God Still Speaks – Psalm 19

A college philosophy professor asked one question on his final exam. He picked up a chair, put it on his desk, and wrote on the board, “Using everything we have learned this semester, prove that this chair does not exist.” Philosophy classes get into that kind of thing.

The students opened their notebooks and wrote as much as they could think of for a while hour, some of them churning out 30 pages of heady philosophical debate and logic. But one student turned in his paper after less than a minute and he was the only one to get an “A.” What did he write so quickly that turned out to be just the right answer? He wrote: “What chair?”

In the beginning, Satan used a single question to get Adam & Eve to doubt whether God can be trusted. Satan wants to get people to the point where they not only don’t trust God… but that God doesn’t even exist. He wants to get people to the point where they ask: What God?

Enter Psalm 19. The Psalm tells us that above the questions Satan poses, there is a better word which is spoken announcing that there is a God, He has spoken, and He continues to speak. The question we must ask is not “What God?” but “Are we listening?” If we will listen to the silent witness of the world & the spoken witness of the Word these will evoke a spiritual response in us, namely, worship

God’s still speaking; are we listening? The world & the Word combine to invoke worship from us.

The Works of God (1-6) – General Revelation

The Glory of the Sovereign (1-4a)

 

1The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

When we speak of glory of God, we are talking about “the sum of His perfection” or His character. So all of creation is “celebrating” the character of God. The sky “announces” His handiwork, or they are saying, “Hey, guess who made us!”

2Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

Everyday “gushes” speech & every night is revealing knowledge about where everything came from. So there is an abundant, continuous revelation from creation testifying to a Creator.

3There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

So here is the interesting thing: there’s no words being used. Creation is a silent witness to the Creator. It is divine sign language and everyone sees the pictorial message & therefore should draw certain conclusions, esp. there is a God.

4Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. 

Though there are no words, the “voice” of creation is universal going to “all the earth…the end of the world.”

The Glory of the Sun (4b-6)

David uses the sun as a specific example of God’s glory on display, the crowning achievement of God’s creative power.

In them he has set a tent for the sun,

The “tent” for the sun may be night; the sun retreats there each night.

5which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

What is pictured here is youthful vigor, energy, strength.

6Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Though their knowledge about what the sun is was limited, they knew enough to give proper praise to the God who made the sun. Much more should we praise God!

The Word of God (7-11) – Special Revelation

Like the sun from which “nothing is hidden from its heat,” so the Word is likewise inescapable, “no creature is hidden from His sight” (Heb 4.13). The Psalmist gives 6 titles for the word; 6 qualities of the word; 6 effects from the word.

The Law of YHWH (7a): 7The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

The doctrine of God, the great body of truth used to instruct God’s people. The Law is “perfect” as a whole, lacking nothing & needing nothing. “It is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it” (Spurgeon). The law “revives the soul” or “converts the soul.” It brings back the spirit from death to life & is able to raise up children for Abraham from even the most hard of hearts.

The Testimony of YHWH (7b): the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

Divine declaration of right & wrong, truth & error, sin & righteousness. God’s testimony is “sure,” that is, it is a firm foundation & permanent. “All other ground is sinking sand” but God’s word is terra firma. It makes the simple wise, enlightens their moral judgments.

The Precepts of YHWH (8a): 8the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

Or statutes which indicate a specific duty. The precepts are “right” or straight & smooth path thru a dark woods. The heart rejoices in knowing that remaining on such a path will ensure it safe travel. Notice: the converted soul becomes wise and finds joy (progression).

The Commandment of YHWH (8b): the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

Rules to regulate the entire life. The command is “pure” and produces & promotes purity of life. How? By causing the light to shine upon darkened eyes (cf Eph 1.18). Sin & sorrow are driven away by the pure light of God’s word.

The Fear of YHWH (9a): 9the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

Reverence and respect produced by the word; awe & piety. The fear of God is “clean,” both ceremonially & ethically, for this reverence for God drives away the love of sin. “Endures forever” with God’s word is something greater than Pilate’s decree, “What I have written, I have written” (John 19.22). Or as Jesus, “Heaven & earth will pass away, but my Word will no not never pass away” (Matthew 24.35; Mark 13.31; Luke 21.33). Wise men still fear God.

The Rules of YHWH (9b): the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

His just decrees or “rules” against sin & in favor of righteousness; the right settings. These are “true,” not only in the sense that they contain no falsehood, but also that they are trustworthy & faithful words. So God’s judgments are just, in history or pertaining to sin. His justice is always above reproach to the enlightened mind.

Reward for Desiring God’s Word (10-11)

10More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

11Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

cf. 119.72, 127. Greater than gold & sweeter than honey – that’s God’s Word! Better than profits & pleasure. Do we always desire God’s word like this, though? Consider Jerome, 5th century theologian who more readily desired the philosophers’ writings to the prophets’ writings:

Many years ago, when for the kingdom of heaven’s sake I had cut myself off from home, parents, sister, relations, and—harder still—from the dainty food to which I had been accustomed; and when I was on my way to Jerusalem to wage my warfare, I still could not bring myself to forego the library which I had formed for myself at Rome with great care and toil. And so, miserable man that I was, I would fast only that I might afterwards read Cicero. After many nights spent in vigil, after floods of tears called from my inmost heart, after the recollection of my past sins, I would once more take up Plautus. And when at times I returned to my right mind, and began to read the prophets, their style seemed rude and repellent. I failed to see the light with my blinded eyes; but I attributed the fault not to them, but to the sun. (Letter XXII – To Eustochium; see Nicene & Post-Nicene Fathers, 2nd series, vol 6. Pg.35)

How often do we desire to watch the latest TV show or sports match more than Scripture? But “there is great reward” in keeping or observing the Word. But to keep it we must know it; and to know it we must read it; and to read we must deny ourselves the various activities & things which would steal our attention away from the word. “Great reward” when? Someday, sure, in heaven. But today also & absolutely as we live life with God.

Our Worship to God (12-14) – The Revelation of Our Hearts

One cannot think about the Law without being reminded of disobedience to the Law. This led David to intense prayer to YHWH, his Rock & Redeemer.

