February 24, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, February 24-March 1


Monday, February 24

Morning - Ps. 2, 3, Gen 7:1-23, Mk. 7:24
Evening - Ps. 4, 8, Amos 5:14-24, Gal. 3:19-29

Commentary, Galatians 3:19-29

Galatians 3:19 opens with an important question; what is the purpose of the law of God?  Of course God's law has many purposes.  The moral law, summarised in the Ten Commandments and the teaching of Christ, reveals the absolute perfection of God.  It reveals the will of God for all mankind in everyday life.  It shows mankind how to live in harmony with God and each other, thus it shows the way of peace and happiness (Ps. 19:7-14).  The ceremonial law reveals that those who break the moral law are unacceptable to God unless something is done, apart from the moral law, to make them acceptable.  The law shows, then, that, by our own actions, we are unclean and unfit for any kind of fellowship with God, and that we need to be made clean by something outside of the moral law, or we will remain forever unacceptable to God.

This is brought out in several verses in our reading.  Regarding our failure to keep the moral law, we are told the Scripture "hath concluded all under sin" (3:22).   Regarding the ceremonial law, we are told we can never make ourselves acceptable to God through it (3:21).  This is important, for if we can atone for sin by performing a few ceremonies, then sin is a very trivial thing to God.  If sin is trivial to God, it can be trivial to us, and if sin is trivial, so is righteousness.  Holiness, justice, integrity, the Commandments of God, love for God, and love for one another really don't matter.  Only the ceremonies matter.  This mistaken view of the law was held by Israel many times throughout her history, and she paid dearly for it.

We come now to one of the law's most important purposes; it is our teacher to lead us to Christ (3:24).  How does the law lead us to Christ?  First, it concludes all people under sin (3:22).  This means it reveals to us that we are sinners.  Comparing ourselves to the moral law of God does not reveal how good we are.  It reveals how wicked we are and how far short we are of the total perfection of God.  Second, the ceremonial law reveals that there is nothing we can do to atone for our sins.  Do we really think a ceremony, or even the life of an animal can make up for our sins?    A right view of animal sacrifices reveals how pitifully small and powerless they are to cover our sins (Heb. 10:4).  In short, they reveal the absolute impossibility of making ourselves acceptable to God.  If we are going to be made acceptable to Him, He is going to have to accomplish it for us.  Thus, the law teaches us that we need a Saviour.  It leads us to cast ourselves on the mercy of God and the sacrifice of Christ, that we may be justified by grace through faith, not by the works of the law (3:24).

The law also shows the deadly seriousness of sin.  It is not trivial to God and it cannot be trivial to us.  It is so serious that sinners are called dead (Eph. 2:1) and worthy of death (Rom. 1:32), whose eternal destiny is the fires of hell (Rev. 20:15).  Sin is so serious that we are unable to atone for it ourselves.  Nothing could save us from the fires of hell but the sacrifice of Christ Himself.  That's how serious sin is to God.

So, what is the relationship of the ceremonial law to the Christian?  The short answer is, it has fulfilled its task and is no longer necessary (Heb. 8:13).  It has been our schoolmaster, but in Christ we have graduated from it.  From it we have learned that we are sinners.  From it we have learned that our sin must be made right before we can be acceptable to God.  From it we have learned that we cannot make our sins right by the ceremonies of the law.  From it we learned that its ceremonies and sacrifices symbolised the life and ministry of Christ, "the Lamb of God:" who alone can atone for our sins. From it we have learned to trust in the suffering of the Lamb of God as the payment for our sins and the ground of our acceptance with God.  Now that we have graduated from the school of the law, it no longer has control over us.  We have moved into faith (3:25-26).

There is now no difference between Christian Jews and Christian Gentiles.  All are shown to be sinners unable to save themselves, and all are saved only by the grace of God received by faith (3:28-29).  Those who are God's by faith in Christ are the true seed and descendants of Abraham; the true heirs of the promises of God (3:29).

Tuesday, February 25
                          
Morning - Ps. 5, Gen. 8:6, Mk. 8:11-26
Evening - Ps.11, 12, Amos 6:1-8, Gal. 4:1-11

Commentary, Galatians 4:1-11

We are heirs of God through Christ (4:7).  The Apostle is telling Jewish and Gentile Christians that we are the heirs of all the promises of God given in the Old Testament.  We inherit the promises not by means of the law, but by trusting in Christ's sacrifice as the Lamb of God that takes away our sins.  It is very important to understand that faith is the means by which we become a child of God and an heir of the promises.  Physical descent from Abraham does not make one an heir.  Keeping the ceremonial law cannot do it.  Becoming Jewish cannot do it.  Only faith can open the door to Heaven.  Only faith is the key to the Kingdom.

Verse 7 is the conclusion of the flow of thought that begins in verse 1.  We are told that, under the ceremonial law, we were as children under the care of tutors and governors (guardians).  But when God had brought the world to just the right moment, according to His plan, He sent His Son to redeem those who were under the law (4:4-5).  He released them from their tutors and guardians and gave them the inheritance foreshadowed in the law and foretold in the prophets.  Everything promised in the Old Testament is fulfilled in Christ and given to His people of faith, the Church.

Verses 8-11 make a second point based on the preceding verses. It is stated in the form of a question in verse 9, and it asks the Galatians why they would want to go back to being ruled by the guardian when they can have the inheritance of Christ?  Why would you turn your inheritance back over to the guardian instead of keeping and enjoying it yourself?  Why would you want to be bound by rules and rituals that cannot take away your sins, when you can live in the freedom of Christ, who can take away your sins?

 
Wednesday, February 26

Morning - Ps. 7, Gen. 9:8-17, Mk. 8:27-9:1
Evening - Ps. 13, 14, Amos 8:4-12, Gal. 4:12-20

Commentary, Galatians 4:12-20

To attempt to cleanse your own sins through your own actions is to reject Christ. Thus, Paul writes to the Galatians, "I am afraid... lest I have bestowed upon you labour in vain" (4:12).  Paul's appeal that we become as he is, means to trust in Christ alone to forgive your sins and reconcile you to God.  That he was as the Galatians were, means was a time when he also was counting on his own works to make him acceptable to God.  But he realised that he, like all people, must receive acceptance as a gift of God, not as a reward for his own efforts.
 
