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The Beautiful Body

Monday, January 28th, 2013

And from there, when the brethren heard about us, they came to meet us as far as Appii Forum and Three Inns. When Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Acts 28:15

358px-El_Greco_ApostlesImage found here:

People sometimes imagine that Paul was a spiritual superman: an intrepid missionary, theological genius, and multi-gifted polymath, who never shrank from duty or danger in the cause of Christ. Doubtless, he braved hardships and opposition that would overwhelm most human beings – a survey of his multifaceted trials in 2 Corinthians 11:22-29 makes this apparent (see also 2 Cor. 12:10 & 1 Cor. 4:9-13.) This, however, is only one side of the story; the apostle also depended upon the encouragement of the other parts of the Body of Christ – that well-known metaphor for the spiritual body composed of believing Jews and Gentiles who are indissolubly linked in the church.

“Remember The Prisoners As If Chained With Them”

Paul’s journey as a prisoner being transported to Rome provides an excellent window into the fellowship that he enjoyed with believers – even some who were heretofore unknown to him. When the ship landed at Sidon, the officer in charge of the prisoners permitted Paul to go to his “friends” for refreshment (Acts 27:3); they were probably Christians that he knew from previous trips. Upon coming to territory unknown to himself in Italy, Paul enjoyed the hospitality of local saints (Acts 28:14) and was further cheered by the approach of representatives of the believers from the imperial capital city. As verse 15 says: “…when Paul saw them, he thanked God and took courage.” Though he relied on the Lord throughout his service, the Almighty also saw fit to use His people to comfort and strengthen His apostle to the nations.

“If One Member Suffers…”

So often in life’s hard times I have been similarly comforted by the Body of Christ. When by the bedside of a dying loved one, who can calculate the value of a fellow-believer standing by to pray and weep with those who weep? When in a sickbed, faithful saints who visit, write, or call often make the difference between sadness and circumstance-defying joy. At funerals, in times of family trouble, and even visiting Christians who are in prison, members of the body serve each other by their presence and their prayers.

Like Head, like Members

These activities bear the unmistakable mark of the Head of the Church, the Lord Jesus Christ (Col. 1:18.) He is a master at consoling the mourning (Jn. 11), visiting the sick (Mk. 1:29-31), and dealing with family dysfunction (Mt. 20:20-28.) As His people abide in Him they produce the fruit – righteous acts of beauty – that savor of the Lord’s mercies and goodness. In His Spirit’s power, believers use their time, talents, and spiritual gifts to edify and strengthen one another. Where would we be without such a beautiful body to aid us under the guidance of the perfectly wise Head, the Lord Jesus Christ? Thank God, we need not contemplate this possibility for long, for the Body is eternally linked to Christ and will be with Him forever in glory.

Podcast: The Sacred Trust

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

A Meditation on 1 Thes. 2:4 & our attitude towards the Gospel. Click here: KRK.6.1.11.Podcast.SacredTrust

Let Freedom Ring: Studies in Galatians, Part 5

Saturday, October 30th, 2010

To download in pdf., click here: Let Freedom Ring – Pt. 5

But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1:11-14

The contemporary scene is saturated with divergent worldviews and truth-claims. How may one discern truth from error – the counterfeit from the genuine article? Is there one truth or are there many truths that are equally valid? Is truth merely subject to personal preference or cultural background?

Paul provides the answer by pointing to his personal history: God revealed the truth to him. Because Jesus’ messianic claims did not agree with Paul’s rabbinic training, he was culturally predisposed to reject this supposed Christ. Nevertheless, the resurrected and glorified Jesus vindicated both His Lordship and His position as the Christ by appearing to the insolent persecutor on the Damascus highway. The truth was validated in a historical manifestation of Christ’s person in time and space. It created a marked change, transforming the persecutor into a preacher. The Pauline gospel came by direct revelation, and so was unadulterated by human philosophy or religion. As Vine says: “[It is] not of man’s device, not even in harmony with man’s ideas. The interpretation put upon the facts of the gospel by the Judaizers was ‘after man,’ human alike in its origin and its object.”[i]

Man’s Message Versus God’s Message

Paul did not receive his message “from man, nor was I taught it…” which is exactly opposite from his background in Gamaliel’s yeshiva (v. 12.) He further describes his successful career in rabbinic Judaism in verse 14, saying: “And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” One commentator explains the thinking behind Jewish seminary training in this way:

Such progress in a young rabbi would be shown mainly by knowledge and practice of the ‘traditions’ of Israel, the increasing body of material that had, over the centuries, grown up around the Torah like a protective fence. This was collected and summed up, first in the primary collection of the Mishnah, then in the secondary and later collection called the Gemara, the two together forming the Talmud. Of it, in later days, the rabbis would say: ‘The Scriptures are water; the Mishnah, wine: but the Gemara, spiced wine.’ How early this attitude had begun to develop, we cannot say; but passages like Mark 7:6–13 suggest that it was not unknown even in New Testament days.[ii]

Rather than obtain his good news from Jewish sages, Paul received it by revelation. Leon Morris explains the significance of this:

That he became an apostle by revelation is another indication that his apostleship was not brought about by human means. The revelation was not an end in itself; it was made so that Paul might be a preacher of the gospel and specifically so that he should preach Christ among the Gentiles. With centuries of preaching to the Gentiles behind us, we are inclined to take this for granted. But for a first-century Jew, and specifically for one who was prepared to go far afield in persecuting the new little band of Christians, this was a tremendous step. All his previous training would have been motivated by the conviction that there is only one God and that that God had revealed Himself to Jews alone. Occasionally Jews converted others to their religion, but they had no burden to bring good news to people of every nation. Paul did.[iii]

