June 25, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, June 26-July 2

June 26

2 Kin. 19:1-19, Acts 27:1-20
2 Kin. 19:20-, Eph. 3


Ephesians 3

The great and ultimate goal of all the work of God in this world is to gather all things together in Christ.  Everything He does, from creating us, to giving His Word and means of grace, to entering into history and dying on the cross, even His daily providential care and guidance in our lives is done primarily to achieve that goal.  Most Christians have wrongly been taught to believe God's ultimate goal is our salvation, and that everything He does is done to save us from Hell.  In reality, our salvation is a means to accomplish the end of gathering all things together in Christ.  It is all about Christ, not about us.

It is for the purpose of gathering all things together in Christ (1) that Paul has been made an Apostle and sent to the Gentile people.  His calling is to bring Gentiles into the body of Christ and the promises of God as full participants with the Jews (6).

It is for this purpose that God has brought His people together into the Church (10,11).  The Church is the people already brought together.  The Church Family will ultimately and fully inherit the Kingdom of God, and, indeed, is already dwelling in it.  Those not in the Church will still be gathered together in Christ, but in a much different way.  They will be gathered together to face His wrath, while the Church is gathered to receive His grace.  If we think of the Kingdom of God as a great Castle, the Church is the people who have been elevated to the status of courtiers and friends.  Those outside the Church are also gathered, but they are the enemies of God and they are gathered into the dungeon.  One day the entire land will be gathered under the authority and reign of the King.  Many people will become His friends and will be welcomed into the full fellowship of the Castle.  Others will persist in rebellion and hate.  They will be thrown into the dungeon.  Either way, the King will gather all things together and will reign over all.

Verse 10 again uses "church" to refer to the entire body of Christ rather than a local congregation.  In the time of Paul, the Apostles were still living and considered the Church one organisation.

Verse 14 begins a great prayer to the Father of whom the whole family is named (14, 15).  That family is the Church, and it includes those in Heaven and those on earth.  Paul prays that the Church will be strengthened with might by the Spirit in the inner man (16).  This "might" is power which enables us to know what God wants us to know, be what God wants us to be, and do what God wants us to do.  What God wants is then given in verses 17-19 culminating in the phrase, "that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God."  Yes, the ultimate purpose of God is to gather a people for Himself, a people to exist in Christ and glorify Him forever.  But those blessed to be part of that People, are given the highest gift God can give to any created being, the gift of living forever in such closeness, fellowship and love with Him it can only be described as being perpetually filled with the fullness (greatness and presence) of God.  This fullness will ultimately only be realised in Heaven, but we can know some of it here and now by the indwelling Spirit of God and the means of grace.

  Note again the reason Paul prays for these things for the Church. It is not just for the benefit of people. It is "For this cause" (14), the very same cause Paul has been writing about throughout this Epistle; the cause of gathering all things together in Christ.

June 27

2 Kin. 20, Acts 27:21-44
2 Kin. 21, Eph. 4


Ephesians 4

What does all of this talk about the fullness of God and His gathering a people together in Christ have to do with us in everyday life?  Everything!  If we are a part of that people, and if we are called into that people gathered into Christ, we are to live our lives in conformity with the will and nature of Christ.  As Ephesians 4:1 states the issue, ""walk worthy of the vocation wherewith ye are called.”  Thus, being the people who live for and in the glory of God is every Christian's vocation. It is your life's work.  The remainder of Ephesians is about how to live worthy of your vocation.

Those who are gathered into Christ as members of His Body and Church, are gathered into a new identity and way of life.  They no longer live according to the patterns and values of the godless people and cultures around them (17).  Nor do they live and act merely on the basis of their own desires and ideas, which have been corrupted by human pride, greed, and a general inclination to go our own way instead of God's.  Instead, they put off their own ways, called the old man in verse 22, and put on the new man of righteousness and holiness, which is created in them by God (23, 24).  The rest of chapter 4 (vss. 25-32) shows just what they have put off and what they have put on.  The verses give a word picture of discarding a wardrobe of rags (our sin) and putting on a new wardrobe, given by God, and consisting of righteousness and of the character of God Himself.    