Paul apparently suffered an illness while in Galatia, but it did not prevent him from sharing the Gospel, and it did not prevent the Galatian people from receiving him with love and hearing him gladly (4:15).  But, by the time Paul wrote the book of Galatians to them, their apparently strong faith in Christ had wavered so much that Paul doubted they were in Christ at all (4:20).


Thursday, February 27

Morning - Ps. 9, Gen. 11:1-9, Mk. 9:2-13
Evening - Ps.17, Amos, 9:1-10, Gal. 4:21 

Commentary, Galatians 4:21

People often stumble over this passage because it appears Paul has imposed a meaning onto a Bible passage that is completely foreign to it.  The Old Testament story of Isaac and Ishmael is obviously a straightforward record of historical events, but Paul seems to make it an allegory of law and grace.  The difficulty people have with this is fourfold.  First, if Paul can allegorise one passage of Scripture, what is to stop us from allegorising all of it?  Second, if the Bible has an allegorical meaning, what is it and how can we know it?  Third, if the Bible has an allegorical meaning as well as a literal meaning, which is more important?  Fourth, and most important, if the Bible has a meaning beyond the plain and obvious meaning of the words, we can never really understand the Bible.  Before we address these issues, let us recall two very important principles of Biblical interpretation.  First, Scripture interprets Scripture.  This means the meaning of one passage will always illuminate and compliment the meaning of other passages in specific, and the entire Bible in general. Second, we should always understand the Bible in the plain and obvious meaning of the words, unless we have good reason not to.  We are not to allegorise passages that are clearly meant literally.

The difficulty with tonight's reading disappears when we realise Paul is not allegorising the Old Testament; he is simply using the historical facts of Isaac and Ishmael to illustrate the point that bondage begets bondage and freedom begets freedom.

Ishmael, was the child of bondage. It is as though Paul is saying, "Let Ishmael symbolise people trying to atone for sin by keeping rules and performing rituals.  The rules and rituals themselves are bondage, for the people are bound to observe them, yet they can never really atone for sin."  Bondage begets bondage.

Isaac was the child of freedom.  Paul is saying, "Let Isaac symbolise those who have trusted Christ to make them acceptable to God.  They are free of the bondage to rules and ceremonies.  They are free of the need to earn Heaven.  It is given to them as a gift from God."  Freedom begets freedom.

Paul goes on to use Hagar as a symbol for the law given at Mount Sinai, and Sarah as the symbol for grace given through Christ, "the Jerusalem which is above" (4:26).  Those who were born into Israel were in bondage to the law until the Saviour came to fulfill the law and release them from its requirements.  Those who are born into Christ are born into freedom. Therefore, they are no longer enslaved to the ceremonial laws of the Old Testament.  "[W]e are not children of the bondwoman, but of the free" (4:31).

Friday, February 28

Morning - Ps. 22, Gen. 11:27-12:6, Mk. 9:14-29
Evening - Ps.6, 26, Amos 7:10, Gal. 5:1-12

Commentary, Galatians 5:1-12

Tonight's reading is a plea to stand fast in the liberty of grace and not return to the bondage of trying to earn God's favour by our own works.  There is no middle road; either we must keep the law and become Jews, or we are saved by grace through faith and the ceremonies of the law are superfluous.  Any attempt to return to the law is to reject the work of Christ and fall from grace (5:4).  And, if you are going to reject Christ for any part of the law, you must keep the whole law perfectly to be acceptable to God (5:3). 

We see an important point in verses 11 and 12.  Paul preaches salvation by grace through faith alone, and has never taught that Gentiles must become Jews, or that Jewish Christians are required to keep the ceremonial laws in any way.  If he had, the Jews would not be persecuting him.  They would be praising him, for he would be bringing multitudes of converts to the Jewish faith.  They may have disagreed with his view of Christ as the Messiah, but they could have tolerated that.  But Paul, preaching the Gospel of grace, actually made the Jewish faith irrelevant.  If Paul's Gospel was true, the Jews needed to come out of Judaism and into the Church.  The Old Israel had fulfilled its mission and it was necessary for Jews to join the New Israel, the Church. This is what angered the Jews.  The Temple, the sacrifices, the rules of clean and unclean, circumcision, kosher food, and everything that typified and identified the Jewish people would have been rendered obsolete.  This is why they persecuted the Church. This is why they rioted at the preaching of Paul, and beat him and stoned him and tried to kill him.

Saturday, March 1

Morning - Ps. 16, Gen. 13:1-18, Mk. 9:30-37
Evening - Ps. 93, 98, Hosea 4:1-10, Gal 5:13

Commentary, Galatians 5:13

Salvation by grace through faith is not a license to sin (5:13).  Paul quotes Leviticus 19:18, which our Lord quoted often, as part of the summary of the moral law's requirements of the way we treat each other. Paul, like our Lord, quotes it to show its continuing relevance and authority in the lives of all people.  It is still the standard of life to which Christians aspire because, by God's grace, we love our neighbors and we love God.

Living by love is not as easy as it sounds.  Love requires us to choose against ourselves.  Love requires us to do things we don't want to do, and to sacrifice things we do want to do.  Just as love of God requires us to organise our schedules in a way that makes public, family, and private worship a top priority, love of neighbors requires us to orient ourselves around giving rather than receiving.  This causes a spiritual battle to take place in us (5:17).  It is the battle of our own desires and will (flesh) against the desires and will of God (Spirit).  It is the battle of our sinfulness against God's holiness.  It is a life-long war, and we must expect to have to fight it, and we must expect it to be difficult.

