September 30, 2011

Saturday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Saturday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps 68, 2 Sam. 19:11-23, 2 Cor. 9
Evening - Ps 67, 93, Mt 6:19

Commentary
2 Corinthians 9

Paul's "boast" about the Corinthians is that they were ready to give a year ago (9:2). Achaia is the southern tip of Greece, which resembles a hand on a map. It is superfluous for him to remind them of the offering again (9:1), but, in order to prevent embarrassment by not being ready, he reminds them again (9:3-5).

Verses 6-15 have often been distorted to mean that giving to the service of God ensures that God will multiply your gifts back to you. But Paul is not promising God will increase your material wealth just because you give money to His work. Such giving is not a gift but an investment. Its objective is not the glory of God, but personal gain. Paul is talking more about spiritual matters than financial matters. He is encouraging people to give freely expecting no financial return on their gifts. It is not to gain wealth that they are to give, but because they have already been blessed with it. The Corinthians were already prosperous people. God had already blessed them with material abundance. Now they are given a chance to help others who are in true need.
There will be benefits for their generosity. Truly God will make all grace abound toward them (9:8). But notice that the grace given is to enable them have sufficiency in all things that they "may abound to every good work." In verses 10 and 11 Paul prays that God will give them abundance, especially in righteousness. But he does not promise or imply that sending money to Jerusalem will guarantee them more money in return. The benefits of giving money are the same as those for every other thing they do in God's service. They cause the receivers to give thanks unto God (9:12), and they cause the givers to reap bountifully of the grace of God (9:6 & 8).

September 29, 2011

Friday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Friday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.69, 2 Sam. 19:1-10, 2 Cor. 8:16
Evening - Ps.51, Mt. 6:1-8

2 Cor. 8:16-24 continue to address the issue of the offering the Corinthians will give to help the poor in Jerusalem. Titus has become very fond of the Corinthians, and is anxious to return to them (8:16-17). It was Titus who delivered the letter of First Corinthians to the people of Corinth. He also stayed with them and helped them work through the letter and return the church to the Apostolic (Biblical) faith. During this time he developed a deep respect and love for their faith and devotion. He met Paul in Macedonia to tell him about the events and results in Corinth. In response to Titus' report, Paul wrote the letter we are now reading and which we know as "Second Corinthians." Titus carried this letter back to Corinth. Along with Titus went at least two others (8:18 & 22). The first was known for his work in the spread of the Gospel (8:18). The other was known to be diligent in the many aspects of the faith (8:22). Both were probably from Macedonian churches. Three men would be less likely to fall prey to the robbers and other dangers on the journey. They would also show the absolute integrity of the mission (8:21). In Jerusalem, the three could affirm where the money had come from and how much was sent. This could also be verified by contacting the churches that gave the money. They could also carry the thanks of the Jerusalem Apostles back to the churches, thus, confirming that the full amount had reached them. This was not done because of doubts about the offering or the men. It was done to show the absolute honesty of all involved, for they knew the false apostles in Corinth would accuse them of lying about their purpose and keeping the money for themselves.

Having stated clearly the trustworthiness of the men (8:23), Paul closes the chapter by urging the Corinthians to be generous. This will prove the Corinthians' love. Paul has "boasted" about the Corinthians to the Church in Macedonia. Having received the good report from Titus, he probably told the Macedonian the Corinthians could be counted on the give generously. Their gifts would show that he was correct.

September 28, 2011

Thursday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 56, 2 Sam. 18:19, 2 Cor. 8:1-15
Evening - Ps. 66, Mt. 5:38

Commentary
2 Corinthians 8:1-15

The subject of this part of 2 Corinthians is Christian charity. The Christians of Jerusalem were in dire need. Paul urged the churches he founded to gather an offering and send it to Jerusalem for their relief. The Corinthians had not done so, despite their being in relatively prosperous circumstances. So Paul urges them again to contribute. He begins by telling them of the gifts from Macedonian churches. "[W]e do you to wit" (8:1), means "we want you to know" and refers to "the grace of God bestowed on the churches of Macedonia." By God's grace they were moved to give generously though they were in affliction and poverty (8:2). They were persecuted, and persecution drove them to poverty, yet they gave unselfishly.

Their generosity moves Paul to ask the prospering Corinthians to give also (8:6). But the gift must be their choice, not Paul's. He gives no Apostolic command here (8:8-10). Rather he urges them to give out of Christian love, as Christ gave Himself to them in love (8:9). Verses 12-15 do not teach socialism. They teach that we help our truly needy brethren, knowing that if we become needy they will give to supply our need. We are not to give to our detriment, nor are we to support laziness and ease (8:13). The "equality" of verse 14 does not mean that all should have an equal amount of the world's goods, but that all should give to help the truly needy.

September 27, 2011

Wednesday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 45, 2 Sm. 18:1-17, 2 Cor. 7:2-16
Evening - Ps. 62, 63, Mt. 5:27-37

Commentary
2 Corinthians 7:2-16

2 Corinthians 7:2 is part of a larger section of 2 Corinthians written to demonstrate the truth of Paul's claim in 2:17,

"For we are not as many who corrupt the word of God: but as of sincerity, but as of God, in the sight of God speak we in Christ."

The Corinthians had followed false apostles, and Paul is showing them that he and the other true Apostles are the ones who were called and commissioned by Christ. They are the ambassadors for Christ, who beseech the Church in Christ's stead (2 Cor. 6:20) and have taught the truth at great cost to themselves (2 Cor. 6:4-12). Therefore, or, "now for a recompence," this is what the Apostles desire from the Church; "Be not unequally yoked together with unbelievers" (2 Cor. 6:13-14). Do not yoke yourselves with those who lead you astray and destroy your souls. "Come out from among them and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing." It is difficult to find a clearer and more direct statement about how to deal with those who teach untruth in the name of God than 2 Cor. 6:14-17. It is also difficult to find a clearer and more direct statement about who is and who is not the true people of God than 2 Cor. 6:18. In a sense, 2 Cor. 6:14-18 is a conclusion drawn from the facts and statements found in 2 Cor. 2:17-6:12. That conclusion is; separate yourselves from the false apostles. 7:1 restates the conclusion in terms of cleansing yourselves of filthiness. We are to separate from the false teachers, and wash their teachings out of our minds as we would wash filth off our bodies. Strong language.

7:2 gives a second conclusion based on 2 Cor. 2:17-6:12; receive the true Apostles. This means more than simply loving or honouring them, it means to receive their teaching. It means to receive the Gospel that was taught to them by Christ, and preserved in their lives and work.

Verse 3 returns to demonstrating Paul's love and compassion for the Corinthians. He found no rest in his soul until hearing from Titus that things were going better in Corinth (7:5-6). Paul had heard of the strife in Corinth, and sent Titus to them with a letter from him. We know that letter as 1 Corinthians. This letter caused the Corinthians great sorrow (7:8) and it was very costly to return the church to the Apostles' doctrine. Yet Paul rejoices that they were made sorrowful because their sorrow led them to repent of sin and embrace the truth (7:9).

Verse 11 is somewhat difficult for some to understand because it commends the Corinthians for revenge. The verse does not mean that the church took personal revenge on others; only that they cleaned up the church and their own lives. They threw out the false teachers and their followers, they returned to the Biblical faith, and they returned to Biblical morality. Paul was greatly relieved when he received news of this from Titus. It was in the hope that they would do this that he wrote the 1 Corinthians. Now, being comforted by the news from Titus (7:13), he rejoices in confidence in the Corinthians (7:14-16).

September 26, 2011

Tuesday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.40, 1-16, 2 Sam. 17:15-23, 2 Cor. 6:11-7:1
Evening - Ps. 36:5, Ps. 47, Mt. 5:17-26

Commentary
2 Corinthians 6:11-7:1

Paul has taught the truth to the Corinthians. His mouth has been "open" unto them. But he gives not only his words to them; he gives his heart also. His heart is "enlarged." It is overflowing with compassion and feeling for the Corinthian people. His heart is as open to them as his mouth (6:11). If anything is holding them back from God, it is within themselves, not in him. Every true preacher of the Scriptures wants to be able to say he has taught the truth and opened his heart to the people in such a way as to place no obstacle in their way. If he has done this, any impediment to their peace with God lies in them. Note that Paul asks the Corinthians to open their hearts to him (6:13). Let the Church love and respect the ministers who love them enough to "set forth thy true and lively Word, and rightly and duly administer thy holy Sacraments."

Unequally yoked (6:11-18) refers to following false teachers and false churches. Corinth was rife with men who claimed to be apostles, but were not sent from Christ and did not preach the truth. Revelation 2:2 shows false apostles were widespread and were troubling many churches. Paul says to follow them is to be like a calf joined with a strong, mature ox. This is a common way to train young oxen. The stronger ox takes the young one along with him by brute force, thus the young one learns to respond to commands and pull the load. This is a graphic picture of a soul learning the service of a false teacher.

In reality, being yoked to a false teacher is the same as being yoked to the devil (Belial in 6:15). As Christ has no peace or fellowship with the devil, a Christian can have no peace with the teaching of someone who does not believe or teach the truth. To attempt it is like light trying to fellowship with darkness, or righteousness trying to have fellowship with sin (6:14). It is like the Old Testament Jews placing idols in the Temple (1 Sam. 5:2, 2 Cor. 6:16).

Paul appeals to several Old Testament passages to show the Scriptural validity of this point. Notable among them is Isaiah 52:11, "go ye out from thence," which tells the Jews to leave the pagan city of ancient Babylon. "Wherefore, come ye out from among them and be ye separate" (6:17). The promises of verse 18 are for those who obey the will of Christ revealed in 14-17. This passage has tremendous application to the contemporary situation in which feelings rather than truth is the primary reason why people choose a church.