Rake’s Progress

Paul’s personal history in Judaism did not incline him toward embracing Christianity, for it emphasized human effort in place of salvation by free grace alone. What is more, he demonstrated his opposition to Jesus and His followers by brutally persecuting them wherever he found them. Paul later recounts his mission against this new heresy: “…I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it” (v. 13.) The classicist F.F. Bruce captures the violent imagery of this verse in his rendering: “You have heard about my former course of life in Judaism, how beyond all measure I persecuted the church of God and laid it waste.”[iv] Morris explains the repetitive nature of his exertions:

Paul leaves no doubt as to the vigor with which he had carried out his persecution of the Christians. When this is characterized as Paul’s way of life it signifies that hunting Christians was not a sideline when he had nothing else to occupy him. For Paul in those days to be alive was to be hunting Christians (cf. Acts 9:1-2). The imperfect tense of the verb rendered persecuted indicates that the activity went on for some time. The verb…‘laid…waste’ [“tried to destroy it” KJV] denotes a thoroughgoing and successful activity; the lexicon gives its meaning as ‘pillage, make havoc of, destroy, annihilate (BAGD). Paul was both thorough going and successful in his persecution of the Christians. He was ‘actually engaged in the work of destruction…Paul wished to be not a mere devastator, not a mere disturber…but a destroyer of the church.’ (Meyer).[v]

Elsewhere he spells out his attacks on Christians in greater detail:

…I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:9-11.)

His pre-Christian life was a violent campaign against believers, and he describes it in frank terms: “I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” (1 Tim. 1:13.) One writer point out the unexpected nature of his conversion: “Paul’s point in reciting these two general features from his past life was that, prior to his encounter with Christ, there was not the slightest human preparation or source for his understanding, much less accepting and proclaiming, the gospel of salvation by God’s grace working through faith completely apart from works. It was foreign to all his previous thinking.”[vi]

But now Paul is different. The writer who addresses the Galatians is a friend and follower of Christ – not an enemy. His teaching as an apostle is diametrically opposed to his religious past, for it reflects the change that the risen Christ made in his life. This most surprising conversion of the archenemy of first-century Christians sets a pattern for the extent of the Almighty’s longsuffering towards lost people (1 Tim. 1:15-16.)

Turning Adversaries Into Allies

Since Paul’s time, many opponents of the gospel have similarly repented of their enmity against Christ. The Lord Jesus’ gracious working is able to bring enemies contritely to His feet, as they beg forgiveness for their past crimes. Bakht Singh, C.S. Lewis, Josh McDowell, and the Waorani spearmen who killed the Ecuador martyrs are but a few of the famous examples of former adversaries of Christianity who later became proponents of belief in the Lord Jesus Christ. Still today, the Lord Jesus wins His opponents through the display of His incomparable love in the message of the cross, as well as through the testimony of His saints in this world. Likewise, the most hardened sinner can be transformed by God’s saving power, if they repent.

Of course, many refuse to heed Paul’s story, and continue on in their vain hostility to Christ. They will find out too late that they are missing the specific reason for their existence: to know and serve the Creator God Who revealed Himself through His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. All opposition to Him is futile, for His triumph is certain. He has already vanquished the most feared powers of the universe: Satan, sin, death, and hell (Acts 2:31-36; Heb. 2:14-15.) Moreover, every knee will one day bow in homage to Him (Phil. 2:11.) Psalm 2 evocatively sets the scene of the King of kings’ future enthronement over all combatants:

Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the Lord and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces and cast away Their cords from us.’ He who sits in the heavens shall laugh; The Lord shall hold them in derision. Then He shall speak to them in His wrath, And distress them in His deep displeasure: Yet I have set My King On My holy hill of Zion.’‘I will declare the decree: The Lord has said to Me, ‘You are My Son, Today I have begotten You. Ask of Me, and I will give You The nations for Your inheritance, And the ends of the earth for Your possession. You shall break them with a rod of iron; You shall dash them to pieces like a potter’s vessel.’ Now therefore, be wise, O kings; Be instructed, you judges of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, And rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, And you perish in the way, When His wrath is kindled but a little. Blessed are all those who put their trust in Him. (Psalm 2.)

[i] W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic ed. (Logos.)

[ii] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries, Vol. 9,  Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1989, p. 89; electronic ed. (Logos); emphasis mine.

[iii] Leon Morris, Galatians: Paul’s Charter of Christian Freedom, Downer’s Grove, IL: IVP, 1996, p. 56.

[iv] F.F. Bruce, An Expanded Paraphrase of the Epistles of Paul, R.N. Haynes Publishers, 1981. Emphasis mine.

[v] Morris, p. 52; emphasis & brackets mine.

[vi] John MacArthur, Galatians. Chicago: Moody Press, 1983, p. 27; electronic ed. (Logos.)

Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts On Galatians – Part 4

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

“As we have said before, so now I say again, if anyone preaches any other gospel to you than what you have received, let him be accursed. For do I now persuade men, or God? Or do I seek to please men? For if I still pleased men, I would not be a bondservant of Christ.” Galatians 1:9-10.

When is a gospel not a gospel? According to Galatians the answer is: “When someone tampers with the original gospel given to the apostles by Christ.” Paul declares that the new message being proclaimed by the Judaizers in their midst was a gospel of a fundamentally different type (vv. 6-7.)[i] Its proponents apparently referred to it as a “gospel,” yet it was not actually “good news” for it could not deal with man’s sin problem or satisfy the holy God. Instead it was a message tailored to human preferences, calculated to win over spiritually undiscerning and fleshly religionists. It had a veneer of morality and Biblicism, but it was a counterfeit gospel. Pleasing God or pleasing men is the fulcrum on which a true message stands or falls. The genuine gospel enables the Judge of all the earth to righteously forgive, justify, and reconcile sinful people to Himself. False variations on the glad tidings merely enhance the religious reputations and self-righteous pride of deluded, fallen men.