Since the war is spiritual, our weapons are spiritual.  Our power to fight is the Spirit of God.  Those who surrender to the flesh are easily known by their actions and way of life, called the works of the flesh (5:19).  Those who fight on in the Spirit are also easily recognised by their actions, called the fruit of the Spirit (5:22).  The victory we seek is absolute.  The goal is to exterminate our sin, to rise above our own desires and live for Christ alone.  Paul uses the gruesome practice of crucifixion to illustrate our objective.  We are to crucify our own desires, in order that we may live for God.  If this sounds difficult it's because it is.  If it sounds painful it's because it is.  If it sounds unpleasant it's because it is.  But this is what it means to live and walk in the Spirit (5:25).


Frankly, most "Christians" will not fight this war.  They will not crucify their will and comfort to live for God.  Seeing the difficulty and personal sacrifice required to truly follow Christ, they will retreat.  They will opt for an easier gospel, like the Galatians have done.  They will choose religious ceremonies over self-crucifixion.  They will choose happy feelings over obedience to God.  They will choose self indulgence over service to God.  Yet, all the while they will convince themselves they are in Christ.  But those who live by the Spirit walk by the Spirit.

February 16, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, February 17-22

        Monday, February 17

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 123, 127, Gen. 1:1-19, Mk. 6:7-13
Evening - Ps. 126, 128. 131, Amos 7:1-8, 8:1-3, Gal. 1:1-10

Commentary, Gal. 1:1-10

Tonight's readings take us into the Book of Galatians.  Written by the Apostle Paul, it is a straightforward statement of the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ as the only atonement for sin. While Peter ministered in northern and eastern Galatia (1 Pet. 1:1), Paul carried the Gospel of Christ to the southwestern edge of the province (Acts 14:6-7).  Though faced with much opposition and persecution, Paul established Christian congregations in the region, but when he left to preach in other places, false teachers came behind him perverting the true Gospel and leading the Church astray (Gal. 1:6 & 7).  The essence of their false gospel was the idea that the sacrifice of Christ is not enough to save people from hell.  In addition to His sacrifice on the cross, Christians need keep the Old Testament ceremonial laws and rituals or they can not go to Heaven.  Thus, they made salvation a reward earned by human works, rather than a gift purchased by Christ and given by grace.

Why is this a problem? Because if we can earn Heaven by our own efforts we don't need a Saviour.  This makes the entire life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ futile and unnecessary.  Furthermore, if we can atone for sins by keeping rituals, sin must be a fairly trivial matter.  Sin must not be an offense to God, a rejection of His Divine authority, or a personal rejection of Him as God.  It is simply an error, a mistake, which God doesn't really care much about, and for which we can make amends by offering a sacrifice or giving a few dollars to the Church, or saying an extra prayer.  And, if sin can be so easily atoned for, it was foolish of God to become a Man and suffer and die for it. In addition, any view that makes the Old Testament ceremonies compulsory for Christians overlooks the fact that the entire ceremonial law foreshadowed Christ and is fulfilled in Him.

Thus, the issue at stake in this book of Galatians is not just how we get to Heaven; it is the issue of the very nature, wisdom, and holiness of God and of our relationship to Him.  It is the issue of the nature of sin. Is sin an arrogant slap in the face of a holy and omnipotent God, or is it simply a slip up that God overlooks?

If God is too holy to endure even the thought of evil, if He is angry about the sorrow and destruction caused by sin, and if sin makes us criminals who deserve to be punished, then it is impossible for us to cover our offenses with a few good deeds or pretty ceremonies.  God Himself is going to have to bear the affront of our wickedness within Himself.  He is going to have to make a way for us to be forgiven and get to Heaven apart from our own actions and abilities.  He is going to have to bear the penalty of our sins in Himself.  This is exactly what He did.  In Christ He gave himself for our sins on the cross (Gal. 1:4).  This is what is at stake in the book of Galatians.  This is why Paul wrote, that those seeking to save themselves through the law are deserting Christ (1:6) and those who teach that it is possible to save ourselves by keeping the law are perverting the true Gospel (1:7) and are accursed, meaning, condemned to hell (1:8 & 9).
  
            Tuesday, February 18

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 135, Gen. 1:20-2:3, Mk.6:14-29
Evening - Amos 1:1-5, 13-2:3, Gal. 1:11

Commentary, Gal. 1:11

The Galatians, like us, were confronted with a wide variety of choices and decisions in religion.  The pagan cults around them were too numerous to count.  In addition to them was the Jewish faith, and now, in the preaching of Paul, they faced the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  By the grace of God they were drawn to Christ, but as soon as Paul left them to found churches elsewhere, others came to them, claiming to believe in the same Jesus, same crucifixion, and same resurrection, but teaching a different way of salvation.  Paul, they said, was mistaken about the Gospel.  You cannot be saved by Christ alone; you have to earn it by keeping the Jewish ceremonial law. You have to become Jews.  Only then will your sins be fully forgiven.  So the Galatians faced the question, who do we believe?  Realising this, Paul reminded them of his Apostolic authority and the origin of his message. 

Paul was not just a travelling philosopher or entertainer.  Paul was an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  This meant more than being just "a person sent" which would be the literal translation of the Greek word, apostolos.  An Apostle was an emissary from God, and his message was from God. He had no authority to change the content of the message, or to add to or delete from it, but he had full authority to proclaim it as the message from God Himself.  So, like the Apostles in Jerusalem, Paul's Apostleship was not conferred on him by people (1:1), it was a direct calling from Christ Himself. 