September 25, 2011

Monday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 39, 2 Sam. 16:23-17:14, 2 Cor. 6:1-10
Evening - Ps. 33, Mt. 5:1-6

Commentary
2 Corinthians 6:1-10

Referring to the fact that he ministers to the Corinthians in Christ's stead, and as an ambassador for Christ, Paul says he is a worker together with Christ (6:1). It is as an ambassador and co-labourer of Christ that he pleads with the Corinthians to be reconciled to God (5:20) and to "receive not the grace of God in vain" (6:1). He quotes Isaiah 49:8 which tells of the Gentiles receiving the Redeemer, telling the Corinthians that they live in the age of the fulfillment of that prophecy; "now is the day of salvation" (6:2). This reinforced the appeal to be reconciled to God.

Starting at verse 3 Paul writes of his service by which the Gospel was taken to the Gentiles, including those in the Corinthian Church. His service proves he is a minster of God, for in it he endured many trials and pains which included beatings and prisons. Watchings means lack of sleep and rest; fastings are not voluntary fasts, they are hunger due to lack of food. We see a picture here of a man who, forced to go without sleep, spent the night in prayer, and having nothing to eat, counted it as a fast unto God. Verse 10 is a fitting close of today's reading. Paul bore many sorrows, yet he rejoiced in his work. He suffered the loss of all things, yet made us rich in the things of Christ. He himself owned nothing, yet in Christ he possessed all things.

September 23, 2011

Saturday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 31, 2 Sam. 16:5-19, 2 Cor. 5:11
Evening - Ps. 29, 30, Mt. 4:12

Commentary
2 Cor. 5:11-21

"Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord" (5:11) refers to the Day of Judgment and the account Paul will have to give of his work as an Apostle of Christ. Some would moderate "terror" to mean reverence or respect, but terror seems to work well here, both as a translation of the Greek, "phobos" and as a description of the soul standing before the Almighty and Holy God. On that Day, many who thought of Him as a gentle giant or a good buddy in the sky will find that He is a Terror, and His power can make eternity misery beyond imagination. It is with this in mind that Paul ministers the Word. It is also with this in mind that he persuades people to repent of sin and trust in Christ. For all will stand before God, and those not dressed in the righteousness of Christ will be cast away forever.

Being "made manifest unto God" means Paul's life and ministry are open and known to God "unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid." But Paul also desires to be as open and known to the people as possible within the limitations of common humanity. He desires to hide nothing of his own self and purpose. His motives are to serve God and His people. He is not about personal gain in any way, and he wants that known because others, claiming to be Apostles and teachers of the Corinthian Church, are about personal gain, using deceit and false doctrine to entice the Corinthians away from the truth and to convince them to give allegiance, and money, to them. Again, let the ministers reading this look to themselves and their motives. Let it be known to the Church that our motives are to serve God and His Church, not to build empires for ourselves, or to enrich our purses.

Thus Paul says he is not commending himself to the people (5:12). He is giving them an answer to the false teachers and false apostles who troubled the Corinthians as well as a way to discern the true from the false. "Glory in appearance, and not in heart," refers to those who count success by material, rather than spiritual, measures. Large crowds and great cathedrals are not proof of pure faith and practice in our time, nor were they in Paul's Remember, God spoke in the still, small voice, not the quake or the storm.

Verse 13 shows that the false teachers in Corinth said Paul's words were just babbling, like someone speaking in tongues. The Greek word translated "beside ourselves" is a form of the word from which we get the English word, "ecstatic" and refers to the emotional excesses into which the Corinthians worked themselves as "proof" that they were possessed by the Holy Spirit. Paul is not defeated by this attack. Rather, he says his words are from God whether they have come from an ecstatic experience or not. It is as though some criticise him saying, "You're just babbling like someone speaking in tongues." Paul replies, "I am not, but even if I were, what I say is still true and for your good."

Verse 11 gives the Day of Judgment as a motivation to speak the truth and do righteousness. Verses 14 and 15 give another motivation, the love of Christ who gave Himself for us. We serve Him because we love Him. We live for Him because He died for us. In His death He gave the most precious gift He could ever give to us. In our lives we give the most precious thing we could ever give to Him.

Verse 17 takes us back to the purpose of God's continuing work in us. He is re-creating us. He is making us into new creatures who will be ready to enjoy Him in Heaven. He is turning us into Heavenly creatures in which all things are new and of God. Paul refers to himself here, as he does also in verse 20. But his words apply to all who believe. The same God who called Paul into faith and fitted him to be an Apostle, calls us into faith and fits us for our work in His Kingdom. The same continuing work of the Holy Spirit, which formed Paul into a new and Heavenly kind of creature, also continues to work in us. The same God who called Paul to the ministry of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ calls us to that same work today.

Verses 19 and 21 give two beloved statements of the Gospel. Verse 19 tells what God is doing; verse 21 tells how.

September 22, 2011

Friday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 32, 2 Sam. 15:30-16:4, 2 Cor. 5:1-10
Evening - Ps. 22, Mt. 4:1-11

Commentary
2 Corinthians 5:1-10

Today's reading continues the thought begun in 4:16, which says that our outward man, meaning, our physical body, is perishing. But, even as that happens, our inward man, our spirit, is being renewed day by day. Our spirits are becoming stronger and our faith in Christ is growing. Our desire for Godliness is increasing, and we are experiencing progress in holiness of life and fellowship with God. Therefore, we look not at the outward things seen by the physical eye. We concentrate on the inward person and the renewing work God is doing in us. Nor do we allow ourselves to become fixated on the world with its troubles and treasures. They are passing trifles. We look to that world which is more real than this one. We look to that world which is permanent, in which the treasures of this world are as poverty, and the trials of this life are as light affliction by comparison.

Our physical bodies, and with them all the passing things of earth, are being destroyed. The image used in 5:1 is that of a house and tent. It is as though Paul first calls the physical body a house, a temporary structure subject to decay and rot which will collapse one day. Then he says our bodies are not even as solid as a house. They are mere tents. They are mere folds of cloth flapping in the wind and in need of constant care and repair, and which, in spite of our very best efforts, will one day rot away exposing their contents and leaving us naked (5:3). But the end of our tent (tabernacle) is not the end of us. We will be clothed in a new house of mansions that will not decay (sickness), will never fall into destruction (death) and will always abide in the presence of God Himself (everlasting life). It is in this eternal house that we long to dwell (5:2) and for which we groan while suffering the burdens of our present tabernacle (5:4).

It is for this purpose that God is working in us now. He is preparing us for the day when we will lay down this tent, and step into a new and wondrous house. He has given us the Spirit as the earnest, or, pledge, or down payment, of His promise. This means that, what the Holy Spirit is doing in us now, will be completed on the day we enter into our new home. And what is the Spirit doing in us now? He is recreating us. He is repairing our inclination towards sin. He is remaking us so that we are becoming more and more inclined toward Him and His will. He is enabling us to love Him more, and desire the things He promises. This is why Paul says later in this chapter that "if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature" (5:17).

The destruction of our earthly tent (death) frees our souls to enter the direct presence of the Lord. While we are in our physical bodies we experience a distance from God. Even in our best and most spiritual moments we have a sense that God dwells beyond us in a dimension we cannot enter. We see Him, but with the eyes of faith, not with physical eyes. We are aware of His presence, and yet, also aware that we do not know His presence fully, that there is a sense in which He is here, yet not here at the same time. But in Heaven this sense will be a thing of the past. There we will see Him and dwell in His full presence. It is only as we become absent from our bodies that we enter fully into the presence of God (5:8).

Therefore we labour to be accepted of Him (5:9-10). This verse does not mean we make ourselves acceptable to God by our own efforts. It means we do the will of God while we live in this world. We seek Him, and attempt to live quiet and holy lives. For we will all stand before Christ one day to be judged for our works.

It is notable that this passage continues to talk about the nature of the ministry, yet is written to the laity of the Church. It is obvious that Paul is teaching the Corinthians, and us, about the nature and work of the ministry to enable them to discern between those who have preached heresy and led the Church astray, and faithful ministers who preach the Gospel and lead the Church into the faith and practice of the Bible. Ministers reading this passage should take heed to its teachings and warnings. But the passage has a much more direct application to the laity than just distinguishing true ministers from false ministers. For you also dwell in an earthly tent that is decaying and will one day perish. In what house will you dwell on that day? You too walk by faith, and you too will stand before God to give an account for your lives in this world. You also, therefore, must look to the things unseen by the physical eye, and conduct yourself as though you are preparing to go to them some day soon.

September 21, 2011

Thursday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 25, 2 Sam. 15:13-29, 2 Cor. 4
Evening - Ps. 27, Mt. 3

Commentary
2 Cor. 4

"Therefore" (4:1) links the following verses to those in chapter 3. They are a conclusion drawn from the primary truth stated in that chapter, namely, that Paul is called into the ministry of the New Testament. Almost incredibly, Paul claims his is a greater and higher ministry than that of Moses, for the proclamation of Christ, the Spirit of the law, is greater than the proclamation of the letter of the law. All ministers reading this should pause and reflect on the awesome responsibility and privilege to which you have been called. Paul rightly says he received this ministry by mercy, not by worthiness, but having received that mercy, and encouraged by the greatness of the privilege of serving Christ, he faints not. Certainly Paul had enough trials to cause many to faint, to give up, to consider the preaching of the Gospel either too costly or a lost cause. But he continues as one assured of victory and filled with hope. He preaches the word of life, and, though he may face many trials, he is assured that the word of life will bring many souls into the Kingdom of God.

Paul's preaching is free from manipulation of either the message or its hearers (4:2-3). He does not change the message to entice people to convert, nor does he use gimmicks and tricks to lure people into the Church. By making this statement, Paul implies that others have distorted the Gospel and manipulated the people to gain a following. The Corinthians have followed such people, which is why they fell into such apostasy, and why they had to endure the pain and problems of getting the church back into the Apostolic faith and practice.

Verses 3 and 4 make it plain that the problem with those who will not receive the Gospel message is with them, not Paul and not the Gospel. The Gospel is clear and simple. He has proclaimed it openly and honestly. Many of the Greek religions claimed to have secret knowledge given only to a few select people, but Paul proclaims the whole Gospel to all who will listen. Thus, those who refuse it bear the responsibility themselves. They have allowed Satan, the "god of this world" to blind their minds.

