfect”): he renders the clause “as we also herewith forgive our debtors.”

The real solution is best expounded by C. F. D. Moule (“ ‘… As we forgive …’: a Note on the Distinction between Deserts and Capacity in the Understanding of Forgiveness,” in Donum Gentilicium [ed. E. Bammel et al.; Oxford: Clarendon 1978], 68–77), who, in addition to detailing the most important relevant Jewish literature, rightly insists on distinguishing “between, on the one hand, earning or meriting forgiveness, and, on the other hand, adopting an attitude which makes forgiveness possible—the distinction, that is, between deserts and capacity.… Real repentance, as contrasted with a merely self-regarding remorse, is certainly a sine qua non of receiving forgiveness—an indispensable condition” (pp. 71–72). “Once our eyes have been opened to see the enormity of our offense against God, the injuries which others have done to us appear by comparison extremely trifling. If, on the other hand, we have an exaggerated view of the offenses of others, it proves that we have minimized our own” (Stott, Message of the Sermon on the Mount, 149–50; see comments at 5:5, 7; 18:23–35).[3]


[1] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1993). Drawing Near—Daily Readings for a Deeper Faith (p. 99). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

[2] MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1985). Matthew (pp. 391–395). 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, pp. 206–207). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.