June 28

2 Kin. 22, Acts 28:1-16
2 Kin. 23, Eph. 5


Ephesians 5

The heart of chapter 5 is found in verses 1 & 2.  Following God, as His dear children gathered into Christ, walk in love.  Love is not a nebulous feeling.  It is primarily an attitude of doing good for others as Christ has done for us.  These verses remind us that we have strayed from God like lost sheep, offended against His holy laws, left undone much good we ought to have done, and done many things we ought not to have done.  In Biblical language, we have sinned against God.  But, part of God's plan of gathering together all things in Christ includes calling a people out of their sin to live in restored fellowship and harmony with Him. He accomplished this by becoming a Man taking our sins upon Himself and dying for them in our places on the cross.  This is the great expression of Divine love.  It is also our example of real love, and the way we ought to love one another.  Verses3-7 contrast works of hate with those of love.  Fornication, uncleanness in thoughts and deeds, covetousness, filthiness, foolish talk and jesting, and other evils listed here are sins and are out of character for those gathered into Christ.  They are so far out of character that the person who habitually lives in them shows that he has no part in the inheritance of Christ (5) but is still outside of God and remains among the children of disobedience and under the wrath of God (6).  "Be not ye therefore partakers with them" (7).

The Christian home is a sacred place.  It is almost, as Matthew Henry said, "A Church in the House," for a Christian home is a place where God is loved and worshiped daily and where Christian living begins each day.  God's plan for the family begins with Biblical faith in Him as Lord and Saviour, and one of the primary tasks of parents is to raise their children in the fear and admonition of the Lord.  Baptism, Confirmation, daily prayers, and the fellowship of the Church are the minimum children can expect from parents, and the family is the first mission field of every Christian.  Ephesians 5 and 6 refer to the relationship between family members under the assumption of real, Christian love in each heart, operating on the principle of mutual submission rather than individual assertion.  In other words, it is the role of each member of the household to exalt the others by serving them in Christ.  Any authority given to any member is the authority of service, not lordship.  Christ is Lord, and the overall goal of the home is to honour Him.

The husband/father is called to the role of lead servant.  He bears the responsibility of leading the family into the Word and ways of God.  The wife/mother is his helpmeet and completer (Gen. 2:18). These two willingly submit their goals and wants to the other's, and to the overall goals of God and the needs of the family Together, they are one in mind, heart, values, goals, and faith.  They are partners in the task of ordering their home and family under God.  Young children are obedient learners, who by their obedience and learning exercise considerable influence over the direction of the home.   Young adults still living at home are responsible partners in the home, and the spiritual climate of the family is one of their primary goals.  Happy is the home where Christ is Lord and all in the family gladly work together in His service.

June 29, St. Peter

June 30

2 Kin 24, Acts 28:17-31
2 Kin. 25, Eph. 6


Ephesians 6

Ephesians closes appropriately with an exhortation to be strong in the Lord (10).  This is followed by several verses describing the Christian faith in terms of the armour of a Roman soldier.  It has often been noticed that armour is protective in nature, designed to keep the soldier safe in the deadly field of battle.  The soldier's weapon is the sword, which, for the soldier of the cross, is the Scriptures, the Word of God (17).

The reason for putting on the armour is stated in verse 12.  We are at war with powers of darkness that oppress and destroy souls and cause the havoc and destruction that so characterises life on earth.  We are also at war with the forces of evil in our own lives.  We wrestle against the inclinations and temptations that attempt to draw us back into the darkness of sin and hate.  We wrestle with forces that attempt to prevent the fulfillment of God's purpose in our own lives and in all creation.  "Wrestle," refers to hand-to-hand combat, a life or death struggle that Christians face daily in the service of God.  We must expect to fight.  We must be prepared for battle. We must stand our ground at the approach of the foe (14).   This is our part in the eternal purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ.