Cursed Preachers

The gravity of preaching a false message of salvation may be surmised by the extreme penalty called for by the apostle: “Let him be accursed.” This strong word is the famed anathema which means “…something delivered up to divine wrath, dedicated to destruction and brought under a curse…The controlling thought here is that of the delivering up to the judicial wrath of God of one who ought to be ἀνάθεμα because of his sin.[ii] The Old Testament Greek translation, the Septuagint uses this word to render herem, a notorious term for devoting something to destruction at God’s instruction (e.g. Achan in Josh. 7:1.) If one of Israel’s cities was guilty of embracing false gods, they were to be accursed and accordingly must be destroyed. Deuteronomy 13:15-17:

Wiping out, you shall wipe out all the inhabitants of that city by slaughter by dagger; with an anathema, you shall anathematize it, and everything in it. And all of its spoil you shall gather into its streets, and you shall burn with fire the city and all its spoil with its population, before the Lord your God. It shall remain uninhabited forever, never to be rebuilt. Nothing from that which is anathema shall stick to your hand so that the Lord may turn from the heat of his anger, and he shall give you mercy and be merciful to you and multiply you, as the Lord swore to your fathers.[iii]

Obviously, departing from the true gospel is a serious matter! Whether in the Old or New Testament, teaching a false approach to God puts one under the divine curse. This sentence results in the Almighty’s wrath for the accursed one. As Paul says elsewhere: “If anyone does not love the Lord Jesus Christ, let him be accursed. O Lord, come!” (1 Cor. 16:22.) Amazingly, the Son of God willingly became a curse so that He might redeem believers from the curse of a broken law (Gal. 3:13.) There will be no anathema for those who love and receive Him by being born again through faith in His word (Jn. 5:24; Rom. 8:1.)

Lasting Truth That Needs No Improvement

When the apostle speaks of the gospel that they “received,” he employs the aorist tense. Cole points out the word’s nuanced usage: “…while it should not be overstressed, [it] probably conveys something of the thought of the ‘once-for-all’ nature of the faith delivered to the Galatians. Paul preached it; they received it. That was a decisive experience, not a tentative or temporary position, to be outgrown later, as perhaps suggested by the Judaizers.”[iv] God had not altered His message, for there was nothing that needed to be added to His redemptive work through Christ. When the Lord Jesus said: “It is finished,” it was a completed propitiatory sacrifice. The Father added His a-men in the resurrection and ascension (Acts 2:24, 30-36; Rom. 1:4.) Nothing needed to be added, and certainly nothing could be subtracted from this perfect work.

The Inconvenient Truth

What is Paul trying to accomplish in preaching the gospel? He affirms that he is neither seeking human approval nor popularity. The English Standard Version accurately captures the sense of the expression: “For am I now seeking the approval of man, or of God? Or am I trying to please man? If I were still trying to please man, I would not be a servant of Christ.” In the past, human opinion loomed large in his thinking. When he says “if I still pleased men” he is doubtless thinking back to his pre-conversion career as an up-and-coming, heresy-hunting rabbi. He was self-righteous, arrogant, confident in his moral rectitude, and in the rightness of his cause. When he met the risen Christ, however, it all changed. He went from self-seeking Saul to Christ-exalting “Paul,” signifying “little.”[v] His ministry was not motivated out of a desire for human acclaim, but rather that he might please the Lord who saved him. He was decidedly a bondservant of Christ (v. 10.)

Pleasing men and pleasing God are two diametrically opposed ambitions. If one pleases one it is impossible to please the other. The gospel of Christ demands complete obedience, permitting no rivals. His message is odious to fallen humanity, for it sets aside human merit and effort. It makes a sham of man’s pretended righteousness and religiosity, demanding instead, death and resurrection. The old man is not improved, he is crucified. The old life is not spruced up, it is supplanted by an altogether new resurrected life – that of the Lord Jesus Himself. It has been well-said: “Jesus did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came to make dead people live.”[vi]

Losing Life In This World To Gain It In The Next

Like the apostles, modern Christians must proclaim the gospel of God’s grace in Christ apart from human notions of religion and pretended spirituality. Preaching the real gospel will set the church at variance with the spirit of the age. Believers will not receive applause in the world; nevertheless, at the judgment seat of Christ they will receive crowns (Phil. 4:1; 2 Tim. 4:8; Jms. 1:12.) Contemporary people seek gospels that will gratify their egos and enhance their reputations. Yet these false paths only lead to spiritual destruction under God’s curse (Prov. 14:12.) Only the gospel that Paul preached may be trusted to transform and eternally save those who receive it.

[i] Consider verses 6-7: I am amazed that you are so quickly deserting Him who called you by the grace of Christ, for a different gospel; which is really not another; only there are some who are disturbing you and want to distort the gospel of Christ.” NASB & Mr. Vine’s remarks on the Greek words for “different” & “another”: Guided by Paul’s usage elsewhere the words may be paraphrased, ‘Unto a gospel which differs so radically from that which I preached to you that it is not another gospel, for it is not a gospel at all.’ This was the explanation of the Judaizers, theirs was a gospel with a difference; and this the reply of the apostle, so great is the difference that what they preach is not a gospel at all. He cannot allow them even the name. He preached salvation by grace through faith, they preached salvation by law through works; the two, he asserts, are incompatible, and must be antagonistic to the end, cp. Romans 11:6.W.E. Vine, Collected Writings of W.E. Vine: Galatians. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997, electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii]Johannes Behm, “anathema” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Vol. 1. Ed. Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley & Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964. electronic ed. (Logos) p. 354.