"For we preach not ourselves" (4:6) implies that others do preach themselves. We have here a sure test of a minister. A true minister does not promote himself, does not attempt to win a following for himself, and does not attempt to call attention to himself. He proclaims Christ. That means he preaches the Bible, faithfully calling people to become followers of Christ and teaching them to observe all that Christ has commanded (Mt 28:19). One who errs from this is no minister of Christ. A faithful minister views himself as a servant of the Church, not as master of it. He serves the people and the Lord by preaching the Bible and leading the people to the means of grace. The minister does have responsibility to protect the people from error and deal with sin and heresy. But even this power is a service to the Church and undertaken only as a servant of Christ.

"But we have this treasure in earthen vessels" (4:7). The treasure is the Gospel of Christ. It is the story of redemption from the beginning of time to the end of time, when God brings all things together in Christ. The earthen vessels are our decaying bodies and the mental and spiritual limitations of our fallen minds and beings. Paul's point is not to belabour the earthen vessels but to show that it is not the minister who causes the success of the Gospel, it is God. The Gospel has been placed in fragile containers of clay, yet God causes it to advance and bring souls into His Kingdom. Thus the true power and message of the Gospel is no human invention, it comes from God, and God alone gives its success, "that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us."

It is God's power that keeps the earthen vessels alive and in the faith (4:8-14). Verses 10 and 12 capture the essence of this passage. The end result of the suffering and trials of Paul work life in the people. He gladly endures the troubles and cares of the ministry that people may hear the Gospel and be saved. The glory of God is the goal and the purpose for which he works.

It is not only the people of God who receive the benefit of a faithful ministry, the minister himself also receives eternal glory and rest (4:16). Therefore, let him look to the things unseen, the home in Heaven, the end of sin and temptation, the face-to-face relationship with Christ in that land where there is no more sorrow, pain, or death. In that hope, he will faint not.

This fourth chapter of 2 Corinthians has much to say to ministers because Paul is writing about his own ministry to remind the Corinthians what God has done for them and how He accomplished it. Yet, it has much to say to the Christian layman also. Certainly, you also have the treasure of the Gospel in earthen vessels. You share the same temptations, limitations, and fallen inclinations ministers have. And you have the same hope of eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord, on the basis of His grace, not your merit. Your first calling is also the glory of God, and no "light affliction, which is but for a moment" should be allowed to crowd this purpose out of your life. You also will be helped immeasurably by keeping your hope fixed on the things of Heaven, which are not seen with the physical eye, but only with the eyes of faith. Finally, this should help you to judge who is, and who is not, a faithful minister, or church, or Christ. Faint not.

September 20, 2011

Wednesday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Wednesday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity, Ember Day

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 17, 2 Sam. 15:1-12, 2 Cor. 3
Evening - Ps. 18, Mt. 2:13

Today is St. Matthew's Day. It is also the first of the Autumn Ember Days in which we pray for many to offer themselves to the ministry of the Gospel of Christ. This makes it a very curious day, for St. Matthew's Day is a feast day, while an Ember Day is a fast day. According to the Prayer Book, the Feast of St. Matthew takes precedence over an Ember Day. It also gives special prayers for both, and I see no reason not to include both in our private and family prayers.

Saint Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist

O Almighty God, who by thy blessed Son didst call Matthew from the receipt of customs to be an Apostle and Evangelist; Grant us grace to forsake all covetous desires, and inordinate love of riches, and to follow the same thy Son Jesus Christ, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, world without end. Amen.

The Ember Days At the Four Seasons

O Almighty God, who hast committed to the hands of men the ministry of reconciliation; We humbly beseech thee, by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit, to put it into the hearts of many to offer themselves for this ministry; that thereby mankind may be drawn to thy blessed kingdom; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Commentary
2 Cor. 3

Letters of recommendation have long been used to introduce someone to a person or group, and it seems some have come to Corinth with such letters and attempted to lead and teach the church. But Paul says he needs no such letter. The Corinthians themselves are his letter, and all who wish to know about his ministry may read it in them (1-3).

But they are much more than simply a letter of Paul. The Corinthians are an epistle of Christ (3:3). It is He who has made them what they are. Paul writes what every true minister of Christ knows, that "we are not sufficient of ourselves." It is not we who move the Church by the force of our personalities or the power of our logic and speech. It is God who moves people, using us as tools. In His hand we become sufficient only because He uses us to lead people to the means of grace. A minister is very much like a waiter in a restaurant. He brings the food to the people, but it is the food that nourishes and sustains them. In 1 Corinthians Paul compares ministers to farm labourers. One plants, another waters, but it is God who causes the Gospel to take root in your hearts and bear the fruit of faith (1 Cor. 3:5-7). Even a minister's ability to lead people to the means of grace is a gift from God. He is our sufficiency (3:5) and He "hath made us able ministers of the new testament" (3:6).

Verses 6-13 make two points contrasting the Old Testament law and the New Testament Gospel. First, the ministry of the law was given with great glory (3:7). We all know of the events at Sinai, and Paul reminds us that Moses covered his face with a veil because the people could not look upon him who had seen God's glory. Yet the law was unable to give life (3:6). It revealed sin, but it also showed the inability of an animal sacrifice to cover sins. Second, the ministry of the New Testament is more glorious for it is the ministry of the Spirit and of life. Yet Paul wears no veil to cover its glory. He does not attempt to hide it from anyone. Rather, he calls attention to it. He proclaims it with "great plainness of speech" (3:12).

14-16 refer to the common Jewish belief that Christ is not the Messiah. It is as though they are wearing a veil, a blindfold, which prevents their "seeing" Christ. Though the blindfold will be removed, it remains, "even unto this day" (15).

If the letter of the law revealed people's sin and our inability to atone for it, the Spirit reveals that God Himself can and has atoned for it. The Old Testament law anticipates with faith, that God will somehow accept those who trust in Him. On the basis of His own actions, He will do for them what the blood of bulls and goats can never accomplish. He will atone for their sins and receive them fully into His Kingdom. We know He accomplished this through Christ, for He is the Spirit who removes the blindfold from those who believe. In Him there is liberty from the dead letter of the law, and in Him we behold the glory of the Lord. We behold Him now as in a glass, not perceiving Him fully and clearly. But we are being changed into His image, the same image we see dimly now, but will one day see face to face (3:17-18).

September 19, 2011

Tuesday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Tuesday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 16, 2 Sam. 12:15-23, 2 Cor. 2
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Mt. 2:1-12

Commentary
2 Cor. 2

The name, "Second Corinthians" implies that there is also a "First Corinthians." It also implies a link between the two. Certainly 2 Corinthians is a follow up to the first epistle, in which Paul chastised the church for theological, practical, and moral errors. Their primary error made an ecstatic experience the center of Christian faith and worship. Doctrine and morality became meaningless in this setting. All that mattered was that one had the experience and had it often. The more one had it, the more "spiritual" one was considered. So the experience became the "be all, end all" of Christianity, and they spared no effort working themselves into such an emotional frenzy they lost control of their mouths and babbled meaningless noises. Drugs and alcohol were often used to induce this altered mental state, which may partly explain why they were getting drunk at the Lord's Table.

First Corinthians was a stern rebuke of their errors. Having received the first letter from Paul, the church did some house cleaning and made a valiant effort to return to the Apostolic faith and order. In this morning's reading Paul urges the church to make equally thorough efforts to bring the erring ones back into full fellowship of the congregation. This can only be done if they confess and repent of their sin and false religion, but those who will are to be received in full membership of the church (3-11)

Verses 12-17 refer to Paul's concern for the Corinthians as he continued his duties in Macedonia during his third missionary trip. Paul had previously spent two years in Corinth, founding the church there around the year 52 A.D. Having invested that much of his life into it, he was naturally concerned to see it prosper in the true faith. These verses tell of his concern, saying he found no rest in his spirit because he had no word from Corinth through Titus. After receiving word of the Corinthian house cleaning he wrote 2 Corinthians, and it is in that context that he penned the words in verses 14-17 thanking God for the victory in Corinth.

September 18, 2011

Monday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 7, 2 Sam. 12:1-15, 2 Cor. 1
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Mt. 1:18

Commentary
2 Corinthians 1

Written from Philippi around 57 A.D. by the Apostle Paul, 2 Corinthians is a follow up to first Corinthians. The Corinthians Church had seriously compromised the Christian faith. Attempting to combine it with pagan ideas and practices, they had made personal experience the goal of being a Christian. Though the power to heal and tell the future were prized experiences, and, consequently, usually faked, the most sought after experience was speaking in tongues. Tongues, the Corinthians believed, was THE SIGN that a person was filled with the Holy Spirit. They believed the gift of tongues needed to be sought through prayer and fasting, and, perhaps a little help from drugs and alcohol. These ideas were prevalent in the local pagan religions, and were brought into the Church by new converts. The church leadership was unable to stop their influx, and soon the major concern of the majority of the membership was having as many ecstatic, tongues experiences as they could work themselves into, for in their view, the more experiences one had, the closer one obviously was to God. Paul spent most of 1 Corinthians dealing with this issue, and we learn from it that Corinth was not the model church, as many today believe. It was a church in deep theological and practical error and most of what we learn from it is what not to do or believe in church.

In spite of their errors the Corinthians seem to have been willing to suffer the wrath of their neighbors for becoming Christians. Paul says they endure the same sufferings he endures (2 Cor. 1:6-7). He refers to the suffering mentioned in verses 4-6 and 8-10 which Paul endured for the sake of preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles. He points out that God has comforted him in his troubles, and that his afflictions have made him better able to comfort others who suffer.

Verses 15-16 tell of Paul's intent to re-visit Corinth, which, apparently did not happen. The Apostle is concerned that the people know it was not because he had deceived them, but because other considerations prevented him from accomplishing his plans ((17-19), and this was the providence of God which worked for the benefit of the Corinthians (20-24).