July 1

Ezra 1, Matthew 1
Ezra 3, Philippians 1

Philippians 1

It is the nature of people to associate themselves together, and a word is often used to reflect the nature of their relationship to others in the group.  A sorority or fraternity might speak of sisterhood or brotherhood.  People who have shared important experiences, such as war, may see themselves as "a band of brothers."  There is great meaning in this.  Such words convey an intangible bond that unites them in a way that is so strong and enduring it is similar to the relationship and unity found in the closest and most loving families.  They are bound by shared values, commitments, goals, respect, love, and experience.  They are bound together by these things into something that is bigger than they and more important than all of them.  Their relationship is something suggested by the title of J.R.R. Tolkien's book, The Fellowship of the Ring.  "Fellowship" captures the meaning and the goal of most of our associations.

Philippians 1:5 speaks of "fellowship in the gospel."  God is saying here that the Gospel of Christ is not merely an historical fact or theological doctrine.  It is a bond that brings us into a deep and profound relationship to all other believers.  It gives us shared meaning, shared goals, purpose, experience, values, respect, and love.  It means we have a share in Christ.  He is part of us.  He dwells in us and we dwell in Him.  It also means we are part of each other.  We are in this together.  What happens to one of us happens to all.  We bear each other's burdens and sorrows and joys. We have the same Heavenly home. We strive to have the mind of Christ.  We strive to love Him above all else, and to love one another as we love ourselves.  But fellowship means also that we do not have these things in isolation.  We have them in fellowship and communion with one another.

Chapter 1 brings us to one of the most important verses of the entire Bible.  Reading it is not always comforting.  It follows Paul's comments about suffering, and, even death in the service of Christ.  In this passage he declares the principle that guides his thoughts and his actions, that "Christ shall be magnified in my body, whether it be by life, or by death" (20).  Then follows the great verse which I have called one of the most important in all of Scripture; Philippians 1:21, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain."  

Are you living for Christ?  I do not ask if you call yourself a Christian or go to Church.  I do not ask if you know the Bible and theology.  I ask if it is your stated and deepest desire to live entirely for Christ, so much, that like Paul, you can say, "For me to live is Christ."  If you cannot answer this question, "Yes!" then I ask another; why not?  What holds you back?  Is it attachment to your own comforts and pleasures?  They will pass from your grasp one day, and what will you have then?  It is fear of sacrifice?  It is for good reason that following Christ is called taking up your cross; there are many sacrifices to make.  It is very costly to walk the way of the cross.  But, while the cross lasts for a life-time, Heaven is forever.  Is it money?  Is it possessions?  Is it power?  Is it fame?  What keeps you from complete surrender to Christ?  It will pass away, but He will endure forever. I ask another question.  If you cannot say, "For me to live is Christ," what are you doing about it?  Are you playing the ostrich, ignoring the shortness of life and the coming day of reckoning?  Are you simply convincing yourself to be content with half-hearted faith, convincing yourself you are good enough and close enough to God already, therefore you don't need to do anything more?  Or are you applying yourself daily to the means of grace, and working diligently to replace sinful habits and attitudes with Godly ones? God will not be content with anything less than first place in your life.  He must be first, above all position, power, and possessions, even above your own life.  Do that, and for you to live is Christ.  Fail to do it and for you to live is you (Adapted from J.C. Ryle). 

July 2

Ezra 4, Matthew 2
Ezra 5, Philippians 2


Philippians 2

"Let this mind be in you" (5). "Mind," in this verse, refers not to intelligence alone, but to the way intelligence is used.  How remarkable the mind of Christ is.  He is God, from eternity to eternity, yet He became a man.  He is Lord of all, yet He became the servant of all. He is the Great Law Giver, yet He humbled Himself and lived by His own rules.  He is the One in whom all faith rests, yet He lived by faith instead of by sight. He is perfect righteousness, yet He became sin for us.  He is the Lord of life, yet He gave Himself up to death on the cross.  He is the One to whom all things belong, yet He came to give all things to us.  We can never possess the intelligence or power of Christ.  We can never own the eternal being of God, be Lord of all, become the center of faith, or be perfect righteousness through our own power.  These things belong to God alone.  We can have the attitude of Christ.  We can use our intelligence the way He used His. We can have humility.  We can serve others as we serve God.  We can live by faith.  We can devote our lives to God.  These things are within our grasp, with the help of the Holy Spirit.  Are they things to which you aspire?  Are they things to which you apply yourself day by day and hour by hour?  "Let this mind be in you."