Cleanse Me (12)

12Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

“Declare me innocent” is the language of forgiveness. “Hidden faults” are either 1) Sins practiced in secret or 2) Sins we commit which are secret even to ourselves. Both are grievous, but surely the former is most grievous. One of the saddest sights is when a long-time brother or sister or even a minister is found out to be engrossed in secret sin. Those kinds of incidents cause grief & astonishment. Which sheds light on the first clause: “Who can understand error?” Who can unravel the deceitfulness of sin? However, the latter category – sins God sees in us which we fail to see in ourselves – which David has in mind. No doubt we fail to love as we ought, being humble, judging to harshly, hastily, &/or ignorantly; we perform some duty while neglecting another more urgent tho uninteresting one; we fail to forgive as God forgave us. The list goes on and we know these are sins in need of God’s forgiveness because we feel guilty when they are pointed out. What a multitude of sins are hidden faults, hidden from our memory & imperfectly enlightened conscience! With David let us plead with God, forgive, cleanse, declare me innocent!

Correct Me (13)

13Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me! Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

“Keep back your servant” thru the word. “Presumptuous sin” is also called sinning with a “high hand.” It is arrogant, self-willed sin. So grievous is this kind of sin that there was no atonement for it (cf. Numbers 15.30-31; Deuteronomy 17.12). This kind of evil was purged from the land. No wonder David prayed to be kept from this. And so also should we.

Commend Me (14)

14Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

Let my words & thoughts be acceptable. David wanted what he thought & said to be pleasing to God. Here is a sweet prayer which every Christian ought to take up. Before words leave our mouth, we ought to meditate about it. In other words, think before you speak lest you say something which is unacceptable to God.

“Let the door of my lips by kept, that I utter no evil word, and the recesses of my heart be purged, that I think no evil thought” (Pulpit Commentary 130).

Natural theology (world), revelation (Word), spiritual experience (worship) – this is the successive course of this psalm. “He is wisest who reads both the world-book and the Word-book as two volumes of the same work, and feels concerning them, ‘My Father wrote them both.’” (Spurgeon) God still speaks – through the world He tells us He exists; thru His word He tells us He loves us; and in our worship we tell Him we love Him.

Advertisements

The Two Ways – Psalm 1

The Road Not Taken

By Robert Frost

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,

And sorry I could not travel both

And be one traveler, long I stood

And looked down one as far as I could

To where it bent in the undergrowth;

 

Then too the other, as just as fair,

And having perhaps the better claim,

Because it was grassy and wanted wear;

Though as for the passing there

Had worn them really about the same,

 

And both that morning equally lay

In leaves no step had trodden black.

Oh, I kept the first for another day!

Yet knowing how way leads on to way,

I doubted if I should ever come back.

 

I shall be telling this with a sigh

Somewhere ages and ages hence:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –

I took the one less traveled by,

And that has made all the difference.


Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” is the poetic idea of what Psalm 1 is depicting. Jesus likewise spoke of two gates, two ways, two trees & two types of fruit, two houses, & two foundations (cf Mt 7.13-27, esp. 13-14). What are the two ways before every person? Psalm 1 is actually the first full expression of this idea in the Bible. It is clear, concise, and yet carefully crafted…

The Godly (1-3)

The blessing of delighting in God & His Word.

1Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

Purity before God (1): Maintaining purity before God is contingent upon the way in which you walk. 1) The Wicked Way: Notice the progression – from walking to standing to sitting. There is even progression in the company – the wicked (or ungodly) are those who have no fear of God before their eyes and are perpetually restless in their self-will; the sinners are those who indulge in open sin; the scoffers are those who ridicule religion and laugh at those who fear God. Said another way, the wicked/ungodly are unconcerned with religion, even apathetic; sinners have a particular way of transgressing (i.e. drunkards, etc.); scoffers have brought an end to all religious & moral impulse in themselves (“he is a believer in all unbelief”). The progression goes from forgetting about God (“wicked”), to habitual violation of God’s commands (“sinners”), to becoming a professor & promoter of sin to others (“scoffers”).  2) The Righteous Way: The righteous person will avoid all this progression down the pathway of wickedness. Instead, a) He will walk in the council of YHWH; b) He will stand in the way of God; c) He will sit at the feet of the Almighty.

2but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.

Pleasure in God’s Law (2a): He loves it! Consider also, just how little of God’s word David had when he wrote this: Pentateuch and a few Psalms. Today we have the complete written word of God; how much more should we prize this volume and think deeply on it!

Pondering on God’s Law (2b): He carries the law of God with him in his mind all day & all night; turning it over, ruminating, musing, thinking. He treats Scripture like hard candy, savoring it all day,, not a candy bar quickly devoured.

3He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Picture (3): Not planted by chance or self; the righteous are “planted” by the Father, rooted in Christ (Col 2.7), by these flowing streams of living water (cf. Jn 7.38-39). He is the One who establishes us so we are fruit-bearing evergreens. “Prospers”: Adversity, yes, however, it is the best life there is.

Not long ago I was visiting with a member who had recently repented and rededicated himself to the Lord. He shared with me that “When I do things His way, life is good.” “How about that?” I replied. How about that indeed!

The Godless (4-6)

The fate of those who neither know God nor follow after His ways.

4The wicked are not so, but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Worthless: Chaff was the dead, worthless stuff which came off the grain. So the wicked are like chaff, carried away. The contrast is sharp: the righteous are planted firmly by God whereas the wicked are blown away. By the way, these are the novices of evil (wicked), the first phase of spiritual degradation; if this is their fate, how much worse will it be for the sinners and scoffers.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

Judgment: “The judgment” here seems to be the final judgment by God on the last day. Of course, no one will be standing because “every knee will bow” but here the inability to stand is connected to their guilt. Sinners will be cast out of the presence of the saints (i.e. heaven, though how much David knew about that is not known). And scoffers…are not mentioned, probably because if the wicked & sinners are not going to make it, there is no need to mention the scoffers.