September 16, 2011

Saturday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.147, 2 Sam. 11:14, Lk. 24:36
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Rom. 15:17-33

Commentary
Romans 15:17-33

In this passage we come to the closing thoughts of the Epistle to the Romans. Consequently we see it turn from the doctrinal/practical subjects of the earlier chapters, to more personal concerns. Paul writes about his ministry to the Gentiles (15:17-21) to show that it is not lack of concern that has kept him from Rome thus far. Rather, he has been hindered by his work, the pressing need of seeing the churches established and furnished with able and faithful ministers kept him in the fields from Jerusalem to Illyrium. "But now having no more place in these parts" (15:23) means that the Church in these areas is prospering, and he is able to leave them and fulfill his great desire to visit and teach in Rome, which he will accomplish soon as part of a trip to Spain (15:24). This will be Paul's first trip to Rome, not the one in which he was executed about A.D.69. The events in the last few verses tell of Paul's preparations to go to Jerusalem. It was while in Jerusalem that he was arrested and sent to Rome as a prisoner around the year 60 A.D. He was released from Rome in 62 A. D. and many historians believe he made his way to Spain, preaching and establishing churches along the way. By 67 A.D. he was back in Rome, this time in the Mamertine prison, where he was executed in the fall or winter of 68-69 A.D.

September 15, 2011

Friday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.142, 143, 2 Sam. 11"1-13, Lk.24:13-35
Evening - Ps. 145, Rom. 15:1-16

Commentary
Romans 15:1-16

The heart of tonight's reading is stated immediately in verse 1; "bear the infirmities of the weak, and not please ourselves." The "infirmities" are weaknesses in discerning the freedom we have in non-essential matters. It is the natural inclination of man to invent scruples where none exist, and to ignore them where they do exist. So long as they are in non-essential things, let them have them. Do not allow them to become a cause of strife, and do not make yours and affront to others. Give others, and yourselves, time to learn and grow. Let your actions and words encourage and lead rather than anger and ostracise. Please others when possible that we might have the opportunity to build them up in Christ (15:2) following the example of Christ (15:3).

Our inability and blatant refusal to understand spiritual things must have tried Christ's patience. Yet He endured it with love and taught us with patience. With Him as our example let us not loose patience with the person who is not as strong in the faith as we think we are. Instead, endure them; they may grow up some day, and so may we.

This idea is summarised well in verses 5-7, which is a short prayer inserted into the text of the chapter, asking three main petitions. First, Paul asks likemindedness toward each other. The likemindedness desired is in the things of Christian love. Paul is praying that we may be able to live together as Christians should, and according to Christ Jesus. Second, he desires unity in our purpose and action to glorify God. Actually this prayer is asking that glorifying God would become our common purpose, and that it would direct our common life together. Third, Paul prays that we would receive one another as Christ received us. He received us not on the basis of worth or knowledge, not as having all the answers, but as weak and ignorant and foolish. And He received us completely. There was no probation period, and no waiting for us to get everything right. His love for us is everlasting. He received us for our benefit, not His.

Admonish, in verse 14 does not mean to rebuke in sternness or wrath. It means to speak a word of help and encouragement when appropriate. It may include a rebuke, but always a gentle rebuke, helpful and kind.

This is what Paul is doing in this letter to the Romans. He is putting us in mind, or, in remembrance, of the things of Christ and of our relationship with one another, that we may be acceptable and holy to God (16). That is our goal in our dealings with one another also.

September 14, 2011

Thursday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Thursday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.137, 138, 2 Sam. 9:1-13, Lk. 23:50-24:12
Evening - Ps. 144, Rom. 14:13

Commentary
Romans 14:13-23

"Let us not therefore judge one another" (Rom. 14:13). One of the very first principles of Christian love is that we do no harm. All of the Thou shalt nots in the second table of the moral law, are given to teach us to do no harm. Certainly this principle still applies in God's Church today. Our mannerisms, actions, and words should be carefully guarded and sparingly applied to assure that we do no harm. Love does not end there of course. Love moves from, do no harm to, do positive good. And it is every Christian's calling to make the Church a positive place where souls receive the healing balm of the Gospel, not the withering criticism of our opinions. It is important to note that this verse does not preclude knowing that someone is doing right or wrong, nor does it forbid Biblical efforts to help others grow in Christ and overcome sin. The Bible is talking about matters that are inconsequential. It doesn't matter, for example, if we eat meat or not. It does matter if we make our opinions about it a stumblingblock or offense. Do no harm.

Verse 13 also tells us to turn our most intense judgment on our own selves. We are to judge ourselves to ensure that we are not placing stumblingblocks, or offenses in the way of others who seek to come to Christ. It may be that our actions are innocent in themselves. As verse 14 states it, "there is nothing unclean of itself." Again we must elucidate this statement. It does not mean nothing is sinful. It does not mean all actions and thoughts are morally equivalent and indifferent. It does not mean there is no truth, or that all behaviours and all doctrines are to be treated as righteous and Godly by the Church. This verse refers to things like eating meat or not eating meat, especially if it has been bought from a market that got it from a pagan temple. What those people did with the animal in the pagan temple is very wrong. But the meat is not evil because people did evil things with it. The meat is still good nourishment, and any Christian may eat of it freely, even giving thanks to God for it. But, to return to the earlier thought that our actions may be innocent, if they cause another to stumble we have done wrong. This brings up two important points. First, going back to verse 13, it is not our job to convince those who will not eat the meat that it is O.K. In other words, it is wrong to start futile arguments leading to strife and division in the Church over inconsequential matters. Second, it is wrong to conduct ourselves in ways that are offensive to others, such as with eating meat (14:15). It is wrong for us to use our Christian liberty in a way that makes it become an affront to others. Consideration for their feelings and convictions is called for, not abrasive show and aggressive argument, which often has more to do with self-justification than standing up for God's truth. If you offend the weaker brothers on this, you cause them to resist the meat and think evil of what is good (14:16). You retard, rather than advance, the cause of Christ, which is about much more than meat (14:17).

Verses 17 & 18 show things that define the Kingdom of God and its people. It is noteworthy that all of them promote peace and unity, rather than discord, among the members of Christ's body. Righteousness means to live according to the principle of Christian love. Peace is to actively live in ways that promote harmony and good will. Joy is the opposite of quarrelsome and argumentative actions which cause sorrow in the fellowship. These things serve Christ and are approved (shown worthy) by people. The world generally thinks of Christians as sour-faced cranks who live only to find fault with others. The Bible gives a much different picture; a people of love, joy, and peace.

Verses 19-23 close the chapter by encouraging us to follow after the things which promote peace and edification. To "follow after" is to pursue or chase. Peace is an active good will and working harmony among people. Edification is to build up one another. It is to do the things which help all of us increase in faith, in peace, in joy, in Godliness, and in unity in Christ. It is the calling of each one of us to promote and actively work to produce these things in the Church. While there are times when we must stand against error and sin, we are not to allow unimportant things to cause division. Let your liberty in Christ abound with all joy, but "have it to thyself" instead of beating up everyone else with it. If you have doubts about something, abstain, for to indulge is the same as sin. Either way, do not let it be a source of division and strife. Do no harm.

September 13, 2011

Readings and Commentary for the Wednesday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 125, 127, 130, 2 Sam. 7:18, Lk. 23:39-49
Evening - Ps. 121, 123, 124, Zeph. 3:9, Rom. 14:1-12

Commentary
Romans 14:1-12

Chapter 14 continues to teach how being justified and sanctified in Christ applies to everyday life. These chapters assume we are already faithful in what we might call, "religious" things. They assume we are seeking God in Scripture and prayer, are active members of a faithful church, and make diligent use of the means of grace. So these chapters don't deal with these things. They are concerned about the "secular" things, like work and citizenship and business. The word, "secular" is in quotations because nothing is really secular to the Christian. All of life is lived in the presence and to the glory of God. The way we drive our cars and the things we do for entertainment are just as much a part of serving Christ as going to church and searching the Scriptures. The teachings and encouragements found in Romans 12-16 show this, and can be understood as an enlargement of and commentary on Romans 12:1, "present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Chapter 12 shows how we do this in Church. 13 shows how it is done in the nation and community. 14 returns to the Church, but also gives a principle that works in all places and situations. That principle is Christian forbearance. This simply means that, rather than being overly concerned about the failures and weaknesses of others; we bear their weaknesses in love, and build them up in Christ.

It is inevitable that disagreements will arise, even among Christians. Sometimes these are over important issues, but often they are over things "indifferent." It is especially in the matters of things indifferent that we must exercise care and compassion, for it is here that we often speak with uncommon boldness, as though our own views were given straight from the pages of Holy Writ. It is also these very things on which we are often most censorious and intolerant of others. Paul shows us how to encounter such disagreements with grace and edification.

The setting used is the potential clash between those who have come to Christ from the differing backgrounds of Jews and Gentiles. It was often easier for Gentiles to see the need to change their practices than it was for Jews. The Jew's practices had been the way generations of people had worshiped God, and were clearly found in the Old Testament Scriptures. The Gentiles' had come from the traditions of paganism and idolatry. So, while the Gentile Christians realised they could no longer participate in the pagan festivals, Jewish Christians often pondered over whether or not they should participate in Jewish festivals. Among the Gentiles there often arose a question of eating meat sacrificed to idols. Some said the idols were not real and it was good meat and they were going to eat it. Others said it still symbolised the idol, and eating it implicated them in idolatry.

According to Romans 14, the true view is that being sacrificed to idols makes no difference to the meat. So if you want it, buy it. But don't berate other Christians who will not buy it and will not eat it. Also, according to Romans 14, the correct view is for the former Jews to make a full break from the Jewish festivals. But if some Jewish Christians still eat kosher food and observe certain Jewish holy days, those who have made a clean break from them should not belittle the faith or persons of those who haven't. They are to receive the one with weaker faith, not dispute with them (12:1).