Paul, a prisoner in Rome, as he wrote to the Philippians, is more concerned about their needs than his own.  He desired to send someone to them to help provide the pastoral care of the congregation.  But who could he send?  There were many self appointed "preachers" in Rome (Phil. 1:15).  But of real ministers, called of God, ordained by the Church, gifted with a pastor's love for the flock, and possessing the knowledge and ability to preach the true Gospel, Paul said Rome had only one; Timothy.  Pray that God will raise up faithful ministers for His people today.  Pray that His people will recognise and treasure them.  

"That it may please thee to illuminate all Bishops, Priests, and Deacons, with true knowledge and understanding of thy Word; and that both by their preaching and living they may set it forth accordingly; 

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord."

"That it may please thee to give to all thy people increase of grace to hear meekly thy Word, and to receive it with pure affection, and to bring forth the fruits of the Spirit;

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord."

~ The Litany

June 18, 2016

Scripture and Commentary, June 19-25

June 19

2 Kin. 8, Acts 21
2 Kin. 9, Gal 3


Galatians 3

The Galatian Christians 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 chapter 3.  He asks two questions.  First, did you receive the Holy Spirit by keeping the law or by hearing the Gospel of Christ in faith (2)? The Galatians have 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 forces 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 them clean enough for the Spirit of God to dwell in them, do they really think they can make themselves cleaner by rituals and ceremonies (3) or by any other thing they 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 (6) and it is those who trust in Christ through faith who are his true children and heirs of the promises of God (7-9).

Verses 10-18 reinforce the book of Galatians 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 (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) received by faith (11).   This is true of Gentiles as well as Jews, for Christ died for us, that the blessing of Abraham (8) might come to the Gentiles, meaning, we are made fully acceptable to God and receive His Spirit through faith (14).

Abraham also was accepted by grace not works.  He actually lived more than 400 years before the ceremonial law was given (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 (6).  Abraham received the promise of Christ (8 & 16) 400 years before the ceremonial law was given, and the giving of the law did not negate the promise.  So the entire history of redemption has been the history of God's grace as promised to Abraham (8).  It is the story of the promises of God, not the good works of man.

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  Galatians. Regarding our failure to keep the moral law, we are told the Scripture "hath concluded all under sin" (22).   Regarding the ceremonial law, we are told we can never make ourselves acceptable to God through it (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 (24).  How does the law lead us to Christ?  First, it concludes all people under sin (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 (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 can 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 have learned that its ceremonies and sacrifices symbolise 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 (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 (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 (29).

June 20

2 Kin. 10, Acts 22
2 Kin. 11, Gal. 4


Galatians 4

We are heirs of God through Christ (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 (4-5).  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?

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" (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 there 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 preaching the Gospel, and it did not prevent the Galatian people from receiving him with love and hearing him gladly (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 ever Christians at all (20).

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, can we ever 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" (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" (31).

June 21

2 Kin. 12, Acts 23
2 Kin 13, Gal. 5


Galatians 5

Galatians 5 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 (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 (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 preached the law, 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 disagree with his view of Christ as the Messiah, but they could tolerate that.  But Paul, preaching the Gospel of grace, actually makes the Jewish faith irrelevant.  If Paul's Gospel is true, the Jews need to come out of Judaism and into the Church.  The Old Israel has fulfilled its mission and it is 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 be rendered obsolete.  This is why the Jews persecuted the Church. This is why they rioted at the preaching of Paul, and beat him and stoned him and tried to kill him.

