November 22, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, November 20-26

November 22

Mal. 3, Titus 1
Mal. 4, Acts 6

Commentary,

Titus 1

Bible readers often notice the similarities between the books of Titus and First Timothy.  The letters are so similar, some commentators believe they may have been written on the same day. The similarities are due to the fact that both letters were written by Paul to help Titus and Timothy oversee the churches of Crete and Ephesus, respectively.

The founding of the Church in Crete began when Paul landed on the Island on his way to appeal to Caesar in Rome (Acts 27:7-9).  The Apostle naturally spoke to the people of Crete, and may have held Bible studies and teaching sessions there.  Surely he invited people to worship with him on the Lord’s day, on which he preached the Gospel to them.  Some believe Paul wrote this  Epistle late in life.  Others believe it is written much earlier, from Rome during Paul’s house arrest, or from Macedonia, shortly after his release.  In either case, the Church in Crete has very little teaching and no qualified clergy.  Thus, Titus, who is traveling with Paul, is left in Crete to continue to teach the Christians, organise them into churches, and teach and ordain clergy (Titus 1:5).

Instead of ordaining deacons, as Timothy does in the more established churches of Ephesus, Titus ordains bishops to establish and oversee organised groups of churches.  Since Crete has no settled clergy, the bishops will make regular journeys to preach and teach in the churches assigned to them.  The qualifications for the office of the bishop (5-9) are stringent and inflexible.  These men are being called to a high office without having the benefit of years of learning, teaching, and leading a congregation.  It is imperative that they be of proven faith and virtue. They must be willing learners, and teach only what they are taught.  They are not to make up their own doctrines, or receive them from false teachers and wandering philosophers (10-14).

November 23

Isaiah 1, Acts 7:1-29
Isaiah 2, Titus 2, 3

Commentary,

Titus 2

We are accustomed to thinking of doctrine as ideas.  Thus, we speak of the doctrine of justification, or, the virgin birth of Christ.  Paul seems to have a broader view of it.  In chapter two he seems to include the normal doctrines of the Christian faith, and, the way that faith is lived by Christians in everyday life.  Thus, Titus is to teach Christian living, as well as Christian thinking.  It is hard to find a fuller, yet, more succinct, expression of  life-style Godliness than the second and third chapters of Titus.  They teach humble quietness rather than carousing, and an orientation toward the home and family rather than outside amusements and company.  The entire concept is well expressed as, “denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (12, 13).

Titus 3

Chapter three continues Paul’s short discourse on Godly living, and Titus can spend several years preaching and teaching on the faith and practice given here.  The Christian’s attitude toward false doctrine is an important part of the Christian life.  We are to keep our minds pure, which means we must avoid false teaching (9).  Don’t be drawn into conversations and debates about false doctrine with people who will not listen.  Reject heretics after one or two warnings (10).  This means Titus is to put such people out of the Church, signifying they are out of Christ.  In doing this, Titus is not condemning them, rather, they condemn themselves (11).

November 24
Is. 3, Acts 7:30-60
Is. 4, Philemon

Commentary,

Philemon
This short letter from Paul is addressed to Philemon, Apphia, Archippus, and the “church in thy house.”  Philemon is easy to identify.  He is the man to whom Onesimus is enslaved.  Early Bible commentaries almost unanimously say Apphia is Philemon’s wife, and Archippus is their son, who serves as the pastor of the church that meets in their home (Col 4:17).  Philemon lives in Colossae, and is noted as a dearly beloved, fellowlabourer with Paul (1).

The church in their house is probably one of several small congregations in Colossae.  Each church worships in the homes of its members and has its own pastor.  Epaphras serves as their bishop (Col 4:12).  Collectively, they make up the Church of Colossae.

Paul gives thanks for the news, given by Onesimus, that the church in the house of Philemon and Apphia continues in love and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ (5).  It has not departed from the faith, nor followed the false apostles and teachers who deceive so many in Paul’s time, and ours.  He further gives thanks that the “saints,” or fellow Christians (6,7) are refreshed by the labours of Philemon.  Offering his house as a place of worship is probably only one of many things Philemon and Apphia do to help the church and care for God’s people.  They have done one thing without knowing it; their servant, Onesimus has become very useful to Paul.

As a runaway slave, Onesimus is in great danger, but manages to get to Paul in Rome, where he is converted to Christ, and becomes a help to the Apostle.  He may have skills in cooking or other household duties, which make him invaluable to Paul in his house arrest (11, 13).  He may also aid Paul in receiving guests and sharing the Gospel of Christ.  Surely his time with Paul would include much learning, and sharing his new knowledge of the Gospel.  He is so helpful, Paul would like to keep him in Rome (13), but cannot do so without Philemon’s permission.
Onesimus becomes convinced he must return to Colossae and make things right with Philemon.   He does so, taking the letter we know as the New Testament book of  Philemon. In this letter, Paul exhorts Philemon to receive Onesimus as a Christian brother (16).  Paul never exhorts people to violence or revolution to accomplish social change.  He understands that such measures rarely do more than replace one oppressive class with another.  Instead, Paul’s hope is that the Kingdom of God will come in its full glory, and establish true justice and peace, forever.  Meanwhile, the Church lives in the foretaste of that Era. In the Church, the barriers which divide the classes of people in the world, disappear (Gal. 3:28), and the law of Christian love prevails.  It is only the transformation of human nature that enables this, and without such a transformation, real social change is impossible.  Paul asks Philemon to receive Onesimus as he would receive Paul (17).  This is a complete transformation of the relationship.