Of course, in every disputation, we always believe it is the other person who has the weaker faith. Well, why not allow them to grow in Christ? Trust God to lead them forward through the means of grace. Maybe they'll allow you to do the same. Meanwhile, why not concern ourselves with our own beams and problems. The others will have to answer for themselves, but we must give an account of ourselves. This is the point made in 12:7-12.

September 12, 2011

Readings and Commentary for Tuesday after the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 115, 2 Sam. 7:1-17, Lk. 23:26-38
Evening - Ps. 116, Zeph. 3:1-8, Rom. 13

Commentary
Romans 13

Having dealt with the Christian's relationship to other Christians in chapter 12, chapter 13 deals with the Christians relationship to those outside of the Church. Verses 1-7 deal with the Christian and the state as an institution. It is noteworthy that verse 1 tells us to be subject unto the higher powers (state). Rome was hardly a model of good government, yet Scripture tells the Christians in Rome to be subject to it, and, by extension, tells the Church in all lands to be subject to the governments of those lands. Several reasons are given for this. First, government is ordained of God. Obviously this does not mean all forms of government or all actions of governments are equally good, but it does mean the function of government is ordained by God. Second, government, when carrying out its legitimate functions, even if it does so poorly, serves as the minister of God. To resist it, then, is to resist God. Third, it is the legitimate function of government to be a terror to evil (12:3). This is what people in the U.S. mean when they say "that to secure these rights governments are instituted among men." Government exists to secure our God-given rights against those who would infringe upon them. In this function, the government is a "revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (13:4). Fourth, we should be good citizens for conscious' sake (13:5). We should desire to see our own countries prosper, and we should work and contribute to that purpose. More importantly, if government is the minister of God, and if submitting to its rightful authority and laws is submitting to God (13:2), then we should submit to it because we know our submission is pleasing unto God. We should submit to it, take our paces in the community, and promote the peace and prosperity of our nation willingly, happily, and heartily as unto the Lord. Ours must not be a grudging, recalcitrant citizenship. We may genuinely love and serve our respective countries, as long as doing so does not compromise the teaching of Scripture.

Verses 6-7 reiterate that legitimate service to our government is also legitimate service to God. It is our duty to support the government with lawful tribute and custom (taxes), and it is lawful to give government officials due honour and respect.

If we think of the state as an institution, and of verses 1-7 as directing our relationship to that institution, then we can think of verses 8-10 as directing our relationship with the fellow citizens of our country. The principle commended to us in this relationship is summarised in the words, "Owe no man anything." If we were to put this in more contemporary terms we might say, "Pay your debts." It is not an injunction against legitimate debt; it is an injunction against profligate spending and not paying what you owe. This is just another way of saying we are to be people of the utmost integrity and honesty in all our business dealings. Questionable practices are as wicked as outright deceit. Neither should cloud the name of a Christian in business. This does not require us to allow ourselves to be duped and robbed in business. Knowing that others will attempt to do so will keep us alert and intelligent in our dealings. "Wise as serpents and harmless as doves" comes to mind on this subject.

Obviously Paul was familiar with the teachings and words of Jesus. He quotes His famous summary of the law in verse 9, after showing how the commandments dealing with interpersonal dealings are the intent of the moral law. To love thy neighbor as thyself, does not simply require us to merely not harm others. We love ourselves by attempting to do good for ourselves, and the same spirit guides our dealing with our neighbors, whether inside our outside of the Church.

Verses 11-14 encourage us to order all of life in the light of the Lordship of Christ. The Return of Christ, either through a supernatural event, or through the natural course of our own death, will soon take us into the immediate presence of God. That thought, and thoughts about the account we will be called upon to give on that Day, should serve to keep us circumspect in our dealings until then.

September 11, 2011

Sermon, September 11, 2011

Jesus Doeth All Things Well
Mark 7:31-37
Twelfth Sunday after Trinity
September 11, 2011

There is an old Gospel song written by Fanny Crosby that says:

"All the way my Saviour leads me, what have to ask beside?
Can I doubt His tender mercies, who through life has been my guide,
Heav'nly peace, divinest comfort, Here by faith in Him to dwell
For I know what e're befall me, Jesus doeth all things well."

That last line is based on our Gospel reading for today, and I have borrowed it as the title of this sermon, "Jesus Doeth All Things Well."

In the Bible the words are a little different. Found in Mark 7:37, they are "He hath done all things well." These words express a happy conclusion of the speakers. They also express a great deal of surprise, for Jesus has just done some very odd things. For one thing He has just returned from the coasts of Tyre and Sidon. These were Gentile areas, places good Jews avoided. Yet Jesus went there, and, while there, He actually helped Gentiles by exorcising a demon from the Syro-Phoenician woman's daughter. Strange works from a Man Jews believed was supposed to lead them in a global war to crush the Gentiles. Even in healing the man in our text, His actions are a little odd. Every one knew He could cast out demons and heal the sick with just a word. He didn't even have to be in physical proximity to them, as is seen in the case of the Syro-Phoenician's daughter. He could heal from afar as easily as from the side of the sickbed. But when this man with an impediment in his speech and deaf ears was brought to Him, Jesus put His fingers in the man's ears, spat, touched his tongue, looked up to Heaven, and sighed. Only then did He say, "Ephphatha," "be opened," and heal the man.

God's ways often seem strange to us. It seemed strange to the Virgin Mary when the angel announced that she would bear a son. It seemed strange to the Jews that a Man who claimed to be the Messiah was born in a barn and grew up in Nazareth and worked as a carpenter. They expected Him to be born in the palace, grow up in wealth, and be trained for war. It seemed strange to the disciples that He allowed Himself to be captured and nailed to a cross. And it really seemed strange when He died. How could this be? How could the Messiah die? But that was not as strange to them as His resurrection. They were terrified when they saw Him (Lk. 24:37). And they were just as shocked at His ascension.
I confess that God's ways often surprise me. I am surprised at the way He allows evil to run free on this earth. I am amazed at the way the righteous and the innocent suffer. I am surprised at the trials His people have to endure in this life. I am surprised at the heresy and schism He allows in His Church. I am surprised He doesn't show Himself in the sky and speak to us in an audible voice, and fix our problems, and end our wars, and throw out the politicians and rule the earth Himself, and throw out the clergy and rule the Church Himself. Yes, I have read the Bible enough to know some of His reasons for doing what He does, but His ways are still mysterious to me, and such knowledge is too wonderful and excellent for me; I cannot attain it," as our reading from Psalm139:5 states. Even the Apostle Paul felt this, as he wrote in our reading for Evening Prayer last night;
"O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out. Who hath known the mind of the Lord? or who hath been his counsellor?"

And yet, we, like those who witnessed the healing of the man in today's Gospel Lesson, must confess, "He hath done all things well." Who among us here today does not see that it is only by the grace of God that we have been preserved in our lives and brought to this place to worship Him today? Who cannot agree that it is only by the grace of God that we have been turned and preserved from sin and evil to love and serve Him? Who cannot say that by His life and death, His resurrection and ascension, those things that seemed at first so strange and unGod like to us, are the very means of our forgiveness and reconciliation to God? Who among us cannot say that the times He led us through what Psalm 84:6 calls, "the vale of misery," have been the very means by which He drew us closer to His side, and strengthened us in the faith? And even in the vale of misery who has not found that the pools are filled with the waters of His comfort? Who here does not see that, though we have not always understood His ways, or even liked them, we are what we are, and we are where we are because of Him, and in all His dealings with us, "He hath done all things well"?

I keep reminding you, and I pray you will not grow weary of it, that the time of Trinity is a time of application; a time to reflect on the way the great doctrines of the Bible apply to us in every day life. Many great doctrines are brought to our attention this morning; the doctrine of the Providence of God, the doctrines of His attributes of unchanging faithfulness, and His steadfast and everlasting love, of the Incarnation and the atonement. There are others, but the application is this; trust Him. "He hath done all things well," will He not continue the same tomorrow and for all eternity? Will He not keep His promises to us, everyone of them, and everyone of us, just as faithfully and just as fully in the future as He has in the past? Does God sleep? Has His arm grown weary? Has He become weak? Is He not, as we prayed together in the Collect for the Twelfth Sunday after Trinity, "more ready to hear than we to pray" and "wont to give more than either we desire or deserve?"

O God who doeth all things well, "Pour down upon us the abundance of thy mercy; forgiving us those things whereof our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things which we are not worthy to ask, but through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord. Amen.

September 9, 2011

Saturday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Saturday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.96, 2 Sam. 6:1-11, Lk. 22:63-23:12
Evening - Ps. 112, 113, Hab. 3:2-19, Rom. 11:22-36

Commentary
Romans 11:22-36

The many Jews who missed the point of justification by faith are a solemn reminder to the Gentiles that they abide in God only as long as they abide by faith in Christ. Paul returns to the illustration of the olive tree to reinforce his point. If the natural branches (Jews) were broken off and wild branches (Gentiles) were grafted in, God can just as easily remove the wild branches and replace the natural ones (11:22-24).

Again we are reminded that God will turn the Jews to Himself. Verses 25- 32 are a little difficult to follow because they jump from the Jews' present blindness to their future faith, to the Gentiles benefiting from the grace of God, but their basic meaning is found in verse 26, the Deliverer shall turn away their ungodliness.

In verses 33-36 we come to the conclusion of this part of Romans, which is a great prayer of praise and thanksgiving to God. It confesses something we need to bear in mind as we ponder these chapters, that the wisdom and knowledge of God are far deeper than we can fathom (11:33), therefore His ways will always be a mystery to us. We are not His counselors, nor are we able to do anything that would cause God to be indebted to us (34-35). Just the opposite, we are constantly indebted to Him, and must accept His will, though we may not always understand it.