Salvation by grace through faith is not a license to sin (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 don’t want to give up.  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 (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 (19).  Those who fight on in the Spirit are also easily recognised by their actions, called the fruit of the Spirit (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 (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.

June 22

2 Kin. 14,  Acts 24
2 Kin. 15, Gal. 6


Galatians 6

Verses 7 and 8 express the essence of the entire letter of Galatians.  If we sow ungodliness (flesh) into our lives, we reap death in the soul.  If we sow godliness, we reap life in the presence of God forever.  The Galatians have been sowing to the flesh by trying to make themselves acceptable to God through rules and rituals.  But rules and rituals cannot make a person fit for the presence of the absolute and consuming holiness of God. Only God can make someone acceptable, as a gift from Him received by faith.  Faith, trusting God to make us acceptable through Christ, is sowing to the Spirit, which produces the fruit of everlasting life.
Sowing to the Spirit goes beyond simply trusting God for Heaven.  Important and essential as that is, sowing to the Spirit also includes walking by the Spirit day by day and moment by moment (Gal. 5:25).  It naturally includes the things we often call "religious," such as prayer, the Bible, and public worship.  But it also includes the mundane things of daily living, such as home and family life and work.  It especially includes putting our own comforts and desires under the control of the Spirit so we may live for the will of God (Gal 5:24).  Living for fleshly desires is sowing to the flesh.  Crucifying our affections and lusts to live for Christ, is sowing to the Spirit.

We are to help one another sow to the Spirit.  This is an essential part of the fellowship of the Church.  We seek to help our fellow Christians when they are overtaken in a fault (1).   We seek to help others bear their burdens as they also help us bear ours (2).  We are like a team, a family, a body, working together for the glory of God and the good of all.  If we stand one stick on end, it will fall, but if we put several together and let them lean on each other they will stand.  Likewise, a heavy load may break one stick, but several together can bear it easily.  This is the picture Paul is trying to give us of the Church bearing one another's burdens. This requires us to be willing to give and receive support with meekness.

Verse 6 refers to the other side of pastoral care; not the care of the pastor for the Church, but the care of the Church for the pastor.  The pastor visits and prays and teaches and studies; the congregation "communicates unto him... all good things."  Love, respect, reception of his teaching and council, and financial support, are ways we communicate to him all good things.

Finally, we are to continually sow to the Spirit.  It is to be the habitual work of our lives, even when we think we do not see any fruit of our labours.  We are not to allow discouragement to dissuade us.  We are not to give up because things are not going the way we think they should, or the way we would like.  We will not grow weary in well doing, especially in our service to our fellow believers, for we know we will reap in God's own time (9).

The heart of this passage is Galatians 6:14.  If it were possible to earn Heaven by our own efforts it would be the same as earning fellowship with God, and that would be making ourselves His equal.  We would be able to "boast" of our achievement and our status.  But no mere ritual can accomplish this.  Not even circumcision can atone for sins or change the sinful inclination of our hearts.  Only God can make us acceptable to Him, and He has done so through the cross of Christ.  So Paul will not boast of his own efforts, though they surely outshine those of the Galatians.  He will boast of Christ, the Saviour, who by His own suffering and death accomplished what Paul could never accomplish for himself, eternal peace with God.

Grace, not works, has been the theme of Galatians.  Thus Paul closes with the very appropriate words, "the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. Amen."

June 23

2 Kin. 16,  Acts 25
2 Kin. 17:1-23 , Ephesians 1


Ephesians 1

The book of Ephesians was written by the Apostle Paul while he was under house arrest in Rome (Eph. 3:1).  It was written to the church of Ephesus, in what is now modern Turkey.  In Paul’s time, the area was known as Asia, or Asia Minor, and Ephesus was its most influential city.

Paul wrote the letter to encourage the Ephesians to stand firm in the faith.  False teachers have come to the congregations, contradicting the message of the Apostles, and leading people astray from Christ.  The most dangerous false teachers are those disguised as Christians, and there are two primary groups of them in Ephesus.  First are the Judaisers, who teach that Christians must become Jews.  Second are people, who will become known as gnostics.  They blend Greek and Roman religions with Judaism and Christianity, emphasising emotional experiences as proof of the presence and work of the Holy Spirit.