[iii] A New English Translation of the Septuagint. Oxford: The University Press, 2009; electronic ed.: Accessed on 9/2/10. Boldface mine.

[iv] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction & Commentary. Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 1989, p. 82.

[v]James Strong, The New Strong’s Dictionary of Hebrew and Greek Words. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1997; electronic ed. (Logos.)

[vi] Ravi Zacharias, “There Is None Good But God,” from the devotion A Slice of Infinity, 3/17/2000; available here: Accessed on 9/2/10.


The Joy and Suffering of the Furtherance of the Gospel (1)

Wednesday, August 18th, 2010

Originally published in Precious Seed, Vol. 65 Issue 1 (2010.)

The gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ holds the answer to the momentous problems facing mankind today. In spite of this, the good news encounters opposition wherever it is proclaimed. The Adversary, Satan blinds men’s minds against it, 2 Cor. 4. 4, the world system allures people away from it, 1 John 2. 15-17, and the flesh rebels against its claims, Gal. 4. 29; 5. 17. The Lord Jesus foretold this sobering situation, saying:

If the world hate you, ye know that it hated me before it hated you. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Remember the word that I said unto you, The servant is not greater than his lord. If they have persecuted me, they will also persecute you; if they have kept my saying, they will keep yours also. But all these things will they do unto you for my name’s sake, because they know not him that sent me, John 15. 18-21.

Paul taught the same principle to his converts, affirming that ‘…all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution’, 2 Tim. 3. 12; see also Acts 14. 22. Elsewhere he told his ‘child in the faith’, Timothy, to ‘…endure hardness as a good soldier of Jesus Christ’, 2 Tim. 2. 3. John puts it succinctly: ‘Marvel not, my brethren, if the world hate you’, 1 John 3. 13. Of course, the apostles were not ‘armchair theologians’ who lacked the knowledge of the vicissitudes of real life. They themselves suffered for their identification with Christ and His gospel. For example, Paul’s experience of persecution and hardship for the progress of the glad tidings is clearly set forth in his epistle to the Philippians. What is more, this encouraging letter demonstrates the unassailable joy that the believer possesses in Christ in spite of the difficulties that serving Him brings about in this life.

Gold, Politics, And Geographic Advantage

Philippi was an important city in the Roman province of Macedonia. Founded by Greeks in the sixth century B.C. as Krenides (‘Springs’), it eventually was wrested from the Thracians and renamed Philippi in 356 B.C. by Philip II of Macedon – famous for being Alexander the Great’s father. Thanks to gold mines in the vicinity, in those days it was a ‘boomtown’. It was also strategically located about ten miles away from the Aegean Sea. Macedonian control eventually gave way to the Romans, who incorporated Macedonia and its holdings into their advancing empire in 148 B.C. It was located along the prominent highway the Via Egnatia. By that time, gold was no longer prevalent and the population dwindled. Nevertheless, world events again revitalized Philippi after Julius Caesar’s assassins Brutus and Cassius were defeated outside the city by Octavian (later known as Augustus) and Antony. By 27 B.C. it was declared a Roman colony, meaning that its residents enjoyed the rights and privileges of Roman citizens.[i] One writer describes the city’s affinity for the imperial capital in these words:

In every way the colony was a reproduction of Rome. The city of Philippi was laid out in the same patterns of Rome, and style and architecture were copied extensively. The coins produced in the city bore Roman inscriptions. The local magistrates liked to term themselves praetores (strategoi), in the Roman manner. The Latin language was used and its citizens adorned themselves in Rome dress. In every way Philippi was a “little Rome” when Paul first traversed its streets. Although it was not the general capital of the province (Thessalonica was), Philippi was a leading city and the first station of the famous road the Via Egnatia, which Rome built to link its eastern territories with the Empire. This road ran directly through the middle of the city and divided it into a lower and upper city. The lower city contained the agora and library while the upper city situated on the side of the mountain was the location of many of the temples.[ii]

In short, it was a cosmopolitan place, which was an ideal base for establishing a gospel beachhead in Europe.

An Inauspicious Beginning

At the commencement of his second missionary journey, Paul was overtly forbidden by the Spirit to preach in Asia Minor; instead, he was called to evangelize Macedonia, Acts 16. 6-10. When the missionary party arrived in Philippi, it did not appear to be a fortuitous place to begin a new work for God. After all, the apostle’s normal approach consisted of going to the local synagogue, making contacts among fellow Jews, Gentile proselytes, and “God-fearers” (one step below a proselyte). Philippi seems not to have met the rabbinic requirement for a Jewish house of worship, however, for it does not appear that there were ten Jewish men residing in the city. Accordingly, upon arriving they made their way to a place where Jews were known to gather for prayer. There they encountered some devout women. Despite the initial lack of a formal congregation Paul and Silas preached to these dear souls, resulting in the conversion of a Thyatiran businesswoman named Lydia and her household, Acts 16. 14-15.

The next victory in the gospel was drawn from the world of the occult. A certain enslaved fortune-teller, who derived her ‘second sight’ through demon possession, daily accosted the missionaries with her misleading cries. In response, Paul cast the unclean spirit out of her, thereby depriving some local businessmen of their lucrative ‘property’. Consequently, they did what any opportunistic, aggrieved entrepreneur would do: they took the heralds of the gospel to court. Like the high priests and Sanhedrin before them, they denounced the Christians as dangerous threats to peace and Roman law. Since the famed Pax Romana (Roman peace) was built upon the Lex Romana (Roman Law), these charges were taken quite seriously and resulted in the preachers’ imprisonment, Acts 16. 16-24.