September 8, 2011

Readings and Commentary for Friday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Friday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 94, 2 Sam. 5:1-10, Lk. 22:47-62
Evening - Ps. 103, Hab. 2:9-14, 19-20, Rom. 11:1-21

Commentary
Romans 11:1-21


Still continuing the issue of the relationship of the Jews to the doctrine of justification by faith, Paul poses an important question in11:1: "Hath God cast away his people?" This is important because Paul has been writing about election and predestination and the foreknowledge of God, and the issue at stake is, if these things are true, yet the majority of Jews reject Christ, then hasn't God rejected Israel, and doesn't that make Him a liar? For if He said He elected and preordained Israel to be His people, and now they are not, then, God is either unwilling or unable to fulfill His promise. Either way His willingness or ability to keep us in His good graces is suspect.

Verses 2-6 give the answer. God has not cast away His people, for it has always been a minority of the Jews who were the elect and true Israel. There have been times when it appeared to some, such as Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10, that all Israel had left God, but even in those times there have always been those who have remained true to Him (Rom 11:4, 1 Kings 19:18). As it was in the time of Elijah it was also in the time of Paul; "Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace" (11:5). Three thousand Jews were converted on Pentecost (Acts 2:41). In Acts 4:4 the number is five thousand. By Acts 21:20 we read, "Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe," and many commentators have correctly noted that the Greek word used here, from which we derive our English word, "myriads," really means "tens of thousands." So the Apostles in Acts 21:20 were really saying, "See how many tens of thousands of Jews have believed in Christ." Thus, it is very possible that the New Testament Church, at the time of Paul's arrival in Jerusalem around the year 57 A.D., was still comprised primarily of Jews. Whether that is a correct assessment or not, large numbers of Jews did become believers in Christ, proving that God has not cast the Jews away, but has preserved a remnant for Himself.

Verses 7-10. The rest of Israel, "hath not obtained that which he seeketh" (11:7). The rest of the Jews were seeking righteousness by means of the law. Still believing it was the ceremonies and sacrifices that made them acceptable to God, they would not receive the righteousness that is apart from the law through faith. They are in the same category as those spoken of in Romans 1:24, 26, and 28: "God also gave them up," God gave them up," "God gave them over." Notice how similar the intent of these verses is to the intent of Romans 11:7-10. The point is that God simply gave unbelieving Jews what they want; the opportunity to attempt to justify themselves by means of the law, or to ignore God altogether.

The rejection of Christ by some Jews does not mean God has cast away the Jews as a people. A day will come when they will awaken to Christ (11:26). Meanwhile, their unbelief has worked for the redemption of the Gentiles. Verses 11-14 make this plain, Paul even refers to himself as the Apostle to the Gentiles (11:13). Paul did not start out to win the Gentiles. His established method of evangelism was to speak to the Jews in the synagogues. His message was not well received. Beaten, stoned, and rejected, he finally turned to the Gentiles (Acts 13:46). Thus, through the fall of the Jews, "salvation is come to the Gentiles" (11:11). It is Paul's hope, that Jews will see the Gentiles coming to the God of Israel and the Messiah of Israel, and be moved to seek Him also He hopes they will emulate the Gentiles (11:14).

The salvation of the Gentiles is no cause for pride among us. It is by the grace of God that we have been brought into the Kingdom, not by any worthiness we have achieved on our own. It is as though some branches of an olive tree have been broken off, and branches from a wild olive tree have been grafted to the tree in their places. Thus, the root, Israel, is still alive, and we are grafted into it. This does not mean we are to become Jews. It does mean we continue the faith of Israel as it is fulfilled in Christ.

September 7, 2011

Thursday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 92, 2 Sam. 4:1-5, 7-12, Lk. 22:13-46
Evening - Ps. 90, Hab. 1:2-4, 12-2:4, Rom 10

Commentary
Romans 10:1-21

Chapter 10 of Romans continues the theme of the relationship between Jews and the doctrine of justification by faith. The major point made is that the Jews also, even in the Old Testament, were always justified by faith, never by the works of the law. This had to be so because, first, no one could actually keep the law perfectly, and, second, and more importantly, because the true religion of the Old Testament is about the spirit, rather than the letter, of the law. We can state this in different ways. We can say the true Jew is one who is a Jew inwardly in his relationship to God, not outwardly in his cultural ceremonies. We can say God wants religion of the heart, not a religion of works. Either way, we are expressing an essential point of Romans, and the Old Testament, that the sacrifices and ceremonies of the Old Testament were never meant to be ends in themselves; they were always means by which God drew His people to Himself and by which their faith was expressed. They were very much like the means of grace in the New Testament Church. We read the Bible, for example, in faith, not just to mechanically accomplish a duty. Likewise, the believing Jew of the Old Testament era offered his sacrifice in faith. He knew the life of that animal could not really atone for his sin, but he had faith that God was going to receive him and accept him and bless him, and his faith was counted for him as righteousness, just as it was for Abraham. The average Jew could not have said, "a Virgin named Mary will have a child in Bethlehem, and He will be the Son of God, and He will die on the cross as the Lamb of God, and He will take away my sins, and this lamb that I am offering is only a symbol of Him." But he did know his sacrifice pointed to something God was going to do that would atone for his sins, and that God was going to accept him on the basis of that Greater Sacrifice, and he believed this in faith, and God counted him as just. Thus, the believing Jew looked for a righteousness apart from the law, given as the gift of God and received by faith.

But the unbelieving Jews, especially the leadership, perverted the true meaning of the law from a covenant of grace to a covenant of works by which merely performing the outward ceremonies made one acceptable to God. They assumed the words of Moses in Leviticus 18:5 meant they could earn the pleasure of God just by performing the ceremonies (Rom. 10:5). Thus, they lived and thought in very unGodly ways, but were careful to do all that the ceremonial law required, and they thought they were righteous because of their law keeping. This is the point made in Romans 10:2-5.

Verses 6-13 return to God's way of making sinners righteous; justification by faith. It is not our efforts but God's grace that cancels our sin and makes us acceptable to Him. We do not need to go on a mighty quest, to ascend into Heaven or descend into Hell. God has already done that for us. We don't have to hunt for a word from God; the word is "nigh thee." All we have to do is receive it in faith. The word is, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved" (10:9). It doesn't matter if we are Jews or Greeks, meaning, Gentiles (10:11-12), "whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved" (10:13).

The great tragedy is that many of the Jewish people will not call upon Him. Verses 14 and 15 ask rhetorical questions that lead to the conclusion of verse 16, "But they [the Jews] have not all obeyed the gospel." Verse 18 reiterates this, asking, "Have they not heard?" Then, answering its own question, it says, "Yes, verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world." Gentiles have heard and believed (10:19 & 20), but Israel has turned a deaf ear. As verse 21 says, "All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."

September 6, 2011

Wednesday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 67, 101, 2 Sam. 1:17, Lk. 22:14-30
Evening - Ps.85, 98, Nahum 3, Rom. 9:1-5, 14-24, 30-33

Commentary
Romans 9:1-33

Romans 9 returns to a topic introduced in chapters 2 and 3; the relationship between the Jewish people and the teaching of justification by faith. It is a major intention of the book of Romans to show that all people in all times and all places have only one way to be made acceptable unto God; they must receive it from Him as a gift. No human being is able to earn it for himself, a fact proven by the law, which shows our many breaches of the standard of God's perfect righteousness (Rom. 3:20). Thus, all are guilty before God (Rom. 3:19) whether they are Jews or Gentiles, "for all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Rom.3:23).

It is incorrect to think people in Old Testament times were made acceptable unto God through the rituals and sacrifices of the Old Testament law. They, like all people, committed sin, and the rituals and sacrifices could not atone for them. Furthermore, it was just as possible for an Old Testament Jew to go through the ceremonies without meaning them, as it is for a person to go through the service of Holy Communion without meaning it. Without faith, neither has any benefit. The system of sacrifices and rituals was a symbol of our Saviour Christ, who suffered death on the cross for our redemption, and "made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction, for the sins of the whole world" (Holy Communion, p. 80). His sacrifice makes us acceptable to God (justification), which we receive by trusting Him to make us acceptable (faith). "The just shall live by faith" (Rom. 1:17). This has been the major theme of the book of Romans to this point. In chapters 9-11, Paul returns to the Jews to show in more detail how this truth applies to them.

To understand this, we need to grasp a principle that permeates the Scriptures. I have previously spent much time talking and writing about it, so I will not take much of your time to restate it tonight, but it is important, so I will take some time. The principle is that the Bible meets its full meaning in Christ. This means things like the Temple and the Old Testament sacrifices find their full meaning in Christ, who gave His life as an offering for our sin. It goes even deeper than this, for even Israel is a symbol of the future scope of the Kingdom of Christ, which will include people from all nations and races and backgrounds, not just Jews. In other words, the promises given to Israel in the Old Testament find their full meaning in Christ and in the Church of the New Testament. The Church is the new Israel. It is the continuation of the work of God on earth by which He brings people unto Himself in Christ (Rom.9:23-26).

This means Jews were not "saved" just because they were Jews. This is the point of verses 6 and 7, "they are not all Israel which are of [natural children of] Israel [Jacob]: neither because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children." Jacob and Esau are given as examples of this in 9:10-13. Jacob was "saved," Esau was not. The entire point of these verses is to show that being born into the Jewish nation does not mean a person is born into the Kingdom of God. Keeping the ceremonies and ritual of the Old Testament did not make a Jew a child of God. Imperfect attempts to keep the moral and ethical law of the Old Testament did not make a Jew a child of God. Only faith made a Jew a child of God and a member of the true Kingdom of God (9:31-33). Faith is trusting God to make you acceptable unto Him through that one sacrifice the Old Testament pointed to, the Son of God who gave Himself as the ransom for many, the Lamb of God which taketh away the sins of the world.

September 5, 2011

Tuesday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps.73, 2 Sam. 1:1-16, Lk. 22:1-13
Evening - Ps.78, Nahum 2, Rom. 8:28

Commentary
Romans 8:28-39

Reading this passage in Romans requires us to look back at Rom. 8:18: "For I reckon that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." Everything in tonight's reading is written to support and prove the point stated in this verse.