His message was not his own, nor did he receive it from other people (1:11).  This does not mean Paul never heard the Gospel before he met Christ on the Damascus road.  In his zeal to kill Christians (1:13) he had probably heard many Christians tell him about Jesus.  As a rising star in the religious leadership of Israel he had probably learned the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, for he had to know what Christians believed in order to determine who was or was not a Christian.  But Paul did not go to Jerusalem to study with the Apostles after his conversion.  Instead, he went into Arabia to ponder what had happened to him and to devote himself to studying the Scriptures (1:17). He wanted to learn what the Old Testament really taught about the Messiah and His Kingdom. He then returned to Damascus, to the very Christians he had once intended to kill, and became a part of the Church there.  By that time he was already grounded, so, while he undoubtedly grew in the faith while in Damascus, he did not receive his message from the ministers of the Church there.  After three years in Damascus, Paul went to Jerusalem and conferred with Peter and James.  Paul mentions this because it is important for the Galatians to know Peter and James agreed with him, both in the content of his message and in his calling as an Apostle.  His Gospel is the same Gospel they preached, and his Apostleship had the same validity theirs had (1:18-20).  Having this confirmation from Jerusalem, Paul traveled to Syria, where he became a part of the church in Antioch, from which his missionary journeys would begin (1:21-23).

So, Paul was appointed to the Apostleship by direct commission from Christ, he learned the Gospel message by revelation from Christ, and the truth of his message was affirmed by the church in Damascus, Antioch, and by the other Apostles in Jerusalem.  Could the people who taught the gospel of works produce such credentials?  If not, should the Galatians believe them or Paul?


            Wednesday, February 19

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 137:1-6, 140, Gen. 2:4-25, Mk.6:30-44
Evening - Ps. 132, Amos 2:6, Gal. 2:1-10

Commentary, Gal 2:1-10

Tonight's reading takes us to the famous council at Jerusalem.  The promoters of the gospel of works, often called the party of the circumcision or Judaisers, had gained a large following in the Church and the question had to be dealt with.  Many Jewish Christians had probably continued in the Old Testament traditions, though they were forced to start Christian synagogues, rather than worship with non-Christian Jews.  They had no problem with the old traditions, nor did they see them as adding to the work of Christ or earning salvation. They were not the Judaisers.  The Judaisers believed the ceremonial law was absolutely necessary to salvation.  No one, they maintained was truly a Christian or going to Heaven unless he kept the ceremonial law.

The council of Jerusalem showed the Judaisers' gospel to be nothing but a perversion of the true Gospel of Christ.  The culmination of this council came when James, Cephas (Peter), and John, certified the veracity of the Gospel preached by Paul as the one true Gospel by extending unto him the  right hand of fellowship (2:9).  This is a public statement by the Apostles that Paul has Apostolic authority to preach, and that he preaches the Apostolic Gospel.


            Thursday, February 20

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 141, Gen. 3, Mk. 6:45
Evening - Ps. 139, Amos 3, Gal.2:11

Commentary, Gal. 2:11

There is yet another issue at stake in this whole consideration of the place of the ceremonial law in the Church.  That issue is the very nature of the Church itself.  Is the Church simply a continuation of the Old Testament Israel, or is it the fulfillment of it, the New Israel?  If it is simply a continuation of the old Israel, then they are correct who say Gentiles who want to follow Christ must first become Jews.  If the Church is the fulfillment of all the promises and prophecies to Israel, then Gentiles are not required to become Jews, and, even Jewish Christians are not bound by the ceremonial law.  So, which is it?  Before we can answer this question we must assert there is much continuity between the Old and New Testaments.  We may be better able to understand this if we remember that the New Testament is the fulfillment of the Old, and that, together, they tell the same story of salvation by grace through the sacrificial blood of Christ.  The Old Testament ceremonial law pictured the sacrifice of Christ in a way that is similar to the Lord's Supper today.  So, the two are part of the same story.  The Old Testament is the first chapter, preparing the way for the Messiah; the New Testament is the fulfillment and completion of the story.

But the Jewish nation and the Church are also different, and Gentiles are not required to become Jews or keep the ceremonial law.  This is because the ceremonial law was fulfilled in Christ.  Why would we offer animal sacrifices when the Lamb of God has offered Himself once for all?  Why would we concern ourselves with things that made people ceremonially clean when Christ made us truly and completely clean by His own blood?  Thus, the Jewish rituals have done their job, they have pointed us to the one Sacrifice that can take away our sins and make us clean in our souls before God.  Having completed their work, they, like John the Baptist, must decrease while Christ increases.

It is important to see that the Apostles and elders already understood this.  It was not a concept ironed out in debate and decided by majority vote.  Peter and James affirmed that it was true fourteen years before the council took place (Gal. 1:18 & 2:1).  The purpose of the council was not to decide what was true, but to declare what was true to a large gathering of Church leaders so all would know the truth on this issue.

Yet the idea of ceremonial uncleanness, which was a central part of the ceremonial law, was difficult for Jewish Christians to surrender.  Even Peter had lapses of faith on the issue, for when he was in Antioch he ate with Gentiles freely, but when Jews came up from Jerusalem, he separated himself from the Gentiles.  Why the separation?  In the ceremonial law, a Gentile was unclean.  That meant he was unacceptable to God and unacceptable to God's people, Israel.   Eating and fellowshipping with Gentiles made a Jew unclean, meaning the Jew was in the same situation as the Gentile before God.  But if a Gentile became a Jew and began to keep the traditions and ceremonial laws of the Old Testament, he became acceptable; he became "clean."  The Gentile Christians at Antioch did not become Jews, so Peter, thinking the Jewish emissaries from Jerusalem would consider them unclean, stopped eating and fellowshiping with Gentiles (2:12). 

This gave Paul another chance to proclaim what was already known by the Church; that it was not the rituals of the ceremonial law that made people clean before God.  Only the shed blood of Christ made a person clean (2:16). Paul points out that Peter knew this, as did other Jewish Christians in Antioch, for they freely ate with Gentiles as brothers and sisters in Christ until the other Jews arrived.  If they did not keep the ceremonial law by remaining separate from the Gentiles, how could they expect Gentiles to keep the law?  And why had they eaten with the Gentile Christians, thus, breaking the ceremonial law, in the first place?  It was because they knew it is not keeping the law, but faith in Christ that makes a person clean to God (2:14-21).
   