Charles Spurgeon says, “Every church had one devil in it.” Weeds grow up with the wheat (cf Matt 13.24-30; 37-43). But there is coming a day when the “congregation of the righteous” will be purged, the weeds will be burned, but the wheat goes into the barn. May God grant that we find our place there!

6for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

Known: “Knows” carries the idea of constant awareness. No one is going to game God who has marched down the way of the wicked nor will anyone be forgotten who has tread the way of the righteous. God is constantly watching over the way of the righteous; Yea, though we walk thru the shadow of death!

Application

Purity & Pleasure: Some may lay hold of the purity of verse 1 and avoid the path of the wicked, avoid sin. But do you delight in God’s word as verse 2 says? This beatitude (“Blessed,” v.1) is two-fold: purity & pleasure in pondering God’s word. Do you love God’s word? Do you seek to be alone with your Bible to read & study?

Meditate: Mentally chew the cud, like what a cow does. Get the sweetness & virtue out to nourish the soul & grow. This is hard candy, not a candy bar; it is a sucker, not a Snickers. Constant meditation upon God’s word has always characterized God’s people. It should characterize us today!

Fruit-Bearing Evergreens: In seasons of doubt we bear the fruit of faith; in seasons of worry, we bear the fruit of contentment; in seasons of trial, we bear the fruit of patience; in seasons of temptation, we bear the fruit of dependence on God. We bear fruit in its season!

Theme: This Psalm sets the tone for all the Psalms. The theme contained in this Psalm is found through the Psalms. No matter how bad it is, the righteous are known by God and the wicked perish. “Yeah, but it is really bad, Lord!” He says, “I got you!” God defends the Godly & destroys the godless.

The rest of the Psalms serve as exposition of this principle. But we have before us two portraits with the unspoken question looming: Which are we? Are we the righteous one which knows God, knows God’s law, and is known by God? Or are we the wicked, useless, with only impending destruction awaiting?

Grow in the Word of God, part 2

The integrity of a society begins with the integrity in the home and the home is the first & best place for children to learn faith and obedience. The collapse of a nation (any nation) is directly related to the home. When the family is decayed, the nation rots. The only remedy is a wholesale return to the godly principles contained in the Bible. Parents must 1st themselves be given over to the way of God and then in turn they instruct their children in obedience. Therefore, Paul continues his exhortation to the family, and in this section (6.1-4) focuses on the children’s responsibility toward their parents.

 God’s Word to Children (6.1-4)

As children grow they are to be obedient to their parents, especially their fathers.

1Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right.

Children: This epistle is addressed to “saints” (1.1), not exactly preschoolers and young children. Obedience and honor certainly begins in childhood, but it continues into adulthood.

Obey…the Lord: Obey is stronger than submit (v.21, 22). Submission is voluntary; obedience is mandatory. In the Lord (key phrase in Ephesians) “means to obey as part of one’s relation to the Lord” (Snodgrass 321).

The Scriptures paint a bleak picture of those who are disobedient to parents (Prov 30.11, 17). Disobedience to parents is characteristic of those who are depraved and reprobate whom God has given over to a debased mind (Rom 1.29, 30). It is also a signal that we are indeed living in the last days (2 Tim 3.1-2). At its heart, disobedience is spiritual rebellion since obedience to parents is part of our relationship with the Lord.

For this is right: Even the law of nature teaches we obey those who gave us life; the Romans understood the power of the father (patria potestas) in his home. Common sense dictates that parental obedience is right. The Law of God sanctioned & sanctified obedience (5th commandment). Now Paul, inspired of the Holy Spirit, baptizes the command and so enjoins it upon the church of Christ.

2“Honor your father and mother” (this is the first commandment with a promise),

“Honor…mother”: Honor means to revere, respect, and value upon the parents. Parents (v.1) is here defined as a father and mother, which would exclude other unlawful arrangements (i.e. Heather has Two Mommies).

Obedience may look different for a 20 year old than a 5 year old, but honor remains relatively unchanged. We should always respect our parents, regardless of what age we be. But a 5 yr olds obedience (maybe – eat your vegetables) looks different than a 20 yr olds obedience (say – stay away from alcohol). Honoring God is the theological principle undergirding the principle to honor and obey parents.

This is…a promise: Some have noted that the 2nd commandment (no idols) has a promise in it (Exodus 20.4-6). However, a close reading of the text shows that the Lord is describing His nature in the 2nd commandment, whereas the 5th commandment has a specific, personal promise (“you”).

3“that it may go well with you and that you may live long in the land.”

“That it may go well with you”: The promise is that things will go better for you if you obey your parents. You’ll be more useful, healthy, happy than if you did not obey mom & dad.

“That you…in the land”: or “on the earth.”  Though originally “the land” is the Promised Land, here it is meant generally for the earth. The second aspect of the promise is longevity. Those who listen to their parents, doing what they say will live a long time.

Some point out the problem with the promise – some children, even those who are very obedient, die. Granted, there are the cases where lives are cut short due to willful rebellion and refusal to heed the voice of parental wisdom. But some kids’ lives are short without that willful rebellion. They don’t “live long on the earth” even though they may have been very obedient. What then? The problem is further compounded when we consider that some little hellion grows up into adulthood, perhaps to continue his profligate lifestyle. “Why do the wicked prosper, Lord?”

  • Reminder: when a child dies, we believe that they go to be with the Lord. Sin does not come alive until they come to know the Law and disobey it. So when a young child does die, we have the blessed assurance that they are “safe in the arms of Jesus.” Do not doubt in the dark what you knew in the light.
  • Though we can point to specific cases, this promise, when applied generally, tends towards the results specified. Where you find parental obedience, you will typically find longevity and habits which promote that.
  • Another reminder: God is sovereign. In the end, He owes us no explanation for the whys and wherefores of life (and death). Though we only have partial answers in this life, the promise still stands.

4Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

Fathers: Some point out that the word used here (Gk pateres) is used of both parents (see Hebrews 11.23). However, Paul has just used the word for “parents” in v.1. It seems like the shift is intentional: primary responsibility to lead the home and primary accountability unto the Lord for the home is placed squarely upon men.