Paul begins by identifying himself (1).  His salutation serves a dual purpose.  First, it identifies Paul as its author.  Second, it identifies Paul as a true Apostle.  Unlike the false teachers in Ephesus, Paul is an Apostle of Jesus Christ.  He received his call and the Gospel from Christ, not by assuming it for himself, as the false apostles and teachers have done.  He is an Apostle by the will of God, not the will of men.

Verses 3-14 give a short, but very deep summary of what God has accomplished in the life of a true Christian. It is a summary of the grace of God in action.  It began long before the physical universe was created by God.  Before the foundation of the world (4), God knew you in His mind.  He knew He would bring you into life on planet earth, and He knew He would bring you into eternal life in Jesus Christ.  He chose to make you, and He chose to save you by the blood of Christ (4).  He predestined you to be adopted into His family of redeemed and saved people.  He did all of this according to the good pleasure of His own will (5), not on the basis of any goodness or worthiness in you.  Your sin makes you complete;y unworthy of God, and must be forgiven by a supreme act of sacrifice and grace by God.  That sacrifice was made when God became flesh and died on the cross for your sins.  You have redemption only through His blood (7).  Your redemption was made known to you by the Spirit of God who opened your blind eyes, and enabled you to understand the Gospel of Christ, which is the message of the Bible.

God made known unto you the mystery of His will (9).   This knowledge includes both your saving knowledge of Christ, and your understanding of God’s intent for His creation.  Through the sin of Adam and Eve, and all the rest of us, this world has become a place of sin and sorrow.  It has fallen far short of its original glory, which delighted God and moved Him to pronounce that it was very good (Gen. 1:31).  From that condition of goodness, Man plunged himself into sin, and he, and all of creation, fell under the wrath and curse of God (see Gen. 3, especially verses 14-24).  But things will not remain in this fallen condition forever.  One day God will restore His creation, by bringing all things together under Christ (10).  It is for this reason that God created the heavens and the earth, and Man.  This is the will and purpose of God made known to us, which “He hath purposed in Himself” (9).

By His grace, you have an inheritance in that Kingdom.  But your inheritance does not only wait for you at the end of this present age.  It is here for you to enjoy now, at least in part.  You live by grace, and by grace you are already a citizen of Heaven.  You are part of God’s redeemed family, and in that family, the Church, you have a foretaste of the glory of the time when all things are made new and right under the rule of Christ.  You even have the Spirit of God living in you as the earnest, or, downpayment of that inheritance (13, 14).

Verse 15 begins Paul’s wonderful prayer for the Church, both in Ephesus and in all places and all times.  If you want to know how to pray for the Church, and for yourself, read this prayer, which continues to the close of the chapter.  The spirit of wisdom and revelation (17) are not charismatic “gifts of the Spirit.”  Wisdom is the fear and knowledge of God.  Revelation is the knowledge of God and your salvation given in the Bible.  Paul is praying that you will be enabled by the Spirit to have the fear and knowledge of God through a growing understanding  of the teachings of the Bible.  This enlightening (18) enables you to know the things Paul prays for you in the following verses.

This is a very important point.  Many people, then and now, want exciting experiences and sudden gifts of knowledge and understanding of God.  The false teachers in Ephesus know and calptalise on this.  They tell the people they can have special gifts of knowledge through sudden, ecstatic experiences, if they will follow their teachings and practices, which often use drugs and alcohol to achieve the experience. These teachers, and their followers, are the forerunners of a movement known as gnosticism, from the Greek word “gnosis”, meaning, knowledge. Paul is saying their teaching is false.  While it is true that spiritual understanding comes as a gift from God, He gives it through time and effort spent learning the Bible and praying.  Paul is telling the Christians in Ephesus they already have the true knowledge of Christ, therefore, they should not worry about the false knowledge claimed by the gnostics, nor should they attempt to gain such knowledge through the experiences and teachings of the gnostics.  The Christian’s understanding is opened by the Bible, not experiences.  Growing in that understanding takes time and effort, not sudden revelations.