            Friday, February 21

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 143, Gen. 4:1-16, Mk. 7:1-13
Evening - Ps. 142, 146, Amos 4:4, Gal. 3:1-9

Commentary, Gal. 3:1-19

The Galatian Christians, Jews and Gentiles, knew it was Christ, not the law, that made them clean and acceptable to God.  But when the Judaisers came teaching that Paul was wrong and that they needed to keep the ceremonial law to make themselves acceptable to God, their faith wavered.  So Paul addresses the very heart of the matter in tonight's reading.  He asks two questions.  First, did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law or by hearing the Gospel of Christ in faith (3:2)? The Galatians had to admit that when they believed in Christ as their Saviour, they received the Holy Spirit of God, which represents all the blessings given to a person in Christ.  They also had to admit that they did not receive the Spirit by doing the rituals of the ceremonial law.  They received Him by grace through faith.  This forced the Galatians to realise again that they are saved by the grace of God in Christ, which they received by faith, not by doing the works of the law.  Second, if the blood of Christ made you clean enough for the Spirit of God to dwell in you, do you really think you can make yourself cleaner by rituals and ceremonies (3:3) or by any other thing you can do?  To make such an assumption is blasphemy.  "What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common [unclean]" (Acts 10:15, 28, 34-47).  Even Abraham, father of the Jewish nation, was saved by grace, not law (3:6) and it is those who trust in Christ through faith who are his true children and heirs of the promises of God (3:7-9).

            Saturday, February 22

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 149, Gen. 1-22, Mk. 7:14-23
Evening - Ps. 148, 150, Amos 5:1-13, Gal. 3:10-18

Commentary, Gal. 3:10-18

Tonight's reading reinforces Galatian's two main points.  First, those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law, always fail.  Thus they remain under the wrath of God.  Second, only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God.

Those who try to make themselves acceptable to God by keeping the law always fail.  The reason it is impossible to make yourself acceptable to God by keeping the law is that the law must be kept perfectly.  Any failure to keep it to its fullest measure, including having the proper mental and spiritual intentions and attitudes, makes you unacceptable.  This includes both the ceremonial law and the moral law, so, to fail to keep the moral law perfectly renders you unacceptable to God. And, even if you were to keep the ceremonial law perfectly, it could not atone for your failure in the moral law.  Therefore, since no one has ever kept the moral law, anyone who tries to make himself acceptable by means of the ceremonial law is wasting his time (3:10).

Only those who are in Christ are acceptable unto God.  Those who are accepted by God are accepted on the basis of Christ's sacrifice (3:13) received by faith (3:11).   This is true of Gentiles as well as Jews, for Christ died for us, that the blessing of Abraham (3:8) might come to the Gentiles, meaning, we are made fully acceptable to God and receive His Spirit through faith (3:14).


Abraham also was accepted by grace not works.  He actually lived more than 400 years before the ceremonial law was given (3:17).  Therefore, he could never have made himself acceptable by it. He was accepted by God because he trusted God, and God accepted his faith and treated him as though he were without sin (3:6).  Abraham received the promise of Christ (3:8 & 16) 400 years before the ceremonial law was given, and the giving of the law did not negate the promise (3:17).  So the entire history of redemption has been the history of God's grace as promised to Abraham (3:18).  It is the story of the promises of God, not the good works of man.

February 9, 2014

Scripture and Comments, February 10-15

Monday , February 10                    

Morning - Ps. 79, Prov. 26:17, 1 Pet. 1:1-12
Evening - Ps. 81, Is, 14:3-11, 1 Thes. 1

            First and Second Peter were written from Rome near the beginning of the period of persecution which the Book of Revelation calls "the great tribulation" (Rev. 7:14).  It was a time of death and suffering for the Church, beginning with Nero in A.D. 64 and lasting nearly 250 years until Constantine granted the Church official status.  Peter and Paul were martyred during this time.  John was imprisoned on Patmos, where he wrote the book of Revelation, and Christians throughout the Empire were tortured and killed in an attempt to wipe their faith off the face of the earth  
            1 Peter, like Revelation, was written at the beginning of this tribulation to urge Christians to keep the faith, even at the cost of their lives.  It was addressed to Christians in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, and was hand carried to them by Silvanus (1 Pet.5:12).  Peter was probably evangelising these areas when Paul was directed by the Holy Spirit to go east into Europe (Acts 16:6-11).  Thus, by the providence of God, the lands around Israel were blessed with the teaching and oversight of three of the best known Apostles. Paul ministered along the coastal area of Asia Minor and into the heartland of Greece and beyond.  John had Apostolic oversight of Asia Minor, to which he wrote the book of Revelation.  Peter had care of the area to the northwest of Asia Minor, to which he addressed his first epistle.
            The theme of 1 Peter is faithfulness under trial based on the inheritance reserved for us in Heaven (1:4).  He reminds us that we are strangers in this world, therefore, we should not be surprised to find that the world opposes us, or that we are never quite happy with it.  But, though we face troubles and sorrows in this world, rejoice, for they are only the fire that refines our hearts for God.  And when the trials of life are over, we will receive an inheritance with Christ, and the salvation of our souls.
            Do you find that the world disappoints you?  Are you discouraged at the actions of your civil leaders?  Does the future look uncertain?  That is the way of the world.  Sinners sin, and we cannot expect them to think and act like Christians, nor can we expect their plans and activities to solve the problems of life.  Do your burdens seem heavy?  Is life filled with disappointments and trials?  Did you expect God to make things easy for you?  Worldly peace and happiness were never the goal of God for you.  Do not be discouraged.  Your "heaviness" lasts but for a "season" (1:6), your joy in Heaven will last forever (1:4).   Yes, God promises to be with His people in this life (1 Pet. 1:5), but He is with them to bring them safe at last to a place where sin and grief, sickness and death, and fear and despair are dispelled by the immediate presence of God (1 Pet. 1:3, 4, 7, 9).   