Do not…anger: Paul tells Christian fathers not to make their children mad or irritated. Coupled with Colossians 3.21 this comes into sharp focus: don’t lead your children down a path of frustration which culminates in their being discouraged in the faith.

But bring…the Lord: Provide for their physical & psychological needs, yes. But most important, give them what they need spiritually. Discipline relates to cultivating the mind and morals complete with commands and correction when necessary. Instruction could be either correction (for misdeeds) or confirmation (for good works).

First the wives, then the husbands. First the children, then the fathers. The dependent first followed by those upon whom they are dependent. Here Paul states the negative before giving the positive. This is Paul’s typical style.  First, don’t provoke them to anger: That is, although there is a proper and necessary place for discipline, that discipline must nevertheless “never be arbitrary (for children have a built-in sense of justice) or unkind. Otherwise, they will ‘become discouraged.’ Conversely, almost nothing causes a child’s personality to blossom and gifts to develop like the positive encouragement of loving, understanding parents.”[1] Second, bring them up in God’s instruction: How are fathers to do this unless they know what the Word of God teaches? How are they to teach with wisdom unless they have themselves learned in Christ’s school? Obviously fathers will fail at this great task unless they are themselves growing with God. They must be studying the Bible. They must be seeking to live by it and practice it in their own daily lives. Parents (and especially fathers) must be models. [2]

[1] James Montgomery Boice, Ephesians: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Ministry Resources Library, 1988). 214.

[2] Ibid 215.

Rejoicing in Partnership for the Gospel

After explaining how the Philippians can maintain pure conduct before God (Philippians 2.12-18), Paul turns his attention to two brothers in Christ who have meant a great deal to him during his ministry: Timothy and Epaphroditus. These passages are often overlooked by Christians, but they communicate the deep heartfelt affection of Paul for his fellow laborers in the faith.

Timothy’s Service (2.19-24)

Timothy is an example of selfless service in the gospel with Paul pursuing Christ’s interests

19I hope in the Lord Jesus to send Timothy to you soon, so that I too may be cheered by news of you.

I hope…to you soon: His hope was not in himself—his power, intelligence, abilities, etc. Paul’s confident expectation in the Lord Jesus was to send Timothy to the Philippians. Even as he was convinced of his remaining, coming, and helping of the Philippians (1.25-26), so he was expecting to send Timothy.

So that…news of you: Here is the purpose for sending Timothy—Paul wants to hear about how the Philippians are doing. Timothy will help the Philippians by his presence and counsel and will help Paul with his report of their Christian life.

20For I have no one like him, who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare.

For I have no one like him: Lit. like-minded or equal in soul. Paul and Timothy are of the same mind and attitude. Think of all the traveling companions the apostle Paul and then consider this statement. Timothy was a man after Paul’s own heart.

Who will be genuinely concerned for your welfare: Paul’s heart was for the Philippians; so too was Timothy’s. They shared the same concern and interest in the Philippians’ spiritual wellbeing. They faced the daily anxiety for all the churches (cf. 2 Cor 11.28).

21For they all seek their own interests, not those of Jesus Christ.

For they all…of Jesus Christ: That is, all those available to him. It seems doubtful that Luke would fall under this category; perhaps he was minister elsewhere and was not with Paul. While those around Paul are “brothers” (4.21), they are apparently not as willing as Timothy to spend and be spent for the sake of others. Another theory: this is a sorrowful statement about the present condition of the world (full of selfishness and self-seeking) and having a brother like Timothy is a rare thing.

22But you know Timothy’s proven worth, how as a son with a father he has served with me in the gospel.

But you know Timothy’s proved worth: “know” is the kind of knowledge which comes by experience (Gk root ginosko). In fact, he had been to Philippi at least once (Acts 16).

How as a son…in the gospel: It was fitting for Timothy to labor (lit. slave, from Gk douleuo) like this with Paul since he was Paul’s “true child in the faith” (1 Tim 1.2; 2 Tim 1.2; 1 Cor 4.17). The kind of service mentioned here is done in a humble manner at the demands of another, i.e. slave. This is the kind of work Paul and Timothy engaged in as father and son. Timothy “was both a son and servant of St. Paul, and also a fellow-worker with St. Paul, both being slaves of God” (Caffin 63).

23I hope therefore to send him just as soon as I see how it will go with me,

I hope therefore to send him: Whenever Paul wanted information about a congregation or wanted to encourage and build-up brethren and he personally could not go, Timothy went.

Just as soon…with me: Whether he will be released from prison or face a martyr’s death. This way Timothy would bring the report of Paul’s fate. This indicates there is no certainty about his future at the time of his writing.

24and I trust in the Lord that shortly I myself will come also.

And I trust…will come also: This is similar to what he said in 1.25-26. Paul is persuaded that what is needful is for him to continue in the body. He has come to this conclusion and holds to it (perfect tense). Only in the Lord can he look to the future with such confidence. “We do not know certainly what he meant by the term shortly. The uncertainty as to what whim might strike Nero was an uncertain thing to count upon” (Lipscomb 193). Coffman thinks this hope was probably fulfilled, pointing to Titus 3.12 as evidence.

Epaphroditus’ Sickness (2.25-30)

God spared Epaphroditus so that he could render further service to Paul & his brethren

25I have thought it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus my brother and fellow worker and fellow soldier, and your messenger and minister to my need,

I have thought…Epaphroditus: Epaphroditus is known only by this verse and 4.18. He is a different person that Epaphras, another co-worker of Paul’s—Epaphroditus was from Philippi, Epaphras was from Colossae. This man Paul was compelled to send back home.

My brother…minister to my need: Paul uses five (5) phrases to describe the usefulness of Epaphroditus. First, he is Paul’s (“my”) brother in Christ. Second, he is Paul’s fellow worker (Gk sunergon); he worked with Paul in the furtherance of the cause of Christ. Third, he is Paul’s fellow soldier; they had been through severe trials and tests together. Fourth, he is the Philippians’ (“your”) messenger (Gk apostolon); that is, he had been sent by the church. Fifth, he was Paul’s minister (Gk leitourgon, cf.v.17) on behalf of the Philippians. By conveying their contribution which is “a fragrant offering” (4.18) he renders a sacred service.