Rather than hindering the gospel, this turn of events actually led to one of the most dramatic conversions in the New Testament. Under these difficult circumstances, Paul and Silas displayed a remarkably resilient attitude, praying and singing within their cell. The stocks held their feet, but their ebullient spirits could not be restrained. With hearts full of His love, their voices were profitably employed in communion with their Lord. Astonishment must have seized their fellow inmates, for when an earthquake opened the prison’s doors and loosed the prisoners’ bonds no one fled, vv. 26-28. Clearly God was at work within this place of confinement. This uncommon turn of events terrified and transfixed the jailer. He and his family believed in the Lord Jesus Christ that very night. Between Lydia’s household and the unnamed warden, a fledgling assembly was established. Amidst the harsh treatment of the business and legal communities, the gospel produced fruit for God’s glory (Paul refers to this ‘shameful’ treatment in 1 Thess. 2. 2). It was a harbinger of what was to come in his later written ministry to the Philippians.

A Postal Bible School For Serving The Lord

At the time of the writing of Philippians, Paul was once more in prison. Scholarly opinion is divided over the location of his incarceration – Rome, Ephesus, and Caesarea being the suggested possibilities. Regardless of the location, like before, his imprisonment failed to stop the gospel. On the contrary, Philippians makes it clear that Paul possessed a jail-proof joy that transcended trials due to the knowledge of God’s incontrovertible purposes, e.g. Phil. 1. 6; 4. 4.

Paul could not go to Philippi to preach, so he took up his pen in order to exhort them. Chiefly on his heart was their unity in Christ leading to participation in the furtherance of the gospel. He notes their fellowship in the gospel and refers to his great affection for them, 1. 3-11. Nonetheless, their assistance in the ministry was imperiled by a lack of unity within the assembly, which seemed to stem from self-centred behaviour among the believers. Therefore, the apostle devotes a large portion of the book to exhorting them to be more unified, selfless, and Christ-like, 1. 27; 2. 1-11; 4. 1-3.

Outlining Philippians

General Outline

Chapter 1: The Gospel’s Progress Against Opposition & Suffering

Chapter 2: The Gospel’s Selfless Proponents

Chapter 3: The Gospel’s Selfish Enemies & Their Defeat

Chapter 4: The Gospel’s Uniting & Providing Power

Detailed Outline

Phil. 1. 1-11: Introduction

1. 12-26: Paul’s imprisonment & its effect on the gospel

1. 27-2. 5: Exhortation to live worthy of the gospel amidst suffering & embrace the mind of Christ

2. 6-11: Christ’s selfless example

2. 12-16: Exhortation to work out their salvation and live consistent with it

2. 17-18: Paul’s selfless example

2. 19-24: Timothy’s selfless example

2. 25-30: Epaphroditus’ selfless example

3. 1-2: Answering Self seeking false teachers

3. 3-14: Paul’s past, present & future regarding righteousness

3. 15-21: Exhortation to a godly walk in view of Christ’s second coming and the resurrection of their bodies

4. 1-9: Exhortation to unity among the saints

4. 10-19: Thanksgiving for their financial gift

4. 20-23: Closing salutations

Other Prominent Themes Of The Book

Philippians repeatedly mentions joy, but it is far removed from erroneous human conceptions of pleasure. This epistle’s joy emanates from God’s goodness, love and power. As one writer says: ‘It is the joy that comes from complete dedication to the will of Christ which brings about a willingness to even go to the point of death for the sake of the gospel’.[iii] The book also has much to say about ‘the mind’, 1. 27; 2. 2, 3, 5; 3. 15, 16, 19; 4. 2, 7. Thankfulness is also an important topic, 1. 3; 4. 6, 10. The third chapter focuses on the important subject of true and false righteousness, but the positive aspects of that subject also appear elsewhere, 1. 11. Likewise, discernment and fellowship run through the epistle like underlying threads, 1. 5, 9-10; 2. 1. In order to effectively serve the Lord for the advancement of His gospel, the saints need to grasp these important concepts, which are also essential for the Christian life.

Almost two millennia after it was written, Philippians continues to challenge, encourage and comfort believers in various circumstances of life. The apostle’s temporary hardship produced a letter which is being used by the Holy Spirit to edify the saints and advance the glad tidings of Christ. It contains beautiful promises of God’s material and spiritual provision for His people, as well as reminders of the Lord’s incomparable condescension and sacrifice. It refuses to succumb to melancholy sentiment or discouragement; instead advocating joy in the midst of trials. Most importantly, it views the events of life through the spiritually enlightening lens of being in Christ.

[i] For a good overview of Philippi’s history see Herbert W. Bateman IV, “Were The Opponents at Philippi Necessarily Jewish?”. (1998). Bibliotheca Sacra Volume 155 (155:40-43).

[ii] James L. Blevins, “Introduction to Philippians’, Review and Expositor Volume 77 (1980; vnp.77.3.312).

[iii] Ibid., p. 320).

TO DOWNLOAD IN PDF., CLICK HERE: Philippians – pt1

Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 2

Friday, August 13th, 2010

“Grace to you and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins, that He might deliver us from this present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.” Galatians 1:3-5.

After establishing the divine origin of his apostleship, Paul greets the Galatian churches with this beautiful doxology, which sums up the gospel that he defends in this epistle. First, it is one characterized by “grace and peace.” While it is true that these terms were used as salutations in the ancient Jewish world, he is employing them for their theological content, not merely out of literary courtesy. “Grace” is frequently defined as “God’s unmerited favor.” It emphasizes the free gift of God, irrespective of any human merit or contribution. It focuses on the giver, not on the recipient of the gift.