Tuesday, February 11

Morning - Ps. 82, 101, Prov. 27:1-6, 10-12, 1 Pet. 1:13
Evening - Ps. 90, Is. 14:12-20, 1 Thes. 2:1-13

            Since we are elect by the foreknowledge of God (1:2), kept by the power of God (1:5), and have an incorruptible inheritance and salvation (1:4 & 9), we are called to conduct our thoughts and lives in ways that are compatible with our faith and our God.  The whole intent and meaning of today's reading is expressed in the words of God quoted in verse 16, "Be ye holy; for I am holy."   Holiness is our goal in life.  Or, at least, it should be.  Truthfully, however, we often forget about holiness.  We try to make personal peace and comfort our goal.  We try to devote ourselves to amusements and pleasures, and to enjoying the good life instead of living quiet and holy lives with God.  But amusements and pleasures, and even the good life, can never really satisfy the needs of our souls.  In fact, they often bring more frustration than pleasure, for they usually fail to live up to our expectations.  It is much more satisfying to devote ourselves to our God given duties, and to seek holiness in every aspect of life.

Wednesday, February 12

Morning - Ps. 86, Prov.28:1-13, 1 Pet.2:1-10
Evening - Ps. 91, Is. 22:1-5, 12-14, 1 Thes. 2:17-3:13

            The first three verses of chapter two build upon the truth stated in verse 25 of chapter one; "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."  These words conclude a thought which permeates chapter one, which is that life on this planet is short, and what ever it brings to you, whether joys or trials, will be over soon.  "But the word of the Lord endureth forever."  "Wherefore," meaning, based upon this truth, chapter 2, verses 1-3 encourages a response from us, which is plainly stated in 2:2; "as newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby."
            The reasoning in these verses goes as follows.  First, we have been redeemed with nothing less than the precious blood of Christ Himself, who shed His own blood to pay for our sins (1:18-19)  Second, by the preaching and hearing of the word (message) of Christ we are born again into the Kingdom of God.  Third, unlike flesh and grass, the word of God "liveth and abideth forever" (1:23-25). The "word of God" (1:23) has a dual meaning.  It is both Christ the Living Word, and the story of Christ, the Gospel, which includes the entire Biblical narrative about our creation, fall into sin, the nature and being of God, and the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ, who came to give His life for our redemption (1:25).  This Word will never pass away or become outdated or irrelevant.  It "endureth forever" (1:25).  Therefore, feed on the Word.  Feed on Christ.  Feed your soul with the Gospel.  Feed your soul with the Bible.  Lay aside all impediments and sinful inclinations, and, as newborn babes desire their mother's milk, desire and be nourished with the sincere milk of the Word.
            Unbelievers, to their eternal destruction, have rejected the Word.  Thus, the same Jesus sent by God to be the foundation and cornerstone of our salvation is to them a stone of stumbling and a rock of offence (2:5-8).  They feel insulted by the teaching that they are sinners, and cannot earn their way to Heaven by their own good works.  They trip over the Gospel.  They cannot accept it.
            Finally, we see in this passage the Church of Jesus Christ.  It is first of all built upon Him.  This means He redeemed it by giving Himself for it.  We, the members of His Church, did not save ourselves by "being good."  He rescued us from death row by dying in our places.  He has brought us into a new relationship with God, and has made us to be a part of His new Israel, which He calls the Church.  He says we are living stones in His spiritual house, and a holy priesthood offering up spiritual sacrifices to God through Jesus Christ (2:5).  The image of a spiritual house, meaning, the House of God, in which we are living stones, is a beautiful word picture of the Church.  We are founded on Christ, cemented together by His Word, and if we are not in our places we leave an ugly hole in God's House.  Within the Church we offer spiritual sacrifices of love to God, true worship, and holy living.  Like Israel of old, we are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, and a people belonging to God (peculiar people) and we live to "shew forth the praises of him" (2:9).  Once we were not a people.  That is, once we were not a family.  Once we were not a nation.  Once we were not the Church.  Once we were strangers to God and each other.  But now we have been brought into the family and House of God.  We are His people, the new Israel, the Church.  There is a bond between us now.  We are one.  God's mercy makes us one.
            This truth should cause us to turn to the Word of God in Scripture (2:1-3).  It should lead us to lay aside sin and the silly diversions of earth and devote ourselves to the Word that we may grow thereby.  It should lead us to grow in our knowledge of the Word, and through it, in our knowledge and love of God.  It should lead us to grow in offering spiritual sacrifices to God.  It should lead us to grow in our love and service to His Church.
                  


Thursday, February 13

Morning - Ps. 89:1-19, Prov. 29:11-25, 1 Pet. 2:11-17
Evening - Ps. 94, Is. 24:1-6, 10-16, 1 Thes. 4:1-12

            Our Divine rescue from the death row of souls is reason enough for us to make every effort to live a life that is devoted to God and pleasing to Him.  But there is also another reason to do so; the world is watching.  When Peter wrote this letter a fire had recently burned much of Rome, and Nero, Emperor of Rome, falsely accused Christians of starting it intentionally.  Soon Christians were being blamed for everything from crimes to natural disasters.  Christians were accused of practicing cannibalism in Holy Communion, and of stealing babies to kill and eat them in their worship.  They were accused of promoting an armed rebellion of slaves against their masters, and of urging women to desert their families.  All of these accusations were false, of course.  The flesh and blood of Holy Communion were bread and wine, just as we use today.  The equality of all people, before God and in the Church promoted peace between masters and servants based on Biblical morality and on their brotherhood in Christ.  And the equality of men and women encouraged, rather than diminished their working together in the home.  But the Romans did not understand these things.  They feared that a rise in Christianity would lead to the demise of the Roman system, and that, if allowed to increase, Christians might become powerful enough to overthrow the Roman government by force.  So an anti-Christian agenda began to spread throughout the Empire fed by official propaganda.  How would the Church respond?  Peter wanted it to respond by exemplary living which will show the Romans and non-Christians that Christians are a benefit to Rome and to their communities (2:12).  Christians should be good citizens and honour the government whenever possible (2:13-17), even a government that is hostile to them.