26for he has been longing for you all and has been distressed because you heard that he was ill.

For he has…he was ill: Barclay gives a reconstruction of the events surrounding this narrative. Epaphroditus was sent to Paul by the Philippians with their gift (see 1.5, 4.17-18) and in Rome he became sick (possibly with fever, which was common then). The sickness is not stated. Epaphroditus is eager to get back (and Paul eager to send him, v.28) to assuage the brethren’s fears. He longs for these Christians as Paul does (1.8); he is distressed as the Savior was (Mt 26.37).

27Indeed he was ill, near to death. But God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow.

Indeed, he was ill, near to death: Whatever Epaphroditus came down with was serious.

But God had mercy on him: “But” draws sharp contrast (Gk alla) – not death, but life from God. Paul recognizes that God is the giver of life and health.

Not only on him…sorrow upon sorrow: There is the sorrow of his brother’s illness and, if he had died, the sorrow of his death which would have affected Paul. God’s mercy spared him these sorrows and made him “unsorrowful” (“less anxious,” v.28).

28I am the more eager to send him, therefore, that you may rejoice at seeing him again, and that I may be less anxious.

I am the more eager…I may be less anxious: the reunion of the Philippian saints with Epaphroditus would be a time to rejoice. Thus, Paul is sending back his brother to them, wanting them to experience the joy God gives at such reunions. Also, the reunion of the Philippians and Epaphroditus would give occasion for Paul to be “less anxious” (Lit. more un-grief).

29So receive him in the Lord with all joy, and honor such men,

So receive him in the Lord: Since Epaphroditus fulfilled his mission, his life spared by God, and he’s coming back home—welcome this broth back with arms wide open as the Lord Jesus welcomes us into His presence (cf. Rom 15.7).

With all joy, and honor such men: With heartfelt, unalloyed joy they are to welcome him. But also they are to esteem Epaphroditus and recognize how invaluable he is. Why? V.30

30for he nearly died for the work of Christ, risking his life to complete what was lacking in your service to me.

For he nearly died for the work of Christ: because when it comes to the work of Christ, Epaphroditus is a man who will risk life and limb to get the job done.

Risking his life: lit. handing life over. He was willing to expose himself to hazard.

To complete…your service to me: Epaphroditus risked his life so act as a ministering priest, presenting the sacred offering of their contribution to Paul. Others point to the presence of Epaphroditus as making up for the lack of presence of the Philippians (cf. 1 Cor 16.17).

Special Study—Why didn’t Paul heal Epaphroditus?

Paul had healed others miraculously (see Acts 28.8). Why not Epaphroditus? First, maybe he did. The text is relatively ambiguous and God could have used Paul as a conduit of his mercy (v.27). But the consensus among scholars is that Paul did not heal Epaphroditus and the why-question remains. Epaphroditus is not the only companion of Paul who was not healed (Trophimus in 2 Tim 4.20). Even though he had miraculous powers, the exercise of those powers were for a specific purpose (Mk 16.20) and were to be used at the discretion of God. That’s why certain companions were not healed and why Paul did not heal himself when afflicted (cf. 2 Cor 12.7-9).

Rejoicing in Proclamation of the Gospel

After thanksgiving and prayer Paul turns to his own imprisonment. Some debate exists about which imprisonment: Roman or Caesarean. It seems best to understand this to be Paul’s Roman imprisonment when he also penned Ephesians, Colossians, and Philemon.

The Gospel Advances in spite of Imprisonment (1.12-14)

In spite of Paul’s imprisonment the gospel of God has advanced and brethren all over have been emboldened.

12I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel,

I want you to know, brothers: Paul desires for his Christian brethren to be aware of a certain fact. Perhaps the Philippians had feared that Paul’s imprisonment had hindered the spread of the gospel, a message relayed by Epaphroditus. So Paul writes to assuage that fear.

That what has happened to me: what has happened is he has been imprisoned due to his preaching of the gospel. The latter half of Acts details many events resulting from that imprisonment, but rather than dwell on those, he address a point for rejoicing.

Has really served to advance the gospel: The gospel is not hindered by fetters, chains, or bars. Though Paul is bound as a criminal, “The Word of God is not bound” (2 Tim 2.9). That is what is most important to Paul and which produces joy in him.

13so that it has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to all the rest that my imprisonment is for Christ.

Paul introduces two results of the spread of the gospel: 1) outsiders know why Paul is imprisoned (for Christ, v.13), and 2) believers are emboldened by his imprisonment (v.14).

So that it has…my imprisonment is for Christ: He may have seemed like every other prisoner which darkened a prison cell, but it soon became known that he suffered imprisonment not for crimes but for Christ. Word spread through the whole Praetorian regiment (those guards whose barracks were attached to Nero’s palace). This is the cohort connected with “Caesar’s household” (see 4.22). Word also spread “to all the rest” which is to say the whole city of Rome heard about the prisoner for Christ and apparently came to hear him preach while he was under house arrest (see Acts 28.30). Among these are brethren in Rome.

14And most of the brothers, having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment, are much more bold to speak the word without fear.  

And most of the brothers: not every brother; some remain timid or half-hearted. But  certainly not just those gifted with preaching and teaching; the majority of the brethren are in view here. Hearing about Paul’s plight in prison had an effect upon these Christians in Rome.

Having become confident in the Lord by my imprisonment: The Roman Christians found new courage, courage afresh which came by the Lord through Paul’s imprisonment. Seeing God’s grace in Paul’s life assured them of God’s grace in their life. Since Paul was supported and sustained even during his persecution, God would do likewise for all His saints. “They saw in Paul, as they had never seen before, the presence, power, and sufficient grace of Christ” (Wesley).