Peace In Our Time

“Peace” is often discussed in this world, but seldom experienced in any form. It is the fleeting object of man’s deepest yearnings, yet it slips through his fingers like grains of sand. This is because the most important aspect of peace is a right relationship with one’s Creator; if one does not have peace with God, then peace of mind, peace among men, and all of other types of peace will prove to be maddeningly elusive. Through the work of the Prince of Peace, however, one may be given a righteous standing and thereby be reconciled to God. As Romans 5:1 succinctly puts it: “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”

As beautiful as grace and peace are in themselves, they are impossible to experience apart from the work of God the Father and God the Son (verse 3.) Together these words describe the glory of God’s personal character and the beneficence of His gifts towards men. One writer describes them thus: “The first is the source of salvation and the second is the result. Grace is positional, peace is practical, and together they flow from God our Father through His Son and our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.”[i] Furthermore, the deity and divine equality of the Lord Jesus is demonstrated by this joint mention of the activity of the Father and the Son.

His grace brings rebels nigh, changes them into new creatures, and extends peace that passes understanding to them (2 Cor. 5:17; Phil. 4:7.) His peace to them is never rescinded, and springs from the knowledge that they are right with God, who “…works all things according to the counsel of His own will” (Eph. 1:11.) He seats them in the heavenlies, giving them free acceptance in God’s presence and provides them with unassailable heavenly inheritance (Eph. 1:11; 2:1-10; 1 Pet. 1:4.) In short, God gives His redeemed ones unparalleled blessings of grace and peace.

The Gift Of Gifts

The Creator’s grace is chiefly seen in the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus, who though sinless, paid the penalty that sinners deserved. Elucidating the specific way that this grace was extended to undeserving mankind Paul writes “…[He] gave Himself,” thus demonstrating the voluntary nature of Christ’s sacrificial death (verse 4.) The Son of God went to the horror of the cross with perfect foreknowledge of all that awaited Him there. Gruesome as they were, the torture and indignities that He suffered at the hands of His creatures paled in comparison with the agony of an utterly holy Being becoming a sin offering on behalf of humankind. His death was “for our sins” – the things that alienated man from his holy Maker and forged the chains of vice that enslaved humans of every type and description. He saved believers from the wrath to come by suffering that righteous anger in their place. In spite of this, He did not shrink from His responsibility, but went forth to the death of the cross in complete obedience to His Father’s will.

The verse next details the object of His self-sacrifice: “…that He might deliver us from this present evil age.” “Deliver” strikes the note of salvation from extreme danger. As a well-known commentator writes:

Christianity is, in fact, a rescue religion. The Greek verb in this verse is a strong one (exaireō, in the middle voice). It is used in the Acts of the rescue of the Israelites from their Egyptian slavery (7:34), of the rescue of Peter both from prison and from the hand of Herod the King (12:11), and of the rescue of Paul from an infuriated mob about to lynch him (23:27). This verse in Galatians is the only place where it is used metaphorically of salvation. Christ died to rescue us.[ii]

Another remarks: “The verb ξέληται, as in Luke’s reporting of its use in the early church (Acts 7:10, 34; 12:11; 23:27; 26:17, where the emphasis is on the idea of rescue), denotes not removal but rescue from the power of. So the deliverance spoken of here is not a removal from the world but a rescue from the evil that dominates it.”[iii] The Lord delivers His people from this evil age, so that they live the life that characterizes the age to come. Eternal life is more than life of unending duration; it is a quality of life – that which pertains to a relationship with the King of kings and sharing in His kingdom. The world as it currently is, dominated by lust and wickedness is passing away. The triumphant death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus make it inevitable that this age will be superseded by the age to come, where “God will be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:22-28.)

Where There Is A Will, There Is A Way

The dramatic deliverance carried out by the work of Christ is totally in keeping with the Father’s desires. The Son gave Himself to rescue the lost, but as Paul notes, it was “…according to the will of our God and Father” (v. 4.) In the divine counsels of eternity past, the triune God determined to ransom and save His people from sin, death, and hell (1 Pet. 1:20.) Like Abraham and Isaac in Genesis 22, “…the two of them went together” to Golgotha (Gen. 22:6; along with the Holy Spirit, Heb. 9:14.) Designating Him as “our God and Father” reminds one of the gracious relationship that the Almighty now gives to believers: they are His children and may call Him “Abba, Father” (Jn. 1:12-13; Rom. 8:15.)

Praise The Savior Ye Who Know Him

With the ancient apostle Christians say: “To whom be glory forever and ever” (v. 5.) Such great salvation naturally elicits worship, praise, and thanksgiving from the saints’ hearts and lips. This doxology is astounding coming from a converted Jew. As one commentator recounts:

To any Jew, it was natural to slip into reverential bĕrākâ, or ‘blessing’, after any mention of the divine name. For instance, ‘The Holy One—blessed be he’ is one of the commonest of such blessings used by later Jewish commentators. So here, after the mention of the name of God, it is natural to add to whom be the glory forever and ever (literally, ‘for ages of ages’, where the same word aiōn is used). Just as in old days the name of Yahweh, with its association of salvation from Egyptian bondage, stirred a Jew to praise, so now the name of Jesus Christ stirs Paul to similar response. If the Jew of old was a ‘Yahwist’, to use modern theological jargon, then Paul and those to whom he wrote were ‘Christians’, whose whole understanding of God was dominated by the revelation in Christ.[iv]

The great God and Savior will ever be lauded for the greatness of His person and work. Those who are redeemed through faith in the Lord Jesus will always remember what He has done and be enraptured with His lovely person.

[i] John MacArthur, Galatians, (Chicago: Moody Press, 1996), p. 5; electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii]John R. W. Stott, The Message of Galatians : Only One Way, Downer’s Grove, Ill., U.S.A.: Inter-Varsity Press, 1986, p. 18; electronic edition (Logos.)