It is to prove verse 18 that Paul makes the great statement in 8:28, "all things work together for good to them that love God." There are several reasons why all things work together for our good. First, they develop Godliness in us. The course of life shapes us into the people God wants us to be. As James puts it, "the trying of your faith worketh patience" (Jas. 1:3), and as Paul states it in Romans 5:3&4, "tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience; and experience, hope." Second, the trials and disappointments of life teach us to look for our greatest treasures in Heaven rather than earth. In Heaven, moths and rust do not corrupt our goods, and thieves cannot steal them away (Mt. 6:20). But the greatest good that can come from our experiences on earth is the realisation that God is greater than all our problems, and even greater than all our worldly pleasures. They "are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us." It is as we realise this more and more that we fix our hope and peace on God. In this way, all things work together for our good.

In support of the premise in 8:18, Paul offers the statements in verses 29 and 30. Many stumble over the word "predestination," but we need not allow it to cause us grief. It is, after all, a Biblical word. Some people see this word and make it the sum and total of their understanding of the Bible. Others ignore it altogether. Neither is correct. Obviously the God of all creation is moving the created order toward His pre-determined goal. That goal, equally obviously, includes people. Rather than letting this cause us heartburn, let it do as Paul meant it to do, assure us that our lives and souls are in the hand of God, who is preparing us to dwell with Him in Heaven forever. Compared to this, the problems and troubles of earth seem very small and trivial.

Romans 8:29 and 30 are simply more support for the conclusion of 8:18, and lead us to the question in 18:31,"if God be for us, who can be against us?" He gave His Son for us, will a few problems on earth prevent Him from giving us all the things He intends to give? (8:32) He has justified us, can any charges against us stand up in His court? (8:33). Christ died and rose again for us, is anything able to separate us from that kind of Divine love? (8:34). The answer is a resounding, "NO!" None of the sufferings of this present time are able to separate us from His love, or take from us our place in His Kingdom of grace.

Verses 35-39 offer a frightening array of the "sufferings of this present time." None of them can prevent God from completing the work He has begun in us. None of them can prevent those, whom He has justified and is sanctifying, from being brought into the full and final sense of the salvation Christ died to purchase for us. In all of these things we are more than conquerors, for Christ will infallibly bring us to the promised joy of Heaven forever.

September 4, 2011

Monday after the Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 71, 1 Sam. 31, Lk. 21:20
Evening - Ps. 77, Nahum 1:3-8, 15, Rom. 8:18-27

Commentary
Romans 8:18-27

We have been reading about justification and sanctification. These have been the theme of Romans to this point. Justification is simply God's regarding us as righteous on the basis of the atoning sacrifice of Christ. It has been a major point of Romans to show that God does not regard us righteous on the basis of our attempts to live up to the moral/ethical standards of Biblical law. Our attempts to live up to these standards have been miserable failures. As we measure ourselves by the Biblical law we see that we have not earned God's favour by keeping His law; we have earned His displeasure by breaking His law. But God has taken all His displeasure at our sin upon Himself in Christ, and He counts us as righteous, as just, if we believe in Christ and trust His sacrificial death to make us right with God. That is justification by grace through faith, often called, simply, justification by faith. In less theological terms, Christ took our sins upon Himself and suffered for them on the cross. He offers forgiveness of sins to all who will receive it from Him as His gift to us. Thus, forgiveness is justification, and the act of receiving it from Christ is faith.

Justification is not the end of the Christian journey, it is the beginning. Having been justified, we enter into a life-long pattern of growing more Godly in our thoughts and actions. We begin a life style of growing in holiness. In Bible talk, we begin the process of sanctification. This is also accomplished by God for us. It is the result of His Word and Spirit working in us through the means of grace, restructuring our values, desires, ideas, and every other aspect of our being.

Now Romans turns to the end and result of justification and sanctification. We call this, "glorification." Glorification refers to the future blessing of all believers, when the trials of life are over and we find ourselves in that place of perfect bliss with God forever. One of the most wonderful things about Heaven is that our sanctification will be complete. We will be completely remade, so that all of our being lives for God, and can never be turned aside to sin again

This hope, according to verse 18, makes the battles and sorrows and persecutions of earth bearable. More than bearable, they become insignificant, when compared to the final happiness the Christian will know in Heaven. The two cannot even be compared. They are like apples and oranges, or life and death, or Heaven and earth.

Paul illustrates this with the present and future states of the physical universe. The "creature" in verses 19-22 refers to the entire physical creation (in the Greek New Testament, the same word is used throughout these verses, but it is translated as creature in verses 19, 20, and 21, and as creation inverse 22). He says the created order waits for the revelation of the sons of God (8:19) This means the entire created order looks forward, (to use a little personification) to the day when those who are justified and sanctified will be shown in their final state of glorification. Why? Because in that day, when all of the purpose and plan of God for His Church is completed, the whole created order will be delivered from the current condition of corruption (8:21).

We live in the hope and anticipation of that day. We are even seeing some of it already. We live in the beginning of the age of fulfillment in which the promises of the Old Testament are beginning to be fulfilled. We live in the age of Christ. We live in the era of His Church. Even within ourselves we see God at work bringing us toward this fulfillment. But we do not live in its complete fullness yet. It is a hope that is not fulfilled yet (8:24), but our justification and sanctification give us confidence that our God will bring it into full reality.

Sermon for Eleventh Sunday after Trinity

How God Shows Greatness
Luke 18:9-14
Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
September 4, 2011


"Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised in the city of our God, in the mountain of his holiness"(Ps. 48:1). "The heavens declare the glory of God; and the firmament showeth his handiwork" (Ps. 19:1). These verses from the Psalms remind us again of the grandeur and wonder of God. He created all things, and they exist for His pleasure and His purpose. He is not simply "out there," He is actively involved in His creation, so much that it is correct to say He is everywhere in it. He permeates it. His power sustains it. His decrees order the movement of the galaxies and of atoms and sub-atomic particles. He knows the number of the hairs on your head, and the number of the days of your life. This does not mean He and the creation are one and the same. It is incorrect to say He exists in the creation. It is correct to say the creation exists in Him. He is in it, and He fills it, yet He is distinct from it, so that it is not Him and He is not it. He is far more vast and complex than it. He is eternal in His being, and He is infinite in His being. The creation is finite in both, and though the universe appears vast and unfathomable to us, to God it is as a smudge of dust on His finger.

I say all of this to remind us again of the Great Being we have gathered to worship this morning. I think we often think of God in terms that are too small, and that we forget about His infinite being and power, and that we forget that this One, Infinite Being who dwells in eternity, is also infinite in holiness, and justice, and wisdom, and power. And when we forget this, we have a tendency to treat Him casually. We have a tendency to think of Him as being like us, and as being more like our good buddy in the sky or the "man upstairs" than as the Great High God who holds our being in His hand, and is able to cast us into Hell, and who is as infinite in holiness and goodness as He is in His being. If we could but glimpse the train of His robe we would be filled with such awe we would immediately cease the casual silliness that passes for faith and worship today, and we would fall on our faces in reverence and fear.

And yet, we have seen much more of Him than the train of His robe. He, Himself came to us and showed Himself to us. He did not reveal Himself in all of His power and glory. We could not see that and live. He showed Himself by becoming one of us, and by living among us, and facing life and sorrow, and joy, and temptation, and death, just as we have to do, for He became a real man.

For what purpose did Jesus come to earth, and teach us about God, and die on the cross? It was not to crush us under His feet. It was not to tread us in the winepress of the fierceness of His wrath. He will come back in judgment one day, and that will be a fearful day but that is not why He was born in Bethlehem and walked that long road to Golgotha. He came not to take life, but to give life. "I am come that they [His people] might have life," He said in John 10:10. "I am the resurrection and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever believth in me shall never die," He said in John 11:25 and 26. In Matthew 20:28 He said He, the Son of Man, came to give His life as a ransom for many. You and I could quote many other verses on this theme, but we have mentioned enough to make the point I am trying to make this morning: Jesus Christ came to show mercy. Jesus Christ came to save.

Imagine the vastness of this universe, so vast that, to us, it seems almost infinite. Imagine the complexity of this universe, or even of one single living cell. And all of this is nothing compared to God. Yet, when He chose to come to earth and give the fullest revelation of Himself we can receive as mere human beings, and when He chose to reveal that most important attribute of Himself, as far as His relationship to us is concerned, He chose to reveal His mercy. How absolutely stunning. It is too much for words.

This does not mean He overlooks our sin, or that He is not offended and angered by our sin. It does not mean He will not punish sinners. It does mean He delights in showing mercy, and every sinner who truly repents and unfeignedly believes His holy Gospel, is welcomed into His presence with true joy and love, forever. From the woman taken in adultery, to the Pharisee Saul who persecuted the Church, to the publican praying in the Temple to every person hearing or reading this sermon, all who trust in Jesus Christ will find God to be full of mercy, the Father of all mercies, who declares His almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity.

"Almighty God, who declarest thy almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity; Mercifully grant unto us such a measure of thy grace, that we, running the way of thy commandment, may obtain thy gracious promises, and be made partakers of they heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."