Are much more bold to speak the word without fear: the language here denotes that these Christians had had a certain level of confidence and boldness already. But upon hearing of the Paul’s imprisonment, the boldness they had exceeded to a much greater degree enabling them to speak (contrast with “preach” v.15, and “proclaim” v.17, 18) God’s word fearlessly. When these Christians realized they had the authority and power of heaven behind the very words they spoke, boldness came and fear fled. Instead of being silent, more brethren than ever with more courage than ever were fearlessly speaking aloud the Word of God (Lenski).

The Gospel Advances in spite of Impure Motives (1.15-18a)

Paul rejoices that in spite of the impure motives (of some) the gospel of Christ is preached.

15Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from good will.

Some indeed preach Christ from envy and rivalry: present tense verb indicates this preaching is happening even as Paul writes. Interesting that even those who wished Paul evil were stirred up tp preach the Christ. Though their motivation was wrong, Paul rejoiced that the message of Christ went forth and was “announced” (Gk. from kerusso).

But others from good will: Not everyone was an antagonist; some were benevolent.

[Technical textual note: The KJV & NKJV have verses 16-17 in reverse order than the ESV (and most other versions including the ASV, NASB and NIV). This has to do with manuscript variants—some  manuscripts read 17 then 16; other (older) mss read 16-17.]

16The latter do it out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.

The latter do it out of love: those kindly-hearted brethren preach Christ from a heart of love. Love for whom? Paul or Christ? Certainly both! These, then, became apologists not only for Christ but also for Paul, the prisoner of the Lord.

Knowing that…defense of the gospel: here is the theological perspective of Paul. He understands that God has appointed and ordained for him to be exactly where he is. Further, this was a military term indicating that Paul was enduring his imprisonment as a good soldier of Christ. When forced into the fray he will bravely defend the Christian faith. Paul’s supporters are well aware of this.

17The former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but thinking to afflict me in my imprisonment.

The former…in my imprisonment: Contrast this conduct with the noble and magnanimous spirit of Paul. These rivals of Paul are resentful (based on jealousy toward Paul) and desire to put themselves forward. Their motives are mixed and impure. All this is done to (if possible) kick Paul while he’s down. They stirred up trouble for Paul, seeking to add to his suffering. They sought to aggravate his burden and cause him additional pain.

18What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed, and in that I rejoice.

What then? What does it matter? As he assesses his situation and the situation involving the Christian church with these factious brethren, he singles out the main thing and is gladdened by the one all-important fact…

Only that…Christ is proclaimed: the continual proclamation of Christ, free from heresy and perversion, regardless of mixed motives. The full gospel is preached (not an anemic gospel like Judaizers would bring). This is not “Some Christ is better than no Christ” (A.T. Robertson) – Paul would not tolerate another gospel featuring another Christ. This is Paul rejoicing over full proclamation of the full gospel, the true gospel feature the true Christ, regardless of personal motivation.

And in that I rejoice: “In all his affliction and personal grief, in all his disapproval of sinful partisanship and insincerity of action and the preaching under a cloak in the case of some preachers, the joy in the progress of the gospel, in the fact that Christ is preached, ever dominates” (Muller 56).

Special Study—Paul’s Rivals

Who are these men who Paul identifies in vs.15-18 who preached Christ from envy and rivalry, not sincerely, and in pretense? That they are brothers in Christ seems evident from v.14 where “most of the brothers” have been emboldened to speak the word without fear based on Paul’s imprisonment. Paul breaks that group down into two parties: “some” preaching Christ from mixed motives and “others” who preach Christ from good motives (v.15). Most commentators jump on the Judaizer bandwagon (cf. 3.2ff); however, based on what Paul writes in Galatians about Judaizers it doesn’t seem he would rejoice in their perverted doctrine even if Christ is proclaimed. These brother’s motives are mixed, not the message. It seems best to understand these rivals as a factious group who view the imprisonment of Paul as discrediting the Christian message. They appear to be a faction whose strategy is to excel in power and exude success so as to compete in an ancient religious market rife with pagan teachers. Paul’s imprisonment could torpedo their efforts at gaining ground. So they denounce Paul’s imprisonment (“thinking to afflict me”). In short, they were pro-Christ but anti-Paul.

Introduction & Greetings

They were only there to help, not hurt. But their help turned out to be hurt for them. Paul and his companions enter Philippi to preach the gospel and win souls. And souls they won until some did not approve when the help Paul offered affected their pocketbook. Accusations came followed by arrest (Acts 16.19). As if that were not enough, they were dragged into the center of town, stripped of their clothing, and beaten with rods (16.22). Many blows are inflicted (16.23). Once finished, they are handed over to the jailer who puts them in the prison within the prison, shackling their feet (16.24).

Time passes. Those events become an unforgettable memory. A letter is written and Paul recalls “every remembrance…from the first day” of that place. What does he say? What does he remember? How does that shape his worldview? How does that shape his view of the Philippians? Where does he begin? What kind of words does he use to describe those memories? Is he angry? Is there angst? Or is he merely apathetic to the whole thing?

He says, “I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy” (Phil 1.3-4). Joy? Joy?!? But the accusations and incarceration! But the beating and belittling! But the dungeon and the shackles! Paul…Joy!? Notice too it is joy coupled with thanksgiving to God. But how?

The book of Philippians is a key to unlocking the secret of facing any and all circumstances with joy (cf. 4.11-12). What Paul is communicating in these 104 verses is that God gives/empowers servants (slaves) joy/to rejoice regardless of circumstances.

Philippians 1:1–2 (ESV)

1Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus, To all the saints in Christ Jesus who are at Philippi, with the overseers and deacons:

Paul: Paul does not use his official title of “apostle” as he does elsewhere (Romans, 1 & 2 Corinthians, et al). His style of writing to the Macedonian churches (Philippi & Thessalonica) illustrates the difference of relation to them—deep personal affection & no formal introduction.

And Timothy: Paul’s “son in the faith” who is associated with Paul in every epistle in which some other person is mentioned in the address except 1 Corinthians (Sosthenes). He could have been Paul amanuensis (like Tertius in Romans 16.22) but it is highly unlikely that he was a co-author (Paul speaks in the first person singular throughout the letter). He was, though, Paul’s companion and co-worker in the evangelistic work to the non-Jews (Gentiles).