Friday, February 14

Morning - Ps. 92, Prov. 30:4-9, 1 Pet. 2:18
Evening - Ps.102, Is. 31, 1 Thes. 4:13

            Today's reading continues the theme of good citizenship begun in yesterday's reading.  The principle of forbearance and good will, following the example of Christ is to be the foundation of our actions and attitudes within our society.  Thus, Christians should be good workers and good people to work for. This is true even of slaves; even slaves who are kept by cruel masters (2:18-24).  It should be noted here that Peter is not justifying slavery. He is telling slaves to endure their condition as Christ endured His, and to do their work as unto God, so the Romans will have no grounds for accusations against them. Slaves should be gentle and forgiving, not pushy or vengeful, and they should bear wrongs done against them with patience as Christ also bore His suffering (2:19-24).
            Peter gives one of the most succinct statements of the Gospel message in verses 21-25.  He begins with Christ as our example when faced with unjust accusations and sufferings (2:23).  But he moves beyond that to the blessed result of Christ's sufferings for those who receive Him by faith. Christ, "in his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree (cross), that we, being dead to sins, should live unto righteousness: by whose stripes ye were healed" (2:24).  Christ suffered for our sins.  He took our stripes (beating, punishment).  He died in our places, the innocent for the guilty, and the righteous for the wicked.  He suffered for us because we were like sheep going astray, lost and defenseless in a wilderness filled with danger.  By His suffering He has brought us back to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

Saturday, February 15

Morning - Ps. 97, Prov. 31:10, 1 Pet. 3:1-12
Evening - Ps. 84, 122, Is. 47:1, 7-15, 1 Thes. 5:1-11

            Exemplary living for the sake of Christ, and in demonstration of the untruth of accusations against the Church, continues as the theme of today's reading.  While there are many reasons for the wife to be in subjection to her husband, one of the most important is to crush accusations from outside the Church that Christian women are sexually promiscuous, and are urging all women to desert their husbands and children or to become sources of family discord.  Roman women were little more than property.  They lived under strict rules regarding social activities, dress, and behaviour.  They essentially lived their lives under house arrest, only being allowed out when their husbands wished.  The Romans, hearing Christians say men and women are equals, expected Christian women to be abrasive trouble makers without sexual morals.  Instead Peter tells Christian women to be in subjection to their husbands because it is the will of God, and because it shows non-Christians that a Christian family based on love works better than a non-Christian family based on force.  So, Christian women dressed modestly because they were modest.  They looked chaste because they were chaste.  They appeared to have a gentle, quiet spirit because they had a gentle, quiet spirit.
            "Weaker vessel" (3:7) refers to both physical strength, and to the emotional/hormonal changes to which women are subject.  It is not a derogatory comment; it simply recognises that discomfort taxes any person's patience, and it requires men to take this into account.  Men are to give honour to their wives.  Unlike the Romans, whose treatment of women bordered on slavery, the Christian husband remembers that his Christian wife is an heir of grace with him.  Therefore he treats her as a fellow Christian, beloved both by himself and by God.
            Verses 8-12 guide relationships within the Church, and give principles for life in general.  Being of one mind and loving one another as brethren obviously refers to the way we relate to fellow Christians.  But the principles of verses 9-12 are for every day as well as Sunday.  They are for life in the world as well as life in the Church. 


February 2, 2014

Scripture and Commentary, February 3 through 8

Monday, February 3

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 56, 60:1-5, Prov. 20:9-12, 17-22, Col. 1:1-17
Evening - Ps. 65, Ezek. 34:25, Jn. 6:41-59

Commentary, Colossians 1:1-17

This week's readings for Morning Prayer take us through the book of Colossians, one of many letters written by the Apostle Paul while imprisoned in Rome in the year A.D. 62. The church of Colossae was probably founded during Paul's ministry in Ephesus, which spanned most of the years of A.D. 55-57. Paul may have traveled to Colossae, or people from that city came in contact with him during trips to Ephesus. Epaphras spent much time in Ephesus studying with Paul before going back to Colossae to serve as the church's pastor (1:7). We know Paul knew many of the Colossians, and at least two, Philemon and Onesimus became Christians through the Apostle's ministry (Philemon 10, 19).

We often encourage people to conduct themselves in a way that brings honour to whatever organisation they may be associated with. Perhaps there is no setting where this is more urged upon people than in the family. Everything we do reflects on the rest of the family. If we conduct ourselves with honour, we build respect for our family in the community. If we conduct ourselves with dishonour, we bring sorrow to our family members, and shame to our family name. It is no less true, in fact it may be more true, that our actions as Christians and members of Christ's body and Church, bring honour or disrepute to our Lord and to His local congregation. Like it or not, people will judge your God and your church by your actions and attitudes. So the words of Paul in Col.1:10 are always relevant; "walk worthy of the Lord...being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God." 

Tuesday, February 4

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 61, 62, Prov. 21:21, Col. 1:18-2:5
Evening - Ps. 71, Ezek. 36:22-28, Jn. 6:60

Commentary, Colossians. 1:18-2:5

Many religions owe their origin to a single person, but Christians claim that the "Man" we follow is in every way nothing less than God Himself. Thus, St. Paul says in today's reading in Colossians, that He is the image of the invisible God (15), the creator of all things (16), the head of the Church (18), and the fulness of all things (19). The rest of the Bible teaches this doctrine also. "The Word was made flesh and dwelt among us" (Jn. 1:14). Angels marveled at this. Wise men sought Him at great personal cost and risk. Kings of earth longed to see His advent. Yet, even more amazing than the bold fact that Jesus is God, is the startling, frightening statement that He allowed Himself to be tortured and murdered, and that in some mysterious way, we have peace with God through the blood of His cross (20). 