[iii] Richard N. Longenecker, Word Biblical Commentary : Galatians. Vol. 41. Dallas: Word, Inc., 2002, p. 8; electronic ed. (Logos.) I generally agree with his assessment that the emphasis is on “rescue from the power of” something, but would note that verses like Acts 7:34 and 12:11 include deliverance from physical places (i.e. Egypt & Herod’s jail respectively.) Of course, Christ’s rescue of believers includes the eventual deliverance from the world as it now is (fallen & sinful) through His coming. –KRK.

[iv] R. Alan Cole, Galatians: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Vol. 9, Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1989. p. 73; electronic ed. (Logos.)


Let Freedom Ring: Thoughts on Galatians – Part 1

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Man intuitively yearns for freedom. Through the ages, numerous thinkers have suggested schemes for human liberty. Examples are readily found in the founding documents of my homeland, the United States; they are choked full of references to liberation from tyranny and oppression. Ironically of all the enslaving powers on earth, man is unable to achieve freedom from his vices and personal passions – things that are symptomatic of sin within the core of his being.

The Magna Carta Of Christian Liberty

Some people think that freedom from indwelling evil is to be attained through religious observance or esoteric disciplines. Due to their human origin, however, the world’s religions are powerless to liberate people from the thraldom of darkness that stems from their sin. In fact, religious people have no assurance of the forgiveness of sins which is a prerequisite for a relationship with the Creator God. Nor do human rites and ceremonies free one from sin’s power. There are many counterfeit paths to freedom, but only a relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ by faith can free one from sin’s penalty and power – even from sin’s presence, eventually, when He returns.

The Epistle to the Galatians begins by affirming the divine origin of Paul’s apostleship and the gospel that he preached. In context, this was important to establish, for there were competing false-apostles propounding erroneous messages and methods of salvation to the Galatian churches (e.g. Gal. 6:12.) Likewise, in the modern world the biblical gospel is one among many competing truth claims. One must understand, however, that Christianity is based upon divine revelation, not on human thinking or ingenuity.

God’s Messenger Of Liberty

The messenger introduces himself in a manner that displays his credentials: “Paul, an apostle (not from men or through man, but through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead)…” (Gal. 1:1.) He is an apostle, which is defined by one dictionary in these words: “One who fulfills the role of being a special messenger (generally restricted to the immediate followers of Jesus Christ, but also extended, as in the case of Paul, to other early Christians active in proclaiming the message of the gospel)—‘apostle, special messenger.’”[i] Another adds: “It always denotes a man who is sent, and sent with full authority.”[ii]

Paul’s apostleship was not of human origin – “not from men,” as he puts it. He was not sent out by a group of missionary minded men, nor a human organization. Neither was he put into this work “through man.” He was ordained by the Lord without the use of human intermediaries. His particular office and function derived from God, who chose him as His emissary to the nations (Acts 9:15.) As such, his authority stemmed from the will and character of the Almighty. As he articulates the source of it: “…through Jesus Christ and God the Father who raised Him from the dead” (Gal. 1:1.) The Son and the Father selected and commissioned Paul to his service as an apostle. The Lord Jesus Himself was vindicated and authenticated by the Father raising Him from the dead. Thus, this apostle and this message were authorized and originated in the Risen Christ.

Conversely, his adversaries were mere men with human agendas and ineffectual pseudo-gospels that were impotent to change their adherents. By contrast, Paul declared God’s Word, which is able to save and transform those who receive it (e.g. Rom. 1:16; Heb. 4:12.) Yet he was no lone wolf in this work, for he then goes on to mention “and all the brethren who are with me” (verse 2.) Therefore, the brothers who were with him were also in fellowship with his work and message. So one sees that Paul’s gospel is the one that comes from God – the One who revealed Himself in history through the life, death, and resurrection of His Son the Lord Jesus Christ. The message of Galatians may be paraphrased thus: “Don’t be fooled by imposters or swayed by ‘new and improved’ gospels. Look back to the original glad tidings that come from the true and living God.” Freedom can only be found in the person and work of the Lord Jesus, so consider the good news that He gave through His apostle Paul.

[i] Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996. Electronic edition (Logos.)

[ii] Karl Heinrich Rengstorf, “apostolos,” in Theological Dictionary of the New Testament. Edited by Gerhard Kittel, Geoffrey W. Bromiley and Gerhard Friedrich. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1964-. Electronic edition (Logos.)