Servants of Christ Jesus: Perhaps here we find the “official” title he wishes for his readers to know him by. Lit. slaves or Christ. They were those who belonged to Christ who was their Master (Gk. kurios & despotes) as well as the Father—they were those “bought with a price.” The slave did not have his won will but adopted the will of His master. So too Paul and Timothy have abandoned their will for the will of God and Christ. Further, regardless of how they differed—in age, in spiritual maturity, in circumstances of conversion, in official activity (apostle and evangelist respectively) – in Christ they are equals. Both are slaves, both have the same ministry, calling, and Master.

To all the saints in Christ Jesus: “all the saints” – not just those who may have contributed to the “gift” sent to Paul; no group is specially identified (though some divisions might be present); no person is singled out (though two women were disagreeable). All alike are loved by Paul and all of them love him. Further, they were all “in Christ Jesus” – a position attained by being immersed into Him (see Romans 6.3).

Note: Paul and Timothy are “slaves of Christ Jesus” and the Philippians are identified as “saints in Christ Jesus.” Both of these terms identify Christians: the former points to the work assigned and the latter points to the spiritual blessings that are ours. Work and holiness identify us.

At Philippi: see Introductory Material

With [the] overseers and deacons: no definite article(s). Bishops (Gk episkopois) were equivalent to elders (Gk presbuteros) in the first century church (see Acts 20.17, 28). Their responsibility was nourishing and protecting the “flock of God.” They were drawn from the full number of the church. Deacons (Gk diakonios) were responsible for certain welfare duties in the church and possibly certain administrative tasks. One writer sees a possible hendiadys reading “serving-shepherds.”  In no other letter does Paul greet specifically the elders and deacons. Why does he do it that in this letter? Martin suggests (42) that they were instrumental in gathering the funds of the “gift” that was sent by way of Epaphroditus.

Note: Paul follows the conventional format of letters in his day—(1) identification of the sender(s), (2) identification of the recipient(s), (3) greetings.

2Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.  

Grace to you: Grace is God’s unmerited favor. We don’t earn it or deserve it. Paul invokes God’s grace upon this community (pl. “you”).

And peace: not merely the absence of war but the subtle understanding that God is in control of everything. Peace must come from the “God of peace “ (4.9). Grace brings peace.

Note: grace is the Greek form of greeting and peace is the Hebrew form of greeting. Taken together they are Paul’s customary form of greeting (see Rom 1.7; 1 Cor 1.3; 2 Cor 1.2).

From God our Father: God is the Author and Initiator of salvation. As the Father He sends the Son. By sending the Son for human redemption He manifests His grace and desire for peace.

And the Lord Jesus Christ: The Son is our Lord Jesus Christ. Elsewhere He is called “the grace of God” (Titus 2.14) and by His sacrifice He brings peace between man and God.

Grace and peace are upon the church of Christ because God the Father sent the Lord Jesus Christ into the world to accomplish the salvation of mankind. This greeting is rich with theology.

Dealing with Truth Devotees – 3 John

This commentary is offered with the working presumption that the author of 1, 2, & 3 John is the apostle John who also penned the gospel according to John and the Revelation. Further, while some have sought to reconstruct the occasion for John writing this postcard of an epistle, the frank reality is that there is precious little to truly build a definitive case.

Slightly different from 2 John which dealt with those who oppose the truth, in 3 John the apostle is going to give us the answer to what to do with those who love truth. This epistle is much more pointed as John names the person opposing the truth (Diotrephes) and much more personal as he names members of the church who support the truth (Gaius & Demetrius). 3 John provides us a glimpse of early church practice & faithful brethren. The take away is that Christian is to be an encourager of those devoted to truth not an inhibitor.

Outline of 3 John:

I.             The Perseverance of Gaius the Exhorter (v.1-8, 13-15)

A.     John’s Prayer for Gaius (v.1-2)

B.     John’s Praise of Gauis (v.3-8)

C.     John’s Plan Concerning Gaius (v.13-15)

II.             The Pride of Diotrephes the Egotist (9-11)

A.     The Wickedness of Diotrephes (v.9-10)

B.     The Warning about Diotrephes (v.11)

III.             The Profession concerning Demetrius the Example (v.12)

A.     His Associates’ Testimony (v.12a)

B.     The Apostle’s Testimony (v.12b)

Farewell (v.13-15)

3 John (ESV)

1The elder to the beloved Gaius, whom I love in truth.

The Elder: John. Tradition tells us that he was a bishop (i.e. overseer) of the church in Ephesus. Since he is “the elder” this could suggest that he is the last survivor of the Twelve. However, could simply mean older man.

To the beloved Gaius: called “beloved” or “dear friend” (NET, NIV) in v.2, 5, 11. All that we know about this Gaius to whom John wrote is what is contained in this epistle.

Whom I love in truth: No definite article before “truth.” “[John’s] love is governed by this truth even as his love is that of true comprehension and corresponding purpose” (Lenski).  John loves this brother affirming it repeatedly since Diotrephes didn’t.

2Beloved, I pray that all may go well with you and that you may be in good health, as it goes well with your soul.

Beloved: Common title of address for those whom John loves (v. 5, 11; 1 John 2.7)

I pray…good health: John’s constant prayer (pres. Tense) for Gaius is that 1) lit. his journey would go well (meta. Success or prosper), even 2) his health would be good (or he would be safe and sound). This is similar language to contemporary letters of general well wishing in all things and/or health.

As it goes well with your soul: John knows that Gaius is spiritually healthy.

3For I rejoiced greatly when the brothers came and testified to your truth, as indeed you are walking in the truth.

For: Gk. gar, here is how John knows that Gaius is in spiritual vitality…

I rejoiced…brothers came: a recent visit from some traveling missionaries from Gaius was an occasion for celebration on John’s behalf.