September 2, 2011

Saturday after the Tenth Sunday after Trinity

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 66, 1 Sam. 28:3-19, Lk. 21:5-19
Evening - Ps. 65, 67, Micah 7:14, Rom. 8:1-17

Commentary
Romans 8:1-17

The first seven chapters of Romans were written to prove and support two important truths. First, no human being is able to earn the favor of God. Second, no human being is able to keep himself in God's favour. These two truths summarise the greatest problem to ever face mankind. Humanity's greatest problem is not political corruption, war, pollution, corporate greed, or social injustice. Our greatest problem is that we are criminals against the just and righteous law of God, that we have no excuse for our crimes, and that we are, therefore justly condemned to suffer the penalty of our crimes forever. Social problems are but the fruit that naturally grow from the vine of our disobedience. Personal sins are but the specific crimes of those who have decided in their hearts to be criminals against God. The law of God, rather than showing God how good we are, simply reveals to us how very far we have gone into our life of crime. It proves to us that we are guilty of unlawful actions against God, and that the natural disposition, or, inclination, of our being, is to disobey God and to obey our own desires. So the general inclination of our lives is away from God. This does not mean we are as bad as we could be. Nor does it mean we never do good things or have good intentions or good will toward God or other people. It does mean we are prone to go against our good will and intentions and that we are prone to do so frequently, knowingly, and willfully. And, even when we carry our out good intentions we find they are not as pure as we imagine them to be, and that we often do them on our own terms rather than God's. The trouble with God is that He demands that we obey Him on His terms, and His terms are absolute perfection and holiness, for He Himself is absolute perfection and holiness. Thus, if we are ever going to be restored to God's favour, it is going to be through something He does on our behalf, not through our own achievements. That is where Christ enters the story. He restores us to God's favour through His life, death, and resurrection.

But even after we come to God through Christ we soon realise that we are as incapable of keeping ourselves in His favour as we were of earning His favour in the first place. The desire to obey our desires, rather than God's, remains within us. Yes, we have been changed within. Yes, we now have a desire to seek God, to live holy lives, and to forsake sin. But we also find that the old desires of sin and self still live in us, and they are still very strong. Many people are surprised by this. They thought becoming a Christian would end their old ways the very instant they believed. But one of the major points of Romans, found chiefly in chapter seven, is that we still have to fight against sin. The old conflict between doing what we know God wants and doing what we want is still in us.

I think it is helpful if we consider this conflict in this way. When you were not a Christian, you fought against God. You resisted His will. You thought His commandments were barriers to your self-fulfillment and happiness. You wanted your own way, not God's. If you have become a Christian you have found you are still fighting, but the enemy has changed. Now you are fighting against sin. Now you are fighting against your own desires. Now you are fighting to bring all of your life into His will. This is one of the things that enables us know we are Christians. The unbeliever, no matter how good or religious he appears to be, is fighting God for himself. The believer is fighting himself for God.

This takes us right back where we stated a few minutes ago, to the realisation that we are unable to win the inner battle against our own sinful desires. We try to resist sin. We try to be more spiritually minded. We try to live quiet, holy lives, to be the kind of person we ought to be at work and at home and at church. But, like the disciples, the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak. We just don't seem to be able to win the battle. The reason we seem to be unable is simple; we are unable. This is the meaning of those complicated words in Romans 7:15-25, especially verse 19. Just as we were unable to bring ourselves into God's favour by our works, we are also unable to keep ourselves in, or grow in His favour by our own efforts. Just as God Himself had to make a way to bring us into His favour apart from our own abilities, He also has to make a way to keep us in His favour apart from our own abilities. This brings us into the heart of Romans 8.

Verses 1-4. The chapter begins with a restatement of the points we have just summarised. 1-3 restate justification by grace through faith. "No condemnation" means those in Christ are no longer condemned to suffer the penalty for their sin. This is because God did for us what we could not do by means of the law. He freed us from the penalty of our sins (condemnation) by suffering for them Himself on the cross. Through Him the righteousness of the law has been fulfilled.

The righteousness of the law has three parts. First is the complete goodness of the law (Ps. 19:7). Second is the requirement of perfect obedience. Third is the demand that criminals be punished. Christ fulfilled the law because He is first Good. He is in His nature and being as good and holy as the law. The law originates in Him and is itself a reflection of His Goodness. Second, He fulfilled the law through His perfect obedience to it. He never deviated from it, though He was severely tempted. He fulfilled its demand of perfect obedience. Third, He satisfied the law's requirement that criminals be punished by suffering the penalty of sin for us. So the law is perfectly fulfilled in Him.

In verse 4 the Bible introduces something that will be more fully developed in later verses, namely, the Holy Spirit and His effects in the life of the Christian. How are we enabled to begin to do the will of God instead of sin? The Holy Spirit enables us. Those who are in Christ through Biblical faith have begun to live (walk) by the Spirit rather than their sinful desires (flesh).

Verse 5. The flesh and the Spirit are the essence of the new battle we are fighting as Christians. We have noted that before we became Christians we were fighting God, but now we are fighting ourselves. Paul, referring to the part of us we are fighting uses the word "flesh." He refers first to our physical bodies and the desires and lusts which are a part of having a body. But he also includes our desire to please ourselves by indulging our bodily desires in ungodly ways. This brings up the fact that there is a godly way to enjoy the pleasures of the flesh. There is a godly way to enjoy food, drink, comfort, sex, and possessions. Our problem is that we often make the enjoyment of these pleasures paramount in our lives, and go about their enjoyment in very ungodly ways, making the pleasures themselves more important to us than the will of God. The battle going on within the Christian is the attempt to control our desires, so that we may enjoy them in a Godly fashion, which can only be done by restoring God to His rightful place as God of me, and God of you. It is by the Holy Spirit that we are enabled to do this. So, the Christian life is called here, walking by the Spirit. This is very important, and I recommend you re-read this paragraph.

Verses 6- 8. Romans amplifies this in the following verses. In verses 6-7 it uses the word carnal, saying, "the carnal mind is enmity against God." To place the enjoyment of physical pleasures above the will of God is to be carnally, fleshly, minded. That, by definition, is to be at enmity against God. This is very serious. We often trivialise sin, but it is very serious and very deadly. God does not wink at it. God does not condone it in any way. God says that it is enmity against Him. God says it is death.

How can this be? "Because the carnal mind is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." The carnal mind leads us away from God to the indulgence of the flesh. The carnal mind makes self and self pleasure the most important thing in the universe. It may disguise itself in many forms, even making itself appear good and altruistic, but its real purpose is self pleasure. It is impossible to serve self pleasure above all things, and still be subject to the law of God. Self indulgence and obedience to God are opposing goals and purposes. The mind cannot be carnal and Spiritual at the same time, any more than the body can be in space and not in space at the same time. So, "they that are in the flesh [primarily directed toward fulfilling their own desires] cannot please God" (8: 8).

Verse 9. "But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit." Two things need to be stated about this verse. First all Christians are in the Spirit, for, "if any man have not the Spirit of Christ (the Holy Spirit) he is none of His." Second, if the Spirit of God is in you, you are not "in the flesh but in the Spirit." We could add a third lesson, to be inferred from the first two, that to be in the flesh means you are not in the Spirit.

All Christians are in the Spirit. When does a person receive the Holy Spirit? You receive the Holy Spirit when you believe in Christ as Lord and Saviour. Receiving the Spirit, or, as it is sometimes called, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, happens the moment you receive Christ. Receiving the Spirit and receiving Christ are so inseparable as to be virtually one and the same event. We separate them academically to examine each, as we do in other subjects. But in the actual thing itself, in the real world, they are not separated. There is no second act of grace by which a person is given the Holy Spirit at some point after conversion. Nor does the baptism or filling of the Holy Spirit cause one to act in any manner other than reverent and holy obedience to God. So the proof that you have the Holy Spirit is found in your desire and attempts to live a "godly, righteous and sober life" as defined by God in the Scriptures.

To be in the Spirit is to be not in the flesh. This is the second point here. Paul is not talking about an out of body experience. The Scripture does not teach us to seek such things. Paul is talking about being under the control and direction of the Holy Spirit leading us to goodness, Godliness, and life. Under the direction of the Spirit we are led into the kind of life that bears the fruit of the Spirit; love joy, peace, the ability to deal with problems and issues of life (patience), the ability to be gentle and deal kindly with others (meekness) and the ability to keep our desires and passion under control (temperance), as taught in Galatians 5:22-23. To be under the direction of the Spirit is the opposite of being under the control of physical desires.

Paul does talk about the death of the body (8:10 & 11), but this has both a literal and figurative meaning. Of course the body will die. And, of course, Christ will raise it up, quicken it. But this is said as an illustration of the point that in Christ, through the Spirit, the power of the body's physical desires, which often lead us into sin, is broken. It is dead because we are not trapped in it now anymore than a soul is trapped in a dead physical body. In many places Paul uses the imagery of death saying we are dead to sin, or dead to the power of the flesh. Here he simply uses this same image in reverse, saying the flesh is dead to us, its power over us is broken and we now live in the Spirit.

So, in verse 12, we are not debtors to the flesh. It has died and we owe it nothing. Those who live for it, that is, those who remain under its control by refusing to allow themselves to be brought under the control of the Sprit through faith in Christ, will die with their flesh. This death is the death of the soul, a spiritual condition of being eternally separated from God and all goodness (8:13). Those who are Christ's by faith are those who are justified and now live by the Spirit. They are the sons of God who receive not condemnation, but life with God in Heaven forever (8:14-17).

I wonder if we really grasp the meaning of verses 14-17. We grow so accustomed to hearing them, I worry that we become inured to their full meaning. We were in a state of being that was in total opposition to God. We were guilty of rebellion against Him personally, and our natural inclination was away from all that is good and holy. Yet God was unwilling to leave us in that condition, and He rescued us the only way such a rescue could possibly be accomplished, by bearing in Himself all the anger, hurt, frustration and cost of our sin, rather than requiring us to bear it ourselves. He bore it all on the cross. Now He has begun to rebuild us into people who can know and appreciate goodness, and life that is lived for something much higher and better than mere indulgence of our flesh. We have been brought into His house and we are given His Heaven, our souls, and Himself as our inheritance forever. Remember that the reason God created the visible cosmos and the invisible things of Heaven, is to build a Kingdom for His Son, Jesus Christ (Eph. 1:10). We were created to be a part of His Kingdom, and we exist for His glory (Eph. 1:12). But we are not mere slaves or ornaments in His Kingdom. By His grace, by the atoning work of Christ and the sanctifying work of the Spirit, we are joint-heirs of the Kingdom with Christ. It is for us as it is for Him. Perhaps this is just too much for us to grasp right now. It overloads our circuits. But one day we will see it. One day we will understand it, because one day we will live it in the fullest sense.