Pardoning The Blasphemer

Friday, June 18th, 2010

Pardoning The Blasphemer
By: Keith Keyser
Sebastian Horsley – a child of privilege turned artist, author, and all-around self-promoter – died of a drug overdose yesterday, merely forty-seven years old. His sad life was marred by dysfunctional family life, followed by illicit self-indulgence in sexual promiscuity and heroin addiction. As an adult he engaged in shameless exhibitionism, as revealed in a dangerous and blasphemous stunt which he pulled a decade ago. His obituary comments:
The pinnacle of his career in this regard came in 2000, when he travelled to the Philippines and was crucified (“Christ, after all, had profound style”), fainting when the nails were driven in and falling when his footrest fell away. It was a gruesome and ignominious end to what some had viewed as a stunt in extremely poor taste, but Horsley’s name was trumpeted around the world, and even, he seemed to suggest, to the heavens. ‘I’d been rejected by a god I didn’t believe in,’ he noted.i
His last comment was particularly tragic, given that it was entirely untrue. God exists, and was willing to receive Horsley, if he would repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. The obituary goes on to cite a recent interview where Horsley cynically assessed his life, saying: “I haven’t really had a life…I’ve just sat in a room and died. That’s what we all do.”ii How different it would have been if he had turned to Christ in his desperation. For those who come to Him for salvation, the Lord Jesus promises life that is eternal in quality as well as in duration. As He said: “…I am come that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10.)
A Case Study In Extreme Forgiveness
Saul of Tarsus was the most unlikely candidate for conversion to faith in Christ. After all, his career as a rising star in rabbinic Judaism was marked by his rejection of the claims of Jesus and His followers. He defined his zeal for his religion in terms of his assault on the church (Phil. 3:6.) For instance, when the dynamic preacher Stephen was violently silenced through an impromptu execution, Saul affirmed that this was the right course of action. Acts 8:1 records his attitude, saying: “And Saul was consenting unto his death.” Elsewhere he describes his efforts to stamp out this nascent faith which he regarded as heretical in this famous phrase: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1 Tim. 1:12-13; emphasis mine.)
Saul was a “blasphemer”: one who spoke evil regarding the Lord and His people. Additionally, he was a “persecutor”: he violently attacked Christians, as he later noted: “…I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women” (Acts 22:4.)
Lastly, his attitude was “injurious” – meaning that he was an insolent man who delighted in demeaning and injuring others.iii Clearly, he was not an unbiased seeker, open to embracing a new belief system. Nevertheless, the awe-inspiring sight of the risen Christ’s glory on the road to Damascus stopped him in his tracks, and changed his mind on everything that he thought he knew. Jesus is Lord, and Saul – subsequently known as Paul – would follow wherever He led until he himself died a martyr for the truth of Christ.iv
The Prototype Of Christ’s Patient Mercy
Casting a backward glance at his life before meeting and receiving Christ, Paul declared that God used him as an object lesson of a recipient of mercy: “…that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting” (1 Tim. 1:16.) Other translations bring out the nuances of the verse, emphasizing the Lord’s incomparable patience:
“I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (ESV.)v
“But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life” (NET.)vi
That the Lord Jesus could save such an overbearing, religious tormentor was evidence of His inexhaustible patience. As one commentator aptly remarks:
Although Paul’s conversion had a number of unique features (the heavenly light, the audible voice, the Hebrew language, Paul’s fall and blindness), it was also a ‘prototype’ (hypotypōsis, BAGD) of all subsequent conversions, because it was an exhibition of Christ’s infinite patience. In fact the conversion of Saul of Tarsus on the Damascus road has proved to be just that. It remains a standing source of hope to otherwise hopeless cases. Paul seems to speak to us across the centuries: ‘Don’t despair! Christ had mercy even on me, the worst of sinners; he can also have mercy on you!’vii
Those who fancy themselves too far gone for God need to consider well Paul’s conversion and what is says about the Almighty. The Lord is willing and able to pardon and free the most wretched, desperate sinner. His death and resurrection assure us that the redemption price that God’s holy standard demands has been received. God now offers salvation exclusively in Christ to whoever will receive it. As 1 Tim. 2:3-6 puts it: “ For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time” (NKJV.)viii A life of blasphemy and
dissipation – such as lived by Paul and the unfortunate man at the beginning of this article – can be changed in an instant by receiving by faith the gift of eternal life in Christ.
i The Telegraph, electronic edition: Published 18 June, 2010; accessed 6/18/10. Emphasis mine.
ii Ibid.
iii “One who insults in an arrogant manner” 33.392, “hubristes.” Louw, Johannes P., and Eugene Albert Nida. Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament : Based on Semantic Domains. electronic ed. (Logos.) of the 2nd edition. New York: United Bible societies, 1996. The word only occurs twice in the New Testament, the other occurrence coming in the catalogue of horrible sins in Rom. 1:30 (rendered “despiteful” in the KJV.)
iv His death is anticipated in 2 Timothy 4:6-8. Later extra-biblical writings refer specifically to his execution, e.g. 1 Clement 5, which says: “Owing to envy, Paul also obtained the reward of patient endurance, after being seven times thrown into captivity, compelled to flee, and stoned. After preaching both in the east and west, he gained the illustrious reputation due to his faith, having taught righteousness to the whole world, and come to the extreme limit of the west, and suffered martyrdom under the prefects. Thus was he removed from the world, and went into the holy place, having proved himself a striking example of patience.”
( ; accessed on 6/18/10.) One scholar cites further evidence: “Clement of Rome said that both Peter and Paul died in Rome after Paul had gone to the limits of the West (1 Clem. 5). Ignatius of Antioch indicates the importance of both Peter and Paul for Rome (Rom. 4:2). Dionysius of Corinth describes how both Peter and Paul died at the same time (Historia Ecclesiastica, II.25.5-8). Irenaeus traced the apostolic succession of Rome from Peter and Paul (Against Heresies, III.1.2; 3.1). Some details of Paul’s death at Tre Fontane and his burial outside the wall are perhaps preserved in the apocryphal Acts of Paul before the end of the second century. Tertullian says Paul suffered death in Rome, but he is not clear on a second imprisonment (Apology, 5; Prescription Against Heresies, 35). After Eusebius, Cyril of Jerusalem, Epiphanius, John Chrysostom, and others support this tradition against which there is no evidence.” (Dale Moody, “A New Chronology For The New Testament,” Review and Expositor Volume 78:2 [Spring, 1981]. Louisville, KY, p. 223.)
v The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001; emphasis mine.
vi The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible. Biblical Studies Press, 2006; emphasis mine.
vii Stott, John R. W. Guard the Truth : The Message of 1 Timothy & Titus. The Bible speaks today. Downers Grove, Ill.: InterVarsity Press, 1996; electronic ed. (Logos.)
viii The New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1982.