Testified to your truth: lit. witnessed (Gk marturounton) of you in the truth or of your truth. The report about Gaius is an excellent one; he is a spiritual pillar. Coupled with his love (v.6) he is a balanced Christian with the proper mix of truth & love.

As indeed…[the] truth: He has been faithful to the apostolic doctrine of Christ, refusing Gnostic intrusion and heresy.

4I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.

I have no greater joy: nothing fills John with such cause for rejoicing

Than to hear that my children: “The elder” refers to all of those Christians younger than him as his “children.” This is the fatherly affection John has for his brethren.

Walking in [the] truth: the definite article is found in some mss (eg. Alexandrinus) but is absent is others (eg. Sinaiticus). Given the construction in v.3 as well as 2 John 4, it seems that John did not include a definite article when he wrote this. Members holding fast to the apostolic teaching of Christ in spite of heretical attacks fills John with much joy

5Beloved, it is a faithful thing you do in all your efforts for these brothers, strangers as they are,

Beloved: affectionate term of endearment John regularly uses for his recipient.

It is a faithful…these brothers: “All his conduct towards the brethren, even when they were not previously known to him, was such as became a faithful Christian” (Pulpit Commentary). In Gaius, philadephia and philoxenia are combined; he loves the brethren and strangers. 

Strangers as they are: “he treated brethren who were entire strangers to him, not as strangers, but as brethren” (Pulpit Commentary). He did not pick and choose whom to show hospitality and neglect the rest; every traveling missionary was sure to be received by Gaius.

6who testified to your love before the church. You will do well to send them on their journey in a manner worthy of God.

Who testified…before the church: those who had experienced the hospitality of Gaius came back and reported to the assembly of saints about what this Christian man had done on their behalf. (cf. Matt 25.38, 40)

You will do well…worthy of God: It is a faithful & beautiful thing to send forth missionaries with all they would need for the journey. They should be fully supported. Since they are representatives of God, treat them as such (cf. John 13.20). Send them out as if you were sending out Jesus as a missionary.

7For they have gone out for the sake of the name, accepting nothing from the Gentiles.

For they have…of the Name: Gk. gar, John explains that since these missionaries went out on their mission on behalf of the one & only Name in John’s mind—Jesus!

Accepting nothing from the Gentiles: these missionaries support was not solicited (as a policy) from non-Christians. If offered, they might accept, but not solicited.

8Therefore we ought to support people like these, that we may be fellow workers for the truth.

Therefore…like these: this is the proper deduction. We owe it to them (indebtedness is implied) to help & show hospitality to these missionaries.

That we…[for] the truth: by supporting these missionaries, we work together with them with the Truth (cf. 1 Cor 3.9).

9I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority.

I have written something to the church: 2 John or a lost epistle?

But Diotrephes: name means “nourished by Zeus.” Probably a church leader.

Who likes to put himself first: present participle (Gk. philoproteuon); lit. the one loving first [place]. He is diametrically opposed to the teaching of Jesus (Mk 10.43-44). “Not doctrinal heresy but personal ambition was the cause of the trouble” (Morris 229). If Diotrephes is first, where does that put Christ (Col 1.18)?

Does not acknowledge our authority: Lit. does not welcome/obey us. Diotrephes does not welcome, accept, or obey apostolic authority. Is he trying to take their place? If nothing else, he is not in compliance with divine injunction.

10So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.

So if I come: John desires to come (v.14) and visit these brethren and also…

I will bring up what he is doing: John will confront Diotrephes’ unholy desires and the challenges to John’s apostleship, perhaps reminding him but certainly remind the church of his apostolic authority. “The root of the problem is sin” (Morris 230).

Talking wicked nonsense against us: “malicious gossip” (NIV) & “wicked words” are the product of this perverted presbyter.  The se were senseless & wicked words.

And not content…the brothers: those brothers who are with John are unwelcome

And also…the church: Diotrephes says who’s in and out and those who disagree with him, wanting to welcome (support) their brothers are thrown out

11Beloved, do not imitate evil but imitate good. Whoever does good is from God; whoever does evil has not seen God.

Beloved: favorite affectionate address of John for those to whom he writes, here Gaius.

Do not imitate evil, but imitate good: Gk. mimou, comes mimic. Follow after that which is spiritually & morally beneficial, not what is deficient. Demetrius is an example of the good to imitate; Diotrephes is a bad example to follow. Don’t follow Diotrephes.

Whoever does good is from God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is to do good is from God (cf. 1 John 3.9-10). Not mere kind acts every so often.

Whoever does evil has not seen God: present participle. The one whose habitual practice is toward what is displeasing & disobedient to God hasn’t experienced God.

12Demetrius has received a good testimony from everyone, and from the truth itself. We also add our testimony, and you know that our testimony is true.

Demetrius…everyone: all we know of this man is what is found in this single verse. Nevertheless, he is a member who does what is spiritually & morally beneficial. Probably unknown to Gaius, therefore the three-fold testimony (everyone, truth, us) to let him know that this leader/letter bearer is on the level (not a Diotrephes). He has received in the past and continues to receive even now a good testimony (perf. Tense); remains valid

And from the truth itself: definite article before “truth.” The Word is an objective witness of Demetrius for his life conforms to the Truth, which is Christ.

We also add our testimony: the apostolic college commends Demetrius. That is, John speaking on behalf of those apostles who have already gone to be with the Lord.

And you know…is true: perfect tense, have come to know and continue to know this

13I had much to write to you, but I would rather not write with pen and ink.

I have much…pen and ink: this short volume on a single sheet will suffice for now

14I hope to see you soon, and we will talk face to face.

I hope…face to face: John hopes to set the record straight in person (v.10).

15Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name.

Peace be to you: a Hebrew greeting with new meaning in light of Christ’s resurrection. Peace is much needed with all the strife brought by Diotrephes.

The friends greet you: unique designation for Christians harkening to Jesus – Jn 15.13

Greet the friends, each by name: Sheep should know one another by name.

Let us imitate the example set by these men of truth like Gaius and Demetrius and walk in truth, willing to support those who walk in truth as well.