June 24, Nativity of St. John the Baptist

John the Baptist was the forerunner of the Messiah.  He came to prepare the way for Christ by calling the Jewish people to repentance and Godliness.  He is not the same man as John the Apostle, who wrote the Gospel of John and First, Second, and Third John, and Revelation in the Bible.

The son of a priest, John the Baptist was a few months older than Jesus.  Though their mothers were related, and Mary actually spent some time visiting John’s mother, Elizabeth, the Baptist and Jesus seem to have not met until Jesus came to John for baptism.  It was at His baptism that John gave some of the clearest teaching about the nature and ministry of the Messiah, saying, “Behold, the lamb of God, which taketh away the sins of the world.”  After the baptism of Christ, John’s immense popularity began to fade as people began to follow Jesus.  John, knowing this was good and right, rejoiced in it, uttering the famous words, “I must decrease, and He must increase.”  John’s enemies were able to get him imprisoned, though he had committed no crime.  He died there, beheaded by Herod.

June 25

2 Kin. 17:24-41, Acts 26
2 Kin. 18, Eph. 2


Ephesians 2

The first chapter of Ephesians ends with the subject of the Church, which chapter two continues.  Note that the reference is to the Church, not the churches.  The idea that churches exist independently of one another without accountability, and that the Bible always mentions "churches," but never "the Church,” is false.  Paul never considered any of the congregations he corresponded with independent of him, or as anything but a local manifestation of the universal Body of Christ.  1 Corinthians 3:9-17, for example, is about The Church primarily, and, secondarily, how the church in Corinth is to function within the wider Church.  The Church, collectively, is the Temple of God.  Local churches are part of the greater Church, all together form the spiritual Temple, or house of the Holy Spirit of God.  The Corinthian church had its own ministers, yet Paul, writing from Ephesus in A.D. 57, excommunicated members of that congregation, and told the ministers and remaining members to stay away from them (1 Cor. 5:1-13).

Far from being independent congregations, the Church is God's appointed way of bringing people together in one body in Christ.  God is already working in this world to achieve His ultimate goal.  Eph. 1:10 is not just something for the end of time; God is at work now, accomplishing His purpose in the Church.  The Church is that people which has already become one Body, one Temple, one Family, one Nation, in Christ.

Chapter two reminds us how God has brought us into the Church.  There was a time when we lived apart from God, and were under His wrath (3).  By His own grace (8, 9) and for the purpose of showing the riches of His grace and kindness (7) He raised us out of the death of sin and placed us in Himself and in His Church where we are one in Christ (2:6-7, 1:10).  Thus, even while we live in this world, we sit in heavenly places and have a foretaste of the great and final goal of God which will one day be brought to its completion.  Thus, as His workmanship we are to do the things of Godliness, to which we have been called and for which we have been created (10).

 The great purpose of God to bring all things together in Christ is continued by His bringing Gentiles into the Church.  The Gospel of Christ is for all who will receive it in faith.  Heaven is for all who will enter through Christ.  The Church is for all who will believe.  In Christ there are no strangers or foreigners (19) only one Nation and Household.  In Him all believers are being built up into one holy Temple in the Lord (19-21).  There was a time when most Gentiles were excluded from the House of God (11-12).  Having chosen to exclude Him from their own lives, God allowed them to live apart from Him, and to reap the just rewards of their sin.  But God's ultimate plan of gathering all things together in Christ was not blocked by human rebellion. He gathered Abraham and his descendants, to whom He gave His Word and Commandments, and through whom He would give His Messiah. In the New Testament era He began to bring in the Gentiles.  In His New Israel, the Church, all believers, Jews and Gentiles are made one body in Christ.  The work of gathering all things together in Christ continues, and will continue until the Last Day, when all of His people will be gathered Home to Him, all of His enemies will be cast out forever, and the heavens and earth will be made new.