Peace with God is not mere forgiveness. God has a higher purpose than simply letting us off for our sins. He forgives us to reconcile us. He forgives us to call us back into Himself, to know Him in all His glory and peace and fulness. He calls us to love and enjoy Him now and forever. He forgives us that He may give us His presence in a way that is so full and so complete it can only be described as "Christ in you, the hope of glory" (27).

Wednesday, February 5

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 63, 64, Prov. 22:1-6, 17-19, Col.2:16-19
Evening - Ps. 72, Ezek. 37:1-14, Jn. 7:1-13

Commentary, Colossians. 2:16-19

Today's reading in Colossians leads us into two important points. First is the danger of false doctrine and false teachers masquerading as Biblical Christianity. There have always been wolves in sheep's clothing, and of such people and doctrines we are warned to beware (2:8). Paul calls their teaching "vain deceit," the "tradition of men," "of the world," and "not after Christ." He warns that they will spoil us if we follow them. "Spoil" as used in verse 2:8 means to seduce and lead astray. It is to lead a person into eternal ruin. Such is the end of those who persist in false doctrine. 

Second, the Apostle encourages us to be "stablished" in the true faith (2:7). Paul refers to the doctrines he has taught to the Colossians and to all the Church. His doctrines are simply those taught by Christ, entrusted to the Apostles, and preserved in the Bible. These doctrines keep us rooted and built up in Christ (2:7). In their truth our faith will abound unto everlasting life.

Let us be plain about the applications of this passage of Scripture. If false teachers lead people to destruction, we attend their assemblies and sit under their teaching to our peril. We should make every effort to separate ourselves from them. If sound doctrine enables us to abound unto everlasting life, we must spare no effort to bring ourselves and those we love under its influence as often as possible.

Thursday, February 6

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 68:1-19, Prov. 23:20, 21, 29-35, Col. 2:20-3:11
Evening - Ps. 73, Ezek. 37:2, Jn. 7: 14-24

Commentary, Colossians. 2:20-3:11

People tend to vacillate between the extremes of license and legalism. License is the idea that everything is moral as long it "doesn't hurt anyone." This is rapidly becoming the moral standard of many "Christians" today. It is often found in the company of an idea that says, Christ died for my sins, therefore I don't have to try to live a good life. I will go to Heaven no matter how good or bad I am, so I am free to sin as much as I want. Such people believe they have a "license" to sin. Legalism is the idea that keeping a morass of confusing rules about things that really don't matter is the essence of faith and the way to please God. License makes important moral issues trivial; legalism makes trivial things important moral issues.

Colossians 2:20-23 is about legalism, which false teachers were attempting to impose on the Church. Their legalism was not about morality, it was about the Old Testament ceremonial laws. Its main point was the idea that Gentile Christians are required to keep the ceremonial law in order to be saved. They said Gentiles have to keep Passover, circumcision, the Old Testament dietary rules, and all the Old Testament festivals, or they can't be saved. We can easily see that legalism is a direct contradiction to grace. According to legalism one is saved by keeping the rules. According to grace one is saved by Christ's atoning death and righteousness imputed to us and received by faith. Legalism tries to earn Heaven; grace gives it as the free gift of God.

In Colossians 3:1-11Paul exhorts us to receive the gift of God by faith. He tells us to stop worrying about ceremonial rules and start seeking the real things of Christ above. He does not tell us there are no more rules. He clearly shows that every part of the moral law is still in force. But he denies that anyone will be saved by their attempts to keep it. Ceremonies cannot save us, and we have failed in our attempts to keep the moral law, therefore we cannot make ourselves worthy of Heaven through the law. Instead of earning Heaven for us, the law starkly reveals how unworthy we are to go there. It is Christ, not the law, who is our life by giving us a righteousness we could never achieve through the law. 

Christ forgives our sin and gives us His perfect righteousness in place of our own tattered and failed attempts at righteousness through the law. But this does not give us a license to return to sin. It is our part, now, to seek Him and to set our affections on Him.

Friday, February 7

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 69:1-22, 30-37, Prov. 24:23, Colossians. 3:12-17
Evening - Ps. 75, 76, Ezek. 39:21, Jn. 7:25-36

Commentary, Col. 3:12-17

The heart of today's reading from Colossians is verse 17. To do all in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ is to do things that are approved by Him. As He is absolute love, we will be merciful, kind, humble, and meek (3:12). We will forbear and forgive one another (3:13). As He is the author of peace we will let His peace rule in our hearts (3:15). As He is the Word of God we will let His word dwell in us richly. In this way Christ Himself dwells in us filling us with the luxuriant richness of His being.


Saturday, February 8

Lectionary

Morning - Ps. 77, Prov. 25:11-15, 17-22, Col. 3:18-4:6
Evening - Ps. 19, 67, Ezek. 43:1-19, Jn.7:37

Commentary, Colossians. 3:18-4:6

No matter what our position in the home, it is every person's calling to work and pray that the home will reveal the grace and glory of God in action. The picture of Christian family life found in Scripture shows each person seeking peace, harmony and godliness in the family setting. Each position is a position of service, rather than mastery, having as its primary goal the glory of God, and as its secondary goal the edification of the family members, which is to bring them into faith in Christ and full membership in His Church.

The best service we can offer to our family is a godly example. I do not pretend that any of us will be perfect, but it should be evident to all that we are trying with all our might to "love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind," and to love your family members (your closest neighbors) as you love yourself. In this kind of Christian love personal goals are sacrificed to family needs, and personal fulfillment is found in serving and loving the family. The family relationship should be viewed not as second to our service to Christ and His Church, but as a major part of it.

The Christian view of the family militates against the self-centered materialism which permeates our culture, and which even dominates many churches. Let us pray for grace daily to live Godly lives in the home.


For a Blessing on the Families of the Land

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who settest the solitary in families; We commend to thy continual care the homes in which thy people dwell. Put far from them, we beseech thee, every root of bitterness, the desire of vain glory, and the pride of life. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness. Knit together in constant affection those who, in holy wedlock, have been made one flesh; turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to the fathers; and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we be evermore kindly affectioned with brotherly love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.