Many have raised the question, is Onesimus still a slave, or is he freed by Philemon.  We do not know.  He may remain with Philemon.  If so he willingly works to earn his bread and board, and to be profitable to Philemon.  But, as brothers in Christ, the relationship will be one of mutual forbearance and consideration.  Both, Philemon and Onesimus will give and receive what is due them.  Mutual respect, a fair day’s work for fair compensation, and comfortable working and housing conditions will be guaranteed between them.

Paul asks that a room be prepared for him (22), for he expects to be released from Rome, and will visit Colossae when that happens.  Paul does receive a release from this first Roman imprisonment.  He will travel into western and northern Europe with the Gospel.  Some historians believe he goes as far as Spain and Britannia.  He closes his letter with greetings from others, and with a wonderful prayer: “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen.”

November 25

Is. 5, Acts 8:1-25
Is. 6, Hebrews 1

Commentary,

Hebrews 1
Hebrews has one resounding theme, the absolute supremacy of Christ. He is the Son of God, which is to say He is God, the Second Person of the Triune God who is One, yet Three. As the Son of God He is God’s final and ultimate revelation. In times past God has spoken through the prophets. To them He gave visions and visitations and signs and wonders. But Jesus is the final Message of God. The prophets wrote of Him. The visions, signs, and wonders were given to guide Israel toward the fullness of time when Christ would appear and begin to bring all things together under Himself. Therefore, Christ is superior to visions and signs. They are actually superseded by Him. They are no longer needed. God spoke to us in His Son, who gave His word to the Apostles, who recorded it in the Bible. Thus, the Bible is our authority. We should not expect more visions or prophecies or signs or feelings. We should not expect God to speak to us through such measures. We have a much surer way of knowing God; He is revealed in the Bible. To seek to know the will of God apart from the Bible is to treat the Bible as insufficient, and that is the same as saying Christ is insufficient.

This Word of God, the Son of God is the brightness of His glory and the image of His person (1:3). “Image” in the Greek is the word from which we derive our English word, “character.” It means Christ is not just an image of God the way a portrait or statue is an image of a person. Christ is the living expression of God. He is the “character” (nature) of God in a living, human form. Therefore, He is superior to angels. Angels are great and powerful beings. They are good, they are strong, and they dwell in the immediate presence of God. They serve Him and worship Him and do His will. Yet they are nothing in comparison to Christ. He is their Lord. He is their Creator and Master. He gives their powers to them. He gives their existence to them. He can take it away in less than an instant if He wants to.

If an angel were to appear to you at this very moment, you would probably be filled with fear. If the angel told you to do something, you would probably obey immediately. Yet One far greater than all the angels has appeared on earth, and bids you believe in Him and keep His commandments, therefore you should give your utmost to hearing and obeying His Word. This is the point of Hebrews 1, and it begins in the very first verse. The One who is greater than the angels is Christ Jesus, the character of God in human form. Christ is the heir and creator of all things, who purged our sins by His own blood, and now is seated again at the right hand of the Majesty On High (2). God has spoken to us in Him, a revelation that is complete and full and above every other communication from God. The other revelations looked forward to Him, and He is the completion of their story (1).
November 26
Is. 7, Acts 8:26-40
Is. 8, Heb. 2

Commentary,

Hebrews 2


People suffered for disobeying the word of God given through visions, prophets, and angels. This is seen in the numerous disasters suffered by Israel for their lack of obedience. If Israel was punished for disobedience to the word given through men and angels, God will surely punish those who disobey His word given through Christ Himself. If they who disobeyed angels did not escape, can anyone who disobeys the express image of God expect to escape? “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great a salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him” (3). Let us give “more earnest heed” to the things God has spoken in Christ, “lest at any time we should let them slip” (1).

God became a real, living human being. This theme begins in verse 9 and culminates in verse 16. Christ was made “lower than the angels” (9) and of the seed of Abraham (16). It is necessary to have this fact firmly in mind to understand the main point of this passage, because an angel could not accomplish what Christ accomplished for us. If an angel had become human and gone to the cross his death would be as unable to atone for our sins as the blood of bulls and goats. Why? Because God must bear the cost of our sins, just as we must bear the cost of sins against us if we are going to continue in relationship with other people. So God, somehow remained God, yet also became fully human and participated fully in the human condition even to the point of death. He allowed Himself no special privileges. He had to live by faith, He had to live by the power of the Spirit, and he had to obey the Scriptures just as we all have to do. “Wherefore in all things it behooved him to be made like unto his brethren” (17). But unlike us, He accomplished it all without sin.

Having made the point that Christ always was/is/will be nothing less than God who became flesh, we are now told why He did so, “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people” (17). His full experience of the human condition allows Him to know by experience what we face in life. He was tempted. He knew physical weakness, hunger, weariness, and sickness. He was constrained by time and space. He suffered these things, and having experienced them, He is able to succour us (18). “Succour” summarises this whole passage, for it summarises the work of Christ. It means to have empathy and to feel our sorrows and needs. But it also means to apply healing and help to our wounds. Our wound is our sin and the wrath of God. He heals that wound by bearing it in Himself on the cross, reconciling us to God. But His work does not end there. It continues, as He calls His people unto Himself, builds up His Church, leads us into God by His Word and Spirit, and, finally, places us in His immediate presence in that land where sin and sorrow will never touch us again, forever.

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